HC Deb 04 March 1959 vol 601 cc430-2
25 and 26. Mr. J. Hynd

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether he will convey congratulations to the commander and troops of the British Berlin Brigade for their exemplary behaviour during their recent manoeuvres on Luneburg Heath, which enabled these manoeuvres to be completed without damage to the woods or farmlands; and

(2) whether his attention has been drawn to the reports of serious and widespread damage caused to farmlands and woods on Luneburg Heath by British troops, other than the Berlin Brigade, during the recent exercises; what representations he received from the West German Government in this connection; and what orders have been issued to prevent a repetition of avoidable damage in future exercises.

Mr. Soames

I agree that credit is due to the Berlin Brigade for avoiding unnecessary damage during its summer training. It would be a mistake, however, to compare its record with that of other formations, because the Berlin Brigade was not required to use tanks, whereas many of the exercises near Luneburg involve the extensive use of armour and damage to land is inevitable. It was aggravated last summer by the wet weather.

Before every exercise the troops taking part are instructed to avoid undue damage to land, and many formations have trained over this area without incident or complaint. There is a claims office maintained in the training area so that claims for compensation may be dealt with promptly in conjunction with the German Federal authorities.

At their request the civil authorities were given an assurance last July that the troops had been instructed to avoid unnecessary damage.

Mr. Hynd

I do not know how far the Minister is aware of the damage that was done and the amount of unnecessary litter, with probably some dangerous stuff being left lying about. Would he be prepared to look at some pictures of this damage and tell the House whether the instructions issued years ago have been carried out as far as possible? Will he make arrangements for ensuring that damage is avoided as far as possible and that these instructions are enforced?

Mr. Soames

Certainly we try to keep damage down to the absolute minimum, but when moving large numbers of tanks over heath and agricultural land there is bound to be some degree of damage. The troops do their best not to cause any more damage than is necessary.

Mr. Steele

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is general concern about the lack of training areas in Germany at present? Has any representation been made to the other Allies in Europe with regard to making training grounds available for these exercises?

Mr. Soames

Yes, Sir. The general question of training areas and their use by N.A.T.O. Forces is under discussion and is to be put on a footing which will be acceptable to both sides.

Mr. J. Hynd

The Minister has not replied to one of the main points in Question No. 26—what representations, if any, have been received from the West German Government? Will he answer that?

Mr. Soames

I said that at their request the civil authorities were given an assurance last July that the troops had been instructed to avoid unnecessary damage.