HC Deb 09 February 1993 vol 218 cc816-7
8. Mr. Hall

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations he has received in 1993 about compensation for nuclear test veterans.

Mr. Archie Hamilton

A small number of representations have been received so far this year.

Mr. Hall

Is the Minister aware that thousands of former British troops such as my constituent, Mr. Anderson, who was exposed to radioactive fall-out in the clean-up of Christmas island, still await justice and compensation from our Government, whereas their counterparts in the United States and Canada have received just compensation from their Governments? When will the report that the Prime Minister mentioned on 14 January on compensation for those Army veterans be published? Will he confirm that the cases of constituents such as Mr. Anderson will be included in that report?

Mr. Hamilton

Most of the people who witnessed the explosions that took place as part of the atomic experiments were not exposed to any radiation whatever. A minority of those who were close to the explosions were exposed, but the radiation did not reach dangerous levels. The current problem, which has been revealed by a previous report of the National Radiological Protection Board, is that people who get older are more likely to contract cancer. It is reckoned that possibly a third of people may contract cancer at some time during their life. The latest NRPB report said that there was no link between those who had attended atomic tests and cancer. We are waiting for the next report to appear which I am told should be some time later this year.

Mr. Allason

With respect to my hon. Friend, is he aware that that reply might be misinterpreted as appalling complacency on the part of the Government? Does he further agree that the claimants for compensation who witnessed those tests in the Pacific are dying and that there should be no further delay in settling their very legitimate claims?

Mr. Hamilton

My hon. Friend describes it as complacency, but the fact is that we have ways of checking doses of radiation and if people have not received any radiation, there is nothing that I can do to alter it. The fact remains that there was no evidence of radiation spreading very widely from the areas of those explosions. As I have already explained to the House, people get cancer as they get older—and that happens widely across the whole population, whether they have witnessed nuclear tests or not.

Mr. Cryer

Does not the case of the nuclear test veterans demonstrate two things: first, the callousness of the Government's attitude to the victims and, secondly, the grave dangers of the deployment and use of nuclear weapons? Why do not the Government acknowledge that a contribution to peace would be for the Government to get rid of nuclear weapons and to honour their obligations, which they have consistently breached, under the United Nations nuclear non-proliferation treaty? Will the Minister confirm that 150 nations are pledged not to manufacture or deploy nuclear weapons? Why do not the Government support them?

Mr. Hamilton

The one thing on which I will congratulate the hon. Gentleman is consistency. During times when his party has changed its policy radically on the question of nuclear weapons, he always advocates that we should get rid of them. He knows, however, that the policy of this Government is and will continue to be to keep nuclear weapons. We believe that they do not put people's lives at risk in experimentation or anywhere else. They have saved many lives in terms of the deterrent provided.

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