HL Deb 05 February 1969 vol 299 cc134-202

2.38 p.m.

THE LORD BISHOP OF ST. ALBANS rose to call attention to the increasing menace of chemical and biological warfare; and to move for Papers. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I am grateful to those who are responsible for arranging our business for finding time for this debate. This action is typical of the care and consideration I have met whenever I have approached a Minister or Officer of your Lordships' House. I asked for this debate partly as the result of correspondence I received when I wrote a letter to The Times. I have written two letters to The Times in the last 25 years—and one of them was published, in March last year. In it I referred to the war in Vietnam and to Fort Detrick in Maryland, a complex employing 600 graduates who were researching into various diseases such as anthrax, dysentery, plague and fevers. I then went on to mention the rapidly expanding U.S.A. programme on biological warfare. I said that, for all I knew, our country might be making comparable, if smaller, experiments. I concluded by saying that I thought all such experiments were to be renounced.

This letter attracted correspondence, and some of the letters and articles were from scientific students giving me the summary of their thinking and explaining why they were so strongly opposed to Porton. I do not want to identify myself with these particular protests; nor to support the approach of students who have demonstrated at Porton, but I think Government silence at that time about research establishments encouraged these demonstrations. I learn now that the open days at Porton have helped the atmosphere very much indeed, although they have not removed all local misgiving. I believe that more openness about Government policy here would be welcome. These, my Lords, were among the thoughts that decided me to ask for this debate.

The last debate—a short debate—in your Lordships' House was on June 19 last year, when the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, asked an Unstarred Question about Porton and the declassification of its research. During his speech the noble Lord questioned whether it would be possible—and I quote his words— for the three Front Benches to consider whether at an early date we ought not to have a debate on a subject, than which there is none more important in the whole world today.

I propose now to bring before your Lordships some of the comments that have been made and issues that have been raised by people in our country since the June debate. I intend to make a relatively short speech and to go for some of my material to articles that have appeared in the Press. I have to admit that I have not been able to check the accuracy of the figures or statements in those articles. Nevertheless, I trust that I may be able to indicate the concern which I sense there is in the country about the increasing menace of chemical and biological warfare. I speak as a matter of conscience, and I know that the consciences of many people are disturbed by this issue.

I shall make no criticism of the work of the Porton staff. I accept that much of the work there is fundamental research. It is work of national importance in two senses. Its aim is to conjure up a defence against what is probably a real threat, and at the same time it seeks to make a significant contribution to public and private health. I hope my speech will not give an impression that I am singling out any individual or institution for criticism. My subject is the threat of this particular type of warfare, and my appeal is to the Government to look again at their responsibilities in this field and to reconsider the question of the initiative which they can take to reduce its menace.

There are several moral issues I want to mention. The first concerns students and their protests. Towards the end of June there was an article in the Guardian headed "Porton and Protest". It referred to student protests and the effect they had. They had brought into the open, in the writer's view, the fact that—and I quote the article: Porton is part of a whole nexus of human and deliberate activities which include the gassing of the Vietcong, the blinding of Parisians, the perpetuation of alliances which involve the selling of scientific research results to those who want to use them for immoral purposes, the ruin of crops and starvation of the defenceless. I think it is safe to assume that some noble Lords will disagree with the terms of this article, but I quote from it because I believe it represents accurately the passionate convictions of not a few students.

The second issue, my Lords, is about the classification of Porton. The Guardian article to which I have referred mentioned the proposal that was made in this House, and often elsewhere, that Porton should come under the Ministry of Health and not under the Ministry of Defence. This idea has been brushed aside by some people as nonsensical. Possibly those who have taken this attitude have not fully realised why those who support this proposal persist with it. The Guardian expresses the matter succinctly: It symbolises the idea that an institution that claims to exist for the preservation not of a military nexus, but for the bodily health of all citizens in a democracy, should be under the control of that civilian department which is democratically constituted for that purpose. I ask the noble Lord who speaks for the Government once again to consider this plea—it has strong support in the country.

I turn now to say a word about Porton and national sovereignty. The defence establishment at Porton is in the diocese of Salisbury and therefore I wrote to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury in preparation for this debate. The Lord Bishop has kindly sent me a paper which he drafted in consultation with others who were as deeply concerned as he was. He states in this paper that Porton cannot at present be examined without this consideration leading us on to the problem of modern war, and this in turn brings up the question of national sovereignty. Has the time come for some surrender of our sovereignty? If so, should we express our readiness to hand over this research establishment, if not to the United Nations then to some lesser and intermediate grouping? Many will deride such a notion. I submit that it deserves study.

I want now to quote a letter from my noble and reverend friend Lord MacLeod of Fuinary. Christians of all traditions and many races are alarmed at the increasing menace of chemical and biological warfare. We do not question that the scientists working at Porton are honourable men. What worries us, as my noble friend Lord MacLeod of Fuinary has said in a letter to The Times, is whether the results of the Porton investigations of antidotes are communicated to establishments beyond our shores, establishments which have not signed the Geneva Convention and are engaged in perfecting the very instruments of chemical attack to which Porton seeks the antidotes". Are we, at one remove, carrying some responsibility for the manufacture of the poison that Porton in another department exists to counter?

I want now to say something about the Lambeth Conference. In the debate of June 19 in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, spoke of the menace of resolutions which always asked somebody else to do something about it instead of doing it yourself. I do not intend to ask your Lordships to pass any resolution, and I shall ask leave to withdraw my Motion at the end of the debate. But I would draw your attention to a resolution on war passed by the Lambeth Conference which, for the first time in its history, has referred to bacteriological weapons. Bishops of many races approved the resolution (paragraph (b) of the General Resolution on War) that: This Conference states emphatically that it condemns the use of nuclear and bacteriological weapons".

May I ask your Lordships now to consider the reactions of certain groups and categories of people: first, of some students and members of sixth forms. Statistics indicate that some students are opposed to the whole business of science, and our scientist sixth forms are not receiving the same proportion of pupils as they used to do and need to do. Mr. Gordon Rattray Taylor in his book, The Biological Time Bomb, has suggested that discoveries which are now in process open up possibilities of transforming human living so catastrophically that the dangers of nuclear war would seem dull by comparison. This book was tried out on several evening classes and the effect was disquieting. This was only a strictly limited experiment, but I think it is significant.

My Lords, I give you a quotation from the New Scientist of June 13, which I saw reproduced in a student publication: The Air Force"— that is to say, the United States Air Force— is preparing to spray about 10 million gallons of herbicide over South Vietnam in the year beginning 1968. It is estimated that this will be enough to treat about 4 million acres of which about a third will be crop land…whenever starvation is used as a weapon against an entire civilian population the main sufferers are inevitably the aged, the infirm, pregnant women, lactating women and children under five. The fighting man nearly always gets enough food to sustain himself. What is the long-term effect of defoliation? What is the consequence of such a statement as the one I have read on anyone with a sensitive conscience? Surely we may ask, was the initial research done in Porton?

Porton disturbs many people. Three months ago the senior lecturer in biology in a college of technology resigned. He did so because the biology department academic staff decided that their third-year biology students should have the chance to spend their year of industrial training at Porton. He resigned as a matter of conscience. He was unable to accept the college's policy of having Porton as a potential outlet for students of applied biology. I must add that it was made quite clear that in no circumstances would a student's future be jeopardised if he refused to go to Porton. We have to face the perplexities of scientists. We have heard of the moral perplexity of the scientists who devised the first atom bomb. There must be many other highly competent scientists working in chemical and biological research projects who face agonising appraisals. In fact, it appears that scientists themselves are becoming more and more aware of their responsibilities.

What about reactions in a parish? I suggested to a rector in the diocese of St. Albans that he could help me to prepare for this debate. I corresponded with him on the subject and asked him to collect the opinions of his people. He sent me 65 replies to his questionnaire. Summarised, there are two conclusions. Only eight of those who returned replies believed that the country should now be manufacturing germ weapons. Only seven of those who answered believed these weapons should be used in any future war. What is the value of such a brief summary? I submit that many of the people in the pew are sensitive to these issues and their opinion should be considered. One of them raised the question of the just war. The classic Christian teaching rules out wars which are waged against the civilian population and which cause more havoc than they set out to correct. Nevertheless, I should say that a great majority of Christians believe that we are justified in stockpiling nuclear bombs for deterrent effect, provided they are not used in action. This argument cannot be applied to biological and chemical weapons which have already been used in Vietnam.

I have spoken on certain problems of conscience, for there are perplexed people in this country. I have put forward several enquiries as I have proceeded. This morning one of the leading articles in the Guardian dealt with to-day's debate and covered a number of the points that I am confident noble Lords will be mentioning in their speeches, and I am thankful that so many noble Lords are taking part in the debate and that there are such eminent speakers. The Government, said this leader writer, ought to be pressed to be much more frank than they have been so far.

I conclude, my Lords, by asking the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, when he replies for the Government, whether he will give us further information in answer to these five questions. I have already given the noble Lord notice of them. First, what principles, moral or commercial, govern the sale or the supply of Porton products? Secondly, in what ways are the Government striving to minimise the threat of germ warfare? Thirdly, what positive steps are the Government now taking to produce international agreements banning germ warfare? Fourthly, is some system of international inspection wholly impracticable? And, lastly, in these times of stringency do the Government propose to increase or reduce their financial provision for the Microbiological Research Establishment? I very much hope that the noble Lord's reply will make it evident that the Government are agreed that the time for greater frankness has come. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

2.55 p.m.


My Lords, it is only comparatively recently that this subject has come out from behind a veil of secrecy, and last summer it received considerable attention in The Times, the Telegraph, the Observer and the Economist. Mr. Gadsby, who has long been associated with the Ministry of Defence as a scientist and is now Director of the Chemical Defence Establishment at Porton Down, lectured on it at the Royal United Services Institution. On June 19, an Unstarred Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, in your Lordships' House, initiated a small debate, but it was late in the evening. So we are very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for giving us the opportunity of debating this very important subject. And his speech, if I may say so, was wise and restrained. May I, in passing, add a personal note, as he and his father before him are old friends of my family, to say how much I regret his decision to retire shortly?

I wish to look at this problem from the viewpoint of this country and its defence, so I think I can agree with a great deal that he has said about other countries and their use of bacteriological weapons, except perhaps harmless chemical agents which are used in riot control. My Lords, chemical warfare has been a menace since it was introduced in the First War, and at the end of the Second War it was found that the Germans had gases with fatal effects stockpiled in great quantities and ready for use. Moreover, the Service and the civilian respirators which we all carried with increasing irritation would have been completely useless against it. We were spared this appalling weapon only because Field Marshal Mitch on no fewer than three occasions persuaded Hitler that German cities were far more vulnerable to attack by retaliatory chemical agents when he proposed to use his gas towards the end of the war, by which time we had gained air supremacy. This is an important example of the effect of a suspected deterrent which in fact we had not got in as effective a form. I do not propose to say much more about chemical warfare, gas, because much is known about it.

Another less known but much more dangerous weapon is under discussion to-day. Biological or germ warfare is entirely different from anything that has been tried out recently. In Field-Marshal Montgomery's recent fascinating book, A History of Warfare, he mentions that the first example of bacteriological warfare might be said to be the unpleasant habit in mediaeval sieges of throwing the carcases of dead animals across the defence works so that putrefaction would spread disease. Incidentally, this happened unintentionally at the Battle of Keren when many of us, including myself, got blood poisoning from wounds of scratches infected by flies from corpses putrefying in the tropical heat of no- man's land; and we owe our recovery to the wonderful discovery of penicillin.

A great deal of research into the subject has been done in recent years, in our opinion quite rightly, since it is vital to know what weapons can be used against us, together with the methods of dissemination likely to be used by the enemy. The most unpleasant fact that emerges was described by Dr. Gordon Smith, the Director of the Microbiological Research Establishment at Porton, who is on record as saying that a small nation with a couple of good microbiologists and a hate against another small country could easily mount an attack with devastating results. He has described a simulated attack on Britain in which a harmless agent was sprayed off the East Coast, and measurements showed that this agent effectively blanketed the South of England below a line from Birmingham to the Wash.

I understand that there are a vast number of types of bugs, from lethal ones that would totally decimate the occupants of vast areas, including the defence forces, to non-lethal ones which would have only a temporary incapacitating effect, but would be enough to provide opportunity for a big tactical victory by an enemy following it up with a conventional advance or invasion. Indeed, Field-Marshal Montgomery points out in his hook that the same strategic results of a one-thousand bomber raid on Hamburg would have been achieved without the enormous loss of life, mostly civilians, if the entire population had been put out of action for 48 hours with the use of suitable bugs, or even gas.

How can we protect ourselves? We have, alas! seen the value of pacts and treaties in our own lifetime. The fact that both Italy and Japan were signatories of the 1926 Geneva Convention did not deter them from using chemical warfare against the Abyssinians or the Chinese; and, more recently, Egypt has used gas against the Yemen. To try to control war by isolating certain categories of weapons has so far failed. The real moral challenge is the total abolition of war, and until the United Nations has the authority and the means for stopping all wars we are dependent for our security on having strong allies, effective deterrents and the ability to defend ourselves.

