some default text...
Previous Section Index Home Page


22 Oct 2008 : Column 412

22 Oct 2008 : Column 413

22 Oct 2008 : Column 414

Bill read the Third time, and passed , with amendments .

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Committees),


Cross-Border Healthcare

Question agreed to.

Petitions

Care Services (Somerset)

7.12 pm

Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): The petition states:

[P000277]

Planning and Development (Exmoor)

7.13 pm

Mr. Liddell-Grainger: The petition states:

[P000276]

Criminal Convictions

7.14 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): SAFARI, which stands for Supporting All Falsely Accused with Reference Information, is an organisation that fights for people
22 Oct 2008 : Column 416
who have been falsely accused and seeks to make convictions safer. Some may think that the British judicial system is perfect. I do not subscribe to that view, so I am pleased to put questions to the Government and I thank those involved in trying to make the system safer.

The petition, which supports an electronic petition of 224 signatures, states:

[P000278]

War Memorials (Essex)

7.16 pm

Bob Spink: I have a second petition to present. We are lucky in Castle Point to have a superb Royal British Legion club with excellent members who play a leading role in defending our community, as they did when they were in the services. War memorials belong to the community, not to councillors, and changing them is best done with the consent and approval of all the stakeholders and the public. The petitioners seek to hold councillors to account for their actions, which are felt to be rather high-handed, in making changes to our war memorial without public consultation.

The petition states:

[P000279]


22 Oct 2008 : Column 417

British Nuclear Test Veterans

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. —[Mr. Roy.]

7.17 pm

Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): Not many people have witnessed a British nuclear explosion, but those who have will be following this debate closely, for I intend to ask the Minister whether the Government will repay a debt of honour to surviving veterans of our nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s.

The issue is not new. Successive Governments have been aware of the facts for quite a while, but I am raising the matter again because a number of new factors have come into play. The first is that there has been new scientific evidence from Dr. Al Rowland in New Zealand to suggest that veterans have suffered as a result of their exposure to radiation. Secondly, the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and I held a cross-party inquiry last year which raised new facts and disclosures. Meanwhile, other countries are moving well ahead of us in recognising their veterans. Here in Britain we lag shamefully behind. The Government even appear to be backtracking on a promise to replicate the New Zealand study on our veterans.

The history to the debate needs to be understood. Between 15,000 and 20,000 servicemen took part in Britain’s nuclear tests, which included Operation Grapple on Malden Island and Christmas Island in 1957-58. Other tests took place at Monte Bello islands, Maralinga, and Emu field. It is thought that only about 3,000 veterans are alive today. Many of those involved believe they were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation that resulted in their own ill health and that of their descendents.

Veterans and their families seeking redress in the form of a war pension encounter a frustrating tribunal system that is both inconsistent and subject to delays. For many years, the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association or BNTVA has campaigned for recognition for its 800 or so surviving veteran members, and many more widows and offspring, but successive Governments have used a controversial series of reports by the National Radiological Protection Board or NRPB to insist that no harm was done.

It was against that backdrop that research from New Zealand last year threw light on a possible link between participation in the tests and possible genetic changes in veterans. The hon. Member for Norwich, North and I therefore believed that the time was right to hold a cross-party inquiry to look at this question again. We took evidence over two days from scientists and veterans, but the Ministry of Defence declined to contribute. Our inquiry heard clear personal testimony that makes us question whether adequate radiological safety standards were followed for the tests. For one thing, there is a concern that some veterans were simply too close to the epicentre of the blast. Witnesses described their experiences of a heat wave of extraordinary intensity, leading in some cases to temporary blindness or a sensation of blood boiling within their bodies. Others developed skin rashes and flu-like symptoms immediately after the detonations. My constituent Mr. Eric Everard says:


22 Oct 2008 : Column 418

There were many similar stories of men being mustered on to beaches or on the decks of ships to witness the explosions and many suffering afterwards.

In our inquiry, we also saw little evidence that fallout and the dangers from ingested radioactive particles were taken seriously after the tests. Servicemen were free to move around the island, drinking local water, eating local fruits, bathing in the lagoons and breathing in dust, all of which could have been contaminated. That is worrying, because ingested radioactive particles from fallout can remain in the body and continue to harm for many years.

