HC Deb 15 April 1986 vol 95 cc714-6
5. Mr. Wallace

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on progress of talks within NATO on the force goal requiring the United States to modernise its chemical weapons stocks with binary munitions.

Mr. Stanley

I cannot add to the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) on 7 March.

Mr. Wallace

During Britain's chairmanship of the committee at the Geneva disarmament conference on chemical warfare, what initiatives do the Government propose to take to attempt to get an agreement on limitations on chemical warfare? Will the Government undertake not to work counter to an agreement by conniving with the United States to end the 16-year moratorium on the production of chemical weapons?

Mr. Stanley

On the first part of the question, we shall be using our chairmanship to try to achieve progress towards a comprehensive verifiable ban on chemical weapons. That is highly desirable and a fundamental objective of the Government's arms control policy. Towards that end, we have, over the last year or so, tabled a number of papers to try to make progress on the verification issue.

With regard to the second part of the question, I repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) on 7 March: A force goal requiring the United States to modernise its chemical weapons stocks with binary munitions is being discussed collectively within NATO in accordance with normal Alliance procedures."—[Official Report, 7 March 1986; Vol. 93, c. 313.] I cannot add to that.

Sir Patrick Wall

Does not the wearing of protective clothing reduce the effectiveness of troops by 50 per cent., and is it not a fact that the Soviet Union ends all its exercises with either chemical or nuclear warfare, to which we have no answer? In the event of failure to reach an agreement at Geneva, should we not have these stocks as soon as possible?

Mr. Stanley

The United States has a particular force goal proposal which is presently under consideration with the NATO authorities. This would enable it to modernize its own chemical stocks with binary munitions. I am aware of the point made by my hon. Friend about the serious extent to which the wearing of the nuclear, biological and chemical warfare kit degrades the operational effectiveness of forces. If one side can oblige the other to fight in such protective kit but not be so encumbered itself, it confers a major operational advantage on that side.

Mr. Robert C. Brown

Will the Minister give the House an unequivocal undertaking that he will not embark on the lunacy of producing chemical weapons again? Will he give the armed forces the assurance that they will always have the very best of protective clothing made available to them?

Mr. Stanley

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the latter assurance that he seeks. We are continually trying to improve the protection of our own forces against the massive and very serious chemical weapon threat that they face from the Soviet Union.

The Government's policy remains unchanged from what was set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 10 January 1985: 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."—[Official Report, 10 January 1985; Vol. 70, c. 901.]

Mr. Churchill

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Soviet Union has by far the largest and most modern stocks of chemical warfare weapons in the world today? I recognise the great pressures that that imposes on the United States and other Western allies, including ourselves, but does my right hon. Friend agree that an effective and verifiable agreement banning such weapons and ensuring their destruction in the Soviet Union and elsewhere would be infinitely preferable to our goring down that route?

Mr. Stanley

I agree with my hon. Friend that it would be infinitely preferable to have a comprehensive arms control agreement, which we have been seeking. If the Soviet Union were to respond positively to the verification proposals which we have put forward, agreement should be within our grasp.

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that the Soviet Union has been continuing to invest in a massive chemical warfare capability. We estimate that that amounts to 300,000 tonnes of agent alone. No responsible Government can turn a blind eye to that capability.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Will the Minister tell us more about discussions regarding American binary weapons in NATO? Is it not a fact that NATO military bureaucracy has accepted that binary weapons should be located in Europe? Will the right hon. Gentleman make it quite clear that the Government will not agree to that or to any establishment or location of any American binary weapons on British soil?

Mr. Stanley

I cannot add to what I said about the consideration in NATO circles of the force goal proposals that have been put forward by the United States. The United States Government have said that they have no plans to deploy binary chemical weapons in any foreign country in peacetime and that, should such deployment be considered, the United States would consult the countries concerned beforehand.