The work done at Porton may provide the ability to defend ourselves partially, or even totally, by its invaluable research into the potential weapons that may be used against us, as the Establishment has already achieved by its production, after long and exhaustive tests, of the protective clothing now available to our troops in the Rhine Army. The Russians and the Americans are stockpiling these weapons in a considerable way; and the Russians have said publicly that chemical and biological warfare will be used in future wars, and they have done much to teach and organise their people against such measures. In Sweden though there are no weapons of this sort in its armoury, a vast amount has been done in the way of taking defensive precautions, at a cost of £12 million per year for a population one-seventh the size of our own. Here in Britain the only precaution that we have taken is to maintain our research establishments. We have abolished the Civil Defence Corps, and the Home Defence Force will be in cadre form only. I feel that we should certainly do more to understand the problem and to create an organisation to educate our people.

It was suggested in the last debate by two noble Lords, and now by the right reverend Prelate, that Porton should be transferred to the Ministry of Health, in view of the important discoveries it has made in vaccines and in muscular diseases. We are opposed to this proposal. It would make it only a poor relation of a Department that needs every penny that it gets, and, speaking as the chairman of a hospital, I say that it needs a good deal more. I am confident that existing liaison is adequate to derive full benefits from the Research Establishment discoveries and to institute further lines of medical research that can better be done there.

I agree with everything that was so emphatically said in the last debate by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg. Porton plays a vital part in our defence research, and we should congratulate all who work there on their efforts and wish them all success in future research. Those who regard them as enemies of humanity are, to say the least, quite misguided. These scientists are playing an indispensable but relatively inexpensive part in this country's national security.

I will close by quoting from the Economist of July 20: Much of the emotional fuss about it would be killed stone dead if there were to be a firm Ministerial statement, setting out the strategical policy that is being followed and explaining what Porton does and why it does it. The scientists there have been exposed to ignorant attacks without Ministers daring to take up the cudgels for them. Mr. Healey should be ready to say much more than he has. I would add to that that he should explain why, unlike other countries that I have mentioned, the Government do not consider it necessary to take any precautions nationwide against this terrible form of potential warfare.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the right reverend Prelate for initiating this debate to-day. The subject we are discussing is one with which I was much concerned for many years, as during the war I was involved actively in research on defence against biological warfare, and also for twenty years afterwards in an advisory capacity. I hope, therefore, that I may be able to make a useful contribution to the debate. I should like, though, to approach the problem from a personal angle, and the views I shall be expressing are, of course, entirely my own.

I first became involved in this work in 1941, shortly after the tragedy that resulted in my becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. Bombs had been raining down almost nightly on our cities, and the thought that kept running through my mind, as it must have through many others, was "This is what can happen to a country that is not adequately prepared against attack. Never must it happen again." I met Dr. Fildes (later to become Sir Paul Fildes) who was directing a small group of biologists in this research at Porton, and it was suggested that I should join them. My first reaction was the natural repugnance of a medical man at the thought that the knowledge he had acquired should be used in this way. But, after all, was the work involved so far removed from the medical ideal of the saving of life? Facts were facts. There were well-known theoretical grounds for believing that biological warfare might be effective, as Dr. Fildes had been insisting for some years before the war.

We were up against an utterly ruthless enemy, a country that had not hesitated to initiate the horror of gas warfare 26 years before, within a few months of the outbreak of war. Failure to take measures, however inadequate, to provide some degree of protection against this potential threat would be nothing short of criminal negligence on the part of those responsible for the nation's safety, and it seemed to me that those with any specialised knowledge in this field should help to meet this threat. From a purely medical point of view, the development of protective measures might be the means of saving countless lives. Protection must involve numerous procedures, such as the development of efficient respirators, protective clothing, decontamination procedures, vaccines, antisera, and so on. But to develop these, one had to know what one had to protect against—that is, the micro-organisms that were most likely to be used. This must involve experiments in offence to determine ways in which bacteria might be dispersed, and how far different species would survive such treatment. There was, of course, no question of utilising such knowledge to initiate a biological warfare attack, bound as we were by the Geneva Protocol, but it was absolutely vital if we were to develop protective measures.

So I joined Dr. Fildes and his small team with its heavy load of responsibility—fighting against time to investigate the possibilities of this form of warfare. Early experiments indicated that there was something in it, and this made the feeling of responsibility even greater. Canada and the United States commenced similar work, in which I became deeply involved—the United States, as might be expected, on a vast scale—and their findings tended to confirm the potentialities of this form of warfare. However, the end of the war came without it ever being used, and I celebrated the night of V.J. day on the Canadian prairies, with all thought of future trials abandoned.

But the knowledge gained was still there. Now that the tension was relieved should we—as some would have wished—have buried our heads in the sand and pretended that the threat no longer existed, or should we have proceeded methodically and at greater leisure, and in greater depth, to ensure that, if it ever did come again, we should be more prepared to meet it? Those who know all the facts have been deeply thankful that successive Governments have adopted the latter course. Here I should like to pay a tribute to Sir Paul Fildes, not only for his able direction of his team during the war, but also for the determination he showed afterwards to ensure that the work continued on a more adequate scale. This resulted in the fine buildings of the Microbiological Research Establishment, which had its open day, as has been mentioned, a few months ago.

But this was only the beginning. It fell to the late Dr. David Henderson to build on the foundations that Sir Paul Fildes had laid. Under his direction this establishment at Porton became an outstanding centre for microbiological research, dedicated not only to ensuring, as far as possible, the protection of the country against biological warfare attack, but also to the solving of problems in fundamental biological research of vital importance to human and veterinary medicine, public health and industry. The centre is indeed fortunate in finding such an able and qualified successor to Dr. Henderson in Dr. Gordon Smith, its present Director, and it has, of course, an Advisory Board consisting of some of the most eminent microbiologists, both medical and non-medical, in the country.

For many years the Committee sat under the chairmanship, as I well remember, of a greatly respected Member of your Lordships' House, the late Lord Hankey, and he was succeeded by the present Chairman, Past-President of the Royal College of Physicians, Sir Charles Dodds. For many years also another famous Member of your Lordships' House, the late Lord Florey, was an active member, even when he was undertaking the onerous duties of President of the Royal Society. All aspects of the work of M.R.E. at Porton have, therefore, been under the supervision of a most distinguished and responsible Committee.

Nevertheless, one has to recognise that there have been, and still are, many who feel that this country should take no part in such research. While I understand their idealism, to me it is misguided and ignores all the lessons of unpreparedness in the 'thirties which had such terrible consequences, and also of the last war, when only the knowledge that retaliation would be immediate and overwhelming, I firmly believe, stopped Hitler from unleashing gas warfare on this country, especially at the time of D-day. Are the conditions at the present time all that different from those of Hitler's day? For Nazism has only been substituted by militant Communism, with it latest manifestation in Czechoslovakia. Until men's minds change, only with a balance between the great Powers in weapons of mass destruction—which must include biological and chemical as well as nuclear weapons—can there be, it seems to me, any sense of security. In my view, the increasing threat referred to in the Motion before us would be the more real if this balance were to become tilted against the Free World.

In helping to maintain this balance, our country can, of course, play no part, committed as it is to a purely defensive policy so far as biological warfare is concerned. I fully realise that there are many in the country who feel deeply and passionately that we should in no circumstances develop and manufacture biological weapons. I must confess that so far as I am concerned I personally sleep more soundly at nights in the knowledge that the United States has the biological deterrent necessary to maintain a balance. Even for defence we must rely very largely on the Americans for equipment and materials in view of the vast extent of the front that has to be covered. The benefits of collaboration with the United States in defence are, as is generally recognised, enormous. Apart from supplying materials—cultures, vaccines, reports, and exchanging personnel—there are more intangible advantages, the checking up of each other's findings and the improvement of deductions made from them.

The size of our research effort is far too small to study defence problems comprehensively, and the vast screening programmes undertaken by the United States enable us to ensure that such problems as we are able to undertake are the most important. The screening of a large number of different species of bacteria and viruses for their potentialities as biological warfare agents is one example. Vaccine research in the United States has provided this country with a large amount of the material used to protect our workers. In the all-important field of early warning and detection of an attack, the vast extent of the tests that have been carried out in the United States has enabled us to select the best approach to this extremely difficult problem. We have an exceptionally able group of workers at the Microbiological Research Establishment at Porton, but very limited in numbers. The fact that their work can be expanded and developed in the United States has made a very great deal of difference as to whether the expense of biological warfare defence research undertaken in this country is justified or not.

My Lords, I have dwelt at some length, on the subject of collaboration with the United States, since it is at this aspect of our national policy that much of the criticism is directed by those who strongly disapprove of the American policy of the biological deterrent. It is said that defence research information made available to the United States could be used for offensive purposes. But in a defence alliance such an exchange of information is vital for mutual security. Withholding knowledge gained in defence research is no way of ensuring that all members of an alliance respect international agreements, and the idea that the United States would ever initiate a biological warfare attack is unthinkable—as they have repeatedly testified. As late as February, 1967, the Deputy Secretary of State for Defence said: We have consistently continued our de facto limitation on the use of chemical and biological weapons. We have never used biological weapons. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will note these words: We have not used lethal gases since World War I and it is against our policy to initiate their use. We have used riot-control agents in Vietnam—agents similar to those used by police forces throughout the world. We have also used herbicides to destroy vegetation and crops. Is there anything—other than maintaining this balance—that can be relied on to lessen the threat? The proposed new Convention, reaffirming a ban on biological and chemical warfare, might help by imposing an additional psychological barrier, as was pointed out in a recent leading article in The Times, and would be better than nothing. But it would be no substitute. Any further suggestion involving an undertaking not to manufacture such weapons and to destroy existing stocks, much as I should like to see this happen, would seem to me to be quite unrealistic in the present climate of international mistrust and suspicion.

Is there anything else that can be done? Only, it seems to me, the mobilisation of world opinion against any country that threatens to break the rules, even to a relatively minor extent. Here the record is not encouraging. There was, for example, the use of poison gas in the Yemen by the Egyptians some two years ago, to which reference has already been made and which was conclusively proven. The United Nations, by failing to arraign President Nasser before the court of world opinion and condemn him unanimously, must bear a heavy load of responsibility if others are encouraged to similar violation.

I have not gone into technical details as to what biological warfare would be like if it were ever employed, the extent of devastation that might be caused and the types of illness that would result. Much of this is common knowledge from articles in the Press and published scientific papers. The whole subject is gone into in great detail in General Rothschild's recent book, Tomorow's Weapons, and I need not elaborate on this. There are some, strategically minded, who maintain that biological warfare, rather than the nuclear weapon, is the obvious weapon of mass destruction, since there would be no material destruction. Furthermore, as has been pointed out, if a suitable agent were used, causing a debilitating illness with a very low mortality rate, such as, for example, brucellosis, it could be argued that this would be less inhumane than so-called conventional forms of warfare. There would be something to be said for this if one could be sure that it would stop there. But in all probability it would not, and the more unpleasant lethal and devastating agents would follow. Also, the use of such agents, while relatively non-lethal to healthy adults, might well result in a much higher mortality rate among the very young and the aged.

In any case, I do not want to pursue this line of thought. What I am concerned about, as is every worker in the field, is that biological warfare should never happen. However necessary it may be to maintain a balance between the great powers in weapons of mass destruction, in the long run it is the development of tolerance among nations, an agreement to live and let live and a willingness to allow each to choose freely its own destiny that will finally banish the spectre of total war. Out of the evil of the threat of biological, chemical and nuclear warfare good may yet come if, by keeping the issues starkly before the world, it helps to bring this about.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, has spoken as a doctor and a biologist. I speak as a chemist. I do not claim to have the same detailed knowledge of the weapons as he has, but my first professor, nearly fifty years ago, had been director of the central laboratory at G.H.Q. in France and my tutor at Oxford, Sir Harold Hartley, was the person who for many years was responsible for generally directing chemical warfare. So, inevitably, I have learned a good deal about chemical warfare. For many years I was very impressed by the arguments which were put forward by the late J. B. S. Haldane. His arguments were set out in a book which was published in 1925, Callinicus, named after the Syrian General in the 8th century who introduced Greek fire and thereby probably saved the Eastern part of the Roman Empire for many years, probably at least 500 years.

It is quite true that whenever a new method of warfare is introduced the conservatives (if noble Lords opposite will forgive me for using the word: I am not using it in a political sense) always react against this weapon and regard it as a dastardly thing. Chevalier de Bayard, although he was the soul of generosity to other opponents, used to execute immediately any musketeer. The moment anything chemical is introduced, immediately a violent reaction occurs against it. When the Germans in 1915 first used gas warfare there was a cry of horror round the world; yet when one looks at it one sees that it is not any less humane or any more humane than any other method of warfare. Warfare is not a humane activity. One does not go into war with the deliberate intention of not killing anyone. It would be a very strange form of war if one did. Yet one can, by the use of appropriate chemical agents, come near to this objective if one wants to do so.

