Motion to Take Note

Part of EU: Directive on the Protection of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes (EUC Report) – in the House of Lords at 3:11 pm on 10th February 2010.

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Photo of Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior Conservative 3:11 pm, 10th February 2010

My Lords, I join Her Majesty's Government in welcoming the House of Lords EU Select Committee report and its findings. In doing so, I declare several interests. I have a long-term interest in the protection of animals. I held a Home Office licence from 1950 until my retirement from the university. I have been a member of the Animal Procedures Committee of the Home Office and I am currently a patron of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, otherwise known as FRAME.

Over the past 50 years or so, the United Kingdom has been in the lead in laboratory animal practice legislation, development and welfare. Many years ago, it was well recognised that good welfare for laboratory animals equated with good science, good research and reliable results that were important in understanding and treating diseases of man and animals. Some countries have been slow to adopt laboratory animal regulation believing that it would be prejudicial to biological research in general and to the development of biological research. An example is the United States of America where, until relatively recently, there was strong opposition to the regulation of laboratory animal work. It was only in the 1960s that federal regulations and financing projected laboratory animal welfare on a federal scale. In 1981, the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing-CAAT-was established. It gave strong impetus to the production of federal regulations.

In the United Kingdom, there are three main stages governing laboratory animal work. First, an institution needs to have a certificate of designation; secondly, there is a project licence in which a research worker or group details the work to be done and which is approved by the Home Office inspectorate; and, thirdly there is a personal licence for the individual to undertake the research. Each institution must also have a named veterinary surgeon who advises on standards of animal health and welfare and on experimental technology and may assist in certain surgical procedures and the rest. In addition, each establishment is required to have a permanent, independent ethical review committee whose duty is to review proposals for a project licence and to promote the three Rs-reduction, refinement and replacement-which I shall come to later.

An important strength of the United Kingdom system is the inspectorate. It currently consists of 27 full-time professionals, of whom 25 are veterinarians and two are medically qualified. There are approximately 200 establishments in the United Kingdom where animal research is conducted, and the inspectorate undertakes about 2,000 visits a year. Apart from its inspectoral duties, it also plays an important advisory role, and many of its members are specialists in given fields and may be called upon to advise on issues of physiology, pathology and sentience, for example. It is important that the inspectorate be maintained as well as the professionalism of its members. The inspectorate has recently been audited under the Hampton principles of better regulation, and the auditors' report praises it for the strong advisory role it plays in supporting the science community while assuring high standards of animal welfare.

It is therefore disappointing that the proposed EU directive considerably reduces the role of a professional inspectorate, under pressure, I believe, from other member states that currently have no inspectorate, a much less focused inspectorate or a less professional inspectorate. The proposed directive does not require inspectors to be veterinarians or medically qualified persons. An indication that the United Kingdom takes this issue seriously is the fact that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons has recognised certificate and diploma qualifications in laboratory animal science that are required for appointment as a named veterinary surgeon in an institution. Furthermore, several veterinary faculties in this country have specific courses on laboratory animal welfare in preparation for those who might serve in various capacities up and down the country.

I have mentioned the promotion of the three Rs, the concept of which was introduced by Russell and Burch in 1959 in the seminal publication, Principles of Humane Experimental Techniques. This was a landmark publication, and the concept has spread globally. There has always been a need for research to advance the three Rs. Initially, any work to advance them was almost a secondary issue for the Home Office committee, although they were considered a better way to undertake research and investigation.

In 2003, the House of Lords committee that dealt with laboratory animals proposed a national centre for the three Rs, which was established; the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, was its first chairman from 2004 to 2007. The important point about the centre was that specific provision was made for funds to be provided to advance the three Rs in all their aspects. This has made an important difference to the development of the three-R concept.

Another important issue in laboratory animal work is public confidence. The committee took evidence on animal welfare, on the care taken in research and on secrecy about what research was being done. Its report in 2003 indicated that research work should be published, at least in summary. This is now done and will, I hope, allay the fear that so much is done in secrecy. Of course a degree of confidentiality must be maintained by, for example, pharmaceutical companies, but it is necessary to assuage the charge of secrecy that is often levelled at the Home Office and the research establishment, and the numbers and the work that is undertaken by research workers are published regularly.

The advisory Animal Procedures Committee and the new centre for the three Rs will do much to determine the extent of the need to study the sentience of laboratory animals in more detail. Sentience issues for a number of species have been referred to already this afternoon, and this is where the three Rs will take particular effect. We have heard that cephalopods, such as the octopus, are now included as protected animals in United Kingdom legislation. It took several meetings of the Home Office advisory committee to reach this conclusion, and much evidence was given by physiologists and people connected with pain transmission and sentience before it did so.

Although other invertebrates are not included at this time, as physiological sciences advance in the coming years, other animals, such as decapods, might be added to the list of protected animals. I am informed that although cephalopods are now protected animals and can be used in experimental work, very few, if any, have been used so far. The animals whose sentience is also under question are the foetal forms of non-human vertebrates, which are now included and are protected species. Given the three-R situation and the fact that the committee is allocating funds, it is likely that we will go ahead and will have a much firmer basis for study.

In conclusion, I welcome the report and the directive should be implemented. I hope that it will be consistent across the member states and that laboratory animals are used across what is often called a level playing field.