HC Deb 23 October 1961 vol 646 cc561-5
38. Mr. Mason

asked the Lord Privy Seal to what extent Her Majesty's Government have protested against the new series of nuclear and thermo-nuclear tests being conducted by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; and what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government regarding future tests by the United Kingdom.

51. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Lord Privy Seal what proposals are to be made in the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of Her Majesty's Government with regard to the officially announced Soviet 50-megaton test explosion.

Mr. Godber

On 31st August, when the Soviet decision to resume nuclear testing was announced, my noble Friend made a statement strongly condemning this decision: his statement was communicated officially to the Soviet Government. At present there are no plans for the resumption of British tests but in view of the nature and extent of the recent Russian tests, Her Majesty's Government must reserve the right to consider whether further nuclear weapon tests by this country should be carried out.

Denmark and several other countries have sponsored a resolution appealing to the Soviet Union to refrain from making a test explosion of a fifty megaton bomb. Her Majesty's Government fully support the resolution put forward.

Mr. Mason

Will the hon. Gentleman, in addition, strongly protest at the double-cross talk which took place in the Geneva test conference by the Russians, who at one time were talking about a test silence and at the same time were planning to break that silence? Is he not aware that the Russian 21 kiloton and megaton tests which have taken place—and I understand from a right hon. Friend that a 50-megaton test has also now taken place—represents a totality of tests which must pour radio active poison into the atmosphere double the amount of that from tests conducted by the Russians, the Americans and the British in the last series? Should we not protest strongly about that? Finally, may I say that I deplore very much indeed Her Majesty's Government considering resuming tests?

Mr. Godber

On the first point, I personally in the United Nations a fortnight ago protested most strongly on the points mentioned by the hon. Member. I did that in the First Political Committee. On the second point, I of course endorse what he has said about the very serious nature of these tests. I understand that there has been an additional test today. Whether it was a very large one I am not yet aware, but these tests amount to a very serious matter indeed. On the final point, of course we want to get a halt to this testing, but it has been shown that a moratorium has failed completely and if the safety of the West is in danger because of this we must preserve our freedom of action.

Mr. Henderson

May I ask if the Government share the views, officially expressed by the United States Government, that the explosion of a 50-megaton bomb by the Soviet Union can have little military value and that its main objective is to terrorise world opinion? If the Government agree with that view, how do they think that their moral position will be strengthened by indicating this afternoon that they themselves contemplate resuming tests?

Mr. Godber

The American statement that there was no military advantage in that test did not, as I understand it, apply to the whole range of tests, from which, clearly, the Soviet Union must have gained quite a lot of technical knowledge which could be dangerous. I think that the position of Her Majesty's Government is quite clear. Is it suggested that we are merely to continue with an uncontrolled moratorium, and with an undertaking that we should continue that to an unlimited extent, when it has failed in the past to get the treaty which we want? What we want is a treaty for the cessation of tests under control. I think that we must do it in that context. We are anxious to go back and to obtain that treaty, but until we do that it is not right that the West should hold itself completely bound to things which the Russians have held themselves free to break.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Minister tell us when we may expect the statement promised by the Prime Minister about the level of radiation which may have been reached? Has he seen the statement in the Press that in Norway already it is alleged that a danger level has been reached? Have any further representations been made on that matter?

Mr. Godber

The statement to which the hon. Member refers will be made tomorrow. When it is made we shall be in a better position to judge the effects to which the hon. Member refers.

Mr. G. Brown

As we have the Leader of the House with us, in view of the serious nature of this matter and the number of Departments concerned, will he arrange that the statement made tomorrow will be made by a senior Minister speaking for the Government and not, as forecast by the newspapers, by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry for Science?

Mr. Macleod

There have been a number of reports from different countries in the last hour or two of a very large disturbance indeed. We do not know whether this is the explosion of the 50-megaton bomb which has been mentioned. I am sure that the House wishes for information at the earliest possible moment. We shall, of course, make a full statement, and it will be made by a senior member of the Cabinet.

Mr. P. Williams

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are many people in the House and outside who welcome the Government freeing their hands on the matter of tests?

Miss Lee

Will Her Majesty's Ministers keep in mind that the explosion of these tests represents a serious reverse for Mr. Khrushchev's thesis of co-existence? Will they bear in mind that he is fighting a battle inside the Communist camps of the world? When they are considering their reply to Mr. Khrushchev, perhaps they would keep in mind the difference between the Chinese thesis, which considers a third world war inevitable, and the Khrushchev thesis, which was trying for co-existence, and they might then see that these nuclear tests represent inside Russian diplomacy a reverse for Mr. Khrushchev, which is a reverse for us, too.

Mr. Godber

I realise that all sorts of implications can be read into this, but I do not think that it is appropriate for me to carry them further at Question Time today.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Stonehouse, Private Notice Question.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

On a point of order. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I give notice that I shall raise the matter at the earliest possible moment on the Adjournment.

Mr. Lagden

In order to allay the fears of many millions of people in this country, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, through you, Mr. Speaker, to let the House have any information which may come to him concerning this bomb within the Sitting of the House today?

Mr. Speaker

The Leader of the House has stated the Government's intention of making a statement tomorrow. I cannot assist the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Lagden) any further.

Sir Richard Pilkington

On a point of order. May I call your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that an hon. Member is reading a newspaper?

Mr. Speaker

No doubt it is concerned with business, otherwise he would not be doing it.