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Imperial Defence

Volume 320: debated on Monday 22 February 1937

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asked the Prime Minister whether the speech of the First Lord of the Admiralty at Bradford on 5th February represents the policy of His Majesty's Government in relation to Imperial Defence and the co-operation of the Dominions?

My right hon. Friend made no new statement of policy. The subject of his speech was the complete freedom of the Member States of the British Commonwealth of Nations to decide for themselves their policies of defence. Whilst stating that the chief burden of defence expenditure falls on Great Britain, my right hon. Friend once again declared that

"it would be a grave mistake if we tried to impose some rigid plan upon the other members of the Empire."
Similarly, as to economic questions, he made it clear that any agreements that had been or might be reached, resulted in the British Commonwealth from a common outlook and a spontaneous desire for co-operation.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, in the course of the same speech, the First Lord of the Admiralty stated that local Dominion schemes were both extravagant and inefficient, and the "Times" of 12th February, published a report from its correspondent in Ottawa to the effect that the Canadian Government were gravely embarrassed by his statement; and can he not do something to prevent these repeated Ministerial indiscretions?

The latter part of the hon. Gentleman's statement is incorrect, because I have been in communication with the Canadian Government and what did happen was that what are called abbreviated reports—but what some people might call garbled reports—were sent across to Canada. They were used, by those whom one might expect to use them, as sticks with which to beat the Canadian Government. We have had no complaint from the Canadian Government.

In view of the fact that a progressive Government is in power in Canada, may we take it that Conservatives were using those sticks?

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that the authority for my statement was the "Times," which is a supporter of the Government?

I do not question the authority of the hon. Member. I have read the speech in the first person and I have made myself acquainted with it. I am very grateful for the opportunity which the House gives me of reading all these speeches very carefully.