Examination of Witnesses (Questions 382-399)|
TUESDAY 17 JULY 2001
382. Good afternoon to you and thank you very
much for coming to see us. Ms Thew, would you like to introduce
yourself and your colleagues.
(Ms Thew) Thank you. I am Michelle Thew
and I am Chief Executive of the British Union for the Abolition
of Vivisection (BUAV). On my left is David Thomas who is our legal
consultant/solicitor and on my right is Dr Gill Langley, who is
our scientific consultant.
383. Thank you very much. If I may begin by
saying would you please bring the Committee up-to-date with regard
to your legal action against the Government as I understand there
is some stop press news.
(Ms Thew) There is indeed. The case, as you may be
aware, was due to be heard yesterday but the Government has conceded
in full on both counts in the case and has agreed to pay the BUAV's
costs. I will hand over to David Thomas to outline what the result
of that was.
(Mr Thomas) My Lord Chairman, the Government has conceded
the two important points of principle on alternatives, having
in each case argued the opposite for a number of years. First,
the Government now accepts that where there is a suitable alternative
it cannot license the animal equivalent irrespective of whether
other regulators through the European Union, the OECD or any other
regulators, believe that the animal equivalent is still necessary,
so in other words alternatives do not have to wait until international
regulators catch up with the view that the British Government
has taken of the scienceand that process can take a very
long time, over ten years in some cases. The second important
point of principle which has been conceded is that immediately
the Government accepts that there is an alternative that is available
then the animal tests must cease even if the project licence allowing
the animal experiments to take place has still got a number of
years to run and, again, until last week the Government had been
arguing that its own administrative convenience and the convenience
of licence holders could be put before the interests of laboratory
animals. This success comes hard on the heels of another concession
which the Government made a couple of years ago, under threat
this time of a judicial review by the BUAV, that the Lethal Dose
50 (which is a particularly invasive poisoning test) for most
purposes could not be licensed. If I may just add, in our submission
we make the point that we believe that the Home Office has been
misinterpreting the law in a number of other respects as well.
Clearly we are not going to resolve that issue here but we do
believe that this underscores the need to have much greater transparency
and therefore accountability in this area than there has been
hitherto. Perhaps that is an area we will come back to later this
Chairman: I am sure aspects of that will be
drawn upon in the course of the questioning.
384. Can I just ask on this one, a lot of these
old licences have now been withdrawn. Have you any idea what the
effect of this is going to be? I understand that in fact hardly
any mice were being used under the old licences. Do you have any
idea whether any mice have been saved and, if so, what number
of mice have been saved?
(Mr Thomas) It is very difficult to give any precise
details, partly because the licensing system is operated in such
secrecy. The point of the case was two-fold; first of all, in
relation to the particular tests which were highlighted, but in
addition, and probably more importantly, to establish the general
principle that where there are alternatives and where the British
Government accepts that there are alternatives which can give
the equivalent scientific information then at that point the animal
equivalent simply cannot be licensed.
385. That is a general principle that has been
widely accepted already; if there are alternatives you do not
use live animals. What I was really asking was is there any practical
result from this particular ruling? Are you aware that a lot of
mice have been saved or not?
(Mr Thomas) That principle had not been accepted by
the Government until last week because their line, in correspondence
with the BUAV before the proceedings, was two-fold; first of all,
that until international regulators catch up with the view that
there is an alternative then the question of stopping the animal
experiments does not arise and, secondly, that even where it is
clear that the alternative is there and that the animal experiment
should in principle stop, where there are on-going licencesand
licences are granted for up to five yearsthen the Government
has the discretion not to call in licences and it can take into
account factors such as its own convenience and the convenience
of the licence holder. That position has now changed and the Government
accepted on that point that as soon as an alternative is available
then that animal experiment must come to an end.
(Dr Langley) If I could add a point of fact, my Lord
Chairman. If your Committee member is seeking statistics then
we can say that even after the BUAV's threat to take Government
to judicial review a little while ago, on the LD50 test the 1999
statistics show that 91,000 animals were being used in the LD50
test and we expect this number to decrease very markedly in the
and in the case of using animals for the production of monoclonal
anti-bodies, which is an example cited in this particular case,
the 1999 statistics demonstrate the use of nearly 3,000 mice in
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior
386. In your BUAV web site of April 2001 talking
about alternatives and refinements you make the statement that,
"The main reason appears to be that it is often simply ignored"that
is the alternative"and animal researchers are reluctant
to find alternatives, despite frequent requirements to do so,
as they view animal tests as traditional and inexpensive."
