HC Deb 24 July 1929 vol 230 cc1381-402

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £100,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for a Grant-in-Aid of the National Radium Trust.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Greenwood)

I hope that with this Vote we shall pass from the stormy atmosphere of art to the serener atmosphere of science. I do not imagine that this Vote will create any amount of controversy. It is an inheritance which has come to me from the late Government, and relates to the provision of radium. The purpose of the Vote is to provide for a grant in aid of the National Radium Trust, subject to a maximum of £100,000, based on £l for every £l of voluntary subscriptions; for augmenting the supply of radium for use in the treatment of the sick and in the advance of knowledge of the beet method of rendering radiological treatment. The money will be expended by the National Radium Trust under the terms of a Royal Charter incorporating that body. Hon. Members will remember that earlier this year there was published the Report of a Sub-Committee of the Civil Research Committee, dealing with the question of radium, and that Committee recommended that steps should be taken to ensure the acquisition of an additional 20 grammes of radium element by instalments for medical purposes.

The sub-committee suggested that the necessary sums might be raised by the Government in part, and partly by public subscriptions on a £l for £1 basis. They suggested also that a body of trustees should be appointed to hold the fund, and to purchase and hold the radium; and that another body, the Radium Commission, should be appointed to deal with the distribution, allocation and use of radium, having regard both to treatment, to economy in use of radium, and to research developments. In the days of the late Government, on 16th April the Chancellor of the Exchequer informed the House that the Government had accepted the financial recommendation of the radium sub-committee, and were prepared to contribute from public funds a sum not exceeding £100,000, providing £1 for every £l raised by private subscription, the money to be devoted to the purchase of the additional radium which the subcommittee felt the nation required. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer explained his view that there would be little difficulty in raising the money by public subscription. An appeal for a National Radium Fund was made over the signatures of many eminent medical men and other people towards the end of April, and in addition to that the Thanksgiving Fund for the King's Recovery was also associated with it, and as a result more than £100,000 was raised by public subscription in a short time. Parliament, accordingly, is now asked to make its maximum grant of £100,000 to put with the sum obtained as a result of the public appeal.

The recommendations of the Radium Sub-Committee were accepted in principle by the late Government, subject to further consideration on matters of detail. Since that time a consultation has taken place with the leaders of the various branches of the medical profession, and certain minor changes have been made in the proposals of the sub-committee. It was finally thought to be expedient to appoint the Radium Trust and the Radium Commission through the instrumentality of a Royal Charter, and a Royal Charter has now been received from the King empowering us to establish the Trust and the Commission. The Trust is the body which will hold the money and will be responsible for the actual ownership of the radium. The Commission will be the body responsible for its custody, its care and its utilisation. The Radium Trust will be constituted substantially in the manner suggested in the report of the Radium Sub-Committee and is to consist of the Lord President of the Council, who will be chairman, the Minister of Health, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the President of the Royal Society, the President of the Royal College of Physicians in London, the President of the Royal College of Surgeons, England, the Chairman of the Central Liaison Committee for Voluntary Hospitals in Scotland, the President of the Royal Society of Medicine and the President of the British Medical Association. The Trust are also required to co-opt two medical members of the Commission, and may co-opt not more than three other persons. That matter is now under consideration, and it will, as I have explained, be the function of this body to accept and to hold the funds which have been subscribed and to purchase the radium.

The Radium Commission which, as I have explained, will be responsible for the actual custody, distribution and the use of the radium, will consist of a chairman, to be appointed by the Trust; four members nominated by, respectively, myself, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Medical Research Council and the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research one each; and six members having special knowledge and experience of the application of radium in the treatment of the sick. These six persons are to be appointed by the Trustees from a panel of 12, who will be selected by the heads of the medical profession named in the Royal Charter. This week there will be held a meeting which, I understand, will select the panel of 12. Within a few days a preliminary meeting of the Radium Trust will be held, and arrangements are being put in hand as rapidly as practicable under the circumstances. It is quite clear, as these bodies have not yet formally met, that there may be some little delay in getting the scheme fully into operation. The radium, has to be purchased and purchased under the most advantageous terms. The Commission has to consider what are the best ways, the most effective ways, in which the radium can be used; but my Noble Friend the President of the Council and I have been very anxious that the matter should be put into operation, and within a day or two the Trust will hold its first meeting.

