My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to present this report. All Select Committee reports deal with important matters of moment, but I venture to suggest that few have to tackle so vexed an issue as laboratory animals: it is a subject which polarises opinion. Excluding, of course, the extremists, whose activities all reasonable people deplore, it was heartening that the report has been generally well received by both sides in the debate. That is not to suggest that there is in any sense unanimity about our proposals—major and minor reservations have been raised—but the overall reception that the report has received indicates that, at the very least, it will have helped to shape future debate on the subject and will serve as a major point of reference and departure.
The committee was appointed on 13th March 2001 and reported in July 2002—the general election interrupted its early deliberations. Essentially, the membership was composed of lay people. Only one of us—the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior—has ever held a project licence for animal experiments. His considerable professional expertise was an invaluable source of interpretation and elucidation on technical matters for the rest of us. But I must stress that the other 10 members of the Select Committee addressed our terms of reference with little or no specialist knowledge of the subject. We were very much a lay jury and not in any sense, except the literal one, "a peer review". If we had any strength at all, it derived from our status as lay people coming to conclusions on a complex issue of great public importance.
At the outset, I wish to pay warm tribute to my colleagues. They are a very heterogeneous group of very independent minds, ranging from the distinguished philosopher, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, to the noble Earl, Lord Onslow—if I may put it that way. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has assured the Select Committee's place in history with the publication of her recent book, Nature and Mortality. In it, she describes the noble Earl as "ebullient", "irrepressibly talkative", and,
"an excellent member of the Committee, though the chairman sometimes has to suppress him".
I am not sure about the qualification "sometimes", but, that apart, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, paints an accurate sketch of the character of the Select Committee and its mode of operation.
Despite our heterogeneous composition, we worked well together and produced a unanimous report. I thank my colleagues for their contributions and their assiduity: they collectively achieved an attendance record of 77 per cent. I also endorse the judgment of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, as to the,
"outstanding excellence of our Clerk",
Dr Thomas Elias. He was brilliant and helpful. We were also well served by our special adviser, the Reverend Professor Michael Reiss of the University of London Institute of Education.
The committee drew six broad conclusions from its deliberations, together with 24 recommendations. We could, of course, have come up with many more, as the subject lends itself to that, but we deliberately chose to be as parsimonious in this regard as was feasible so as to focus on the priorities as we saw them. Our conclusions were designed to put our recommendations in context.
Other members of the Select Committee will draw your Lordships' attention to particular points that our report contains. I shall confine myself to what I think are our most important conclusions and shall comment on the reception that the report has received from the scientific and industrial community and the animal welfare community and on the Government's formal response to the committee's report.
At the outset, perhaps I may reiterate that, by and large, the report has been welcomed by both sides of the debate. That should have prompted the Government—by which I mean the Home Office—to have been bolder and more imaginative in framing their own response. Goodness knows, it took long enough to respond, scraping in only just within the conventional six-month deadline.
In many respects, the Government's response is negative and complacent and displays no sense of urgency whatever. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, who knows more than most about inquiries and their ultimate destinies, presciently concluded in her book:
"Whether what we recommend will make any difference to the practices of the Home Office is doubtful".
Certainly, little action has been initiated in the past 14 months. It is also to be regretted that the government response is exclusively confined to the Home Office when other Whitehall departments have responsibilities for aspects of the committee's work, including health, education and work, and trade and industry. All impact on animal experimentation in different ways, and it is unfortunate that there is no evidence of any recognition of this intergovernmental dimension in the formal response.
However, I congratulate the Government on deciding, albeit at the 13th hour, that the Minister responsible for science, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, would reply to the debate. If I may say so—I appreciate it because he is extremely jet-lagged—it gives the right signal to both the scientific community and the welfare groups, and I hope it is a sign that the Government will now deal with the recommendations in our report more expeditiously than heretofore.
I turn now to the recommendations to which I wish to draw attention today. The first one that I want to emphasise is that which calls for a severe culling of the bureaucracy involved in the application and amendment of project licences. In evidence, we saw some applications extending to many hundreds of pages. That is unnecessary and time-consuming and places both the United Kingdom's academia and the pharmaceutical industry in an internationally uncompetitive position and, equally importantly, is deleterious to the welfare of animals. The government response says, rather reluctantly, that they will consider the simplification of project licences and, in classic Civil Service language, that they,
"will revisit this matter with the research community", adding ominously that,
"Licences must be as long as they need to be for essential regulatory purposes, but not a page longer than that".
I ask the Minister what positive steps the Government have undertaken in the past 18 months in this regard. I doubt whether his answer will be encouraging. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said yesterday that there has been no progress, and it looks as though the length of the licensing form may well increase.
A corollary to this proposal is the recommendation that local ethical review committees should be given delegated powers from the Home Office to approve routine or minor amendments to project licences. That would reduce time and bureaucracy and have important benefits for animal welfare. While the Government agree in principle, they argue that that would need primary legislation which,
"would not in our view be justified".
Asserting that it would not be justified adds nothing whatever to the debate. It is simply using another classic, weasel-worded stalling device, which is all too common in the Home Office.
While on the question of local ethical review committees, the Select Committee advocated the appointment of an external lay member for each committee, whose term of office should be time-limited. That would go a long way to reassure the public that such committees, usually bereft of such genuine independent advice, are not mere rubber stamps. The Home Office flatly rejects that because,
"some establishments, particularly the smaller ones, have found it difficult to identify and recruit lay members".
That is risible. What real evidence have the Government for that assertion? How hard have establishments tried to recruit lay members; not very, I suspect. In the United States it is a legal requirement.
One of our most important recommendations was for the establishment of a centre for the 3Rs: reduction, refinement and replacement of animals. The 3Rs was a concept developed by Russell and Burch as long ago as 1959. It has been accepted internationally as the foundation of best practice. The problem is that positive development is not pursued as a focused activity. Most scientists claim that they assiduously apply the 3Rs in the course of their work, saying that it is intrinsic to their endeavours from both an ethical and an economic point of view. But the application of the 3Rs is often routine.
We believe that a centre for 3Rs should be set up, consisting of a small administrative hub, which would co-ordinate research units embedded in existing centres of scientific excellence. That would give a focus to the development of the 3Rs, would enhance the status of this important aspect of science and, most vitally, would be an earnest of intention on the part of both the scientific community and the Government to those animal welfare groups that may otherwise be sceptical. Moreover, in vitro and in silico alternative methods may well provide more accurate experimentation for, at best, animals are only imperfect models for humans.
That suggestion, I am pleased to say, found some favour with the Home Office. For its part, the Medical Research Council stated:
"Although we do not agree with the Select Committee that a single centre (with hub and spokes) for the 3Rs is the right approach, we would support further co-ordination in this area. The MRC's Centre for Best Practice in Animal Research . . . is starting to fulfil this role . . . In addition to expanding the role of the CBPAR, the MRC is also keen to see more research directly aimed at the 3Rs and will be encouraging this through special funding arrangements".
That is heartening and the fact that our report has prompted that positive, if limited, reaction is welcome. By the same token it is gratifying to note that the Lord Dowding Fund and the Dr Hadwen Trust have strongly endorsed our proposal for a centre for the 3Rs.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister for a situation report on what progress has been made towards creating a centre for the 3Rs. His honourable friend, the then Minister in another place, Mr Bob Ainsworth, in a Written Answer of 10th June stated that a progress report is expected in the autumn. Is it expected any day now?
Another area of great importance is that of public information and ease of access to it. That was covered by two recommendations we made. First, we proposed that the substantive details of anonymised project licences, which describes the projected benefits of the research and harm to the animals involved, should be made public after they have been approved and funded. The Government would sanction publishing only licence summaries. Secondly, we argued for improved official statistics. To that end serious effort should be made to provide better figures on animal suffering.
The inspectorate should develop or approve a scoring system for animal suffering, which should be used for all project licences. At the moment the system of averaging out the range of suffering involved in a project obscures the degrees of serious harm inflicted. The Government agree with that in principle but again effectively kick it into the long grass, stating,
"the difficulty of devising a method of capturing this information should not be underestimated".
But they undertake,
"as a first stage, [to] seek views on the information that would be of use as part of the wider review of the statistics", for which the Select Committee had also called. The Government agree that these,
"are not presented in a readily digestible form", and will initiate a review. Again, I would ask the Minister to say what steps have been taken, first, with regard to devising a scoring system and, secondly, with regard to the more general review of statistics.
Is the Home Office on trend to get the desirable net increase in inspectors it aims at, and by what date will that be achieved? The inspectorate is the only specifically laboratory-animal trained one in the world and in the main does a good job invigilating the laboratories in its charge. My one criticism is that corporately it displays an over-bureaucratic mindset, which is too defensive of the status quo. It follows that the inspectorate is not really amenable to innovations it has not collectively made. This attitude can be vividly seen in the inspectorate's self-serving review of the ethical review committee system.
Finally, I want to mention one other important recommendation. We proposed that the inspectorate should convene a forum to meet regularly to discuss specific scientific and welfare issues related to the use of animals in experiments. That would assist in reducing the polarity of attitudes between scientists and animal welfare groups, which would be conducive to more rational and coherent debate. It might also contribute to a monitoring of future developments and, it is to be hoped, on occasions a more agreed and consensual approach as to the future course of action.
The Select Committee convened a one-day conference in the Moses Room that encompassed the most inclusive gathering of all the main parties on the issue of animal experiments, excluding, of course, animal terrorists. By general consent, it was deemed a worthwhile exercise, generating more "heat than light"—Freudian slip there—light than heat on my own cost/benefit analysis and it greatly assisted our deliberations. The Government agree that it should become a routine feature, but not one that the inspectorate should organise. Perhaps I may ask the Minister who the Government have in mind to initiate this worthwhile forum.
The issue of animal experimentation will continue to be, quite properly, an important topic on the public agenda. The report of the Select Committee, it is to be hoped, will have facilitated how best the public dialogue may profitably be progressed. It is to be welcomed that the Nuffield Foundation has recently created a council on bioethics, under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, to carry the issues forward, with similar terms of reference to those of the Select Committee.
The Royal Commission on Environmental Protection, reporting on chemicals in industrial products, echoed our views on the need for animal testing but, equally, the vital need to pursue the development of alternatives, so that animals would no longer be used. The membership of the Animal Procedures Committee has been strengthened. Such developments are good auguries. All that is now needed is greater energy, positive imagination and a quickening of the pace on the part of the Government.
An Early Day Motion of 12th February in another place attracted no fewer than 224 signatories from all sides expressing exasperation with the Government. It stated:
"That this House is concerned at the Government's response to the House of Lords Report on the use of animals in scientific procedures; notes that this report received widespread backing from both the animal welfare and scientific communities; and calls upon the Government to implement the main recommendations of the report forthwith".
That says it all.
My Lords, I thank the Select Committee which produced this excellent report and its chairman the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, for his thorough and succinct introduction of this debate.
This is certainly a very timely issue. I declare an interest. I am possibly the only current licence holder for animal research in the Chamber. In that respect I must tell your Lordships of a recent discussion that I had with my own religious leader. I framed the certificate signed by the president of the Institute of Biology that granted me my training credentials. The certificate reads that Professor Robert Winston is now qualified to operate on mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbi. So nothing in the regulatory framework is perfect.
The first point I need to make is that there is a huge and important need for animal research. In my view many things get obfuscated in the scientific debate, and we often concentrate on the wrong things. For example, the Government have given a huge amount of investment, progress and profile, to the Genome Project, as of course they should.
However, in actual terms of human welfare and the prospects for human life, there is no question but that a far more important issue scientifically is the issue of animal research. My view as a scientist is that animal research is absolutely essential to promoting well-being, to exploring the science of biology better and to understanding the Genome Project. One key aspect of animal research is that using the intact animal—normally a mouse—gives us a dynamic assessment of what genes are actually doing in a way that no other experiment, either in tissue or in any other situation, can possibly do. That is a very important point. It comes back to one response that the Government have made, and something about which I want to ask my noble friend in a second.