For example, later in 1915 the Germans launched what was probably the classic gas attack of all time. It was in the Argonne, when they completely overran some very strong French defences. They claimed that they took 2,500 prisoners and the French indignantly denied it, because they said that their total casualties were 2,500. Both statements were true, because no-one was killed. What had happened was that the Germans used lachrymatory gas, which hit the French, who had no protection against it at the time; they were unable to act in any way at all and were all taken prisoner. This cannot be called inhumane. I would say that a sword wound, being blown up by a shell, or a mine, or any such damage is certainly far worse than the result of almost any chemical agent. Therefore it is ridiculous to start with the assumption that there is something peculiarly nasty and vicious about chemical warfare. There is not. It is warfare itself which is the objectionable thing.

When we come to the other half of this particular form of warfare, biological warfare, the position starts by being very similar, but I am not certain that it goes on in the same way. I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, with his considerable knowledge of the subject, that biological warfare, if it is used in a certain way, could be a perfectly reasonable and, in so far as any warfare can be, a humane method of carrying out a war. But, as the noble Lord said, if one starts by using some relatively innocuous bacteria one has no guarantee at all that one does not move on, or that others do not move on, to something which is deadly. So when we look at the whole problem of chemical and biological warfare we must preserve a sense of proportion and realise what it is that we are discussing. We are discussing methods of immobilising men, of preventing them from being effective and therefore of removing them from a sphere of activity.

I believe that so long as one were doing this solely against military objectives it would be difficult to argue against any weapon. I think it would be difficult to argue against either chemical or biological warfare. But the position is not quite this. If one starts using a weapon like biological warfare, then almost certainly one uses it indiscriminately, and the moment one uses it indiscriminately one has changed the character of the weapon. One no longer has something which is being used purely for a military objective. One has something which is destroying whole populations, and is destroying them at random in an absolutely unpredictable way. There was the island off the coast of Scotland which noble Lords will recollect was used in the last war as a trial ground for, I believe, anthrax, and it is said that the infection will still be there for a hundred years.

In other words, if one is using a weapon like that, one is going far beyond warfare; one is going on to mass extermination. One is moving on to the complete denial of whole territories to human life, and this surely changes the character of the weapon in the same way as the use of the nuclear weapon changed the character of bombing. One may say that that is only using megatons instead of kilotons, but when one gets to megatons instead of kilotons one has an indiscriminate obliteration of life over a vast territory. In other words, one is moving on to something which is I think legitimately called genocide. One is destroying races. One is no longer carrying on war in the ordinary sense.

That is why I believe we have to consider this problem of chemical and biological warfare in a different way from other warfare—not because in its initiation it is any different; not because the effect on the individual concerned is any worse. I have no use for the horror tales that are spread about the use of these weapons and about their terrible effect upon individuals. That, I think, is not the point. The point is the indiscriminate and wide-ranging nature of the results of the use of such weapons.

If we merely turn to talk about the horrible results of war, we can look at certain things that we have done and that other countries have done, which surely have been just as devastating and horrible. The blockade of Germany in the First World War was a terrible weapon to use and it had terrible effects. The siege of Leningrad in the last war was one of the most horrible events in history. I was in Leningrad in 1955 and I could still see in the streets middle-aged men and women who were the obvious victims of the famine from which Leningrad suffered for, I think, fifteen months during that siege. I was told by people who had been through that siege that during the winter they would not get out of bed if they could help it because it was the only way of keeping moderately warm, and that when they did get out of bed they barely had the strength to walk around the room, because of the lack of food. When Lidice was destroyed, that was an inhuman and barbarous thing—as barbarous as any act of war—and I am not certain that our bombing of Dresden was not in the same class.

These are things which have happened, but they have not been, in the main, of the far-ranging nature that we could get now with biological warfare and with nuclear warfare, and for that reason we must move towards some means of controlling biological warfare. The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, said that we cannot do this by agreement between countries, because agreements are broken. But if that is the case, then we have no hope at all for the world. It is quite impossible to draw up suddenly a charter which says that there is to be no war. Surely, what we must do—and it is our only hope—is to move steadily towards a position in which there is no war by writing off one weapon after another. If, for instance, we could ban nuclear warfare—and to a limited extent we have banned it, for we have moved a certain way in that direction—and if we could ban biological warfare, then we should have taken two important steps towards the banning of war. It is only by a step-by-step advance that we can have any hope at all of preventing the ultimate catastrophe to mankind.

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, we should all be grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans for raising this subject, for although we may not all agree with his apprehensions I think we ought certainly to agree that the subject needs periodical review. I have been exceedingly impressed with what the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, has just been telling us, and I feel that I should like to congratulate him on making an excellent review of the whole subject. I cannot pretend to have anything to add on the moral issues of chemical warfare, and I cannot pretend to have any inside information about biological warfare, so I must leave some of that unspoken about, but I ought perhaps to agree that if we have signed an agreement not to use chemical warfare, then we should clearly be morally wrong to use it.

As regards the particular means which we should employ for conquering our enemies, if we must do so, I think the arguments for and against chemical methods are very well summed up in the little book written in 1925 by a friend and colleague of mine at Cambridge, J. B. S. Haldane, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, has just referred. It is written in his rather provocative manner, the manner which he kept for his popular writing. But he had seen a great deal of fighting of all sorts, and the book is a serious plea for not regarding chemical warfare as wicked simply because it is not the traditional method of fighting with bayonets, hand grenades and shells. He goes further than that. He argues quite seriously that improvements in chemical warfare might make it the quickest, and also the most humane, method of settling national differences.

There is, however, one very serious miscalculation in Haldane's book, although I am not enough of a physicist to see where he went wrong. He admits that if we could utilise the forces inside the atom we should have such a capacity for destruction that we could annihilate humanity completely. But he was quite convinced—and he gave his reasons for it—that it must be hundreds or thousands of years before an atomic bomb could be made. In fact, of course, it was done in his lifetime—twenty years after he published the book—and I think this fact has made a great difference to the whole subject of chemical and biological warfare, or indeed any warfare.

We and our children seem to live cheerfully enough under the threat of annihilation, but it is absurd, even wicked, to forget that nowadays we do live under such a threat—a threat of this terminal event in any large-scale war between advanced nations. We must do our utmost to prevent small-scale wars leading to this final, desperate exchange of nuclear missiles. We must do our utmost to gain the time to think again and to exchange ideas, as happened on one occasion and saved the world. In particular, we must not be stampeded by the events of some localised war, by some sudden surprise attack which upsets everyone's calculations, that might lead to this result. That, I think, is where chemical and, it may be, biological warfare is still a menace, and perhaps an increasing one.

It is a long time since chemical warfare was used on a considerable scale. Respirators, protective clothing and so on have made it far less effective; but its greatest successes have always been when it came as a complete surprise and no one knew how to protect themselves from it. Its greatest success, I suppose, was the first large-scale attack, made in April, 1915, when the Germans released about 150 tons of chlorine against the Canadians and the French at Ypres and scored 15,000 casualties, of which 5,000 were killed because they had no protection. After that, there was nothing approaching it. Gas was used a good deal, but most armies had gas masks. Mustard gas was used on a larger scale later on in that war, but it was used for a different purpose—to prevent the movement of troops in particular areas—and although it was painful it killed far fewer than the chlorine had killed in that first attack.

In the last Great War, gas was never used because it would never have come as a surprise. There was, of course, the bombing incident at Pearl Harbour, which was a surprise and for that reason extremely effective. But gas was never used because we had the research establishments to make sure, or to make as sure as possible, that we should not be surprised by some new chemical or biological agent. The number of compounds which might be considered for chemical warfare is not unlimited, so it is not an impossible job to study the more likely ones and, if necessary, to work out some possible remedy against them. At all events, I am sure that one of the reasons why gas was not used in the last war was simply that we were all aware of the risks and had research establishments which could at least make a shrewd guess at the chemical agents which our opponents might use. Without the certainty of complete surprise, no one could be quite sure that a gas attack would be worth trying.

I know that the work that is done at Porton is sometimes considered unnecessary, and even immoral; but I am sure that if we had no establishment to study new ways of attack and defence in chemical warfare we should be a tempting prey for this kind of attack. Such an attack might not kill many people, but the menace of it now, coming suddenly out of a clear sky, is made infinitely greater than it used to be because it might well start a chain of explosions which would end the whole world. Biological warfare by modern methods is still completely untried. It may have been used in mediaeval times, of course, to spread the plague; and diseases among armies, and so on, have always played a great part in warfare. But I will not speak about that aspect because I have no inside knowledge. My own feeling is that there is less risk from that than from chemical warfare starting by some kind of surprise and leading to a position from which no one can easily escape.

I should like to end, my Lords, on a slightly more cheerful note by pointing out that the laboratories at Porton do not save life only by preventing chemical and biological warfare: the research that goes on there has been very definitely productive of exceedingly valuable results in the field of medicine. There are several diseases, it may be slightly rare but at any right exceedingly unpleasant, and usually fatal, which are now generally treatable because of some of the agents that Porton has produced. And the work on vaccines, antibodies, and so on, done at the biological establishment is well known to be of the highest quality and has become part of the standard knowledge on immunity and bacteriological reactions of that sort. I sincerely trust that both those establishments will be allowed to go on. Who should control them may be uncertain, but I feel that the Ministry of Health is hardly the right body to do so, although whether a military body is the right one I doubt very much. I am afraid I cannot offer any further ideas on the subject of who should control them, but I feel sure that they ought to exist.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans for initiating this debate, and also for the way in which he has done so. The Motion refers to the menace of biological and chemical warfare, and I confess at the outset to a real diffidence in speaking on this subject, for I cannot claim any expert knowledge of the facts such as is possessed by previous speakers in this debate. Such reading as I have been able to do on this subject has made me realise that the menace to which the right reverend Prelate has called our attention is indeed a very grave one, and the speeches which have already been made have underlined that fact. But it is also extremely complex and difficult of resolution.

In the nature of the case, there can be very few who do know the facts about which we are most concerned, and such as know them are unable to divulge them as they come under the heading of "classified material"—and, my Lords, we are not able in this House to indulge in a series of classified speeches. It is precisely this veil of secrecy which is causing much widespread anxiety throughout this and, presumably, other countries, for while everyone must acknowledge the Government's responsibility for our national defence, and therefore can at least understand, though some may contest, the necessity of secrecy regarding this aspect of our defences, we are here faced with a whole range of weapons which constitute a potential threat to individuals, to communities and to humanity as a whole. This is therefore a matter of public concern and the concern is partly aggravated by a fear of the unknown.

My Lords, the primary Christian concern, and surely the chief concern of all people of good will, is not a question of which weapons are morally justifiable in war; our primary concern is the prevention of war of any kind and, more positively and constructively, the promotion of peace. However, the regrettable truth is that we are still living in a world of grave international instability where war on a localised, yet frequently horrific, scale is always with us and where the prospect of global war, the ultimate horror, is seldom more than relatively remote. Given the international situation in which we live, while we must do everything possible to promote peace it is clearly the duty of Her Majesty's Government to take whatever steps seem necessary for oar defence. But while national defence is the responsibility of the Government, the means of our defence, the weapons we use, the strategies we are prepared to adopt, are, I would contend, the moral responsibility of all of us.

But, my Lords, so far as biological and chemical warfare are concerned, this is a responsibility which we cannot exercise without knowing the facts. In peacetime, secrecy has about it a provocative as well as a protective element. As soon as you suspect someone of hiding, not a skeleton in the cupbord, but highly lethal substances, your fears are a roused—the kind of fears which can provoke distrust and hostility. Someone like myself speaking from these Benches and lacking a full knowledge of the scientific facts and all the political considerations is not in a position to judge, how far the dangers inherent in secrecy are offset by the dangers in releasing classified material. All I would say is that I hope Her Majesty's Government take the view that secrecy be reduced to the absolute minimum. In proportion as the facts can be made known without involving an improper exposure to risk (in some such way as the lead recently given in Sweden) this must reduce international suspicion and also the kind of suspicion that can arise between fellow scientists engaged in this field of work.

My Lords, all war is evil and is a confession of human failure. There are many, nevertheless, who feel forced to acknowledge that in certain circumstances it is a justifiable evil (or the lesser of two evils) for which we might hope to be forgiven. If this were admitted I should not wish to indulge at any length in the macabre casuistry of assessing the relative cruelty of differing weapons used in war—and this relates to a point that has already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones. It could indeed be reasoned that certain forms of chemical and germ warfare might well be less cruel than, say, the infliction of shrapnel wounds and less barbaric than, face to face with your enemy, sticking him with a bayonet; or that the indiscriminate effect of incendiary bombs could be far more cruel than the indiscriminate effect of certain gases. All one could say is that sudden death is to be preferred to slow or painful dying, and that whatever the method of slaughter any wholesale attack on a human population is repugnant and especially repugnant when it includes small children.

Once a nation has embarked on warfare it can be argued that the strategic bombing of enemy forces or their sources of supply and their lines of communication is necessary and inevitable. But the blanket bombing of whole towns and cities in the last World War—about which Bishop Bell of Chichester made a forceful speech in this House—is something that still weighs on the consciences of many. And there are few who would dispute that the invention of the nuclear bomb has given mankind a weapon of unprecedented barbarity.

