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House of Lords

Monday, 6th July 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Animal Research

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assessment they have made of the effect of the delays and administrative burden which result from the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 on the international competitiveness of the United Kingdom's research in the medical sciences and biotechnology.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, it is essential that the use of animals in regulated procedures is properly controlled to ensure that protected animals are used only where that is fully justified. Applications need to be carefully scrutinised and processed. We have a responsibility to ensure that alternatives which replace or reduce animal use and which refine procedures to minimise suffering are used wherever possible.

The Animal Procedures Committee has asked whether or not there are unjustified barriers to research and development. The animal user community felt that there were in some circumstances. Some of the specific issues raised are being considered further by the Animal Procedures Committee and within the Home Office. I expect a further report to be published in the autumn.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the system of regulating animal experiments in this country under the 1986 Act is the most rigorous anywhere? Does he further agree that it is counter- productive in many respects? Not only does it often hamper entirely beneficial scientific research; it also causes a large number of animals to be killed without purpose. Given that Germany has modified its equivalent legislation because of the burdens placed on industry and science, will the Minister undertake to consult with his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry, the Office of Science and Technology and the Department of Health? Will he undertake a review with them to examine the effects on science and industry before any new measures are introduced under the 1986 Act?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the 1986 Act is generally recognised as the most rigorous anywhere in the world--and quite right too. That is what public opinion in this country wants; namely, there should be a decent regard before animals are used for human purposes. I do not believe that scientific research is unduly hampered. We constantly consult colleagues in other departments and colleagues in Europe as to

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whether or not there could be improvements. At present, the Animal Procedures Committee, under the Reverend Professor Banner, is carrying out a 10-year review of the Act which I expect to be published in early autumn.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, does the Minister agree that countries which are in competition with us internationally also have in place strict regulations very similar to ours? Would it not be difficult to modify our regulations and theirs to provide for easier use of animals? Nor should we do so, since our regulations probably provide the model for animal experimentation throughout the world.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's remarks, bearing in mind his well-known expertise in this area. Successive governments in this country--I repeat, quite right too--have looked to the policy of "the three Rs": replacement, refinement and reduction of animal use. That is the proper way ahead. We co-operate with other countries; however, we are proud to have decent standards in this context.

The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that the 1986 Act is a Chinese copy of my Laboratory Animals Protection Bill, which was drafted by members of the scientific community in the hope of making peace between themselves and animal lovers?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, if I knew what a Chinese copy was, I might be able to say yes. In any event, I am glad that the noble Earl and I agree that what was done was a sensible balance between competing interests enshrined in an Act of Parliament.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, for those of us who for many years strove to improve the lot of laboratory animals, may I encourage the Minister not to accept any diminution in the protection and welfare of animals used in laboratory experiments?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I hope I have made that plain. There are a number of different aspects. One is the animal welfare regime. Another is whether experiments in a particular discipline can be entirely justified. The Act requires us, rightly in my view, to ensure that if any licence application is made for experiments on animals, it must be demonstrated that alternatives are not available. Examining alternatives is a productive way ahead.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the great difficulty and expense incurred by scientists in professions allied to medicine as a result of the activities of so-called animal rights people? Has the Home Office any idea as to how to provide scientists with further protection?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, yes. I am well aware of the difficulties and sometimes the dangers brought about by irresponsible campaigners who claim to be animal lovers. Whether they love their fellow

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humans to quite the same extent is open to question. We constantly liaise with chief officers of police. It will not have gone unnoticed in your Lordships' House that the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Carnarvon, to the Crime and Disorder Bill dealing with head coverings on public demonstrations may be of use in this connection. We accepted that amendment and put it into effect in another place.

Earl Howe: My Lords, does the Minister share my perception that in general the UK research community is supportive of the framework which defines the standards of research involving the use of laboratory animals but is increasingly frustrated by the burdensome paperwork which accompanies it? Does he also agree that those administrative requirements are seen as more burdensome than those which obtain in other countries with major research bases? Against that background, can he confirm that there is an additional animal research project approval system in the pipeline over and above the requirements already in place?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have had frequent personal dealings not only with the pharmaceutical and research industries but also with academics who carry out similar experiments, and I am happy to confirm that there is general support for the policy of the three Rs. In the Home Office we constantly look to see whether the applications procedure can be simplified or the code of guidance made clearer. At the moment, as I said, the Reverend Professor Banner is conducting his review and I expect him to report in the autumn.

UK Entry Applicants: Costs

2.43 p.m.

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is the annual cost of dealing with the number of people applying for entry into the United Kingdom and whether any new measures are being considered to combat illegalities.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the total cost of immigration control at the ports is £125 million annually, excluding the self-financing overseas visa operation administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We are using measures such as improved intelligence, prevention strategies overseas and harmonisation of inter-agency co-operation as part of the continuous drive to thwart evasion of immigration control.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware of a report which appeared in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago indicating that immigration control now costs £2 billion a year, which is considerably in excess of the figure he gave, and that the list of applicants for entry has increased from 50,000 to 70,000, which is a considerable

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jump? Can the Minister say whether this rate of increase applies only in the United Kingdom or whether it is also being experienced by our friends in Europe? If it is not being experienced by our friends in Europe, should we not reassess our position on the matter?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, quite often figures of the kind which my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick has quoted are not comparable with a figure given in answer to a specific question. I believe the figure I gave to be accurate. Current outstanding asylum applications stand at 52,000, not 70,000. I dare say that all our colleagues in western Europe have problems of this kind, pressures sometimes developing following particular political upheavals or events.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the problem arises from the fact that, alongside illegal immigrants, there are also those seeking asylum who have every legitimate reason to do so. They include people who have suffered what in some cases amounts to torture in fighting for democracy in their own countries. Is not the difficulty for the Home Office in distinguishing between the illegal immigrants, whom none of us wants to see, and the legitimate asylum seekers, whom we all want to help?

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