§ [Queen's Recommendation signified.]
§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).
§ [Sir GORDON TOUCHE in the Chair]
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to increase the amount which may be borrowed by the Gas Council and Area Boards under the Gas Act, 1948, and to amend that Act with respect to the expenses of the Minister in connection with the testing of gas for compliance with standards prescribed under that Act, it is expedient to authorise such increases in the sums which by or under any enactment are to be or may be charged on or issued out of the Consolidated Fund raised by borrowing, or paid into the Exchequer as may result from provisions of the said Act for increasing up to five hundred and twenty-five million pounds, in the case of borrowings before the end of March, nineteen hundred and sixty-six, the limit imposed by subsection (3) of Section forty-two of the Gas Act, 1948, upon the aggregate amount outstanding in respect of borrowings by the Gas Council and Area Boards.—[Mr. Wood.]
§ Resolution to be reported.
§ Report to be received Tomorrow322
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Sir Keith Joseph)
I beg to move. That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is part of the family of legislation introduced by successive Governments to ensure that the people may benefit and not suffer harm from nuclear development. There have been the Atomic Energy Act, 1946, the Radioactive Substances Act, 1948, the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954, and the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959. One object of each of the last two Measures was to provide temporary ministerial control over the major discharges of radioactive waste.
The quantities of radioactive waste discharged by most users of radio isotopes, such as hospitals, factories and research establishments, are small. Up to the present, they have been capable only of being governed by the law controlling the disposal of ordinary wastes, in particular, the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951, and the Public Health (Drainage of Trade Premises) Act, 1937.
The authorities exercising these powers have not always felt competent to decide the very technical problems arising in this new sphere, and advice has been given by my right hon. Friend's Department to the authorities and users of radioactive substances. Other Measures ensuring safety are either in force or are contemplated by my right hon. Friends the Ministers of Labour and Transport.
This general account of the background may serve to put the purpose of the Bill in proper perspective. It is not, except to a very limited extent, a substitute for the existing measures on atomic energy. It is not, as some people seem to have concluded, a general measure to cover all aspects of radiological safety. If it were, it would simply duplicate many of the provisions already on the Statute Book.
The Bill is not concerned with furthering the production of atomic energy, the maintenance of industrial 323 safety in factories, the prevention of accidents in nuclear reactors, or even the safe transport of radioactive substances. It is not primarily directed to special measures for the protection of special groups of the population—firemen, policemen, transport workers, and so on—although some of its provisions will be of incidental benefits to such groups. It is a Bill to protect the public at large from any adverse consequences which, in a nuclear age, might flow from the uncontrolled discharge of radioactive waste. The whole philosophy of the Bill is that by tackling the subject on this relatively narrow front it will be more effective for that purpose.
There are now upwards of 1,000 users of radioactive substances in this country, and from this variety of users there is bound to be some waste material for disposal. However, the vast majority of users take only very small amounts of radioactive material with very short half lives. Waste from the few big users is already covered by temporary provisions which will be made permanent by the Bill. To make absolutely certain that the country should know the right way to deal with radioactive wastes, in 1956 my right hon. Friend invited the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee to appoint an expert panel to advise the Government. The Report of this expert panel is incorporated in the White Paper entitled "The Control of Radioactive Wastes". The recommendations in that Report have been accepted by the Government and are embodied in this Bill.
The three major principles in the White Paper concerning the machinery provided by the Bill are these. First, the control of radioactive wastes should be a central control exercised by the Government. Secondly, the control should be in two stages: first, the registration of persons keeping or using radioactive material; and, secondly, the authorisation of discharges of radioactive wastes. The third principle, both of the White Paper and of the Bill, is that there should be a national disposal service for waste which cannot be disposed of without risk in the area where it arises. I will try to deal with these three major principles of the White Paper and of the Bill one by one.
324 First, let me deal with the national, as opposed to the local, character of the control that is proposed. There are two major arguments for this. The first is that nuclear science is so new and the supply of persons expert in it so small that there simply would not be enough of them to staff the many local authorities, river boards, local fishery committees and statutory water undertakings, interested in the control of the more orthodox kinds of pollution. The second argument is that the control of ionising radiations cannot be simply designed to avert immediate danger to health. It must also be designed to avert any risk of genetic hazard.
This second problem is of such importance to the nation as a whole that it cannot be sub-divided according to local areas. The principle of bringing radioactive waste under Government control has been discussed with the various associations of public and local authorities, which have accepted that a national control is the only workable one. So much for the first principle.
I now turn to the second principle, which is that there should be two stages of control. There must be no risk that there might be users with less than the highest standards of care and skill with regard to waste. There must, therefore, be a registration system. There is proposed in the Bill a system involving the registration of premises and mobile radioactive apparatus containing the radioactive material. The object of registration under the Bill is only to control radioactive waste. But for this deliberate limitation of powers in Clause 1 (5), the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend would be able to exercise a general control over any aspect of the use of radioactive material, whatever its purpose, and whether or not the control that they were exercising lay within their normal sphere of responsibility. No such general powers are sought.
The main reasons for the power to register are, first, to prevent users or processes which might throw up excessive or uncontrolled waste, and, secondly, to know in advance of all potential sources of waste and thus help the planning of disposal, which is the main object of the Bill. The second stage of control is the authorisation of disposals of radioactive waste. I repeat 325 that the object of these controls is first and foremost to safeguard public health. No consideration of industrial convenience will be allowed to stand in the way of that.
The third principle of the White Paper and of the Bill is that there should be available a national disposal service. The Atomic Energy Authority has agreed to act as the agent of the Ministers for two years from the effective date of the operation of the Measure. Arrangements will be made for the costs of the service to be charged to users. This does not mean that the local disposal of radioactive waste will cease. In many cases, local disposal is entirely safe and often is the safest of all methods of disposing of the waste, but the setting up of a national disposal service will deal with those wastes which cannot be safely disposed of by local means. So much for the main principle, both of the White Paper and of the Bill.
To turn to the provisions of the Bill itself, Clauses 1 to 5 provide for the registration of the keeping or use of radioactive materials. Copies of the registration will be sent to the local authorities concerned and will be available through them to other interested public authorities—statutory water undertakers, river boards, local fishery committees, and so on. By Clause 2, the Atomic Energy Authority's premises and, subject to certain provisions, sites licensed under the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959, are to be exempted from registration under the Bill. This is because controls equivalent to registration are already available under the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954, and the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959.
Clauses 6 to 8 provide that no one may accumulate or dispose of radioactive waste except in accordance with authorisations by the Secretary of State for Scotland or by my right hon. Friend. Disposals of waste by the Atomic Energy Authority or by nuclear site licensees in England and Wales are also to be covered by authorisations given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food after consultation with the appropriate public or local authorities. Again, local authorities are to receive, subject to considerations of national security, copies 326 of certificates authorising the disposal of waste.
Clause 9 and the First Schedule to the Bill provide that in the area covered by the new ministerial controls, local authorities shall not be able to exercise parallel powers over discharges of waste in so far as these discharges may be radioactive. This is only fair. The new controls are to be supported by severe penalty provisions and it would be an unwarrantable imposition if the people subject to them were to find that having complied with them, they were unexpectedly subject to separate proceedings by their local authority for the very same thing. If, however, the authorised disposal seems likely to involve any special precautions by a public or local authority, there is a guarantee in subsection (3) of Clause 9 that the authority will be consulted beforehand; and there is provision in subsection (4) whereby the authority may recover the cost of any precautions so taken.
Clause 10 will enable the Ministers to arrange a national disposal service of which I have spoken for waste that cannot be safely disposed of by local means. It will also enable the Ministers to step in and dispose of radioactive wastes where the owner seems incapable of doing so himself. Here again, the cost of any such intervention will be covered by charges made by the Ministers. In subsection (2) of Clause 10 there is a guarantee that the Ministers concerned will consult any public or local authority which seems to be affected by any proposal which he may have in mind to establish a dumping ground for radioactive wastes.
Clause 11 establishes a simple and informal appellate procedure against a Minister's refusal to issue a certificate of registration or authorisation or against conditions which he proposes to attach to it. Clause 12, together with the Second Schedule, provides for the appointment of inspectors and their rights of entry for the purposes of the Bill. Clause 13 provides the penalties.
Clause 14 exempts premises occupied by Government Departments. I emphasise that it is the Government's intention, despite Clause 14, to secure by administrative means that its own premises shall be subject to the same restraints and procedures as it is proposed to impose upon the subject. 327 Similarly, while subsection (5) of Clause 14 exempts premises occupied by visiting forces, the Minister, by arrangement with whom the premises are occupied, will be under an obligation to make sure that for the purposes of the Bill the premises are conducted as though his own Department occupied them.
In the Bill, we have not used the wide definition of "radioactive" employed in the Radioactive Substances Act, 1948. That was an enabling Act and the definition contained in it could be limited in regulations made under it. Had we used the same wide definition on this occasion, we would have brought under the Bill a great variety of familiar articles— wood, bricks, granite, and even, in certain circumstances, hon. Members of this House. Thus narrower and necessarily more complicated definitions have been used and will be found in Clause 18 of the Bill and the Third Schedule.
Even those definitions have for safety's sake been drawn on the wide side, including too much rather than too little. Provisions have, therefore, been made for classes of premises, radioactive material and radioactive wastes to be exempted if the substances in question, while technically within the definition, are evidently not worth controlling. Clauses 20 and 21 apply the Bill to Scotland and, at the request of the Government of Northern Ireland, to Northern Ireland, respectively.
All this discussion of the various aspects of control may give a quite false impression of imminent menace. Radioactivity is all about us and always has been. Nothing arising from the deliberations of, for example, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, which reported in 1958, or of our own Medical Research Council suggests that radioactive wastes in any shape or form have ever made more than a minor addition to the background radiation to which everyone is subject. It is the belief of the Government, and of the skilled advisers whose recommendations have now been published and incorporated in the Bill, that the application of prudent measures of control will keep it so.
It may be that in the future, the developing use of nuclear energy and of radioactive substances will be regarded as 328 the second Industrial Revolution. We do not want, as with the great Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, to welcome the great advances which this makes possible and then to realise, fifty or even a hundred years later, that we have to pay for them, to some degree, in terms of public health. The Bill will take its place with the Measures already enacted as part of the system of control enabling us to realise the maximum benefits of these new developments while avoiding their dangers.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Peart (Workington)
The Parliamentary Secretary has delivered a clear explanation of the purposes of the Bill and I congratulate him upon his clarity. In principle, we on this side welcome the Bill. We have always argued that matters of this nature should be brought up to date. In discussing the nuclear energy industry we are discussing a new industry with new problems. We are discussing also the use of new materials, such as radio isotopes. All these things have created new problems and inevitably the House of Commons must deal with varying kinds of safety measures. Therefore, we welcome the Bill.
