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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 19 March 2003

[Mr. Frank Cook in the Chair]

Animal Experiments

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Derek Twigg.]

9.30 am

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): I am delighted to be able to talk about this matter today because it is a burning issue for the development of science, technology and medicine in this country. Many people will pay attention to the issues that we highlight during this debate.

The treatment of disease during the past 50 years has led to dramatic improvements in the quality and quantity of life, not only in this country but throughout the world. There are still many diseases for which treatment is not yet available; for example, cancer, heart disease, strokes, Alzheimer's and so on. Research into such diseases is taking place, but we still do not have cures and treatments for them. Important issues have arisen concerning the drugs to treat infectious diseases, drug resistant micro-organisms and AIDS, not only in this country but in the developing world and the African continent. We are all interested in the role of the biopharmaceutical industry and the development of its drugs, its worldwide network and how it can produce drugs at a price that we can all afford. Research and endeavour into biotechnology and biomedicine will bring great benefits for humanity.

A major issue is the use of animals in research, which is sensitive and complex. As people will have seen in their morning papers, 90 per cent. of the United Kingdom population supports animal experiments if they are associated with benefits, particularly medical benefits, but some people in this country are violently opposed to any experiments. That debate burns below the surface of daily life in this country.

One group of protesters has a savage record in opposing animal experiments. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty—SHAC—has demonstrated violently and with a degree of terrorism that has been noted by the Government and the Home Office. However, that activity continues, and I want to speak about the group's behaviour because it is part and parcel of the debate.

SHAC has some devious tricks for annoying people. I have seen its website, and documents have fallen into my possession. Its campaigns include blockades and abusive phone calls and text messaging. We are used to that in parliamentary life, but people who work in our institutions, including not only managing directors and multi-millionaires but members of trade unions, have a right to go to work and carry out their endeavours, which they believe benefit mankind, without harassment. My hon. Friend the Minister and I belong to the Manufacturing, Science, Finance union—MSF.

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It has campaigned for some time to protect its members in such institutions and has engaged with the Home Office on that.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): When reading about the opinion poll this morning, was my hon. Friend as disappointed as I was that a spokesman for one of the so-called legitimate anti-vivisection charities, instead of calling SHAC terrorists, referred to its members as people who resort to more direct forms of action, and instead of condemning them out of hand, said that it was disappointing if SHAC's actions had led to a change in public opinion? Is that not disgraceful?

Dr. Gibson : Yes, that is a euphemistic way of justifying terrorist activities that no right-thinking individual in any part of this planet would ever support. One should be certain and sure-footed about condemning SHAC's activities. Let us look at them more closely.

A document entitled "This is your chance to drive them out" lists senior scientists, directors and staff at Huntingdon Life Sciences, and states where their children go to school, where they park their cars and so on. All such information is given freely. SHAC's job is to drive the company out of business, and it has had a certain amount of success. Recently, it forced auditors—of all people—to quit the firm and ask that the contracts not be renewed, so its terroristic methods and behaviour are effective.

A SHAC document that is not publicly available says:

in the middle of the night, obviously. It continues:

You will agree with that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although presumably you are not kept awake at night by rape alarms and people throwing things in your guttering. The document also says:

The authors are obviously nice people to take home to meet one's mum and dad for Sunday tea. The document continues:

I shall not use the word, but it is something to do with illegitimacy—

SHAC goes on to say:

and so on. These people are organised and know exactly what they are doing. SHAC advises:

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Such activities may sound like a bit of fun or undergraduate play, but they are serious. They intimidate people, and they can lead to people with baseball bats getting stuck into managing directors, and so on.

I want the Government to address the problem and to think about new legislation to deal with such extremism. Could it be made illegal, for example, to incite or support such a campaign of harassment, the sole intention of which is to cause economic damage to a legitimate business? Could any demonstration against workers in the vicinity of employees' or directors' private residences be made illegal?

Existing legislation should be reinforced. The Companies Acts could be amended to protect the private addresses of directors, shareholders and those who work in such units. Legislation could be introduced or amended to oblige internet service providers to remove harassing materials from their sites. Current operations could be strengthened through long-term funding for an animal extremist taskforce structured along the lines of the public order section of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which has done sterling work on eliminating football hooliganism in this country. We must think beyond what we have done already, much as the research and medical community has welcomed that, and take the impending attacks a little more seriously. I hope that the Minister will engage with the problem.

Rodents, rabbits, fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds make up the majority of the animals used in experiments. I think that only 0.15 per cent. of non-human primates—monkeys and so on—are used. Such animals are used to understand basic biological functions, diseases and new treatments and to test the safety of new medicines. Nobody would ever say that such tests are perfect or that they give all the answers. Experiments have, however, contributed a lot to our understanding, and there are a few good tales about how successful they have been in preventing the hazardous effects on human beings of substances that have become medicines.

Working with animals is popular, and I ask myself why people want to do animal experiments. They do not do them for fun, and we deprecate the one or two cases that have been brought up in which there has been maltreatment of animals. People conduct such research because experiments with the whole organism tell them more than alternative methods. That has been the ideology for a long time. It may also be easier to do animal experiments than to use other methods, although it has become less easy to set up mice colonies and so on, because of the fantastic cost and the dangers of such experiments.

It could be argued that a person testing a chemical, drug or medicine on cells in a tissue culture may miss the fact that the culture does not contain the molecules that bring about the effect, whether for good or for bad. The substance could be broken down in a whole-body environment into something else. That is a strong reason for carrying out studies on the whole organism. Of course, the whole organism is a very complex mechanism with immune responses and a functioning brain, and that has to be taken into account in the clinic.

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There are good reasons for carrying out some animal experimentation. For example, it can be useful to know that some people may be more responsive than others to a particular drug. That can assist in making difficult medical decisions, and we know from the decisions of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence that some people will benefit from a drug while others will not. Sometimes that has to be worked out in an animal environment; it cannot necessarily be done only in a test tube.

