HL Deb 09 June 1992 vol 537 cc1204-16

3.54 p.m.

Lord Parry rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how they intend to respond to claims made by individuals relating their health problems to their exposure to the atomic test on 28th April 1958 off Christmas Island.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have quoted before in this House some words of William Wordsworth in his Preface to the Lyrical Ballads. He wrote that it was the duty of the poet to seek the truth, adding the caveat that he should seek that truth that was general and operative rather than the truth that was local and particular. I believe that we all agree that it would serve democracy very well if the practical politician were generally seen to be as energetic in the pursuit of truth as the romantic poet. Sadly, we are not so seen to be. We are generally represented as being economical of the truth, dealing in terminological inexactitudes and, generally speaking, dodging the questions that are raised. I am sure that that is not the attitude to this Unstarred Question that I bring before the House this afternoon.

We seek information. I was once advised by an old politician in Wales that you should never ask a question unless you yourself knew the answer. But so many questions have been asked on the issue which I now raise and so many answers given down the years that I come to the House not desperately optimistic that all the questions that will be raised in this tiny debate will find a definitive answer. I hope that I am not being too pessimistic, but I want to put the position on the record.

My Question asks Her Majesty's Government, how they intend to respond to claims made by individuals relating their health problems to their exposure to the atomic test on 28th April 1958 off Christmas Island".

Since tabling the Question I have received such a body of information from many sources including your Lordships' Library, individuals affected and the newspapers. I have received so much information that I would not want the House to be tied to the absolute specific of that test on the day named. I am interested in the reaction of the Government and the response of the Minister to the whole series of tests and to all the responsibilities relating to them.

I believe that it will serve all our interests if we explore the general and operative truth today rather than the simple, local and particular one. By one of those coincidences which occur so often that they can hardly be thought of as coincidences at all, I found a particular article in one of the bundles of Sunday newspapers that I love to read. It appeared in the Sunday People, a newspaper with a record of exploring these issues over a long time. The headline read "A-test hero, John, dead".

The article stated: Brave ex-airman John Hall—the leukaemia victim who took on the Government in a historic fight to prove that his cancer was caused by Britain's nuclear bomb tests—has died. The former electrician was to have been the standard bearer in a test case in the High Court that could have paved the way for compensation for hundreds of ex-servicemen. Premier John Major took a personal interest in Mr. Hall's case after The People reviewed his story".

The Prime Minister is on record as declaring that he is in favour of a much more open reaction to the questions of the people. I accept that and I ask this Question today in precisely that context. The report states: Mr. Hall [who was] 53 worked on Canberra bombers that flew through nuclear dust clouds during A-bomb tests in the South Pacific in the 1950s. He contracted a rare form of leukaemia three years ago and died in hospital in his home city of Leicester on Wednesday".

Nothing could be more apt; nothing could be closer to the Question that we raise. We will all want to sympathise with the loss to his family and the suffering that has taken place. Brave John Hall, as the House will know, is only the latest in a viciously long line of service and civilian personnel who died believing that the ironically named Christmas Island made them the present of their premature graves. Their grieving relatives know that for many of them their sufferings were such that the grave itself was a release.

This House knows that to expose those men in their thousands —a minimum of 20,000 on past governments' own recordings —to the risks implicit in the testing of the nuclear devices was a folly that makes the blunder of the Charge of the Light Brigade almost insignificant. Those people have been in the jaws of death since the early 1950s, many since their teens.

My reading of debates both here and in the other place shows that 200 United Kingdom servicemen were stationed around 8 kilometres upwind from zero because it was decided to allow them, to experience the effects of nuclear explosions at ranges closer than previously allowed".—(Official Report, Commons 12/3/84; col. 195.)

We all know now that that was folly. Everyone accepts that. There is no one in this House, knowing what we now know regarding the effects of thermonuclear weapons, who would countenance such idiocy or attempt to explain it away, except through ignorance, which at the time we all shared.

Mr. Pattie, the Minister at the time in the other place, said at col. 196 that it was, a subject which is capable of being handled in an entirely sensationalist way".

I do not wish to sensationalise. I seek the truth. But all previous debates and Answers to Questions on this matter lead me to believe that neither I nor the House are likely to get at the whole truth today. That is neither to pre-empt nor disparage the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, who will be answering. It is to place on record the belief that the evasion of the total truth by all Ministers answering Questions on this issue since April 1958 has been so skilful and political, regardless of which party at the time was in power, that the chances of real progress this afternoon seem slim.

