When a little time ago I had the opportunity of asking my hon. Friend some questions on the subject of cruelty to animals, especially as it affected the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876, I found that there was not enough time to go into the matter in any detail, and I hoped to get a half-hour Adjournment debate. Now, to my immense joy and surprise, I find that my hon. Friend and I can discuss this subject until half-past four.
I am sure that my hon. Friend knows it already, but I should like to warn him that there is a growing feeling throughout the country, not among cranks but among serious-minded people, that the new developments in chemistry and medicine generally are making this question of cruelty to animals of much more interest to the public generally. This applies not only in this country but all over the world.
I know that my hon. Friend feels that much of the criticism that has been made could be pinned down to foreign countries rather than to this country. I accept that. There is no doubt that in the United States of America, in Japan, and in other parts of the world there is much more cruelty to animals than there is in this country. Indeed, this country is famous for its organisations which try to help, and for the vast number of animal lovers to be found here. But, at the same time, with the increasing publicity that is given to various activities all over the world, people are beginning to wonder whether in this country also things are done which harm and hurt animals generally.
After I had asked these questions I was glad to find that, without anything to do with me, my own council in Brighton took up the question of cruelty to animals, especially in connection with the Brighton Technical College and the possibilities of cruelty to animals in the new University of Sussex. The council debated the question for a long time and finally decided that everything was pretty well all right with the technical college and that the experiments there should go on, but it added a rider, which was carried unanimously by the council, that something should be done to improve the 1876 Act, if possible in the form of a Royal Commission, in order to satisfy the public generally that the Home Office was carrying out the provisions contained in the different parts of that Act.
I was delighted to have this opportunity, therefore, to state what the council had asked me to state. If we read the reports of debates in the House during the last few months we find that more and more people are becoming worried about the secrecy of the Home Office in relation to what is happening. Last February, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) moved a Motion on this subject, and as recently as 10th May, in the Home Office debate, two or three Members who certainly cannot be called cranks in any way took the matter up and were answered by the Minister of State. Questions have also been asked by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), who put down two or three Questions recently. I therefore feel that my hon. Friend should take a little more seriously the questions that are being put, because they are not put merely by Members of Parliament; they have obviously been asked by their constituents to do something about the matter.
Cruelty to animals is not necessarily concerned only with the Act of 1876. Other Acts have been passed giving local councils all sorts of opportunities to look after animals, but I am not sure they take advantage of them. For example, there is the question of riding schools. I have been in touch with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on the subject and I cannot do
anything better than quote its comments. The Riding Establishments Act of 1939 gave local authorities the power, which they may use but do not have to use, to:
authorise in writing any duly registered veterinary surgeon to inspect any premises. which they have reason to believe are used as a riding establishment. The R.S.P.C.A. is very concerned that although this Act came into force as long ago as … 1940 a very large number of local authorities have failed to utilise their power and appoint a veterinary surgeon for inspection purposes. It is regrettable that this Act did not insist that riding establishments should be registered by the local authority because without registration undoubtedly some local authorities do not even know of the existence of riding establishments in their area. In view of recent Press reports about unsatisfactory riding establishments in different parts of the country surely everything possible should be done to induce local authorities to appoint a veterinary surgeon for the purpose of inspection.
What happens is either that very young people run these riding schools or, if not, an older person owning the establishment leaves young people in charge.
That is one of the two Acts whereby local authorities rather than the Home Office are responsible for looking after this question of cruelty. The other Act is the Pet Animals Act, 1951:
Under this Measure all pet shops have to be licensed by the local authority and the local authority may authorise, in writing, any of its officers or any veterinary surgeon or veterinary practitioner to inspect such premises.
Interpolating from what I am quoting, each Act refers to veterinary surgeons, whereas in the old Act of 1876 it is medical and not veterinary people who are entitled to examine these properties:
There is no doubt that this Act resulted in a considerable improvement in many pet shop premises. At the same time some of these establishments are still unsatisfactory … It was hoped by many people that when the Pet Animals Act became law there would be an end to such markets as Club Row"—
which I believe is at Bethnal Green—
where animals are sold from stalls. Many of the stall-holders at this market, however, have been granted licences under the Pet Animals Act, but anyone who visits the market will surely feel that many of the stalls there are quite unsuitable for offering pet animals for sale. It has to be remembered that the market is open on Sundays, in all weather, and the local authority in question should seriously consider whether licences should be granted or renewed for many of the stalls at this market.
These are just two of the Acts under which local authorities can do some-
thing for themselves, and I have been encouraged by the fact that my own Brighton Council has brought up the whole question and has given leadership in the matter.
There is a third Act, dealing more with the Ministry of Agriculture—the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act, 1954, which deals with the dehorning of calves, castration, the docking of sheep and so on. The hon. Member for Blackburn brought this question up a few days ago. She asked the Minister of Agriculture if he would contact the Home Office on the subject, and I should like to know whether my hon. Friend can state whether anything more is being done in this matter. Recently I brought up the question of rabbits being used for the improvement of cosmetics. I have investigated the matter still further since asking the question, and I find that this practice mostly goes on abroad.
I do not want to read out all the unpleasant details about the way in which rabbits have injections put into their eyes in order eventually to test whether it will help to improve cosmetics, but I understand that, appreciating the fact that it will be very difficult for them to do such work legally in this country, the Americans and others are telling firms over here that if they would like to get in touch with the Americans they can work together on this matter. That is why I regard this as more an international than a national problem, and we must do our best to prevent it developing here to the stage that it has reached in the United States.
We do not want to be too sentimental about these things. There is a grave danger of sentimentality sweeping the country and of our finding ourselves in a very embarrassing position. Everybody knows that a tremendous amount of work must be done in testing animals to improve new inventions and techniques to help the human race. Nobody in his senses could be against that. But we want to make sure that these practices are carried out properly.
In all fairness to my constituency, I should point out that when the question of the methods used in the Brighton Technical College was brought up it was noted that the Home Office inspector, who has the right of entry to the laboratories at any time, was last there in April, 1962, and previously only a few months earlier. He does go there quite often. It was also noted that the number of animals involved in this work at the Brighton Technical College has been extremely small. Five animals—two rabbits and three cats—have been used in the last two years. The animals are obtained either from a recognised dealer or from a farmer who is well-known to the head of department, so we can safely say that, at any rate in Brighton, things are not being done too badly. On the other hand, one receives from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals a list of something like 7,000 dogs which have been used in a year and reports of vast numbers of cats being used, sold by special agents, and so on. One wonders where all this happens because it is quite obvious that it does not happen in my own area.
I am inclined to think that if the Home Office were a little more forthcoming in letting us know what goes on we might more easily stop these criticisms and, if there is any exaggeration, show it up. Various people who are studying the matter tell me that they find it immensely difficult to find out the real facts. The only people who seem to know them are the Home Office inspectors. At the time of the 1876 Act the number of cases was very small, something like 300 or 400. Then there were two inspectors. Today there are nearly 4 million cases and the number of inspectors has been only increased to six.
I have spoken to various people in the laboratories. They are all very fair on the subject and say that the inspectors are extremely hard working. The six of them made something like 1,600 visits last year, but everybody admits that there are not enough of them for the amount of work to be done. The inspectors sometimes give notice of their coming, though very seldom, and they come and inspect. However, none of them is a vet. Many doctors engaged in this work say that it would be much better if there were some vets as well.
