HC Deb 24 June 1953 vol 516 cc1909-10
Mr. G. R. Strauss

(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Supply whether he has any statement to make about the plans for further atomic tests.

The Minister of Supply (Mr. Duncan Sandys)

Following upon the successful atomic explosion at Monte Bello last October, we are proceeding with the development and testing of atomic weapons to meet various service requirements. The next tests will be undertaken in collaboration with the Australian Government in an isolated area on the Woomera Rocket Range.

The necessary preparations are being made jointly by the United Kingdom and Australian Ministries of Supply with the assistance of the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force. Apart from the provision and erection of scientific equipment, the work entails the establishment of living quarters, communications, water supply and other facilities. Owing to the remote location of the site, this will involve a considerable effort.

When the time comes to carry out these tests, every precaution will be taken, including a careful selection of meteorological conditions, so as to avoid any possible risk of radio-active contamination of inhabited areas and grazing land. The Government of Australia, advised by their own scientists, will satisfy themselves as to the adequacy of the safeguards for the protection of life and property.

A similar statement is being made in Canberra by the Australian Government.

Mr. Strauss

The Minister spoke of the considerable effort necessary for the tests and no doubt the great expenditure of money. I wish to ask if he can say approximately what the cost is likely to be, and whether it is being shared with the Australian Government in the same way as before?

I would ask further if, in view of the great expenditure involved, it is possible to induce the American authorities to alter their attitude in this matter and let us make joint tests with them, with our scientists and theirs using existing test facilities? Have efforts been made during recent months to try to obtain American agreement to joint tests and a general interchange of information as a result of these tests?

Mr. Sandys

I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman precise figures of costs, but he knows as well as I do that nothing connected with atomic energy is inexpensive. The expenditure in Australia will be met partly by the Australian Governmen and partly by the United Kingdom Government.

As regards the exchange of information with the United States, as the House knows, every effort has been made to establish the closest possible contacts and relations, but the matter is governed by legislation in the United States.

We have had no approach from the United States Government about these tests but if we should receive any requests for observers to be present I have no doubt that we should be very happy to discuss with them arrangements for reciprocal facilities.

Mr. Bowles

Is it the intention of the Government to send the right hon. Gentleman or some other senior Minister out to this place to see this explosion?

Mr. Sandys

There is no such plan. I have seen it said in the papers that the fact that I and other Ministers are going to be in Australia in the autumn is connected with these tests. There is absolutely no connection.

Mr. Bowles

Will the right hon. Gentleman change his mind?