HL Deb 13 November 1962 vol 244 cc548-50

3.38 p.m.


My Lords, I think it might be for the convenience of the House if we left for a moment the mushroom cloud of Scottish Law and if I now replied to the Private Notice Question which was put to me earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson.

My Lords, this is the text of an Answer given by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to a somewhat similar Private Notice Question which was put to him in another place. The Answer is as follows: "An underground nuclear test in connection with the British nuclear deterrent took place in Nevada by courtesy of the American authorities last March. We have for some months been planning another test which is necessary to develop the results of the scientific experiment in March. Owing to the heavy pressure upon the facilities at Nevada we have not been able to arrange this, as I had hoped, in the early months of the autumn. It will, however take place in the next few weeks.

" As the Minister of Defence pointed out, this is in no sense of the word the beginning of a new series. The House will recall that together with the American Administration we observed a voluntary nuclear moratorium for a period of nearly three years. The Russians resumed testing in the autumn of 1961 and, after careful discussion with the President during my visit to Bermuda, I agreed both that the American tests were necessary to defend the strength of the free world and that we would put Christmas Island at their disposal.

"The Russians have announced that they will end their series of atmospheric tests on November 20. The President of the United States announced on November 4 that the present series of atmospheric tests in the Pacific were ended but that underground nuclear tests free from fall-out were continuing in Nevada.

"During the whole of this period we have made one underground test and we propose to make one more in Nevada, both in connection with our deterrent. I am only too anxious, as is the President of the United States, to enter into an agreement either for the banning of atmospheric, under-water and outer space tests, or still better for a complete banning of tests, including underground tests, under effective international control and verification."

My Lords, that is the text of the Prime Minister's Answer.

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Viscount the Leader of (the House for repeating in this House the statement which has been made by the Prime Minister in another place, but I should like to ask him whether he is not aware that the Prime Minister, in his letter to Mr. Khrushchev on October 28, expressed the view: that we should be able to reach an early conclusion of an agreement about the banning of tests of nuclear weapons … He went on—and I want to emphasise these words—to ask Mr. Khrushchev to take the action necessary to make all this possible. Is the noble Viscount the Leader of the House aware that on November 7, a few days later, Mr. Khrushchev stated that this was a good moment for talks on ending all tests? Does the noble Viscount agree, therefore, that in the interests of the success of such talks it would be wise at least to suspend the projected underground test in Nevada?


My Lords, I think I am aware of all the circumstances to which the noble Lord referred. The fact remains that the Americans are now continuing underground tests, as they have publicly announced; the Soviet Government are continuing their atmospheric tests at least until November 20. Obviously if by any chance it were possible to complete and sign a treaty forthwith, we should be prepared to reconsider our position; but I hardly think that our own single and rather belated test underground is likely to loom so large in the world situation as the facts to which I have drawn attention.


My Lords, if within a few days or a week or two the Geneva Nuclear Test Conference resumes its work and then in the middle of those discussions—because the noble Viscount said it would be in the next few weeks that the Nevada test will take place—that test took place at a time of delicate negotiation, does he think that would be helpful to the conclusion of a successful agreement?


My Lords, I think that is hypothetical. I know that the tests of the two great Powers are proceeding on the lines I have indicated, and as long as that is the case I think my Answer stands.