HC Deb 15 June 1961 vol 642 cc640-1

Mr. G. Brown (by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Defence whether he has now considered the representations made to him by the right hon. Member for Belper about countermanding the orders for the dispatch of the 19th Brigade Group to Portugal, and what decision he has come to.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

It was announced in March last that this exercise would take place in Portugal in July. As I said yesterday, the choice is between holding it where planned, or cancelling it altogether. I have considered carefully the representations made to me yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman, but have decided that I must maintain my decision, subject, of course, to any unforeseen emergencies.

Mr. Brown

That seems to remove the issue which was in dispute yesterday. In order that we may get that quite clear, may I ask whether I am right in taking it that this proposal does not arise out of any alliance requirement of ours and is wholly a voluntary decision by us to have this airlift training exercise in that country?

Mr. Watkinson

May I be as plain as I can? It cannot be strictly a N.A.T.O. exercise, because the 19th Brigade Group is not at this moment allocated to N.A.T.O., although, of course, all our forces are committed to N.A.T.O. under Article V of the Treaty. I want to be quite plain about this. At the moment, this Brigade Group is not definitely allocated to our N.A.T.O. force. On the other hand, it is clearly within the normal pattern of bilateral arrangements that N.A.T.O. allies make, and I imagine that this sort of move would be welcomed by all other N.A.T.O. allies. The forces that take part on the Portuguese side are normally committed to N.A.T.O. Therefore, the only reason why it cannot be strictly a N.A.T.O. exercise is the simple one that the 19th Brigade Group is not allocated to N.A.T.O.

Mr. Brown

That is not the question I asked. I asked whether we are required by our N.A.T.O. alliance arrangements to hold these exercises. I understand the answer to be "No, we are not". Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, you will afford me an opportunity later to seek to move a Motion on the subject.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what this is likely to cost the British taxpayer?

Mr. Watkinson

As the exercising of these forces is a continuous process, this will not cost the British taxpayer any more than the normal sums that he has to pay anyway.