As I have suggested, successive Governments—I hope that the Minister realises that this is not a party political issue—have used the NRPB series of reports to argue that test veterans have not experienced poor health, but endless concerns have been raised about those reports, which have never commanded the respect of veteran groups. I do not intend to go into the issues now, as time is not on our side, but I suggest to the Minister that the key point is that NRPB reports go only so far. They are studies of cancer mortality—in other words, counting cancer deaths—that tell us nothing about the underlying genetic changes in veterans or other ill health among them or their descendants. That is why our inquiry took such a close interest in the Al Rowland study from New Zealand and the Chris Busby survey undertaken through the BNTVA.

The study of the genetic status of New Zealand veterans, which was carried out by Dr. Al Rowland and his team at Massey university, showed a very high frequency of translocations in the chromosomes of veterans as compared with a carefully matched control group. Dr. Rowland certainly believes that the probable cause is exposure to radiation, which can be attributed to participation in Operation Grapple. The report concluded:

confirm

That call was wholeheartedly endorsed by our inquiry last year. We believe that funding should be made available by the Ministry of Defence for a new independent research team to replicate the Rowland study in this country.

After I raised the issue at Prime Minister’s questions, the hon. Member for Norwich, North and I had a meeting with the Prime Minister and then with the Minister’s predecessor in February this year. It was our clear and distinct impression from that meeting that the Rowland study would be replicated here by the British Government if it was peer-reviewed. Yet despite its being peer-reviewed in a respectable scientific journal, the Government seem now to be prevaricating. A letter from the Minister’s predecessor dated 23 August stated that the Government would be

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his tenacity and acknowledge how enjoyable it has been working on the survey with him.


22 Oct 2008 : Column 419

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the scientists who came to our inquiry had some ideas about conducting it along the right lines in order to get an answer one way or the other. It certainly was my understanding when we talked to the previous Minister that that was going to happen. I would like publicly to congratulate Al Rowland, whom I met at Massey. He gave me the data relating to his work; it has opened up a hornet’s nest that cannot be denied in further research.

Mr. Baron: I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I have already put on record my thanks to him for being a co-party in our inquiry, and in the efforts that we have made so far. I am pleased to hear his confirmation that it was our understanding that an Al Rowland-type study would be undertaken if it was peer-reviewed, which it has now been. I hope that the new Minister will tell us whether the Government intend to keep the promise made at our meeting.

The Busby report is important for a similar reason. It examines the legacy of nuclear testing for subsequent and future generations. The results of a questionnaire study of BNTVA members and their offspring conducted last year suggest much higher levels of miscarriage, still birth, infant mortality and congenital illness in veterans’ children, both in a national context and in the context of control children.

Some of the experiences revealed by the study are quite distressing. Among veterans the number of miscarriages was 105, compared with 18 in the control group. The rate of still births was 26 per 1,000 births, compared with 10 in the control group. The rate of congenital defects among veterans’ children was almost 10 times that among other children. The defects included cataracts at birth, deformed spines, muscle wasting, deafness, excess and missing teeth, and holes in the stomach and heart. My constituent Mr. Eric Everard certainly believes that the effects of the radiation to which he was exposed were passed on to his son Darran, who died of a genetic connective tissue disease when he was only 22 years old. Such reports are not unusual among veterans. Dr. Busby concluded:

The findings of that research echoed the earlier findings of Dr. Sue Rabbitt Roth of Dundee university, which I understand was peer-reviewed in 1999—a fact overlooked by the Government.

That snapshot is deeply worrying, and suggests a sinister genetic legacy for future generations. I would go as far as to suggest that there is a ticking time bomb of ill health that the Government need to recognise. The Minister must not underestimate the real anger that exists outside this place about Government inaction. To help future generations, we need to understand the scope of the problem. That is why I believe that Dr. Busby’s study should be replicated rigorously, and the Government should provide the funds.


Next Section Index Home Page