HC Deb 14 June 1961 vol 642 cc401-5
4. Mr. Cronin

asked the Minister of Defence if, in view of the fact that the fire-power and general efficiency of Soviet military units is growing at an equal pace with that of Western units, he is satisfied that the level of British forces in the British Army of the Rhine is adequate to meet United Kingdom treaty commitments.

15. Mr. Paget

asked the Minister of Defence whether his references to the defence responsibilities of Great Britain, in his recent speech to the Assembly of Western European Union, included the obligation to maintain the equivalent of four divisions in Germany.

16. Mr. C. Pannell

asked the Minister of Defence, in view of the fact that the qualitative improvement of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation units is matched by that of the Communist armed forces, and that Her Majesty's Government's failure to provide four divisions in Europe, as originally promised in the Western European Union Treaty, is among the factors preventing the achievement of Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers in Europe's planned conventional strength, what steps he is now taking to provide forces sufficient to meet our treaty obligations.

Mr. Watkinson

The reductions in the strength of B.A.O.R. from four divisions to a force of the size represented by seven brigade groups were approved by Western European Union, in the knowledge of the views of SACEUR. We have no proposals at present for any changes in these force levels.

Mr. Cronin

As the British forces in Germany are substantially below the strength arranged by treaty and in view of the Minister's somewhat bellicose emphasis on nuclear weapons in his speech to the Western European Union, can he reassure the House that the British Army in Germany can now cope with a conventional war with conventional weapons?

Mr. Watkinson

The answer to the first part of that supplementary question is, as I said in my original Answer, that the reduction of our forces to seven brigade groups was formally approved by Western European Union, which took the appropriate views of SACEUR before so doing. I have also said that we have no proposal at present for any changes in these force levels. Therefore, we are meeting our N.A.T.O. commitments.

Mr. Paget

Is it not clear that our treaty obligation is four divisions and that the Western European Union reduction was reluctant and temporary? At least, is it not clear that in view of the policy now being advocated by President Kennedy of a capacity to meet conventional war with conventional war, the necessity of our providing our original commitment of four divisions is plain? Is this being reconsidered?

Mr. Watkinson

As I have said, the original treaty obligation was formally and quite properly altered by W.E.U. through the existing and long-established machinery. As to the current doctrine of defence, I expect that hon. Members opposite will have read the reports of what was said by Mr. Gilpatric, the Deputy Defence Secretary, to the Press Conference in Washington on 6th June. He said: The current doctrine is that if N.A.T.O. forces were about to be overwhelmed by non-nuclear attack by Communist bloc countries, N.A.T.O. would respond with the use of nuclear arms.

Mr. Paget

Is it, then, the arrangement that we should have forces which are automatically overwhelmed?

Mr. Watkinson

The arrangement is that we shall have forces that conform to the pattern and doctrine laid down by SACEUR and N.A.T.O. That is the present position.

Mr. Shinwell

Was it not decided several years ago that, instead of having the formal divisions, we should constitute these brigade groups? Is it not just possible that seven brigade groups up to strength could be far more efficient and effective than seven formal divisions not up to strength?

Mr. Watkinson

The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct in his recollection, and that is what I have already said three times—that the change from a nominal four divisions to seven brigade groups was ratified and approved by N.A.T.O. I have just said that we have no proposals to make to change these force levels. I have also said that they meet the present requirements both as to the balance of conventional and nuclear weapons within them and as to their general disposition and make-up.

18. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Minister of Defence to what extent it is no longer the policy of Her Majesty's Government that the British Army of the Rhine should be equipped to hold its own in a limited non-nuclear conflict in Europe.

Mr. Watkinson

There has been no change in Her Majesty's Government's policy that the British Army of the Rhine should be organised, equipped, trained and deployed to meet the N.A.T.O. military authorities' defence plans, which call for both nuclear and conventional capacity.

Mr. Donnelly

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that notwithstanding that, his Western European Union speech was either misunderstood or was a very dangerous speech indeed, or both? Is he further aware that we cannot take seriously the Government's commitments in Berlin until he makes it perfectly clear that we do have adequate conventional forces in Germany?

Mr. Watkinson

I think we have adequate conventional forces. They also have a nuclear capacity as well, which is what N.A.T.O. asks them to have.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a considerable opinion in this country that the best thing he can do with the British Army of the Rhine is to bring it home and put the soldiers on useful work? Is he also aware that if we go in for large sums on conventional weapons it only means taking hundreds of millions of money which should be spent on education, housing, and things that people need?

Mr. Watkinson

That is the hon. Gentleman's view. It is certainly not the view of the Government. I do not believe it is the view of the country, and I hope it is not the view of the Opposition as a whole.

Mr. Strachey

Is not the Minister aware that the doctrine of the nuclear deterrent, which he has repeated here today, of using tactical nuclear weapons as part of that deterrent, loses in credibility anything which it may gain in strength?

Mr. Watkinson

Is the right hon. Gentleman, with his long experience of Army matters, really saying that we should publicly state that tactical nuclear weapons which are part of the N.A.T.O. organisation should never be used?

20. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Minister of Defence whether, in view of his recent speech on 1st June to the Assembly of Western European Union, about the priority to be given to improving the effectiveness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's conventional forces, he will increase the proportion of conventional to nuclear artillery deployed with brigade groups in the British Army of the Rhine.

Mr. Watkinson

In B.A.O.R. the nuclear artillery is held by corps and Army, and separately from the brigade groups, which contain only conventional artillery. I am satisfied that the overall balance between conventional and nuclear artillery in B.A.O.R. is about right.

Mr. Mayhew

Is the Minister aware that one of the main obstacles to British formations operating in a conventional rôle is the shortage of conventional artillery? Does he mean to change the balance from seven conventional and five nuclear artillery regiments? If he does not mean to change this balance, what on earth did he mean in the speech he made to the Western European Union?

Mr. Watkinson

I said in my speech that I thought the balance was about right, and I still think so.

Mr. Paget

Is it not a fact that there is no conventional divisional corps or army artillery in Germany? How can one meet Russian forces which are organised with that conventional artillery support unless one is going to use nuclear artillery?

Mr. Watkinson

As to the actual make-up of our forces, I would be only too happy if any hon. Members on either side of the House who wish to visit Germany—and I know many do—would go and look for themselves. They will find British forces well organised and well-equipped, following the correct N.A.T.O. make-up and ready to do the job which they are there to do. I consider that the balance of their forces and the make-up is just about right.