Friday, August 20, 1999 Published at 15:15 GMT 16:15 UK
Chemical base 'too big', says MP
Porton Down is now used to destroy chemical weapons
Germ warfare research, which is at the centre of a police investigation, is too extensive for ministers to know every detail, an MP has said.
On Thursday police began an inquiry into the death of a man during germ warfare tests there in 1953.
Mr George told the BBC : "It's too big for us to know, and, secondly, there are many things happening there that I'm not even certain ministers are fully aware of, let alone parliamentarians."
He said: "They undertake enormously important work on defensive measures and obviously you don't want to publicise the details of all of that."
Tam Dalyell, MP for Linlithgow, first called for an inquiry into the base in 1968 when he went there as part of an investigation by the Committee on Science and Technologies.
He said he called for an inquiry following the visit, but was then "had up on a technicality and hauled before the Privileges Committee of the House of Commons".
He added: "The row was about a leak. But actually I hadn't intended to leak at all, because I thought that the minutes that were printed were public knowledge."
A former serviceman, Gordon Bell, 61, has said his health was ruined by tests at the base when he worked there during the 1950s.
It has been alleged that scientists knew that some of the experiments they were carrying out could kill the volunteers.
In all, 300 former servicemen claim to have disabilities ranging from breathing difficulties to kidney complaints as a result of the tests.
The Ministry of Defence could face charges of assault and even corporate manslaughter.
Dr Rick Hall, the technical director of Porton Down since 1974, said: "The archives that are available suggest those going in for the tests were told what they were volunteering for."
But he said that despite the base's current "sinister reputation", it is "in fact very open", with the work it does published in technical literature.
"Clearly we don't seek to publish information that might help a potential aggressor, if they are looking to develop chemicals of their own," he said.
The UK has "not developed chemical weapons since the mid-1950s", he said, adding that the "sole work of the organisation" was to provide the UK and its armed forces with "effective protection, should these materials be used against us".
He said volunteers were still used but they were fully aware of the nature of the tests.