Lynne Featherstone (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Equalities Office; Hornsey and Wood Green, Liberal Democrat)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Amess for securing this important debate. He has a long and honourable track record in campaigning on these issues. I am also grateful to others who have contributed to this debate, albeit through interventions.
Before I deal with the detailed points that my hon. Friend raised, I would like to assure him that I share his concern for the welfare of animals. Indeed, I take the responsibilities in my portfolio in that regard extremely seriously. As the Home Office Minister responsible for the regulation of animal experiments, I am in no doubt that we should license the use of animals only where it is essential and where there is no alternative. That is also Government policy. The Government recognise that the regulation of animal experiments is of significant public interest. In fact, I am sure that Members across the House receive many letters on the issue. We are therefore strongly committed to ensuring the best possible standards of animal welfare and protection for animals that are used for scientific purposes.
Current legislation provides a high level of protection for animals that are used, as I am sure my hon. Friend knows. Work cannot be licensed if it could be carried out without using animals, and the procedures must cause the minimum possible suffering to the smallest number of animals of the lowest sensitivity. I believe that this approach reflects closely what the public want and expect. In addition, the Government have made two specific and important commitments in respect of animal experimentation. The coalition agreement commits us to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research and to end the testing of household products on animals. The commitment to work to reduce the use of animals is being delivered through a science-led programme led by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, and the commitment to end the testing of household products on animals will be implemented using our licensing powers under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.