HL Deb 29 October 2002 vol 640 cc112-4

3.1 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have received from the Nuclear Test Veterans Association regarding compensation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach)

My Lords, the Nuclear Test Veterans Association has made many representations over a number of years on behalf of its members regarding compensation, although no such representations have been received since 4th June 1998. I understand the Nuclear Test Veterans Association has indicated that it has further new evidence that supports its case, which I invite it to present for independent review.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply about frustrated nuclear test veterans. That is why they have not been writing recently. Do the Government still insist that epidemiological studies show no excess illness or mortality? Is that still the Government's position? Will he confirm that other countries, notably the United States, France, Fiji and New Zealand, have very different schemes and view the problems of nuclear test veterans very differently? Have the Government had discussions with those other governments to see why they are so generous in comparison with ourselves? If they have not had discussions, can some be initiated so that we can start treating our nuclear test veterans in the same way those other countries do?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the House will agree that the country owes its thanks to all those in the Armed Forces who were concerned with the nuclear tests in the 1950s. My noble friend asked about the Government's current attitude. It is the same attitude shared by all governments of all political persuasions over many years. In response to concerns from the nuclear test veterans about their health two independent studies have been carried out on behalf of the MoD by the National Radiological Protection Board in association with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. The results of those studies were published in 1988 and 1993. They showed that, in general, participation in the test programme has had no detectable effect on the participants' expectation of life, or on their risk of developing cancer or other fatal diseases. Both reports were reviewed by the British Medical Journal. A further study is being undertaken by the National Radiological Protection Board into the incidence of other cancers and other causes of death among test veterans. The results of this study are expected in 2003. I repeat: if there is further new evidence that the veterans association has, we will look at it and we invite it to present it for independent review.

As far as other countries are concerned, our view is that we have not consulted with them yet. Each country has its own way of looking at this. What we are concerned about is to get this right.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, why is the Ministry of Defence so reluctant to acknowledge illness among the troops? Has the Ministry of Defence ever done a cost-benefit analysis? In my own experience the Gulf veterans' case has cost millions of pounds; millions in medical research; and millions in legal aid. Would it not be much more sensible to say that these men and women are ill and that they should be compensated for that illness and allowed to go and find medical treatments wherever instead of all these—I was going to swear, but I shall not—epidemiological studies which seem to prove nothing?

Lord Bach

My Lords, these are independent studies accepted by peer groups over many, many years. I do not accept that the Ministry of Defence is under an obligation to compensate those who are unfortunate enough to be ill unless that illness is attributable to their service. If it is attributable to their service, we pay them a war pension. I very much dispute, with great respect, the noble Countess's suggestion that we are not generous in this regard.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, the Minister says that we should give thanks to the servicemen even though we gave them no health protection during the test. Will he state whether, if the MoD reverses its position in the light of the new study being undertaken, compensation will be due not just to the veterans but also to their children and their grandchildren? Many of the veterans are complaining that their children and even their grandchildren have suffered long-term illnesses due to the veterans' exposure. If this the case, and if the MoD is willing to reverse its position, which does not seem to be about to do, will compensation be paid to the grandchildren?

Lord Bach

My Lords, the vast majority of British nuclear test veterans whose task was to provide logistic support for the tests were not exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, either deliberately or accidentally. They were mustered into areas which were known to be safe from the effects of the blast heat and any immediate or residual radiation. As regards the allegations about descendants, I refer the noble Lord to the Seventh Report of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment which points out, contrary to recent media reporting, that, there is little evidence that the radiation received by survivors of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki led to cancer in their children".

Having made those comments, if there is evidence that is in the possession of the veterans association. I ask it again to show it to us and we will consider it.