To ask the Secretary of State for Defence whether he will provide compensation for those ex-British service personnel whose health has suffered as a result of their participation in British nuclear tests.
The Government would be ready to pay appropriate compensation wherever the Crown's legal liability was established and where there was firm evidence to show that, on a balance of probabilities, ex-service men had suffered ill-health as a result of exposure to radiation during the course of their duties as members of the armed forces. In the absence of any such evidence, special compensation for the nuclear test veterans could not be justified.
That is as grudging and as penny-pinching a response as the one that we heard on the war widows' pension issue. Is it not the case that these service personnel were injured in the course of their duties and that many leukaemia cases have gone uncompensated? Does not the Government's recent response to the haemophiliacs who contracted HIV, grudging and minimal though it was, provide a precedent for the Government to act with a bit more compassion in this case?
The hon. Gentleman is not correct. The findings of the National Radiological Protection Board, which were published last year, support the Government's view that no harm due to ionising radiation was suffered by participants in the programme. However, the report shows a slight increase in the rate of occurrence of certain leukaemias and multiple myeloma, which, although providing no firm evidence of a link with radiation exposure, raised enough doubt to allow Department of Social Security medical advisers to regard such illnesses as attributable to service.
Is my hon. Friend aware that a number of members of the Royal Norfolk regiment were involved in observing these tests? Many have since died, but there is evidence that many suffered ill-health. Can my hon. Friend assure the House that if a compensation scheme is introduced, the widows of those personnel will not be forgotten?
It is true that as we grow older, illnesses increase. I can only reiterate that the report shows no link with radiation from those tests in the Pacific. If such a link were established—a new report has been commissioned to update the figures for a further five years—appropriate compensation would be considered by the Government as a matter of legal liability.
Is the Minister aware of the deep, brooding sense of injustice in the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association? As its patron I know how deeply its members feel about the injustice of not being compensated. If the Minister is so certain of his answer, how does he explain the fact that the United States Government pay their nuclear test veterans compensation for 13 cancers and the British Government pay nothing?
The right hon. Gentleman's part in this campaign is well known. He pursues it with his customary vigour in the House and outside it. The belief that there is no link is not the Government's finding but the independent finding of the National Radiological Protection Board. Its report is endorsed by Sir Richard Doll, an eminent professor. As for the American experience, the circumstances are not comparable and, in any case, they are a matter for the American authorities.