§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Health and Social Security (Dr. John Dunwoody)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The object of this straightforward Bill is to transfer to a statutory board the present functions of three existing bodies—the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee, appointed under the Radioactive Substances Act, 1948; the Radiological Protection Service, run by the Medical Research Council; and that part of the central health and safety branch of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority which deals with radiological protection.
In the last 20 years we have seen the gradual establishment of atomic energy as a means of providing power, and the increasingly widespread use of radioactive substances and of radiation in medicine, industry and commerce. The properties of these substances and of radiation produced by machines are of great benefit to mankind, but, as with other scientific and technical development, there are accompanying hazards. It has been necessary to build substantially on the knowledge acquired in earlier years for protecting people from dangers associated with the use of X-rays and from substances like radium, until now there is virtually a new branch of knowledge and activity, generally described as radiological protection.
In 1948, at the beginning of the British effort in atomic energy and the spread 1170 of the use of the properties of radiation outside medicine, Parliament passed the Radioactive Substances Act. This was a general enabling Act to allow certain Ministers to make regulations for the protection of people against hazards from radioactive substances and ionising radiations. Under the provisions of this Act, the Ministers were required, after appropriate consultation, to appoint an advisory committee whose duty was to advise Ministers on the regulations they were proposing to make under the Act.
This advisory committee, the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee, has a membership of 16 under the chairmanship of Sir Brian Windeyer, now Vice-Chancellor of London University, having recently retired from the professorship of therapeutic radiology of that university and from being Director of the Meyerstein Institute of Radiotherapy at the Middlesex Hospital—rôles which he has filled with great distinction.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science is the Minister responsible for appointing the committee, and the Director of the Radiological Protection Service acts as its technical secretary.
In radiological protection there are several Government Departments which have powers to make regulations, and these Departments have their own technical staff to cover their special interests. The purpose of the Bill, however, is to achieve in the proposed new statutory board and its staff a single national point of authoritative reference and a body which can provide the necessary technical services, both to Government Departments and to others.
The Bill provides for a committee to advise the board. The committee would comprise a much wider membership than the board itself and would enable scientific, medical, employer and trade union representatives, together with representatives from Government Departments with responsibilities for radiological protection, to be associated with the work of the board. The committee's function would be to advise the board, and the board would be expected to consult the committee, and to have regard to its views, before advising Ministers on the preparation of regulations and codes of practice, and before giving formal advice on the application and interpretation of international recommendations on basic standards of protection.
1171 This arrangement will enable the board itself to be kept small enough for effective management and yet enable its opinions to be informed by a wide spread of interests. Consultation between board and committee will be particularly important where the board is advising Government Departments on technical matters, for example, on regulations applied to those whose work or whose products involve radiation hazards.
I now turn to the two existing groups of experts that we propose to combine in order to form the board's staff.
The first is the Radiological Protection Service, which was set up in 1953 under the management of the Medical Research Council on behalf of three sponsors—itself, the then Ministry of Health and the Scottish Home and Health Department. The cost of its operations is shared between these three bodies according to the requirements of research—that is the Council—and services—that is the two Departments. The headquarters of the service are at Sutton in Surrey in the grounds of the Royal Marsden Hospital. Research is also undertaken here, and a radiological protection service is provided to the South East. There are also regional centres in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow.
The Atomic Energy Authority, as the House will know, was established in 1954 by the Atomic Energy Authority Act of that year. The authority is organised into a number of groups which have establishments and works. Each of these establishments and works is in the charge of a management which has its health and safety departments covering both radiation and other potential hazards. In 1959 the Atomic Energy Authority decided, after the Fleck Committee Report following the Windscale incident, to create a central health and safety branch, whose function is to advise the board of the authority in respect of its health and safety policy, to disseminate that policy and to assist in its application, to co-ordinate certain research work, and to co-ordinate the authority's views in respect of international discussions relating to health and safety matters. The branch also co-ordinates views on radiation protection matters expressed on behalf of the United Kingdom when requested to do so by the Ministry of Technology, which has 1172 responsibility for our relationship in technical matters with organisations like the International Atomic Energy Agency and the European Nuclear Energy Agency.
I should like to make it clear that it is not intended that the creation of the new board should have any immediate effect on the activities, including research activities, which are being undertaken by the component parts. It will be for the board itself to assess the work at present in hand and to bring about a coordination of their various research activities.
The Medical Research Council and the Atomic Energy Authority, as a consequence of the provisions of the Bill, are to transfer a substantial proportion of their radiological protection staff to the proposed board. Amongst the senior members of both the groups of staff to be transferred there are recognised leaders of world opinion in their fields. Both the council and the Atomic Energy Authority will contribute to the cost of the board and will expect to be able to make demands on it for advice and services. The board, of course, will be expected to meet these demands. The Health Ministers have agreed, subject to Parliament's passing this Bill, to appoint nominees of both bodies to the board.
The remaining members of the board will be appointed by the Health Ministers from people who are authoritative in fields appropriate to the board's work, such as medicine, science and industry.
The House may wish to know of the financial responsibilities of the different Departments of State involved in the new organisation. The position is that the estimated gross revenue expenditure for the year 1969–70 is £822,000, of which 45 per cent. will be paid by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services; 30 per cent. by the Atomic Energy Authority, for whose parliamentary grant my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology is responsible; 20 per cent. from the Medical Research Council, for whose grant my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is responsible; and 5 per cent. from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.