The use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified at the time on the grounds that, by bringing the war to a speedy end, it saved more life than it destroyed. One may well believe that those who took this fatal decision were not aware of its full consequences; for, as I understand it, not only did these bombs kill and maim thousands of innocent men, women and children but they also resulted in an increasing tendency to cancer and lukaemia and other diseases by the survivors—and we have yet to learn the genetical effects and how many generations are to be affected. The nuclear bomb, itself the result of scientific ingenuity in the field of nuclear physics, introduced a whole new dimension to human warfare. There is no ethical problem here. In the light of our knowledge of its effects, its use in any circumstances could not be contemplated by anyone with any sort of human values. Hiroshima and Nagasaki have at least acted as a powerful deterrent to the recurrence of such an evil.

My Lords, the point I wish to make is that it seems to me—and listening to the speeches so far made I have been confirmed in this conviction; and I believe this is the popular conviction among responsible people—that some at least of the forms of biological and chemical warfare belong to the same dimension as nuclear warfare. That is a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, has referred in connection with biological warfare. Precisely the same considerations apply. As the science and skill of the nuclear physicist made possible the nuclear bomb, so the science and skill of chemists and biologists have made possible the wholesale devastation of crops and herds, of men, women and children. In this kind of warfare it will be possible not only to kill and maim the human body but to neutralise, devitalise and otherwise to warp the human mind and spirit. Moreover, the consequences of such an attack could be suffered by many generations. To contemplate the use of biological and chemical agents to this end is not only inhuman but diabolical.

My Lords, we would all accept that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to take whatever action is necessary to protect our country against the possible use of biological and chemical weapons by any potential enemy power. The existence of the establishment at Porton Down—and there may be other establishments also engaged in the same type of research—is justified in so far as, in the words of the Secretary of State for Defence, it is concerned with the protection of human life and not the taking of it. We must also accept that the mounting of any form of defence against such an attack necessarily requires constant and painstaking research into the military potential of every known natural biological agent or virus and the possibility of developing entirely new agents more effective than those already known. Along with this must go research into the most effective means of delivering such an attack in order to consider how this can be resisted. I should therefore wish to emphasise that, whatever is said in this debate, there cannot be any implied criticism of those scientists who are engaged in this research. Nevertheless, the nature of the research required for purely defensive strategy inevitably means that we are accumulating a mass of information on the strategic use of biological and chemical agents in warfare, information which would be of the greatest value to any nation prepared to use such weapons.

My Lords, it is this fact that creates the greatest anxiety. I understand that the United Kingdom is bound by the Geneva Protocol of June, 1925, which prohibits the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of bacteriological methods of warfare, and that some 40 nations, including the United States of America, were parties to the Protocol. But I also understand that in 1926 the United States refused to ratify this Protocol; that in 1928 the U.S.S.R. ratified it, but with reservations with regard to States that have not ratified it; that in 1929 China ratified it, and that this has since been recognised by the People's Republic of China; and that in April, 1930, when Britain ratified the Protocol, it was with reservations with regard to States that had not ratified it or acceded to the Protocol or who do not respect its provisions.

So far as the United States is concerned, in its Army Field Manual, The Law of Land Warfare, it states categorically: The United States is not a party to any Treaty now in force that prohibits or restricts the use in warfare of toxic or non-toxic gases, of smoke or incendiary materials, or of bacteriological warfare. Nevertheless, the United States has claimed to have acted within the principles behind the Geneva Protocol and has defended the particular chemical sprays used in Vietnam on much the same grounds as the arguments used in the campaign made in the United States in the 1950s under the title, "Operation Blue Skies,"—that is to say, war without death, a means of fighting without killing. For the United States has claimed never to have used lethal chemical or bacteriological agents.

It is, in the nature of the case, difficult to get an accurate assessment of the consequences of the chemical attacks made by the United States in Vietnam, and it is impossible to assess the number of deaths caused directly or indirectly by starvation, accidents and so on since 1925 as a result of chemical or bacteriological warfare. But from my reading and understanding of the figures and the books I have consulted, the numbers almost certainly exceed the figures for the number of people killed or maimed by gas before the Geneva Protocol was signed. United States policy claims that chemical and biological warfare can be more humane than other forms of war. However, one effect of this has been to weaken the Geneva Protocol by erosion both of the class of prohibited weapons and of the moral sanctions against their use. The use of mustard gas and phosgene by the Egyptians in the Yemen in 1966 may be partly attributable to this.

My Lords, in view of the very close relationship between ourselves and the United States, and our mutual defence commitments, it is clearly possible that there is a reciprocal exchange of research material on chemical and bacteriological warfare, and this is one of the questions to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans has referred and which he has put to Her Majesty's Government. I listened with particular interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, had to say in this connection. If there is, indeed, an exchange of information, it is a matter of concern for one particular reason. We should have to ask ourselves whether, in supplying such information to an ally who has made no undertaking to refrain from bacteriological or chemical methods of warfare, irrespective of the fact that that country has not used, or claims not to have used, lethal weapons in these categories, we should not in effect be breaking the Protocol to which we are signatories.

In any event, whether or not we are supplying such information to the United States, I believe that we should encourage Her Majesty's Government to do all in their power to urge the United States Government, and any other Governments who have not yet become parties to the Geneva Protocol, to do so. We should also be using every initiative within the United Nations to have this problem brought to a satisfactory conclusion. We cannot be satisfied with anything less than an effective international ban on all bacteriological and chemical warfare.

I fully realise that the difficulties in the way of such an accomplishment are immeasurably greater than those relating to the banning of nuclear weapons. One would need, for instance, to take into account the weapons used in resisting civil disturbance and riots. Furthermore, research into bacteriological and chemical warfare can always be disguised as innocent medical research. I understand that the most effective nerve gases and hallucinatory chemicals are closely related to widely manufactured and extensively used insecticidal and pharmaceutical agents, and that minor chemical changes may convert a relatively harmless substance into a lethal or incapacitating agent of great potency. Moreover, my Lords (and here I am quoting from Mr. Seymour Hersch's recently published book, Chemical and Biological Warfare), the most likely bacterial, viral and fungal agents are among numerous infectious organisms that are widely cultivated in microbiological laboratories in the study of disease. Moreover, genetic mutations which may occur spontaneously at any time, or may be induced and selected out, may convert a relatively harmless organism into one of high virulence.

The problems of disarmament in this field are therefore indeed great. Nothing less than a mutual acceptance of free inspection of all research establisthments under the aegis of the United Nations, or, as suggested by Professor Herriott in 1963, an undertaking by the nations, of which I believe 14 are alleged to be engaged in chemical and bacteriological warfare research, to place their laboratories under the World Health Organisation would be required. And, for a reason that the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, gave, even that kind of assurance is not by itself adequate. In the present state of international relations to give effect to disarmament in this field can only sound like a dream to end all dreams.

My Lords, the crux of the matter must surely lie, as the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, has said, mainly on the banning of war itself; in reducing the distrust and enmity which are responsible for creating the difficulties of reaching agreement between nations. There seems much to justify the cynical attitude to the possibility of this ever being effected; but however distant the goal, I maintain that we should firmly repudiate this cynical approach. For with the knowledge of this new potential menace to mankind, and of the other menaces to mankind which we have previously known, we can do no less than urge continued efforts by Her Majesty's Government, and by every citizen, young and old, to bring whatever influences may lie within their power to help remove the causes of war and to promote personal, cultural, economic, scientific and political relationships between men and nations on a foundation of good will and common humanity. If we fail in this, mankind may be faced with a nightmare to end all nightmares.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, we owe a debt of gratitude to the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of St. Albans for having initiated this debate. I find myself in a position in which other noble Lords sometimes find themselves. I had something in mind which I wished to say, but until I had listened to the course of the debate I could not decide upon its actual presentation. This afternoon I want to put briefly a somewhat different approach to the problem of the increasing menace of chemical and biological warfare. I do not regret this development. In fact, at the present time, I welcome it. We have to accept the world as it is and not a world as we should like it to be, and the world as it is to-day seems unwilling to renounce war and has shown itself unwilling to accept the control or limitation of armaments to any appreciable degree. Until the world is altered in its outlook, I believe that the more awful the prospects in warfare of human obliteration, the more likely we are to avoid a third world war.

I believe that we could describe the development of chemical and biological warfare as the development of a super-deterrent which is going to make war less likely. To-day, if a world war breaks out, it means total involvement for everyone, of all ages and both sexes. It is interesting to look back on how the involvement of the population in war has developed. The wars of the 19th century were conducted by professional soldiers and sailors. In the Boer War it was still a case of, "Good-bye, Dolly", as the troops got on the ships for South Africa. World War I was the first time when the civilian population of this country became slightly—only slightly—involved. There was a certain involvement in minor air raids, but even in World War I most of it was, "Good-bye and God bless and keep you" as the trains left Victoria Station. In World War II everyone, certainly in the metropolis and large towns, was involved. And if we ever have a World War III, with chemical and biological warfare and the hydrogen bomb, it would be total involvement and probably total elimination.

As weapons develop, the likelihood of total war gets smaller. The bigger the threat, the more the leaders of any country will hesitate to embark on what could be a global war. One noble Lord has spoken about the mobilisation of world opinion. That is very important. I do not believe that any of the leaders of any country would dare to go forward with a policy of total obliteration of the enemy and hope that their people would follow them. They would have such a body of world opinion against them externally and, I believe, revulsion internally, whether people be religious or humanist, that they would not dare go forward. That is why I welcome this development as being one not of menace as such but of a super-deterrent.

The possession of this deterrent is enough. There need not be a race to see whether we have greater capability in chemical and biological warfare than our possible enemies. It is not a race of quantity. If we have enough virtually to paralyse the enemy, even if the enemy has enough to obliterate us, then we have enough power to defend ourselves. Whether we are going to be incinerated by a hydrogen bomb of a greater temperature than we ourselves possess, whether we are going to be incinerated at 10,000 or 5,000 degrees centigrade, is really, I think, an academic question. I believe, for the reasons I have tried to put briefly to your Lordships, that until the world changes we are seeing the development of something which is not a menace but a deterrent.

The second reason why I am glad that we are embarking on this development in this country is that any Government have to fulfil their responsibility for the security and protection of this country. It is no good thinking, as the right reverend Prelate the Lord Bishop of St. Albans said, that we can hand that responsibility over to the United Nations. The security of the country is the prime responsibility of Government, of whatever political complexion. Until there is some renunciation of war by the world it would be a betrayal of trust for any Government not to go forward with the necessary protective measures, even in this revolting but, I believe, necessary direction. It is not easy to say that I welcome the development of chemical and biological warfare, and I do so only because in the long, long run it will be a deterrent against the dangers about which so many noble Lords have talked to-day.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the right reverend Prelate will be gratified, as we all are, that his speech in introducing this debate has widened out into its proper context, which, of course, is the menace of war itself. But there are particular aspects of this menace which ought to be characterised, and noble Lords have already referred to them. Let me briefly list them. There is one difference that has been spoken about which I do not think exists. It does not seem to me that biological and chemical warfare adds a new dimension to human depravity and violence. All war is violently horrible and filthy; and there are aesthetic preferences or there are degrees of aesthetic repugnance. But what is the moral difference between throwing a baby on the fire and throwing fire on the baby? I suggest that it is not a moral difference at all, though we react to it in entirely different ways. It is a matter of 25,000 ft. An airman who discharges a napalm bomb from his aeroplans sees a mushroom and a pleasant looking spot on the ground: he has bombed an objective. Were he to go down with that bomb, by some queer means, and see in fact what he did to the shivering flesh of a little Child, I wonder whether he would ever do it again?

I do not find that chemical and biological warfare can be categorised as representing a new sort of sinfulness or wickedness. But there are three ways in which, as it seems to me, they present a different kind of menace or an accentuated menace. To one of them the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, has most adequately referred: it is the indiscriminate and indeterminate nature of weapons that hitherto have not been extensively used which must fill us with a greater fear even than that fear which can be calculated in terms of nuclear destruction. The ultimate effects of letting loose this kind of evil may be quite incalculable, and might indeed be determinate. Secondly, the very secrecy where you can encompass death in a thimble adds to the likelihood and, indeed, the necessity of lying. It was Sir Winston Churchill who said that lying in wartime is an indispensable ally; and I think he might well have extended that—in fact, I am sure he would have done—to the preparations for possible war.

It is interesting to me that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich speaks of the ways in which the American authorities have proclaimed their resistance to allegiance to the Protocol of 1925. But those statements are in strict contrast to other things which have been said. For instance, in 1960 it was Mr. Eisenhower who gave a solemn assurance on behalf of his country that they would, in fact, adhere to the 1925 Geneva Protocol. And, what is more, again in 1966 there was a resolution of the General Assembly of the United Nations at which the United States delivered itself of the same judgment, professed itself of the same mind, and agreed and voted for that resolution. This is not to exercise one's mind on the doctrine of total declaratory; this is merely to remind ourselves, or to remind me, if I may say so, that in this particular regard to chemical and biological warfare the very need for secrecy is the open door to lying; and nobody really knows what they are talking about, except the scientists.