The House will see that I hold a fat file of press clippings. Parliamentary reports and early day Motions are included. They outline cases and concerns raised in Parliament and the media since the bombs first exploded on, around and over Christmas Island. I possess also the video produced by the British Nuclear Test Veterans Association of which my noble friend on the Front Bench and the noble Earl, Lord Russell—who one hopes will arrive shortly—are sponsors. The video consists of three separate evaluations of the appalling risks faced and the damage suffered by the personnel at and around Christmas Island. They are headed, "Children of the Bomb", "Dispatches" and "Bomb Damage". It should be viewed by all Members of this House. I do not know whether the Minister viewed it in his preparations. I earnestly recommend that he does. It will help him to understand some of the other features that concern the nuclear veterans.

In a short debate I cannot cover all the issues. Reading the papers, viewing the video and studying the other material is a depressing experience. It is clear that at the time of the Christmas Island test series there was almost complete ignorance of the long-term effects of exposure of personnel to the explosions and fall-out from them. There seems to have been also almost as total a lack of care, although I do not want to impose on a dead generation charges to which they cannot respond.

On 29th April 1958, the day after the test explosion named in my Question, we were being reassured by a Daily Telegraph reporter that fall-out was "negligible". Neither he nor we actually knew then what precisely had been tested. It may have been a hydrogen bomb, a nuclear warhead or a guided missile being developed by Britain. Even a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Authority said that night that, The explosion was probably of thermonuclear type".

More complacently and more chillingly, he added the pious hope which could only have been grounded in ignorance, This may be a development towards the time when we have weapons which have little after-effect".

We know now that hundreds of lives were ruined and hundreds of lives prematurely ended with second, third and fourth generation consequences to the descendants of those exposed.

With more time I could draw the attention of the House to a press release issued on 17th October 1991 by the Tyne Tees television company. It lists direct consequences to second, third and fourth generations of people exposed to radiation in domestic and commercial situations and, more aptly for my Question, to those who were exposed on Christmas Island. In those are four cases of adrenal cancer, a cancer so rare that doctors would expect to find only one in over 100,000 children. Fifty per cent. of the illnesses were in the first child conceived after the father's presence at the nuclear tests. Research reveals genetic deformities and other cancers as well as leukaemia, cases of children with both male and female sex organs and children with feet growing backwards. I need not go into all those matters which seem to be a direct result of the ignorance that led us to expose 20,000 to 35,000 of our fellow United Kingdom citizens to that appalling risk.

Making all the allowances and skipping that detail, in fairness to the Minister—who was, I believe, only 12 years old at the time—I must say that I am not blaming him for all the evasions of truth and responsibility that have been practised by many government spokesmen and women ever since that date. Nor will I take the House through all the case histories highlighted in my notes. However, the Minister is aware that I have one specific case in mind. Ronnie Adams, whom I once taught, went to the island a healthy young man. He died long before his time riddled with cancer. No one in my home town of Neyland, Pembrokeshire, believes other than that he died as a result of exposure to the weapon blast. He died prematurely. His widow still fights for official recognition of that fact.

There is another Welshman in the case lists. There are many, of course, but the case of Sapper William Brian Morris of Conway Road, Swansea, came early to the tribunes and was disallowed. Few in Swansea who knew the case agreed with the tribunal. Let me take noble Lords to The Times of 28th May 1991. A headline of that day read, A-test veterans die as pay-out fight drags on".

The newspaper recalled the Mervin Pearce test case when, after a difficult passage, five High Court judges supported his right to establish a case for compensation.

Another veteran, Mr. Andrew Dickson, wrote not only to me but also to the Prime Minister and, I assume, to the Minister and to almost everyone else. He is an inveterate correspondent on these issues. Mr. Dickson is concerned that there are records of individuals kept and that those records are in a so-called "Blue Book". While he knows a great deal and received a great deal of information from Ministers and others, he does not know the detail of the consequences of his own exposure. He says that he is convinced that a link exists. On a personal basis he feels, that ex-servicemen who served at nuclear testing sites, and witnessed detonations, without protective clothing, and were part of the 'records made at the time of the tests' that are currently classified 'medical in confidence' documents, ought to be included in the radiation workers study, along with their children, in order to reduce the amount of time two studies are going to take, and the conclusion two studies could cause".

We know that there was an examination of the effects of exposure to radiation of workers in nuclear undertakings, but we do not know when that will be concluded. My supporting speakers will refer to that also. Why is all this business dragging on? Why will it take apparently another three years before these people are told of the nature of the consequences to them?

