§ 8. Mr. Austin Mitchell
To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what are his estimates of the total annual cost of British forces in Germany for each year from 1990 to 1995 and the proportion of that covered by offsetting arrangements.
§ The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Archie Hamilton)
The total cost of the British Army of the Rhine and RAF Germany for 1991–92 was £1,966 million and our estimates for 1992–93 and 1993–94 are £1,706 million and £1,543 million respectively. As a result of changes in budgetary procedures, there is no directly comparable figure for 1989–90 or 1990–91. While no direct offset payments have been made by the Federal Republic of 779 Germany since 1980, the German Government make a substantial contribution to the upkeep of our forces, mainly through the provision of rent-free land and accommodation.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Why do not the Government come clean about their intentions concerning our commitment in Germany? What is the strategic justification for having our troops there at all? What role are they to play in the future? Why do not the Government tell us how they justify the necessary budget provision? Does not the lack of information prove that we need a full review of our defence commitment, instead of day-to-day improvising by the Government?
§ Mr. Hamilton
The strategic justification for the Rhine Army and, indeed, for the support of the Royal Air Force in Germany is that these forces are our contribution to the rapid reaction corps, which is at the heart of NATO. We consider that the future security of these islands and of Europe as a whole lies in maintaining NATO, the Atlantic alliance, with American involvement in the defence of Europe.
§ Mr. Brazier
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in considering these costs, it is essential that we do not have a repetition of the 1920s, when American and British forces were withdrawn from the continent of Europe at a time when that continent was moving into political instability? Does he agree that, against that background, the best possible aspect of our conventional forces is our commitment to mainland Europe?
§ Mr. Hamilton
That is absolutely correct. We can never divorce the security of the United Kingdom from that of Europe as a whole. Indeed, it is very difficult to make it clear to the United States of America that we want to see that country involved in the defence of Europe and playing a role in our future defence requirements if we are to withdraw our troops from Germany, which is right at the heart of NATO.