I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Perhaps I should preface my remarks by making it clear that this is a Private Member's Bill and that I am speaking as a private Member and not in any sense on behalf of the Opposition. Perhaps I may also be permitted to say that I have been a firm supporter of all measures to prevent cruelty and alleviate suffering among animals for many years—not, let me add, to the exclusion of the equally strong commitment to the promotion of human health, happiness and welfare. I do not claim to be entitled to public recognition for work in this field as are some hon. Members of this House-notably the hon. Members for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), and my hon. Friends the Members for Wood Green (Mrs. Joyce Butler) and for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas).
This Bill has to do with experiments on living animals for the purpose of research. The Bill itself deals with only one single, but important, issue. That is the need to encourage and, indeed, to enforce wherever possible the use of alternative methods to carry out this work. The Bill, although short and confined to this one issue, nevertheless raises very wide questions indeed affecting the whole field of medical and scientific research.
This same Bill has been introduced to the House on two previous occasions. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston was given leave to introduce this Bill as far back as 1968. He introduced the Bill again in 1971 and it received a Second Reading on 23rd April 1971 without debate. It then went to Committee and was completed without amendment in one sitting. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, however, in a persuasive speech to the Committee, explained the practical difficulties in carrying out the proposals in the Bill. They were very important. They cannot be brushed aside, and I will come to them later.
The Committee in 1971 noted what the Under-Secretary said but did not amend the Bill, and, as I said, completed it for return to the House unamended. I believe, however, that it did not come back to the Floor of the House because at that season of the year, and indeed at this season, there are difficulties in getting Bills back to the Floor of the House owing to the running out of days allotted to Private Members' Bills.
While proceedings on the Bill in 1971 were taking place there was another happening in this House on 11th June 1971, when a debate took place on the so-called Littlewood Report. The Little-wood Committee, appointed under the late Sir Sidney Littlewood, was set up in 1963 by the then Home Secretary, Mr. Henry Brooke, now Lord Brooke. Its terms of reference were
to consider the present control over experiments on living animals and to consider whether, and if so what, changes are desirable in the law or its administration.
There were two hon. Members of this House on that Committee, Sir Hugh Linstead and my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green.
The committee created in 1963 reported in April 1965. Hon. Members must bear in mind that April 1965 is eight years ago. The Littlewood Report contained no fewer than 83 recommendations. Some required only administrative action such as strengthening the inspectorate. Others required an amendment of the law, and, of the latter, not one, as far as I know, has been implemented. No amendment of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 has been made as a result of the Littlewood Report.
The position, therefore, is that the Act of 1876 has gone unamended for almost 100 years. I hope, now that hon. Members on both sides of the House are thinking of what they should include in the next General Election manifesto, that we could have a pledge that something will be done about the recommendations of the Littlewood Committee to mark the centenary of the passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876.
The Littlewood Report, although, as I said, it was published in 1965, was not debated in this House until 11th June 1971—six years after publication. I will not apportion blame here because there was a Labour Government in office for quite a lot of that time, and I can make no party point of the delay on either side. Nevertheless I record the fact that the former Home Secretary who set up the Littlewood Committee said in another place in 1969 that the long delay in dealing with the report was becoming a scandal. The former Home Secretary who set up the Littlewood Committee was impatient in 1969 that nothing had been done with the report that was published in 1965. It is now 1973 and the last debate was in 1971. The delay has lasted a further two years.
As for implementation, precisely nothing has been done even yet. I think it needs some explanation why a report on such a sensitive and emotional subject as this was not debated in this House for so long and why the recommendations of the Committee have been left aside for so long. Why has nothing been done? The Committee concluded that the public, so it seems, are prepared to accept experiments on animals for the purpose of saving or prolonging human life. That is the noble purpose which puts the nation's conscience to sleep. This enabled the Under-Secretary to say in a debate on 11th June 1971 that although there was much public interest and concern over cruelty to animals generally, there was
surprisingly little interest in experiments on animals."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th June 1971; Vol. 818, c. 1398.]
We might ask ourselves why this is so. Why is there this surprisingly little interest in experiments on animals? We all know that the feelings and emotions of the British people are quickly and deeply aroused by cruelty to animals. We are frequently teased by our friends overseas for being animal lovers, and it is said we look after our pets better than we look after our children. We certainly know that deer hunting, badger digging, live hare coursing, the export of live animals for slaughter and other abominations arouse widespread concern and opposition. I imagine that if hon. Members on both sides of the House were to look at the records of their postbag they would find that probably the heaviest mail that we receive from time to time relates to
cruelty to animals, and at the present time there is a considerable volume of concern about the export of live animals for slaughter.
Why, then, is there less interest and concern for the treatment and fate of tens of thousands of laboratory animals? One reason is that so many people who would otherwise feel deeply disturbed by it regard medical research as necessary and the use of live animals as unavoidable. Another reason is that they cannot feel about what they never see and are not allowed to see. They cannot heed the cries of animals they do not hear.
There is a conspiracy promoted by the 1876 Act to shield the public from the horrors of vivisection. Fears and disquiet are not aroused; they are set at rest by the comforting thought that medical research, the quest for knowledge of human afflictions, the cause and cure of sickness and the promotion of health is deserving of respect and support.
What it is all for, whether it is justified, whether there are alternative methods of biological experiment and whether the bounds of morally defensible treatment of animals are broken the public does not know and, what is more, it cannot find out. The laboratory doors are closed by the 1876 Act. The Littlewood Report recommended that those doors should be opened. I believe that they are also closed because we do not demand that they should be open. Maybe not many of us wish to go to see the harrowing sights but there are those with stouter hearts who could go in and report to us about what is being done. Let us see on television some of the things happening in the laboratories. We get plenty on television about what is happening elsewhere. The doors are still closed because the Government have not implemented the Littlewood recommendation to give greater access.
We do have some figures—the sole concession made to public inquiry. The Home Office annual return is full of them. That they tell the truth I do not deny. But they tell less than the whole truth and in some respects they tell anything but the truth. Statistics alone, although important, tell us no more than the number of experiments, and that the number is growing. The statistics tell us the classification of experiments under the Act. The Littlewood Report said that the number of animals used for research would grow, and that is borne out by experience.
There are now over 5½ million experiments a year on live animals. I must be fair and honest about this. Not all of those 5½ million experiments are surgical or painful experiments. Many take place for the purpose of testing drugs of various kinds and do not involve more than a period of observation. Sometimes the use of drugs experimentally makes animals ill. This is the point of drug testing. It is a statutory obligation upon the pharmaceutical industry to test many of its drugs thoroughly before putting them on the market. We are fully aware of the tragic risks that can be run if that is not done.
Nevertheless there are a great many operations on animals which, if we could know more of them and see them, I am sure we would feel should not be undertaken except under the strongest necessity. Because of our well-known sentiments about cats and dogs, because they are our pets, they have to be classified separately in the Home Office returns. The broad classification of the experiments tells us very little. For example Certificate A is
Anaesthesia dispensed with (non-surgical experiments) 4,800,000.
What makes up the 4,800.000 experiments in that classification? Certificate B is:
Recovery permitted after anaesthesia (surgical experiments) 573,000.
That is a lot of animals. Certificate C is:
Demonstrations. (Anaesthesia without recovery.) 10,000.
That presumably means the destruction of the animal. There are separate classifications for dogs and cats. There were 18.000 dogs and 14,000 cats.
One of the strongest appeals to emotional support is cancer research. There are 400.000 experiments connected with this, 140,000 under anaesthesia, 264,000 without, including 115 cats and 286 dogs. Why should many of these animals be sacrificed and subjected to unpleasant and even painful experiences to convince us that smoking cigarettes is a harmful form of drug addiction? Although the evidence obtained at great pains from animals is now becoming quite convincing, we are still smoking cigarettes by the hundred million as if there were no danger at all. This is where the moral issue comes in. Human beings not only use animals to find out the truth but they ignore that truth when it has been found and want to go on experimenting to find something else which might facilitate a continuation of this habit.
Among the animals used are many not specially classified, and we have to go to the figures for imported animals to find out more of the truth. Monkeys get no special mention. The primates being used in increasing numbers are probably closest to man in intelligence and sensitivity. But they are not so near to our hearts as cats and dogs. They come over by the thousand in crates from all over the world. The raids on the forests and mountain slopes and valleys for monkeys to come to Britain to help prolong the lives of Englishmen will soon lead to serious gaps in the fauna of many lands. The numbers are rising.
Imports of primates for scientific research in 1968 totalled just over 9,000. In 1971 the figures was over 13,000. Where do they mostly come from? The answer is Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Burmah, South-East Asia, Africa, Greenland, Canada, the United States, Mexico, China, Japan and South-West Asia, including Egypt. We can imagine the air freight traffic in primates alone. This is the volume in this growing industry of medical and scientific research using animals.
I come now to the nature and method of research. Who can say, asked the Littlewood Committee, whether if certain biological tests were forbidden satisfactory chemical or other methods of testing could be developed? The committee decided that this important question was outside its terms of reference, so it went unanswered. It asked two other questions of profound importance which my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green in a note added to the report felt should be answered, even though they were outside the Committee's terms of reference. One was: who is responsible for establishing whether modern medical techniques, with their emphasis on immunology and drug therapy, are developing medical practice in the right direction?
The other question was:
Who is to take responsibility for moral or ethical judgment in the use of animals for experimental purposes as such?
That was another question outside the committee's terms of reference.
On 31st March 1971 my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, West, raised on the Adjournment the question of setting up an institute expressly for research into alternatives to living animals. The National Anti-Vivisection Society has been advocating this for a long time. It will be of interest to the House to hear that recently a £10,000 fund was provided by Lady Dowding to be devoted wholly to the aim of finding alternatives. The Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research is the beginning of what I hope will be an upsurge of interest in this neglected sphere of inquiry.
The tissue culture technique developed by Ross Harrison as long ago as 1907 is probably the hope of future restraint in the use of animals. Researches to this end are going on in other countries and some notable people are achieving notable results. I am not technically qualified to assess the value of many of the alternatives issued or of the likely results to come from much work which is now being done. But there are published particulars about these in various available sources.
I admit that progress in this field is by no means satisfactory yet. Nevertheless, in the meantime, we must consider some discipline in the use of live animals. The doctrine that research must go free, that the number of experiments need have no bounds and the import and use of animals no limit is the doctrine of today. I do not believe that it should be accepted any longer.
The search for alternative methods is not a tiresome fad. Those of us who believe in this are not cranks or silly sentimentalists. Our predecessors who banned bull baiting, bear baiting, cock fighting, the caging of wild birds, the gin trap, the docking of horses and the deliberate infection of rabbits with myxo-matosis were not cissies. They were men with the feelings of men; they had feelings of compassion and of horror for forms of cruelty which could no longer be accepted in a civilised society. They had a detestation of the degradation of living creatures by degraded human beings. I am not suggesting for a moment that experimenters are degraded human beings, If they were, public opinion would have attacked them as it attacked those who perpetrated cruelties in the past.
