HC Deb 23 March 1960 vol 620 cc497-8
37. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Minister of Defence to what extent it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to be prepared for the use of biological and chemical weapons in times of war.

The Minister of Defence (Mr. Harold Watkinson)

The policy of Her Majesty's Government is to continue with research in order to assess the threat from biological and chemical weapons and to prepare defences against them.

Mr. Henderson

Does the Minister agree with the statement of Major-General Chisholm, the Canadian expert, that the potential dangers of chemical and biological warfare are greater today than they have been since 1944? Are our Government stockpiling these weapons, and, secondly, are they putting a firm plan forward at the disarmament conference with a view to controlling these weapons if an agreement is reached?

Mr. Watkinson

The answer to the first part of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's supplementary question is that we are not stockpiling these weapons. We are, of course, bound by the Geneva Convention, and our only purpose in this matter is the purpose I stated in my original Answer, that we must assess the threat in order to prepare defences. As regards the disarmament conference, nobody will be happier than Her Majesty's Government if it succeeds and biological weapons are banned along with all the others.

Mr. S. Silverman

Has the Minister considered or sought any advice on how this country's position is affected by placing some of its forces within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation armed forces, with combined control, when some of our allies in that organisation have not signed the Geneva Conventions in this respect which we have signed and are presumably, therefore, not legally bound in that way? What would he the position of British soldiers under the command of an American officer who is not bound by these Conventions at all?

Mr. Watkinson

That is a quite different question and a hypothetical one.

Mr. Silverman

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker: Is it a point of order?

Mr. Silverman

I hope it is a point of order to point out that the Minister seems to have misunderstood the supplementary question which he was asked. I asked what consideration he had given or what advice he had taken about it. Surely, that is a question which the Minister could answer in relation to the questions already put and the answers he has given.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot make the Minister answer if he does not want to.