It is argued quite strongly, however, that alternative approaches to those problems are bearing fruit, and I shall provide evidence of that. The Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, or FRAME, has done sterling work over the years. Prominent individuals have been working hard to push their arguments on substituting for animals. They have developed practical and realistic ways forward, based on targeted research, without sidelining the need for regulations and the eventual requirements of industry.

Anyone now setting up a biomedical unit—I am involved in one with Paul Nurse in Norwich—has not only to decide whether animal experiments are necessary, as they may be for the reasons that I have already outlined, but seriously consider alternative methods of assessing compounds, and new technologies and treatments. There are political reasons for that, as well as good scientific ones, because it would be smart to show that one was taking alternatives seriously. One might also gain through a reduced use of animals by using those alternative methods.

It is interesting to note that, as a previous Home Office Minister told me the other day, money given by the Medical Research Council to look into alternatives to animal experiments has not been taken up. It is not fashionable or interesting, and there is a deep-seated feeling that it will not pay off. I shall now spend a little time telling the Chamber about the pay-off, and about what has been achieved with some of those alternative methods.

We seek to reduce the number of animals used in experiments. We want to refine the procedures to minimise the suffering of animals. We also want to replace the tests that are used to assess the safety or other qualities of a drug or treatment. FRAME has done much work on replacement therapies in association with a European organisation. They have done a great deal of work on tetanus vaccines, and they have found ways to assess whether drugs are effective without using whole animals. They estimate that 20,000 fewer animals a year have been needed as a result.

Various other tests have used mono-clonal antibodies, which were perfected at Cambridge university but developed in the United States because we are not that good at picking up on such discoveries. Again, a number of animals have been saved in those experiments. Reducing the number of animals used is a genuine pay-off. No doubt the Minister and others will say that the number of animals used in experimentation in this country is decreasing every year, and that is to be welcomed. The paper from the European centre states that sometimes other methods should be considered before one asks whether animals should be used.

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I know of much research in which substitute tests are available, so that one need not perform tests on rabbits' eyes. I know a professor who does sterling work on cataracts, funded by a local hospital, among others. Eye cells in vitro can be used to explore the effects of drugs and chemicals that may eliminate cataracts. The LD50 test has been substituted. Irritation and skin toxicity tests have all been developed through work by FRAME and other organisations.

I went to a heartening meeting in the House this week involving a group from the tissue engineering and regenerative medicine centre at Imperial college London which is setting up a spin-off company. Its researchers are interested in stem cells—something pioneered in this country, and in which, with our legislation, we are well ahead of the world, with the involvement of people from the United States. The researchers want to transplant stem cells into degenerating tissue, and they have found a way to test whether that will work. They have produced what they call an organoid set-up: a three-dimensional structure of cells which sits on a scaffold and through which, for example, nerve cells can run. That mimics a total organ in a given situation.

The researchers have wonderful ways of examining the production of lung, bone and nerve tissue using stem cells, with a view to transferring them back into affected individuals. That will be a big news story for the United Kingdom, and the team is receiving a lot of support. Those involved are very pleased not to have to conduct animal experiments. People do not find it easy to inject animals, and they are glad of a substitute system that seems, at this stage, to be providing good information about treatments.

As well as being aware that tissue culture can avoid many of the problems of animal experiments, we should consider the reason for particular tests, and what tests may be appropriate for work similar to that being done by the groups at Imperial college London. Other groups have done work using tissue cultures. I did some work once on hair dyes and aftershave lotions, using yeast cells and bacteria as an in vitro assay system for mutations, the argument being that if those substances caused mutation in a single-celled organism they would be likely to have a carcinogenic effect too, since carcinogenicity equals DNA changes. Many tests of that kind have been carried out over the years. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) will talk about chemicals and tests for assessing them.

Computer programmes can now simulate a total organism system. Systems are beginning to be developed which make it possible to test how a particular molecule, with its physical or chemical properties, would behave in a given situation. Such work is certainly on the up and up. The trouble is that it is not yet sexy enough. Money is being provided, but we must induce in the scientific community a sense of those methods' reality and the way in which they function, as well as of the political message that such techniques send out.

As the world moves on into the arena of work on the human genome and that project produces more drugs and vaccines for diseases, we shall have to ensure their safety. Substitute tests will be a major part of that, and we must somehow speed up the current movement in the scientific community towards their use. I hope that the Minister, in conjunction with the Minister responsible for science and the Government's chief advisers on

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science, will call a summit to talk about how we can make progress. We must tell people that alternatives are coming through and that there are now good results in experiments that do not need to use whole animals, thereby saving their lives. If there is fear, we will have to use more mice for human gene tests; there is no doubt about that.

Everybody wants to set up the so-called transgenic situation. The hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) and I have had disputes about GM crops. I am sure that we will have the same dispute over GM animals, such as salmon and rodents, as more such animals are constructed. The debate will become even more intense, and there will be more demonstrations, but there will be increased production of drugs that are beneficial to people.

The world is in turmoil over this situation, and the Government now need to go the final mile and tackle the legality of the matter. They need to question scientific methods and induce the scientific community to take alternatives much more seriously than they have done. Groups such as FRAME and others need to join the more traditional groups in our universities and in the scientific and medical communities which are resistant to animal experiments. The time is right, both politically and scientifically, to move forward.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It may be advisable if I draw all Members' attention to the fact that we generally start the first of the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before the debate concludes. That leaves 39 minutes, and three hon. Members have sought to catch my eye. I ask them to bear in mind the passage of time when making their contributions.

9.51 am

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on seeking and securing a debate on a subject that is of particular interest and concern to many of our constituents.

I also offer you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) and the Minister my apologies because I have to meet a delegation later, so I may have to leave before the end of the debate. If I do, I shall certainly read with great care all the remarks made after I have spoken because this subject happens to be of particular interest to me too. [Interruption.] I hear the Minister; the fact is that the sitting hours of the House have made life very difficult for Members who need to be in two or three places at once.