I would put to you that animal experimenters are in fact continually
looking for alternatives and refinements in their work and it
is not the case that they ignore these alternatives. How would
you respond to that statement, that indeed they are looking for
these, they are not simply sticking with animals because they
are traditional and less expensive?
(Dr Langley) If I may respond to that question, I
think I can illustrate our view on the willingness and the motivation
of scientists to find alternatives by explaining that the Government's
own Medical Research Council has refused until the last year to
provide any funding specifically for the development of alternatives
in medical research despite many years, and to my knowledge more
than 25 years, of campaigning and requesting that the Government's
Research Council should ring-fence some funding for alternatives.
It comes down to funding to a large extent. Scientists cannot
seek alternatives without a grant to do so.
387. I would agree with that but there is a
difference between doing your normal experimental investigation
and specifically looking for alternatives. There are certain situations,
such as the LD50 test, where you have looked for alternatives,
but not much experimental work where you are looking for alternatives,
the whole time. There is nothing where you can say, "I am
going to look for an alternative to this procedure." It comes
when you set up the procedure.
(Dr Langley) My Lord, I would hope that would be the
case because, as we know, the 1986 Act requires that a project
licence should not be awarded if there is an alternative but unfortunately
even though there are scientists who are willing to look for alternatives
that others have developed that may be relevant to their work,
they would find it very difficult to do so because there is no
scientifically available database of replacement alternatives
for animal experiments and it is very difficult indeed to sift
through the literature in the mainstream science journal databases
looking for key words to do with replacement of animals. So even
when the information is available it is very, very difficult for
scientific ethical review processes and even for the Home Office
388. Dr Langley, am I right in saying that the
MRC have not ring-fenced funding but have expressed their willingness
to fund projects, but as of two months ago had received no formal
applications? That is what we are told by the MRC.
(Dr Langley) You have been luckier than me, my Lord.
I contacted them two months ago and asked for a report on how
things are going but they have not responded to my letter. So
perhaps you have greater influence with them than I do.
Chairman: We will ask them if there is any stop
Earl of Onslow
389. The LD50 test, I believe, and perhaps you
will confirm, was stopped two years ago so the influence of your
legal force today or recently seems to have had very little to
do with it. Those of us who live on farms who see mice carted
of in cats' mouths find it rather odd that a large sum of money
can be extracted from taxpayers to pay legal costs to save 3,000
mice. It is either 3,000 mice or you do not know what it is, it
is one or the other. It strikes me as quite an expensive, mildly
(Ms Thew) If I can just respond to that. I think there
are a couple of issues we need to raise here. Firstly, it is not
correct that the LD50 was stopped in this country before our judicial
review. It was only after the threat of proceedings that the Government
actually took action to stop that. I think the issue of costs
is interesting because had the Government simply taken the action
we requested, which was to implement the law correctly in the
beginning, the need for costs would not have arisen. I think that
is a question more suitably addressed to the Government. In terms
of the issue about the numbers of mice saved, it is not just about
this particular procedure and this particular time. What it is
about is establishing a principle that the Government itself says
that it follows, which is where there is an alternative it must
be used. That is not just about a procedure today, it is about
thousands of procedures in the future and that is why it is important,
particularly because the Government regularly says that it does
implement the law. Where there is a loophole where the Government
is not implementing the law, it is our responsibility to correct
them on that.
390. You said earlier that you were not quite
sure about the number of mice, you now say that this is going
to involve thousands of procedures in the future. How many thousands?
(Ms Thew) What we have done is establish the principle
391. You said that you were stopping thousands
of experiments in the future. How many thousands? 1,000? 100,000?
Five million? How many is it? What is your estimate?