Hon. Members will have seen from the Estimate that the Vote is to be accounted for by the Ministry of Health, but the expenditure of the grant-in-aid will not be accounted for in detail by the Comptroller and Auditor General. By the terms of the Royal Charter, the accounts of the Trust and of the Radium Commission are to be prepared in the form and manner and audited in the fashion that the Treasury may direct, and the Radium Trust are required, if the Treasury so desire, to furnish to Parliament reports and audited financial statements relating to the work of the Trust and the work of the Commission. I undertand that the Treasury propose to ask the Auditor General to audit the accounts of the National Radium Trust and the Radium Commission, and to direct the Trust, as it has power to do, to furnish an annual report, including its audited financial statement, together with the audited report and the audited financial statement of the Trust itself, to Parliament, so that in that way Parliament will be able to keep ultimate control over that part of the Fund which has been raised from public sources. There is little more which I need say. I can only hope that the arrangements which are now being made will make effective use of this additional supply of radium which I hope and trust will be in the hands of the Radium Commission at the earliest possible date.


The right hon. Gentleman has favoured the House once again with a very clear and concise statement, and I think the House is fully seized of the arrangements contemplated in connection with the expenditure of this money. It is a very vital and important matter. I think, everyone will agree that the expenditure of this considerable sum of money represents a substantial step in the campaign against one of the most distressing maladies known to mankind. Unfortunately, the cases of cancer in this country are on the increase, I am afraid, and up to the moment no investigation has been able to show what is the real cause of the disease; but I think it will be generally agreed that radium is certainly one of the most hopeful forms of treatment to-day, and in this country the demands for it are increasing and urgent. I think the expenditure of this money is attended with a certain amount of difficulty, because radium is found in only very few spots in the world and is a very costly substance indeed. If any hon. Member has taken the trouble to read the report of the Radium Sub-Committee, he will find there an examination of the number of places where it is possible to obtain radium at the present time. One is almost driven to the conclusion that the money which is to obtain some 20 grammes of radium for this country will, if the radium is to be obtained immediately, have to be expended in one country, which is practically the only country which is supplying radium in any quantities to-day, and that is Belgium—it comes from the Belgian Congo.

I can only express the hope—I am afraid I cannot say more, because under the terms of the Charter the purchase of the radium is to be left to the trustees—that the greatest care will be used and the greatest vigilance exercised in order to avoid anything in the nature of undue demands in the matter of price being made upon this country. It is perfectly true that in this report references are made to radium being discovered in certain parts of the British Empire, but at the present time it does not appear as though any of this money can be spent, immediately at any rate, in any part of the Empire. Perhaps whoever replies to this debate will be able to say whether anything further has been heard as regards the possibilities of Australia, because I notice that on page 15 of the report it states that the question of the radium resources of Australia are engaging the attention of the Commonwealth Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.

It would be a great blessing to mankind, and desirable also from the point of view of expenditure, if radium in any quantity were found in Australia or in any other part of the British Empire, or, for that matter, in any other part of the world, because undoubtedly the trustees are in the position of having to obtain this quantity of radium for the people of this country while there is only, as far as I can see, one source to which they can go, and that does suggest awkward possibilities as to the price. I do not for one moment say, because I have no evidence of it, that there is anything in the nature of a hold-up in this connection. When we hear of the large prices which are being demanded for radium it is perfectly right that we should recall that the process of extracting radium is a very expensive one. I suppose considerable capital has to be sunk, and the substance itself, when obtained, never needs replacing, and the cost of extracting it is very high. Those things should be remembered. I notice in the report that various statements have been made by the responsible authorities, and it may be possible that some better arrangement will be made for obtaining radium. A suggestion has been made that the purchase of radium should be entrusted to the League of Nations, who should purchase it for other countries besides our own. That may be an ideal which we shall reach some day, but in the interval the urgency of obtaining radium for this country is very great, and I shall support this estimate, believing as I do that it is the only practical way of obtaining a supply for this country at the present time. I should like to know whether there is any prospect of more radium being produced within the British Empire itself. I hope the expenditure of this particular sum will arouse a good deal more interest and attention as to the possibilities of radium than has hitherto been given to it.