That leads me to the third and equally disagreeable element, and indeed menace, in this particular extension of the ability to kill. It is the pollution of education. It is the fact that the precious freedom of universities is impaired by conditions under which projects are permitted, but for which the publication of documents is prohibited. I regard this with grave apprehension, as I am sure your Lordships do, as well. We are presented, therefore, with added reasons for thinking that the acceleration and escalation of the means of war have indeed created menace, and menace upon menace. But we should not, I think, be discharging our responsibilities in the debate this afternoon if we ended, as does Marlene Dietrich's famous song, "Where have all the Flowers Gone?", by the plaintive cry: "When will they ever learn?" I, for one, can find no ultimate nourishment in the prospect that we shall in any future that is within distance come to multilateral agreements which will reduce the horror and terror of proximate wars to a minimum.

Therefore, I would ask the indulgence of your Lordships for going further than we should obviously all want to go in relation to the impact that such a debate must make upon us, and the claims that we must make upon Governments. Of course I should want the Geneva Protocol of 1925 strengthened. Of course I should want that Protocol to be more explicit, and to cover microbiological elements, of which I believe there is doubt as to whether in the minds of a great many people they are now covered. Of course I should want a freer exchange of the knowledge we have as to the beneficient effects of the biological researches now carried on at Porton.

I would subscribe to the belief that Porton ought to be under the Ministry of Health. And I should certainly ask Her Majesty's Government to press for new agreements totally banning these execrable habits. And, furthermore, I should have nothing to do with the silly nonsense about the difference between lethal and non-lethal gases and chemical agents. One of the most disturbing elements in this story is the way in which the Americans in Vietnam have flushed out the Vietcong with lachrymose and other gases, and then exposed them to the fragmentation of shelling. I have no confidence that non-lethal gases, non-lethal toxic agents, would stay at the level of (shall I say?) amnesia or a temporary condition of supine acceptance of what the enemy would desire to do.

But, as I say, this does not go far enough for me, and I would ask the indulgence of your Lordships' for something else that I want to say. I was impressed by the words of the right reverend Prelate: that it is now the decision of the Church of England to ban the use of nuclear weapons; and he hopes that such a ban will also be extended to this kind of weapon. The fact of the matter is that it would be for any purist extremely difficult to justify what historically we call the just war; and I, for one, as a pacifist, am quite convinced that no Christian can to-day embark on the horrific, utterly immoral and totally un-Christian behaviour pattern that would be required, even in the terrible conditions and under the great provocations of a modern war. I testify to that.

I would add this. We have been speaking for some time now of authoritative declarations, and encyclicals from this and that quarter. One of the most practical things that could happen in this world would be the overt declaration on the part of the great Christian Churches that in no circumstances whatsoever would they engage in modern war. If this seems altogether Cloud Cuckoo-land, well, my Lords, I would only say that we are not doing very well now. Was it not the great Mr. Litvinov who, being challenged about idealism, said that we had practised realism for long enough, and who asked: could we do any worse if we were prepared to practise the process of idealism? I testify to that. I recognise that it is a more or less egregious point of view. But I would challenge any theologians in your Lordships' House to find within the general framework of the just war any justification for the use of those weapons which, according to Mr. Healey, would be inevitably ours to use, because on the conventional pattern in any future ma: or war we should be completely and hopelessly outnumbered.

But whereas (if I may say this) when I began to preach pacifism a long time ago it was a faith which was held almost in the teeth of ideas that seemed to contradict it, I am quite convinced to-day that what is morally right, or what is from the Christian point of view right, will turn out to be politically right as well. I am not impressed with the argument about deterrents. I am not impressed became the one chilling remembrance that I have of the Cuban crisis is that although Mr. Khrushchev was deterred, Mr. Kennedy was not. The reduction of any prospective crisis in the future to a game of poker, in which the future of mankind depends on whether both sides are going to be deterred, when the only historical precedent we have is the clear indication that Mr. Kennedy was within perhaps half-an-hour of declaring war, seems to me to be not a comforting assurance or reassurance of the deterrent, but a chilling reminder that the deterrent in fact is a fallacy. We have made incredible risks and accepted them in respect of war.

I was interested that the right reverend Prelate alluded in his opening remarks to students. I have been doing my best, as an aging man, to come to terms with the students and to try to find out what they are talking about. It is difficult linguistically and ideologically. But I am impressed by one factor that seems to run through the student unrest as almost a golden thread, and it is that they think that quite a lot of us are mad. They think that this argument and idea about mutual deterrence and deterrents of terror is the kind of experience which happens to those whom the gods are going to destroy and first make mad. I find it completely satisfying to agree with them on that proposition: that if this world indeed, as we believe it to be, is God's world or a world of purpose, and is ultimately to be reduced for its survival to the occasions of chance and the mutual deterrents of terror, then it is an insane world; and I refuse to believe that.

I believe that our opportunity now is a policy, not of nuclear disarmament unilaterally, and not of microbiological and chemical and biological disarmament, but of total disarmament—total and complete—naturally phased economically to sustain the shocks that would be occasioned by it. If this sounds intolerable and ridiculous, is it not a fact that we are now no nearer within sight of multilateral agreement than we were when I first went on Aldermaston marches a long time ago? I do not think we are any nearer at all. In fact, the proliferation of nuclear weapons seems to me to be the most terrifying aspect of our future; and if the noble Lord, Lord Snow, were in the Chamber now, I should have been the better pleased to refer to his prognostication, to which I can find no answer, that sooner or later the proliferation of weapons itself will cause the explosion which most we fear. For these reasons, I would advocate, not unilateral disarmament in the precise and particular weapons which we dislike, but total disarmament. It is a venture which carries with it immense risks.

I would add just one word, and then sit down. We have become conditioned to the risks of war, and only if we are prepared to evacuate those pre-conceptions and prejudices—and it is a hard job for us to do, and I myself share the difficulty—do I believe that it is possible for us to embrace the possibilities of peace. We cannot expect the United States or the U.S.S.R. to disarm. We have disarmed, for the wrong reasons, already. For economic reasons we have disarmed East of Suez. We have got no credit for it; and, as a general proposition, if you are going to do what is right you might as well get the credit for it as well. If we are prepared to disarm for conditions which are economic, how much better would it be for the peace of the world to take this tremendous step forward. It is within the competence and, I think, the wisdom, experience and high idealism of this country to do it. My Lords, I believe that that is the best answer to this debate this afternoon.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I am one of those who are grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans for initiating this debate. We have already heard so much, both on the moral side and on the scientific side, that there is really not much more to be said. It is a subject which is well worth debating. The reverend Lord Soper will not expect me to agree with his prognostication about the deterrent, because I happen to think exactly the opposite and, very much like the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that the world is in fact a safer place because of the super-deterrent. That is a view which is admittedly challengeable and can be discussed, but that discussion is not what we are here for this afternoon.

However, before I leave the moral side of the question—and I should like to turn more to the practical side—I would refer to an idea which the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, mentioned; that is to say, that, like nuclear warfare, chemical warfare and biological warfare ought to be treated as an indiscriminate weapon of such potentiality that it requires different treatment. I believe that he was absolutely right about that. In this connection, I would remind your Lordships that, under this awful balance of nuclear power, we have in fact avoided world war, and the limited wars which have taken place have been noticeably free from engagement of the two super-Powers. Always one or the other is engaged, either the United States or the Soviets, but never the two together. I think the same argument applies, or will apply in the future, to the biological threat.

Having made those preliminary remarks, I should like to turn to the practical side. One of the other things I believe in, as well as the deterrent, is the need to keep up to date in weapons. The Russians have the very latest bombers, a wonderful set of nuclear weapons, nuclear submarines and tanks. To go back only twenty years, people in the Army distinctly remember fighting with their two-pounder tanks against the German tank which had the 88 mm. gun on it; and it was a hopeless exercise, because the shells just bounced off. It is exactly the same in the air. If one has an aeroplane which is a little more out of date than one's enemies', one is shot out of the sky. I am not saying that exactly the same applies to biological and chemical warfare, but I think it very nearly does; and I certainly do not think we are justified in adopting any other policy but to study these awful weapons.

It is convenient to deal first with just gas warfare or chemical warfare, because I personally believe that it is basically a tactical weapon, and that biological warfare is a strategic weapon and ought to be dealt with separately. The noticeable thing about gas warfare (this has been said before by other speakers) is that, with one or two small exceptions, it has not been really tried for about forty years. In the last war the Germans were at one time very tempted to use their nerve gas—I forget the exact title of it, but it was a very modern gas. The reason why they acted as they did, apart from the reason mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, was that they were frightened of the retaliation which would come on them from British and American sources. They worked it out as a tactical exercise that it simply was not worth employing gas.

The other factor about gas of course, of which I think we perhaps ought to remind ourselves, is that compared to high explosives it is a very inefficient weapon. The rate of killing is certainly much lower, and the rate of casualties, judged by World War 1 figures, is much lower in the case of gas than in the case of ordinary shells and bombs. So the question of whether gas warfare, chemical warfare, is employed again is a local one, and it is really quite unlikely to be used. In spite of the fact that the Russians, as the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, said, have made provision for this kind of warfare, it is open to question whether they will use it. They certainly will not do so unless they believe it will pay them.

Before I leave the subject of gas I ought to mention the riot-control gases, because those are the three—DM, CS and CN—which have been used in Vietnam; and they are in fact the same gases as are used by the police forces in the United States of America. Indeed, their use is world-wide, for the police forces of the world often have to use these gases. Thank goodness they do not have to use them in this country!Here they use gases where death is not a probability.

I come now to biological warfare, which is the chief subject of this afternoon's debate. It will not take a moment to say that the life of the viruses which are to be employed is relatively short, and that, although it is a nice, cheap weapon for a small country to use against a big one, I very much doubt whether it is likely to be employed. Biological warfare is chiefly anti-civilian in character. It cannot distinguish between soldiers and civilians. Admittedly it involves no physical destruction, as was, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, and to that extent it is an advance on straight bombing. We have the example of the Field-Marshal wishing he had been able to use it in the attack on Hamburg. But, since it is a rather indiscriminate, wide-sweeping weapon, it cannot be controlled and is subject to the forces of the wind. I doubt whether any military commander would use it in war, and therefore I doubt whether the civilian heads of a country would use it. The question of whether a small country might be tempted to use it against a big and better armed country is an open one, but as the world since World War II has congealed into alliances—we have the well-known alliances right across the globe, from one end to the other—I do not think there is much room for a small country to act without the agreement of its allies. Therefore I do not myself think that biological warfare is likely to be employed.

My conclusions from this are quite simple. The first is, as I have said, that biological weapons are unlikely to be used. They are intended for mass casualties and require indiscriminate treatment—different treatment, as the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, mentioned. It is the policy of both this country and the United States of America in no circumstances to resort to the use of these weapons unless they are first used by our enemies. So we need have no fear that we are contemplating aggression under this head, any more than with any other weapon.

The question of whether we do or do not maintain stockpiles of these weapons is naturally secret. We know perfectly well that the United States and the Soviets have stockpiles and are ready to go to war with full chemical and biological warfare weapons. Whether they do or do not is another matter entirely. The question whether we should or should not maintain stockpiles is an open one, and personally I feel that this has been discussed confidentially in the Ministry of Defence and that they have agreed on a policy. However, I think that the Minister of Defence ought to make a statement to clear up the situation, because we are all floundering here this afternoon in a mass of expert opinion about this subject, and still do not know—because it is necessarily secret—what Government policy is. However, I think that quite a proportion of it could be made available for public consumption.

Not long before coming into the Chamber I met the Secretary of State for Defence, and he pointed out that a policy statement had been made by a Minister of State for Defence (in fact the Minister of State for Equipment, Mr. Morris) in Edinburgh last year, on this very subject. All I can say is that I did not hear of it, and I doubt whether many of your Lordships have heard of it; and I think we should like to hear it again. I should like to call for a statement from the Ministry of Defence on these questions.

4.46 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak for long, and everything I had intended to say has been said, either by my noble friend Lord Thurlow or by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. How-every, there is an aspect of this matter which I had not anticipated and to which I should like to refer, and that is the protests which have been made against the secrecy which surrounds most aspects of the microbiological research establishment at Porton. I find it difficult to understand these protests. I believe that one must first look at the motives of some of the people who make them—and they are not in your Lordships' House. There are some people who are basically opposed to the interests of this country. They are a very small number, and they make mischief where they can. We can ignore them. There are some who are opposed to war in any form and would like us to cast away all our defences. We respect their views, but they are not particularly relevant to any one aspect of defence policy. I suggest that we should not pay very much attention to them.

Of the remainder, there are some who do not believe the Government when they state that they will not embark on chemical or biological warfare. We do not really know what to do about them, because I do believe the Government, and I believe everybody else in your Lordships' House would believe the Government. Then there are finally those people who would like to be able to discuss the matter on a better informed basis than any of us can do at present. This is a more difficult problem, but I believe it is fairly easily understood if one realises that it is still just possible to achieve a break-through in either chemical or biological warfare: the gases to which existing respirators and protective clothing give no protection; the disease against which the vaccine has not been developed. It is just possible—and a country which was considering using these weapons is going to do so only if it believes it has obtained this advantage.

