HC Deb 02 April 1957 vol 568 cc25-9W
53. Mr. Beswick

asked the Prime Minister which Department will be responsible for issuing invitations to foreign observers to attend the hydrogen bomb tests at Christmas Island; which Department will be responsible for ensuring that any invited observers attend the tests; and by what authority action will be taken against uninvited observers who position themselves three and a half miles outside the waters around Christmas Island to prevent them from observing the tests.

The Prime Minister

Invitations have been issued by the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry of Supply is responsible for the conduct of the tests, including the arrangements for the accommodation of observers. As for the third part of the Question, it is normal practice to declare a danger zone.

59. Mr. Brockway

asked the Prime Minister what is the scientific evidence on which was based the reply sent by Her Majesty's Government to the Japanese Government on 23rd March assuring the Japanese Government that the hydrogen bomb tests on Christmas Island will not involve any danger to Japan.

The Prime Minister

The known effects of nuclear explosions, and the fact that the tests are taking place some 4,000 miles from Japan.

64. Mr. Lewis

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make the necessary arrangements for a delegation of Members of Parliament to witness the forthcoming nuclear weapon test by Great Britain, such delegation being selected on a ballot principle similarly to that in use for Private Members' Bills and Motions.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply I gave yesterday to the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes).

74. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware that nuclear tests contaminate fish, marine plants and seaweeds; that such contaminated fish, marine plants and seaweeds travel hundreds of miles; that they infect other fish, marine plants and seaweeds; that such infection is dangerous to people who eat such contaminated fish, marine plants or seaweeds; and what steps Britain, either alone or in conjunction with other nations, is taking to protect the British people from such contamination and infection.

The Prime Minister

Provided that a nuclear explosion takes place in areas remote from populated territories and an adequate danger area is declared for the period of the tests, any localised deposit of radioactive matter is so diffused by the normal dispersal action of currents and winds, as well as by the natural decay of the bulk of radioactivity emanating from the explosion, that any possible danger to human health is negligible.

Radioactive contamination of fish, marine plants and seaweeds can occur only in the immediate vicinity of the explosion. The chances of any contamination going outside the danger area, or continuing after the termination of the danger period, are negligible in the case of tests conducted by the United Kingdom. There should be no contamination of fish from the high air bursts proposed for our forthcoming tests.

98. Mr. Awbery

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will publish the terms of the Japanese note requesting Her Majesty's Government to suspend its nuclear tests near Christmas island.

Mr. Ian Harvey

Two Notes requesting Her Majesty's Government to suspend their forthcoming nuclear tests have been published by the Japanese Government, and I am arranging for copies to be placed in the Library of the House.

100. Mr. Owen

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what communication he has received from the Japanese Co-operative Fishermen's Association concerning the proposed hydrogen bomb test at Christmas Island; and what reply has been sent.

Mr. Ian Harvey

Two telegrams and a letter from the Federation of Japan Tuna Fishermen's Co-operative Association, requesting suspension of the forthcoming tests, have been received by my right honourable Friend the Prime Minister. The reply to these communications sent by Her Majesty's Embassy in Tokyo is as follows:


I am directed by Her Majesty's Ambassador to acknowledge the receipt of your communication (a) addressed to the Prime Minister of March 11, 1957, (b) with its enclosure dated February 14 for transmission to Her Majesty's Government, protesting against the nuclear tests in the megaton range to be held in the Pacific this year.

In reply, I am to state that Her Majesty's Government have taken account of the anxieties expressed about the possible dangers arising from these tests, but that they are convinced that the Japanese people need have no fear that they will cause them any danger.

The tests will be high air bursts which will not involve heavy fall-out. Extensive safety precautions have been taken. A "danger area" has been declared for the period 1st March to 1st August and all shipping and aircraft have been warned to keep clear of this area. The warning has been issued far in advance so that people should be clearly aware of the position. No permanently inhabited island lies within the danger area. Weather stations, weather ships and meteorological reconnaissance flights by aircraft will provide continuous meteorological information during the period of the tests. Provided persons stay outside the danger area they have nothing to fear. The temporary use of areas outside territorial waters for gunnery or bombing practice has, as such, never been considered a violation of the principles of freedom of navigation on the high seas. The present site has been carefully chosen because it lies far from inhabited islands and avoids as far as possible shipping and air routes. It is incidentally some 4,000 miles from Japan.