It is a matter of regret to read in the report that, while it is perfectly true, for instance, that the best radium practice is as good in this country as in any other country, certainly we are not leading the way in developing this treatment, and such countries as Sweden and France are ahead of us in the provision they make for the treatment of people who are suffering from cancer. I hope we shall not remain much longer in a secondary position in regard to this matter, quite apart from the expenditure of this money. When we are voting this considerable sum, may I suggest to the Minister of Health the advisability of increasing the number of surgeons connected with radium treatment. Not only do we want a good deal more radium, but we want a good many more skilled people to administer it. One can readily see that radium is a double-edged weapon, and, if it is not used skillfully, it can undoubtedly bring tremendous mischief in its train. At the same time as we require more radium we require more skilled people to treat it. I have been asked to put a question to the Minister, and it is that when the distribution of radium is made there will be fair treatment so far as the various hospitals up and down the country are concerned. I have no doubt that will be done.

I know, having regard to the amount of radium available, that up to the present time there has been a great waste going on, and I think the various kinds of diseases likely to be successfully treated by radium should be concentrated in certain centres. This would allow a great saving to be effected. One has to recognise the various individual interests of hospital associations, and I am afraid, in many respects, that what I have suggested may be somewhat difficult in practice. In France, they have a dozen special centres for the treatment of various diseases by radium. In that way, they are able to save a good deal of waste, and they are able to use radium more frequently to the advantage of the people than we are able to do, because our centres are scattered and down the country among a large number of institutions. I am very glad that this Estimate has been presented, and I am sure it will meet with approval in all parts of the House. This is a practical means of acquiring a sufficient amount of radium to meet the immediate needs of so many people who are suffering from cancer, and who very often are needlessly suffering from this terrible disease. I am sure that no one in this House would desire to challenge the expenditure of a sum of money which will do so much to relieve, and, we hope, in many cases cure, a very large number of people who are suffering from a very terrible disease.


I hope the Committee will agree with the terms of this Supplementary Estimate, because the terrible need for more radium is constantly being pressed upon me. Like a good many other members of my profession who are dealing with cancer, I am constantly finding that I need radium for the treatment of my patients, and it is very hard to obtain it. Yesterday morning in hospital I saw a good many cases of cancer and for two of them I needed radium. I asked the radium officer at the hospital with which I am connected how soon a supply of radium could be obtained and he said, "Not for a month in either of those two cases." That means that while these cases are waiting, and I am waiting to carry out the proper method of treatment, the disease must be steadily advancing. The same thing applies to other hospitals. To-morrow morning I hope to be using radium for the treatment of cancer, but I have had to wait 20 days to obtain the necessary supply commercially.

I am quite sure that every hon. Member of this House wishes to see this country keep its place in scientific advancement of medicine as well as in other subjects. It is with regret that I have to agree with what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) to the effect that during the last few years a much greater advance had been made in radium treatment in Sweden and France than in this country. Anyone who makes inquiries as to why this is the case will find that the Government of France possesses no less than 31.5 grammes of radium which it allocates to various treatment centres, whereas as far as I know the Government of this country, through the Medical Research Council, possesses not more than 2.4 grammes. Some two years ago I had occasion to investigate the results of radium treatment of cancer of one organ of the body which involved the results of an experience of some 15 years. When I came to look carefully into these results, I was obliged to confess how unsatisfactory they were. Good has undoubtedly been done by treatment in some cases, but I could not point with certainty to a single patient that had been cured. But to-day things are very different. During the past two years extraordinary advances have been made, and now we are able to do with radium things which we never dreamt were possible two or three years ago. Now in the opinion of many surgeons it is better to treat a good many forms of cancer, even in their early stages by radium rather than by cutting away the growth, because the radium treatment leaves the condition of the patient much more like the normal. We have to remember the terrible ravages of cancer at the present time. It is a fact that no less than 54,000 people died of cancer in this country in 1927. There is no doubt that a good many of those lives might have been saved had there been a sufficient supply of radium in this country to give them the necessary treatment.

