HL Deb 08 October 1981 vol 424 cc194-6

3.26 p.m.

Lord Brockway

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 they have done to implement the undertaking given in the Final Document of the United Nations Assembly Session on Disarmament (May to July 1978) that they would "give priority to the preparation and distribution of printed and audiovisual material relating to the danger represented by the armaments race".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Trefgarne)

My Lords, in August 1979 the Government took the lead in launching a regular arms control newsletter, nine issues of which have so far been published. The Government have also published fact sheets covering defence and disarmament policy. Ministers continue to speak frequently on arms control and disarmament issues.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, would he not agree that these documents have a very limited circulation? May I ask in particular what has been the Government response to the United Nations recommendation that Dr. Waldheim's experts' report should be widely distributed? Is the Minister aware that that report records that there are now over 1 million warheads carrying nuclear weapons, that a nuclear weapon has been made 4,000 times as destructive as the bomb at Hiroshima and that there are enough explosives for three tonnes to fall on every man, woman and child on earth?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I do not want to underestimate the importance of the various publications I have referred to but the proper answer to the difficulties, terrible threats and risks to which the noble Lord refers is the effective moving forward of the various arms control and disarmament negotiations which are in prospect at the present time. The TNF talks will begin at the end of November; the MBFR talks are going on in Vienna but not achieving much progress and, above all, there is the forthcoming resumption of the CSCE review conference in Madrid where the French conference on disarmament proposals will be top of the agenda.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, are the Government aware that there is widespread concern throughout Europe at President Reagan's recent rearmament decisions, and that there will be widespread opposition in this country if the Government follow the same mistaken course?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the policy which we seek to follow is to provide adequate security for our country and, above all, to contribute as best we can to the deterrents offered by the Western Alliance.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, can my noble friend say what action Her Majesty's Government can take to secure the distribution of this material in countries behind the iron Curtain, including Soviet Russia?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as my noble friend well knows and, I suspect, is inviting me to say, it is exceedingly difficult to get such documents circulated behind the Iron Curtain; that is why the CSCE process is important.

Lord Morris

My Lords, would not the limited circulation of these documents be a reflection of their value?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, it is not so much a matter of getting them circulated; there are plenty of copies available for anyone that asks. The problem is to get people to read them.

Lord Renton

My Lords, can the noble Lord say what proportion of the nuclear warheads referred to are held by Russia?

Lord Trefgarne

A very substantial proportion, my Lords.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, surely, with the shortage of educational material and books of all types are not documents of this sort a little unnecessary? If there is a single subject upon which all humanity is agreed, is it not that the arms race, and in particular the nuclear arms race, is dangerous? When there is a shortage of materials do we have to spend this money in going on telling them so?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think that the documents I have referred to serve a useful if limited purpose, but one does not want to overestimate or underestimate the effects that they can achieve.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that it might be a good idea if the subject matter of these documents were aired on the World Service of the BBC?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, what is broadcast on the World Service of the BBC is a matter for the BBC itself. I do not have any influence over that.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, while appreciating that the United Nations' recommendation about the distribution of the experts' report is quite recent and that it is a long document, would the Government consider responding to the United Nations' recommendation by distributing a summary of it to the whole of the British people?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not certain quite what it is intended to put in the next edition of the arms control and disarmament newsletter to which I have referred, but it may be that such a summary could find a place there.