HC Deb 02 December 1963 vol 685 cc917-40

10.0 p.m.

Mrs. Judith Hart (Lanark)

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Radioactive Substances Waste Closed Sources) Exemption Order 1963 (S.I., 1963, No. 1831), dated 8th November, 1963, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th November, be annulled.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

On a point of order. There are twelve Prayers on the Order Paper, six relating to England and Wales and a similar six relating to Scotland. They refer to waste closed sources; schools; hospitals' waste; thorium-X; attachments to lightning conductors; and precipitated phosphate. Would it be in order—it would certainly be convenient to my hon. Friends and myself—if we were allowed to move the first Order and to refer to the other Orders so that they are all discussed on the one Motion?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

Yes. I take it that that is agreeable to the House.

Mrs. Hart

These Orders were made under the Radioactive Substances Act 1960, which we on this side of the House welcomed. We did our best to improve it as it went through its formal stages, but we recognised that one of the problems thrown up by any period of technological change was that of defining those new areas in which new social responsibility must be exercised. This is one of those new areas.

It was some time before the Act came into operation. The appointed day, I believe, was one year ago, 1st December, 1962. Shortly afterwards there were a number of Orders for exemptions under the Act dealing with matters ranging from testing instruments and fire detectors to geological specimens and prepared uranium and thorium compounds. Now we have another group of Orders relating to England, Scotland and Wales. They are extremely technical in their nature as they are bound to be considering the subject with which they deal. They refer to certain radioactive materials, which are specified in the Orders, used in certain premises in a certain way—for example, as under one of the Orders, in schools and colleges of further education. Another one refers to some radioactive waste from hospitals.

Then there is one which refers to lightning conductors. I should be most grateful for some explanation of why it is necessary to use radioactive materials on the top of lightning conductors when we have had lightning conductors for a long time without radioactive material being used in connection with them. In addition, there: are three very technical Orders, and I should be extremely grateful for an explanation, if it is possible to give it in layman's terms, relating to a rather sinister substance called thorium-X and to a substance called precipitated phosphate, and to the Waste Closed Sources Exemption Order.

Certain general points which are not of an essentially technical nature arise out of these Orders, and it is these which I hope to consider tonight and on which I should like to ask the Minister a number of general questions.

If I may be permitted to remind the House, the Act laid down a two-tier system of control of the disposal of radioactive waste. First, it said that users of radioactive material must register their premises with the Minister of Housing and Local Government or the Secretary of State for Scotland, and when the registration was carried out some details had to be given of the premises on which the materials would be used, of the maximum amount that it was expected would be used and of the way in which the radioactive materials would be used. That was the first requirement.

Following that, the Minister was to issue a certificate of registration. In issuing that certificate he might impose certain conditions. Thirdly, having issued the certificate of registration the Minister was to consult local authorities, river boards and such other public and local authorities as he thought it proper to consult. Having done so, he was then to grant an authorisation to the user of the radioactive materials for the disposal of the radioactive waste which would result, and a copy of that authorisation was to be sent to the local authority and to whatever bodies he had consulted before giving the authorisation.

That is the way in which the two-tier system of control was built. First of all, there was the requirement to register and then, having registered, the requirement to obtain an authorisation before the waste could be disposed of. It was believed that in this way an effective system of control over the consequences of the use of radioactive materials would be obtained. It would essentially be centralised in its nature, but the information would be given to those local authorities, river boards and other bodies which in the last resort were responsible for protecting the public against any misuse of radioactive material in terms of radioactive waste.

Where there is an exemption from these requirements, as there is in the Orders under discussion, either not all these steps need to be taken or none of these steps needs to be taken, as I understand the position. Of the Orders which we are considering tonight, some relate to the exemption from the requirement to register premises. I think that I am right in saying that the Order concerning schools and colleges of further education and the Order concerning precipitated phosphate, lightning conductors and thorium-X begin with the exemption from registration. The other two—the waste closed sources and the hospitals' waste Orders—are an exemption not from the need to register but from the need to have an authorisation for the disposal of waste. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong in my interpretation of the Orders, but I understand that that is the position.