My second point is about this committee, which was first set up in 2001. Indeed, I guess that in a small way I was partly responsible as the then chairman of the Select Committee on Science and Technology. We felt generally that this was an important debate but that, because in the main those on that committee were scientists and had the expertise, we would therefore be disbarred largely from holding the committee ourselves. So a completely independent committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, explained, was very properly set up. It grows in strength because it does not have people sitting on it such as myself with that kind of vested interest.
This is a truly independent committee. Its approach to the issue is extremely fresh and it has made some extremely valuable observations about the importance and deficiencies of the regulatory procedures.
I have a number of specific questions to ask my noble friend. They are addressed in the report, and the issues seems to me to be of very great importance. The first question I need to ask the Minister is: why is there still very often a considerable slowness in replying to requests for project licences? As I explained when giving evidence to the committee (I was called to give evidence), in the United States, where I work a great deal of the time—indeed, I have laboratory work going on in California at this moment—I can get proper, ethical, peer-reviewed licences to do work on large animals, not just mice, within two to three weeks of my application through the institution itself. That organisation is every bit as thorough in how it conducts the proper surveillance of animal research as any laboratory in the United Kingdom.
We might think that we have the best system in terms of animal care. Actually, the quality and standards of animal care in this country are extremely high, but we should not forget that there are other countries which have an equally high standard. My experience of three different laboratories—in Texas, on the east coast of America and most recently in California at the Californian Institute of Technology, or Caltech—is that they are of the highest standards. We could do much by examining their system, which puts that in place. It is of course rather more expensive. That is one of the issues to be considered.
However, the fact is that my practical experience in this country is that it takes many months to get animal licences. That is unacceptable, particularly if you are working in a field which is scientifically highly competitive. I know that my noble friend Lord Sainsbury deeply believes in the need to drive our intellectual economy. We cannot do that if we are competing against the odds where other research can be done much faster because of the bureaucracy in the Home Office. It is a very real issue for the research scientists.
The second point is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has already referred. I hope that my noble friend will take some time to explain exactly what the Home Office meant. I know that he can speak only for the Home Office, but it would be helpful if he could convey our concern back to the Home Office about the bureaucracy involved in an application and the length of those applications. Very often, that seems to us unnecessary, particularly because so many animal research applications are extremely simple, involve no suffering at all to animals and simply require regulation and surveillance that the animals are being kept in a proper and appropriate environment and are being cared for without their undergoing any kind of suffering from that environment. That is a very real issue. Of course some project applications will require considerable time and will probably require rather more pages but the bulk of applications certainly do not.
One problem is that if, half-way through an experiment, an experimenter recognises that the design of the experiment needs to change, because he has now produced some new data to examine something afresh, he cannot alter that project licence. He has to go back to the inspectorate. He has to go through the same rigmarole in order to get that approval. That is very counterproductive to good science and to working on the unexpected. Science is about the unpredictable. So often, we consider the unpredictable in our laboratories far too complacently. Truthfully, it is when things arise unexpectedly in a project that we really need to be able to react to unexpected findings and consider why they are happening.
My third question for my noble friend is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, did not refer, but which is important. It is the question of returns for transgenic animals. I am grateful that the committee paid some attention to the issue. In my view—in that of most biologists, I think—during the coming years the number of transgenic animals that will be needed in research will spiral. There are real needs to put genes into mice to understand how genes work. I must tell your Lordships in all faith, being involved in transgenic technology myself—I do that sort of work in my laboratory—that such mice do not suffer. They do not have abnormalities of their phenotype; they do not look different from other mice; but we can see what is happening in the working dynamic of the intact animal.
It makes absolutely no sense under the current return system. The current return system means that every transgenic animal, usually a mouse, that is produced must be recorded in the statistics. Moreover, those mice cannot be moved without permission from one laboratory to another—even though they are scampering around their cages, climbing on their wheels and doing all the other things that mice like to do in their spare time, without the slightest problem. That is nonsense. The Home Office's response is grossly inadequate in that respect. There should be a way to tackle that important issue, which was raised by the committee.
My fourth question refers to a simple issue concerning surgical training. As a once practising surgeon—I hardly practise at all now—and having been involved with microsurgical experiments in their earliest stage, I can vouch for the need for such surgical training on animals. At present, surgeons are training on human patients. That cannot be terribly sensible. It must make sense to have live tissues shown to a surgeon.
It is of course deeply regrettable that in modern biology, students at school cannot now see intact animals as I did, when I saw mice, rabbits, rats and other animals being dissected in the classroom. But when it comes to medical schools, it must be of advantage to ensure that there is adequate training on live tissues of terminally anaesthetised animals. As the report mentions, how many licences have been given for training in manual skills other than for microsurgical purposes?
If I have a criticism of the report, it is simple. It is marginally regrettable that it places insufficient emphasis on the fact that the standards of quality of care in United Kingdom laboratories are as high as they are and that the dedication of the staff working in them is as great as it is. Believe me, the quality of that care and the ethical attitudes of those people—often working under great stress, sometimes in darkened basements with diminished incomes—are of great credit. Those people are in many ways the backbone of British biology. I pay tribute to them. We should recognise that the quality of care is extraordinarily good, and was so before the Select Committee met.
Finally, I want to discuss some aspects of major importance in science. One thing that we scientists have got wrong—I am as responsible for this as anyone—is our complacent belief that the mere communication of science—goodness knows, I have done that often enough—is adequate to persuade the public of what we are doing. It is now clear that communication—however it is performed, whether through the Royal Society, the Royal Institution, television or the media—is not the key or the answer. We must understand that the public must feel that they can take ownership of the science.
An important point is made in the report that deserves implementation: the need to promulgate the experiments that are being performed to show people their benefits. Perhaps we should state on every packet of pills prescribed across the counter of every pharmacy, "These drugs were made possible only by the use of animal research", because that is the absolute truth. Most members of the public are not prepared to recognise that when they receive a vaccination or take a pill—even paracetamol.
We scientists have been poor at going above the parapet on animal research. There are notable exceptions, such as Professor Colin Blakemore, now director of the Medical Research Council. I have had the bomb squad round to my house and the street cordoned off, so I understand the threat, but we must be much more public. We must be prepared to speak out to explain why the public must take ownership of science.
Next, as well the need for the Government to help—they have not been helpful in this area—there is a need to recognise that we as scientists must demonstrate our ethical attitudes and provenance. We are not good at showing ethical judgment. For example, if we consider my field of embryology, Jamie Grifo in the United States mixed the DNA in two of a woman's eggs and transferred that back to the uterus of a woman—a Chinese woman—who has now become pregnant to 30 weeks. That is a scandalous experiment. It should never have been read at any major scientific meeting; the peer review process should have prevented it occurring. The fact is that we are not showing the right ethical attitudes. The animal research should have been done first.
Finally, we must recognise that one difficulty in this field is commercialisation of research and scientific attitudes towards commercialisation. That is a sensitive issue, but that commercialisation, especially from drug companies, is one of our major scientific strengths and one of the biggest reasons why we have as healthy a population in the United Kingdom as we do. The Select Committee report is excellent; I recommend its wholehearted acceptance by the Government. It is sad that parts of it have not yet been properly taken on board.
My Lords, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 has regulated animal experimentation for 17 years. As noble Lords have said, it is one of the most rigorous pieces of legislation in the world governing animal experimentation. So it should be, but it should not be rigid. One criticism made by research workers in the field is the lack of adaptation to developments in modern biological science, such as animal sentience and our better understanding of how animals behave and how we should provide for them in experimental situations. It has also been criticised by anti-vivisectionists for its lack of rigidity. So it is timely to review the regulatory legislation to assess what changes are required and what new developments in biological science mandate new approaches.
As the chairman of the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, mentioned, the inquiry was conducted by members who, with the exception of me, had little or no practical experience of animal experimentation and who have never held a Home Office licence to conduct such experiments. Hence there was no conflict of interest, and the committee should be warmly congratulated on its quick understanding and identification of the issues to be addressed.
In particular, I congratulate the chairman on his skilful handling of the committee, our Clerk, who demonstrated the exemplary competence that we have come to expect of committee Clerks, and our scientific adviser, who showed the agility of mind to understand both biological and experimental science and to marry them with the ethical issues involved, the Reverend Professor Michael Reiss.
The conclusions that we came to are important. First, it is morally acceptable for human beings to use other animals for research but morally wrong to cause them unnecessary or avoidable suffering. Secondly, there is a continued need for animal experiments in applied research and research aimed purely at extending knowledge. In that respect, I am reminded of the words of the late Lord Porter, Nobel Laureate for chemistry, who said:
"There is applied research and there is not yet applied research".
That neatly emphasises the importance of both.
As one would expect, those who submitted evidence, of which there was a large amount, and those who commented after the report was published, identified many areas that need attention. Those include the need to extend the inspectorate, which I understand is in progress, and the improvement in administrative support for the inspectorate and the Animal Procedures Committee at the Home Office. Both matters, if attended to, would greatly assist in, and would speed up, the process of dealing with licences and other aspects of animal experiments.
Changes since the Act was established include the introduction of an ethical review process. That has been a success and serves to safeguard the welfare of animals in the planning and conduct of experiments. The conduct, composition and functioning of ethical review panels (ERPs) varies between institutions. We recommend a much more formal structure.
One of the criticisms of the ERP is that extensive time may be taken for a proposal to be processed for approval. The noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton and Lord Winston, mentioned that. It is particularly so, and can be extremely irritating, when routine or very minor amendments are required in a proposal. We recommend that the Home Office empower local ERPs to approve minor changes. The Government's response is that that would probably require new legislation. But, nevertheless, it is to be hoped that a sensible solution can be reached, as research may be held up while awaiting central approval of even minor modifications. As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, research is very fast-moving these days. We are in a very important and fast-moving game—if one can refer to research as such. Delays in the modification of protocols have become quite obvious as research has progressed. If we fail to speed up, we may lose important advantages in this country.
An innovative proposal in the report is that the details of anonymised project licences, giving the expected benefit and harm to animals, should be made public after approval by the Home Office. That should help to remove criticism that experiments are conducted in secrecy—the charge levelled against the Home Office and science in general. There has been concern about the identification of institutions and scientists involved in research. Information on who is doing what can be gleaned from publications in the scientific literature, but only after the work is done. In the United States, where I worked for some considerable time, following approval of a proposal by the National Institutes of Health, it was placed wholly in the public domain and was available for scrutiny by anyone. That did not seem to harm the research system.
A consistent and important feature in animal experiments is the application of the three Rs concept, developed by Russell and Burch in 1959. From it, the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments (FRAME) was founded in 1969. I declare an interest as patron of FRAME. The concept of the three Rs—reduction, refinement and replacement—is now accepted worldwide. The three Rs are sometimes referred to as alternatives, but that should not imply that the replacement is for animal experiments as a whole.
It is now accepted that the three Rs are an important guide in planning and conducting experiments. They encompass many aspects of biological science. The need for testing chemicals is one, but not the only one. However, there is no single approach to almost any experiment or testing. Certainly, the replacement of mammalian organs or biological systems would require much development work; so refinement and reduction become particularly important in that context.
The committee recognises the importance of the three Rs. It recommends a centre for the three Rs, consisting of a small administrative hub that would co-ordinate research units embedded in other centres of scientific excellence. The concept has come under intense scrutiny and met with some resistance. My noble friend Lady Eccles will deal in more detail with the pros and cons put forward. But, in considering the concept, we start from the point that, if all believe the three Rs to be fundamentally important to animal experimentation, whether we like it or not, hitherto there has been no major effort on the part of scientific establishments or the Government to advance the concept in a meaningful manner. One can, however, exempt certain pharmaceutical companies from that criticism. Only a small amount of research funding is available from the Animal Procedures Committee, but it is woefully inadequate. Good progress can be made in the area, as instanced by the European Centre for Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) and the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM).
