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Scientific Procedures on Animals (Statistics)

– in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 24th February 2009.

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Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North 11:00 am, 24th February 2009

May I place on the record my appreciation to the Speaker for allowing this debate at rather short notice and for giving us a one-and-a-half-hour slot? That will give many of my colleagues the opportunity, should they so wish, to put forward their views.

I am very pleased to see my hon. Friend the Minister in her place, because in many ways she is more responsible for the debate than I am. On 4 February, when members of the all-party group on FRAME—fund for the replacement of animals in medical experiments—met her, she told us, to my surprise, how few parliamentary debates on animal welfare in scientific research there have been. She also pleaded for the debate to be held soon, because time was of the essence—it will not be long before she must go missing to deal with the new arrival. We have kept our side of the bargain, and she now has her opportunity.

I also pay tribute to Jenny Gowan, from the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, and to Stacey Friar and Barney Reed, from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for giving me their thoughts. They spent a lot of time with me yesterday—the timing of this debate has not been ideal, because of the recess last week and because I was away in Strasbourg for three days, so I had to cram everything into yesterday in dealing with this matter.

It is nice to be speaking from this position. I think back to 1994, Mrs. Humble, when I was sitting in a similar position to you—behind that top table—while considering the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996, which was being dealt with by a Select Committee. However, unlike you, Mrs. Humble, I had another 11 months and three weeks to go before getting away—you will be away, no doubt, at the end of this sitting. I am sure that you will be quite pleased about that. Many changes have taken place since then, however, and I had been led to believe that this place was like a halfway house to the House of Lords—a little more genteel and refined than the House of Commons, but not quite as good as the House of Lords. However, what I saw in the last debate did not bear that out—but one lives in hope!

Since I and my colleagues from the all-party FRAME group met the Minister on 4 February and having done some reading and talked to people about this subject, I have changed my views. When we met her, the spectre of diminished UK legislation was looming before us, as a result of the dumbing-down that we feared necessary to fall in line with European Union legislation and recommendations. Although our system was by no means perfect, we did not want it to be made any worse. However, I have since considered the matter in detail, and now take a more positive and—I hope—constructive position.

I think that my colleagues in the all-party group will go along with my comments. There is nothing wrong with our seeking some much-needed improvements. The current situation is far from satisfactory. We hear about the three R's—replacement, refinement and reduction—in animal experimentation and scientific development. Most groups would go along with those, although the anti-vivisection people take a stronger view. They want total elimination of animal experimentation, which is an admirable view. My heart tells me that it has much to commend itself, but my head tells me that it is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future. I always recall what that great statesman, R.A.—later Lord—Butler said: politics is the art of the possible.

Furthermore, I would like to put on the record my views on certain extreme and criminal elements that have intimidated people, damaged people's property and done neither themselves, nor the movement, any favours. All that they have done is take away the public's attention from the real issue to the criminal aspects of the groups' activities. They have probably set us back many years. Obviously, none of the groups to which I shall refer have any time for such people, although we believe that they have a point. We find how they make that point quite indefensible.

I am pleased to praise the Government, which is rare for me, for their endeavours and successes with the Bill involving stem cell research. There was a fair amount of opposition to it from various quarters, but it is the way forward, and I hope that it will help us to achieve some of our aims in reducing animal experimentation—all the potential seems to be there. One of the biggest problems facing the nation's health relates to our ageing population and the terrible plight of the increasing number of people suffering from dementia. Given that it is a disease of old age, it is almost inevitable that more old people will result in more people with dementia. That is leading to many problems, not least that of resources. It seems that most of the advances made on the subject have come from stem cell research, which is very welcome. Dementia is probably the largest medical problem faced by mankind in Britain—there are many others, but it stands out on account of the large number of people involved.

We must first consider the statistics. I give praise to the excellent briefing paper prepared for this debate by the Commons Library. I am sure that I can quote from it, because all the figures in it come from Government sources. In these days of scientific enlightenment and advancement and of the greater accrual of knowledge, it is sobering to think that, over the past 12 years, animal experimentation has increased by no less than 21 per cent. In previous years, the figure had fallen from a level above what it is now to a fairly low level. This is not a party-political issue but a national issue. Some might say, "Oh well, the figures went down under our regime, and have risen under a different regime", but that is irrelevant. What is relevant is to find out why that happened and to see what we can do to arrest the situation. We first need to ensure that this remorseless rise in animal experimentation is, at the very least, brought to a plateau. Only then can we begin to consider ways and means to reduce the problem.

