HC Deb 16 June 1955 vol 542 cc757-9
54. Mr. P. Noel-Baker

asked the Prime Minister whether he has considered the evidence, which is in his possession, confirmed by Dr. Willard Libby, of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, and by Dr. Ralph Lapp, formerly one of the Commission's chief physicists, that the so-called hydrogen bomb exploded at Bikini was, in fact, a radically new type of bomb, the fall-out effects of which may cover 100,000 square miles, and may last for two months, and that such bombs of almost limitless size may now be made at relatively low cost; and whether, in the light of these facts, he will propose at the Geneva Conference next month that all tests of thermo-nuclear bombs shall be suspended while the United Nations discussions on disarmament are going on.

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the reports to which the right hon. Member refers and the suppositions which are made with regard to the effects of the thermo-nuclear bomb exploded at Bikini. These statements are, of course, based on theoretical calculations, whereas the Report issued by the United States Atomic Energy Commission on 15th February this year is based on actual measurements of effects and observed phenomena. Among points of difference is the size given for the contaminated area. The Commission's Report states that about 7,000 square miles were contaminated by fall-out—a large enough figure—and not 100,000 square miles, as asserted in the Question.

With regard to the last part of the right hon. Gentleman's Question, I am sure that he will understand that I cannot anticipate the proposals which may be made at the forthcoming Conference in Geneva.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is it not the fact that a member of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Libby, has now confirmed the statement made by independent scientists some time ago about the nature of this new and much more dangerous bomb? That being so, would it not be wise to listen to the warnings of these famous scientists about the long-distance genetic dangers of continuing tests? Is the Prime Minister aware that an American scientist, Dr. Miller, has estimated that perhaps 80,000 people have already suffered harmful genetic effects? Will he not at least put forward this proposal?

The Prime Minister

I entirely agree that this is a matter the seriousness of which cannot be lost sight of at any time. But it is arguable whether this is the best means of conducting any discussions which we may have about a disarmament conference or whether there are not proposals of a slightly more far-reaching character which would give the world a greater measure of security.

Mr. Strachey

Does not the Prime Minister realise that if only he would make it the policy of Great Britain to obtain some sort of standstill arrangement on further tests, he would get an overwhelming amount of world opinion behind this country? Does not he further realise that, even apart from all questions of the contamination of the atmosphere, which may or may not be taking place, an agreement even of this limited character would be taking one step in the direction of nuclear disarmament which would be valuable, and that it is practical because it is self-policing?

The Prime Minister

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have given a great deal of thought to this matter over the last year. It is a question of whether, in an attempt to get a disarmament agreement, this is the best way to set about it, or whether there are not other proposals which would be more effective.

Mr. A. Henderson

In addition to the obvious advantage of waiting for the result of this conference which may further the long-term objective of disarmament, would not the Prime Minister agree that the different opinions expressed by the various scientists in this and other countries only strengthens the case put forward for an independent investigation by scientists under the aegis of the United Nations? Why cannot we have such a scientific investigation?

The Prime Minister

I think that that has been discussed before, and there are certain difficulties, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows. There is the extent to which some scientists, from some countries at any rate, would in fact have the kind of independence to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred.