Amendment of Section 14 of Cruelty to Animals Act 1876

New Clause 1 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th July 1973.

Alert me about debates like this

In section 14 of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876

  1. (i) after the word "Act", where it first occurs there shall be inserted ", except as provided in subsection (2) of this section,"
  2. (ii) at the end there shall be added the following subsection-

"(2) An offence of carrying out an experiment not within the authority of a licence by reason of the condition attached thereto under section 8 that no experiment on a living animal shall be performed under the authority of that licence if the purpose of the experiment could be achieved by alternative means not involving an experiment on a living animal shall be triable on indictment".

"(3) Any person found guilty of such an offence as is mentioned in subsection (2) above shall be liable to a fine". —[Mr. Shersby.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.8 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The purpose of the clause is to deal with the penalties which may be inflicted following an infringement of the new licence condition which is created by the Bill. As I said on Second Reading on 11th May: The aim of the Bill is commendable …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May 1973; Vol. 856, c. 902.] Today I would go further and say that the prevention of cruelty to live animals is a good cause and one which deserves the serious attention of the House. Like many other hon. Members I have received and have read with interest the July-August edition of Animals Defender, the journal of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, which welcomes the Bill. I am pleased to note the following passage from the editorial: Unquestionably the concept and practical application of non-animal research (in vitro techniques) has signposted the way to a rapid reduction in the number of animals now involved in experimental tests. I have also read the memorandum by the Research Defence Society which has been sent to hon. Members. I am pleased to note that it also makes the point: Generally speaking test-tube methods, when possible, are preferred by investigators to experiments on animals, and used, not only for reasons of humanity but because they are 1) cheaper, 2) quicker, 3) more reliable. It is the scientists themselves pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge who have devised, are devising and will ever continue to devise such methods. This applies especially in pharmaceutical research which is governed by expense. The Royal College of Surgeons of England, in its notes of guidance to research workers on the use of laboratory animals, gives this advice: Before embarking on a project entailing the use of animals, a research worker should satisfy himself that no alternative technique (e.g., cell culture) will meet the needs of his investigation. From these quotations, it seems clear to me that the objective of the Bill is broadly in line with current trends towards a reduction in the number of live animals used in medical research and recognises the increasing use of alternative means of research which are the goal of all enlightened research workers.

In considering the Bill as it stands, the House must consider the very strict regulations governing animal experiments which already exist under the 1876 Act. Moreover, we must consider whether this simple Bill is adequate to deal with the objective and whether the penalties which apply to the new licence conditions created are adequate.

What concerns me today is that the Bill is somewhat defective as it stands because it does not deal adequately with penalties for offences against the 1876 Act as it would be amended by the Bill. By Section 14 of the Act, offences are tried summarily by lay or stipendiary magistrates and offences against Section 2, dealing with illegal experiments, are liable to the maximum penalty of £50 for the first offence and £100 or three months' imprisonment for the second or subsequent offences.

My new clause would have the effect first of all of making an offence of contravening the new licence conditions created by the Bill triable on indictment by the Crown court, and, secondly, of making the fine of an unspecified amount. I feel certain that if a prosecution is brought for contravening the new licence conditions created by the Bill the issues which will have to be argued are of extreme complexity and subtlety.

The very nature of sophisticated parts of research work requires a judgment to be made on the frontiers of present knowledge. This is an area where hypothesis and supposition are the rule and established and firm truths are the exception.

In my view, these are not matters upon which the lay bench should properly be asked to adjudicate. Even the higher courts may be in serious difficulty. But it seems right that the issue should go to them in the first instance so that it can be argued by first-class counsel before a professional judge. It also seems right to give the higher courts the discretion to award a fine without stipulating a maximum. It could be a very serious offence to break the conditions of a licence if it were done deliberately. On the other hand, inadvertent contravention of the conditions should attract a lighter sanction.

For those reasons, I believe that. he new clause is essential if the Bill is to be meaningful and if it is to be acceptable and workable in the context of this legislation.

3.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Douglas Houghton Mr Douglas Houghton , Sowerby

If the House wills it, the Bill can pass its Report stage and Third Reading by four o'clock and I appeal to the spirit of co-operation in the House for that to happen. No superfluous word of mine or provocative comment will delay the Bill by a single minute.

I say straight away that I am obliged to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and I will accept the new clause. I agree entirely that in certain respects the Bill could be improved, and most of the amendments on the Order Paper today would improve it and would meet some of the objections to it.

