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Nuclear Weapons: Ex-servicemen

Volume 487: debated on Monday 26 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) how many settlements have been made by his Department of claims made by British nuclear test veterans; (248978)

(2) for which medical conditions his Department has accepted liability in relation to British nuclear test veterans;

(3) what reviews have been undertaken by the Government of the claims for compensation of British nuclear test veterans in the last 30 years;

(4) how much compensation has been paid to British nuclear test veterans to date.

The Ministry of Defence has not settled any common law claims for compensation relating to participation in the British nuclear testing programme of the 1950s and 1960s. The MOD does, however, have a long established war pension scheme which pays no-fault compensation in the form of tax-free pensions and allowances for ex-service personnel injured or made ill as a result of their service before 6 April 2005. There are no time limits for making a claim under the war pension scheme. The scheme is administered by the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency (SPVA). Information on awards under the scheme is published quarterly by the Department's Defence Analytical and Services Agency (DASA) derived from data from the war pension computer system. Those data do not enable injuries or illnesses to be linked to service at a particular location. It is not, therefore, possible to identify payments made to British nuclear test veterans under the war pension scheme. Nor is it possible to say how much has been spent on war pensions to nuclear tests veterans.

The Department is committed to compensation policy and individual decisions reflecting case facts and the relevant law, which are evidence based and in line with contemporary medical and scientific understanding. To meet this commitment there is routine scrutiny of the published peer reviewed literature and any other evidence of suitable quality.

When considering a claim for a war pension the facts of each case are considered on their individual merits. The test of proof is unique to the war pension scheme and is preferential to the claimant. It is more advantageous than the normal civil test of proof. In a war pension claim made more than seven years after leaving service there has to be no more than reliable evidence to raise a reasonable doubt that there is a connection between service and the claimed condition.

For nuclear test veterans, entitlement may be given under the war pension scheme for leukaemia, other than chronic lymphatic leukaemia, and polycythaemia rubra vera, in both cases where the condition arose within 25 years of presence at a nuclear test. This is based on the findings of the three National Radiological Protection Board epidemiological studies on mortality and cancer incidence of nuclear test participants 1952 to 1998 (published in 1988, 1993 and 2003). For these conditions, entitlement relates to presence at the sites and not exposure to ionising radiation. Otherwise the studies concluded that levels of mortality and cancer incidence in participants and controls were similar, with overall mortality less than expected from national rates.

A war pension, however, may be awarded in any individual case where the evidence shows that the individual is suffering from a recognised radiogenic disease and was exposed to a significant level of ionising radiation. It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of British nuclear test veterans received a “zero” dose of ionising radiation.