Mr. Dickson says: I am aware of my 'Blue Book' number 1641905, but unaware of what dosage I received on 28th April 1958 when I was taken from the main camp at Christmas Island to an area closer to detonation in order to view 'Significant Events in British History from a better vantage point'".

I could go on at great length although I do not propose to do so. I shall take a short cut and move on to another important point. Perhaps I should say that I am not filibustering simply to allow the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to get to his place. Indeed, your Lordships are being very patient in listening to me raise this serious matter and I appreciate the way in which you are responding.

A letter from the National Radiological Protection Board at Chiltern in Oxfordshire, states: Strictly speaking, the 'Blue Books' were provisional lists of participants in UK atmospheric nuclear weapons tests, together with some general description and statistics. Sections of the Blue Books which did not contain information about specific, individual test participants have been supplied to the veterans' associations. The Blue Books were compiled at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the early 1980s".

When the Minister replies perhaps he can say whether, in a period of more open government and after an election in which this issue was raised and when the result seems to indicate that at least part of the proposition made at the time was acceptable to the voters, there is any good reason why those people cannot receive the extracts from the Blue Book that refer to them. Is there any reason any longer why that information should be withheld from them? If we were talking about a criminal case—if these people had undertaken some savage act of vandalism or had even murdered someone—they would be given all the help in the world and all the information that they needed to establish a case in their own defence. Why on earth should these people—some of them innocent 17 year-olds at the time and others more mature—who found themselves in a situation that they could not understand and who were exposed to a risk that no one else understood, now have to bear the consequences so heavily and so sadly not only themselves but their succeeding generations also?

I should like to say in conclusion that I am a democrat; I think that we all are. I believe, with Herbart, that there are recognisable steps in the decay and disintegration of any society. They arise first from disillusion and out of disillusion comes the decay of the system. Out of the decay of the system comes disintegration; and out of the disintegration there usually emerges some system or faith that is the exact antithesis of the one that it replaces. I believe in open government and I accept that the Minister believes in open government—so let us have it. Give these people the facts that they need and we shall give them the support. Perhaps then we shall resolve an issue that has for far too long clouded the conscience of this nation.

4.13 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the House will be grateful to my noble friend Lord Parry for introducing this rather sad topic. Indeed, this is not the first time that the House has debated this matter. On 22nd May 1990 I moved an amendment to the Social Security Bill, supported by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, and my noble friend Lord Parry to deal with the matter of compensation by introducing into that legislation the compensation measures that had been agreed by the United States for the quarter of a million servicemen who had been exposed to radiation through nuclear testing. Having re-read our debate in Hansard, it is interesting to note that we had a rather better reply from the Minister of the time, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, than the rather intemperate reply that was given in another place by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Mr. Archie Hamilton, who was replying to an Adjournment debate on this subject that had been initiated by Mr. Keith Vaz on 25th February this year.

The facts are clear, so there is no need for me to rehearse them in detail and I can be brief. We know that the servicemen who were involved in the Christmas Island tests in 1958 argued for a very long time that exposure to ionising radiation had resulted in an increased incidence of certain cancers. That was consistently denied by successive governments until, to their credit, the Government in the mid-1980s commissioned the National Radiological Protection Board to investigate the matter and to report on it. The NRPB report, which was published in January 1988, established the possibility of a link between some forms of leukaemia and multiple myeloma and exposure to the Christmas Island tests. After that report, the Government agreed to pay war pensions in appropriate cases to sufferers from those two cancers. It is important to remember that the NRPB report did not say that there was no link with other cancers. It said that there was insufficient evidence to support that thesis.

During our debates on the Social Security Act 1990 I said: It would help the Committee if the noble Lord could say how many war pensions have been awarded since 1988 in respect of leukaemia and myeloma in response to the NRPB report". The noble Lord, Lord Henley, replied: My understanding is that a total of seven have been awarded —six to widows whose husbands died as a result of the two diseases and one to a war pensioner".—[Official Report, 22/5/90; cols. 764–5.] Perhaps the Minister can now give the House the updated figure.

In passing, perhaps I should say that the payment of war pensions in these cases—that is, for certain forms of leukaemia and for myeloma—contradicts the reply that was given to a Written Question on 19th December last year in the other place when the Minister, Mr. Archie Hamilton, replied: There is, however, no firm evidence to show that any ill-health suffered by those who attended the tests was caused by their participation".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/12/ 91; col. 282.] It seems a little odd to say that there was no case of any ill health when the Government have agreed to pay war pensions to those suffering from those two forms of cancer.

