§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House take note of the Report on the Hazards to Man of Nuclear and Allied Radiations (Command Paper No. 9780).—[Mr. Turton.]
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Dr. Edith Summerskill (Warrington)
It will be recalled that last year we debated a Motion—which I had the privilege of moving—urging the Government to give further consideration to the longterm and remote effect of continuing nuclear explosions and asking that a representative conference of scientists of international repute should be convened to consider the matter. Subsequently, the Prime Minister announced that the Medical Research Council would appoint a Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Harold Himsworth, the Secretary, to review existing scientific evidence on the medical aspects of nuclear and allied radiations. This Report, which has been signed unanimously by the committee, is the one which we are to discuss today.
I believe that the importance of this debate transcends that of any other because only if we apply ourselves to the question of controlling nuclear radiation can our plans for the future have any significance at all. I should like, first, to pay tribute to those eminent scientists who have made this important contribution to our knowledge of a subject which still, in some respects, has only been touched upon.
It is difficult to believe that only twenty-five years have passed since Lord Rutherford himself expressed doubts about the possibility of obtaining the energy known to exist in the atom, and it was not until just before the last war that fission of the uranium nucleus was discovered. Even more important than the energy produced by fission was the fact the fission could be produced by a neutron which was capable of setting up a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.
Since those days events have moved quickly, and even since the last debate there have been interchanges between scientists of world repute which have added to our store of knowledge. May I direct the attention of the House to 929 the work and discussions that took place in the United Nations Conference at Geneva in August, 1955, when, on atomic energy alone, 450 papers were read and 600 were submitted and available for reference? Now that this Report of the Medical Research Council is published, we must become, if we are to take our duty to humanity and posterity seriously, more alert to the appalling potential dangers of this new form of energy.
While the committee was convened primarily for the purpose of examing the radiation hazards of nuclear weapons, it has very wisely extended the scope of its investigations to medical and other peaceful forms of nuclear energy. In my opinion—and on this subject we can speak only for ourselves because it is a highly scientific and difficult matter—the part of the Report which calls for the most serious concern deals with the effect of radioactive strontium, found in relative abundance among fission products. Strontium in the fall-out can contaminate drinking water, crops or soil where it can be absorbed by the plants.
Subsequently, man and animal will receive strontium both in their food and in their water. Strontium is easily absorbed and then stored for long periods in the bones of the body. Here it can give rise to bone tumours and, by irradiating, the bone marrow, to aplastic anaemia or leukaemia. Most of the scientific bodies who have investigated this matter support the conclusions on this subject which I shall mention to the House.
I say that the evidence that the young are more likely to develop these conditions is quite clear. One of the most revealing studies is the relationship between the radiation dose and the incidence of leukaemia, a very serious disease, in patients treated with X-rays for ankylosing spondylitis, a crippling form of spine disease.
The results compared with those recorded of leukaemia among the population of Hiroshima and Nagasaki exposed to the radiations from atom bombs provide clear evidence of a relationship between the dose of radiation and the incidence of leukaemia. The findings of the United States report and that of the Medical Research Council Committee are substantially the same about the danger of radioactive strontium in the fall-out.
930 I should like to draw the attention of the House to page 80, paragraph 4 (b) of the Report where the Committee emphasized the importance of the effect of strontium in the bone. It says:Account must be taken, however, of the internal radiation from the radioactive strontium which is beginning to accumulate in bone. At its present level, no detectable increase in the incidence of ill-effects is to be expected. Nevertheless, recognising all the inadequacy of our present knowledge, we cannot ignore the possibility that, if the rate of firing increases and particularly if greater numbers of thermonuclear weapons are used, we could within the lifetime of some now living, be approaching levels at which ill-effects might be produced in a small number of the population.In my opinion, this constitutes a most serious warning. It will be recalled that in the course of last year's debate, following a report issued by the United States Atomic Energy Commission, particular importance was attached to the genetic changes likely to ensue from exposure to radiation.
Although the committee of the Medical Research Council gave careful consideration to this and to the likely effects of doubling the natural rate of mutation and the amount of radiation necessary to produce that doubling, it formed the opinion that the knowledge available on the subject was not sufficient to enable it to come to a firm conclusion, although I think it only fair to say that in a very interesting letter to the Lancet recently Professor J. B. S. Haldane suggests that in some respect there has been an understatement of the possible genetic effects.
However, it is not for any one of us to take sides in this matter. These scientists are honest men who try to come to their conclusions, and if Professor Haldane dissents from some of the conclusions of the scientists who have served us well on this committee, it is interesting to observe his comments on the subject, but it is impossible for the layman to identify himself with one side or another.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
I checked that with a member of the Committee. Apparently it was not called upon to consider at all some of the genetic effects. The right hon. Gentleman told me last week that certain facts on this which are not before the Committee will be published very shortly.
§ Dr. Summerskill
I am quite sure that the House will welcome any more information on this important matter.
931 However, despite the insufficient material on which to base a recommendation regarding any specific dose which may be innocuous to the population from the genetic point of view, the Committee was of the opinion that the level should not be more than twice the natural background of radiation, and that it might be appreciably lower. On further examination of the various sources of radiation, the surprising result emerged that the biggest dose amounting to 22 per cent. of the natural background is received from diagnostic radiology. It must give us all cause for concern when it is realised that this dose is about five times higher than that assessed in a survey carried out in 1952.
Last month the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America published a report commenting upon this very serious aspect of diagnostic radiology. There are certain miscellaneous sources of radiation, such as the X-rays used for fitting shoes, the radiation from luminious dials, television and types of high voltage projection equipment, mentioned in the Report, all of which involve a small degree of danger, and the Committee is quite unequivocal about the shoe fitting practice and expresses the hope that it will be abandoned except when prescribed for orthopaedic reasons.
This debate will be a comparatively short one, and, therefore, I can only touch on those aspects of the matter which I think are of primary importance, but I should like to draw the attention of the House to a speech made by Sir Ernest Rock Carling last week at Brighton to the British Medical Association. Sir Ernest Rock Carling is the consultant adviser to the Home Office and the Ministries of Health and Supply, and, furthermore, he is a member of the Committee which was appointed to examine the whole question.
He spoke to the British Medical Association on "Occupational radioactivity and the general practitioner". I propose to read only one extract, and this extract is the least horrifying of certain extracts that I might have chosen from his speech, which was given in The Times last Friday. He said:The list of uses for radioactive sources in industry lengthened month by month; this meant that more and more people were being brought within its range. Geneticists feared 932 a deterioration of the average intelligence, an increase in mental disorder, and a considerable increase in the financial burden that would fall upon the healthy in maintaining the unhealthy in hospitals. It was surely obvious that mankind should strive to minimise any and every source of radiation. There must be provision for educating every person in whom the radiation hazard had existed. All potential parents ought to take the utmost care to avoid the accumulation of the smallest dose of radiation lest their children pay the penalty.In view of the importance of this Report to the human race—a man like Sir Ernest Rock Carling, after having sat on the Committee for a long time, would not go to the British Medical Association and speak in those terms unless he felt that this was a matter of some urgency—I thought that on Monday last week it was alarming to hear the Minister of Health, when answering Questions on this matter, adopt a complacent attitude, and, indeed, reveal that he was not, apparently, aware of the most serious conclusions of the Committee which was appointed to report on this matter.
In my opinion, this Report is of such importance that a statement should have been made to the House from the Minister, who, after all, is responsible for protecting the health of the people. Yet, once more the Opposition have had to initiate a debate on this subject. We initiated it last year, and we have had to do the same this year. It was left to a distinguished member of the Committee which had already reported to the Minister to make a statement on the subject to the British Medical Association at Brighton last Friday, a statement which I feel should have come from the Government Front Bench.
This Report should not, in my opinion, be regarded simply as an intellectual exercise, but should be read in conjunction with some of the most recent speeches on atomic warfare, bearing in mind what has been reiterated in the Report, namely, that it is the scale and not the nature of the hazard which is new.
Mr. Charles Wilson, the very forthright Secretary of the Defence in the United States, said on 29th June before the Symington Senate Committee—this was reported by the Manchester Guardian:Our capability of inflicting this devastation is not static. It is improving and will continue to improve.General James Gavin, Chief of Army Research and Development in the United 933 States, also gave evidence before this Committee. He was asked this question:If we got into a nuclear war and our strategic air force made an assault in force against Russia with nuclear weapons so that the weapons exploded in a way where the prevailing winds would carry them south-east over Russia, what would be the effect in the way of death?General Gavin replied:Current planning estimates run on the order of several hundred million deaths. That would be either way depending on which way the wind blew. If the wind blew to the south-east they would be mostly in the U.S.S.R., although they would extend into the Japanese and perhaps down into the Phillippine area. If the wind blew the other way they would extend well back into Western Europe.General Gavin's statement bears out what the Committee says in paragraph 290, in page 69:Given a sufficient number of bombs, no part of the world would escape exposure to biologically significant levels of radiation. To a greater or less degree, a legacy of genetic damage would be incurred, and an increased incidence of delayed effects on the individual would probably be induced.Apparently only the wind will determine whether the same bomb will destroy an enemy or an ally or damage them genetically. As the wind is not confined to frontiers, the lethal fall-out which it carries may affect both ally and enemy equally.
