§ 11. Mr. Colvin
asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the survey that he intends to carry out of those British service men who were involved in the Christmas Island nuclear weapon tests in the 1950s.
§ 15. Mr. Skinner
asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will appoint an independent body to investigate fully the number of deaths from cancer resulting from the A-bomb and H-bomb tests on Christmas Island in the 1950s.
§ Mr. Pattie
The Ministry of Defence announced on 12 January 1983 that it would commission a health survey of British personnel who took part in the Australian and Christmas Island atmospheric test programmes in the 1950s. Independent radiological protection authorities will 136 participate fully in this survey. The survey is being designed to establish whether the incidence of radiation-associated diseases amongst those who participated in the tests is significantly different from that for a comparable body of men not involved in nuclear testing. It will be conducted on the basis of information already accessible to the Government. It is intended that the results of the survey will be published.
§ Mr. Colvin
Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Peter de Ionno of the Western Daily Press, whose highly successful investigative journalism has stimulated public debate on this issue? Does he agree that this investigation should take place under the auspices of the Department of Health and Social Security in order to maintain strict impartiality and that, perhaps, a special team from one of our leading universities should be appointed to look into the medical records of those who took part in the tests and those who have died since?
§ Mr. Pattie
I do not think that this is a matter for the DHSS, although it will obviously be closely involved in the study as it develops. We have a nominal list of all service and civilian test personnel, but we must make a considerable analysis of that first to be able to provide the full data to the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, which is the body that will conduct the preliminary investigation.
§ Mr. Skinner
Will the Minister ensure that that independent inquiry will not take too long in view of the dire circumstances in which many of the people affected are living, in particular those widows whose husbands have lost their lives through cancer as a result, they would argue—I agree with them—of being present on Christmas Island during the tests? Is the Minister aware that one of the most important factors in deciding industrial benefits of any kind—disablement benefit, war pensions, and industrial death benefits for widows—is whether the person concerned was there as a result of his or her employment and in this case they were there acting on behalf of the state—
§ Mr. Pattie
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I understood his point, despite the length at which it was made. There will be no unnecessary prolongation of this, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree that although he supports the fact that the presence of those people in the South Pacific at the time the tests took place must have been the cause of their cancer, we must see whether we can establish that that was the case.