This short Bill proposes to amend the 1876 Act to add the words
and without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions of this section it shall be a condition of every such licence that no experiment on a living animal shall be performed under the authority thereof if the purpose of the experiment can be achieved by alternative means not involving an experiment on a living animal".
I wish that the Bill implemented many of the recommendations of the Little-wood Committee. Had I known that I would have this extraordinary good fortune this morning of getting the first order on Private Member's Bills I would have included a great many other matters in it. But, believing that probably I would have the last half-hour on Friday afternoon, I thought that a short Bill would be enough. However, my Bill deals only with this narrow issue.
I always like to be fair and honest with the House. Therefore, I shall meet trouble half way, because I know what the Under-Secretary of State has beside him. A glimpse of it was given in the Committee stage of the Bill introduced in 1971 by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston. What the then Undersecretary said—and he will probably refer to it again—dealt with the practical difficulties of implementing the Bill. He stated:
The purpose of the Bill would be to add to every licence a condition the effect of which would be that the experimenter could do no experiment on a living animal under the authority of the licence if the purpose of the experiment could be achieved by alternative means not involving such experiment. As I understand it, it would then be open to anyone to bring a prosecution against an experimenter, claiming that he had broken that condition by performing an experiment on a living animal which, in the view of the person bringing the prosecution, could be achieved by alternative means; and, if the court held that that was so, the experimenter would be liable to a financial penalty or, as an alternative on a second conviction, to im-
prisonment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 16th June 1971; c. 9–10.]
With great respect to what the hon. Gentleman said, if my reading of the 1876 Act is correct, Section 22 requires the written consent of the Home Secretary to any proceedings against a licensed experimenter. Anyone may institute proceedings against an unlicensed experimenter. But he is not the one we are dealing with; he can be caught by the existing law. We are dealing with licensed experimenters, and Section 22 requires the written consent of the Home Secretary to prosecute a licensed experimenter. I hope that it will be understood that, as far as my reading of the Act goes, no experimenter who failed to use an alternative would be open to proceedings by anyone. He could be open to proceedings only with the written consent of the Home Secretary.
The question has been put to me— I was asked it in a radio programme this morning— "Who is to decide whether there is a satisfactory alternative? Is the experimenter to obtain some sanction or approval before he begins?" I would say "No". The experimenter would have to take the responsibility for his own actions and it would be up to him, no doubt with necessary consultation, to discover whether there was a satisfactory alternative. However, if he acted in good faith—even if he made a mistake—I cannot believe that he would be exposed to the risk of prosecution with the consent of the Home Secretary.
Therefore, I do not believe that the point that the experimenter would be in danger of proceedings being taken against him need worry the House. It would put experimenters in the personal difficulty that they had to take a decision, but at present, within the conditions of their licence, they can conduct experiments on as many animals as they like, with no restraint or restriction. I do not think that a statutory cautionary note struck in this matter would be a serious impediment to experimenters who are asked to search for alternatives.
I must be candid with the House. The Littlewood Report on the availability of alternatives was not encouraging. What it says is to be found in paragraph 71. The committee went into this matter and asked many questions. It did not find encouraging signs of the volume or progress being made in respect of alternatives, but people will not search for alternatives as long as they have animals to use.
To have this caution in the statute law would be salutary without being restrictive. We are the people to say that these experiments are on our behalf, conducted in our establishments, with our research staff paid for with our money. We are the people to decide. I believe that the public want—and certainly would want if they knew more of what is actually going on—to reduce the rising toll of misery, multilation and death amongst laboratory animals. No informed public opinion is brought to bear on this matter. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals referred to this matter in its evidence to the Littlewood Committee when it said that
Animal experimentation constitutes a moral and social problem of the first magnitude and one that does not exclusively concern the expert.
The committee agreed with this view and added:
It is right that what is done for the benefit of the community should be understood and accepted by that community.
That is the challenge being thrown out on behalf of the community.
I believe that this stipulation should be made. If it proves to be a serious impediment in the way of all reasonable progress in research it could be reviewed, but something has to be done. I do not think the House can go on ignoring this for very much longer. I would like to see a full review, now, of the whole field covered by the Littlewood Committee. In 1971 the then Under-Secretary of State said that the Government had not had time themselves to consider the full implications of the Littlewood Report and formulate their views on it. I accept that. In 1971 they had not had time because the report came out in 1965, when the Conservative Party was not the Government, but a little more time has elapsed, and I hope that the present Under-Secretary of State will be able to give the House more information about a matter of grave importance and moral consequence to the nation—a matter which is unhappily shielded behind the closed doors of our laboratories.
I want to refer to two other questions which arise from the comprehensive report of the Littlewood Committee. It touched on the vitally important question whether the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, with its almost free licence for experiment on animals, should be integrated with a wider measure providing for evaluation of all biological and scientific research. To conduct research in a laboratory with no purpose beyond making a narrow biological discovery may be unrelated to other purposes of human advance. It may, indeed, be for purely commercial purposes, and let us not overlook the fact that many experiments are conducted by commercial undertakings. The experimenters are given virtually a blank cheque upon nature's dwindling reserves of animal life.
I ask, in conclusion, upon what pinnacle do we base human life and well-being that denies all rights whatsoever to every species but our own? That is my final question to the House.
I should like to pay a warm tribute to the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) for both the sincerity and the moderation with which he presented the case. He also presented it with great thoroughness. I shall, therefore, make only a brief intervention on this occasion.
I find myself in a painful moral dilemma over animal experiments. On the one hand, I recognise that they contribute to the well-being of mankind by alleviating suffering in humans and prolonging life—a wholly worthwhile cause. On the other hand, they undoubtedly bring suffering to countless animals. I believe it to be the special duty of Parliament to protect those who are helpless, whether they be human or animal. That is the painful dilemma in which I find myself.
I accept the present situation with abhorrence and reluctance. Indeed, I am much concerned that the number of animal experiments seem to be increasing year by year, and now seem to be over the 5 million mark. I accept that not all of them are painful, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, but, unfortunately, there seems to be no way of discovering just how many are painful.
The Under-Secretary will recall that I put this point to him in the form of a Question not long ago and that he was unable to deliver an answer because the statistics were not collected in that manner. Let me suggest to him, in passing, that it is high time they were. It would enable us to have a far better grasp of the situation if we knew precisely how many of these animals are suffering acute pain, moderate pain, or simply discomfort.
There seems to be one ray of hope on the horizon—and that is surely the mainspring for the Bill—namely the possibility of alternatives from the discovery of new drugs, tests, and so forth. I commend to the House the activities of the organisation known as FRAME, whose headquarters lie within the London borough of Merton and whose organisers I have met and greatly admire. It is taking the sensible course not of opposing vivisection, as it is often called, carte blanche, but of seeking to promote experiments into other forms of research and bringing together all the available information about them wherever it can be found, and I am sure that the bibliography it is compiling will be invaluable and should be made use of by Government Departments, the Medical Research Council and whoever has an interest in these matters.
Naturally, I re-read the debate of the Committee on the last Bill, on which the Government poured such cold water, and I, too, shall quote from it a passage which I think particularly revealing, from a speech by the then Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend's colleague, who said:
The trouble is that once the Bill is accepted, every scientist would be ever liable to be looking over his shoulder to see whether humane, anxious and sensitive as he was in his work, he was about to be prosecuted on the basis that others believed that an alternative existed which would avoid the use of the animals which he was using."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 16th June 1971; c. 15.]
I find that an odd comment, because I believe that the strength of the Bill which we have before us is that it would indeed make those who are responsible for the experiments look over their shoulders to see if there were some other way. I
hope that my hon. Friend will not repeat that argument today.
This is, indeed, a very modest Bill when set against the recommendations of the Littlewood Committee. I hope that on this occasion the Government will feel able to give it a welcome, rather than pour further buckets of cold water upon it. It is vitally important that Parliament makes a pronouncement of principle—that we do not like animal experiments, that we accept them with misgiving, and that we wish to see alternative means used wherever possible. Unless the majesty of the law is brought into this matter to make scientists think about it, we shall go on in the old complacent fashion. I hope that on this occasion the Home Office will not drag its feet.
On this occasion, we can truly say that no party political issue is involved. It is a pity that the Liberal benches are empty. Perhaps the long-haired Liberals or Lovers of Liverpool are making hay elsewhere.
The Bill is a simple one, which provides that no experiment on a living animal shall be performed under the authority thereof if the purpose of the experiment can be achieved by alternative means which do not involve an experiment on a living animal. That proposition is so acceptable to both sides of the House that it is time the Home Office stopped hiding things behind closed doors and trying to escape from its obligation, and reached a responsible decision.
To add weight to this proposition Early Day Motion No. 90 has been tabled, sponsored by myself and the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), urging the Government to set up a research institute to inquire into alternatives that do not involve the use of living animals, and pointing out that in 1971, 5,607,000 experiments were performed, of which 86 per cent. were without an anaesthetic.
The House today must come to terms with reality and find the alternatives that exist. If alternatives exist, we must use them. If they do not exist, we must find them. Each year the number of animals used for experimental purposes increases, yet the Home Office sits back and does nothing. It has a moral responsibility to do something.
I declare an interest. I am an honorary consultant of the National Anti-Vivisection Society. But my main interest is my love of animals. As human beings, we have an obligation to the animal kingdom. Early Day Motion No. 90, which calls for the establishment of a research institute, is supported by the National Anti-Vivisection Society and the International Association against Painful Experiments on Animals, the President of whom is Mr. Ian Evans. In the words of Colin Smith, the General Secretary of both those organisations:
One of the best ways to reduce animal suffering is to convince scientists that animals are not necessary for medical research, and that alternative methods exist.
I agree entirely with that, and I see the Bill as a modest step towards that aim.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who introduced the Bill in his usual compassionate way, demonstrated his belief, which is shared by both sides of the House, in the necessity for people to come to terms with animal experimentation.
In 1875, the Cruelty to Animals Bill was introduced. As Mr. Ian Evans said
It was in substance designed to ensure that no experiments likely to cause pain should be carried out on any animal without an anaesthetic.
That has not happened. In that Bill there were escape clauses. We know full well that many animals suffer considerable pain because of the loopholes of the 1876 Act. It is ironical that after the period of almost 100 years during which that Act has been in operation, hundreds of millions of animals still suffer —animals which need not suffer if we would only spend a little more effort, time and money on finding alternatives to the use of living animals.
I hope that the Government will not try to talk the Bill out, and that a decision will be reached today. I believe that the aims of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby will be fulfilled and that the 1876 Act will be amended. I am curtailing my speech in the hope that we shall be able to vote on the Bill. Our duty as human beings is to accept some responsibility for the animal king- dom. I believe that alternatives exist. If they do, let us use them. If they do not, let us find them. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the debate and the tone in which it has been conducted. Over the years we seem able to discuss this subject in a more reasonable manner, although our feelings about it are no less deep. No longer are statistics brandished to prove the barbarity of the practice. No longer do scientists give the pat answers to which we have been accustomed. It is agreed that there is no evidence of malevolence among scientists. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) in welcoming the activities of FRAME, which is trying to replace the use of animals by testing virulent microbes in non-living culture media in laboratory glassware.
