HC Deb 28 June 1988 vol 136 cc188-9
16. Mr. Clay

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received seeking the establishment of a compensation fund to assist service men who claim that their health was adversely affected by their participation in nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s.

Mr. Sainsbury

A number of proposals have been made by right hon. and hon. Members and by others regarding compensation for participants in the United Kingdom's nuclear weapon test programme. The Government remain confident, however, that the radiological safety precautions adopted during the test programme were effective and that the chance of anyone suffering harm to health as a consequence of participation in the tests was extremely small. We believe that the recently published NRPB report vindicates this view.

Mr. Clay

Is it not the case that, apart from deaths from leukemia and multiple myeloma, which are now established, there are many other instances of death from various diseases among those test veterans? Is it not also the case that a high proportion of them are sterile and that those who are not sterile have had partners who have given birth to deformed children to a remarkable extent, well above the average that one would expect? Are the Government simply mean, callous and heartless, or is the reason why they will not pay up that they are terrified that to do so would have the most devastating effect on the current debate on nuclear weapons and civil nuclear power?

Mr. Sainsbury

I have a great deal of sympathy with those who are suffering ill health and who firmly and sincerely believe that they are suffering because of their participation in the tests. However, if the hon. Gentleman studies the NRPB report he will find that it in no way supports the allegations that he has just made.

Mr. Sean Hughes

Is it not particularly disgraceful that a Government who are so obsessed with the role of nuclear weapons in their defence policy can be so dismissive of those who have suffered the most appalling injuries in the promotion of that weapon?

Mr. Sainsbury

I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that underlying the phrasing of his question is the assumption that there is a direct connection between the ill health from which those people are suffering and their participation in the tests. That view is not supported by the NRPB report, and I can assure him that if there were definite evidence linking the ill health of participants to their participation in the tests we would of course come forward with offers of compensation.

Mr. Higgins

Can the Minister undertake to review the figures each year to see whether there is any clear statistical correlation as the situation develops?

Mr. Sainsbury

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. Further work will be done by the NRPB to follow up the excellent work which it has already done and which has led, I am glad to say, to what has been recognised as a genuinely independent and authoritative report.