I had the privilege of being the founding chairman of the first all-party group for FRAME, and I am also the president of the Conservative animal welfare group. I have been living with this subject in the House for years, since 1985 in fact.

I suspect that everybody in the Chamber will agree that research into new compounds is essential if we are to advance modern medicine. For the foreseeable future, whether we like it or not—and I do not—much of that research will have to be carried out on animals. We need therefore to explore how that research can first minimise the use of live animals and hopefully then, with investment into alternatives, obviate it.

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I must say two things in response to the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). I concur entirely with his view of the activities of a small group, and it is a small group, of animal rights terrorists. I hesitate to call them activists; they are terrorists, as he said. Those who are genuinely concerned about animal welfare are certainly concerned about the welfare of laboratory animals, but they will have no truck with those who seek to pursue their cause outside the law.

Many people do not like animal experimentation at all. As one who does not, I must say that if it is to be carried out, which, for the foreseeable future, it is, I would sooner that it were done in the United Kingdom than anywhere else in the world. I believe that in our standards of laboratory animal husbandry, and the care and attention that we give the subject, we are so far ahead of anywhere else that, purely in terms of animal welfare, simply banning animal experimentation, as some would do, would just move the problem from A to B. It would drive research away from the UK, destroying our research base, which is among the best in the world, and, far from enhancing the welfare of the animals that we seek to protect, it would worsen the conditions in which they are raised.

The hon. Gentleman has in his constituency the Pfizer research establishment, which employs many of my constituents as well as many of his. Hence I visit it regularly and always make a point of going to the animal house. I have no quarrel with the standard of animal husbandry there or at many other pharmaceutical research establishments that I visit in this country. In each case, the named vets are caring people who do their utmost to look after the animals, and their laboratory technicians, far from being sadists, as some portray them, have a wonderful working relationship with the animals and care for them as well as the circumstances allow.

I would go further. I have been pleased to see, given the confines within which the debate is taking place, that there has been a dramatic improvement in the animals' caging and environment over the last 10 to 15 years. That is part and parcel of the work of organisations such as FRAME, which have pressed, on every front, to make sure that the number of animals used is minimised and their environment and husbandry are as good as possible.

We must press the case for research into alternatives. If we are not simply to move the problem from A to B, there has to be a global solution. Many of the requirements of the Medicines Control Agency, the Federal Drug Administration and their Japanese equivalent are no longer based on science; nor are they necessary. Everybody working in the field knows that experiments are carried out purely to satisfy outdated bureaucratic regulations. Thank God, as the hon. Member for Norwich, North says, that in the UK the Draize test and the LD50 test are a thing of the past. However, we should not delude ourselves; elsewhere, regulation for the sake of regulation means that far too many animals die.

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The number of animals used in laboratories in the UK has increased, and it is not hard to determine why. First, more procedures are carried out, and every one is logged. Secondly, because of the quality of the UK research base much more research comes here—and I would sooner that it were done here than anywhere else. However, if we are to get to grips with the problem and make progress in the development and use of in vitro experimentation of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has referred to; if we are to see a greater dependency on molecular modelling; and if pharmaceutical companies are to be encouraged not to repeat research but to publish it, to share knowledge and, accepting the restrictions of commercial confidentiality, to make sure that no animal dies in a cause that has already been pursued by somebody else, not only in the UK but throughout Europe and then the world, we must have a common political will.

Sadly, I see little of that political will in the European Union or in other areas on which we shall not touch this morning. Again and again we have had fine words followed by little action. Let us take the despicable example of the cosmetics directive, which was passed and given a time scale for implementation. That time scale was then extended by several years, with the effect that cosmetic companies that had begun to invest heavily in alternative research because they thought that the end was nigh for the use of animals suddenly found that they had more time, so all the money was taken out again. Without funding, the little companies that had been set up to research alternatives to the use of animals for the cosmetic companies found themselves out of business.

If we are to crack the problem, first across Europe then worldwide, we have to have the political will to say, "Here is the directive; this is how long you may continue using this practice. After that there will be an alternative." That will compel those engaged in research into pharmaceuticals and domestic products—we must not ignore household products that must be tested— to comply with the directive. If we are to make real progress we must have the political will to set a deadline, but that in itself is not enough.

The European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, which was established under the superb chairmanship of Professor Michael Balls, was starved of funds, in a classic example of a European institution kicking something into touch. The attitude towards the centre was very much, "Good idea; here's five bob to do it." That will not work. If we wish to will the ends, we must will the means.

Will the Minister ensure that his colleagues in the Council of Ministers take the UK argument, standards and aspirations to the EU to make certain that there is a political will and a sense of commitment to the research, validation and use of alternatives to animal experiments? Will he seek to ensure that the EU, through the Council of Ministers, presses our case at the World Trade Organisation and under the general agreement on tariffs and trade to obtain a worldwide perspective? Above all, will the Minister and his colleagues press the EU to stop wasting money on fancy schemes and start putting real resources into ECVAM and organisations like it so that they can carry out their work?

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10.1 am

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): I thank you for calling me, Mr. Chairman. I agreed with—

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I would be remiss in my duty were I not to remind the Chamber that when the House made the decision to hold these sittings it decided that some occupants of the Chair should be referred to as Deputy Speaker.

Dr. Ladyman : I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker; it was remiss of me not to have remembered that.

I agreed with a great deal of what the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) said. If he and I keep finding issues to agree on people will start to talk, so we shall soon have to find something on which to disagree. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing the debate. I respect his stand on the issue; few Members are prepared to stand up and be counted on animal experimentation and the need to protect scientists. He is to be congratulated on being at the forefront of that campaign.

I hope that I bring three perspectives to the debate. The first is that of a bench scientist who carried out animal experiments. Secondly, because I developed an extreme allergy to lab rats, my bench science career came to a very sudden halt and I had to shift into computers. I spent the rest of my career before becoming an MP developing computer systems that are now regarded by many as the alternative to animal experimentation. I therefore know the limitations of animal experimentation and of the computer alternative to it.

