HC Deb 21 July 1969 vol 787 cc1230-1
30. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in the disarmament discussions at Geneva relating to chemical and biological warfare.

43. Mr. Leadbitter

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what instructions have been given to our representative in the United Nations Organisation arising from a report submitted to the Secretary General by 14 international experts on the dangers of chemical and biological weapons.

Mr. Mulley

As I told the House on 10th July, I tabled on that day in the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee at Geneva a draft Convention for the Prohibition of Biological Methods of Warfare, with an associated draft Security Council Resolution; these documents have now been published as Command 4113. Her Majesty's Government believe that this is a significant step towards the complete elimination of all biological and chemical methods of warfare, which the United Nations Secretary-General has urged in his recent report I am hopeful that urgent consideration will now be given to our draft Convention and we shall naturally take all appropriate steps to seek international support for our proposals.—[Vol. 786, c. 302.]

Mr. Dalyell

Does not the recent accident involving the escape of nerve gas on Okinawa underline the urgency of the problem? I acknowledge my right hon. Friend's excellent work at Geneva, but why are harassing agents excluded from the bans he proposes?

Mr. Mulley

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's kind reference to me. We have not excluded harassing agents. We think that we would be more likely to make more rapid progress by dealing with the eliminating and banning of biological weapons first, and then we can turn to chemical weapons, of which harassing agents would be one of the more difficult problems. I have not in fact taken up the position, suggested by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Wood

Has the right hon. Gentleman any proposals to strengthen Article 3 of the draft Convention so that necessary action can be taken before rather than after any specific complaint is made?

Mr. Mulley

I would be happy to look at that suggestion. It is extremely difficult to see how investigation could take place before a complaint is made because one of the problems in the past has been that there has been no investigation afterwards. It is impossible, because of the nature of chemical and biological weapons, to have an inspection before hand which would guarantee no possible illicit manufacture was taking place.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

While welcoming the attention directed to this Convention, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has given careful thought to the fact that the Soviet Union is interpreting the present Geneva agreement in a different way from what the allies are doing? Has he called upon it to make a major contribution in this respect?

Mr. Mulley

I have had discussions with representatives of the Soviet Union and I am assured that the matter is being closely studied in Moscow. I would not say that the Soviet Union is making a different interpretation from many countries. One of the reasons for the need for a new convention is uncertainty as to certain aspects of the existing Geneva protocol and the fact that it does not ban the manufacture and possession of the weapons, which is what I want to do.