In October I reported that John Baron (MP for Billericay and Opposition Whip) had joined forces with Labour MP Ian Gibson. They convened an inquiry in 2007 on the question of whether veterans and their descendents have suffered ill health as a result of direct or parental exposure to radiation during nuclear tests.
Following a meeting that included leaders of the British Nuclear Test Veterans Assocation, the Government has issued a written statement. It comes from Kevan Jones, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence:
"The Government have been actively engaging with the concerns expressed by our nuclear test veterans that they and their offspring have been adversely affected by their participation in the British nuclear tests of the 1950s and 1960s.
The wider published peer-reviewed epidemiological evidence to date has not demonstrated a general link between veterans’ ill-health and participation in the tests. Similarly there is no peer-reviewed evidence suggesting that their children and grandchildren are at increased risk of genetic abnormalities.
The Government are, however, determined to address the ongoing concerns of nuclear test veterans. I had a constructive meeting with the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association (BNTVA) and interested MPs on Monday 20 April. I am pleased to report that the BNTVA have agreed to help identify a representative sample of veterans and their descendants with a view to conducting an assessment of their health needs. I therefore announce today an intention that the Ministry of Defence will work with veterans and experts to finalise the details of research to investigate the particular health needs of nuclear test veterans and their offspring with a view to identifying priorities and taking action to improve health. I also intend some follow-up to last year’s New Zealand chromosome study. The aim will be for projects to be of practical relevance to veterans with results delivered to a reasonable time scale. The work will be tendered in the normal manner and should be under way before the end of this year. A working group including representatives from the BNTVA will be established to take these projects forward."
I am told that the two new studies will not actually have the aim of establishing causation (or absence of causation) between the tests and ill health. They will however consider the extent of congenital health problems among veterans’ families, which is unprecedented.
The New Zealand study suggested chromosomal “translocations” among veterans. The follow-up could help allay fears that veterans are passing on severe health problems.
A High Court case will hear this week whether a group of veterans will be allowed to proceed with a civil claim against the Government.