There were, of course, some fields where we knew that the Act would exempt certain users. The Atomic Energy Authority and, subject to certain provisions, sites which were licensed under the Nuclear Installations (Licensing and Insurance) Act, 1959, were to be exempted from registration under Section 2 of the Act. In addition, premises occupied by Government Departments or by visiting forces were also to be exempt. Finally, there was a general power granted by Section 2(6), which I quote: The Minister may by order grant further exemptions from registration under the preceding section, by reference to such classes of premises and undertakings, and such descriptions of radioactive material, as may be specified in the order. I take it that it is exemptions under this general power with which we are dealing tonight. It is therefore very relevant to consider what we were given to understand would be the purpose of this general power which the Act gave the Minister to provide further exemption by Order. We were told a number of specific things during Second Reading of the Bill, upstairs in Committee and in another place when the Bill was first introduced there. Enlarging on the need for registration the Minister of Housing and Local Government said on Second Reading: 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 …The main reasons for the power to register are first, to prevent users of 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 …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1960; Vol. 619, c. 324.] That was a general statement, and in a further explanation the Minister said in Committee: The main point is that the bodies exempted by Clause 2"— that is, the Clause giving general powers of exemption shall be seen to be, and in fact be, subject to the same disciplines to which the non-exempt bodies are subject. The Minister went on: One of the objects of the fairly wide power of exemption is that my right hon. Friends will not be requiring registration for its own sake. In many cases information essential to my right hon. Friends will be coming to them through other means of control, from other departments. We do not want registration for the sake of registration when the knowledge is otherwise available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 29th March, 1960; c. 112–4.] Since he was explaining the terms of the Bill I hope I will be permitted to add what Mr. Quintin Hogg, as I suppose we must now call him, said as Minister for Science, introducing the Bill in another place: The exemptions from registration are governed by two principal considerations. First, bodies like the nuclear power stations and the premises owned by the Atomic Energy Authority and, under another Clause, the hospitals, are excluded from registration because there is already equivalent control and equivalent knowledge to that which registration would give. But … they are not exempted from the other stage and the control by way of authorisation for accumulation or disposal of waste. Yet in the Orders which we are considering tonight we have not only exemption from registration but exemption from the need to have an authorisation to dispose of waste, which does not seem to follow from what we were given to understand would be the way in which these general powers would be used under the Act.

The first question which springs to mind is, therefore, whether these Orders do not represent a wider use of the Minister's powers than we were led to believe and were assured would be the case. Another relevant question is the amounts of radioactive waste that are likely to be involved. We were led to believe at the time when the Act was passed that there were about 1,000 users of radioactive materials in this country. Such is the enlargement by industry of the use of radioactive materials that one would expect today that the number of users has very much increased.

It would be interesting to know how many users are registered and, since this would appear to follow, how many premises are likely to be exempted under each of the Orders we are considering, because the Minister cannot judge whether his decision to exempt is right unless he has an indication of the number of premises that are likely to be involved and the amounts of radioactive waste that are likely to follow from the exemption of those premises from the requirement to have authorisation to dispose of the waste.

Another relevant issue—and this is of particular importance—is whether or not local authorities are informed of the premises from which radioactive waste is coming and what amounts are involved, even though the requirement to have an authorisation is not necessary. We understood that it was after registration and before authorisation was given that the local authorities would be consulted by the Minister and that after authorisation had been given he would inform the local authorities of the premises that had been registered and the authorisations that had been given.

Under the Orders there is a requirement that users of radioactive materials who are exempted shall keep records available for inspection by the duly authorised officer of the Minister or the Secretary of State for Scotland. It seems that this is a very different requirement and cannot guarantee to the local authorities the same certainty that theywill know whether radioactive waste is being disposed of in their own areas unless the duly authorised officers of the Minister will make regular inspections of the records kept and refer such matters, as their duty, to the local authorities in the same way as they would inform them had an authorisation been issued. One would like to know what will be the position in this respect. The local authorities are responsible, and not the Minister, and have the job of knowing where there may be any risks and where there may be an accumulation of waste.

The Orders do not relate only to the disposal of waste. Local authorities have a duty to know when it is necessary that the public should be denied access to places where waste is being accumulated. The fire authorities require to know where there could be risk involved in any part of their area were a fire to occur on certain premises. The local authorities have to protect the public and one must be certain that, if exemptions are being granted, the authorities will have all the information that they need just as though exemption has not been granted.

Since records are to be kept and to be available for inspection, it is important that we should know what inspectorate the Minister has to ensure that an eye is being kept on exempted premises. One of the reasons for the delay in fixing the appointed day on which the provisions of the Act would come into operation was, I believe, the difficulty in obtaining enough highly-qualified people to serve on the inspectorate. The Minister gave an undertaking during the Committee stage discussions that the inspectorate would not be a large one but would be composed of well-qualified people. It is relevant to ask, a year after the appointed day, what is the inspectorate and how far it is expected to be able to carry out a careful inspection of premises which are being exempted. The flow of information to local authorities will depend largely on this vigilance.

