HC Deb 07 November 1966 vol 735 cc966-7
29. Mr. Dickens (Lewisham, West)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will state Her Majesty's Government's policy on limitation of the size of the West German Army under the Brussels Treaty consequent upon the withdrawal of troops from the British Army of the Rhine.

Mr. George Brown

Her Majesty's Government have made no decision to withdraw troops from the British Army of the Rhine. The provisions of the revised Brussels Treaty of 1954 affecting the size of the West German Army continue to apply.

Mr. Dickens

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the immense majority of hon. Members on this side of the House want to see an early reduction in the size of B.A.O.R. but are none the less against any corresponding increase in the size of the Federal German Army; and that this view is powerfully reinforced by yesterday's election results in Hesse? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that these views are adequately represented to the Federal German Government and all others concerned at an early date.

Mr. Brown

If those be my hon. Friend's views, I am sure that he will think that we are acting wisely in ensuring that the level of all forces in the N.A.T.O. provision in Europe shall be a matter for decision by all the N.A.T.O. countries.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Will the right hon. Gentleman given an assurance that there will be no reduction or withdrawal of British troops until the N.A.T.O. survey of force levels is complete?

Mr. Brown

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we should like that to happen. We have the other problem of offsetting our foreign exchange costs, which falls unfairly on us at the moment, and we are negotiating about that at the same time.

Mr. Shinwell

Has not my right hon. Friend initiated a new principle in this regard, when he informs the House that we cannot reduce our forces in N.A.T.O. except with the consent of all the other N.A.T.O. countries? Surely this is a new principle?

Mr. Brown

I am not necessarily against initiating new principles. As a matter of fact, this is not one. If my right hon. Friend thinks back, he will realise that it is one for which he bears some responsibility. Successive Governments have accepted the basis of N.A.T.O. and have accepted the basis of W.E.U. and the procedures that have to be gone through if changes are to be made in the force levels. In any case, since I believe in the importance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the Alliance under which it is made, I would think that it is important to do it in this way.

Mr. Shinwell

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that, when we first agreed to place troops on the Rhine, it was clearly understood that we had the right to withdraw them if we required them for any emergency or because of the situation in this country?

Mr. Brown

I apologise if I misunderstood my right hon. Friend before. On the point that he makes, the fact that we stationed troops there in accordance with our Treaty obligations does not affect our rights, under certain conditions, to withdraw them for use elsewhere.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Is this not a W.E.U. obligation and, since the virtual defection of France from N.A.T.O., is it not tremendously important that the balance of forces in Germany should not be disturbed except by allied decision?

Mr. Brown

With the nature of the threat that we are facing, the level of forces that we need to meet it should be the outcome of very careful study. But I repeat both to this House and to those outside that the very unfair burden of exchange costs which we have carried for a long time and which no one else has carried has to be met as well.