We all agree that the purpose of Porton is to provide means of defence against these weapons, but to provide the means of defence you must know something about the weapon, and in order to do that one has to research into such weapons. You can follow two lines: you can either follow the line of original research in the expectation that similarly trained scientists will come up with similar answers and that therefore one's own man is likely to produce the same weapon as a potential enemy. Or—and this is another line—you can make your assessment on what the enemy's capabilities are and what his intentions are likely to be. Any work that is carried out on either of these lines must inevitably be highly classified security information, and I cannot see how anybody can expect to have that revealed, even though it would make possible a very interesting debate on the whole problem of chemical and biological warfare; and that we cannot have in an informed way at the moment. I believe we can only expect the sort of information to emerge from a Government establishment like this which is designed to assure the civil population of a reasonable degree of protection against the weapons which we hope will never be used.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, there are one or two remarks I should like to make in the beginning, after having thanked the right reverend Prelate for having started this very useful debate with its extremely high standards of useful and informative comment. Before I get on to the main point that I was hoping to make, I would take up one or two of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, who I am sorry not to see in his place, and the noble Lord, Lord Bourne.

I really cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, in believing that as war becomes more horrible it will eventually reach a stage where it is a complete deterrent. There seem to be two or three reasons why this should not happen. First, he seems to have ruled out of consideration the fact that countries, particularly countries which are not of a democratic nature, are sometimes ruled by madmen. This has happened in our lifetime in more than one country. I do not think we can rely on countries necessarily acting in an entirely logical and responsible manner. Secondly, one is always inclined to distrust statements which have been made at different times of history and have been proved wrong. I believe it is on record that it was stated authoritatively by a noted savant when gunpowder came in that warfare would cease. It certainly was stated in our lifetime that when bombing came in warfare would cease. These statements have been proved untrue. I think it is much more likely that defences will be found against these weapons, as they have been found against every other weapon in the course of history; that there will be further escalation of defences and means of attack and that there will be further expenditure on providing weapons of war, instead of on the removal of the causes of war which is so necessary.

I cannot feel any great confidence in Lord Bourne's theory that this warfare will not be used by small nations. The fact that it: is indiscriminate does not appear to be against the trend of modern warfare. There appears, indeed, to be a drift towards indiscriminate warfare, and the view that small countries now have to rely on their allies before they can embark on warfare or use weapons also does not appear to be supported by recent experience, either in the case of Israel and the Arab countries, or in the case of a great number of wars which are more or less civil wars, such as in Nigeria.

Coming to the main crux of the debate, I think it is most illuminating that your Lordships seem more or less to have agreed that we cannot split moral and ethical hairs between different types of weapons and different types of targets. There are certainly possible broad categories that we can draw, but on the whole we must say that warfare is ethically indivisible; that you must work against it as a whole. What I think you can do, as the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, so tellingly said, is to draw a line. You can take areas of warfare—purely practical areas—and try to limit warfare and to reduce its incidence and its effects in this way. This is an area where we cart do it, because there is already in the Geneva Protocol some agreement on limiting this kind of warfare—the beginning of a control system.

The negotiation and enforcement of a ban of this kind will be extremely difficult, as on these matters countries raise the cry, and some of the nations have already raised it over the proliferation of the H-bomb, that the rich nations still get their H-bombs and it is the poor nations who find that they cannot get on an equity with them in these matters, and that the whole thing is a "carve-up". This is an uncomfortably true cry. It is an accusation which it is difficult to combat, and the only way in which we can combat it is by trying to take a quite definite stand on some matters of principle and by giving a lead in questions of disarmament, an issue on which I think we are all proud to say that our country, under successive Governments, has been able to take a lead.

I believe that in this field there is one particular action that we could take to prove our bona fides. We have a quadripartite agreement between Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States on the sharing of research in these matters. The United States, as we have heard, has not yet signed the Geneva Protocol. I believe that we should say that we will not share any facilities in these matters with any country, whether our ally or not, which has not signed the Protocol. That is not to destroy Lord Stamp's argument about the balance of terror. Deterrence is a matter of being able to imply tellingly that your people will not attack. We ourselves have our reservation in the Geneva Protocol about our action against nations who do not observe it themselves. America could make exactly the same reservation.

I agree that this would be largely a symbolic gesture. I agree that possibly it can be logically dissected and be found wanting, and I have little doubt the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, may do exactly that. But I think we must not underrate the purpose of gestures in this highly emotive field. It seems to me that, without reducing our own defence capacity by one tiny little bit, we can take a stand on this one point of principle about the Geneva Protocol, and I hope that we shall.

4.58 p.m.


My Lords, I also should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans upon initiating this debate. I think he must feel gratified by the serious way in which all parts of the House have contributed to it. There have been two opposing estimates of the development of chemical and biological agents for war. One has been that they are more humane than the present methods, either conventional or nuclear. The opposite view is that they are so alarming that they are a deterrent to the occurrence of war. I think that in trying to find the true estimate we must look in historical perspective at the development of the means of warfare. If we look over the last 25 years, we see that there has been a revolution in the destructive power of arms. It began with the atomic destructions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It developed to the H-bomb and tactical atomic bombs. It proceeded to the guided and ballistic missiles. It has found expression in the jet bombing fighting planes.

If I really believed that chemical and biological warfare was more humane than those developments, I should welcome it, because I do not believe there would be any likelihood of its becoming adopted as a means of war unless it were more destructive in its effects. The series of speakers who have said to-day that the real problem is not the character of arms but war itself, are of course quite right. Declare war, and your purpose must be destruction; and to carry out that purpose requires the most destructive weapons. If it is really true that chemical and biological means are not more destructive than present means, then I doubt whether this debate would be necessary at all.

I think we must take it for granted that technical developments over the next 25 years will see more appalling developments in destructive arms than even the last 25 years. Perhaps the next stage may be the use of air space, satellites and distributing military intelligence; and even the use of air space to pierce the barriers which now prevent sun rays from burning great areas of the earth. That lies ahead. But meanwhile I think all the evidence shows that chemical and biological weapons can be as destructive as nuclear weapons and, because they are much cheaper to produce and to transport, may become more generally adopted.

The increase in the toxicity of gases and the ability to use bacteria and viruses are a warning that the biological bomb, supplementing the hydrogen bomb, is not far off. With wind in a carrying direction, one aircraft or one ship on the coast could release chemical agents already developed so that entire populations over vast areas could be destroyed. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has just pointed out, nuclear arms are costly in production and even more so in transportation, and they are limited for extensive use to a few wealthy Powers. Chemical and biological weapons are inexpensive. For the first time, there is equality in destruction between the poor and the rich nations. It is symbolic of our time that equality should be achieved in destruction rather than construction. This provides an appalling danger that every nation may become armed in this way.

There are certain military advantages in the use of chemical and biological weapons over nuclear weapons. While chemical and biological elements would destroy enemy populations, the structure of cities, towns and villages, with factories, houses and farms, would remain intact for occupation. A further advantage is that the presence of many chemical agents would not be detectable until they had done their fatal work, because so often they are colourless and odourless.

I think we should appreciate that the development of chemical and biological weapons is now world-wide. Six chemical agents are officially authorised by the American forces for use in Vietnam—CN, tear gas; DM, nausea gas; CN/DM, vomiting gas; CS, irritant gas; and 2.4D and 2.45, defoliation chemical gases. It has been frequently said during this debate that America is not using lethal chemical weapons in Vietnam. I think I shall be able to show to the contrary. The defoliation chemicals are not directly lethal, though in effect they can be. I have seen more than one report from Vietnam, from doctors whose patients they have been, of children who, after the spraying of defoliation gases, have eaten fruit coated with these chemicals and as a result have died. Of the other gases in use in Vietnam, CN is not fatal; but there is evidence that DM, CN/DM and CS are fatal in certain conditions. To that I will refer a little later.

Not only are these gases being used at the present time but research and the development are now world-wide. In some cases the object of the research is defensive; but to test effectiveness for defence, offensive agents must be produced. They are now available all round the earth. America has a string of military and commercial research and production stations. In Canada, there is a research station in Southern Alberta. In West Germany there is a series of Governmental and commercial research stations. It is; known that in Russia there is a station near the Caspian Sea, and there is no doubt that similar work is carried on in other Communist countries. China is almost certainly now using a station opened by Japan in Manchuria in the 'thirties. Egypt supplied the poisonous gases which caused death in the Yemen. France has used the CS gas to dispel the student demonstrations recently. In Britain We have research stations at Porton Down and at Nancekuke, in Cornwall.

My Lords, I want to acknowledge at once that our British stations are primarily for defensive purposes. I want to pay tribute to the Porton station for its contribution to the development of various vaccines, insecticides, ameliorations for muscular diseases, better air filters and protective clothing. But at the moment, despite those defensive purposes, only the Armed Forces are protectively equipped in this country to prevent incapacitation and death. The civilian population would be decimated in any large-scale chemical or biological attack.

The gravest case against our British stations is the fact that they are supplying to other countries formulae and particulars of processing of offensive weapons. As I have said, defensive research must include the production of offensive agents in order to develop the means to meet them. There can be no objection to that so long as the formulae and processing are kept secret and the offensive weapons are not produced beyond the necessity for defensive testing. The case against our present policy is that knowledge of the means to produce offensive weapons is given to other countries, some of whom use it, or are prepared to use it, offensively in war. We have sharing arrangements with Canada, Australia and America; with NATO; and bilateral arrangements with some of the NATO Powers. These are known. They may be more, because the Government have declined to disclose the full list of foreign Powers with which we have these agreements.

The closest association, of course, is with the United States of America, which has not signed the Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use of chemicals and biological agents and which, one repeats, is using them now in Vietnam. Indeed, there is a good deal of evidence that Porton is the source of much of the output of offensive chemical agents by America. Seymour Hersh the American authority, to whom reference has already been made, author of the classic work, Chemical and Biological Warfare, says: The people at Porton Downs have, in effect, been guiding America in chemical and biological warfare for years. Porton is the brains of the outfit. There is evidence that Porton has supplied the formulae and means of processing of two gases which America is now using in Vietnam—CS and the V-gas, DM. CS was developed at Porton in the 'fifties; it is covered by British Patent No. 967660 granted in November, 1960. It is now licensed to the United States.

A declassified paper from Porton deals with DM, recording that it was considered twelve years ago as a potential riot control agent, but was ruled out by the Legal Branch of the War Office on the ground that because of its arsenic content it was poisonous and therefore proscribed by the Geneva Protocol. Nevertheless, we have given its formula to the United States, given them the methods of processing it, and America is now using it in Vietnam.

CS is regarded as a riot-control device and not a lethal weapon, but there is now extensive evidence that CS, as well as DM, has caused deaths in Vietnam. Almost any gas is lethal in large doses or in a contained space. In Vietnam CS is being used to drive out not only soldiers but civilians taking shelter in dug-outs during bombing and heavy fire. The evidence that it has killed in these contained conditions is conclusive. Dr. Steven Rose, Professor of Biochemistry at the Imperial College of Science and Technology at London University, states that he has documentary evidence of 350 deaths from CS in Vietnam. I have seen National Liberation Front reports of 14 instances, with dates and places, showing 30, 35, 78, more than 100, and 280 dead. N.L.F. reports are, of course, suspect, but there slipped into an American report that an Australian had been killed and six others incapacitated by the CS gas. This report appeared in the New York Times of January 13, 1966. I have seen the report of a Canadian doctor in a hospital in Vietnam (not a Communist but one who had gone there for humanitarian service) who had treated patients who had been in shelters when canisters of gas were thrown in. He stated that the mortality rate in adults is about 10 per cent., and in children about 90 per cent.

I could give the House harrowing accounts of the devastation and death caused by chemical agents in Vietnam. I refrain because I have already been speaking for a long time and I do not want to detain the House. I ask the Minister to tell us this: which gases, other than CS and DM, now being used in Vietnam had their source in Porton? We have the right to know when they cause death, particularly in a war which the majority of the people of this country condemn.

My Lords, I conclude with constructive proposals, as I often try to do. They are as follows. First, the Secretary-General of the United Nations should be asked to prepare a report with recommendations on the whole subject of chemical and biological agents, and to make recommendations to the Security Council and General Council. This proposal has been made by Mr. Mulley, one of the Ministers of State for Foreign Affairs, at Geneva last week, and I welcome it. Second, the Geneva Convention should be strengthened, and all those who have voted at the United Nations for the prohibition of chemical and biological weapons, which include the United States and Japan, should be asked by the General Assembly to sign it. It should be strengthened by ending the false distinction between lethal and non-lethal weapons and by giving international United Nations observers the right to inspect research stations to prevent any offensive agents being stockpiled.

My third proposal is the strengthening of the proposed Convention on Microbiological Agents submitted by Mr. Mulley at the Geneva Disarmament Conference, including an open research agreement, as already voluntarily operated by some stations, in association with the "Pugwash" Conference. This would make it virtually impossible for any nation to test a secret biological weapon. Fourthly, United Nations instructions should be given to all research stations to provide the World Health Organisation with knowledge of new vaccines, protective devices for health and safety, chemical agents to extend the fertility of land, and insecticides for use particularly in the developing countries. Britain should take the initiative in its research stations. Fifthly, the information-sharing agreements with the United States, Canada, Australia, NATO and any other countries should be limited to protective equipment and the constructive devices outlined above.

