HC Deb 22 January 1958 vol 580 cc1050-1
45. Mr. Brockway

asked the Prime Minister what action is being taken to prevent the ingestion of plutonium over neighbouring areas in the event of an aeroplane crashing on United Kingdom territory when carrying a hydrogen bomb.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)

I have been asked to reply.

The Prime Minister has already said that the risk of the ingestion of plutonium, if indeed such a risk exists at all, is very small. In these circumstances no special action is considered necessary.

Mr. Brockway

Has the right hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to a statement by a number of distinguished scientists in the New Scientist of 2nd January, that whilst the plutonium need not explode it could cause heat and scatter over considerable areas; that the evacuation of all cattle would be necessary there; that the vegetable matter would be destroyed; and that the radioactivity would persist for a long period? In view of this, would he ask for further consideration of this danger?

Mr. Butler

Certainly; we always have this sort of matter under the closest attention. I understand that the danger arises, in fact, if the nuclear material catches fire, but I then understand that the danger is more from inhalation than from ingestion. I have further examined the newspaper to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I cannot find that the information there is in advance of the information in our possession.

Mr. Shinwell

Can the Lord Privy Seal say whether any Royal Air Force aeroplanes carrying hydrogen bombs are conducting training flights over United Kingdom territory?

Mr. Butler

I understand that this matter was raised earlier in Question Time today, and I should like notice before giving a considered reply on this subject.

Dr. Summerskill

Can the Minister say whether the information he has just given to the House is that given by the appropriate committee of the Medical Research Council?

Mr. Butler

It is part of the general information at the disposal of the Government. I could not give an exact Answer to the right hon. Lady's question, but I will certainly inform her on making myself acquainted with it.

Mr. de Freitas

Can the right hon. Gentleman say that special training is given at least to Royal Air Force and civilian first-aid organisations in those areas over which these aircraft regularly fly?

Mr. Butler

That would be a very wide answer to give without being able to ascertain the facts. I will obtain the facts and give them to the hon. Gentleman.