HC Deb 24 July 1984 vol 64 cc812-3
10. Mr. Fatchett

asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on the progress of the inquiry into the medical effects of the British nuclear testing programme.

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Geoffrey Pattie)

The National Radiological Protection Board study to determine the incidence of mortality in United Kingdom service men and civilians who participated in the United Kingdom atmospheric nuclear test programmes is progressing to plan.

Mr. Fatchett

As the Australians have already established a Royal Commission and the American courts have already awarded damages to those affected by nuclear testing, and given that the British study may take three years, will the Government ask the NRPB to produce an interim report to allay the genuine fears about this?

Mr. Pattie

I do not think that the NRPB, which is an independent body, would accept the relevance of an interim report. It has given the Government an estimate of the time needed to complete the study. It remains our view that that is the period that will be required.

Mr. Peter Griffiths

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that all British service men who may have been affected by radiation from those tests are aware of the survey and are being offered the opportunity to present their own medical evidence?

Mr. Pattie

If my hon. Friend knows of any cases in which there are doubts I should be grateful if he would tell me about them. The NRPB is making strenuous efforts to ensure that the survey is as widely drawn as possible.

Mr. Hirst

If the inquiry concludes that service men have been adversely affected by radiation in the Pacific tests, will my hon. Friend give an assurance that those affected, in particular the widow of one such service man in my constituency, will receive compensation?

Mr. Pattie

I do not think that my hon. Friend would expect me to give an assurance ahead of publication of the study or in relation to particular cases. The Government will consider the best way to proceed in the light of the conclusions of the study.

Mr. Alton

Is it not thoroughly unfair that Australian service men who served side by side with British service men at Maralinga and elsewhere have been able to test their claims in the courts whereas that right has not been afforded to British service men? What do the Government intend to do about that?

Mr. Pattie

As I have explained before, we have no plans to change the legislation. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what the legislation provides, so that is my answer.

Mr. Denzil Davies

Is it not extremely unfair that service men are expected to write to the Department? Why does the Department not inform them of the inquiry so that they can present their evidence? What on earth are the Government afraid of'?

Mr. Pattie

We are not afraid of anything. We are not talking about service men but about ex-service men. The NRPB has access to service records and is currently going through them. We are simply saying that anyone who wants to write in as well is welcome to do so.