HC Deb 12 October 1976 vol 917 cc215-8
1. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what are the latest figures available for the costs and numbers of British forces stationed in Germany; and what progress has been made in obtaining offsetting payments.

9. Mr. Ronald Atkins

asked the Secretary of State for Defence when he will announce the new offset agreement with West Germany on the costs of the British Army of the Rhine.

12. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if any further discussions have taken place with the West German Government about the costs of BAOR during the course of recent months; and if he will make a statement.

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

We are still in touch with the Federal German Government and I cannot predict when an agreement will be concluded. I have nothing to add to the figures given to my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) on 13th July regarding the costs and number of British forces stationed in Germany.

Mr. Roberts

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his recent appointment. Does he not feel that it is absolutely absurd that one of the weakest economies in Europe—that of Britain—should be subsidising in this way the wealthiest economy in Europe, that of Germany? Is it not time we told the Germans "Either pay up or we get out"?

Mr. Mulley

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his personal good wishes. Whilst I would not necessarily adopt his language or tactics, I attach great importance to a successful outcome to these negotiations.

Mr. Younger

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the reason why he is having difficulty in getting agreement with the Germans to increase their contribution is that we have repeatedly cut our defence contribution to the Alliance in the face of all our allies and the facts of the world situation?

Mr. Mulley

I think that the hon. Gentleman is a bit short on facts himself. We are fully in accord with the Brussels Treaty commitment of 55,000 troops and a tactical air force. As the hon. Gentleman should know, the defence review conducted by my predecessor was on the basis of the commitment of practically the whole of our forces to the Alliance.

Mr. Atkins

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that we have repeatedly had trouble with the Germans ever since the Brussels Treaty was signed, and that during this period we have been filched of thousands of millions of pounds, most of it at great cost to the British balance of payments? It was a major factor in the past and still is an important factor.

Mr. Mulley

I agree that the balance of payments element presents particular difficulties to us, not least at this time, but the stationing of forces in Germany is part of NATO's general defence posture and is not solely to the benefit of one particular country.

Mr. Newens

Can my right hon. Friend give any figures which would show the effect of the recent depreciation of sterling against the deutschemark on the real cost to this country of maintaining this army? Is it not time that Conservative Members, who are continually saying that we cannot afford to pay to meet the needs of people who want housing and health and welfare services, turned their attention to this wasteful expenditure? Unless a change can be made, is it not time we began to withdraw our forces from Western Europe?

Mr. Mulley

I do not accept that the expenditure is wasteful, although I accept that the foreign exchange burden is particularly heavy, not least at the present time. The budgetary cost of our forces in Germany is about £600 million. The foreign exchange element at the beginning of the financial year was estimated to be £413 million, but obviously, since the pound has depreciated by about 20 per cent. against the deutschemark, the cost both in foreign exchange and in budgetary terms will be increased as a result. It is impossible to give an estimate as to the outturn of the financial year.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

I join in the congratulations to the new Secretary of State. He said that my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) was short on facts, but surely he will not start his period in office in the belief that our allies are happy about the cuts his Government have undertaken.

Mr. Mulley

I accept that no one is happy. I have never met a soldier, sailor or airman who could not make a most convincing case for additional expenditure, just as in my previous job I never met anyone in education who could not make a case for further public expenditure. We hear from the Opposition Benches a constant scream about the total of public expenditure but opposition to every attempt to reduce it in a particular case.

Mr. Fernyhough

Does my right hon. Friend realise that, when he says that negotiations are proceeding and that he hopes for a successful conclusion, that is the kind of answer I have been receiving ever since the Brussels Treaty was signed in 1954? As the deficit now amounts to £1,200 million or £1,300 million, and having regard to the state of our respective economies, will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the Germans in the negotiations that we can no longer continue to bear this burden and that they are in breach of the treaty they signed in 1954?

Mr. Mulley

There is no treaty commitment on the part of the Federal Republic of Germany for offset commitments, but I can tell my right hon. Friend that some offset negotiations were concluded. Indeed, I concluded two particular sets of such negotiations myself in the late 1960s. I shall certainly bear in mind the strength of feeling that I know exists that we should have a satisfactory outcome to the present negotiations.

Mr. Onslow

I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to the subject of defence. I am a little surprised that he has not already understood that he will get much more support for his duty of maintaining adequate defences in this country and for Europe from these Benches than he can expect from the Government Benches. He will not, I think, need to be told that again after this afternoon.

Does the Secretary of State regard the likelihood of our concluding an agreement on offset with the Germans as being connected with the ability of the Americants to reconclude a similar agreement between themselves and the Germans?

Mr. Mulley

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind personal remarks. I do not think there is any connection between the American offset arrangement and our own. Indeed, some arrangement was made in the summer, not exactly of an offset character, between the American Government and the German Government whereby the Germans are paying some part of the American costs of repositioning a brigade, but I do not think that the two items are necessarily connected.

Back to