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Customs and Excise

That the Excise Duties (Surcharges or Rebates) (Hydrocarbon Oils etc.) (Amendment) Order 2004 (S.I., 2004, No. 3160), dated 2nd December 2004, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd December, be approved.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

Question agreed to.

10 Jan 2005 : Column 136

Mr. Douglas Shave

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

10.43 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): The debate today is on Porton Down and the case of my constituent, Douglas Shave. I am pleased to have this opportunity to put on record a little about his experiences. He is not unique—the House has heard many similar stories in the past about how national servicemen were treated in the late 1940s and 1950s at Porton Down, and I am sure that Members will want to bring up this subject again on many other occasions. I have been struck since I managed to obtain the debate by the number of Members who have stopped me in the various Corridors of this House and recounted individual cases of people who went through tests and believe that that has had a detrimental impact on their health and on their lives.

I was hoping for the attendance of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), but he is stuck in traffic somewhere between here and an airport and sends his apologies. When I was carrying out research for this debate, I found that he had initiated a similar debate on behalf of his constituent, Michael Paynter, in 1996. However, I note the attendance of several Members in the Chamber. It is not unusual for only one or two Members to attend Adjournment debates held at this late hour, but there are half a dozen Members here and I know that they have all taken an interest in the topic and spoken on it in this place in the past.

The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) is in his place and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence and I are happy that he should make a brief contribution after I have finished and before the Minister replies. No doubt he will sweep up some points that I may miss.

My constituent was born in 1931. He was called up for national service on 2 November 1949 and joined the Royal Air Force. He did his basic training followed by trade training and his final posting was as a leading aircraftsman at the education department at RAF Bicester. He was transferred to Porton Down on 8 August 1950, following a station notice requesting volunteers for common cold research—a story that we have all heard before. I know that those who have looked into the matter have said that it was one for local bases and that no notices have survived the passage of time, but my constituent was certainly under the impression that he was doing common cold research.

The advantage for Douglas was not necessarily additional pay or leave, but the fact that his family come from the west country—from Dorset—and Porton Down was a little closer to home. That is why he took the opportunity to volunteer at Porton Down.

Mr. Shave was at Porton Down between 8 and 14 August 1950. On 9 August 1950, he and three other national service volunteers were put into a chamber wearing gas masks. Following the introduction of the gas, the nerve agent GE—ethyl sarin—they were told to remove their gas masks. Further tests were carried out during the following days. Those facts were confirmed, in a letter of 16 March 1998, by Dr. Hall, who was then the technical director of the chemical and biological department of the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency at Porton Down.
10 Jan 2005 : Column 137

My constituent states that soon afterwards he experienced skin problems that the RAF tried to treat. Unfortunately, there are no records of that. He was discharged in 1951 with an exemplary service record, which is on file. Since then, he has suffered severe eczema. Many national servicemen who went through those tests suffered neurological and a range of other problems, but severe eczema for 50 years is extremely painful.

My constituent has major scarring to his back. He told me that when he joined the RAF he had a face like a baby's bottom, but on occasions his facial eczema has been so bad that he has had to use make-up to cover it. It has been extremely difficult to deal with that problem over the last 50 years. He found it difficult to hold down employment with other employers. His first job, in the 1950s, was in management for Odeon-Gaumont theatres, but due to the severity of his facial skin condition he had to resign on 18 November 1954.

My constituent has suffered from recurrent ill health. As a result, he started up his own business in which he was successful. He has had a successful family life; he has a wife and grandchildren. It was only in 1998, when Dr. Hall, the technical director of DERA, told Mr. Shave that he had experienced sarin nerve gas, that he heard what the tests were about. It was quite a shock.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): My hon. Friend's description reflects the experience of my constituent, Mr. Peter Carpenter of Haddenham, who went to Porton Down in 1951 for a similar purpose. To underline the point that my hon. Friend made, my constituent was given no protective clothing or gas mask—unlike the Army personnel who were similarly engaged but properly protected. He was taken to a field. He held a white rabbit in a cage and witnessed a controlled explosion. The rabbit had a seizure and died.

Subsequently, my constituent felt ill but was told by Army personnel and professors, who undertook no tests or examinations on him, that he would shortly be better and could return to his regiment. He suffered lost teeth, aches, pains and deteriorating joints and discovered only in the 1990s that he had been exposed not to the common cold virus, but to sarin. Is not that a disgrace?

Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend did very well to put on record the difficulties that his constituent has faced. There are many cases of people finding out very much later in life what happened to them, thus filling in part of the jigsaw of their treatment.

Mr. Shave has been a constituent of a number of MPs, including my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson), who have written to Ministers over recent years. Unfortunately, my constituent's application for a war pension has been dismissed. He is a member of the Porton Down Veterans Support Group, which has been very active. He is, frankly, amazed that there has not been a public inquiry or even an apology for how they were treated during their time at Porton Down. Standards were different in those days, but I do not understand why we should not look at what went on to try to find out more about what happened 50 years ago.

Some progress has been made. There has been openness in the release of DERA records from Porton Down. That is one of the reasons why my constituent
10 Jan 2005 : Column 138
has found out what happened to him, and the same applies in the case mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). A medical assessment programme has been set up. The Medical Research Council has offered to fund studies into the conditions suffered by Porton Down veterans. The Wiltshire constabulary has carried out an investigation.

Indeed, an inquest has been held into the death of Ronald Maddison, with a corner's verdict of unlawful killing. Following 64 days of testimony and 4,000 pages of documents, that was the jury's finding. That may be subject to judicial review, so the Minister may not wish to say much about it, but many of the veterans of that time certainly feel aggrieved that the Government are seeking a judicial review on a decision that they feel is a sign of hope for most of the rest of them. Indeed, I have received a number of e-mails. One of them was forwarded to me from my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), from Barry J. Barnes of Pirbright, Surrey, who was one of those who gave evidence to the Maddison inquest, and he wanted me to raise that issue.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): Is it not a fact that the Maddison case is crucial for all those who were affected—including the hon. Gentleman's constituent and that of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) and, indeed, others—because it shows that none of them gave informed consent? They gave consent, but it was not informed. In those circumstances, their consent must surely be null and void. That must be the critical legal issue, and it is why the Maddison case is so important for other victims.

Mr. Syms: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and some of his constituents have suffered in this way, as have those of many Members. It may be for a longer debate in future when Members may have an opportunity to put all those individual cases, but people did not know what they were signing up to, and that may have had an impact on their lives.

I hope that the Minister will abandon the MOD line, set up a public inquiry and look into what happened to those young men. I certainly hope that he has had the opportunity to look into the case of my constituent, Douglas Shave, who did his duty by his country. I do not think that he had the full information, which may well have been the reason why he has suffered for 50 years from very severe eczema, which has been very painful and has certainly impacted on his quality of life. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bedford, who will make a brief contribution and whom I admire for his campaigning on this issue, will pick up any point that I have not picked up.

10.53 pm

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