HL Deb 07 June 1972 vol 331 cc312-62

3.11 p.m.

LORD CHALFONT rose to call attention to the urgent need for an international convention prohibiting the possession, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is a relatively large number of speakers for a two-and-a-half hour debate. I notice also that there is one maiden speech scheduled. May I, in advance, wish the maiden speaker good fortune and good luck with his speech? I am sure that we shall listen to it with very great attention.

My Lords, it was a basic principle of Roman law that "Armis bella non venenis geri", which, being translated, means "War is waged with weapons not with poison". There may be many of my noble friends who believe that we should not wage war at all; but if it is unavoidable, as it has been over the centuries, certain weapons have always been looked upon with special repugnance. Even in the days of primitive warring between tribes the poisoning of wells was one of the few things that was not permitted in tribal warfare.

I do not want to go into the history of chemical warfare to-day but simply to point out that there is now I believe a need more urgent than there has ever been for us to come to some international agreement about this particular weapon of war. I am especially pleased that I have been fortunate enough to be able to introduce this debate before your Lordships' House to-day because we are presently seeing the beginnings of the great Conference in Stockholm on the Human Environment. And yet, while that Conference is going on, we are still stockpiling every day masses of these terrible weapons, not only weapons that can at a stroke annihilate hundreds of thousands of people but weapons that even now, to-day, are poisoning the environment in certain parts of the globe.

I am not going to discuss this afternoon some very obvious candidates for discussion, such as, for example, napalm, because that is not strictly speaking a chemical weapon; nor toxins. They are chemical weapons but they have been dealt with in the Biological Weapons Convention. Nor shall I deal with defoliants and herbicides which have their effect on vegetation and on the environment but not directly on human beings. Others may feel very strongly about those particular agents, and if they do I hope very much that we shall hear some views on them. I propose, however, to concentrate on the chemical weapons in their narrowest sense; that is to say, chemical weapons which are designed directly or indirectly to kill human beings. I want to be as constructive as possible and I propose to give a very brief outline of the kind of draft treaty which I think might meet with international approval.

But first I should like to examine for a very few moments why I believe this matter is of such very great urgency. The first reason is that I believe it is now time, in the whole context of international agreements and international negotiations, that we had some real disarmament. We have not yet had any real disarmament. We have had arms control and it is my view that this stricture applies even to the very important Convention on biological weapons. It has been said that it involves real measures of disarmament because it calls upon the signatories to destroy their existing stockpiles of biological weapons; but so far as we know only one nation had a stockpile of weapons: that was the United States of America, and they had unilaterally undertaken to destroy their stockpiles before the biological warfare Convention was signed.

Secondly, I believe that there is now a great drive and thrust of world opinion towards an agreement of this sort. There was the United Nations Resolution of January, 1972, which called upon all States to engage in urgent negotiations on the banning of chemical weapons. The Secretary-General in his message to the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva in February of this year made the same appeal, and he made it again in even stronger terms when he was welcoming the opening for signature of the biological warfare Convention, as recently as April of this year.

I mentioned the biological warfare Convention. That is another reason why I believe that this matter of chemical weapons has now become one of urgency, because Article IX of the biological warfare Convention states quite specifically that all its signatories undertake to continue negotiations in good faith with a view to reaching an early agreement on chemical weapons; and that solemn undertaking we, the Government of this country, have signed.

I come now to the dangers of the spread of these weapons, and not only their spread possibly to small nations which cannot afford to make nuclear weapons. Chemical weapons have been called the poor man's weapon of mass destruction, and there is no reason that I can see why small countries wishing to achieve a kind of international power to blackmail that is at present in the possession of the Great Powers, should not do it if they wish through the possession of chemical weapons. But there are other, and I think somewhat more sinister, implications here. It is the possibility that these weapons might even spread out of the hands of Governments and into the hands of private people. One has only to think of the appalling incident that recently took place at Lydda airport to realise that nowadays international terrorists will stop virtually at nothing. The chemical weapon is easily portable, cheaply made and easily used by people who are prepared first of all to protect themselves against its effects. I ask noble Lords to think seriously about the appalling danger that would be presented to international order and stability if international terrorists of the kind who carried out the shocking raid at Lydda airport were to decide to use, instead of the weapons that they used there, this kind of weapon of indiscriminate destruction. Stockpiles of these weapons exist all over the world, and we have only to look at terrorists in action at the moment anywhere in the world to realise that many of the weapons they use are stolen or otherwise acquired from existing military stockpiles. There is no reason that I can see why, if they wished, these people should not get their hands on the weapons of mass destruction.

If we look at what comprises these stockpiles, the picture is an appalling one. Let us look by way of example at the United States of America. This is only because we happen to know about the United States of America, for it is an open society and makes these things public. The United States of America has seven standard chemical agents, seven standard war gases. Two of them, called VX and GB are highly lethal gases of a kind that have not been seen before in the history of military engineering. I will mention some of their effects in a moment, but if we just take one small point about this agent VX. In a recent test of aircraft spraying over the Dugway proving ground in the United States of America a little of this VX agent escaped. It is fortunate that this area was occupied only by sheep because this small amount of VX gas spread immediately over an area of 200 square miles and killed instantly 7,000 sheep that occupied the area. As I say, we are only too grateful and thankful that they were sheep.

These agents are hundreds of times more powerful than even the deadly gases that were actually used in World War I, and they are only two that the United States possess. They possess HD, which is the old mustard gas and which now seems a rather cosy little weapon by comparison; BZ, an incapacitating gas not designed to kill but to put people out of action; DM, which used to be called—soldiers will recognise the term—Adamsite; CN, and finally the now well-known CS gas, which is a powerful tear gas, not lethal if used in open spaces, but of course nobody is quite sure what its effects would be if used in enclosed spaces. On this question of CS gas, I think it worth mentioning that in one year in Vietnam six million pounds of CS gas, in weight, were used, and much of this is what is called the improved CS gas, CS2. This is treated with a silicone compound so that having been used it remains dormant on the ground, either until a wind springs up, or there is a rainstorm, or until people walk through it; and it is then reactivated and begins to have its effect.

Although I said that this gas was not lethal, I think it is relevant and not unfair to quote to your Lordships a few words from the testimony of a man called Han Swyter, a United States military expert, at a conference on chemical and geological weapons held in the United States in the summer of 1969. He said: May I add that last year about three-quarters of the six million pounds of CS gas was used to kill people. It was used to make ordinary conventional bombs and artillery more effective.

I mention this simply to point out to your Lordships the danger and, to my mind, the unwisdom of trying to distinguish between chemical agents which are lethal and chemical agents which are not. It is not the agent which kills; it is the way in which it is used. With all these things go a whole range, a whole panoply, of weapons with which to deliver them—rockets, mortar bombs, mortar cartridges, aircraft bombs, bulk disseminators, artillery shells. Any of these can be used, are used and are stockpiled for delivering chemical lethal gas weapons if they should ever be used in war.

That is just the picture of the United States of America, used, as I say, not to point any finger at the United States but rather the contrary, to show that in an open society at least we know about these things. We can only guess what the stockpiles are likely to be in the Soviet Union. We know that in the 1940s and the 1950s they built up large stocks of these chemical weapons because they were afraid of the strength of the Allies in tactical nuclear weapons. The one thing about chemical weapons is that they last for ever. So we can be fairly certain that those large stockpiles built up by the Soviet Union are there to-day. Indeed, I suppose that one is safe in surmising that there are few armies in the world of any country of any importance that do not possess a large stockpile of lethal gases, lethal chemical weapons.

I said that I would mention briefly (although I am sure that these facts will be familiar to most of your Lordships) some of the effects of these gases. I mentioned VX, the most powerful V agent now in existence, so far as we know. To give you an idea of what its power is, I may say that the old mustard gas of World War I, which caused so many terrible casualties, was powerful enough—one whiff of it was enough to tear a man's lungs to pieces—but to kill a man through the skin 5,000 mgs. of it were needed. In World War II a nerve gas called Sarin was invented, although, thank God!, never used. It was able to kill a man through the skin by the application of 2,000 mgs., so things were getting more and more powerful, VX gas, the latest V agent, can kill a man with a drop on the skin of 5 mgs. So we are now in the situation in which a man's skin, in chemical warfare, is as vulnerable as his lungs used to be in the days of World War I. And any of your Lordships who served in that war—and I know there are some here—will recall what an appalling picture that was.

There are medical details of what this gas does to people, what any nerve gas does to people, when it is used in war. There have been clinical tests, there have been controlled tests and laboratory tests. In the report of the World Health Organisation, issued just over a year ago and called Health Aspects of Chemical and Biological Weapons, there was, although in very cold and controlled medical language, a clear indication that these weapons do not just kill; they kill horribly. There is a piece of prose in one of those reports which describes the progression of the suffering of a man attacked by a nerve gas. It starts quite harmlessly with giddiness, tension, anxiety, withdrawal, depression, nightmares, and then it progresses to what is called fasciculation. My noble friend on my left, I am sure, will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that to mean a twitching of the nerves and muscles of the body wherever the gas has touched the skin. This is followed by coma, convulsions, dyspnoea, which is difficulty in breathing, involuntary activation of the bladder and bowels and eventual death. But we can do even better than that. There are new technological advances, I am sure you will be delighted to hear. My noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder, who has made a study of these matters, will, I am sure, be able to tell us a little more about them when he speaks.

But if anybody is still in any doubt about the nature of these weapons, I hope we can finally destroy the canard, the fallacy, that has been put about that these are in some way humane weapons of war. It has been suggested that some of these weapons, especially the incapacitating gases, are used because if they were not used it would be necessary to use worse weapons. But, my Lords, they might also be used instead of using no weapons at all, or instead of using better weapons. The object, after all, of a nation at war is to kill its enemies, and if it is given a weapon that will kill them it will do so. I beg of any noble Lord who has not before done so to recognise that this plea that gas is a humane weapon is a piece of special pleading and should be regarded with the gravest suspicion.

