HC Deb 15 June 1964 vol 696 cc926-7
26. Mr. Grimond

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to what extent it remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government to maintain four divisions and the Tactical Air Force on the European Continent in accordance with the terms of the Brussels Treaty.

Mr. R. A. Butler

Under the Revised Brussels Treaty, as amended by decisions of the Western European Union Council in March, 1957, and January, 1958, the United Kingdom is committed to maintain on the mainland of Europe ground forces of 55,000 men and the Second Tactical Air Force.

As the House is aware, our extensive commitments in other overseas theatres have made it impossible to bring the British Army of the Rhine up to its full strength as quickly as we should wish. But, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for the Army stated in reply to a Question from the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) on 11th March, it remains the policy of Her Majesty's Government to reach a strength of 55,000 men as soon as we can.

Mr. Grimond

May I take it, then, that Her Majesty's Government have no intention of suggesting to our allies in N.A.T.O. or through W.E.U. that there might be a reduction of our commitments in Germany and Europe?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir; that is correct.

Mr. P. Williams

Will my right hon. Friend give an undertaking that, whatever this commitment may be, it will not be our prime call if we find that we need troops for the Far East and places such as Malaysia?

Mr. Butler

I have said already that it is our hope to raise our strength to 55,000, but, if there were exceptional circumstances, I am sure that our allies would understand.

Mr. J. Hynd

How does the right hon. Gentleman reconcile this Answer with the one given by his right hon. Friend the Minister of State to my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) in which he said that the present establishment enables us to meet all our commitments? The right hon. Gentleman has just said that we are not, in fact, meeting one of these commitments and we might, in the future, have to reduce even what we have done.

Mr. Butler

I think it is very laudable, in view of the many world calls upon us, that we are meeting our commitments as we are.

Mr. Shinwell

Why do the Government keep up the pretence of having four divisions in Germany, or any hope that we shall ever have four divisions in Germany? Is it not a fact that we have only two divisions there? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that, in an interview the other day with the French Foreign Minister, he said that the French had two divisions in Germany—whether that be true or not—which was equal to the number we have in Germany?

Mr. Butler

There is no question of pretence. If the right hon. Gentleman wants the exact number of our troops in Germany, I shall want notice of that question; but my answer prevails, that we hope to reach the total of 55,000.