Nuclear Test Veterans

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:48 pm on 4 February 1998.

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Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) 12:48, 4 February 1998

As I have said, most of the money was to be used to clean up the site. Inevitably, the Australian Government rightly asked us for indemnity to cover them for any compensation claims against them, because they are responsible for aborigines who might have been in the territory and for Australian personnel. We were responsible for British personnel. That is the standard procedure, and any proven connections between presence at the tests and the induction of radiologically determined cancers would bring people within the scope of the United Kingdom's war pensions scheme. We are working on facts rather than on assertions. I shall shortly deal with that.

The subsequent position of the nuclear test veterans, which was outlined by my hon. Friend, has been the subject of detailed studies by the National Radiological Protection Board, which produced its initial report in 1988 and a follow-up one in 1993. The studies involved the medical records of no fewer than 21,000 veterans—some 85 per cent. of the total. The health of those veterans was compared with that of a similar control group of 22,000 personnel.

The 1993 NRPB report clearly concluded: participation in the test programme has not had a detectable effect on the participants' expectation of life, nor on their risk of developing cancer or other fatal diseases". Not only is the NRPB an independent advisory body to the Government, but the nuclear test veterans study group included representatives of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, an independent charity of unimpeachable credentials.

It is significant that the NRPB report was peer reviewed prior to publication in the British Medical Journal. Those conducting the studies included Professor Sir Richard Doll, a most eminent and respected epidemiologist, who is a world authority in his field and who was responsible for the pioneering work that established the clear connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent stressed the report by Sue Rabbit-Roff. There have been other studies, some of them of questionable statistical or scientific significance. My hon. Friend has tabled parliamentary questions about the Rabbit-Roff report. We think that it is unsatisfactory in a number of respects. As he said, it involves only a small proportion of veterans, about 2,000, who are members of the veterans association and are, by definition, a self-selected sample.

As far as I am aware, the work of Dr. Rabbit-Roff has not been peer reviewed or published in a reputable scientific journal. I urged that to be done when the report was published, and I still urge it. The statistical significance of Dr. Rabbit-Roff's work when compared with the vastly more comprehensive NRPB studies must be seriously questioned.