There is the further point that the Atomic Energy Authority will act asthe agent for the disposal of radioactive waste. We were told that it would act as an agent for two years after the Act came into operation. We were also told that during this period a national disposal service would be built up. One of the main objectives of the Act, which is based on the White Paper which preceded it, was to ensure that there should be a national disposal service. Linked with the general question of how waste is to be disposed from exempted premises, one would like to know how far progress has been made in building up a national disposal service which could come into operation roughly a year from now. Since the Orders are linked so closely with the measures which local authorities are able to take for the protection of people living in their areas, it seems to me that above all is raised the question of what guarantees are being given to local authorities.

One may take it that as we move on through the years the number of users of radioactive material will increase considerably and the amount of radioactive waste with which the community will have to deal will also increase. Although hon. Members may lack the technical qualifications to understand the scientific details contained in the Orders, I think it right that this House should seek to be vigilant in its measures of control over this most important issue. It is our job to be certain that we provide protection against the hazards inherent in the use of radioactive material. So, while we wish to encourage the technical programme, we must at the same time ensure that protection for the public is given concurrently with the increase in the use of radioactive material. I regard it as perfectly proper that we should hesitate before permitting exemption from that degree of control envisaged in the Act and contained in these Orders, and I hope that the Minister can reassure us and answer all our questions and remove our doubts.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

I am sure that the House will agree with me when I express my great admiration and respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart who moved the Prayers to have these Orders annulled. We are indebted to her because those of us who have taken the trouble to read them realise that they were laid before Parliament on 27th November to come into operation on 1st December—that is just four days.

Some of the details of the substances that are subject to being disposed of and exempted from authorisation of disposal are very complicated. Although I have done my best, I find it very difficult to understand them. I should like to have more time to go to the research department to find out the implications of these exemptions.

There are twelve Orders and in each is mentioned several institutions connected with the use of radioactive substances which are exempted from registration, not only at the places where the substances are used, but exempted, as I understand it, from authorisation of the disposal of these substances.

There are one or two Orders in which there appears to be exemption from the disposal of radioactive waste substances in closed sources. I take that to mean in some form of sealed canister. The canister might be stolen, or misplaced if there is no authorisation given and no registration. There might be carelessness on the part of the custodian of such closed sources, assuming that I am right in thinking that the enclosed source is a sealed canister, or the terminal of a lightning conductor with some radioactive attachment to it. I assume from the Orders that the radioactivity arising from such an attachment would be treated as an enclosed source. On important Orders like this, dealing with such an important substance, to give only four days from 27th November to 1st December for hon. Members to study and accept them as delegated legislation is most unreasonable.

I find these Orders more complicated than the Bill itself in 1960. I was a member of the Committee on the disposal of these wastages, and we spent three or four days in Committee on it.

That Bill was not nearly as complicated as these twelve Orders which we are expected to dispose of in a few hours. In fact they came into operation on 1st December before we had a chance to

discuss them. This seems an extraordinary travesty of the functions of this House. The Orders are laid before Parliament without one seeing them, and we are praying against them after they have come into operation. I hope that their coming into operation can be delayed until hon. Members can do their duty and examine them more closely.

I draw the attention of the House to the Radioactive Substances (Precipitated Phosphate) Exemption (Scotland) Order, 1963. I see on the back of it a reference to the number of microcuries of natural uranium, divided by the number of grammes which the substance weighs, does not exceed 2 × 10-3). When one is presented with an Order like this, one should be given time to discover what it means.

It then refers to the number of microcuries of each of the following elements, that is to say, actinium lead, polonium, protoactinium other than the isotope 234, radium, radon and thorium other than the isotope 234, divided by the number of grammes which the substance weighs, does not exceed 4 × 10-4. It is ridiculous to ask me, as a Member of Parliament, to approve this Order.

We have been given four days in which to consider these Orders, and it must be remembered that those four days included a Saturday and Sunday. It is not possible to work for seven days a week. Members cannot be expected to stay up all night studying Orders like these. I am sure that the public would be amazed if they knew that these Orders were laid before Parliament on 27th November and that we, on their behalf, are now being asked to approve this delegated legislation, having had so little time in which to study it. Enough blunders are committed by the Administration without forcing us to deal with these Orders in two working days. I beg the Minister to take them back and give us a little more time in which to consider them. I suggest that he should ask leave to adjourn the debate and thus give us some time in which to discover just what these Orders mean.

