HC Deb 06 May 1970 vol 801 cc389-90
11. Mr. Cronin

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what defence, other than passive measures, the British Armed Forces in Germany have against chemical warfare, in view of the fact that the Soviet forces there are equipped and trained for offensive chemical warfare and that it is their policy to use chemical warfare equipment as conventional weapons to the maximum extent consistent with tactical advantage.

Mr. Healey

Our defence in this field consists entirely of passive measures.

Mr. Cronin

Has not the time come for some reappraisal of N.A.T.O.'s policy on chemical warfare? Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it is intolerable that our young soldiers in Germany should be exposed to horrible, deadly and paralysing gases which the Soviet forces have available for them in large quantities without any fear of reprisal?

Mr. Healey

N.A.T.O. as a whole has chemical weapons available to it because the United States maintains an offensive chemical capability. However, I believe that both the former and the present Government in Britain were right not to stockpile offensive chemical weapons in the United Kingdom. If the House really considers the situation, I believe that it will recognise that it is almost inconceivable that enemy forces would use chemical weapons against N.A.T.O. forces except in the circumstances of a mass invasion—in which event more terrible weapons would surely come into play.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that the essence of this is the interpretation that nations put on the Geneva Convention? Has not the time come when all the dedicated work that has been done in the interests of this country and of our forces at Porton demands a reconsideration of that policy?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir. With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, who I know is extremely concerned about this matter, there is nothing in the Geneva Convention which prohibits countries from using chemical or other weapons in retaliation. This is quite another matter. The present Government and their predecessor have not believed it necessary for British forces to stockpile offensive chemical weapons. I believe that that has been the right decision and that it is particularly right to maintain it at a time when Her Majesty's Government are seeking a new convention in the disarmament talks on the banning of chemical weapons.