Thirdly, I bring the perspective of a politician who, as the hon. Member for North Thanet said, represents an area where a company called Pfizer is based. It has more than 5,000 employees, and it is the biggest US investment in the UK. It is the world's leading drug discovery centre; its record for discovering medicines is better per pound spent and per employee than any other centre in the world. Its success has been largely dependent on its involvement in a whole range of drug discovery procedures, including not just animal experiments but alternatives to them.

As well as representing those 5,000 people, I represent constituents who are strongly opposed to animal experimentation and who provide me with many views and a great deal of information. It is clear to me that many of them misunderstand the way in which drugs are developed. They believe that drugs are largely developed using animals, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Large pharmaceutical companies and medical researchers in general do not want to carry out animal experiments because they are unpopular and expensive, and they have certain limitations. If we can find quicker and cheaper alternatives, they will be used.

When I started to work for the pharmaceutical industry, for Pfizer, we used to have to screen 12,000 chemical compounds to find just one that would ultimately become a successful drug that could be sold on the market. It is not possible to screen 12,000 chemical compounds using animal experiments. We must use robotics and in vitro tests to find a compound that has some sort of biological property. When such a compound has been found, three questions must be

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answered. Is it safe? Will it work? How will it be delivered to the patient? Those three questions must ultimately be answered in relation to man, so most of the testing is done on man.

There is a famous three-phase process for developing a medicine. First, it is tested on healthy adults to see whether it is safe. Secondly, it is tested on a slightly wider group of adults who have the condition that the compound aims to treat to see whether it works. If it does, large-scale human testing is carried out to see what the benefits are and whether there are any side effects.

Between the mass of work testing the compound on human beings and the screening process that identified the compound, there is a period in which it is necessary to use animals, although it is unnecessary to use animals exclusively. Some work can be carried out during that period to discover how to formulate the compound, using computers or in vitro tests. Ultimately, however, some toxicology testing must be carried out on animals to see whether the compound is safe because, sooner or later, we have to give the compound to a human being and say, "Swallow this and see what happens." We cannot take that risk without first carrying out some basic testing on animals. We cannot work out what the formulation should be without having first tested the hypothesis and considered how the material is metabolised in an animal. That little piece of the picture, therefore, has still to be investigated using animals.

As the hon. Gentleman said, it is better that that investigation is carried out in the United Kingdom, where standards are higher and the law is tighter than anywhere else. If we allow that work to be exported, it will be carried out to a lower standard in other countries. There is considerable evidence that much of the investment in the pharmaceutical industry which could be directed here is being displaced to other countries by campaigns against animal testing.

There is huge investment by the pharmaceutical industry in alternatives, such as robotics and computers. As I said, I have been involved in both those initiatives. It is fascinating work, but what is the source of the information that allows us to build computer models and carry out in vitro tests? Most of it comes from animals themselves. It is not possible to make up that information or pluck it out of the air; it is based on previous animal experiments. We can and must create alternatives, but those alternatives are ultimately dependent on a willingness to do some testing on animals.

The hon. Gentleman referred to cosmetics testing initiatives. He is right to say that it has taken far too long to put those initiatives in place. I see no justification for developing cosmetics by using animals. I am sure that my constituents would agree with me on that, but developing medicines for human use is a different kettle of fish. Scientists and parliamentarians must ensure that our constituents understand that whereas alternatives are desirable and huge investment must be put into finding them, until they are found, our health depends on animal experiments, as do our industries.

In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will agree that we must constantly review legislation to ensure that we do not require animal experiments to take place unnecessarily and that, when alternatives are developed, they are acceptable under our laws. The Government

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must also make sure that the right amount of finance is being put into developing alternatives. However, I ask the Minister to ensure that our laws to protect scientists are every bit as tight as our laws to protect animal welfare.

We must not tolerate terrorism against scientists and we must not tolerate people who prevent other business people from working. I refer to the ridiculous nonsense that has just happened in the midlands, where a policeman has had to pay £50 in compensation and apologise to a demonstrator whom he moved on, because a megaphone used in the demonstration was making a lot of noise. The person went to court and said that their human rights had been infringed because the policeman should have asked only the person with the megaphone to move on. That sort of nonsense has got to stop. It is up to the Minister and the Government to make sure that honest businesses and honest scientists, who are doing vital work, are protected.

10.11 am

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): It is obvious that we are dealing with an extremely emotive issue. It is also obvious that, in the past, we have used far too many animals in experiments, but I do not subscribe to the complete ban on animal experiments for which many organisations are campaigning. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) referred to SHAC, which is one of the more militant organisations, but there are others, such as the Animal Liberation Front. If those people keep campaigning vigorously for a complete ban on animal experiments, using their current methods, there is a danger that they will drive experimentation abroad. As my hon. Friends have said, we have some of the tightest legislation on animal experiments, which are controlled through the Home Office and other mechanisms, and driving experimentation into other countries would defeat the whole object of such campaigns.

I want to flag up another danger, which was emphasised by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. The process of applying for Home Office licences has become extremely bureaucratic. I have received complaints that it is taking much longer than it should for people working in the pharmaceutical industry to obtain those licences. I have also heard the contrary opinion from the Home Office that some applications are not well formulated and need to be returned, so I do not know where the truth lies. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that, because we do not want bureaucracy to add to the pressure from animal activists to drive pharmaceutical companies to do their work abroad. In fact, many jobs in this country depend on the pharmaceutical industry, which is one of our most profitable, earning money for the general good of the country.

Obviously, animal testing is extremely expensive. Not only do we have to breed the animals in controlled and licensed conditions, but the added security that is necessary because of the extremism that we have seen in the past few years costs a great deal. The good news, however, is that in the past 25 years the number of animal experiments has substantially decreased. I believe that it has gone down by about 50 per cent.; perhaps the Minister will confirm that.

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In moving away from animal experiments to alternative methods, one of the barriers to change is the culture in which life scientists have worked for centuries. They must realise that there are alternatives and begin to explore them. Indeed, those who fund life sciences may need to consider switching their funding to those organisations that are researching alternative methods. We certainly cannot screen compounds on human beings, as we used to do centuries ago.

