HC Deb 02 May 1960 vol 622 cc694-6
37. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Minister of Health as representing the Minister for Science, if he will make a statement on the obligations he has laid down for the guidance of persons using or transporting dangerous isotopes, and the penalties for disregarding those obligations.

Mr. Walker-Smith

As the statement is necessarily long and detailed, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister agree that this is a matter of great and urgent public importance, and that unless such regulations as those indicated in the Question are made and strictly enforced grave public danger will ensue? Will he see that they are made and enforced?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will be good enough to study the statement, which, as he will see, is long and, I think, covers the scope of this important matter.

Following is the Statement:

The issue of guidance or the framing of measures of control relating to the use or transport of radioactive substances is a matter for the Department which has the necessary regulatory powers, acting on the advice of the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee appointed under Section 6 of the Radioactive Substances Act, 1948.

A Code of Practice for the protection of persons exposed to ionising radiations in hospitals of the National Health Service was published in 1957 and is under revision by a Panel of the Advisory Committee.

As respects industrial use, luminising with radioactive substances is covered by the Factories (Luminising) Special Regulations, 1947. A second preliminary draft of the Factories (Ionising Radiations) Special Regulations covering the use of radioactive substances in appropriate sealed containers ("sealed sources") was published earlier this year. Work is proceeding on draft regulations dealing generally with the direct application of radioactive substances ("open sources"). Penalties are laid down in the factories legislation for breaches of the Factories Acts themselves and regulations made thereunder.

Health and Safety questions arising from the use of ionising radiations in research laboratories and research establishments other than hospital research establishments, are being considered by a Panel of the Advisory Committee

The carriage of radioactive materials by rail will be controlled by regulations now being prepared by the British Transport Commssion, laying down the terms of acceptance and conditions of carriage of such materials. Consignors will be required to indemnify the Commission against any claims for loss or damage arising from the consignor's failure to comply with the Commission's Regulations: they will thus lay themselves open to a claim for damage in the event of a breach of these regulations.

Until the regulations are made the terms on which radioactive materials are accepted and carried by rail are controlled by the regulations for the carriage of dangerous goods, under which similar indemnity arrangements can be operated. The railways can apply in this connection certain penalties for breach of their rules. The Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, empowers them to impose a penalty of £20 for the carriage of goods of a dangerous nature on the outside covering of which no indication of that nature is given, while bye-Jaws provide that no person shall take, or cause to be taken on the railway any article which may become dangerous to persons or property on pain of a penalty of £5.

As regards transport by sea, the Merchant Shipping (Dangerous Goods) Rules, 1952. make provision for the proper marking and stowage of dangerous goods of all kinds. Section 23 of the Merchant Shipping (Safety Convention) Act, 1949, under which these rules are made states that if any of the rules are not complied with in relation to any ship, the owner or master of the ship shall be liable to a maximum fine of £300 on conviction on indictment or £100 on summary conviction. The 1957 Report of the Standing Advisory Committee on the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Explosives in Ships provides detailed advice on the carriage of radioactive isotopes.

Under the provisions of the Air Navigation Order, 1954 dangerous goods (including radioactive materials) may not be carried in any aircraft in or over the U.K. without the written permission of the Minister of Aviation. Most air transport operators serving the U.K. have been given written permission to carry radioactive materials in accordance with an agreed international code relating to the carriage of restricted articles. Penalties for non-compliance with the Air Navigation Order are a fine not exceeding £200 or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months or both.

The Government hopes soon to publish draft regulations covering transport by road.

The Radioactive Substances Bill now before the House provides for the registration of users of radioactive substances, the control of discharges of radioactive waste, and the imposition of penalties for infringements.

Section 5 (3) of the Atomic Energy Authority Act, 1954, requires the Authority to secure that no ionising radiations from anything on any premises occupied by them or from any waste discharged (in whatever form) on or from any premises occupied by them, cause any hurt to any person or any damage to any property. A similar duty is imposed by the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959, on any person granted a licence under the Act for the use of a site for operating a nuclear installation. The later Act contains penalty provisions for certain offences, e.g. failure to report dangerous occurrences.