We are aware that many developments in the three Rs arise as spin-offs of work which proves to be a better approach to the problem than hitherto. But is it not wiser to rely on something better than serendipity? The three Rs must not be a peripheral initiative but part of mainstream scientific research. There is a multitude of possible avenues with the three Rs concept, but it cannot be encompassed by a single centre. There should be a hub with spokes creating a national network to reach out to major centres of excellence throughout the country. The concept requires development and substantial funding. Critics of the concept should realise that we were not in a position to be prescriptive in the report and did not wish to be so. Some have said that we already have something similar to the centre that I have just mentioned—the MRC Centre for Best Practice for Animals in Research. However, that is not the same and is applicable in some ways only to grants funded by the Medical Research Council. It could become part of the hub and spoke system. One gets the impression that the Government are lukewarm about the idea and seem to think that the main task for the centre would be toxicity testing. That is a misunderstanding and I hope that it can be corrected.
If we are serious about advancing the three Rs for the purposes of good science and animal welfare, as I believe we must be, this dilemma must be carried forward in a much more determined and vigorous way than at present. It must be adequately funded and receive the endorsement of all concerned with animal experimentation. I believe that better and more humane science would be the result.
In one of our final paragraphs, Paragraph 7.25, we stated that we all realise that animals are highly imperfect models for research. However, that should not be understood to imply that they are valueless. Any model will have its imperfections but, over the years, animal models have proved critically useful in the solution to and the production of methods of control of disease in man and animals. An excellent example of that is given by a paper that I received this morning from the Biosciences Federation. Models have proved critically useful for research over the years and will continue to do so. I believe that the three Rs will play a very important role in that.
My Lords, although it now seems a long time ago, I had the honour, as have other noble Lords, of serving on the Select Committee under the admirable and genial chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, to whom I, like other noble Lords, wish to pay a very warm tribute. I should also declare that, even longer ago, I was chairman of the committee that became the Committee on Animal Procedures, which led to the 1986 Act. I therefore have a very long-standing interest in the workings of that Act. I welcome the fact that there is now a chance to follow up the Government's response to the report of the Select Committee. I will mention one or two randomly selected areas of particular concern about which I would like to ask the Minister for some clarification or updating of the Government response.
In general, although in the response the Government—or the Home Office—deny complacency, it does seem rather complacent, timid or, should I say, conservative. However, I do not expect the Minister to answer such a vague generalisation. In my view, one of the crucial issues on which the Government have shown unwillingness to extend their thinking beyond the way things are now is in the matter of the role and credibility of the inspectorate itself. There is no doubt that the Home Office inspectors are experienced and professional, and that they generally enjoy a helpful relationship with licence holders and applicants for licences. They are also becoming more numerous, which is good.
The Government have not, however, properly addressed a major cause of complaint that other noble Lords will emphasise even more strongly: the length of processing time for applications for licences. From April 2002, the Home Office target was to process 85 per cent of applications within 35 days. As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, made clear, 35 days is already a pretty long time compared with the time it takes to get a licence in the United States. By the end of 2002, it had processed only 75 per cent within the appropriate time, which contrasts with 94 per cent processed within the proper time in 2001. So, far from getting better, things appear to be getting worse.
In their response to the report of the Select Committee, the Government promise, as we have heard, to revisit the question with a view to simplifying the application procedure, but without any show of conviction that they could possibly succeed. Has any progress been made in this matter? There is, perhaps, a more fundamental question, at least from the point of view of the public interested in animal welfare and the laboratory, and I pay tribute to the committee and all my colleagues on it because it is fair to say that we represented the public and heard a good deal of evidence from members of the public. The question that arises from their point of view is the extent to which they can actually trust the inspectorate to ensure that no unnecessary suffering is caused to animals in the pursuit of toxicological testing, which is 18 percent of all procedures, and in medical and scientific research.
We know that the inspectorate exercises judgment in that area of research on a cost-benefit basis. The cost is not measured in financial terms, but in animal suffering, and the benefit is the hoped-for benefit from the experimentation itself, although the distinction between immediate and long-term benefits seems somewhat artificial. At any rate, the inspectorate bases its judgment of licence applications on that cost-benefit analysis. However, because the inspectors both advise applicants about their applications for a licence to carry out specific procedures and also monitor the ensuing work, there is, or may seem to be, a danger that the monitoring will not be truly impartial.
The Select Committee did not recommend separating the two functions of advising and monitoring, but did recommend that some inspections of licensed premises should be carried out by inspectors from areas other than where the laboratories are located, so that their relationship with the licence holders could not become too cosy. Secondly, the committee recommended the establishment of a body charged with reviewing and monitoring the work of the inspectorate as a whole. That is important from the point of view of public trust. On the first of those points, the Government said in their response that it often happened already and need not be made mandatory. On the second, they promised to consider whether some sort of periodic review might contribute to public confidence. Will the Minister tell the House whether that consideration has yet borne fruit?
That brings me to my other point. The public would have more confidence in the efficacy of the 1986 Act in ensuring the maximum possible care for animals in the laboratory and the advance of science and medicine if the statistical report published annually by the Home Office could be made more accessible and more intelligible, and if a better way could be devised of showing the degree of suffering to which individual animals were subjected. It might come as a surprise to some of the public if they could be made to understand that many of the animals used suffer nothing.
On that point, the Government's response was, once again, a bit sad. They promised to think about it and to get statisticians to think about it, but they said that it was difficult. The committee knew that it was difficult. Will the Minister tell the House whether progress has been made on that front? It would not be difficult to ensure that the annual report concentrated its attention not simply on the number of procedures, nor on the number of animals used, but on the number of animals who suffer significant pain individually. Other animals are, in that respect, unlike human beings. They cannot count up the number of their fellow sufferers, nor can they present to themselves the thought that it is wrong for the species as a whole to suffer as they suffer, if they do. However, if they suffer, they suffer one by one.
In a way, the number of animals used makes little difference; it is the degree of suffering to which each animal may be subjected that worries the general public. After all, where rodents are specially bred to be used in research or testing—they form by far the largest group of laboratory animals—the number of animals used is, for the public, far less important than what the animals experience. We cannot make an aggregate sum of pain by counting the rats and mice that experience it. It seems to me and, I think, to the committee that it should be possible to think up a better way of categorising degrees of suffering and showing how intense or minute the suffering was in a particular case. Average figures are useless and, indeed, positively misleading.
It would be nice to hear from the Minister that the Home Office has been galvanised into activity, innovation and imagination by the Select Committee's report. I cannot see much sign of such a phenomenon. Still, I suppose that I must not be too gloomy. One innovation that should change the level of understanding among the general public has nothing to do with the Home Office: it is the new pilot scheme for a GCSE subject called "Science for the 21st Century", which will allow pupils to address the question of the use of laboratory animals for testing in a properly structured way. That is a good beginning to a wider public understanding of the issues that the Select Committee had to address. Such increased understanding is what the Select Committee and the Government most sincerely want.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Chairman on his excellent chairmanship and the Clerk and the special advisers, who have been mainly responsible for and deserve most of the credit for the report. It is a good report and shows a good sense of balance.
I would not put as much emphasis as the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, did on the aspect of the report that has, perhaps, received most attention: the new centre for the three Rs. I agree with the recommendation because there is a certain conservatism in the scientific profession, but it is often forgotten that most progress towards the three Rs comes from scientists. They have every incentive to promote the three Rs. First, it saves an enormous amount of cost; it is much cheaper to avoid the use of animals. Secondly, it avoids the enormous delays caused by the bureaucracy involved in applying for a licence. Thirdly, experiments are not effective if there is undue stress on the part of the animal. There is every incentive for scientists to minimise the use of animals and cause the minimum suffering.
That is not the issue that I want to address. I shall concentrate on two issues. The first is bureaucracy. It is constantly said—I have heard Ministers say it—that we have the best system in the world because it is the tightest. Our most important recommendation is that the best system of regulation is not the tightest. It is not the best system if it drives research abroad or stops it coming to this country. It is not the best system if it causes delays and wastes animals as a result. That is counter-productive. It is not the best system if it leads to a mass of unnecessary form-filling.
Our system is certainly the tightest. Paragraph 5.30 of the report refers to the evidence of Professor Purchase. It says that,
"the total time taken to prepare a submission for approval and receive approval was 31 weeks in the UK, 17 weeks in Germany, and 6 weeks in the US".
There is also evidence from France that the time taken for the approval process varies from about two weeks to one month. Certainly, we have the tightest system.
Next, there is the question of the impact on research. We had some impressive anecdotal evidence, notably from the noble Lord, Lord Winston, that it was easier to do certain kinds of research abroad. Paragraph 5.31 of the report refers to evidence from the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry that,
"the key issue is the lost opportunities".
There is a danger that unnecessary bureaucracy will prejudice research in this country. The anti-science forces have already driven agricultural biotechnology out of Britain, and the animal terrorists are doing plenty of work to drive research out. We do not wish to add to that unnecessary bureaucracy.
The next question is the wastage of animals. Paragraph 5.32 shows that there is no question about that. We had evidence from the Royal Society that,
"bureaucracy had led to experiments being carried out on three animals instead of on one".
How can that be of benefit to animals? We had evidence from Professor Blakemore that,
"a minor amendment to use a new and superior anaesthetic took over three months for approval".
The report refers to the evidence given by Dr Matfield, from the Research Defence Society, that,
"amendments to licences had taken so long to be approved that research had become outdated and was therefore abandoned half way through—with the consequent unnecessary use of animals".
That is wastage of animals.
Then, there is the question of the forms. We saw some of the forms. One of them was over 300 pages long. It is ludicrous that scientists should have to go into such detail that they must fill in over 300 pages. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said. Everybody knows that no scientific programme ever works out as planned; it has to be changed, and delays can be considerable. The simplification of the forms ought to be a high priority. We recommended that the aim should be to have 10 pages. It may not be possible in every case to have a 10-page form, but it would be a wonderful discipline to aim to achieve a form of only 10 pages. It would mean simpler language.
This is a serious matter; it is not just our committee which pointed out that the forms cause problems. The last report in June of the Animal Procedures Committee, at page 66, when considering the cost/benefit trade-off, states:
"We believe that there is room for considerable simplification of the licence application form and associated guidance note".
What did the Home Office say in answer to our application? The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, referred to the fact that the apparent target of 35 clock days has not been achieved; it seems to be getting worse. It said that it would set up a joint committee with scientists to reduce bureaucracy. Could the Minister tell us what happened? As noble Lords have pointed out, I, too, understand that nothing has been done. There is a committee on freedom of information, which has two sub-committees. But the Research Defence Society knows of no working party on lessening bureaucracy. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) apparently reported exactly the same.
If that is true, it is a scandal. It is disgraceful. We have become a very bureaucratic nation. We love detailed regulations. As a matter of fact we do not, but the civil servants love detailed regulation. I met it as chair of a charity concerned with the treatment of drug offenders at two clinics. It was appalling how much detailed legislation regulates residential care and health and safety. We seem to be aiming for the no-risk society. Civil servants do not wish to be criticised. It means the death of enterprise. Is there no Minister who will turn to civil servants and say, "These regulations are ridiculous. Something up with which we will not put"? It is urgent that we should cease such regulations. It is high time that we should review regulations, in particular, in relation to research.
My second subject was not explicitly dealt with by the committee, but it is highly germane; namely, animal terrorism. Animal terrorists are a tiny group, but they do immense damage. Everyone knows of the case of Huntingdon Life Sciences. Very bravely, its staff have not been deterred. However, there has been an effective campaign against insurers. It is disgraceful the way that the moment a few people appear with a few placards outside an office in the City, immediately the company caves in. There is pusillanimity in a number of boardrooms, which should not be tolerated.
Terrorists are now targeting suppliers. Worse in some ways than what happened to Huntingdon Life Sciences is the case of the Halls—guinea pig breeders in Staffordshire who have been terrorised for three years. They are extremely brave people who live on the premises. Terrorists have now targeted their other business. They are dairy farmers and have had to sell their herds and abandon their business because no one is willing to take away their milk. How can we tolerate that kind of behaviour in our democratic society? We should not allow it to happen.