Treatment by radium is not a simple thing, because it requires experience and research. The recent improvement in this and other countries in this kind of treatment is the result of research. In my opinion the advances made in this country have been due to a very large extent to the exceedingly wise use which the Medical Research Council has made of the 2.4 grammes which the Government placed in their charge. Efficient treatment by radium means two things; in the first place it means that there must be careful, painstaking research and secondly pooled experience. When these two things are combined together, we shall get the advance which we all desire to see.

7.0 p.m.

I see in the terms of this Supplementary Estimate that the Government are prepared to give pound for pound for that collected by voluntary subscription up to £100,000. I cannot help saying that I wish the Government had undertaken a bolder policy. The shortage of radium in this country is, it seems to me, a national disgrace. To give help and hope and a fair prospect of a cure to those suffering from the dreadful disease of cancer, appears to me to be a national duty. I should have liked to have seen the Government shouldering this duty completely and to leave sufferers from cancer even to the extent of 50 per cent. to the whims of private charity, seems to me to be a misfortune. The Government have decreed otherwise. I hope the House will support this Estimate because, as far as it goes, it is a good one, but I hope that the next time the Government deals with the sick of this country it will be willing to go the whole way.


I rise to put the position of the provincial hospitals in this matter, and I should like an assurance from the Minister of Health that the provincial hospitals will get equal treatment with the London hospitals in the distribution of radium. They have a very strong claim, because the general taxpayers of the whole country have contributed £100,000 towards this fund, while a large part of the money voluntarily subscribed has also been subscribed by people living in the provinces. The last speaker mentioned that, when he inquired whether it would be possible to get a supply of radium, he was met by the answer that one month must elapse before the radium could be supplied. That shows what a great danger there is, if the radium is concentrated entirely in the London area, that, the provincial hospitals may find themselves without the necessary supplies for the immediate treatment of cancer cases. What will be the position of provincial hospitals when they come to buy radium themselves out of the moneys which they have themselves raised locally? Will they have the right to send the funds they have raised to the central commission and to ask the commission to buy for them? It has been mentioned that there is only one source of supply, from which radium can be obtained at the present time, namely, the Belgian Congo, and it follows that this powerful buying agency, the central commission, will force up the price against the buyers representing the provincial hospitals unless those hospitals can get that body to buy on their behalf. Have they the right under this scheme to send their own contributions to the central commission and to get the commission to buy for them?

The Minister dealt with the question of how the members of the Radium Trust and the Radium Commission will be nominated. I take it that the London hospitals will be represented on both bodies. If that be so, I should like an assurance from him that the provincial hospitals will also have a representative on the Radium Commission. I do not know whether the central commission has the power to make any free grants from the central fund to provincial hospitals who are administering their own-funds or indeed to any of the other hospitals; but, if the central commission has that power, I should like an assurance that the provincial hospitals will be treated pari passu with the London hospitals. The provincial hospitals do not ask for different treatment from the London hospitals but for treatment on exactly the same footing and that, in any grants of radium which may be made from the central fund, they shall receive exactly the same treatment.


I want in a very few words to express my disapproval of the dimensions of this Vote. We are told that 54,000 people die of cancer every year. That represents something like one in seven of the deaths, which means that seven out of every eight of us here in this House now are not going to die of cancer. But, if we happen to be born under an unlucky star, one in eight of us is going to die of that painful malady, one of the most painful known to medical science. We are going to vote £100,000 for this purpose when we have just voted £106,000 for pictures. How much radium will it buy? It costs £1,500 to supply the radium necessary for the best treatment, and that means that £100,000 will pay for treating 66 women. I have it on good authority that the cost of the radium salts used surgically on the breast is £1,500 compared with £800 for the brain, and £120 for the tongue. When we think of the number of people who are now suffering from cancer, we must realise that we are not even scratching the surface of the problem. I believe that not one person in 50 who ought to get the treatment is getting it. £100,000, and we pretend that we are dealing seriously with the evil! It is just one-eightieth part of the price of a modern Dreadnought. If we had any sense of proportion, we would realise it was more necessary to spend money on radium than on Dreadnoughts.