My conclusion from this is that there is an urgent need to get rid of this dreadful weapon. Its appalling effects on the human body, its capacity for mass annihilation, the dangers of its spreading to criminals and terrorists, its awful not only physical but psychosocial effects, seem to me to indicate that it is a weapon that we should remove as quickly as we can from the military armour. Not even the soldiers want this weapon. For them it is simply a cumbersome addition to the military armament. If it were ever used it would require soldiers to wear cumbersome protective clothing before they used the gas. And if we have a weapon that is so terrible in its effect, so appalling in its destructive capacity, and not even the soldiers want it, surely it is time that it should go.

I suggest that there is now a clear indication for an initiative by Her Majesty's Government. I know that it is easy always to urge initiatives on Her Majesty's Government. Almost everybody does it at some time or another, but I believe that this is a special area in which we have a tradition of expertise. All the most important arms control agreements of recent years were brought about because initiatives were taken by the British Government. There was first of all the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the Moscow Treaty of 1963. The noble Baroness's right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Foreign Office was much involved in these negotiations, and had it not been for British pressure and initiative it is doubtful whether that treaty would ever have been signed. The Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the Biological Warfare Convention came to the table at the conference in Geneva at the instigation of the British Government.

But what is the present position about chemical weapons? I think it is a simple one, and my understanding (the noble Baroness will correct me if I am wrong) is that as soon as the Biological Weapons Convention had been opened for signature the Soviet Union tabled a draft treaty banning chemicals. It was tabled in April and was very similar, in fact almost identical, to the treaty banning biological weapons. But the West, which generally speaking in disarmament negotiations means the United States and the United Kingdom, were not prepared to accept this draft for very good reasons of their own apparently. The official British representative said on April 18, 1972: One must know what substances we are seeking to ban and he said that the treaty was not acceptable because it contained no provision for verification. He also said—and he might have left this unsaid: The British delegation has reached no decision and is putting forward no proposals.

It seems to me, that he should have reached some decision and should have put forward some proposals.

But even when the right honourable gentleman the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office went to Geneva to make his speech he mentioned also the absence of verification and inspection in the draft treaty put forward by the Russians, and spoke of exploring the matter with experts. This seems to me to be a danger signal, and I beg of the Government not to waste any more time with committees of experts. Committees of experts have been at this matter for years. In 1969 the Secretary-General of the United Nations set up a study group. The noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, then Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, was a member of it. It also had Academician Reutov, of the Soviet Union, a distinguished scientist, and twelve other experts in this field from all over the world. Their report, which is available for all to read, examined the characteristics of chemical weapons the concepts of their use, methods of defence against them, physical effects and ecological effects, and their findings are there for all to read. They concluded, and I quote: All weapons of war are destructive of human life, but chemical and biological weapons stand in a class of their own in that they exercise their attack solely on living matter.

They ended their report with these words: Were these weapons ever to be used on a large scale no one could predict how enduring the effects might be or how they would affect the structure of society and the environment in which we live.

My Lords that is what the experts said in 1969, and that is what the experts will say if we ask them again.

Even if we are not prepared to accept that, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has produced a study on the prevention of chemical and biological warfare. I have a copy of it here, but that is only one of six volumes. This study goes into all the matters of chemical and biological warfare, and it has 300 pages on the classification of chemical weapons, how they might be verified, the need for verification, tables, charts, percentages, statistics. It is all there. There is no need for any further investigation by experts, and I am convinced that if there is any further investigation by experts they will produce no knowledge that is not already available.

The reaction to the Western attitude in Geneva has been, as one might expect, one of disappointment. Those neutral countries that expect great things from us in disarmament negotiations have expressed disappointment at our negative approach so far to the matter of chemical weapons. The Soviet Union, as one might imagine, seized on this. This is what they hoped would happen when they put forward their Chemical Warfare Convention. It was a tactical move, and it worked; and they are now able to accuse us—and have done so—of obstruction and failing to observe our undertaking under Article 9 of the Biological Warfare Convention. Whether you accept that criticism or not, I can assure your Lordships' House that there are many neutral delegations in Geneva who do accept it and who now believe that it is we, the British and the Americans, who are holding up progress on the Chemical Weapons Treaty.

Various ideas are being put forward to circumvent this situation in Geneva. Some people say that we should start with a partial treaty covering only the lethal nerve gases. I earnestly counsel Her Majesty's Government not to fall for that one. If we do, we shall get into the old argument, "What is a lethal gas and what is a non-lethal gas?" and we shall be accused, rightly or wrongly, of fighting other people's battles for them. That is not what we should be doing in Geneva. So I ask Her Majesty's Government not to fall for this attractive gambit of the treaty that covers only the more lethal gases. Other people talk of a moratorium—that is to say, an undertaking on chemical weapons not amounting to an international agreement. We should be careful about that one, too. Whether we like it or not, the Americans will never look at it. In the United States in arms control agreement the word "moratorium" has been a dirty word ever since the famous test ban moratorium, which they accused the Soviet Union of breaking.

We ought now ourselves to take some action. The Conference reconvenes, unless there have been some changes in the planning, on June 20. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will be ready, and I hope that the noble Baroness is going to assure us that Her Majesty's Government are ready, to take some positive action when our delegation goes back for the opening meeting. I suggest that we should not be hypnotised by the question of verification and control. It is true that the joint Soviet-American statement on principles of disarmament calls for verification of measures of disarmament; it is true also that the Soviet Draft Treaty on General and Complete Disarmament includes provisions of verification. But we have had in recent years five perfectly good arms control treaties, in all of which the West started off by asking for some form of control and verification and all of which were eventually agreed to and signed by us without any measures of verification at all.

The Partial Test Ban Treaty, the Treaty on the Stationing of Nuclear Weapons in the Antarctic, the Treaty on the Stationing of Nuclear Weapons in Outer Space, the Biological Warfare Convention which we have just signed, and the famous—and perhaps the most important of them all—Non-Proliferation Treaty, which, although it has a carefully drafted safeguards and verification clause, does not apply these safeguards to the Nuclear Powers and so of course not to the Soviet Union.

Her Majesty's Government know as well as I do, if not better, that the Soviet Union will not sign a treaty which includes international inspection. That is a fact which we must get used to. So we must ask ourselves whether we intend to insist upon formal international verification or whether we will have a treaty without it—because we will not have a treaty with it. There are various suggestions which one can put forward. I do not want to go into the detail of it; I want only to ask Her Majesty's Government not to be hypnotised by this, and not to believe that a verification system must be 100 per cent. effective. All that you need for an arms control or disarmament control agreement is enough of a verification system to make it difficult, distasteful and unwise for anybody to break the treaty for fear of being found out. It does not need to be 100 per cent. water-tight and effective. In conclusion, I should like to put forward very briefly and very simply the kind of treaty which I think Her Majesty's Government could well put forward when the Conference convenes on the 20th of this month, which would gain a good deal of support—not universal support—would at least be a basis for negotiation, and would prevent people from saying that the British Government were dragging their feet over the banning of chemical weapons. It could be a very simple treaty to start with, with not many clauses, although the number of clauses always grows in the course of negotiation. Article I need only prevent the development, production, stockpiling and acquiring of chemical weapons. Article II would be an undertaking to destroy existing stocks, and Article III would forbid the transfer of chemical weapons from one country to another.

Article IV would be a verification article, and here I suggest that Her Majesty's Government examine the possibilities of some kind of verification by challenge, or some system of complaint to the Secretary-General or to the Security-Council of the United Nations—very much the same kind of thing, in fact, as we signed in the case of biological weapons. If we can sign it in the case of biological weapons, why are we not able at least to propose it now as a basis for negotiation? If we had a system of verification of that kind it would, in my view, be very effective. If any country, having signed the treaty, suspected that any other country was in breach of it, they would make a representation to the Security Council or the Secretary-General of the United Nations. If the United Nations found that there was a prima facie case of a breach of the treaty, then the country accused would be under an onus to make its installations available for inspection. It is a classic form of verification and I do not see why it should not be used in this case.

The other clauses of the treaty would of course have to deal with the classification of chemical weapons, with matters like review and withdrawal, and there would be many other consequential clauses as well. But all we need do at the moment is to put down something on the table which would include verification procedures which were satisfactory to us, and then we could at least negotiate instead of standing still. I believe that there is now a great opportunity for this. There is a new international climate brought about by the success of the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, by the slight melting of the ice between China and the United States of America, and a measure of real disarmament now might lead to very much greater achievements in this field.

I started by mentioning the Stockholm Conference. I believe that this aspect of international affairs is still at least as important as the cleaning up of the human environment which, in my view, is sometimes very much exaggerated. I think the "Doomwatchers" have gone a little too far. People are beginning to say that there is no point in having disarmament if we will all be killed by pollution and disease. I would suggest that it is equally no good cleaning up the world if we leave in it a danger of mass annihilation by weapons of this terrible kind; and if, after all these great conferences in Stockholm, we allow thousands of acres of the soil and vegetation of the innocent people of developing countries to be polluted and destroyed by herbicides and defoliants.

The right honourable gentleman the Minister for the Environment made a stirring speech in Stockholm, which was reported in one of the papers as "Britain leads fight against pollution". But nowhere in his speech did he mention this particular kind of pollution. It was left to Mr. Olof Palme of Sweden to do that. I urge Her Majesty's Government not, in this new-found glamour of environmental conservation, to forget or to ignore the less exciting but still, in my view, vital and important issues of arms control and disarmament, particularly this, to my mind, extremely important matter of the banning of chemical weapons. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, for pressing home this subject upon us from his own very great experience and knowledge. Secondly, I should like to acknowledge the initiatives which this country has already taken in the biological field, and to say that I hope it will respond to the opportunities now opening up in the chemical field. It is of course true that any ban seems to be a purely negative action, but the ban upon chemical and other destructive weapons is borne in upon us by the sheer necessity of bringing home to the Powers, and especially to the super-Powers, their responsiblity for restricting the degree of human evil which they are able to inflict upon one another. In this respect the present is unlike the past, for the past was reasonably static in its conflict between offensive and defensive weapons. In the present, the situation never stands still. Man's increasing powers of destruction are always being extended as his mastery of natural forces is extended. Therefore, unless we take positive action to restrict the power to kill, we shall not only be keeping our contemporary world in a situation of agonising and very costly suspicion, but will be sowing bitter dragon's teeth for the future and will reap a very harsh and grievous harvest from it.

