HC Deb 15 May 1962 vol 659 cc1138-44
Q1. Mr. W. Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister what estimate has been made of the likely radioactive fall-out as a result of the United States and British nuclear tests series currently under way; and whether he is satisfied that stocks of dried milk in the United Kingdom are still adequate to meet any emergency arising from pollution of liquid milk supplies.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I would refer the hon. Member to the Answers which I gave on 8th May to Questions about fall-out. Adequate supplies of evaporated and dried milk are available for children up to one year old in the unlikely event of contamination from radio-iodine rising to a level at which they might be exposed to risk from drinking fresh milk.

Mr. Hamilton

But does the Prime Minister recall the speech he made on 31st October last when he referred to the dangers to the health of mankind, including children yet unborn? Why is the right hon. Gentleman's criticism of the current series more muted? If this behaviour goes on, the right hon. Gentleman is in great danger of being charged with hypocritical humbug. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there can be no discrimination in poison emanating from United States tests as against Russian tests?

The Prime Minister

We have discussed the general question of tests and I have answered a great number of question's on it. This Question is a matter of whether there are sufficient supplies of evaporated and dried milk available and the answer is "Yes".

Mr. Mason

On the question of fallout, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman what assessment is being made of the likelihood of a coincidental long-term fall-out of strontium 90 from Russian tests with a short-team fall-out of radio-iodine from the American tests? What estimate has been made of the radioactive fall-out on living organisms?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps the hon. Member would be good enough to put that question on the Order Paper so that I can be quite clear in my reply.

Q3. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now make a statement on the publication of a White Paper based on the scientific assessment of the efficacy of national means of control of all nuclear tests, and the need for on-site inspections for the purpose of verification in cases of doubt or dispute.

The Prime Minister

For reasons which I gave in my reply to the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) on 3rd May, I do not think that it would be practicable to publish a White Paper at this stage.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that Professor Lewis Don Leet, a noted American seismologist, told the American Academy of Arts and Science last week that he had discovered a foolproof method of detecting underground tests and had conveyed the information to the American Government? In view of this, does not the right hon. Gentleman think that Members of this House, who are deeply involved in this question of banning tests, have the right to know what sort of scientific information is being made available by the scientists of the world? Will not the right hon. Gentleman therefore reconsider his decision?

The Prime Minister

That statement shows that I was wise not to publish a White Paper last week. This science is all the time undergoing change and development. We all know that. But the point is, and we have had it over and over again, that it is not only a question of the location of instruments to discover underground tests but a question of verification afterwards whether the explosion is due to natural or artificial causes.

Mr. H. Wilson

The Prime Minister has said that he did not think it right to publish a White Paper at this stage. As soon as the Geneva Conference reports to the United Nations Assembly—which it is due to do at the end of the month—will he then consider publishing a White Paper? If he cannot produce anything definitive on the advice given him on this question—and one understands the difficulties—will he at any rate undertake to make available in the White Paper a summary of all the scientific discussions at Geneva? There is nothing secret about them, because they have to be reported to the United Nations. Will the Prime Minister undertake to publish a White Paper giving that information?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman asks for the information given at Geneva, and I will certainly consider that, just as I think I told the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) that I will see whether we can publish a White Paper of the whole proceedings of the Disarmament Conference at a convenient point. I do not think that the Conference has yet decided what its programme of work is to be.

Q5. Mr. Mason

asked the Prime Minister how many United Kingdom personnel are taking part in the American series of nuclear tests at Christmas Island; how many are scientific observers; and how many are giving practical assistance.

The Prime Minister

There are 466 United Kingdom Service men and 16 United Kingdom scientists on Christmas Island. Most of the Service men are the normal garrison, but some reinforcements were sent to help to bring facilities such as the water and electricity supply up to the required capacity. The scientists are observing the tests and are ensuring that the safety precautions meet our requirements.

Mr. Mason

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Can he say to what extent we are receiving full information on the results of each test? Secondly, in view of the fact that this is a joint enterprise—according to the numbers he has given us—will he give an assurance that if the joint enterprise is successful it will not be necessary for this country to test alone again?

The Prime Minister

I will confine myself to saying that what is agreed is that all the scientific results will be available to our country as part of the understanding between us.

Mr. Mason

What about the second part of my supplementary question? If this joint enterprise is a success, can the Prime Minister assure us that it will not be necessary for this country to test again on its own?