I shall not complain—I utter no reproaches—but it is a pity that some of these proposed changes were not brought forward earlier. After all, 11th May was the date for the Second Reading and 23rd May the date of the Committee stage. No amendments were forthcoming then. The Bill has twice received an unopposed Second Reading.

I shall not delay the House. The Bill can be passed if the House wills that it should be on the statute book. It would allay at least some of the fears of many people about the conduct of experiments on live animals. I therefore notify the House that I will accept the new clause and I hope to have co-operation in putting the Bill through.

Photo of Dr Thomas Stuttaford Dr Thomas Stuttaford , Norwich South

There is one consideration to be borne in mind by those concerned with the law relating to this subject. It is that the subject is far too complicated for ordinary lay magistrates to understand. We have to decide whether we are making it impossible for people to obey the spirit of this and other laws.

Photo of Mr Edward Mallalieu Mr Edward Mallalieu , Brigg

The hon. Member is not dealing with the new clause. He is dealing with the Bill.

Photo of Dr Thomas Stuttaford Dr Thomas Stuttaford , Norwich South

The Bill asks lay magistrates to decide whether a man carrying out experiments is breaking the law if he obeys the Animals Act 1950, or the Therapeutic Substances Act 1956, rather than the Bill.

Photo of Mr Edward Mallalieu Mr Edward Mallalieu , Brigg

The hon. Gentleman is not dealing with the new clause.

Photo of Dr Thomas Stuttaford Dr Thomas Stuttaford , Norwich South

I shall not argue, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is asking a lot of any lay bench to ask it to decide whether to sentence a man for breaking this law. It is not within the capabilities of the average doctor, grocer, or other magistrate to decide whether a man is wrong to break this law, but right to break another, or right to break this and wrong to break the other.

This clause takes that decision out of the scope of magistrates and gives it to the higher courts where there would be people much more learned and able to get sound advice. They would be medically and legally briefed and the problem would not arise.

The clause would mean that lay magistrates would not have jurisdiction over people doing a job that the magistrate did not understand. Both legally and medically, this is a difficult technical matter and it is wrong and unfair for lay magistrates to be asked to judge.

Photo of Mr Douglas Houghton Mr Douglas Houghton , Sowerby

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) and the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) have not referred to Section 21 of the 1876 Act, which provides: A prosecution under this act against a licensed person shall not be instituted except with the assent in writing of the Secretary of State. That, I suggest, is a very full safeguard against the kind of thing to which the hon. Member for Norwich, South is referring.

Photo of Dr Thomas Stuttaford Dr Thomas Stuttaford , Norwich South

Is it a safeguard? What is worrying everyone is the number of experiments that have to be carried out. Is it possible for the Secretary of State to consider all these problems? If we ask him to consider them, is medical research to be held up? There is no doubt that if this Bill is passed and if the numbers of animal experiments continue to rise—

Photo of Mr Edward Mallalieu Mr Edward Mallalieu , Brigg

Order. Will the hon. Member explain to me how what he is now saying is related to the clause?

Photo of Dr Thomas Stuttaford Dr Thomas Stuttaford , Norwich South

If the new clause is accepted, cases will be tried by the ordinary magisrates' courts which, as we know from experience—

Photo of Dr Anthony Trafford Dr Anthony Trafford , The Wrekin

Is it not the position that under the present law as applied any prosecution forthcoming would have to be undertaken with the fiat of the Secretary of State—the Home Secretary—but it would have to be undertaken before a court of summary jurisdiction and not on indictment, but I believe the essence of the Clause to be that even it that fiat of the Secretary of State still remains, as it presumably would, and were given, the case would be tried in the High Court, which would be in a quite different position from that of a magistrates' court to adjudicate on the issue. If I understand my hon. Friend correctly, he is arguing that this would be a far better way of trying very detailed, difficult and complex issues, and would give much greater security to scientists and others engaged in research. In those circumstances, they would have much less to fear, because of the nature of any court trying such an offence, whereas the people who would be put—

Photo of Mr Ronald Brown Mr Ronald Brown , Shoreditch and Finsbury

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Are we all invited to make speeches in an intervention?

Photo of Mr Edward Mallalieu Mr Edward Mallalieu , Brigg

I understand that this is an intervention.

Photo of Dr Thomas Stuttaford Dr Thomas Stuttaford , Norwich South

My more learned colleague and I have tried to deal with the point. We do not feel that the magistrates' court is the proper place in which to judge these matters. If we ask magistrates to judge them, nonsenses will certainly be committed. If they are too severe, medical research will be held up. If they are too lenient, the Bill will become meaningless. If they are severe, there is the danger not only that medical research will be held up but that more and more experiments will be carried out not only on animals but on humans, who are excluded by the 1876 Act. In medical research, more and more human volunteers are being used. This is a regressive feature of modern medicine. We would much rather see animals used than humans, but the tendency is for more humans to volunteer as guinea pigs. A severe magistrates' court could increase this tendency.