I agree with the Parliamentary Secretary that it is a complicated Measure. Indeed, if we look at page 29 and the number of Statutes which are referred to in the Bill, we see that we are dealing with a Bill involving other legislation on a scale which leads to complications. Moreover, the Bill deals with a controversial scientific subject.
The Parliamentary Secretary has referred to the Government accepting a limited—or, it may be argued, a wide— definition of radioactivity. Here, again, we could be involved in scientific controversy. This is, however, a Bill of major importance. It should be discussed this evening in principle, but I hope that when we reach Committee we shall be able to argue it in greater detail. Obviously, there are matters of controversy concerning detail and I prefer at this stage to confine myself to the main principles of the Bill.
I agree with the Minister for Science who, on first introducing the Bill in another place, said:The clue to the understanding of this Bill lies in the fact that it is a Bill to govern the 329 disposal of radioactive waste."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords. 24th November, 1959; Vol. 219, c. 873.]The Parliamentary Secretary was right to explain in detail that while other problems of safety are involved, including the transport of nuclear materials and the care of workers in installations and factories, the Bill deals purely with the disposal of radioactive waste. In considering the main principles of this Measure we must always bear that in mind, together with the fact that it may however affect the safety of workers in installations.
Obviously, our legislation must be modified and modernised. The Parlia-mentary Secretary has dealt in detail with the various Acts governing nuisances. I could easily become involved in an agricultural argument. The Third Schedule to the Bill mentions the Sea Fisheries Regulation Act, 1888, by Section 2 (1, e) of which the then Board of Trade had power to deal with people who sought to put into the sea materials which injured sea fish and sea fishing. Obviously, that Act, as with the similar Act of 1923, the Salmon and Fresh Water Fisheries Act, which refers specifically to parts of my constituency lying on the Solway Firth and to the constituencies of my hon. Friends who are present tonight, although it provided certain powers whereby a fishery board or local authority involved could act to prevent nuisance, could not possibly deal with the new situation concerning the disposal of radioactive wastes in our coastal waters. Obviously, the people who were responsible for these legislative Measures did not visualise a nuclear age, and that is why, inevitably, we must modernise our legislation.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to post-war legislation involving nuclear energy and the securing of safety, the licensing of power stations and also the licensing of stations and installations outside those of the Atomic Energy Authority. Recently, we were discussing in detail the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959. That was an important Act, as was also the Atomic Energy Act, 1954, but even when we consider those two important pieces of legislation we must recognise that on the subject of the disposal of radioactive waste there must be permanent legislation and that it is necessary to consolidate and to improve.
330 With the development of nuclear energy and research and its application to our power industry, and with the ever increasing use of radioactive materials and of radioactive isotopes in industry, in agriculture, in our laboratories and in our hospitals, it has become urgent to consolidate old legislation and to initiate new. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that in this sphere of activity our scientific thinking and practice have outstripped our legislation. In other words, we politicians are behind the scientists and we must catch up. The Bill is an example of one of the ways in which the House of Commons and Parliament are seeking to catch up with the new techniques which are now being applied to industry and to the whole of our national life.
We must ask ourselves why precautions are needed and what aims we have in mind in this respect. The Parliamentary Secretary was very clear in his definition of aims. Obviously, we need precautions to protect the health of the public and of the workers in nuclear installations and those concerned with the transport of radioactive materials. The Bill seeks to protect the general public and individuals from the hazards of radiation.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the work of various committees and to the Report of the Medical Research Council on "The Hazards to Man of Nuclear and Allied Radiation". He referred to the whole problem of hazards in relation to our own environment. We had a dramatic illustration of this in April last year when three boys in Scotland handled radioactive material which had been dumped on a cliff. That example showed dramatically to the public the importance of the control of radioactive materials. Fortunately, no harm was done to the three boys, who were brought South to be monitored and tested.
Nevertheless, there are hazards, though it must be agreed that we must keep a sense of proportion in this matter. On the other hand, legislation must lean to the side of caution. Paragraph 266 of the excellent publication by the Medical Research Council to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred states:In the chapter on exposure levels, the contributions of the various man-made sources of ionizing radiation to the total exposure were 331 expressed as percentages of the radiation received from natural resources; and it was shown that today the population of this country receives, from man-made sources, a dose of radiation equal to at least one-quarter of that from the natural background. In itself this figure, which amounts to less than 1r over a period of 30 years, can give rise to no immediate apprehensions; but its significance should not be disregarded.I must make the obvious scientific point that whilst we are considering materials which have only a small effect on radiation in relation to the environment, there is, to use a scientific term, an additive effect which must be borne in mind in our precautions.
After a study of the excellent Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, one must agree with the view that as legislators we must lean to the side of caution, because in this matter there is no scientific certainty. Therefore, I agree very much with the Parliamentary Secretary's comments on the need for that caution.
The Bill has undoubtedly been inspired by the work and the recommendations of the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee and the Panel on Disposal of Radioactive Wastes. The Appendix to the White Paper on "The Control of Radioactive Wastes" gives an excellent survey. On behalf of the Opposition I should like to congratulate Dr. Key, the Chairman, Mr. Kenny, Radio-Chemical Inspector to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government who was Secretary of the Panel, and his Assistant Secretary, Mr. Taylor, a Higher Executive Officer at the Ministry. The panel worked very hard over two years to give us the benefit of its scientific knowledge and governmental experience in this matter.
It is true that the Bill is guided by three main principles. The first is national control, the second two-tier control and the third the creation of a national disposal service.
I accept national control, and I think that a study of the disposal of radioactive waste must inevitably lead us to the conclusion that local control is inadequate. I congratulate the Government in that for once they have not been doctrinaire. Perhaps Tory empiricism has moved towards Socialist practice. The impact of new technology and the appli- 332 cation of new techniques have shattered the world of those who would wish to resist State intervention and the development of national responsibility. Therefore, I congratulate Tory Ministers and the back-benchers who support them upon a wider extension of State control and responsibility. The Ministers have faced the inevitable.
They have derived much of their experience and their judgment from the successes of the publicly-owned Atomic Energy Authority. I say to my hon. Friends that we should not forget that hon. Members opposite are to be congratulated upon their defence of public ownership in matters concerned with atomic energy. As the White Paper shows, in the standards of safety which it observes in waste disposal the publicly-owned Atomic Energy Authority leads the world. Indeed the Report shows that private industry has not caught up with the standards laid down by a publicly owned body. I am glad, therefore, that the Atomic Energy Authority will be responsible for the disposal service for two years.
Since we are dealing with a thousand users of radioactive materials, there must obviously be a comprehensive system of control, and the Parliamentary Secretary carefully explained the Clauses which will deal with that control. At this stage we merely say that national control is inevitable. On the other hand, this does not mean that there should be no local responsibility. I know that many of my hon. Friends would like further explanation of the rôle of local authorities involved in this matter. I understood from the Minister that they are to have copies of the register and of the authorisations in their localities. In addition, there are the fishery committees and also the water undertakers, who control 95 per cent. of our piped water supplies in England and Wales. I am certain that during the Committee stage hon. Members will wish to point out that there could be a need for further certainty about consultation with those important bodies.
I agree with the second principle of two-tier control. I understand that we are to have (a) control of user by registration and (b) control of accumulation or disposal by authorisation. In other words, (a) is used as a means to (b) and registration is to precede authorisation. 333 It is right that this principle should be embodied in the Bill, but in the end its success will depend on the creation of a national disposal service.
Here we come to the third main principle embodied in the Bill. The Government have accepted the recommendations of the Advisory Committee. Under Clause 10 the Minister may establish a national disposal service and the White Paper states on page 45 that a central authority should be charged with the duty of ensuring that radioactive wastes are disposed of safely. It goes on to define the duty in paragraph 117.
Is there to be a central authority? Obviously the Atomic Energy Authority is to be the agent of the Minister of Housing and Local Government in this case. What will happen after two years? Is it the intention of the Government to create a new authority to be concerned only with disposal? Although the Atomic Energy Authority is concerned with the disposal of radioactive wastes, it has other functions. What is in the mind of the Minister?
Again, will the Authority create its own inspectorate or will the one that works under the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which has considerable experience of dealing with trade effluents, noxious gases and so on, be brought in? During the passage of the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Bill in June and July last year we argued about the main recommendation of the Fleck Committee, which dealt with safety in nuclear sites, concerning the creation of a health centre to be run under the Atomic Energy Authority. Is there to be a national training centre as regards waste disposal?
There is a problem here because there is a shortage of trained personnel. Obviously we must learn from the experience of the Atomic Energy Authority regarding safety in its own installations, and it may be that the inspectors whom the Fleck Committee recommended should be trained should be the people concerned with the disposal of radioactive wastes.
We could get involved in a major debate on disposal. This is not only a local problem; it is also a national one. Indeed, how to dispose of the waste of gaseous liquid and solid radioactive 334 materials is an international problem. It involves our sewers, drains, drinking water, and it affects agriculture as well as human life. Since we cannot be certain about even the disposal of waste, we must err on the side of caution, and more research is needed. There must be more research on the absorption of radioactive materials—and indeed adsorption—which affect our rivers. There is uncertainty about the sinking of radioactive substances and materials in river beds, so again I say that in discussing this matter we must err on the side of caution. Perhaps I should here point out that the International Atomic Energy Conference held in 1958 revealed a divergence of opinion.
Again, great uncertainty was revealed by the Monaco Conference of 1959. The Report of the Advisory Committee, which is embodied in the White Paper deals with some aspects of deep sea dumping carried out by the Atomic Energy Authority. It shows that there is uncertainty about the disposal of radioactive materials in parts of the Atlantic Ocean, such as the Hurd Deep. Research on oceanography has shown that scientists are not unanimous.
Papers submitted by Russian scientists at the International Conference accept the view that even when wastes are deposited in containers at great depth there is the possibility that after five years some radioactive materials may be carried up. Plankton and other fauna even at those depths may be affected. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) and I represent constituencies on the Solway Firth which are near to the great works of Windscale and Sellafield and in our area diluted wastes are taken three miles out to sea and dumped.
In no way do I wish to alarm my constituents in Cumberland because I know that the Atomic Energy Authority has taken great precautions and has done much research. It has taken samples of sea, fish, seaweed and sand, and I believe that the dangers to the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven and myself are remote. However, we hope that the need for a national disposal service will pinpoint the importance of the problem and will emphasise the need to make a careful approach. Indeed the Atomic Energy Authority has 335 done this in relation to Windscale, where it now monitors continually.
