HL Deb 22 June 1981 vol 421 cc851-3

2.50 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 what arrangements are being made for the mass burial or burning of the bodies of millions of people they expect to be killed in the event of a nuclear attack on this country and whether any attempt will be made to bury families together.

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

My Lords, the Government do not regard armed conflict with the Warsaw Pact as probable, let alone inevitable or imminent. It would require very many large nuclear weapons systematically distributed across the country to devastate the whole of the United Kingdom. The number of casualties would depend on the scale and location of any attack, but would be substantially reduced if precautions were taken—either the basic emergency kind set out in the official booklet, Protect and Survive, or those described in the Government's domestic nuclear shelter publications. Regulation 4(a)(vi) of the Civil Defence (Planning) Regulations 1974 provides for making of plans for burial or cremation: local authorities would do whatever was possible in the circumstances.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Lord say how many local authorities have made plans to dispose of human remains in the event of a nuclear attack, as required under the Civil Defence (Planning) Regulations 1974, and whether any authorities have refused to make such plans? Is it not in the public interest that the realities of nuclear war should be widely known? Therefore, will the noble Lord say whether the Government's estimate of those expected to be killed is still in the range of up to half the total population? Finally, will he say what is to happen to the millions of severely injured people who are expected in the event of a nuclear attack?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am surprised at the noble Lord's question. The noble Lord might be interested to know that this was the first item that was ever considered at the first business committee meeting of the Civil Defence Research Committee in May 1939. So the Home Office has had this very serious subject in mind for 42 years.

Lord Orr-Ewing

My Lords, is this not a hypothetical question, if Britain's nuclear deterrent continues to remain effective? Was it not because of the Labour Government's desire that the deterrent should remain effective that they spent £1,000 million on developing and producing the Chevaline warheads for the Polaris missile force?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. I think that the basis of our policy should be a firm commitment to peace while maintaining a firm posture in our military deterrents abroad.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, in the absence of adequate defence and even more adequate civil defence, can the noble Minister say what we will do about those thousands—it might even be millions—of our people who will find themselves in Russian concentration camps? What protection do the Government propose to devise for them? If the Government cannot provide it, will those who ask gruesome Questions try to find out for themselves?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I cannot improve on the question which the noble Lord has asked. I only hope that the noble Lord who asked the original Question will have taken note of what the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, has said.

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Soames)

My Lords, what is more, I do not think that the House could improve on the answer, so I suggest that we move on to the next business.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, may I not—

Noble Lords: Order, order!

Lord Soames

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me. I suggested to the House that we should move on from this Question, and I think that that was the general feeling of the House. I would ask the noble Lord to accept that.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I must record my regret at this and also my regret at the failure of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, to answer my questions, in which I shall persist.

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