Hydrogen Bombs

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Commerce – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th January 1959.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper 12:00 am, 29th January 1959

asked the Prime Minister whether it was with his authority that plans for increasing the British stockpile of hydrogen bombs have been recently disclosed and estimates given of the number required; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

There have been no disclosures, with or without my authority.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Is the Prime Minister aware that this statement, published in the Daily Express last Monday, purports to have the authority of an unnamed defence spokesman behind it for the disclosure which it claims to make? Is he aware that this is one of a large number of such apparent claimed exposures on very highly worrying and important subjects in the last few months, and that every attempt to get discussions with Ministers on these subjects in this House is flatly refused? Does not he think it wrong that these spokesmen for the Departments should apparently have an altogether different approach to the question of publicity on these matters from that of Ministers in this House, who take refuge all the time in secrecy?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

No, Sir. The statement made does not by any means bear the interpretation that the right hon. Gentleman gives. I think it was Lord Melbourne who observed that in the course of a long life he had found that everything he had read which was asserted to be on the best possible authority was seldom, if ever, true.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

If the Prime Minister would bring his researches a bit further forward than Lord Melbourne, and if I hand him a cutting, and some others if he wishes, will he undertake an inquiry— [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—yes, indeed —an inquiry to establish which official adviser of the Ministry of Defence was responsible for claiming to have authority to disclose these figures of H- and A-bomb stocks?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

No, Sir. These were not disclosures, they were assertions in a newspaper, and I am not going to be led into making statements about matters which I regard as of great importance from the security point of view by unauthorised statements in a newspaper. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman was too old a hand to be caught by that.

Photo of Mr Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South

Is the Prime Minister aware that nobody is asking him to make off-the-cuff statements? What we are asking him to do is to behave a little more courteously to my right hon. Friend and to take a little more seriously than he appears to do evidence of unauthorised statements made by civil servants. Will he please at least have the decency to look into this matter?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I think that if the right hon. Gentleman were to read these carefully—and I have read all these extracts—he would know that it was not civil servants who made these unauthorised statements; it was journalists.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

In the interests of opinion abroad, is not it necessary to draw the attention of the Press Council, for instance, to the undesirability of newspapers attributing—that is the whole point—statements of this sort to official authorities? It is not the nonsensical rubbish which these yellow newspapers produce, but the fact that they attribute their rubbish and their mischievous statements to official channels.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I do not want to be extreme in this. I take what I call the middle way between the extreme view of the right hon. Gentleman and the views of other right hon. Gentlemen about the value of the Press.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the whole House understands the equilibristic agility with which he maintains the middle way? What we want to know is what is the middle in this case.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

The statements were not authorised, and I am surprised that so experienced a right hon. Gentleman should pay so much attention to them. I am glad to say that this is the kind of statement which the Press has no right to make. Undue importance should not be given to them.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

In view of the Prime Minister's repeated assurance that this was not an authorised disclosure, is not it peculiar that when I first referred to it, he asked for the cutting, as though he had not seen it? The cutting specifically claims that Civil Service defence advisers made this disclosure last night. It is that into which I am asking him to inquire, and to do something about it. This has happened not in an isolated case, but on many occasions, and Ministers are never ready to tell us whether they are right or wrong.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

The expression "disclosed last night" is an expression which does not attribute it to anyone in particular. It is a method of covering what was meant to be a good journalistic story.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

Has the Prime Minister seen the report of a statement by General Norstad that, while it is necessary for N.A.T.O. to have atomic weapons, it is not necessary for individual countries within N.A.T.O. to have them? Will he, therefore, say whether the Government intend to prevent the accumulation of hydrogen and atomic weapons by individual nations? Whatever statements about the present situation are made, are we to see this accumulation of these weapons by individual nations continue indefinitely?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I have not seen the statement. If the hon. Gentleman will send it to me or put it on the Order Paper. I will study it.