Finally, the disposal of solid wastes will be an important function of any disposal authority. Here, again, there is no certainly. Examining the scientific evidence presented to all international conferences, one can see that even scientists are uncertain. Physical and chemical engineers are still engaged on fundamental research on the subject.
The other day I read part of the evidence given last year to the International Atomic Energy Agency by the United States which is undertaking much research into the disposal of radioactive wastes in certain selected geological formations, particularly salt structures. We have the example of Canada which, for instance, is experimenting with new forms of containers and with the use of glass instead of steel. Countries like Belgium have prohibited the disposal of any radioactive wastes into the sea or rivers on the ground that there might be harm to public health and to native agriculture.
We cannot be certain. There are imponderables. We must create a central authority and have national control and modernise our legislation. We must have a form of consolidation. Above all, we must learn from the experience of the successful publicly owned Atomic Energy Authority. I am glad that that view has been accepted by the Minister. In principle, we accept the Bill, but in Committee we shall give it a great deal of scrutiny.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
Like the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), I welcome the Bill and congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on having introduced it so soon after our discussions last summer on similar legislation connected with the protection of the public.
I, too, pay a warm tribute to the work of the panel set up by the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee in June, 1956. Too often, we take the work of these Departmental committees for granted. The Report of the Committee is extremely good, because it is full of information and reasonably short. That is a great advantage, as all hon. 336 Members will agree. Too frequently, a report with all the facts is so long that it becomes unreadable. This Report gets it about right and I hope that my right hon. Friend will pass on to the panel the view of the hon. Member for Workington and myself, and, I am sure, all hon. Members, that the panel has done valuable work.
The Bill follows a long line of public health legislation in which this country and the House of Commons have so often been pioneers. At times, we are apt to see the deficiencies in our legislation and not take the credit which is due for getting ahead of most other countries. In the narrower field of waste disposal, which is only a part although an important part of public health, a comprehensive range of legislation is already on the Statute Book, as the panel says.
It may be asked what need is there for this Bill? The need for the Bill is that radioactive waste is different from all other forms of waste and effluent with which previous legislation has dealt. It is different because there are inherent risks to the human body from any source of ionising radiation. I draw the attention of hon. Members to paragraph 111 of the White Paper, in which the panel states:The population is, of course, subject to a certain amount of irradiation from natural sources. It could be reduced by living underground or in homes constructed of thick non-radioactive materials, but the cost and inconvenience would not be considered justified. A similar situation exists with radioactive waste disposal. It is not possible to achieve it without any irradiation of the public. The irradiation can be reduced to a very low level by suitable precautions specified later but further reduction would often require a disproportionate expenditure of effort and money.To that end, the panel suggested maximum standards of cumulative exposure to radiation to which the public could be safely subjected over a lifetime. Those standards are one-tenth of the maximum premissible limits for occupational workers laid down by the International Commission on Radiological Protection. In other words, we are legislating for maximum permissible standards which are 1,000 per cent. safer than those laid down by the International Commission. The hon. Member for Workington said that we should err on the side of safety and I am sure that we will all agree with that. Erring on the 337 side of safety to the extent of 1,000 per cent. fulfils the condition which the hon. Member suggested and I am very pleased that we should be erring with such a large margin of error on the right side.
The second reason why radioactive waste is different from normal waste is the difficulty of detecting radioactive substances. Radioactivity cannot be smelt, tasted, or felt, except in extreme cases. The normal radioactive wastes with which we are dealing are not detectable by the normal physical methods by which we detect the filthy smell of waste sulphur, for example, or any of the many waste effluents which we have come across before. Highly specialised equipment is needed to detect it and, more particularly, having detected it, to measure it. It is, therefore, right that this type of waste should be tackled separately.
A third reason why it should be dealt with separately is the damaging effects of an excessive dose of radiation. Those are not immediately apparent, except in very extreme cases, which are very unlikely to arise. In the sort of case which the Bill is intended to cover, it would not normally be apparent to the person concerned, through any physical reaction, that he had been in contact with a radioactive substance. It would be only in later years that that fact would emerge from a deterioration of some part of the body. In a different context, we know with concern, about certain blood diseases, like leukaemia, which can result from excessive radiation on certain parts of the body.
A fourth reason, which is consequential upon the other health hazard of radiation, is the possible genetic damage to future generations. In paragraph 112 of the White Paper the panel says:There is, however, an additional consideration with radioactive wastes, namely, the need to minimise the genetic damage to future generations, which calls for extra precautions as compared with those taken for other wastes and justifies a closer control over their production and disposal.It should be made clear that in no branch of medical science is knowledge more slender than it is about the long-term genetic effects of radiation. There is great controversy about the effect of radiation on mutations. Neither I nor any other hon. Member would come down on one side or the other of the controversy. Let us just say that the 338 issue is open and that there is no likelihood of its being immediately resolved. That is all the more reason why, as the hon. Member for Workington said, we should err on the side of caution.
There is already much legislation pertaining to radioactive waste. I hope that the public does not feel that up to now it has not been protected, and that this Bill is the first effort in that direction. Reference has been made to the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954, the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959, the Public Health Act, 1936, the Rivers (Prevention of Pollution) Act, 1951, the Factories Acts of 1947 and 1948, and many more such Measures. The Bill seeks to fill the gaps in that legislation and bring it up to date.
I have four comments to make on the provisions of the Bill. I am very pleased that this matter is being dealt with nationally and not locally. Some very good reasons are given in the White Paper, and there is one special reason why I welcome it. There is a shortage of trained staff to deal with these problems. We must husband our very limited resources, so that they can be used to the maximum effect. Paragraph 134 of the White Paper contains the panel's view on this matter, and says:We think it very doubtful whether local authorities, water authorities, river authorities and sewerage authorities will be able to obtain in the foreseeable future staff competent to carry out the work and to discuss the subject on equal terms with staffs of hospitals, factories and research establishments which produce wastes. They would have to compete in a market already inadequately supplied, for it is quite plain that there is an acute shortage of the type of person required.I recall raising a question in connection with the previous legislation last summer. I was then very concerned that proper steps should be taken to ensure that we trained sufficient of the very highly specialised scientists needed for this type of work—specialised both from the medical and from the physical and nuclear engineering points of view. I hope that either tonight, or when we deal with the appropriate Clause in Committee, we shall receive a rather more detailed statement from the Government about the steps being taken to train the necessary staffs.
Secondly, I welcome the fact that there is to be a central inspectorate. Is my 339 right hon. Friend going to set up his own inspectorate, as a separate organisation from that set up under the Nuclear Installation (Licensing and Insurance) Act, which comes under the control of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power? Will there be two inspectorates? Although I can see very strong argument for there being two, in view of the acute shortage of adequately trained people it might be better to start with one. If my right hon. Friend can reassure me that an adequate number of competent people can be found, I agree that it will obviously be administratively more convenient to have two inspectorates.
Thirdly, I should like to know more about the national disposal service. Like the hon. Member for Workington, I welcome Clause 10, which sets up this service, but I should like some more details about it. I should like to know where the waste is to be disposed of, and how the Government intend to deal with the storage of radionucleoids with long half lives. When they appear in the form of liquid effluent they can be concentrated into the solid form, but they leave behind them a quantity of highly radioactive subtances with very long half lives, which cannot be put into cold storage and taken out safely in a few years' time. Hon. Members know that many radioactive substances have half lives which are very much longer than the half life of this House. I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend has considered using the sea for this purpose.
What action has been taken internationally, as a result of the resolution adopted by the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea in April, 1958? I should like to read one paragraph of it, because some hon. Members may not be familiar with it. It recommendedthat the International Atomic Energy Agency, in consultation with existing groups and established organs having acknowledged competence in the field of radiological protection, should pursue whatever studies and take whatever action is necessary to assist States in controlling the discharge or release of radioactive materials to the sea, in promulgating standards, and in drawing up internationally acceptable regulations to prevent pollution of the sea by radioactive materials in amounts which would adversely affect man and his marine resources.340 I hope that at some stage during the passage of the Bill my right hon. Friend will give some indication of the action that has been taken internationally and by the Government to carry out that recommendation. It is all very well to talk gaily about this being a matter for international co-operation. We have had an international conference, and a recommendation has been made. What has been done about it?
My fourth comment looks a little ahead. Can my right hon. Friend tell me, at some stage during our proceedings on the Bill, what thought has been given to the final disposal of the reactor cores of our current nuclear power stations of the Magnox type, such as the Calder Hall Nuclear Power Station? I was surprised to read, in this otherwise admirable Report that the panel believes thatEventually, after twenty years or so of operation, the life of the reactor will come to an end, and we consider that there need be no public health hazard in disposing of the materials of the reactor which will constitute a solid radioactive waste.It it true that there need be no public health hazard, but what will be done about it? Are these reactors to remain as an unusable relic on our landscape? The information I have leads me to believe that it will not be possible to dismantle these reactors, because they are so highly radioactive, and since the main substance they will have been in contact with is uranium, in both its isotopes, both of which have immensely long half lives, I should like a reassurance from my right hon. Friend that in the construction of future power stations consideration will be given to the question of the way in which they will be finally disposed of after their planned life is over. As was said by the hon. Member for Workington, there are more details which we shall discuss during the Committee stage.
I think that we should be clear in our minds that a great deal has to be learned about this problem. I know that my right hon. Friend will keep the matter under constant review. We in this House will be prepared to give time for the discussion of any amending legislation which may be necessary in the light of new knowledge which the scientists may provide. Radionucleoids are substances about which few of us have a working knowledge. To many, they are still part of the great unknown. 341 Therefore, some of our constituents, understandably, have fears about the physical risks involved in their use.
I think that we can reassure them that when this Bill is on the Statute Book everything will have been done by Parliament, within the limits of our present knowledge, to protect the general public from any radiation risk which might arise out of the careless disposal of radioactive materials.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I wish to join in the welcome given to this Bill, the more so because it has been awaited with keen interest, not only by scientists and industrialists, but many public and local authorities which are involved in the disposal of waste and which have been particularly concerned about the disposal of radioactive waste.
Early last year, the Minister sent a circular to local authorities in which he referred to gaps in the existing disposal of radioactive waste. My own local authority was so concerned that is instructed the medical officer of health, if he had not some definite information about what was to be done by last September, to approach the Minister to find out what was happening. Therefore, we welcome the Bill and hope that it will be effective in tightening up the arrangements for the disposal of radioactive waste.
