HC Deb 16 April 1957 vol 568 cc1743-6
45. Mr. Beswick

asked the Prime Minister what was the distance of observers from the explosion used as a premise for the Government view that it is now possible to detonate a hydrogen bomb without detection.

47 and 48. Mr. Mason

asked the Prime Minister (1) if he will state the technical reasons which make it impossible to detect a thermo-nuclear test explosion;

(2) what new techniques have been developed which make it impossible to ascertain the facts about a thermo-nuclear test from a distance of 1,000 miles.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I cannot add to what I said in the debate two weeks ago, that if a deliberate attempt were made to run a test explosion in such a way as to avoid detection it would almost certainly be successful. As regards the techniques which make this concealment possible, it would not be in the public interest to add to what I said in the debate.

Mr. Beswick

Does not the Prime Minister agree that it is palpably incorrect to say that some explosions cannot be detected, since one can hear any noise, provided that one is near enough to it? Is he aware that well-qualified people have worked out that a network of 400 observation posts over the globe could detect any detonation, even of the old-fashioned type which I saw way back in 1946? In the light of that fact, will he drop this alibi as an excuse for not trying to get agreement on the abolition of tests?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir; I will do my best to answer any technical questions that are put to me, but I must ask the House to forgive me if I do not try to do so on supplementary questions. In a prepared speech, or to Questions which are put down, I try to give an answer based on the advice given to me by my advisers. Since I am not a scientist, indeed, I am almost the only person in the House who is not a scientist—[Laughter.]—I do not feel that it is quite fair to the House, or fair to me, to try to do otherwise. If any Questions are put down, and, in conformity with the public interest, I can answer them, I always try to do so, or to do so in prepared speeches, but I hope that I may be excused, because sooner or later, if I get into this range of supplementaries, I am sure to make a mistake.

Mr. Mason

I hope that the Prime Minister will make quite certain that he is not misleading the House on this matter. He will remember that his predecessor, Sir Anthony Eden, did mislead the House when he suggested that we could test a nuclear device without there being an explosion. The Prime Minister must be very careful that he is not misleading the House on this matter. If it is true that a "clean" bomb has been developed, could not the Prime Minister give some thought to getting international agreement on the lines of banning polution of the atmosphere by strontium 90 and other lethal particles following all nuclear bomb tests?

The Prime Minister

The last part of what the hon. Member said obviously raises important points, and if he will put down a Question, I will do my best to answer it.

Mr. Stokes

I do not know why the Prime Minister makes so much mystery about this. Is not the truth of the matter that one of the two reasons to which the Prime Minister referred the other day is that while it would be made aware to the world that an explosion had taken place, nobody would really know what the explosion was? I at least know about that and any man who studies it can, if he takes the trouble.

The Prime Minister

Even that supplementary question makes me still more cautious.

46. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether the Government will initiate discussions now with the Governments of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United States of America on the question of securing an international agreement for the banning, as opposed to limitation, of nuclear explosions.

The Prime Minister

The problem of banning nuclear tests is included in the various disarmament proposals now being discussed with representatives of these Governments in the United Nations Disarmament Sub-Committee.

Mr. Henderson

Did not the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary recently indicate that they were seeking to achieve an agreement for the limitation of tests? What I am asking the Prime Minister is whether the Government would now take the lead in stating that they would be prepared to seek agreement to ban tests without waiting for a general disarmament treaty. Is not the Prime Minister's attitude influenced by the recent statement of the United States Government that they would be prepared to agree to the banning of all future nuclear weapon production as from March, 1958?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. and learned Member has raised an important point. On Monday, 1st April, I gave the House as full an account as I could, and I think that on the next day the Secretary of State answered Questions on this matter. Tomorrow I will try to take the matter a little further and see whether I can give a more comprehensive account than I was able to give then.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that in order to find out exactly what the Opposition want in regard to these tests we shall have to wait until their leader returns from his present trip abroad?