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Dr. Reid: All right. I was not accusing my hon. Friend of doing that. However, there are those who believe that there is a conspiracy and a cover-up. I think that the objective observer could have taken that as being implied in my hon. Friend's speech--that there had been some form of cover-up at some stage over the common cold. That is a point that I would like to reach.

Mr. Mullin: I believe in the cock-up theory.

Dr. Reid: Nevertheless, those concerned have been able to describe in some detail the series of tests in which Mr. Bell participated. During this visit, he took part in several studies, including physiological and psychological

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tests, for example, to help measure lung volume, calibration of equipment to measure breathing, routine blood tests and rubber mix patch tests to assess skin sensitivity.

Mr. Bell also participated in two trials which involved him being exposed to chemicals. He was exposed to the riot control agent CS gas, which is now used by United Kingdom police forces for self-defence purposes. Mr. Bell was also exposed to pyrexal, a prospective incapacitant agent, which the literature suggested may have been useful for similar purposes to CS. However, Mr. Bell suffered no symptoms following exposure to this agent. He will be able to see that when he visits Porton Down, with a copy of any records relating to that. The staff at Porton Down have been asked to try to piece together from any other evidence that is available anything that might be useful to Mr. Bell. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to assist him in his inquiries, and in other inquiries.

When I wrote to my hon. Friend in November I said that in addition I would ask Porton Down to identify and declassify any relevant technical reports. I subsequently did that, and staff at Porton Down have identified one such report on pyrexal. My hon. Friend will remember that this is one of the agents that were involved in Mr. Bell's experiments. This report will be made available for my hon. Friend and his constituent when they visit Porton Down.

I turn to the way in which the trials were conducted, and especially the manner in which Mr. Bell says that he was recruited. Volunteers to Porton Down are drawn principally from the three services, and are recruited through notices posted widely at military establishments. In the 1950s and 1960s, it appears from surviving records that volunteer intakes were requested from individual arms of the services at specific times of the year. The precise mechanisms for recruiting volunteers were arranged by the services themselves, not by Porton Down.

My hon. Friend raised the question of informed consent. The policy at Porton Down has always been to obtain the informed consent of volunteers to take part in the research and to make it clear to them that they are free to withdraw at any time. That does not necessarily mean that informed consent was given at all times in writing. Indeed, it was only in the 1980s that it became common practice, and now obligatory practice, to introduce consent in writing. That is the informed consent.

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I believe on the evidence that is available to me that the Porton Down staff have always adhered to the highest standards of ethical practice. I believe also that they have always sought to follow the best practices existing at the time with respect to trials involving human subjects. If either scientists, or advisers, believed that there was a risk to health, or that they were in any way in breach of the Nuremberg code, the experiments would not have taken place.

Mr. Bell will find no mention of common cold research, and the chemical and biological and defence organisation has never carried out work on the common cold. My hon. Friend has been saying that although such work was never carried out, work may have been classified as such for a cover story. It is impossible for me to deny the negative. There is no evidence, however, that Porton Down did what has been suggested. Tonight, my hon. Friend has used words such as, "There is a feeling that", "It is entirely possible that", and "This could have happened."

Given that Porton Down has already admitted, quite openly, that it was involved in a range of experiments, including CS gas, mustard gas, and pyrexal, which I mentioned earlier, it does not fit the pattern of evidence to suggest that it should have gone out of its way to classify some other research as work on the common cold.

Porton Down never engaged in research into the common cold. I repeat that the precise mechanisms for recruiting volunteers in the 1950s and 1960s were arranged by the services themselves. Tonight, for the first time, I think, my hon. Friend mentioned a particular station. I shall ask my officials to check the records of that station to ascertain whether there is any evidence whether any branches of the services were advertising volunteer places as places on experiments involving the common cold. I have to say that on the evidence so far I must come to the conclusion that Porton Down has acted to the highest ethical standards and has acted under the Nuremberg code. It has acted honestly and at all times with the volunteers.

If we can find any evidence to substantiate the claims, any Minister would examine them again, and I am sure--

The motion having been made at Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.



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