HC Deb 19 July 1961 vol 644 cc1297-306

5.54 p.m.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

I beg to move, That the Visiting Forces (Application of Law) Order, 1961, a draft of which was laid before this House on 12th July, be approved. Perhaps I should first say a word about the actual amendment of the Visiting Forces Act. It is merely to add to the word "Italy" the words "and the Federal Republic of Germany". The general purpose of the Act is to enable forces visiting this country to be under proper military discipline during their on-duty hours and under the control of their own officers, and off-duty to see that they are properly subject to the normal processes of British law. The visiting German forces will be on exactly the same footing as any other forces—American, Canadian or any other N.A.T.O. forces—which use facilities of one kind or another in these islands.

I do not think it is always known how much use has been made in the last few years of our facilities following from the increasing integration of the N.A.T.O. alliance. For example, in the last three years nearly 5,000 officers and men from N.A.T.O. countries have been on training courses and exercises in Britain. Of those 5,000, 1,200 were Germans.

I thought that the House would like to know a little of the history of the present proposals which have resulted in the offer of the Castlemartin range and certain other facilities to the German authorities through N.A.T.O. In March, 1960, the Federal German Republic formally asked N.A.T.O. for assistance in providing training and support facilities for German forces. It submitted a paper, which was debated in the Council. It also put forward detailed proposals for support and logistic problems. The Council decided, on the question of having an integrated support and logistic organisation—which, incidentally, would make it quite impossible for any member of N.A.T.O. to take independent action because the German proposal is for a complete integration of the N.A.T.O. supply chain of logistics and supply—to refer that for further study. The Council further decided that it recognised the problem facing the Federal Republic in providing training and logistic facilities and asked any other member of the alliance if, providing the request was sponsored by N.A.T.O., it could be sympathetically considered by all N.A.T.O. countries.

The House of Commons was generally informed of this position at Question Time on 6th April, 1960, in cols. 362–3 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of that date. Subsequently, in the course of meeting the German request through N.A.T.O., a number of countries brought forward types of facilities and assistance, and the United Kingdom did the same. As a result, a meeting of experts from both sides—that is,from the German side and from the British side—was held in Paris under N.A.T.O. auspices in February, 1961, to examine the position in more detail. It was accepted at this meeting, with the agreement of the N.A.T.O. permanent staff, that the German army had urgent need of additional facilities for tank-firing training for their newly formed tank units, and other studies carried out by the N.A.T.O. military authorities established that there was no spare capacity on which this firing could be done either on the N.A.T.O. run ranges or on other ranges in Central Europe belonging to other N.A.T.O. countries.

It was therefore appropriate and, I think, sensible that it should be considered whether this training would be best carried out in the United Kingdom if suitable facilities were available. I will say a word or two about the other facilities. It was recognised that the military situation required a greater dispersal of stockpiles, that reserve stocks for the German armed forces should be dispersed more in depth and that maintenance facilities for the repair and overhaul of ships, for example, should similarly be dispersed.

Here, then, were two problems. Firstly that N.A.T.O. had clearly agreed that there was a shortage of tank-training facilities and that the available facilities on the Continent of Europe were fully booked and, indeed, overbooked. Secondly, N.A.T.O. agreed that it was wise to try to disperse support facilities more in depth, bearing in mind that a jet aircraft can overfly the whole of European N.A.T.O. in a very short time.

Following that, teams of German experts visited the storage and training facilities in the United Kingdom which had been provisionally put forward in the course of the N.A.T.O. exercise and they confirmed that these would be satisfactory for their purpose.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)


Mr. Watkinson

The Government's decision that facilities could be made available was, as the House knows, announced by me on 12th July. In the meantime, other N.A.T.O. nations had been taking the same action. A very good example is France. France might well be held to have definite views about German soldiers on her territory. I have made my own inquiries. France made similar offers of training facilities. These were taken up by the German forces and I understand that the training has proceeded in satisfactory fashion without incident.

That is the broad history of how this N.A.T.O. proposition came to us, how we felt that we should respond to it as part of our duty to N.A.T.O. and how, therefore, this arose. I should like now to answer two specific questions which clearly arise. The first is what should be our attitude to the Federal German Government as a military Power and as a member of N.A.T.O. That is clearly posed by many people who have discussed this problem.

It is hardly necessary for me to restate the Government's position. We fully recognise in all ways the German Federal Republic as a N.A.T.O. ally. We wish to see her closely integrated and tied into the Western Alliance. In all my contacts with the Federal authorities and with the Federal Defence Minister, it has been made plain to me that the policy of the Federal Republic is to seek this close integration and interdependence with its other N.A.T.O. allies. It is worth remembering, for example, that it was the Federal Defence Minister who put forward a plan to N.A.T.O. for an integration of logistic and supply facilities that would clearly make it impossible for any member of the alliance to take independent action, even if it wished to do so.

