HC Deb 16 November 1959 vol 613 cc792-3
32. Mr. Driberg

asked the Minister of Health, as representing the Minister for Science, what investigations are being conducted into the relation between fallout from nuclear and atomic bomb tests and the increased death-rate from leukaemia; and if he will circulate in HANSARD figures showing what increase there has been, the geographical distribution of this increase, and any other relevant data.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Derek Walker-Smith)

I apologise for the length of this answer. Statistical studies are being made of the leukaemia death-rate in relation to the level of background radiation in different parts of the United Kingdom; experimental work on the induction of leukaemia by radiation is also being carried out on animals. A prime object in both studies is to discover whether there is any relation between the incidence of leukaemia and very low doses of radiation such as those attributable to fall-out. An increase in the death rate from leukaemia was observed for many years before the explosion of the first atomic bombs and has been continuing.

The number of deaths from leukaemia in different local authority areas is published annually by the Registrar General. The results of measurement of fallout in air, rain, soil, herbage, milk and other foodstuffs and in human and animal bones are published as they become available by the Atomic Energy Research Establishment and the Agricultural Research Council; and I see no advantage in re-publishing them in HANSARD.

Mr. Driberg

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman mean by his Answer that he sees no cause for concern in the figures which have lately been published for certain parts of this country?

Mr. Walker-Smith

It depends on what the hon. Gentleman means by "concern". Obviously there is here a continuing cause for inquiry and sound scientific examination, and I can assure him that the whole subject is receiving this.

Mr. Driberg

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman feels concern—and, after all, he is concerned about health as well as about science—is he constantly impressing on his colleagues in the Government the possibly urgent danger that there is here and the terrible consequences, for which he and they would be partly responsible, which might follow any resumption of tests?

Mr. Walker-Smith

The hon. Gentleman must get his observations in relation to the known scientific facts on this matter. He will remember, as the House will remember, that fall-out is a relatively small source of radiation compared with natural background radiation and with that from medical diagnostic radiology.

Dr. Summerskill

In view of the detailed investigation that is being carried out, would the Minister consider letting the House know the distribution on an occupational basis when he has the figures?

Mr. Walker-Smith

The question of an occupational basis rather than a territorial basis raises a different aspect, but I will certainly ask my noble Friend to consider what the right hon. Lady has said.