This £100,000 is not merely for radium salts, but it is to provide for the advancement of knowledge of the best methods of rendering such treatment. This is what we are going to take for research work as well. It does not pay individual surgeons to invest their time and money in learning how to use radium. There were two twin radiologists who decided not long ago that they would commit suicide, because they could not afford to carry on. There is a surgeon in Manchester who, if he had devoted his time and his very great abilities to an ordinary practice, would have made a large income, but that man, after investing his best abilities and his capital, is rewarded by poverty, and the hat has to go round in order to provide him with the ordinary necessities of life. It is a positive disgrace and a shame that our real benefactors, the men who are doing something to make this world less a home of agony, cannot provide for their bread and butter in their old age or ill-health. Sir Ronald Ross, perhaps the greatest benefactor of the human race now alive, is dependent on the mercies of charity. If the House knew what the real requirements were, what a terrible disease this was, and how more and more people were getting this disease, we would be glad to spend much more than £100,000 on research work and on the purchase of radium.

As to the supply of radium, I would remind the Committee that in 1904, long before the deposits of uranium were discovered in the Congo, radium cost from £2 to £4 per milligramme. In spite of the fact that the process is enormously simplified, the price in 1928 was over £11 per milligramme. I suggest that the Government might think in terms of controlling its own supply, of investing money in securing a source of raw material by buying the areas where pitch blende exists, and thus getting radium perhaps at a less price than in 1904 instead of at the present price of £11 per milligramme. If we could reduce the price of radium by applying the machinery of Socialism, we would benefit not only the people of these islands but the whole of the human race. I am particularly glad that my first effort in this House has been to speak a few words on a matter which I consider to be of overwhelming importance, and I am very sorry that the Government have not seized the opportunity of spending much more money on research and on securing the indispensable radium salts.


The Committee generally will welcome the proposal now before it. There is no greater service the House can perform than to take practical steps for the alleviation of pain and suffering. I, like the previous speaker, deplore the fact that the Minister proposes to set a limit of £100,000 upon this expenditure. After all, private individuals outside are raising a large sum, and the least we can do is to say that we are willing to give pound for pound up to any sum the public may care to subscribe. I hope that it may be found possible to make some more generous provision in that direction. I would like to ask the Minister one or two questions. What steps are being taken to stimulate research and to increase the supply of this very necessary commodity? Is a report to be submitted to this House, will it be an annual report, or will it be incorporated in the Report of the Minister of Health? We want to have the facts and figures brought to the attention of the House so as to stimulate interest in this question and obtain support for any future grants that may be asked for.

Commander BELLAIRS

The Minister of Health has given us a very full account of this Vote, but I would like to ask him one question. He told us about the Radium Trust and the Radium Commission. He is a member of the Radium Trust, and he also nominates a number of members of the Radium Commission. As he presented this Vote, will he answer questions concerning the operations of the Radium Trust and the Radium Commission? Several speakers have dwelt on the great possibilities of radium, and have shown that this is a matter of life and death to people in all countries. It is for that reason that, from time to time during the last two or three years, I have asked the question whether this matter is going to be referred to the League of Nations. Hitherto, up to the time of the Report of the Radium Sub-Committee, I have been told to await that Report. I want to know from the Government whether they will actively bring this question of radium before the League of Nations, because it is obvious, from the speeches that have been made, that a virtual monopoly is held by the Belgians in the Belgian Congo, and they are able to dictate what supplies shall be given to the world and what prices shall be charged to the world. This is not an ordinary question of a monopoly, like an industrial monopoly. It is not like the monopoly of helium in the United States. It is a monopoly of something which is required by medical science and research in every nation in the world, and, if a nation in any way puts monopoly prices on it, every endeavour ought to be made through the League of Nations to bring that nation to reason, and, if necessary, that nation must be pilloried before the whole world.

As regards the remarks of the hon. Member who spoke from below the Gangway, the sum is a small one, but it is a beginning. I imagine that it is about £230,000, including the amount subscribed by private individuals, and everyone well knows that, as experience is gained, we shall probably spend a great deal more. But we gain our experience gradually as to what is required, and this Radium Trust, and the Radium Commission especially, will focus attention in a way that has never been done before; and I have not the slightest doubt that before long the State will be contributing something in the neighbourhood of £1,000,000. It is far more important that we should get this question settled at the League of Nations as soon as possible, and that we should, through the machinery of the League, pool research work and experience throughout the world.


