HC Deb 21 March 1963 vol 674 cc564-9
Q1. Mr. Mayhew

asked the Prime Minister if he will now recommend to President Kennedy a fresh British-American initiative to reach agreement on a nuclear tests ban.

Q5. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the new deadlock at Geneva, he will now discuss with President Kennedy and Mr. Khrushchev compromise general disarmament proposals drawn from the best of the United States and Soviet disarmament plans.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I am in frequent communication with President Kennedy on important matters of common concern, and our two delegations at the Geneva Conference are in constant touch. The records of the Conference show the many initiatives we have taken. Our aim is to seek areas of common agreement in which progress might be possible, but this should be done by negotiation at the Conference.

Mr. Mayhew

Granted that the Russians' attitude towards tests is very hard to define, may I ask whether the possibility that they would violate an agreement reached on their terms is very much greater in practice than the possibility that they would violate an agreement reached on our terms? Is it necessarily worse for us to run this risk than to run the risk of not reaching agreement at all? Therefore, would the Prime Minister give us an assurance that before he allows these talks to fail he will use all his influence with our American friends to reach a compromise agreement?

The Prime Minister

I take note of the first part of the supplementary question and I think that it is a relevant consideration. On the other hand, what we hope to reach is an agreement which one would assume would not be violated. The only question is to what extent in number and in character these inspections are necessary. We feel that they are necessary. The Russians have accepted that, and that is an advance. We must now try by every possible means to get agreement both as to numbers and the conditions under which inspection takes place.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not most unlikely that any progress on general disarmament will be made at Geneva as long as there are two major disarmament plans before the conference? Would it not be possible to invite the United Nations Secretary-General to produce a compromise plan drawn from the best of both the United States and the Soviet disarmament plans?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman's proposal would require the agreement of the parties, but I see great merit in what he has suggested and I am quite ready to look into the matter further. What we had rather hoped was that the conference would make a combination of the agreed elements of the two plans, but if there is other machinery for getting it put in a simple form I will certainly look into it and see whether we can proceed in that way.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware that on Tuesday we had an exchange about the tests ban and the House is content to leave that matter where it was then left for Geneva? On the more long-range general multilateral disarmament question, we have had these two statements from the United States and the Soviet Union, and the Foreign Secretary said in another place a year ago that he thought that it was possible to introduce a compromise draft which would reconcile the various points. Could the Prime Minister say whether Her Majesty's Government have produced a compromise plan which they are prepared to table at Geneva as an alternative to the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) for leaving it to the Secretary-General of the United Nations?

The Prime Minister

What my noble Friend said at Geneva on 20th March last year was that the conference, rather than Her Majesty's Government, should select subjects of agreement from the two plans and frame procedures for them. That, unluckily, has not happened, although I think that it ought to be possible. I think that the method suggested by the right hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson) is a method of procedure which might commend itself to the conference.

Mr. Wilson

Perhaps the Prime Minister did not quite take my point. Since the Foreign Secretary was quite hopeful in thinking that the gap was not unbridgeable, on which we on this side of the House, after close study of the matter, would agree with him, and since it is a year yesterday since the noble Lord said this, does the right hon. Gentleman not feel that the British Government during that year should have tabled an initiative before the conference so that what the Foreign Secretary said could have been realised? Does the Prime Minister not feel that just occasionally the British Government should take an initiative in disarmament, which, on the whole, they have not done?

The Prime Minister

It is very easy to take an initiative if one wants to strike an attitude, but I am much more interested in seeing whether we can get this settled. The suggestion made by the right hon. Gentleman, which I will study, has the advantage that it appears to come from a neutral source. It has been suggested that if the Secretary-General could not do it, perhaps the eight neutral countries themselves, which have a kind of middle position, could do it. I am only anxious to take whatever course is most likely to promote the ultimate agreement.

Q6. Mr. M. Foot

asked the Prime Minister what recent information he has received from the United States Government about the effects of the high-altitude tests conducted from Johnston Island; and to what extent the United States Government have, following the statement made by him on 8th May, 1962, kept the British Government and British scientists fully informed on the matter.