There is a lovely story about Basil Valentine, an alchemist, who was also the chef in a monastery, where he occasionally tested chemicals on his fraternal monks. He thought, erroneously, that putting an element called stibium into swill for the pigs had made them fatter, so he tried putting it into food for the monks and killed half his colleagues. That element became known as antimonk, for obvious reasons, and in turn as antimony. It is dangerous to stick things into human beings and it is probably safer to use animals for experiments.

In the 2001-02 Session, the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee produced a good report, which made several recommendations. It stated that

I agree with that. The Committee also stated:

It continued:

Dr. Ladyman : Is my hon. Friend concerned, as I was, that the Lords Committee may have overlooked the fact that the law requires scientists to use alternatives whenever possible and to minimise suffering? It is a legal requirement on all scientists before they can get a licence to carry out an animal experiment that they should have explored the possibility of alternatives and taken humane issues into consideration.

Dr. Iddon : That is correct, but to be fair to the Lords Committee, it did not overlook that point, as my hon. Friend will see if he reads the report in full.

The milestone date is 1959 when William Russell and Rex Burch published a book entitled "Principles of Humane Experimental Treatment", which detailed reduction, refinement and replacement. In this debate we are discussing replacement methods, which include human and animal cells, lower organisms such as bacteria and yeast, and computer programmes to predict the effect of chemicals on complex biological systems.

I pay tribute to FRAME and other organisations that are trying to find alternatives to animal experiments, including the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research and the Dr. Hadwen Trust. FRAME, to which hon. Members have referred, has research facilities at Nottingham university, where it has been based since 1981. As the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) said, it is represented in the House by an all-party group to which I belong.

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I am hosting a reception for FRAME on 1 April between 4 and 6 pm in the Terrace Dining Room to celebrate 20 years of FRAME research, to which I invite all right hon. and hon. Members. FRAME was founded in 1969 by Dorothy Hegarty and Charles Foister, who started to raise funds to publicise the concept of replacement. It was one of the first organisations to represent the middle ground in the animal experimentation debate. FRAME's research programme at Nottingham university was established in 1982, and in the period 1983-86, it acted as principal adviser to the Government in framing the new legislation on animal experimentation. It is funded by donations from private individuals and companies and by grants from industry and Government. In 1983, it was the first organisation to receive a Home Office grant specifically for the development of alternative methods to animal experiments.

Fortunately, public pressure has resulted in a considerable reduction in animal experiments in this country, especially since the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 was passed. In 1992, the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, or ECVAM, which is based in Ispra in Italy, was established as a unit of the European Commission's Joint Research Centre. That, too, was an important step forward.

In 2002, the European Parliament voted for an immediate Europe-wide ban on the sale of cosmetics, toiletries and ingredients that had been tested on animals. It is pressing for an outright ban, to be effective from 2004, on such products that have been tested anywhere in the world. However, it is running into some opposition. The European Council is unlikely to agree to the second proposal because it hopes that the World Trade Organisation will find an acceptable collaborative approach. The hon. Member for North Thanet said that we need political agreement throughout the world on these matters; a point of view to which I subscribe.

Unfortunately, there are two pressures for animal experiments. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North referred to one: the human genome project. That will, I hope, lead to many new medicines, which will have to be tested to ensure their safety for use by human beings. The indications are that many new medicines will arise from that area of activity, so that will exert a huge pressure for animal experimentation unless we develop suitable alternative methods ahead of that research being carried out.

Another worry arises from the Copenhagen charter, which is supported by 80 consumer and environmental groups throughout Europe. In 2001 the European Commission published its "Strategy for a Future Chemicals Policy". That White Paper proposes the establishment of a registration, evaluation and authorisation system—the so-called Reach system—which will require producers, importers and downstream users of chemicals produced in amounts greater than 1 tonne per annum to supply information on their toxicity to a central European Union authority by 2012. The supply of information on persistent organic pollutants and all carcinogenic, mutagenic and/or reprotoxic chemicals will be mandatory, irrespective of the production volumes.

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Fortunately, FRAME has developed a strategy to implement a case-by-case application of the proposed timetable for the Reach system. That is important. I hope that the chemical industry will work with FRAME, ECVAM and other forward-looking organisations to implement the Reach system, or it will suffer dire consequences. ECVAM, with the help of its partners, including FRAME, has already produced a draft of a comprehensive strategy document intended to provide an introduction to the EU chemicals policy. It describes an integrated testing approach to assessing potential hazards to humans from exposure to chemicals, together with a survey of the current state of non-animal approaches to chemicals testing. That is all with reference to the proposed schedule for implementing the EU policy.

Apart from pharmaceuticals, only about 14 per cent. of manufactured chemicals have a minimum basic set of safety data. Many have come on to the market since 1981. In that year, the European inventory of existing commercial chemical substances, otherwise known as EINECS, was established. EU legislation requires any substance that is not on the list—new substances, in other words—and those that are to be sold in quantities greater than 1 tonne per annum to be sold only if a basic set of safety data is made available.

It is estimated that of more than 100,000 existing chemicals in production, about 30,000 that were on the market before 1981 will fall under the proposed EU legislation. The gathering of all the data to satisfy the legislation will require the use of a considerable number of animals unless alternative experiments are discovered by the organisations that I have mentioned. In 2001 the Institute for Environment and Health estimated that 12 million animal tests may be necessary. However, organisations such as Friends of the Earth have disputed that figure. It has been boiled down to the fact that a third of a million animal tests may be necessary to implement the EU directives on chemicals. That is a severe warning to the general public. Together with the human genome project, the chemicals directive would exert huge pressure for an increase in animal experimentation.

The Government have an important role to play. I ask them to consider funding alternatives to animal experiments to a greater extent than they already do. To be fair to the Government, they have increased the amount of money that they put into that area of activity. In 1997-98, the Government's budget to support the three Rs principle was £182,000. That is quite a small amount, but it has increased to £280,000 in the current year. It should also be remembered that the Government fund ECVAM through their contribution to the EU. However, I put it to the Minister that much more money should be put into research on alternative methods to animal experimentation.

