HC Deb 24 May 1988 vol 134 cc181-2
4. Mr. Shersby

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with the German Minister of Defence concerning improvements in peacetime support for British forces in Germany.

The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Ian Stewart)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has regular discussions with his German counterpart on a wide range of subjects of mutual interest.

Mr. Shersby

Is my hon. Friend aware that the foreign exchange cost of British forces in Germany is running at an annual rate of £1.2 billion? Does he accept that unless the Federal Republic is prepared to share part of the burden savings must be limited to good housekeeping? As the Government have reserved their position with a view to finding an alternative solution to the former offset arrangements, can my hon. Friend now say what solutions he proposes to solve this difficult problem?

Mr. Stewart

I know of my hon. Friend's interest in this and, in particular, of the part that he played in the evidence that was taken by the Public Accounts Committee on host nation support a month or two ago. Following that, we have set up, in the logistics division at the Ministry of Defence, a special section to look into all these questions, including the matter of foreign exchange and the other things that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

Mr. Duffy

Will the Minister confirm that the improvements for which Dr. Wörner will be looking on the part of British forces in Germany, both as Secretary-General elect and as the current German Defence Minister, include sustainability, stockages and spares, shortfalls in standing ground forces, reinforcement and counter-air, certainly not the urgent modernisation of short range nuclear forces, to which the Prime Minister attaches so much importance?

Mr. Stewart

Dr. Wörner appreciates as well as any Defence Minister in NATO the importance of both nuclear and conventional forces for the defence of the West. It is fortunate that NATO is getting the services of someone who has been such a distinguished Defence Minister in Germany. He certainly appreciates the importance of all those matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I should add that he made a point of choosing British forces in Germany for his last official visit before leaving his office and on that occasion said: The British make a decisive contribution in Germany and without BAOR and RAF Germany the defence of our country would be unthinkable. That is a great testimony from the German Defence Minister.

Mr. Wilkinson

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government will implement in full the recommendations of the National Audit Office on ways of reducing the support costs of British forces in Germany? Will the Government review the Brussels treaty commitment, as the United Kingdom plays a major part in the defence of the east Atlantic and Channel areas—that is, in NATO's reinforcement—and Britain's air power can be a vital determinant against armour on the central front?

Mr. Stewart

The points put forward in the National Audit Office report will be considered carefully by my Department, particularly by the new section that we have established. I have serious doubts about whether reducing the number of dependants would be the right thing to do. It seems to me that having a substantial number of unaccompanied postings to Germany would be against the interests of the armed forces and their families and would, over time, decrease the effectiveness of those forces.

Mr. Sean Hughes

If the Government are so aware of conventional needs, does the Minister share the view of Sir Martin Farndale, who, in January this year, identified a long list of deficiencies, including tanks, and the need for more and better artillery, helicopters and armoured engineer support as well as other equipment?

Mr. Stewart

Any good commander-in-chief—General Farndale was certainly that—can identify improvements that he would like made in the equipment and back-up of the forces. All those matters are of concern to this country and our allies in western Europe, and we continually measure what we regard to be the priorities. We shall take all those matters into account.