I beg to move,
That the draft Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act Fees (No. 1) Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 12th November, he approved.
Under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, there is a system by which the users—those involved with animal procedures, who are mainly holders of personal licences—pay a licence fee that is altered from time to time by Parliament. It has always been agreed that the income generated is expected to meet the full costs of administering the Act, including the licensing system, the Home Office inspectorate, the Animal Procedures Committee and Home Office grants to sponsor research into alternatives. Those costs have reduced, but amount to some £2.3 million per annum.
The fees have been set according to the expected level of income. However, recently, because of a reduction in the number of personal licences—some 3,000 fewer are being issued than originally expected—there has been a deficit in the income. The order is designed to make up that deficit, and the Home Office will ask users to pay a one-off fee to make it up. The personal licence fee will go up from £110 to £135 and, under the order, a one-off fee of £89 will be levied. That will close the deficit and put the system back in financial balance. I therefore commend the order to the House.
I listened carefully to the Minister's presentation. It was more interesting for what was not in it than what was. The Minister told us that the order will make up the deficit in relation to the fees fixed by the Home Secretary under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. I understand why he is doing that. I also agree that such fees should cover the full costs of inspection and administration, but the Minister did not deal with several points.
First, how did the deficit arise? Secondly, is the current level of fees, even with the increase, realistic in relation to the full cost of providing the services?
I explained that there has been a shortfall in the number of personal licences. There are some 3,000 fewer personal licences than was originally estimated and that has led to the deficit that we seek to make up through the order.
The Minister did say that, and I accept that there is a shortfall of 3,000, but surely any fee structure should contain an element of flexibility and be connected to the number of personal licences and, therefore, relate to the number of people who are carrying out experiments. I suspect that the shortfall may not mean that fewer experiments are being carried out; simply that fewer people are involved in them. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether people may be using the procedures to reduce charges by cutting down on the number of personal licences.
I am sorry, but I cannot give way while I am making an intervention. Instead, I shall ask my Front-Bench colleague a question. The Minister said that there was a 3,000 shortfall—whatever that may mean—but how many licences are there? That is the question that I wanted to ask the Minister. We know that there are now 3,000 fewer licences, but what is the total?
That is an important question, which we must come back to, because it is relevant to the argument. The Minister may like to answer it when he responds to the debate.
My hon. Friend's question leads me to what I was about to say. If there is a shortfall in income because of the reduction in the number of licences, is there not a way of restructuring and improving the way in which fees are charged under the Act? I mean a restructuring designed to encourage changes in the use of animals, especially the use of non-animal alternatives and more humane procedures.
One of the purposes of the fee is to fund research and development into non-animal alternatives, which we welcome. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the Government put only about £250,000 into research into other methods—a modest sum to spend on the serious issue of switching away from the use of animals.
One way of boosting the money that goes into research into other methods would be to have a more realistic licence fee and to restructure the system. I accept what the Minister said about the 3,000 shortfall, but I went to the Library and looked back to the last time the licence fees were amended. If I am wrong, again I am open to correction by the Minister, but according to my research fees were last increased under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (Fees) Order 1993.
The annual fee for scientific research establishments increased from £120 to £122—a £2 increase. If I am right, there has been no increase since 1993. Is it any wonder that there is a shortfall, when fees are put up by such a small margin? Personal licence fees, too, were last increased in 1993, from £108 to £110—also a £2 increase. The breeding and supplying establishments had their fees increased by the large sum of £8, to £553. I assume that there has been no increase since that date. If so, it is hardly surprising that a shortfall has arisen.
I do not think that those fees represent much of a burden on the pharmaceutical companies that pay them. I am sure that that level of increase was of little concern to them. The 1993 increase was unrealistic, and the fees have not been increased since then. I do not think that that was responsible behaviour in terms of ensuring that the licence income kept up with the kind of services required.
The Minister says that there are 3,000 fewer licences, but I do not believe that the decrease accounts for the whole shortfall—the increases were tiny, at £2 a licence, and there has been no increase since 1993.
Such licence fee increases contrast badly with the Government's treatment of other charges and fees—council tax, for example. My local council tax payers would be delighted if their council tax was increased by only £2. My local authority is North Lincolnshire, a new unitary authority set up in 1995, and the people there have had to suffer an increase of 28 per cent. in their council tax. Yet pharmaceutical companies, many of which are very profitable and successful, pay such small charges.