In view of some of the statements which are reaching us, one wonders whether the soldiers are determined to ignore the advice of the scientists until it is too late. The Report before us makes it clear that it is of paramount importance not to increase the scale of the tests. As I have said, it is emphasised throughout the Report that the scale of the tests determines the danger in the future. Yet what do we find from Tokio, in the Manchester Guardian of 11th July? It says:Japanese scientists stated that the United States exploded this morning"—that is, 11th July last week—the biggest weapons of its present nuclear tests. They say that this is the eighth explosion of the series which began on 5th May although the United States has announced only two. It is believed to be the largest this year and larger than, and bigger than, the Russian tests last year. The only test comparable with it is the March explosion two years ago. The blast this time may have released more energy than that bomb.The Manchester Guardian's scientific correspondent writes from Tokio: 934The Japanese Report is almost certain to be accurate. In Japan there are at least a dozen recording stations which between them are able to fix the position of an explosion almost exactly.I can only say that, if this is correct, then the report of the United States Federal Research Council has not been taken seriously.
Now there are indications that an increase in scale may not only mean that there may be bigger and more frequent explosions from bombs released by countries already in possession of these fearful weapons, for again on 11th July, only last week, the French Assembly approved a motion on Euratom which, among other proposals, refers to the full development of the French atomic effort. Although M. Mollet explained that between now and 1961 France, as a member of Euratom, would undertake no atomic explosions, during that time French atomic research would continue and at the end of it she would have full legal and military possibilities for making nuclear weapons and, of course, for testing them.
In the light of all that, it seems there can only be one answer: control of these tests with the object of eventual abolition must be our aim. There must be no delay. I ask the Minister to show a sense of urgency in this matter. To fail to do so is to fail in our duty not only to the House, but to the people of the world and to posterity.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Fort (Clitheroe)
I was a little uncertain, as the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) continued with her speech, whether the debate was directed, as it is ostensibly on the Order Paper, to the discussion of the Report of the Medical Research Council of Hazards to Man of Nuclear and Allied Radiations, or to very much wider matters of strategy and defence, even allowing for the fact that the two subjects certainly touch upon each other in places.
When we had a clear and objective account from the Medical Research Council before us, I had hoped that we might have drawn conclusions as the members of the Committee did, scientifically and objectively, instead of taking the occasion to make a demonstration of the sort better fitted to a debate on topics far wider than that 935 appearing on the Order Paper. I would merely say in reply to the right hon. Lady that the Government, like previous Governments, have strenuously striven to abolish the use of atomic weapons and fusion weapons at disarmament conferences.
In introducing the subject, the right hon. Lady stated the case about strontium 90 a little less objectively than the Report so carefully does. She drew the attention of the House to the Summary, which rightly says that no doubt there is a danger. In discussing what is a difficult scientific matter she failed to point out that the Committee also took the view, in referring to the amount of strontium 90 in fall-out today, that:These figures should he viewed against the background of the fact that the top one foot of soil has always contained on the average about one curie per square mile of the equally, if not more dangerous naturally occurring radium.In a later paragraph the Report says:Such measurements as have been made of strontium 90 in human bone suggest that the highest levels are at present about a thousand times less than is considered permissible for those occupationally exposed.One has to take those scientific facts into account in appreciating the very careful assessment which the Committee gave of the present danger and which is set out in the conclusions of the Report.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
I think the hon. Member should also take note of and add that the Committee expressed particular concern about the radio-sensitivity of children's bones, particularly in young infants, and that the ratio is roughly about ten to one.
§ Mr. Fort
I entirely agree with the hon. Member, and I intended to refer to that later when I speak of the research work which we ought to be carrying out.
Despite what the right hon. Lady said, in the course of the last eighteen months there has been a step forward in getting this problem into proportion. When I saw on the Order Paper today that there was to be a debate on nuclear and allied radiations, I was struck by the fact that eighteen months ago when the Government set up the Committee whose Report we are now supposed to be discussing the Order had the more dramatic title "Nuclear Explosions and the Genetic Effects."
936 It is quite clear from the Report by the M.R.C. that the health hazards are less than was thought during that debate and that much heavier doses of radiation are needed to produce health hazards than was then thought and that the genetic effects of radiation are a good deal more complicated. It is obvious from the extraordinarily clear Summary in the Report that a great deal less is known than one would have thought when some of the generalisations were being made eighteen months ago.
I was pleased to hear the right hon. Lady, having criticised us, emphasising the importance of the industrial uses of nuclear radiation. It is clear from the Report that natural radiation and industrial radiation as present are more likely to affect us and our children than the tests of nuclear weapons so far. I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies we shall hear something of what the Government intend to do to tighten up present practices in industrial uses.
It is obvious from the Report and from the corresponding American report that an enormous amount of long-term research work, particularly on the genetic effects of radiation, has to be carried out. It will have to go on for the rest of the century, and a good deal longer.
§ Mr. Fort
I still think that knowledge is better than ignorance. Perhaps the hon. Member will take up that issue when he speaks.
We want to see the work continuing. It will have to continue for an extremely 937 long time to give reliable results, and the scope of the work should be extended. One of the most significant of the conclusions in the Report is that the Committee recommended that work should proceed in new directions. Some of it, curiously enough, will not even cost large sums of money—such as an improvement in the collection of vital statistics on which much information is required if we are to understand what is happening and assess what the danger really is.
I hope that we shall not hear from my right hon. Friend a long discourse on high strategic matters which would be out of place in this debate, however well it would fit in with one on foreign affairs and the whole problem of defence and disarmament, rather than a discussion of what should primarily be a scientific subject.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham, West)
The speech of the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) was of a kind which I do not recall in history since Nero gave himself a musical accompaniment to some observations while Rome was burning. We might well decide whether we should require the world to continue before accepting what the hon. Member suggested, that we should go on for 100 years. If we are to find that fish are being atomised, are we to appoint a Royal Commission or call on the trawler owners for restraint? That is not facing an issue of this magnitude with the important attention it deserves.
I agreed with every word of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill), except for one sentence. I am glad that my right hon. Friend opened this debate and spoke from, her wide knowledge of the subject, but it is not the generals who are to blame in this matter. It is no good saying that the generals are to blame. In all history the generals have never been men of blood, because they see mass death and understand it. It is always the bishops and the politicians who plead for mass weapons and mass extermination—the politicians to protect their dignity and the bishops to protect their faith. So this has gone on through the centuries, and now we have to face this issue at its most serious.
The hon. Member for Clitheroe made an extraordinary comment on this Report, when he said that of course we do 938 not know much about the subject. That is quite true. Normally scientists are humble individuals. I had the opportunity of discussing the matter with one distinguished scientist who was a member of the Committee. All the scientists say is, "We do not know the facts." The Report is out-of-date. It is out-of-date on two heads. I have not had an opportunity of looking up the precise terms of the Answer given by the right hon. Gentleman on the damage which may occur from radio-atomised strontium being disseminated over the world.
The Committee based itself on the assumption that strontium-90 would fall evenly. In effect, the Committee said, "We do not know what is happening. We do know that this atom dust goes up to a height of about 40,000 feet and forms an envelope over the whole world, which is about evenly spread, and comes down normally under the influence of rain. We do not yet know why, we do not yet know how, but so far as we know it is coming down about evenly. Therefore, we propose to take that as the basis of our theory of what the effects will be." The Committee makes it quite clear in its Report that if the strontium did not fall evenly the effects might be serious—
§ Mr. Hale
I accept that there was very strong evidence at that time, and that is why the Committee made that assumption, but it has been completely falsified. I was about to observe that, and if the hon. Member had waited until the end of my sentence he would not then have permitted himself that statement. That is because Welsh sheep on the mountains are now showing signs of absorption of strontium far in excess of that expected at the time when the Report was written. It is all right talking about waiting 100 years, but much of the population of the world lives at heights far above the heights of the Welsh mountains—the whole of the population of Nairobi, for instance.
This is a serious matter. The scientists say, "We know this is a deleterious substance. We know that, in its radioactive form, it will be damaging to the bones, and especially to the bones of young 939 children. We do not believe it will produce any genetic effects. It merely destroys the life or the health of the one person it affects; it is not transmitted genetically." There is no question about the assertion that here is a highly poisonous substance now surrounding the world in an envelope maintained at a height by some power we know not what. It is really nonsense to say that we must make a whole series of assumptions, for the time being watch the results, and hope that we are right.
I remember that after the first series of atomic explosions people said that the weather had never been quite right since. It is true that people had been saying that long before there were atomic explosions and some of us did not take that very seriously, but the Government set up an expert meteorological committee to report on the question and, so far as I know, that committee has never reported. Some who have noticed what has happened today will feel that the weather has been unfair to us at Leeds—there has been an intervention somewhere.
§ Mr. Hale
We really do not know about this matter. I had the privilege of meeting some atomic scientists from Japan a couple of years ago. They came over after some of the earlier explosions. They gave overwhelming and conclusive evidence that fish had become radioactive although they were caught 1,800 miles from the scene of the explosion. We have been asking ever since how that happened, and all the reply we can get is that something went wrong with the explosion. The whole history of this world may be some day that something went wrong with someone's calculations about a hydrogen bomb explosion. Fish became radioactive and were condemned in the markets of Japan, and fishermen who came in contact with them were affected, although they were several hundred miles away from the scene of the explosion. I think I am right in saying that some of them never recovered. A committee has not yet reported on that, and no one has told us how it came to pass.