The Prime Minister

That depends on all sorts of things, but I should think it very unlikely. I would not lay down an absolute undertaking and bind this and all future Governments.

Q6. Mrs. Butler

asked the Prime Minister if he will instruct Her Majesty's Government's representatives at Geneva to propose the holding of a new conference of scientists from both sides to re-examine the procedures essential for detection and verification of nuclear tests.

The Prime Minister

My noble Friend the Foreign Secretary made this proposal to the Disarmament Committee as long ago as 23rd March and the United Kingdom delegation has repeated it on a number of occasions. Similar proposals have been made by the Italian and Swedish delegations. All such proposals have been ignored or refused by the Soviet delegation.

Mrs. Butler

In view of the fact that a similar conference to the one which has been suggested several times met more than four years ago to draw up the first specification for a test detection system, and since the difficulty now appears to be to determine whether scientific developments are sufficiently advanced to permit reliable test detection without the need for verification, cannot the right hon. Gentleman find some way of putting this idea forward again, more positively, so that we can get reliable and impartial scientific reports in the light of the new technical knowledge which is now available?

The Prime Minister

The proposal was made on 23rd March. On 25th April—which is not long ago—it was repeated by the Italian delegation, supported by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs. Since the Russians had claimed that their scientists had certain highly developed techniques we also hoped that all these could be pooled, in the same way as at the original meeting of scientists that we got going some years ago.

Q8. Mr. M. Foot

asked the Prime Minister what recent information he has been given by the United States Government concerning a postponement of the high-altitude tests pending a further investigation.

The Prime Minister

I understand that the tests are planned to take place several weeks from now and that in the interval continuous careful scientific study is being given to the problems that arise.

Mr. Foot

Does not that reply of the Prime Minister cast a rather curious light on the replies which he gave to the House last week? He then suggested to the House that the whole question was finally decided. Is it not the case that the President of the United States has been willing to reopen the examination of these high-altitude tests because of the protests which have come from some quarters? Will not the Prime Minister use the influence of the British Government to try to see that further and more careful investigations are made before these high-altitude tests take place? Has he seen the further statement made by Sir Bernard Lovell on the matter, which is extremely alarming?

The Prime Minister

The President said on 9th May: Whatever our decision is in regard to the Van Allen belt it will be done only after very careful scientific deliberation, which is now taking place, during this past week, and will go on for a period. I must repeat that although there is a difference of opinion about the scientific effect, which I understand, we cannot close our eyes to the very great defence importance of this experiment.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Will the Prime Minister say whether he has been able to take any further the suggestions that I put to him last week on this matter about the possibility of Sir Bernard Lovell being given access to the scientists who are responsible for this experiment? Will my right hon. Friend also bear in mind the fact that there appears to be some division of opinion between nuclear physicists and astronomers? Will he make sure that we do all we can to obtain agreement?

The Prime Minister

I will follow that up, but it is a matter for the nuclear physicists. Also, I am not sure whether we ought to interfere if we feel that the risks are acceptable, knowing, as I know, the very great importance of the defence aspect of this experiment.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Prime Minister assure the House that he will ask President Kennedy to consider the representations of British physicists before the tests are carried out?

The Prime Minister

That is being done all the time. We are advised by our nuclear physicists, who are in the closest touch with the Americans.

Mr. Shinwell

In the matter of this type of test the argument is often adduced that military advantage will accrue to the allied nations. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this House has never had a clear and logical explanation of this military advantage? Would it not be advisable that we should be informed, and that our minds should be illuminated on that aspect of the subject before the tests are proceeded with?

The Prime Minister

The other day, when I believe the right hon. Gentleman was present, I tried to explain why so much importance was attached to this experiment, knowing its effect on the whole radar and radio-communication system, on which defence depends.

Mr. M. Foot

Is it not clear from the Prime Minister's answers that the American Government are continuing investigations into these high-altitude tests in order to see whether they are safe and what damage they might do, whereas the British Government, apparently, made up their mind conclusively and finally on the matter last week, when the Prime Minister gave a definite answer? Can he tell us whether discussions have been reopened by the British Government in the past week, in particular, with such an authority as Sir Bernard Lovell?

The Prime Minister

Our scientists are in touch with American scientists. I said last week—and I adhere to what I said—that if it is decided that the defence importance of this experiment is overwhelming—as I think it is—it will be proceeded with.