There can be little doubt that this is complicated law, and the reason is that the Bill runs contrary to the Therapeutic Substances Act 1956, the Animals Act 1950, and the Medicines Act 1968. Those three measures conflict with this present Bill, which cannot be right. If these paradoxes are to be solved they will be solved only by a higher court decision, and the higher the court the better, but such a matter as this is not something for the decision of the local grocer, greengrocer or baker in a magistrates' court one morning.

Photo of Dr Anthony Trafford Dr Anthony Trafford , The Wrekin

I must apologise for the length of the intervention. I hoped to help you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in establishing the purpose behind the introduction of the new clause.

I understand that the purpose of the Bill, which I applaud, is to distinguish between necessary experiments—I emphasise" necessary "—on living animals and the true furtherance of research and the dubious activities of some fringe so-called experimenters who do things of which most of us disapprove. This new clause gives much greater protection for those people, who we do not wish to be looking over their shoulders all the time and hesitating to perform an experiment, feeling that they might be inadequately judged before a court. That is why, at the end of subsection (2) of the clause, we talk about offences" "triable on indictment". This is a reasonable protection which should reassure those who are legitimately, properly and unavoidably engaged on research using live animals.

However, a higher court would be able easily to distinguish the fraud from the true and the false from the real. The false investigator who knew that he was overstepping the bounds would be deterred without the necessity of proceeding to a court. For that reason primarily I recommend the clause to the House.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

I cannot support my hon. Friends in the promotion of the new clause. Nor can I accept the suggestion made by the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) with his length of service and wisdom, that we should truncate the debate. Much as I respect the sincerity with which he has presented the Bill and what it stands for, there are some elements in it which need further discussion. But, above all, this clause needs discussion. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should even have thought of accepting it in the interests of trying to speed the debate. It is completely contrary to his advocacy of the Bill on Second Reading.

I wish to quote what the right hon. Gentleman said on Second Reading because it describes exactly his intentions and aims. He said: The Bill itself deals with only one single, but important, issue. That is the need to encourage"— I emphasise "encourage"—

and, indeed, to enforce"— I emphasise that, too—

wherever possible the use of alternative methods to carry out this work". That is laudable, but the right hon. Gentleman went on to say—and here I must declare my interest because I am, as I think the House knows, a director of a pharmaceutical firm—

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. Referring to the responsibility of the experimenter, the person who carries out the tests, the right hon. Gentleman said:

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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May 1973; Vol. 856, c. 884–92.] I accept all that. The right hon. Gentleman made wise observations to remind us of the difficulty. But how can he accept the clause, which puts a terrific restriction and a great burden on any experimenter—much more severe than he would seek to impose because he speaks of the tragic dangers and difficulties which may arise if an experimenter does not carry out an experiment when there is no alternative. But the experimenter must make the decision. The onus is on his shoulders.

Photo of Mr Michael Shersby Mr Michael Shersby , Uxbridge

If my hon. Friend studies Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 in my name, he will see that it is proposed to remove the onus from the experimenter and to place it on the members of the medical profession and the Home Office. The Secretary of State is answerable to the House in the final analysis.

3.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I must speak about the new clause, which I want to see voted down. It would have the effect of imposing too severe a restriction on the experimenter which is not in accord with the wishes of the right hon. Member for Sowerby.

I am not a lawyer and, as there are not many lawyers on my side of the House today, I shall have to do my best without their guidance or intervention. The clause says that the experimenter" shall be triable on indictment". I have made inquiries about what that means. It means that the experimenter triable on indictment would have committed an indictable offence, which is a more serious offence. It would mean that he could, therefore, elect to be tried summarily, not by a lay bench. He would have the advantage of a professional judge and counsel but, having elected to be tried summarily, he would impose upon himself the danger of a much more severe punishment. If he is tried summarily, the maximum penalty is six months in prison. We are talking about imprisonment for a man who has had to make a judgment for himself about an experiment. He would also be subject to a fine not exceeding £400, or to both a fine and imprisonment up to six months.

I further find in my amateur investigation into the legal situation that it is normal for an offence triable on indictment to be punished by an unlimited fine. I need advice, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will give me advice when he responds to the debate. I also understand that it is unusual for an indictable offence not to be punishable by a period of imprisonment. I confess that I do not know what is the situation. Is the offender to be punished by a heavy fine or by a period of imprisonment. and is that the normal situation?

