HC Deb 28 November 1949 vol 470 cc769-70
43. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Prime Minister how many meetings he has now had with the Leader of the Opposition on the question of defence; and what progress has been made.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Attlee)

Certain of my right hon. Friends and I have had three meetings with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition and other Privy Councillors on the subject of defence. As the House is aware, the object of these meetings was to enable certain right hon. Members, who are in a special position as members of His Majesty's Privy Council, to be put in possession of information which it would not be in the public interest to make widely known. There was, of course, no idea of reaching specific agreements or decisions at these talks, and the second part of the Question does not therefore arise.

Mr. Churchill

I presume that I may take the last sentence of the right hon. Gentleman's answer as making it clear that the Opposition in no way accept any responsibility for the state of national defence by the fact of these conversations. At any rate, it seems most necessary to emphasise that. We have not thought it right to have a Debate for some time upon national defence, and I find great difficulty in coming to any conclusions upon that without knowing for how long this Parliament is going on. It certainly would not be worth while addressing the present House on the subject unless its sittings are to be prolonged into the late summer. The right hon. Gentleman must not take it, and it must not be taken by the public outside, that the fact—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] I am asking the right hon. Gentleman a question.

Mr. Speaker

This is not a Debate: this is Question Time.

Mr. Churchill

Am I right in assuming, Sir, that the right hon. Gentleman will not take it that this absence of Debate and anything that he has said in his statement, in the slightest degree commits us to approval of or agreement with the Government?

The Prime Minister

I think that the condition of these talks was quite well understood. The Government do not share responsibility in these matters with any other person at all.

Mr. Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is in circulation in this country a book called "The Right Road for Britain" in which it is specifically stated that the Opposition intend to increase the efficiency of our defences without increasing expenditure; and are any practical and constructive proposals being made by the Leader of the Opposition to this effect?

The Prime Minister

I understood that "The Right Road for Britain" had been closed indefinitely in the last Debate which we had.

Earl Winterton

Is it not desirable, in view of the supplementary question which has just been asked, to make clear that there is nothing new in this procedure, and that leaders of the Opposition have been consulted in the past. Mr. Balfour was actually made a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence in 1911, and that seems to make it clear beyond peradventure.

The Prime Minister

There are, of course, one or two precedents in this matter. I myself in the year 1936 or 1937 had some conversations with the late Sir Kingsley Wood.

Mr. McGovern

Is the Prime Minister aware that in the past the "Right Road for Britain" led to the workhouse gate and the public assistance queue?