HC Deb 30 January 1962 vol 652 cc887-90
Q2. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Prime Minister what representations he made to Dr. Adenauer regarding an increase by Germany of arms purchases from Great Britain.

Q7. Mr. Lipton

asked the Prime Minister whether, during his recent conversations with Dr. Adenauer, he discussed the matter of an increased German contribution towards the costs of the British Army of the Rhine.

The Prime Minister

I would refer to my reply on 25th January to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin).

Mr. Hughes

Is the Prime Minister aware that it has been widely reported, both here and in Germany, that there was discussion between him and Dr. Adenauer about buying more arms from this country, that he went to Germany as a sort of super commercial traveller to sell armaments? Can he tell us what Germany is likely to send to this country if we send Germany more armaments?

The Prime Minister

As the House knows, the problem of maintaining our forces overseas imposes a very heavy exchange burden upon us. If this can be met by the Germans buying arms from British sources it will certainly be a great relief towards the exchange problem.

Mr. Lipton

Does not the right hon. Gentleman, however, find it rather sickening that for such a long time now British Ministers, including himself, have had to go in relays on these bootlicking expeditions in relation to their opposite numbers in Germany for the purpose of trying to extort a little charity to enable us to meet the financial commitments arising from keeping British troops in Germany? Would it not be much simpler to bring British troops back from Germany and thus solve this very serious balance of payments problem?

The Prime Minister

No. I think there would be disadvantages in that course in the strength of the whole N.A.T.O. Alliance.

Mr. H. Wilson

Does not the Prime Minister think this a very serious matter, that the failings of our export record are such that this country has to balance its overseas payments by shipment of arms abroad, not only to Germany but to many other countries? Does he not feel that it is extremely humiliating for Ministers to go cap in hand touting for arms orders every time they go abroad?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Member fails to appreciate the very heavy balance of payments problem placed upon us by keeping large numbers of troops as part of the N.A.T.O. Alliance overseas. [An HON. MEMBER: "Bring them home."] If it can be met by the Germans placing orders for arms here, that would be a helpful solution of part of that problem.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not a fact that West Germany is still spending a very much smaller proportion of its national income on defence than is the United Kingdom? Is not this the real problem? Is it not rather unsatisfactory that we should try to get out of our difficulties by shipping arms to Germany when what is really wanted is a proper arrangement by which the proportion spent on defence by members of N.A.T.O. is much closer than it is today?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, it is only a proportion of the money spent on defence. What falls so heavily on us is the large proportion of expenditure which is overseas expenditure.

Mr. Gaitskell

Since, as the Prime Minister has not denied, West Germany is spending a much smaller proportion of her income upon defence than we are, could we not invite a contribution to the support of N.A.T.O. other than through the form of purchasing arms from us?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, this is not a budgetary problem but a balance of payments problem. This is probably one of the easiest methods of meeting it, at any rate for the time being.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Does my right hon. Friend recall that immediately after the war the Labour Government set the fashion by selling new type jet engines to Soviet Russia to get an income?

Mr. Shinwell

Is it not obvious to the Prime Minister that our troops are in Germany as much for the protection of the Germans as for the people of this country? If we cannot afford to spend £70 million a year on maintaining our troops in Germany and if the Germans will not pay their fair share, is it not about time that we brought our troops back?

The Prime Minister

It is the fact of it being overseas expenditure, added to the very heavy overseas expenditure which we make in many parts of the world. Therefore, it is not simply a proportion of the national income. What lies heavily upon us is the burden that we carry in many parts of the world. It is to try to meet that burden that these discussions have been instituted.

Mr. Rankin

Does the Prime Minister think that selling arms to Germany will help to promote a disarmament agreement?

The Prime Minister

That is quite another matter. These arms are going to be procured by the Germans, whether they buy them from the Americans or manufacture them themselves. It is to our advantage if we can help to meet our balance of payments by supplying them from our own resources.

Mr. Gaitskell

Is it not obvious that, if the Germans were to put into the N.A.T.O. pool the kind of expenditure which they are supposed to be going to spend on arms from us now, that would help our balance of payments and bring up the proportion spent on defence by Germany to a figure somewhat nearer to what we spend?

The Prime Minister

I understand that the proportion at present spent by Germany is less, but not very much less, and it is growing all the time as the German Army is growing. What the right hon. Gentleman calls the N.A.T.O. pool is exactly the problem. The whole problem is the balance of payments aspect, and that problem has not yet been resolved.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I will raise the matter at the earliest possible moment.