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

I fail to understand my hon. Friend's point. There have been two full studies of the full sample of test veterans by the National Radiological Protection Board. Both studies have been peer-reviewed and published, and have not been scientifically invalidated. My hon. Friend should bear that in mind.

I shall now turn to the two nuclear test veteran cases that were heard by the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. One case concerned two former service men—Mr. McGinley and Mr. Egan, who were present at the atmospheric test. The other case concerned the daughter of a test veteran, who was diagnosed as suffering from leukaemia when she was four years old. The cases were referred to the court by the European Commission of Human Rights, which had concluded, as my hon. Friend rightly said, that there had been a violation of articles 6.1 and 8 in the McGinley and Egan case.

The finding of a violation of both articles related to the same issue. It was a narrow, technical point about access to records, which, it was claimed, were needed for the veterans to get a fair hearing in an appeal for war pensions. The commission inferred from the evidence that was placed before it by the applicants' representative that there were yield and radiation level records from the atmospheric tests that had not been released publicly. It considered those records to be relevant to the veterans' case, because, without them, they could not usefully challenge the NRPB report on the veterans' health or an Atomic Weapons Establishment report on radiation levels.

From that, the commission concluded that there had been a violation of article 6.1 because the lack of those records placed a disproportionate limitation on their right of access to the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. Therefore, let us be clear: the issue before the court relates to process, not to the substance of the claim that the veterans' experience at the tests led to cancer.

The Department's position is clear. We have consistently advised veterans of their individual radiation doses, based on the yields of the test devices and the distance of the individual from the device at the time of detonation. I will have to write to my hon. Friend on some of his detailed points, particularly as I took interventions during the debate.

New Ministers came to the Ministry of Defence determined to resolve matters on the basis of fact, not prejudgment. Whether dealing with industrial relations in the civil service, equipment purchases or the welfare of our troops, our guiding principles have been to be open to argument and to seek the truth and the facts. That is why the Minister for the Armed Forces has instigated a full investigation into Gulf war syndrome, and why I have taken measures with regard to those military personnel civilians who were—