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The final recommendation of our inquiry report concerned pension appeal tribunals, which provide the mechanism for veterans or their widows to appeal against the more or less automatic decision not to award a war pension. The system is complex and long-winded and judgment is often inconsistent, with precedent not being applied from one hearing to the next. Veterans with almost identical experiences and conditions receive different
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outcomes. Our inquiry therefore called for a complete overhaul of the system, perhaps even removing nuclear test veterans from the war pensions process altogether because they are such a unique group. I suggest that the Minister and representatives of the Ministry of Defence should sit down with the veterans and sort the problem out—a process that will require political courage and leadership.

Let me deliver a final thought to the Minister. We are not dealing with this issue in isolation, and we are already being left hopelessly far behind other nations in honouring our debt of gratitude to veterans. The Isle of Man Government will pay compensation in the region of £8,000 to each of the estimated eight Manx veterans involved in the tests, the New Zealand Government have already provided money for the Al Rowlands experiments and scientific tests, and the Canadian Government have offered to settle with their test veterans. In the United States, “atomic veterans” are eligible for presumptive compensation based on 21 identified cancers. A person who has one of those cancers and was involved in the tests will receive compensation automatically.

The contrast between the different approaches is well illustrated by the case of Mr. Roy Prescott, whose son wrote to me during our inquiry. He was one of 500 British servicemen who, having served on Christmas Island, were loaned to the United States for further tests on the island in the early 1960s. Mr. Prescott later became ill and applied for a British war pension, but that was turned down. He then applied to the United States compensation programme, was accepted and received a substantial one-off payment. We therefore see the absurdity of other countries compensating our own veterans because we have failed to do so.

The Ministry of Defence has been cagey and resistant for too long. We owe a duty of care to our test veterans. The Minister is new in his position and I ask him to commit to a fresh appraisal regarding our debt of gratitude. This is not a party political issue. My early-day motion 156 attracted signatures from Members in all parts of the House. I therefore ask the Minister some very simple questions. Will he now replicate the Rowland study on British veterans? What further study is he prepared to carry out on the descendents of veterans—a matter that could be with us for many years to come? Will he sit down with veterans and address the question of tribunals and compensation, and do it now?

These veterans just want justice for themselves and their descendents. They served their country. What they now expect is their country to be honest with them. While any solution is likely to be characterised as much by political compromise as by scientific rigour, this is, without doubt, a political problem. Time is now short, and I suggest to the new Minister that the best should not be the enemy of the good.

7.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): I congratulate the hon. Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) on securing this important debate, and I pay tribute to the work done by him and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson). I know about the tremendous work they contributed to the inquiry of last year.


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I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s comments, and I wish to begin by putting it on the record that the Ministry of Defence recognises the debt of gratitude we have to the servicemen who took part in these nuclear tests. They were important tests that helped to keep this nation secure at a difficult time in terms of nuclear technology. The hon. Gentleman rightly noted that if harm has been caused to these individuals and the Ministry of Defence and this nation are responsible, they should be offered redress. However, I think he would agree with me that any claim for compensation should be evidence-based. Evidence should be brought forward and determined on an individual basis.

I also think we can agree that there is no doubt about the sincerity of the veterans; I would not question for one minute their testimony or that of their families. It is important that we do not question or criticise them in any way. The vital issue, however, is whether we can link the conditions that some individuals and families have with those individuals having been present at the nuclear tests. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledged, previous Governments as well as this Government have looked at the evidence and have come to the conclusion that no link between conditions and presence at the tests has been demonstrated.

The hon. Gentleman’s report conceded that current scientific evidence does not generally support the view that there has been an increased risk of ill health or death among the test participants. Even though Dr. Rowland’s recent study indicates that genetic damage was present among the small cohort of individuals that he examined, it did not go on to draw any link between the genetic abnormalities found in the chromosomes and any conditions such as cancers. That report has been held up as an important piece of research, but it does not help to move forward the argument for drawing that link between damage to chromosomes and conditions such as cancers that developed later.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether I would give a commitment to replicate the Rowland study. He mentioned a meeting. I was not present, so I have asked my officials what was said. They have told me that it is quite clear that no clear commitment was given. I have examined the study in detail since I found that the debate was coming up, and I have come to the conclusion that it would be very difficult to replicate in the case of the individuals whom we are discussing. I am not sure what such a study would add to the debate if it led to the same conclusions that Rowland came to.

Mr. Baron: Nevertheless, it is an important piece of the jigsaw. The clear recollection from our meeting with the Minister’s predecessor is that a promise was given on condition that the study was peer-reviewed. It now has been, and we hope that the Government will reconsider their position. I am not expecting an answer now, but all I ask is for the Minister to think about it.

Mr. Jones: I shall certainly address that point and return to the matter of the peer review at a later date. When my predecessor met the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, he stated clearly that the Department would examine the Rowland research and take expert advice on it, and that has been done.


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The hon. Gentleman mentioned other countries’ payments to their nuclear test veterans. What is unique in this country is that consecutive Governments have accepted that people who can prove that exposure to radiation caused them harm can apply for the war pensions scheme. That is not the case in other countries, so to say that we have done nothing is a little harsh on the current and previous Governments. I add that the burden of proof in the war pensions scheme is generous.