Either the police are responsible for not doing what they should or we need a change in the law. It is just as important to guard against these terrorists, who are actual terrorists, as against the hypothetical terrorists of Al'Qaeda. Why have the Staffordshire police failed to provide effective protection to the Halls? From time to time, the Home Office says that best practice is being applied. On the face of it, better protection is provided by the Cambridgeshire police for Huntingdon Life Sciences than by the Staffordshire police for the Halls. Is the Home Office satisfied with what is being done? Clearly, we are failing if we cannot protect our citizens from terrorism.
Police authorities should urgently review the situation. We should also have a coherent set of laws in one piece of legislation to deal effectively with these terrorists. The Research Defence Society and others recommend that there should be one piece of legislation. First, it should be illegal to conspire to organise, incite, support or conduct a campaign of harassment against a legitimate business. Secondly, any demonstration against a work or employment activity in the vicinity of employees and directors' private residences should be illegal, including demonstrations that are in sight or sound of the property and its access routes.
I am glad to say that, already, the number of protestors required for the police to put restrictions on demonstrations is being reduced. Legislation should allow companies to lodge harassment charges or to act on behalf of employees. It should allow restraining orders to be applied for by companies on behalf of individual employees and should restrict overseas travel of those people with related convictions, as has been done with football hooligans.
This is an issue which must be tackled. We should also go somewhat further—as a number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said—to encourage people to put their heads above the parapets. I wish that we had made a recommendation to that effect. I should have liked the committee to have done more to encourage the brave individuals—such as, Professor Blakemore, Brian Cass and David Hall—who have borne the brunt of terrorist attacks.
Everyone involved directly or indirectly with experiments should come out into the open. Universities should state openly that they conduct experiments necessary for animal health. Many now pretend that they do not. One university has proclaimed itself as an "animal-free zone". Doctors' surgeries should put up notices which state, "The drugs administered and prescribed by this surgery have been tested on animals to ensure that they are safe". Only if we are open about it will we do our bit to divert attention from the few selected victims who suffer at present.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my close friend the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and the members of his committee for the report. It is a thorough and very high quality report, which is particularly interesting if read in conjunction with the evidence and the debates between members of the committee and those giving the evidence. I am moved to speak today because for two years I was the lay chair of a local ethical review committee at the university at which I was working. I was a lay chair in the sense that I am not a scientist; I am a philosopher by trade. The university had large and well regarded medical and biological sciences faculties. To some extent, my comments will reflect my experience in that role.
First, I turn to the moral context of the debate, to which the committee referred. I agree with the committee's recommendation on page 15, which states:
"The unanimous view of the Select Committee is that it is morally acceptable for human beings to use other animals, but that it is morally wrong to cause them unnecessary or avoidable suffering".
Like the committee, I do not accept that animals have rights. For reasons that are too complicated to go into in the time available today, rights should be ascribed to right-holders who have or have had or will have the capacity for rational deliberation and choice, or the capacity for moral agency. It is that that provides the basis for rights in the most coherent form in which we can think about them.
While animals do not have rights, it makes good sense to say that they do have interests, which are of some moral salience. We can ascribe these interests to animals even though they cannot articulate them. They are rooted in the idea of the normal functioning of the animal. Anything which facilitates that normal functioning is in the animal's interests. Ideas about animal welfare, animal flourishing and animal interests—the subject of a fascinating debate between the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and one of the evidence-givers—are rooted in the idea of the normal functioning of an organism and the needs associated with that.
Deliberate interference with normal functioning and the animals' interests is of moral concern. In our own case, we recognise that such interference that causes pain, fear and suffering impedes normal functioning and is of moral concern. If we recognise that animals have interests linked to normal functioning and we recognise that the inhibition of normal functioning in our own case is a matter of moral concern, it is also a matter of moral concern for animals. That is why I agree with the suggestion made to the committee, and noted in the report, that rather than thinking in terms of cost-benefit analysis, which puts a rather quantitative and overly scientific gloss on the issue, we should think about harm and benefit, which would be a little more transparent and open.
The harm-benefit calculation would have to be based on judgment rather than the assumption that there is a clear scientific calculation to be made, for all the reasons given in the report about the difficulty of measuring the degree of suffering and the cognition of suffering in the case of animals. So the report gets it about right in its general view of the moral legitimacy of using animals in scientific experimentation.
I wish to reflect briefly on my role serving on an ethical review committee. My experience was that, up to a point, it worked quite well. I was a lay chair, along with the certificate-holder in the institution, the registrar of the university—also a non-scientist and therefore a lay member. It is very important to have lay membership in order to lend greater legitimacy to the ethical review procedure mentioned by the committee. Further, they aid in serving as a step towards achieving a more general ownership of the whole process, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Winston.
However, we have to recognise some of the difficulties of recruiting lay members for precisely the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. There is a perception—how realistic it is, I am not in a position to judge—that such a role might be quite dodgy and dangerous to undertake. Certainly, in inviting me to take on the role, the vice-chancellor of my university thought that he was asking a great deal of me in those terms. That may be rather overdone, but nevertheless it may well be the case that some people will be reluctant to become involved. However, we need to take strong steps in that direction, and I was rather disappointed with the Government's response on this. It is part of a whole process of building public trust and public ownership.
I turn to a small but nevertheless important point. One condition of opening up ethical review committees to lay members should be that scientists themselves have to become a little more user-friendly, as it were, in how they write up their research applications. Some of the applications we considered involving moderate to severe experiments on animals seemed to be completely unintelligible. Again, as a part of the aim of encouraging the public to become more involved and supportive, thus building greater confidence in the process, scientists themselves must bear some responsibility in ensuring that they communicate effectively what they are trying to do. They must explain why the work is necessary in language that most of us can understand.
That is an important point, in particular in the context of the general role of the ethical review committee as reported on page 34. Drawing from the wording used in the Act, it refers to promoting,
"the use of ethical analysis to increase awareness of animal welfare issues and develop initiatives leading to the widest possible application of the Three Rs".
If this is seen as a very closed process within which one scientist simply talks to another, it will not work well. It must have a wider input, with more exoteric language being used rather than the current prevalence of esoteric language.
Given the role that the ethical review committee is supposed to play in an institution in formulating best practice and giving that institution some confidence in the procedures, the issue again arises of the perception of the security situation. Certainly at the university I worked in at the time, there was a great reluctance to publicise even the existence of the ethical review committee, never mind promoting its reports, because it was thought that that might give some kind of entree to terrorists bent on tracking down scientists. Again, that may be a real and genuine concern and I do not seek to underestimate it. It reflects the size of the problem that we have to overcome.
I agree that, as a part of the solution, it would be a good idea to have anonymised research project applications written up intelligibly and then, after they have been approved and funded, publicised. However, that raises further security concerns, although I do not know whether the anxiety is real. Given the obsessional nature of many animal rights people, it is perfectly feasible to conclude that, if a certain piece of research is concentrated in only one or two university departments, it may be possible for someone accessing a computer to watch over time the pattern of publications from those institutions and then to make a pretty good guess at who is the author. If they so wished, terrorists could then try to track that person down. There are some dangers that would not necessarily be overcome by anonymity; we need to think about them carefully.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and my noble friend Lord Winston in their argument for delegating to ethical review committees the responsibility for making minor changes to licences. Having chaired such a committee, I see absolutely no reason why they should not have the competence and integrity to do so. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Winston is absolutely right in his remarks about the problems of delay. We encountered very lengthy delays in securing licences even for pretty standard procedures.
Finally, speaking as someone whose wife has had 10 years of her life blighted by surgical incompetence, I would very much approve of the idea of doing everything to increase the competence of surgeons. If that involves practising on animals, then I think that is a jolly good thing.
My Lords, I share in the tributes paid to our chairman, Lord Smith of Clifton. He opened the debate with a fine speech that was entirely consistent with the qualities he demonstrated during our long hours together. I have enjoyed enormously being a member of the committee. I share, too, his opinions of the Government's response to our report; "patronising and complacent" are the words that I would use. The response was very disappointing.
One day we will have a Minister in the Home Office with responsibility for this corner who has an interest in the subject and sufficient expertise and who stays in office long enough to do something about it. This area is a typical administrative backwater, one given to the Minister with the least prestige in the department who, if they are lucky, find themselves bumped on in the next reshuffle. So these matters are never addressed.
The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, is himself an excellent example of how one can put a skilful Minister in the Lords, leave them in the same job for a number of years and watch them achieve things that are not possible through the rotating ministerial responsibilities that occur when a Commons Minister is attached to such areas. I hope that, one day, we will have a Home Office Minister in this House with responsibility for this area. I hope, too, that he remains for long enough, so that we can tackle the underlying issues. I say that because it is the lack of commitment and lack of interest on the part of the Government which shines through their responses.
I want to concentrate on the subject of information. As has been admitted, some of the procedures which are carried out on animals are extremely cruel. One of the product licences that we were allowed to read—and goodness, we had to fight hard to be shown any—was classified as "moderate", "gentle" or some other word which would have appeared in the statistics as procedures involving a few animals doing not very much. But within that classification was a percentage of animals that suffered in ways that just made my heart stop. We were doing things to those animals which were unbelievably cruel—and we were doing them for our own good.
These things are being done in our name. I support them being done—I believe that it is reasonable to use animals in this way to alleviate human suffering—but we ought to be told what is being done. We ought to give our permission, in an understanding way, for these things to be done to animals for the benefit of ourselves—because they are certainly not being done for the benefit of animals.
At the moment, the way in which we present statistics is dishonest, and the way in which we withhold information from the public of what is being done is one of the principal causes of animal terrorism. We do not allow any legitimate democratic discussion of these matters and we should not be surprised when that causes ulcers to erupt on the body politic—although I share in the deprecation of what the animal terrorists get up to, which is entirely unreasonable. If they were reasonable in their activities they would direct themselves at the Home Office and leave the good scientists and commercial businesses alone. We would then perhaps get a response from the Government in regard to the difficulties they cause.
I am very keen that we should make decent progress on some of the recommendations we have made, particularly in regard to the forum which would allow the many rational anti-vivisectionists and the organisations they represent to debate the fundamental science that lies at the heart of some of the things we are doing.
It is quite clear to me from visiting laboratories that some of the practices we follow exist only because they have always been there. We saw a large number of rats living in bad cages with absolutely nothing to do. Why? Because that is the way it has always been done. If you give the rats something to chew, something to amuse themselves with, it makes them happier, healthier rats. That means that the results of the experiments will be different. So we keep the rats in conditions which are fundamentally cruel and unpleasant because no individual experimenter can afford the costs of changing the parameters of the experiment they are carrying out. They want to line up with the experiments which have been carried out before, and if they make their rats happier they will get different results to which no one will pay attention.
The core of doing something about that situation is for the Government to take an enthusiastic and committed line with the OECD and the other international organisations which set the standards and to say, "No, we want these experiments carried out on rats which are as happy and as fulfilled as possible". It will take money, time and commitment—but the commitment required is of the Government. It cannot be done by individual researchers who, in order to make a success of what they are doing, of the grant money they have been given and of their careers, have to follow the patterns which have already been set. That needs to be challenged and discussed in a forum with a strong scientific basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, said that we are trying out a number of genes in animals. So we are—we will learn what these genes do in mice—but genes are not stable in what they do between one species and another. It has been a long time—about 40 million years—since our lines separated from mice. Genes learn to do different things in that amount of time. The same gene can have different functions in different animals however similar they may seem. We have to allow for the fact that sometimes we develop animal models which are not very good—or appear to be not very good—models of human disease, although often it is argued that they are and it becomes scientific practice to follow them, at great cost to animals.
The practice that causes me greatest distress is giving the symptoms of Parkinson's disease to monkeys. I cannot see that it is producing anything of use in the treatment of the human disease but, because it is the only model there, it is pursued at great length. So there must be a forum in which that kind of practice can be challenged; in which the scientists can be asked—
My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that one of the most important advances made in stem cell biology recently has been the use of exactly that model to demonstrate the cure of Parkinson's disease in a genetically modified rodent?
My Lords, we must be talking about a different model. I was referring to chemically induced Parkinsonism in monkeys, which visibly causes a lot of suffering.