Then there is what the charges are used for. The Minister said that they pay for the Animal Procedures Committee, for inspections, and for encouraging other methods. Those are legitimate and worthy objectives, but we must look at the link between income from licence fees, the work of the Animal Procedures Committee, and the level of inspections and their effectiveness under the 1986 Act.
In a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael), the Minister said that there were no plans to increase the funding of the Animal Procedures Committee from the current modest total of £253,000. He gave no information about any extra funding for the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods—the main centre that the Government have supported for the purpose of developing non-animal alternatives.
As the Minister is arguing in favour of an increase, it would not be unreasonable to ask him to tell us how much of it will go towards increasing funding for inspections, enforcement and the development of other options. He has not told us how much of the money will simply make up the shortfall that has arisen because of the paltry increases in 1993. It would be useful to know.
A classic example of the need to encourage a move away from unnecessary experiments is cosmetic testing. We could have a higher licence fee for institutions and companies involved in such work. Section 5(4) of the 1986 Act clearly states that animal suffering should not be outweighed by human benefit, so under the current legislation it is hard to justify cosmetic testing on animals.
There is great concern about the possibility that the agreed European Union deadline for ending cosmetic testing on animals may be extended. That is outside the scope of the debate, but I hope that the Minister will take note of the fact that many people would be appalled if that deadline were extended, because promises have been made to end the practice within the European Union.
Charges within the fees could be structured so as to encourage change and the use of other options. The LD50 test is outdated and obsolete, yet in 1994—the most recent year for which I could find figures—116,493 such tests took place. The Minister is probably aware that that goes against section 5(5) of the 1986 Act, which says that there must be "adequate consideration" of other methods.
There is an alternative to the LD50 test. The fixed-dose procedure is accepted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and there is no reason why it should not replace the LD50 test. There is also some argument about the use of the Draize test, and whether others are available.
Where there are arguments against tests—arguments about their age and about the cruelty involved—and where other tests could be used, could the Minister not consider differential payments by the institutions and companies that use the older tests? When they apply for licences, they should pay a considerably higher fee for using those tests, which would encourage a move away from the less acceptable tests towards the more modern options.
In 1993 the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection—the BUAV—exposed the fact that rabbits were being used by Wickham laboratories for pyrogenicity tests. Non-animal alternatives for those tests were not only available but had been recommended by both the United Kingdom and the European Union regulatory bodies, yet the tests were still taking place.
We are talking not simply about promoting other methods, but about a failure of enforcement under the 1986 Act. There has been a failure of procedure. Differential fees could help not only to discourage older, crueller tests, but to finance stronger regulation and more frequent and better inspection.
Why not also consider the fees as a means of encouraging a reduction in the number of animals used in experiments? A higher charge for using more animals would be an inducement to institutions and companies to reduce the number of animals that they use. That is not a new principle. It is accepted by the Government to promote environmental taxes. The increase in fuel duty by 5 per cent. above the rate of inflation is aimed at encouraging people to economise on fuel. Differential rates of tax on lead-free petrol and low-sulphur diesel are intended to encourage people to switch to those fuels for environmental reasons.
It is not unreasonable to suggest differential fees for licences to encourage a move away from the use of animals, to promote other methods and eventually to eliminate entirely the use of animals. The extra fees would also help to enforce the workings of the 1986 Act.
We must accept that there have been failings in the 1986 Act. I welcome the fact that the Animal Procedures Committee is conducting a full review of the workings of the Act. The Labour party has called for that for some time. Investigations by groups such as Advocates for Animals and the BUAV have demonstrated failures—for example, rabbits being burnt and operated on without adequate anaesthetics, and the abuse and tormenting of animals in certain institutions.
It would be helpful if the Minister told us whether he would consider differential charges, and whether he would discuss the matter with the Animal Procedures Committee as part of its review. Extra funding could bring about a reduction in the almost 3 million animals used in experiments, and speed up progress towards ending the practice.
