HL Deb 03 May 1985 vol 463 cc476-8

11.21 a.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether there is any formal consultative procedure relating to the use of chemical weapons in the NATO area similar to that which exists concerning the use of nuclear weapons, and if not whether the decision rests in the hands of the United States President alone.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I reminded your Lordships on 24th April, there are no chemical weapons declared to NATO. Political control of the limited United States stocks of chemical weapons is, of course, a matter for the United States.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, will the Government accept that the fact that if binary weapons were manufactured they could safely be stored in the United States will not really be a godsend of a solution, as one might be tempted to think? Will not the situation even then remain extremely unsatisfactory? Is not chemical disarmament the only real rational goal? In the meantime, should there not be a system of NATO political release for chemical weapons as there is for nuclear weapons?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord that what we need to achieve in this area is a total and verifiable ban on all aspects of the manufacture, stocking and use of these weapons. That, as I explained to your Lordships the other week, is the essence of our policy in this matter. The other difficulties that the noble Lord describes point, I think, to the rightness of that policy.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm reports that the USSR is still building up its stock of chemical weapons?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I have no reason to believe that the USSR is showing any constraint in this area or indeed in any other.

Lord Boston of Faversham

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that in any consultations that take place with our allies, the Government will continue to impress upon our allies their view and decision that this country does not intend to resume either the production or possession of chemical weapons and that it will continue to press in the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva for a complete treaty or convention on chemical weapons and will continue with the admirable work that Her Majesty's Government have been doing there?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's support of what is in fact our policy.

Lord Renton

My Lords, as the Soviet Union may not follow our fine example on disarmament with regard to chemical weapons is there not a great risk of their possibly being used—a greater risk than the use of nuclear weapons—and should not we, in the NATO countries, therefore prepare to protect our people against possible chemical attack?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we are doing that, too. Our defensive stance with regard to chemical weapons is one to which we attach great importance and to which we are giving considerable thought at the present time.

Lord Rea

My Lords, in view of the desirability of getting agreement for a verifiable ban on chemical weapons, which I hope the noble Lord agrees is desirable, will the Government think about proposing that NATO should perhaps offer to reduce a class of weaponry in which it is superior to the Soviet Union as a quid pro quo so that we can start a build-down rather than a continuous build-up in weaponry?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think that the best approach to a solution of these problems whether it be in chemical weapons, in nuclear weapons or indeed in any other, is a step by step approach. That is the course that we are following and the one, I believe, that is the most likely to produce the desired results.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend the Minister whether his helpful and interesting answers on the question of chemical weapons also include biological weapons?

Lord Trefgarne

Not exactly, my Lords. Biological weapons as distinct from chemical weapons—they are different—are covered by a different and frankly more effective convention already in force.

Lord Beswick

My Lords, the noble Lord said in answer to a supplementary question from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that the Soviet Union may well be manufacturing chemical weapons. Will he say whether we have in fact evidence to that effect? Will he recall the meeting that he attended earlier in the week when it was said by one authority that the Soviet Union had 200,000 tonnes; by another authority, equally firmly, that it had 300,000 tonnes; while another authority implied that there were stocks left over from the last war and that they were deteriorating?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the amount of chemical weapons held by the Soviet Union is, we believe, in the region of 300,000 tonnes. This, as I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Mayhew, the other day, is a United Kingdom estimate. In recent years there has been an increase, I think, in the amount held by the Soviet Union. In any event, as the noble Lord says, stocks deteriorate; so I am quite clear that manufacture on the Soviet side is continuing.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, are we prepared to say that we shall never be the first to use chemical weapons?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, we shall never be the first to use any weapon save in response to an attack.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, in view of the fact that General Rogers, the American Supreme Commander in Europe, has stated that he would like to see a system of multilateral political control of chemical weapons in NATO, will the Government now put forward such a proposal in NATO; and if not, why not?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the views of the Supreme Commander are, of course, most important, but ultimate decisions in these matters must remain with the political leaders.