HC Deb 26 March 1985 vol 76 cc206-7
14. Mr. Proctor

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what is the current cost of maintaining the British Army of the Rhine; if he has any plans to reduce it; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Stanley

As I told my hon. Friend on 13 November 1984, the cost of the British Army of the Rhine is estimated to be some £1,796 million in 1984–85 at 1984–85 Estimates prices. The Government have no plans to reduce BAOR.

Mr. Proctor

In the light of constraints on the defence budget, will my hon. Friend reconsider the prospects for returning to the traditional British policy of not maintaining a standing army on the mainland of Europe?

Mr. Stanley

My hon. Friend will be aware that we are part of a collective alliance, and that our NATO Allies and friends expect us to contribute in the way that we do—and we do so, I think, extremely successfully and cost-effectively—to safeguard and preserve deterrence in a key element of the central front.

Mr. Johnston

Will the Minister assure us that the Trident programme will have no effect on the availability of resources to BAOR?

Mr. Stanley

As we have said many times, the Trident programme is part of the total defence programme. What is spent on Trident cannot be spent elsewhere, but we believe that the expenditure on Trident is a way in which we can achieve an important continuation of our deterrent capability.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Is it not a fact that BAOR is already the worst equipped of all the major armed forces in the NATO central front, having less artillery than the Dutch Army, and fewer tanks than the French or Germans? Is it not inevitable that the Trident programme will make the situation massively worse in this vital area of Britain's defence capability?

Mr. Stanley

No, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. We are carrying through one of the most important re-equipment programmes of BAOR, and that re-equipment programme directly reflects the fact that the Government have increased defence expenditure by approximately one fifth in real terms, while the Opposition said at the last election that they intended substantially to reduce conventional defence expenditure.