I do not know how far we can stop the export of machines. I believe that there is an appalling brain machine used on cats. We do not use it in this country, but it is made in and exported from this country. I do not know whether anything can be done about it. Frankly, I doubt it. A variety of suggestions come from abroad. In the United States, oddly enough, instead of always using animals for tests, in many cases prisoners are used. Unfortunately, most of the prisoners used are negroes, which will be a matter of considerable interest to people in Africa. It is in the southern part of the United States where they are mostly used.
I am told that in Antigua one or two doctors carry out tests on criminals. The men concerned are let off a certain term of imprisonment if they allow themselves to be used as guinea pigs. I am glad to say that in this country those who allow themselves to be used as guinea pigs are usually the doctor's assistants. To a large extent, the doctors carry out these tests on their own people and sometimes on themselves.
There is one last point I wish to make. I need hardly say that since I decided to raise this matter I have received endless literature from different organisations. It seems to me that the fairest and the most sensible has come from a gentleman called Major Hume, who is the Secretary General of the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. I will not weary the House with too much of what he says. In fact, I would suggest that hon. Members who are interested might try to get a copy of his document entitled "Experiments on Animals in Great Britain." The following are some of his suggestions:
The Medical Research Council recognises the value of the Animal Technicians Association and of trained animal technicians, for whom it tries to provide suitable status and prospects, but most universities, and the Ministry of Health, do not do this, and it is desirable that they should.
I leave that with the Ministry of Health to see what it can do.
The establishment of Home Office Inspectors needs to be substantially enlarged to keep pace with the increase in the work to be done.
I am told that from almost every source. I know that the Home Office says that it is satisfied. It feels that its inspectors are doing a first-class job. I know that they are, but how can they possibly deal with all the work to be done? Major Hume goes on to say:
The main obstacle is probably Treasury economy.
I suggest that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare should be empowered by the Home Office to send their recognised inspectors round to the various laboratories to work in conjunction with the Home Office and to send their reports to the Home Office. They need not send their reports to anybody else. They should be able to do this and would be prepared to do it without extra pay. That would, presumably, be the solution. Major Hume also points out:
In order to widen the field of recruitment a minimum salary of £3,000 per annum is desirable; at present it is difficult to find recruits of the necessary calibre except among men who have existing service pensions to supplement their salaries.
I wonder if my hon. Friend could tell us the sort of pay which these inspectors receive and to what extent it has been increased over recent years. I beg the Minister to do something about getting vets into the organisation. The Pet Animals Act recognises that these are the people required, and I think that they could be added to the list. Major Hume continues:
The rules laid down in the Act for the sponsoring of certificates and applications for licences are archaic and under modern conditions unpractical. Compliance with the spirit of the rules often has to be achieved, with only formal satisfaction of the letter, by collaboration between senior scientists and the Home Office. But the whole system needs to be tidied up, for the personal qualities of licensees are of critical importance, and irrelevant formalities are a nuisance. Hospital boards and universities could with great advantage allocate more funds than they usually do to animal-house accommodation and staff.
I think that this is quite important, and when I go round to the laboratories of the drug firms I am always impressed by the trouble which they take to look after the animals. They spend a great deal of money on looking after the animals. Therefore, I feel that hospital boards and universities should look into the matter again. Continuing, Major Hume says:
Animals should be obtained as little as possible from dealers"—
I think that is a good idea—
and as much as possible by breeding on the premises, or failing that from breeders accredited for certain species by the Laboratory Animals Centre. Liaison between laboratories and the veterinary profession is desirable.
Then comes the question, should one ask to have a Royal Commission to discuss all these matters again or should one just suggest that an inquiry be held by some scientists or, as was mentioned in the debate on 10th May, by some leading judge? I think that the country as a whole feels that something should be done. It is many a long day since there was a Royal Commission on the matter. On the other hand, of course, I realise that Royal Commissions, like the recent one on television, do not always lead to approval by everyone. It is never absolutely certain that their recommendations will be accepted. In my opinion, a Royal Commission consisting of people with as little knowledge of the medical and veterinary side of the matter as some of those serving on the Royal Commission headed by Sir Harry Pilkington had of television would not help very much. On the other hand, scientists might well be asked to consider the matter.
I understand that when in the debate in May the Minister of State was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) and by my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mrs. Emmet) to try to get an inquiry started, he pointed out that we already had the Advisory Council led by a learned judge, Lord Morris. He has a Welsh part of his name which at the moment I cannot remember.
He said that his lordship was—I am sure he is—an ideal and a wise person. The Minister said that he would bring the matter before his lordship and ask what he thought, and then he would let the House know. I wonder whether my hon. and learned Friend will do so today.
May I point out, lastly, that this advisory council, which has met only once in the last three years—I believe that was in 1960—is available to assist, as indeed are the six inspectors. But there is in the country a strong feeling that something is slightly wrong. Hon. Members have told me that they have gone to the Home Office. They complain that the Home Office takes this matter lightly and seems uninterested. Everything is brushed off. They are told that everything is perfectly all right and that the Home Secretary is satisfied. The Home Secretary is not at all satisfied with what is going on in prisons in respect of human beings, so why should he suddenly switch round and be so completely satisfied about what we think are tortures to animals?
I beg my hon. and learned Friend to discuss the matter once again with the Home Secretary and, if possible, to have some inquiry instituted in order that the minds of many hundreds of thousands of people in the country may be put at ease.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) for raising this subject today. It is fortunate that on this occasion more time is available to discuss the matter than was the case when I raised it on the Adjournment on 16th February.
I apologise to my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department for keeping him in the Chamber on a Friday afternoon, but I feel sure that he is seized of the serious concern which undoubtedly exists, and has been expressed, not only among hon. Members of this House but a great many people in the country.
I have been amazed at the concern which has been expressed quietly and behind the scenes by hon. Members on both sides of the House in respect of this subject. I have admired the restraint which has been imposed upon themselves by hon. Members who have interested themselves in the matter. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will not assume that this restraint is weakness. I can assure him that it is not. I can also assure him that a number of hon. Members are becoming much more militant-minded about it, in view of the way in which they feel that the Home Office has been "stonewalling". I hope that today my hon. and learned Friend will be more forthcoming. I can tell him that the pressure will continue until something is done, and the sooner it is done the better for all concerned, not least for the animals.
I agree that time was short on 16th February when we last debated the matter, but the reply which my hon. and learned Friend gave to me on that occasion was not very satisfactory. Since then he will have had an opportunity to study some of the questions which I put to him and I hope that today, in addition to giving the answers to questions raised by my hon. Friend, he will answer some of the questions which I put to him in February.
Then I referred to the great public concern at the tremendous increase in the number of experiments on animals. When the Act of 1876 was introduced there were 300 experiments and two inspectors. In 1960, the last full year for which figures are available, there were no fewer than 3¾ million. I know that my hon. and learned Friend said that some of those were injections and did not involve cutting, and so on. But they were experiments. Many such experiments create fear in the animals which are used. They are not natural experiences for the animals, and it would be interesting to know how many of the injections which are painless in themselves create conditions afterwards which are painful and harassing to the animals.
I asked how many times in 1960 unannounced visits had been made to laboratories to observe experiments. My hon. and learned Friend stated that 1,500 visits were made annually and about 95 per cent. of them were unannounced, and that has been confirmed. In comparing the figures for 1959 and 1960, I was interested to find that in 1959 there were 535 places registered for experiments, that there were 3½ million experiments and 1,550 visits.