We are told, "You must not count that one," rather in the terminology of the fishermen who said, "That was one that 940 got away." Anyone who was killed through that explosion was killed by accident, by some ineffective computation or an error on the drawing board. These are far too serious matters to be dealt with in that way. This question of strontium on the hills is obviously a grave matter. When the right hon. Gentleman replies, I am sure he will give us the precise figures. I do not want to misquote them, because I am not sure that I can recall them accurately. I think I am safe in saying that for far more than 12,000 to 14,000 miles from the explosion, at 2,000 or 3,000 feet above sea level—it cannot be more in this island—serious effects are manifesting themselves in animal life.
What about the genetic effects? No one wishes to be an alarmist. I agree that the Report on the whole is rather more assuring than one had hoped. One welcomes that, but the whole question of gene-mutation is a subject we do not know much about. Professor Haldane said several years ago that the spontaneous mutation of one spermatozoa in a testicle of the Duke of Kent in 1818 brought about the Russian Revolution and the fall of the Spanish dynasty because, as a result of that spontaneous mutation, Queen Victoria became a carrier of haemophilia which she passed on. That did not affect her own Royal Family—King Edward VII was not affected; indeed, we have recent evidence that his procreative faculties were efficient to a very late age—but it happened, and by a spontaneous mutation.
It is no use saying that these matters affect only one individual; they can soon affect the race. When we hear of births of two-headed children and so on, we know that this is not one of the branches of life in which it can be said that "two heads are better than one".
I asked the right hon. Gentleman a Question last week, which I should have thought was of some importance and some urgency. I asked him what had happened about the investigation of which we had been told into the genetic effects of the explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those were bombs which were then being estimated as having the equivalent effect of kilotons, a thousand tons of T.N.T., whereas we are now talking in terms of megatons, or a million tons of T.N.T. The bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and 941 Nagasaki would now be regarded as so small as to be thrown back into the sea as inadequate.
We have gone far beyond that, but what has happened about the investigation into the genetic effects? The right hon. Gentleman said the Committee did not have the opportunity of going into it because the information was not available. He said it is being published very shortly. He said that books would be issued and that before long we should know. Why do we not know? This is one of half-a-dozen countries in the world which is using this weapon, and the House of Commons in this country, discussing this important matter, has not this information. I hope I have not misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman. If I have, I will give way to him, since I am speaking from recollection.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. R. H. Turton)
The hon. Member's recollection is slightly at fault. I said just the opposite. I said that what has been made available to the House is what is available in this country. The second report of Dr. Neel and Dr. Schull has not yet been published, but it is important to note that the Medical Research Council was given a preview of certain parts of it, which are summarised in paragraphs 167 to 170 of the Council's Report. In fact, the Council considered this, and what was in the Report to which the hon. Member refers was summarised in the Report of the Medical Research Council.
§ Mr. Hale
Would it be possible for me to utter one complete sentence, starting from the full stop to the last one and ending at the full stop to the next one? Then I will give way with the greatest pleasure. The Medical Research Council made it quite clear that it had considered the leukaemia results of the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki but had had no evidence upon other genetic results, some of which are manifesting themselves now.
§ Mr. Hale
The Committee discusses it and says it has no information on some subjects. We have discussed it with members of the Committee since, and we do not know, the House does not know, and no one knows what are the figures—nor are those figures in the Report. If the hon. Member wishes to interrupt again, let him give me some figures on the genetic effects, excluding leukaemia, of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If he cannot give them, will he please shut up for the time being and let me conclude what was intended to be a short speech?
These are matters of great importance to the world. The whole question of the genetic effects is one of supreme importance. It has been the policy of the Labour Party for some time—and I am very glad that this is so—that we should offer to cease these experiments on an international agreement until we have had an opportunity of considering just what we are doing. What can be the objection to that? If we continue with them we may find that as a result of this wild use of a radioactive substance, which we know has the power of regenerating itself, we affect the stream of life and do something of very great magnitude.
Aldous Huxley put the problem on a lighter note in the Fifth Philosopher's Song, when he talked about—A million million spermatozoa,All of them alive.Out of their cataclysm but one poor NoahDare hope to survive.And among that billion minus oneMight have chanced to beShakespeare, another Newton, a new Donne—But the one was Me.It was not me but Aldous Huxley, but those were the sentiments which he expressed.
This is a question of supreme importance and, as I understand it in the last day or two, the leaders of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics have made a concrete proposal that we should agree at once to a suspension of the experimental detonation of nuclear weapons. 943 What is the obstacle in the way to an agreement such as that? Is it the American elections? Is it Mr. Dulles?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)
The hon. Gentleman seems to be widening the debate beyond its proper scope.
§ Mr. Hale
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I understood the subject was whether we should let these things off or not. Surely it must be the case that if we are assessing whether the effects are deleterious, that must necessarily include a discussion whether we should go on doing something which is damaging to the human race and damaging to mankind. At least I have made the point which I wanted to make, and I will not develop it because I have virtually come to a conclusion.
All I would say in conclusion on these matters is that the whole situation has altered. Secrecy no longer exists in the science of nuclear energy. There is no patent in nuclear weapons and no private knowledge. The whole of this knowledge is now part of the scientific heritage of mankind, and it might have been better for the peace of the world if it had always been so. All we talk about now, in terms of the use of these weapons for offensive, or, as we always call it, defensive purposes, is who can build the aeroplane which can deliver a bomb faster than anyone else. We are now talking in terms not of the size of the weapon or of mass destruction but of the few minutes of speed in the explosion of the weapon.
I therefore venture to say what I have said in the House before—that if there were a sane and sensible Government in this country, not only would they throw open the Foreign Office, but they would offer for sale any document in it at half a crown a time—
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I think that no one in the House would deny that this is an extremely important subject, about which too little is known. Most hon. Members would, I think, also agree that Russia has recently revealed the importance which she attaches to the explosions of these atomic and nuclear weapons. At a recent meeting in Moscow, in very convivial circumstances, one of the Russian leaders said of France, "France is a small nation; she is of no interest; she has no atomic weapons."
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member seems to be widening the scope of the debate beyond the Report of the Medical Research Council.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Perhaps I was tempted by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) to go slightly outside the bounds of discretion.
§ Mr. F. Beswick (Uxbridge)
On a point of order. You will remember, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that when we discussed the business for the week, last Thursday, it was specifically stated by the Prime Minister that the intention was that this debate could range widely over the question of the control of the tests as well as the Report to which you referred.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
To range over the control of the tests seems beyond the scope of the debate. This is not a defence debate.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
This is important. The Report refers to a considerable extent to these tests. Surely we are to that degree entitled to raise the matter.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The importance of the tests as related to the subject matter of the Report may be discussed, but I do not think that their use for the purposes of a defence debate is in order.
§ Mr. Beswick
So that we may understand how widely the debate can range, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, may I ask whether you are ruling that although it is possible to draw a conclusion from the Report and from the debate that the hazards to men are such that these tests should be 945 stopped, we cannot consider whether or in what way we can secure an end to these tests?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The effect of the tests can he discussed—the medical effects and the effects on the human race, or whatever it may be—but the control of the tests, which is the subject of a defence debate, is not in order in this debate.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
Bowing to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I turn to Table 4, in page 59 of the Report, which seems to me to be extremely significant. There, it is pointed out that if the natural background of radioactivity which we all receive in our life-time is taken as being 100 units, the largest proportion comes from diagnostic radiology—as the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) pointed out—and that is only 22 units. After that, there is no contribution bigger than 1.6, and the contribution from the fall-out from the test explosions which had taken place up to the time of the publication of the Report was only one unit; that is to say, 1 per cent. of the radiation which we receive from natural causes.
From that I am not going to argue that there is no danger, but I think that it is right to put this into proper perspective and not to get unduly alarmed long before the new sources of radiation are large enough to effect the future of this country, or the future health of our citizens or of anyone else. It has been rightly pointed out by Sir John Cockroft that people in high latitudes and those living at heights receive far greater amounts than the natural radiation which, for this purpose, is taken as 100.
It has been found that in Lapland, as as example of a population living in a high latitude, and in Tibet, as an example of a population living at great height, the people's health is in no way affected, although they receive double the normal dose. In fact, if I may follow the contribution of the hon. Member for Oldham, West, their rate of reproduction and natural health is very high indeed. I do not know, therefore, that we need necessarily gauge the increase in radiation that will have a detrimental genetic or any other detrimental effect on the nation.
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's interjection, with which I do not disagree.
I would also like to add my support to the plea which has been made from this side of the House that perhaps we should look at these industrial processes. For the first time, there is being brought to light the amount of radiation to which people are exposed in normal occupations, such as using X-rays for shoe fittings and luminous paint for watches—quite normal occurrences which we have all for many years taken for granted, but which may be causing a hazard.
