HL Deb 01 February 1967 vol 279 cc953-4

2.25 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many British troops are stationed in Thailand; what is the nature of their duties in that country; to what regiments these troops belong; and what is the cost of maintaining and financing them there.]


My Lords, there are about 450 British Servicemen now in Thailand. Of these, nearly 400, most of whom are Royal Engineers, are based at Loeng Nok Tha where they have been building an airfield for the Thai Government. This has just been completed and, as my honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs announced in another place on December 20, the Royal Engineer squadron is remaining throughout 1967 to help the Thai authorities with a programme of road building. There are also a Royal Signals team, which provides our link between SEATO headquarters and Singapore, and a few individuals on attached duty. The full cost of these Servicemen is about £830,000 a year.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that complete reply, may I ask why the British Government should finance the building of an airfield for the Thai Government as opposed to one of the Commonwealth countries badly in need of such facilities?—and I am thinking at the present moment mainly of Ceylon and Sierra Leone, but also of the Fiji Islands, which possibly could benefit. Why was preference given to Thailand?


My Lords, the noble Lord is raising a very much wider question. I do not think that many noble Lords would suggest that aid from this country should be confined to Commonwealth countries, although, naturally, the lion's share goes to them. There was need for this; it is part of the help which we are giving to an ally in SEATO. I should imagine that it is a very acceptable form of help—and even more so, the road building which is going on. It is very difficult to equate one particular form of spending with another.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. May I ask a further question? Is it not true that airfields in Northern Thailand are being used by the American Forces there for direct bombing missions against North Vietnam? Does the noble Lord consider that this gift to the Thailand Government should be used in that way and, if so, is it possible to equate that with the Labour Party Manifesto?—and I quote: Meanwhile the cruel war in Vietnam continues. Labour has consistently urged negotiations to stop the fighting and a settlement which would enable the people of North and South Vietnam to determine their own future.


My Lords, I had wondered whether the noble Lord would get to that. If he wishes to put down a Question on that subject I shall be happy to answer the point. This particular airfield is not capable of taking the strike aircraft of the kind that are, in fact, operating over Vietnam at the present time. It is intended as a transport airfield. I can assure the noble Lord that it is not being used for the purpose he suggests at the moment—but even so, I do not see that it is relevant to his original Question.


My Lords, may I ask whether it is customary for our Armed Services to do what is strictly civilian work for a foreign Government?


My Lords, it has in fact happened on countless occasions in the past.