We are tonight being asked to deal with more legislation than is contained in the Act itself. When the Bill was introduced in the House it was given a Second Reading, the Minister made a speech, hon. Members took part in the debate, and about a week later it went to a Standing Committee for further examination. Now, the Act having been passed, the Minister has introduced these Orders and there is no question of their being given a Second Reading or being discussed in a Standing Committee. I shall be very surprised if the Minister himself has read all these Orders. I shall be very surprised if he knows the nature of all the materials involved. If he does, it will mean that he has been far better briefed than many of those who speak on behalf of the Scottish Office.

I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is present. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart), I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who has some responsibility with regard to the application of some of these Orders to Scotland, will explain the nature of these materials such as radon, thorium, isotope 234, protoactinium other than the isotype 234, and so on.

When I report to my constituents, and when my local authorities ask me about this matter—as they probably will; the local authorities in my constituency are very lively local authorities—I want to be able to tell them. When the Government bring in regulations such as these, concerning the health of the people, the local authorities want to be able to apply them and do their job properly, and I want to help them. So I want to be informed.

I shall expect, even if not tonight, a solid briefing on the details of all these subjects—perhaps by the Under-Secretary's writing to me—so that our local authorities can use their local inspectorates when they receive information that certain exempted people are using these materials. So many people are exempted under these Orders. Our local authorities are spending considerable sums of money to create a defensive system against radioactive substances of all kinds under certain conditions, through our local civil defence services, but under these Orders we shall have people operating all over the place without being registered, and exempt from having to seek authorisation to dispose of radioactive waste.

Without some fuller explanation, these Statutory Instruments will make the work of local authorities very difficult. When the Clydebank Town Council sees them, or hears about them, and asks me to explain them, all that I shall be able to do—unless we are given a fuller explanation tonight—is to refer the council to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I do not wish to make his situation any more complicated and difficult than it is now, but if he is called upon to explain all these Orders to Scottish local authorities his situation will be almost impossible.

Apart from any explanation from the Secretary of State, I hope that we shall get a full explanation from the Under-Secretary as to the import of these Orders and their effect upon local authorities in carrying out their duties of protecting their communities from radioactive waste.

10.33 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. F. V. Corfield)

I appreciate that these are rather complex Orders, and that hon. Members may well wish to have some explanation of them. That, as I understand it, is the purpose of the negative procedure, and why we are here tonight. Although the hon. Member may resent spending his week-ends looking at these things, as I have been doing, I can assure him that my efforts tonight may help him rather than hinder him, and I think that it would be a more constructive move to try to explain them than to take them back.

I want to endeavour to explain the background before coming to the specific questions raised by the hon. Lady, because in doing so I may well cover the bulk of them. The first point to bear in mind is that the definition of radioactive material in the Act was deliberately framed in extremely wide terms. Obviously—and I think that the hon. Lady would be the first to agree—we wished to err on the side of safety, rather than the reverse. Nevertheless, the result has been that within the scope of the definition there are a number of perfectly commonplace items which are not normally regarded as radioactive, and are certainly not dangerous. I quote, for example, things like lighter flints, the filaments of electric light bulbs, and certain fertilisers.

Mr. Mitchison

Will the hon. Member indicate, as he takes these instances, under which Order they come?

Mr. Corfield

The ones that I have quoted as examples are types which could be included in the definition and for which, quite clearly, one would not expect to require the full administrative paraphernalia outlined in the Act in respect of matters which might have serious effects.

The hon. Lady asked me how many applications had been made. Applications have been received by my right hon. Friend from 1,250 users of radioactive materials and of these about a hundred are hospitals. I make it clear that hospitals which use radioactive materials in any large quantities are not exempted. It is the ordinary run of hospitals which do not specialise in the sort of treatments which use radioactive substances on any large scale. There are about 150 universities and colleges, and the remainder are industrial applications.

Perhaps I can now turn to the main principles which we have followed in making exemption Orders. I hope that the hon. Lady will agree that we have in no way departed from what she was led in Committee and on Second Reading to believe as to the purposes of Section 2(6) of the Act and other exemption provisions.

The first of the three main principles which have been followed is that we should not insist on applying the machinery of registration purely for its own sake, and one had in mind that one clearly would not wish to go through the registration procedure when another Government control achieved the same purpose. The second principle is that exempting trifling uses of radioactive material where all the medical evidence and so on was that there was no danger would clearly be an advantage so as to concentrate on establishments where the amount of radioactive material in use and the methods of its use were likely to give rise to the undesirable concentrations for which the Act was designed.

