HL Deb 13 November 1984 vol 457 cc211-3

2.51 p.m.

Lord Renton

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they hope to publish the Home Office review of the casualty and damage effects of nuclear weapons.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, we intend to publish this review early next year.

Lord Renton

My Lords, while I thank my noble friend for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware of the serious conflicts of evidence and the consequent misunderstandings with regard to this vital matter? Will he therefore ensure that publication of the report is given the highest priority and the widest possible circulation when it is published?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the report will rest on very thorough research. It will be published as an official document available to the public and a copy will be placed in your Lordships' Library.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister how it is possible to estimate or determine the casualties that are likely to result from the use of nuclear weapons when the nuclear weapons have not been used? Do we not have to wait for what happens, and when it happens shall we not know what is going to happen? We shall be destroyed.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I understand that it is because it has not happened that it is so difficult to decide what will happen if it does happen.

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister agree that the public of this country deserve a full, frank and simple account of what the Government feel, on scientific advice, to be the effects of nuclear war, in so far as one can carry that hypothesis through? Does the Minister feel that that may well encourage people to support, in so far as is practicable, a civil defence policy, whereas if the Government are not frank people will disbelieve?

Lord Elton

My Lords, it is the purpose of the report to reveal what we believe the effects of certain nuclear weapons would be if they were used. That will no doubt contribute to the understanding of the public of the need for civil defence, as the noble Lord rightly suggests.

Lord Gisborough

My Lords, when the report is published, can my noble friend also publish alongside it an estimate of the casualties of a non-nuclear attack, thinking back in terms of Coventry, Hamburg and places like that?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I do not think that that is our present intention, but I will draw the idea to my right honourable friend's attention.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, is it not evident, even before the publication of this report, that civil defence provision against what might be called a strictly limited nuclear war, which I think is very improbable, need not greatly exceed the provision of civil defence against conventional weapons, whereas any provision for defence against any serious nuclear attack will be absolutely money wasted, because such defence is quite impossible?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the first part of what the noble Lord said may be true. The second part is highly questionable, because, in the event of the use of any conceivable level of attack on this country, there would be some survivors. The prediction is that there could be a great many and it would be most unfortunate if no provision were made for them to survive.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is it not the case that the fortunate people in such an event would be not the survivors but those of us who were lucky enough to catch the full benefit of the blast? In those circumstances, will the noble Lord consider what his noble friend has suggested, which is that the Government survey should cover not merely the consequences of a nuclear attack but the possibility of an alternative attack, because it is only in the latter circumstance that any form of civil defence makes any sense whatsoever?

Lord Elton

My Lords, as to the first part of the noble Lord's question, I do not think any Government could responsibly suggest that it was their duty to commit the civilian population of this country to suicide. As to the second part of the noble Lord's question, I have already said that there is, of course, a duty to take defensive measures against conventional attack, and those are things with which the public and the Government are familiar.

Lord Renton

My Lords, with regard to the question—if I may say so, the shrewd question—raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, is my noble friend aware that there have been nuclear tests in various parts of the world and that a great deal of scientific evidence has been accumulated as a result of those tests which would give us some indication of what could be done to help people who were not damaged by a direct hit by a nuclear bomb, but were on the wide perimeters of such an attack?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the purpose of the report, as my noble friend rightly said, is to evaluate the likely physical effects of explosions of various sorts in this country and the extent to which those effects would extend over the population. It is not, of course, to predict what number of such weapons or what size would, in any event, be used.