I hope that my right hon. Friend may be able to tell us that he is to appoint a committee to look into the industrial and industrial health aspects of these problems. Perhaps he could also tell us that, in view of the importance of this subject, he is to keep in existence a committee which will make sure that exact measurements are kept of all sources and types of radiation, so that from time to time the House may be informed, and can watch for any danger and stop it long before it reaches unsafe proportions.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing) quoted, quite rightly, from the Table in the Report where it is made quite clear that, so far as we can tell, in this country about 1 per cent. of the background radiation which we normally receive in a lifetime comes from fall-out, and that, if more explosions of large hydrogen bombs do not occur, the danger from that fall-out would not appear to be very great. I think that he will agree with me, however, that the assumption there is that in this country we spend about two and a half hours a day out of doors. That is the assumption in the Report, and, naturally, another is that we live in the houses which, compared with houses in some parts of the world, are fairly substantial. In other parts of the world people spend most of the time out of doors and their homes are not substantially built.
Therefore, if we are considering, not what is happening to us alone, but what is happening globally—for the human race 947 is one family, its members meet each other and intermarry—I think it is fair to say that the British Medical Journal is perhaps correct in its editorial this week when it says that the figure for the world is probably larger, and probably reaches not 1 per cent. but up to 4 per cent.; in other words, nearly as much as is said to be the total of external radiation other than that which we receive as our own natural background, such as the luminising of watches and the use of these foolish X-ray machines to which children are exposed to see whether their shoes fit, and so on.
In Chapter VIII, pages 80 and 81, the Committee's conclusions are set out. Among them is one that frightens me. It is 2 (c), which says:An individual should not be allowed to accumulate more than 50 r of radiation to the gonads, in addition to that received from the natural background, from conception to the age of 30 years; and this allowance should not apply to more than one-fiftieth of the total population of this country.The Minister will contradict me if I am wrong, I am sure, but I should have thought that a dose of 50 roentgens throughout the lifetime, which is nearly 20 times the amount which we get from our own natural background—which is, 3 roentgens—would probably bring about a doubling of the mutation rate. That is the very thing which we are warned against, yet here, in this very cautious and thoughtful Report, we are advised that a million of our population in this country may be allowed to be subjected to a dosage of 50 roentgen, with the chance of a doubling of the mutation rate.
On the very day of the publication of this Report the Americans produced another report, that of the National Academy of Science on the biological effects of radiation. That Report was published on the same day last week. There it is very clearly put that in handling this type of material in any way whatsoever we are playing with fire. The words used in that Report are:To the best of our present knowledge, if we increase radiation by x per cent. then the gene mutations caused by radiation will also be increased by x per cent.Later on it says:The concept of a safe rate of radiation simply does not make sense if one is concerned with genetic damage to future generations.948 I am sure that that is true, especially as nearly all mutations, as far as we know, are not good for the human race. They are bad, and they cannot be got rid of except over a very long time and with great pain to the human race—with great suffering. There has to be a rejection of those who inherit to their own detriment a mutation that makes them unfit to compete, and slowly, remorselessly and surely the pressure and the tendency is that they have to be eliminated by natural selection.
It is interesting to note that in the field of human genetics one vast experiment has continued for over 200 years; an experiment which we can most accurately assess. It relates to a kind of anæmia to which many Africans are subject, and have been for many hundreds of years. It is called sickle cell anæmia, in which the blood is spoiled as a result of people living in malaria-infested areas; or rather, it is an adaptation amongst those people, by a spoiling of the blood, to malarial infestation. Instead of the red cells being healthy, round, and full of hæmoglobin, they become crescentshaped and thin and poor in quality and the malaria parasite is not interested in them.
Thus the people survive, or tend to survive, in spite of the very high death rate there is in infancy and in young manhood and womanhood. But they can in Africa survive better than healthy people, for these die from blackwater fever. That is quite clear. About 200 years ago negroes began to be exported from Africa to other parts of the world, but in particular to the Southern States of North America. There was no malaria there. It is quite easy for us to estimate what has happened to them. Whereas, when they left Africa—and in those areas the conditions are the same today as when they left—the incidence of this kind of anæmia was roughly 60 per cent., in their pure-bred descendants in the Southern States of North America it has dropped to about 16 per cent.
This is the most reassuring state of affairs that I have ever come across. It shows that when the environment is bad, the people who survive are not the fittest, but often the least fit; that when the environment is improved, and is made normal, those who are unfit do not survive and it is the normally fit person who 949 survives. The better the environment, the sooner will mankind emerge towards the goal for which we all hope—in other words, the kind of physical perfection we hope for ultimately for us all.
I should like to say a word on the question of the 22 per cent. of added load as a result of medical radiology. This is a serious matter at first sight, but it is not very serious when one realises that it is mostly due to X-ray investigation of the pelvis. One is not so nervous about having a chest X-ray when the apparatus is properly screened and guarded. It would not matter about having one's wrist X-rayed if one had fractured it. But we have to be most careful not to subject young people—young women and young men; and by "young" I mean until they are forty-five years or so—to pelvic X-rays unless we can avoid it. That is what it really means.
Of course, the Minister will review the whole situation, bearing in mind that this information which we have just been given is based upon the findings from a very good hospital, and that the real facts are probably much worse than have been given to us. At the same time, I hope that it will not go out from this House that people need be afraid of mass X-ray, because one must balance the two factors together. 0.1 of 1 roentgen for a chest X-ray is a very different matter from the massive dosages that one receives in the gonads from a pelvic X-ray—
§ Mr. Orr-Ewing
As the hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable on the subject, could he say whether it means that with the development of higher speed X-ray and, therefore, the creation of stronger gamma rays, there is an increasing danger from X-ray, or is the modern X-ray less troublesome than the old and softer type?
§ Dr. Stross
I think I am right in saying that it depends on which part of the body one is X-rayed. It is only the gonads which are interested in this.
§ Dr. Stross
No, except that with modern X-ray machinery better shielding is necessary. The rays bounce off from walls, etc., and there has got to be the greater care with the modern type of X-ray machinery.
950 It should not go out from this House that people need be nervous about X-rays of any parts of the body, except the one instance which I have mentioned. Of course, we are very happy to find the grave warning about giving X-ray treatment in excessive doses for cases other than cancer. The spondylitis cases which were referred to earlier are a case in point.
Certain conclusions must be considered if we are to protect the population. We recruit young women, in the main, to become radiographers. If we accept the logical conclusion from the advice given in the Report, I think we should consider recruiting from the age of 40 onwards rather than from the age of 18 to 40. We must bear in mind that it is the sum total of the dose to the nation as a whole, and outside the nation to Europe, and outside Europe to the world as a whole, that counts. We have to remember that the use of X-ray for diagnosis is highly evolved only in some countries, and not in most parts of the world. But it is going to spread to those parts of the world, and even with the greatest care, some further added load will appear as compared with what we are facing today.
All in all, therefore, although this Report appears to be reassuring, one can read between the lines and find that there is very grave disquiet shown in it. For example—and I will resume my seat leaving the House with this thought—these very knowledgeable and intelligent people have gone out of their way to tell us that we should be careful about having luminous watches. They go out of their way to give us a paragraph about those little X-ray machines which are used for shoe-fitting. Can we imagine, if we had given them different terms of reference, what they would be saying to us about the danger of an expansion of tests, and in particular, if we become so lunatic that we involve ourselves in world war?
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) has spoken about this Report and some of its conclusions, and I should like to refer to one of his criticisms. Before I do so, however, I am sure the House will congratulate the writers of this Report because it is the first time that this very important subject has been brought 951 into perspective. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that despite a certain amount of scpeticism he has shown that it was prepared with the greatest care and the conclusions were arrived at with caution. One of the points which he made requires some explanation, and I expect my right hon. Friend will be willing to deal with it at the close of the debate.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, who is well versed in this matter professionally, mentioned something which interested me very much. One of the conclusions of the Report in paragraph 362, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, referred to the recommendation thatAn individual should not be allowed to accumulate more than 50 r of radiation to the gonads, in addition to that received from the natural background, from conception to the age of 30 years.That seemed to me to be an important conclusion. The hon. Gentleman feared that that was unsafe because it might increase the mutation rate if such dosage were received. The conclusions—very tentative ones—on other pages of the Report point to a possible dosage of from 30 to 80 roentgens as being the possible dosage to double the mutation rate.
It is not clear from the Report—and this is a technical matter on which I am not clear—as to whether that refers to an immediate dosage such as might occur in certain accidents or on certain occasions where a person was exposed to a severe nuclear explosion, or to the possibility of cumulative radiation in the body increasing the mutation rate. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could enlighten me.
§ Dr. Stross
It cannot possibly matter which way it is, because it does not matter whether it is over a long period or by a sudden accident, as the hon. Member suggested. The important thing is that the Report uses the words "thirty years", meaning that it is for young men. It would not matter if one was fifty years of age if one had the full dosage, because between fifty and sixty years of age it has no significance genetically.
§ Mr. Neave
I am sure my right hon. Friend will deal with that point, because I think it does require some explanation 952 to those who are not well versed in this matter. Of course, where the Report says:in addition to the natural background,that dosage is comparatively insignificant.