These practices must be challengeable. If there is doubt, we must have a forum in which these issues can be challenged. That is one of our most important recommendations. There should be a way in which these matters can be properly debated, at a scientific level, between those who oppose particular lines of scientific research and those who advocate them in order that we may ultimately arrive at a common view. We know from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence that evidence-based medicine is doing a great deal of good for the National Health Service. We need to have evidence-based animal experimentation and the same kind of challenge in what we are doing.
One of the most extraordinary things that I noticed as a member of the committee is how little evidence there is that animal experimentation—particularly animal testing for toxicological purposes—really works. Very little research has been carried out. It took me a long time to get any information from the ministry as to what had been done. Ultimately, there was only one research paper with that focus, which had gathered information of all the testing carried out on pharmacological compounds and had started to look at which ones worked and which ones did not and at what were the deficiencies.
It becomes a matter almost of ritual that we are sacrificing animals because in some way it allows us to be comfortable that something is safer. Because we know it does not cause cancer in rats, we believe that it is safe in us; that because these animals have died in our name we are therefore safe. But we have not been doing the basic science; we have not been watching what we have been doing; we have not been gathering evidence to show that this, that or the other animal test is effective.
It is quite clear that many tests are effective—we have gone a long way down the road with animal tests—but we should be challenging what is being done. We are causing a great deal of cruelty in order to do us good and it is a moral imperative on us that we should make sure that the cruelty we are causing is in a good cause and that it is doing us good.
The development rate of new chemical compounds in the drug industry is slowing down—it is becoming slower and slower. It takes longer and longer to produce new effective compounds and it is becoming more and more expensive. We are piling on bureaucracy and safety tests. The whole business of creating new compounds is becoming more difficult—and throughout that process there is a lack of evidence that what we are doing is effective.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, drew attention to the slowness of getting approvals for projects and, particularly, for amendments to projects. We found no evidence that that saves an iota of animal suffering. We saw no evidence that it improves the science. It is merely a sclerosis in the system that has been allowed to develop because of a belief that a long and detailed process must be doing good. We need to concentrate on the evidence and make sure that everything we are doing with animals and science is effective. If we do that, we can hold our heads high and say that the cruelty we are inflicting on animals is justified.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Not only did it get to the very heart of the matter that we are discussing today, but it also gave me some relief in feeling that I would not be a lone voice in this debate. I may go a little further than the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would, but if I do it is because I am speaking not only for myself but on behalf of the Green Party, to which I belong.
Before I move to criticise the report of the Select Committee, I pay tribute to the absolutely admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, in presenting the report. I also pay tribute to the public-spiritedness of the people who took part in the Select Committee, even though I believe that their report and the Government's reply are severely flawed, not to say loaded.
Let me say, first, where my party and I come from. I myself am a carnivore; therefore, I cannot take the extreme position taken by some people, such as C.S. Lewis, that it is wrong for us to use animals as a means to our own ends. Nevertheless, I feel—and this is something to which most people pay lip service, at any rate—that in dealing with all animals who are under our control, including farm animals, about which I have been involved in legislation for a period of time, we owe them a duty to impose on them the absolute minimum of suffering, and then only for truly, undeniably important ends.
I differ from the Green Party's policy on animal rights just as I differ from most people not only in thinking that there are such things as animal rights, but also in thinking that there are human rights.
The Green Party says that the prevailing assumption that animals can be used for any purpose that benefits humankind is not acceptable in a green society. I would say that it is not acceptable in a human society, either.
While I commend the emphasis on the three Rs in the report, I deplore the Select Committee's failure to consider some of the rather more complex and detailed parts of the subject such as research conducted for household products, war-related psychological experiments and experiments on primates, which I particularly oppose. It certainly looks as though the membership of the committee and the selection of witnesses were skewed in favour of those who already accepted that a large degree of animal testing is necessary, as opposed to the large proportion of the population which, however ill thought out their views, do not.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out, experiments on animals are notoriously fallible when it comes to predicting for humans. The only really useful experiments are those which we carry out on ourselves. Here I pay tribute to those humans—doctors, scientists and others—who have pursued this path, often at great personal risk.
It is time to pass from the failings of the Select Committee to the failings of the Government. You might expect that I would therefore speak for as long again, but I will not because I think that noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, starting with the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and most others, have made so many good points about the inadequacy of the Government's response that it would be pointless for me to repeat them.
The committee called for improvements in transparency and for investment in non-animal methods. But the Government have not, it appears, agreed to any one single new initiative in this field.
I, too, say no to animal terrorists and yes to a reasonable rate of change in reducing animal experimentation until we get to the point where we do not have to have any of it. My colleague, Dr Caroline Lucas, a Member of the European Parliament, said yesterday that last year there were 2.7 million more animal experiments. That is 2.7 million more examples of our inhumanity to other species. I look forward to a society in which there will be virtually none or absolutely none.
I hope that both the noble Lords who have been involved in the Select Committee and, more particularly, the Government, will pay attention to the great feeling that exists about this in the country, and do something about it.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate our report and the Government's response, and also to add my thanks to our excellent chairman, our gifted Clerk, our special adviser, and to say how much I enjoyed working with the members of the committee.
I shall now say a few words to endorse the recommendation that a centre to promote the three Rs should be set up. Included in the appendices to the report are two other items on the subject—the report of the working group on a centre as part of the conference held by the committee on 21st May 2002 and the oral evidence given to the committee in Paris by Mr Koeter of the OECD.
There is a misunderstanding in the Government's response, which my noble friend Lord Soulsby mentioned. Paragraph 2 of the Government's introduction says:
"We also agree that the case put forward by the Select Committee for a United Kingdom centre for the 3Rs focused largely, but not exclusively, on toxicity testing, as a complement to other initiatives in this area, is worth exploring further".
However, Recommendation 24, which has already been quoted twice in this debate, states:
"A Centre for the Three Rs should be set up, consisting of a small, administrative hub which co-ordinates research units embedded in existing centres of scientific excellence".
Although research into alternatives to toxicity testing is very important, implementing the three Rs in fundamental research is in greater need of further work and government backing.
Since the report was published, there have been a number and variety of full and interesting comments. These have come from the Boyd Group, the MRC, FRAME, the RSPCA and many others. It has been said that the committee's recommendations on the subject of a centre were too sketchy. However, as they have stimulated such a lot of comments and suggestions, perhaps it is a good thing that the report was not too prescriptive.
It is accepted that, broadly speaking, animals used in scientific experiments fall into roughly two categories—testing for toxicity and basic medical research. Industry-driven testing for toxicity avoids some of the information transfer problems experienced by those undertaking blue-sky research. Regulatory testing will frequently use standardised tests which are internationally recognised and accepted. Cost is an important factor, as using animals is expensive, and any new method which reduces the number of animals involved will have considerable appeal.
However, as many more animals are used in biomedical research than for regulatory testing, alternatives are much harder to develop. Because of the very nature of academic research, despite the rigorous demands of the three-part licensing system it is not always possible to predict where the research will lead, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, emphasised when making a different point. As seeking improvements in the three Rs is not always top of the agenda, in order to help busy scientists in the search for alternatives it is important that useful and relevant knowledge, data and support are available to them.
It is generally agreed that work on alternatives must be embedded in existing research establishments. The hub and spoke model for a centre has been widely supported. What kind of hub? Real or virtual? How real or how virtual? One suggested model would have a director, scientific officers, secretariat and an executive council. That would inevitably lead to authority and control and impose a layer of bureaucracy on scientists already overburdened with process. It would need unrealistic levels of funding and does not appeal as a practical starting point. That is an elaborate model; there could be much simpler versions.
It is possible that the model most likely to succeed, anyway to start with, would be an almost virtual hub—almost because it would need a small secretariat to research and collate data and an expert committee which would meet occasionally. Its main purpose would be to create and maintain a database which would be designed to be attractive and useful to the scientific community in general, but particularly to those carrying out fundamental research, where there is the greatest need. It is also important that there should be a forum where scientists could meet at seminars, conferences and so on, and that is something the centre could organise.
The spokes would be embedded in research institutions. Every major institution should have a scientist working alongside those using animals who would be dedicated to pursuing the three Rs. Although scientists tend to use traditional methods, they recognise the advantages of maximising the use of each animal and thereby reducing numbers. Animals do not produce perfect results and experiments will be developed which will be more reliable. To raise the profile of alternatives it would be necessary for senior and prestigious scientists to be taking a lead in championing the research. That could be the nucleus of a centre based on the hub and spoke model that could grow into something more substantial.
A vast amount of research will continue to be carried out by universities, research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and other establishments. A centre for the three Rs would provide a facility that will enable scientists to take the message on board and provide them with a remit to promote alternatives.
My Lords, it was a privilege to sit on the Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures, under the wise and calming chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. I apologise for my late arrival during his opening speech. Our thanks, too, go to the Clerk and our special adviser, Professor Reiss.
I am a physical scientist with no involvement in animal experiments. However, I declare an interest as a professor in University College, London, where there is of course animal experimentation. We were all struck by the great care and scientific thoroughness exercised by all those involved in experimenting with animals for scientific and medicinal purposes. As I hope the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, would acknowledge, no one undertakes such experiments without a great deal of thought and concern.
I supported wholeheartedly the committee's first recommendation, that,
"it is morally acceptable for human beings to use other animals", appropriately and in a regulated structure.
Increasingly, as science advances and with it, one hopes, mutual understanding of ethical beliefs of different societies and groups around the world, humans everywhere accept the need to consider how we share the natural world with animals and plants. Of course, the natural world is complex and savage. Species defend their own interests, and humans are no exception. But perhaps we are special in recognising how similar we are in essence to animals at the level of genes, cells, organs, limbs and even brains. That poses a moral dilemma—that the more similar an animal species is to humans, the better it is as a substitute for humans for experimentation. Pragmatic but fine decisions have to be made and regulated. Consequently, lower order animals are used much more than the higher order animals closer to humans—but sometimes that is necessary.
It was remarkable to see that, in surgical operations conducted on monkeys, as a monkey came round after an operation, one of its carers was holding its hand. One knows the feeling oneself after general anaesthesia. That is just one example of how the scientific community feels about its moral duties and does something about them. The inspectorate can certainly take some credit, but more because of its advisory visits than its bureaucracy. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, made the point strongly about the moral involvement of his colleagues.
Given that our fundamental recommendation is broadly supported by society as a whole and by Parliament, it is incumbent on government and their agencies to ensure that those who work directly or indirectly with animals for science and medicine are publicly approved and protected against threats of violence or other intimidation. That issue was addressed on page 45 of our report, in a rather small piece of text, where we note that the Government must not only continue to speak up on behalf of the individuals and organisations involved in this work but must be much more energetic than hitherto in ensuring that individuals can go about their normal lives without the frightening abuse and even physical violence.
One notes that in Britain, the police seem to require only that people making threats and nuisance move away a few hundred yards. We learned that industry staff in the United States feel much safer because such people are banned for many years from even entering the county where those activities are going on. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, made some useful suggestions.
Similar ambivalence about providing robust support to those engaged in animal work is shown by the City of London, who have buckled under the pressure of animal rights protesters. We should not be surprised by their pusillanimous attitudes; Samuel Johnson commented in the 18th century on the,
"cowardice of a commercial place", in his diary following the Gordon riots in 1780.
Fortunately, today, the Government have used their financial resources to support companies, and we should acknowledge and be grateful for the extraordinary personal efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, the Science Minister, in that respect. Will he confirm that the policy will continue? Will the Financial Services Authority, or whoever is responsible for the City, be used to stiffen the City's backbone on those and other improper pressures, as they are applied?
An innovative and controversial element of the report was the recommendation that the Government and scientific community should devote more resources to seeking methods that can replace or reduce the numbers of animals used in experiments. We learned from witnesses that industry, universities and societies are very interested in using such methods, when they are effective, because of the obvious welfare benefits and because they can reduce costs. That is not a new idea, but the momentum for substitution is growing and will have huge repercussions for research, education and industry.
