HC Deb 31 May 1967 vol 747 cc62-7
2. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Defence his estimate of the number of troops Great Britain will have in the Far East at the end of 1968.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Denis Healey)

I have made no estimate.

Mr. Blaker

The Secretary of State himself referred to the level of troops which it was planned to have in the Far East before confrontation. Can he, for the benefit of the House, translate that expression into numbers of Service men from the United Kingdom forces?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir, I cannot do that. What I have always said was that when confrontation came to an end—I said that while confrontation was still going on—we planned to reduce our forces in the Far East to the levels obtaining before confrontation, although not necessarily to the same pattern of forces, because the world has moved on since then and weapons are different. What I have made clear to the House and elsewhere is that during the next 12 months we propose further reductions in the Far East which, taking those working in and for the forces together, will reduce the numbers by 20,000 compared with the level in July last year before confrontation came to an end.

Mr. Humphrey Atkins

When the Secretary of State says that he is planning to reduce forces to the level obtaining before confrontation, he must be able to tell us what those figures are.

Mr. Healey

I have made it clear that it is roughly those levels, but I am not prepared necessarily to stick to the same pattern as the previous Government planned in 1963. I do not think that anybody, on either side of the House, would think that that made sense.

4. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement about the future of British forces in the Far East.

27. Mr. G. Campbell

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement on his plans for the future strength of British armed forces east of Suez.

33. Mr. Dickens

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the future strength of British armed forces east of Suez.

42. Mr. Stratton Mills

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a further statement about the future of British forces and bases in the Far East.

Mr. Healey

I would refer to the Statement on the Defence Estimates 1967, and to my Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) on 1st May. [Vol. 746, cc. 90–94.]

Mr. Marten

In view of the developing situation in the Far East, what proposals have the Government to honour their obligation under the S.E.A.T.O. Treaty, particularly about sending military forces to Thailand?

Mr. Healey

As the House will know, the Government have made certain force declarations under certain S.E.A.T.O. contingency plans, and they propose to honour them if called upon to do so.

Mr. G. Campbell

When the Secretary of State referred just now to not sticking to the same pattern of forces in the Far East, was that simply another way of saying that the levels of forces would be different from the levels before confrontation?

Mr. Healey

No, not that the levels will be different. Of course, we have made no commitment. We may in the end change the levels. Our immediate intention, however, is to get down to the pre-confrontation level and I hope to have achieved that by April next year, considerably earlier than I expected a year ago.

Mr. Stratton Mills

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the concern about the ambiguity of Her Majesty's Government's position? Could not this be greatly helped by a statement by the right hon. Gentleman indicating a presence east of Suez for a minimum period?

Mr. Healey

I do not think that there is any ambiguity about Her Majesty's Government's policy. It was fully described in last year's and this year's White Papers and I had the impression that it had the support of most right hon. and hon. Members opposite.

7. Sir G. Sinclair

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what estimate he has made of the strength of British forces in Malaya and Singapore in a year's time; and what rôle he sees for them under the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation or a reorganised South-East Asia Treaty Organisation.

Mr. Healey

I expect that the total of British forces in Singapore and Malaysia, service and civilian, including crews on sea service in the Far East and locally employed personnel, will be about 70,000 in April, 1968. As now, certain of these forces could be made available for operations under the South-East Asia Collective Defence Treaty if the need arose.

Sir G. Sinclair

Will these arrangements enable Great Britain to carry out her obligations to Thailand and Malaysia and her duties to Australia and New Zealand when they are already engaged in defending their existence?

Mr. Healey

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman meant by the last few words of his Question. If he meant that British forces should participate in the war in Vietnam, he knows that that is not Her Majesty's Government's policy. As far as British commitments are concerned, I am satisfied that the reductions which we propose will not impair our ability to fulfil them.

Mr. Luard

Has the Secretary of State had discussions recently about the level of locally engaged personnel in Singapore, and will he agree that any economic assistance which needs to be given to Singapore is better given for the assistance of industry than for retaining locally engaged personnel for our forces which may not be needed?

Mr. Healey

I agree with that last point, and, as I said in the House on an earlier occasion, I have had discussions with the Governments of Singapore and Malaysia about possible plans for running down locally engaged and enlisted personnel.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Of the 70,000 given in the right hon. Gentleman's first Answer, can he say how many are civilians?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir. This is one of the matters which we are still discussing in detail with the Governments of those countries. I am not prepared to make an announcement on that until I have their consent to do so.

8. Sir G. Sinclair

asked the Secretary of State for Defence in view of the continued threat from the north to countries of South-East Asia, what he is doing to ensure that British forces in Malaya and Singapore learn from the experience of South Vietnamese, Australian, New Zealand, American and Korean troops in Vietnam.

Mr. Healey

Information is obtained through the defence attaches on the Staff of H.M. Ambassador in Saigon and an officer attached to the Thai/United States Military Research and Development Centre in Bangkok. Additionally, occasional visits are paid to South Vietnam by British Service personnel to investigate questions of military interest; these visits are purely fact finding and do not involve British personnel in observing or participating in operations.

Sir G. Sinclair

Is the Minister satisfied that, through this very gossamer-like liaison, British forces in the Far East are getting the maximum from the experience being gained by the countries which I have mentioned in the war in Vietnam?

Mr. Healey

Yes, Sir. One of the reasons why we increased substantially the number of our defence attaches in Saigon was to obtain relevant information. The House should be aware that we learned a great deal about the way to deal with this type of problem ourselves during the confrontation operations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ten years ago."] The confrontation operation was not 10 years ago, as hon. Gentlemen opposite seem to imagine. It ended last August.

Mr. Blaker

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many defence attaches there are on the staff of our Ambassador in Saigon?

Mr. Healey

Yes, Sir. There are seven.

30. Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what factors he took into account, when deciding upon the reductions in British force levels in the Far East.

Mr. Healey

Our own general interests, those of our friends and allies, and the need to reduce our defence and foreign exchange expenditure.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Australian Government's views were fully taken into account, because judging by the remarks of the Australian Minister for External Affairs at the recent S.E.A.T.O. Conference, this does not seem to be the case?

Mr. Healey

We are, of course, in continuous consultation with all our allies and those Commonwealth Governments who may be affected by any reductions which we may make. We shall carry on further negotiations, particularly with the Australian Government in the coming months, when the Australian Prime Minister is in Britain.

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