HC Deb 17 July 1968 vol 768 cc1418-20
26. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what study he has made of the evidence which has been sent to him that the gas CS, originated at Porton, has proved to be lethal in use in Vietnam; and if he will make a statement on the result of this study.

Mr. Healey

I understand my hon. Friend is referring to a letter written by Dr. Steven Rose and published in the New Statesman of 21st June, 1968. CS gas was first discovered in the United States. It was developed by Porton to produce an agent for riot control which is less toxic and more effective than the traditional tear gas, CN. No CS is exported from this country to the United States. While I am studying Dr. Rose's letter, I have found no evidence that CS as developed by Porton has been responsible for deaths in Vietnam.

Mr. Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Dr. Rose has offered to allow my right hon. Friend to sniff a quantity of CS gas recovered from Vietnam? Will he show his confidence in his Answer by accepting that offer?

Mr. Healey

I had an opportunity to sniff CS gas at Porton yesterday, and I am glad to say that I am here today.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

May I thank the right hon. Gentleman sincerely for the remarks he made yesterday about the work of the scientists at Porton?

37. Mr. Macdonald

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what regulations govern the supply of CS gas or devices containing CS gas by his Department to police forces or other organisations in this country.

Mr. Healey

Under Section 17 of the Firearms Act, 1937, no one other than a Crown Servant may possess a CS device without the written authority of the Defence Council. Police officers, being Crown servants for the purposes of the Act, do not require authority under the Act. Authority for the supply of CS devices to the police is a matter for the police authorities.

Mr. Macdonald

I am delighted to see that after sniffing this substance my right hon. Friend retains his usual rude health. However, in view of public uneasiness about the substance, will he undertake not to release supplies of it to the police or any possible civilian user?

Mr. Healey

Whether the police acquire supplies of this gas is a matter essentially for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and not for me. The only civilian users who have received supplies since this gas was developed in Britain have been the firm which manufactures devices for firing the gas and another firm which wished to import certain containers in order to test their suitability for the police.

Mr. Orme

Is my right hon. Friend aware that not only in Vietnam but recently in Paris the use of this gas has had very detrimental effects on many students? Dr. Rose has done great service by highlighting the dangers of this gas. In the interests of health, will not my right hon. Friend restrict its use to the absolute minimum?

Mr. Healey

I have made inquiries about the possible use of this gas in France. There is published evidence that the French police used CN gas, which is tear gas and which is more toxic than CS. Whether they used CS I have been unable to confirm so far. However, I can tell my hon. Friend and all other hon. Members that whereas in the seven years during which this gas has been in use in riots not one death has been confirmed, at least seven deaths have been confirmed from the use of its predecessor, tear gas. I think that on reflection my hon. Friend would agree that it was far more humane for British forces and police to be able to use this gas in the Hong Kong riots last year and in some of the civil disturbances in Aden than to be confined to the use of, for example, rifles and machine guns, as was the case at Amritsar, for example.