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 3:35 pm on 10th February 2010.

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Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative 3:35 pm, 10th February 2010

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who has said much of what I was going to say and has got right to the kernel of what the directive is about. I also thank him for the wonderful way in which he chaired the committee. Although we were considering a serious and interesting subject, we did, as he rightly said, have a little bit of fun as well which made the work all the more pleasurable. I also thank all those who helped us. I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, said, and I echo his thanks for the work of our special adviser and support team.

I look forward to the day-I cannot see it in the foreseeable future but I hope it will come-when we do not have to carry out experiments on animals. In the mean time, while that work is necessary, we owe it to animals to keep them in the best conditions and to inflict on them the least possible suffering and stress. The committee set out on its inspection of the directive with the high hope that this would be the result of what the Commission proposed.

The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, gave a detailed account of the UK procedures. We are wonderfully blessed in this House that we have experts such as the noble Lord. He will recall the Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures, on which he sat in 2001-02. I should like to draw the Minister's attention to some of the matters contained in that Select Committee's report, and I would like him to contrast, as I have, what the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, said about the UK procedures and what is happening overseas.

Not much has changed since the report was published on 16 July 2002. I draw the Minister's attention to the evidence that the committee took in France. On page 61, the report states:

"Not all inspectors were trained in laboratory animal science, and those that were had only taken the same 15 day course as potential personal licence holders".

That is a marked difference to what happens in the UK. On page 14, in paragraph 1.27-again this relates to France-the report states:

"We were told that this makes the enforcement of care and welfare standards difficult. The Veterinary Inspectors considered that the system was essentially based on trust".

As the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said, the directive was proposed because the 1986 directive failed.

In arriving at its proposals the Commission took a great deal of evidence. I refer the Minister to the evidence that our committee took from Susanna Louhimies, who is policy officer at the Directorate-General Environment, European Commission, on Wednesday, 3 June last year. I draw his attention in particular to question 10, which was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and concerned the need to have a sufficiently rigorous and robust inspection regime. Ms Louhimies replied:

"The Commission is ambitious but we have to say that we based our proposal exactly on the results of the Technical Expert Working Group, which was agreed with the Member States".

She went on to say:

"The recommendation from that working group was to have two-yearly inspections covering not only the user establishment but, also, breeding and supplying establishments, and have one of those inspections unannounced. That, it was felt, would give enough security and assurance".

With that evidence, why has the UK changed its position? What is the Home Office up to? The proposed directive will not be worth the paper that it is written on. The only country to implement it will be the UK. The Home Office has not gold-plated this directive as it did the 1986 directive, and there is clear evidence that it is being less bureaucratic, for which I am grateful, but there is no doubt that the continuing stress and suffering of animals will be at varying levels throughout Europe. That cannot be seriously challenged. Why did Meg Hillier, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, permit the UK to resile from the original text of Article 33 and go to a risk-based approach? That is a severe backward step which compromises the whole directive.

There are many good things in the directive-of course the law needs updating, and there needs to be flexibility for the future, as the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, said-but if the Minister takes away nothing else from today's debate, he must take away the certainty that this directive will fail if the UK does not take a much stronger view and support the Commission. I do not expect the UK Government to support the European Parliament in its amendment, as I would, but they should at least go back to the original text of Article 33, because without that, this is all just a load of rubbish.