The Biological Weapons Convention, which is now open for signature, and which of course Her Majesty's Government have signed, represents a significant achievement for the Disarmament Conference. It prohibits in all circumstances the possesssion of biological weapons. I am glad to record that it was the result of a British initiative. I hope it will soon come into force.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that both the present Government and the previous Government deserve great credit for their respective parts in carrying the matter forward to a successful conclusion? Will he confirm that the convention involves the actual destruction of existing weapons and that, therefore, this is the first convention which involves real disarmament as opposed to arms control?
Yes. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I gladly accord a degree of the success on this matter to the previous Administration which initiated much of this work, but the achievement is significant. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, it provides for the destruction of existing weapon stocks. This is a pointer to the way in which we will proceed in future with other matters of this kind.
Does the Minister appreciate that some hon. Members on this side of the House understand the difference between chemical and biological warfare? Does he agree that, the Russians for the first time having accepted the principle of verification in this convention, this is possibly a hope for the future? Will he tell us whether the Government intend speedily to ratify the convention and whether they will take an early opportunity of trying to bring China into any future discussions on this and related matters?
I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. If he studies the convention carefully he will realise that the arrangements for verification are minute. We have to build on this and produce something more. However, it is hopeful so far as it goes. Certainly it is our intention to go forward to ratification, but the convention cannot come into force until 22 States have ratified. I hope that it will not be long before this happens. I agree that it is desirable to bring China into the disarmament discussions and we shall certainly do all that we can to that end.