Oral Answers to Questions — High Altitude Tests

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th May 1963.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Rowley Regis and Tipton 12:00 am, 16th May 1963

asked the Prime Minister whether following the launching of 400 million copper needles into space, he will propose to President Kennedy the establishment of an international agency for controlling such experiments.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

asked the Prime Minister if, following the latest space experiments with filaments of copper conducted by the United States Air Force, he will consult President Kennedy regarding the desirability of establishing international control of experiments of this kind.

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

In view of the fact that a large number of scientists, including Sir Bernard Lovell, have declared that this experiment contaminates space, is not it something in the nature of the high altitude tests which have been suspended, and is it not likely that unless some form of international control is established these experiments may well be repeated by other countries which are seeking the same objective as the United States?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

I admit that we brought to the notice of our American friends the dangers that if these were released before it was established that the satellite was in its correct orbit some harmful effects might take place on scientific research. In view of all the other difficulties, I do not feel very confident about being able to get agreement on civil international control.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Does the right hon. Gentleman's answer mean that the United States Government embarked on this experiment without any consultation with the British Government at all? Does he think that the United States Government have the right to treat the Universe as if it belonged to them—like some Latin-American State? And even if that is the position of the Prime Minister, is the right hon. Gentleman so pusillanimous that he is not even prepared to propose that there should be some international consultation before these experiments are conducted?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

We are closely informed by the Americans. This experiment has the greatest importance—or it may have the greatest significance—in one of the most important aspects of defence.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Will the Prime Minister say whether he was asked by the American Government whether he would agree to the experiment, and when he gave his consent—if he was asked—did he consult British scientists such as Sir Bernard Lovell about it?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

This experiment was first conducted in October 1961. We were in touch with the United States Government. As I have said, they have agreed that any future experiment will be so arranged that the needles are not released until the vehicle is in its proper orbit. I have been personally into what is proposed. It is an experiment which, I can assure the House, may be of very great significance in the whole system of the deterrent defence.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

May I ask whether my right hon. Friend will bear in mind that he will have very considerable support from all the leading scientists in this country and from many hon. Members on both sides of the House if he can use his influence to ensure, so far as possible, that we are not led into a sort of cold war in space involving the distribution of haberdashery all over the universe?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes, Sir. The next Question on the Order Paper deals with that to some extent. I must tell the House that so long as I have any responsibility I could not object to this particular experiment being made under the best possible conditions, for it is an important one.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a statement on the scope and terms of his communication to the United States authorities on the scientific effects of high-altitude tests.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his recent discussions with British scientists about the effects of high-altitude tests.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a statement on the effects on scientific research of experiments in space; and what steps he proposes taking in conjunction with appropriate American authorities to control such experiments.

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

My noble Friend the Lord President of the Council and Minister for Science arranged for a panel of experts to consider the scientific effects of high-altitude nuclear tests, and to report to him through the Steering Group on Space Research. Their Report is published today as a White Paper, and copies will be available in the Vote Office. A copy of the text has been sent to the United States Government.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

Have the contents of this White Paper been communicated to the United States authorities and can the right hon. Gentleman say what response there has been from them?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

The Report has just been concluded and has been sent to them. Regarding the substance of the Report, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would study it. I find myself very unwilling to answer questions "off the cuff" on the rather complicated questions which the hon. Gentleman will see when he reads the Report.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

While I am sure we are grateful to the Prime Minister for the care which he has taken to get this Report produced, does not he think that it would have been better to have had this investigation and Report produced in this House before he gave his approval to these high altitude tests instead of after they have happened?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

The hon. Gentleman knows the whole of this matter. I was asked to get this Report made. It has been made by a number of scientists, including Sir Bernard Lovell. It is unanimous. Perhaps hon. Members will study it and put down further Questions about it.

Photo of Sir Henry Legge-Bourke Sir Henry Legge-Bourke , Isle of Ely

The whole House will, I am sure, recognise the extraordinary difficulty of the Prime Minister in this matter in view of the fact that this rainbow bomb test was originally a purely American test. Is my right hon. Friend aware that he may rest assured that many people will be deeply grateful for the initiative which he took in arranging for this report? We shall want some time to consider it, but would my right hon. Friend do everything he can to reassure us that before any further tests of this kind take place, the appropriate steps will be taken with the Americans?

Photo of Mr Harold Macmillan Mr Harold Macmillan , Bromley

Yes, Sir. I think that over this matter the American Government are just as anxious as we are to proceed only with what is necessary and to have every regard to the considerations which I know are felt by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members. Therefore, I will undertake to do that. I must add that I am bound to say that the only final satisfactory end would be if we could abolish these tests altogether by all sides.