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Nuclear Tests

Volume 656: debated on Monday 26 March 1962

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asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will initiate proposals at the disarmament talks for a ban on all nuclear tests than can be detected by means of existing instruments on the territories of the Powers involved.


asked the Lord Privy Seal if, following improvements in detection methods, Her Majesty's Government will support proposals for banning all nuclear test explosions in the atmosphere which can be detected by existing means.

This is not simply a problem of detection. It is necessary also to locate and to identify. The number of natural seismic events occurring annually in the Soviet Union alone may run into hundreds. We need, therefore, to have a capability to distinguish between natural events and nuclear tests, and to verify what has occurred in cases of doubt. Our present state of scientific development does not by itself provide this but we are continuing intensive research. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the hon. Gentleman the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) on 13th March, we are seeking to reach agreement on the whole problem and not just part of it.

Is it not a fact that national stations are sufficient to identify the overwhelming majority of tests and that the Soviet Union has offered to conclude a treaty banning all those tests which are identifiable by national stations? Would it not be a good thing for us to take up this offer as a starting point, particularly as President Kennedy said at his Press conference the other day that a test ban treaty would do more for the security of the West than any resumption of nuclear tests?

We are very anxious to conclude a treaty, and I have been engaged in these discussions in Geneva only last week. I know the great difficulties, but unless the Russians are prepared to agree to some kind of verification we cannot agree to a treaty which would provide no safeguards.

Would not the common sense approach be to agree first on the easier issue of detectable tests and use that as a basis fox a wider agreement? What is stopping that?

There is no agreement between the two sides on what is detectable. My noble Friend only last week appealed to the Russians if they had any knowledge of what was detectable to come forward. We have asked them again and again to let us have scientific information and they have always refused.

In view of the bad faith shown by the Russians in the recent moratorium, would not my hon. Friend agree that we cannot jeopardise our national security by agreeing to something which we cannot verify ourselves?

Yes, Sir. This is one of the real problems which has forced us to insist on verification.

Were there not proposals for verification by neutrals, and what was the reply?

We put forward proposals ourselves at the end of last August, and we have repeated them now, that there shall be a considerable proportion of neutral representation in any inspecting team. The Russians have replied that they will not accept any inspection team on Soviet territory on any conditions whatever. My noble Friend pressed them only last Friday.

It has been suggested that it could be done by neutrals alone. Has that been put forward? If so, what was the reply?

The offer put forward was that half the team should be neutrals. We have had no counter-offer. My noble Friend has pressed the point in Geneva, but we have had no indication that inspection teams of any kind would be acceptable to the Soviet Union.