But there is a positive side about any ban such as this. Your Lordships may recall a play by Charles Morgan called The Burning Glass, the theme of which was that a scientist has discovered a devastating secret weapon which the Government of the day were pressing him to reveal to them. At the end of the play he refused to reveal it, whereupon the Prime Minister replied:

To see an evil power not exercised gives me some hope for the future of the world. If the nations can demonstrate their power to control themselves and to discipline the resources that are at their disposal by deliberate agreement, that is a positive step forward in the cause of humanity. History might not then have to record, as it might otherwise have to do, that in this strange century of ours, for the furtherance of life and for the development and safety of humanity, we gave with one hand and took away with the other.

I am not competent to discuss most aspects of chemical weapons or the problems they reveal or the kind of arguments which they may provoke, and in view of the many speakers still to come I do not wish to do so. It is quite natural for some of us to say—and I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Soper, will remind us of this—that the ultimate ban is the ban on war itself. But there are always others who will say that all weapons are designed to kill, and therefore it is illogical to choose between those which kill more effectively and those which kill less effectively. Your Lordships may recall that far back, at the end of the First War—and it was a very prophetic statement at the time—the International Red Cross warned mankind that wars would soon be all-destroying and without mercy. In that phrase they raised instinctively two forms of weapon which we ought to look at very closely. The first is the "all-destroying" weapon; that is to say, we now have at our disposal weapons of indiscriminate power of destruction, either directly or, in the event of their being used, in the powers of escalation which they may reveal. This is one factor which nations ought to face in their responsibilities. When you come to try to decide between different degrees of discrimination or the opposite, of course there are bound to be anomalies. High explosives can be indiscriminate, and we hope that in time the public conscience will be more aroused to that fact. But chemical warfare, to some extent at least, like biological warfare, is more likely to be indiscriminate, and equally it is more likely to be capable of definition. Therefore, it presents itself as an area of destructive power to which we ought to address ourselves now along the lines it is suggested that the Government should do so. That is one aspect of weapons.

The other aspect—what the International Red Cross calls "wars without mercy "—clearly refers to the fact that some weapons are more beastly than others, unnecessarily more beastly than others. As far back as 1868 there was a Declaration in St. Petersburg which prohibited the use of weapons which caused unnecessary suffering. I have no doubt that they had not the slightest idea then of the kind of world to which they would be speaking a century later. It might seem strange, in the days of very sophisticated weapons, to think that this covers such things as "dum-dum" bullets, but the principle is clearly the same: is there a distinction to be drawn somewhere between weapons which cause unnecessary destruction and unnecessary suffering as opposed to others?

I should like to limit myself very briefly to one small corner of this subject. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, mentioned it as one that he was not going to discuss, but I hope he will not mind if I do so. It is simply—for it is a practical one—the use of napalm bombs and kindred weapons. This is a known use; we have seen it happen. It is a chemical use. Such bombs are no doubt very easy to produce and therefore not liable to be stockpiled, but still they are a weapon of chemical warfare, and perhaps it may be for that reason that napalm has been brushed aside. In this respect, I should like to ask, since we know what it can do, why it is not thought to be included in the field of chemical warfare. Why is it not thought to be included, for instance, in the terms of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which, alongside "asphyxiating and poisonous and other gases", includes "all analogous liquids, materials and devices"? This is clearly something that can be used, and has been used, in a comparatively indiscriminate way. But, what is more, why should not this certainly he looked at along that other line—that is, as a weapon that causes unnecessary suffering?

I looked up the word "napalm" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and to cover my point it describes it as: a sticky syrup used in chemical warfare". It also goes on to say: It was used with telling effect in Vietnam. How telling the effect was might be deduced from a little quotation I should like to make from a certain William Pepper, of the Institute for Advanced Study and Research at, significantly, Mercy College in New York. This is based on his own experiences in Vietnam: Napalm and its more horrible companion, white phosphorus, provide for the children of Vietnam fates more horrible to the civilised conscience than stilling of life. Young flesh is seared, liquidised and carved into grotesque forms. The finished products are often scarcely human in appearance, and develop after an experience of unimaginable pain and suffering. One cannot be confronted with the monstrous effects of the burning without being totally shaken. Does this come within the description of "unnecessary cruelty or suffering"? It is high time that such weapons were included, if they are not going to be included, in any proposed ban on chemical warfare.

It is not surprising that a study group has been set up by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as a result of the Swedish proposal passed in the last United Nation Assembly. I do not know where we as a Government stand in this, but I understand that our own Manual of Military Law states that napalm bombs are lawful only against buildings and non-human targets, and that their use has not been contemplated by this country. Thank goodness for that! That may be one reason why we are not taking them perhaps quite as seriously as I should hope we would. But I think it also puts us in a very strong position for supporting any serious study of this kind of weapon, and the degrees to which it merits some action or prohibition among the nations.

My Lords, in the whole field that deals with the kind of gases which Lord Chalfont has reported, this is only a very small corner, but it is an important one because it is already a known weapon. We are not speaking here of potential weapons, the use of which has not yet been contemplated and therefore the banning of which may not seem quite so difficult to achieve. We are dealing with something which has actually been in use, and therefore something which demands some immediate restriction on our part—a small ban, if you like, within the whole, but a positive step; a little measure of that hope for humanity which any restriction in the destructive powers of man will achieve. Therefore, when we hear from the spokesman for the Government how they react to the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, I hope we shall hear that they are prepared to take this weapon into consideration.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, as I rise to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House I bear in mind that it is customary on such an occasion to be both brief and uncontroversial. Chemical warfare presents, as we have just heard, a really terrifying risk to the world—as great a risk as nuclear or conventional war, to which we have been accustomed so far. It is for this reason that I am glad to add my support to the efforts at present being made in Geneva at the confererence of the Committee on Disarmament. But, indeed, a Protocol was signed in 1925 forbidding the use in war of asphyxiating and poisonous gases which were known at that time. The Protocol covered all choking, blister and nerve gases. But, of course, much progress has been made in the 47 years which have since passed.

Similar progress has been made in researches connected with biological warfare. As recently as May 10 of this year, a Convention was signed simultaneously in London, Washington and Moscow. Among other provisions, the signatory nations undertook to destroy all existing stocks of such weapons, together with their means of delivery, within nine months of the entry into force of the Convention. But it seems that Articles 6 and 9 of the Convention are of crucial importance, and they are most relevant to the problems of chemical weapons. These two Articles are concerned with the problems of inspection, verification and production of such weapons.

Article 6 provides for complaints to the Security Council when a breach of the Convention has been committed by any of the signatories. Then there is the question of evidence; and it is this which causes the greatest obstacle to verification. Signatories have expressed fears that means to carry out such inspection and verification could be used for the purposes of espionage. There will be political differences between signatories and, as we have heard from my noble friend, a more open society exists in some of the signatory countries as opposed to the closed society which is in evidence in others. It is for the reason of evidence that I am pleased to note that Article 9 of the Convention says that signatories should continue to negotiate in good faith for satisfactory methods of banning the production of chemical weapons.

There is still the problem of new weapons being discovered as scientific progress continues, particularly when we see the use of CS and other gases and their derivatives in these countries. My noble friend possibly was not aware of the fact that CS gas has been used in closed, confined spaces. Less than two years ago the Members of another place unwillingly sampled this product. I believe that the problem of chemical warfare can be reduced in scale, given continuing negotiation. The question of verification and inspection is not easily answered. Methods will require more sophistication than those used in the inspection of nuclear and biological warfare. My Lords, in conclusion, I am grateful for the opportunity of adding my support for a Convention on chemical warfare, and I am also grateful to your Lordships for your kindness and forbearance.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, it is with pleasure that I am able to congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech. He is the son of one who won great distinction and achieved the highest award for gallantry before he was killed in Italy. We are very proud to have the noble Lord here with us; he has demonstrated to us this afternoon the debt that older Members of this House always owe to the younger Members who come along here and are able to keep us fresh. We hope he will continue to enliven our debates and to keep us up to the standards he will set.

I suppose that this afternoon I should be standing "in the dock" because I am a chemist by training. Chemical warfare would not be possible without chemists, so all chemists have some responsibility in this matter; but I would assure your Lordships that although chemists have played their part in developing weapons they have also shown great conscience in analysing the effects. Indeed, much of the publication which has taken place and much of the information which has been produced about the effects of these weapons has come from publicly-spirited chemists who have wanted the world to know about them. It is impossible for anyone who is concerned as a chemist himself to stop the manufacture of these weapons. It is impossible for us, as individual chemists, to stop their use; but we can at least alert the rest of mankind to the perils, and hope that the rest of mankind may take action.

My noble friend Lord Chalfont, in a very interesting speech, has given us in detail some of the effects of chemicals used in warfare. I must admit that I am not myself immediately terrified by chemical weapons. Perhaps when one has worked in a laboratory one has become somewhat used to the effects of these chemicals long before they were treated as weapons. I remember when I was a boy at school learning chemistry—I still have the mark on my finger to remind me—when some white phosphorus fell on the bench and, not knowing any better at the time, I swept it off with my hand. I had a burn on this finger which lasted for something like two months. The finger became badly swollen. As our medical colleagues know, white phosphorus being soluble in fat can get through and into the bone. There is a considerable risk that it can do irreparable damage to bones. In other words, these chemicals are very dangerous things; they were dangerous long before they were used as weapons. As weapons, most of them—not all—do not kill any more effectively than do high explosives. One must remember that all weapons of war are designed to kill and all weapons of war are designed to act against the individual; and their effects can be very terrible indeed. So my noble friend Lord Chalfont will forgive me if I do not entirely follow him simply in emphasising these appalling effects.