I do not underestimate the complexity and difficulty of achieving such a reduction, but the 21 per cent. increase over 12 years is unacceptable by any standards. We can hear all the fine words in the world, but we need positive proof on the ground that the policies are working. Sadly, at the moment, they are not.

A

For more about FRAME (Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments) see www.frame.org.uk

Submitted by Anne Jeffery

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee

It is interesting to see the passion that the hon. Gentleman brings to this debate. Does he accept that the principal reasons for the rise in the number of animals used in medical research are the huge advances in medical science seen virtually on a daily basis? He mentioned stem cell research. Such huge developments in medical science are driving up the number of animals used in experimentation, rather than there being simply an inexorable move upwards in the use of animals.

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North

The hon. Gentleman has put that in a very attractive way. He is expressing an opinion. One of the reasons for the rise is that we have failed to control the system in a proper manner. I will explain later why that has happened. It is probably not widely known, but the Freedom of Information Act 2000 does not apply to this particular industry. I shall call animal experimentation an industry because that is what it is. In my experience, strong lobbying groups and powerful financial forces, such as the pharmaceutical industry, laboratories and universities, quite rightly and understandably look to protect their own jobs and interests, which we all accept is reasonable behaviour. None the less, I have never heard any Government Minister or MP say that they are in favour of expanding animal experimentation. It may be in Hansard somewhere, but I personally have never heard it said. Therefore, I take a different view to the hon. Gentleman. Basically, we have a flawed system, which is far too closeted. We do not have a comprehensive and effective database. I am not disparaging those who try to produce the best set of statistics that we can have on a general basis in Europe. However, if someone applies for a licence to do some experimentation, how can we ensure that such experimentation has not been done 30 years before, and has reached positive or negative conclusions? We do not know because such information is not in the public domain.

Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 has been misinterpreted. It is sobering to consider that this industry is de facto immune to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. We all know that many of the general effects of that Act are positive. For example, it is positive that Members of Parliament have to declare their expenses, which are paid for out of general taxation. No one argues against that. It is also right and proper that there is total transparency in the granting of licences, but there is not. Such information is not in the public domain. The public do not get to know about the procedure.

The House of Lords Select Committee that dealt with the issue of scientific testing on animals in 2002 said that the public must be enabled to make informed judgments about the justification for animal research. Such a pledge has not been fulfilled. We are nowhere near a situation in which the public have the sort of information that enables them to reach conclusions and to lobby their MPs or others. Such information is closeted. A cosy relationship exists. I am not saying that it is corrupt; far from that. I have no doubt that the people concerned do their best, but nothing ever seems to get the breath of fresh air that comes from public scrutiny. This is an area that badly needs more public scrutiny.

Another astounding fact that I read in the Commons Library report is that no application for animal research has been refused. I find that incredible. Under any system, surely, somewhere along the line, there will be a reason to refuse an application. I cannot believe that every application does not in some way—no matter how small—duplicate something that has already been done. Many people are not prepared to face up to the reality that this industry is a self-propagating entity. Unfortunately, despite all the Government's good intentions, the records show that the system is not working. Anyone can say that we intend to control something and hopefully reduce it by using scientific advances. For heaven's sake, given the number of years that we have had animal experimentation, we should have a tremendous database now. We will never reach the stage when we have run out of opportunities to get more knowledge, but surely as we get an accrual of information, it must become less necessary to continue with similar types of experiment.

Finally, an issue that is not given enough recognition is the fact that many animal experiments, which reached conclusions and were then tried on humans, were found not to be analogous. It was found that the experimentation on animals did not give the sort of information that was helpful as far as humans were concerned; indeed, it often had the opposite effect.

I am pleased to see so many hon. Members present today and I hope that they will have their say. Let us have more debate on the matter, and more debates in Westminster Hall.

Photo of David Drew David Drew Labour, Stroud

I apologise for missing my hon. Friend's initial remarks, and he may have covered the matter that I want to raise. I support the Government's three Rs approach—reduction, replacement and refinement. When I look at the statistics, it would help me to see what definitive evidence there is—I know that we have an organisation that is tasked to do that, but it is smoke and mirrors—that those three R's have reduced the amount of animal experimentation that would otherwise have taken place. I have never seen such evidence, and that is a real weakness in the system. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a problem?

