VIRUSES which could cause brucellosis and plague were released into

the Minch in the 1950s, Western Isles

Labour MP Calum MacDonald claimed yesterday following a letter to him

from one of Britain's top scientists.

He has now called on Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind to commission

an independent report on the test exercises Operations Cauldron and

Hesperus in 1952 and 1953, and all similar chemical weapons tests

''about which the public reasonably seek reassurance.''

An initial Commons question by him to the Ministry of Defence was

referred to the director-general of the Chemical and Biological Defence

Establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire.

In his letter, Dr Pearson said: ''The papers on Operations Cauldron

and Hesperus are classified, and it would not be in the natioinal

interest to make these available as the information therein could be

misused by States seeking to acquire a biological weapons capability.

''The pathogens used were as follows: (a) Operation Cauldron: the

pathogens that cause brucellosis and plague. (b) Operation Hesperus: the

pathogens that cause brucellosis and tularaemia.''

Dr Pearson added: ''The safety aspects of handling, transport and

packaging were all carefully addressed to ensure there was no danger to

any of those engaged in the trial.

''There is no cause to believe that there was any hazard to the public

or the environment and there is no evidence to the contrary.

Mr MacDonald said: ''This reply is deeply unsatisfactory and does

not provide any of the reassurances which I and my constituents seek

about the tests.''

It was not satisfactory that the same Government organisation which

carried out ''potentially highly dangerous experiments'' should be

allowed to pass the final judgment on itself regarding the health

implications both then and subsequently.