Therefore, most people who have thought about this and pondered over it, as I and, I imagine, all hon. Members have done, are forced to the conclusion that it would be a very bad thing for N.A.T.O., for our own security and for peace in the European area if we took any steps that appeared to rebuff the present sincere desire of the Federal authorities to link and tie themselves into N.A.T.O. as closely as possible.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)

Would the Government of the Federal German Republic be able to veto a possible plan of attack on the U.S.S.R. by the U.S.A. if the Pentagon decided upon such a course?

Mr. Watkinson

I am sure that the hon. Member has studied and knows how N.A.T.O. works. He knows that the power of decision in the alliance lies in the N.A.T.O. Political Council. It is by decision of that Council that N.A.T.O. action is either started or stopped. That is a decision of fifteen nations.

As for the Russian view that action by one N.A.T.O. ally assisting another with its training or logistic facilities encourages German militarism, the very reverse is the truth. The Russians should welcome any step that binds their old enemy more closely into an alliance that has no aggressive intent and is subject to the democratic control of fifteen Governments. This is an important point for anybody who might fear independent action by the Germans.

In the interests of the strength and cohesion of the N.A.T.O. Alliance, the Government are certain that we have no other choice than to act as we have done. We believe that to do otherwise would be to fail in our duty to the Alliance and, I believe, in our duty to the cause of European peace and security.

The second question that arises is why, if it is accepted that one has a duty, as I believe it to be, to act in this way to strengthen and support the alliance as a whole, it is necessary to use Castle-martin. That is a fair question to pose, and I will try to answer it. The buildup of the German army as part of N.A.T.O. has created a serious shortage of land training facilities for both infantry and armoured units. The existing areas in Germany are already sufficient only to provide for the training and the facilities of the non-German N.A.T.O. forces stationed in Central Europe. As I have said, it was not unreasonable that in 1960 the German authorities should point out that they needed help elsewhere in meeting their need for training facilities.

It is equally sensible that the N.A.T.O. authorities concluded that as there was this serious shortage of all types of land training area within Germany, the other allies should seek any way in which they could help outside the area. Therefore, the first point on this second question is that the offer of Castlemartin to the German authorities for tank training falls into place as one of a series of measures sponsored by the N.A.T.O. authorities, agreed by our other N.A.T.O. allies, including France, to share out the available facilities as effectively as we can.

It has been agreed that one tank battalion—about thirty to forty tanks and 500 to 600 men—will train for three weeks in September. The primary requirement is for elementary tank firing from static positions and a little firing on the move. The reason for this is that the units that come here are at the initial and elementary stages in their training. The size of the range, as I expect some hon. Members know, is about 5,000 acres and no extension of the range or use of property outside the range will be necessary. On the practical results of the trial, both parties will have to decide whether it is a worthwhile operation.

Again, I will give some examples, because I want the House to be as clear about this as possible. We should have to see that it did not interfere with the requirements of the Regular and Territorial Army which also use the range. We should have to see that too much damage was not done to the land surface of the range to make it unsuitable for the continuous use which it has. We should obviously want as far as possible to avoid interfering with the occasional use of the range for grazing facilities. This would mean that, on the whole, the German authorities would have to be prepared to use the range during the winter when, at present, it is not used for our purposes.

As to how it will be done, there are some administrative problems, the details of which have yet to be settled. In general, however, the tanks will be brought to Milford Haven by ship or tank-landing craft. They will then be moved over about 10 miles of road to the range. There they will stay and they will not leave the range in any way. The men will come either by sea in the same way or will be flown to a convenient Royal Air Force or civil airfield and moved to the range by train or lorry transport.

Mr. George Brown (Belper)

I may have missed what the right hon. Gentleman said. but did I understand him to say that while the Germans are there, there will be no use of the range by us, or shall we continue to use it at the same time?

Mr. Watkinson

I said that while the Germans are there, we shall make no use of it, but that they will not stop our own use of it. This gives them only a limited time of use, primarily during the winter months. They may find that during, that time, the weather is not satisfactory. That is what I meant when speaking about the practical test. The practical test is to have a battalion there to see how it goes on.

I should try to make it plain why German units should use Castlemartin and why we are not withdrawing British units from B.A.O.R. or anywhere else to use the range. As I have explained, the range is used by British units, both Regular and Territorial, for certain parts of the year. Why it is not sensible or practical in the interests of the Alliance to bring back the British armoured regiments in B.A.O.R. is, first, because they are at an advanced stage of training and need to carry out, therefore, mobile battle training over a fairly large area.