I should like to support what the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) has just said, and I want to say a word or two from the point of view, not of the distribution of radium, but of its production. The hon. and gallant Member has just reminded the House, and the Sub-Committee point out in their Report, that radium is a monopoly, and that there is only one reliable source of supplies, namely, the Katanga mines in the Belgian Congo. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has mentioned a Belgian company, but it does not necessarily follow that it is entirely con-trolled by Belgian people. As he probably knows, the list of directors shows one or two names of well-known British people. I notice, in reading through the Report, that the Sub-Committee go out of their way to express thanks to the manager of the Katanga mines for information supplied to Lord Rayleigh, the chairman of the Sub-Committee. Nothing is said in the Report, however, as to whether any information was given to Lord Rayleigh as to the reason why Radium Belge considers it necessary to sell radium on a sliding scale.

The prices charged at the present time by Radium Belge, who hold the monopoly, are £10,000 per gramme to European countries, £12,000 per gramme to Great Britain and some Colonies, and £14,000 per gramme to America. I think that probably the principle is that, the more money you have, the more you have to pay. It would have been interesting had Lord Rayleigh discovered from Radium Beige why they find it necessary—there is no secrecy about it—to impose a sliding scale of prices for this commodity. We hear a great deal in this House, and probably will hear much more before this Parliament is over, about irreconcilible views concerning Capitalism and Socialism, concerning production for profit and production for use, and there will probably be many stirring Debates on that subject, but there is one point upon which I think everyone in the House will agree, and that is that, if anyone exploits the element radium for private profit, his name should be "Mud." It seems to me to be a terrible thought that any company or any individual should be making large profits from a precious commodity for want of which many lives are being lost.

I am speaking only as an ordinary layman who has no medical knowledge, but is interested in the production of radium, but to my mind the recommendations of the Sub-Committee—and I think the hon. and gallant Member will agree with me—do not altogether complete the subject. After you have read the Report and the recommendations of the Sub-Committee, you still find that you have somewhere to go, you find that you are left in the air with the thought that radium is a monopoly in the hands of one company. The Committee recommend that: Steps should be taken at once to ensure the acquisition by instalments of 20 additional grammes of radium element for medical purposes. They point out that there is approximately a little over 20 grammes in this country at the present time, and that we ought to have about 45 grammes, and so they recommend that steps should be taken to obtain 20 additional grammes. They state in several places in their Report that, if they could purchase or place an order for 20 grammes at one time, they would be able to obtain, the element more cheaply. I do not quite know what reason the Sub-Committee have for thinking that they will be able to obtain it more cheaply, seeing that the commodity is exceedingly rare, and is, as has already been said, in the hands of a monopoly at the present time. Presumably the Sub-Committee are taking steps, or very soon will take steps, to purchase 20 additional grammes of radium.

Then they propose, as the Minister of Health stated, that a body of trustees should be set up with three objects—first, to hold the funds; secondly, to purchase radium, and, thirdly, to appoint a Commission. The Minister of Health dealt with the list of persona whom it is proposed to constitute, in a few days as I gather, the National Radium Trustees. I am not going to take any objection at all to the list that has been given, but, if hon. Members who are interested in the matter will go over the list for themselves, they will see that the National Radium Trustees are going to consist, if I followed my right hon. Friend aright, of:

  • The Lord President of the Council;
  • The Minister of Health;
  • The Secretary of State for Scotland;
  • The President of the Royal Society;
  • The President of the Royal College of Physicians of London;
  • The President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England;
  • The Chairman of the Central Liaison Committee of Voluntary Hospitals in Scotland;
  • The President of the Royal Society of Medicine;
  • The President of the British Medical Association;
and two other members to be co-opted; and I think he added, although it is not in this Report, three more who were to be co-opted. The point which I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to reply to, if she can, or take into consideration, is that this list of persons who are to be the National Radium Trustees includes no one at all who has any qualifications to deal with what I think is the very vital question of supplies. Are these Trustees going to buy radium from the monopoly, Radium Belge, at its own price, and are they going to be content with that and make no further efforts to obtain any more? The Minister stated in his opening speech that three others might be co-opted, and I hope that advantage will be taken of that to put on to the Board someone qualified to deal with the very vital question of where we are going to get the supplies of radium from.