I support the establishment of a research institute. However, I do not agree that we are talking of half-sighted cats, the insertion of electrodes in goats' brains, or sheep with unnaturally bulbous necks. To do so is to present a wholly misleading picture. In about 90 per cent. of these experiments anaesthetic is unnecessary because the tests are minor ones. Sheep, cats and goats represent a very small percentage of the animals used. In 1970, cats and dogs represented under 1 per cent. The vast majority are mice, rats and guinea pigs.
I do not know whether it is the anti-vivisectionists or the scientists who dislike these tests more, but I am absolutely convinced that were scientists working with large firms able to do away with the use of animals for these purposes they would be most enthusiastic to do so.
Under the 1876 Act, no experiment on a living animal may be carried out unless it is for the advancement of new discoveries, physiological knowledge, or knowledge which may be useful in saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering. The alleviation of suffering applies just as much to animals as to human beings.
I should like to look a little more carefully at some of the Littlewood findings. Paragraph (6) of the general findings states that the risk of unnecessary
repetition of experiments is small and the scale of duplication not serious. Paragraph (7) says that there is no evidence that mandatory tests are retained longer than necessary, and paragraph (8) says that there is no evidence of serious wastage of animals in recent years. Of course, the report forecast—and unfortunately its forecast has turned out all too true—that the further demand for more animals would be needed. The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) did not fully deal with paragraph 71 of the Littlewood Report. With permission, I shall do so. The paragraph says:
We have repeatedly questioned scientific witnesses about the existence of alternative experimental methods which would avoid the use of living animals. The replies have been unanimous in assuring us that such methods are actively sought and when found are readily adopted; and that the discovery of an in vitro (i.e. a laboratory test on an isolated organ or tissue) which will satisfactorily replace a test on living animals is always a welcome event. It is welcome not only for humanitarian reasons—".
I have personal knowledge, as a member of the National Committee of LEPRA, that mice and hamsters have been used since 1960. These animals have been very useful for helping to relieve the suffering of those afflicted with the terrible disease of leprosy. I have it on the authority of Dr. Rees, who is the head of the laboratory at Mill Hill for leprosy and micro-bacterial research, that if there were any way in which he could use anything other than these animals he would do so.
I admire the hon. Members who have sponsored the Bill. However, I do not see in the Bill any benefit for animals. The Bill would make life very much more difficult for scientists, who are fully aware and fully sympathetic to the cause. It would be very difficult for the courts to sort out the evidence. For those reasons I am unable to support the Bill.
I welcome the opportunity to support the Bill which was so ably introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). We pride ourselves on being a nation of animal lovers. At the same time as we pride ourselves on that somewhat disputable fact, we allow stag hunting, hare coursing and other forms of cruel sports which have no medical justification.
When we consider the medical arguments, I find that there is extensive use of animals in non-medical research. There are some experimental psychologists, who have no medical training, who are conducting all kinds of experiments to an ever-increasing extent. Such psychologists conduct a diversity of experiments with a view to seeing how animals behave in certain psychological conditions.
In an address which was given by Mr. Richard Ryder, a senior clinical psychologist at the Warneford Hospital, Oxford, to the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Vivisection, he quoted the case of a Cambridge psychologist. He said:
Another example is of a Cambridge psychologist who totally blinded a monkey by cutting out those areas of her brain primarily concerned with vision.
Mr. Ryder then quotes the report which was published in the New Scientist on 30th March 1972:
Six years ago, a monkey, Helen, had the visual cortex surgically removed—since then she has been able to recognise nothing.
What a remarkable discovery. A little later the same psychologist reports:
our work was interrupted when we moved from Cambridge to the Oxford Laboratory. Helen moved with us but I had a thesis to finish and she was left to her own devices for about 10 months—such devices, that is, as she could manage in a small cage.
He then reports further observations of Helen's behaviour. He says:
Helen bumped into any and every obstacle, she collided with my legs and she several times fell into the pond.
That is the kind of experiment which is being conducted today. Such experiments are not done in the course of medical research. The results of the experiment which I have described seem to me to be so obvious that the experiment is completely unjustified.
In 1970, according to my information, the number of experimenters licensed by the Home Office had risen to 14,520. That confirms me in the view that vivisection is a problem which is rapidly expanding and which is permeating education and industry.
Another test which is used for testing thousands of new chemicals used for cosmetics, weed-killers and detergents is the LD50 test. Toxicologists are trying to
discover at which point the dosage level will kill. Rats, beagles and monkeys are the subjects of these experiments. Mr. Ryder says:
By definition ail the animals used (and there are bound to be quite a number) are certain to be made very ill, some just surviving, others succumbing perhaps after lingering near death for days. Often, very large quantities of new chemicals have to be force-fed to the test animals in order to kill them.
That is the kind of thing which is going on. Cosmetics testing is a prime example of trivial non-medical research which is causing pain to laboratory animals. Mr. Ryder says:
Under the Medicines Act 1968, it is now obligatory to test any cosmetic which contains anti-biotics or hormones above a certain level,
Those tests are necessary if a manufacturer is making therapeutic claims in support of his product. According to the Toilet Preparations Federation, the use of animals in the cosmetics industry is extensive. Can cruelty be justified on the ground that the cosmetics industry wants to test a new lipstick, a breath sweetener or a deodorant?
In the little group which the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) mentioned, he included detergents. The hon. Gentleman will know as well as I know that detergents are a part of modern life. Would he rather see people in a hospital ward with all their skin stripped off as a result of an allergy to detergents? It is also known that some of the soaps which are made for children have been found to contain a substance which will give rise to neuropathy, perhaps causing lifelong damage. Would the hon. Gentleman see children damaged rather than any form of experiments being carried out?
The primary concern of detergent manufacturers is to make a profit. They should exercise their researches in a more responsible manner and not produce products for sale to the public and to the housewife which will have these disastrous results. I would much rather abolish detergents altogether than run the risk to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred. The increasing use of these modern devices which have no medical justification whatever is a matter to which I take the strongest possible exception.
I put forward the thought that a vast number of animals are being subjected to cruel treatment for non-medical reasons. In those circumstances, I ask the Government to support the development of alternative researches, perhaps by using tissues. I believe that there is a vast area of experiment which can be conducted in that regard. Finally, I ask the Government to think about the immediate prohibition of non-medical experiments which involve cruelty to animals.
The aim of the Bill is commendable and, as one who can proudly claim to be a lover of animals, I am glad that we are today debating cruelty to animals. I listened with great interest to the speech by the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who set out very fairly the present position, concerning experiments on live animals.
Much of the controversy about animal experimentation centres on the number of experiments being performed today. We have heard that experiments have been increasing over the past 20 years. We are told that they now exceed 5·5 million each year. I believe that in the past year alone the number of experiments increased by some 26,000.
The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the Littlewood Report. Therefore it is interesting to note that the committee at that time were of the opinion that
The interest in the number of animals used for research is largely to be explained by the expansion of biological science and the mandatory testing of biological substances.
The committee forecast:
The demand for animals to be used in research is likely to continue to increase in the foreseeable future".
That is not surprising when we think of the deep public concern about the need for testing of both drugs and food additives. It is testing which is vital to the ability of the human race to combat disease not only in our country but in the developing countries, where disease and suffering in mankind is still a burden which too many of their people have to bear. It is testing which is vital to produce new pain-killing drugs which are of tremendous benefit to both man and animals. All who have benefited from
modern drugs are therefore the beneficiaries of and parties to such experiments, much though we may detest them and much though many of us may have been unaware that they were taking place.
There is also the very large range of vaccines from which we all benefit. Those of us who have young children are well aware of the new measles vaccine which is of benefit not only in our country but in other countries where measles is a killer. This vaccine could not possibly have been developed without animal experimentation. Another vaccine with which we are familiar is that involved in the treatment of whooping cough. There is also the work being done on the common cold and on the bugs which cause dental caries. There are many others, but I do not propose to weary the House by listing them.
All those who call for the more stringent testing of drugs, especially in the wake of the thalidomide tragedy, have to recognise that in the present state of scientific knowledge a number of experiments on living animals regrettably are necessary. I share the hopes of all hon. Members that such experiments can be undertaken eventually without using live animals.
Let us consider the problems faced in the testing of food additives which are so essential to the production of sufficient food to feed not only ourselves but the populations of the developing countries who are not so fortunate as we are in terms of the ready availability of food stuffs.
If the Bill is enacted in its present form it will have the effect of making every licence issued under the 1876 Act subject to a mandatory condition expressly forbidding the performance under the licence of any experiment if the object of the experiment could be achieved by alternative means not involving the use of a living animal. But who is to decide whether alternative means can be made available?
The right hon. Member for Sowerby said that no approval was needed and that the experimenter had to take responsibility for his own actions. But surely that is very unsatisfactory. I do not believe that it is good enough to place such a condition on dedicated scientists— men and women of good will who do not enjoy experiments on living animals any more than we do. This is not right without there being a highly respected and independent arbiter.
I am aware of that. However the 1876 Act was drafted a long time ago. Today we are considering experiments on a very wide range of animals—rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, primates, and the rest.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Undersecretary will be able to assure the House that if the Bill receives a Second Reading he will consider the possibility of the Medical Research Council and the Agricultural Research Council being consulted with a view to their acting as arbiters in these matters and deciding whether a given series of experiments should be conducted on live animals.
I hope that my hon. Friend will consult the British Industrial Biological Research Association, which has a special responsibility in these matters and which is in receipt of Government funds as well as funds from industry. There are important organisations such as the Pharmaceutical Society and the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry, all of which have a deep interest in this matter. I feel that it might not be impossible to reach agreement with them on some independent arbiter who could act as a kind of long-stop and who would in a way be protecting the independent scientist from unnecessary prosecution and harassment which I believe could be detrimental to the development of new drugs, medicines, food additives and all the other commodities which we consider so essential to human life.
If such an independent arbiter were to be appointed, additional costs would be involved. But I feel sure that it would be possible for him to work in conjunction with the Home Office inspectorate. It is probable that the additional costs would not be so very large in view of the comparatively limited number of research establishments. At any rate, those costs would not be begrudged by the animal lover.
I have no wish to detain the House unnecessarily. I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. As I have said, the objects of the Bill are commendable and this had been an interesting and worthwhile debate. However, with respect to the right hon. Member for Sowerby, the Bill is capable of improvement. If it receives a Second Reading, I hope that my hon. Friend the Undersecretary will be able to introduce amendments in Committee which will benefit both the animal kingdom and mankind.
The debate so far has been uniquely non-party and I do not wish to say anything to disturb that harmony.
It was a sad coincidence in many ways this morning that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced the tragic mining accident in Fife. It recalled to my mind that not so many years ago canaries used to be taken down coal mines to test for gas. If the canaries died, that was proof enough that there was sufficient gas to kill a man. The deaths of the canaries probably saved hundreds of miners' lives. This is essentially the dilemma posed by the hon. Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes).
The great problem posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) is the relative secrecy and almost complete lack of public control and accountability of what goes on, how it goes on, and why.