The report that was published by the NRPB in January 1988 recommended that further research was required. It was agreed to continue the work and to report on the cases from 1984 to 1989. We were assured at the time that that updated report would be published by the end of 1991. We now hear that it will not be published until the end of this year or perhaps even later. Perhaps the Minister could explain that delay in publication. Is there any chance of an interim report?

There are still a number of very puzzling aspects to this whole matter. Hundreds of the participants in the tests have confirmed in terms that they were not issued with dosimeter badges to reveal their exposure at the time. The Government, equally firmly, deny that. However, as I understand it, none of the men has been interviewed to test their statements. Why has that not been done, given that to some extent the Government's case rests on the fact that those men were not exposed to excessive doses of radiation and when hundreds of the participants say that they were not wearing the dosimeter badges that would have revealed the level of radiation at the time?

When we discussed this matter previously it was pointed out that the 1988 NRPB report's figures specifically excluded all those who at that time had outstanding claims for war pensions. By definition, the participants in the tests who were claiming a war pension at that time as a result of the exposure would have a chance of a higher incidence of cancer. It is argued that the results of the report were skewed because of their exclusion. When it appears at the end of this year or later, will the updated report include all the people who had claimed a war pension and whose files were with the War Pensions Board?

If it were to be agreed to pay compensation to those who are claiming a connection between cancer and exposure to the nuclear tests, will the Minister inform the House of the likely cost of that compensation?

When we debated this issue previously, I quoted a figure for the total cost of between £4 million and £5 million. The Government agreed with that figure and quoted it in another place. However, in the Adjournment debate of 25th February to which I referred earlier the Minister in another place replied: the cost to the taxpayer would be unbelievable".—[Official Report, Commons, 25/2/92; col. 946.] Those two statements—the agreement in the spring of 1990 that the total cost of compensation if it were awarded in all cases would be of the order of £4 million to £5 million and the reply by the Minister of State for the Armed Forces that the cost to the taxpayer would be unbelievable—do not fit together. I should like to ask the Minister to give the House the most recent estimate by the Government of the cost of awarding compensation.

A new and desperately sad aspect of the matter, which was referred to in passing by my noble friend Lord Parry, has now come to light. I refer to the incidence of cancer and other illnesses in the children of the nuclear test veterans. I understand that there is an investigation by the NRPB into the incidence of cancer among the children. Is this to be a part of the updated report for which we are waiting, or is this a new study on the incidence of cancer and other illnesses in the children of the veterans?

In all the cases of exposure to ionising radiation in the past it has been revealed eventually that the danger is greater than was at first thought. This applies to Sellafield and indeed to Chernobyl. This greater danger will, I am sure, become apparent in the case of the Christmas Island tests and of those who were exposed to them, but sadly I fear that by the time the appropriate action is finally taken most of the men involved will be dead.

4.21 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Parry, has done a service to the House by asking this Question, in particular because of the recent television programme raising many of the points which he put so eloquently to your Lordships today. It affords me an opportunity to try to give the direct answer which the noble Lord requested.

The first direct answer is a bald one. The policy of the Ministry of Defence is to pay appropriate compensation whenever the Crown's legal liability is established. That is, in the case of those who took part in the United Kingdom's nuclear test programme, whenever it can be shown, on the balance of probabilities, that their participation in the programme is more likely than not to have caused illness. I must emphasise that it is a very important distinction. We are not talking about a burden of proof beyond peradventure. As the noble Lord knows, we are talking about a possibility. If that possibility can be shown to exist, even if the Ministry of Defence feels that there is a very good probability that it would not be possible to establish the burden of proof, the Government will pay war pension compensation.

The question to be considered is whether there is a causal link between participation in the test programme and any subsequent illness. The noble Lord, Lord Parry, assumed that such a causal link existed and was provable. He based a great part of his, I now realise, not inconsiderable eloquence on that premise. The allegation normally is that it was exposure to radiation during the test programme that caused the illness. No one disputes that exposure to high levels of radiation can and often does cause cancers and leukaemias. We do not dispute that at all. Nevertheless it is a fact of life that the incidence of many illnesses, including the kind of health problems now being experienced by some of those who participated in the test programme, increase as one gets older. Of course, neither the noble Lord nor I have yet experienced that. These diseases commonly arise from natural causes including, in some cases, the natural background radiation to which we are all subjected. I am advised that most Members of your Lordships' House will have received over your lifetimes at least 100 millisieverts of ionising radiation, which apparently is a fairly significant dose.