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North

I agree with my hon. Friend, but all I can say is how long is a piece of string? Without the evidence, we do not know whether the 21 per cent. increase might have been a 60 per cent. or a 5 per cent. increase. We will only know that when we get the full information. We need to know why experiments are being carried out, what the results are and what conclusions are drawn from the results. We do not know such things. We have statistics on both numbers and occurrences. There are four categories of outcomes in animal research. The first one is a fairly minimal effect and the fourth one is death. The second and third category fall somewhere between the two. That is about as much as we know. We do not know much more because there are no details on why experiments are being carried out.

Some years ago, it became illegal to carry out animal experimentation for cosmetics. I would have hoped that such a ban would lead to a reduction in animal experimentation because that was a large and lucrative sector, but we did not see that. In answer to my hon. Friend, the fact that we see a 21 per cent. increase in animal experimentation means that we must question the veracity of the three Rs. We all agree with the three Rs, but they include the word "reduction". We are not seeing any reduction. It would be a tremendous step forward if we could reach equilibrium. It is good to have my hon. Friend the Minister here to answer my questions, which I am sure she will do very capably. We need to have a step change here. We are not making progress. Politics is full of unintended consequences. Although people mean well, their actions do not always work out in the way in which they intend. If things do not work out in such a way, one should admit it and change it. That is what I am asking for, and what we need.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

I hesitate to intervene on my hon. Friend because he is making an excellent speech. He mentioned the ban on cosmetics testing on animals, but does he agree that if we moved to ban the testing of other categories of products, such as household products, of which there are plenty that we can already use, and the testing of recreational drugs, we could at one fell swoop significantly reduce the number of animal experiments?

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North

I agree with my hon. Friend but, sadly, that is not likely to happen. All Governments seem to be reluctant to interfere and instead follow the status quo. Whenever someone suggests something radical, there is always a massive move against it. For every one good reason to change something, 10 good reasons are given to keep things as they are. My hon. Friend makes an attractive proposal, but it is not likely to happen.

I have taken enough time—I did not intend to speak for quite this long—and I look forward to hearing what my colleagues say in the rest of the debate.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 11:21 am, 24th February 2009

I congratulate Bill Etherington on his excellent speech, which I agree with entirely. I have the honour of being the chairman of the all-party group on the fund for the replacement of animals in medical experiments, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. The group is grateful for the advice that we get from Professor Michael Balls and Gerard Duvé, who are respectively the chairman and secretary to the trustees of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments.

I was slightly concerned when the hon. Gentleman secured this debate that there would not be so much interest in it, but there is a lot, so I will cut my speech by half. FRAME is grateful to the Minister and her officials for the time that they gave to meet us and for the positive spirit in which she responded to our concerns. I am also grateful for the support today of my hon. Friend Sir John Butterfill, who was also at the meeting.

My interest in animal welfare has been consistent throughout my time as a Member of Parliament. I hope that I am not bragging by saying that I am not in the extreme wing of animal welfare activism, but belong to the sensible group of people who are interested in animal welfare. My views were best summarised in a speech I made on the Second Reading of the Animal Welfare Bill, but the fact that I served on the Standing Committee that considered the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 shows how long I have been here. The Home Office Minister on that Committee was David Mellor.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North

Did he have his Chelsea shirt on?

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

I do not think that that had been in the spotlight to quite the degree that it was later.

I recall clearly that the Committee focused on extreme examples such as cosmetic testing. The 1986 Act achieved a great deal, but as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North said, time moves on, and FRAME feels strongly about some of the matters related to our closer integration with the European Community.

In our excellent Library briefing, we are told that Darwin understood the need for animal tests. The great naturalist loved all living creatures but defended vivisection, which sparked a debate that rages today. Animal welfare groups are concerned that current European Union statistics on animal experimentation are woefully inadequate. Although we should not generalise, the UK is by and large a nation of animal lovers, and some European Community member states do not have quite the same strength of feeling for animal welfare. There is widespread support for a new directive incorporating a far more meaningful system of reporting animal use that would include the level of pain and distress that they suffer.

Lord Davidson has proposed that the coverage of scientific procedures should be substantially reduced to annual Home Office statistics, but FRAME believes that the Home Office should continue to publish annual comprehensive statistical reports of the kind and depth that have been published for many years. The publication of the British statistics provides a valuable resource for those who seek an acceptable compromise between serving the legitimate interests of science, medicine and industry, and maintaining the highest possible standards of laboratory animal welfare.