I hope the House will forgive me if I recount some past experiences. My right hon. Friend referred to 400,000 experiments dealing with the exploration of cancer research. He linked that with the number of deaths from lung cancer caused by smoking. But people take their own decisions on that matter. They know the facts. They are the victims of their own folly. So long as we believe in the right of personal choice, I would penalise smoking so heavily that it would be costed out of existence. However, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a heavy vested interest in not doing that.
If the experiments on those animals had been the means of saving my wife's life, I should have thought they were worth while. I do not know how I should value my wife's life in terms of deaths of animals in experiments. If a million mice, dogs or cats had to die and, as a result, my wife had lived, I should have said that the price was worth while. This is the great dilemma to which I cannot see an answer.
My right hon. Friend said that we get horrific stories coming through the post from dedicated people. I do not question their sincerity. However, we do not get as much through our post about the enormous cruelty meted out by people who batter babies, about the homeless in London and elsewhere, and about wives in homes who get occasional publicity.
We are an extremely emotional people when it comes to animals because they cannot answer for themselves. At least the battered wife can seek to take action, which is often ineffective. The battered child might have some spokesman for him or her. But we in this House and the organisations outside are the only spokesmen for the animals that we subject to experimentation.
I doubt whether we shall find in legislative terms a satisfactory alternative to what we already have, but that is no reason why we should not search. My right hon. Friend said that we should continually put pressure on the Government to find an alternative method. Until we do, and whilst we want continuous research into preserving human life and producing drugs which will do that, then, as human beings, we regard ourselves as superior to the animals on which we experiment. So far as I know, no animal experiments on a human being. We reckon that we are the highest form of life on earth—though I sometimes doubt that.
I quoted a personal experience with my wife. I should like to quote another. We had two dogs. My family and I have always been animal lovers. The first dog had to be put down for reasons of disease, and the second because it bit everything in sight, including me. On each occasion I had to take the dog to the vet. It was like a family bereavement. It is an extremely moving and unforgettable experience, as many people know.
If, as my right hon. Friend suggested, people saw even a minute representative example of the kind of experiment that we suspect goes on, there would be an upsurge of emotion against experimentation. But it would be a negative response, because it would be against something without proposing alternative ways of getting the answers to the manifold medical problems with which we are faced.
I am sure that the whole House has been moved and touched by the story that my hon. Friend related. Does he agree that what we are trying to do, at least all-partywise, is to persuade the Government to establish a research institute to look into possible alternatives? If we did this, surely it would go a long way to meeting many of his points. However, if we do nothing about it, nothing will happen. We want the Government of the day to invest money into research to find alternatives to stop these horrible experiments which take place.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I was suggesting that there was no simple answer to the problem.
I do not think that the Minister will make a 100 per cent. hostile response to my right hon. Friend. It will be ill-judged if he does. But I know the hon. Gentleman sufficiently well to know that he will not make that kind of response. Nevertheless, I hope that he will be a little more positive than in previous debates when Ministers have answered attempts to bring in legislation of this kind.
I should like to refer to the debate that took place in the House of Lords on 22nd May 1876. This is the debate on the Bill, as it then was, which has not been amended to this day. I wonder whether this kind of experiment is still going on. I read from col. 1017:
M. Brachet, an eminent French physician under Charles X and Louis Philippe, who obtained the physiological prize from the Institute, narrated the following experiment: —
'I inspired a dog,'—he begged noble Lords to observe the rich language of science—' I inspired a dog with the greatest aversion for me by plaguing and inflicting some pain or other upon it as often as I saw it.'
Here was a precious pursuit of knowledge!
'When this feeling was carried to its height, so that the animal became furious as soon as it saw or heard me, I put out
its eyes; I could then appear before it without its manifesting any aversion.'What a discovery!
He put out its eyes so that it could not see him.
'I spoke, and immediately its barkings and furious movements proved the passion which animated it. I destroyed the drums of its ears, and disorganised the internal ear as much as I could. … When an intense inflammation which was excited had rendered it deaf, I filled up its ears with wax. It could no longer hear at all. Then I went to its side, spoke aloud, and even caressed it without it falling into a rage; it seemed even sensible to my caresses'".
The report goes on:
'And what', observes Dr. Elliotson, who criticised the case, 'was all this to prove? Simply that if one brute has an aversion to another it does not feel or show that aversion when it has no means of knowing that the other brute is present. If he had stood near the dog on the other side of a wall, he might have equally proved what common sense required not to be proved. I blush for human nature in detailing this experiment.'
I quote that case to show that that kind of experiment may or may not be going on now—something to prove the obvious.
One of my hon. Friends quoted a recent experiment, which he either witnessed or was engaged in, of dropping babies just to prove that they did not like being dropped. One does not have to drop a baby to guess that that might be the reaction. One does not need to stick pins or needles into babies to discover that they do not like that either.
If that kind of experiment can go on by one human being on another, what on earth might be happening behind closed doors with animals? That is the crux of the argument, and I hope that there will be more open Government in the sense that there is more public accountability for and more public scrutiny of what goes on as well as a more serious search than there has been so far for better alternatives to the present system.
I add my congratulations to those which have been offered to the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) on introducing the Bill. I appreciated the tenor of his speech, with the single exception of the passage when he introduced the word "abominations". It seemed to bring an unsuitable note of controversy into what one might have hoped would have been an all-party measure supported by both sides of the House.
I think that the right hon. Gentleman ought in some degree to search his conscience on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman stressed that the Littlewood Committee had reported as long ago as 1965. The right hon. Gentleman was, after all, a member of the Government for five years after that. Would it not have been possible for the Labour Government to have introduced legislation to implement some of the recommendations of that committee?
The argument for not doing something is always the lack of parliamentary time, but I seem to recollect quite a lot of parliamentary time being given to what the right hon. Gentleman included in some of his so-called abominations, and yet those things, in comparison with the problem with which we are dealing today, must be regarded as trivial in terms of potential animal suffering. I shall not say more, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman has taken the point.
The only thing that I add to that is that on some occasions when time was given for measures introduced by the Labour Government, the Labour Benches would be filled with hon. Members anxious to express their views. Today, as far as I can gather, out of the six hon. Members on the benches opposite who have put their names to the Bill, only one has appeared in the Chamber.
I go back to say that I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on bringing in the Bill. I congratulate him, too, on the motives which obviously have inspired it. I think everybody is agreed that the objects of the Bill are commendable, but I think that we need to be slightly practical about this and to address our minds, first, to the degree of practical benefit that the Bill can bring and, secondly, to the mechanics which it involves.
I do not think that anyone, certainly not a scientist, would willingly use a living animal for a test if he were satisfied that other means were available for achieving equally good results. After all, animal experimentation is slow and difficult and, one would think, a distasteful process for everybody, and if a non-animal test could be used, surely that would be preferable for almost every reason. I do not think that evidence has been brought to show that experimenters use live animals if alternative methods are available, though obviously there must be a wide difference of opinion about the acceptability of any alternative tests. I understand that under the requirements of the British and European Pharmacopoeia, many of the biological tests involving the use of living animals are mandatory for the standardisation of drugs intended for therapeutic use.
The right hon. Gentleman read out the operative words which it is desired to add to the 1876 Act. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State replies to the debate he will devote a little time to explaining the practical mechanics of adding this provision to the 1876 legislation.
It is not clear to me whether it is intended that the whole of this should be a matter of administration, or a matter of law outside the administration. If we say that it is to be a condition of every licence that no experiment shall be performed if the result can be achieved by alternative means, who will decide that? Will it be the responsibility of the Home Secretary? Will it be the responsibility of one of his officials? If one of the officials makes an error, will the court of appeal be the Home Secretary? If somebody outside the administration wants to challenge a decision, how will he be able to do so? Will he have to bring an action against the Home Secretary, or against the official? Will the matter have to be decided in a court of law? However it is to be decided, it will be an extremely difficult issue of principle to decide, involving a lot of expertise, very like a great deal of difference in expert opinion and the occupation of a great deal of time. Therefore, I hope that the Undersecretary will be able to give us some idea of the practical implications if the House decides to give the Bill a Second Reading.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Sowerby will not regard these suggestions as being put forward in any spirit of criticism of the principle of what he wants to do. We are all agreed that this principle should be introduced if it would not greatly complicate the administration but that if it did not bring about a practical amelioration, we should not like, just for the sake of putting a principle on the statute book, to make things more difficult for those who have to carry out this already difficult type of administration.
I welcome the Bill. Not only does it represent a view that I hold very strongly, but I am sure, from my considerable mailbag that it would meet the views of the vast majority of my constituents. Leicester people are inveterate animal lovers, yet they also appreciate, of course, that experiments which have to take place on animals to save human life cannot be avoided.
No one—certainly no one who has written to me—is against totally unavoidable animal experiments if these will save human life. Equally, they are against avoidable experiments which need not take place and which cause unnecessary suffering when there are other methods available. Perhaps the simplest way and the proper way to deal with this matter is not to talk about millions of animals— so many thousands of dogs or hundreds of thousands of cats—but to personalise it.
This is the same principle as with a human problem. Another Minister at the Home Office told me yesterday that there were 70,000 people missing every year. It would probably be 150,000 if one knew all of them. That figures means nothing, but when one of those people is from one's own home, the matter comes to life. In the same way, I am Jewish, and when people talk about the fate of 6 million Jews, it means very little considered as a figure, but when one thinks of one's own family having been destroyed, that means a great deal.
So it is when one talks about animals. Talk of millions of animals means nothing, but if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) said, one takes one's own animal to be put down, that certainly has a meaning because that animal has an affectionate response in one's own make-up. It is no longer simply another figure. All of us who have pets have had the unpleasant experience—if we have them long enough it is inevitable—of having them put down to save them pain. But it is always a bereavement and a break.
When one considers the question of experiments on animals, one should regard it, so far as possible, not from the point of view of the millions but from the point of view of the few. Then we shall reach a balance, and it is a balance which works both ways. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West so movingly explained, when one of our own family is ill, we all tend to say that it does not matter how many mice have to be sacrificed if it would save the life of one's own wife or child.
That personalised point of view means that animals are sacrificed. On the other hand, when one's own animals are concerned, one appreciates the need for the greatest possible protection for the defenceless. One has to strike a balance, and this Bill offers a reasonable balance. This is why I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading. It asks not for the banning of experiments on animals, but for the banning of those which are avoidable because of some available alternative.
The law—any law, so long as it is a good law—is designed to protect those who need protection. We shall spend a good deal of next week debating the protection of consumers—people who cannot protect themselves. We are all agreed, in principle, although not in detail, that Parliament should protect them. Animals, too, need protection and they do not get it in sufficient measure. I hope that the Bill will obtain a Second Reading and that the protection which they receive will be increased, without prejudice to the need to save human life, wherever that is possible.
I am in substantial agreement with the words used by the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). I support the Bill and will support its Second Reading.
The sheer volume of the experiments conducted upon living animals is absolutely appalling. When one considers that 5½ million licensed experiments alone are conducted in Britain every year, the burden of the thought of the pain and suffering which the human race is causing to animals all over the world is almost too heavy to bear. Anything, indeed everything, that we can do to reduce that suffering by narrowing the field within which even permissible experiments are made should be done.
