Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am indeed aware of the noble Lord's visit to Israel and his contact with the Israeli authorities. As a government, we have expressed our concern about the solitary confinement which was ended earlier this year. However, Mr. Vanunu is still in confinement. The Government have raised those humanitarian concerns with the Israeli Government and will continue to do so. That was done most recently by my honourable friend Mr. Derek Fatchett.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the Government use their best endeavours to make sure, first, that the prisoner is allowed to associate with other prisoners, and, secondly, that in due course and as soon as possible he is released?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I understand it, the solitary confinement has finished. There are other humanitarian concerns which we shall continue to raise. However, the aegis of Her Majesty's Government is relatively limited in this matter because the prisoner is being dealt with under Israeli law and there is no real locus for the UK Government.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, am I not right that on 13th December 1945, the House of Lords, sitting in the Queen's Robing Room, rejected an appeal against conviction for treason and sentenced to death one Lord Haw-Haw, who did not acquire his title either by heredity or appointment but through notoriety? Does my noble friend agree that if anyone committed the sort of treason against our country that Vanunu committed against his, that person would receive very little sympathy either in this House or in the country?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the case to which my noble friend refers was slightly before my time but I am aware of the circumstances and the emotions surrounding it and the situation of British law at that time. Our concern is that Mr. Vanunu should be treated properly under Israeli law and on humanitarian grounds. As I say, we have raised those concerns with the Israeli Government from time to time and, if necessary, will continue to do so.

11 May 1998 : Column 815

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, given that the world has moved on in the past 45 years, does the Minister agree that Israel would wish to live by the highest standards of civilised and tolerant conduct? In particular, will he see whether steps can be taken to ensure that Mr. Vanunu receives visits from his family and from others who wish to see him?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I hope that the Government of Israel will abide by humanitarian standards in that respect. Indeed, that will be one aspect of the representations which are made. We have made several representations to the Israeli Government on humanitarian grounds on a number of issues, many of which have been taken on board. We hope that the Israeli Government will continue to listen to points made in your Lordships' House, as well as to those made elsewhere, on behalf of this particular prisoner.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that Mr. Vanunu is greatly admired by all sensible people throughout the world because he blew the whistle when his government secretly and nefariously acquired a nuclear capacity?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, we have frequently expressed our concern about the Israeli development of a nuclear capability. Indeed, we have urged the Israeli Government to sign the non-proliferation treaties. To that extent, therefore, I agree with my noble friend that that is the actual issue, rather than necessarily the precise treatment of this prisoner, which I believe should continue to be dealt with under Israeli law.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe: My Lords, have the Government received any representations from the noble Lords, Lord Avebury, Lord Hylton and Lord Jenkins, regarding a free pardon for Dr. Klaus Fuchs and Dr. Alan Nunn May?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, although I am, in general, aware of those cases, I am unaware of any such representations.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind that the Government support the public interest disclosure legislation, which will affect residents in the UK, does not this case demonstrate the need for international action to protect international whistle-blowers who publicise information which is of benefit to the world-wide community?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, ideally, the answer is probably "yes". However, in practice, these issues are unlikely to be conceded by governments, all of whom have a legitimate security concern.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister recall that Mr. Vanunu was originally enticed away from the territory of the UK? Therefore, does not that give us something of a locus in the matter? Further, will the Minister make representations to the Israeli authorities to allow Mr. Vanunu to see his brother, who has been

11 May 1998 : Column 816

deprived of the privilege of visiting him since he conveyed some questions, which were perfectly legitimate, to the Sunday Times?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as I understand the issue, and as far as one can ascertain, Mr. Vanunu actually left UK soil of his own volition. Therefore, anything that happened subsequently did not happen on UK soil. Nevertheless, we do have a general humanitarian concern here, including on the issue of family visits. However, I believe that that was probably covered by my earlier answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams.

Miners' Claim Against British Coal

2.52 p.m.

Lord Islwyn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the result of the negotiations that have taken place with lawyers acting on behalf of miners suffering from chronic bronchitis and emphysema in respect of their claim for compensation.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, unfortunately, the negotiations are not yet finished. On 27th March, the plaintiffs' solicitors asked the court for a three-month adjournment to allow for further discussions. This was granted. Discussions continue and we hope that, by the end of June, we will have an agreed settlement. I should point out that the Government have real sympathy for those miners unfortunate enough to have suffered lung damage. That is why we intend that these arrangements should provide a quick and fair settlement.

Lord Islywn: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister appreciate that the Government's action in agreeing to settle the miners' claims in line with the High Court decision was much welcomed? However, since that time, there have been damaging reports stating that thousands of claimants have not even received the £2,000 interim payment. Can my noble friend tell the House what the real reason is for this delay? Further, will my noble friend ensure that the Government take action to speed up the process so that these miners--these worthy applicants--who have had their lives ruined through the arduous and hazardous nature of the mining industry, receive their just compensation?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that we are not moving slowly. That is why we are offering interim payments of £2,000 each to at least 5,000 elderly claimants who are currently receiving state benefit for chronic bronchitis and emphysema. We have also extended this to widows whose husbands were in receipt of that benefit. Nearly 1,000 offers have been made since April. We hope to start making interim payments this week.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, in seeking to reach an agreement on the present case, will the Government bear in mind the settlement reached as regards pneumoconiosis some years ago when a substantial

11 May 1998 : Column 817

capital sum was set aside from which adequate compensation was thereby made to those suffering from this dread disease, thus avoiding expensive court action?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, British Coal set up the pneumoconiosis compensation scheme in 1975, in agreement with the unions, on a no-fault liability basis to avoid a long and expensive trial. However, liability has been established for chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Therefore, settlement arrangements will have to reflect that fact.

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, will the Minister acknowledge the fact that the pneumoconiosis scheme was a piece of Tory legislation, for which the Conservatives should be credited?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, it was indeed an awfully long time ago.

Lord McNair: My Lords, can the Minister give me any hope for justice for men such as my neighbour in south Wales, Mr. Owens, who spent 25 years boring into silica rock without the benefit of water damping equipment and, therefore, suffers from silicosis and who now faces apparent collusion between the social services and the medical authorities in his attempts to gain just compensation?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give the noble Lord much hope as regards the particular arrangement that we are now discussing. The judgment was specific to underground coal-mining and the damages reflect the negligence of British Coal. Compensation will reflect that fact. The settlement arrangements cannot extend to employees in other industries.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, are the Government aware that, in the former Bristol coalfield where I live, there are several dozen qualified miners all of whom are aged 70 or 80 and among whom there are, therefore, frequent deaths? Will the Government accelerate these payments as much as they possibly can?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page