To consider drastically reducing the scope of the statistics to a minimum standard would be seen as an unacceptable reduction in the long-held Government commitment to ensure transparency on what happens in British labs. For example, the statistical detail covering the breeding and use of genetically modified animals has long been understood as part of the commitment to transparency, even though it is not required for compliance with the EU directive or the Council of Europe convention ETS 123. Furthermore, because the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals scheme may require the use of an additional 50 million animals, the members of the all-party group believe that the case for maintaining comprehensive statistics is very strong.

Lord Davidson recommended a cost-benefit analysis on the collection of annual statistics, but FRAME firmly believes that the retention of the present provisions for animal statistics, rather than being an example of gold plating, better serves the interests of the British scientific and animal welfare communities, by ensuring the most considerate treatment of animals in British laboratories.

The Minister may not be able to respond today to all the points that I make, some of which I made at our earlier meeting but, if she has time, she could respond in writing in due course. She received a letter from the all-party group on 14 November 2008 in which we expressed our view that the current practice should continue without any drastic reduction in scope or content, despite Lord Davidson's views. The group does not believe that the argument for a change in current arrangements has been proven.

Following several years of consultation, the Commission's proposal for a directive to replace directive 86/609/EEC was published toward the end of 2008, and it is now being discussed within individual member states. I hope that whoever is handling the Minister's brief when she takes leave to have her baby—we wish her well with that—is in a stronger position because British parliamentarians are genuinely interested in the issue. The Home Office is conducting a series of meetings with various groups of stakeholders, concerned, for example, with alternatives, animal welfare, scientific research and industry. FRAME is a part of the group with a special interest in alternative methods and will do all it can to assist the Home Office, if it so wishes, in developing a sound negotiating position for the UK. FRAME's initial comments were first submitted to the Home Office early in 2009.

The principal reason for the proposed revision is the uneven application of the current directive to member states. The proposals' intentions are encouraging. They include the enhanced promotion of alternative methods, stricter control of the use of non-human primates and a system for retrospective reporting to enable judgments to be made about whether the benefits of programmes of work were delivered and the likely suffering of the animals used was reliably predicted.

However, the intentions are not expressed with sufficient clarity or in terms of the definite requirements that would be expected in a law. The main purpose of the proposal could be served only if massive rewriting provided something more like a directive, or if formal and detailed guidance were provided on how the directive's provisions should be interpreted and applied by member states.

For example, there are references to how the conduct of animal procedures might ultimately benefit humans or human health, but no clear indication of who would judge whether the predicted benefits were sufficiently reliable and realistic to justify the annual suffering caused by the procedures or how such evaluations would be performed, as the hon. Member for Sunderland, North mentioned in his speech.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

The hon. Gentleman need not worry. I apologise to you, Mrs. Humble, and to hon. Members for the fact that I am a member of a Public Bill Committee and will have to go back for votes from time to time. I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. On his last point, does he not think that that is being carried out at the moment and that benefit-harm ratios and the likelihood of adequate benefit from the research are being judged by the fact that one must apply for ethical approval and authority both to do experiments and to be licensed as an investigator? We already have that in this country. It is therefore not lacking in our current regulation or the directive.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

The hon. Gentleman is trying to tempt me down another road. I do not regard his point as relevant to this debate, which is on a response to Lord Davidson's report and how we will proceed with our European partners.

Another example of superficial thinking relates to the use of green apes—sorry, great apes. [Laughter.] A Freudian slip. My TV needs tuning, I think. The use of great apes would not be banned, in case some human health emergency arose that might justify it. As it is expensive to maintain chimpanzees in captivity and would take several years to breed them and raise them to an age at which they could be used, where would the animals be found for use in such an emergency? In the jungles of Africa? I doubt it. Would a few hundred be kept in cages at enormous expense, just in case they might one day be needed? I just flag that up. Whether the apes are green or brown, FRAME would not want to see that happen.

