HL Deb 03 April 1990 vol 517 cc1247-8

2.35 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Libyan Government has resumed the production of chemical weapons at Rabta; and what action they propose to take.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, we have no doubt that the Rabta plant is intended to produce chemical weapons on a large scale. It remains unclear what has been the effect of the reported fire on 14th March. Regarding measures to control proliferation of chemical weapons, we continue to co-ordinate with other industrialised countries strict export controls on certain precursor chemicals. We also continue to discourage UK exporters of plant and equipment from involvement in projects in Libya and elsewhere which may be linked to chemical weapons production.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can he add a little information regarding the market that the product of that work is intended to supply?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot answer that question. We are certain that the plant is capable of producing chemical weapons. We are firmly opposed to the production of chemical weapons, and I think it unlikely that the Libyans will tell us where they are intended to go.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, can the Minister say what third world countries are in a position to produce chemical weapons? Can he also say what his response is to the horrifying report in the Daily Telegraph today that the Iraqi president has threatened the Iranians with chemical weapons?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, I cannot give a list of third world countries capable of producing chemical weapons; obviously Libya is one and Iraq is another. We condemned the Iraqi use of chemical weapons in the Gulf and against the Kurds. We equally condemn the statement reported in today's paper. We remain anxious about the development of offensive capabilities in other countries, and we made our views clear regarding the need for the complete removal of the facility at Rabta.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is it not a fact that there are about 2, 000 plants in different parts of the world, and about 10, 000 precursor chemicals which could be used to produce chemical weapons of one sort or another? Can the Minister assure us that the West European chemical industry is doing all it can to co-operate with the non-proliferation discussions currently taking place in Geneva?

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, only a comprehensive effectively verifiable ban on the development, production, possession and use of chemical weapons, which is now being negotiated at the conference on disarmament in Geneva, can provide the final answer. We and our European partners are members of the Australian group of 20 industrialised countries which prevent the export of the nine chemicals on the core list, and also maintain a warning list of a further 41 chemicals. Exporters are invited to seek government advice when faced with dubious orders for those chemicals.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, will the noble Lord reply more fully to my noble friend Lady Ewart-Biggs? Her question was: whether the Government had knowledge about which countries and installations were capable of producing chemical weapons? One must assume— must one not?— that the Government possess that information. I understand that the Government may not wish to reveal that information, but perhaps the Minister can clarify the point and advise us of the Government's position.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

My Lords, the Question specifically concerns the Libyan position regarding chemical weapons production. I do not have a list of other countries which might be in the same position as the Libyans; even if I had, I am not sure that I would be able to give the noble Lord the information that he requires.