HC Deb 04 June 1985 vol 80 cc147-9
13. Mr. Greenway

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the proportion of Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Warsaw pact defence expenditure devoted to producing chemical weapons and personnel trained to use them; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Stanley

It is not possible to isolate those elements of Warsaw pact defence expenditure which are related solely to chemical warfare. However, it is estimated that the Soviets now have some 300,000 tonnes of chemical warfare agents at their disposal, which is sufficient to cause death and incapacitation on a massive scale.

Mr. Greenway

Is my hon. Friend also aware that 191 Soviet divisions have current training in this area, and that since we have no chemical weapons ourselves we need to look at this very carefully? What is my hon. Friend saying in response to the NATO supreme commander's calls for a specific response to this terrible challenge?

Mr. Stanley

I can certainly confirm what my hon. Friend says about the very extensive training and equipping of Soviet forces with not merely a defensive capability, but an offensive chemical capability. As to the Government's policy, it was set out in the answer which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), when she said:

The facts are that Britain abandoned its chemical warfare capability in the late 1950s. There has been no change in Government policy since then, nor is any change now proposed. However, as a responsible Government, we have a duty to keep defence policy under review in the light of what my hon. Friend said about the massive Soviet capability in chemical weapons." —[Official Report, 10 January 1985; Vol. 70, c. 901.]

Mr. James Lamond

If that is an outline of the Government's policy, why did they not welcome the proposal made by Mr. Gromyko at the United Nations in 1982 when he put forward a detailed proposal suggesting that there be an end to the development, manufacture and deployment of chemical weapons, that existing stocks be destroyed under supervision, and that there be on the spot supervision to see that no further chemical weapons are developed? Why did the Government not welcome that?

Mr. Stanley

The hon. Gentleman seems not to be aware that we have been engaged in continuing negotiations on the chemical warfare treaty, which would have the very desirable effect of banning these weapons worldwide. The Government have played a very active and positive role in trying to make progress in those negotiations. We have contributed a whole series of working papers on the vital issue of verification and enforceability, but as yet there is no detailed agreement on how the verification provisions of that treaty can be operated. However, it is very much the Government's intention to go on working constructively towards the banning of chemical weapons.

Miss Foulkes

How do the Government intend to remedy the serious weakness that is posed to our troops in the central area in Germany?

Mr. Stanley

As I have said to the House, it is not part of the Government's policy to give themselves an offensive chemical weapon capability, but it is very much part of our policy to ensure that we give our own forces the best possible defensive equipment, and that we invest considerable sums in ensuring that their defensive equipment is kept up to date.

Mr. McNamara

Are the Government aware that Labour Members support the Government in their continuous efforts to try to get a ban on all manufacturing and deployment of chemical weapons? It is one aspect of the Government's policy which we fully support. Is the Minister also aware that there is considerable concern in the House that our major NATO ally, the United States, and its Administration, are still pursuing their policy of trying to get new chemical weapons developed for the United States forces in the NATO sphere? We urge Her Majesty's Government to continue to put pressure upon the United States Administration not to take that foolhardy course of action.

Mr. Stanley

These are matters for the United States Administration. On this issue, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the President of the United States has recently set up a commission to advise himself on the policy way forward.