One point of particular concern relates to the status and future of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods. Professor Balls was the first head of ECVAM, and Dr. Jon Richmond is the current British representative on its scientific advisory committee. We are proud of that. Article 46 of the proposal sets out a scheme for a national reference laboratory in each member state for the validation of methods that could replace, reduce or refine the use of animals. It is attractive at first sight, but it is fundamentally flawed, as it is based on a lack of experience among those who wrote it, especially with respect to validation. There is a danger that the validation process would be frustrated by a lack of experience and national or other sectoral bias of a kind that has occurred in the past. Such issues could be handled satisfactorily via ECVAM's relatively independent status. There is no specific mention of the role of ECVAM, which increases concern that much of what has been achieved in the organisation's development over nearly two decades will be abandoned in favour of some inappropriate theory about how Commission services should be run in relation to what happens in member states according to the principle of subsidiarity.

In conclusion, it is clear that the emphasis is bureaucratic rather than scientific. Inevitably, that risks delaying the development, validation, acceptance and application of methods that are truly relevant and reliable in their stated purposes of leading to the greater protection of human health and steadily reducing the cost to laboratory animals. I think that the Home Office understands entirely what challenges it faces. I welcome the opportunity through this debate to strengthen its hand as it takes the negotiations forward.

Photo of Ian Gibson Ian Gibson Labour, Norwich North 11:35 am, 24th February 2009

I congratulate my hon. Friend Bill Etherington on presenting such a strong, passionate speech about the implications of experiments using animals. I recognise many of the things that he said, having practised some of those methods myself. As a young student, I was taught to inject rabbits and get antibodies from them. I had to fill in Home Office forms and so on, but there was a laxity even then about how seriously the issue was taken. Later in life, of course, during cancer research, one cured mice of cancer but was never sure whether it would work in human beings as well.

The great increase in using animals, particularly mice, is due not just to stem cell research but to the fact that people now want animal models for cystic fibrosis and other diseases, given that they can obtain genes, put them into what are called knockout mice or nude mice and see what happens in the process, thereby studying the progress of a particular illness. The increase in the use of mice is justified by scientists on the basis that it will help to give us some input into sorting out diseases, whether rare diseases or other sorts.

I am going to say something that opens up the whole field. As a hardened scientist, I never questioned what I did. They were just things that one did. However, I think that we have now learned quite a bit. I pay tribute to FRAME and Professor Michael Balls. He and I worked together, argued together and taught together. As a matter of fact, I got him his job. When he was at Berkeley, I brought him back to this country. Ever since then, we have conversed about alternatives to animal experiments, although not in the sense of doing away with animal experiments completely, because it is recognised that—in some cases, anyway—they can be useful. However, we should be working much harder to develop not just regulations but new technologies to replace some animal experiments.

I say that because I have a Bill, which is supported by Mr. Amess and the Safer Medicines Campaign, to evaluate tests carried out on animals against the alternative methods coming to the fore. I had not realised how fast such alternative technologies were emerging until I attended a conference a few months ago at the Royal Society run by the Safer Medicines Campaign. There is an opening up among scientists. More and more scientists are getting involved in considering alternatives. We should welcome that, particularly if the validation process that we are trying to pass in Parliament allows us to assess whether animal experiments are working, whether they tell us what we think we can see in a mouse, a rat or other animal, and how other technologies compare.

As my hon. Friend said, there have been some tragedies in the field in which animal experiments on mice or other animals have been carried out, yet when the drug is put into human trials, a Northwick Park situation arises. In those trials, drugs for certain types of leukaemia—I will not go into the details—had adverse effects on people; in fact, they nearly died. Much has been written about that. In other instances involving pharmaceutical companies, there have been side effects that were not seen in animals but were seen in humans when the drug entered human trials. I know that if a drug is used, it is best to see how it works physiologically on the whole organism—I have used that argument in the Chamber. However, in physiology and biochemistry there are differences between animals and between animals and humans. That must be taken into consideration.

I am a great believer in some of the tests that have been carried out. My colleague, Mr. Willis, always wants me to talk about Dundee university, where understanding how a basic scientific procedure called protein phosphorylation worked in normal organisms allowed the development of nine effective drugs to treat cancer. From a position of not understanding how something works, people can arrive at a point where it does work. As far as I know, there have been no adverse effects in that arena and it has to go through the legal process.

We all get letters from the public—I received letters about the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 because people did not like some of the things that were being done. Professor Michael Balls and I had a terrible fallout over some issues—he was watching what I was saying and we fell out and disagreed. That has been published. I have seen him since and there is no problem. We have argued out the matter.

