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British Army

Volume 644: debated on Wednesday 12 July 1961

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General Pina (Visit)


asked the Secretary of State for War what was the subject of the recent negotiations in London between General Pina, chief of staff of the Portuguese army, and representatives of Her Majesty's Government.

I have nothing to add to my Answer to the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) on 27th June.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) showed me that Answer. In that Answer, the Secretary of State stated that there were discussions about N.A.T.O. problems. Can the right hon. Gentleman solve a problem which is puzzling many of us: how will it be possible to provide Portugal with arms restricted to N.A.T.O. purposes and not to be used in Portugal's overseas territories? How is it possible?

If I may stick to the Question on the Order Paper, there were no discussions about arms—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—there were no discussions about arms during this visit, and no inquiries were made of my Department then, nor have any been made since.

Why not? Surely, this is precisely the moment to make some effort to see that these arms do not go to Angola.

I said that there was no discussion. General Pina, whose visit is the subject of this Question, did not enter into any discussions about arms, and there have been no inquiries of my Department about arms, either then or since.

In view of the grave situation in Angola, and the feeling expressed in this House in last week's debate, did the right hon. Gentleman discuss the position in Angola with General Pina, and ask him to take up the matter with his Government with a view to Portugal desisting from the atrocities there?

Land, Malta


asked the Secretary of State for War how much was paid for a plot of land known as Tal Basal at Delimara, Malta, which was purchased by the War Department in February, 1942, for use as a machine-gun post; to whom the land has been sold subsequently; what price was paid for it; and whether the former owners were given the opportunity of repurchasing.

This land, purchased from a private seller in 1942, was sold this year to Mr. Nicholas Scerri by open tender. It is contrary to Government practice to disclose the prices paid for land bought from a private seller or obtained for land if sold by tender. The former owners were given facilities to tender for its purchase, but were unsuccessful.

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that in cases such as this the person from whom the land was compulsorily acquired should be given an opportunity to buy it back and that these people were, in fact, prepared to pay a considerably larger sum than that which they received? Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that in the future he will see that people are reasonably treated in these matters?

I would not say that my hon. Friend's constituents were not treated properly, because the land was bought freehold and was not requisitioned. At the same time, we gave the owners an opportunity to repurchase the land. There was no reservation of pre-emptive rights in the original sale, and my Department is, of course, bound to get the best value it can in the current market.

19Th Brigade Group (Exercise)


asked the Secretary of State for War why the exercise planned for the 19th Brigade Group in Portugal was cancelled; and what alternative exercise is planned.


asked the Secretary of State for War what plans he now has for training exercises for the United Kingdom-based strategic reserve.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained in answer to a Question by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) on 6th July, the commitments for our forces and aircraft elsewhere made it necessary to postpone the exercise planned for the 19th Brigade Group in Portugal. The battalion exercise in Canada to which I referred in my Estimates speech is going ahead as planned. The re-arrangement of other overseas exercises must be postponed until we know how long our commitments in the Persian Gulf will continue; but of course the present moves of part of the strategic reserve are in themselves excellent and realistic training.

But is not that the wrong reason for having done the right thing? Would it not be very much better if we agreed now that this whole proposal to have an exercise in Portugal was politically most undesirable?

If it was not politically undesirable when we last discussed it, I do not see what has made it so now.

Will the Secretary of State give a plain assurance that, while the present shocking situation continues in Angola, we shall have no military exercise of any kind in Portugal?

I cannot give any such undertaking. Let us be realistic about this. I think that we must postpone this exercise for practical reasons for the time being, but I shall wish, if it is possible, to carry out an exercise of this sort at a future time because I believe that it will help our troops. That is the criterion by which we judge the matter.

Kenya (Replacements)


asked the Secretary of State for War what replacements are being sent to Kenya to replace the forces sent to Kuwait.

Headquarters 19 Infantry Brigade Group, the 1st battalion the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, and certain administrative units.

That is a wholly different question and it is not one which I think any hon. Member would expect me to answer, let alone the right hon. Gentleman, who has been a Secretary of State for War; but if there is any suggestion in the right hon. Gentleman's question that the cupboard is bare, I can assure him that this is far from the case.

King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery


asked the Secretary of State for War if he will carry out an investigation into the circumstances in which a horse from the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, was beaten on the instructions of an officer, on Thursday evening, 22nd June, 1961; and if he will make a statement.

I share the concern which is, I know, widely felt about these distressing allegations. I caused an investigation to be made, and I have now been able to study the report which has been made to me.

However, as the House will know, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is also holding an inquiry. I much welcome this, and have instructed that every assistance should be given the Society in it.

This inquiry has not yet been concluded, and my hon. Friend will therefore understand that I do not wish to influence its course by making any statement yet about the report I have received.

