HC Deb 08 November 1961 vol 648 cc961-3
17. Mr. Cronin

asked the Minister of Defence what consideration he has given to reducing the number of Service personnel stationed in Hong Kong.

Mr. Watkinson

As the House knows, the deployment of our forces overseas is at present under review as part of the re-examination of the defence programme.

Mr. Cronin

Will the Minister bear In mind that Hong Kong is probably indefensible by any number of troops that employ conventional weapons against determined Chinese aggression, and that a large part of that very large garrison kept in Hong Kong could be used more profitably in defending Western Europe against Russian or East German aggression?

Mr. Watkinson

That is the hon. Member's view, but we have no intention of scuttling out of any bases.

Mr. Dance

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that any withdrawal of our troops from Hong Kong would have a very grave effect on the morale of our people out there? Would he not agree also that our friends in Australia and New Zealand would be very upset if that took place?

Mr. Watkinson

The answer to the Hong Kong question is that there is a very serious internal security problem there, as the House knows, and we must make sure that we keep forces there to deal with that problem. I agree that we cannot hope to keep enough forces there to fight the whole Chinese Army.

Mr. Mayhew

Apart from internal security, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether these forces have an operational role, and if so, what it is?

Mr. Watkinson

I am not going to say in the House exactly what role any forces have anywhere. I have given the general indication that we must certainly keep forces in Hong Kong to handle the internal security problem efficiently, and that is all I intend to say.

Mr. Eden

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the maintenance of forces there is a most valuable guarantee of security and stability there? At the same time, while maintaining a constant force, would he give consideration to the possibility of requiring a shorter length of stay for most Service men in the territory?

Mr. Watkinson

I will certainly examine that. I think that might be a good idea.

Mr. Mason

Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the primary purpose of troops in Hong Kong is solely for internal security and that there are far too many there merely for that purpose? What is the purpose of the surplus in Hong Kong?

Mr. Watkinson

I have nothing to add to what I have said.

Mr. Strachey

Will the right hon. Gentleman resist pressure from his hon. Friends to keep British forces in places for purely prestige reasons where there is no operational role for them and maintain only those forces for which there is a rational role for internal security?

Mr. Watkinson

What I hope to do is —having taken the best military and political advice I can get—to take what I think are the right decisions.

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