Sixth, I would say: stop all export of chemical agents directed to military or para-military purposes. Seventh, place Porton and Nancekuke under the Ministry of Health, and open all their activities to public inspection. Eighth, inform the public of the facts about chemical and biological agents, as is done in Sweden, so that conscious decisions can be made about possible defence and its costs.

I am conscious of the inadequacy of all measures to stop weapons of war, including chemical and biological agents, so long as war itself is acceptable to mankind. The most positive contribution which we can make is to remove the causes of war; to outlaw war itself; to abolish national military forces; to provide the United Nations with a peacekeeping force, and to move towards world government. That is a vast plan, my Lords, but we must consciously direct ourselves towards it if the human race is to survive. Meanwhile, and immediately, we should safeguard the human family from the reality and the further threat of chemical and biological war, as well as nuclear arms, which, unless they are stayed, will doom future generations to utter destruction.

5.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for giving us a chance to discuss this problem, particularly since up to now it has hardly been given an airing in Parliament. One might almost think, judging by the treatment given to chemical and biological matters in the Press and in public discussion up to the present, that there is a taboo on the subject and that people are unwilling to discuss it simply because it is unpleasant. I should like to give some examples of the extreme emotional feelings directed towards chemical and biologal warfare, feelings which, I feel, have hindered a proper understanding and an adequate discussion of this very disturbing problem.

Last autumn there were three open-days at Porton, one of which I attended. I was surprised to find that only one other Member of your Lordships' House had accepted the invitation which was issued to Members of both Houses to come to Porton and spend a day there. Two Members came from the Lords and two Members from another place. All of them were Conservatives. In view of the great interest which has been shown in the subject during our debate to-day and the interest which has been displayed over this problem in recent months, I wonder why so few people took the trouble to go to Porton. I think that there may be an element of despair and emotional disgust with the activities of Porton which stopped people going there and which is stopping this subject being treated with the realistic approach that it deserves.

At Porton I found that some of the employees themselves were in part guilty of this lack of realism. The demonstrations which they gave us tended to emphasise the ancillary benefits of their research. They made an attempt to distract us from the defence nature of Porton's work, which is, of course, its main purpose. There are other institutes in this country responsible for improving the health of this country. I got the impression that Porton and its employees were trying to show us that this was the main part of their work, whereas of course it is not.

I come to the suggestion which has been made by several noble Lords, that the activities of Porton should be transferred to the Ministry of Health. On the face of it this seems logical in that those who work at Porton are biologists or doctors, but surely it is really irrelevant to the health problem of this country. Porton is a defence establishment. Occasionally a piece of helpful research emerges which is of medical use, but it is a defence matter. Surely we should not hide our heads in the sand, but should appreciate that, rightly or wrongly, Porton is a defence affair and should be treated in a serious way.

This brings me to another disturbing question: are we being realistic about the possibilities of defending ourselves against germ warfare? I was assured at Porton by the Director, Dr. Smith, that Porton did not manufacture offensive weapons; that it only tried to find an effective defence against biological warfare. I was shown horrible evidence of the possibility—the very real possibility—of an attack being made on this country by perhaps a small country, with a few good scientists and a small amount of money, which would be able to cause an immense amount of killing. I was disturbed by the fact that until recently even this fact was a secret and was not known or appreciated by most people. I was shown machines whereby the atmosphere could be analysed and germs could be detected. It was pointed out that after a dangerous germ had been detected in the atmosphere, a programme of immunisation would be set in motion in this country and the population at large could in some way be protected against a bacteriological attack. But I found many questions unanswered in this. Would there really be time for this research, this analysis, this immunisation to take place if an attack was launched and if we had no warning of it?

This brings me to the vital question which I should like to put to the Minister, although I am not asking hire to answer it here and now as it is clearly something which needs to be thought about over a certain period of time. In the realm of chemical and bacteriological warfare, would it not be more effective to rely on the deterrent which has protected us up till now from a nuclear attack? Several noble Lords have criticised the deterrent principle, but I wonder whether they can really discount the effect which the deterrent has had in maintaining peace on a world scale since 1945, and whether they can discount the genuine fact of our salvation from a gas or germ attack at the hands of Nazi Germany in the latter stages of the Second World War.

Another point which struck me in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, was when he said that research into biological warfare had begun only in 1941 when we were really threatened with occupation and extinction. I was hardly born at that time, but I was disturbed to hear to-day that this research was begun only in 1941—


My Lords, it was begun in 1940.


It was begun only in 1940, when the war was a year old. It had not been begun in the 1930s when many people thought that war was likely. The noble Lord, Lord Stamp, also spoke of a particularly ruthless enemy. Surely, from what we have seen in recent years our potential enemies can be equally ruthless. Is it not another piece of unrealism, that we are prepared to rely for the moment on the tender mercies of enemies or, alternatively, on help from friends who are good friends, but who in course of time may change? It is all very well to rely on friends, but is it not better to rely on ourselves, and should we not be at least as well armed 'with these weapons as with nuclear weapons? Is there really any difference between these horrible weapons and the horrible nuclear weapons? I would sleep more safely in my bed to-night if I knew that not only the Russians, not only the Americans, not only the Chinese, but we, too, possessed these horrible, destructive weapons as a deterrent against those who might one day attack us.

5.34 p.m.


My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has raised in this debate a subject of very great importance, not only to this country but to the whole of mankind, and I am sure he will be well satisfied with the quality of this debate. It is very rare for a Minister, winding-up after 13 speakers, to be doing it at shortly after half-past five, but it may well be that the brevity of the speeches has added to the force of the arguments laid before the House. I do not feel that I can be so brief as other noble Lords, since many questions have been asked and one noble Lord at least has asked for a clear statement of the Government's position.

I welcome the debate, since it is right to make the position of the Government perfectly clear, to show that there is no "witches' brew" being concocted at Porton, and to indicate what Her Majesty's Government are seeking to do in the international field. I echo the words of regret of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, that so few noble Lords and Members of another place, who had an opportunity of going to Porton last year, went to see it. If some Members of both Houses had been there, I am sure that the information on which they base speeches and questions would be very different, and that might save the time of Ministers in replying.

The right reverend Prelate rightly raised the moral issue. I think that for some the issue is stark and clear. My noble friend Lord Soper is a pacifist, and no doubt he sees all forms of weapons as utterly wrong. I can understand and, in some respects, sympathise with that view. My father was a pacifist for many years. I was brought up as a Quaker, and their views on this subject are well-known, but I was shaken from those clear and simple beliefs by the events of the 1930s—the rise and the consequences of Hitler. For my part, I have no doubt that weakness and inability and lack of determination by those who opposed Hitler encouraged his ambitions and eventually led to the Second World War. I believe it is vital, in the world in which we now live, for the nations to bind themselves together for their mutual defence. This we have done in the creation of NATO, and, of course, in the long term we must look to the United Nations.

I do not believe that the moral issue is met by just condemning weapons. Chemical and biological weapons are sinister and evil, but are they less so than nuclear devices? It is only the scale of possible casualties that seems to make them appear more evil than land mines, mortars and the automatic rifle. But I must say to my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones that I do not believe chemical weapons like gas are particularly humane. A number have some humane characteristics, but some have terrible consequences to any one caught in the open. For me, the moral issue does not lie with the weapons; it lies in the security of our nation based on an ability to defend ourselves, given the failure of nations to find civilised ways of settling their problems and disputes. In other words, the real challenge is for the nations to find a permanent way of settling their problems without force, so that the instruments of war are removed forever. Such a situation is a long way away. We must continue to work for a peaceful solution to our problems, but I am clear that in the meantime we must take all steps to safeguard our country and those who join us in mutual defence. The policy of Her Majesty's Government is clear. We have stated that we will not use force to settle any dispute; that our military capability shall be adequate for defence, and for defence alone.

What are we doing at Porton and why are we doing it? The short answer to the first part of this question is that, apart from extensive work in the civil interest, what we are doing there is simply part and parcel of our defence capability. Obviously, such a short answer will not satisfy the right reverend Prelate and many others in your Lordships' House, but before I can amplify that answer I must deal with the second part of the question, and this involves a brief outline of comparatively recent history.

Porton is an establishment which came into being during the First World War following the first use of poison gas in April, 1915, by the Germans. My Lords, it is sobering to think that had the defensive work at that establishment, so belatedly begun, started earlier, the terrible toll of casualties arising from gas attacks might well have been avoided. But we did not believe in the beastliness of man, and consequently we were unprepared. As it was, thousands upon thousands of British and Allied troops had to suffer the dreadful consequences of being totally undefended against this diabolical form of warfare. In the last war, despite greater lethal potential, chemical warfare was not used. I will leave it to historians to explain why, but some suggestions have been made in the debate this afternoon. All I shall do is to note that both sides had developed effective defensive as well as offensive techniques, and to underline yet again the fact that chemical warfare was not embarked upon.

What is going on at Porton, encouraged by successive Governments since the end of the war, differs from the work done between the two world wars in only one important respect: the work is now confined to defensive techniques. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that we do not believe that we should develop what I think he referred to as a super-deterrent. Our effort is exclusively defence. But, of course, the knowledge that we know how to protect ourselves must in itself be in some ways a deterrent to a potential enemy. It may be said: Why is such a defence necessary? Surely no civilised country would want to unleash the horrors of a biological or chemical war? These, my Lords, are the reasonable questions of reasonable men, but how does it square with reality? The unpalatable fact is that some of the major powers have equipped themselves with the means to wage chemical and biological warfare. If a country deliberately sacrifices part of its conventional capability, we can only believe that chemical and biological weapons have a major role in that country's military capability. In such circumstances, is it not our duty, as well as our responsibility, to ensure that our combat troops, as well as our civilian Population, could be protected?

But, as I have said, our concern in this field is solely with defence. We do not manufacture or stockpile chemical weapons ourselves. As my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary made clear to the Select Committee on Science and Technology last July: We have not felt it necessary, nor indeed did the previous Government, to develop retaliatory capability here because we have nuclear weapons, and obviously we might choose to retaliate in that way if that were the requirement. But this is a thing one has to keep under continuing review". As regards biological weapons, successive Governments have made it clear that we have no capability and no intention of acquiring one. Is the danger solely confined to the big Powers? In some respects, chemical and biological weapons pose a bigger threat than nuclear, in that any country which has a well-established chemical industry could develop a chemical warfare capability. To develop the means of biological warfare is even easier, since it would require much less industrial and technical support. Furthermore, since biological research for civil and military purposes covers much the same ground, it would be comparatively easy to conceal or disguise the true purposes to which research is directed.

The role of Porton in the military field can best be described as follows: first, to identify the threat; secondly, to seek ways and means by which one has an early warning system of such a threat or attack; and, thirdly, to provide the knowledge so that both our forces and our civilians may be protected from such an attack. Research is neither constant nor foreseeable. Each year there are some 100,000 new substances found. One of these might in itself create a threat; so work in identifying them must always be at the forefront of the work at Porton. We should not underestimate the size of the problem. One class of research may lead to something completely unexpected. My noble friend Lord Brockway spoke of CS gas. I understand that CS gas was discovered as (shall we say?) a "spin-off" from research in the field of cancer.

I think it was the right reverend Prelate who said that it was the secrecy of Porton which gave so much concern. Much of the work of Porton is public knowledge: only a limited amount is classified. I know the argument, and in many ways agree with it, that the real deterrent in the field of nuclear weapons is the knowledge by the enemy as to the consequences of any attack by it on another country; but if we provide knowledge that helps him to introduce countermeasures, this can lead only to escalation, and to provide knowledge freely in chemical and biological warfare, especially when any country could on that information provide itself with a capability, would surely be foolhardy to the extreme. It could only add to proliferation, which is directly counter to our interests and to world peace. It would clearly increase the threat of war between smaller nations who, being small and without major resources, would themselves be unable to take steps to protect their own people or to provide the medical treatment which would be necessary following the heavy casualties which would be bound to arise.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich mentioned the United States and Vietnam, and in the same context the possibility of exchange of information between our two countries—and this was a point that was emphasised by other noble Lords. The United States signed but did not ratify the Geneva Protocol, and is not a party to it. However, President Roosevelt, on June 8, 1943, told a Press conference that: We shall under no circumstances resort to the use of such weapons unless they are first used by our enemies", and this remains the United States Government's position. At the United Nations General Assembly on December 5, 1966, the United States voted for a resolution calling for strict observance by all States of the principles and objectives of the Geneva Protocol, and inviting all States to adhere thereto. The United States Government have said publicly that they make use in Vietnam of anti-riot agents, defoliants and herbicides, but they have never used nerve gases or germ warfare.

The only anti-riot agent manufactured in the United Kingdom is CS, which, while it was developed in this country, was first synthesised in America, is not patentable and can be manufactured anywhere. The House should be aware that from 1960 onwards information about CS for riot control was provided on a Government-to-Government basis to some 60 nations. This was long before it was used in Vietnam; and the substance, as I have said, was first synthesised in the United States as long ago as 1928. I had better perhaps correct my noble friend Lord Brockway in his reference to CS gas as being patented in this country. That is not so. It cannot be patented here. What was patented was the British device for discharging CS gas—it was not the gas itself but the hand-grenades and the like. But in this particular case the United States use their own canisters and do not depend upon our own. My noble friend attributed to the British the development of DM and the passing of it to the United States. That particular gas was first developed in the United States in the 1914–18 war; it was not a British development.