The right reverend Prelate pointed to another reason for banning these weapons—to me the most important reason. It is their indiscriminate nature. Three years ago we had in this House a debate initiated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans. It was on chemical and biological warfare. A number of speeches were made; and I regret that I myself took part in that debate. At that time I suggested—and I hope your Lordships will forgive my referring to this—that the weapons of war which we ought to ban were the indiscriminate weapons, the nuclear weapons, the biological weapons and the chemical weapons. These are the ones which should be banned long before we try to ban war altogether.

Obviously, we should all like to ban war. We cannot do that by any form of ordinary agreement; but we can at least try to ban those weapons which are indiscriminate in their action and are therefore of deadly peril to the whole human race. This is the crucial matter. It is not so much the weapon that kills the particular individual at which it is aimed; it is not merely those used to annihilate armies—these are terrible things but they are legitimate objectives of war. It is against the weapons whose repercussions are unpredictable, the weapons which spread and whose effects are so wide-ranging that all mankind runs a terrible risk, that we, as responsible people, should take action in order to stop their use.

It will be argued, as it has always been argued, that we cannot get absolute certainty that such weapons will not be used. My noble friend Lord Chalfont pointed out, rightly, that we must do many things without absolute certainty. It is better to take a risk which at least gives us a hope rather than run a risk that we know will lead to destruction. Therefore, my Lords, we must surely ask Her Majesty's Government—who, I am confident, are anxious to do their best in this matter—to take steps now to see that one more weapon of an indiscriminate nature is banned: nuclear first, then biological and now let us move to the chemical one. So it is with very great pleasure that I support the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords I should like immediately to add my felicitations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, on his maiden speech, alike for its contents and the prospects which he so hopefully envisaged; and, if he will allow me, I would congratulate him most of all on being a young man in a world of such dubious heritage from some of us elders. I hope very much that his ideals will not be diminished as time goes by, and that he will be able even more effectively to express them in your Lordships' House.

I should have thought, my Lords, that from what ever standpoint this Motion is conceived—and I look at it from the standpoint of a pacifist—it must attract the enthusiastic support in principle of all right-minded people. I hold the conviction that ultimately we have to outlaw war itself, but I am not churlish enough to believe that in a "holier than thou" attitude, we must hold to that general proposition and ignore the various stages by which it may be more effectively attained. Therefore I welcome any move in the general direction of disarmament, and not least in this particular field.

I approach this problem with a curious reflection on the way in which the whole concept of Apocalypse has been transferred from the ecclesiastical to the political and social field. There was a time when the only people who professed to know when the end of the world was coming were those who were on a "hot line" to infinity. We were careful enough not precisely to announce the date, but nevertheless we felt that this was a matter in Divine hands. To-day it seems there are not a few who believe that we can do it ourselves without any reference to supernatural aid. Though it is a matter of conjecture, the very fact that this prospect is canvassed is I think of momentous importance, and some of the comforts with which we cosset ourselves seem to me to be singularly free of any substantial merit. It rather reminds me of the octogenarian who, on being asked how he thought he had managed to live so long, said he noticed that if he got through February he always lived to the end of the year. We have got through a number of Februaries, but there is no outworn creed so completely fallacious as the assumption that what has been will necessarily persist. Though I do not regard people like Koestler and Dr. Rotblat as necessarily fifth or sixth writers within the same category as the writers in the New Testament about what is going to happen, I believe there is at least the prospect, the possibility, that we have fast approached a point of no return; and that this is particularly true in the field of chemical warfare.

This particular project also has the advantage of being specifically a project of disarmament in a world where there is still. I think, a fading but still conspicuous belief in the virtues of the balance of power. The present arrangements which have been arrived at in Moscow seem to me to create a balance of power rather than assure any real measure of disarmament. And, historically, balances of power have built into themselves the unfortunate prediction of causing the next general conflagration. For these general reasons, surely it is only right and proper that we should endeavour to diminish the threat which comes to us through these particular weapons, in a world which is altogether too violent anyhow and for that general reason I most heartily support what my noble friend has been saying about chemical warfare.

Yet, my Lords, there seem to me to be two particular areas in which this reference to chemical warfare is suigeneris and not perhaps, if I may break a gentle lance with my ecclesiastical friend, on the question of unnecessary suffering. I find myself unable to make much sense of that, for from the standpoint of pure theology it does not seem to me that one can discriminate between the various degrees of evil in an exercise which is in itself intrinsically evil. I was brought up, until I saw the light, on a document called With the Flag to Pretoria. I remember that in that most curious and entrancing document I was invited to believe that there was nothing so wicked as the use of a dum-dum, soft-nosed bullet which caused unnecessary suffering as compared with the hard-nosed bullet with which 'gentlemen from these shores were acquitting themselves so poorly. I do not find that there is any principle in pure theology that distinguishes between, shall we say, a cannon ball and a shrapnel shell. What I do find is that whereas some of the weapons of yesterday could be circumscribed by time, like the flight of an arrow, many of the weapons of to-day arc not so circumscribed and are more accurately described as conditions. It is this to which reference has already been made so eloquently in the debate hitherto. We are confronted in the world of to-day with the kind of weapon which does not cease when its velocity ends and is not complete when its particular objective is achieved, but produces a condition that may last, as my noble friend has said, in some cases in chemical matters permanently—whatever that may mean. But it is for a very long time, anyway. It is this particular characteristic of the chemical weapon that singles it out, as I see it, for particular treatment, and as immediate treatment as is possible.

Furthermore, may I underline what my noble friend has said about the possibility, in this world of anarchic terrorism, of the use of a weapon which may be secreted in a handbag, made of rubber and used as a squirt, to create conditions of general mayhem even as terrible as what happened—and perhaps more terrible—at Lydda airport only last week. If these weapons are created and produced, it is incontestable that they will leak. They will not he confined to the channels of stockpiling they will leak into other hands less able to use them appropriately—if, indeed, anyone can use such weapons appropriately. And it is this peril which I think is ever increasing.

May I, without impudence, wonder whether you have come into direct contact with some of these dedicated anarchists. I use the word "dedicated" not too pejoratively because they really believe some of the Communist doctrines, specified by Lenin, on the road to insurrection and of the necessity for violent terror as a necessary midwife of the kind of society which will come by no other means. I sometimes wish that our Communist friends were a little more honest in recognising that this is part of their tactic, and it is perfectly true that it is part of their tactic; that is, idealogically. If that is agreed, then we must not, I think, deny to some of these young men, these Japanese for instance, a sense of dedication and commitment in which a total flight from what we would call reason is accompanied by an equally fervent concept of their duty to the society in which they live, or to its reformation; or indeed, its destruction. I believe this is a continuing evil; it is a continuing threat, and nothing, it seems to me, would make it more easy for this threat to be put into terrible use than the proliferation of the kind of chemical which is now not only under construction, but also is stockpiled in so many places on this earth.

One other fact, my Lords. I am immensely impressed by the argument that, if we or Her Majesty's Government make the excuse of saying that the resistance, the recalcitrance—indeed, the obduracy, of the Soviet Union to any principle of inspection should prohibit our initiation of such projects, in the United Nations or elsewhere, it is perfectly true that in so many respects this particular insistence when not made a matter of ultimate principle has not—as my noble friend has said so eloquently—prevented many an agreement being signed; and so far as we know more or less honestly carried out. It is cynical for me to suggest that perhaps the reason for which Her Majesty's Government hitherto may have been unwilling to take the initiative is that our American allies are, or have been, committed to the use of chemical weapons in South Vietnam; and, so far as I know, are still committed to that use—certainly to the use of napalm, to the use of CS gas and defoliation in its various forms. May it not be that, were we not the junior partner in what in this matter is an unholy alliance, we should be freer to make our own contribution to the prospect of general disarmament?

This is a short debate, my Lords, and I do not intend to prolong it by an unduly long speech. I am impressed, as I think your Lordships all are, by the fact that at the moment at which a hostile act has been perpetrated by one of the great super Powers, that same super Power has found it possible, alongside the one against which the act was perpetrated, to enter into consultations and to arrive at agreements. This has lifted a little of the gloom and the cynicism which has rested on so many people's hearts and minds. If we are prepared to embark upon programmes which do not merely recall the past, and deplore it, but take risks in the interests of peace comparable with the risks hitherto taken in the interests of war, then there is a reasonable hope in many hearts and minds to-day, I think, that this is the psychological moment to improve on that and to stimulate and increase that sense of opportunity.

Ultimately what matters is not what happens, but what people think and believe has happened. Ecclesiastically. I believe in salvation by faith as a prelude to salvation by works. That is a good Protestant doctrine, and even Bernard Shaw approved of it. It is a proposition which I think has immense practical value at this moment. I do not believe, with Mr. Nixon, that we have at this moment achieved a breakthrough. But if enough people believe it is a breakthrough, then it will so become. One of the ways in which that belief can be stimulated is by the adventure of Her Majesty's Government in proceeding upon disagreement and turning what at the moment is an acceptance of a balance of power into the prospect of a very real and progressive programme of disarmament. It is for that reason that I most ardently hope that Her Majesty's Government will feel able to sponsor this particular Motion; to make it effective, and to take the risk of saying in the interests of general peace: "We will reject totally and entirely, and invite our friends and our enemies so to do, one of the more ghastly and terrible accompaniments of the programme of violence to which we have been so long committed."

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord who initiated this debate, and also to the noble Lord who made such a good maiden speech. I feel that it is a very good service that Lord Chalfont has done to this House in initiating a debate at such an appropriate moment on such an important subject. I do not have to repeat, because they were so vividly outlined, the terrible effects of these weapons. I think there would not be one person in your Lordships' House who would not endorse everything that the noble Lord said in opening this debate. I have only one disagreement, and that is on the question of verification. Therefore I should like to pay the greatest attention to that point in the few minutes that I wish to detain the House.