The principle of differential charging is established and accepted. It is clear that the shortfall in income is due partly to inadequate charging, going back to 1993. The order presents an opportunity to rectify the situation.
I shall not detain the House long. I know that many hon. Members have business outside the House. I owe an apology to Olivia Burge of Briary Church primary school, who expected me to be at her carol service tonight. I hope that she and her classmates will understand that I have business here and will recognise the need for some of us to discuss these matters.
I must declare an interest in two pharmaceutical companies. That has never hindered me from speaking on this subject, and I do not propose to allow it to do so tonight. Hon. Members who know me know that that is my position.
I have great sympathy with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), and I hope to explain to my hon. Friend the Minister why. I was privileged to serve on the Committee on the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Bill, as it then was, which was introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor) with considerable courage.
It was widely considered at the time that the Bill was a significant step forward in animal welfare. Its achievements should be recognised, but it is now 10 years since the Act was passed. It is under review by the Animal Procedures Committee and I understand that Professor Brazier and her colleagues hope to report in full in early or mid-spring next year. We look forward to their recommendations, because science and public opinion have moved on since the Bill became an Act.
My view, which is shared by colleagues on both sides of the House, is that not enough progress has been made in those 10 years, especially in Europe. Many of us believe strongly that, if there is to be progress on the use of animals in medical and cosmetic experiments, that will be achieved properly only on a Europewide basis. In the United Kingdom we have made a little progress, with the outlawing of the import of wild-caught primates. Many of us think that that should be a Europewide ban and we object to the import into the European Union of primates of any kind.
Experimentation on primates should stop. We are told that they are no longer imported from the wild, although there are some infringements. Would it not be preferable to move away from the use of primates for experimental purposes?
I understand and respect the hon. Gentleman's position. He, I think, understands mine. I have never believed that one will solve a problem by moving it from A to B, which is why I am adamant that we must seek Europewide solutions; otherwise I fear that we shall end experiments in this country, only to find that they move, possibly to one of the southern European states, where animals will not be treated even as well as they are treated in laboratories in the UK.
In principle, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As part of a step-by-step approach, the step of banning the use of wild-caught animals in the UK was a sound one. I would like it extended Europewide. I should like Europe to stop importing primates for medical or scientific experiments as soon as possible. I should like alternatives to be introduced, as I know would the hon. Gentleman.
The European Union has copped out of the cosmetics argument. The EC passed a directive stating that the use of animals in cosmetic testing would be phased out as soon as there were validated alternatives. We saw a flurry of welcome activity and investment, especially by the cosmetic companies, to explore possible alternatives. When it became clear that the implementation of the directive was unlikely to be possible within the time—this relates directly to the fees argument and the work of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods—and when it became clear that validated alternatives would not be available, the Commission ducked the issue. Implementation has been postponed indefinitely.
The investment that was generated by the incentive of the end date has gone. The money from the cosmetic companies has been withdrawn. The small research companies that were investigating alternatives—I have in mind a particular laboratory in Scotland—find that their work is no longer being funded.
That bring us to the fees, which are modest. I recall—as I believe you do, Madam Deputy Speaker—that, during the passage of the Bill, the provisions for fees and charges were made specifically to back up the work of the inspectorate and the APC and to invest in research into alternative methods. Ten years on, insufficient money is being spent.
Those of us who have contacts in the pharmaceutical industry know that those companies believe that many experiments are carried out unnecessarily, but international agreements require them to be done. The APC should address those issues, and would be more able to do so if it was better funded. I do not see why that should become a burden on the British taxpayer. The companies that have a real and honourable interest in this would be willing to pay more in fees and charges if they believed that that would obviate the need for the animals in their animal houses which, frankly, most of them do not want any more than we do.
In the past couple of years, the inspectorate has been reduced. My hon. Friend the Minister will say that it has not been reduced, and that the level was raised to cope with the introduction of the Act. Once the Act had taken effect, it was no longer necessary to have the additional manpower. With respect, my hon. Friend has always overlooked the fact that the scientific procedures in which pharmaceutical companies and others developing new household goods are engaged are infinitely more complex than they were. They require greater understanding and a higher, not a lower, level of inspection.
