Nuclear Tests (Compensation)

Oral Answers to Questions — Defence – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1989.

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Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe , Wakefield 12:00 am, 9th May 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will review his policy on compensation for veterans of British nuclear tests.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

The policy of my Department is to pay appropriate compensation wherever the Crown's legal liability is established. Since there is no firm evidence to show that the health of British test veterans was affected by exposure to radiation during the United Kingdom's nuclear test programme, the Government remain of the view that the Crown cannot be held legally liable for any ill-health suffered by those who participated. We do, of course, have the greatest sympathy with those who suffer illness and who believe, quite sincerely, that this is due to their participation in the nuclear test programme. However, in the circumstances, we see no reason to change our policy on the question of compensation.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe , Wakefield

As the Australian Government are paying compensation to certain veterans as a result of their involvement in a nuclear test, and the United States Government are paying compensation for 13 forms of cancer contracted by personnel involved in nuclear tests, is it not especially mean and insensitive for the British Government not to consider compensation for British service personnel who have been involved in the same tests? Will the Government consider the appointment of an ombudsman independently to analyse those compensation claims?

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have studied the National Radiological Protection Board, report, which was independent and authoritative. I am sure that he will have due regard to its findings.

I understand that the terms of the judgment of the Australian court were published in Australia only last Thursday, although judgment was given rather earlier. A copy of the terms of that judgment was received by my Department only yesterday, so we have not had time to study its contents. I cannot yet say whether it will have any relevance or give us any cause for reassessing our position.

Photo of Mr David Sumberg Mr David Sumberg , Bury South

Does my hon. Friend agree that, however generous the compensation, none would be sufficient to compensate for the loss of life and freedom that would be engendered by this country adopting the foolish and ill-considered policies of the Opposition? [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I remind the House that the same rules apply here as in Prime Minister's questions. Questions must relate to Government responsibility.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

My hon. Friend draws attention to the fact that over the years members of our armed forces have been prepared to give very loyal service and to suffer injury and death to protect their country. We have drawn attention—[Interruption.]

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

I am seeking to reply to the point raised by my hon. Friend. I re-emphasise that it has always been the policy of my Department to give compensation where liability has been established. We also have a system of pensions for those who have been injured or for the dependants of those who have lost their lives in service to their country.

Photo of Mr Roland Boyes Mr Roland Boyes , Houghton and Washington

That was a most disappointing and insensitive series of replies. It is unacceptable that the Minister is not offering compensation to nuclear test veterans. Will he, however, assure the House that he will consider giving compensation to those other nuclear veterans, the submariners, who have been discovered to have contracted cancer because of their service in nuclear submarines? Today the Minister's replies are nothing less than complacent, dilatory and lacking in care. It is about time that the Minister gave the House a guarantee that the Government will do something for those people who have suffered because of nuclear tests or their service in nuclear submarines.

Photo of Hon. Tim Sainsbury Hon. Tim Sainsbury , Hove

I hope that the hon. Gentleman, speaking as he does from the Front Bench, will have regard to the importance of being fair to all people involved and not just to those who are suffering from cancer, which they believe may have been caused by their participation in nuclear tests. As cause or connection was not established by the NRPB study, we have a responsibility to be fair to everybody—those who are suffering from cancers, who were not involved in nuclear tests, and those who were.

As is not unusual, the hon. Gentleman has gone off rather ahead of any factual information. The study to which he referred has been in progress for some time, and it is a study to check the general health of submariners. The hon. Gentleman should be aware of the fact that, if one is beneath the sea, one is protected from the nuclear radiation that all the rest of us are exposed to as we go about our normal business.