The present situation, in the sense that no experiments should be conducted unless they are necessary experiments for the purposes outlined in the Cruelty to Animals Act, would be acceptable to everybody, but there is a great deal of suspicion among the people that many experiments are in fact unnecessary. They fear that, over the years, largely because of the long period since the Act was passed and because there have been no amendments and very little public discussion or parliamentary debate, many needless experiments have been conducted. This is at the root of public suspicion and concern about vivisection.
It is all very well for people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) to talk about the benefits of testing. One may well agree that the result of experiments on live animals have benefited the human race and the course of medical progress, but that is not the issue. I must point out to those hon. Members whose thoughts move in this way that the issue posed by the Bill—and the only issue relevant to this debate—is whether the purpose of the experiment could be achieved by alternative means. That is the issue. Anyone who wants to argue about the benefits of the existing system need not enter this debate, because we are not talking about that.
The hon. Member for Fife, West referred to the classic case of canaries being taken down mines in order to test whether the gas level was potentially lethal. This is a classic case because, ever since it has been unnecessary to take canaries into mines under these conditions, they have not been taken. It is possible that the rapid progress of medical science, has led to the frontiers being pushed forward so much that a wide range of experiments which are now being conducted on animals can be shown to be quite unnecessary.
I believe that there is a public suspicion that all too many experiments are now being undertaken which are unnecessary, and that insufficient thought and attention is being given to the alternatives by the scientists conducting those experiments. I wish that I had the con- fidence of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More) that no scientist would conduct an experiment on a living animal if he thought that there was the remotest chance of obtaining the benefits of that experiment by other means. I do not believe it. I believe that too often experiments are conducted unnecessarily, and that it is largely by public pressure and pressure of the kind being exerted by the promoters of the Bill that we shall begin to push back the frontiers.
Having said that, I should like to draw attention, in a way that is intended to assist the promoters, to my reservations about the wording of the Bill. We are basing ourselves upon the 1876 Act. To start with, as the right hon. Member for Sowerby acknowledged, the only amendment suggested to an almost 100-year-old Act is a small one, and it does not deal with what undoubtedly forms a large element in the Act, which needs revision in any event.
At present, experiments are permissible only for certain purposes expressed in the Act. The question is whether there are any alternative means of achieving those purposes. We are already on a fairly narrowing front.
That is a question that can perhaps best be answered by the scientist responsible for and present at the particular experiment, though I suppose that it would be possible for the Secretary of State to lay down criteria for experiments advancing medical knowledge. Incidentally, we always talk about experiments, when I believe that half the trouble is that much of what goes on really amounts to demonstrations rather than experiments to increase knowledge.
It may be possible for the Secretary of State to say that in certain departments of medical science experiments are unnecessary or could be done by some other method not involving pain to an animal. For that to be done, the Secretary of State must take greater powers than he has now to specify all the circumstances, the medical information that is required, to isolate those cases where alternatives are available. That means a great deal more research and knowledge of the whole subject, so that it is known where alternatives are available. The Bill does not give the Secretary of State the power to do that.
Section 8 of the Act provides for the Secretary of State himself to impose conditions on the grant of a licence. I wonder whether within the powers conferred on him in the Act it is not possible to achieve the same object as the Bill sets out to achieve. Section 8 empowers the Secretary of State to attach to the licence any conditions which he
may think expedient for the purpose of better carrying into effect the objects of this Act
Therefore, one would think that it was perfectly within the Secretary of State's powers now to annex to every licence a condition in the terms of the Bill.
In a sense, therefore, the Bill is unnecessary, if only we can persuade the Government or the Secretary of State to accept the principle and to write it into the existing licence system administratively. But 1 take it that the promoters of the Bill are not confident that the Government have that sympathetic understanding, and that therefore the sort of pressure imposed upon them by the Bill is required.
But I think it is a fair criticism of the Bill to say that the limitation upon experiments is put in an absolute way. The mere existence of an alternative will ultimately be for a court to decide, under the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow asked about the practical effects of writing such a provision into the Bill and therefore into the substantive Act. I suppose that one of the practical effects will be that anyone conducting an experiment not in accordance with a licence granted by the Secretary of State under the amended Act will be subject to its penal conditions, and that therefore prosecutions may take place against those responsible for conducting experiments otherwise than under licence. Those prosecutions would include private prosecutions.
Ultimately, therefore, it would be a question for a jury to decide whether in any particular set of circumstances, all the evidence having been heard, an alternative method of obtaining the purpose of the experiment was available. It seems a highly technical question, and it does not seem that an absolute obligation should be imposed on anyone who conducts an experiment.
The Bill makes no provision for a person conducting an experiment who honestly believes that there is no alternative means available. That is a criticism. The principle of guilty knowledge, of mens rea, has always existed in English law, and I pray will always exist to cover cases like this. There are very few cases in English law in which we impose an absolute obligation on a defendant without at least listening to his explanation or wanting to know whether he believed that what he was doing was legal. Therefore, I believe that the Bill could be improved by writing in an exception for an individual who believed on reasonable grounds that there was no alternative to what he was doing. That could equally well be provided by a proviso to the Bill.
What perhaps is fundamentally at issue here, and is expressed by the Bill, is the unease that the public feel about the research that is going on. We could tackle it in other ways than merely the amendment to the principal Act that is proposed in the Bill. For example, do the purposes laid down in the Act need to be as wide as they were made in 1876? Could we improve and narrow the whole field within which permitted experiments may take place, by rewording the definitions?
The Act absolutely prohibits the performance on a living animal of any experiment calculated to give pain
except with a view to the advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering
and with a view to the acquisition of such knowledge by persons attending lectures at medical schools, hospitals and elsewhere. If we look a little more closely at that wording, we begin to see that experiments designed to increase knowledge are what are intended, not demonstrations for the purpose merely of spreading knowledge to students. If that is so, I believe that the wording can be tightened up so that the very purposes of the 1876 Act could be narrowed down and, therefore, the number of experiments and excuses for performing the experiments on living animals could be reduced.
There is very little research in tabulating and analysing the nature of experiments which take place. There are a great deal of data—numbers and figures —but there is very little to indicate the true academic purpose of the experiment or demonstration in each case. I wonder, therefore, whether we would not get a little further by introducing into the licensing control system a new council— not just one for research, but one which would itself exercise the power of the Secretary of State, one on which there would be representatives of people who now believe honestly and on medical and scientific grounds that certain experiments are unnecessary, people who would have to be convinced by professional and scientific knowledge and demonstration that any particular experiment was unnecessary.
This would be a function which the national societies in this field, and the National Anti-Vivisection Society in particular, would welcome to try to show in any particular case where a licence is requested that a licence is unnecessary. In addition, it would go far to dispel the colossal ignorance which exists about the sort of experiments which are conducted and how many of them are strictly necessary.
Perhaps most of all, one should look again at the implementation of the Little-wood Report. The recommendations in that report reveal to us the fundamental defects in the present law—the lack of adequate control, knowledge and information—and perhaps the very fact that the report has not been implemented in any way itself demonstrates the appalling lack of concern of the authorities responsible for implementing such control as does exist.
We should press on with research—I fully support the idea of a research council—and we should look again at the purpose expressed in the 1876 Act to see whether we can limit the field of experiment. Whatever we do in controlling experiments and making the law tighter, we should exempt from those provisions those people who, in good faith, conduct experiments believing there to be no alternative.
I should first apologise to the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) for the fact that I was not here in time to hear his speech. I have no doubt that it was concise and realistic, and probably very telling. Unfortunately, I was busy treating patients, which is really what this debate is all about. It is about people eventually—animals now perhaps, but we are considering what can or cannot be done to alleviate human suffering as well as animal suffering.
That is why I was particularly pleased to be here in time to hear the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton). There we saw the reaction as it really matters—the reaction of the patient and of his family. When we discuss animals we have to balance animals on the one side against human suffering on the other.
It is important to realise that the men who carry out these experiments are not doing so in order to satisfy their perverted sadistic pleasure. They are doing it because many of them are concerned about the constant battle in this world against the discomforts, suffering and death of young people, and everybody sooner or later. They want to see that people have a comfortable life and an easy end without too much pain.
This is not a debate about the perversions of scientists, as one might sometimes believe. We must therefore very carefully inquire in which respects these alternative methods are almost bound to fail. We can be too optimistic about them. We can say that a lot of progress has been made in the last two years and that, therefore, much more is to come. But there are various aspects which will be very hard to overcome in the foreseeable future.
I should like to run through some of those aspects. First, we must realise that the human cell, or any animal cell, when taken away from the whole organism, can never contract like a muscle, such as a heart muscle. It does not show long-term toxicity which may have taken years to build up. It can never carry impulses like a nerve. It can never respond like the whole body, which responds psychologically as well as physiologically. All these factors make cell cultures impossible fully to test with modern drugs. For example, a man who suffers with hypertension and blood pressure is suffering psychologically and physiologically. There is an interplay of many emotions, many systems in the body. No single group of cells could ever respond to a drug in the way in which the human body will respond if the person is suffering from this trouble.
We can think of experiments carried out on other aspects of circulation. Consider heart surgery on the elderly or the young baby. This can be achieved only because experiments have been done on animals in the past. Further advances in heart and lung surgery can be made in the future only if more experiments are done on animals. No cell culture would ever replace that sort of experiment—the sort of experiment that is done on the live animal to test surgical procedures as well as chemical procedures.
When a drug is taken into the body it undergoes changes in the body. It is taken in by injection or into the stomach, and is altered by the liver. It is excreted by the kidney. Cells cannot alter those drugs. They cannot excrete the drug, as the kidney can. Even if a cell preparation were made of a particular organ and grown as a culture, sooner or later, within three or four generations, the cells would have reverted to some simple type of cell no longer showing the pattern of the original organ. We have a long way to go in the testing of drugs and surgical procedures to deal with the organism as a whole.
We must also consider the psychological effects. The hon. Member for Fife, West spoke of battered babies. That is quite a good illustration to take. Emotional it may be, but we have to study the problem of women who batter their babies. It is psychological. Those women can be helped not only by their acceptance, and by discussing matters and talking with them, but by the modern group of tranquillising drugs. No cell can ever be tranquillised. No cell can ever respond to a psychotropic drug. That rules out that batch of drugs.
Then we come to the routine assessment of vaccines. Enormous steps have been taken in the preparation of vaccines from cell cultures. Nobody is more pleased about this than the doctors involved, and even more pleased are the drug manufacturers. One of the problems of animal experiments is the enormous cost in time and man hours. These animals have to be kept and prepared in the peak of condition, ready for when the experiment starts. Looking after animals for scientific experiments is expensive and very slow in man hours once the experiment has started.
When cell cultures can be used, not only on grounds of humanity—because people who work with animals find these experiments distasteful—but on grounds of economics, these animal experiments will be abandoned as soon as possible.
Vaccines may well be produced by cell culture. Everyone is pleased about that. We would like to see the work extended. Unfortunately after animal experiments the final vaccine has to be tested on certain controlled groups of people. Here I quote my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More). Those who have seen children dying from measles—as I have seen them dying—will know the suffering which they underwent before they died, and the suffering which their families underwent afterwards. Now we have a measles vaccine.
