HC Deb 25 July 1929 vol 230 cc1553-6

2. "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."

First Resolution agreed to.

Second Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

4.0 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I do not want to delay the House, as we have made such very good progress, but I would like to put one or two questions on this matter to the representative of the Minister of Health, or perhaps my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General would be good enough to answer them, as I know he takes a great interest in this matter, and is one of those who have noticed with great alarm the short supplies of radium in this country and its increasing price. I know also that he is aware of the vital nature of the problem, and how necessary it is to meet it. The point which I desire to make, and which I do not think was covered during the Committee stage yesterday, is that sooner or later it will be necessary for international action to be taken to conserve and distribute the supplies of this vitally necessary medical substance, and, furthermore, to prevent undue increases in its price. In the time of the last Government, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) and the late Minister of Health set up the Sub-Committee on whose Report this Estimate is based, and I know that they were exercised about this aspect of the question. You may at present have one Government competing against another. Already the Australian Government have taken steps to purchase £130,000 worth of radium. The Swedish Government have purchased a number of grammes, the Greek Government have done the same, and now His Majesty's Government have also taken this necessary action. Sooner or later you will have one Government competing against another, and the price will rise. In the most friendly way to my right hon. Friend I would ask him to continue the inquiries which were, I believe, put in hand by the Ministry of Health before, and have this very important aspect of the question explored. I throw that out only as a helpful suggestion. I followed this matter during the last Parliament. There will be general agreement as to its very great importance, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to have the necessary inquiry pursued.

Captain BOURNE

There are two questions I want to put to the Minister. I am sure everybody in this House agrees as to the desirability of this Estimate, but I notice that in his speech he referred to the accounts of the Radium Trust, and also, I thought, of the Radium Commission, but on that point I was not quite clear. The money now being voted, together with that raised by private subscription, will purchase, I understand, 17½ grammes of radium. Is it intended, in the first place, to buy radium straight off, or very rapidly, or is it intended to invest some of this money in buying radium bit by bit? The second question I want to ask is, whether the Radium Trust or the Commission intend to be a profit-making body, letting out the radium, or does it intend to make free grants to the hospitals? If they are to be free, I do not quite see what accounts can be laid before this House, and, purely from the financial aspect, we are entitled to some explanation from the Minister.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)

On the question of radium supplies, I should imagine that the Trust will be only too anxious to cooperate with any other nation to get its supply at the lowest possible price. That is a problem which is causing anxiety, not only to us, but to other countries as well.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I suggest that the question might be explored through the very excellent machinery of the League of Nations, especially the health section, which, I believe, is most efficient.


I am considering that question now. The health section of the League of Nations has already had radium under its notice, and has just recently published a highly technical report. On the matter of radium accounts, the accounts will be laid before Parliament. The difference is that they will not be accounted for in detail by the Accountant-General, as in the case of ordinary Departmental accounts, because, strictly speaking, part of the money is not public money in the ordinary sense; but the Treasury will require both the Trust and the Commission to present annual reports and accounts, to be audited by the Auditor-General, and Parliament will have as full information as it could have in the ordinary way. On the question of the purchase of radium, the matter is one, of course, for the Radium Trust, but the general idea was to purchase by instalments. If we go into the market to buy £250,000 worth or more of radium, obviously we might easily put up the market against us, and a great deal of care will have to be taken. I imagine the procedure will be to buy in a favourable market. It is not proposed that the Commission should operate at a profit. Of course, local hospitals will not be given radium; they will be lent the radium, which will continue to be held legally by the Radium Trust. It is proposed to make a small charge for the loan of the radium towards the cost of the administration of the scheme, and it is in that respect primarily that the accounts of the Commission will come before the House.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.