HL Deb 12 December 1966 vol 278 cc1466-9

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to repeat a Statement which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the cost of British Forces in Germany.

"Her Majesty's Goverment agreed in October to take part in Tripartite Talks with the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany, to consider, in the light of the present strategic situation, questions of common concern to the three Governments arising out of the stationing of American and British Forces in Germany and the foreign exchange cost of those forces. At that time Her Majesty's Government expressed the hope that the results of the Tripartite Talks could be ready for consideration at the Ministerial Meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation starting on the 14th of December. It has not in the event proved possible for the three Governments to adhere to this timetable.

"Her Majesty's Government have agreed to continue the Tripartite Talks in the hope of reaching the earliest possible agreement on the financial and military questions at issue. They have agreed to make no changes in their troop and supply dispositions in Germany meanwhile, apart from the normal rotation of troops or savings in their personal expenditure and other administrative economies not affecting their combat capability.

"If, by the end of June, 1967, agreement has not been reached in the Tripartite Talks, Her Majesty's Government would have to regard themselves as free to take whatever decisions seem necessary to them to cover the foreign exchange costs of their Forces in Germany in 1967–68. As they have always said, they would of course act in concert with their allies and follow the prescribed North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and Western European Union procedures.

"The United States Government, recognising the urgency of Her Majesty's Government's need to deal with the foreign exchange cost of their Forces in Germany, have offered to make further purchases in the defence field in the United Kingdom to the amount of 35 million dollars during 1967. These purchases would represent expenditures additional to those to which the United States is already committed under existing arrangements and understandings. Her Majesty's Government have accepted this offer.

"The next meeting of the Tripartite Talks is expected to he held in January 1967."


My Lords, your Lordships will be obliged to the noble Lord for repeating this Statement. I think I am right in saying that, contrary to what the Government expected, the Tripartite Talks which have just ended were regarded by the United States more in the nature of exploratory talks, and that no agreement was possible. I very much hope that there will be the possibility of a fairly speedy conclusion at the next talks, because I cannot help thinking that this uncertainty is a bad thing: it is bad for the British Army of the Rhine; I should have thought that it was bad for NATO, which is facing great difficulties in any event, and it is bad for creating the right conditions for our entry into Europe.

May I ask the noble Lord this question? At the close of the Statement he said that the United States Government had offered to make further purchases, over and above the commitments they had already, to the tune of 35 million dollars. As I understand it, the United States Government are not really committed to anything at the present time. I may be quite wrong, but I thought that all the United States Government had said was that they would allow British firms to compete without restriction for 300 million dollars' worth of export of armaments. Therefore they are not committed to anything. Does this mean that the 35 million dollars is in exactly the same category as this, or is it a firm agreement to purchase 35 million dollars' worth of equipment?


My Lords, I certainly share the hopes that the noble Lord has expressed about the speedy solution of this problem. I can assure him that we are doing all we can, and I think successfully, to maintain the morale in our own Forces and to make it quite clear to our NATO allies that whatever action we take will be in full conformity with our NATO obligations. With regard to the second part of his question, as I understand it this is a firm commitment—I speak subject to correction—to spend this amount of money during the ensuing period.


My Lords, under whose correction does the noble Lord stand? Is it, or is it not?


My Lords, as I understand it, it is, but I do not want to be too categorical on that. I will write to the noble Lord and tell him if it is so. My understanding is that this is a firm commitment.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, Lord Walston, whether, as this is a matter of urgency, the British Government would consider bringing back the headquarters of the Rhine Army to this country, leaving the Corps headquarters in Germany, as is the practice adopted by Belgium? Secondly, as there can be no great amelioration of our financial problems on this score until June, 1967, would the Government expedite the homecoming of some of our Forces East of Suez?


My Lords, the question of our Forces East of Suez, I think the noble Lord will agree, is an entirely different matter. With regard to the headquarters movement, all these matters are under discussion in the Tripartite Talks. As I have already said, anything we do will be in co-operation and in full discussion previously with our NATO allies, and also with the agreement of the NATO Commanders, so that there is no undue weakening of our own effective contribution to the NATO Forces.