In 1960, the number of experimental laboratories had fallen to 524. Experiments had increased by another 250,000 in a year, and the number of visits had dropped from 1,550 to 1,506. It may well be that the increase in the number of experiments and the paper work involved made it impossible for the inspectors to maintain the number of visits carried out during the previous year.
I also asked the Minister how many experiments were actually watched, because that seems to me very important. It is most important, also, that visits for this purpose should be unannounced. In February, the Minister was unable to give me an answer. What is the position now? Then I cited instances of very cruel experiments. I referred to one in particular about which I thought that the Minister had been given incorrect information. It was an experiment involving operations on a number of cats, in which one of their eyes was removed. Some of these animals were allowed to live for as long as a year after the experiment while observations were carried out on the membrane of the eye after its removal.
My hon. and learned Friend stated that these animals had been painlessly destroyed after a very short period and that they had not been kept alive for anything like as long as one year after the experiment. I wonder whether he has checked this information, because I am convinced that he was wrong. I have checked and I find that they were kept for approximately one year.
I referred to a book entitled "The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique." This was produced by two men who are eminent in the animal world, Mr. W. M. S. Russell and Mr. R. L. Burch. Mr. Burch was formerly of U.F.A.W. and Mr. Russell is still an experimentalist of U.F.A.W. I should like to quote again from the book so that my hon. and learned Friend will know what was said. They state:
Even in research, therefore, the film is liable to diminish overt experiments. In teaching it is still more important. Teaching consists … of demonstration and class-work. The demonstration of relatively inhumane experiments may be largely or wholly replaced by the use of filmed experiments.
I wonder whether my hon. and learned Friend has talked about this and gone into it with the inspectors and various people engaged in research.
The authors go on to refer to the unnecessary pain which is caused to animals and to some of the worst features of experiments which have been undertaken. They state:
The use of vertebrate hosts in virology must often involve direct inhumanity.
Has my hon. and learned Friend looked at that? A series of such statements is made, one of which is:
If progress in the bioassay field is not yet all it could be, the position is more serious in that of toxicity testing. This is one usage which is an urgent humanitarian problem.
This was brought to his notice last February. Has he done anything about
it? Has he considered it and thought about it? I commended the book to my hon. and learned Friend. I wonder whether he has read it. He should do so. If he has not, I should like him to do so as soon as possible. This book was written by men used to experiments, They say that very necessary reforms are required in the whole field of experimentation.
In February, my hon. and learned Friend could not make any reference to this passage of my speech when winding up the debate because time was then so short. It is not short this afternoon; he will have plenty of time. I hope that he will use it to answer these points. Since last February there has been widespread concern evident throughout the country. I offer no apology for the fact that the R.S.P.C.A.—of whose council, as my hon. and learned Friend knows, I am a member—has launched a campaign. It seems that the campaign has had an immediate and urgent public response.
I had letters from constituents and only a fortnight ago I had a petition from people in my constituency who had no knowledge of my association with animal welfare and with the R.S.P.C.A. I believe that they show the great concern which has been, and is being, shown in this matter. The list I have runs into several hundred names. This is not confined to my constituency.
I shall come to that later.
Hon. Members in all parties have expressed disquiet and serious concern about the position on several occasions. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion has today referred to the debate we had on Home Office affairs on 10th May. Then, several hon. Members raised the question of experiments on animals and all referred to widespread uneasiness on the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) said that there was real need for an inquiry. He, like my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion, pointed out that probably the best way of getting something done from the point of view of speed, cost and in every other way, would be to appoint a High Court judge to look into the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mrs. Emmet) made several valuable suggestions. No doubt the Joint Under-Secretary may have been a little more rushed in giving consideration to these points since May than he has been on the points I raised in February. I hope that he has also given careful consideration to the points raised in May and will answer to them today. My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead said:
we should inquire whether there are sufficient inspectors and whether the numbers of centres licensed could be reduced. Is it necessary to have so many?
It would help inspectors tremendously if there were fewer laboratories.
In view of the number of laboratories already existing and the increased difficulties of supervision, I hope that new licences for experimentation will not be issued lightly. My hon. Friend asked:
Would it be possible, perhaps, for Members of Parliament or experts in zoology to visit these laboratories from time to time? I am sure that it would make a good impression on the public to know that laymen were allowed within the precincts of these places.
It is extraordinary that farms and places where animals are kept for human food can be visited by the police and others, but the only people who can get inside these laboratories are inspectors and experimentalists themselves, so far as I can find. Perhaps my hon. and learned Friend will correct me if I am wrong in saying that and, if not, perhaps he will confirm what I have said.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead suggested that there might be
a woman doctor or nursing expert or zoologist on the Board. Certainly I should like to see a woman on the Board, also a layman, so that the Board does not give the impression of having a vested interest in these laboratories.
How right she was. That is a major cause of concern. She said:
It would also help if the Home Office, when it makes out the yearly report, explained to the public the tremendous benefits we have derived from experiments in these laboratories. It could explain how we have practically eradicated tuberculosis, how poliomyelitis has been brought under control. …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1962; Vol. 659, c. 705.]
In the same debate my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck) also referred to the public disquiet over this matter and supported a demand for an inquiry into the whole of animal experimentation. I beg my hon. and learned Friend not to say that everything in the world is rosy. These are responsible Members of Parliament. They have shown very great restraint. I think that he knows hon. Members well enough to realise that we would hardly get such a wide cross-section of hon. Members expressing themselves so strongly unless there were very serious concern. Glib words will not cause these fears to disappear. We want much more than that. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will give an assurance that it will be provided.
In his reply to the debate in May, my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State said:
Hon. Members have made a number of specific suggestions and I am sure that they would not expect me to give an immediate answer to all of them. But I can say that I propose to invite the attention to this of the Chairman of the Advisory Committee, who is Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest and who is a Lord of Appeal.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1962; Vol. 659, c. 767.]
I hope that he has an opportunity of calling the attention of the chairman to this matter in the very near future, if he has not done so already, because it is disquieting that the committee has met only once in the last three years. I should have thought, in view of the extent of growing public concern, that that alone would have been sufficient to highlight the notice of members of the committee and bring it to their urgent attention. It is at least necessary for them to get together to discuss this matter in an attempt to allay public disquiet, if for no other reason. He went on to say:
… it would be courteous to him to invite his attention to what has been said in this debate and to consult his Advisory Committee on the suggestions that had been made. Let us first have their views and then we will consider the matter further."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th May, 1962; Vol. 658. c. 768.]
Let us have their views. For goodness' sake, do not let us wait another three years for them.
The pamphlet by Major Hume, to which my hon. Friend referred, has been issued by the U.F.A.W., which, no less than the R.S.P.C.A., is not—I repeat "not"—an anti-vivisectionist society. Many members of the U.F.A.W. are actively engaged in laboratory work and on animal experimentation. Again, I would like to commend this pamphlet to my hon. Friend and ask him if he has read it. I would also point out that it makes no attempt to exaggerate; it is extremely restrained in tone and has a positive and constructive approach to the whole subject of experiments on animals. Because it is restrained and unemotional, its conclusions, I believe, are even more important and more valuable.