When the Bill was introduced in another place by the Minister for Science, he said that it was as good as the Government could make it. Having been examined in another place, I think it is a little better than when it was originally drafted. But I suggest, in support of what has been said by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price), that probably in twenty years' time hon. Members of this House, looking back on this Measure of which the Government and other people are now rather proud, will think that it was a fumbling attempt to deal with a great and very serious problem.
Our knowledge is limited and, therefore, although this Bill is as good as the Government can make it—and I hope that it will be improved still further during the Committee stage—it leaves many questions unanswered and many problems unsolved. We all recognise that no Bill of this kind can be foolproof. 342 The problems are so great that we cannot expect that. But I wish to emphasise one aspect of the problem which so far has not been mentioned, and that is the part which local and public authorities have to play.
The whole purpose of the Bill is to make the control of the disposal of radioactive waste a national service. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have welcomed that national basis. But, from statements made and from consultations which have taken place, I think that the implementation of its provisions will depend to a considerable extent on public and local authorities. I am glad that the Government—partly, I think, as a result of their experiences with the Nuclear Installations Act—have gone further in connection with this Bill in bringing in local authorities. They are to receive copies of certificates of registration and authorisation, and that is a good thing.
Local authorities have a responsibility. One can say that part of the reason why we are discussing this Bill now— as I think the Minister would acknowledge—is the pressure from local authorities for legislation on the subject, and it would seem important that they should be informed of all the users in their areas.
As I see it, the Bill leaves a gap, and I believe I am correct in saying that the difficulty arises in that at present details about some users are obtained by the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, not under statutory powers, but under confidential arrangements made with the Atomic Energy Authority, which is supplying radioactive isotopes as a commercial concern, and it is not the normal practice to make known the details of such transactions.
I think I am also correct in saying that such transactions will not be notified to the local authorities. The local authorities have asked that they should be notified of all users, and that the notification should be prompt. Again, I am not quite clear from the Bill how soon, in cases where they are entitled to have certificates, they will get them, because the essence of this matter is promptitude. I therefore hope that the Minister will say something about this either tonight or in Committee.
343 There was also reference in another place to the need for a certain secrecy where some firms were using radioactive substances and might not want to reveal the details of what they were doing to competitors, either in this country or overseas. There again, I would have thought, from everything that has been said tonight, that the feeling of the House itself would be very strong that, if there is any question of a Minister having to decide one way or the other, the emphasis should be on publication, at any rate to the local authorities, rather than an emphasis on the need for secrecy. As has been emphasised already, this is a Bill which is in the public interest, and everything which can possibly be made available in the public interest should be made available.
There is one small point in the Bill itself about which I am a little puzzled with regard to offences. The White Paper, in drawing attention to the need for registration, in paragraph 140, says this:It is not right that persistently careless or deliberately cheeseparing users should contaminate land, buildings or houses or produce radioactive waste unnecessarily; for ultimately members of the public will be irradiated without adequate cause. If we are to reduce irradiation of the public from this source to the lowest practicable, power to prohibit use is essential. If the registration of all users were decided upon, prohibition could be achieved by withdrawing the user's registration.Although the White Paper says this, and it seems to me to be an unanswerable argument, in Clause 13 of the Bill, which deals with offences, there is no question of withdrawing registration where an offence takes place. There is provision for fines or imprisonment or both, but not for withdrawing the registration. I should be glad if the Minister could give some indication whether an offender is to be permitted to continue to be registered if he commits such an offence, which I should have thought was a very serious one, and which would not entitle him to remain on the register.
There are one or two other points to which I should like to refer briefly. I am very glad that the Government have now agreed that copies of certificates of authorisation shall be sent to all public and local authorities which have been consulted. I think this is a step forward, 344 but nevertheless there is still a very limited number of cases in which consultation is called for under the Bill with bodies like river boards and water undertakings. I do not want to weary the House by going into detail as to what these limitations are. There are only three categories which have to be consulted, and I would ask the Minister if he would consider the matter a little bit further. I think we all realise the importance, particularly of river boards and water undertakings, in this connection of the disposal of radioactive waste.
We have had a number of debates recently in this House about the contamination of rivers and about the importance of keeping water as pure as possible. It would seem that the Government have nothing to lose but a great deal to gain by consultation with river boards and water authorities in the wider range of consultations which this Bill would make necessary, and not in the limited ones which have been already agreed under the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act and other Acts.
There is the further point that river boards, water undertakings, fire services, fisheries and other bodies which have an interest in this matter have now been put into a position by the Bill in which they can apply to the local authority to see copies of certificates which that local authority will have available, but there is no obligation on the Minister to send copies of certificates to those other public authorities. There is no obligation in the Bill on local authorities to send copies of certificates to those other public authorities.
The public authorities can go to the local authorities and ask to see copies of certificates, but that is a very cumbersome procedure. How are the public authorities such as river boards to know when a particular authority has received a certificate from the Ministry? Take the example of Middlesex. There are twenty-six authorities there. A river board would have to go to all twenty-six and ask, "Have you got a certificate and can we see it?" The answer which I believe the Minister gives on this point is that he wants to simplify procedure and that it is not practicable to send certificates to all the public authorities involved.
345 I ask him whether it would not be much simpler for his Ministry to send to all those public authorities copies of certificates and whether that would not be much more satisfactory in the long run? It would ensure that every authority which has an interest in the matter would know exactly what was happening and would be widewake to the problems in its area. That after all is the purpose of the Bill—to make sure that everything possible is done to bring this problem to the attention of those who have a responsibility for it.
In this connection and with regard to the inspectors, I believe that the Minister has in mind that at a certain stage when the number of registrations has become very large he should avail himself of the services of officials of such bodies as river boards. I think that a good thing. This is a point which I hope the Minister will consider very carefully, but while this is to be a national service and we welcome that, there is need for this co-operation between the Ministry and these local authorities and public authorities.
I should have thought the shortage of qualified people to act as inspectors would rather emphasise this need for co-operation. Because there are so few, it will be necessary to utilise all the trained people there are— employees of river boards, in some cases members of staffs of local authorities who specially qualify themselves—to try to get an integration of what is already being done by local bodies with what the Ministry is hoping to do under the Bill. Because of that, I hope that the Minister will give very careful consideration to representations which will be made to him on these points. It was said in another place that the problem with which we are dealing is subtle, invisible and slow-acting, and the purpose of the Bill is to try to guard against the subtle, invisible and slow-acting dangers of radioactive substances in industry, in medicine and elsewhere.
I hope that the Bill will be effective in doing that and that we can make it even more effective in Committee, but I emphasise what has been said earlier— that either tonight or at a later stage of the Bill the Minister should tell us something about the national disposal service and particularly about the dumping of radioactive material into the sea.
346 There were some alarming articles in the News Chronicle last October in which a picture was painted of the situation in the United States. In one paragraph reference was made to the Industrial Wastes Disposal Corporation of Houston, which seeks a licence to dump in the Gulf of Mexico and which freely admitted that the 55-gallon steel drums in which the radioactive waste is wrapped in concrete would split and that the waste would be diffused into the water. That is the kind of information which the public have been reading, and I have no doubt that it is an accurate statement of what has happened in one part of the world.
We know that there are different points of view among scientists about the problem of dumping into the sea, about the way in which materials travel across the oceans from one part of the world to another and about their effect on marine life and on many of the aspects which are concerned with public health. Because we in this country have a limited land surface, we tend to make greater use of sea dumping of radioactive material than would otherwise be the case.
Although the Bill only, as it were, makes provision for a national disposal service and does not go into any detail on the subject, in the interests of hon. Members and of the general public who, although they may not understand the technicalities of the Bill, nevertheless understand some of the dangers of the problem, I think more information should be given as to what the Government have in mind for the coming years. At the moment, this is a small problem. When the Bill was introduced there were only a thousand users. But the number is likely to grow very rapidly and will be one of the major problems of radioactive waste disposal in the future.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. J. B. Symonds (Whitehaven)
I welcome the Bill on behalf of my constituents, particularly because it gives them no cause for alarm, although it covers a very important subject—that of someone accepting a national responsibility for these radioactive substances How that national responsibility is to be accepted and implemented to the fullest extent which is necessary seems to be very vaguely described in the Bill, 347 and I hope that either tonight or at a later stage of the Bill the Minister will give a further explanation of how national control will be exercised.
It has been said that national control will benefit at least the 1,000 users. Local authorities will be responsible for carrying out much of this work. The amount of work they will have to do is bound to increase as the years pass. We have been told that new power stations will be built. Power stations will be built in other places where some of the waste product comes back to this country. That waste product will have to be disposed of. Will there be a perfect, or near-perfect, national organisation to deal with it? Will the inspectors be fully trained by the time we are using sufficient nuclear energy to benefit our community?
Several questions arise from the Bill which I should like explained. I think that it should be amended in Committee. Clauses 1 to 5 to deal with the granting of certificates of authorisation. That is admirable. The granting of such certificates is vitally important, because we do not want any Tom, Dick or Harry to have the right to export atomic waste.
Clause 7 (1) contains an important provision:…no person shall … accumulate … any radioactive waste on any premises which are used for the purposes of an undertaking carried on by him.What type of premises may be used for this purpose? Will it be a properly constituted building? Will it be specially erected? If so, by whom is it to be erected? Is it to have walls of a certain thickness, or may it be an old tin hut in a field?
Clause 7 (2) contains another very important provision. Will the Minister specify the amount which can be accumulated before it is disposed of? Who is to determine the amount which shall be accumulated in one place? According to paragraph 112 of the White Paper, the prominent panel which dealt with this subject said that to minimise the damage to future generations there should be extra precautions as compared with those taken for other wastes. The panel recommended a closer control for the protection of future generations. The prominent and eminent panel said that extra precautions must be taken. 348 The Minister should reassure us about the intentions of the Government under Clause 7 (1) and (2). What type of premises are they to be and what amount of waste material may be stored at any one time?
There are several other matters in the Bill about which I am very anxious. Local authorities must be consulted in all these matters. Which authority is the Minister to consult? Will he consult the county councils, the borough councils, or the ordinary rural and urban district councils most affected by this disposal?
Local authorities have certain functions to perform. According to the Bill, the Minister can tell a local authority, although it may not agree, that it must accept radioactive waste within its area as there is no other suitable land elsewhere. Will the local authority—and it may be only a small rural or urban district council—have to meet the cost of providing the necessary buildings? Will it receive any assistance at all from the Minister, or will it have to bear the cost and the responsibility itself? An authority may say that it will not accept this waste. Will the Minister then have power to order it to do so?
