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Defensive Exercises, Bahamas (Cuban Representations)

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 15 April 1954

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what representations he has received from the Government of Cuba about the bacteriological tests to be held near the Bahamas; and the nature of his reply.

On 31st March, Her Majesty's Ambassador in Havana was handed a Note expressing the Cuban Government's concern at the Press announcement of Her Majesty's Government's proposal to institute defensive exercises against bacteriological and biological warfare in the Bahaman area. The Cuban Government asked for any available information regarding the exercises to enable them to take proper precautions.

On my right hon. Friend's instructions, Her Majesty's Ambassador replied on 12th April that in no conceivable circumstances could the tests have any effect in Cuba, whatever meteorological conditions obtain; and that the Cuban Government might rest assured that no precautions need be taken by them.

Will the Minister explain why defensive activities of this kind are necessary in the Bahaman waters? Is he aware that there appeared in the French newspaper Le Monde, and several other newspapers, a statement that these are exercises in which we propose to experiment with methods of warfare involving the spreading of typhus and plague and other infectious diseases among the civil population of the world? Does not the Minister think that this is a particularly execrable form of international warfare in the relinquishment of which this country might give a lead at this time?

That has nothing to do with the Question on the Paper, which asked what representations were made by Cuba and what reply was sent to those representations. I have given an answer to that Question but, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, all these exercises are for purely defensive purposes.

In view of the anxiety of the Cuban Government, and, no doubt, other Governments, can the Under-Secretary assure us that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, as part of the plans which we are to lay before the Disarmament Commission of United Nations, to put forward proposals for the total abolition of bacteriological warfare, and controls that will make that abolition effective?

That is a very much wider question than the one on the Paper. So far as representations from other Governments are concerned, we have only had representations from the Dominican Government about the exercise.

Surely the hon. Gentleman can tell us that this is a part of the settled policy of the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the settled policy of the Government is to get an all-round, balanced and properly supervised system of disarmament. Bacteriological weapons will, of course, figure in that all-round system.

Does the hon. Gentleman leave out of account altogether the fact that for many years there has been a Geneva Convention, to which this country is a party, against this type of warfare, and that there has been, so far as anyone knows, no breach of that Convention—at least by anybody who ever ratified it—in 20 or 30 years? In view of that, would the Undersecretary say what purposes are to be served by these experiments, bearing in mind that, while everybody accepts his statement that they are purely defensive, that statement is made by every country in the world about every type of armament it employs?

I do not leave out of account the factors to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention, but we cannot leave out of account either the possibility that some country, some aggressor, might resort—

The hon. Gentleman says, "Only America." In that case, he is a complete and utter dupe of Communist propaganda regarding the war in Korea.

I have said that we cannot leave out of account the possibility that some aggressor might start this hideous form of warfare first. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the Government to see that the necessary defensive precautions and exercises are taken to guard against such an eventuality.

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that I am not the dupe of anybody's propaganda? My reference to the United States of America was only a reference to the plain, admitted fact that of all the countries in the world the United States of America is one of the only two which, so far, have not ratified that Geneva Convention?

That is a very different thing from the hon. Gentleman's previous interruption, which suggested that the United States had used this form of weapon.

The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind that I said no such thing. I have never said, either this morning or at any other time, anywhere, that anybody had ever used it—the United States or anybody else. What I said was that if the United States used it that would not be a breach of international law as far as they were concerned since they are not parties to the Geneva Convention.

On a point of order. Is it in order for the Under-Secretary to impute most improper motives to my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman)? Should not he be asked to withdraw?

I heard no improper motive imputed. If there is a definite charge, I will consider it. I have generally found that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is quite capable of standing up for himself.

May I say, Sir, that I never regard it as unparliamentary to accuse another Member of being the dupe of somebody's propaganda. Indeed, I think that the Joint Under-Secretary is himself in that position.

Is it not a fact that the Russian Government announced in 1939 that they were very well prepared to take part in bacteriological warfare if anybody should start it? Since it is known that a large number of Governments have made preparations, it is perhaps right at the present stage to make defensive counter-preparations, but that does not relieve the Government of the imperative duty of proposing the total abolition of this form of warfare, with effective guarantees which will be observed.

I entirely accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is for that reason that the Government are seeking to get an all-round disarmament system which would, of course, include these weapons.

The Question starts with a query as to what representations have been received, and that has been answered. I do not think we should expand that into a discussion on bacteriological warfare.

On a point of order. The Minister referred to further diplomatic representations which appear to have been made by another Government. Arising out of that, may I ask what was the nature of the representations?

If the hon. Gentleman will put a Question to that effect on the Order Paper I will answer it.