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Nuclear Weapons: Council Resolutions

Volume 417: debated on Tuesday 10 February 1981

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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 South Yorkshire, Manchester, Sheffield and Tyne and Wear have declared themselves nuclear free zones with no nuclear weaponry or technology; and if so what they propose to do about it.

My Lords, the Government have received representations from the city councils of Manchester and Liverpool in which they call upon Her Majesty's Government to refrain from the manufacture or positioning of any nuclear weapons within city boundaries. I understand that other local authorities have passed similar resolutions. The Government are, however, responsible for national security, and we will continue to take any steps which we consider necessary to maintain this.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that last October the council in South Yorkshire declared its area a nuclear free zone and that the councils of the other areas that I mentioned in my original Question have similarly passed such resolutions? May I ask whether he knows that the Manchester City Council has not only adopted that resolution but circularised all local authorities in Britain to adopt similar resolutions? Will not the Government be faced with great opposition, probably from the majority of local authorities, to placing nuclear weapons in their areas?

My Lords, as I said in my original reply, Her Majesty's Government have received representations from two cities only. All that I can offer to the noble Lord is the fact that the Government are responsible for national security and they will continue to take any steps necessary to maintain it.

My Lords, can the noble Earl give any other suggestions for Questions which the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, might ask which would encourage our potential enemies in the belief that we will never defend ourselves?

My Lords, as members of the North Atlantic alliance we are always conscious of the defence of this country.

My Lords, can the noble Earl tell me whether these areas declaring themselves nuclear free zones have notified Moscow to that effect?

My Lords, making no comment on the supplementary question which has been asked, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that, although the Manchester City Council circular has only just been issued, seven other councils have adopted this resolution and it is very probable that the majority in Scotland, Wales, North England and the Midlands will do so? Is he aware that not only Labour Councils are involved? Has his attention been drawn to the position at Huntingdon covering Molesworth, the site where the cruise missile is to be stationed, and the fact that there, on the seconding of the Conservative leader of the committee responsible, a resolution for non-co-operation was carried and for a seminar regarding civil defence?

My Lords, I can but repeat that Her Majesty's Government are responsible for national security. In these terms, I might quote part of a supplementary question put by the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, to a Question asked by Lord Brockway on 2nd February last? Lord Shinwell said (in col. 909):

"My Lords may I ask the Minister whether he would agree that the strong line now being taken by President Reagan about Soviet activities in various parts of the world may prevent missiles of a nuclear character ever being used at all?"

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that the passing of resolutions can hardly shield one from the realities of life?

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that, without looking at it with jocularity, many of us are impaled on the horns of a dilemma for the future of mankind? Some people believe sincerely that no nuclear war is possible. Will he ask his colleagues in Government to do their utmost to move nearer and nearer to what they conceive to be the effort to secure at least multilateral disarmament in the nuclear field?

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, this Government are pursuing all the targets of disarmament which the previous Administration did, both in Geneva and in Vienna.

My Lords, would my noble friend care to give the House his opinion of the mental stability of those who make declarations such as are contained in this Question?

My Lords, this is a free country. I would not like to comment on that question.

My Lords, the noble Earl rightly reminded the House that this Government, like the last, are pursuing all targets of disarmament—which prompts a request for reassurance, which I am sure I shall get, on this point. Among those targets is the securing of as many nuclear free zones as possible particularly in the South-East Asian area, where the majority of the littoral states are reported to be strongly in favour of them.

My Lords, I think that is a rather different question from the local one on Yorkshire that was raised originally.