HC Deb 23 January 1958 vol 580 cc1251-3
50. Mrs. Butler

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of recent evidence, particulars of which have been communi- cated to him by the hon. Member for Wood Green, regarding the danger to, health of fall-out from previous hydrogen bomb tests, he will now agree to suspend any further hydrogen bomb tests by this country.

Mr. R. A. Butler

I have been asked to reply.

No, Sir. I am advised that the figures, of strontium 90 in the cutting sent me by the hon. Member were estimates made during the United States Congressional Hearings last July of levels in human bone which might be reached in the United States if bomb tests were continued for a number of years. Even if these levels were eventually reached they would not be more than a small fraction of the level of 100 units which the reports of the Medical Research Council and of the United States Academy of Sciences regarded as the maximum permissible level for the population as a whole.

Mrs. Butler

In view of the fact that the report in the Lancet indicates that 10 units may be extremely dangerous from the point of view of skeletal concentrations of Strontium 90, and of the fact that there is no threshold below which no damage is done genetically by man-made radiation, and of the doubt there is in the matter, is it not imperative that the Government should seek to protect the health of the people of this country, particularly of the children, by abandoning any further nuclear weapon tests while seeking to get international agreement on the ending of tests?

Mr. Butler

I am informed that any extra evidence that we can get will be, as is the evidence we get regularly, closely studied by the Medical Research Council in conjunction with the Report prepared by the United Nations Scientific Committee on Radiation. I cannot anticipate the findings of this report, but as far as I can see the general trend of the evidence is in line with the conclusion in the Medical Research Council's Report.

Mr. Bevan

Is it not obvious that the whole conception of the threshold is absurd? There must be a large number of people in the world who are liable to be affected by the degree of radiation normally existing, and if the degree is raised is it not obvious that more people will be affected and that, therefore, the whole conception of a threshold is a political category having no scientific validity at all? Therefore, will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, for the sake of health, tests ought to be stopped, and would he not further agree that it is essential to stop the tests by Britain, Russia and America in order that other countries not yet making tests may be deterred from starting them?

Mr. Butler

The broader question of stopping tests does not arise on this Question, but it does arise in our consideration of the letter we have received from Mr. Bulganin and in the general development of British policy, and I will bear in mind what has been said, but I can say no more on this occasion than that we are nowhere near the limit of danger mentioned.

Mr. Bevan

Will the right hon. Gentleman reply to the first part of my supplementary question? Is it not a fact that the whole conception of the threshold has no scientific validity and that any increase in radioactivity must affect larger numbers of people?

Mr. Butler

Of course, if the effect is larger it affects larger numbers of people. It is a simple way of putting things. We are relieved to some extent to feel that it does not fall yet within the zone of extreme danger mentioned by the Medical Research Council.

Dr. Summerskill

May I refresh the right hon. Gentleman's memory? The Medical Research Council's Report to which he has referred said in 1956, when the Council reported, that if tests continued at the "present" rate—which was that before 1956—then there would be danger to the health of some "now living". Since that Report, which was made in 1956 at the request of the Government, tests have increased.

Mr. Butler

Yes, it is undoubtedly the case that there is a level of danger, but we have not yet reached the level of danger which the Medical Research Council regarded as dangerous.