We should also consider the continuing work of the EU research directorate-general. It has funded 35 projects, worth Euro43 million, through its quality of life programme, which is part of the fifth framework programme. The Commission addressed the use of animals in research in its action plan on science and society, which it presented in December 2002.

At present, many alternative methods to animal experiments are being examined. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North mentioned some of them.

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However, it is not sufficient for a laboratory to produce an alternative method, whether it be the FRAME laboratory in Nottingham or any other, because that method must be validated. Validation of the tests that the alternative groups discover is critical.

A test must be accepted by international organisations so that there is consistency in non-animal testing methods throughout the world. Organisations such as FRAME lead the world in developing alternative methods and ensuring that they are validated. There are European validation centres—I mentioned the one at Ispra, in Italy—and there is also an American validation centre. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is also important in agreeing validation techniques for non-animal methods.

I would like to pay a compliment to the Medical Research Council, which, in the past, backed off from funding alternatives to animal experimentation. However, it recently made its first award of £200,000 to the defence science and technology laboratories at Southampton university. I applaud it for making that award, and hope that it will continue to fund alternative methods.

Mention has already been made of the LD50 test, in which compounds are fed in increasing amounts to a group of animals—usually 10 or a dozen—until half of them die. Millions of animals have been slaughtered through use of that test, which is now no longer used. I am pleased to say that the Draize test for eye irritancy, which caused the suffering of hundreds of thousands of animals, is also no longer used. Experiments to test a variety of potential new drugs have been developed in a number of areas of medical research, including diabetes, cancer, sleeping sickness, dentistry, pain, cataracts, rheumatism, AIDS and pregnancy.

My argument is that although far too many animals have been used in experiments in the past, animal experiments cannot be banned completely, as the animal rights extremists seem to think. I am trying to publicise the middle way, which organisations such as FRAME and the others that I have mentioned are pursuing.

I hope that responsible Departments, including the Home Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health and the Department of Trade and Industry, will also play their part and contribute financially to the work that is urgently needed to pursue more and reliable alternative methods for animal experimentation.

10.30 am

Norman Baker (Lewes): I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing the debate and on his contribution. I also congratulate other hon. Members on their contributions in what has been a high-level and interesting debate. If the public were able to see such debates more often, they might have a higher opinion of Members of Parliament.

I abhor animal experiments and long for the day—which will eventually come, although perhaps not in my lifetime—when animal experiments are a thing of the past and looked back on with as much curiosity as that with which we look back on sending children up

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chimneys. That may be some time away, as it cannot be achieved overnight, but that must be our long-term aim. I want to spend some time developing the points made by other hon. Members and examine the obstacles to reaching that goal.

One obstacle is the small criminal element, which has been referred to by other hon. Members, that has brought the legitimate and worthy campaign for an end to animal experimentation into disrepute. Let us be clear: the activities of that small minority, who have engaged in disgraceful criminal activity, have not only been indefensible, but set back the cause. Those of us who argue for a move away from animal experimentation have been inconvenienced and disadvantaged by those persons. Their activities have been counter-productive as well as criminal.

I have great difficulty in understanding how those who pretend to want to defend animal life can be so cavalier with human life. We should try to defend all life, and I concur with other hon. Members who said that members of the science community who conduct legitimate activities are entitled to do so without any expectation of intimidation, which has sadly not always been the case.

When I say that some campaigns have been counter-productive, I mean that they have affected Government, who have had to slow down. I do not blame the Government for that, as they have had to divert their attention to what is now a law and order matter. We have spent some time today talking about that, so the debate has been on law and order as well as animal experimentation. That is regrettable. I know that one of the Minister's predecessors felt frustrated that he was being diverted down that road, instead of taking matters forward as he wanted and as all hon. Members would endorse.

Another limitation is the fact that animal experimentation is still dealt with by the Home Office when all other animal matters are concentrated in DEFRA. I had some fun in a previous Adjournment debate when I pointed out where all the animal responsibilities lay across Government—it was a right mess. A departmental reorganisation has since been undertaken—I would like to think, partly as a result of that debate—and the matters are concentrated with DEFRA. That is much better, and any animal welfare Bill introduced by the Government will show that. However, animal experimentation is an exception. It is still under the Home Office because of the law and order importance that must be attached to it.

It is also more difficult for those of us who want to articulate alternative views to do so, because we are always charged, wrongly, with defending the people engaged in criminal activities—that applies to Ministers as well as people such as me. We need to say that animal experimentation is not perfect and that the sooner it can be replaced with better alternatives, the better. The House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures report says on page 39 that

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I do not want anyone to believe that those who believe in the traditional animal testing are on the side of good science while those who advocate alternatives are on the side of bad science. That perception is sometimes created, quite wrongly. The Chamber should send that message today. We all agree on that.

The outdated regulations to which the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) referred, in a powerful contribution, are another obstacle to moving towards an ending of animal testing. I hope that the Government are considering them. Like the previous Government, they always say that they want to eliminate red tape and bureaucracy. Indeed, they set up a unit to do so. I do not know whether it is still there or whether it has been swallowed up in its own efforts to reduce bureaucracy. In any case, there are outdated EU regulations that require animal tests. They are hard to justify. The pharmaceutical industry itself has drawn attention to some of those tests and said that it could do without them. There would be no loss to the protection of human health if they were removed. I hope that the Government are identifying some of those outdated EU regulations. If they could be swept away it would benefit not only animals, but the scientific community. Businesses would benefit too, for that matter, by cutting costs. It is a win-win-win situation.

The hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) was right to identify the EU chemical review and the human genome project, which make the need to identify and then eliminate those regulations even more important. As the hon. Member for North Thanet said, there is a lack of co-ordination within the EU that must be sorted out. There is still a different view on how animals should be regarded. Denis Healey always said that views on animals changed north or south of the olive line. I do not know whether that is accurate, but it is a reasonable proposition.