I should like to draw attention to one or two of the passages in this admirable booklet. I would refer my hon. Friend to page 2. It states that
Pregnancy tests are no longer treated as coming under the Act of 1876.
Note, "no longer". That was the Cruelty to Animals Act, not to encourage experimentation, but to stop cruelty to animals. Fundamentally, that is what it was intended for, but
The writer does not know for certain why this is, but suspects that it has something to do with the abundance of young women fearing the worst, and possible abuse by abortionists. It may well be, however, that a retrograde step has been taken and that pregnancy tests ought to be restored to the ambit of the Act.
Will my hon. Friend have a look at that?
It also states:
But often routine testing entails estimates of LD50, in which case about half the animals eventually die, or ED50. They must feel ill, at least, though often they become comotose. There are, however, a certain number of instances, in toxicology, for instance, in which more serious suffering arises. In any case, the vast volume and rapid increase in pharmaceutical testing (in large establishments the requisitioning of mice is like turning on a tap for water) raises several difficult questions:—(i) to what extent could an end point other than death be more often used in quantal assays? (2) Has the possibility of using protozoa and other similar organisms for screening been sufficiently explored? (3) Is the level of significance prescribed for bioassays reasonably related to clinical response? (4) To what extent, if at all, do tests required under the Therapeutic Substances Act, 1956, persist because they have become customary, after non-biological tests have become available? … Would a less empirical research strategy effect an economy of animals?
This may be a little outside the orbit of control of my hon. and learned Friend, but at least I hope that some of the
scientists will take note of that and give consideration to these very pungent and pertinent comments in this little booklet. It goes on to refer to other research procedures:
They take place principally in universities and research institutions. Some years ago it was roughly estimated that about 45 per cent. of them relate to bacteriology, pathology, or parasitology. About 8½ per cent. may relate to genetics and are presumably free from suffering, unless in exceptional cases of abnormal mutations. About 12 per cent. may relate to nutrition and metabolism; usually these will be of a very innocent nature, though there are also instances in which the with-holding of food or water or of vitamins or other essential nutrients may entail severe conditions.
There is a comment which, I think, is very interesting on page 5:
Humane scientists in Britain give a great deal of thought to the problem of minimising suffering and it is very desirable that they should continue to do so. Mild techniques are normally employed, though the writer feels a certain uneasiness about one or two particular licencees and a few procedures.
Even one or two licensees without the proper approach can cause a great deal of suffering to a great number of animals, and a few procedures, in which a great number of animals may be used, can only involve a great number of animals in a lot of unnecessary suffering. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will look at that.
I am extremely pleased to see the comments of Major Hume, which we all know to be true, that the vast majority of experimentalists in this country are humane men and women who consider, above all, the care of the animals which they are using and inflict upon them the least possible suffering, and then only if they consider it necessary for the advancement of science which will benefit both humans and animals. I think that it would be quite wrong of me—and I have no such intention—to give any impression that the great number of these men and women do not carry out their duties in a way that is above reproach.
Major Hume states:
A substantial number of U.F.A.W.'s members work in laboratories, either as research scientists or as technicians, and U.F.A.W.'s Scientific Advisory Committee includes experimental biologists of high standing.
I have quoted these passages to show the importance which, I believe, should be attached to this booklet.
There is an important passage on the work of the Home Office inspectorate. It is clear to hon. Members that those officers carry out their duties unselfishly and in a way which is above reproach. It is no reproach to them that there are not enough of them and that those who are there have not the time to do the job as thoroughly as we would like. If it is a reproach upon anybody, it is one upon my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary for not having increased their numbers so as to make it possible for them to do their job to the satisfaction of all.
Major Hume also says:
Again, the inspectors go carefully into the qualifications of applicants for licences and the nature of the procedures to be permitted by the certificates which dispense with anaesthetics. They rely largely on precedent".
The Act has been in operation since 1876. I suggest that in view of the enormous number of experiments now compared with the number in 1876 a little less reliance should be placed on precedents and that the licences which are now granted on precedent should be reviewed in the light of existing circumstances. I hope that my hon. and learned Friend will undertake that that will be done.
There is another point in the booklet which has caused me disquiet:
The most immediate restraints on a callous experimenter are the public opinion of his colleagues and the tradition which has been created under the British system of control. In a particular instance known to the writer a foreign licensee who had recently arrived in this country began to test analgesics by a cruel method which he has been accustomed to use at home. He was at once pulled up by two of his British colleagues and obliged to adopt a humane technique.
It was to the credit of his colleagues that they pulled him up. But how is it that that man was able to obtain a licence to carry out the experiments in this country and to carry them out with a technique which was cruel and unnecessary?
I suggest that in future any persons coming from abroad desiring to carry out experiments should have their qualifications very carefully checked, and it should be made clear to them what their responsibilities are and that the Home Office will not, in any circumstances, tolerate cruel experiments without proper licensing for those experiments, and that licences will not be issued for such experiments unless they are absolutely necessary.
Major Hume goes on:
Nevertheless, while the good faith and good will of all the parties are beyond question, there are so few inspectors and they have so much to do that one would like to feel quite sure that all the requirements are always understood by all the licensees.
The point that I have just made about the visitor from abroad more vividly underlines the need for this than anything I could say.
I turn briefly to the question of veterinary representation on the inspectorate. I believe that my hon. and learned Friend, while saying that the Home Office would be willing to employ veterinary surgeons on the inspectorate—those who have studied the question believe that it is highly desirable at least in the field of animal anaesthesia—has given the impression that there are not veterinary surgeons with sufficient qualifications to be able to carry out the task, or that they cannot be obtained. I have discussed the matter with high officers of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and they say that veterinary surgeons are available if they are paid the proper remuneration for doing the job, but that we shall not get people with the necessary qualifications these days unless that is done.
That raises a very important point. I hope that all the inspectors at the Home Office—there are six at the moment, and I hope that there will be more—will be paid salaries which are in line with the qualities which they must possess and the duties which they have to perform. A great sum of money will not be involved, but if for the expenditure of a comparatively small sum all the fears of the public could be removed it would be a good investment.
I am sure that the R.S.P.C.A. and some of the other animal welfare societies would be very happy to put their hands in the "kitty" to supplement the Treasury on this if it were really necessary and desirable. But if the Treasury or the Home Office say that they cannot accept that, then they must accept the responsibility of paying the right people the right money so that they can do the job properly.
Finally, I refer the House to the comments that I made when I raised this matter on the Adjournment in February. It is a very difficult and very serious problem. We must realise that we who control the lives and destinies of so many animals so closely from their birth until the time they have served man's purpose have a duty, because of the bounty that we get from them, to ensure that during the time they are on earth they are treated in a humane way and are not subjected to more suffering in carrying out man's purpose than is absolutely necessary.
We must always remember that, despite what so many people think of animals, many of them, including the lower of the rodents, are highly sensitive, highly intelligent animals, and are subject to strong fears and stresses. I beg my hon. and learned Friend to realise that we have a very serious duty to perform towards the animal kingdom.