Mrs. Hart

Will the hon. Gentleman make it clear when explaining the background whether he distinguishes between a large number of users of something which is potentially of little danger, but which, when accumulated, may add up to something dangerous, and users using small quantities of inherently highly dangerous radioactive material?

Mr. Corfield

I am not certain that I follow what the hon. Lady is asking, but I will try to make the distinction and if I do not do so, no doubt she will interrupt me again.

The third principle is that it must be remembered that the power to make exemptions also includes the power to make those exemptions subject to limitations and conditions and thus subject to a code of safe practice which can be enforced. There were about thirteen Orders at this time last year, many of them subject to conditions of that nature.

The practice envisaged for and already carried out for local authorities is that when an application for registration is received, a copy of the certificate of registration is sent to the local authorities concerned. The issue of the exemption Orders means that there will be no certificates of registration or certificates of authorisation. We are arranging to give the local authorities details of the users covered by the Orders where that is appropriate.

We are obtaining from the National Health Service hospitals, which, incidentally, are exempt from registration under the Act, an appreciation of their scale and use of radioactive materials and this will be passed to the local authorities. We shall also advise the local authorities in whose areas any of these lightning conducting devices are installed. Local authorities already obtain information about the use in educational establishments through their medical officers of health. I can assure the hon. Lady that although individual local authorities have not been consulted, the local authority associations have and were satisfied with the safeguards provided. There is a certain amount of disposal by means of local authority refuse collection but the levels are sufficiently low for there to be no hazard, so I am advised by the scientific experts.

Mrs. Hart

The hon. Gentleman recognises that this is a crucial matter. He "used the words "where appropriate", although I was not clear in what connection. Is he saying that in all circumstances where there is an exemption the local authority will have the necessary information?

Mr. Corfield

If the hon. Lady will be a little patient, I am coming to that point. It varies from Order to Order, for, as she will see, it is not necessarily appropriate in some Orders although appropriate to others—for instance, the Lightning Conductor Order.

The first Order is the Radioactive Substances (Waste Closed Sources) Exemption Order, 1963. The definitions are in the articles of the Order and on page 2 the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) will find a definition of closed sources. The point about this Order is that some manufacturers and distributors of instruments which contain radioactive material accept for disposal the spent sources held by their customers.

Under the Act, the mere return of the instruments to the manufacturer is disposal. Control is retained for the actual disposal by the fact that the manufacturer remains registered and subject to authorisation. So all we do here is to say that, where a retailer or user of an instrument returns the source either for repair or recharging or because it is surplus, that transfer is exempted, but that any ultimate disposal of waste in the true sense of the word as we understand it in ordinary parlance is still, by registration and authorisation, the responsibility of the manufacturer.

This same exemption is extended to where the instrument or other source is reutrned to a disposing authority. I assure the hon. Lady that the Atomic Energy Authority acts as a disposal agent in this matter. It is virtually a complete continuation of the former arrangement but put on a more formal basis. The Authority acts as agent of the Minister in disposing of radioactive waste where this is necessary. It is merely the transfer that is exempted from the Order.

The Order also contains an exemption from the authorisation to accumulate sources, because clearly small sources cannot really be required to be sent back at once, and a consignment can be kept for up to twelve weeks. These are all closed sources and it is purely transfer that is covered, I hope that the hon. Lady will think that we have not gone wide of the principles of the Act in that one.

Next comes the Radioactive Substances (Schools etc.) Exemption Order, 1963. It will be common knowledge that a number of schools, technical colleges and teacher training colleges use very small amounts of radioactive material for teaching purposes. The Ministry of Education has issued detailed guidance to education establishments to secure the safe handling of this material and is continually reviewing these requirements.

The Order grants additional exemption in respect of use on a scale which the Minister of Education is able to approve as safe in schools, and the exemption is given for keeping and the use of up to four millicuries, of which not more than two may be in the form of open sources. The open sources may not contain strontium 90 which is the element that is so dangerous to bone marrow; nor must it contain any alpha emitters. A millicurie is 1,000 microcuries, and a microcurie, I understand, is about the level of radioactivity which one finds in a luminous wrist watch. That gives an idea of the fairly small levels with which we are dealing. An alpha emitter, I understand, is one of the radioactive substances which emits alpha rays, and although these are the least penetrating if one merely handles the substances,they are by far the most dangerous if one swallows them. The position is similar in the case of strontium 90. This is why there is a complete bar on these two types of radioactive material for the purposes of the exemption Order.