Clause 9 (5) states thatWhere an authorisation granted under section six of this Act requires or permits radioactive waste to be removed to a place provided by a local authority as a place for the deposit of refuse, it shall be the duty of that local authority to accept any radioactive waste removed to that place in accordance with the authorisation….On the face of it that means that someone can order radioactive waste to be tipped on the normal refuse tip. If it does not mean that, we should be told. If it does mean that, has the medical officer or any health inspector any right in the matter and, if the waste is accepted, what dangers will arise?
My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) referred to three boys who were contaminated by radiation in Scotland. We all know what young boys are like, and how they can get into places in spite of apparently adequate precautions. If the radioactive waste is to be put on the local authority's refuse tip, to what radiation perils will children be exposed? Local authorities are greatly interested in many other provisions of the Bill, but it may be possible 349 in Committee to make suitable Amendments.
Then there is the dumping of radioactive waste in the sea. I emphasise again the interests of my constituents in Whitehaven. The local authority there is trying to develop the beaches for the benefit of pleasure-loving people, yet how can Whitehaven and the beaches there be developed and made safe if more radioactive waste is to be dumped there?
I hope that the Minister will reconsider some of the matters to which I have referred. As more atomic energy is produced and used in this country people in general will become increasingly worried about radioactive waste and its disposal. We can never be too sure in these matters. As has been said, the dangerous part of radioactive waste has neither smell nor taste, but we know that it is there. Let us have all the safeguards that we can. If we do, the Government and the Minister can feel that people generally will be assured that they can look forward to future developments with some confidence in their safety.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I shall be brief because I know that some of my hon. Friends wish to speak on this very important matter. It is rather shocking to see so few upon the Government benches, because this is a Bill which in its application may affect millions of people yet unborn. We are setting up a central Government authority which will have tremendous powers over the whole country. It is primarily to Clause 10 that I wish to address myself.
There have been many complaints during the last five or six years about the habit of Ministers of the Crown, when they are interpreting an Act of Parliament which involves local authorities, of looking upon the word "consultation" as meaning that they, the Ministers, may draw up a plan here in Whitehall, with the assistance of their officials, decide that something shall be done, and do no more than inform the local authority concerned that that is what they intend to do. That is all that "consultation" has been in the past.
On television the other night, certain district councillors in Hampshire complained about the river board and the 350 Government interfering with the course of the Hampshire Avon. "For some years now", they said, "we have received decisions from the central Government and, whatever protest or suggestion we or the farmers or others may make, the Government still go on to do what they think fit in Westminster, and consultation has meant no more than that".
By Clause 10, the Minister takes unto himself powers to prepare plans and make decisions. He can go to a local authority, which will be his agent, and demand that certain things be done. There is a great danger that consultation will amount to no more than informing the local authority what the central Government has decided. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) is quite right to express his fear that decisions may be made which will merely be handed on to the local authority, without consultation with the local authority, the fishery boards, the Ministry of Agriculture, local farmers or other interested bodies. The same sort of thing happened in Ayrshire about Prestwick. The Government made a decision and informed everybody locally what they intended to do. They even set up a local inquiry. But all the views and complaints of the local people were overridden by the central Government as they steamrollered their decision through.
This is too important a matter to allow that kind of thing to happen. The central Government will have to use the local authorities on the spot. Wherever radioactive substances are being used, the local authority will have to be the instrument of the central Government. If it is to be an effective instrument, there must be complete co-operation between the central authority and the local authority.
This is a matter about which we cannot afford to make mistakes. In most of our legislation in the past, and in most of the things that we have done in our domestic affairs, we could afford mistakes. Mistakes could have been made in administration and in many other directions, but we could correct them at a later period. If mistakes are made in this case, then the results may be disastrous. We cannot afford anything slipshod. There must be full consultation—not just information when something has been decided—with all the 351 people who have expert knowledge of this matter before the central Government decide on any particular plan of radioactive waste disposal.
I come to the question of dumping in the sea. Many people with fishing or agricultural interests feel that before there is any intensive development of radioactive processes in this country we should bring together expert oceanographers. We know from the report of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico that the huge barrels of steel and concrete burst after a certain time. We want to know where the radioactive substances are carried and what are the ocean currents.
It may be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven said, that the radioactive waste deposited 20 miles from his coast line may be carried by the Gulf Stream to the Hebrides. We in Scotland would welcome some flow of energy into Scotland, but not in this form. There are enough threats of things which we dislike being brought to Scotland without dumping radioactive waste into the Gulf Stream. The Gulf Stream is very beneficial to the west coast of Scotland. Do not let us destroy this beneficial use by putting radioactive waste into the Gulf Stream. Therefore, I think the Government should consult oceanographers to see just where the ocean currents go, so that we know exactly what we are doing when we dump this waste.
Another point is that there has been no mention of discussion with representative bodies of those employed in industry. This is very important indeed. I remember that when we discussed the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act we had the same argument. It is most important, in my view, that wherever nuclear energy is being used and there is danger of radioactive substances being thrown off by processes, those who represent and are in daily consultation with the workers in those industries, in general the trade union movement, should have knowledge of the substances which they are handling in the factories.
I have myself seen men go into a factory and almost commit suicide. I have seen men do things quite ignorantly because neither the management nor anyone else has taken sufficient thought to inform them. I well remember the 352 introduction of degreasing plants many years ago, when we had casualty after casualty as a result of men passing through the plants smoking cigarettes and through the lighted cigarette inhaling dangerous fumes. It is the same with this substance, which cannot be tasted or seen. It is absolutely imperative that when places are registered and authorisation is given workpeople and their representatives should be circularised. It would be as well if an expert from a Government Department addressed workmen in factories as soon as they became registered.
In the shipyards, there is a man who runs up and down inspecting the weld in the hulls of ships. Regulations about this sort of thing are laid down, but many are broken. Many unnecessary risks are being taken in the interests of speedy production. We hear a lot about restrictive practices, but there could be a little restriction in practice where very dangerous substances are being used. Registration followed by authorisation is a good thing. As legal instruments they are good, but they must be administered efficiently in places where dangerous substances are being used. It is the job of men in industry and of local authorities to ensure that they are administered efficiently.
I hope that in Committee everything possible will be done to strengthen those aspects of the Bill so that the users and disposers of radioactive waste shall be fully disciplined to ensure that, as far as is humanly possible, we shall not do things which create danger to ourselves and lay death traps for the generations that follow.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and my other hon. Friends, I welcome the Bill. If I understand it aright, first it introduces a registration system for all users of radio-isotopes and radioactive substances. That in itself is a big step, particularly bearing in mind the amount of radioactive substances and isotopes which has crept into industry, agriculture, medicine and, in particular, the laboratories. Secondly, I understand that the Bill introduces a control system over all radioactive accumulations and waste deposits. We therefore envisage that when the Bill becomes an Act there 353 will be national control with a national disposal service operating on behalf of the public, particularly for its safety.
The Bill is an agreed Measure. We on this side think that it is urgently required. It is an attempt to plug a gap in our atomic energy legislation which has existed for some time. I also hope that it will be effective enough to plug ail the leakages that have taken place about highly dangerous substances. Luckily, so far we have had none of significance, apart from the Windscale accident. Now that we have adopted the enclosed reactor policy I do not visualise any more accidents of this type.
In talking about the Windscale accident, I am reminded of what the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) said about the future of these reactors, which have only a life of twenty years. What is to happen to them? I put this matter to the Prime Minister some time ago. It exercised my mind a great deal at that time. I was worried about Windscale because it is one large radioactive dump, a gaunt, grey structure that will haunt us for many years. This will be true of all these structures. Twenty years from now, we shall have a dozen of them dominating the landscape. What will happen to them? I suggested at the time that we should explore the possibility of building the nuclear furnace underground in a proper container so that when the life of the reactor had ended, it would be possible completely to cover it in and register it as one of the waste dumps. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about this when he winds up the debate.
I have in mind only three points. The first concerns staff. Many times, I have queried how often we lose scientists, technologists and engineers who go abroad to Canada and the United States on research scholarships and who never come back to this country. The report of every committee that we have set up, particularly dealing with atomic energy —for example, the Fleck Report, the annual reports of the Commission and the White Paper, which is the finest document produced on atomic energy since the industry was born; I pay tribute to the Committee which produced it—has stressed the fact that we are short of the necessary number of 354 scientists, technologists, engineers and, for the implementation of the Bill, inspectors, too.
In subsections (1) and (7), Clause 12 deals particularly with inspection. We are giving power to set up an inspectorate service particularly to control these radioactive wastes. Although the Minister may say that only a few inspectors will be required, we must recognise that we have only just started the process. We are now attempting to grasp the nettle. In due course, it must be internationally controlled. Therefore, we shall require a growing force of people who are expert in monitoring and in the analysis of samples. We shall want a lot of people for monitoring purposes alone, for the aqueous discharges into the sea, discharges into the air, the rivers and the sewers and the registration of those which are dumped inland also. If we are to have a national control organisation and disposal service, we want highly competent, efficient and well-trained men for the job.
I will quote to the Minister a letter which I received recently from America, from one such scientist who has left this country and who now tells us why. It is a short letter. It reads:You are quoted in the January 16th issue of Nature as saying that a serious attempt should be made to ascertain why so many good scientists, technologists and engineers accept research scholarships in the United States and Canada and fail to return. Speaking as an English student who has had a scholarship for the past two years at the Pennsylvania State University, I think the answer to this question is simple: money.The financial attractions of working in the United States are very great indeed. Let me give you a few examples. A newly graduated Ph.D. may expect to obtain a salary worth (to compensate for the difference in the cost of living I am assuming an exchange rate of five dollars to the £) about £1,600 per annum. At home he would get about £800 or £900. With a few years' experience in industry, as is the case with myself, a Ph.D. here may expect a salary which would be worth about £2,000 per annum, as compared with about £1,200 at home.One friend of mine came over here about a year ago. At home, he was getting about £1,200 per annum. Over here, his salary is worth almost £3,000 per annum. A second English friend of mine had been earning over here a salary worth about £2,500. He returned to England at the end of last year and he tells me that so far he has been unable to get an offer of £1,500 per annum.Can we wonder that we are losing so many of our skilled people who have 355 received their initial training here and that the United States and Canada are receiving all their knowledge?
I therefore stress that in all our technological and nuclear advances since the war the most acute problem has been how to maintain and keep these men, who are rich in industrial experience and who can apply it in the nuclear field. Therefore, the Minister must have in mind, first of all, that these inspectors must have satisfactory salary scales because otherwise we shall not keep an effective force.