There is no one here who cannot remember the appalling slaughter which polio used to cause year after year. If we had a hot summer we knew we were in for a polio epidemic. We had only to go down to the Western Fever Hospital—not very far from here—to see people being brought in paralysed in their prime of life. These were people in their 10s 20s or 30s. Now we have a vaccine that to all intents and purposes has eradicated polio. Again, it was as a result of animal experiments.
We have to compare the suffering which might have been occasioned to the animals in the preparation of these vaccines, and their testing, with the human suffering which would have been occasioned had they not been produced. Although we may produce the vaccines we will never be able to test them finally unless we have animal experiments and then the human ones.
Not all vaccines are for humans— another important point. There is a tendency to regard those involved in scientific research as being concerned only with people, and being indifferent to the suffering of animals. That shows a woeful ignorance of the state of the animal when unattended by veterinary science. Many is the animal which would have died in appalling agony but for vaccines and medicines produced specifically for the care of animals. These products must
be tested against animals of the same species if they are to be effective. When we hear of the distress which occurs in a family when a favourite dog dies we must remember the happiness which is caused in many families when a dying dog is saved. Even if, as one constituent said to me:
I am writing to you because I honestly prefer animals to humans
we must remember that scientific research is concerned with animals and humans.
The next area we will have trouble in using cell culture, that is the alternative method, is to do with drugs and their effects on the unborn child. Unfortunately, no cell has yet become pregnant. The care of the unborn child has become more important because we now realise that not only thalidomide will affect the unborn child. To a small extent a whole battery of drugs can influence the unborn child. Everything, from cigarette smoking right through to the common indigestion medicine, is involved and we have to be extremely careful when any form of treatment—even self-administered treatment with a preparation bought over the chemist's counter— is given to a pregnant woman.
In these cases, how can we test the drugs against the cell? We can never take a bottle of stomach powder and remove its constituents, because it is always a composition. The whole thing is difficult. We must test all modern drugs thoroughly for their effect on the unborn child. We must also consider what sorts of animals are used, and how they are used. It is important to consider both alternatives. On the one hand, there is the cell culture—the glassware experiment, as it has become known—and, on the other, the animal experiment.
I refute the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). People who are employed by the Government in supervising these scientific research establishments are of the highest principle, and are extremely concerned about the problems engendered by scientific research. They are anxious at all times to reduce animal suffering. They are doctors and administrators, often with knowledge of administrative medicine as well as pathology. They are highly trained, highly skilled people.
Not only do they have a knowledge of scientific research; they have a good knowledge of scientific researchers. In every profession, I suppose, there are a few black sheep who may creep through the net, and who are allowed by their research centre to continue to do work although they have become perverted, and glory in cruelty. Those who supervise will certainly know about them. Talk to these people and it will be found that they can give an accurate pen portrait of the people involved in medical research.
What are the animals used, and how are they used? Over 4 million experiments are carried out annually in this country. The figure will grow to around 5 million.
It makes no difference to the argument. A lot of these are feeding experiments and routine drug assessment experiments. The animal does not suffer the most ghastly pain and misery. It may be fed on a particular substance. It may be very happy and jolly, and live a much better life than in the natural state. Then it will be painlessly destroyed and the organs carefully examined to see whether there was any effects. If a good drug is to be produced one hopes that no ill-effects will have occurred.
The hon. Gentleman is talking a load of nonsense. There is a difference between 4 million and 5½ million. It amounts to 1½ million extra animals. He has not addressed himself to the Bill. It provides that
no experiment on a living animal shall be performed under the authority thereof if the purpose of the experiment can be achieved by alternative means
Let the hon. Member address himself to that, rather than go into the realms of things which have nothing to do with the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman may think that I am speaking nonsense. That may be because he has never treated people, or has never dealt with suffering day after day. He may be more interested in animals than people. I quoted the figure of 4 million because I want to return to it. The Bill provides that
it shall be a condition of every such licence that no experiment on a living animal shall be performed under the authority thereof if the purpose of the experiment can be achieved by alternative means.
The hon. Gentleman may not have been listening, but for a quarter of an hour I have been talking about what kind of experiments will not be amenable to "alternative means."
There has crept into the debate a rather sad and sorry desire to get away from the essential question, which is whether the experiments as carried out today are performed as humanely as possible, and whether there is relief from human suffering. That is the basis of the discussion; nothing else. It may be dressed up in legal terminology. We may try to rush the Bill through as a minor technicality. We all know what is involved. It is a question of whether to curtail animal experimentation and whether it is possible—if curtailment is possible—to get the support of our constituents for it.
The figure of 5 million experiments will increase. I do not think the existing number matters very much. As modern drugs become more complex the human race will demand more thorough testing of them. At present the cell culture experiments tend to be an addition to rather than a replacement of existing experiments. We are quite rightly demanding a more thorough standard from our pharmaceutical firms. In view of the thalidomide disaster in Europe, who are we to say that future experiments should be less demanding than past ones? They must be more demanding. If, by using animals, the pharmaceutical industry had discovered that abnormalities could be caused by thalidomide, and if the use of animals could have cut out the appalling suffering among thalidomide babies, I should have been in favour of their use for experimental purposes.
No. It was tested against too few species, if it was tested at all. The protocol for much of the work done originally on thalidomide in Germany is lost. But no one knows what experiments were carried out. Such experiments as were carried out did not come across the right species. That is why there is a demand for more species to be tested. The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) had better look up the facts about the early work done on thalidomide and look into the German companies which first produced it. We shall have to do much more to ensure that another thalidomide disaster does not occur. This is a very good example where human suffering may have been saved by animal experimentation.
Animals will be used for experiments in connection with potato blight. Would hon. Members prefer that we never found out that spina bifida could be caused by potato blight, even though it meant that marmoset monkeys would suffer? Would they be prepared to allow children to be born unnecessarily with spina bifida and a life time of deformity before them? That is the problem.
What we are discussing in the Bill is whether we can stop unnecessary experiments on animals. We are not proposing to stop necessary experiments. We are trying to devise a way of preventing unnecessary suffering. The remarks of my hon. Friend have been devoted to areas in which it is acknowledged that experimenting is necessary for good purposes.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) spoke about the total number of experiments. I heard my hon. Friend muttering under his breath about the total number of experiments. But his friends cannot narrow the argument when they want to narrow it, and broaden the argument when they want to broaden it.
The problem is perhaps being represented to the public in far too optimistic terms, as though it is easy to solve. It is difficult to solve morally because if we cut the experiments and make them more difficult we may well endanger human life, and we cannot do that. It is difficult because there are technical complications in getting a cell culture to reproduce pure; it tends to revert. It is difficult because the cell culture will not show all the abnormalities for which we have to test. It is not an organism; it is only a group of cells.
It is a difficult problem because who is to decide what is necessary and what is unnecessary? The present legislation works very much better than people would have us believe. Those who supervise it are honest, and they have integrity and considerable medical knowledge. They have one aim only—to alleviate human suffering. One could make a firm bet that 99·9 per cent. of the scientists doing the work under their jurisdiction and supervision are similarly motivated by the desire to reduce, and not to increase, the ills of this world.
I did not intend to intervene, but I wish to say a few words because the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) has totally misrepresented the arguments adduced from both sides of the House.
We all respect the hon. Member's knowledge and integrity in these matters. What we cannot put up with is the attempt to make it appear that those people who support the Bill place the environment, well-being, health, and fate of animals above that of human beings. That is a very serious charge to make and, as a supporter of the Bill, I resent it, because it is not true. A reading of this very short Bill shows clearly that the object of the Bill is to ensure that unnecessary experiments do not take place. That has been made clear by speaker after speaker. The hon. Gentleman should not have misrepresented the situation.
I was very impressed by the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). There is not much public concern about this matter because very few people know what goes on behind the closed doors of the experimental laboratories. People are not encouraged to visit such laboratories. In fact, the public would find it very difficult to gain access to them. It may well be that public feeling on this subject is not strong because people do not know what goes on behind the closed doors—very much the same excuse as the Germans used about Belsen and Buchenwald, that they did not know what went on behind closed doors. For all the public know, we may have throughout Britain some animal Belsens and Buchenwalds about which perhaps we should do something. But we do not know, and I am not making any accusations. It may be a case of "Out of sight, out of mind".
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Home Office should know, because it inspects these establishments. The hon. Gentleman says that it might be a case of "Out of sight, out of mind". That means that the inspectors must be in league with the runners of these Belsens and Buchenwalds.
I am dealing with a different point. I am talking, not about Home Office inspectors, but about the public. The view about whether experiments are cruel and should be carried out may well be different among people in the street from that among Home Office inspectors, who may be inured to this sort of thing. I was talking about public reaction and public outcry.
I want to talk for a couple of seconds about experiments on animals which are used for drug testing. I am just wondering whether we are not using animals and killing them afterwards quite unnecessarily. I am beginning to wonder whether we in this country are not taking too many drugs, and being encouraged by manufacturers concerned with profits to take too many drugs. In that respect many animals are being used unnecessarily in experiments.
It may very well be, from that point of view alone, that this Bill would have some use, through ensuring that drug manufacturers would not manufacture drugs which are not really necessary for human well-being at all but which, nevertheless, involve experimentation on animals, sometimes cruel experiments on animals, for drug testing, with disposal of the animals afterwards. It is by no means certain that it is always the case that experiments on animals take place for human well-being. Indeed—quite the reverse—it may be that animals are being used to produce drugs which, far from assisting the human race, are gradualy sending it into decline.
I am glad we are having this debate today. I join in the congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) on his—on the whole— very reasonable and persuasive speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. This debate provides good occasion for the whole House to take stock of the problem. We have already had a number of helpful and moving contributions, and I think that there are one or two more to come before the House comes to a decision on the Bill.
I hope that the House will not feel that my lukewarmness towards the Bill in any way means that I ignore the great public feeling about animals. In the last year or two I judge that I have had from my constituents more letters about animals than about the Common Market. I am trying to put to the House as fairly and as fully as I can what the situation is as that may be of interest to the House and to those who, outside, follow our proceedings.
In general the Bill is well-intentioned, but I am doubtful about its effectiveness for the purpose it is seeking to serve. All of us, surely, want to do our utmost to minimise suffering by animals, but let us take care that we are not so zealous in pursuit of this objective that we lessen the valuable results which come from research—valuable for human beings and also for animals. It is a point which has been made by several speakers already, and I want to make it at the outset. I am certainly not going to pour cold water on the Bill, but I must ask the House to be at least sceptical about some of the claims made for it.
We all know that the Littlewood Committee found that animal experimentation was a complex and highly specialised subject. As the right hon. Gentleman mentioned in the beginning—and he was rather rude about it—the progress in implementing some of the Littlewood recommendations, though I shall not go over the whole field I must pinpoint one important thing in the light of what several hon. Members have said in the debate. One recommendation was the strengthening of the inspectorate. This has been substantially done. In 1965 there were eight inspectors. There are now 13, and another inspector is about to be appointed. The point about slowness in debating the report here has already been well answered. Within a year of this Government's coming into office we had a debate on the Littlewood Report, as several hon. Members have recalled.