The exemption from authorisation covers disposals of waste in the following manner. First, discharges of liquid waste into the foul water drainage system of not more than 500 microcuries—that is, 500 watches—in the aggregate in any one week. I understand that the open sources most commonly used or likely to be used all have a relatively short half-life, and the result is that, even with this amount of discharge into a drainage system, the build-up is such that one can never, because of the half-life factor, establish a dangerous concentration.

The second way of disposal is of solid waste by means of the local authority refuse collection service or by a deposit on a tip used for the deposit of substantial quantities of ordinary refuse, provided that at the time of disposal there is in the container not less than 3 cu. ft. of waste, including other refuse, and not more than 10 microcuries. The amount of activity in any one article must not exceed 1 microcurie. The relevance of this particular level of 10 microcuries isthat this is the equivalent natural radioactive strength of the earth, so that all one is doing in putting this stuff into a tip is adding 10 microcuries to something which is already at that strength for the same volume of material. One is not, therefore, increasing the concentration of the radioactivity.

Third, there is the discharge of gaseous waste into the atmosphere of not more than 1 microcurie in one day. We are dealing here with very small strengths, if that be the right word, of radioactivity and dealing with them in a way which, we are advised, is wholly safe and is in any case, of course, under the control of the Ministry of Education's administrative arrangements for seeing that these standards are upheld.

Now, hospital waste. I will not go into this in detail because it is closely parallel to the schools Order, but I will just remind the House of what I said earlier, namely, that the main users, about a hundred hospitals, are not exempted, and the sort of condition which arises in the smaller hospitals with which we are concerned comes in, for instance, if a patient who has been treated at one of the other hospitals with a radioactive substance arrives and his urine may still be contaminated. Clearly, there is a very small contamination in sucha case, and we are merely making clear that there is no special precaution necessary provided that there are adequate sanitary arrangements.

Mr. Mitchison

He may have swallowed his wrist watch.

Mr. Corfield

He might have done that. I am not sure whether that would be a gamma radiation or an alpha one. I gather that, if it were an alpha radiation, he would be in a worse state than if it were gamma.

As to the second type of disposal, I gather that iodine is one of the commonest radioactive substances used in these hospitals. This has a half-life of eight days. So under the condition that not more than 10 millicuries in the aggregate in any four consecutive weeks may be discharged into the drainage system I have done a calculation and, as far as I can make out, the absolute maximum which can be attained if the rules are rigidly adhered to is 20 millicuries in the waste effluent. Here again, I am advised that this is wholly safe. The disposal conditions are almost completely parallel with those in the Schools Order.

The hon. Lady asked specifically about thorium-X. This is otherwise known as radium 224. I do not know whether that helps the hon. Lady very much. It is used in the form of an ointment or solution for the treatment of skin diseases. It is a use which has been going on for very many years, though on a limited scale. The Order provides exemption to pharmacists, doctors and hospitals in respect; of the keeping and disposal of the specified small amounts. The Order grants exemption from registration for the keeping and use of not more than 1 millicurie of thorium-X on the premises at any one time. It also grants exemption from authorisation for the disposal of up to 100 microcuries of thorium-X per week into the foul water drainage system and up to 10 microcuries per week of thorium-X by means of the local authority refuse disposal service.

I know that the lightning conductor problem worries the hon. Lady. I must admit that I found it a little difficult to understand at first sight. As I understand it, the theory is that, if certain radioactive substances are incorporated in a lightning conductor, the effect is to increase the length of the conductor. It sends out what I believe are called ions at the top end of the conductor which conducts the electric current on to the lightning conductor. The hon. Lady said that we have had lightning conductors for many years without worrying about putting radioactive substances into them. This I would not dispute. The theory is that it improves the effectiveness. There might be some questioning amongst scientists about whether the increase in effectiveness is more than marginal, but we have had no adverse comment on this Order from the Advisory Committee. Any question as to the actual scientific effective- ness is really a little outside my sphere and more for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Science.

I remind the hon. Lady that here again there is control over firms which make this type of lightning conductor. There is in fact only one firm at the moment. It is required to keep a record of its customers, so there is complete control as to where: these installations are. Here again, this can be made known to local authorities. The customers are required to display notices, and so on, saying that one of these lightning conductors is on the premises.

Finally, I come to the Precipitated Phosphate Order. Here I understand that the problem arises from the fact that phosphatic manures or fertilisers which are made from phosphatic rock, nearly all of which is imported from Africa, are associated in this rock with very small amounts of uranium which is radioactive. It is not really the precipitated phosphate which is radioactive. It is the uranium with which it is frequently associated in very small quantities.