The hon. Gentleman complained about inconsistency in the cases involving the war pensions scheme. I accept that people have felt that, but they do have the right to go to a pensions appeal tribunal and ultimately, on a point of law, to the social security commissioners. I used to deal with tribunals and I accept that inconsistencies can appear to happen, but individual cases have to be considered on an individual basis. The Department has examined some of the cases involved and has not found inconsistencies, but if the hon. Gentleman or the nuclear test veterans want specific cases to be examined, I am quite prepared to ask the Ministry of Justice to do so. It is important to get credibility. A separate system would be difficult, and it would not lead to the payments that many of the individuals who come forward currently get.

The other route of access to justice is common law, and the hon. Gentleman will know that 1,000 nuclear test veterans have taken group litigation. The Ministry of Defence served a summary defence on 21 January, and a preliminary trial on the issue of limitation is due to commence on 19 January next year. It has been reported in the media that the matter of limitation is simply a technicality, but that is not the case. It is important that the matter is examined from a legal point of view, especially given that many of the key witnesses are no longer alive and that the evidence of others needs testing because of age or infirmity. I do not want to say a great deal more about that, because it is right that we let the legal process take its due course.

The hon. Gentleman made some emotive points about the offspring of test veterans. I accept that it is not easy for the families that have disabled children and that they find some of the responses that politicians give difficult to take. We need to examine the matter, but to say that there has been no research is wrong. I am told that good-quality research has been done on Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, examining ill health among children born to survivors. That needs to be taken into account.

I genuinely do understand the British nuclear test veterans’ concern about this issue, on which they have placed a great deal of importance. At a recent meeting with my predecessor, they expressed the view that they wanted this issue to be looked at, putting more weight on doing that than on carrying out a “Rowland mark 2” type study. I have listened carefully and looked at the files in the short time that I have been in the Ministry, and I think it is important to get experts to look in detail at what has already been done and what can be done.

This is not a simple task, and this afternoon I perhaps upset some of my officials by being a bit impatient in trying to get instant answers. The logistics will prove difficult because of the passage of time, loss of data and other such issues. However, my predecessor said he would meet representatives of the group in the autumn, and I am determined to move this agenda forwards. I
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make an offer tonight to meet the hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North and representatives of British nuclear test veterans next week, so that we can discuss the possibility of taking forward a study on health experiences and issues associated with veterans’ offspring. Once that meeting has taken place, I propose to ask officials to discuss with the experts the best way to design and develop a possible research programme. It is important that this study and the terms of reference for it are correct, and that we are not asking people to do the impossible. That is a commitment that I give today.

Dr. Gibson: I welcome my hon. Friend’s very positive attitude towards helping in his early days in office. One of the logistical problems that we came up against was finding out where vets were, which is why it is very important that he has invited them along, because they may be able to help in finding out where all those folks live now, so that we can get decent numbers. It will be difficult, but I really do welcome my hon. Friend’s positive approach. Perhaps we will get to the bottom of this once and for all.

Mr. Jones: I am very grateful for that, and it is important that we meet next week to see what input the nuclear test veterans can have into the process. That could help, and I am quite prepared to listen to what they have to say. Once officials have met and experts
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have come together to design and develop a research programme, I will make an announcement, before Christmas.

Mr. Baron: I sense that the Minister is about to conclude, so may I, too, put on the record my thanks for his positive response? He has decided to try to move this issue forward, certainly with regard to descendants, which I very much welcome. I look forward to that meeting next week, and I know that the BNTVA will also be looking forward to it. We should not forget that it has a database of at least 800 surviving veterans, which can help with that process. I want also to thank the Minister for his promise to sit down with the veterans and look at inconsistencies in the tribunal process, and to explore whether any progress can be made where inconsistencies have occurred. Those are two positive steps that we did not necessarily have months ago.

Mr. Jones: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. I hope to make an announcement before Christmas on the way forward. It will not answer all the issues raised in his inquiry, but I am determined to see whether we can at least get some movement and give some comfort, although I accept that the report might not come to any great conclusion. At least we are going to move the process on, which will give the sense to nuclear test veterans that they are being listened to.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at sixteen minutes to Eight o’clock.


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Deferred Divisions


Political Parties and Elections Bill (Carry-over)


The House divided: Ayes 285, Noes 216.
Division No. 281]




AYES


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Balls, rh Ed
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Blackman, Liz
Blears, rh Hazel
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clark, Ms Katy
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Cousins, Jim
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Dodds, Mr. Nigel
Donaldson, rh Mr. Jeffrey M.
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hall, Patrick
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg

Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kennedy, rh Jane
Khan, Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Knight, Jim
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCartney, rh Mr. Ian
McCrea, Dr. William
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair
McDonnell, John
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Munn, Meg
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Owen, Albert
Paisley, rh Rev. Ian
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Robinson, rh Mr. Peter
Roy, Mr. Frank
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Spink, Bob
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, David
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark

Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
NOES


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Bercow, John
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Browning, Angela
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clegg, rh Mr. Nick
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Philip
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr. Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Fox, Dr. Liam
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howard, rh Mr. Michael
Howarth, David
Howell, John
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor

Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Mason, John
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McGrady, Mr. Eddie
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mulholland, Greg
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rogerson, Dan
Rosindell, Andrew
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Matthew
Thurso, John
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walter, Mr. Robert
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wishart, Pete
Wright, Jeremy
Young, rh Sir George
Question accordingly agreed to.
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