Animal tests must be validated in some way, but they never have been. I have mentioned some cases where there have been problems. I want to talk not only about the number of animals involved, as my hon. Friend did, but about my concerns over the impact on patients of using animals as surrogate humans to develop and test new medicines. We rely on animals as a final safety screen before clinical trials on people. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, 92 per cent. of potential new drugs do not work in human trials. Sarah Boseley, a reporter from The Guardian, who I think is one of the best reporters in the country, digs deep and wins lots of prizes for what she unearths. She does not need the Freedom of Information Act 2000; she goes to countries such as Malawi in Africa and sees how drugs are being used in that community. She said:

"A million Britons are hospitalised by prescription medicines every year, costing the NHS £2 billion."

It is admitted that drugs often have side effects, which can differ between different people. Drugs are metabolised and mobilised in different ways depending on our individual genetic make-up.

There have been lots of reports from the United States and a vision has developed there focused on trying to limit animal tests and replace them with new technologies. I will not describe all those new technologies, as they have been mentioned before. People are critical of some, but not of others. Using human tissue is a more favourable practice in laboratories because we can have banks of such tissues. They can be studied and we can understand how a new compound will work. There are DNA chips, where the effect of a drug on a particular gene is looked at on a slide. There are different computer models, and microdosing is new technology where small amounts of a drug can be given to a human to see what reaction it produces. At the conference that I attended, I found it stimulating to see the good sciences being used to try and work out alternative procedures. That is why I hope that the Bill manages to get somewhere as we look for validation of those technologies.

There have been many inquiries into animal testing. The Lords Select Committee, the Animal Procedures Committee, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Weatherall report all called for research into the validity of animal tests. None of those inquiries assess the effect of that on predicting drug safety, and that is a huge gap. The Committee on Safety of Medicine's evaluation was the first, I think, to require a scientific comparison of the ability of animal tests to predict the risks of drugs in humans with the ability of a set of human biology-based tests. That is worth taking forward, and I compliment not only the Safer Medicines Campaign but also FRAME; they have continuously made us think about other ways of doing things.

Perhaps we can make savings by using these technologies. This is an expensive business involving animal housing, ensuring that welfare is properly provided, arranging Home Office visits and spending time in collecting data from different laboratories. Enabling animal houses to be smaller would save a lot of money for a starving higher education process. I remember once in Portcullis House that I saved a university £1 million by ensuring that humans could not enter its animal building. It was thought that allowing access would leave it open to the kind of people who have recently been imprisoned for their violent behaviour because of their beliefs about animals. There is a huge change in the way that people think about animal experiments, the need for them and the possible alternatives. I welcome that. This scientific field might turn out some very exciting results.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill Conservative, Bournemouth West 11:45 am, 24th February 2009

Following on from the last three speakers is quite difficult; nearly everything I was going to say has been said. However, I would like to join my hon. Friend Mr. Amess in thanking the Minister for the courtesy that she showed when we met her a few weeks ago.

I have been involved with animal welfare for a long time. I am the longest serving trustee of the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals. I was one of the founder members of FRAME, and we have been lucky to have Professor Michael Balls guiding us through the process ever since it started. I was attracted to FRAME because it was the sensible person's approach to animal welfare and experimentation and not extreme in any way. Nearly all scientists engaged in this field are not wicked, extremist people who love torturing animals, as they are sometimes portrayed by the extreme animal rights wing. They are, for the most part, conscientious and careful. I know that from first-hand experience: for the past 40 years, my wife has been a fundraiser for Action Medical Research; she is now the south-east regional chairperson. The brunt of what Action Medical Research does—the cutting-edge research—largely involves stem cells rather than animals. I have met many of the scientists whom it employs and they are fine people who are conscious of the need to minimise the effect on animals of any research that they do.

However, there are some defects in the law as it stands. There is a lack of openness and transparency that must be addressed. One understands that much research might be commercially confidential. What drugs companies and others do is often expensive and their research must be protected to a degree. Nevertheless, particularly as a result of some EU legislation, there is a good deal of unnecessary duplication of research. We must be satisfied that efficacy is involved and that it is not duplication. We must be more demanding in what we ask of those who request consent to carry out these sorts of experiments. If we do that, I think that the public will be with us. How we present our case is extremely important. We are not trying to shut down experimentation, but we can take a lot of satisfaction from advances in research that mean that things that used to be indispensable are now not wholly necessary. Perhaps by being a little tougher, we will drive people into research which, although it might be more expensive and difficult, will reduce, rather than increase, the level of animal experimentation. We should therefore tighten up procedures.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee 11:50 am, 24th February 2009

Let me congratulate Bill Etherington on securing the debate. He is right that the House should constantly debate this issue. I had little difficulty with much of his speech, although I respectfully disagree with him on several issues, which I shall raise. I congratulate Sir John Butterfill on putting the case for the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments so clearly. FRAME has brought respectability to this area of opposition, rather than simply adopting a black-and-white approach to animal testing, and I do not criticise its work.

