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Oral Answers to Questions — Hydrogen Bomb Tests

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 11th April 1957.

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Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn 12:00 am, 11th April 1957

asked the Prime Minister whether he reached agreement at Bermuda that none of the bombs to be exploded at Christmas Island will be in the megaton range.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

This was not a matter which called for agreement at Bermuda.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

But would the Prime Minister answer the substance of the Question, which is whether or not our tests on Christmas Island are to be of bombs in the megaton range? If they are not to be of such a size, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why we are declaring 750,000 square miles of the Pacific dangerous to shipping and to aircraft?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

As to the first part of that Question, I think that the hon. Lady has another Question on the Order Paper which I shall try to answer. As to the second part, we have made the area very large because it is well known that it would be wise to make the area as large as to avoid any possibilities of injury.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

asked the Prime Minister whether he will give an assurance that no fission-fusion-fission bomb will be exploded at Christmas Island.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Rowley Regis and Tipton

asked the Prime Minister (1) if he will give the technical reasons for the Government's view that there will be no perceptible radiation outside the British hydrogen bomb test area; and whether he will give the extent, in square miles, of the danger area;

(2) whether the hydrogen bombs to be exploded over Christmas Island are of the type which cannot be detected.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I know that in some respects it would be helpful if the scientific information we possess on the subject of the detection of explosions could be made known, but in this respect the need for secrecy is paramount. Nor am I prepared to disclose the nature of the weapons to be tested. I did say, however, on 1st April, that I was satisfied from the medical and biological point of view that the radiation effects of these tests will be insignificant. This view is based on the nature of the weapons and the behaviour of the atmosphere and its contents.

The area of the declared zone is about three-quarters of a million square miles.

Photo of Mrs Barbara Castle Mrs Barbara Castle , Blackburn

But is not the Prime Minister aware that the House is extremely anxious about the radioactive fall-out from these tests and his refusal to say whether or not our bomb is to be in the megaton range? Is he aware that if it is to be of that size we believe that the radioactive fall-out will be serious and that if a fission-fusion-fission bomb is exploded that must be dangerous? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that he will not explode a bomb of the Bikini type?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I did my best to answer this Question and to deal at some length with the matter when we had a debate about a week ago. Indeed, as part of the defence debate, there will be a further opportunity of discussing it in detail. I cannot do better than give the replies which I have given, with the great sense of responsibility that lies upon me in this matter.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Rowley Regis and Tipton

In view of the difference between Russian and Western scientists as to the possibility of detecting nuclear explosions, do the Government propose to list their forthcoming tests, as suggested by the United States representative, Mr. Stassen, in order to make their contribution towards resolving the dispute?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's great interest in this matter. As he knows, there are discussions proceeding now in the Disarmament Sub-Committee. As he also knows, it is the custom that these should not be disclosed, but at the same time I am hopeful that the procedures which have been suggested, both by us and by our American friends, might, if they were adopted, lead to some very useful result.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

In view of the fact that a good deal of speculation has appeared already in the Press on these matters, and the fact that the Prime Minister himself has emphasised that the purpose of the test is deterrent in character, and that he has at least made the suggestion that the Russians should attend, and in view of the considerable anxiety about the dangers to health of test explosions, would the right hon. Gentleman reconsider his statement today? Would he consider authorising the Minister of Defence, for instance, to make a fuller statement in the defence debate about the nature of the tests to be made and consider going at least as far as he can consistent with security?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes, Sir, of course I would consider that and, as far as security allows, I will do everything can to give the House the full information we have. As I have said, I think that that debate, at all stages, might be a suitable opportunity for clarifying the position, perhaps on both sides of the House.

Photo of Sir Raymond Gower Sir Raymond Gower , Barry

Can my right hon. Friend say whether there were anxieties comparable to these present anxieties about the tests which have taken place in Siberia recently?

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

Without pressing the Prime Minister to disclose anything of a secret nature, may I ask whether he can say that the nature of the larger bomb that is to be tested at Christmas Island is such as to bring about practically no harmful fall-out? Is not that really one of the important parts of the test?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes, Sir; I repeat what I have said before, that I am satisfied, on the information and advice given to me, that the results of these tests will have an insignificant effect upon the dangers which we fear might become great in the course of many years if they were pursued in great numbers.

Photo of Viscount  Hinchingbrooke Viscount Hinchingbrooke , South Dorset

Can my right hon. Friend account for the fact that the constitutional opposition in the United States does not seem to be opposed to the testing of their weapons on any grounds at all?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I think the reason for that is that they already hold a majority in Congress and hope one day to be the Government, which of course does not arise here.

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

As it is difficult for the ordinary Member in this House to follow the intricacies of these nuclear discussions, and as we do not seem to be able to get substantial information from America, would the Prime Minister consider approaching the Government of the Soviet Union, who seem to be gathering quite a lot of experience on these matters?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

If I could find a suitable deputation for the purpose, I should be willing.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr William Morrison Mr William Morrison , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

Order. Mr. Gaitskell—business question.