HC Deb 06 March 1990 vol 168 cc712-4
3. Mr. Cartwright

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to review the level of British forces stationed in Germany.

Mr. Tom King

As I told the House last month, we are examining options for change as we take account of international developments and progress in arms control negotiations. This work is set against the background of our commitment to provide strong and assured defence of the United Kingdom, and to meet our NATO and out-of-area obligations.

Mr. Cartwright

Does the Secretary of State accept that the requirements of an arms control treaty, the implications of German reunification and the virtual collapse of the Warsaw pact all inevitably lead to the reduction of current levels of British forces stationed in Germany in the foreseeable future? Does not that underline the case for a thorough reassessment of Britain's defence needs in a changing world?

Mr. King

On reflection, the hon. Gentleman will find that most of what he said was contained in my answer. We are looking at options for change against precisely the background of international developments including, of course, the position in Europe and in Germany, developments in the Warsaw pact and what we hope will be the successful completion of the CFE negotiations this year.

Sir Antony Buck

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important for us to keep a significant number of forces in Germany, especially as we must see it as encouragement to the Americans not to decouple, and to keep significant numbers of forces in Europe?

Mr. King

There is general agreement and recognition of the importance and value of NATO and of stationed forces, which was re-emphasised by President Bush in his commitment to the American presence in Europe. We believe that it is important to play our part in that, too.

Mr. O'Neill

The Secretary of State has said that the two criteria are international developments and arms control advances. What further international developments does he require than the likely reunification of Germany, the last obstacle to which has been removed today by Chancellor Kohl's cabinet agreement on boundaries? On the CFE first stage agreement, what more does he require before he can talk seriously to NATO and make constructive suggestions about troop cuts in central Europe?

Mr. King

I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman raise the latter point. I waited with great expectation as I understood that he was about to reaffirm Labour's commitment to a strategy for strong defence and produce an updated statement of Labour's defence policy. I have the statement here. It merely refers to discussions between the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain. I remind the hon. Gentleman that NATO, the United States of America and Germany have a crucial contribution to make to such discussions.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)


Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

I wish that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would sit down. I have the Floor. While we all agree that we should look forward to a reduction in armed forces in Germany and elsewhere, does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that it would be foolish in the extreme to agree to withdraw them until proper verification procedures are in place to ensure that the other side carries out its promises?

Mr. King

The wisdom of what my hon. Friend said is becoming increasingly apparent. I have made it clear that we are looking for options for change, but we shall not rush headlong into anticipating changes before it is clear what the fundamental, irreversible changes may be. The benefits of NATO are manifest and clear. One could make guesses about what is happening and what the consequences are likely to be, but we do not back guesses—we work on facts and certainties.