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Mr. Laws: Does the Minister understand that a public inquiry would fully restore veterans' confidence that the matter is being considered independently and speedily? The Gulf war took place 11 years ago. I recently received a letter dated 8 April from the Minister for veterans' affairs, which says:

Is the Minister's reading of that comment that an independent public inquiry is still possible at some time?

Mr. Ingram: On the hon. Gentleman's point about satisfying people's concerns, we have sought to address the issue in a range of ways, which should, I hope, convince reasonable-minded people that we are operating independently and that an assessment is taking place. All the medical research is independent of the MOD, although we may commission it. It is carried out rigorously and independently.

We do not interfere with the conclusions, and the research is all subject to peer review, which is why there is sometimes such a delay in publishing findings. Those

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are correctly subject to peer review, because that provides rigorous examination. I hope that those who take a close interest in the matter take back the message that an extensive research programme has been undertaken. All of it is independent, but certainly funded by the MOD—that is, by the public purse.

On the letter that the hon. Gentleman received and the view of the Prime Minister and the Government, of course we would never write off that possible eventuality, but I have pointed out that the best way to deal with the matter is to get to the core problem.

Mr. Laws rose

Mr. Ingram: No, no, hold on. The research gives us the base knowledge for that. It is finding the answer to the problems, because it is easy to set running the hare that there is some great conspiracy or some great secrecy here. I have set out the principles for our approach, which

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is open, extensive and discursive. Our approach is to consider what more could be brought to the debate in terms of what we are doing.

Mr. Laws: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on that point. I note that he does not rule out completely an independent public inquiry, but, given his background comments, in what circumstances would it be appropriate to hold such an inquiry into the matter?

Mr. Ingram: If circumstances were to change, a public inquiry may become the appropriate mechanism. The hon. Gentleman asks me to look into the future and make a prediction, but he has not given any example to support his argument that a public inquiry is desirable because concerns exist—

The motion having been made after 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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