HC Deb 15 April 1958 vol 586 cc27-32
48 and 49. Mr. Zilliacus

asked the Prime Minister (1) what proposals he intends to submit to President Eisenhower, on his forthcoming visit to the United States of America, concerning the possibility of an agreement banning hydrogen bomb tests in advance of agreement on other aspects of disarmament, and the possible date, preparation, and agenda of a Summit Conference; and

(2) whether, in view of the accumulating evidence that radioactive materials already released will damage future generations and produce leukaemia and bone cancer and of the Soviet renunciation of further hydrogen bomb tests, he will now cease British tests, and press for an agreement to banish tests with inspection posts, but not other conditions, pending agreement on other aspects of disarmament.

51. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if he has considered the decision of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union to discontinue hydrogen bomb tests; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

Her Majesty's Government have received a communication from the Soviet Government about nuclear tests to which I shall reply very shortly. Otherwise, I have nothing to add to what I told the House on 1st April. As regards summit talks, my discussions with President Eisenhower, when I see him in June, will depend on the situation at that time.

Mr. Zilliacus

Will the Prime Minister be good enough to draw to the attention of the President the fact that American scientists, such as Dr. Condon and Professor Leo Szilard, have reported recently that radioactive fall-out has already reached danger point and any more tests would be certain to cause agonising deaths to many thousands by leukaemia and bone cancer? Further, will he remind the President that the Soviet Government have offered control posts in connection with an agreement abolishing tests? Finally, will he give an assurance—[Interruption.]—I am following up two Questions—will the Prime Minister be good enough to give an assurance that the agenda will include nothing contrary to the Charter of the United Nations which forbids interference in the internal affairs of members of the United Nations, including East European members?

The Prime Minister

I think that I have heard the main parts of that supplementary question before. Unless it is a mistake of mine, perhaps I heard it on the Moscow radio.

Mr. Hughes

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a steadily growing increase in public opinion in this country wanting to see these tests completely abolished? Is the right hon. Gentleman acquainted with the fact that the Prime Minister of Japan, who has condemned both the Russian tests and the Western tests, now thinks that the time has come when the Western Governments should agree with the Russian proposal?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir; but, as I think the House as a whole feels, it is for that reason that I attach so much importance to making as rapidly as possible the arrangements which will lead to the summit meeting, where this whole question, including the question of control, can, in my opinion, best be dealt with.

Mr. Gaitskell

Will the Prime Minister then confirm that our ambassador in Moscow, together with the other Western ambassadors, will be attending a meeting on Thursday to discuss the Summit Conference?

The Prime Minister

The precise position at present is that a reply is being concerted between the three Powers to the last Soviet statement in answer to ours, and I hope that it will be delivered today or tomorrow.

Mr. Grimond

As there are a number of urgent questions which require joint action by the Western world, is there any possibility that the Prime Minister will be able to go to America sooner than he proposes and meet not only the President but other leaders of the Western world?

The Prime Minister

I think that the most important thing we have to do, as I think the House knows we are trying to do, is first to persuade the Russians, the Soviet Government, to agree to the preparatory plans for making all the proper arrangements so that summit talks may be successful. There will be necessary also, of course, as a continuing process, the preparation of the positions of the various Western Powers in order that they may speak with one voice.

Dr. Summerskill

Are we to understand that the Prime Minister does not agree that there is already a dangerous concentration of radioactive material in the Northern Hemisphere?

The Prime Minister

That is a point, of course, on which I have to follow my scientific advisers. For myself, I feel that this whole question can be satisfactorily settled only by agreement between the Powers concerned. It is for that reason, I repeat, that I always thought that the matter could be settled best by the machinery we are now trying to bring into being.

54. Mr. Mason

asked the Prime Minister if he will state to what extent there has been an increase in atmospheric radiation over this country following the recent series of Russian nuclear tests; and to what extent there has been a noticeable increase of strontium 90 on the Welsh mountains, the Scottish Highlands and the Pennine Range.

55. Mr. Swingler

asked the Prime Minister to what extent radioactivity over Britain has increased as a result of the recent series of Russian nuclear tests; and what advice has been given to Her Majesty's Government on the subject.

The Prime Minister

There was a significant rise in short-term radioactivity in the upper atmosphere late in March which may have been produced by Russian tests. This short-term activity was not dangerous. The level of strontium 90 is monitored regularly and the results made available to the House from time to time. I would refer the House to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) on this subject on 25th February last.

56. Mr. Swingler

asked the Prime Minister what increase in radioactivity over Britain is expected as a result of the forthcoming series of British nuclear tests.

The Prime Minister

Tests of the type held by the United Kingdom do not contribute significantly to the level of atmospheric radioactivity in the United Kingdom or elsewhere.

Mr. Harold Davies

Absolute rubbish.

Mr. Swingler

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is very difficult for the public to reconcile statements such as the one he has just made with statements constantly reported from reputable physicists on both sides of the Atlantic about inevitable increases in the incidence of leukaemia and bone cancer arising from the accumulation of nuclear tests? Could we not rapidly have from the Government's scientific advisers some firm information on what is the situation and whether he is right or whether Dr. Condon is right?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps one of the confusions may arise from the form of the hon. Gentleman's Question, but I answered it as it was put. This Question is about radioactivity.

Mr. Davies

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that, while there may be a lot of emotion on this question, the real truth is, whatever we may say on either side of the House, that no scientist knows what the threshold is in this matter? Secondly, will he not agree that the increase of 86 per cent. over 1938 in deaths from leukaemia needs an explanation, and will he therefore—I am asking this question with all sincerity—endeavour to give the people of Britain an accurate answer to this increase in deaths from leukaemia, not only in the Western world, but all over the world?

The Prime Minister

I understand the interest of the hon. Gentleman, the whole House and the country in this matter. I have always tried to answer these questions—of which there have been a great number—as accurately as possible, and I have taken a great deal of trouble to get the best advice I can. Question No. 56 is about the increase in radioactivity which might be likely to follow from any forthcoming series of British nuclear tests. First, the question of radioactivity is not connected with leukaemia, or any other disease, because it is not concerned with radioactivity as such. I have, therefore, answered the second Question, and the character, type and size of any further British tests are of such a kind that I am advised there would be a negligible increase in the total radiation.

57. Mr. S. Silverman

asked the Prime Minister whether, having regard to the new scientific evidence that has accumulated since the Medical Research Council published their report in June, 1956, and to the large number of megaton bombs exploded in various parts of the world since that date, he has any further statement to make concerning the hazards to man of nuclear radiation.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) on 3rd April.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the Prime Minister realise that when the Medical Research Council reported in 1956 it had experience of the explosions of only four megaton bombs? Up to today more than 50 megaton bombs have been exploded. Does he further realise that in 1956 the Medical Research Council gave a percentage which it regarded as dangerous and which had not then been reached? There is now very considerable scientific evidence to show that that percentage has since been exceeded. If there is now doubt about the scientific facts, will the right hon. Gentleman take steps to get the information up to date and to bring to an end this really damnable conspiracy of silence?

The Prime Minister

I shall try to answer that supplementary question as simply as I can. I am advised by the Medical Research Council that in its view no detectable increase in the incidence of leukaemia or bone cancer is to be expected from the nuclear explosions which have taken place up to now.