The noble Lord accused predecessors at the Ministry of Defence of lack of care. Your Lordships will agree from a reading of its report that that view is not shared by the NRPB. It is certainly rejected by the Ministry of Defence which feels that its predecessor ministries exercised a very considerable amount of care and that that care showed a remarkable understanding of the risks.

Lord Parry

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. As I remember my speech —I shall read it in Hansard tomorrow to see what I said—I was making the point that out of ignorance at the test site a proper degree of care was not taken. I was not charging subsequent Ministers of Defence or Ministers with responsibilities for pensions with not caring.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I would still say to him that the Ministry of Defence does not in any way accept that during the course of the conduct of the tests inadequate care was taken. I am glad that he gave me an opportunity to clarify that point.

In fact very few of those who participated in the test programme were exposed to measurable additional radiation. Of the well over 20,000 test participants only some 1,300 people have recorded radiation doses. A somewhat larger number were metered but the meters showed a zero dose. The remainder were kept too far away from the detonation to be exposed to initial ionising radiation or they were upwind of the test and so were not subject to any subsequent radioactive fall-out.

For the 1,300 or so people for whom we have a recorded dose level of exposure to radiation we can, using internationally accepted risk estimates, relate the level of exposure to the age and type of cancer or leukaemia being suffered by an individual. This would indicate the degree of probability that a particular case of disease was caused by that individual's exposure to radiation; in this case during the tests. Any claim from such an individual can be treated accordingly. I should add that the same internationally accepted estimates of radiation risk suggest that it is statistically unlikely that even one additional death would have resulted among test participants. So for the vast majority of participants, although there are no recorded radiation doses, there is other evidence to confirm that levels of cancer are consistent with radiation doses having been effectively zero.

This is shown by the statistical studies of the National Radiological Protection Board which the noble Lord quite rightly quotes. Like me, he attaches a great deal of importance to its independence of view. The board's 1988 report compared mortality and cancer incidence of test veterans with those of a similar number of men, known as the control group. It is worth saying that the numbers involved were very substantial indeed, which shows how seriously we take this case. There were 22,000 plus individuals in the control group and another 22,000 among the participants themselves. This control group had not participated in the tests but they had served in tropical or subtropical areas where the tests were being carried out. The conclusion was that the overall incidence of death and malignant disease among the participants had been no worse than that of people who were not involved in the test programme. That is an important point to realise as allegations have been made, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that certain important participants in the tests were excluded from the sample.

I refer the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Parry, to page 85 of the NRPB report. It is important to realise that the "Dispatches" programme quoted the first part of the third paragraph on that page and omitted the next sentence. If your Lordships will allow me, I think that the allegation made is important enough for me to emphasise the point. The report reads: The interpretation of the results of this study has been complicated by the fact that not all participants were included in the study and that the results suggested that the participants might, as a group, have smoked less than their controls. The former does not appear to have introduced any substantial bias into the results". If we are to take a dispassionate view of the matter, I believe that we should take account of that fact. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, wishes to intervene. I give way.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I am most obliged. I should be extremely grateful if the Minister could comment on the following. I made a point—it has been made in the past—that at the time the sample tests were being set up for the NRPB they excluded all the claimants for war pensions whose files were with the War Pensions Board. Such claimants were those who, if successful, would in fact have a higher incidence of cancer. It is not a point of argument; it is a statistical point as regards the methodology. By excluding those people, for whatever reason, did that not in fact skew the sample?

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I hope that he will take account of the quotation that I read to your Lordships. I believe that to be relevant.

Lord Carter

My Lords, certainly.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, I think it should be said that the report of the NRPB which was published in 1988 included all those whose records could be traced at the time. It was based on data for deaths and for cancers arising up until 1984. That was regardless of whether or not the individuals concerned made claims. I believe that is an important point of clarification to make if we are to be specific on the matter.

In the same context, the noble Lord, Lord Parry, spoke as though there was some great secret about the Blue Book and as though it contained what one might call "the Ark of the Covenant" of his case. I agree with the noble Lord, whether God is on his side or mine is a matter which we shall soon no doubt discover. I hate to disillusion the noble Lord, but the Blue Book does not contain any great mystery. It is a list of the nuclear test participants. I should emphasise that that list has been made available to the NRPB. The board had a good look at it when compiling its report. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that fact.

