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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
8th December 2011

New beginnings.

It’s been a few weeks since you had an update from me. I must admit that my usual Thursday night submission has been taken over by the very busy diary I now have. This means I am usually running out of the Parliament to get to an event or meeting. Recently I had the official opening of my new office in Hamilton. When looking for a person of profile who could do the opening there was no doubt in my mind who that person should be. So a letter of invitation was sent off and I was truly thrilled when she accepted. On the day my good friend Councillor John Mackay brought the wonderful Dr Winnie Ewing back to Hamilton to cut the big blue (saltire blue of course) ribbon to the new office. As usual she did it with style and aplomb and had the assembled guests in awe of her fight to win Hamilton in 1967. You can read her thoughts here;

and here;

A few weeks ago a family arrived at one of my surgeries in Larkhall and told me the most amazing story of the health issues they have experienced through 3 generations. I was absolutely shocked when they told me their story. The grandfather was a veteran of the Christmas Island nuclear testing in the 1950’s, now his son and possibly his grandchildren had all suffered health issues that they believe are directly attributable to the exposure to radiation on Christmas Island. One request they had was that the Scottish Parliament help their case for blood testing and recognition from the MOD that they did their duty to their country. The result was a very interesting journey into the whole issue and as it was being heard in the Supreme Court on the 14th November all the more topical. I after a number of re-write because of the issue of sub-judice I managed to lodge a motion for debate in the Scottish Parliament. I received and was grateful for cross party support and we debated the subject in the Scottish parliament with a number of the veterans in the gallery to witness the Scottish Parliament stand up for them. The only downside was the fact that not one single Tory or Lib-Dem spoke in the debate, a disgrace if you ask me!

Here is the text of my speech;

Nuclear Test Veterans.

PO usually when we open debates we say that we are delighted to be speaking in this debate but this debate is being opened by me with a heavy heart. Can I thank and pay tribute to the Nuclear Test Veterans association for attending this debate and bringing this issue to not just my attention but to the attention of a number of my colleagues across parties and Parliaments.

PO I wish to share some very wise words;

“The first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. Our Armed Forces fulfil that responsibility on behalf of the Government, sacrificing some

civilian freedoms, facing danger and, sometimes, suffering serious injury or death as a result of their duty. Families also play a vital role in supporting the

operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces. In return, the whole nation has a moral obligation to the members of the Naval Service, the Army and

the Royal Air Force, together with their families. They deserve our respect and support, and fair treatment.”

PO I couldn’t agree more but these are not my wise words they are the words contained in this document The Armed Forces Covenant: Today and Tomorrow.

A hefty document as you can see but light on commitment to thousands of servicemen who did their duty in fact went above and beyond the call of duty when they either volunteered or where conscripted to take part in the atomic tests in the south pacific and Australia. They undertook this duty with honour and dedication.

The men were primarily young conscripts, simply carrying out their national service, who were exposed to radiation during nuclear weapons testing near Christmas Island between 1952 and 1958.

At the time, the veterans had no idea what was going to happen. The only protection they were provided with was the instruction to hide their eyes or turn away when the A-bombs went off. Many of the surviving veterans are now terminally ill, with a death rate of approximately three veterans a month.

PO these servicemen may not have been in the frontline of any conflict or theatre of war but they were indeed in the frontline of the cold war at the beginning of a race for the ultimate power (nuclear dominance) and the UK was at the forefront of this race.

My heavy heart is a consequence of the realisation that these service people who did their duty have not had that duty respected and that many governments of many colours have neglected their duty of care to the people who served them in the south Pacific and Australia with honour.

The stories of these service people are well documented and each one is a heart-breaking account ill health and misery. From the men who became infertile, developed terrible skin cancers and conditions, suffered with bone problems, bowel cancer, leukaemia, eye conditions and many, many more horrific cancers and illnesses. To the wives who suffered multiple mis-carriages, 3 times the normal rate. Their children who suffer 10 times the expected rate of birth defects and to the grandchildren suffering horrible defects at 8 times the normal rate for deformity.