One of the bases of the inspectorate was recently moved from the home counties back to central London. The effect has been—not may be, but has been—to give the inspectorate greater travelling time. It spends more time on the road and less time in the laboratories. I believe that it was intention of the House, and of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney and those of us who worked on the Act originally, that the inspectorate should be able to do a thorough job. It should be made up not only of doctors, but of vets who are qualified to go into laboratories to examine animal husbandry and to challenge the issue of every licence, if necessary. Inspectors must ensure that animal life is not wasted in the way that many of us believe it currently is.
It is vital that the inspectorate is not weakened, but enhanced, and the companies themselves would welcome that. The House owes it to the spirit and the letter of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 to impose a level of charges that allows the inspectorate and the APC to operate properly. I do not believe that the procedures of the House will allow my hon. Friend the Minister to announce a sudden increase, but I urge him to go back to the Home Office and look carefully at the figures to see whether it is possible, through a further increase in these fees and charges, to fund the work that all hon. Members want to see.
I have listened with great care to the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), who works closely with us, and leads us, in the all-party animal welfare group. We do not always agree—even on this matter—but he respects my views, and I his. I cannot extend that act of charity to the Minister tonight, and it makes nonsense of our procedures if he is not prepared to make a fist of the draft statutory instrument. There are a number of questions that I wanted to ask, and the Minister appears to be getting out from under as fast as he can. He does himself no great credit, and he has not enhanced the scrutiny powers of this place.
Self-commendation is no great thing in this place, which is full of people who think that they ought to have been Prime Minister. I suggest that the Minister adopt a more humble role in this place—otherwise his present role will be the only one he will ever have.
The Minister told us little about the draft statutory instrument. He said that there was a shortfall of 3,000 licences and that therefore there was a need to raise extra resources through the increased fees. But he did not tell us how many licences we gain fees from. That is important, as from that we can start to work out precisely the number of companies and groups involved in animal experimentation.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) that the proposed increases—from £110 to £135—are miserly and absurd, given the money made within the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, and research generally. The idea that £135, and a one-off fee of £89, is reasonable is absurd. The Minister told us nothing about total income, or how much the shortfall was in pounds, shillings and pence. I hoped that he would address those matters, and I hope now that, belatedly, he will apply his mind to these points when he replies to this short debate.
I am caught in a position of some equivocation, as I do not agree with animal experimentations—period. I take an absolutist position on this, which I realise puts me in something of a minority in the House. However, I believe that we do not have the right to experiment on animals at all. Who are we to say that animals should suffer on our behalf? But if we are to do these experiments, the fees ought to be at such a level that people think carefully about whether they want to apply for a licence. In addition, increasing the fees could also produce some resources for the Home Office to enable it to police the licensing regime with a damn sight more efficiency and thoroughness than it does.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe said that the Act requires scientists to consider the use of alternatives, and the Home Office is there to study the difference between gain and pain in terms of experimentation. That can be done only if there are enough inspectors spending enough time thinking objectively and coolly about the matter. Funding is needed for more research projects in universities to look at these matters, but that cannot be done with the present miserly budget.
We have been told that the budget for looking at alternatives to animal experimentation is £253,000. Is that the real size of the budget, given the mega-millions that the industries that use these animals for experimentation are spending? Is that all we are spending? The Minister and the Home Office cannot be serious if this is the sort of money that they are talking about. If the fees are supposed to fund the inspectorate, it is not surprising that there are only 19 inspectors.
The inspectors' work load in 1994 included the assessment of 955 project licences, the monitoring of the work of 15,700 licensed applicants and the inspection of 328 research establishments in the United Kingdom. Is that the level of the problem with which they have to deal? Is that the scale of the work load? Are we seriously suggesting that we are taking inspection seriously, with just 19 inspectors? If we raise money to pay for the inspectors from the amounts we charge for licences, let us stick it on the licensees. If they want to experiment, let them pay for it. People like me do not want them to do it, but I am damned if I will let them do it when they know that they will not even be supervised within the terms of the 1986 Act.
All the good intentions that I hear will amount to nothing if we are unable adequately to police those pieces of legislation on which we insist in this place. Does the Home Office really care? Does the inspectorate really care? To what extent is the inspectorate hand in glove with the pharmaceutical industry in terms of experimentation? People may say that I am being unfair in making these allegations, but I feel that it is totally obscene for us to experiment on any animal. If we were to change to a more healthy life style, we might not have so many diseases. We might then not need to use animals in experiments to find ways of solving the problems that we have created ourselves.