Had I been a member of the Labour Party at the end of the 'fifties I should have been a voracious militant Gaitskellite; and I suspect that the noble Lord would have been, too, if he had not been at that time embracing other professions. I would have "fought, fought and fought again" against Britain taking unilateral action on nuclear disarmament. I have a feeling that if open societies (I like the term the noble Lord used) do not ask for some substantial form of vertification—and I immediately acknowledge that the noble Lord did not take that position; he thought that complete (verification was impossible, but partial verification might be sufficient—then open societies may be unilaterally disarming in an important field of warfare; that is, chemical warfare.

I note that the General Assembly dealt with verification when this matter was discussed. I quote from a Press release dated September 10, 1971, reporting on the General Assembly agenda. It says: Verification, which is important, should be based on a combination of national and international measures which would complement and supplement each other and thereby provide an acceptable system that would ensure effective implementation of the prohibition. That is my view. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, and I think with some substance, that there were five instances or agreements in the field of disarmament where verification had been less than perfect. I think in the cases of the three or four which concern nuclear matters it is true to say that the scientific development of much more sensitive seismic instruments, and to some extent the spies in the sky, have made it easier to verify the maldoers than it was twenty years ago. That is why I supported at that stage this form of disarmament convention in these areas, albeit imperfectly monitored.

The noble Lord said that the U.S.S.R. would never agree. Surely, then, one must be a little suspicious of the motives of the U.S.S.R. if they will never agree to a form of verification against these terrible weapons. After all, they now have a surplus of atomic weapons—there is no question about that—they have a surplus of conventional arms, tanks and other weapons of warfare; they certainly have a substantial surplus even over the United States of America of military trained men and reservists; and in view of the fact that they are undertaking such enormous trouble in training and equipping their troops in Europe against chemical warfare, I suspect that at this moment they have a surplus of chemical weapons as well.

I am sure your Lordships will remember that we suffered grievously, particularly in the naval sphere, from cheating on arms agreements. We had the AngloGerman Naval Agreement in the mid- 'thirties by which Germany agreed that she would never in any circumstances build battleships or capital ships larger than 10,000 tons. It was only discovered at our great cost during the war that the pocket battleships were not of 10,000 tons, but of 26,000 tons. If you can cheat on conventional armaments in a closed society, in a dictatorship, and create great havoc as a result, how much more important that cheating should not be permissible or possible on such vital matters as chemical warfare.

It has been said that in a democracy, with our newspapers and every other means of communication, it is impossible to disobey. I do not raise this with your Lordships in any Party way, but I think one has to remember that 25 years ago Mr. Attlee undertook what I thought was a very courageous and right move in building the first atomic bomb and allotting £100 million of the taxpayers' money to so doing. This was not known to anyone in this country—certainly not to anyone on my side of the House, and I suspect not to many on his own side of the House, because otherwise I feel sure that they would not have been fighting that particular Election on "Whose finger on the trigger?" So even in a democracy it was possible fairly recently to undertake clandestine operations of immense complexity and cost. So I say it is easier in a dictatorship, but it is not impossible in a democracy: and we are ready, as the United States are, to allow people to verify whether we are manufacturing and stockpiling chemical weapons. I think it is only reasonable that the U.S.S.R. should do the same.

I think it is worth quoting in this respect, in case there is any misunderstanding about it, the reply of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to a Question on February 14 in another place, when he said: At the same time, it is a fact that this country does not possess, and is not engaged in the production of, these weapons. The United Kingdom is not—although may be doing some research for defence reasons—manufacturing or stockpiling these weapons. I support the idea that we should have—


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt during such a short debate, but is the noble Lord sure that he is talking about chemical weapons in that answer? I believe that refers to biological weapons, and I can assure him that we are manufacturing and stockpiling chemical weapons.


My Lords, I am sorry. I can read the whole quotation from Hansard Written Answers, 14/2/72, column 10, by Mr. Royle, the Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He said: …it is our policy to seek an adequately verified prohibition of the possession of chemical weapons. Then he continued with the piece that I have quoted. If that was inaccurate, I can only say that I have been quoting in good faith.


My Lords, I simply want to try to put the record straight. There is clearly some misunderstanding. We are not only manufacturing but using CS gas, which is a chemical weapon.


My Lords, I do not know what the interpretation would be, but, as he rightly acknowledged, there is a spectrum of chemical weapons, and obviously in this context CS gas is not a lethal weapon: he may have been using the term "chemical weapons" in the context of "killing weapons". But in drawing attention to that, which I thought ought to be put on record, I do not wish in any way to dissociate myself from the desire on this side of the House to pursue an initiative and see whether we can obtain a response. I believe absolutely that discussions of this sort in international assemblies which try to achieve an acceptable degree of verification are highly desirable. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will continue on this tack.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, in view of the fact that this debate must conclude in little more than an hour and that we have six speakers still to address us, many of whom we should like to hear, I have "scrubbed" my speech and I propose only to contribute what I hope may be a constructive conclusion to it. We are now in the situation where the Soviet Union has tabled a draft convention for the abolition of chemical weapons. The response of the Government of the United States has been to suggest exploration of the idea. I regret that so far—and I hope it may be remedied this afternoon—Her Majesty's Government has not only done nothing but has said at Geneva that it is doing nothing. The criticism of the convention introduced by the Soviet Union is that it omits any provision for verification. I should like to draw attention to the fact that the Convention on Biological Weapons did include the final right of inspection. It said that any nation suspecting violation could complain to the Security Council and the Secretary-General would then institute an investigation on the spot. I should like to support the proposal which has been made by my noble friend, Lord Chalfont, that Her Majesty's Government should take the initiative in drafting and putting before the Disarmament Conference a convention which includes a clause similar to that contained in the Convention on Biological Weapons. The Soviet Union accepted such a clause then, and signed it in April. There would seem to be no doubt that the Soviet Union would also accept this in a convention dealing with chemical weapons.

I had not intended to say it, but in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Orr-Ewing, has said, I hope very much that the Minister in her reply will clear up this issue. We have had the ex-Minister of Disarmament, who has knowledge, saying to this House that chemical weapons are still being produced and stockpiled in this country. I put a question—I am not sure whether it was to him or to the Ministry of Defence—it was to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd; and his reply was that in accordance with the provisions of the Convention on Biological Weapons we were not making or stockpiling any chemical weapons. I think it quite possible that there may have been a mistake, either of speech or of recording, which applied this to chemical weapons. I ask the Minister in her reply to clear up this point, because I think it is very doubtful indeed that it is not true. We are still continuing to make chemical weapons and are indeed stockpiling them. The great hope of the Biological Convention was that it was a real act of disarmament. America has already destroyed its anti-personnel biological weapons and has undertaken to destroy within six months all its biological weapons of an anti-crop character. Perhaps the Minister could say whether, if we do still retain chemical weapons and a Convention of this character were agreed upon, we would be prepared to go so far. I hope very much that the Minister will consider the constructive proposal that I have tried to put forward, which seems to me to meet the needs of the present situation.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I hope to follow the excellent example given by previous speakers and keep my speech very short. As an introduction I should also like to say how much I enjoyed the maiden speech given this afternoon from the Benches opposite, and how delighted I was to find that we can look forward to further speeches from the noble Lord. They will contribute at least, whatever other views he may have, towards a humanitarian point of view, the armamentarium and the chemistry of war.

I am not now going into this in depth but I intended to quote one or two words from this blue book—Sir Harold Ains worth's blue book, which ensued from a request by the late Labour Government to look into the toxicity of CS gas which is now being made and stockpiled. This may be a matter of bandying words and of saying that it is only being used for civil purposes and riots; but this gas and the derivatives from it can be used in wartime. I hope we shall get that matter pompous, but what I am beginning to discover is that here in this House is another Chamber where, without trying to grind our Party axes—we have all ground them so well that there is now no longer any temper in the steel—there is an opportunity to discuss calmly, and I hope without too much bias, these massive problems that are confronting our country, and indeed civilisation itself, at the present moment.

I was delighted to note the philosophic and even metaphysical approach of my noble and dear friend Lord Soper as he compared Bernard Shaw's approach to religion and evolution, and when he said that if we get enough people who believe that President Nixon's visits to the Soviet Union and China have created a breakthrough, then there is no doubt that faith can work wonders. That was the nucleus of Bernard Shaw's phrase "creative evolution". That was the nub. If we can get enough enthusiasm and enough people believing that something is possible then it is possible. if there are scoffers let me say that at one time when this nation was alone, in the days of Dunkirk—and all of us in this House can show the scars and have suffered as a result of the two world wars, either with our families or by ourselves—everything was grey, but we believed in ourselves; we believed that we would win—and at a time when neither America nor the Soviet Union were in the war. We broke through and achieved victory in the end despite the gloom. One may not consider that this is dealing with facts; it is dealing with much more important things: the philosophy of truth and the anatomy of truth. If we believe these things we can break through.

I should like to ask a question which has been so far unanswered. Why is it that in World War II not one person died as a result of chemical warfare? We did not use the impedimenta of chemical warfare in World War II. Why is it that mankind has been driven to use these indiscriminate weapons? A bullet kills cleanly, and when there was hand-to-hand fighting it was man against man. It is a terrible phrase to use, but there was a cleanliness about the fighting. There was not the evil salacity that there is about the nuclear destruction of people. People may have seen those who still suffer from radiation in Japan; or, as has been nobly expressed to-day, people may have seen the results of napalm (and the right reverend Prelate described this) on a child in Vietnam. Unless they are inhuman, people could not help but at least concentrate their efforts in trying to prevent the use of chemical warfare.

