I would remind the hon. Members of the Answer I gave to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley) on 13th April last. I then said that we would maintain the strength in the British Army of the Rhine at seven brigade groups as long as it seems necessary for us to do so. I have nothing to add to that Answer.
Cannot the Minister go further than that? As we understand it, the present nominal 55,000 in the British Army of the Rhine is not maintained. Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that to fall below that figure, for whatever reason, would be a bad example to the whole of the N.A.T.O. allies and would prejudice the whole position of maintaining adequate conventional forces in Europe, which is of such enormous importance?
The full establishment—seven brigade groups plus all supporting forces—would be well over 55,000. Therefore, the position is, and will be, that during the period of Army reorganisation which is now taking place, it is inevitable that sometimes units will be under strength from time to time. That is why we may not always hit exactly the 55,000.
When the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, after, as the right hon. Gentleman told us, elaborate inquiries, decided on the figure of 165,000, he was then basing it upon reducing the forces in Germany to 45,000. The right hon. Gentleman now assures us, and I am very glad to hear it, that at least 55,000, and almost certainly more, will be retained in Germany. What is the other commitment amounting to 10,000-plus which is to be cut?
The right hon. Gentleman must not misquote what I said. I said that the full establishment of the seven brigade groups with supporting arms, which we are hoping to keep in Germany as long as we think it necessary, would be over 55,000 men. I did not give a pledge that we would keep over 55,000 men there.
Will my right hon. Friend agree that the number of men in a fighting force is by no means the only yardstick of its strength? For that reason, is it not foolish and unwise to enter into any precise commitments with regard to maintaining a particular number of men anywhere?
I think that hon. Members who have been to N.A.T.O. recently would be fair enough to say that when we said we would contribute this level of forces to N.A.T.O., we were regarded as making a generous contribution and playing our full part.