I do not believe that we have the moral superiority to say that animals should suffer because of our ineptitude, stupidity and short-sightedness in living the unhealthy lives that we do. If we want to poison ourselves, let us do it, but we should not then kill animals to try to find an antidote. That may not be a popular view in the House, but I hold it strongly and I know that many people in this country hold it equally strongly.
If we must have experimentation and if we are to allow that obscenity to continue, let us at least police it properly. The Minister's inadequate introduction tonight has not convinced me that he genuinely wants a reduction in the number of experiments. I understand that there were about 2.8 million experiments in 1994.
We have heard about some of the pointless experiments, such as the LD50 and Draize tests, that are still carried out in the cosmetics industry, and my hon. Friend—he is my friend in this context—the Member for North Thanet told us about the failure of the European Union to agree a common position. I disagree with him in that respect, because we are here to set an example, rather than merely to go at the pace of the slowest movers in the European Union. We should set an example and argue from a position of strength.
I cannot vote tonight against the increase in charges, but I want to register my total detestation of and opposition to all animal experiments. If the Home Office and the Government were serious about reducing the number of experiments, properly funding research into the alternative of non-animal experimentation and ensuring that there were enough inspectors, they would know that the measly, derisory and pathetic increases that the Minister proposed are totally unacceptable.
I have the greatest sympathy with all that has been said tonight, especially by the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), the chairman of the all-party animal welfare group. His views will be widely shared by hon. Members of all parties.
The welfare of animals is extremely important, and we have a relatively good reputation and record in this country, but the last thing that we must allow ourselves to indulge in is complacency. I entirely endorse what has been said about the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. As has been said, it is now 10 years old, and I understand that a radical review is being carried out. My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I endorse the need for that review. We must be extremely careful to ensure that the order is adequate to its task, because it will take some time to complete the review and to introduce consequent legislation. There is no room for complacency.
I spent this morning at the sheep and beef event at the Bath and West showground where, incidentally, I was given a copy of an excellent tape called "British Beef is Better by Far", sung by a group called the "Moo Cow Blues". I promised to mention that in the House this evening, and now that I have done so I need not mention it again.
We have a good reputation, but I am concerned that in waiting for the rest of Europe to move we may slow ourselves down. The current discussion on the use of animals for testing cosmetics is timely, as is this debate, because a decision may be taken at any moment to postpone any action until the end of the century.
We still do rather more tests than other countries in Europe. The latest figures which I have show that I per cent. of all tests on animals here are for cosmetics and toiletries, whereas the figure for the whole of Europe is 0.3 per cent., so we have no room for complacency.
The hon. Gentleman must take on board the fact that some countries claim that they do not use animals at all; sadly, they simply hide behind the cloak of having their dirty work done in other places, one of which is the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because that underlines my endorsement of his point that we must not take unilateral action and assume that the rest of Europe will follow. The argument that the number of experiments is so low that it can be discounted can be turned on its head: if such tests are so unessential, surely we should do everything we can to eliminate them altogether. One way of doing that is to introduce a fee that makes them uneconomic.
We thought that we were moving in that direction when the 1986 legislation was introduced, when the original fees were introduced and when we thought that a European moratorium was about to take effect. Sadly, that does not seem to have happened, and I hope that the Minister will tell us the attitude of Her Majesty's Government, as it is not good enough to hide behind the attitudes of other member states. We need to know what our Ministers are doing on this extremely important issue.
The 1995 report of the Animal Procedures Committee expressed concern that
some licensees are still not aware of the terms imposed by their own licences.
That is an extraordinary situation and brings us specifically to the question of what the fees are used for. Hon. Members have referred to the number of inspectors. The figure for 1994 was only 19. Have more been appointed since then, or are there even fewer in 1996? They had to inspect 328 research establishments and assess 955 project licences. Have those numbers been reduced? Are the inspectors more effective? We need to know.