I intervene briefly to say how grateful I am to my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) for raising this subject and how glad I am that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), the Chairman of the Animal Welfare Group in the House, has also been able to intervene. Between them they have covered all the ground that really needs to be covered on this subject, and I merely want to reinforce one or two points made by them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion made the very valuable suggestion that the Home Office inspectorate should be reinforced by allowing the inspectors of the animal welfare societies to investigate some of the experiments. I support that most warmly. When we were discussing the Pet Animals Bill which I had the good fortune to pilot through the House in 1951, the Bill as originally drafted suggested that the inspectors of animal welfare societies, certainly those of the R.S.P.C.A., should be empowered to do this. The House took the view, on the advice of the Government of the day, that that would not be a wise procedure and that inspectors should be confined to those appointed by the Home Office.
In view of the enormous increase in the number of experiments on animals which my hon. Friends have shown are taking place now compared with those conducted a few years ago, and in view of the shortage of inspectors and the difficulty they have in making enough inspections, I ask that my suggestion be reconsidered. I do not suggest that my hon. Friend should answer this today. I merely ask the Home Office to reconsider my suggestion. Inspectors in the animal welfare societies are very qualified persons to assist in this way, otherwise they would not be inspectors in animal welfare societies. In view of this problem, I hope that my suggestion will be reconsidered and the attitude taken over eleven years ago when the Pet Animals Bill was discussed now revised.
What encouragement is given by the Home Office to local authorities to keep a watch on cases of cruelty to animals which are covered by the Pet Animals Act. The onus for bringing prosecutions and issuing or refusing licences for pet shops was placed on local authorities by that Act. I know that local authorities have many other problems to deal with, and perhaps many more pressing ones. They have other kinds of licences to deal with as well as licences to keep pet shops. What encouragement is given by the Home Office to local authorities, first, to initiate prosecutions where they feel that prosecutions are justified, and, secondly, to refuse the renewal of licences in cases where cruelty has taken place. Licences have to be renewed annually. Has the Home Office any information as to how many licences have been granted and subsequently refused over the last eleven years? I do not press for this information today, but I hope that we can have it at some time and that my hon. Friend will not have to say that the information is not obtainable, because it should be obtainable.
There is much feeling in the country about the vast number of experiments which are taking place. I am not in any way an anti-vivisectionist, nor are most of the people who are anxious about this matter. They only want to ensure that no experiments are being conducted that are not absolutely necessary. In view of the enormous increase which has taken place, I wonder whether they are all absolutely necessary. There is strong feeling about this. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to allay some of the fears.
I was not able to be present during the earlier part of this discussion, and I apologise for that. The points I want to raise may have been covered. Can the Minister give us any information about the source of supply of animals for experiments? I am in agreement with everything that I have heard about the experiments. They should be conducted only when they are absolutely necessary and they should be conducted with the minimum of cruelty. What has been worrying me lately are the stories about some cargoes of animals which have been arriving in this country under very unsatisfactory conditions. How far do the Government take steps to control that? What steps do the Government take to ensure that the animals are properly looked after on their way here?
Further, is a close watch kept on any source of supply from within this country? What I have in mind is that in the district where I live in north London there have been a number of instances lately of pet oats disappearing, apparently having been stolen. The suspicion is that they have been stolen for purposes of vivisection. This is a serious charge to make, but there seems to be no other reason for the series of disappearances of pets.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very important point. Although the figure of oats, dogs, mules and asses is rather lightly written off by many people on the basis that they amount to only 0·5 per cent., nevertheless 18,000 of them were used last year. As the number of experiments has reached these proportions, the difficulty of obtaining animals becomes evident.
It may be only a cat. It may be only a dog. That cat or that dog may represent something very important in the life of a family. From communications I have received I know how deeply people feel when their pet cat or pet dog disappears and they think that it has been stolen for this purpose. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some indication that he has an eye on this matter.
I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Sir W. Teeling) for his courtesy in giving me notice of some of the points which he has raised this afternoon, and indeed for the general tone of his speech, which seemed perfectly right in drawing attention to this problem. It certainly is a problem. My hon. Friend said that there was a growing feeling of unease because of modern developments in medicine. My right hon. Friend is fully conscious of this growing feeling. It is going on, and it will grow bigger, as I shall hope to show later in my speech.
I was particularly glad that in the course of more than one speech references were made to Major Hume. I had the privilege of having a long talk with Major Hume only yesterday, and I shall have more to say about his pamphlet later.
Much of the public concern has been provoked by the pamphlet of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals called, "Cruelty within the Law". I had the temerity to raise some questions on that pamphlet last time I spoke on this subject. I should like to say here and now, with the full authority of Major Hume himself, that those criticisms of this pamplet were nothing to the bitter attack that Major Hume made on this pamphlet. He has indeed done so in public.
Of the demands voiced this afternoon, and I think in the pamphlet, that R.S.P.C.A. inspectors should somehow share the responsibility of inspecting premises, Major Hume writes this:
The R.S.P.C.A. have suggested that their inspectors should have access to laboratories. But the assessment of pain is a technical matter in which persons devoid of a scientific training may go badly astray.
Major Hume then gives an instance which is so damaging that, unless I am challenged on the matter, I would rather not repeat it.
As I am on the subject of this very distinguished gentleman, perhaps I may deal with his pamphlet now. In many respects it goes completely counter to the R.S.P.C.A. pamphlet, as one might expect from what I have already said.
The R.S.P.C.A. pamphlet makes great point of the fact that there are no prosecutions under this Act, as if that showed that the Act was not being properly administered. Major Hume, however, says this:
The inspectors also inspect premises before licensing them. They visit laboratories about three times a year on the average. The popular notion that a Home Office inspector should be primarily a policeman, pouncing on laboratories in the hope of catching out an F.R.S. in some breach of the law, is wholly unrealistic. Such a policy would fail to create the requisite climate of opinion, and would not achieve its object.
I would point out that it was Major Hume himself who quoted in this pamphlet an instance of a foreigner who came here, obtained a licence, and carried out experiments in an extremely cruel way. Presumably, had the Home Office known about it, it would have prosecuted.
That may well be, but Major Hume also says:
Normally any breach of the regulations will be due not to recalcitrance but to failure to understand them, especially on the part of foreigners or beginners.
One does not normally prosecute people for failure of understanding, but because they have flagrantly or recklessly broken the law. That is the method of prosecution here.
I have been asked to deal with the minimum salary of inspectors, which is mentioned in Major Hume's pamphlet and has also been referred to in this debate. It seems to be generally thought that there are not enough inspectors. I hope to deal with that matter later, but Major Hume says:
In order to widen the field of recruitment a minimum salary of £3,000 p.a. is desirable ….
I am told that the present salary is £2,950—£50 a year less than the £3,000 suggested, but virtually the same.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion, in furthering, as he is quite entitled to do, the resolution of the Brighton Council, suggested that there should be a Royal Commission. Major Hume comes out strongly against a Royal Commission, and says:
A new Royal Commission taking evidence from non-scientific witnesses would get bogged down in a morass of misrepresentation and misunderstanding and is to be deprecated, but good work might be done by a group of
humane and knowledgeable scientists reviewing as a whole the actualities of present-day research and the ethical principles involved.
In a Supply day debate, my hon. Friend the Minister of State undertook that Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest would be asked to review the operation of the Act. I am happy to say that that has been done. Lord Morris will start his investigations as soon as possible.
It would be impossible for me not to be conscious that there exists a feeling that there is secrecy here but, in a sense, the responsibility put on the Home Office by the Act makes that inevitable. These are not our plants or institutions. They are not like prisons or borstals, with which a comparison has been drawn. These are private institutions, and our only power to enter or inspect them is the power given by the Act, and no more.