Secondly, I should like to see developed a code of symbols easily recognisable for every radioactive isotope and radioactive substance container. I have in mind their increased use in industry, agriculture and medicine and the fact that these substances are going out in containers on the roads and railways and that they are being stored in many places, including hospitals. There are bound to be many accidents from which fires will develop. Therefore, the police, and particularly the fire services, should be able immediately to assess the degree of danger from the container of radioactive material. Otherwise it means that every local authority must keep a list of all deposits of radioactive materials in their areas. They must also send that list to the police and the fire services so that it may be available at any moment.
Unless that develops, I should like to see this code of symbols thought about seriously, so that a policeman or a fireman in his natural training will acquire the knowledge, having in mind the symbols, of the degree of danger, especially if he is called to attend at the scene of an accident or a fire. I should like to know whether any thought is being given to this and, if so, whether anything can be done.
As to the accumulation of stocks of waste, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency radioactive wastes are piling up at the rate of 11 million gallons per year. Bearing in mind that the industry is only in its infancy, it will be seen that this will be a terrific problem in years to come. I congratulate the Minister that at least he has grasped the nettle and brought in a Bill to enable us to tackle the prob- 356 lem, but as the hon. Member for East-leigh said, ultimately there is bound to be international control over this contamination. My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) mentioned the same point.
It is easy for this matter to get out of hand. Dr. T. C. Carter of the Medical Research Council told a conference recently thatLevels of man-made radiation in the United States may cause inherited health defects to rise to 500,000.That appals me and it should cause the House some concern. We must never allow that threshold to arise in this country.
I can feel fairly safe, inasmuch as our safety in the development of atomic energy has impressed all international observers who have come to this country to investigate it. I hope that the Bill will take that matter a stage further. What survey has been carried out of these radioactive accumulations and waste deposits, of the stocks in hospitals, of the quantities used in industry? What investigation is taking place of what is being done in agricultural research and of how much radioactive material is being put out for research work in universities? These factors should be easily checked, but what about others?
I remember that a year or so ago there was a case of a person who was working at home on work farmed out from a factory. He was using luminous paint and he contracted leukaemia. Shortly afterwards, the house having been monitored, much of the furniture and floor covering were found to be radioactive. All this material had to be burned and there was left a pile of radioactive waste which in turn had to be dealt with safely.
A great deal of this sort of thing must be going on. What checks are being carried out? There was the incident which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington mentioned where, without any control of any kind, clocks bearing luminous dials were dumped outside a clock-making factory and three children inadvertently stumbled on the stockpile. A great deal of this kind of thing must be happening. Therefore, the Minister should make a greater assessment of all the waste, particularly from smaller sources which accumulate in the country.
357 We should ask ourselves to what extent we can eliminate much of the radiation in common usage if it is not strictly necessary. I have in mind luminous watches, shoe X-ray machines, unnecessary X-ray examinations in hospitals. None of these is harmful in itself, but an accumulation could have a telling effect. Why should we allow these things to be produced if there is no strict requirement for them? I wear a luminous wristwatch, but I have no use for its luminous dial. Many people have no choice when they buy watches today because nearly all have luminous dials. Can we take steps to eliminate a lot of the man-made radiation if it is not necessary?
We could cut out much of the mystery surrounding the subject which is tending to frighten people unnecessarily. I remind the Minister of the scare in Yorkshire a few months ago and I would like him. if possible, to clear this up in his concluding remarks. I refer to an accident which was mentioned by Sir Ernest Rock Carling, who is a member of the panel which produced the White Paper. Addressing a conference at the Royal Society of Health, he mentioned this accident which took place in a hospital where a steriliser containing radium needles boiled dry, the solder melted, the container ruptured and radium was freely distributed in the area of the steriliser. Because of this, brickwork, window frames, flooring, nurses' shoes and garments—in all some tons of radioactive contaminated material—were collected and dumped in a disused mine shaft. Sir Ernest did not say whether the mine was in Lancashire or Yorkshire, whether it was a coal mine or a lead mine. Consequently, many local authorities were worried. They have a right to know if this radioactive waste was dumped in their area. Having forewarned the Minister, I am hoping that he will say that there is no reason to shroud radioactive dumps in mystery. Let us be aware of them and know that they are harmless. In that connection this Bill may be effective.
I am pleased with the Bill. We have been waiting for it a long time and we are pleased that it has now reached its Second Reading in the House of Commons, having gone through its various stages in the other place. We must keep a close watch on the introduction of 358 radioactive substances and ensure that there is no careless or casual use of them in industry or medicine. We must encourage their use, but only under strict control. Of course, we must not cramp the introduction of new techniques because industry, medicine and technology will benefit immeasurably from the small radioactive isotopes and substances. In that spirit I hope that the Bill will commend itself to the House.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)
I join with my hon. Friends in welcoming the Bill. I am glad that the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland is on the Government Front Bench, because the Bill will affect Scotland as much as England and Wales. I do not claim to speak on behalf of Scotland, or on behalf of my hon. Friends from Scottish constituencies, but I want to deal with this subject from a national point of view.
The Bill has been long-awaited. A year ago, when I was trying to find some of the evidence which surrounded the accident at Wishaw, as a newcomer to the subject I was shocked to discover the extent of the chaos and confusion in the temporary controls which then existed. I was shocked to discover that there were involved the Atomic Energy Authority, the Department of Health for Scotland, the Alkali Inspectorate, local authorities—not only the medical officers of health but the fire services—river boards and, slightly improbably, the Army, the Army being responsible for carrying out the disposal of the waste, taking it to sea, and so on. Those of us who have been concerned about the chaos of the temporary controls warmly welcome the Bill.
However, I have some criticisms and some queries. Without making any reflection on the Minister himself, or on his colleague the Joint Undersecretary, I am a little puzzled to know why the disposal of radioactive waste should be held to be the responsibility of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. We had no justification of that from the Parliamentary Secretary. This is essentially a matter of health and, while there may be good reason for the Minister of Housing and Local Government taking responsibility, it is difficult to see why the Minister for 359 Science, for example, who has immediate and ready contact with expert physicists able to give advice on several aspects of the work to be undertaken under the Bill, and who is able to contact the Medical Research Council, has not been made responsible, or why the Minister of Health should not be the appropriate Minister to deal with this matter. I hope that we shall be told why the right hon. Gentleman is assuming responsibility.
I, too, want to refer to the rôle of the local authorities. We are too easily accepting the violation of a fundamental principle of local government, that local authorities are responsible for ensuring that precautions are taken to protect the health of people living within their areas. That is a most important principle of local government which has evolved throughout the history of local government since the days of Sir Edwin Chadwick in the 1840s, and we should not lightly exclude the powers of local authorities in this matter without giving it much thought and without better reasons than we have yet been given.
It is not enough to say that we must deprive local authorities of powers so that people are not prosecuted twice for the same offence. That is not a sufficient reason for completely changing one of the important principles on which local government is based.
I want to refer to the incident at Wishaw in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson). As is generally known, this accident arose because there was no proper certainty that the dump which contained radioactive waste was adequately protected from public access. In one of the proceedings of the Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, there was an American paper about land burial of radioactive waste substances, which is just as applicable, if not more applicable, to dumps where waste is stored before disposal action is taken. The paper made the point that ground stores should be fenced and well identified and that access by unauthorised persons should be prohibited.
Can the Minister tell us whether he accepts that as a good principle for storage prior to the collection of radioactive waste products, and, if he does, 360 whom he regards as being responsible for ensuring that access is prohibited, that fencing is carried out. and that dumps are well identified, if local authorities are only to be consulted and are to have no powers?
This is a point of considerable practical importance to us all, because we all live in areas where dumps of this kind may be made, which could be available to children. As a result of the accident at Wishaw a resolution was passed last year by the Scottish Conference of the Labour Party, which was later supported wholeheartedly by many important Scottish organisations, including the Association of Medical Officers of Health, some county councils and other local authorities. I want to mention one paragraph of that resolution, because it is being ignored in this deprivation of local authority powers.
The resolution asked for a register of sources of radioactivity to be made. That is being done under the Bill. It also asked for a tightening up of the provisions concerning the disposal of waste. That is also being ensured by the Bill. But thirdly, it asked that local health authorities should be responsible for determining whether or not there were adequate safeguards to prevent public access to sources of radioactivity. Consultation with local authorities alone will not be adequate. I hope that we shall deal with this matter very fully in Committee, and that the Minister will find himself able to make some modification of the Bill in this respect.
I do not know how aggressive have been the representations of local authorities in England and Wales on this point, but I have been informed by my hon. Friends who represent Glasgow constituencies that representations have been made by the Corporation of Glasgow, which is one of the largest local authorities in Britain. The Corporation says that it thinks that the Bill is inadequate, and that it should be amended to preserve the powers of local authorities under existing legislation. Here is at least one large and important local authority which shares the view put forward by so many hon. Members on this side of the House.
The matter is equally important in that certain powers are being taken from river boards. I know of several people who are closely associated with the work 361 of those boards who feel strongly on this point. Not long ago a scientific paper referred to the disposal of low-level radioactive waste which might be released through the public sewer system, directly discharged into sewers, or disposed of in a way which affected river boards in one way or another. It said that workmen should not work on or enter areas to do work until the level of activity had been determined, and then only under the advice and supervision of a health physicist.
Who is to safeguard workers engaged on this kind of job if river boards and local authorities have no powers in the matter? I hope that the Joint Undersecretary of State for Scotland will be able to inform his right hon. Friend what representations have been received from Scottish authorities concerning the deprivation of local authority powers under the Bill.
My third point concerns the question referred to by other of my hon. Friends, namely, the assumption which the Bill makes that the disposal of radioactive waste into the sea can be safe and need not be questioned. There are many things which scientists are doing, and many words which they are uttering, of which Governments are taking far too little notice. I visited Windscale three or four days after the accident. I spent two days there, talking to many people. One was an official of the Atomic Energy Authority. I asked him, "Do you make recommendations about safety to the Atomic Energy Authority?" He said, "Yes." I said, "And does the Atomic Energy Authority accept them?" He said, "Not always." That was a shocking revelation to me.
The Government seemed to be falling into the grave danger of not taking enough notice of the words of warning uttered by some of our scientists. They always seem to deal wih the matter on the assumption that something is safe because there is no knowledge about it. Would not it be far safer for the public if, when there is no knowledge, they assumed that it was not safe?
I believe that we ought to be considering the disposal of radioactive waste into the sea much more intensely and with much greater seriousness. As everyone knows, there have been a great many scientific discussions about the best 362 method of disposing such waste. There has been the suggestion that it should be buried in containers under the ground, that that is the best means of disposing of it. Others consider that it is better to put the waste into tanks. Against that opinion it has been argued that the radioactive waste may have a half-life of hundreds of years, but that the tanks or containers are likely to corrode after 50 years or 75 years, so that land burial does not seem to offer a safe solution.
