HC Deb 17 June 1980 vol 986 cc1333-4
Q1. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on her discussions with Mr. Harold Brown, United States Defence Secretary, on Monday 2 June about a United States proposal that Great Britain should acquire chemical warfare weapons for possible offensive use.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

No such proposal was made. We did discuss the threat to the Alliance posed by the build-up of Soviet forces, and one aspect of this threat is the Soviet Union's substantial offensive capability in chemical warfare.

Mr. Dalyell

In view of that reply and following the equivocal reply to question No. 11 by the Secretary of State for Defence, is it to be taken that offensive chemical weapons are not ruled out? Other than as a "bee-sting" response after Armageddon, in what circumstances would an occupant of Downing Street give a go-ahead for the use of offensive chemical weapons?

The Prime Minister

We have no present plans to build up an offensive chemical warfare capability. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that the current circumstances, under which the Soviet Union has a substantial chemical warfare capability and we have only a defensive capability, are very worrying.

Mr. Warren

Will the Prime Minister consider the need, in view of her statement, for warnings to be made strongly to the British people about the deployment by the Russians of chemical weapons? Will she ensure that the Home Secretary issues to the British people warnings on how to protect themselves against these weapons?

The Prime Minister

I believe that it is not widely known that the Soviet Union has a substantial offensive capability. I believe that it should be more widely known. I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. Friend my hon. Friend's message.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Will the Prime Minister take time to explain to the British public how she distinguishes between offensive and defensive chemical weapons?

The Prime Minister

I would not, with respect, have thought that difficult. We have no chemical weapons capability with which to deter the Russians' chemical weapons capability. We are pretty expert in protective clothing against the Russians' chemical warfare weapons capability.