HC Deb 26 June 1962 vol 661 cc963-7
Mr. Paget

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will make a statement on the incident involving British troops at Schneverdingen, on Sunday, 24th June, and the incident involving British officers at Putlos, on 25th June.

The Secretary of State for War (Mr. John Profumo)

The hon. and learned Gentleman's question relates to two separate incidents.

According to the information at present available to me, the circumstances of the Putlos incident were as follows. On the evening of Saturday, 23rd June, after bathing and visiting a civilian holiday camp at Putlos, near Kiel, four British officers were going home in pairs when two of them were attacked by Some unknown assailants.

They were both knocked unconscious. I regret that one has a fractured skull, but is not on the danger list. The other was not seriously hurt. Their families have been informed. Inquiries, both military and civilian, are now in process.

The other incident occurred in the early hours of Sunday, 24th June, when damage was done to civilian property in the town of Schneverdingen, near Lueneburg Heath.

Eight men of 40 Field Regiment R.A., which was training in the area, are in close arrest, and others will be interviewed. Inquiries are being made to determine what disciplinary action should be taken. This will probably involve courts-martial and the unit has already been moved away.

As a result, I asked the Commander-in-Chief, B.A.O.R., to come and see me yesterday. He reassured me that this latter incident and others that have recently occurred have been caused by a small and irresponsible minority of troublemakers who do not reflect the conduct of the British Army of the Rhine as a whole—I am sure that this is so.

However, in the interests of the good name of the Army, and because of our responsibilities to the individual soldier, General Cassels has decided—with my approval—that unmarried soldiers living in barracks shall not in future, normally, be allowed out of their barracks after midnight, unless they have a pass.

In administering this provision, latitude will be given to commanding officers so that sensible concessions shall be made to those who make reasonable requests to be out after that hour.

Mr. Paget

Is this not a rather unfortunate concession to what has really been a Press campaign? As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I have recently come back from Germany. The ill-feeling between the Germans and the British troops there was, as far as I could make out from fairly wide inquiries, something which they have read about in the Press, but have not experienced. Indeed, to some degree, is it not to the credit of the British Army of the Rhine that when the Press desired a campaign against the right hon. Gentleman all they could really discover was that in the early part of April some "Jocks" had beaten up a "honkey tonk" one night?

I do not know whether I am somewhat out of date, but in my day it would have been news if two months had gone by without "Jocks" doing something like that. On the other hand, this latest incident does appear to have been much more serious and, of course, if the Press does loudly and strongly enough tell people that there is bad feeling, bad feeling is apt to be created.

In these circumstances, is it not very unjust to punish the British troops? Is not the impression which the right hon. Gentleman creates one of weakness, subservience and surrender to a very unworthy campaign? Would it not be far better to refer this matter to the Press Council for investigation?

Mr. Profumo

I have very great sympathy for much of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, particularly since he has just come back from B.A.O.R. The measures which I have announced—which I have decided to take in consultation with General Cassels—are by no means punishment. They are designed to protect men from the danger of wandering about in the early hours of the morning in a foreign country, when, as we have seen, unhappy incidents are likely to take place. Perhaps the House will recollect that this is something which has occurred throughout the history of the British Army and has only just been altered, in 1961.

I give the hon. and learned Gentleman the undertaking that it is only to protect our troops and that this will be administered in the fairest possible way.

Mr. P. Williams

Can my right hon. Friend say that the measure which he has announced is just temporary and will be, so to speak, a pause in these relationship's with the Germans and that it will be brought to an end as soon as possible?

Mr. Profumo

If I were to say that it was only a temporary measure, it would appear to be a punishment. I would not want anything to be permanent, but I should like to remind the House that all we are doing is to fall in line with the custom carried out by other troops in N.A.T.O.

Mr. Pentland

Is the Minister aware that 24 hours ago many hon. Members on this side representing North-East constituencies had consultations with the officers, the commander and other ranks of the D.L.I. in Berlin and that we were very pleased to hear from the men there that relations between the civilian population in West Berlin and the D.L.I. and Welsh Regiments stationed there were first-class? However, we were also given to understand by long-service N.C.O.s—sergeants and other ranks—who had spent many years in West Germany outside Berlin that a good deal of animosity by the German population against our troops prevails, and has prevailed for a long time. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman consider having a full inquiry by responsible people in West Germany in order to get to the bottom of what is happening there before further trouble arises?

Mr. Profumo

The hon. Gentleman is speaking about West Berlin rather than B.A.O.R. I should say that relations between British troops and the German population vary very much from place to place and that in some places, like Berlin, the relationship is very good indeed. I do not think that this is a matter on which one can generalise and I am equally sure that this is not a subject into which we should have an inquiry at the moment.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Have the Government any information suggesting that there has been provocation of British troops by elements in the neo-Nazi minority in the Federal German Republic?

Mr. Profumo

Up to the present I have had no information leading me to that conclusion. However, if I did get any information about provocation, I would immediately take it up with the German authorities.

Mr. Gordon Walker

My impression from a slightly earlier visit to B.A.O.R. was that the real need is to provide greater occupation, greater relaxation for men, particularly unmarried men, in barracks. Has the right hon. Gentleman inquired whether there has been a disproportionate involvement of retained National Service men in these incidents?

Mr. Profumo

I entirely agree with the first part of what the right hon. Gentleman says. We are always trying to see what we can do to make the leisure hours of the soldier serving abroad fuller and more interesting. If any hon. Member has any ideas, I shall be very ready to look at them—[Laughter.]—any ideas which I could fall in with.

On the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, as far as I can make out, there is no relation at all between the retained National Service men and these widely spaced incidents. The only case of a National Service man being involved in the cases under review is the one who may be involved in the latest incident.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

The Cameronians have one idea that they would like to give to the right hon. Gentleman, and that is that they want to be sent home. Can the Minister tell us anything about the so-called trouble makers? Is he aware that men who have been dismissed from the Army for causing trouble say that they are as pleased as Punch? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all the Cameronians would be as pleased as Punch if the Government brought them home?

Mr. Profumo

I do not share the hon. Gentleman's view in this matter, as in any other military matter.

Sir A. V. Harvey

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the regulations to which he referred do not apply to Royal Air Force personnel in Germany?

Mr. Profumo

I am speaking only for the British Army of the Rhine.

Mr. Shinwell

While agreeing with the Minister that nothing should be said or done which in any way disturbs or affects the prestige of the British Army, will not he agree that, irrespective of what has been said by some hon. Members about relations between the Germans and our troops, the impression has been created that it is the British soldier who has been at fault, while there has been a complete disregard of the attitude of many Germans in the West? Would the right hon. Gentleman therefore have a full inquiry on the spot conducted, not through a court-martial, but, if he would prefer it and since he has asked for ideas, by hon. Members from both sides of the House in order to ascertain who is really at fault?

Finally, the Minister should not in any circumstances impose further discipline on innocent troops simply because of the actions of a few.

Mr. Profumo

I do not think that there is any cause for inquiries other than those which are at present in train. Many hon. Members have been to B.A.O.R. and have just returned. I have no intention of imposing any discipline on innocent troops in B.A.O.R. These are protective measures, and I am content to leave the handling of discipline of B.A.O.R. to the Commander-in-Chief.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate this matter without a Question being before the House.