It is not realistic to talk, as some people in Japan have talked, of holding the forthcoming tests in the Atlantic, where they would be likely to interfere with shipping routes, or in the extreme weather conditions of the Antarctic.

In regard to publicity which has been given to the suggestion that the tests will involve a loss to Japanese fishing interests, it has to be borne in mind that, owing to their great distance from Japan these are not traditional fishing grounds for Japanese fishermen. Any Japanese fishermen who may now regularly visit this area, have only done so in the last three or four years. Ample warning has been given of the danger area, so enabling any fishermen who may have planned to visit the area to make alternative arrangements. In all the circumstances envisaged for the tests there should be no contamination of fish.

Her Majesty's Government have declared that if any claim is received for damage or loss said to have been incurred as a result of these tests, it will be carefully examined and Her Majesty's Government's attitude will depend on the facts in each particular case.

As regards the general effects of radio activity resulting from nuclear test explosions I am to state that before proceeding with their plans to develop and test weapons in the megaton range. Her Majesty's Government went most carefully into the question of potential hazards to health and asked an independent committee under the auspices of the Medical Research Council to examine the subject.

The Medical Research Council's report 'The Hazards to Man of Nuclear and Allied Radiations' which was compiled by the leading authorities in the United Kingdom on this subject, was published in June, 1956. The Prime Minister, Mr. Macmillan, told the House of Commons on 5th March:—

'I understand that the Medical Research Council have no evidence that the amount of strontium-90 and other radio-active particles released by hydrogen bomb explosions which may become sources of internal radiation has reached a potentially dangerous level. The present and foreseeable hazards including genetic effects, from the external radiation due to fall-out from the explosions of nuclear weapons fired at the present rate and in the present proportion of the different kinds, are considered to be negligible; accordingly I am not prepared to postpone the forthcoming test in the Pacific.'

This statement was based on up-to-date advice from the Medical Research Council and the British Prime Minister, in reply to a further question in the House of Commons on 12th March, stated that the Medical Research Council was keeping the hazards to man from all sources of radiation under continuous review;

'I understand,' he said, 'that since the publication of its report last June, no reliable evidence has come to light which does other than confirm the conclusions contained in it. If such evidence should come to hand the Government will ensure that it is published.'

In conclusion I am to state that, in Her Majesty's Government's view, it is impossible to consider the question of stopping nuclear tests without having regard to the wider problem of preventing war in general, including of course nuclear war.

It has to be borne in mind that the mere banning of nuclear tests in isolation would not prevent those countries who have already tested nuclear weapons from continuing to produce them.

The cessation of nuclear tests must therefore, in Her Majesty's Government's view, be linked with the cessation of the manufacture of these weapons within the framework of a comprehensive disarmament agreement which would cover nuclear and conventional disarmament under effective control. In the absence of such an agreement, despite the continuing efforts of the Governments of the free world to achieve one, Her Majesty's Government consider it to be their duty to continue to make such nuclear tests as are an indispensable part of their development, for it is their firm conviction that nuclear weapons are the most powerful existing deterrent to major war and hence that they play a vital role in the defence of the whole free world against possible aggression. The tests planned by Her Majesty's Government for this summer are designed to strengthen that deterrent.

I am, Gentlemen, your obedient servant,

(R. W. Selby).

29th March, 1957."

Mr. G. Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will publish the correspondence he has received concerning the Japanese delegation which is being sent to London to protest against the Pacific hydrogen bomb test.

Mr. Ian Harvey

On 19th March the Japanese Ambassador addressed to my right hon. and learned Friend a Note informing him that the Japanese Government were intending to send to this country a party, headed by Dr. Matsushita, whose primary purpose would be to deliver a message from the Japanese Prime Minister to the Prime Minister here. By agreement with the Ambassador I am arranging for copies of this Note to be placed in the Library of the House.