The Prime Minister

As I told the House on 24th January, a considerable number of reports have been received from the United States Government. Exchanges of this kind are part of a continuing process. In addition the United States Government and other observers have now published a great deal of information about the effects of those tests, as can be seen from recent scientific literature, and more can probably be expected as studies of the observations continue.

Mr. Foot

Does not that reply conceal the fact that the latest information from the United States is that it was Sir Bernard Lovell in his country who was right on the effects of the high altitude tests and that most of the scientists in America and the Government's own advisers have been proved wrong? Is it not also a fact that Dr. Van Allen, whom the Prime Minister cited on his side when he gave the reply on the date mentioned in the Question, has now changed his opinion and accepts the view of Sir Bernard Lovell? Does not the Prime Minister think that it would be gracious if he paid a compliment to a British scientist for his superior knowledge in this matter?

The Prime Minister

It is true, as I understand it, that Dr. Van Allen has somewhat changed his view from that which he expressed before, which shows the great complexity of this problem. What we are dealing with is not tests which are made from Christmas Island or over which we have any control. They are tests made by the United States Government in Johnston Island and on which, by courtesy, we have been consulted and informed as to the probable effects and the actual results.

Mr. H. Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman really must not dodge this. Is he aware that all the Questions on which he stalled in answering last year were based on our knowledge that the rainbow tests were from American territory, not Christmas Island, and therefore we asked him to look into the scientific effects. Everybody knew that it was not Christmas Island.

Is the Prime Minister aware that Professor Van Allen has not "somewhat" changed his attitude; he has admitted that he was totally wrong, which is a different thing. We on this side of the House asked the Prime Minister a year ago whether he was satisfied about this and quoted against him a number of eminent British scientists, and the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion sided with Professor Van Allen and against the British scientists. Will the Prime Minister now have the same grace as Professor Van Allen and admit that he was wrong?

The Prime Minister

I admit that I have to weigh the information that is given to me. Sir Bernard Lovell took a certain view which has proved to be correct in this respect, which I gladly accept. Dr. Van Allen changed his view. Professor Fred Hoyle's view is given in an article which states: In predicting the effects of space explosions you had to solve four equations "— and this is Professor Hoyle's remark— 'but they cannot be solved unless you simplify them'. If you simplified them wrongly your predictions would be wrong". It seems to me that that is what has happened. In fairness to the American Government, I should say that as soon as they discovered that the first test on 9th July had a greater radiation than was predicted the subsequent tests were changed and were made at lower altitudes and had lower yields.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Whilst I appreciate that we cannot undo what has been done, would my right hon. Friend now consider asking the President that before the Americans consider carrying out any further experiments of this nature they should at least consult, perhaps, Sir Bernard Lovell and some other British scientists as well and put them in touch with the American scientists who advise the President?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I feel sure that I could give that undertaking. I am quite sure that the United States authorities would be very willing to receive all the information they could. What one hopes is that there will not be these further tests—there certainly cannot be for a considerable time, because we all know that even if the worst happened there is a long period while one series is being evaluated and another planned. What I should like to concentrate upon is somehow to find, as I believe is the wish of the House, a way in which certainly these atmospheric tests and, I hope, all tests can be done away with altogether.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware that the whole House will agree with what he has just said about our hope that all tests, whether American, Russian or anyone else's, will now be done away with altogether and that this is the most important question? Since, however, it is possible for eminent scientists, and even Prime Ministers, to get their four equations wrong, as has been proved—

Sir C. Osborne

And future ones, too.

Mr. Wilson

All of us must try to get our four equations right—may I ask the Prime Minister whether he could consider and, perhaps, report to the House later upon the advice which he now has about the extent of the duration of the disturbance of the upper atmospere? It is obviously much longer than some experts and the Prime Minister thought a year ago. Has he an estimate to make of how long it will remain deranged?

The Prime Minister

Without apologising more than I ought to do for any misstatement which I may have made—because these are very difficult matters to deal with, except with the advice which I have to draw upon, which is that of the official advisers to the Government—I would say that there is an immensely complicated series of questions. As I understood him, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Sir C. Osborne) thought that whichever of my colleagues should succeed me as Prime Minister might suffer from the same disadvantage. Meanwhile, however, if the right hon. Gentleman will give me notice of the precise question or put it down, I will do my best to get the best answer I can.

Mr. Callaghan

When is the Prime Minister going?