What the hon. Gentleman must be referring to, and what is important, is what I wish to talk about tonight—the occupational hazards of radiation in industry. What the paragraph must be referring to is the possibility that workers in industry using radiation may receive this considerable dose over a period of years up to the age of 30, and, therefore, it is of the greatest importance to industry that it should understand that position clearly. So I hope that my right hon. Friend will deal with it.
I want to say something about the occupational aspect of this matter and the use by industry of radioactive materials which, with the advent of nuclear power, is bound to increase over the years. Indeed, the firm in which I have an interest has been using radioactive materials for some time past. Even before the war, this firm was using X-rays for various purposes and is now using radioactive isotopes. It is, therefore, very important that we should consider these aspects of the matter.
I particularly wish to draw attention to paragraph 275 of the Report, which refers to the occupational hazards in industry, and to refer to some words in part of that paragraph:… it is difficult to avoid the impression that industrial personnel are, in general, less aware of the hazards of radiation than those engaged in the fields of medicine and atomic energy".In view of the increases in the application and use of radioactive materials by industry, the matter has now to be considered very seriously. It seems to me particularly important, for instance, in the case of those employed in a firm which is using radiography for various purposes, such as taking pictures of castings, and welds and suchlike uses of radioactive materials.
At present, the Radiological Protection Service, which works under the Ministry of Health, is giving considerable assistance to industrial firms, but it is doing so in a fairly general way, in the sense that it does not carry out any inspection. Among the things that are done to assist them is, for example, the reading of films which are worn by the employees over a 953 fortnightly period. These films worn by those handling radioactive materials are sent to the Radiological Protection Service, and I have had some complaints about delay in returning these films.
This is a very important matter, because if anything is wrong in the dosage, and it is too high, one ought to know immediately whether the employee concerned should be put off that work or should receive treatment. The speedy return of these films should be encouraged. It would help the big firms, which also have the necessary organisation, to take blood counts and make use of dosometers. But I question the position of the small firms, which cannot do so much in this field. How are they to be helped?
The object of industry must clearly be, as this Report so well points out, to achieve the same standard as Harwell has done in safety in the handling of radioactive substances. Accidents are still very rare indeed and will remain so if we continue the very high standard of precautions now being taken by the Atomic Energy Authority, and apply them to industry.
§ Dr. Stross
We heard today from the Minister of Health that regulations are to be published very soon. That should help, should it not?
§ Mr. Neave
I must apologise to the House, because I have only just come in and I did not hear that the regulations are to be published so very soon. Of course, the use of these regulations will be eminently valuable, but education will be just as important as are regulations in this respect. I should like to know the Government's policy with regard to the education of firms in the taking of various precautions against the possibility of contamination by employees not actually engaged in the use of radioactive materials.
I think that there is also a great need, and my right hon. Friend will probably agree, for training radiographers, and I see that various technical colleges are taking up this matter of the training of radiographers. It is important, since the facilities for private firms to send their personnel for that training are not really good enough at present.
There is obviously a big field in which the Government can assist industry in this matter, and, now that these regulations 954 are to be published, they will to a certain extent tell people where they stand. Despite the Radiological Protection Service and the factory inspectors. I suggest that there is a much wider field for the instruction of industry as to the part it should play in seeking to achieve the standards of safety which have been so successfully worked out at Harwell.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Blenkinsop (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)
I think we must be grateful, first of all, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summer-skill) for the way in which she introduced this debate, though I must say I was a little surprised at some of the criticisms which her speech attracted from the other side of the House. It was said that she had raised the matter in a spirit that was not suitable for this debate, but I cannot say that I agree with that criticism, because I think the questions which my right hon. Friend put to the Minister of Health were perfectly justified in view of the seriousness of the subject we are discussing. I think, too, that the contribution which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) is an extremely valuable one.
It is true that the application and the use of radioactive materials in industry is growing very rapidly indeed, and while it may possibly be true that the actual volume of danger at this moment may be relatively small, in view of its probably rapid growth in the next few years, it is very important indeed that there should be the fullest examination of the methods adopted by industry, not only through regulations about to be published, but that there should be proper inspection and examination of the procedures adopted.
The first point which I want to make has been discussed already. It concerns the adequacy or otherwise of the research going forward today. On that point, I wonder whether the Minister is satisfied that our link-up with international investigation is adequate. I well know that some of our very eminent physicists and others are engaged in international research work, and this is a subject which is pre-eminently and inevitably international in the effect of much that happens, because it is not a question of what we may do in this country alone, but a question of what happens elsewhere. 955 Here, above all, is an opportunity for the sharing of knowledge, which, as indeed the Geneva Conference showed, the nations by and large are very willing to do. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we should encourage most vigorously all the international research work which is going forward in this field and play the fullest part in it.
There is a reference in the Report to the fact that the International Commission on Radiological Protection is working in close liaison with the World Health Organisation, and we want to be satisfied that both these bodies have adequate resources to carry out their work, because there is no doubt at all of their importance to us.
There has been some argument as to how far it is right for us to discuss the problem of bomb tests. They cannot be left out altogether; they are a factor in this problem in the addition they make to radiation dangers in the world. There is a natural basis, and the very fact and continuance of that natural basis makes it, of course, all the more urgent that we should do nothing to raise the level that can be avoided.
It seems to me that we may be inclined to be a little too easy in our attitude towards the present situation, forgetting that the present level of bomb tests might very well increase. There are many smaller countries which may be coming forward with their own investigations, and there is no reason why other countries in the world should, as it were, be denied their right to their own tests any more than this country. If we take the view that this country must carry out its own tests on weapons we develop, then, of course, the same liberty must presumably be available to other countries—very many of them—which have not so far got to a very advanced stage in their work. There may, therefore, be a considerable intensification of this danger unless vigorous action is taken, even at some possible cost to our own knowledge of the worth of weapons we ourselves are preparing.
We have heard from my honourable and very medical Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) almost as much as we need to know on the subject of the dangers of radiation from diagnostic radiology. We can only 956 emphasise that there is here a very real danger. As the Report itself says, there is a need for a full review of present practice, and possibly an even greater need in the United States where, very properly, much more concern is felt about this problem because of the infinitely greater use made there of radiological methods, very often possibly of relatively little value. It is very important for us to have such a review carried out promptly so that everyone should know what the position is. No doubt, the advice given in this Report about the particular dangers affecting people over a period of some thirty years, the most important years of life, will be borne particularly in mind by the Government.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman has already issued some advice to hospitals and others concerned in the health services on the subject of the protection of workers. Again, I would ask what action he is taking to follow up the advice he has given. It is well known, I think, that some hospitals may take very much more effective precautions than others. I am not sure whether it is sufficient merely to leave it to this, no doubt very admirable, advice he has issued, or whether some further action should be taken to examine the situation in hospitals where radioactive materials are being regularly used, to make sure that the precautions adopted are adequate.
As has been mentioned, the protection of workers generally is of very real and growing importance. No one, I believe, has the slightest doubt about the satisfactory nature of the precautions taken at our atomic energy plants; all reports seem to suggest that, very properly, there is a very high standard being set and maintained there. One has some anxiety about the position in industry generally, and possibly about the attitude of those who actually use the materials and their relative lack of knowledge of the dangers which may flow from such use.
I have asked questions on this matter in the House, as to how soon the Regulations are to be published. I am glad to hear that they are coming soon. Other countries have already issued them in advance of us. This is a sort of case where sometimes one feels that by waiting more accuracy can be obtained, yet one 957 cannot delay indefinitely in providing people with what knowledge is currently available. I hope that the Minister, or possibly his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, will not only issue these Regulations with regard to protection against radiation in industry generally, but will follow the matter up. I hope that the Minister of Health, or his right hon. Friend, will make quite sure that these regulations are being adhered to.
It is very valuable, I think, that we should be having what might be called this preliminary debate on the subject at the moment, because, although it may be true that there is no reason why our anxieties should run away with us or blind us to the enormous and valuable possibilities, medical and otherwise of these developments, it is right that we should at any rate insist that we do nothing which would in any way prejudice the chances and health of generations to come.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)
No one can fail to be impressed by the accuracy and thoroughness of the Report which we are debating tonight. We all agree that warfare waged with thermo-nuclear weapons is a very terrible form of warfare. We all want these things to cease, and our future to be assured through international agreement. Nevertheless, we have, surely, by this time learned the perils of unilateral disarmament.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. I have already drawn attention to the fact that that is outside the scope of this debate. The subject matter of this debate is the Report and the effects on health of nuclear and allied radiations.
§ Dr. Johnson
Yes, Mr. Deputy-Speaker; I was coming to that. What I have said was merely by way of introductory phrases, if I may say so.
When I saw a Motion on the Order Paper on this subject, I did venture, off my own bat, to table an Amendment with a view to restoring what I felt was a sense of perspective in this matter. That is what I am proposing to do in the speech which I am now about to make, in which I propose to speak quite strictly to the health effects of these radiations.
From the table in page 59 of the Report, which puts a natural background at 100, 958 we find, rather to the surprise of many of us, that diagnostic radiology is the next thing on the list with a figure of 22, whereas the fall-out from test explosions is not a figure of one, as has been said by a previous speaker, but is, in fact, less than one. The Report states that if the present rate of firing continues for 100 years, the individual and genetic effects of any dose that may be received from external radiation would be insignificant. The Report dismisses in those quite definite and strong words the danger of harmful effects to health from test explosions.