When I am asked why we cannot throw these things more open to public scrutiny, the answer is that we have not the power under the Act——
My hon. Friend has been in this House longer than I, and he knows that we cannot discuss that in an adjournment debate. I have to discuss the administration of the Act as it is, and the Act as it is makes perfectly clear what our powers are. They are extremely limited powers. However, I have already said, and I do not mind saying it publicly, that if any hon. Members wish to go over these establishments we will do our best to see that the licensees show them over the premises—and I am sure that they will.
I must repeat the warning I have given in other circumstances that it is necessary for hon. Members to take a certain risk of infection. In many cases, they must be prepared to put on special clothing, and to undergo various washing and other hygienic procedures, but if hon. Members wish to do this—and I have so far had no candidates—we will do our best to see that they go. But we cannot guarantee it, because these are not Home Office plants or installations——
In spite of that, a lot of people do inspect army establishments, and some of them think it worth while to do so. I do not quite see how, within the terms of the Act as it is, we can be expected to spring upon an installation a posse of Members of Parliament at dead of night, or anything like that. I am as keen as anybody, and I say it with all sincerity, to make as little of a mystery of this matter as possible because, as hon. Members have said, I am quite sure that secrecy is one of the great dangers.
Two other matters outside the Act have been referred to. It has been suggested that a large number of local authorities have failed to use their powers of inspection under the Riding Establishments Act, 1939. The Home Office has recently sent a circular to local authorities drawing attention to their power to inspect riding schools, and I hope that it will have some effect. We will consider acting on the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Mr. Russell), to act in the same way under the Pet Animals Act. I do not think we have done that, but one does not want to shower circulars on local authorities. We will consider it, however, and see whether there is a need for it. I shall certainly try to get the figures relating to the administration of that Act for which my hon. Friend asks.
The hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) recently asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture about the Protection of Animals (Anaesthetics) Act. That is entirely a matter for the Ministry of Agriculture, and although the hon. Lady suggested that the Home Office might be approached, I am instructed that constitutionally it does not come within our purview at all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion said some very kind things about the frequency and care with which the Home Office inspectors have visited the Brighton Technical School, and I am sure that he is right about that. He said that the Home Office should be more forthcoming about its good works and not do them in secret, and he may well be right there.
My hon. Friend also said that there were not enough inspectors, and almost everyone else in this debate has repeated that statement. The other day, I did something that I do not think has ever been done before. I gathered all six of the inspectors together in one room, with myself, and talked to them on this point, because the frequency with which this allegation is made is such that one wants to get down to it. They assured me, individually and collectively, that at least at present they were confident that they could do the work.
In all walks of life views are expressed to there never being enough of many things. That would, no doubt, apply if there were 13 or 300 inspectors. If there were 300 of them premises would be better inspected, but the inspectors are convinced that at present they are adequately inspected. I cannot say more than that; but I will undertake to continue to watch this matter and if at any time there is any sign that the inspectors feel—and they are men of great honesty and reliability—that they are over-stretched, we shall certainly take action.
Usually, under the Parkinson dispensation in which we live, people are inclined to say that they are overworked or that they need more staff. The inspectors in this case, however, did not make the usual response in this connection. They feel that they can do the job and they do not feel that the criticism about their numbers is at all fair.
I was horrified to hear the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, refer to experiments on criminals in Antigua. That, in spite of the ever-widening Imperial duties of the Home Office, does not come within our purview, but I will pass on his terrible story to the Colonial Secretary to see what can be done, for it would seem a damaging story needing investigation right away.
I cannot agree more with the necessity for animal care and trained animal technicians to look after them. A great deal of the criticism expressed is not really due to the operative procedures that take place on animals—which, I think, are generally regarded as necessary—but is more largely directed to the way in which some establishments, one or two of them but certainly not the great majority, look after their stock of animals. The Home Office inspectors undoubtedly use the knowledge and experience gained from one plant in trying to help others which are not so good in looking after their animals.
It is often a question of money and the inspectors, to a certain extent, frequently go outside the duties imposed on them, for there is nothing about animal welfare in the Act. This is a matter which, by force of persuasion and example, the inspectors help to deal with the one or two not very good establishments that may exist. Curiously enough, perhaps because more money is available to them, the commercial establishments are rather better in this matter than the hospitals and universities. We certainly realise that something needs attention in this connection and we shall give it such attention as we can.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) drew attention to there having been a slight drop recently in the number of visits paid by inspectors to establishments compared with a previous year. That is true, for two reasons. First, one of the inspectors resigned, I understand that there was some difficulty in obtaining a successor and that for about a month there were only five instead of six inspectors. Secondly, the test is the number of establishments rather than the number of operative procedures. The number of establishments has slightly dropped and it is likely that the number of visits has slightly dropped as well.
Concerning the number of experiments watched, I am advised that the inspectors do not keep any special records of these because in the vast majority of eases the actual insertion of the needle is not the important moment. The important thing is to see whether animals are suffering as a result of the needle or the feeding procedure or whatever it might be.
If that is so, why is so much made of the fact that so many of the experiments are mere inoculations? The Joint Under-Secretary has himself admitted that it is not the inoculation which causes the trouble but the after effects.
I am making the point that the inoculation is not really the important moment in regard to the 3 million or whatever the number is of inoculations that are given. Thus the watching of the actual inoculation is not the moment when an inspector should necessarily be present. The time to be there may be a week later or visits spread over a longer period to see whether the animal is suffering and, if it is, to call the attention of the licensee to the animal's pain, condition, or whatever the case might be.
Regarding filmed experiments, I was asked in a sharp way whether I had done anything about this subject and whether I had read a certain book. I have gone into the matter to see the extent to which, in demonstrations to students, it is possible to demonstrate by means of recorded film rather than by repeating the experiment. We are busily pursuing this possibility with the teaching authorities. I have to tell my hon. Friend that the teaching authorities are not much in favour of it. They say that the value of the demonstration is very much, as it were, stereoscopic, in the round, and that that is a quality that one cannot always get from a film. I do not know about that, and I will not accept it as a final answer. I shall pursue it further because it seems to be a very good point, and that in so far as it is not necessary to repeat an experiment for a different series of students as they come along so much suffering may be diminished.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham asked me about the pregnancy tests. Here again I must refer to the Act:
A person shall not perform on a living animal any experiment calculated to give pain, except subject to the restrictions imposed by this Act.
It is only within that orbit that we have any power at all——
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend and I hope that he will forgive me. I did make the point that the pregnancy tests were excluded under the Act and that they have since been removed from the control of the Act. That was the point made by Major Hume. He asked why they have been removed from the control of the Act and why that control should not be restored. I think that is an important point.
It is an important point and one which I was just about to try to answer. The important point is that after 1,876 medical experts told us that the pregnancy test is not calculated to give pain to the animal on which the substance is tested. That being so, it is not within our power to prescribe conditions relating to it. There may be differences of medical opinion as to whether it is calculated to give pain or not, but of course neither my hon. Friend nor I are doctors. We can only take the advice of the best people we have. We took the advice, I believe, of our advisory committee on this subject, which was an extremely distinguished body. This was many years ago, of course. They advised to the contrary.
However, since Major Hume, my hon. Friend and others think that it may be "calculated to give pain"—those are the words of the Act—we will certainly look at it again and that may well he a matter to which we might ask Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest to give his particular attention.