For the first few years the contribution from these four sources to the new board 1173 will be worked out on proportions calculated approximately on the basis of current expenditure. Afterwards the proportions will be reviewed and revised if necessary in the light of the situation at the time.
I am sure that the House will agree that the members of the Radioactive Substances Advisory Committee and its panels have done well, and I would like to take this opportunity of thanking those concerned for their valuable work, but we believe that the arrangements which the present Bill will introduce will bring about a considerable improvement. The committee's functions will be transferred to the new statutory board, supported by its own expert staff drawn from the Radiological Protection Service and the Atomic Energy Authority, and informed through its own advisory committee, by the same range of independent and expert opinion as exists on the present statutory committee.
As I indicated at the outset, the intention of the Bill is straightforward and in no way controversial, and I do not think that the House would wish me to explain in detail the drafting of its seven Clauses and two Schedules at this stage of our consideration of its contents.
An advisory group of administrators and experts has already been set up to study the arrangements which will need to be made for the future, and its work will, I am sure, be of great value to the board. The scientists and administrators concerned in the Medical Research Council and Atomic Energy Authority are looking forward to this amalgamation of the sources of advice and to the formation of the new board. I can assure the House that the conditions of service of the staff involved in these changes will not be adversely affected by these proposals.
It is intended that the Atomic Energy Authority terms and conditions of service will be applied to the board's staff. Individual employees transferring from the Medical Research Council to the board's employment will be able to retain their existing salary on assimilation to an appropriate new grade unless the minimum of the new grade is more advantageous. The staff and their representative associations will of course have an opportunity to put their views to the board on 1174 any points of difference prior to transfer. I should also like to make it clear that the board will be expected to set up appropriate machinery for consulting its staff on matters of concern to them. This is a normal feature of public bodies today and the new board will need to have—and I am sure will wish to have—its consultative machinery.
The Bill will improve the co-ordination of our arrangements for radiological protection, give better support to Government Departments, both directly and by means of research, and enable our views to be authoritatively heard in international gatherings. These are the objects of the Bill, and I hope, therefore, that the House will give its unanimous approval to its Second Reading.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Tim Fortescue (Liverpool, Garston)
We on this side of the House welcome this Bill, which, as the Joint Under-Secretary says, is non-controversial and should be acceptable to everyone. We also welcomed the hon. Gentleman's speech, which bears more than a coincidental resemblance to the speech with which the Bill was introduced in another place. In the debate in the other place the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, who is one of the world's greatest experts on the subject of radiological protection, said, and I do not think that anybody would disagree with him, that this nuclear energy industry was the safest industry in the world.
It is the safest in the world simply because everybody is so frightened of it. It began in circumstances which we shall never forget, with the biggest and the most devastating explosion that has ever happened. Since then no one has been quite certain that this is a power which can safely be harnessed. For that reason, from the very beginning, and almost before the beginning of the nuclear energy industry, such stringent precautions were taken to protect life and health from its effects that Lord Ritchie-Calder's remarks were fully justified.
I was in some small way implicated in the only dangerous incident of any kind which has happened in this country as a result of the nuclear energy industry, what was called "the Windscale incident" in 1957, when there was a considerable escape of radiological material from the Windscale plant and 1175 the fall-out spread for some considerable distance round the plant. At that time I was engaged in the milk industry and was responsible, had to be responsible, for the arrangements whereby milk which was taken from the cows grazing in the fields affected was prevented from reaching the public. I well remember the complicated arrangements we had to make and the fact that we had to pour all the milk which came from those cows down the drain.
Most vividly of all, perhaps, I remember the fact that the yield of the cows in the area suddenly doubled. The reason for this was not far to seek when we started testing the milk for butter fat before it was poured down the drain. We found that the mysterious doubling of the yield was probably due to human intervention in the product of cows.
The structure of the new National Radiological Protection Board, which the Under-Secretary has described, is fairly complex. He has described how the board's finance will be provided. It seems that it will be provided from a number of different bodies. The total finance, under £1 million a year, will come from no fewer than four contributors, from various bodies and Ministries. It occurs to me that this is perhaps over-complex and that since this board is to be under the aegis of his own Ministry, the Department of Health and Social Security, there is really no very good reason why the finance should not be consolidated within that Ministry instead of having these petty contributions from three or four other bodies.
I do not know what the reason is. I am sure that it cannot be a very good one, and I would like an explanation why it is to be perpetuated. The hon. Gentleman may quote to me the so-called "Haldane" principle, which is the shorthand term for saying that research bodies should not be unduly hampered or directed by the Ministries to which they are responsible. In this case I do not think that that would be a very strong argument for such a complicated structure.
There is one almost parochial point that I would like to raise, and that is what is to become, when this board is established, of the hospital-based film 1176 badge monitoring services of which I believe the most famous and biggest is in Liverpool—the Liverpool Radium Institute? These are services which, as I understand it, provide film badge monitoring services to various organisations within the Atomic Energy Authority. Will they continue to do the same work as they do now, or will they be superseded? Will there be some kind of co-operation between them and the new board?
