HC Deb 30 November 1983 vol 49 cc866-8
4. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding dangers from radioactivity arising from discharges in Scottish coastal waters.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Younger)

Over the last year I have received five representations concerning radioactivity arising from discharges to Scottish coastal waters and from the discharges at Sellafield.

Mr. Foulkes

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is genuine anxiety among many people on the west coast of Scotland about the possible link between the increased level of radioactivity in the coastal waters off the west coast of Scotland and the apparent increase in the level of leukaemia among young people? That anxiety has been exacerbated today by the finding of seaweed off the coast of Scotland that is one thousand times more radioactive than the normal level. Therefore, why have the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who is responsible for health and social security questions turned down my reasonable request that there should be a systematic investigation by the Scottish Office into this matter?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says about the concern, but we should all be careful that we do not say anything to increase peoples' concern needlessly. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have a principal medical officer from my Department attending all the meetings of Sir Douglas Black's committee who can and will be able to monitor this work carefully. We carefully monitor all the time what evidence there is of radioactivity off the coast of Scotland, and the evidence is that the maximum amounts are small and well within international safety standards.

Sir Hector Monro

Will my right hon. Friend accept that his answer to my question yesterday has been warmly welcomed and has allayed any fears about radioactivity in the Solway firth and other waters? Will he advise the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) to stop making exaggerated statements that cause alarm in Scotland and ask him to await the results of Sir Douglas Black's inquiry, which will give the answers?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and particularly for what he said about being careful not to raise unnecessary alarm about the matter. I can add to what he said by saying that the total amounts of artificial radiation that have so far been found in the careful monitoring off the coast of Scotland do not amount to more than 3 per cent. of the radiation from natural sources that we experience anyway. Therefore, there is no cause for immediate concern, but the matter is being watched carefully.

Mr. Donald Stewart

The right hon. Gentleman's attitude is far too complacent, and that is proved in the letter that I received on the subject from his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. There is a good deal of alarm, as the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) has shown, and, for that reason, the people on the west coast of Scotland have a right to be assured that these levels are not dangerous. The Secretary of State has said that the levels are minimal, but they are now 30 per cent. higher than they were three years ago. Where will this end, as ingestion over a period is just as serious as having radiation all in one go?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's point, and a line has to be drawn between, on the one hand, being over-alarmist and alarming people unnecessarily, and, on the other, being, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, complacent. I have assured him and the House that we take these matters seriously and are watching the position all the time. However, it does no service to anyone to suggest that there are dangers, as that may cause needless alarm, when all the facts are to the contrary.

Mr. Ewing

Is the Secretary of State aware that he is not in the best position to lecture anyone about spreading fear and alarm, after his conduct at the time of the proposed boring in the Mullwharcher hills, when he led public demonstrations throughout Ayrshire and frightened half the people in Ayrshire to death?

Mr. Younger

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has come round to my point of view at last, as he will be aware that it was this Government who decided not to proceed with that foolish proposal.

Mr. Craigen

We should welcome an independent investigation into and report on this issue, but may we have an assurance from the Secretary of State that the findings by his principal medical officer will be made public, and how soon does he expect to have that information available?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, but we have a high-powered inquiry looking into the major source of these discharges in the Sellafield area, and a Scottish principal medical officer involved in those discussions. That is a good safeguard for the Scottish position, and if there were to be any major findings or findings of importance from the inquiry we would know all about them and be able to take action quickly.

Mr. Maclennan

Does the Secretary of State realise that his answer to the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) will be widely interpreted as giving substance to the view that there was some danger in the events that led to the demonstrations in which he participated? As a matter of history, will he set the record straight?

Mr. Younger

I am not certain of the point being made by the hon. Gentleman. The point that I was making at the time has been met by the change of policy by this Government.