That brings me to this further point, that, if this is going to be the success which I am sure everyone in all parts of the House and in the country wishes it to be, the National Radium Trustees will have to have further powers beyond those suggested in this Report, and I should like to give the reasons, from the Sub-Committee's own Report, why it is absolutely necessary that they should acquire further powers. The powers that I suggest should be granted to them are powers of research and of aking steps to try to discover new sources of supply. They have no such powers at the present time. The Sub-Committee recommend that: A body of trustees should be appointed entitled the National Radium Trustees, whose duty it should be to hold the funds provided by Parliament or otherwise and to purchase therewith and hold radium for use by the Radium Commission "— that is to say, the Radium Commission referred to in a later paragraph of the Report. I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary that, if she looks up the records, she will find a question that I asked in the last Parliament in an endeavour to ascertain whether it is proposed that the Trustees should have such powers as I suggest. I think that an extension of their powers will be required, and, if hon. Members will turn to page 19 of the Report, they will find, under the heading "The Cost of Radium," this statement: It must be borne in mind that in most cases radium has only been detected after a period of prospecting more prolonged and expensive than is usually necessary in other forms of mining. Who is going to do all this prolonged prospecting and exploring and mining? Obviously, one cannot expect people to go drifting about the world and spending large sums of money on prospecting, which is a very speculative business. Here is another statement: From our survey of the sources of radium production it will be seen that at the present time practically the whole of the world's annual production of radium comes from the Katanga mines in the Belgian Congo. Radium has been and is being worked in this and other countries, but at the present time such production as still continues is very small and cannot be regarded as affording a possible source for the supply of radium in any considerable quantities. Again, indications of radium have been detected in different parts of the Empire (namely, in Australia), and in some cases the existence of promising deposits is claimed. It may be that further prospecting may ultimately show that in some cases these claims are well founded.

The question to which I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give some consideration is, by whom is further prospecting to be done? Is it to be left haphazard, to anyone who may be sufficiently interested, to go drifting about where there may be rumours, or is it going to be turned into a financial business—are we going to have companies floated on the Stock Exchange, with statements that radium is going to be discovered, and rushes of people first to one spot and then to another? It seems to me that it surely ought to be possible to give some powers to the National Radium Trustees to engage in research. The sub-committee go on to say: The position is, therefore, that, if it were decided to make forthwith any considerable addition to the stock of radium available for medical purposes in this country, the only means of doing so would be by purchase from the Belgian producers.

It will be seen that time and again we come back to the same point which was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Maidstone, and which I am endeavouring to press the Parliamentary Secretary to take into consideration. We come back every time to the point that this is a monopoly held by the company known as Radium Beige, that they charge their own prices, and that the finding of other alternative supplies is being left entirely to haphazard methods. If those interested in this matter will read the Report of the sub-committee, they will find there a list of places within the Empire, such as the Union of South Africa, New South Wales, Western Australia, India and Ceylon, where there is reason to think that radium may be found. The position is that this Committee will do well to pass this Vote, and I am sure it will be passed unanimously, but I want to urge the Parliamentary Secretary not to be content to let the question rest where it is, but to see whether there is time, even at this late hour, to give the trustees an extension of their powers in order to enable them to assist research and to assist in a further search, particularly in parts of the British Empire where it may be possible to find further supplies of this very valuable and life-saving element. It seems to me it would be foolish on the part of the House of Commons to let this matter rest where it is at present, or merely to leave it to haphazard chance discoveries to obtain sufficient of this valuable element.