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), who is not in his place this evening since he is attending an even more distinguished scientific occasion in this Palace, has asked me to express his regret to the House. He takes very great interest in this matter and, as the House will know, Harwell is in his constituency. He has asked me to ask the Under-Secretary whether there is a nomination for the chairman of the new board.
There was an indication in the debate in the other place that the chairman had already been appointed; one of the noble Lords said that the new chairman was a very distinguished man. There is nothing in the debate to say that he has been appointed. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can tell us. Dealing with the director of the new board, or whatever the chief official of the board is to be called, will he be part-time or full-time? There is gossip that a certain Dr. McLean of the Atomic Energy Authority is to be appointed to this job. He is, as I understand it, an employee of the authority. Will he continue to be an employee of the authority on a part-time basis while he is working for the new board, or is to be transferred full-time to the new board?
Where will the headquarters of the new board be? Is it to be at either of the places the Under-Secretary mentioned, where the component parts, as it were, of the new board are headquartered at the moment, or will the headquarters be in London or some new site? Has the staff which is to be transferred to the new board from the Medical Research Council and the Atomic Energy Authority been consulted as to the new site, and is it in agreement about the move? This is a comparatively minor point of detail but it is important.
1177 These points are all friendly and non-critical, but I now come to a more difficult subject which I hope the new board will make one of its first concerns. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) present since he has a direct constituency interest in this important and somewhat distressing matter. I am referring to the question of the risk of leukaemia which is run by those who are in close contact with nuclear power stations and other such establishments.
There has been some Press comment on this risk recently, and the stories I hear are worrying, to say the least. I have details here of four cases, and the gist of the matter appears to be that although the risk is, roughly speaking, about 1 in 100,000 in the normal population, of the fewer than 5,000 men who were close to the Christmas Island nuclear explosion in the 1950s four or five have already died of leukaemia. It would seem prima facie, therefore, that the chance of contracting leukaemia, which is, of course, incurable, has been increased from one in 100,000 to about one in 1,000 or more among those who have been exposed to this risk. This is prima facie and there is nothing conclusive about it, but since then there have been a number of cases of workers at atomic energy establishments who have died of leukaemia within a comparatively short time of starting to work there or leaving the service because of sickness.
I have here details of a Mr. Clark who died in December 1960 of leukaemia. He had been working at Windscale. It is interesting to note that in his case the Atomic Energy Authority made a settlement out of court of £4,500 to his estate and his widow without admitting any liability at all by saying this was purely ex gratia and that it wished to pay. It was stated at that time, quite bluntly I am afraid, that the Authority settled out of court because it was very reluctant that the matter should come to court and be fully exposed. In March 1962 a Mr. Gillen who worked at Dounreay, in the constituency of the hon. Gentleman opposite, died of leukaemia. Ever since then his widow has been trying to obtain some compensation. She has tried to get compensation under the Industrial Injuries Act but 1178 has failed completely. She is still trying to obtain satisfaction of some kind.
The last case I have on record, though there may be others of which I do not know, is that of a Mr. MacDonald, also of Dounreay, who is at the moment in hospital with leukaemia. He is trying to get some help from the Atomic Energy Authority but so far he has been unsuccessful. The latest report I have, which is in December, 1965, is that an anonymous doctor—I quote this from the Sunday Times of 14th December—has written a nine-page report stating that it is highly probable that Mr. MacDonald contracted his leukaemia as a result of an accident at Dounreay. I understand that on the basis of this Mr. MacDonald is to take the Atomic Energy Authority to court in an endeavour to obtain some compensation.
Whatever the merits of this matter, I do not believe that the Parliamentary Secretary will deny that it is extremely worrying. In France when a worker in a nuclear establishment contracts leukaemia he is paid compensation automatically. The authorities do not wait for a man to prove that he has contracted the disease as a result of his work in the station. He is given the benefit of the doubt every time. It seems that in this country we do not do so. We require proof; and the House will understand that it is practically impossible for a man to prove that the leukaemia that he has contracted is due to any particular cause. The causes of leukaemia are not yet understood in this country. Except for the one remarkable case where the authority made an ex gratia payment, nobody so far has managed to get any compensation for his illness.
The Sunday Times reported:Replying to a question in the Commons last week Mr. Wedgwood Benn, the Technology Minister, said there was 'no prima facie case that employment in the Atomic Energy Authority contributes to leukaemia diagnosed in its employees or ex-employees'.The Minister went on to say that figures that he had showed that the incidence of leukaemia among these employees is no higher than it is in the rest of the population. The Sunday Times of 8th February, reporting on this, stated:The Atomic Energy Authority gives the impression of being extremely defensive on this issue. There have been several other 1179 cases that came to nothing because the claimant was unable to find a doctor to give supporting evidence, or because the Authority refused point blank to accept responsibility. In France they would have been better off. There, radiation workers who get leukaemia are given the benefit of the doubt, and get compensation.I hope I have made the point. I accept completely that there is no absolute proof one way or the other, but I would urge upon the Under-Secretary that when this board is set up, and I hope it will be very soon, one of its first tasks should be to examine with the utmost care the possible connection between working at an atomic energy plant and this horrible disease; and that if possible research should be started immediately into what conecting factor there is.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Orbach (Stockport, South)
Like the hon. Member opposite, I welcome this Bill because it serves to tidy up a situation that we took in hand in 1948 whereby for the first time in history perhaps we are trying to conserve human resources against spoilation. We are fighting the hazards of radiation by such information and such research as can be garnered together.
