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Economic Recovery (Minister's Speech, Usa)

Volume 462: debated on Tuesday 1 March 1949

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With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I want to ask the Prime Minister a question of which I have given Private Notice, namely, whether his attention has been drawn to the recent conflicting announcements on British economic recovery and our need for economic assistance from the United States of America; and if he will give an assurance that the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer represents the policy of His Majesty's Government in this particular matter?

Yes, Sir. My right hon. and learned Friend's statement was made after full consultation with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and myself and represents the view of His Majesty's Government.

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for his reply, may I ask whether he is aware that during the past five or six days no fewer than seven more or less conflicting statements on the subject have been made, consciously or unconsciously, by members or representatives of the Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]—none of the statements having been made in this House; and that the effect produced in the United States and elsewhere has been bewildering and deplorable?

If the hon. Member would send me his collection I would be glad to have a look at them.

Is it not a fact that, had it not been for the prompt repudiation of the Minister's statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the whole of our recovery programme might have been in danger? What steps is the Prime Minister going to take to see that the future of the British people is not jeopardised by irresponsible statements of Ministers—[Interruption]—irresponsible statements of Ministers who have nothing to do with the matter?

As the matter has now been dealt With—[HON. MEMBERS: "Has it?"]—I should deprecate further questions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—in the national interest.

Every now and again statements are made which, taken quite apart from their context, may cause difficulties, and over a period of years I have known them made by Ministers from all sides of the House. I suggest that it would not be wise to pursue the matter.

Can the Minister say whether His Majesty's Ambassador in Washington was consulted by the Joint Under-Secretary of State before making this statement which so closely affected our relations with the United States?

No, Sir, this matter arose in the course of a debate and I imagine there was not an opportunity for consultation before that particular statement was made.

Has the right hon. Gentleman observed the statement of the Minister of State that the Joint Under-Secretary "blurted out the truth at the wrong moment"? Does he share that view and does he agree with the implication that the truth should not be told by Ministers in the United States?

A full statement was made on this matter in the statement made on behalf of the Government and I have nothing to add to it.

Has my right hon. Friend received a copy of the statement made by the Minister of State in Dumbarton on Saturday night? Is he aware that if the report is as accurate as the report of what the Minister of State said, it is a travesty and is being utilised in order to do as much harm to the Government as possible?

In view of that last question, is it now contended that the Minister of State did make a statement which is attributed to him in the Press? Surely we are entitled to know.

It is very largely a question of the context and the accuracy of the reporting. As I understand it, whatever was said by the Minister of State was said at a meeting supposed to be a private meeting. I regret that it was reported.

When this storm in a teacup is over, will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that public opinion in this country and in the United States of America appreciates and applauds sincerity and frankness on the part of visiting Ministers as against slick and professional diplomacy?

Could the Prime Minister assure the House that in future he will try to persuade Ministers when they go overseas to sing the same tune and learn to distinguish between New York City and South Hammersmith?

I asked if the right hon. Gentleman would assure the House that he will do his best to persuade Ministers when they go overseas to sing the same tune and to distinguish between New York City and South Hammersmith.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the very great acrimony which takes place in the debates of U.N.O. and the impossibility of rebutting constant charges made against this Government without someone sometimes taking a risk?

Will the Prime Minister give an assurance that Ministers will not be led astray by the question that has just been asked, but will feel that, however great the difficulty, it is never any good taking a risk with the truth?

There is no question of taking risks with the truth. No Ministers will take risks with the truth.

Arising out of the earlier reply, will the right hon. Gentleman agree that a Minister of State should at any rate say the same things in public as he is alleged to have said at a private meeting, and that Ministers generally should say the same things to the electorate as they do at U.N.O.?

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker, I wonder if, with your permission, I might repeat the point of Order I made yesterday and ask, with respect, if you will indicate, for the guidance of the House, what special considerations of urgency there were about this Private Notice Question—which was obviously not regarded as very important by the Opposition, since the Leader of the Opposition and the deputy leader of Opposition did not exercise their right to put it themselves—which led you to allow it to a back bencher, instead of its appearing on the Order Paper to-morrow in the ordinary way?

Obviously I cannot answer that question, because no one is allowed to ask me what my reasons are for selecting or choosing a Question. I think I went far enough yesterday and I am afraid that it must always be left to my discretion. I can only say that I hope my discretion will always be one of fairplay and common sense.