That all comes on top of new medical research that suggests that DNA could have been damaged by the radiation exposure.

There is now robust scientific evidence that those previously thought to be safe from exposure were, in fact, exposed. The Rowland report on New Zealand naval servicemen ‘upwind’ of tests at Christmas Island suggests veterans’ DNA was damaged by radiation. Leading scientists agree that the exposure could have caused a catalogue of health problems

The Ministry of Defence did not monitor for alpha and beta radiation at the tests. Residual plutonium and uranium (both alpha emitters) weapons material will remain a hazard for thousands of years. Alpha particles have a higher radiation weighting by a factor of 20 compared to beta and gamma rays in ICRP guidelines. The orthodox view is they are 20 times more damaging. If alpha particles lodge in the body they continue to be hazardous for life.

Our wartime allies, the US by an act passed in the House of Representatives in 1988 and signed by the then President Ronald Reagan recognised the sacrifice made in the name of global security and peace. The US paid over £100 million dollars to its service men. Canada and France have already agreed to pay compensation to their nuclear veterans without the need for litigation. The UK now stands alone as the only western nuclear power not to offer this recognition, not to honour their duty and take care of their own servicemen.

PO the previous government at Westminster committed £412,000 to fund a study into the health of the nuclear test veterans when the current Coalition government came to power they cut that to just £75,000. A total of 633 men came forward and the results make stark reading. The survey shows that only 18% of those polled are in good health and of those with a serious condition only 16% thought it was because of something other than radiation. That means that these respondents all 84% of them believe that their health issues are directly related to exposure during the tests on Christmas Island.

PO I think it is important that we represent our constituents the best way we possibly can and hopefully by telling the stories of our constituents in this debate that people will listen and remember. My constituents are blighted by ill health, they are a father and son who have an uncertain future. They need genetic testing to prepare for that future but the MOD have informed them both that their medical records are lost. I would urge the MOD to find those records and allow my constituents to investigate the health issue they have and enable them to at least have a fighting chance.

I hope the minister in his summing up will join with all members in this chamber and across parliaments to stand shoulder to shoulder with our veterans and give them the dignity and respect they deserve.

PO this document is titled The Armed Forces Covenant; Today and Tomorrow.

In it Liam Fox says;

“The Armed Forces Covenant is the expression of the moral obligation the Government and the Nation owe to those who serve or have served in our Armed Forces and to their families.

In return, they deserve not only our respect and gratitude, but also our constant attention to how they are treated and the impact that Service life has on them and on their families.

Can I ask that the duty these men gave to their nation be respected because some of them are left today but none of them have too many tomorrows.

And here is the link to the actual debate;

There have been a number of other speeches and questions and now we have our new website it is easy to view these.

If you check out this link and scroll down you get to see everything I have been up to in the parliament.

Last week I had a very special visit from 50 school children from Glengowan primary school in the Larkhall area of my constituency. They had a tour of the parliament, got to see First Minister’s questions and then got to sit in my think pod. The highlight for them was getting into the chamber and here is a lovely picture of them all in the chamber during that visit.

I have also been back to visit CAB Hamilton and met the new recruits from community jobs Scotland this is me with them in the office. I do wish them the best of luck. this is another link to a very special version of Holyrood Highlights when I was visiting the European Parliament in Brussels with the Europe and External Relations committee. We met with some of the commissioners and staff and made sure Scotland’s voice was heard at EU level.

And just to get you in the festive mood this Christmas tree was in the Grand Place in Brussels hohoho!!

See you all soon and keep your hat on in this storm we are getting today.

Christina McKelvie MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall & Stonehouse
0131 348 6680
The Scottish Parliament
Edinburgh EH99 1SP

Constituency office:

Barncluith Business Centre
Townhead Street
Hamilton ML3 7DP
01698 403 310/311
Fax 01698 403 313

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