HC Deb 18 December 1968 vol 775 cc1370-4
27. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will now reduce the Rhine Army expenditure in the light of the present financial situation.

29. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what consideraton he now proposes to give to the reduction of British forces in Western Germany in 1969, in view of the need for public economy; what economies in cost will be sought; and what discussions he proposes to have with the West German Government on British support costs.

53. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will now reduce the British Army of the Rhine expenditure in the light of the present financial situation.

62. Mr. Ronald Atkins

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make proposals for reducing the cost of the British Army of the Rhine, in order to assist the British economy.

Mr. Healey

Our plans for British Forces in Germany remain unchanged, though we shall continue to seek more economical and efficient means of working. Discussions with the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany on offsetting the foreign exchange expenditure of our forces in Germany are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mrs. Short

At a time when the Government are arguing about another penny for building workers, and when we have been told that part of the world monetary crisis is due to the strength of the West German mark, does not the Minister think it preposterous that the people of this country should be asked to meet a penny of this cost? When are we going to get a Minister who will stand up to the West Germans and insist that they pay the full cost of this, or or else we shall withdraw our troops?

Mr. Healey

My hon. Friend will know that some building workers are still occupied in repairing damage caused in this country during the Second World War. The military contribution which we make in Germany is calculated to protect the whole of the Western world from war, and is as much concerned with the survival of ourselves in this country, as with the survival of anybody else. We are determined to maintain a suitable contribution.

Sir G. Nabarro

Why does the right hon. Gentleman continue this feeble, flabby policy of giving money to our German industrial competitors for defence forces, which they ought to be paying for themselves? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is not only preposterous, as his hon. Friend said, but a national disgrace?

Mr. Healey

The hon. Gentleman's alliteration is no more attractive than his arrogance. The fact is that we are making a contribution in N.A.T.O. for the protection of ourselves and of our Allies in Western Europe. I think that the overwhelming majority of people in this country, people of all classes, ranks and trades, believe that a contribution to the peace of the world is fully justified.

Mr. Allaun

On top of the £205 million a year direct costs, is not there an indirect cost for weapons and overheads of at least an equal amount? Secondly, is not the offset mainly purchases which the West Germans would have made from Britain in any case?

Mr. Healey

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for referring to the offset. The fact is that the foreign exchange cost of forces in Germany has been met this year as to 90 per cent. by offset purchases by the German Government.

Mr. Atkins

Would not the Minister agree that of that 90 per cent. to which he refers a large proportion refers to credit and not to direct sales? Is it fair that we should be running into indebtedness in the interests of a country which is embarrassed with such large reserves?

Mr. Healey

With respect to my hon. Friend, I ask him to accept, and I should have thought the unanimity of the House in its reaction to the Czechoslovakian crisis would have lead him to accept, that N.A.T.O. is an indispensable guarantee of the security which all of us in this House enjoy at the present time. The contribution that we make to the solidarity and strength of N.A.T.O. through the B.A.O.R. is a direct support of the immunity which my hon. Friend enjoys at this moment.

Mr. Rippon

I support the firm response which the right hon. Gentleman has given about the need to maintain forces in Germany in the present circumstances. Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that neither the Prime Minister nor anyone else has threatened that we shall withdraw any forces from the B.A.O.R., as a form of blackmail in relation to support costs? Will the Minister at the same time say that he understands the feeling on both sides of the House, that we think one of the greatest contributions that Western Germany could make to the Alliance is to adopt a reasonable attitude about support costs?

Mr. Healey

On the question of support costs, as a result of negotiations with Her Majesty's Government the West German Government are making twice as large a contribution to offset foreign exchange costs as they made four or five years ago. I should have hoped that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would have paid tribute to them and to us for that achievement.

On the question of blackmail, I am glad to give the denial for which I was asked.

Mr. J. T. Price

Whilst all of us on this side of the House at least would welcome a reduction of military expenditure in Germany or elsewhere if it were judicious and in the interests of the country to effect such an economy, may I ask my right hon. Friend to tell us what reduction in military expenditure has been effected by the Soviet Union in West Berlin, or in other parts of East Germany, which is still under her military domination?

Mr. Healey

The Soviet defence budget went up 6 per cent. this year, and her scientific budget went up by about 14 per cent. A great deal of the scientific budget is concerned with military research and development, and Soviet forces in Eastern Europe now number 50.000 more than they did six months ago. These are facts of which many people are aware, and which many people believe are relevant to the questions which have been asked this afternoon.

42 and 43. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for Defence (1) whether he will state the total cost to Great Britain in foreign currency of maintaining British forces in Germany from 1958 until the end of the last financial year;

(2) whether he will state the total estimated cost to Great Britain in foreign currency of maintaining British forces in Germany during the current year.

Mr. Healey

The estimated net cost from 1958 to the end of the last financial year is about £310 millions. The latest estimate for 1968–69 is about £10 millions.

Mr. Newens

Does not my right hon. Friend recognise that this enormous expenditure represents a direct subsidy to Germany's economic prosperity? Is he not aware that in the view of many people the economic threat to this country at present is much more serious than the military threat which we are supposed to be combating?

Mr. Healey

I do not think that anybody would regard a net expenditure of £10 million as an immense subsidy. [HON. MEMBERS: "£10 million?"] I am talking about the situation in the current year, and my hon. Friend referred to the economic situation in the current year. As this £10 million arises from our contribution to an alliance which is indispensible to our own defence, I think that it is well worth while.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is not this expenditure an unrequited export? As the Government are so fussy about increasing exports which are paid for, will not the right hon. Gentleman do his duty and insist that the Germans, not the British, foot the bill?

An Hon. Member

Go to the Old Vic.

Mr. Healey

I would hope that the hon. Member, in spite of his histrionics, would recognise that security is something of value to this country as well as a healthy balance of exports. Since we succeeded in negotiating a much more favourable offset agreement with Germany than was ever achieved by the party of the hon. Member, I should have thought that he would be prepared to let it rest at that.

Mr. Barnett

As the £10 million is presumably the net figure, what is the gross figure. Out of the offset how much will have been spent in 1968–69?

Mr. Healey

The gross figure is £90 million, and the German offset obligation is £80 million. I cannot say without notice how much will have been spent by the end of the current financial year.