HC Deb 07 December 1920 vol 135 cc1891-3

asked the Secretary of State for War whether one of the objects of safeguarding the dye-making industry by the prohibition of imports is the building up of adequate plant in this country to produce poison gas for times of war?

17. Mr. KILEY

asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is a fact that during the late War practically the entire production of poisonous gas was manufactured by heavy chemical firms of long standing?


Very great assistance in the production of the gases adopted during the earlier stages of the War was rendered by chemical firms of long standing. When it became necessary to provide for the manufacture of the more complex organic compounds developed towards the end of the War, assistance was also obtained from the dye industry; but, in view of the weak position of the latter, then in course of development, the bulk of these compounds had to be made in Government factories, specially erected for the purpose. If there had been in this country a highly organised dye industry, such as was, and is still, possessed by Germany, the plant necessary for the manufacture of these offensive agents would have been available, and production could have been arranged with far less difficulty and loss of time. There is a very intimate connection between the manufacture of dyes and the manufacture of explosives and chemical munitions (which include lethal gases, lachrymators, smoke, etc.), as the plant and technique of the former is admirably suited for the production of the latter, and can in most cases be converted from one purpose to the other with very little difficulty or delay. In any scheme, however, of production of chemical munitions of war, the cooperation of the heavy chemical trade will be essential, especially for the purpose of supplying the necessary raw materials and intermediates. For the purposes of national defence, a chemical industry, highly developed and well organised in all its branches, is an asset of the greatest value.


May I ask whether the production of poison gas in times of war is not the only or the principal object of safeguarding the dye-making industry in this country?


I think that that question is not properly addressed to me. I am afraid I am not able to answer it.


Will not the League of Nations do everything in their power to prevent the use of poison gas in war?


I cannot answer for the League of Nations. It is our duty, I think, to take every reasonable precaution, and, as we understand that other nations are experimenting on the question of poison gases and defence against them, I think it is our duty to do so too.


Is Germany allowed to do so?


Is it one of the objects, in encouraging the dye industry, to produce poison gas in times of war?


Is it not a fact that, were we in a position to manufacture these gases, we would not have done so, and had no intention of using them in war until we were compelled by other nations; and that, when we did use them, we produced gases of a far more dangerous nature than our enemies were in a position to produce?


I think it is well known that this country did not produce poison gas for warfare before the War, and would probably have never entered upon it if it had not been done by other nations. That is probably quite true. It is also true that there is a close relationship between the dye industry and the production of poison gas.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

May I ask what steps the War Office are taking to develop a germ-producing industry, in view of the fact that their own experts look upon this as a most likely form of organic warfare in the future?


The cultivation of germs, as is well known to the hon. and gallant Member, is practised in many laboratories, but that we shall use them in time of war I do not believe.