HC Deb 24 March 1987 vol 113 cc149-50
3. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Defence on how many occasions he has met representatives of the Atomic Veterans Associations and of the Section Ten Abolition Group; and if he has any plans to meet them in the future.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Roger Freeman)

My right hon. Friend met a delegation including members of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association and the Section Ten Abolition Group on 20 February 1986 and I received a petition concerning section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 from members of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association on 13 November 1986. I understand that my noble Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has agreed to meet representatives of the BNTVA.

Mr. Ashley

The Minister will be aware that both those organisations are concerned with the welfare of ex-service and service personnel. Will he recognise that those ex-service men and women who have been disabled by negligence will continue their fight for the same right to sue for compensation as is to be given to present members of the armed services? Will he further recognise, on the question of bullying and brutality in the Army—another aspect of negligence—that hon. Members on both sides of the House have——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot relate that to atomic veterans.

Mr. Ashley

I suggest that brutality in the armed forces is an aspect of negligence. Therefore, in so far as officers are being negligent, and hon. Members on both sides of the House have additional evidence that that brutality is taking place, will the Minister now undertake to meet a deputation of hon. Members from both sides of the House to discuss that evidence?

Mr. Freeman

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I have made it plain that bullying and any mistreatment of soldiers is not and never has been tolerated in the British armed forces. My right hon. Friend and I are always happy to meet hon. Members and delegations to discuss any topic.

Mr. Cartwright

If the Government honestly believe that no British service man suffered injury as a result of the British nuclear weapons test, why do the Minister and his colleagues seem so reluctant to have that view tested in the courts?

Mr. Freeman

The announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on 8 December last involving the Government's support for repeal of section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947 showed a welcome change in law and procedure. That change, removing the burden from service men who could not sue for negligence, must be for the future and is certainly not retrospective.

Mr. McNamara

With regard to the atomic experiment veterans, as the Government have been conducting only a statistical exercise, may we now have a firm date when the results of that exercise will be given to the House? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, although we accept that no degree of bullying should be tolerated in the British Army, there is great concern about the recent number of cases which have come forward? It is necessary that the Government should not only conduct an internal inquiry, but should publish the results of whatever inquiry is carried out and say what steps they will take to eradicate any possibilities of it in the future.

Mr. Freeman

Any complaints to do with the mistreatment of soldiers are always fully and properly investigated by the Ministry of Defence. I said on Second Reading of the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Bill, the purpose of which is to abolish section 10 of the Crown Proceedings Act, that we expect the report on the survey carried out by the National Radiological Protection Board to be received by the end of this calendar year. That is our expectation.