§ 8. Mr. G. Brown
asked the Minister of Defence whether the British troops going to Portugal will be taking part in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation exercises or exercises arranged between his department and the Government of Portugal.
§ Mr. Watkinson
This exercise was arranged last January with our Portuguese N.A.T.O. allies who offered suitable territory in which elements of the Strategic Reserve and Transport Command could be trained in rapid air movement and deployment in realistic conditions. It is planned that it should take place early in July. I understand that the token contingents of Portuguese forces taking part will be drawn from forces assigned to N.A.T.O.
§ Mr. Brown
Does the Minister mean that since last January he has not reconsidered this in the light of the situation in Angola and the mounting objections that there are to Portugal and to her present policy? Does he not agree that there are a number of other territories—I have a list of them with me—within the same distance from this country offering the same kind of terrain in the land of other N.A.T.O. allies where our troops could be trained? Will 410 the Minister not, therefore, consider countermanding the decision to send them to Portugal and opt for somewhere else where our troops could be trained?
§ Mr. Watkinson
I accept that this presents a difficulty. As to the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question about alternative territories, we have tried a great number of these. We have had one or two disappointments this year in one or two, which I will not mention. They are for understandable reasons. I must make this plain, because I do not want there to be any misunderstanding about this. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite see difficulties in this, but I have my difficulties, too.
I must first make it plain that this exercise does not imply that we agree with Portugal's policy in Africa. Our own approach to these colonial problems is quite different, as the Foreign Secretary recently made plain in Lisbon. Let us be clear about that. It is a military exercise, and it is a great convenience for which we are grateful to the Portuguese authorities to be able to train this large element of the Strategic Reserve in a hot and barren part of a country where the conditions are just right.
I must say one other word which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman will understand, even if we differ; I am not doing my duty to the country if I do not see that the Strategic Reserve—which is the spearhead of our forces, the fire brigade that may be able to put out a small dangerous bush fire—is given the chance to exercise outside this country with Royal Air Force Transport Command and with realistic conditions.
That is why we wish to carry on with this exercise, which is an exercise for British troops. This is really only being done in Portugal because that seems to be the best place at the moment and the only available place where an exercise of this kind could take place. But it has no political connotations.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am now on my feet. I should not be doing my duty if I did not renew my request that Answers, like supplementary questions, should be short, otherwise other hon. Members who have Questions on the Paper suffer.
§ Mr. Brown
I merely wish to ask whether the Minister is not aware that none of us is disputing the need to train forces outside Britain. What we are putting to the right hon. Gentleman is that they do not have to go to Portugal. It is not so much a matter of whether he is acquiescing in Portugal's policy—and the Minister will have seen the observation in The Times this morning—it is a question of other people, particularly Africans, thinking that he may be acquiescing and, since there are other territories that could be used, will he reconsider the matter?
§ Mr. Watkinson
Of course, I will take note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I do not want to mislead him. I was careful to say what I did, and I hope that other countries in Africa will take note of this and of the fact—as I hope our N.A.T.O. allies will—that it is essential for N.A.T.O. purposes and for the peace of the world as a whole that our Strategic Reserve should be properly trained and exercised. I was and I still am prepared to give the right hon. Gentleman chapter and verse about this if he wants it, although I should transgress again if I did so now There is at the moment no alternative means of carrying out this exercise in the time schedule that we have.