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I welcome my hon. Friend's intervention, and indeed welcome him back to the House after his period away. However, the information that I have seen
10 Jan 2005 : Column 142
does not support his suggestion. I accept that there are different points of view. As the hon. Member for Poole said, we may well debate this subject again.
There have again been calls for a public inquiry. Although I appreciate the concerns of veterans, I am not convinced that a public inquiry is appropriate. It cannot address the central question of whether volunteers have suffered unusual mortality or illness. Only the study to which I have already referred can accomplish that. For this reason, we should await the conclusion of the study.
Mr. Shave is recorded in the experimental record books as attending Porton Down for one week in August 1950 when he participated in a single study. That study involved Mr. Shave being exposed to a low concentration of the nerve agent GE, or ethyl sarin. The records detail the acute short-term effects experienced by Mr. Shave from five minutes to five days following exposure. After five days, the records state that he was fit to return to his unit. I understand that he was provided with a comprehensive letter from Porton Down in March 1998 detailing the entries in the experimental books. Subsequent to that I believe that he requested, and was provided with, copies of the entries in the experimental books and a further letter clarifying the dose of GE that he was exposed to. He then attended the medical assessment programme in April 2001 where he received a thorough and comprehensive medical examination.
I accept that Mr. Shave's application for a war pension was rejected. That was on the grounds that there was no connection between his skin condition and the trials that he took part in at Porton Down. Mr. Shave appealed against this decision, but I understand that he has not replied to letters from the pensions appeal tribunal. He was therefore informed in writing on 13 October that his appeal was struck out. However, the Veterans Agency will consider reinstating his appeal if he contacts it directly.
The Ministry of Defence does not appear to have had any further communication from Mr. Shave raising any specific concerns that he may have. I suggest that if he does wish to discuss any pressing issues he should accept the invitation to visit Porton Down and take the opportunity of an open discussion with Porton Down personnel. Perhaps I can rather cheekily suggest that he may wish to be accompanied by his Member of Parliament.