(Ms Thew) If you look at the two particular examples
that we took the judicial review on, there are approximately 3,000
mice, for example, that were used in the particular monoclonal
procedure we are talking about and there were many thousands more
that were used for the guinea pig assays that we were talking
about. When I say thousands will be saved into the future we are
talking about regulatory toxicity and as alternatives become available
there are many thousands of animals used in various regulatory
toxicity procedures, as alternatives become available we will
not have to wait three, five or ten years for those to go through
the international regulatory system and therefore those animals'
lives will be saved because
392. So you have no idea what the number is?
(Ms Thew) No, I do not think it is correct to say
I have no idea.
393. Could we therefore go to perhaps what is
a crunch question; do you consider that animals have rights?
(Ms Thew) Yes I do. I do consider that animals have
rights personally but I do not think it is the issue at stake
when we are talking about animal experiments. When we are talking
about animal experiments the issue at stake is whether we as humans
have a right to deliberately inflict pain and suffering on an
animal not for its benefit. That is really the issue. It is about
our relationship with animals and what we as a society permit
in terms of the rights we have as humans.
394. Do either of your colleagues want to expand
(Mr Thomas) If I may speak personally rather than
simply as a lawyer for animals, the crux is the fact that animal
experiments involve suffering and the key in terms of moral issues
is to be consistent. I am a human rights' lawyer as well as an
animal rights' lawyer and both areas of law, it seems to me, are
about protecting the weak from exploitation by the strong and
really animal rights and human rights are just shorthand for that
principle. Ultimately I do not think that the issue is whether
one thinks that animals have rights in the metaphysical or philosophical
sense. Moreover, if one believes that animals do not have rights,
which is clearly neither provable or non-provable, then that does
not lead on to the conclusion that therefore it is alright to
inflict pain and suffering on them when it is not for their own
benefit and clearly when they have not consented to it.
395. You are conceding, I think, for the time
being, at any rate, that experiments will continue. You have produced
a very helpful and, from my point of view, a very sensible list
of improvements that could be achieved within the limits of the
present legislation. I think you know the ones I am referring
to, it is in "What needs to change". Can you put these
particular improvements in any kind of order? Which of them would
you put at the top of the list? Can you also say whether or not
you have managed to achieve any of them so far?
(Ms Thew) Could I respond by saying that we as an
organisation obviously want all experiments to stop. I do not
think it is true to say that we have conceded that some experiments
should continue. What we have done is recognise that it is unlikely
that all experimentation will stop tomorrow, but we have put in
our evidence where we would like to see attention directed immediately.
We have not put them in any particular order of priority, what
we have done is address some of those areas where there is the
most amount of suffering or if the necessity for the experiment
is clearly redundant or where there are areas, for example, where
even under the current legislation we are pushing for better protection
for animals, such as cats, dogs and primates. Some of them naturally
follow on from other areas already stated as government policy:
for example we already have a ban on cosmetic testing in the United
Kingdom; we are logically extending that to a ban on household
products. We have a ban on the use of great apes in the United
Kingdom; we see no reason, morally or practically, not to extend
that to all primates. We have looked at those areas of legislation
where there has already been some progress and we are asking your
Lordships to address those particular areas as being the logical
next step. As an organisation we wish to see an end to it.
Chairman: The acoustics are quite awful, if
you could raise your voice a little it would be helpful.
396. Can I pursue the philosophical basis: you
say you are against the deliberate infliction of pain by humans
on a sentient being in your paper; how far does that extend? What
do you mean by a sentient being? How much of the animal kingdom
do you cover? Does it extend to mosquitos?
(Ms Thew) It is an interesting question that has already
been put, how far does this line extend? For the purposes of what
we are talking about around vivisection there is a very clear
definition of what an animal is, those are the animals that we
are talking about when we talk about animal experiments.
397. It is the animals on which experiments
are being carried out?
(Ms Thew) For the purpose of this debate.
398. Do you think it is wrong to kill these
(Ms Thew) Yes, we do.
399. Does it mean you are vegetarians?
(Ms Thew) Personally I am, but that is not the issue
1 In 1999 the total number of animals used in the
LD50 test was 91,330 (see Statistics of Scientific Procedures
on Living Animals, Great Britain, 1999, Table 12); in 2000
this figure fell to 74,513 (Statistics 2000, Table 12). Back