But, welcoming the Bill as I do, I would like to have answers from my hon. Friend on the Front Bench to certain questions. It seems to me, particularly in view of the statements made by hon. Members of the Opposition with regard to leukaemia and the Atomic Energy Authority, that the organisation of the new protection board suffers from a disadvantage which I hope will diminish and eventually disappear. It does not seem to me to be completely independent of an existing agency which is or will be affected by its directives.
It will be recalled that in the report of the Veale Committee in 1960 it was stated in paragraph 131:The proposed service"—that is, a radiological protection service—should be independent of departments having regulating or other direct responsibilities in the field of radiological health and safety. It should be independent of the Authority, since it may be called upon to advise in matters in which the Authority are concerned. For the service to be most effective it must be the servant of all but the agent of none.When one comes to examine what has gone on in the creation of the service that 1180 will be inaugurated when this Bill becomes an Act, one finds that there are some anomalies that could be cleared up. The question I raise is this: is the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority exercising more discretion within the new organisation than the Radiological Protection Service?
I raise that question because the trade union with which I am associated, the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs, discovered that questions that could arise in relation to the conditions of service of its members when a new organisation is created in industry had not been under discussion with the trade union concerned but had been considered only with those who are represented in or working in the Atomic Energy Authority.
From what the Minister has told us, there are, I believe, to be about 265 members on the staff of the new board. Forty of these members will come from the Atomic Energy Authority and 225 from the Radiological Protection Service. Yet it is with the first authority that discussions went on. It was not until the intervention of my organisation that those who were considering the setting up of the board were prepared to listen to representation on behalf of 225 persons.
We hope that this omission will be quickly retified and that the staff of both organisations will have an opportunity as soon as possible of seeing that none of the conditions of employment or promotion is worsened as a result of the take-over of those two bodies and the setting up of a new one. We also hope that the staff will know where they are to work as early as possible because there are all kinds of social conditions which might arise and create disquiet if the staff is to be informed only at the last moment and if no discussions are to go on with their representatives.
I was happy to hear from the Minister that the superannuation rights of staff for both organisations will be safeguarded. That brings to mind another matter. It is interesting to note that the Atomic Energy Authority staff who are being seconded into the employment of the new board are all top brass and it may well be that in view of the technical and scientific equipment being used there is a justification for this.
1181 I know that tribute was paid in another place, and has already been paid here, to the high technical qualifications. The claim is too often made in a Chauvinistic way that we are ahead of other countries in this field. As far as the scientific staff are concerned, we may be, and I am certain that we are, ahead as far as the technical staff are concerned. I hope that in future tribute may be paid to them as well as the top brass, as is so often done.
My members are concerned about the question of their promotion if they are absorbed into this new organisation where all the top brass comes from another authority and may be reluctant to relinquish its positions when the time comes for a change to be made. It should be understood by hon. Members that this is a matter of grave concern, together with all the other factors that are raised by the members of my union.
I think there could be a safeguard inserted in the Bill which would be most helpful to us when we come to consider the composition of the two executive organisations which will exist as a result of the setting up of the board. We have in the first place the board itself and then we have an advisory committee which will advise the board on several matters. There is provision for representatives both of management in industry and of the workers in industry on the committee. But the 10 members who will comprise the board, so far as I can see, do not include, and the Bill does not provide for, representatives either of management in industry or of workers in industry.
I think that it would overcome much of the fear in my members' minds if it could be made quite clear that on the board which is to be set up as a result of the passing of the Bill a trade union representative will be included who will be able to advise on what I think is the most fundamental issue of this day outside certain racial questions—industrial relations.
I therefore hope that the Minister, when he replies, will make an endeavour to deal with these questions. They have been bothering us for a month or two now. We have finally had some discussions with a sort of shadow board or a shadow advisory committee or whatever 1182 it might be. We are not wholly satisfied but we hope that, as a result of what might be said at the end of this debate, the Minister will make my members feel that they will get a square deal.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)
The hon. Member for Stockport, South (Mr. Orbach) has covered most of what I wanted to say.
The Bill was introduced in another place as a Measure to rationalise and co-ordinate the radiological safety organisations in the United Kingdom, and the Minister referred to a single authoritarian body to do this. He also referred to the fact that it would render technical services, and Clause 1(2)(a) says that the board shall have powerto provide technical services to persons concerned with radiation hazards".That implies fairly detailed work.
The Minister said that the body which he is proposing to set up would be composed of the radiological protection services, the Atomic Energy Authority health and safety branch, and the radioactive substances committee or board. But there are other bodies engaged in this sort of work. For example, there are the operational health physics groups at the various United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority establishments, and they are not included. There are the staffs, which I think have been mentioned by my hon. Friend, concerned with radiological safety in various hospitals. Then there are radiological safety organisations within the Central Electricity Generating Board concerned with operations at nuclear power stations. I imagine that those three organisations are also concerned with technical services. I am not clear how this new authority rendering these services will work in with those. I am not certain that rationalisation goes far enough.
My next point relates to the loss of independence by this authority compared with the existing radiological protection service, and this was referred to by the hon. Member for Stockport, South, who quoted an extract from the Veale Report. It is interesting to note that there is a case in which a man is claiming to have suffered injury due to exposure to ionising radiation while working for the A.E.A. It is a claim which the authority 1183 denies, and the present radiological protection service, as a specialist organisation independent of the authority, has provided a report and opinion on the case.