We have also been criticised for giving information on the V-agent nerve gases exclusively to the United States. In fact, the basic information on this series of compounds was published in the open chemical literature in 1955. Any country could have gone on to develop the V-agents had it wished to do so, especially a country with such a highly-developed research and development capability as the United States.

This raises two important questions that have been asked this afternoon and one which I think was posed this morning in the Guardian. First, should we refuse to give information to our allies; and, secondly, should we provide knowledge of this sort to all other nations? I think this would be a consequence if Porton were handed over to the United Nations. On the first question, may say that information-sharing in the chemical and biological field is only a small part of much wider agreements covering the whole field of military research development and equipment, in which Australia and Canada as well as the United Kingdom and the United States participate. These are the Technical Co-operation Programme and the Basic Standardisation Agreement. Under these agreements, all four countries so far as possible co-ordinate research and development programmes to avoid duplication of effort. They pool material resources and they exchange information and personnel. The United Kingdom gains access to the results of the U.S. research programme, which is enormously greater than our own. These agreements help to maintain the cohesion of the Western Alliance, the need for which surely no one can doubt after the events of last year.

On the second question, I have just given the House, in my remarks about CS and the V-agents, examples of information which has been made widely available. In the case of the V-agents it is questionable in my mind whether publication is wise, since it can only add to proliferation and increase the fields of research. It would be wrong to add to proliferation and to increase the threat. Should this therefore apply to the United States? The United States is our major ally. We are bound together within defence treaties such as NATO, which, in itself, is a defensive organisation, and I cannot understand the argument that we should deny knowledge to the United States which could add to the protection of its forces which stand with ours in Europe, or the protection of its own people.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans asked what were the principles, moral and commercial, that governed the sale and supply of Porton products. As I have explained, the work at Porton is exclusively defensive. It is concerned with the saving of life and not the taking of it. Moreover, prime function is research and development and not production. Apart from CS, which is manufactured for riot control and sold to friendly countries (although not to the United States or to France) the only production of biological warfare and chemical warfare agents is in laboratory quantities for defensive research into the means of protection. But Porton does sell various products, such as vaccines, to universities and other institutions for medical research.

The right reverend Prelate also questioned the size of the establishment at Porton. Government policy is to continue the defensive work in the M.R.E. at about its present level so long as there is a threat to this country and it is judged right to keep it. In regard to herbicides and defoliants, no initial work on these substances was undertaken in this country and made available to the United States. We have no interest in crop destruction or in any form of defoliage which results in the destruction of trees.

I think I should say something to my noble friend Lord Brockway in regard to CS gas. Last Monday I went specially to Porton and talked to the scientists there. I am thoroughly satisfied that CS gas is the safest anti-riot agent yet developed. To the best of our knowledge—and I say this with all sincerity and in the light of knowledge made available to me—there is no proven case of death arising directly from its use. The noble Lord may raise his eyebrows; bit CS gas in its anti-riot form would need to be increased in strength nearly 100,000 times before it could in itself become lethal. There is a possibility—and I will give this to the noble Lord—that if someone were in a trench or a dugout and was wounded and unable to come out, he might die because of a CS grenade being placed in the dugout. But this, I would say, is one area in which you could call CS gas humane; for those of us who were soldiers during the last war knew of the problems of "flushing out" dugouts. The only way in which it could be done was to roll in a hand grenade which exploded and killed everyone in it. To-day, CS hand grenades could be used, and the enemy could be flushed out but would not be in risk of their lives from CS gas.


My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Lord has given a full answer. May I put this point? He says that someone might die if in an enclosed shelter, if wounded and unable to get out. But those are not the only circumstances. Suppose there are children in those shelters and that outside there is heavy bombardment, gun fire or bombing. In the circumstances the children and civilians will not go outside. In nearly all the cases I have had reported to me from Vietnam of death from CS it has been in shelters under those conditions.


My Lords, because this is a gas which we export to several countries, I understand that the Minister of Defence has carried out a careful examination. We have no evidence of anyone dying directly from the use of CS gas.


My Lords, would my noble friend permit me to interrupt? Would he not agree that almost any volatile chemical substance can cause death in an enclosed space?


My Lords, my noble friend is quite right, but I was trying to deal with CS gas, in particular, to show how much this gas would have to be concentrated for it to become lethal. Perhaps we can leave that now.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich also asked for information to be made more generally available to the public. Although Members of Parliament did not come to the open day at Porton in as large numbers as they should have, there were some 1,300 members of the general public present, and we intend, following that, to have a series of open days this year—namely, June 4, 5 and 6. We shall do all we can to encourage people who are interested in this field to come to Porton and see what is being done.

My noble friend, Lord Soper spoke of pollution of education and of the freedom of universities being impaired. This is not correct. He is not correct in implying that the freedom of universities is impaired by undertaking research contracts for Porton. The facts are that there are at present at Porton about 30 research contracts with universities and colleges. Only one of these is classified, and its classification is restricted: I understand that it is lower than the M.O.D. telephone book. This restrictive contract covers means of detecting CW agents. I have been told of the continual movement of students in and out of Porton, and I do not accept that the reputation of Porton is one that prevents the majority of students at least from wishing to go there. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans spoke about the concern of local people. My Lords, I am not aware of this. In fact there is a local bus service that goes through the establishment conveying local people, and I am told that locally there is no concern about what is going on.

I was also asked, if not pressed, that these establishments at Porton should be transferred to the Department of Health and Social Security. Although much of the work in these establishments has a civil application, much that is done at M.R.E. is valuable to medical science. Their primary purpose is to develop means of defending this country and its Armed Forces against attack by chemical and biological weapons. The Government therefore consider that a balance of argument favours the present arrangement whereby the establishments are the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. But as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place on July 15, the matter is continuously under review, and he did not rule out a decision to change this arrangement at an appropriate time.

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans asked me five specific questions. I think that I have already answered two. Perhaps I could answer his three remaining questions by dealing with the position that we are now in. What we are now seeking to do at United Nations and at Geneva is to find some advance in the field of control, or perhaps disarmament. Under the 1925 Geneva Protocol parties accepted the prohibition on the use in war of poisonous and other gases and of all similar liquids, materials and devices, and agreed to extend this prohibition to the use of bacteriological methods of war. The conclusion of the Protocol was an important step forward. More than 50 countries are now parties to it. But with the passage of time certain shortcomings in the Protocol have become increasingly evident, as many nations including the United States are not parties to it; and of those that are many, including the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, have reserved the right to use chemical and bacteriological weapons against non-parties, violators of the Protocol and their allies. In any case, even if all the States were to accede to the Protocol, there would still be a risk of these weapons being used, so long as States had the right to manufacture and stockpile them.

Another shortcoming is that there is no consensus on the exact meaning of certain of the terms used. For example, what is exactly covered by the phrase, "poisonous and other gases", and "all similar liquids, materials and devices"? In addition, there is a slight discrepancy between the English and the French texts of the Protocol, and this has led to disagreement on whether non-lethal gases are prohibited. Furthermore the term "bacteriological" which is used in the Protocol is not sufficiently comprehensive to include the whole range of microbiological agents which might be used in hostilities.

When the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee reconvened in Geneva in the summer after the Non-Proliferation Treaty had been agreed and opened for signature, my right honourable friend the Minister for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs with special responsibility for disarmament stressed the urgent need to follow up the Treaty with a search for agreement on further measures, not only in the nuclear but also in the non-nuclear field. On the non-nuclear side he suggested that priority should be given to measures to deal with the chemical and biological warfare. The Minister of State accordingly explained, on the lines that I have already indicated, why we considered that there was a need to see what could be done to bring the Geneva Protocol up to date. He went on to put forward some proposals on actions to supplement the Protocol. He suggested that the best way of making progress might be to draw a distinction between chemical and biological warfare and to try to tackle the latter first. The reasoning behind this was that any attempt to deal with chemical warfare at this stage would at once run into difficulties over the question of whether all agents of chemical warfare or only lethal ones should be covered; especially as some of the non-lethal agents have legitimate peaceful uses for such purposes as riot control.

A further consideration was that chemical weapons have in the past been used on a large scale and are regarded by some States as a weapon which they must be prepared to use, if necessary, in a future war. In the BW field, however, there seemed to be some chance of shutting the stable door while the horse was still inside. My right honourable friend accordingly suggested the conclusion of a Convention banning not only the use but also the production and possession of microbiological agents for hostile purposes. The ban, of course, would have to extend to the means of delivery, as well as to the agents themselves, and also to the research work aimed at production of the kind proscribed by the Convention, although purely defence work would not be prohibited. Thus States would renounce the right to use microbiological weapons even in retaliation, though of course they would be free to retaliate with other weapons. This would go beyond the Geneva Protocol.

The main object of the proposed Convention would be to deter States from exercising the option which is open to them under the Protocol of developing microbiological weapons. We think it probable that a Convention of the kind that we have in mind would have that effect. There has been considerable interest in this initiative and it was welcomed by the recent meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. We shall therefore be developing our proposals and seeking support for them when the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Conference reconvenes in March.

At the same time as my right honourable friend put his biological proposals he suggested that the United Nations Secretary-General might be invited to prepare a report on the nature and possible effects of chemical weapons and the implications of their use, with a view to providing a scientific basis for future consideration of further measures for their limitation and control. This idea was taken up by the E.N.D.C. in its report to the General Assembly in August, with a recommendation that the report should cover biological as well as chemical weapons. The General Assembly endorsed the recommendation and the Secretary-General has appointed a group of experts—among them Sir Solly Zuckerman—to report to him. The group met for the first time last month and we hope that its report will be available by July 1. We look forward to receiving this report, which we expect to make a valuable technical contribution to further work in this field.

International agreement on a Convention of the kind that we have proposed will not be easily achieved. The main difficulty is that of verification. The organisms which would be used for hostile purposes exist in nature and are required in large quantities for normal medical purposes, and they could be produced quickly and cheaply either in established laboratories or in makeshift facilities. We have to recognise that in present circumstances it will not be possible to devise international inspection arrangements which will ensure beyond all doubt that the obligations imposed by the Convention are being fulfilled.

Generally, in the disarmament and arms control field, it is our view that each measure should be accompanied by the appropriate amount of verification. In this case, we have to face the fact that verification, in the sense in which the term is normally used in disarmament negotiations, is simply not possible, and we are therefore faced with a choice of doing nothing at all or going ahead and formulating new obligations. If we do nothing, the risks and fears of the eventual use of biological methods of warfare will continue and intensify indefinitely.

We therefore feel that we should go ahead with our initiative and we are strengthened in this view by several factors: first, the purely defensive work of the kind we do at Porton would not be prohibited; secondly, more proven means of warfare are likely to be used in retaliation to a biological attack; and, thirdly, though verification in the usual arms control sense is not feasible, the proposed Convention could contain provisions which might give some assurance against its being breached. Some method under which complaints of specific instances of violation were lodged with an international body and investigated by that body might be found, and in cases where actual use of microbiological weapons was alleged, it would be possible under certain conditions for physical checks to be made.

May I conclude by thanking the right reverend Prelate for raising this debate and those noble Lords who have taken part. It has not been an easy debate to answer. On the one hand, I share the horror and dismay at the dangers that these and other weapons pose to mankind. One can be disheartened at the apparent lack of progress towards disarmament and the creation of machinery to ensure permanent peace. However, some progress has been made in recent years and this should renew our determination to carry on our efforts. But, on the other hand, there is a clear duty on any Government to take all the necessary steps, having regard to the threat, to protect their own people. This is what Her Majesty's Government are now doing and I have no doubt that they are right.

6.15 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate for in some cases rearranging their full diaries so that they could contribute this afternoon. I think it has been a representative debate. We have heard soldiers and scientists, Prelates and pacifists. I think that it has been a debate which has produced valuable information. We have had thoughtful and helpful speeches, and it seems to me that a number of wise, practical and statesmanlike proposals have been made.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for the full reply he has given on behalf of the Government. I welcome a number of assurances that we have received this afternoon—for instance, that the Government do not manufacture or stockpile chemical weapons and that, so far as biological weapons are concerned, there is no capability or intention of acquiring capability. I am not perfectly certain, I admit, about what that answer means but it seems to me to have something of promise in it.

I particularly appreciate the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has visited Porton so recently and I value the facts he set before us about Government policy. I am not thinking first of myself in this case. I am thinking of students and others who want fuller information about the Government intention in these matters. I think that when they read Hansard to-morrow, as I shall, they will find much to reassure them and stimulate them in the noble Lord's reply. It would not be true to say that I am wholly satisfied with every answer he has given, but I am more than grateful to him for the great trouble he has taken to give such a full reply to the debate. So, thanking noble Lords who have taken part, may I now beg leave to withdraw this Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at seventeen minutes past six o'clock.