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German Forces (Training Facilities, United Kingdom)

Volume 644: debated on Wednesday 12 July 1961

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The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

48. Mr. G. BROWN: To ask the Minister of Defence whether he will make a further statement about the provision of facilities for German forces in this country.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Question No. 48.

Yes, Sir. As the House knows, discussions have taken place with the Federal German Government about the provision of certain facilities for the storage of ammunition, oil and general stores in Service installations.

Arrangements are also being made for the reception in the autumn of a tank battalion at the Army's tank training range at Castlemartin. On the results of this trial, a decision will be made about the reception of further units.

The storage facilities and training range will remain under British control. The cost of providing these facilities will be met by the Federal German Government.

Before these arrangements are implemented, Parliament will be asked to approve a draft Order in Council under the Visiting Farces Act. The draft Order will be laid before the House today.

Is the Minister aware that this is a statement of considerable gravity which the country, whatever the ordinary views of the people, will con- sider rather soberly? Will he answer two or three questions? First, can he tell us for haw long the tank battalion may be expected to be here? Secondly, since there are tank-training facilities on the Continent and since the Germans, I understand, use American tanks and the Americans have a tank-training area in Bavaria, can he say why they were unable to use one of those facilities there?

Thirdly, since, at this moment, we have British troops going there, and if events had not overtaken us we would have had British troops going to Portugal and now we have German troops coming here, does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the onus lies on him to prove an overwhelming case for this arrangement if the country is to be asked to accept it?

First, in response to the general tone of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, may I say that this is a very difficult position and one which many people will ponder greatly. I accept that. I have done so myself. To be fair to the Germans who are our allies in N.A.T.O., they, too, have thought about it seriously. I think that they have their fears and hesitations about this.

Before I answer the right hon. Gentleman's three specific questions, I should like to say that I have come to the view—and I think that all people who think about this matter seriously must do so—that if N.A.T.O. means anything to us, then all N.A.T.O. allies must try to work together, particularly against the darkening international scene.

To answer the three specific questions, the first battalion which is coming largely, as I have said, to see how it goes, will come for three weeks only. The reason why N.A.T.O.—and it is a N.A.T.O. decision—thinks it logical for the Germans to train here whilst we and the Americans train in Germany is that the tank forces are at an entirely different stage of training. For example, our tank forces need mobile battle training over very large areas of the German countryside, and those areas are freely given to us by the Germans; we need them and we must keep them.

On the other hand, the German troops who come here are at an elementary stage in their training where they merely need ordinary range firing practice and do not need to do manœuvres or anything of a complicated nature. As this range is eminently suitable for them, it seems to N.A.T.O.—and I agree—a logical distribution of our facilities that we should have the battle training in Germany and that they should have the practice firing over here.

The answer to the third question is that if N.A.T.O. is to be a viable and efficient association of free nations, we must try to share out these facilities as fairly as we can. It is in response to discussions in N.A.T.O. and a lot of N.A.T.O. examination that this seems to be the most sensible way of helping the Germans by providing the facilities which the alliance as a whole needs.

May I put two further points? Will the Minister tell us why, if they are only coming for three weeks, it is necessary to amend the Visiting Forces Act? Secondly, is it proposed that other N.A.T.O. countries will also come and visit us here?

I should be very glad not to have to amend the Visiting Forces Act. But although, as I think the House knows, several hundred Germans have already had training here, they have come as individuals. I am advised that once a formation comes it is to protect the British public as well as everything else that this Act has to be extended.

In reply to the other point, it is open to the Americans, or any other nation which wants to come, to use the range. The only difficulty at the moment, so far as I know, is that there is not a demand for this somewhat elementary firing practice which apparently the Germans need.

While welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement, may I ask him whether he would not agree that the best assurance that we can possibly have of any German military elements not getting out of control would be for them to be totally integrated with us and the whole N.A.T.O. system, being as interlocked as possible? For that reason, is not my right hon. Friend to be highly commended that this decision has been taken?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I should have thought that the greatest safeguard for the West and for those who remember two world wars is that Germany should be fully integrated into N.A.T.O.; and it is only fair that I should add that that is what the West German Government wish.

I am not clear about what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. If the reason for these forces coming here is to integrate the Western Alliance and to standardise training and equipment, and so on, then I can see that it is desirable and perfectly defensible, and I am prepared to help defend it, especially at this juncture in the international scene. On the other hand, if it is a question merely of this particular training ground, I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has made out a practical case. Why is it necessary to bring 600 men to this remote corner of Wales simply for this experimental exercise? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he has to make out a much stronger case to get over the inhibitions and the memories which exist in this country?

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said. There are two answers. The first is, as I have explained and as I will try to explain again, that this is a N.A.T.O. decision. It is not something that the Germans and ourselves fixed up on a unilateral basis. It is N.A.T.O.'s decision that this is the best way to allocate very scarce training areas. Naturally, in the whole N.A.T.O. area there is constant pressure to diminish training areas. There is a lot of pressure on us in Germany not to exercise over farmlands and land that people would like to use for other purposes. But because we are firm in saying that we can only fulfil our obligations by doing this, we cannot refuse if the Germans say, "You have a firing range which suits us ideally. Can we use it?"

As to the question whether this is a trial run, I think that in the interests of the Germans and of ourselves they felt that we should do this to see whether it is a sensible thing to do in the broad N.A.T.O. interest. That is why we thought that the best thing to do was to have this battalion, to see whether the thing is practical and sensible, and if so, to continue it.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether these German troops are subject completely to British law?

Under the Visiting Forces Act, which applies to any visiting forces, the answer is that the German troops as individuals and off duty are subject to British law, like any other citizen. The Visiting Forces Act makes them, when they are in formation, subject to the military discipline from their officers. The whole operation, of course, is under British control.

If this experiment is successful, is it intended to have Dutch, Belgian, or other national tank battalions here?

Certainly, if they wish to come. For example, the Americans are now making use of the Hebrides rocket firing range.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the darkening international scene. Is there any reason why he should take action to darken it still further? Does he realise that this action in allowing German forces, even in a token way, to spread outside their own country is completely contrary to the undertakings given at the time when Germany entered N.A.T.O. as a means of restricting the rearmament of Germany and its restoration to military power?

I venture to suggest that the hon. Gentleman is making his own contribution to the darkening of the international scene in implying that it is right at this time to treat the Germans as some kind of second-class N.A.T.O. ally.

Does the Minister agree that it is a quite simple proposition, that the Government, as a by-product of their economic and defence policies, first tried to sell the Germans the Centurion, then tried to sell them the Chieftain—the Germans would not have either of them—and now what the Government are doing is trying to sell them the gun?

Order. We really cannot debate this now without a Question before the House.