In dealing with radiation, therefore, and the question of genetic effects, the matter which we have principally to consider is the question of diagnostic radiology. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) used some rather weighty words on this subject. He said that there is virtually no danger from X-ray of the chest and, quite correctly, that the real danger is from X-rays to the pelvis.
X-rays to the pelvis, as anybody familiar with maternity and ante-natal work knows, are an essential part of antenatal work. They are the most valuable form of diagnosis today in any ante-natal examination. In fact, certain obstetricians go so far as to say that every pregnant woman should be diagnosed by X-ray. That tends at first glance to be in conflict with what we read in the Report and with what was said by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent. Central. I press my right hon. Friend to look into this urgent matter and to have further expert inquiries and observations made and to give a ruling and guidance on this important subject.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) dealt somewhat extensively in his rather powerful fashion with the question of the dangers to health from strontium 90, which circulates in the atmosphere as a result of test explosions. One rather felt, perhaps wrongly, that having been somewhat let down by the words which I have quoted concerning the genetic effects of radiation, the hon. Member then turned to strontium 90 and created something of a bogey of it. I wish, therefore, to try to get this question of strontium 90 in perspective, even if in doing so I have to quote a rather long passage from the Report.
959 Paragraph 233 of the Report states:By December, 1955, this concentration"—that is, of strontium—amounted to 0.011 curie of strontium 90. … The continuing fall-out from explosions which have already taken place will cause a rise, to a maximum by about 1965, of around 0.045 curie of strontium 90 per square mile. These figures should be viewed against the background of the fact that the top one foot of soil has always contained on the average about one curie per square mile of the equally, if not more, dangerous naturally occurring radium.A simple arithmetical calculation shows that this amount of strontium 90, around which this bogey is being created, is rather less than one two-hundredth of the amount of radium—which is virtually interchangeable material from the viewpoint of danger to health—which is naturally occurring in the soil.
That, I submit, is the perspective in which we should treat this matter at present. The lessons this Report has to teach us are, first, that we have to look at the principal dangers from radiation nearer home in our peace-time affairs, and diagnostic radiology and the luminising industries—making, for instance, illuminated watch cases; and, secondly, that we must work for a reduction of the thermo-nuclear tests by international agreement without creating alarm about the present position.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)
The speech of the hon. Member for Carlisle (Dr. D. Johnson) will confirm every suspicion which has been growing on this side of the House about the political use to which the Government will be putting this Report, and that is to create the impression that there is no urgency whatsoever about the suspension of test explosions of hydrogen weapons. That note of complacency was sounded from the other side of the House from the beginning of the debate when the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) spoke as though he had never heard of the reason why this Report was produced.
The hon. Member had what I can describe only as the impertinence to rebuke my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) for her very moderate and moving reference to the responsibility which lies upon us to see that the dangers of radioactivity are 960 not increased through political actions arising from the test explosions. He seemed to suggest—indeed, this has been inferred more than once in the debate—that hydrogen bomb tests are irrelevant to this debate, but I would point out to the House what the Report itself states:The immediate occasion for the Government's request to the Medical Research Council to set up this Committee was the widespread public concern about the long-term effects of nuclear weapon testing.I should have thought it very fitting if there had been present in the House tonight a Minister from the Foreign Office. I know that Mr. Deputy-Speaker is straining at the leash to find me out of order, but I want to say in all seriousness that, bearing in mind the purpose for which that Committee was set up by the Medical Research Council, we should have heard from the Government what was their conclusion about the urgency of the suspension of hydrogen bomb tests, as a result of the publication of this Report.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have already ruled on this matter. I am not going back to that Ruling. I made it quite clearly.
§ Mrs. Castle
You have not ruled, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that it is out of order to discuss, in the light of what the Report says, the political consequences of hydrogen bomb tests.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Lady knows quite well what I have ruled. I have ruled that it is in order to discuss the medical aspects of the tests, but that it is not in order to discuss the question of political control on this occasion.
§ Dr. Summerskill
May I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, whether you have read the Report yourself? Or have you a copy of it in front of you? If you will look at the Report you will see that there is a paragraph in it dealing with peace-time nuclear radiations resulting from bomb explosions, and, of course, war-time nuclear radiations. So anything which my hon. Friends say relating to nuclear radiations from bomb explosions, whether they are test explosions in peace-time, or explosions in war-time, is, I respectfully submit, quite in order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The right hon. Lady herself referred to them and was in order. The health side, the scientific side, of the tests it is in order to discuss, but 961 the question of political control appears to me to be a matter for a debate on defence, and not a matter for this debate.
§ Mrs. Castle
I am quite prepared for the House to judge, when it reads the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow, whether I have said a word tonight that differs from what my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington said about hydrogen bomb tests. I ask for the opportunity to develop my speech on the medical evidence as to the consequences of hydrogen bomb tests which is contained in the Medical Research Council's Report.
We have a right to know from the Government tonight what importance they attach to the medical contents of the Report on the consequences of hydrogen bomb tests and the urgency or otherwise of suspending them. I say that quite deliberately because we have had speech after speech from the other side of the House saying that the hydrogen bomb tests do not matter and that what matters is X-rays in shoe shops and luminous watches and all the things over which we have no control.
I repeat that on the evidence in this Report the House has a right to have from the Government a statement of their appreciation of the urgency of doing something soon about hydrogen bomb tests. The Report states, in page 79:The genetic effects to be expected from present or future radioactive fall-out from bombs fired at the present rate and in the present proportion of the different kinds are insignificant.All that hon. Members opposite have done is to seize on the word "insignificant". They have totally brushed aside the governing words, scientifically and medically,… at the present rate and in the present proportion of the different kinds. …I would remind hon. Members opposite who have spoken with such complacency about the tests that the Report goes on to say:They might not be so"—that is not so insignificant—if present rates of firing were increased and particularly if a greater number of thermonuclear weapons were tested.I think that I am in order in saying that on the medical evidence of this Report—and we asked the Committee to produce it and to tell us whether or not the situation was urgent in relation to hydrogen bomb 962 tests—the answer is that if the rate is increased or the kinds differ we are facing immeasurable and unknown consequences.
My whole case is that the tests are increasing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, quite rightly, and without interruption from the Chair, pointed out that as recently as 11th July the Manchester Guardian reported an alarming increase in thermo-nuclear explosions. This is going on all the time. We are, therefore, faced with the fact that the conditions which the Report describes as dangerous are in the process of being visited upon us. Something else has happened in the last few days—
§ Mr. Airey Neave
May I ask the hon. Lady to refer to paragraph 230, in page 57 of the Medical Research Council's Report, which refers to what would happen if the firing of both types of bomb were to continue indefinitely at the same rate as over the past two years? That, the Report says, would give the average individuala dose over a period of 30 years of about 0.026r or about 0.9 per cent. of what he would receive in the same period from natural sources.Would the hon. Member comment on that as being really not a very significant dose?
§ Mrs. Castle
The rate of firing and explosion is increasing all the time. The Americans, instead of having two test explosions, have had eight in a period of days. Is not that a matter of alarm to to the House and the responsibility of the House?
I know that we are not responsible for what the American Government let loose in radiactivity in the world, except in so far as we are part and parcel of a Disarmament Sub-Commission which is meeting at present to discuss these things. I, therefore, think that the rate of firing which is referred to in the Medical Research Council's Report is already out-of-date and that it is wrong to have this note of complacency tonight.
This Report has been called in aid in the last few days by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, in the Disarmament Sub-Commission, as proving that there is no need for urgency in this matter. On Thursday of last week, in the Disarmament Sub-Commission, the Indian 963 representative asked to be heard on the need to agree at once on the suspension of hydrogen bomb tests. It was ruled that he should be heard. He produced medical evidence of the concern of some of what we call the uncommitted nations of the world about the consequences to the health of the world of the tests that are now going on.
I do not claim to be a scientific expert, and I should be bogged down in roentgens and curies if I were to pretend to be anything but a layman, but it seems to me to be clear, after reading this Report, that so far as strontium is concerned there is greater danger for those areas where the human being as well as the animal lives to a greater extent off the leaves of plants and off the products of the earth and in the open. In other words, the great peasant nations of the world are, I should have thought—and I think that my right hon. Friend will agree with me—in greater danger of the assimilation of this dreadful, insidious corrupter of the human bone. I refer the House to the bottom of page 57 of the Report for my evidence in that respect.
That is why I think that it is from these nations that there will come a passionate appeal to the great industrial nations to stop this menace to the health of the world. That is why the Indian delegate was heard at the Disarmament Sub-Commission last Thursday.
The following day, the United States of America gave her reply. Mr. Wadsworth said this:Properly conducted tests do not constitute a hazard to human life and safety.What do we mean by properly constituted tests? Where is the medical evidence for that? Are we to have a report telling us just what are properly conducted tests? I ask tonight whether it is the policy and belief of Her Majesty's Government that there is no danger to the health of the world from the continuance of tests.