In the UK, pioneering research in which computer modelling is used to study the effect of drugs on the body is going on. As our report explains, there are two aspects: one is statistical, in which data from animal experiments are analysed and extrapolated to other situations. That would ensure the most effective use of the experiments and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, argued, could be used to challenge standard techniques that may not be effective. The other aspect is based on mathematical representation of certain processes and organs of the body and how they respond to drugs or other influences.
We learned of the exciting scientific and commercial developments of Professor Noble at Oxford. That approach is growing. However, it must be said that many biologists, some of whom I spoke to yesterday at the Royal College of Physicians, are very sceptical, because it is only through animal experiments that one can understand interactions in a full body. Such biologists appear to believe that any resources devoted specially to the three Rs will detract from scientific and medical research.
I recall the 1960s, when we saw such negativism about the use of computers. It was interesting, in the early 1960s, when Farnborough and the National Physical Laboratory were considering the use of computers for the design of aeroplanes. Because they were so good at an older technology of theoretical aerodynamics and wind tunnels, they were quite sceptical. The developments in fact took place elsewhere—fortunately, still in the UK, at Imperial College, Swansea, Cranfield and so on. Perhaps surprisingly, those revolutionary efforts were supported by the government through the research councils. We need a similar dual approach today.
The other methods involve laboratory-based experiments with some small samples of living matter. In the United States, the committee visited a small company developing in vitro methods to substitute certain animal experiments. The company is working towards making those methods also available for schools and universities, where animals and other dissection experiments are no longer available.
The committee concluded that developing such alternative techniques for widespread use, both in vitro and via computer modelling, required some focused effort. As the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, and others have explained, the pace of change is not going to be rapid if we rely solely on serendipitous developments by specialists, whose whole career and knowledge of experimental techniques is based on current methods. That opinion was strongly supported by the committee and by the report published in June 2003 of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, whose biologist chairman, Sir Tom Blundell, used to be chief executive of the Biological Research Council. It was also supported by working scientists and doctors I have met as well as by the House of Commons Early-Day Motion and, as one might expect, by several animal welfare societies.
Therefore, I hope the Minister will take back to the Home Office and other government departments the general feeling of disappointment about the Government's response to Recommendation 6. I note that the Medical Research Council essentially supports this Government's lukewarm response on this recommendation. There seems to be little recognition by the Government and by the Medical Research Council of the wider economic, educational and, dare one say, political advantages of increasing resources for the three Rs and of having some centre or focus to drive them forward. Such a centre would ensure that the developments were widely understood and the potential benefits properly emphasised and explained. I hope that the Department for Education and Skills can be involved regarding the points that I have already mentioned.
As the present and previous governments have bemoaned and, as the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, wrote in a recent Parliamentary Monitor article, there have been all too many examples of scientific developments not being exploited. Will the Government ensure that the Medical Research Council and other government departments pursue those developments diligently and imaginatively? A ministerial reply in the other place indicated that there would be a response by the autumn. Will this House also be informed at the same time?
I return to the fundamentals. Animal experiments are essential and the UK can learn from other countries. I refer in that regard to governments, doctors, pharmacists and perhaps even the health centre at the Palace of Westminster. Much more publicity is needed to explain this inescapable feature of modern medicine. As regards the broader areas I hope that we shall hear the Minister say how he might spread this message through the Central Office of Information.
My Lords, first, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, for arriving slightly late for his opening speech. If the first half was as good as the second half, I am sure that I have missed something rather special. I am pretty certain, though, that the stop shack had switched off the traffic lights to make sure that I was late arriving here.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for his excellent chairmanship. I also thank our musical Clerk. I and my fellow members of the committee were a happy band of brothers. I believe that we had a completely and utterly fascinating time.
When I asked the head of the Rosslyn Institute how cloning worked, he started to say, "Lord Onslow, if I were to clone you", but before he could get any further, my noble friend Lord Smith said, "Do not let it even begin to cross your mind". That was not uttered sotto voce but in the manner extempore. After the quality of the work done by my colleagues, the Clerk and my noble friend—I use that word completely advisedly—Lord Smith, the reaction of the Government immediately reminds me of the two words "damp" and "squib". The only thing that slightly cheers me is the sight of my old housemate, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, sitting on the Front Bench opposite. At least I know that he knows what he is talking about. Earlier this week I spoke to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who was due to reply to this debate. She expressed blank terror at the thought of having to deal with this matter as well as the Criminal Justice Bill. I thank the Government for allotting the reply to the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, who knows what a molecule is.
On being appointed to the committee I was determined to be open-minded and to give the anti-vivisectionists a fair run for their money. After all the evidence that we have heard, I am completely sure that animals must continue to be used in the way that we are debating. I read a report published by the APC in June this year which further increased my certainty. But that does not mean that all in the experimental world is correct. The committee was made up of a group of people who could be said to be disparate. But at the end of our deliberations it was impossible to drive a fag paper between our views as expressed in the report. We went thorough it line by line, co-operatively and constructively. It was an object lesson in how these things should be done.
I wish to comment on three aspects and three aspects only. First, I want to underline regulation, secondly, statistics—which I regret to say the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, seems to have misunderstood—and, thirdly, genetic modification. They all interact. The regulations are always said to be the tightest in the scientific world. In paragraph 5.32, we state:
"Bureaucracy in itself does not contribute to animal welfare".
That is self-evident, but it does not appear that the Government have understood that. We pointed out that bureaucracy was not the best approach. The Government do not appear to see this obvious truth. That is reflected in the slightly self-satisfied tone of the reaction of Her Majesty's Government to our report.
The time that it takes to approve projects is much longer than in any other country. The time taken even to get minor changes in a licence, such as reducing the number of rats used from 99 to 98, is like the death of Charles II—unconscionable. We were told of one certain case of it being cheaper to do an experiment in the United States rather than wait for the licence for the visiting scientist to be approved, so everyone involved in that experiment was flown from England to the United States. That is not satisfactory. We show how that can be rectified in paragraph 5.28 which states:
"It is worth emphasising that the 1986 Act requires personal, institutional, and project licences. The UK is the only country to require an explicit cost/benefit assessment of every application to conduct animal research".
I am afraid to say that the Government have not upheld that point of view.
Paragraph 5.33 states:
"We consider that the UK should strive not for the tightest regulation, but for the best regulation, properly enforced", to which the Government responded with the following reply:
"The Government already strives for the most efficient and effective regulation. The responsibilities placed upon the Secretary of State by the 1986 Act impose stringent criteria that must be satisfied before licence authorities are granted".
There is a general smugness running through the whole of the response which depresses one greatly. The Government's response to the recommendations in paragraphs 5.40 and 5.46 are again depressing. Paragraph 5.40 of the report states:
"We recommend that urgent consideration should be given by the Home Office to the simplification of project licences, with the aim of reducing the length of a typical licence to 10 pages".
The Government state in response:
"It is in our view of little value to make comparisons with the licences of other countries, where the regulatory regimes are different. Nor is it particularly helpful to specify a maximum number of pages as a target for reducing licences".
I ask, why not? Are we so smug that nothing can be improved?
Paragraph 5.46 of the report states:
"We recommend that visiting scientists and students in higher education should be allowed to carry out work under the licences of an established licence-holder, who would take responsibility for their actions and for the maintenance of animal welfare".
The Government respond by stating:
"It need not cause significant delay, as the licence application can be processed before the person arrives in the UK and the licence granted as soon as the training certificate is received".
We have heard much evidence that that is not the case.
Secondly, I turn to statistics. What is the phrase, "Lies, damned lies, and statistics"? It is a cliche. However, it has a grain of truth in it. The statistics on animals used are misleading, as the numbers contain all the mice and rats bred for genetic modification, a large proportion of which will not be used. Under French, European and American law, they are not covered by the legislation.
That being the case, the number of animals used is falling. The categories of "mild", "moderate" and "substantial" are misleading. The RSPCA states on the matter that,
"the information contained in the statistics appears to be detailed but is actually of limited use".
At paragraph 9.34, we state that,
"we consider that the current system of assessing pain and suffering is already highly misleading".
Again, the reaction of Her Majesty's Government veered towards the self-satisfied.
Statistically distorting though genetic modification may be, the progress that can be achieved through the science is mind-blowing. Introduce the human gene into a mouse so that it can get human cancers or diseases such as Alzheimer's, and drugs can be tested on a creature where the time of progression can be concertinaed by years. The APC appendix states:
"The production by animals of genetically modified proteins to treat devastating human diseases has already been enormously beneficial (e.g. insulin, growth hormone). Large quantities of high quality hormones which are not contaminated (e.g. with prions, HIV) can be produced in this way. This is likely to provide safe treatments for many other human diseases in the near future. All will have to be tested on animals for their efficacy and safety".
It goes on to suggest:
"The use of antitrypsin, which is being extracted from the milk of a herd of transgenic sheep, as a possible treatment for cystic fibrosis and other lung disease. This is in the final stages of clinical trials".
That shows the immense excitement that there is. Even as someone who is scientifically pretty ignorant, I can be excited by that because it shows that the science is so important.
We must do nothing to inhibit the experiments, for two reasons. The first is the benefit of mankind, and the second is not to fetter the achievements of British science which, although I understand little of its intricacies, I came to admire enormously during my time on the Select Committee.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and his colleagues on their report on animals in scientific procedures. I am a layman, but I found the report to be a fascinating inquiry into issues that are both significant and sensitive. If I may say so without being patronising in any way, I found the report as clear as it is thorough as it is direct. The subject is one about which the general public have become progressively more concerned and interested in recent years. It also inspires many diametrically opposed opinions, some of which have been aired during the debate, so it is appropriate that the report should be wide-ranging and yet meticulous in its analysis and conclusions.
By contrast, I am afraid that I found the tone of the Government's reply to the report disappointing. I am aware that many noble Lords have used harsher words than that about it. I found it particularly disappointing given the Labour Party's great enthusiasm for the topic when in opposition. The Labour policy document entitled New Labour, New Britain, New Life for Animals, published before the 1997 general election stated:
"Labour will insist on the highest standards of welfare for animals in the laboratory, and ensure that they are used only when essential for medical and other scientific purposes. We will support a Royal Commission to review the effectiveness and justification of animal experiments and to examine alternatives".
No royal commission has yet been set up, so the general public is entitled to be a tad cynical about the reality of the Government's commitment. Such cynicism is likely to be reinforced by the varying tone of the Government's reply to the Select Committee. It commences with warm endorsement in the introduction, but adopts a much more cautious reaction to the individual recommendations.
At the outset, I should make it clear that on these Benches we share the committee's view that some testing of animals in scientific procedures is necessary. It may be unpleasant, but it is regrettably unavoidable. Views in support of that were powerfully expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. Jane Asher recently brought attention to the debate in a speech at a medical conference, published in the Daily Telegraph on 9th October, where she asked:
"Can you really imagine a mother being shown her child in extreme pain and distress, for example, and being told that the death of a few mice and rats would end it, and her hesitating for one second?".
I do not for a moment suggest that the case for animal testing is as black and white and as simple as that quotation suggests, but it encapsulates a view which makes it hard to dismiss the importance of effective regulated animal testing. The importance of the effectiveness was also underlined by my noble friend Lord Lucas, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley.
In my view, the Select Committee has performed a very valuable service in drawing attention to the regulatory balance to be struck, the difficulties in so doing and, in particular, the challenges posed because of the rapid rate of technological advance and the shift in public opinion about the acceptability of animal testing.
An example from a parallel field may help to underline my point. In a previous incarnation, I was a member of one of the City's regulatory bodies. I am slightly nervous about admitting that in the light of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, about the City, but I shall proceed. Every time that anything went wrong in the City there would be a cry for some new regulation. The easy option was to introduce it. However, there is no God-given reason why financial services have to stay in the City of London. Raise the regulatory barrier too high and slowly, even imperceptibly at first, the business will move to centres which are seen to have a more appropriate regulatory touch.