The Liberal Democrats, in our 1992 document "A Matter of Conscience", the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and many others have referred to the inadequacy of the inspection procedures. In 1995, there were 19 detected infringements of licences, and only 11 were discovered by inspectors. That is an extraordinarily low rate. Either this is the best regulated part of our national life, or a great deal is going undiscovered. How many more infringements might be discovered if the inspectorate were more effective and could attend to the issues more comprehensively?
The amount of money that has been ring-fenced for research into alternatives to testing on animals has declined. The figure of £253,000 for 1995, which has been cited, has gone down in the current year to £242,000. The Animal Procedures Committee was banking on at least a modest increase to about £260,000. What will be the budget for 1997–98? We need to know, as that is what we are here for this evening. What is the point of discussing fees if we do not know how they will be used?
Will the Minister tell us in precise terms what the allocated budget will be, whether it will be ring-fenced and, especially, how much will be provided for the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods which has been set up in Italy? What will be the implications if implementation of the cosmetics directive is delayed? How will we be sure that in the next three years, up to the end of the century, there will still be an increase in the pressure on the institutions and companies involved to move in the right direction? Why should there not be a higher fee for the licences that we are discussing?
It would be helpful if the Minister could say precisely what revenue he expects to raise from personal licences. It is by no means clear from the briefing that we had before the debate, and certainly not from his incredibly cavalier introduction, that there will be an increase of the order that many in the House, let alone the country, would expect. The fees raised from the holders of certificates to run designated establishments should be directly ploughed back into the investigation of alternatives.
Madam Deputy Speaker, this is a short debate which does not permit us to range as widely as we would like, but with your particular interest, you will agree that many people outside the House do not believe that we have got the priorities right. As the hon. Member for North Thanet, who chairs the all-party animal welfare group, has said several times, it is important for us to reflect the public's growing unease. We must not become so complacent about the progress since the passage of the 1986 Act that we do not accept that major additional improvements are needed now that it is 10 years old. That is the least that the public expect of us. It is not adequate for the Government to say that we are waiting on everyone else in Europe, because if we wait that long, it will be many years too late.
I will be brief. There are alternatives in respect of costs and fees. I am sorry that FRAME, the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, has not yet been mentioned. I am a founder member of FRAME, which has been trying for many years to find alternatives, such as invertebrates or computer programmes, to the use of animals.
I did not mention FRAME because of the narrowness of the order. Government funding for alternatives has been through the European centre. We recognise that FRAME does excellent work. One argument for increased or differential charges is that the Government could direct more resources to FRAME.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's remarks. If differential charges could help FRAME in its dedicated campaign to find alternatives, which I have supported for many years, I should be pleased.
Sometimes, the House does not completely understand the use of animals in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and other experiments. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) knows all about it. I just wish that more of our colleagues were more concerned about organisations such as FRAME.
We are discussing the regulation of animal procedures. There is never much good news on this subject because it is highly unsatisfactory that we have to experiment on animals. The House knows that we cannot go too wide while discussing a fairly narrow order, but clearly there are reasons, such as medical research and public safety, why we use animals. No one likes it, but we are discussing the matter against the background of a gradual fall in the number of experiments or procedures: from 3.6 million in 1987, to 2.84 million in 1994, the last validated figure.
The European definition of cosmetics is fairly wide and includes not only what people call cosmetics—such as lipstick—but soap, shampoo, toothpaste, protective sun cream, wart removers and other skin care products. The figure for such experiments has fallen from 14,500 in 1987 to 3,520 in 1994, the last validated figure. We expect to publish a figure below 2,000 for 1995. There is at least a welcome fall in the number of procedures, especially those designated as cosmetic, which cause the most offence. A small number of those involve beauty products, but many involve other products.
The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) asked several questions. He echoed the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) in asking about the exact deficit. It was expected for good reason that about 20,000 personal licences would be applied for and granted. In fact, the figure is 17,000. Those figures have led to an accumulated deficit over three years of nearly £1 million. It was to avoid a very large jump in one fell swoop, and I shall come to the reasons for that in a minute, that we decided to ask for an interim fee to make up the deficit and then go for a higher annual fee to be payable from April 1998.