I was horrified to find that the British delegate at the Disarmament Sub-Commission endorsed the American attitude. When Mr. Wadsworth, of the United States, spoke only last Friday and said, "There is no danger; we can go on ignoring the Indian people," he was backed by the British delegate, and I say 964 that we on this side of the House would not endorse that complacency of attitude. We were also told by the American delegate that there could be no suspension of tests until there was international agreement under proper safeguards to eliminate—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
In so far as these tests affect health, that is in order, but when the hon. Lady goes on to political control she is stepping beyond the bounds of the debate.
§ Mrs. Castle
I think, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that from my reading of the Report I am in order. We cannot assess the medical consequences except in relation to the number of tests and the rate of firing. That is a medical factor.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I appreciate that, and that argument is in order. What I am objecting to is stepping out into the sphere either of foreign affairs or of defence.
§ Mrs. Castle
What I am asking, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is this. How many tests do the Government consider to be safe in the light of the medical evidence of this Report—how many a year? And what size of bomb? That is the medical question which I am asking. I am doing so because the British delegate, last Friday, associated himself with the American delegate's statement that there should be no suspension of tests until there had been an absolutely watertight international agreement eliminating nuclear weapons altogether. That, as things stand today, is in the "Never Never Land." Yet that is what our delegate voted for in our name.
What is the medical evidence on which that sort of policy is based? Where, in this Report, are we told that this sort of development is medically safe? I deplore the way in which the Government have taken a very cautious assessment by scientists who were not doing a political job and many of whose statements have been contradicted by other scientific and medical authorities who take a more urgent point of view.
The Report has been quoted in the House, in the Disarmament Sub-Commission and all over the place as proof that we can go on making these tests on an increasing scale without any check. Their suspension is made conditional on quite 965 impossible disarmament objectives. It is because of this dangerous development in the last few years that I deplore the fact that there is no Foreign Office spokesman here tonight to tell us what the policy of the Government is on the matter of hydrogen bomb tests.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. R. H. Turton)
The Manchester Guardian this morning was a little apprehensive about how the House of Commons would face up to a debate on this Report. Having listened to this surprisingly short debate, I must say that I think that the newspaper need have had no apprehension at all. The high level of speeches on both sides of the House has been very remarkable on what is a very technical problem. I have great sympathy with the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). I am terrified of getting bogged down in roentgens, and I shall try, as far as I can, to avoid that misfortune.
I think that the first duty which the House would wish me to perform is to express the thanks of Her Majesty's Government and, I think I can say, of everybody in this House, to the Committee which produced this Report. The doctors and scientists selected by the Medical Research Council to serve on the Committee were the most distinguished men in this country, and, I believe, in the world, with knowledge of these technical and vital problems. I believe that the whole country owes a great debt to the Committee, not only for its careful examination of these problems, but also for the clear and concise way in which it expressed its conclusions on problems which, though abstruse, vitally affect the future of each one of us.
If I might summarise my general conclusion on the Report before I come to the debate, it is this. This is no new problem. Natural radiation and its properties have been known for very many years, but to this we have added man-made radiation. Both good and ill effects are derived from irradiation, and when as Minister of Health I visit wards in hospitals, I am very conscious of some of the benefits which flow from these discoveries.
The findings of the Report are reassuring. They do not reveal any present danger from the peace-time uses of radiation. We are entering a new age—I was 966 surprised that more was not made of that point in the debate—in which it is possible that nuclear energy may become the principal source of power. It is therefore very necessary for us to have a thorough understanding of the extent of the dangers that may accompany our scientific progress, in particular the possible harmful genetic effects on the population.
Clearly, we should try to work out the safety limits, and, at a time when the amount of radiation from the new sources of power is likely to increase, we must avoid any extra radiation which is not absolutely necessary. It is to this task that the Committee addressed itself.
The Committee recognised the wide range of permissible scientific opinion. It stated in paragraph 5 of its Report:… we feel reasonably confident that the general picture that we have drawn is unlikely to be found grossly inaccurate in perspective or scope.While the Committee was examining these problems, an investigation was being carried out in America into the biological effects of atomic radiation. It is a remarkable fact that, working independently, both investigations have reached broadly similar conclusions.
One of the advantages of this Report is that, having devoted the first six chapters to a technical discussion of the issues involved, it provides a summary and then, in Chapter VIII, concisely sets out its conclusions.
I believe that my best way of replying to the debate is to deal with the points raised and the questions asked and to explain the action which Her Majesty's Government intend to take on the Report in the order of the conclusions given in Chapter VIII, referring where necessary to the earlier passages of the Report.
The first conclusion is what I emphasised, that at the present time any addition to radiation should require careful justification before it is permitted. This points to the danger.
We are, as we believe, entering a nuclear age which is going to be for the advantage of mankind. Those who are helping us to usher it in are included in the second conclusion. It deals with those who are by occupation exposed to an additional risk compared with the rest of the community. It points out that the dose should not exceed 0.3 roentgen weekly averaged over any period of 13 consecutive weeks; that should be the 967 maximum permissible dose. During a whole lifetime, no person engaged should be allowed to accumulate more than 200 roentgen of "whole-body" radiation. Also, in order to provide against the genetic effects, no individual should be allowed to accumulate more than 50 roentgen of radiation to the gonads up to the age of 30 years. There follows the proviso that this allowance should not apply to more than one-fiftieth of the total population of this country.
The point that I want to make is that the Atomic Energy Authority will have no difficulty in carrying out these recommendations. They will be carried out. It may mean a certain amount of shift re-arrangement, but there will be no difficulty in fulfilling the recommendations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) seemed to find a conflict between conclusion 2 (c) and conclusion 3. There is no conflict. Conclusion 2 deals with those undergoing an occupational risk, a very small proportion of the whole population—the employees of the Atomic Energy Authority number 7,000—while conclusion 3, with which I will deal in a minute, refers to the permissible dose for the whole population. There is nothing inconsistent in that, and it must be remembered—some hon. Members forgot it—that conclusion 2 (c) deals only with those who have an occupation risk, at the moment a very small proportion of the population.
It is extremely easy to comply with the conclusion that the allowance should not apply to more than one-fiftieth of the total population. That is inserted to guard against any future genetic danger when we are living in an age when nuclear energy is universally employed in this country.
Next we come to the dose level for the population. The Report states that for genetic purposes the limit should be an extra dose of twice the natural background. I want to reinforce that, because the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) quoted a rather abbreviated report from The Times of a speech by Sir Ernest Rock Carling which the right hon. Lady thought made it appear that we are in some greater danger of breaking the rule in conclusion 3.
968 The position at the moment is that a normal average person up to the age of 36 accumulates 3 roentgens, and conclusion 3 says that there must not be more than 6 extra roentgens, making a maximum permissible limit of 9 roentgens. The evidence in the Report shows that at the moment the total amount of man-made radiation is 27 per cent. of the natural background, and therefore there is still a very large safety limit between the 27 per cent. of natural background and the 200 per cent. which would be the limit under conclusion 3. That is the position at the moment, and it is important to get it into perspective. In all these matters, it is very unwise either to exaggerate or to minimise the dangers. What this country wants to do is to appreciate exactly what this Report says without undue exaggeration or undue complacency.
Now I come to the very difficult problem of fall-out, and it is very important that we should get this in its correct perspective. There are two aspects of the dangers from fall-out. One is the hazards from external radiation. The position is that the present external radiation from all fall-out is less than 1 per cent. of the natural radiation.
§ Dr. Stross
Surely the right hon. Gentleman must agree that that is the figure for us in these islands, not for the world as a whole?
§ Mr. Turton
I did point out earlier that at the same time as this Committee was carrying out its investigations, a similar committee was carrying out investigations in the United States. I have said that broadly the conclusions formed by both the American and the British investigations are similar. It is a fact that, in the opinion of this Committee—which I know the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) realises was composed of the most distinguished scientists and doctors on this subject we have in this country—at the moment the external radiation is in fact smaller than radiations coming from all the luminous wrist watches in this country.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) is an absolutely valid one. The Minister is trying to limit his remarks to national 969 frontiers. I thought it was quite clear from what I said and from what I quoted that the effects of fall-out cannot be limited to national frontiers because fall-out will be blown all over the world.
§ Dr. Stross
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers my right hon. Friend, may I beg him to believe that I would not dream of denigrating the very eminent scientists who compiled this Report and the one published in the United States. All I say, as I said in my speech, is that in this country, and no doubt in North America also, there is better protection in our houses. We do not live out-of-doors as much as other peoples in other countries who have very frail insubstantial houses to protect them.
§ Mr. Turton
In reply to the right hon. Lady, of course I accept that fall-out falls all over the world, and it is a level fall-out. Therefore the conclusion of this Committee applies to fall-out not only in this country but elsewhere. I agree with the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central that we live in houses where we are protected from some of this radiation. As we have seen from the newspapers today, there is a greater peculiarity in Aberdeen than has been noticed before. There is 15 per cent. more radiation among Aberdonians than in other parts of the country. That is because of the granite subsoil. In other parts of the country, there will be very small variations due to differences in the soil, and, no doubt, because of the habits of the population. Generally the Committee has told us that, so far as external radiation is concerned, the danger from diagnostic X-rays is 22 times greater than that from the fall-out from experiments; but they point out—this it seems to me is the greater danger—the question of radioactive strontium.