To fill in the background before I come to the Bill itself, the controls and safeguards over experiments on animals are continued in the 1876 Act, to which this Bill is meant to serve as an amendment. I want to explain as briefly as I can the general scope of the present law and some of the controls which it imposes on experiments on living animals. I think the House ought to be reminded of them. Although this legislation has nearly reached its centenary its basic principles are certainly not out of date. Even today I would claim that the controls on the use of living animals for experimental purposes in this country are probably more stringent than those imposed in any other part of the world.
The main purpose of the Act is to regulate and restrict experiments which are calculated to cause pain to living vertebrate animals. As the House knows, there is in the Act no definition of "experiment" or of "pain". In practice, any procedure on an animal designed to find the answer to a problem other than in the course of normal veterinary diagnosis is regarded as an experiment and considered to be subject to the Act if it offers any risk of discomfort or interference with the animal's normal state of health or well-being. In considering the Bill we have to understand "experiments" in this very wide sense. One might also use words like "tests" and "procedures". I also remind the House that the Act absolutely prohibits any experiment which is done for the purpose of obtaining manual skill, or for purposes —these are the key words—other than the advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful in saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering.
There are also some experiments allowed under special restrictions in connection with hospitals and with teaching, but the restrictions are very tight, and no experiment allowed by the Act can be done without the Secretary of State's licence. That is the significance of Section 8 of the Act. I shall come back to Section 8 a little later, when I refer to the Bill itself.
The Act also contains restrictions on the infliction of pain on any animal under experiment. The Home Secretary already uses his power of licensing to impose other conditions which ensure that no animal under experiment suffers severe pain which is likely to endure, or avoidable pain of any kind.
I want to say a little more about these experiments because numbers have been bandied about and I think that behind the numbers we want to see the purposes and nature of the experiments. There have been very great advances in medical science in recent years. It is fair to say that everyone who has spoken today has acknowledged the important part played by research involving the use of animals. There are many purposes for which animal experiments are performed—research into human and animal diseases, the continuing quest for improvement and new developments in surgical practices and anaesthetic techniques and —very important—mandatory tests for the standardisation of vaccines and drugs intended for the treatment of disease both in men and animals, and diagnosis of disease and testing of newly developed drugs and other substances for therapeutic or toxic effects. Surely the use of animals is essential not only for the advancement of biomedical research but also in routine safeguards for the health of the whole community in such matters as screening of drugs, food additives, diagnostic tests in hospitals, public health laboratories and so on, and—I underline what other hon. Members have said—the development of vaccines and drugs for use in veterinary medicine, which is dependent on screening and testing of laboratory animals.
Another matter which has caused concern to people inside and outside the House is the fact that most of these experiments permitted under the Act are performed without anaesthetics, and I want to put this into perspective. In every case where the experimenter proposes to do an experiment wholly or partly without anaesthetics he has to submit to the Home Office a certificate signed by the president of a learned society and a professor of medical, veterinary or physiological science that the administration of an anaesthetic would necessarily frustrate the object of the experiment.
In most cases the procedures used in experiments wholly without anaesthetics involve no risk of significant pain and consist of inoculations or external applications of stimuli or of modifications in diet or environment, heat or whatever it may be, or the administration of some pharmaceutical or biological product, followed in each case by observation of the effects.
In most of these cases the administering of an anaesthetic would be likely to cause more disturbance to the animals' well being than is involved in the procedures themselves, as well as possibly frustrating the object of the experiment. I underline that authority to dispense with anaesthesia is never granted where an "operation" more severe than inoculation or the taking of a blood sample is proposed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) has explained to me why she has had to leave. She spoke about statistics showing the degree of pain, and I think she had in mind a scale of pain measurement. I do not think that this is realistic, but I should like sometime to discuss the subject further with her.
Going beyond the bare figures of experiments, taking the 1971 totals of 5·6 million experiments in all, about 1·3 million were mandatory tests for the standardisation of vaccines, sera and drugs intended for the treatment of diseases in men and animals. About 400,000 experiments were done in the course of cancer research. More than 250,000 were done for the purpose of public health or directly for the diagnosis of disease in men or animals.
Hon. Members may well ask, as I did when I started to interest myself in this subject before I was at the Home Office, what species of animals are used. Nearly 95 per cent. of all experimental animals are rats, mice and guinea pigs—mice 70 per cent., rats 15 per cent., and guinea pigs 10 per cent. Cats and dogs are used only in about half of one per cent. of all experiments. For the rest, there is a wide range of animals including rabbits, farm animals, poultry, fish, and the primates.
I move on from this breakdown of experiments to the principle embodied in the 1876 Act and the principle which guided the Littlewood Committee. That principle was that scientists should be broadly free to pursue whatever inquiries
they wished subject to the humane use and treatment of any living animals involved. The Littlewood Committee carefully considered the evidence that was put to it about allegedly unnecessary experiments. It also considered representations by the RSPCA that restrictions should be imposed to ensure that experiments were allowed only if they were essential to solve some specific problem of suffering. I quote what the committee said on this aspect:
From our study of the evidence about unnecessary experiments and the complexity of biological science we conclude that it is impossible to say what practical application any new discovery in biological knowledge may have later for the benefit of man or animal. Accordingly we recommend that there should be no general barrier to the use of animal experimentation in seeking new biological knowledge even if it cannot be shown to be of immediate or foreseeable value.
The basic tests that are applied to any application for permission to carry out experiments on living animals are these four. First, is the experiment for a purpose permitted by the Act? Secondly, is the applicant a suitable person who is competent to undertake the experiments proposed? Thirdly, is the experiment designed to ensure that the pain likely to be inflicted, if there is any pain, is strictly limited and kept to an absolute minimum? Fourthly, is the experiment to be carried out in a registered laboratory which is suitably equipped for the purpose?
We do not necessarily limit to these tests an application for authority to perform experiments. The Home Office frequently makes detailed inquiries, and the inspectors—the number of whom has increased appreciably over the last few years—interview intending licensees before they recommend whether the proposed experiment should be allowed. The Act is confined to matters of control over the performance of experiments and makes no provision for assessing whether the person conducting the experiment could achieve his purpose by other means. That is where the Bill would build in a considerable enlargement.
I underline one aspect of our system of control about which some doubts have been raised. Before anyone is granted a licence to experiment on living animals the inspector, by searching examination, has to satisfy himself of the suit- ability of the person and, after the initial granting of the licence, the inspectors keep in touch with the licensees by regularly visiting all laboratories which are registered for the performance of these experiments.
There is a substantial number of licensees—about 16,000 in all. In any single year about one-third perform no experiments at all—so the number of active licensees is appreciably lower than the overall total.
Home Office inspectors visit all laboratories registered for the performance of experiments to make certain that there are proper standards of care and accommodation and proper handling facilities for the animals. They also ensure that the licensees who are working there understand and fulfil their responsibilities under the Act, and that all the requirements of the Act are being strictly observed. The latest figures I have show that in 1971 more than 3,600 visits, most of them without prior notice, were made to the 596 laboratories which were then on the register.
A certain amount has been said about closed doors and conspiracies of secrecy. I was very unhappy about the Belsen phrase, and I think that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart) may agree that it was an unfortunate one. The Littlewood Committee did not recommend any system of opening up the laboratories on a broad scale. Anxiety was expressed on this, but my noble Friend the Minister of State, whose special responsibility this is, has made several visits—as a member of the public, as it were—to laboratories which are conducting experiments. He has told me from his personal observation how impressed he has been by the way the Act is administered. I hope that that will be some reassurance to the House. There are television programmes—I hope there will be more in future—and if any hon. Members wish to make visits to see what is going on I shall do my best to see that suitable arrangements are made.
The right hon. Member for Sowerby said that the effect of the Bill would be to make every licence issued under the Act subject to the mandatory condition that has been quoted several times in the debate. The right hon. Gentleman explained that one of the main purposes of the Bill was to reduce substantially the number of experiments being performed and he saw this as a way of doing it. I am sure that most of us go along with him. We do not want to see performed any more experiments on living animals than are absolutely essential, particularly in cases where alternative methods of experiment are available. I am, personally, and on behalf of the Government, fully in sympathy with the objects of the Bill. The difficulty is that we have doubts whether the right hon. Gentleman's aim of reducing experiments and ensuring that suffering is not unnecessarily caused will be achieved by the Bill. That is why I must be hesitant about commending the Bill to the House.
The number of experiments—just over 5½ million a year— has again been quoted. Some hon. Members have said that that number is excessive. I remind the House of one of the findings of the Littlewood Committee. The committee found no evidence of unnecessary experiments on animals taking place. One or two of the committee's findings have been quoted already, but I shall repeat them merely because I think that they are important. The committee's sixth finding was:
The risk of unnecessary repetition of experiments is small and the scale of duplication not serious.
The committee's seventh finding was:
There is no evidence that mandatory tests are retained longer than is necessary.
The committee's eighth finding was:
There is no evidence of serious wastage of animals in recent years.
The committee predicted the increase in the number of experiments which we have seen in recent years. That was mentioned in its eleventh finding—
The increase in the number of animals used in research is largely to be explained by the expansion of biological science and the mandatory testing of biological substances.
When the committee accepted the likelihood of an increase it made it clear that that was not due to callous disregard of animals but, if anything, the opposite. It thought that the increase would occur despite the desire of the scientists— which it acknowledged and which hon. Members have acknowledged—to find alternative methods and to use them wherever possible. My hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Le Marchant) quoted paragraph 71 of the
Littlewood Report in that regard The Committee said that
in spite of strong incentives to the avoidance, where possible, of animal experimentation, the demand for using animals in research is likely to increase in the foreseeable future.
The committee's conclusion on that crucial point was that there is a general desire on the part of experimenters to try to find—in this they are at one with those who are genuinely concerned with animal welfare—acceptable and reliable alternatives to experiments on animals. Certainly the Government welcome continuing progress in the finding of alternatives.
The idea has been mentioned of forming a special institute. That I would not rule out. I remind the House that the considered view of the Medical Research Council is that the development of alternatives must come from close and continuing contact with research for which animals are used so that the alternatives developed satisfy the needs of the research.
For that reason the Medical Research Council believes that the development of effective alternative techniques will arise most frequently in the institution in which the main stream of research is conducted. My hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden, who has left the Chamber, mentioned the work of FRAME in her constituency. It was in 1971 that FRAME said that it was not in favour of enforcing by legislation alternative methods. I understand that that is still its view.
Having tried to put the matter in perspective, I remind the House that while the number of experiments on animals tend to rise each year there is surely no doubt that but for the discovery and adoption of alternative tests in a number of areas the annual increase would have been very much larger than it has been.
I remind the House of the purpose for which these experiments are carried out. They can be done under the Act only with a view to the discovery of new physiological knowledge or knowledge which may be useful in alleviating suffering or prolonging life. That is fundamental. When we talk about the alleviation of suffering we have in mind animals as well as humans.