I have been sent what purports to be a list of the shadow board. I do not know whether it is supposed to be released, but I shall not mention the names in case there is some reason why I should not do so. I have been given the deputy chairman, a member of the A.E.A. Another of the directors is a member of the authority. The acting secretary is a member of the authority, and the director-designate of the new organisation is a member of the authority. That seems to give the authority rather too strong a representation, and it does not seem to go along with the extract from the Veale Report which was read by the hon. Gentleman. I hope that the Minister will consider that.
Lastly, there is the question of possible redundancy. The word "rationalisation" always creates a fear of that when it is mentioned. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum says that the Billwill permit a more economical deployment of existing manpower".I understand that the radiological protection service does not have a great deal of information about what is intended, and I hope that the Minister will be able to ease the fears of this group and that there will be no redundancy as a result of his plans.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)
Like the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot), I feel some uncertainty as to how this Bill will operate in practice at the various establishments where research work is being carried out into radiological protection. The Bill has been given a welcome in principle both in another place and here today on both sides of the House. I do not want to inject any note of criticism into the so far unanimous welcome it has received, but, rather, would raise some questions which I do not think have been fully answered by my hon. Friend.
I would like to ask my hon. Friend first why this Measure is being brought forward at this time. Is it on the basis 1184 of recommendations made to him, and, if so, whence have those recommendations come? What consultation has there been with all the bodies which are going to be affected by this?
To speak of only one of the constituent bodies, the United Kingdom A.E.A., it is well known that this authority is undergoing some fairly drastic reorganisation at the present time, and it seems a little odd that this relatively minor reorganisation should be proceeded with separately from the major reorganisation.
Can my hon. Friend say where it is intended that the research which is to be sponsored by the new organisation will be carried out? The Bill appears to envisage some rationalisation of the activities of the radiological protection organisations as a result of this Measure, and it is expected that there will be certain savings. My hon. Friend has said that it is not thought that there will be any immediate alteration in the work programme being carried out, but, if this is so, can he say what savings are anticipated?
Is there any thought of concentrating the new National Radiological Protection Board's work at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey, or where is it thought that the headquarters will be?
I notice also that the Bill does not provide—but perhaps this is a Committee point—when it is intended to bring the board into operation but that it will be done at a date to be appointed. Perhaps my hon. Friend might give some indication of his intentions in that regard.
It must also be asked who is to direct the research services to be carried out by the board. Apparently under the Bill the Ministry is to have the prime responsibility here. But what is to be the responsibility of the Ministry of Technology? One of the principal constituents of this body is the health and safety branch of the Atomic Energy Authority, ultimately responsible to the Ministry of Technology, and there is some obscurity as to precisely what rôle it can be anticipated the Ministry will have.
I am delighted to hear from my hon. Friend that the Atomic Energy Authority's conditions of service will be applied to the staff of the new board and that where they are less advantageous the new board will provide at least as favourable 1185 treatment. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South (Mr. Orbach) has gone into this in rather more detail and has put some specific points which I would otherwise have put.
I share the general view expressed here this afternoon that the financing of the new board is extremely complex, and for no apparent reason. It falls to be answered by my hon. Friend why such a complicated arrangement is necessary. It seems particularly hard to explain in that, so far as one can see, a number of these constituent bodies will not have much say in directing the activities of the board. It seems rather odd, therefore, that it should fall upon their Vote.
Will my hon. Friend say what will be the future of the work which is now being done by the various establishments of the Atomic Energy Authority on this subject? There are many jobs being done, on what initiative I do not know, but they are apparently not related to any overall work programme. Presumably, local initiative has played some part, stemming perhaps from the establishments themselves or from hospitals in the area where problems have arisen.
When centralisation of decision-making takes place—and this appears to be at least part of the purpose of the Bill—there is always a fear that some local initiatives may be lost in the process of transmission to the central organising authority. The list of activities of research and investigation being carried out within the establishments of the Atomic Energy Authority and contained in the recent annual report of the U.K.A.E.A. is quite impressive, and includes diverse activities.
To mention only one that is being carried out at present at Dounreay, in my own constituency, there is a long-term programme of measurements of caesium 137 levels in vivo on control subjects. There has also been collaboration with local hospitals in the measurement of the uptake of iodine 131 by the thyroids of patients, for medical diagnostic purposes.
This sort of work is immensely useful, and I strongly suspect that the facilities of the Atomic Energy Authority establishments are, if not under-used, capable of greater use. A programme of this sort can often be slotted into an existing work programme where there are 1186 facilities and where men are available and have the time to carry out the work and where a local initiative is taken. I hope that this kind of work will not suffer from the new structure.
One minor point on which I would like to seek enlightenment from the Minister is: what is to happen to the Atomic Energy Authority's own badge monitoring service under the new arrangements? I assume that it goes without saying that the Bill does not in any way affect the work of the Atomic Energy Authority's biomedical technical research programme, some of which is being carried on at Aldermaston, as I suppose it does not strictly fall within the sphere of radiological protection. Quite a lot of unrelated medical research is being carried out within the A.E.A., only some of which will fall directly within the sphere of the new National Radiological Protection Board. It is a little curious, and I put it no higher, that it should be thought advisable to separate certain of the work carried on under the aegis of the authority in health matters from the rest.
