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Veterans: Compensation

Volume 485: debated on Tuesday 9 December 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence with reference to the Prime Minister’s Answer to the hon. Member for Billericay of 14 November 2007, Official Report, column 664, what measures the Government have taken to reconsider the atomic test veterans’ claim in light of the most recent scientific evidence. (242033)

We have a responsibility to investigate all new research regarding the possibility of any harmful health effects of the nuclear tests we have carried out in the past. The Government have, therefore, studied the most recent scientific evidence from Massey University New Zealand on genetic damage in a group of Royal New Zealand Navy participants in the British nuclear tests. The study report expressly states that its findings throw no light on health effects. The Government’s position remains the same, as previously stated, in relation to the common law claim brought by a group of veterans and deceased veterans’ dependants or beneficiaries, of the UK's nuclear weapon testing programme. A preliminary trial on limitation is due to commence at the High Court on 19 January 2009.

The wider published peer-reviewed epidemiological evidence to date has not demonstrated a general link between ill-health and participation in the tests. In the event, the vast majority of participants in the UK nuclear weapons trials did not receive any recorded dose of ionising radiation. Some participants received doses that were not significantly above zero. A very few individuals, because of their specialist roles, received higher dose levels, but within the safety limits appropriate at the time. Where the health of these participants has been affected by their service, we pay compensation under our no-fault compensation arrangements.

I am determined to ensure that all avenues of research are looked at. I am therefore pleased to report that I had a constructive meeting with the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA) in late October to discuss the possibility of a new MOD study into health issues, particularly in relation to offspring. My officials are now in discussion with the BNTVA and scientific advisers on the scientific and ethical issues relevant to a further study. I am hopeful that I will be able to make an announcement early in the new year.