Hon. Brooke Claxton (Minisier of Naiional Defence):
Mr. Speaker, while during these last two weeks I have been out of sight here, apparently, judging from Hansard. I have not been entirely forgotten. I feel that at this time the house would expect from me a word of personal explanation of matters arising out of press reports published in my absence. I have read the Hansard references and most of the press reports, but I do not intend to enter into details-that has already been covered here-and I certainly do not mean to indulge in any recriminations. My real purpose is to assure the house that I had no intention of making announcements in Europe of new policies of which hon. members had not been informed in this chamber.
I made references to accommodation for our troops and to airfields, and no doubt those matters were much less familiar to some hon. members and members of the press than I had supposed; and it may be that there was some justification for a feeling that some kind of announcement of new policy had been made. I am sorry indeed if any answers I gave to questions created the impression that I was making important announcements outside the house. I have always tried to give the house all possible information on defence matters and, when the house is in session, to make all statements of major new developments and new policies in this chamber.
On looking over the reports, I think I can understand how the misunderstanding arose. As hon. members had been informed, the decision to dispatch the 27th Canadian infantry brigade group was not taken until the government had been assured that temporary accommodation was available. That temporary accommodation would have to be
replaced by new accommodation. It is a fact, not a policy, that troops must be housed. As for airfields for the use of our air squadrons, hon. members had already been informed that airfields were not available on the continent, and that pending their availability, Canadian squadrons would be stationed in the United Kingdom at North Luffenham. Consequently, it was known that airfields would have to be provided on the continent.
We knew also that, in accord with the policy that parliament had accepted that Canada should do its share in NATO, we would also have to participate in meeting the costs of infrastructure-to use that horrible expression. To me that appeared to be a statement of a situation, of a condition, of a fact, and not of a policy.
Indeed it was not possible for me to state a new policy because the government had not yet decided upon one; and the government had not yet decided upon policy because the North Atlantic treaty nations concerned had not and have not yet fully worked out an agreement as to precisely how this should be done or how the over-all costs should be shared. That is one of the matters we discussed on the other side and it is a matter that was under active discussion in connection with the Rome meeting, and it is still under the most active consideration at Paris.
There is also the question of working out arrangements for accommodation and other facilities in Germany when the occupation statute is converted into an agreement. This is under consideration by the three occupying powers and the German government today.
Consequently, it is not possible either to announce a policy or to give any details or estimates of the over-all costs that might be involved. Just as soon as firm arrangements are worked out with the other countries concerned, they will be announced.
Against this background I repeat that I am indeed sorry if any hon. member feels that I was discussing new policies of which the house had not been informed and I assure you, sir, I had no such intention. Now that the smoke has cleared from the atmosphere here and elsewhere, I must leave it to hon. members themselves to decide in the light of the real facts whether I did or not.