I must express discontent at the piecemeal approach to the reorganisation of the A.E.A., which has been going on for a number of years and has created considerable uncertainty in the minds of its employees. I accept that this Bill is only an incident in the process, but people are involved and uncertainty of this kind about their future careers is most difficult for them to have to face. I wish that this matter could have been left over until the whole future of the authority was settled.
I understand that it is not expected that the Bill will cause any increase in public expenditure. I hope that it does not follow that if it is thought desirable to promote new projects of medical research, the finances will not be available for the purpose. Likewise, I hope that if it is thought that A.E.A. establishments are suitable places to carry out this research the question of possible increase of manpower for these establishments will not necessarily be thought to be an argument for trying to guide the work elsewhere.
I should like to take the opportunity to follow what was said by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue) about the incidence of leukaemia among 1187 employees of the Atomic Energy Authority and support his suggestion that this problem should be one of the first matters to be considered by the National Radiological Protection Board. It would be quite wrong if the message were to go out from this House—as I am sure it will not—that these employees of the authority are engaged on highly dangerous work In fact, the evidence of incurred risk is extremely scanty. However, we must all be concerned about the known cases and the fact that it seems almost impossible in the prevailing conditions for employees of the authority who contract leukaemia to recover from the authority and certainly to prove that their ailment is in any sense linked with their work.
I know Mrs. Gillen, to whom reference has been made, and I know of her troubles over a number of years in the hopeless task of trying to persuade the authority that her husband's death was connected with his work. The case simply was a non-starter because of the difficulty of proving any medical connection and because of the fact that the causes of leukaemia are unknown.
I have heard it said by others in my constituency who have been employed at the Dounreay Atomic Energy Authority establishment that there are other people thought to have contracted certain conditions due to radiation who simply have not conceived it possible to make any progress with a complaint against the authority because of the difficulty of proof.
The Sunday Times has performed a useful service in publicising some of these cases and drawing the attention of the Government and the public to the French practice, which I take this opportunity of commending to my hon. Friend, and which I hope he will bring to the attention of his colleagues.
As matters stand, it seems that it is not possible to prove this connection and that, in the circumstances, the rap has to be taken by the sufferer, though perhaps that is an inappropriate way of putting it. As so few cases are involved, much the most satisfactory outcome would be for the authority to make ex gratia payments in such cases without necessarily accepting any implication of cause and effect.
1188 I hope that my hon. Friend will explain how it is proposed that the new board will service the existing Atomic Energy Authority establishments in its radiological protection work. The authority is probably the body which most relies upon the effectiveness of such work. Within its own organisation, it has some control over the work done and the services provided. Will the new arrangements be as satisfactory as the existing ones have proved to be?
In justifying and explaining the purpose of the new body, my hon. Friend said that it will provide a national point of authoritative reference and the necessary technical services. However, it is not clear why a single national point of authoritative reference is desirable in a matter of this kind. There may be something to be said for having more than one source of advice when more than one body is involved, with different experiences and different problems.
With that perhaps rather lukewarm welcome to the Bill, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the thoroughness of his explanation of its purposes.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)
I cannot adequately follow my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), because he speaks about the matters before us with a width of knowledge and a degree of authority to which I cannot hope to aspire. I wish merely to associate myself with hon. Members on both sides of the House who have given a general welcome to the principles of the Bill, some of them more warmly than others.
I join with my hon. Friend in thanking my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for and congratulating him on the sure-footed way in which he moved the Second Reading. That gave proof, if it were needed, of how well deserved was the promotion which has brought him to the Treasury Bench. I will not detain the House for long. I wish only to underline one or two of the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South (Mr. Orbach).
The staffing of the new organisation is a marriage, as the Under-Secretary explained, between groups of people drawn 1189 from two different organisations. But what a one-sided marriage it is. We have about two dozen from the U.K.A.E.A. and about 220 from the Radiological Protection Service of the Medical Research Council. Yet the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton was able to reel off a list of four top appointments known to him—there may be more not known to him—all of which come from the much smaller element in the marriage.
This is like the kind of marriage which I understand takes place between certain species of spiders where, aftter copulation, the female devours the male. This marriage is reminiscent of the matings of some historic ladies, like Lucrezia Borgia or Catherine the Great of Russia. It is a one-sided institution. The point made by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton in this connection is weighty. It deserves consideration and an answer.
What worries me most is that the 200-odd people from the M.R.C. will feel that their promotion prospects are blocked. I know from experience that nothing exercises a more deadening effect on an organisation—above all, on a new organisation—than if a group of people are told that they are more or less stuck where they are; that they may be able to go up one notch or, at most, two, but that the avenues of promotion are blocked to a great degree. The organisation starts off on the wrong foot. It starts with the wrong type and the wrong level of morale. If about two dozen people from one place are brought in and given all the top jobs and about 200 from another place are not given any, then an élite-ist society is formed with management élite and helots. That is not conducive to setting up from scratch an organisation which will work really well.
The Under-Secretary devoted some of his observations to the important question of industrial relations in the working of the new organisation to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South referred. I noted carefully what the Minister said: that the organisations representing the people who will work under the board can put their views to the board prior to transfer. I hope that he does not mean exclusively prior to transfer and that they will not be able to put their views to the board after 1190 transfer. I hope that what he said about consultative machinery means that there will be a proper recognition of and dealing with these associations.
