HC Deb 09 November 1976 vol 919 cc188-90
1. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next plans to visit the British Army of the Rhine.

7. Mr. Neubert

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he next proposes to visit British troops stationed in West Germany.

The Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

I hope to have the opportunity to do so in the near future.

Mr. Dykes

When, in due course, the right hon. Gentleman has the courage to visit BAOR, will he explain that now that Germany is considering separate loan facilities for this country to rescue the Government apart from the IMF facility, everything will be all right and the Government will not have to pull our forces out of NATO? Indeed, did he not say that to the German Defence Minister last week?

Mr. Mulley

It is not through lack of courage that I have not visited BAOR. Indeed, I have had the great pleasure of visiting BAOR on previous occasions. It is all a matter of time. If the hon. Gentleman will assist me with a "pair", perhaps that will facilitate the arrangements. It would not be appropriate to discuss the financing of our troops in BAOR. I wish to make clear that we have no plans to withdraw our forces, but we need to make it clear to our allies that substantial foreign exchange costs are involved.

Mr. Cronin

Nevertheless, when my right hon. Friend visits BAOR will he take the opportunity to talk to his counterpart in the German Government and make clear what an intolerable burden is involved in our support costs as a result of the devaluation of the pound and the revaluation of the mark? Is it not high time that Germany took some effective action to reduce that burden?

Mr. Mulley

I had the opportunity of meeting the German Defence Minister, Herr Leber, 10 days ago, and I expect to receive him at a NATO meeting in London next week. I made clear our difficulties—though I did not quite use the language adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin).

Mr. Neubert

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Anglo-German tank featured in discussions with the German Defence Minister? What progress is being made on this joint project, and was Chobham armour a factor in discussions?

Mr. Mulley

No, we did not discuss Chobham armour. One of the great problems in producing tanks for the Alliance is that the time scale between our requirements is so different. We are not replacing Chieftain until the end of the next decade. The urgent need of the Germans is to find a replacement of the M48 tank, beginning in a couple of years, and the Americans will soon want to replace some of their older tanks. Therefore, studies of the future main battle tank have been taking place. This will not happen until the next generation of weapons, and therefore the problem is not imminent.

Mr. MacFarquhar

Will the Minister give an undertaking that when he next meets his German opposite number he will raise the matter of Chobham armour? Is it true that we shall obtain no commercial advantage from the Americans or the Germans by letting them have the secret of this armour, and that they are not willing to give any quid pro quo either in terms of continuing the joint battle tank or in purchasing our guns?

Mr. Mulley

I do not know that there is any need to discuss the arrangements made by the previous Administration for making the Chobham armour available. It is customary within NATO for this information to be exchanged. Under no circumstances would we make tanks for another NATO country—nor would they make them for us. Even if there were a standard tank, the production would be in Germany or the United States, as the case may be. The ques- tion of the replacement of our tank, as I said earlier, will not arise for at least another 10 to 12 years.

Mr. Ian Gilmour

Without in any way apologising for what the last Government did, which I think was right, or, indeed, criticising what was done by the previous Government, which I also think was right, may I ask the Minister to confirm that the first information about Chobham armour was given in 1965, and certainly a great deal of information was given in 1968 or 1969?

Mr. Mulley

Without notice I cannot give the precise dates, but it is right for all allies to co-operate to increase the maximum strength of the Alliance.

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