Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Thursday, 31 October 2013


One of the reasons I enjoy chairing debates at Westminster is that you learn a lot. When speaking in a debate you tend to focus on your own remarks and ignore points made by others. Just the way it is.

But in the chair you have to listen to every word. This Tuesday I presided over a debate about whether the government should formally recognise and compensate the British nuclear test veterans. Listening to the arguments was a reminder of how the world has changed. In the 1950's while nuclear power was little understood a number of controlled explosions were conducted by the British Government in the south pacific to help us develop the technology. Several servicemen were witnesses to these explosions without any proper protection. I gather some of them were just dressed in shorts, albeit from some distance away. The issue remains whether they or their families should now receive extra help in relation to any medical conditions caused by levels of ionising radiation.

There have been three specialist reports on this matter commissioned by various governments between 1983 and 2003. None of them have shown that the incidence of cancer in the group exposed to these experiments was greater than in a matched control group. In other words the cases of cancer type illnesses (which might be brought on by radiation) were no higher in this group than other people of their age. Because of this no specific compensation scheme has ever been set up. Our Supreme Court also looked at this matter and agreed that the veterans had not established any harm caused to them and found in favour of the MOD.

The issue that the MP campaigning on behalf of the veterans tried to establish was that the next generation of these veterans lived in fear of some kind of cancer being passed down the generation because of radiation. However, it does not seem that there is any evidence for this and without that there is no basis for taxpayer's funds to be used to provide extra compensation.

Although we are all sympathetic to the lack of protection afforded to these brave servicemen in a very different age, unless evidence of a causal link between illness and the bomb blasts can be established, I think the government is right to hold firm. Our support for veterans is crucial, but extra help must be based on clear evidence. Nonetheless a very interesting debate.

posted by Gary @ 09:26