Defence

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th October 1947.

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Photo of Mr Albert Alexander Mr Albert Alexander , Sheffield, Hillsborough 12:00 am, 27th October 1947

I made it perfectly clear last Thursday—I do not know what the hon. and gallant Member is worrying about—that these ships would require time for preparation to be in a full state of efficiency for any actual battle action, or anything of that kind. But I beg the House to remember what, in face of an economic crisis, we are up against. Where is the major naval force from whom you expect a naval challenge in the next few months? We have to consider the training and manning of the ships in relation to this. I, for one, am unable to find any force of that character. Great play has been made, and scornful reference, to what has been described as the striking force of a cruiser and four battle-class destroyers. I am sure that I had in mind no striking force to send against a major fleet. Certainly not, but in relation to any kind of naval threat you would expect in home waters in the next six months, I should think that a large cruiser and four battle-class destroyers carrying power-mounted turrets and not only open gun mountings, and well equipped in every other direc- tion, would be a considerable striking force against anything you might expect in home waters in that period. Therefore, I brush that aside.

The hon. Member for Hereford asked me what is the present strength of the Mediterranean Fleet and of formations east of Aden, and what naval strength is to be maintained on the American, West Indian and African Stations, and whether we are going to have a reduction in the Pacific and East Indies. Well, the Pacific and West Indies Fleets will be reduced, but there will be no reduction in the East Indies or the South Atlantic Stations. But I am sure, in spite of what was said tonight by hon. Members, that it would be contrary to policy and the public interest to divulge the actual strength of these various fleets at the present time. As to what extent we can, in future, divulge these matters and as to how we can improve and expand information available to the House, as I said to the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) last week, that is to be under discussion through the usual channels. We will do what we can, and it may be that we can give information as to what the strength was on a given day; but it is against the public interest, according to my technical advisers, that we should regularly give information of the kind that is asked for by the hon. Member for Hereford. It is not a question of being in immediate danger of naval attack, but a question of general information as to the disposition of the Armed Forces at all times.

The hon. Member for Hereford asked me whether there were to be any reductions on foreign stations and to what extent would they be due to currency difficulties, and to what extent would they be due to problems of manpower. Reduction in the strength of the Navy on overseas stations is primarily due to re-deployment of naval manpower consequent upon the accelerated run-down. That is the main reason, but in so far as these adjustments also contribute to savings in expenditure in hard currencies abroad, we think they are also welcome. But in each one of these stations where we have to make reductions I hope that, within reasonable time, with reorganisation of the personnel, we shall be able to restore, or at any rate, make some addition to the temporarily reduced strength at present.