I realise that time is pressing, but I am equally sure that your Lordships wish me to take the matter seriously. As the noble Lord said, within the overall cancer figures the NRPB found that for some specific types of malignancy deaths among test veterans were fewer than among the control group and that for other types of cancer there were more deaths among the veterans. In the latter case, the veterans had a small number of additional cases of multiple myeloma and leukaemia. Indeed, that point was addressed in detail by my noble friend Lord Henley during the debate in May 1990 to which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred. I am delighted to see that my noble friend is present in the Chamber today.

It is worth repeating that the NRPB found no evidence linking the veterans to radiation doses. There was no increased incidence with increasing dose as would be expected if radiation had been caused. But because the NRPB could not rule out the possibility of an association between the diseases and some unknown factor of the men's service, that was relevant to war pensions payable to former servicemen by the Department of Social Security. As a result, the DSS has considered and will consider applications for war pensions from test participants suffering any health problems. The applicant has only to show that there is reliable evidence which is sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt—the point I tried to emphasise to the noble Lord at the beginning of my remarks—that an illness or injury may be attributed to, or aggravated by, service in the Armed Forces. The DSS medical advisers have concluded that such a doubt was raised by the findings of the NRPB in relation to both multiple myeloma and leukaemia. As I explained to the noble Lord, the benefit of the doubt was given.

We heard references to the further report from the NRPB. It is expected later this year. I understand that most of the information needed for the report is being compiled and that when it is complete it will be subject to statistical analysis. I want to emphasise the independence of the NRPB report; indeed, it would be quite useless if it were in any way influenced by the Ministry of Defence. I believe that it is worth waiting for the publication of the report so that there is no doubt whatever that the NRPB has produced a report that is independent from any influence from us. We should not try to pressure the board in any way.

Nevertheless, I can say that delays have arisen through extending the study to include all mortality data available until 1991 instead of 1989 as originally envisaged. Therefore, the statistics upon which the report is based will be updated and more up to date as a result of the delay. That is a benefit. The new report will assess the effects of emigration on test participants and use a new DSS computerised vital status check. So, again, it should improve the quality of the statistics and, therefore, the interpretation. That will obviously add to the scientific rigour of the report. It will then need to be subjected to the customary peer review about which my noble friend Lord Henley talked in some detail in the 1990 debate. As is known, that is customary. It has to be done thoroughly and carefully. I hope that your Lordships will not be disappointed by the result.

I tried to address myself to the question of veterans with outstanding pension claims. However, the question of compensation is more difficult. The cost of paying compensation depends entirely upon the number of people who are paid. So far, not a single person has been shown on the balance of probability to have been damaged by participation in the test programme. But if any such case arises, we would expect compensation to be calculated in the usual way, according to the legal principles with which the noble Lord is familiar. Of course, the amount paid would depend entirely on the circumstances of the case.

But if the Government were to make substantial payments to every test participant who subsequently developed cancer, the cost would be enormous. That is the point that my right honourable friend the Minister for the Armed Forces was trying to make in another place. I say that because up to 10,000 test veterans either have got or will get some form of cancer. That is not because they are test veterans; it is because one third of the entire population suffers from cancer at some stage in life.

I shall deal briefly with two further points. During the Social Security Bill debate on 22nd May, my noble friend Lord Henley gave figures regarding the number of war pensions paid to leukaemia and multiple myeloma sufferers. I can now update that figure. At present, there are 30 disablement pensions being paid and 16 widows' pensions. Finally, there was the question about the effects on the children of test veterans. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that the forthcoming NRPB report does not study the children. However, I understand that other studies conducted by other scientific bodies are in hand. I cannot be specific as yet as to the bodies involved, but I shall certainly make it my business to find out.

I am also advised that we should be aware that there is no overall excess of cancer among test veterans. Therefore, in the normal course of events, none would be expected among their children. According to internationally accepted calculations of radiation risk, not one case of radiation-induced disease would be expected to arise among the children of British test participants. It will be interesting to see what the results of the studies to which I have referred show.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Parry, for raising this subject. It gives me an opportunity, as he said, to give what I perceive to be the truth of the matter. These matters are always difficult, especially with such an emotive subject as anything to do with nuclear power and weapons. Of course the Government have always the greatest sympathy and respect for those who have served their country well. It is essential that we should be seen to be doing the right thing. I hope that the trouble we have taken will show that we are doing just that.