HC Deb 04 December 1990 vol 182 cc163-4
7. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many officers and ratings have been exposed to nuclear radiation in the past four years; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. Kenneth Carlisle)

Our records for the four years from 1986 to 1989 show that radiation dosimeters were issued respectively to 2,256, 2,546, 2,602 and 3,224 naval service personnel.

Mr. Skinner

Why, in a democracy, do the Government not tell the Select Committee on Defence and the House of Commons the answer to the question that is on the Order Paper, which is: how many people have suffered from radiation? If the Minister cannot give us those figures, why, now that the cold war has ended, do we have nuclear submarines at all? Why not scrap them and use the money for the national health service?

Mr. Carlisle

It is a basic principle of Ministry of Defence policy that all exposure to radiation should be fully justified and reduced wherever possible. The hon. Gentleman is nothing if not fair and I am sure that he has read the recent report from the Select Committee on Defence, which states: We have been impressed by the firm commitment of the MOD and its contractors to achieving the highest standards of radiological protection for Service and civilian personnel.

Mr. Butterfill

Will my hon. Friend confirm that most officers and ratings would be more likely to receive high doses of radiation from living in Cornwall or from flying in high-flying aircraft than from serving in nuclear submarines?

Mr. Carlisle

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Exposure to radiation from the atmosphere is often substantially more than that received by naval personnel.

Mr. Boyes

That is simply not true. It is a fact that because of serious problems with the Polaris fleet, naval personnel have been subject to levels of radiation that are in excess of the limit advised by the National Radiological Protection Board, which is 15 mSv per year. The Government are acting with gross irresponsibility in their attitude not only to naval strategy, but, more especially, to the health and safety of submariners.

Mr. Carlisle

That is simply not true. We should not allow any naval personnel to suffer high levels of exposure. In fact, the exposure rates for people working inside submarines under the sea are much lower because they are protected from the exposure in the atmosphere to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) referred.

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