Even if I wanted to, I could find no Member of the House and no scientist who uses animals for experiments who would not like to find an alternative way of doing those experiments. I do not believe that there is a demand, other than from people who are particularly perverse, for inflicting pain on animals. I acknowledge people's genuine concerns about this issue, but I have real difficulty with the title and central thrust of today's debate, which is really about the production of statistics and the idea that producing more statistics will somehow improve the lot of animals and reduce the number being used in experiments. Neither FRAME nor anyone else has produced evidence that having better statistics will drive down the number of animals being used.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

May I give the hon. Gentleman an example that might help to answer his question? On the testing of household products, I gather that more than 100 chemicals are used in disinfectants and that more than 250 have been tested and are available for use. Surely, if statistics were available on the multitude of experiments being carried out to create ever more household products, there would be consumer demand not to license more experiments. Would not that be useful?

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Chair, Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee

The duplication of experiments is nonsense—I do not think anyone could argue with that—and we are delighted that the UK no longer experiments on animals for household products or cosmetics. As I am sure the hon. Lady knows, however, the problem is that the new REACH—registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances—regulation will revisit many of the compounds that are used in everyday chemicals because of the need to test the toxicity of each one. That will cause a real problem. A driver of that regulation is the need to control information more centrally.

We do not want just a simple debate on statistics and numbers; we want a debate on why we are using animals in science. More than 3.2 million procedures were started in 2007—a rise of 6 per cent. on the previous year. There have been significant rises, year on year, in the number of animals used in science, and it is absolutely right that we put those statistics on the table. Since 2000, the number of scientific procedures performed on animals has risen, and we have to ask why. This is where I disagree with the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, because, as Dr. Gibson has mentioned, the rise in the number of animals is due largely to the increasing use of genetically altered animals—mostly mice, not primates, cats or dogs. Genetically altered mice are engineered to have particular diseases, and drugs or chemicals are created to knock out that disease. There has been a move to improve medical science by using genetically altered animals.

I have heard strong condemnation of the work on the three Rs, which was an incredibly positive development set up by Lord Sainsbury when he was Minister for Science and Innovation. Rather than being a barometer of the lack of progress for the three Rs, statistics have provided an indicator of current trends in research. An increase in numbers can reflect an increase in the overall amount of research done, and therefore of the benefits to patients.

The central driver for the vast majority of research using animals is the laudable objective of improving human health. As the UK is particularly successful in biomedical research—we are second only to the United States, so we are leaders in that key area—it is not unreasonable to think that there will be an increase in the number of animals used in the UK for such research. One particular statistic is worth noting because it has been produced by the Home Office and the Department of Health—the proportion of animals used, despite increases in biomedical science, is going down.

Let me return to the point that Mr. Amess made about the European directive. There have been slight misunderstandings regarding FRAME's position and the way in which the new scientific directive, directive 86/609/EEC, is being considered and discussed. We in the UK are proud of our high standards in the treatment of animals in science. Covance—a private, US-based company—has laboratories in my constituency where a significant amount of testing on animals is done. I have visited those laboratories many times, and I have been astounded by the efforts that are made to maintain and look after the animals, with the best of husbandry. Recent efforts being made in England include bringing in animals in colonies, rather than in individual breeding pairs, to replicate their home conditions. In this area, we lead Europe, and it is important that the directive is used to ensure that the standards of animal care throughout the EU come up to ours, rather than go down.

I agree with the hon. Member for Southend, West that the directive is badly worded. It needs considerable revision before it becomes law. There is misunderstanding about the fact that any European directive has to be framed in the image of each particular nation, and it is up to the UK Government to frame the directive in British law according to how we want it. The hon. Gentleman's party has accused the Government of gold-plating EU directives, but this one does not need gold-plating. Indeed, we should maintain the high standards of openness and transparency on which Labour Governments of the past 12 years have a decent record.