There has been the suggestion that the waste might be disposed of in remote areas. Although this would be a cheap method, it has been argued that it would be dangerous, because nobody knows what future use may be made of these remote areas or their geological content. There is also the method of ocean disposal, which seems to be the solution most favoured by scientists who have been considering the alternatives of dilution and disposal or concentration and disposal. It has been pointed out that many of the assumptions regarding the safety of disposing of things deep under the sea, where there are no currents, are based on false premises. Additional investigation has shown the falsity of some of the assumptions on which the scientists have worked.
If containers are dropped from a height so that they might be buried in the sea mud, it is unlikely that they will be so buried. One scientist at Geneva said that we should not know where the waste was. We know nothing of the fate of any radioactive waste freed in the deep sea. This is a great challenge to the Government and to us all. Public opinion on this matter is very strong. I wish to quote from what was said by scientists at the Geneva Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. One said:Time is short and public health must fulfil its obligation by intelligent control so that general exposure to radiation background will not soon reach levels from which there is no return.Here one might refer to the remarks of the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price), who said that under the Bill precautions were 1,000 per cent. safer than for those engaged in occupations which gave rise to radiological hazards, and point out that the larger the population at risk the greater the precautions 363 which must be taken. I am thinking not in terms of individual damage, but in terms of the generic harm which can result from a tiny amount of exposure of one kind or another. We know that every minute increase in the general level of radiation can produce mutations in the future. No one knows how great they may be or how high is the permissible level which is safe.
Another scientist said:The amount which is required to double the spontaneous mutation rate in man is not known.Its effects are irreversible and inescapable. The fact that they are irreversible must cause us great concern. An American scientist said:I believe that at some point the decision involving an educated gamble with man's future will have to be made and history of the past indicates that such a decision may be made on the less rather than the more conservative side.The House will appreciate in which sense he was using the word "conservative" on that occasion.
As has been pointed out, there are as many points of view about how these discharges may be controlled as there are sources of problems. I submit that, in these circumstances, with this level of scientific knowledge, we are not safe to assume, as this Bill assumes, that the disposal of radioactive waste, whether of high activity or low activity, in the sea offers us any safeguard for the future, not only of our own people but of the genetic future of mankind. We are concerned with tremendous issues, which we do not seem to be fully appreciating. I think that our responsibilities are so great that we must take heed of public opinion.
My last quotation is also from something that was said in Geneva about public opinion and Governments in this matter. Another American scientist said:We should discuss the possibility that public opinion may become less sensitive in time to the controlled release of radioactivity into the environment may become a more acceptable procedure.Another said:At present, public opinion is no doubt the controlling factor, and it is perhaps even more restrictive than is sometimes desirable. When, however, public opinion has become more acquiescent—as is bound to happen— 364 I feel it will be the duty of governments and scientists to evaluate the limits of release and to enforce them.I feel that many of us would hope that no Government will ever come to the point where it feels that public opinion on this matter has acquiesced, so that things might be done which endanger our future. The only thing that can be of help in this matter in the long term is control at the international level, and until such control at the international level is achieved, it will be far better and far safer for our national future and for the future of mankind to store radioactive waste in safety rather than disperse it dangerously.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Peart
I do not wish to make another speech in detail, but if I may have the leave of the House, I should like to sum up quickly. I think that the Minister will agree that we have had an excellent debate, even though it has been a short one, in which those hon. Members who have taken part have made very constructive proposals. No doubt, we shall argue them in detail when we come to the Committee stage.
I should like to stress again what my hon. Friends on this side of the House and the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) have been arguing—the need for caution. It has been argued very strongly, particularly by my hon. Friends the Members for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), Lanark (Mrs. Hart), Barnsley (Mr. Mason), Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) and Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds), that there is need for proper local consultation. While I myself welcome the main proposals of the Bill and the need to have national control, there must be local consultation, and, indeed, that is provided for in the Bill. On how that consultation will take place there is still uncertainty, and I hope that the Minister, if not tonight, will be able to give detailed answers during the Committee stage.
One other point I should like to stress is how much we all agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark, that in this matter there must be certainty. I would argue, as I have done before, that here the scientists are in advance of the politicians, even on the international level. Reading the documents of the International Atomic Energy Agency, we see how the scientists of the Soviet 365 Union, America, our own country, France and other countries have got together, have broken through the barriers and have been thinking ahead.
We, the politicians, have not caught up. It, is our job to catch up. That is why I know the Minister will agree that, although this is a matter of policy, we shall have to have international action and there will have to be international agreement in this matter of the disposal of radioactive wastes which affect the high seas and go beyond our national boundaries.
Even in our own country there must be national action and the House of Commons must go ahead of public opinion. We must take the initiative. In some fields, for example, in the disposal of radioactive wastes, we do not know the geological structures. I dealt with this in my first speech today as an example of how we are lagging behind. We have not yet completed a proper geological or geophysical survey. I asked questions about this two or three years ago, but we have still not concluded a proper geological survey. Then there is the problem of attracting skilled personnel, as was rightly referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley.
I congratulate all hon. Members—the hon. Member for Eastleigh and my hon. Friends—who have made constructive suggestions in the debate. I hope that the Minister will realise that we are trying to be helpful and that he will give a helpful reply.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ The Minister of Housing and Local Government and Minister for Welsh Affairs (Mr. Henry Brooke)
I have listened as carefully as I could to every word in this debate. I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for the interesting speeches they have made and the thought which, quite clearly, they have devoted to this topic.
The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), in his opening speech—and I greatly welcomed the tone he set in that speech—suggested that we might confine this debate to main principles and keep the details for Committee. As the discussion went on, I was conscious that we were getting on to a great number of matters which essentially were Committee points, so if I am not able to answer everything this evening I hope 366 hon. Members will forgive me. I shall try to answer as many of the questions as I can, because it may be helpful to the Standing Committee if I act in that way.
It was extremely gratifying to hear the tributes paid from both sides of the House to Dr. Key's panel and its two secretaries from my Department. They did work which is of great value, not only to Parliament while we are discussing this Bill, but to the country at large. I hope we shall not get into the mood of distrusting everything the experts tell us. I felt that if the argument of the hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) were carried to its logical conclusion we might never be able to believe anybody because this subject was so difficult.
My approach to it is that we must take the utmost care. There is a great deal still to be learned. We must therefore avoid taking risks, but must not be so pusillanimous as to sit down and say that because we do not know everything we must do nothing. If we were to follow that to its logical conclusion we should have to close down Windscale and Calder Hall and say that there was to be no nuclear development for civil purposes in this country at all.
What we therefore have to do is to frame legislation which is based as carefully as we can base it on the vast knowledge that is available at the present time. The hon. Lady the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), in her interesting speech, said that twenty years hence the Act we are now seeking to frame might be thought a fumbling attempt. It may well be thought simple compared with the legislation framed then, but I would rather hope that we shall look back on it as we look back on the first Alkali Act of nearly one hundred years ago, which was simple by comparison with present legislation, but is regarded by all those who are familiar with that subject as a landmark in the history of State control of noxious fumes.
I should like to make some further reference to the Alkali Inspectorate. The hon. Member for Workington said that here was a Conservative Government persuaded to accept the principle of State control. Of course, in the Alkali Acts we accepted the principle of State control of certain processes in suitable circumstances almost a century ago before there 367 was any Labour Party. I would judge that in the operation of the Alkali Act, through the Alkali Inspectorate, we have set an example from which a good deal can be learned for the subsequent operation of this Bill, because there we have the central Government inspectors cooperating closely with the local authorities and, as far as I am aware, although obviously there are criticisms from time to time, the general attitude of local authorities towards my Alkali Inspectorate is that it is as helpful as it possibly can be to the local authorities. My concern certainly will be to seek to establish the same kind of relationship and the same degree of mutual good will.
The hon. Lady the Member for Lanark, though she indicated that there was no personal intent in it, asked why the Minister of Housing and Local Government should come into this. The answer is that for many years the holder of my position has been responsible for what are called the environmental health services, and the Alkali Act deals with one of them. My responsibility in matters of water, sewage disposal and so on is another example. That is how it comes about, and I am sure that it is right. In Scotland it comes under my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
The hon. Lady the Member for Lanark also alleged chaos and confusion before this Bill was introduced. I was certainly anxious to introduce the Bill as soon as possible, but a great deal of preparatory work had to be done, as I think hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise. If the allegation of chaos and confusion is an allegation that there has been a great deal of damaging carelessness, that is simply not true.
§ Mr. Brooke
We will not cross swords about this. My concern was to try to destroy any impression that public authorities of any kind have been careless or reckless about this. I quite agree that we need to tighten up the arrangements and to systematise them. That is the purpose of the Bill. But it is fortunately our boast and pride in this coun- 368 try that, with this new scientific invention affecting more and more people, nevertheless our ad hoc systems of control have up to the present been remarkably effective in protecting human health.
A number of hon. Members possibly have an exaggerated idea of the national disposal service. It is not contemplated that that service will be called into operation for more than a relatively small percentage of the total radioactive wastes. Certainly it is expected that the vast majority of them can and should be disposed of locally. They will be under authorisations from the Minister, and the Minister will be bound to advise the local authority or other public body concerned if special precautions need to be taken in respect of any particular waste from any particular registered premises.
There will be therefore three types of waste. First, there will be those which can be disposed of with no danger to anybody. Secondly, there will be those which can be disposed of locally but in respect of which special precautions will be necessary. In that case the Bill empowers the local authority or public body concerned to make appropriate charges for the extra cost to which it is put. Thirdly, there will be those wastes which are of such a dangerous or intractable character that they must be disposed of nationally. For that purpose we have reached an agreement that the Atomic Energy Authority will for the next two years act—
§ It being Ten o'clock the debate stood adjourned.
§ Proceedings on the Radioactive Substances Bill [Lords] and on the Water Officers Compensation Bill [Lords] exempted, at this day's Sitting, from the provisions of Standing Order No. 1 (Sittings of the House).—[Mr. H. Brooke]
§ Question again proposed, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
§ Mr. Brooke
I was saying that we have reached agreement with the Atomic Energy Authority that for a period of two years it will act as agents for the Ministers in providing the national disposal service.
I have been asked what we have in mind beyond those two years. We have in mind that those two years will give us an opportunity to see what the best plan is. It may be that the Atomic 369 Energy Authority will continue, and be willing to continue, to act as agents. It may be that the experience of those two years will lead us to fresh views. I trust that the whole House will value the fact that we are to have the whole cumulative experience of the Authority available to us now and that, for the next two years at least, the national disposal service will be in those excellent hands—the Authority acting as agents for the Ministers concerned.