That is equally not an argument for a free-for-all—quite the reverse. A financial market rocked by frequent scandals will lose business for the converse reason—that it is not a good place for individual firms to be associated with. That seems to be a key point in the Select Committee's report, with its emphasis on the "best regulation" rather than the "tightest". Many noble Lords have commented on the level of bureaucracy, which is an issue to be addressed in the context of best regulation. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and my noble friend Lord Onslow all spoke about that.
Another important achievement of the Select Committee's report was to address what has been labelled as the crisis of trust. Chapter 9 of the report explains that, in 2002, the Science and Technology Committee of this House published Science and Society, a report on the relationship between scientists and the public. It suggested that the crisis of trust was particularly apparent in the debate about the use of animals in scientific procedures. Some of the reasons for that crisis have a wide application over a variety of scientific fields: people are generally more questioning of authority; some government departments and institutions still operate too much under a culture of secrecy; and some scientific issues have in the past been framed so as to exclude consideration of moral, social and ethical issues.
That all contributes to creating a public suspicion of science and scientists. The example of Hillgrove Farm illustrates how, in that climate of secrecy and suspicion, matters can get out of hand. It was an appropriately licensed facility that bred cats for the purpose of experimentation. There was a strong and very active campaign against the farm from critics over a long period, eventually resulting in its closure. Despite implications, no experiments were actually carried out on the cats at Hillgrove Farm. The show of protest required a constant police presence around the farm during its last two years costing an estimated £3 million. Protestors saw its closure as a milestone victory.
However, the RSPCA, not an organisation which can be considered a pushover when it comes to animal welfare, took a different view, as can be seen from a detail of its briefing released at the time of the closure. It reads:
"There will still be a demand for laboratory cats and the RSPCA is concerned that more cats will now be imported from other countries where we have no control over how they are bred. More research using cats may also be conducted overseas where conditions in laboratories may not meet those required in the UK".
How could costly and fundamentally unhelpful events like that be avoided, or at least their frequency reduced? As many noble Lords have pointed out, there surely can be no doubt that better communication with the public would have benefited all parties, not least the Government. Establishing and developing a means of communication must be a major responsibility of the Government. Most members of the general public do not approve of the harder, more aggressive line taken by, for example, the Huntingdon Life Sciences activists, but the disturbing stories about animal experimentation, which have circulated over the years, have none the less caused certain public concerns. The only answer must be to be open and tell the truth. Despite a supportive introduction, the Government do not seem to be yet ready to respond sufficiently vigorously to the Select Committee's specific recommendations. In that, I share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and many other noble Lords.
For example, the Select Committee devoted considerable attention to public information. Indeed, the whole of Chapter 9 was devoted to it. However, the Government's response to Recommendations 28, 29, 30 and 31 and the contents of paragraph 9.5 could best be described as lukewarm. Above all, they did not appear to show much urgency, preferring instead to fall back on further consultation.
Another way in which the committee helpfully suggested that public concern could be dispelled was through greater lay involvement. Recommendation 23 proposes that an external lay member should be required as part of each ethical review process.
ERP provides independent advice to the certificate holder on standards of animal care, advises on ethical issues and promotes awareness. There is no point in the process at which lay involvement could be more effective, yet the Government apparently do not consider it to be practical or reasonable to make the involvement of a lay person mandatory on the ERP. However, a lay role in bringing an additional perspective to the process is extremely important. Paragraph 6.18 of the report states:
"Lay members, as outsiders to the scientific community, can ask fundamental questions about justification which scientists might pass over as being seemingly too obvious to need justification. They can represent ethical viewpoints which those who are immersed in science might not normally consider. Lay membership allows a form of public scrutiny which should contribute to greater openness and a more rounded assessment of animal research".
Surely such a proposal runs with the grain of the Government's general agreement with the Select Committee on creating a more open and transparent debate on the use of animals in scientific procedures. Some establishments might find it difficult, as the Government claim, to identify and recruit lay members, but that can by no means be an adequate excuse.
The Government reacted similarly to paragraph 5.18, which proposes the inclusion of "lay visitors" on the visits by the inspectorate to the designated establishments. It is hard to see how the Government can be seriously concerned about issues of security and bio-security if the inspectorate is to be accompanied by a named animal care and welfare officer or a lay member from the ERP. Surely that will both encourage best practice in animal care and promote public confidence in the system.
That would be similarly true of Recommendation 28, concerning the repeal of Section 24—the confidentiality clause—of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The Government's response is that they recognise,
"that there remains a significant level of concern in the scientific community about the implications of repealing Section 24" and that it might jeopardise the safety of individual scientists. They conclude merely that they will further consult the scientific community.
The Government's reaction suggests that the recommendation is pushing for the disclosure of the identities of all involved in any experimentation, but, as I read it, that is not the case. The recommendation's wording runs,
"specific justification should then be made for each class of information that needs to be kept confidential, such as the identity of researchers and matters of commercial confidentiality and intellectual property".
The recommendation appears to promote clarity and transparency. If identities have to be hidden, which we understand must happen from time to time, an explanation why identities cannot be disclosed will give the public confidence that it is a truly open relationship.
Recommendation 24 was spoken to powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and my noble friends Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior and Lady Eccles of Moulton. It proposes setting up a centre for the three Rs, comprising a small administrative hub to co-ordinate research units embedded in existing centres of scientific excellence.
I agree with my noble friends that the Government's response to this is typical of many of their responses. While they "broadly" accept the gist of the recommendation, their preference is clearly for an exclusively toxicology-based centre as they are prepared only to "consult further" on the Select Committee's proposal of an all-embracing centre.
As the RSPCA pointed out in its briefing, only about 17 per cent of animal procedures are classified as involved in toxicology. It expands:
"It is difficult to reconcile the response to this recommendation with the earlier Government statement that they see progress with the Three Rs to be the responsibility of the entire biomedical community, and believe that the development of the Three Rs strategies should be embedded in mainstream biomedical research rather than separated from it".
If that is truly the Government's outlook on the subject, why not accept the Select Committee's recommendation to establish a centre for the three Rs?
The RSPCA further observed that the Government claim two centres already exist; the MRC Centre for Best Practice in Animal Research (CBPAR) and the Inter-Departmental Data Sharing Group (now IDG3Rs). But the RSPCA points out that neither of the organisations has yet achieved any track record in realising alternative methods,
"nor is sufficiently broad-based to fulfil the necessary functions".
The Research Animals Department of the RSPCA has written that the CBPAR's remit concentrates mainly on raising standards of animal husbandry through reduction and refinement. However, it does not focus on replacement, one of the integral three Rs and, as far as the RSPCA can make out, its membership consists of only four people.
The Inter-Departmental Data Sharing Group was initially set up for safety testing; evaluating the test data of various new medicines and chemicals. It was renamed the Inter-Departmental Group on the Three Rs on 25th February 2003 so as better to reflect its functions, which are, according to a Home Office circular:
"to improve the application of the Three Rs and promote research into alternatives, reducing the need for toxicity testing through better sharing of data and encouraging the validation and acceptance of alternatives".
But since the promotion of that circular, and since the change of name, little has been heard from IDG3Rs. Contrary to the Government's assertions, it hardly has a high public profile. I can find no website and little to no information available elsewhere. Membership of the IDG3Rs was, when last revealed, around 12 people.
All that information suggests that there has simply been a cosmetic change rather than a fundamental one. So the Government's claim that the CBPAR and the IDG3Rs provide sufficient development of the three Rs is clearly arguable. Backing focused development of the three Rs is a policy on which all parties can agree. On the other hand, trying to co-ordinate this development among numerous disparate factions with varying interests and commitments may well produce little of value.
I conclude where I began by saying that I consider this to be a valuable and meaty report. The Government could and should have made better use of it. No one underestimates the fine judgments that need to be made on a number of issues: on the right level of regulation; on the right level of public knowledge; and on the right level of lay involvement. And these fine judgments have to be made against the background of groups holding very different views.
The Select Committee is to be congratulated on a brave attempt to strike these balances. It remains to be seen whether the Government will be brave enough to build on that work. I look forward to hearing their response.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and members of the Select Committee for their excellent report. The subject of animal experimentation raises many sensitive and difficult issues, and the Select Committee heard many sincerely held and diverse views expressed in the evidence it received.
Faced with that diversity of view, the Select Committee produced an extremely well-informed, interesting and important report containing many helpful suggestions. It was right in taking a tough-minded view about the need for animal experimentation—a clear view that we needed to continue to improve the system of control—and at the same time rightly calling for more information in terms of public debate.
First, I shall deal with what I consider to be three general points made in the debate—two by the noble Lord, Lord Clifton, and one by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. Our government response did not come simply from the Home Office; it came from all the government departments involved. The task was considerable, involving the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Health, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Education and Skills, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Ministry of Defence. That may account for the fact that it took rather a long time to issue it.
Secondly, I do not consider our approach to this matter to have been at all negative. We believe that most of the recommendations are being taken forward. However, they are complicated and, therefore, they are not being taken forward as fast as I would like. But I believe that all the important ones are being taken forward and that the complex issues are being dealt with.
In that connection, perhaps I may say that the question of a centre for the three Rs is very complicated. I shall come to that in a moment. However, I do not believe that we should fall into making the mistake, which is common in these situations, of saying, "You have a problem. The solution to it is to set up a centre". We should not do that without examining what the centre should do and what the effect would be, and why there is a difference between general scientific research and toxicity. In this connection, that is an important point.
Thirdly, I turn to the question of animal terrorism. I do not believe that it was central to the report but it provided a context for it. I totally agree with the noble Lords, Lord Taverne and Lord Hunt, that it is intolerable in our society that people who carry out such experiments should be subjected to the level of harassment and violence that they have experienced. We are dealing with part of that problem in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. Having been away for the past week, I do not know whether that section of the Bill has been dealt with, but we are taking forward new legislation and other legislation has previously been introduced in that respect.
I am not convinced that it is right to bring forward new legislation specifically on this issue. Most of the activities undertaken are covered, if inadequately, by current legislation, and I believe that our first line should be to improve that legislation. However, if necessary, we shall have to deal with it. I say clearly that I do not believe the Government are at all satisfied with the level of protection that we can give to people in that situation and certainly, in the future, we must do better.
I return to the subject of the report. It recognises that the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 is a complex piece of legislation, making provision for the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes and balancing that against the legitimate needs of science and industry.
In that context, the cost-benefit analysis is fundamental to that legislation. We cannot have a situation in which, on the one hand, we pass legislation which has a very specific approach to this issue and, on the other, say that somehow we do not have to obey those considerations. Cost benefit is fundamental to this legislation. That is the way that it is done and we must operate within the context of what this country has passed as legislation.
I turn to the substance of the Select Committee's report. The Government share the Select Committee's view that it is morally acceptable for human beings to use other animals in scientific research but that it is morally wrong to cause them unnecessary or avoidable suffering. We believe the same view is held by the great majority of people in the United Kingdom.
The Government also note, and endorse, the Select Committee's finding that there is a continuing need for animal experiments both in applied research and in research aimed at extending knowledge. We agree that fundamental and applied scientific research is essential for progress. We note that, in the field of healthcare, research using animals has contributed to almost every medical advance in the past century. I simply say to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that the great value of the report is how clearly it sets out the arguments as to why animal experimentation is necessary. In addition, the 2.7 million experiments that he mentioned are the total number of experiments carried out in a year; they do not represent the increase in animal experimentation.
I also believe that public opinion, which the noble Lord quoted, is very sensible and entirely right on this issue. Most people in this country accept the idea of animal experimentation but are very clear that it should not take place in any case where it is unnecessary or causes unnecessary suffering. I also believe that the whole issue of information and openness is important because, if people are asked what type of regulations they would like to see in relation to animal experimentation, they describe what they see as the ideal system, and that is the system that we already have in this country. Therefore, there is a huge job to be done in communicating what already exists so that people understand what is going on. Although the situation may change in the future, the development of all new drugs, and a number of medical and veterinary technologies, continues to depend on the carefully regulated and responsible use of animals for research.