I am glad that napalm as such was mentioned. Chemical warfare has brought a new dimension to war. It may be that because it does not destroy property it is looked upon by some with a certain amount of respect. There are some people who may not know it and subconsciously they believe that the destruction of property is a greater sin than the destruction of life. I have no time to go into this matter, but why is there the use of chemical warfare now when, after the 1925 Geneva protocol, we refused to use it? In 1968 the United States of America demanded the retention of herbicides and some chemical warfare usages. They were supported only by Australia and Portugal. Portugal supported them because they are using chemical warfare in Angola. That is one of the silent wars of the world that nobody bothers to write about. We have had many constructive approaches to the limitation of chemical warfare, and I was delighted that my noble friend who initiated this debate quoted the Stockholm research. I am glad that he said, "Do not let us have another group of scientists looking into this." This has been going on for 20 years; we have six volumes—and my noble friend quoted from one of them—which have been produced by the Institute for Peaceful Research in Stockholm. There are many who are qualified in chemistry in this House, and we have had the pleasure of listening to an ex-professor who had a chair in this subject. In the six volumes there are suggestions as to how we may find a method of verifying our approach to the limitation of chemical warfare.

I would not like to sit down without mentioning what I consider to be the most evil of all chemical warfare which was developed on the greatest equation in the world: radioactivity. Here we have something—again a new dimension—where the weapon destroys the unborn because of the genetic effect. I remember that the Lancet published a marvellous verse which was rather cyncial and horrible. An expert on the genetic effects of radioactivity wrote a piece of doggerel: The nuclear boffins, God bless them all! Have calculated the fall-out to a decimal, But my nephew and niece, Have five legs a-piece, And their intellect's infinitesimal. That was rather a gruesome way of describing the genetic effect upon the unborn. When I was in Tonga some two years ago I came across a professor of zoology who had been working on the Japanese research ships that are still studying radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean. Oriental man has nothing to thank the Occident for in using his ocean as an experimental area for exploding bombs. I am glad that this nation, with both Conservative and Labour Governments, has taken some initiatives in a breakthrough in a ban on testing. Irrespective of to whom we give the credit, the British people can claim there a breakthrough.

Filially, I want to say one word about herbicides. I do not think that 99 per cent. of people who talk about herbicides know the territological effects of herbicides: I am referring to the genetic effects. Some 6 million acres of territory in Vietnam have been devastated. It will take generations to grow the forests and the crops. Soil has been eroded; people who drink the water from parts of this area are producing children that show these territological effects upon their births. This is against God himself. Without being too sentimental or emotional about it, although we in Britain as a great Power no longer have the great Empire, there is another greater empire and that is to try to dominate a part of the empire of upright, human and humanitarian thinking. I should like to think that whether we go into the Common Market or not we shall keep the lead in protesting about the use of these indiscriminate weapons in modern war. Consequently, I want to thank my noble friend for having raised this interesting debate to-day. My only wish is that we could have a couple of days to discuss this vital problem.

4.49 p.m.


My Lords, I want to add to what has already been said in welcoming to the House the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, and say how much I appreciated the sentiments that he expressed. In wholeheartedly supporting my noble friend's Motion, I intend to confine myself to discussing the nature of these weapons. It is important that we should say what we mean and mean what we say. It is far too easy to find excuses or make exceptions which in fact would make a nonsense of any convention. I do not want to be recriminatory, and I speak with the greatest of sympathy for my noble friends, Lord Chalfont and Lord Shepherd, when I recall the difficulties that we had in this House over the use of CS gas. The fact that we were trapped by our own predicament at that moment was a dilemma not only stupid but hypocritical.

The fact was that the British refinement of CS was being used as a military weapon in Vietnam for purposes of death-dealing in lethal concentrations in the case of bunkers where people did die of CS gas, or to force people out to be shot down by gunfire. At that time it was quite clear—and I think all of us now admit it—that this was against the Geneva Protocol to which we were signatories, even if the Americans were not. But we could not condemn the military use because we were reserving it, or indeed using it, if you like, in reduced concentrations, as a tear gas in civil disturbances. So we had the not very creditable attempt, if I may say so, to define it as a smoke and not as a gas. What I am really saying is: do not let us get caught with the gobbledygook of this thing, because these things are damnable, and we might as well be quite clear of the categories of what we are talking about, and not find escape hatches or redefinitions and call the thing "smoke" when we know that it is gas, or whatever it is.

While I applauded the initiative of the Labour Government in dealing with biological weapons and getting it discussed at the Disarmament Conference, and indeed ultimately in the area in which we have secured the agreement to renounce these weapons, I regretted the separation of biological and chemical weapons. I think I was possibly wrong. Probably you have to accept the stark politics that if you do separate, as we did, the biological from the chemical then perhaps progressively you can get agreement. But biological in my terminology, and I think also in the terminology of anyone who handles such words, is certainly not confined to bacteriology or the generation of man-made epidemics. It should include the defoliants which act through the biology of the plants and which we know, to our dismay and disgust, as my noble friend has just said, have destroyed forests and food plants in Vietnam over 6 million acres.

Let me just point out what I am trying to emphasise here. Two types of defoliant, 2,4D and 2,45T, accelerate the process of Nature (which is why they are called biological), and indeed produce the equivalent of a plant cancer. It is like the indiscriminate use of the selective hormone weed killers that we use on our lawns, but that are disastrous wholesale. Another of these defoliants is an organic arsenic-containing compound which was used to destroy elephant grass and rice. It is manifestly toxic to humans and to animals because it is consumed in foodstuffs, water and milk. Let me point out what my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek was saying: that the deferred, and indeed transferred, effects of these can be enormously dangerous. It is not just the immediate effects that are relevant. For 2,45T not only persists in the soil, in its existing form, damaging though that is, but is transformed into other compounds which are toxic to plants in subsequent generations. Another herbicide destroys the humus in the soil and reduces it over vast areas to an impervious desert laterite. You have not only destroyed the plants at present, as of now, the things supposed to be hiding the people you are looking for; you in fact turn an area into a deliberately conceived desert, and positively non-regenerative—an irreversible process. Let us ensure that somewhere between biological and chemical we do not overlook this kind of ecological destruction. I would follow the right reverend Prelate in his point about napalm. If we get these things simply reduced or redefined or recategorised, we shall find ourselves with whole areas in which we have overlooked some of the most damnable things we are talking about.

In the vocabulary of chemical warfare we have a wonderful—I repeat, wonderful—classification: G-Agents, blood and nettle gases, vomiting and choking gases, lachrymators, tear gases, and vesicants. The G-Agents, to which my noble friend Lord Chalfont referred (and I will not enlarge on them), are the nerve gases which were stockpiled, but never used, by the Germans. In fact, there were 12,000 tons of one such gas. As has been pointed out, these gases were not used in the war—not even by the Germans. I may add here, just in case anyone has any misunderstanding about this, that both sides were quite prepared; they had stockpiles to use. But in fact they were not used. In spite of the enemy we were up against, because of the horrible nature of these things and the conscience we had about them we did not use them. Since the German agents, tarun, sarin and soman, which were very powerful, were developed during the war, human ingenuity has produced even more devilish forms of nerve gases, including the V-gases, which I may point out were a British discovery round about 1955. The V-agents are a refinement of the G-gases. An invisible fraction, as Lord Chalfont has pointed out, about 5 milligrammes, of one of these on the skin is fatal. I just want to reinforce what he says: that these agents have a tremendously powerful effect in a very tiny concentration.

In the sick humour of American chemical warfare we have what are called "off the rocker" and "on the floor" agents—a jocose way of describing psychochemicals which unhinge people's minds and the paralysers. And, of course, if the people affected will not stay on the floor, there are lethal gases to make sure they do. The psychochemicals include psychodelics such as LSD, which, in the euphemism of the literature, "expands consciousness" or "enriches the mind and expands the vision". Whatever it is, the agent is supposed to make you incapable of seeing the target you are aiming at. The trouble with such agents, as has been demonstrated in their "below the counter" use in Vietnam, is that one's own troops become the addicts. So it has a back-kick effect.

There are such drugs to produce hallucinations and also massive brain-washing which makes soldiers incapable of obeying orders and compel them to submit. The difficulty is that not all people respond to the psychotropic drugs in the same way, and it is possible by them to induce positive homicidal tendencies: in fact, you make more vicious soldiers and enemies out of the very people you are trying to reduce. Therefore it is not a very good idea to use such drugs. But then, all army and military people will agree that these are in any circumstances very inefficient weapons.

But what we have really to beware of—and this is the point that I particularly want to emphasise—is that such drugs, psychodelics, psychotropics, hallucinators, and tranquillisers, are drugs which are described as "humane". Humane, my Lords! They do not kill outright but they may have permanent mental and emotional effects. Pro. tem., they are supposed to quieten people into submission. I warn your Lordships that we may have specious arguments (one has waited for them and in fact they have been used in America already) for their uses in a civil disturbance—riot quellers. My Lords, imagine the mass use of something like LSD!

The Motion, with my approval, seeks to ban possession, production and stockpiling. Possession includes, I hope, testing. That, too, comes under circumspection; not inspection but circumspection. We shall have difficulty with that because it is contended that if you are to protect yourself from "the other fellow" you have to think up the kind of thing that he is thinking, in order that you protect yourself against the kind of thing he may be thinking about. And of course you turn up things he never thought of; and then we are on the old treadmill again and we are in fact creating new weapons, chemical and biological.

Production and stockpiling produce persistent hazards, a long way short of their deliberate use in war. The trouble is that these weapons are difficult to dispose of. If a chemist puts a great deal of ingenuity into constructing a molecule of such devilishness it takes as much effort, and maybe as much money, to unstitch those molecules and render them safe. That is what we saw two years ago in the United States of America, when they had all those tons of leaking poison gases. In order to get rid of the damaged or leaking weapons—and they were weapons—the Americans had to ship them across the continent at great hazard and dump them, without the permission of anyone but themselves, in our oceans off the Bahamas. This was because there was no way in which these weapons could be disposed of with safety anywhere near their own people.