I want to make it plain to the House that we have the use of the Hohne range, which is over 72,000 acres, whereas the Castlemartin range is only 5,000 acres in extent, and we have the use of other ranges, too. I hope that that makes one point clear. What we need is the rather sophisticated battle and firing training over a very large area which we frankly cannot get in this country, and our own armoured formations are part of the front line strength of B.A.O.R. and should certainly be kept in Germany. The main reason is the entirely different stage of training of the two elements. The German battalion is just starting and it wants elementary practice firing at static targets. We are fully trained and merely need the sophisticated battle training which has to be used to get a regiment up to its full fighting capability.

It is quite natural that the Germans themselves do not care very much for British tanks roaming over their countryside, inevitably doing a certain amount of damage, which cannot be helped, and, therefore, in my view, it is not unreasonable, if we insist, as we have to insist, that our requirements be met in Germany, that we should be able to offer them some facilities in our own country if they can make practical use of them.

I do not want to be too long, and I shall be available during the debate to answer any further points, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is here to look after the Home Office interest in this matter. I have tried to set out clearly what are the facts. The facts are that Germany made the request that any N.A.T.O. ally might make. Unless we are to assume that there is some differentiation in the alliance as regards Germany, which I think would be the end of the alliance, then—

Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)

Does that mean giving them the H-bomb?

Mr. Watkinson

That has nothing to, do with the argument, as the hon. Member knows.

The alliance had no choice but to seek to try to meet the German request. We put forward certain facilities through N.A.T.O., discussions were held by N.A.T.O., and it was decided that this range might play a useful and practical part in the general training effort of the alliance. We therefore said that the sensible thing seemed to be to let a German battalion come here and do its training, and to see whether it makes the contribution which we think it will.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)

Can the Minister at this stage give an assurance that under this Order there is no question of German soldiers being given any training in nuclear weapons?

Mr. Watkinson

I can certainly say that none of the facilities which this House is now discussing has anything to do with nuclear weapons at all. The tank forces are ordinary conventional tanks and the soldiers are at a very elementary stage in their training.

Mr. Greenwood

This Order does not apply to any specific period. It will go on and on until it is revoked. Will the Minister give an assurance that if there is any question of German forces being trained in the use of nuclear weapons in this country, he will come to the House and seek permission?

Mr. Watkinson

I think that that is a perfectly proper request. Certainly, if there is to be any training in nuclear weapons in this sort of area, the matter should come before the House again. I think that the hon. Member knows that we offered the Hebrides rocket range to the Germans. They did not take up the offer. The Americans took it up and recently had a formation there. They fire weapons there which can carry a nuclear head, but, obviously, they do not do so during practice firing. I am sure that the hon. Member knows it, and also knows that the offer remains open if the Germans wish at some future time to accept it, although for the moment they have said that they are not anxious to do so.

I do not say that this is an easy problem for any of us. It is bound to touch our consciences and our memories. I note that those who oppose these proposals have been at pains to make it plain—and I think rightly—that their opposition applies only to German soldiers and not to German civilians. I understand that that was the sense of the miners and everyone else. In this attitude, I think they have displayed the dilemma which faces all of us, because the German soldier today is the same kind of soldier as the ordinary British soldier. He is primarily a civilian who is serving his country for the moment in the armed forces. He is not a Nazi. He does not regard himself as belonging to a race apart, as the Nazi forces did. I hope that hon. Gentlemen will think about this as carefully as I have done. It is very much in the interests of all of us that this situation should remain, and that the German forces should regard themselves as serving the democratic German Federal Republic, many of them being conscripts. Therefore, in my view, the differentiation between soldier and civilian is not only somewhat unreal in these circumstances but, I believe, could be harmful. These young men were children at the time of the last war.

I end by saying that this is a difficult problem. I believe that the Government's decision is not only right but the only one which we can take if we believe that N.A.T.O. is something which may prevent a third world war. All of us, in one way or another, fought in the last war against a cruel and wicked dictatorship of the Nazis. I think that we should do so again against any other dictatorship which we felt threatened our life and our liberty. But is not this itself a powerful reason why we should seek by all means in our power to continue to treat the German Federal Republic in all ways as a close ally, standing with us for our free way of life, and so help to confirm her in the way in which her democratic Government have sought to lead her since the end of the last war? I think that this is something that hon. Members must ponder and choose.

We have the chance of keeping Federal Germany within the comity of the free democratic nations of the West. We have a German Government who wish to bind themselves irrevocably closer and closer into our way of life and our alliance. We should rebuff this sensible and generous impulse at our peril. I therefore hope that the House will, no doubt quite properly, ponder the difficulty of the problem of this decision and will come to the conclusion that in the end it is right for our way of life, for peace and for the strength of the N.A.T.O. Alliance, which I sincerely believe, with the majority of this House, is perhaps the one thing which may stand between us and a third world war.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

I intend to confine my remarks to a few practical points which arise from the approval of this Order. I should disclose to the House that I served on this range as an assistant adjutant a few years ago, and I had a little to do both with the range itself—

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