When I went to Brussels recently and met relevant people from the Commission to discuss, among other things, animal issues, I was told that one of the main obstacles to securing agreement on the cosmetics directive was the Department of Trade and Industry. While some people in government are beavering away trying to do the right things, others are perhaps taking a slightly different view and not helping. That underlines the need for co-ordination across Government.

Freedom of information is a key aspect to moving matters forward, both to share data to prevent duplication—we are making progress on that but not enough—and to identify alternatives. We must ensure that the world at large is aware of those alternatives and we must also subject the current tests to public scrutiny so that they can be justified or otherwise. Can the Minister say anything about section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which has been a long-running issue in Government? He will know that many have argued for its repeal, including the House of Lords Select Committee in its report.

It is possible and desirable to have more information published about the animal experiments that are taking place without—this is important—endangering the lives of those who are conducting them. It seems perfectly possible to have more data released without necessarily releasing data about the individuals who carried out those experiments. That seems a sensible compromise. I cannot understand why the Government said in their

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response to the House of Lords Select Committee report that they wanted to consult further on that. We have had a great deal of consultation on that over many years with successive Ministers and over successive Parliaments.

What is the time scale for that review and when do the Government expect to reach a conclusion? I hope that it will be in line with the House of Lords Select Committee report. I also hope that they will resist that Committee's recommendation that activities involving genetically modified animals, which are bred but not otherwise used in regulated procedures, be excluded from the Home Office statistics. I welcome the Government's response that that is not necessarily their view on that. There certainly needs to be full data on animals that have been involved in experimentation, even those that have been bred and subsequently discarded. The overbreeding figures should be produced too, as part of the process of knowing what is going on. The more information we have, the better. I hope that the Government agree.

Finally, what progress has been made in establishing a centre for the 3Rs, following the House of Lords Select Committee report recommendation, which the Government accepted? I agree with the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East. Although £280,000 is an increase on what the Government inherited, and it has been increased above inflation, it is a drop in the ocean. If the Government can find blank cheques at no notice for the millennium dome or to bail out British Energy to the tune of £650 million and, dare I say it, billions of pounds for Iraq, I am sure that a couple of million pounds here or there for alternatives to animal testing would not come amiss.

10.40 am

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire): I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on obtaining the debate. His two doctor colleagues have added much to the scientific expertise and knowledge available on the subject.

Hon. Members will know that there is occasionally debate among ministerial teams—there certainly is in Opposition teams—as to who will respond on a particular topic. I volunteered for this one because the issue is of genuine concern to me, although I do not have the expertise of some who have spoken. I welcome the Lords Select Committee report; it is balanced and brings a sense of proportion to what is often an emotional issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) said, we must all look forward to the day when we can do away with animal testing. However, it is unrealistic to expect that to happen quickly. It is crucial, as the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) said, to understand the importance of animal testing in ensuring that the research, when it is translated into new compounds for medical purposes, is safe for humans. It always astonishes me how many people who want to ban animal experimentation would not dream of taking a drug that had not been properly validated as safe for humans, without necessarily understanding the role of animals in that process.

I greatly welcome the reduction in animal experimentation—my information is that it has been 50 per cent. over 20 years. The BioIndustry Association has welcomed the report and that reduction, and has

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made the point that over 80 per cent. of medical research does not involve animals. We must get the matter in proportion. My constituency, surrounding Cambridge, is at the centre of much of the work. Although Huntingdon Life Sciences is in the adjoining constituency, many of its staff are my constituents. Many other companies involved in pharmaceutical and biotechnological research are in my area—for obvious reasons, I shall not put their names on record. Some do their own animal experimentation, many more contract it out; it is of huge importance in the locality. Just outside my constituency is the proposed new site for Cambridge university research.

When I visit the businesses and operations in my constituency, I always ask about their use of animals in research. The constant refrain is, "Believe me, Mr. Paice, if there were an equally good alternative, we would use it." The cost of using animals is immense. Therefore, the suggestion that scientists use animals because they cannot be bothered to develop another test, they are not interested or they gain personal satisfaction from experimenting on animals is nonsense. It is terribly expensive and if there were an alternative it would be used.

The role of FRAME has been discussed by many. The hon. Member for South Thanet pointed out that even if one develops new tests, the only way to ensure that they are equally satisfactory is to validate them against tests using animals. Those messages are not sufficiently understood.

As has been said, the level of legislation in this country is extremely high. We have all visited such facilities and all recognise that there are many obligations on their owners in relation to husbandry. I would go so far as to say that most animals in those facilities are kept in far better conditions than the average pet is and, apart from the experimentation, probably live a more satisfying life.

Section 24 has been raised, and was raised in the Lords Select Committee report. I am all for openness and do not believe in secrecy other than on the ground of public safety, yet I am concerned about the matter. Although I strongly welcome the Government's review of section 24, I hope that they will bear in mind the need to ensure public safety and the safety of everyone involved in that review. That leads to the issue that has perhaps blighted the debate, but which is an essential part of it: the activities of extremists. Although all hon. Members present this morning have rightly condemned them, what the hon. Member for South Thanet said in an intervention is terribly important. It is sad that many of the moderate organisations do not sufficiently condemn the extremists, who therefore give everyone a bad name. Many of my constituents have been physically attacked—of course that is an offence, although what leads up to it is not necessarily so—intimidated and terrorised in the way that the hon. Member for Norwich, North described. That is wholly unacceptable. It is also important, however, that the people who work in such facilities are not the only people who are affected. As the hon. Gentleman said, all the other organisations are affected too. It is disgraceful that, as auditors, Deloitte and Touche capitulated so quickly.

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Where do such activities stop? What about a tanker driver who is delivering fuel? What about the guy who might want to do a bit of building work? The Government should look at the issue of at-risk directors, which was a sensible step forward. However, the Government need to consider extending the list of people whose names should be kept secret and not on the public register, because the problem goes much further than simply the directors of HLS or AN Other research company. All the others who are involved are affected.