I want to reinforce what has been said about the danger of urban guerrillas getting access to these things. Let us determine as a nation, looking to no one else—and in this case I believe there is a great demand on us to be unilateral in our convictions—and through the international initiatives that we as a nation promote, that we shall get rid of these things. The Geneva Protocol was until recent times a pretty effective deterrent. The fact is that the Americans were not signatories. It was accepted and to some extent controlled our behaviour, and became "customary international law" even among those who did not ratify or who, like ourselves, insisted on reciprocation—in other words, the right to use it if the other fellow did. I sincerely believe—and I do not think I am entirely naïve—that at this moment in time (and I accept what my noble friend said about the Stockholm Conference at least expressing the profound concern that all of us ought to have, and that apparently many people do have, about the totality of our environment), no matter where this mischief is let loose it is in the ultimate a threat to our total environment and—much worse—a threat to our whole moral attitude towards the future of mankind.

5.3 p.m.


My Lords, time is running out and I must be brief, but I hope there will be time enough to support my noble friend Lord Chalfont in his appeal to call the attention of the Government to the urgent need for an international convention prohibiting the possession, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons. The Germans in the First World War were the real instigators of this terrible use of poison, which until then had been banned during the whole history of warfare. I think that any move to establish the prohibition of any form of chemical warfare should have strong support from the Germans of today, so many of whom are aware of the sins of their fathers and would welcome an opportunity to refute any connection with the older generations' horrifying attitudes in the First War.

My Lords, those few of us left who experienced the early gas attacks, and later, mustard gas, can never obliterate from our memories those gruesome spectacles of our close friends and comrades dying in such terrifying agony. I was lucky; I made sure that I had an efficient gas mask. I had a greater awareness of danger than many because before I joined the Army I was a mining student. I was more aware of lethal gases and their consequences than were other people, but the small dose I had was sufficient to generate bronchial trouble for over fifty years. In modern chemical warfare there would be no "small doses".

We should know from experience that it will take years for some of the countries to agree to independent inspection of the various kinds of weaponry, but if the majority of the other countries in the world agree to prohibit the manufacture of these terrible chemical weapons the others will be put in an awkward spot and world opinion will be against them. They will be labelled as deliberate dissenters. Therefore I think it is up to the Government and to the members of NATO to start the ball rolling. Those of us who have had actual experience of this type of horror are becoming almost extinct. All my old comrades who suffered are dead and their voices cannot be heard. It is the duty of everyone, and especially of the few of us who are left who have had the experience, to support and campaign with all our strength for action by the Government in view of the urgency of the matter, as emphasised by my noble friend Lord Chalfont and other speakers. This danger must be treated as one of the very first priorities or else we shall be in danger of the terrible horrors catalogued by my noble friend Lord Ritchie-Calder.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, on his maiden speech. I hope that he will take it as being of some significance from one of the few hereditary Peers who have the pleasure of sitting on this side of the House, to a new hereditary Peer, when I express the hope that he will find as much comfort and, I hope, success as I like to feel that I have found in your Lordships' House.

I should like to congratulate my noble friend on his success in the ballot and also for raising this very important subject. In many respects the subject is so complex that if it were properly dealt with it would need a much longer period of time. I hope that with the experience of this debate, and bearing in mind the importance of the subject, it may be possible through the usual channels in the next Session to get a full afternoon in which to debate this very important matter. I say this particularly to the noble Baroness who is to reply. I promise that I will be as short as I can possibly be in order to give her ample time to reply, because when I had to deal with this matter in 1969 I spoke for 45 minutes, and I well remember throwing out mountains of material that had been provided, and even then I believe that I did not deal with all the questions that had been raised.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Chalfont about these evil weapons and the urgency for the States of this world to reach an early convention, not only for the abolition of the use of these weapons but also for their final destruction. The only difficulty in regard to their destruction is that we shall never he able to remove from our scientists and technologists the knowledge and the capability of making these weapons, since much of the material that is used in them is also used in civil industrial products. I agree with my noble friend that verification is of great importance, but as I said in the debate in 1969, when we were dealing with biological weapons, if we were to insist on verification as it is understood in the military sense, then the real chances of progress would be remote, if not impossible. Therefore, when one is at a point of decision, one must seek to take a balance on the risk of whether the extent of verification is sufficient. Clearly, in the case of biological weapons the Government—the Labour Government and the Conservative Government—felt that what had been done was right, since the Conservative Government signed that Convention.

My Lords, in regard to this country and chemical weapons, I have looked up my own words in that debate. I hope that in the not too far distant future some noble Lords on this side of the House will be over there on the Government Front Bench and will be called upon to reply and therefore it is not merely for consistency's sake that I speak in this way. I did say on that occasion: We do not manufacture or stockpile chemical weapons ourselves", but I think that if one took that speech as a whole one would recognise that Her Majesty's Government did possess CS gas. I accept that it is a chemical weapon but it was not being treated in the terms of the Geneva Protocol. That is where the difficulty may have arisen and one should make it quite clear because of the way in which the news media may well use what was said by my noble friend. If it were accepted in that way, then what I say and what other Ministers have said and what present Ministers are saying could be in dispute. I then went on in that speech to refer to the evidence that was given by the Defence Secretary, Mr. Denis Healey, in the Select Committee on Science and Technology in July, 1968. If my memory is right—and I say this to my noble friend Lord Chalfont—I think I spoke on his behalf on that occasion because he was out of the country. To the best of my knowledge, my noble friend never corrected me upon the accuracy of what I said in this House and, in particular, in reply to my noble friend Lord Brockway.

My Lords, the question of verification is very difficult indeed. For ourselves, who do not possess these weapons, then of course the matter is relatively easy. I see our role at these conferences, therefore, if I may say so to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, as a friendly and leading ally with the United States, using our influence, our experience and our ingenuity in trying to bridge the gap. One must understand the United States' view, because chemical weapons are not on their own; they are an integral part; they in fact stand side by side with nuclear weapons. Therefore one can understand the United States Government's view that if they arc to disarm in nuclear weapons and in chemical weapons there should he a reciprocal reduction by the Soviet Union. Therefore I see our role in the Geneva Committee as that of seeking to bridge the gap between these two sides, using all our ingenuity and recognising the great difficulties with which both the Soviet Government and the United States Government are confronted.

My noble friend referred to the stockpiles of the United States. I do not think this is any secret, but I remember seeing not so long ago a paper to the effect that the Soviet Union's possible stockpile is some seven or ten times greater than that of the United States. Perhaps, therefore, a move in this direction may for the Soviet Union be of even greater difficulty than for the United States. I hope that we shall use our ingenuity and our experience at this Conference. But I am bound to say to the noble Baroness that we on this side of the House do not think that Her Majesty's Government attach the same degree of importance to the whole field of disarmament as we on this side of the House wish to see them have. I do not think it is just a question of lack of interest; I have a feeling that it is not quite as high on their list of priorities as it should be. I well remember in the Defence Debate of this year—or was it last year?—that I was rather critical of the Government White Paper on Defence. It had a passing reference to disarmament, and on not one occasion in the speech that was delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, the Minister of Defence, did he use the word "disarmament".

The point I would put to the noble Lady is this: that overseas Governments look with great attention at what is said and also at the personal influence of Ministers. The noble Lady went to the UNCTAD Conference the other day. She represented Her Majesty's Government and, if my memory is right, it was only within a few weeks, if not days. of her taking up her office in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She was there for only a very brief time. That we all understand, and I do not criticise her, but it was misunderstood by those at that Conference. They felt that Her Majesty's Government, the Ministers, did not have a real feeling towards that Conference. It is no good just going there and making speeches. The real work, the real gain, is made by the personal contact in the corridors, in the tea-rooms, even over a glass of whisky. I hope, therefore, that the Government will recognise that it is not just what is said or what is intended but it is by showing a real, personal and continuing interest in the subject that the two sides are in the end brought together.

My Lords, I cannot help but feel that in the Committee on Disarmament there has not been quite the same attention at ministerial level as there was during the period of Labour Government, particularly when my noble friend Lord Chalfont was Minister with special responsibility for disarmament, and also my friend Mr. Mulley. It may be that officials can deliver the thoughts of Her Majesty's Government, but if there is to be any significance in it those words are best delivered by the political masters or mistresses—Ministers like the noble Baroness. So I hope that the Government will feel that Ministers ought to attend these meetings much more often.

My noble friend Lord Chalfont quoted a particular phrase—I think an unfortunate phrase—of Mr. Hainworth, when he said that the British Government had come with no decisions and no proposals. My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Baroness would have accepted that in her speech if it had been given by an official. Quite rightly it would have been cut out. That being read clearly shows that Her Majesty's Government really have very little interest in the subject, have given very little thought to it and have, therefore, very little to contribute. I do not believe that to be the case. So I do come back to my plea to Her Majesty's Government that at these Conferences, where good can be done by personal contact, Ministers should be present and remain there for sufficient time for good to come as a consequence of it.

My Lords, I hope that the Government will accept what my noble friend has said, that there is a real case of urgency in this matter. Proliferation is possible. I do not know how far these weapons are to-day possessed outside the United States or the Soviet Union. Possessed they may be, but whether they can be delivered is another matter. But with the passing of time—and I fear with tensions increasing as opposed to decreasing—I hope that the Government will recognise that these weapons could spread and that the best way of preventing that is to give assurance to the Medium-sized countries (because these are the countries which are more likely to acquire these weapons) that if there is a convention in existence and all their neighbours are signatories to it, and if there is a degree of verification (this verification perhaps under the Secretary-General of the United Nations) then their chances of finding a neighbour possessing weapons which they have denied to themselves, are infinitely remote. I think this is the way in which the proliferation of these weapons can be prevented.