The right hon. Lady chided me, as is not unusual on her part, for undue complacency when last week she made a somewhat surprising quotation from this Report. She said:if bombs are dropped in the next thirty years at the same rate as they are now being dropped, the effect of strontium on the bone structure would be very serious."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1956; Vol. 556, c. 12.]She said that was what the Report recommended. I thought it was unwise at that moment to challenge the right hon. 970 Lady to get it correct. I knew that we were to have a debate shortly, and I thought it would be better if I quoted in the debate exactly what the position is. It is stated in the Report as follows:… if the rate of firing increases and particularly if greater numbers of thermo-nuclear weapons are used, we could, within the life-time of some now living,"—not thirty years; they talk about eighty years—be approaching levels at which ill-effects might be produced in a small number of the population.That is the extent of the danger. In other words, taking the maximum permissible amount of radioactive strontium at 1,000 units, as it is supposed to be, and the amount which is regarded as dangerous as 100 units, the amount so far attributable to the fall-out from all these tests is one unit. That is stated in this Report, founded on scientific evidence, and that is the extent of the danger. Certainly if the rate of firing increased, that danger would grow greater.
May I deal with a point made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale), who has explained to me that he cannot be in the Chamber to hear my reply. It may be valuable for the record if I answer the point he made about the fall-out in respect of strontium 90 not being a level fall-out. He instanced the example of the Welsh mountain sheep. I am advised that that is no evidence of any irregularity in fall-out. In the case of the Welsh mountain sheep, there is a very long grazing cycle. The grass grows very slowly and the amount of strontium 90 in the grass on the Welsh mountains is greater than in other grasses on flat country, which are eaten more quickly, thus preventing the strontium from accumulating to the same extent. That example is no evidence of any disparity in the fall-out. As far as evidence is obtainable, the fall-out in strontium 90 is reasonably level throughout the country.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Some of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks are based on the assumption that the rate of firing will not increase. Can he say whether it has increased since the Report was written? His argument is valid only if he can say that it has not. Has the rate of firing remained the same as when the Report was written, or has the rate increased during the last few weeks?
§ Mr. Turton
The right hon. Lady has missed the point. I was trying to correct a mis-statement which she made in the House last Monday when she misquoted the Report. I am trying to explain the Report to the House and to show the extent of the danger. The Report says that if the rate of firing increases and if a greater equivalent of T.N.T. is used in the explosions, then there will be a danger occurring in about eighty years.
§ Dr. Summerskill
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer my question? None of this is valid. I have quoted this myself, and he has told me nothing new. I quoted it in my opening speech in order to show the House that I was fully alive to precisely what strontium did. The Report says:… if the rate of firing increases and particularly if greater numbers of thermo-nuclear weapons are used, we could, within the life-time of some now living, be approaching levels at which ill-effects might be produced in a small number of the population.He has now argued, "Well, this really means nothing. It means, perhaps, in the next fifty years or so." His argument is only valid if the rate has not increased since this was written. If it has increased—and I quoted the increase—if it has increased during the last few weeks, his argument is not valid. Surely, that is plain.
§ Mr. Turton
I think the right hon. Lady is under a misunderstanding there. The Committee is talking not of a rate of fire over any one week or period of weeks, but of a rate of fire over a period of years. I am not trying to minimise the danger, or arguing that it is less than the Report has stated. In regard to strontium 90, the Report says that if the rate of fire increases, then, in some eighty years' time, there might well be a danger in this respect.
What the Government have done about this is as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has repeatedly stated.… Her Majesty's Government are prepared to discuss methods of regulating and limiting test explosions which take account of their own position as well as that of other Powers.Specific proposals for the limitation and eventual prohibition, under proper control, of test explosions, were, in fact, an integral part of the United Nations Disarmament Sub-Committee's plan which was put forward on Anglo-French initiative on 19th March.
972 The House will recall that that working document provided, in the first stage, for the establishment of a special branch of the control organ to supervise the limitation of nuclear test explosions. In the second stage, the limitation of those explosions comes into effect, and at the third stage there comes the prohibition, under control, of nuclear test explosions for military uses, although nuclear explosions directed towards the application of atomic energy for peaceful purposes may take place under control, subject to the approval of an international scientific committee. At the same time there is the prohibition of the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
That is the proposal that Her Majesty's Government and representatives of the French Government have put before the United Nations Disarmament Committee. On Thursday last, the Prime Minister explained that we should prefer that such discussion… should be pursued within the context of a comprehensive agreement on disarmament. For our part, however, we should not exclude other methods of discussion acceptable to those concerned."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th July, 1956; Vol. 556, c. 590.]The Government will do their best to see that progress is made in this matter. That is the position on this danger from fall-out which is mentioned in conclusions 4 (a) and (b) of the Report.
In conclusion No. 5, the Committee dealt with the dangers arising from radiation, both medical and industrial. My hon. Friends the Members for Clitheroe (Mr. Fort) and for Abingdon asked me what action the Government were taking in this regard. So far as industry, other than the hospitals, is concerned, firms using radioactive isotopes are visited by the Factory Inspectorate to ensure that precautions are adequate, and an advisory booklet, "Precautions in the Use of Isonising Radiations in Industry" has been issued.
It was in 1947 that regulations were made under the Factories Acts to protect the workers in factories using luminous compounds. More general regulations covering other uses of radioactive substances and irradiating apparatus in factories are in draft, and are being discussed with the experts concerned. I understand from my right hon. Friend that these regulations will be published early in the New Year.
973 Occupational hazards in medicine arise amongst those employed in hospitals on X-ray diagnostic and therapeutic work and in using radioactive substances. The standards of protection were drawn up by the British X-ray and Radium Protection Committee, which was set up in 1921, and periodically its recommendations have been revised by preceeding Ministers of Health on the advice of the committee.
The Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Charles Darwin, has now prepared a comprehensive code of practice for use in National Health Service hospitals. This is undergoing final revision and, as I told the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Mr. Blenkinsop), it is being issued shortly. But it is important that we should now consider whether that code should be modified or supplemented in the light of the Report of the Medical Research Council. Therefore, that matter is now being referred to the Advisory Committee for consideration.
To assist in carrying out the code as well as to assist in applying existing protective measures both in hospitals and in industry, a Radiological Protection Service has been set up by the Ministry of Health and the Medical Research Council, and that is continuing and extending the work carried out for many years by the National Physical Laboratory. Therefore, the answer to the question put by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East is that we will see that that is carried out by the Radiological Protection Service.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Am I to understand that this committee which the right hon. Gentleman is proposing to set up is going to carry out some investigations and a regular survey in hospitals to make sure that the practice everywhere is up to a proper standard?
§ Mr. Turton
I am not setting up a committee. There is a Radiological Protection Service which sees that the code of practice is duly carried out. That is also an obligation on my Department as well.
The important part of these conclusions deals with the recommendation that the present practice in diagnostic radiology should be reviewed and that the use of radio-therapy in non-malignant condition should be critically examined. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central 974 pointed out, the Committee says that the contribution from this source is 20 per cent. of the natural background, but, as he points out—and I wish to emphasise this—the Committee was drawing particular attention to X-rays of the pelvis and the lumbar region, and the effect of X-rays of the chest, with mass miniature radiography, is very small.
These are essentially clinical matters which must be considered and advice given by representatives of the medical and dental professions for the benefit of all their colleagues. Accordingly, Her Majesty's Government have decided to appoint as soon as possible a special committee composed of scientists and professional men to review these questions and to make recommendations. The committee will be appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself after consulting the Royal Medical Colleges and Corporations, the British Medical and Dental Associations, the Faculties of Radiology and Dentistry and other professional bodies concerned. I am happy to be able to announce tonight that Lord Adrian has consented to be the Chairman of this Committee.
There followed in the Report a suggestion that irradiation from such sources as pedoscopes, luminous watches and clocks, and television apparatus, should be reduced as far as possible. The first of these is already under review by a panel of the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee, and I am inviting the Committee also to review these other sources and to advise me on them as soon as possible. Finally, it is suggested that for future genetic studies it is essential to collect more detailed information when births, marriages and deaths are registered. Detailed recommendations will be discussed with the Registrar General.
Many important questions in this subject need further inquiry. The Report provides a firm basis for action, but, as stated in paragraph 14:Much research on many broad fronts will be required.The Committee is to re-assemble after the Summer Recess to consider and submit to the Medical Research Council its recommendations for future work. In recent years, the Medical Research Council has sponsored a substantial programme of research, including research on the genetic effects, for more than ten 975 years. Their present expenditure in this direction is about £400,000 a year.
Thanks to this work, in which the scientists in this country have set an example to the world, we have been brought to the threshold of knowledge. It is clear that a considerable expansion of this research in many directions will be needed if the potentialities of nuclear energy are to be exploited with confidence and safety. The Government regard this as a matter of high priority, and the House can rest assured that immediate action will be taken when the further recommendations are received.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Can the right hon. Gentleman say anything about our contribution to international research, and whether he is fully seized of the importance of our playing a really full part in this matter?
§ Mr. Turton
As the hon. Gentleman knows, an international committee is at work at the present time and is being furnished with the Report that we are discussing today. The hon. Gentleman also knows that most of the leading men in this country on this subject are actually serving on that international committee.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Report on the Hazards to Man of Nuclear and Allied Radiations (Command Paper No. 9780).