HC Deb 15 November 1920 vol 134 cc1514-6
Lieut-Commander HILTON YOUNG

asked the Prime Minister whether a War Office committee has been established to promote the development of chemical warfare; and, if so, whether he will state the reasons for this, in view of the provision of Article 171 of the Treaty of Versailles, by which the use of asphyxiating, poisonous, or other gases, and all analogous liquids, materials, and devices, is prohibited as well as of materials intended for the manufacture, storage, and use of the same?

43. Mr. HOGGE

asked the Prime Minister whether the decision of the War Office to set up a Committee for the development to the utmost extent of both the offensive and defensive aspects of chemical warfare was approved by the Cabinet; and, if so, whether the Cabinet decided that the investigations of the Committee were to be governed by the declaration of the Council of the League of Nations, to which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Council assented, that the Council of the League could not legitimise the use of poison gas and must seek means to prevent its manufacture?


The whole subject of chemical warfare has been under careful consideration by the Cabinet during the past year. It was decided on 4th March that the question should be raised at the Council of the League of Nations. It is, I am sure, obvious to the House that this is a question on which our action must depend on that of other nations. It was realised therefore, that, as other countries have been continuing to develop this method of warfare, the safety of our fighting services would be seriously jeopardised by lack of similar development in this country, and it was decided on 12th May that, pending a pronouncement on the subject by the League, the fighting services should continue their researches and experiments. The War Office Committee referred to has been constituted as part of the organisation necessary for the continuation of these studies. The whole subject will, of course, have to be reconsidered when the Council of the League of Nations has made its pronouncement.


Can the right hon. Gentleman say when it will be laid before the Council for a new decision?


I rather think it has been considered already, but no decision has been arrived at. I am not quite sure whether it is on the agenda for Geneva.


Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that under no circumstances will these experiments cease, seeing we have seen in the last War that, although there was an official prohibition, that we were suddenly launched in the midst of these gases?


Will the right hon. Gentleman appreciate this in order that we may not do anything before ascertaining the facts; will he see, as a matter of fact, that some sort of a decision is come to by the United Council before arranging too big a staff and spending too much money on what is the improbable event of an immediate war?


I do not think this country can take unnecessary risks. There are other powerful countries not in the League at all. We must bear that in mind. In certainly one of these countries experiments are going on at the present time. I can give no further information as to action until a resolution is arrived at.

Colonel C. LOWTHER

Is it possible to prevent these experiments?


May I ask whether the Prime Minister retracts the advice he gave a short time ago that those who believe in the League must trust it most?


Obviously that is so; but the League has taken no action. You cannot trust the League in respect of something which has not yet been decided upon.


Does our action depend upon the action of other nations; is it not that their action depends upon ours?


You must have complete agreement. I do not think that a country like ours, after the painful experience of the last five years, can take unnecessary risks. The nations must march together.

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