There are normally serious disadvantages in mounting the gun armament of a merchant ship in the forward position where it is exposed to the weather and sea, but when such a position is suitable a bow gun is sometimes fitted. Anti-aircraft weapons mounted near the bridge or aft are often capable of firing forward.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that American ships now being built are being provided with a gun in the bow for offensive purposes, and is it not true to say that the reason why we are not arming our own vessels in this way is because of international law?
With regard to my hon. Friend's point about international law, I do not think so, because a large number of our vessels have guns fore and aft, or at any rate all the larger ships have them. It is only the smaller ships, where other difficulties and other considerations arise, that have not got them.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a very great demand, not only on the part of shipowners but by the men themselves, that an extension of this service should be pursued?
In this matter we are following advice of the experts who are advising us, and where it is possible in larger ships to put guns fore and aft they are put there.
On a point of Order. About a fortnight ago, Mr. Speaker, I put down a Question on precisely the same subject, and it was refused by the Clerks at the Table on the grounds of security. A very elaborate explanation was made in writing on my Question Paper, presumably by the Admiralty, and I would like to know why, when I put a Question and it is rejected on the grounds of security, the same Question is allowed to be put two weeks later. May I say, in explanation, that this matter has been raised by my constituents, whom I have had to inform that the Question has been rejected on the grounds I have stated? It is very difficult for me to justify my position with my constituents when someone else is allowed to put a Question on the same subject.
Yes, Sir. Weapons are provided in all ships for defence against air attack, and there is special provision for the protection of personnel. Ships moving in the more dangerous areas are given priority and special consideration.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that a recent convoy proceeding in a very important direction was denuded of Admiralty protection almost at the last minute and that a large number of vessels were lost?