The Radioactive Substances (Phosphatic Substances, Rare Earths etc.) Exemption Order 1962, provided exemption for fertilisers containing not more than a specified concentration of radioactive material. It so happens that a recent brand of phosphatic fertiliser has been manufactured, claiming certain agricultural advantages, and this very slightly exceeds the amount laid down in the Order. We have been assured by our scientific experts that this small increase is still within the safe limits. Therefore, the purpose is to raise the limit very slightly so as to include one more type of phosphatic fertiliser.

Mr. Mitchison

Would the hon. Gentleman be kind enough to tell us whose advice has been taken on these matters? He spoke of "our scientific experts" twice, and once mentioned an advisory committee. Who are these gentlemen?

Mr. Corfield

I think that the hon. Lady will remember that the advisory committee was very largely responsible for advising the Minister, and the Department generally, on the need for the legislation to which she has referred. Then we have the inspectorate, the members of which are highly qualified in these matters. These are the people on whose advice we rely, although many other channels are available if we are in doubt.

I may not have covered one or two of the matters raised by the hon. Lady. The appointed day was in December of this year, not 1962; it was, in fact, yesterday—

Mrs. Hart

The appointed day for the coming into operation of the Act?

Mr. Corfield

Yes. Last year's Orders were made in advance. I apologise for the fact that the Scottish Orders were only laid on the 27th, to come into force the same day as the Act, but I am sure that the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) will appreciate—he indicates that he does—that in many cases the Orders are even more complex than the Act. One can only consider the drawing up of Orders when one gets the applications for registration and exemption, and can study the things in detail as they arise.

This, I am afraid, inevitably means that it takes some time to prepare the various Orders. I hope that I have assisted the House in understanding them, have satisfied hon. Members that we are not going outside the spirit of the Act, and that we are making exemptionsthat will be of minimal significance in terms of radiation, and are sensible exemptions to make in the background against which I have tried to sketch the matter.

Mr. Bence

Before he sits down, will the Minister explain why the Orders for Scotland were laid before Parliament on 27th November, giving us four days to study them, while those tabled by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government were laid on 15th November, nearly a fortnight earlier?

Mr. Corfield

It may be the inherent superiority of being south of the Border.

Mrs. Hart

Before he sits down, may I say that the Minister has not completely answered the point about the effect of a large number of users of comparatively low-level radioactive substances, as against a small number of users of high-level radioactive substances. Can he undertake on future occasions to give information about the number of users of the various cate- gories specified in the Order who are expected to be exempted?

Mr. Corfield

I think that the hon. Lady is saying that a concentration of schools all making the maximum disposal of what they are allowed might be more dangerous than the single school—

Mrs. Hart

indicated assent.

Mr. Corfield

That has been taken into account. Schools and hospitals have a check. The schools come under the Ministry of Education, and similar arrangements apply to hospitals. So there is a check. The fact is that, within these limits, they are not subject to registration or authorisation, as the case may be.

11.0 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I am probably speaking for the whole House when I say how grateful we are on the one hand to my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) for raising a matter which clearly needed consideration and on the other to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for the homework he has done in trying to answer us. I am not clear whether these Orders come under housing or local government. I am not at all clear what the hon. Gentleman's Ministry ought to have to do with them, but they are the hon. Gentleman's Orders and in the circumstances I would press him a little on this occasion or some other to consider the question of the advice he receives about these matters.

I had a confused impression of what had happened. The hon. Gentleman had consulted the Ministry of Education about the Order relating to schools. I suppose he consulted the Ministry of Health about the Order relating to hospitals. Then we come to a rather more vague field. The hon. Gentleman had an Advisory Committee which had functioned in connection with the Act and therefore apparently had been called upon to function in connection with these Orders.

Mr. Corfield

Under the Radioactive Substances Act passed under a different Administration in 1948 a Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee was set up. The deliberations of that Committee led to the 1960 Act and it is these people who are available to advise us when required on the matter of exemptions.

Mr. Mitchison

I am glad to hear that. It answers the question which I put a little time ago, but it does not wholly satisfy me. I do not know who these people are. I do not know how they relate their scientific skill—if that is what they are particularly versed in—to the demands of industry, which were said to be the largest in number of these cases, as well as to the demands of the other services, such as health and education.