My hon. Friend reverted to the question of having someone with veterinary experience on the inspectorate. He knows now that we have substantially implemented the requirements of Major Hume so far as salary is concerned. That is to say, it is virtually £3,000 a year. If he can produce for us a veterinary surgeon who has the medical qualifications which I shall seek to show in a minute are really essential for this job, no one would be happier than we, and we would certainly appoint him if in other respects he were suitable.
I strongly believe that it would be a very good thing not only for the inspectorate and not only for the licensees but also for the veterinary profession that we should have one, but we must insist on the quality of the inspectorate because, as Major Hume says, it is on the quality of the inspectorate and on the confidence that the licensees have in the inspectorate, that the whole structure of the enforcement of the Act must rely. Unless we can keep up the quality of the inspectorate and unless the licensee feels that the inspector is somebody who really knows what he is talking about, the whole structure will begin to dissolve. We can only do that if these people have very high medical qualifications, or so I am advised.
Finally, concerning my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham, I will certainly withdraw what I said at the time of our last encounter about the experiment on cats. It is true that in one or two cases the cats were kept alive for nearly a year. I am instructed that the cats would have suffered no pain and little inconvenience as a result of this and that, if they had been shown to have any pain they would, of course, have been destroyed long before, under the condition relating to pain. I apologise if I misled my hon. Friend. As he reminded us, I had to make a very rushed speech then, and I did not do justice to his case in that matter.
All hon. Members have made clear that they are not opposed to experiments on animals as such. I believe that it is generally recognised that vivisection experiments have in the past provided and will continue to provide an enormous fund of information to assist in alleviating pain and suffering in human beings. I should like to see very much what my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham suggested, that the benefits to be obtained from these experiments not only to the human race but to the animal kingdom also in many cases should be put forward, but I think that it would probably attract a good deal of criticism on constitutional grounds if the Home Office were to make this case in its annual report under the administration of the Act.
It is, however, common ground among us all that animals should not be made to suffer unnecessarily, and I appreciate the sincerity of those who, in their concern that no unnecessary suffering shall be caused to animals used in experiments, question the system of control.
The two main questions raised in this connection are, first, whether we can be sure that experiments performed on living animals in this country are in accordance with the provisions of the 1876 Act—and, as a side question to that, whether the experiments are really necessary—and, second, whether everything possible is done to ensure that experiments which are authorised are carried out in such a way as to cause the minimum of pain to the animals used.
Sometimes, the criticism is made that animals are used in tests for what are called cosmetic purposes. My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion did not make that case today. He made a rather different case, saying, I think, that this was done in the United States of America and the fruits of it were, as it were, advertised in this country for the benefit of English firms. I think that one would have to reflect a long time before one interfered in any way with the right of American firms to advertise or solicit trade in that way. We do not allow experiments which come under the Act—calculated to give pain—for what are described as purely cosmetic purposes.
On the other hand, it is not easy to decide where to draw the line between preparations which have some medical or therapeutic properties and others which may be said to be merely for the improvement of nature. It is necessary also to ensure that preparations of either kind which are sold to the public may not produce some harmful effect, for instance, on the skin. Questions of dermatitis and the science of dermatology come very close to the borderline here, and I think that this is a subject which is likely to grow in importance and which needs watching.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion mentioned the testing of substances on rabbits' eyes. As he clearly said, this was not an experiment in this country, and none of our researches have enabled us to find anything comparable to it here.
As for the brain machine of which he spoke, I have no knowledge of this, nor have my advisers. I should very much like more information about that because it sounds a most terrifying organ.
I have spoken of the various safeguards in previous debates, but I must repeat them again, because we attach immense importance to them. We are sometimes criticised by the medical authorities for being rigid in this matter. I am not sure that Major Hume does not think we are a little rigid in some ways. In the first place, the person wishing to perform such an experiment—that is, an experiment calculated to give pain—would have to obtain a licence under the Act.
To obtain his licence he would have to be able to show that he was suitably qualified to perform the experiments proposed. His application would have to be supported by the recommendation of the president of a learned society and of a university professor of a branch of medical science. The applicant would have to show to the satisfaction of the Home Secretary that his experiment was intended to widen physiological knowledge, or knowledge useful for saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering.
In considering the application, the Home Secretary would have the expert advice of the inspectors appointed under the Act, and, in a difficult case, further expert advice would be obtained. That is one of the functions of the inspectors—to advise the Home Secretary that the experiment was intended to widen physiological knowledge, or knowledge useful for saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering. It is, therefore, very necessary to have very high medical and scientific qualifications. If the application were eventually granted, the licensee would be able to perform his experiment only in a place approved for the purpose by the Home Secretary, and no place is approved until it has been inspected by an inspector. That is only the first stage which has to be gone through.
I agree with Major Hume—I do not think that anyone would disagree—that the system of certificates, which, if analysed, is, I believe, perfectly right and watertight, is rather muddling under their different headings. In addition to the licences, since experiments of the kind to Which my hon. Friends have referred would presumably be carried out without the animal being anaesthetised, licensees would require a Certificate A for their experiments. This certificate also would have to be signed by persons having the same qualifications as those supporting the application for a licence and would be required to certify that insensibility in the animal on which the experiment was to be performed could not be produced without necessarily frustrating the object of the experiment.
The certificate, when signed by the sponsors, must be forwarded to the Home Secretary, who may disallow it if he is not satisfied with it in any respect. If he does not disallow it, be will make it subject to a number of conditions, including what is known as the "pain condition". Under this latter condition, if any animal at any time during the experiment under the certificate is found to be suffering pain which is either severe or likely to endure, and if the main result of the experiment has been attained, it must forthwith be painlessly killed.
If the animal at any time during the experiment is found to be suffering severe pain which is likely to endure, it must be killed, whether or not the main result of the experiment has been achieved. Explaining these pain conditions to licensees is one of the chief functions of the inspectors. They are very determined men in explaining to any new licensee or to anyone not familiar with these things exactly what is involved in the pain condition.
I think that it will be clear from what I have said that authority to perform experiments is not lightly granted. It is certainly not true to say, as has been alleged during the recent campaign against experiments under the Act, that it has been turned into an Act to allow almost unlimited and uncontrolled experiments on animals.
As regards control over the performance of the experiment once authority fat it has been granted, I am sure that we recognise that many of those who conduct these experiments are people of very high standing and reputation who, not only have no desire or incentive to inflict unnecessary suffering on animals, but who also must have regard to the fact that if they were to do so it would adversely affect their professional reputations.
Few of these experiments are conducted by individual scientists in isolation—they are team matters—and if any licensee were to conduct experiments in an undesirable way, his shortcomings would quickly be brought to the notice of his own colleagues, as in the case quoted by my hon. Friend, that of the foreigner.
The functions of the inspectors are threefold. First, they have to maintain close contact with those working in medical research and in related fields; and to be personally acqainted with the most eminent and influential doctors and scientists who are concerned with experiments on animals.
Secondly, they must be qualified and able to examine applications for authority to perform experiments, and to advise the Home Secretary on the desirability of allowing proposed experiments to be performed, and on the useful knowledge which is to be obtained from such experiments. In performing this function, the inspectors naturally have careful regard to all the provisions of the Act.
