As there is deep public anxiety about reports of animal cruelty, such as unnecessary laboratory experiments on animals for cosmetic purposes, intensive farming and blood sports, will the Government give the matter some priority, particularly as the legislation that has been announced is harmful to the British people?
I am aware of the worry about animal experiments. The ad hoc committee of the Council of Europe reached agreement earlier this year on the text of the draft convention which it expects to be finalised in the near future, ready for submission to the Council of Ministers early next year. We shall then be in a position to move forward.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the measure is really a fossil of such incredible antiquity that neither he nor his right hon. Friend is likely to be accused of headlong impetuosity if they get on with tidying it up?
I am resigned to the fact that I am unlikely to be accused of headlong impetuosity in this matter. On the other hand, the Act, which has been a great one, is still viable. However, we hope before long to put our proposals before the House to bring the legislation up to date.
Will the Minister remember that "for the time being" must be in this parliamentary Session, because it was a firm election pledge in the Conservative Party's manifesto to update the legislation on experiments on live animals? If the Government do not intend to carry out that election pledge, perhaps they will say so now.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that next month the Council of Europe is holding a public hearing on animal experimentation? That will give an adequate opportunity for democratic forms of expression to be made, from which will flow the convention which he mentioned, which will enable us to get our legislation right on the subject.
Will the Minister accept that on other issues—for example, asbestos safeguards—there has been a delay of many years when dealing with other countries in trying to reach a consensus? Will he assure the House that if there are any delays in the Council of Europe he will introduce legislation into this House to update what is regarded by many as an otiose, outdated and wholly inadequate piece of legislation?
Obviously, if the Council of Europe is not able to come to a conclusion on the matter, we shall have to think about going ahead on our own. However, I believe that the Council of Europe is working effectively, and it is highly desirable that we should work in partnership with the other members of the Council of Europe in achieving the right outcome.