HC Deb 04 May 1970 vol 801 cc22-4
27. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether, having regard to fresh evidence concerning the effects of CS gas arising from tests carried out by the United States Army, details of which have been sent to him, he will reconsider his policy regarding such gases.

40. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in view of the fact that British exclusion of CS gas from the list of gases banned by the 1925 Geneva Protocol has caused other countries similarly to consider excluding other gases, he will reconsider Her Majesty's Government's policy.

Mr. M. Stewart

No, Sir.

Mr. Jenkins

As there is a considerable conflict of evidence about the effects of this gas in various concentrations, is not my right hon. Friend a member of a Government which should be cautious and not rash in such a matter?

Mr. Stewart

I think that we have been cautious about this. I have examined the evidence carefully. There is nothing in it to upset our previous view that CS cannot be regarded as significantly harmful, except in quite exceptional circumstances.

Mr. Allaun

But if Britain excludes CS gas from the Geneva Protocol, does not that encourage other nations to abstract their pet weapons from a ban which has so far proved very valuable?

Mr. Stewart

This is also a matter that we considered. The answer to my hon. Friend is "No". It could not be established about certain other gases what can be established about CS, that it is not significantly harmful except in quite exceptional circumstances. It is also true that it is less harmful than some of the smokes which were expressly reserved from this by the British Government in 1929.

Mr. Blaker

Just now the right hon. Gentleman condemned the giving-up of a principle when it becomes difficult. Will he explain more satisfactorily than he has so far why the Government repudiate their obligations under the Geneva Protocol? Is it not clear, on the basis of the interpretation of that Protocol given us in the past by Labour Governments. that CS falls within it?

Mr. Stewart

That is exactly the point; it is not clear. We have had to consider what was the meaning of that declaration as applied to something which was not in use at the time that the 1930 Declaration was made. In the light of the facts and common sense, we have tried to make what we believe is the right judgment.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Will my right hon. Friend consider that a unilateral Declaration by Her Majesty's Govern- ment can in no way affect the obligations of this country under the Geneva Protocol, which were perfectly clear in the discussions in 1930, in which I took part? Does not he agree that the Written Answer that he gave on 2nd February does nothing but make foreigners think that we hold in contempt our obligations under international treaties? Will he not reverse this decision, which has aroused such great opposition throughout the world?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think that foreigners take that view. As I said, on the matter of principle we had to decide how the Declaration made in 1930 applied to an instrument which was not in existence at that time. We have tried to make a reasonable judgment.

Mr. Lambton

While I realise the very difficult problems that this raises, cannot the right hon. Gentleman make a differentiation between the use of this gas in civil disturbances and its use in war?

Mr. Stewart

Such a differentiation can be made. But a great many sincere and honourable people, all of whom detest violence and the necessity which sometimes faces Governments to deal with riots, felt that it was right to use this instrument against riots. It is difficult to argue that a nation can use it in riots against its own subjects but not in war against its enemies.

Mr. Jenkins

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of some of those replies, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Mr. Blaker

On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. I beg to give notice that I, too, will seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.