Many notable advances in veterinary treatment have resulted from animal experiments. I do not want to make too much of that. It is true that most of the experiments are concerned with human health. A considerable number are performed in connection with medical research. I doubt if anyone would want to contemplate unnecessary experiments of that kind or to undertake them solely for the sake of doing them. However, I am afraid that some of the critics of the scale of experimentation tend to give that impression. It is a pity that their case should be exaggerated in that way.
Medical research, whether or not it involves the use of animals, is directed towards the ultimate benefit of man. The fact that the number of experiments has been increasing surely reflects as much as anything an increasing concern for the well-being of mankind.
We must balance the needs of human beings against the desirability of limiting the number of experiments that involve animals. I acknowledge—I wish to put the case fairly—that most of the people who want to introduce further restrictions on experiments with animals accept the necessity for some experiments. Their only concern, as has been said today, is to ensure that no unnecessary experiment is performed. That is also the position of the Government and the research councils.
There is a difference of view about the method by which we can best achieve that aim. There are many situations in bio-medical research where techniques have been introduced which make it possible to avoid the use of living animals for purposes for which they were previously used. Important and significant results can be obtained with fewer animals than would have been used before. That is a measure of progress in this direction.
When such techniques are developed scientists will always prefer them. That is because experiments on animals are laborious and expensive, and because the variation from animal to animal makes it harder to achieve decisive results than if a satisfactory standardised laboratory method is used.
There are limitations in the scope for replacing animal experiments. For example, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) said, many kinds of investigation must depend on the use of the living animal. To sum up, it seems on the best information that I can get about the purposes for which the greater number of animals are used in research programmes, that there is little hope of avoiding alternatives to the use of living animals in the foreseeable future.
I talked about purposes and I shall illustrate that briefly by reminding the House about such purposes as new drugs for diabetes, tranquillisers and anti-histamines, the study of immunology, the study of viruses, the development of vaccines for measles, for example, and for other crucial purposes such as the development anaesthetics and surgical advances in brain surgery, chest surgery and other forms of surgery. There must also be considered the development of artificial materials for bone and the general study of hormones. Those are the purposes which I ask the House to keep in mind when considering the Bill.
As I have already said, I have a great deal of sympathy with the Bill's aim, but I am not convinced that legislation in the form proposed will effectively achieve its purpose. My doubts are that in practice, if we were to pass the Bill in exactly its present form, we would find it would not work effectively and would not be easily enforceable.
A few hon. Members have already referred to some of the difficulties that might arise in practice. I remind the House of two or three of them. Principally, the Bill is adding to the criteria for deciding what shall be a permissible experiment a new criterion which it is not within the present capability of the Secretary of State or the scientific community to apply. That is one difficulty.
Secondly—and despite what the right hon. Member for Sowerby said in rather brushing aside the objections raised by my hon. and learned Friend the present Minister of State in the 1971 debate in connection with Section 21 of the 1876 Act—we believe that the Bill in this form could raise difficulties by putting a number of licensees in peril of prosecution—and I put it no higher—if it were claimed that a licensee had broken the mandatory condition by performing an experiment for which the bringer of the prosecution thought that some alternative method existed. This is a difficulty, and hon. Members would be unwise to make light of it.
The court before which any proceedings which finally got going were brought would be placed in real difficulty in assessing all the relevant evidence to decide whether a viable alternative method was available. My difficulty is that there is no easy or clear-cut decision in determining whether an adequate alternative exists. Yet it would be necessary to prove in a court with the degree of proof needed in a criminal case that an adequate alternative existed.
We are dealing with matters of pretty fine judgment whether, in the view of the experimenter—the licensee finding himself subject to prosecution—he could achieve what he is trying to do by other means. We have to accept that opinion, especially scientific opinion, is divided about the acceptability of some of the suggested alternative tests. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to work and enforce that provision. It would also be very difficult for Home Office inspectors to take the types of decision necessary and to prove their case in court.
We are not dealing here with a group of people who deliberately would try to carry out animal experiments when they were not necessary for their purpose. We are looking at problems of fine judgment whether a given experiment is still necessary or whether an acceptable and effective alternative exists. That is one practical difficulty.
There is also the point that the Bill is in a sense unrealistic. It ignores a central fact about the present experiment situation. It is that many of the experiments under the control of the 1876 Act are mandatory experiments on living animals for the standardisation of vaccines, sera and drugs intended for therapeutic use. As I have said, about 1·3 million experiments were done for these purposes during 1971. It is this House which demands that many substances intended for the treatment of disease in men and animals must be tested to ensure their safety in use before they are released for sale. Under present arrangements, these tests are retained until the relevant regulations are modified by Parliament after the Department of Health and Social Security has indicated that it is satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that alternative methods will serve as well.
I remind the House of paragraph 263 of the Littlewood Report:
It was explained to us by the Ministries and experts concerned that the question whether a biological test could be replaced by an alternative in vitro test was a matter of fine judgment; the alternative techniques inevitably took time to win acceptance. We were not able to discover any instance where there had been undue delay in dispensing with a prescribed test, and are satisfied that all concerned in the formulation of prescribed tests are anxious not to waste animals by retaining biological tests longer than necessary.
As long as that requirement is imposed, it will be difficult at least to try to work, alongside it, a Bill the effect of which is not easily compatible with the requirements of the Therapeutic Substances Act about the testing of drugs.
There are difficulties of enforceability. There are doubts about the effectiveness of the Bill in the form in which the right hon. Member for Sowerby introduced it. I cannot be confident, trying to make the fairest judgment that I can, that it would have any practical benefit to laboratory animals or appreciably reduce the number of experiments performed. This is a matter of judgment, of course, and I am giving my judgment on the best advice that I can get.
There is a contrary risk which hon. Members ought to keep in mind. It is that we might do a positive disservice to the progress of medical research if the effect of a Bill of this kind were to discourage or deter scientists from carrying on experimental work with animals rather than face the possibility of prosecution. I put it no higher than a possibility, but it is a matter which this House ought to weigh. Scientists would be asking themselves whether they should go on with an experiment which someone or some society or organisation claimed was unnecessary because the purpose could have been achieved by other means.
I ask the House to consider carefully the points that I have made before deciding whether to give the Bill a Second Reading. On the whole the present system works well. Of course any system is capable of improvement. But our system and methods of inspection, control and supervision are second to none in the world. Certainly there are strong safeguards against the type of animal suffering to which hon. Members on both sides of the House have drawn attention. Before changing the system drastically we have to be sure that our changes would not have a contrary effect in stifling valuable and bona fide research, and thereby losing important benefits for mankind.
The House will make up its own mind about this. But I have to register the doubts that I personally feel about the Bill in its present form. If the House decides to give the Bill a Second Reading, it will require searching scrutiny in Committee.
As always, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has been very reasonable, and I know that the sponsors of the Bill will have appreciated it. If we reach a Committee stage, we shall do our utmost to reciprocate my hon. Friend's reasonableness.
I thought that I detected from my hon. Friend's speech that there had been some movement of opinion towards our way of thinking. If that is so, it reflects the views of very many people who are engaged in vivisection.
Not long ago a number of us who are opposed to vivisection had the opportunity to have a very long and rational discussion with those who are engaged in it. There was no doubt that we came quite close to an agreement on a number of matters, one of them being the enactment of a Bill of this kind.
In a moment I shall give the reasons why there has been this shift of opinion among vivisectors. There are 14,000 in the country. All of them have been approached by the National Anti-Vivisection Society and the response has been quite remarkable. Very many of them have vouched for the fact that in the course of their careers they have been positively misled by their research on animals.
Although my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) may vote against the Bill, I know that he has fought sympathetically on this subject for a long time. However, it was my hon. Friend who mentioned thalidomide. I am not sure that that was a very good example to quote. One reason why there have been such tragically protracted negotiations is the insistence by those responsible that they did all that they could to ascertain that the drug was safe by carrying out experiment after experiment.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Californian courts have already decided that not necessarily all tests were carried out even in the existing knowledge at that time? At the same time, other drug companies are carrying out much more extensive tests. Does he agree that the pharmaceutical industry is not altogether happy about the series of tests which were carried out on thalidomide?
My hon. Friend knows better than I that it is not enough to experiment only on mice and rats. They must be graduated up through dogs and cats and eventually to monkeys before getting to the human. The basic research is carried out on thousands and thousands of rats and mice and that, as it were, is the base from which to work up through a pyramid of cats, dogs and monkeys with the human being at the top. None the less, the experiments were done and at the base level they were done to a considerable degree, as they had been done on nearly all the drugs that are now on the market.
If that were a tragic example, there is a comical one—namely, the attempt by one firm to develop a new contraceptive. On rats and mice it worked, but when it got near the top of the pyramid, to monkeys, it had precisely the opposite effect.
These were some of the facts which were elicited when these 14,000 licensees were approached in a major correspondence operation to ascertain their views and reactions to a proposal of this kind.
The tragedy is that there is considerable inertia at the moment. I hate to point the accusing finger at any Government, but successive Governments have been at fault because they are the biggest vivisector of all. The great majority of experiments are paid for out of public money. There is a lack of leadership and drive on this issue. Unless a lead is given we shall go on seeing this wretched total number of experiments increase year after year. There are now about 5½ million experiments each year. That is one per half-second of every working day in the laboratories. When the 1876 Act was passed it was not one experiment per half-second; it was one per day. Only 300 experiments a year were carried out nearly a century ago when the 1876 Act was applied.
I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South that those of us who present the Bill, one of whom has had a licence to carry out vivisection, are not concerned, on this occasion at least, with the principle of vivisection. We are trying to establish the principle that if there is a valid alternative that is as accurate and reliable as vivisection, it should be practised. That is all that the Bill seeks to do.
Many thousands of people outside this House who have been worried about this subject for a long time will be heartened to read some of the comments made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. I appreciate that in his last few sentences he doubted whether the Bill should go through in its present form because it would not be enforceable, but he did not run away from the principle which underlies the Bill. I hope, therefore, that he and those who advise him will be willing to meet those of us who want the Bill enacted to see whether some other wording will enable this principle to be put on the statute book.
The 1876 Act very nearly got this principle written into it. The Certificate E procedure applies to dogs, cats and certain other animals. Some of the proposers of the Bill suggest that if it applies to them, it should apply to all animals. Why not apply it to the hamster as well as to the dog, to the mouse as well as to the cat? After all, this is what we are about. Today the experimenter must, for Certificate E, give an assurance that he needs to use a dog or a cat for his experiment and that no other means of research is valid enough. Why cannot we apply that principle to any other animal?
If my hon. Friend and his advisers still insist that legislation is the practical way and that it cannot be done, then again I ask him to consider a proposal that has the support of, I think, 150 Members of Parliament, that a research institute should be set up to look into this matter. It would cost very little, a mere bagatelle, compared with the huge expenditure by the Government on other forms of medical and scientific research. We advocate a research institute of the kind that has been set up in other countries.
It is a sad fact that, although for decades this country led the world in matters of this kind, in regard for animal life we have now slipped behind. Certain other countries have overtaken us. The proposers of the Bill, who hope that it will receive a Second Reading, want no more than that this country should regain the foremost place that it once had.