I encourage the Government to look at legislation relating to the numbers of people who gather together. It does not take very many people gathering on one's front path to cause intimidation. We should consider reducing the number from 20 to something much smaller. The situation is terribly difficult for people and their families. It is more than distressing: it is driving people to take their careers abroad, which we certainly do not want to encourage.

That leads to my final point, which is to endorse the comment that so many hon. Members have made this morning, but which cannot be over-emphasised. It is far better that such research is done in this country under our strict controls than to let SHAC have its way and close down HLS, which would not save a single animal or reduce research, but would simply ensure that research took place abroad under less strict regulations and that more animals suffered. That would be the outcome if SHAC had its way. Let us work to reduce animal experimentation in this country, but ensure that we keep it in this country. The best way of doing that is to continue in the same way, using the Act introduced by the previous Conservative Government, with the changes made by the present Government, to protect those who work in or derive their income from such businesses. I urge the Minister to consider further what can be done to protect direct employees and people who have any business relationship with such companies, all of whom are being victimised by that hideous group, which claims to act in the name of animal welfare.

10.50 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth) : I congratulate every hon. Member who has taken part in this debate and echo the points that have been made by the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Paice) about the high standard of the debate, which is due to my well qualified hon. Friends the Members for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) and for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), and the hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale), who has been active in the area for many years and has developed much expertise. The contributions from the Back Benches brought a level of knowledge to the subject that is unrivalled in any other debate in which I have participated.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North on securing this debate and FRAME on inspiring it. FRAME has worked for 21 years to try to develop alternatives to animal experimentation and has done more to reduce the amount of suffering and the number of animals used in procedures than any of the activities of the organisations that the Chamber has unanimously condemned today.

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I want to expand on that subject, because it is extremely important. It was said, rightly, that only a very small number of people behave in such a way as to bring into disrepute other organisations with a justifiable case to argue, and they distract the Government from issues that they want to get on with. We must always try to guard against that. However, when we say that an extremely small number of people is involved, we must not lose sight of the fact that there is, if not wide support for, at least ambiguity about their activities in other organisations and sections of the media, and a lack of understanding about exactly what they are about.

We must try to ensure that everyone who has to deal with such cases, whether the police service, the Crown Prosecution Service or the courts, is aware of their activities. We must develop an understanding of what those people are doing and their methods, and I hope that some of the issues raised this morning have advertised that. It concerns me greatly that people make monetary contributions to organisations when they cannot have any knowledge about how that money will be used and what will flow from their contributions. They believe that they are supporting effective activities to reduce the suffering of animals in experimentation, but they may be supporting a bunch of cruel and villainous terrorists in their appalling activities.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet referred to a specific case, but Ministers cannot comment on individual cases even when they seem to be beyond understanding. However, he flagged up the need to ensure that everyone involved—the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and the courts—is aware of the background of such cases and the sort of activities involved. I have subjected myself to listening to the plight of people who work in the industry. I am not referring exclusively to top-flight directors or well qualified people who can take their expertise abroad. I am talking about ordinary working people who have been consistently and repeatedly targeted in their homes, intimated, violently attacked and put in terror by an organisation that is an absolute disgrace. We must do everything that we can to put a stop to that.

Picking up the question that the hon. Member for South-East Cambridgeshire asked, we are considering how we can strengthen the legislation. We need to understand some of the logistical problems that the limits on section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 place on rural police forces where it is harder to pull the necessary numbers together at short notice to deal with large demonstrations. It might be easier for larger forces in more concentrated areas.

We need in particular to make absolutely certain that we are doing the maximum possible to drive out the growing problem of targeting people and their families in their homes. Targeting their private lives is beyond the pale. We need to look at what we can do to strengthen the regulations and the operational procedures.

Within the National Crime Squad, we have set up a taskforce to deal with the extremists. We will be following that through, but the media and other people

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have responsibilities. They cannot report people as if they are buccaneers on the Spanish main. They must be aware of the disgraceful activities and behaviour and the anti-democratic methodology of such people, and they must be prepared to condemn them in the terms that all hon. Members have been prepared to do this morning.

A problem associated with that, which some hon. Members have raised, is the issue of openness. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet and the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) raised the matter. I agree that if we are to be effective in persuading the public that we are doing everything possible to reduce unnecessary animal experimentation, we must actually be doing it. We must be as open as we possibly can about what takes place, why and in what circumstances. I agree in principle that openness is an absolute given and that we ought to be trying to drive down that road.

I do not believe that section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 will make any difference to the amount of information put into the public domain, but it has become a totem for both sides in this argument. However, I am not prepared to proceed with its removal if it undermines the confidence of the people who are doing the work that we are talking about. We must carry people with us and convince them that we are not putting them in any jeopardy.

As our response to the Science and Technology Committee report said, we plan to publish summaries of licences. That will do much more to put real, usable information into the public domain so that people can get a better understanding of what is being done and why than section 24 itself can. However, I am not prepared to push ahead with the removal of the section when confidence is so fragile among many people working in the area because of the activities of the people about whom we have heard today.

I know that I will not be able to deal with the other issues in the time left. I promise to go through Hansard afterwards, because so many important issues have been raised. I will respond to all those who have participated.

We do much to try to reduce absolutely the number of animals used in procedures in this country. The statistics show that the number of genetically normal animals being used annually went down from 2.27 million in 1995 to 1.74 million in 2001, a drop of 23 per cent. The commercial sector, whose animal use has halved over the years despite increased investment and activity, is to be congratulated on that. However, we must also point out to people, as has been said today, that no one conducts these procedures if alternatives are available. I have been visiting these establishments since I held my present responsibilities and I can see that clearly. People are desperate to develop alternatives.

We invest far more than the £280,000 that pays for the committee. Our estimate, which can always be shot at, is that about £10 million of Government money goes into the reduction of animal procedures—

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Time is up, and we must now turn our attention to the next topic.

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