I would remind the Committee that, when this Government took office, we found this matter in a very advanced stage. The charitable had already subscribed large amounts, the constitution of the two Committees had already been decided, and a sum of Government money, under the conditions already described, had been promised. The hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Hastings) spoke to us with full knowledge of the great need of additional supplies. I do not think that the House or the medical profession or the sufferers themselves would have thanked us if we had held up the scheme for six months in order to get a better scheme. Our immediate duty was clearly to subscribe this £100,000 and to get the machinery, which was almost ready for work, into action at the earliest possible moment. It is true, if we were starting this matter again, probably, like many others, we could suggest a better machine, but to scrap a machine which is practically in working order would, I think, be very wrong. A good deal of discussion has centred round the question of prices and the purchase of radium. The main business of the Trust is not the holding of money, but the purchase of Radium at the best possible prices. We should not have needed so many experts, and we should not have needed so many members of the Government, and the possibility of co-opting three experts if there was not a great deal of business of this kind to be done. The expenditure of public money will be one of the main responsibilities of the Trust, and they will explore all possible sources, and by the very fact that there will be one big buyer instead of a number of little buyers, they are far more likely to be able to obtain this substance at reasonable prices. The hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. Morrison) mentioned Australia, and he read out a long report with regard to possible sources of radium. May I remind him that the report comes from the Committee for Civil Research, who were themselves anxiously exploring every avenue, and with regard to the possibilities of radium in Australia, the Commonwealth Government are themselves considering and discussing the matter. I think, therefore, the House must exercise a little patience, and we shall be in a very much better position to judge with regard to prices when the Trust has been functioning for some little time.

I will try to deal with the great number of questions that have been asked. The right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) asked a question again with regard to the supplies of radium in Australia. I will only tell him again that the matter is engaging the earnest attention of the Commonwealth Government. He wanted to know what were the prospects of more Australian supplies. I can only answer that my hon. Friend must wait until the Commonwealth Government can throw a little more light on the question. He and the hon. Member for Chester (Sir C. Cayzer) were very anxious that there should be a fair distribution of radium between hospital and hospital. The object of the Commission will be to secure not only a fair division, but a division which will ensure the most profitable and continuous use of radium. That is the primary purpose of the Commission that is to be set up, to secure; an equitable distribution, and the best distribution, of radium. This substance is capable of continuous use, and it can be used far more profitably if we can concentrate treatment in centres able to take a sufficient number of patients so as to secure continuous use of the remedy.

With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Reading, it is calculated that the money available—about £284,000—will purchase about 17 grammes of radium, and it is the opinion of the experts in the matter that we shall have as much as can be used at present, for our present difficulty is not so much the purchasing of radium as acquiring a sufficient number of persons, medical men and assistants, who are capable of handling this substance. This matter is at present engaging the earnest attention of my right hon. Friend, and he hopes to be able to make some announcement on that question of training medical men and assistants. With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Haycock), he is a little in error in regard to the cost of a single treatment by radium. This substance is almost eternal.


I made this statement, that the value of the amount of radium salts necessary for treatment of cancer of the breast was £1,500 and, if you divide that into 100,000, it means that you can treat just 66 cases of cancer of the breast at one time, and my authority is the director of the Radiological Research Department.


I really think there is some mistake about that. The point is that the quantity of radium needed to treat one case may be £1,500, but you could go on with the same little pin head of substance treating case after case. That is, I think, the mistake into which the hon. Member has fallen. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maidstone (Commander Bellairs) asked who will answer questions on behalf of the commission. Speaking off-hand and without consulting the authorities, the Lord President of the Council is the chairman of the Trust, and I should think in all probability he will be the person charged by Parliament with answering these questions. To conclude, this machinery may not be the machinery which many Members would have liked; but a machine has been set up, it is just ready to function, the great bulk of the money has been supplied, and in quite a short time this beneficent work may begin. I therefore ask the Committee not to insist upon alterations at present. When the Report has been made which has been asked for, and which might very properly be issued by the Minister of Health, the House will have a great deal more information before it and will be able, in the light of that information, to make really helpful suggestions.

Commander BELLAIRS

With regard to my question, we cannot get at the Lord President of the Council in this House. Who is the representative of the Lord President of the Council in this House if we want to ask questions?


I am not quite certain, but the House will be under no difficulty in obtaining information.


The hon. Lady has omitted one important point, namely, the steps to be taken to get the League of Nations to move in the matter.


That is a subject that is engaging the attention of the League already. I cannot at this moment say exactly what precise steps my right hon. Friend will take.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.

Committee to sit again To-morrow.