I turn to some of the major issues raised by the Select Committee. We welcome the committee's recognition of the progress that has been made since 1987 in reducing the number of animals used in scientific procedures and in establishing a "culture of care" in establishments licensed under the 1986 Act. In spite of the essential role that animal studies continue to play, significant progress has been made with the three Rs—the refinement of scientific procedures, the reduction in the number of animals used, and their replacement, wherever possible—since the 1986 Act was implemented.
The statistics show that, since 1987, the number of procedures using animals started each year has reduced by almost a quarter. Most of the credit for that should go to the scientific community. In the commercial sector, animal use has almost halved over the years, despite increased investment and activity.
We accept, however, that those successes are no reason for complacency. Therefore, the Government welcome the opportunity provided by the Select Committee's report to reaffirm their commitment to the further development and fullest possible application of the three Rs. We also acknowledge that that commitment is shared by the research community, whose ideas and resources drive progress in these areas and with whom responsibility for advances in the three Rs must primarily lie.
Having said that, we have agreed that the persuasive case put forward by the Select Committee for a United Kingdom centre for research into the three Rs should be taken forward and explored further. The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, the noble Baroness, Lady Eccles, and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised the question of what the centre should do.
Perhaps I may explain why I believe there is a difference between general scientific research and toxicity testing. In the case of general scientific research, it seems to be clear that every kind of scientific experimentation has its own problems and issues. If one is dealing with a single-cell recording from the brain, that presents a different problem from dealing with drugs and other issues.
Therefore, it is very difficult to carry out general work which, in the multitude of areas, takes the methodology forward. It is far better to try to encourage and incentivise the individual scientist who carries out those specialised procedures to develop them, to do them better and to find other ways of doing them rather than to try to implement general programmes. That is not true in relation to toxicity testing, where it may be possible for major programmes to take the science forward. That is why we are concerned to get right our ideas on what the centre should do before going ahead.
That is, in fact, being taken forward by the inter- departmental Group on the three Rs, led by the Home Office and comprising officials from the Department of Health, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Office of Science and Technology, the Food Standards Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and other agencies.
The work of the group has so far established that there is support for a body to act as a means better to publicise and co-ordinate what is already done by way of research into the three Rs. There is also agreement among the scientific community that each of the three Rs is important and that work on them should remain part of mainstream biomedical research rather than be separated from it.
There is also support for an Internet portal to provide easy access to reference material and advice, and strong support for the Medical Research Council's Centre for Best Practice in Animal Research as a major new resource in relation to fundamental research. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, cast doubt on the value of the work of the Medical Research Council's Centre for Best Practice in Animal Research. It was set up only recently and has already acquired among scientists and others great respect for its work, which people regard as very important. The minutes of the interdepartmental group on the three Rs and information about its work are on the Home Office website.
The responses we have had to this proposal are encouraging and will form the basis of the group's further consideration of the Select Committee's recommendation. However, I reiterate that there is no point in having the centre as a totem pole; it is what it does which will be important in taking forward this agenda.
Many responses to this proposal have emphasised the need for a global rather than a purely national approach to research into three Rs. So, there are many practical issues which remain to be resolved, including how a UK centre would be managed and funded and its relationship with the European Centre for the Validation of Advanced Methods and other international bodies.
The interdepartmental group will report back to Ministers on its findings in the early part of next year. The Government have also noted the Select Committee's view that the United Kingdom should aim to have the best regulation of animal procedures properly enforced rather than the tightest regulation. In our response we made clear that we already strive for the most efficient and effective regulation.
However, the responsibilities placed upon Ministers by the 1986 Act impose stringent criteria that must be satisfied before licence authorities are granted. We believe that that is as it should be and is necessary in order to generate and maintain public confidence in the regulatory system and the degree of protection it affords to the animals concerned.
We accept that the project licence application form should be as short and simple as possible. That is a real issue for applicants. But the form must provide the minimum information necessary for the inspectorate to conduct the assessments required and for Ministers to demonstrate that they have properly discharged their duties under the 1986 Act. That is clearly an interest of the regulated and the regulator alike.
Previous efforts by government and representatives of the research community, including the industry-based Expert Group on Efficient Regulation (EGER), have shown that the production of a much shorter application form and licence that will meet existing regulatory needs is a difficult task. It is easy to point out that there is a problem here, but difficult to come up with solutions.
On a number of occasions when I have spoken with both scientists and industrialists I have made it clear that if such a document could be produced I would personally take it forward and make certain that it was implemented. However, we are currently again considering this matter with the research community with a view to producing a revised application form which all concerned accept is as simple and short as it possibly can be.
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that both the ABPI and the Research Defence Society took part in a working group, which was set up this year to look at simplification of the project licence. Indeed, it met recently with a Home Office Minister to discuss the way forward on this work. If the Select Committee has any more detailed thoughts on how this application form should be changed, we should be keen to hear them. This is a subject on which we want to make real progress. However, it is not one on which there are quick or easy answers and it would be wrong to build high expectations. But together the Government and the scientific community will redouble their efforts to find a workable solution. A joint project team will report back to Ministers on this matter in the early part of next year.
I turn to the question of openness and the review of Section 24 of the 1986 Act. The Government share the view of the Select Committee that there is a need for more open and better informed debate about the use of animals in scientific procedures. Government departments, industry, the scientific community and funders of such research all have an important role in explaining their legitimate use.
We also believe that more good quality information should be made available to the public explaining the scientific work that is done using animals and the reasons for it. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winston, that we must move away from the idea of a public understanding of science to science in society and that, indeed, we must have a situation where the public take ownership of research. Also scientists need to tackle these ethical issues sooner rather than later and to be seen by the public to be doing so.
Subject to safeguards for personal and confidential information, we are therefore pressing ahead with our plans to publish summaries of project licences on the Home Office website as part of the Home Office publication scheme under the Freedom of Information Act. Discussions with the scientific community have so far identified an encouraging degree of agreement on their content.
However, strong concerns have been raised by some scientists that the requirement to produce licence summaries will increase the administrative burden on project licence applicants, something we are anxious to avoid unless it is offset by streamlining of the application form. That is another matter which has been taken forward by the joint project team considering the licence application form. However, the Government are determined to iron out the practicalities in consultation with the scientific community and to start publishing summaries in an agreed format next year.
As to the future of Section 24 of the 1986 Act, the so-called "confidentiality clause", we are aware from our further consultation with the scientific community earlier this year that there remains a significant level of concern about the implications of repealing it as the Select Committee recommended. Section 24 has nothing whatsoever to do with what information is put into the public domain. It is solely concerned with the question of penalties for people who improperly put that information into the public domain.
In a climate which the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, graphically described as "animal terrorism", it is not clear to me that reducing penalties on civil servants and others who put into the public domain information which should not be divulged is an obvious sign to the scientific community that we take this question of animal terrorism very seriously. An announcement about the outcome of the Government's review of Section 24 will be made to Parliament in the next few weeks.
I turn to some of the more specific issues raised by noble Lords which I have not yet covered. As regards the question of the project licence processing times, first, we have not made a great deal of progress but we have not gone back on this. The target concerns 85 per cent and 35 clock days. Compared to most other countries, certainly in Europe, that is not bad, if it can be done in seven weeks. The figure of 94 per cent probably was an old target. It was a target of such spectacular nonsense that we have, quite rightly, got rid of it. It was simply a target number of days which civil servants who issued the licences took between the time they received the information that the licence could be granted and sending out the licence. In view of the fact that we achieved 94 per cent, or whatever, three or four days, as one can imagine is neither here nor there. The question concerned the number of clock days between the licence application being received and an answer being given. That is what we now monitor. The performance is not as good as it should be but is quite a lot better than it was in the past.
As a society we cannot have it both ways. We either have a complex piece of legislation which requires a cost-benefit analysis, which will take a certain amount of time, or we can have something which is much simpler and quicker but the legislation is on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis.
As regards the staffing of the inspectorate, we said that we would raise that from 21—
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Earl. I should have mentioned that point. When I considered this in detail, one of the biggest problems was the speed of the ethical review process, which was not part of the remit of the Home Office. As regards the question of minor alterations, much of this concerns the way in which the licence is drafted in the first place. It is extremely important—the Home Office inspectors have given considerable advice on this—that it is not too narrowly specified. Clearly, if it is specified narrowly and then it is changed, the licence has to be agreed again.
So this is a question which is, to some extent, in the hands of the people putting in the applications. They should be drawn up properly and sensibly.
Right. I have to say that there are many examples of this and the specification does not have to be so tight. If we can get that changed then we can get rid of many of these smaller alterations which obviously are holding up the scientific research.
I turn to the question of the staffing of the animal procedures inspectorate. We said we would raise it from 21 to 33. It stands today at 28. Interviews have already been held with the idea of having the 33 in place by the end of March 2004, which was the timetable we gave for that.
A question was raised about transgenic mice and genetically modified strains. There is an issue here. The Government agree with the current practice of including all genetically modified animals that are bred. The headline figure in the statistics of scientific procedures on living animals on whether or not they suffer adverse welfare effects may give some readers a false impression of the nature and extent of the use of animals for experimental and other scientific purposes. However, I do not think they can be totally excluded. We have asked the Animal Procedures Committee to consider as part of the wider review of the statistics how best to modify the format of content of the annual statistics to identify the information that is of most interest, and to present it in as clear a fashion as possible.
Regarding applications to practise surgical training, the 1986 legislation does not prohibit the authorisation of projects for training in surgery. At present, the only such techniques authorised relate to training clinicians in microvascular techniques. Should an application be made for other categories of training in manual skills, this would be considered. So I think that there is a lack of communication. We need to make certain that if there is a real need for this that people put forward applications.
The timing of the three Rs centre was raised. A progress report was made to Home Office Ministers in September. The responsible Minister, Caroline Flint, recently discussed some of the issues with scientific community representatives and asked for further work to be done and for a further progress report by early next year.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith, and the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, raised the question of better statistics on animal suffering. I have already dealt with that issue. We are getting on with that with the Animal Procedures Committee.
The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, raised a slightly separate issue on the question of providing better statistics on animal suffering. The Government agree that the provision of further and better information on the life experience of each animal used in scientific procedures would be desirable. Again, we have asked the Animal Procedures Committee to carry out a small pilot study on this as part of its wider review of the statistics.
My noble friend Lord Plant and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised the question of lay members of the ethical review processes. This is an issue. We believe that involvement of lay members in local ethical review process is beneficial and we continue to encourage it. We have done so most recently in a Home Office circular issued in February this year. However, some establishments, as the Government explained, particularly smaller ones, have genuine difficulty in identifying and recruiting lay members. That is not surprising in the current climate of work on animal research.
The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised the question of the forum and suggested that the inspectorate should convene a regular forum to discuss specific scientific and welfare issues related to the use of animals in experiments. We do not, however, see the inspectorate, whose role is essentially operations and technical, as naturally being best placed to lead and convene a forum of the kind envisaged by the committee and instead will ask the Animal Procedures Committee, which is a more broadly-based source of advice in these matters, to consider whether that is a role that it could undertake.
Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised the question of a Royal Commission. I would simply say that we have not ruled that out. Of course major changes have taken place since that point, which have addressed many of the issues.
I thank noble Lords for a very well-informed and informative debate. I do not know whether I have answered everyone's questions. Quite a few were raised at the beginning of the debate, of which I have answered only the main ones. I shall look at the record of the debate and answer any specific questions to which I have not responded so far.
The Select Committee has done a very important and useful job for us. I thank all its members for their work. These are very difficult and sensitive issues. The Government remain fully committed to ensuring that the 1986 Act continues to be implemented as effectively and as efficiently as possible. The committee's report and the views expressed today will inform the Government's further consideration of these issues.
My Lords, I echo what the Minister has said and thank all noble Lords who have participated in the debate. It has been wide-ranging. One of the things the Minister and the civil servants in the Box will take back with them is that there was near unanimity about the relative feebleness of the Government's initial response.
I am very grateful to the Minister for coming here off the plane, which, as I said at the beginning, gives the right kind of signal. I am not sure that he has persuaded all of us that progress is being made quite as fast as we think it should be. But, he will know by the response today that further questions will be asked about that progress in the future. Of that there can be no doubt.