Thirdly, it is the function of the inspectors to visit from time to time the establishments at which experiments are carried out. Too much emphasis is often laid on this last function, to the exclusion of all else, and it has frequently been suggested that the number of inspectors is insufficient, having regard to the number of experiments now performed under the Act.
It is neither desirable nor practicable for inspectors to watch every experiment, or even any appreciable percentage of all the experiments performed. It is much more important that the inspectors should ensure, by continuous personal contact with licensees, that they understand and fulfil their responsibilities under the Act without an inspector looking over their shoulders all the time.
Nearly all of the 1,500 or so visits which are made to registered places are made without previous notice. Those laboratories where large numbers of experiments and where the more unusual experiments are carried out are more frequently visited than others at which only routine procedures may be performed. I should, none the less, like to say to all hon. Members what I have said already—that if at any time any of them are in possession of information which would lead them to think that there has been an offence against the provisions of the Act, the inspectors under the Act are available to investigate such an allegation immediately, but of course we must have some details or it is impossible not only to identify the experiment but to do anything useful.
Much play has been made in the course of the recent campaign against the Act with the steady increase in recent years in the total number of experiments performed under the Act, as shown in the annual return submitted to Parliament. I have commented previously on the conclusions to be drawn from these figures, but as misleading interpretations continue to be put on them, I feel it necessary to repeat what I have said.
Fortunately, the large number of experiments recorded is not a measure of the amount of suffering involved. Nor does the annual increase in the total represent a proportional increase in suffering. Ninety per cent. of the experiments performed under the Act are performed under certificate A without anxsthetics—but nothing more severe than simple inoculations or superficial venesection is allowed to be performed under this certificate. They include numerous feeding experiments, which seldom cause any pain.
They also include more than 1 million experiments designed to secure the purity and efficacy of the remarkable drugs which have come into use in the last twenty-five years for the treatment of common infections. These not only cannot be satisfactorily tested, but are not allowed to be tested, chemically, and so the Therapeutic Substances Regulations require animals to be used for the purpose. In these cases, each batch of the new drug, even though it be of the same formula, must be tested in each case because of the immense need to take every precaution against the public being in any way infected or damaged.
Unfortunate experiences with some new substances developed in recent times have made it clear that in future more rather than less testing of this kind is likely to be necessary if the production of undesirable, and even horrifying, side-effects from the use of the substances by human beings are to be avoided.
There springs to all our minds the terrible stories we read of the drug Distaval and of the monstrous births which have occurred not so much in this country as on the Continent, and this is an illustration of the immense need for seeing that these new drugs are tested over and over again in the most complete way if we are to avoid a terrible tragedy of that sort.
Perhaps I might sum up by saying that all that has been said on this subject this afternoon has been concerned with the problem of striking a proper balance. The fears of the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) about the sources of supply are unfounded, although I know that the stories are widespread. There is no truth in the idea that animals are obtained by irregular means and include people's pets which have strayed from home. An increasing number of animals are bred specially for the purpose, and otherwise they must be obtained only through credited and responsible dealers who normally breed animals for this purpose. It is the normal practice now for the laboratory concerned to ask the dealer to furnish a certificate stating that the animals have been obtained by lawful means and are his own property.
This problem of a proper balance between suffering in animals and the march of medical science and the benefits it brings to humans and to animals is a difficult one. We all wish to avoid the infliction of unnecesssary suffering on animals. On the other hand, we must not restrict unduly the development of medical science with the attendant benefits not only for human welfare, but for animals as well.
It has been said, and I entirely agree, that our record in the treatment of animals is as good as, if not better than, that of any other civilised country in the world. The bitter opposition to the attempt to bring something like the Cruelty to Animals Act, which for all its age struck a fairly good balance, into the United States of America at this moment under the Clark-Griffiths legislation in Congress shows the degree to which we have been pioneers in protecting animals, and the 1876 Act, though an octogenarian, is still capable of performing its task.
It provides a framework within which it has been possible, in changing circumstances, to preserve the balance between the conflicting interests. I would not like my hon. Friends to think that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is complacent in this matter, or that the Home Office is complacent. We are certainly not. As I said, the problem will get bigger rather than smaller with the growing need to test these drugs.
We in the Home Office have in recent months gone into this subject in great detail, and we are consulting Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, who seems the best person, on the various suggestions which have been made.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for what he has said, but I want to be clear about the position of Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest. Is he to make the inquiry, or is he just being consulted? Is he to be on his own, or will he conduct the inquiry with other members of the advisory council?
Lord Morris has been asked how he thinks this should be done. In view of the criticisms of the medical profession and of the Home Office, we thought it better that we should have a distinguished layman to do the job. But I do not know how far his inquiries will range, whether he will make them alone or whether he will want help in the matter. He will undoubtedly need some advice, but whether he will need help in the sense of having another inquirer I cannot say. We want him to be consulted on the method of procedure because part of our troubles has been—I think largely as a result of the R.S.P.C.A. pamphlet—a quite unjustified lack of trust in the present administration. It is to see what should be done to restore that trust that we have asked this very distinguished layman to give us his views.
I raised several points in my speech in February, but my hon. Friend still has not been able to give me an answer to them. A great deal of the mistrust that exists in the minds of hon. Members on this side and also hon. Members opposite would disappear if some of these questions could be answered—if not in the House then by letter—because we still want to know the answers.
Secondly, my hon. and learned Friend has made use of Major Hume's pamphlet where it is at variance with the views of the R.S.P.C.A. I asked what was being done about the points in respect of which Major Hume had expressed serious concern. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to write to me on these points, as he cannot give me an answer this afternoon.
I have given my hon. Friend the answer in respect of several of Major Hume's criticisms. I have said that we regard the question of the minimum salary as having been met. I disagree with my hon. Friend about the enlargement of the Home Office inspectorate. I thought that I had dealt with his criticisms. As for the question of animal welfare, I have explained the limitation of our powers under the Act and that we admit the difficulty with animal welfare technicians, in respect of hospitals and universities, because of those limitations.
As for what my hon. Friend has said about his speech in February, I did not know that he was going to speak today—although I make no complaint about that. I shall certainly go through his speech and write to him if I find any points which have not been dealt with by me today. When I say "dealt with" I do not necessarily mean that I shall satisfy my hon. Friend. I do not ever expect to be able to do that. But I will write to my hon. Friend and give him such answers as I can.
We are satisfied that although the Act is no doubt capable of improvement, if we had unlimited time, it is adequate to maintain a fair and humane balance in the present circumstances. I do not exclude the fact that with the immensely rapid development of medical science, and as human discoveries and activities increase—in spite of the fact that almost all those engaged in this country in the pursuit of medical science are themselves remarkably humane, in the sense that we can probably find, proportionately, more animal lovers among those involved in experiments on animals than we will find outside—we must be adaptable.
I will consider the question whether we are too much bound by precedent. Precedent can be a bad taskmaster, but if we are administering an Act it can also be a good one. We must not necessarily think that precedent is wrong. It gives a uniformity Which makes people think that there is fairness in administration. Uniformity is one of the most important qualities in this respect, even if it may not be as flexible and foresighted as one would like.
We will undoubtedly have learnt from this debate, and I am obliged to my hon. Friend for initiating it. I do not deplore the fact that we have had rather longer to debate the matter today than on previous occasions; indeed, I welcome it. I will go through the speech that my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham made in February and see whether there are any loose ends left about, in respect of which I will write to him.