HC Deb 11 June 1986 vol 99 cc321-3
11. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if there has been recent progress at the Geneva disarmament conference in negotiations on chemical weapons.

14. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next expects to discuss the Soviet capability in chemical weapons with a representative of the Soviet Government.

Mr. Renton

The conference on disarmament has been in recess since 25 April 1986 and resumed on 10 June. Progress so far this year has not been as rapid as we would have wished. My right hon. and learned Friend hopes to have a full exchange of views on a range of arms control issues, including chemical weapons, when the Soviet Foreign Minister, Mr. Shevardnadze visits London.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Does my hon. Friend agree that an agreement to ban the production of these weapons without watertight verification would be useless? Will he press the Soviet Union to concede this inspection? Will he further stress that these awful weapons have already been used in the Iran-Iraq war? There is a danger of further proliferation without international agreement outlawing their production and deployment.

Mr. Renton

Yes, Sir. We hope to achieve a global verifiable ban on the production and stocking of chemical weapons. The question of verification is difficult, but we must try to make progress. The recent use of chemical weapons in Iraq demonstrates the danger of proliferation of these dreadful weapons.

Mrs. Bottomley

Is my hon. Friend aware that many people in this country supported the Government's decision to abandon our chemical warfare capability in the 1950s? Does he accept that there is now mounting anxiety over what we regard as the increasing chemical warfare capability of the Soviet Union? While I appreciate that no firm plans have been made for a meeting with the Soviet Foreign Minister, can outline what other contacts have been made with the Soviets on this important subject?

Mr. Renton

Yes. The stockpile of chemical weapons held by the Soviet Union, estimated at not less than 300,000 tonnes of nerve gas weapons, is a matter of serious concern. For that reason, and while we are awaiting Mr. Shevardnadze's visit, we are pleased that Mr. Issraelyan, the chief Soviet representative at the United Nations conference on disarmament in Geneva, is coming here shortly. We shall specifically discuss with him Soviet ideas about implementing a verifiable ban.

Mr. Dalyell

When Mr. Shevardnadze comes to this country, will the Minister arrange for Foreign Office officials, at senior level, to meet Mr. Julian Perry Robinson and his colleagues at Sussex university who are making a special study of these affairs?

Mr. Renton

I listened with interest to the hon. Gentleman's request. As Sussex university is on the edge of my constituency, I may have an opportunity to hear Mr. Perry Robinson's views. The hon. Gentleman should take comfort from what I have said. The visit of Ambassador Issraelyan, the chief Soviet representative at Geneva, will give us an opportunity to consider in great detail the degree to which we can move towards a verifiable regime on the key issue of challenge inspection.

Mr. Haynes

I wholeheartedly agree with the Minister about the banning of chemical weapons. When he gets into negotiations about chemical weapons in Geneva. will he first admit that we have chemical weapons within our shores, although that has been denied ever since I have been here?

Mr. Renton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his early support, but I totally disagree with his latter statement. Britain gave up the production and stocking of chemical weapons in the late 1950s. There has been a complete ban on their production in the United States ever since the late 1960s, and it is only against that background that NATO has now agreed to new United States production of such weapons at the end of next year if there is not a total ban in force by them. That is the carrot for us all to move towards. We should get a total verifiable ban before the end of next year.

Mr. Churchill

Although I recognise that the Soviet Union alone has a large-scale and modern chemical weapon capability which has given NATO little choice but to establish a new force goal for the development of binary weapons by the United States, will my hon. Friend make it quite clear that we favour a dual-track approach and that we would infinitely prefer an all-out chemical weapons ban, with proper verification provisions, to going ahead. in the last resort, with the force goal?

Mr. Renton

Yes, Sir. I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. NATO has no wish for the renewed production of chemical weapons in the United States if the far better option of a verifiable global ban can be negotiated by that time.

Mr. George Robertson

Can the Minister confirm that it is not an agreement by NATO to the deployment of binary chemical weapons, but that NATO has only noted the force goal of the United States? It is important to get that precisely correct, as some NATO countries oppose the force goal. Is it not clear that the Soviet Union genuinely wants an agreement on chemical weapons, as was made clear, it is understood, in a reply from Mr. Gorbachev to the Prime Minister only last week? As it is now willing to consider on-site inspection of destruction of stocks and production facilities, surely Britain could use its forthcoming presidency of the Geneva talks on the subject to talk on behalf of the British people, and not on behalf of the American Administration, in seeking an agreement to ban these terrible and wholly unnecessary weapons.

Mr. Renton

The hon. Gentleman sees matters in a very topsy-turvy fashion. The United States has had a total ban on the production of these weapons for 17 years. It is against the background of a continuing Soviet stockpile of more than 300,000 tonnes of such weapons that NATO has agreed to the force goal of the United States. As for what the hon. Gentleman said about the Soviet attitude, in their recent offers the Soviets have agreed, for example, to examine some points of detail such as declaring chemical weapon production sites within 30 days and beginning dismantling within one year. We have no news at all from them on the key issue of challenge inspection. That is the issue, among others, which we shall explore when Ambassador Issraelyan comes here shortly and, doubtless, when Foreign Minister Shevardnadze comes here later. That is the key issue to be resolved.

Mr. Viggers

Does my hon. Friend agree that our policy of deterrence and negotiation is far more likely to be successful than the pious and empty hopes of the so-called alliance commission, which announced today, in a press conference taking place now, that it hopes that chemical weapons will be the subject of reduction?

Mr. Skinner

Who said that, though?

Mr. Viggers

Not surprisingly, the press conference is taking place despite the ostentatious boycott of the leader of the Social Democratic party.

Mr. Renton

Yes, Sir. It is absolutely clear that the dual track position of NATO — [HON. MEMBERS: "Of the alliance."] — over intermediate nuclear weapons was effective in bringing the Soviets back to the negotiating table, leading to a possible ban, on a zero basis, on intermediate nuclear weapons. These days it is hard to understand where the other alliance stands on any defence issues, but out position is quite plain. We, and all other Western countries, will fight for a verifiable global ban on chemical weapons.

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