HC Deb 26 January 1988 vol 126 cc162-3
11. Mr. Simon Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with the United States Government concerning chemical weapons.

Mr. Younger

I have regular discussions with my colleagues in the United States Government on a wide range of security and defence issues.

Mr. Hughes

Given that the Secretary of State knows that the multiple launch rocket system can carry a different variety of warheads and that November's International Defence Review reported that chemical warheads are now being developed, will he assure the House that there are no plans to develop chemical warheads for the MLRS, and can we be sure that we can rely on that, given that in relation to Motebello, which was discussed earlier, answers were one thing one year but something very different a little later?

Mr. Younger

It would be for the United States to answer that question as it is the only country in the West making chemical weapons. As far as stationing is concerned, the United States has made it perfectly clear that it does not have any plans to station any chemical weapons in Europe, short of a war situation.

Mr. Key

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the case of chemical weapons is a classic example of what happens when countries unilaterally disarm? Will he join me in congratulating the work force of the Chemical Defence Establishment, Porton Down, whose defensive work is one reason why we have such a strong lead in chemical disarmament talks?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The work that is done at Porton Down is entirely directed to assessing the protection of our own forces, who face, in this case, a threat to which they have no direct answer. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who asked me the original question and who, I think, is a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, might like to note that although we have not had any chemical weapons since the 1950s, there is no sign whatever that the Soviet Union has made any gesture to reduce its production.

Mr. Denzil Davies

The Secretary of State is aware that the United States still has a large stock of chemical weapons in the Federal Republic. Does the British Army have any access to that stock, or is the stock solely and exclusively for the use of the United States Army?

Mr. Younger

Yes, those stocks are entirely the property and for the use by the United States forces. I understand that they intend to phase them out, as they are becoming aged, and to replace them with the new binary weapons, which NATO decided to ask the United States to produce.

Mr. Brazier

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Soviet Union has an estimated 14 factories producing such weapons, and that the Americans are planning just one?

Mr. Younger

Yes, my hon. Friend is quite correct. It is sad that the Soviet Union does not yet appear to have been clear-cut in its admission about its stocks of chemical weapons. However, it is interesting to note that, on the information that we have, it probably has about 300,000 tons of chemical weapons awaiting use. As I have said, we have not had any such weapons since the 1950s. It is about time that the Soviet Union followed our lead.