If the new clause is accepted, the experimenter, having made his difficult decision to go on with an experiment, will be subject to trial on indictment. If he chooses to be tried summarily he is virtually choosing a much more severe punishment. He is choosing, possibly, to be sent to prison. This restriction will apply to people who want to carry out experiments but fear to do so because they do not know what decision to take.

Photo of Dr Anthony Trafford Dr Anthony Trafford , The Wrekin

That is not so. It is not necessary for a higher court, even if it finds him guilty, to impose a heavy fine. It depends on the degree of guilt. He could easily be fined only a nominal amount. The whole purpose of the clause is to protect genuine investigators. My hon. Friend is wrong on this ground to oppose the clause.

Photo of Mr David Crouch Mr David Crouch , Canterbury

I oppose the clause because it is badly drafted and has been insufficiently studied by lawyers. I hope that my hon Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to satisfy not only me but the whole House on this important point in law—whether a man is electing to be tried for a more serious offence than would otherwise apply. The clause cannot pass the House today.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead

I came here this afternoon in response to a considerable number of letters from constituents asking me either to help the Bill in its passage or to vote against it. I have replied to all the letters saying that I wished to listen to the arguments and the debate.

I had not intended to intervene until I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) speak in such low terms of lay magistrates. He spoke of grocers and butchers. This may apply to Norwich, though I doubt it, but it certainly does not apply in the rest of the country.

Having sat for ten years on a lay bench in London, I know that the overwhelming majority of offences are dealt with not by lawyers, stipendiaries and high court judges but by lay magistrates. I deprecate my hon. Friend's remarks and, if the clause goes to a Division, I shall vote against it.

Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge

Before saying a few words specifically about the clause, I wish to make two points in response to the general remarks made by the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). Since the Second Reading of the Bill and its Committee stage in this House, I have received a great many representations about the measure, nearly all of them critical and pointing out some of the dangers and snags which I tried to point out in earlier stages of the Bill. I have received the views of national organisations and from my own constituents.

I wish to join in the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks to the extent that, whether or not the Bill goes through today, we all want to allay unnecessary fears about the operation of our present legislation dealing with experiments on animals. We are all at one on this aspect of the matter. It is right that I should take the opportunity of saying that we should do all we can to put the matter in perspective and allay unnecessary fears.

My advice to the House on the clause is that there is advantage in having offences which involve difficult matters of judgment triable by a higher court rather than by a magistrates' court. I do not want to enter into the controversy that broke out a few moments ago.

Photo of Dr Thomas Stuttaford Dr Thomas Stuttaford , Norwich South

Will my hon. Friend give away?

Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge

I would rather not give way. I do not want to detain the House. I want to conclude my argument so that we can move on.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead

Would my hon. Friend the Minister, as he referred to me, give way?

Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge

I did not refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)—I referred to no hon. Friend by name.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead

I hope my hon. Friend will give way.

Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge

I would rather finish what I am saying. I want to be brief.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Finsberg Mr Geoffrey Finsberg , Hampstead

I wanted to help my hon. Friend.

Photo of Mr David Lane Mr David Lane , Cambridge

Let us have these offences triable by higher courts, and on those grounds we think that it would be a good idea to add the new clause to the Bill. On the other hand, there is the difficulty pinpointed by my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) about the apparent anomaly which would result by which somebody who elected to be tried summarily might in certain circumstances, be liable to imprisonment, which would not be the case if he were tried on indictment. This point should be con-

Division No. 207.]AYES[3.38 p.m.
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis)Hunt, JohnParker, John (Dagenham)
BIenkinsop, ArthurJay. Rt. Hn. DouglasReed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Booth, AlbertJeger, Mrs. LenaRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)Richard, Ivor
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.)Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove)Judd, FrankStuttaford, Dr. Tom
Driberg, TomKaufman, GeraldTrafford, Dr. Anthony
English, MichaelLamborn, HarryTuck, Raphael
Eyre, ReginaldLane, DavidWatkins, David
Fortescue, TimLatham, ArthurWilliams, Mrs. Shirley (Nitchin)
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)Le Merchant, Spencer
Hardy, PeterLeonard, DickTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hayhoe, BarneyLipton, MarcusMr. Michael Shersby and
Hornsby-Smilh,Rt.Hn.Dame PatriciaMcBride, NeilDr. Gerard Vaughan.
Houghton, Rt. Hn. DouglasMoney, Ernio
NOES
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.)
Silverman, Julius
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. David Crouch and
Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause read a Second time and added to the Bill.