HC Deb 15 February 1962 vol 653 cc1509-12
Q6. Mr. Mason

asked the Prime Minister for what specific purpose the United Kingdom nuclear tests in Nevada are being conducted; and to what extent he has received assurances from the United States Government that there will be no radioactive poisoning of the atmosphere as a result of United States tests based on Christmas Island.

The Prime Minister

The purpose of the underground test in Nevada is to test a British development which, if successful, will establish a significant advance in our weapon technology.

With regard to the second part of the hon. Member's Question, it is not a matter of receiving assurances from the United States Government about radioactive fall-out; this aspect of the matter is one which has been carefully considered by our experts jointly with theirs.

Mr. Mason

Is the Prime Minister aware that the first part of his reply was just as vague as the original statement on the Nevada tests? Is it Her Majesty's Government's intention to test in Nevada either a tactical atomic weapon, such as Blue Water, or a trigger mechanism for Blue Steel? Or are we going there as scientific observers to see the trigger mechanism tested for Sky-bolt? Also, will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that the tests conducted at Christmas Island by the Americans from our test base will be at least as clean in fall-out as the Russian tests were?

The Prime Minister

In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I am sure that the House would not expect me to add any detail. With regard to the second part, every effort will be made, and I am quite certain that the resulting fall-out will be very small in character, certainly compared, at any rate, with the very large tests which were made by the Russians.

Mr. P. Williams

Can my right hon. Friend say that we in Britain will get a full and free flow of information from the American tests to be carried out at Christmas Island?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. As I said before in the House, under our agreements all this information is interchangeable.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Is the Prime Minister aware that it is difficult for the rest of us in the House to come to responsible decisions in the matter unless we know more about the necessity for either of these tests? There is a great horror about atmospheric tests all over the world and on both sides of the House. Unless we can be given more convincing assurances, how can the rest of us come to agreement with the Government that these tests are necessary?

The Prime Minister

That was not the point raised in the Question. The point was to give details about the underground tests. I feel unwilling to do that, and it would be wrong to do it in any great detail. With regard to the second part of the supplementary question, I dealt with that at some length in my statement a week or two ago.

Mr. Tiley

While supporting my right hon. Friend in the policy he is pursuing, may I ask whether it would not be a good thing if we changed the name of the island?

The Prime Minister

It was because that thought, curiously enough, was in my mind, and because of the deep feeling which we all have, that President Kennedy and I decided to make another effort to see whether what we call this sterile competition could be brought to an end.

Mr. S. Silverman

Have the tests contemplated by the Americans on Christmas Island or our own in Nevada anything to do with the matter which we debated a few weeks ago in an adjournment debate, namely, the threat in the United States of America to develop a new and much more powerful bomb with the added characteristic of being able to kill more and more people without damaging property? Is it in the service of that experiment that these tests are now thought to be necessary?

The Prime Minister

I gave to the House, both in November and a week or two ago, the criteria which would guide the President and myself in deciding whether these tests were necessary.

Mr. Gaitskell

Further to the supplementary question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker), can the Prime Minister say whether the Nevada test is related to weapons which we produce or to weapons produced elsewhere? Secondly, will the results of any tests be made available to our allies? Thirdly, what is the cost of the Nevada tests?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the last part of the supplementary question, I should like notice of that. With regard to the second part, under existing Anglo-American agreements all information which is obtained is interchangeable between us and the Americans. With regard to the first part, I should prefer not to give details. I will consider whether something more could be said, but I certainly would not say it without careful consideration.