HC Deb 04 May 1959 vol 605 cc11-4
28. Mr. Swingler

asked the Minister of Health how many persons in his Department and in the field of official medical research are at present employed on the analysis of the effects of nuclear and allied radiations.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Analysis of the effects of ionising radiations forms part of the research and other activities of a number of organisations and the total number of individuals involved is not readily ascertainable. My Department shares with the Medical Research Council responsibility for the Radiological Protection Service, which has an establishment for 62 staff, 44 of them scientific and technical.

Mr. Swingler

Is the Minister completely satisfied that he has the best scientific brains in the country at his disposal to advise the country on this matter? Is he aware that, quite apart from the merits or demerits of the Government's statements, there is an increasing anxiety amongst the public about the apparent conflict of scientific opinion on these matters and the fact that many eminent physicists and geneticists here and abroad have given opinions showing that they regard the situation as far more dangerous than do the Government's advisers?

Mr. Walker-Smith

No, Sir. I do not think that there is the degree of conflict of opinion to which the hon. Member refers. As he knows, the research effort in this country is mainly under the aegis of the Medical Research Council and the Agricultural Research Council respectively, and both of these are the Departmental responsibility of my noble Friend the Lord President of the Council.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that, however able and exact the scientific advice which the Government receive on this subject, there will still be those who, for international political reasons, refuse to accept it?

Dr. Summerskill

While disregarding the noble Lord's fatuous intervention, may I ask the Minister what plans are in preparation for the protection of the public in the event of an announcement being made that there has been a further increase in strontium in the atmosphere?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I do not think that it would be right to answer a far-ranging question of that sort except on specific notice. If the right hon. Lady cares to put the Question down, it will be answered in due course. I replied because I should not like by silence to be thought to associate myself with her assessment of my noble Friend's very proper supplementary question.

29. Mr. Swingler

asked the Minister of Health if he will produce and circulate to the general public an explanatory booklet, written in terms intelligible to the layman, on the hazards to man of nuclear and allied radiations and the authoritative views of the official scientific advisers of Her Majesty's Government on the subject.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Both the report of the Medical Research Council on hazards to man of nuclear and allied radiations and the more recent report of the United Nations Scientific Committee were written in terms intended to be within the grasp of the layman. I am not sure that a more simplified explanatory booklet would be feasible at present.

Mr. Swingler

Is the Minister aware that not all laymen, at any rate, can grasp the terms in which the recent Government statements have been couched, nor can they understand some of the ambiguous and speculative statements which seem to be included and which give rise to a great deal of anxiety? As on some of these subjects there are distinguished scientists, whether politically suspect or not, such as Dr. Linus Pauling, who make categorical assertions, whereas the Government on the other hand are ambiguous, ought not the public to be told in plain terms what conclusions the Government have reached on the basis of their present scientific advice?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I do not think there is any ambiguity in this matter. It is necessarily highly technical, but the M.R.C. publication on hazards to man of nuclear and allied radiations and the report of the United States Scientific Committee on the effects of atomic radiation, issued last August, have, as far as is possible, relegated their highly technical material to appendices, and the body of the reports are supposed to be reasonably intelligible to the layman.

Mr. Fort

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noted that in the United Nations Report there was agreement not only in the views of the British representatives of the Medical Research Council but also among the scientific representatives of eleven other nations, including the U.S.S.R.?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Yes. I think that is a very valuable and gratifying fact.

30. Mr. Swingler

asked the Minister of Health at what intervals regularly he receives expert reports upon the hazards to man of radioactive fall-out and allied dangers.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Regular reports are not submitted to me, but my Department is, of course, in touch with the arrangements for monitoring and reporting on fall-out which have been described by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on several occasions. Hazards from medical uses of radiation are under review by Lord Adrian's Committee.

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