HC Deb 23 December 1976 vol 923 cc895-6
11. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about Great Britain's defences against chemical warfare weapons.

Dr. Summerskill

Defence against weapons of war is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary's concern is with civil defence, and the nature of possible protective measures is kept under regular review.

Mr. Blaker

Does not recent information show that the Russians have enormous stocks of chemical warfare weapons and the rockets with which to deliver them to this country? Is it not therefore unwise for the Government to disband the chemical defence establishment in Cornwall, thus reducing our capacity to defend ourselves against these weapons? Will the Home Office, with the Defence Department, look again at this matter?

Dr. Summerskill

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is constant liaison between the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence on this matter. It is believed that the likely use of those weapons is in localised warfare and that an attack on the civil population with chemical weapons is less likely than an attack with nuclear weapons. However, in conjunction with the Ministry of Defence, we are involved in research of a defensive nature to protect the civil population if necessary.

Mr. George Rodgers

Does my hon. Friend agree that the only defence against such weapons is an international agreement to abolish them?

Dr. Summerskill

The latest British initiative is the tabling of a draft convention on the comprehensive prohibition of chemical weapons in the Geneva Disarmament Conference. There already exists the Geneva Gas Protocol 1925, by which various countries undertake not to be the first to use chemical weapons.

Mr. Warren

Is the Minister aware of the enormous Russian build-up in the stockpile of nerve gases? Will she assure the House that the Ministry of Defence has told her about the size and scale of the operation which the Russians can mount?

Dr. Summerskill

As I have said, we are in constant co-operation with the Ministry of Defence on this subject, but chemical weapons are not and have never been regarded as suitable for strategic use, and there is no intelligence to suggest that their strategic use is contemplated.