HC Deb 02 April 1963 vol 675 cc242-4
Q3. Mr. Driberg

asked the Prime Minister what reply he has received from the President of the United States of America to his request that, before any further high-altitude tests take place, there should be consultation with Sir Bernard Lovell and other British scientists; on what dates these communications passed between him and the President; and on what date he first became satisfied that Sir Bernard Lovell's forecast had been proved correct.

The Prime Minister

I undertook on 21st March to consider the proposal put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke) and I have now done so.

We have for several months had under examination the question of the adverse effects on scientific research of experiments in space. We should soon be in a position to decide on the precise scope and terms of a communication to be made to the appropriate American authorities. In the meantime, I have drawn their attention to my hon. Friend's proposal.

As regards the last part of the Question, I think that Sir Bernard Lovell was more concerned to emphasise the range of possibilities and the large element of uncertainty involved than to make specific forecasts. It became evident within a few days of the explosion on 9th July that the enhancement of radiation at high level was, in fact, greater than had been predicted.

Mr. Driberg

Did not the Prime Minister give a rather more definite undertaking than he has indicated today? Did he not say, "Yes, I think I can give that undertaking"? Does what he said today mean that, on reflection, he decided not to communicate specifically, and has he had a reply to any such communication?

The Prime Minister

There was a general communication to the American authorities, but we have really gone rather better than the undertaking. We have asked a number of distinguished scientists to study together and, I hope, soon to make their report. As soon as that report is ready we shall be able, not just to call attention to the problem, but to give a very detailed and highly-skilled report on this whole matter.

Mr. Lee

According to the statement made by the Minister of Aviation last Friday, the Government are contemplating going into the space satellite business. That being so, is it not important that we should get from the Americans the undertaking for which my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Driberg) has asked? Otherwise, all our work will be vitiated.

The Prime Minister

I do not know what the scientific effect is until we have had the report, nor do I anticipate that there is any question of any fresh nuclear test explosion in high altitudes. We must also remember that the American Government are spending enormous sums of money upon their own satellite development and therefore, I would imagine, would wish to safeguard its value.

Mr. M. Foot

If it is true, as the Prime Minister has apparently just said, that it was discovered within a few days of these tests that their results were much graver than the Prime Minister himself had indicated to the House before they took place, does he not think that it would have been better had he told the House that he had been misinformed on the matter, instead of waiting for several months until Questions appeared on the Order Paper about it?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir; because the Americans immediately announced this and altered the next test accordingly.