By a Newsnet reporter
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown put in a rare appearance at the House of Commons yesterday when he spoke at a debate called to discuss the response of the Ministry of Defence to the radioactive contamination which has been discovered on a beach in his Fife constituency. It was Mr Brown’s third appearance at Westminster in the 18 months since he lost the last general election and decided to remain as a full-time backbencher.
Speaking before Mr Brown addressed fellow MPs last night, SNP MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Annabelle Ewing called on the former Prime Minister to explain why no action to clear up the beach was taken by the last Labour government.
The health risks posed by the radioactive particles from decommissioned WW2 aircraft were known to the goverment at the time. In 2009 when Mr Brown was Prime Minister, the MoD’s own scientists refused to analyse particles from the site because of the risk it could give them cancer.
Despite this, the MoD continued to resist pressure to pay for a clean up of the pollution, which comes from a radium coating on the instrumentation panels of the aircraft. The Ministry has also continued to play down the possible health risks for members of the public even though official minutes from a meeting in 2009 revealed that MoD scientists had such grave concerns over the contamination that they refused to handle it.
Ms Ewing said: “There have been serious concerns over levels of radioactive contamination at Dalgety Bay for many years, and Gordon Brown should make clear whether he was ever made aware of the MoD concerns in 2009 and if, as Prime Minister, he sought assurances over public safety.
“The MoD has consistently played down the possibility of health effects on members of the public from this contamination, but the department’s own scientists clearly did not share that confidence.”
“Getting to the root of this hazard must be the first priority, but given this extraordinary admission by scientists in 2009 the MoD, and the previous Labour Government, needs to explain why action was not taken much earlier.”
However no explanation was forthcoming from Mr Brown. In his speech yesterday as he called a debate in the Commons he stressed the urgency of the situation, but made no mention of the fact that his own government was aware of the seriousness of the problem over 2 years ago. On the contrary, Mr Brown sought to give the impression that the problem had only come to light in the past six weeks.
Mr Brown said: “I call this debate for one purpose and one purpose only, to persuade the Ministry of Defence of the need for urgent action in an area in my constituency where radioactive materials have been discovered.
“The affected land on the shores of the Firth of Forth, occupied by and near to Dalgety Bay Sailing Club, is a few yards from people’s homes, it’s nearby where children play, it’s an area where many go for walks.
“But in the last six weeks, materials that were dumped by the Ministry of Defence there in the 1950s – aircraft paint, other materials – have been discovered with radioactive levels that are ten times anything witnessed before … They are an undeniable hazard, they are materials which children should not touch.”
Mr Brown added that despite letters, phone calls with Defence officials and a conversation with Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, the Ministry of Defence had yet to carry out the necessary steps and still had not agreed that a plan to clear up the site “is prepared, funded and implemented”.
Ms Ewing, who has for some years campaigned for the MoD to take responsibility for clearing up its pollution at the site, said: “The Ministry of Defence must take responsibility for its role in this and accept its obligation to deliver a new plan to remove all sources of contamination.”