asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty if he will state the number of His Majesty's ships by classes present and available in the Pacific on 20th April, 1949, with comparable figures for 1st January, 1947.
No, Sir. To give the disposition of the Fleet would not be in accordance with the policy of His Majesty's Government on the disclosure of defence information. In this connection I would refer the hon. Member to the statements made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister during the Debate on the Defence White Paper on 3rd March last and by my hon. Friend the Civil Lord during the Debate on the Navy Estimates on 8th March.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say how the public in- terest can be adversely affected by disclosing the disposition of the Fleet two-and-a-half years ago, and can he also say how this House can discharge its responsibility in this matter if the relevant facts are deliberately withheld?
The hon. Member asked not only for the strength two years ago but for the strength now, and that is quite a different matter. It is a matter of general policy upon which statements have been made on a number of occasions, as I have said, by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others.
As it is quite obvious to the House that there is no aircraft carrier on that station, can the Minister say when there was last an aircraft carrier on that station?
That is quite another question. There was in October, 1947.
Why was it withdrawn?
It was withdrawn because it was considered, and His Majesty's Government were satisfied, that the allocation of ships to the Far East station at that time was in proper proportion to the total available for service abroad and adequate for the duties of the Royal Navy in Chinese waters.
Are not aircraft carriers an absolute necessity if a Fleet is to be in proper proportion when there are a large number of ships on any station?
In view of the fact that we had only 23 tanks in France and Belgium in May, 1940, are not these questions rather fantastic effrontery?
In view of the fact that, in reply to a supplementary question, the Parliamentary Secretary disclosed part of the information which he refused to give in answer to the original Question, can he say how he can now defend his refusal to give the full facts?
No, Sir, I did not. In fact, I disclosed a piece of information, whereas I was asked for the full disposition of the Fleet, which is quite another matter. I have nothing to add.