HC Deb 09 November 1976 vol 919 cc202-4
12. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he has any plans to withdraw British troops from their NATO assignment in Germany.

19. Mr. Gow

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will make a statement about the level of British forces in West Germany.

22. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has any plans to reduce the strength of BAOR.

Mr. Mulley

In accordance with our Brussels Treaty commitments, we maintain land forces of 55,000 men and a tactical air force on the mainland of Europe. These forces have a key rôle to play in the forward defence strategy of the Alliance and we have no plans to reduce them in advance of mutual and balanced force reductions.

Mr. Tebbit

Then what on earth was the Prime Minister blabbering about in his stupid "Panorama" broadcast a couple of weeks ago?

Mr. Mulley

I do not regard that as being a proper question concerning the statement by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I think that the House appreciates that the Prime Minister was, for both home and overseas consumption, putting the facts on the record, namely, that a substantial part of our overseas indebtedness is due to the stationing of our forces overseas in this way.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we shall not have a strong defence if we have a weak economy, and that it is reasonable for the Government to put the proposition to the German Government that, with their large reserves and in view of our financial difficulties, they should make a larger contribution to the maintenance of our troops in Germany.

Mr. Mulley

As I understood it, that was the message that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was seeking to convey—that it is not just a British or German problem but an Alliance problem.

Mr. Dow

Does the Secretary of State agree that there is more to the level and strength of British forces in Germany than the difficulties of our economy? Does he understand that the maintenance of the full 55,000 British troops in Germany is crucial to the security of this country?

Mr. Mulley

I accept, as I have said many times, that our commitment to NATO is an essential part of the defence of this country. That is why we have not indicated any plans to withdraw from that commitment. But, of course, it involves an expenditure in deutschemarks in Germany, and if we are not able to borrow the necessary foreign currency we are in difficulties.

Mr. Allaun

Is it not a fact that the French Government have recently decided to withdraw 10,000 of their 60,000 troops from Germany, and that they have given financial difficulties as a reason? If the French can withdraw their troops, why cannot we, since our financial situation is far more difficult than theirs?

Mr. Mulley

There are two or three very important reasons why our position is different from that of France. First, we have a treaty commitment. We are the only country with a treaty commitment in this regard. Secondly, although I am happy to say that they work very closely with the NATO forces, the French forces are not part of the NATO integrated forces. As far as I am aware, the French Government have never had any offset arrangements of the sort that we were discussing a little earlier this afternoon.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

The Secretary of State will recall that the Prime Minister's exact words were that there could come a situation when we must put our own interests first. How is keeping the British Army on the Rhine up to strength not putting our own interests first?

Mr. Mulley

I think that the use of a textual criticism based on a short extract from an interview is not a successful way of conducting questions and answers. I have made it clear that I regard it as in our interests that our forces should stay in Germany, but naturally it is also in our interests that we should be able to pay the costs involved—not least the wages of the German civilians who give our forces such excellent support.

Mr. Gow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Secretary of State's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.