Therefore, there is a real case of urgency. I hope that this will be the watchword of Her Majesty's Government in this field. If it is not, I hope that the noble Baroness will take from this House this message, because I believe this is the spirit of the House, certainly of the debate of 1969, that this is a matter of urgency; that it is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government to take initiatives, and, even if they are rebuffed, to continue to take initiatives to seek ways and means of bringing the two big Powers together in order to bring about an international convention to abolish these dreadful and evil weapons, which in turn perhaps would lead us to another convention which may ultimately lead to the abolition of all offensive weapons.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, has raised what is without doubt a very important subject, and we know that he has himself made notable contributions to the work of arms control and disarmament. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that there has been a feeling throughout this House of the urgency of the matter under discussion. First, may I join with all those noble Lords who have congratulated my noble friend on his maiden speech. It gives me particular pleasure to do so because, of course, he is a fellow Scot, and I am very glad that he should choose what is a difficult and complex debate but one which I think arouses a great deal of human anxiety. May I say that I hope he will often contribute to our discussions, and it is particularly good that he should have spoken on this particular matter.

In calling your Lordships' attention, as the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, did, to the urgent need for an international convention to prohibit the possession, production and stockpiling of chemical weapons in all countries, I think the House will agree that he gave us a very chilling description of some of the substances that are now in use. I felt it was rather impressive, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Arwyn, has still survived to be able to tell us of his personal experiences in gas warfare. It of course gives the Government an opportunity to try to describe to the House the problems that are before us in seeking this convention, and the methods by which we believe we can get some lasting progress. I had the honour to attend the signing of the Biological Weapons Convention, which was about two months ago, although, of course, all the work on this had been done by my noble friend Lord Lothian. I should just like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, that my noble friend must have attended the conference on the subject at least five times, and now that the responsibility has been taken over by my right honourable friend the Minister of State in another place, he has already visited the Conference in Geneva. I should like it to be made clear that the Government share the concern of the House as a whole, but at the same time we must realise what are the kinds of problems that we have to face.

The Biological Weapons Convention carries a commitment to continue negotiations in good faith for a ban on the possession of chemical weapons, and we accept that commitment. For over forty years we have had a ban on the use of chemical weapons resting upon the 1925 Geneva Protocol. By trying to ban the possession of chemical weapons, we shall, of course, remove the power to retaliate in kind. Therefore, we have to ensure that all States will have adequate confidence that there is no likelihood of concealed stockpiles being kept or of secret production being undertaken. Because, my Lords, however much we may care about the horrors of contemporary chemical weapons, they are a military reality. We know that the Soviet Union possesses a very considerable chemical warfare capability, and although they are very reticent on the subject they have never denied that they have these weapons. The United States also has these weapons, and they consider that they should continue to keep a retaliatory capability as a deterrent against chemical attack. But I think it should also be said that since 1969 the United States Army has not acquired or produced any lethal or incapacitating biological or chemical warfare agents other than in research quantities. I think we should be aware in this House that this gesture has yet to be matched by the Soviet Union.

As was said clearly in an exchange across the Floor of the House, the United Kingdom does not possess any stocks of lethal chemical weapons of its own. We did in fact hold a retaliatory capability during the Second World War, as did the other principal Allied Powers, and we believe it did in fact deter the enemy at that time from starting gas warfare, but we allowed this retaliatory capability to lapse in the 1950s.

I was asked specifically by the noble Lords, Lord Chalfont, Lord Shepherd and Lord Brockway, whether in fact we have any chemical weapons as such. The answer as given in another place was perfectly correct, but, of course, it did not include the riot control agent CS, which has been referred to by several noble Lords, which we do manufacture and stockpile in, I am happy to say, relatively small quantities.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness able to confirm the statement that Great Britain has no chemical weapons for war purposes other than CS gas? That is the only weapon we have?


My Lords, that is exactly what I was trying to make clear to the House. We do not have, we do not make, or produce, or stockpile lethal chemical weapons. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester asked me about the whole question of napalm and why it was not being considered at this particular conference in the Committee on Disarmament. I listened to what he said with very great interest. It has not been included. It is considered an incendiary device. However, the United Nations Secretary-General is engaged in a separate study of napalm in the context of what has been called by some noble Lords, "causing unnecessary suffering," and when this is completed, we shall of course see whether there is anything practical that can be done.

There was also a point raised, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, about defoliants. We do not possess these weapons at all ourselves, and I understand that the United States has phased out the use of anti-crop weapons in Vietnam. It is of course common knowledge that any country with a modern chemical industry can produce chemical weapons, quite possibly in conditions of secrecy. This will be very well known to the chemist in our ranks, the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones. Therefore the technical problems in reaching agreement on the CW Convention—if I may call it by its initials as it takes so much less time—are very difficult indeed.

One also has to consider the need to define the chemical agents which are relevant to chemical warfare on which controls are needed, and those chemical agents and their manufacturing processes which could be converted to chemical weapon production, although they are relevant also to peaceful industrial and medical activities. Therefore we have to consider not only the agents but the industrial processes which could be relevant to a ban on CW. When these have been identified we have to consider three main things: how to give assurances that the production and possession of chemical weapons has been completely stopped; how to place obstacles in the way of a secret programme of CW rearmament which would make it both difficult and expensive; and, thirdly, how to give early warning of any unlawful production or possession of CW.

These questions involve a careful examination of the processes involved in the production programme and a practical system of verification to which many noble Lords in particular have referred. My noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing suggested some of the technical processes which might help verification and we have had suggestions for satellite observation, remote sensors, exchanges of economic and other data, but we have not yet reached agreement on how these systems could work or whether they would give what is a very necessary assurance. If we do achieve a system of verification of a ban on CW we have to devise an effective and acceptable system for its enforcement and the protection of those who observe it in good faith.

It was for this reason, despite what has been said about it, that we have called for a meeting of experts on these difficult technical questions next month. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said, "Surely everything is already known ", and this was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. But as I understand it the work of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute did not deal in adequate detail with the methods of verification of chemical disarmament. They reviewed the various possibilities and suggested those which might appear promising, but it is the detailed examination of some of these verification possibilities which we feel needs the attention of experts on a matter of such vital importance, particularly, if I may say so, to this country which tries to observe any undertaking which it gives. During this meeting of experts we hope to continue discussion on how to define the classes of the most dangerous and lethal agents that we could ban. We also expect to put a Paper to this meeting which will examine in detail some aspects of surveillance. This is in order to identify which technical methods would offer practical control and verification.

Of course, one of the essential matters that we still have to do in this meeting is to ensure a wide enough acceptance by the Soviet bloc as well as by the West of the need for really adequate verification methods. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, said, "Why do we not take a risk?", and I thought, if I may say so, that that question was rather echoed by the noble Lord who opened this debate. But as I knew that he was such an expert on these matters, I looked up some of the matters which he has raised on the subject of verification and I note that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, said as recently as April 30, 1970: Before we can decide on what represents an adequate level of certainty in a particular case we must know what reliance we can place on the technical methods of verification available to us. I can only say that I entirely agree with that remark, and this is what we are trying to do. We consider that the Working Paper tabled by the United States delegation in Geneva on March 20 has shown a great many detailed questions that still need to be resolved, particularly as regards the definition of what chemical substances can and should be banned.

There are two main possibilities. First, we should perhaps try to cover all possible CW agents in a comprehensive ban. That would be very difficult because some chemicals that have lethal properties in war, chlorine and phosgene for instance, are also of basic importance in industry and civilian life, which is why the subject is of such interest to laymen. The alternative is to concentrate on the extremely lethal or super toxic agents, as the Swedes call them, which are primarily the nerve gases. But there does arise the question of where to draw the line, what degree of toxicity has to be regarded as the lower limit. And there is also the complication of the binary weapon, which, as the House knows, is a weapon in which two non-lethal chemical substances arc combined at the final stage of delivery to form a toxic gas. The Swedish Government have strongly favoured the second approach and we think the Americans seem inclined also to follow this line. We believe that that may offer a practical solution, and we are therefore making a careful study of this matter; but I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, when he said, "Do not fall for the partial approach".

My Lords, a week after the presentation of the American work programme the Soviet Union and its allies tabled a draft convention which reproduced almost exactly the provisions of the BW Convention. We thought it necessary to criticise the Soviet draft on the grounds that it does not offer an adequate basis for negotiation. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, seemed rather keen on this draft, but we felt that it was inadequate for two main reasons: first, it does not deal with the identification and definition of the relevant chemical agents and their production processes and. secondly, is intended to be a proposal for a comprehensive prohibition; but it contains practically no proposal for the necessary security assurances and in essence reverts to the 1968 position. The Soviet Union claims that we can deal with CW in the same way as BW. The noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, will know why we decided that it was not possible to deal with it in exactly the same way.

As Ambassador Hainworth has been so much quoted in this debate I feel it only fair to point out what was said on this matter in his speech. He said that if you looked at the Soviet draft, because of the special nature of biological weapons and the current stage of their development and deployment it was possible to conclude an agreement immediately banning their production and stockpiling without any verification, and it was possible in the unique case of biological weapons to rely on the complaints procedure to deter any would-be violators. But a complaints procedure is not verification, nor is there provision for consultation between States. That is exactly what was said by the Swedish representative, Mrs. Myrdal.

I know that the noble Lord has to have two minutes in which to reply to this debate. Therefore I would only say in conclusion that we have not ourselves put forward proposals because we feel that we must do this detailed work first. This is the approach supported by the Western members and by some of the leading non-aligned countries. We shall go on trying, with great patience and with persistence to try and reach an agreement which is acceptable to all concerned.

5.40 p.m.


My Lords, very briefly, with the leave of the House, I wish to express my gratitude for the chance to initiate this debate. I congratulate the maiden speaker on a speech which was brief, good-humoured and impressively well-informed. May I also thank all other noble Lords for the interest which they have shown in this important subject. I should like to apologise if, perhaps in an excessive search for accuracy, I created any confusion in the minds of your Lordships about chemical weapons in this country. I am of course fully aware that we do not manufacture lethal chemical weapons. In conclusion, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for the courtesy and fullness of her reply in a comparatively short space of time, and to express my good wishes to her and to the delegation in Geneva for their future success. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.