I am disturbed by consultation of this kind because it seems to me that there are other people who should have been consulted. I have never understood what the Minister of Science is supposed to do, but nobody suggests for a moment that anyone has consulted the Minister of Science or any of the bodies for which he is responsible. It is not suggested that the Medical Research Council, which would appear to have some knowledge in this matter, has been consulted. While I have no doubt that this is an excellent Advisory Committee I do not know that it reports to the House or that we have any means of knowing what may be its limitations as a committee and what may be the practical effect of its advice.

The result of consulting these gentlemen is a series of Orders drawn in exceedingly technical terms, to some of which my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has called the attention of the House. What one misses is the link between the scientific knowledge of these gentlemen and the ultimate Order which appears from the Ministry of Housing and Local Government—of all improbable places, if I may say so to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

This is serious, because we have had this trouble before in connection with health matters. There was the case which attracted a great deal of attention a little time ago—and I refer to it only in passing—of the substance thalidomide which had been the subject of expert investigation, though not by the Medical Research Council, but which neverthe- less produced some deplorable results in those upon whom it was used. That is the sort of question which, with respect to the hon. Gentleman, remains unanswered at the end of this debate. It seems to illustrate the very curious aspects of our constitution that we get these Orders from the Ministry while this gap, between the Advisory Committee and what finally appears in the Orders, remains unfilled. That disturbs me.

Another important point that disturbs me is the question which was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark, which also remains unanswered. The efficiency of these Orders—whether or not they will serve any purpose—will depend largely on the inspectorate. One may be able to trust hospitals and schools up to a point, but on a matter of this kind it would be too much to trust the 1,000 or so industrial users who have been among the applicants in the matter.

We know about the alkali inspectors and I appreciate that from time to time there have been complaints about the shortage of them. Is the Minister satisfied that the inspectorate is adequate, both in skill and numbers to deal with the many cases in which these Orders will be applied by the persons entitled to benefit under them?

Mr. Corfield

The background is that the inspectorate now consists of six qualified radio chemists or experts in radioactive; substances. It is proposed to use the other inspectorates—such as the Factory Inspectorate and Alkali Inspectorate—for administrative inspection duties. The expert inspectors, the qualified people, will be available to investigate the more complex processes and to assist, give advice and take action in cases where the other inspectorates bring problems to their attention.

I have looked at the membership of the Advisory Committee and I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that its members are eminent in this sphere. There are two members of the Medical Research Council, the Atomic Energy Authority's Director of Health and Safety, the Director of the Radiological Protection Service and a number of other very eminent people. I can also assure him, apart from the question of consulting the Departments he mentioned, that the Medical Research Council was also consulted.

Mr. Mitchison

Distinguished persons, including distinguished scientists, are usually very patriotic, and I am not at all surprised that the Minister has been able to draw upon their services. However, he has not answered my question, which related to the link between the scientific advice given by these gentlemen and the Orders which appear from the Ministry. I take it that these distinguished gentlemen have not drafted the Orders. One wonders whether, in practice, the advice which is given on these highly technical matters is properly translated into the realm of action in the Orders. I expressed some anxiety on this point because there have been other cases where clearly that had not happened.

However, I do not wish, unless he does, to take the matter further at this point and I refer now to his remarks about the inspectorate. I am a little frightened about a factory inspector having to apply Orders of this scientific complexity. I do not know whether a lightning conductor is a factory or whether one should expect an alkali inspector to shin up the necessary obstacle to inspect what is going on up there. There seem to be a miscellaneous group of inspectors recruited from rather differing sources.

I can only hope that the hon. Member will succeed in getting the effective inspection upon which the efficiency of these Orders is bound to depend. I have little doubt that my hon. Friends who are interested in this question will from time to time add to their existing inquiries about the alkali inspectors an inquiry about how the radioactive inspectors, or whatever I should call them, are getting on, how many of them there are and whether there are sufficient to do the job.

At the end of this extremely interesting discussion, I entertain some hope that nothing very dreadful has appeared in the Orders, but I cannot go very far beyond that. It is a difficulty which occurs in this kind of Order. I wonder whether for future reference the hon. Member and his Ministry will consider adding some more informative explana- tion at the end of the Orders or with the Orders than appears in the usual Explanatory Note. In this case the Note explained remarkably little—not nearly as much as the hon. Member told us tonight. In the interests of the country and of the House, it is right that there should be a certain liberality either in the Explanatory Note or—although I hesitate to suggest it—in some White Paper which goes with it. After all, if the Finance Bill is sometimes said to need explanation, this kind of Explanatory Note is worthless.

Mrs. Hart

With the assurances which have been given, and which must satisfy us at least to some extent, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.