The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe also asked why we should not have a different structure of fees to increase income. The image of large pharmaceutical companies and rich corporations paying all the fees is not entirely right. Many licences are held by people who work at universities. Some universities have several hundred personal licences. Jumps in fees not only involve the details of the balance sheet of profit and loss at Glaxo, but have academic ramifications.
I accept that some institutions are doing important work that affects people's health, but I emphasise the case for differential fees. There is no reason in principle why fees cannot take account of whether the institution or company involved is commercial. If the experimentation is for product development that is highly profitable, the fee could be adjusted accordingly.
I take that point. Perhaps we should consider that. It was not in our original thinking when we made the arrangements. It has been suggested that those who do cosmetic testing should pay more, but the number of establishments involved with cosmetics is, I think, down to four. There will not be huge fee income from them, but I accept that there is an argument for saying that there are different sorts of users. Universities, which do not have money coming out of their ears, perhaps have a more deserving case than others.
ECVAN, the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, has been mentioned. It is funded not by member states but by the Commission. Perhaps that is something that we should consider. My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) touched on the fact that we operate in a European context. We are to some extent—although, as has been said, we must not rest on this—limited by what happens in Europe. If we drive such work abroad, it will be to countries, dare I say it, with less rigorous regulations, lower standards and perhaps less pressure from public opinion to keep up standards.
As the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) acknowledged, we set a good record in this country and a good example through the rigour of our regulations. There are problems with a European ban, and it is likely to be put off. It was Britain that proposed the ban on testing finished cosmetic products—we were probably a minority of one on that. Our country is more committed to animal welfare than others.
It would be appropriate to place it on record that we are also driving for changes through the intergovernmental conference. If we could pull that off, it would affect animal welfare right across Europe.
That is an important point.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has said of the European cosmetics directive:
Although a great deal of research into alternatives has been carried out, little progress towards actual replacement of animals has been achieved.
Although a great deal of work has been carried out, I regret that more money is not available for the research budget of the Animal Procedures Committee. I am afraid that it is likely to receive even less money next year, because all parts of the Home Office have been subject to funding reductions.
The figure available for next year will be £182,000, which is considerably less than the current budget. I regret that, but it must be set against the £20 million spent by commercial companies across Europe specifically on work on alternatives to animal experimentation. Although I should like the Animal Procedures Committee to have more to spend on sponsoring research projects, its work represents a small part of the whole, the vast proportion of which is sponsored by commercial sources.
Such cuts have been made. I have done my best to minimise the damage. It is not something of which I can say I am proud, but that cut must be considered against the spending reductions imposed on many Departments.
Perhaps I can help the Minister with a constructive proposal. Would he be prepared to farm out those functions to some of the animal welfare organisations? We could certainly raise far more than the derisory £182,000. Why not hand over those functions to some of the organisations represented by many of us who are present? That would get the Minister off the hook, and we shall be able to proceed with the work.
Projects on the replacement of animal experiments can be sponsored by any source, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's offer would be gratefully accepted.
The hon. Member for North Cornwall and others questioned the adequacy of the inspectorate. It is made up of one chief inspector, three supervisors and 15 inspectors. They make 2,000 visits a year, the vast proportion of which are unannounced, to just over 300 establishment licence holders. The inspectorate consists of highly qualified and highly committed people. I cannot go along with the suggestion of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West that they might be in league with the pharmaceutical industry or anyone else. They are respected in their profession. They maintain high standards judged against European ones, and we hope to keep it that way.
I should like to echo the tribute that my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Mills) paid to FRAME. It has done sterling work in forming public opinion and lobbying for more work on alternatives to be done. It has made many people much more conscious of the need to try to find alternatives to animal experimentation. I noted his remarks about funding for it.
We shall not satisfy everyone on this, including the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, who believes that it should be possible to introduce a total ban. I am afraid that that European ban is likely to be put off because of the lack of progress in finding alternatives, as the RSPCA reported. Our job is to try to lead by maintaining as high standards as we can. We must maintain our inspectorate and a system whereby we can regulate animal experimentation as best we can, although we regret the need for such work.
I believe that the increase in fees will provide us with the level of income necessary to maintain the inspectorate. I therefore commend the order to the House.
Question put and agreed to.Resolved,
That the draft Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act Fees (No. 1) Order 1996, which was laid before this House on 12th November, be approved.