My hon. Friend may wonder why I should think that there is any question of a public authority behaving any less well than that. But there are good reasons for it. The Medical Research Council, from which most of these people will come, has been referred to the Commission on Industrial Relations, because it is thought that its behaviour in industrial relations demands looking into. We must not seek to anticipate what the C.I.R. will say about this reference. But I find it shocking, bearing in mind that such a reference is made only after the Secretary of State decides that there is a prima facie case, that an organisation existing entirely on public funds should be referred to an inquiry to which the only other people who have been referred are a handful of the most obscurantist companies who, in industrial relations, have behaved like nineteenth century Birmingham iron masters. It is disgraceful that an organisation like the Medical Research Council should be in the same bucket with all that lot.
One of the troubles is that scientific organisations are run by scientists. I hope that I shall not offend any scientist in this place by saying that the best scientists are sometimes very poor administrators. The chaps who will run this National Radiological Protection Board must be administered as well as scientists, and one of the sciences to which they will have to apply themselves is man management. I expect that a number of them have the highest qualifications in biological, radiological or physiological science, but I wonder whether any has had 10 minutes training in man management.
I am not competent to judge the few scientists whom I have met in the Council as scientists—I am sure that they must be very good or they would not be where they are—but as man managers there are few whom I would employ in any organisation which I have ever run at any way above £10 a week, because they are abjectly bad at handling their personnel.
Since a large part of the personnel of the new organisation will come from that body, I have some reason to ask my hon. Friend for an assurance, which 1191 I know he will be delighted to give, that he and his colleagues will see that the board set up under the Bill will behave in a very different way.
The Bill provides that the persons chosen for the advisory committee—this is common form in this kind of provision—shall be chosen… from among persons appearing to the Health Ministers to be connected with, or to have knowledge or experience of, matters relating to health and safety in connection with radiation hazards, including officers of government departments and persons engaged in industry or in the organisation of workers in industry.No one could object to that. That seems to cast the net pretty wide and to enable the Ministers to include people with knowledge and experience in dealing with all the problems which they are likely to face.
But the provisions about the board are much less expansive:The Board shall consist of a chairman and not less than seven, nor more than nine, other members; and all the members of the Board shall be appointed by the Health Ministers after consultation with the Atomic Energy Authority and the Medical Research Council.No provision there about whether they shall know anything about anything. What worries me, again, is that we may get a board composed entirely of scientists.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South disagreed and said that Ministers would appoint people with appropriate knowledge and experience of, for example, medicine, science and industry. But why did he leave out people with experience of the organisation of workers?
When my hon. Friend referred to those three items—medicine, science and industry—he was really saying that although we have not written into Clause 2 the qualifications which we have written into Clause 4, we would, nevertheless, be seeking people with the same qualifications; that is, except one, and he did not mention the organisation of workers in industry.
The Minister should consult his colleagues about the necessity of having at least one person on the board who knows something about the organisation of workers in industry to ensure that the 1192 board does not run into the same silly old troubles that one of the two founding fathers, the Medical Research Council, has run into.
I confess to having put forward a name to one of the Minister's colleagues. Ministers are always looking for good people for the sort of jobs we are considering tonight. They cannot be expected to know everybody. For this reason I have suggested a person who would, I consider, be eminently suitable. This gentleman is a distinguished scientist and a great expert on radiology but he also happens to have been all his life an active trade unionist. He would, therefore, combine the different types of knowledge that would be called for in this job.
According to the Bill, this gentleman might find himself on the advisory committee, but it is unlikely that he would be appointed to the board. If somebody with this man's experience were not appointed, a blow would be struck at the confidence of the chaps who will have to work in this organisation because they will be wondering about the way in which the board has been set up and is to be run.
I know from experience, because I have had to do it, that it is never easy to set up a new organisation by taking bits from one body and joining it to other bits taken from other bodies. Tensions are bound to arise. Some groups of chaps will have worked different systems and methods. There will be different attitudes, and there will be rivalry in such matters as "empire building" and so on. There will be a certain freemasonry within each group which will take time to blend its way through the group. All this will become even more difficult if one adds further difficulties. I therefore beg my hon. Friend to see that this does not occur.
I hope that the Bill will have its Second Reading but that improvements will be made in Committee along the lines suggested by hon. Members tonight. I hope that, when set up, the board will have a long and successful career.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Dr. John Dunwoody
With the leave of the House, perhaps I may be permitted to answer some of the points which have been raised. A large number of points have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House, some of which 1193 are perhaps more appropriate to Committee stage and some of which I may not be able to cover. I thank hon. Members for the welcome given to the Bill from both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue) raised a number of important points, some of which were echoed by other hon. Members. He placed importance on the safety factor in this industry and stressed how this has been appreciated over a long period. It has produced a truly remarkable safety record. We should all pay tribute to the record achieved in recent years. This is a complex problem, and it is a complex structure with which we are dealing.