While accepting those remarks and thanking my right hon. Friend for them, may I also ask him to give an undertaking that he will issue notice to all units that employ horses that any brutality of any description against any horse owned by the War Office will not be tolerated, and that if any animal shows itself to be temperamentally unsuited to training, that animal will be disposed of and not ill-treated.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not press me to give such an undertaking.

I have explained to the House that I regard this matter as sub judice and that is the only reason why, at this stage, I am not publishing the report that was made to me. Perhaps sub judice is too strong an expression. I know that the House wants to have all the facts about this case. As an independent inquiry is being held by an organisation which, I am sure, is held in high esteem by all hon. Members, I do not propose to make public the report that was made to me. But I shall certainly wish to take an opportunity of expressing publicly the soldier's side of this distressing affair. So far we have heard only the accusations, but I am sure that even those who are most shocked will realise that there are two sides to this case.

The request I was making has nothing to do with the present case but is designed to ensure that there is no possibility of any such happening in the future. It has no relation whatever to the case which my right hon. Friend has said is sub judice.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's view and I will look into the matter, but I am not persuaded that there is any need for such an instruction.



asked the Secretary of State for War what troops are now committed in Kuwait.

There are at this moment in Kuwait two Royal Marine Commandos and three battalions of infantry with tanks, armoured cars and guns in support. There are also, of course, detachments from all the administrative services.

Can the Secretary of State say how the fulfilment of this commitment has affected the deployment of our troops in Aden, Kenya, Cyprus and at home?

That is a much wider question which I hope, particularly as the hon. Gentleman is talking about troops in general, he will put down to the Minister of Defence.

My right hon. Friend says that there are guns in Kuwait. Would he say if there are any anti-tank guns there?

I would not like to be drawn into the individual details of all the weapons. As I am sure my hon. Friend will understand, there is a point beyond which one cannot go in giving individual information. This is a balanced force which has with it the arms and equipment which are necessary for the operations it was thought it might have to undertake.

Was any part of the 19th Brigade Group, which was intended to undertake the exercises in Portugal, sent to Kuwait? If none of them are there, where are they?

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not fully understand an Answer that I gave earlier. If he will look at it he will see that part of the 19th Brigade Group is now in Kenya and has taken the place of troops who were moved from Kenya to Kuwait. Part of the 19th Brigade Group is still in this country.

Will the Secretary of State amplify statements which have been made today that certain of these units are now being withdrawn?

I cannot amplify them, except to say that some units are being withdrawn and some will continue to be withdrawn as the commander-in-chief feels that the situation warrants. As these units are withdrawn we propose to make announcements of the names of the units.

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that many of us believe that the essential thing in the deployment of our forces is that we should have balanced formations wherever they happen to be. His news that only part of the 19th Brigade Group is now in Kenya is somewhat disturbing, if it is to be taken to mean that that formation has been split up with some component parts being employed independently.

I did not say that it was being employed independently. When we moved certain troops from Kenya to Kuwait it was felt right that we should increase the number of troops which were held as a local theatre reserve in Kenya. This operation started to the extent that I have reported to the House, but, in view of the fact that things are more stable in Kuwait and it is even intended to withdraw some of the troops there, the rest of the movement operation of the 19th Brigade Group has for the time being stopped and, in due course, the one bit will join the other.


asked the Secretary of State for War what arrangements have been made to relieve troops in Kuwait.

Is the Secretary of State aware that I am not asking about the withdrawal of troops, but the relief of them on a rotational basis, as mentioned by the Minister of Defence yesterday? In view of the extremely difficult conditions under which our troops are operating in Kuwait, what is the maximum amount of time it is proposed to leave any individual there in an exposed position before relief?

It is too early yet for the position to be precise, because during a period when there may still have to be some active operation the removal or rotation of troops must be on an ad hoc basis. As and when things settle down, we will be able to evolve plans, which are now being thought out, to do things on a proper basis. When things settle down it will be our intention not to leave these soldiers in Kuwait for more than a few months at a time.

While welcoming that statement, will my right hon. Friend also assure us that British forces will not be relieved or ousted by the United Nations?

That is a much wider question with which the Minister of Defence dealt yesterday.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say what he means when he says "when we settle down in Kuwait"? Is it not true that we are there because of a specific request by the Ruler of Kuwait, one man, and that whether we leave or not depends upon the veto of this gentleman?

I do not think that I said "when we settle down". If I did, I meant to say "when things settle down". My right hon. Friend made it plain yesterday that we are there at the request of the Ruler, and when the Ruler asks us to leave and says that he is happy, we shall be only too glad to leave, as my right hon. Friend said. There may be a period in between, which I think is the period that the hon. Gentleman had in mind, and during that period, if it exists, we shall try to rotate the troops.