The hon. Member for Workington asked what was to be the central authority. The central authority in Scotland will be my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. It will be myself in England and Wales.
I was asked about the Inspectorate, and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) pursued that question. He suggested that this might possibly be merged with the Inspectorate of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power. I wish to tell my hon. Friend and the House that that possibility has been very thoroughly investigated, but the conclusion has been reached that it would not be a wise course. The qualifications and functions of the two Inspectorates will be somewhat different. The Ministry of Power inspectors are primarily required to have a knowledge of nuclear reactors. My inspectors under the Bill are primarily required to deal with discharge of waste radioactive materials. It is true that a radio-physicist or a radio-chemist could do either job, but the Minister of Power inspectors will be primarily radio-physicists. The inspectors operating under the Bill will be primarily radio-chemists. As the two jobs require different forms of specialisation in different aspects of radioactivity, we have reached the conclusion that no advantage would be gained by merging the two inspectorates.
There are at the moment two inspectors in my Department able to deal with questions of radioactive waste. We are in process of appointing a further two, and we shall gradually build up. As one or two hon. Gentlemen said, it is not likely that a large inspectorate will be needed at any time. What we must do is to have a properly qualified one. I certainly give that undertaking to the House. We have always sought to establish and maintain high standards with 370 the alkali inspectors, and we shall seek to do the same in this case.
I was asked a number of questions about the rôle of local authorities and other public bodies. If we are to have a national system of control—it was accepted and welcomed by every hon. Member who spoke that the system should be national rather than local— we must be true to our principles and not try to superimpose on the national system an additional local system. One reason why we think that this should be national is that it has, I think, been universally accepted that the country, necessarily at present, has not an unlimited supply of men competent to do these jobs, to give advice, and to pronounce on methods that are being employed. We intend to have fully qualified men in the Government service and, at the least, I would say that it is unlikely that there would be many medical officers of health and the like who had anything like the same experience, qualifications and skill as those who will be acting in the Government service here.
This point was raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanark. She said that it violated the principle that local authorities have responsibility for safeguarding local health. I would say to her that we must decide one way or the other, and if we in Parliament are to come down in favour of a national system of control we must say that the responsibility should fall on the central Government rather than on the local authorities if we are to operate the control successfully at all.
The hon. Lady also asked who is to be responsible, let us say, for seeing that fences are maintained and that conditions are kept. It will be possible for me, through my inspectors acting on my behalf, to watch these matters in the certificates of registration that will be given. The hon. Lady—and the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Symonds) also raised the point about premises— will perhaps have noticed that in subsection (4) of Clause 1, conditions may impose… requirements … in respect of any part of the premises, or in respect of any apparatus, equipment or appliance used or to be used thereon …These conditions may include requirements involving structural or other 371 alterations, so the hon. Member for Whitehaven need not fear that we shall allow radio active waste to be accumulated "in old tin sheds" unless they are wholly suitable for that purpose.
Mention has been made several times of the three boys at Wishaw. I should remind the House that this was hardly a case of three boys inadvertently stumbling on a stockpile. It was a tribute to the astonishingly penetrative powers of small boys. They got over two fences and a main railway line. They then found a receptacle—in fact, a steel drum—and unscrewed its cap. That is how they got at the radioactive waste.
The waste in question was not waste that had been left lying about just anywhere. The firm concerned had been making arrangements with a view to disposing of its waste through facilities to be arranged for them by the Department of Health for Scotland, which had advised it to keep the waste in safe storage until ready for dispatch. I mention that again lest anything said tonight might suggest to the uninitiated that there was dangerous radioactive waste lying about at this moment on refuse tips. That really is not so.
In any case, when the Bill becomes an Act—I trust that we shall have the co-operation of the House and the Committee in putting it on the Statute Book as soon as possible—all such premises must be registered. There will be complete control over any storage of waste preparatory to disposal, and that control will extend to setting a limit to the amount of waste which may be accumulated—I think that answers another question raised by the hon. Member for Whitehaven—and there will be control over the disposal thereof. I think, therefore, that we shall have a thorough and. as it were, watertight system.
I return now to the position of local authorities. My concern is that local authorities shall be taken fully into our confidence in this matter. The system will work only if there is a real partnership between local authorities and the central Government. Yet Parliament, if it approves the Bill, is deciding that it must be the central Government which shall take the lead and have the last word. There are various provisions in the Bill for consultation with the local 372 authorities. My one concern is not to build up such a top-heavy system of consultation that it really sinks under its own weight.
I will give an illustration which will, perhaps, appeal to hon. Members. Many of us feel that we could do our work as Members of Parliament better if we did not receive quite such an enormous amount of paper by every post. There must be few hon. Members who have not at some time said to themselves, "I would much rather know where I can go to get the information I want instead of having it poured through my letter box every morning or handed to me in enormous quantities every day I come to the House". I feel that there is a lesson in that for the way we are seeking to proceed under the Bill.
We are providing that local authorities will receive copies of the basic documents which will show how the controls are working in their areas. They are to be consulted over disposals of waste from the major nuclear installations. They are to be consulted before the authorisation of disposals which may involve special precautions on their part. They are to be consulted before dumping grounds are established in their areas.
My noble Friend the Minister for Science in another place gave some facts and figures, which hon. Members probably have studied or will study, to show the enormous number of authorisations which will have to be made or, at any rate, decided upon when the Bill is in operation. If, however trivial the amount, every public authority had to be consulted beforehand, I very much doubt that the Bill would work. What I do say to the House is that we want to err, as it were, on the side of generosity rather than meanness in consulting the local authorities.
We are setting in the Bill minimum standards on which we wish to improve. I tell the House frankly that I believe that if we laid down by Statute that there must be formal consultation with every local authority or public body concerned before any decision to grant an authorisation was taken, the system of control would strangle itself. Obviously, we must watch it. I should be the last to suggest to the House that the Bill will be perfect and will last for ever. We must be prepared from time to time to 373 consider amending Bills as scientific knowledge and practical experience grow. What I do ask is that the House shall not impose on me or on the system such an elaborate machinery of format consultation that the essential facts are so wrapped round by reams of paper that we can never get through to them.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) asked me whether we could have a code of easily recognisable symbols. I think that is certainly a very attractive idea. I am not sure whether he is aware that international discussions are at present in progress to see whether an international agreement can be reached on a standard symbol to indicate radioactive materials.
Clause 1 has been drafted in such a way that if a standard symbol is devised, either internationally or nationally for this country alone, the Minister will then be able to require its use. I am glad also to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the nature and the extent of the risks to which firemen may be exposed are being investigated, I understand, by a sub-committee of the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the case which was mentioned by Sir Ernest Rock Carling and which received some publicity in the Press. I think it is right to say that the incident occurred some ten years ago and that if it had occurred now, in the context of the Bill, the best technical advice and facilities would be available to deal with a situation of that kind.
In addition, once the Bill is in operation no one will be able to put radioactive waste down any mine shaft without the Minister's authorisation, so there is no chance of all this being done in what he thought was a secretive way. In fact, it did not seem to me in this case particularly secretive because Sir Ernest Rock Carling came out into the open and disclosed to the public how a particularly unfortunate incident occurring in a hospital had been dealt with competently and without fuss at the time. It is quite reasonable that the hon. Gentleman should draw attention to a case of that kind, and I hope that he will see that under this Bill there will be every possible provision to deal with emergencies of that character.
§ Mr. Mason
In view of the fact that it happened ten years ago and has only just come to light and was not made known at the time, what of safety now? We had no stringent precautions ten years ago, and if this radioactive material has been dumped in a mine, have precautions since been taken as stringent as we should like to see them in this Bill?
§ Mr. Brooke
I can assure the hon. Gentleman of that. I can assure him that the action was taken with the best scientific advice, but without question we are learning all the time and we shall every year be putting into operation and to use the best scientific knowledge that we have. It would, however, be foolish for me or any one to pretend that we knew as much ten years ago as we know today.
I certainly do not think that any allegation could be based on the fact that that was not announced at the time. After all, if every emergency situation which is dealt with competently and without fuss has to be publicised forthwith, I do not know that we should get on any better. It is far best that those who know how to handle the matter shall handle it. When this Bill is in operation the necessary authorisation will have to be obtained, and if there is any local danger involved the local authority will have to be informed.
Finally, the hon. Lady the Member for Lanark and other hon. Members spoke about disposal in the sea. In my opinion, what she was really doing was delivering a vigorous attack on the Atomic Energy Authority, because the Authority has been discharging liquid radioactive effluent from Windscale into the Irish Sea for the last seven or eight years. Most careful precautions have been taken.
One hon. Member suggested that we should consult oceanographers. The Atomic Energy Authority has consulted all the scientists available to it, including oceanographers. As to its coastal disposal, it has carried out the most stringent tests. I will not go into detail here—I will do so in Committee if it is desired—but again I want to kill any idea that radioactive waste is being poured into the sea close to the beach, whether by the Atomic Energy Authority or by anyone else.
§ Mr. Peart
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) and my other hon. Friends and myself were not trying to give that impression. We were not criticising the Atomic Energy Authority We merely argued that there should be international agreement. We said that there was still uncertainty. We have never criticised the Authority for doing what it has done.
§ Mr. Brooke
It seemed to me that the assumption made in the hon. Lady's speech about the disposal of radioactive waste in the sea was unjustified. It seemed to me to be false. I certainly cannot take responsibility for what American companies are doing in the Gulf of Texas or elsewhere. All I can do is explain what has hitherto been done in this country by the Atomic Energy Authority and assure the House that the most stringent tests have been carried out before any radioactive waste has been discharged into the sea. These are perhaps matters which we can pursue further in Committee.
§ Mrs. Hart
This is legislation for the future. I am not concerned with the Atomic Energy Authority's disposal of waste in the past. I am concerned with the immense amount of waste that will come from the increased industrial use of atomic energy in the next twenty or thirty years for which we are legislating.
§ Mr. Brooke
I entirely agree with the hon. Lady that we shall have to deal with greatly increasing amounts and that we shall be learning all the time. My concern is that Parliament in this Bill shall construct a framework on which we shall be able effectively to build with the increasing knowledge as it comes along.
I do not think that up to now we have had a thoroughly articulated framework of control. I believe that the Bill provides it. I welcome the help of hon. Members in improving it, and I trust that we shall before long, and after thorough examination of the Bill, feel that we have put on the Statute Book a 376 Measure that will render even safer to human life the disposal of radioactive wastes from these great nuclear developments which should be properly directed and controlled for the glory of our country.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).