HL Deb 06 February 2001 vol 621 cc1040-1

2.44 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they now condemn the bombing of non-combatants in Hiroshima and Nagasaki by nuclear weapons in 1945.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, we deeply regret the death of any non-combatant in war. However, we believe that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 hastened the end of the Second World War, in which many millions had already perished.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am particularly well placed to recognise that the immediate reaction to that terrible deed was to rejoice? I was on a troop ship, embarked for the purpose of going to join an operational unit in Burma, during the period immediately following the dropping of the bomb on those two cities. I should like to report to my noble friend—

Noble Lords


Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I should like to ask the House whether it would care to hear what a Lance Corporal said to me as we were disembarking. A curious unease had settled on the ship and he said "Do you know, sir, what I think?" I said "No. What do you think?" He said "I think that they may have saved our lives at the cost of our children's".

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am aware of my noble friend's valuable service during the last war. That service did him honour, as it did this country. I understand the sentiments that he expresses and the sentiments expressed by that Lance Corporal. However, at that time a judicious judgment was made on the clear basis of how to help millions of people. We cannot rewrite history, and that is how the matter stays.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that thousands of British prisoners of war were suffering terribly in South-East Asia—indeed, they were dying every day—and that the dropping of the second bomb helped to save their lives?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am aware of that terrible suffering. I can certainly reassure the House that the Government's approach to the need to address the issue of nuclear weapons very much takes into account the whole nature of the conflict and the sufferings that we all went through during that traumatic period.

The Lord Bishop of Bradford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it seems to be a deeply regrettable nature of modern warfare that non-combatants are bombed and killed, whether it be in Dresden, Coventry, the City of London or in Sudan today? Can she confirm that the process of peace-making and the avoidance of war is at the very height of the Government's list of priorities?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I am more than happy to give the right reverend Prelate that assurance. Peace is at the heart of our policies. We seek peace above all else.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, deeply regrettable as is the explosion of any atomic bomb, those particular bombs saved a great many British, American and Japanese lives?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I made clear in my Answer that that was the assessment made at the time. There has been nothing since to cause us to change that assessment.

Lord Rea

My Lords, in the spirit of reconciliation, will my noble friend consider approaching the United States to express on behalf of the 1945 allies their regret that the measures they took to end the war in the Far East resulted in the deaths of so many non-combatants?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, these issues have been well trammelled since 1945. The basis upon which we all took part is clear. In 1998 the Japanese Government issued an apology in relation to their activity. We must be content with the position at which we have now all arrived.

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