HL Deb 06 July 1981 vol 422 cc457-9

2.49 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will confirm Lord Belstead's broadcast estimate that about 15 million people would survive the sort of nuclear attack he expects on this country if it took place at a weekend and what would be their estimate if the attack took place (a) on an ordinary working day and (b) on a week night.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, in the event of a nuclear attack on this country there would be bound to be very heavy casualties, at whatever time the attack occurred, but these could be greatly reduced by sensible protective measures.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for the courtesy of his reply, may I ask him to take note that once again he has simply failed to answer the Question? May I sit down and give him the opportunity to answer?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, something tells me that the noble Lord would like a little amplification. The attitude of the noble Lord is that in some way the Government are looking upon those who would die in the event of a nuclear attack purely as statistics. That is not the case. The Government never make light of the effects of an all-out nuclear attack on this country. In that event, millions of innocent people would die. But that is very far from saying that people cannot be saved by taking precautions and that nothing can be done for the many millions who would survive.

Lord George-Brown

My Lords, will the Minister make it clear to the noble Lord (a) that this Question could not be asked in Moscow and, (b), that the chances of any people dying over a weekend, midweek or at midnight are a jolly sight less if we keep up our deterrent against the Muscovites trying it out?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown. The objective of civil defence, of course, is to endeavour to reduce anxiety and to increase our state of preparedness, and I must leave it to the judgment of the House as to whether the attitude of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, is liable to achieve either of those objectives.

Lord Renton

My Lords, whatever the casualties might be from a direct nuclear hit, is it not the fact that civil defence in this and other countries is designed to protect people against fall-out, in respect of which protection is possible, and also that civil defence precautions should be made in case there should ever be a conventional attack, which is just as likely as a nuclear attack?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Renton. It is along those lines that the Government have endeavoured to give advice to the general public, and I think it was high time that such advice was given.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree that it would be a very sad day for this House or for any other part of the United Kingdom if we took for a yardstick what we could only ask in Moscow? Is the noble Lord also not aware that according to recent public opinion polls there seems to be a considerable majority of ordinary people who desire that these hideous weapons should be banished and outlawed? Would it not therefore be a good thing if the Government of our country were to take a lead in this matter and, for a start, make very certain that no other power should have their hideous weapons based on this island?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, nothing would please this country or the Government more than if there could be general agreement on disarmament—but not unilateral disarmament.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the Government have now changed their policy from asking us all to stay at home, to a policy of deep shelters? If so, has his attention been drawn to the background paper of the inquiry of the British Medical Association, which says that shelters would be useless owing to the blast heat in most of the United Kingdom and that—and I quote: they would become ovens for their occupants. The great surface heat would cook and asphyxiate them"? Is that the prospect?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me for saying so, the premise on which the noble Lord's question is based is not entirely correct. The Government have carried out a survey on the possibilities of designs for domestic shelters and have made those available to the public in order to try to combat the effects of fall-out, to which my noble friend Lord Renton drew attention. But may I make it clear that there is no question at this stage of recommending householders to acquire nuclear shelters of that kind or of any other kind, although, as I have said, we have made the information available; and that, I believe, is one of the responsibilities of the Government.

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Soames)

My Lords, I suggest we should now pass on to the next business.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords—

Several noble Lords: Order!

Lord Soames

My Lords, I am sorry. The noble Lord did ask a supplementary question and there have been a number of other supplementaries. We have spent 17 minutes on this Question and I think it is time we moved on.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords—

Several noble Lords: No! Order!

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