The hon. Member raised the question of finance, and some of my hon. Friends echoed the apparent complexity of the financing arrangements which I outlined. Perhaps they are not so complex as I appeared to suggest, as the Secretary of State for the Social Services will himself fund the board and receive the appropriate contributions from the three other Departments responsible for the sponsoring organisations—the M.R.C., the A.E.A. and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I am not sure that Scottish colleagues on either side of the House would like those Departments' contributions to be called petty. It is a satisfactory arrangement, at least for the immediate future. It is not a once-for-all solution.
A number of hon. Members made the point that the chairman or other members of the board had been selected and that I should name them. This is not so. It would not be appropriate until the House had considered the Bill. The chairman has not been appointed. Sir Brian Windeyer is acting as chairman of the advisory group which I mentioned. I was asked a linked question about the rôle of the director and whether he would be a full-time or part-time director. This will be a full-time post. I was also asked about the location of the headquarters. I do not think it would be appropriate to make any comment on this because that is the sort of decision which the board has itself to take, and we should not dictate to the board.
§ Mr. Fortescue
If the board has to decide this—and there is some merit in that—may we have an assurance that before it decides full consultation will 1194 be carried out with those who will be transferred to its service?
§ Dr. Dunwoody
I will say a word or two about consultation and some aspects of consultation.
I was asked about the hospital film badge monitoring service and its future. This again will be a matter for the board. I do not think any of us wants to dictate to the board but I have no doubt that it will consider the best way of providing a film badge service. There is the possibility that it can provide an automated service, a new facility of service, and undertake work on behalf of the hospitals as the Radiological Protection Society does at present. There would not be objection to the continuation of independent film badge services if these were economic propositions. We are not attempting to dictate to the board what it should do.
The hon. Member for Garston also made reference to allegations which have been made about health hazards in this industry, linking them with particular individuals. Those allegations were repeated by other hon. Members. But I am sure that hon. Members would not expect me to comment on any particular cases which have been raised, although I say to the hon. Member that one cannot accept the analogy of the Christmas Island explosion when talking about particular individual cases. I assure hon. Members that either my colleagues who have responsibility in departmental terms or I will look at any points put forward by hon. Members in this matter.
The hon. Member asked me to ensure that the first task of the research body will be to initiate research into this field. Again, it is important that we should not dictate to the board what its early tasks should be. We want to retain its independence, which is a tradition we value and benefit from very considerably. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South (Mr. Orbach) suggested that it was possible that one of the disadvantages was that the proposed board would not be completely independent and would be in some way dependent on the Atomic Energy Authority. This is not so. One of the reasons for a statutory board appointed by the Health Ministers is precisely to ensure that degree of independence which we think is essential if the 1195 board is to fulfil its rôle in radiological protection as effectively as it should.
My hon. Friend wanted me to assure him that the consultations would take place with both sides—the A.E.A. and the M.R.C. staffs involved. Consultations have taken place and both sides have been equally consulted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, South emphasised the importance of the quality of the work and the quality of the members of the technical staff, and I endorse what he said. I did not intend in any way, when paying tribute to the outstanding qualities of the scientific staff, to seem to belittle the work done by the technical staff. As my hon. Friend probably knows better than I, it would be impossible for the scientific staff to achieve their very high standards without the first-class and efficient technical staff working with them. We want to keep this happy partnership and develop it more fully.
I have already answered some of the points made by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot). He made a number of others that might be better dealt with in Committee. I do not think that this is the appropriate time to go into great detail on them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) doubted whether now was the appropriate time to suggest the changes proposed in the Bill. But one can go on wondering when the time is appropriate; it is never quite the right time. Some people would say that the changes are considerably overdue. As I suggested earlier, they stem from a series of suggestions, reports and activities dating back to the accident at Windscale, and perhaps earlier. If we were to delay a decision even further, the very uncertainty that my hon. Friend alleges may exist would become even more marked. The time has come when we must resolve the problem once and for all, and that is one of the reasons why I am asking hon. Members to support the Bill.
I mentioned consultation in reply to one of the earlier questions. My hon. Friend also made a point about the research activity. I have no doubt that the research activities of the A.E.A. and the 1196 M.R.C. will be looked at by the board together with those two bodies jointly when the board is set up. We must have a co-ordinated approach to research. One of the advantages of the proposals in the Bill is that we shall have a considerable degree of rationalisation and avoid the overlap that is always a possibility when one has organisations working in parallel in such a relatively narrow field.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) rightly emphasised the importance of good staff relations, particularly in an organisation like this where work is often conducted under heavy pressure with considerable strains on the staff at all levels. I am pleased that he did so, because he gives me the opportunity to spell out again, perhaps more clearly, what I said. When I said that the staff and their representative associations would have the opportunity to put their views to the board before transfer, I was trying to emphasise that they would have the opportunity of doing this before transfer, as well as afterwards, if the transfer is agreed.
I repeat that the board is expected to set up the appropriate machinery for consulting its staff, and I have no doubt that it will do so. The consultative machinery is important, and will have an important rôle to play in the board's successful future that I think we shall see once the Bill is passed. I hope that the reassurances that I have been able to give on the question of consultation will help.
My hon. Friend also talked about this being a one-sided marriage. I cannot accept this, and I certainly cannot pursue his biological analogies—they rather terrified me. I do not think that this is a one-sided marriage, but rather one of willing and eager parties, and the debate has shown that there are many hon. Members on both sides only too pleased to wish them good fortune in the future. I hope that we shall be able to do this by giving the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).