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The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): It is for employers, not the Government, to decide what targets for the proportions of women and men they employ are appropriate. Only the employers can judge this in the light of their circumstances, following the principle of recruitment on merit.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): I was extremely concerned about the events shown in the Channel 4 programme "Countryside Undercover: It's A Dog's Life", and I know these concerns are shared by members of the public, and by scientists and animal technicians, the vast majority of whom are responsible and caring towards animals.
The Home Office took prompt and firm action. On the morning after the programme was broadcast, the Home Office asked the police to investigate possible offences under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and, as a result, two individuals have been charged with such offences. In replying to this question, I cannot therefore comment, at this time, about these two individuals or their actions, as this might prejudice the prosecutions.
The investigation has shown breaches of two of the standard conditions which apply to all Certificates of Designation. Shortcomings relating to the care, treatment and handling of animals, and delegation of health checking to new staff of undetermined competence demonstrate that the establishment was not appropriately staffed and that animals were not at all times provided with adequate care.
My right honourable friend therefore proposes to revoke the Certificate of Designation for this establishment, subject to the consideration of any representations made under Section 12 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. However, if the proposed revocation took immediate effect, we estimate that up to 1,000 dogs; 10 baboons; 200 marmosets; 450 macaques; 13,000 mice; 35,000 rats; 2,000 rabbits; 4,000 guinea pigs; 3,000 birds; 4,000 fish; and smaller numbers of various other species undergoing scientific procedures would have to be destroyed. In addition, any ongoing work might need to be repeated; this would require the use of more laboratory animals. It is therefore proposed that the revocation will take effect on 30 November 1997.
Revocation would shut down the company, with the consequent loss of 1,400 jobs. While the failures and omissions at the establishment are extremely serious, this outcome would not necessarily be warranted. An application for a replacement certificate could, therefore, be considered if my right honourable friend can be assured that measures have been put in place to prevent any recurrence of the events shown in the television programme. Sixteen stringent conditions have been set which must be met before any new application can be considered.
In addition to the two individuals facing prosecution, my right honourable friend proposes to revoke the personal licence of a third animal technician (again, subject to the right to make representations) and it has been decided that letters of admonition should be sent to two other technicians.
The Home Office, and specifically the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate, was criticised for having missed alleged mistreatment, for failure to implement the requirements of the Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Animals Used in Scientific Procedures, and for having conducted inspections during which no checks were made on the animals being cared for by the undercover investigator.
While no breaches of the Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Animals Used in Scientific Procedures were identified, we are aware of public concern about the conditions in which the dogs were kept. We have, therefore, decided that the inspectorate will audit all commercial dog facilities to identify best practice and innovations with respect to the housing and care of animals, and that this information will be used to inform national standards.
The Animal Procedures Committee is keen to consider and promulgate to establishments any other general lessons which can be learned in order to help prevent similar occurrences in the future. We welcome this.
The chief inspector's report contains information which was provided in confidence and which cannot, therefore, be disclosed under Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. It cannot therefore be published in full.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The contract for Cookham Wood, which is in the Library, allows changes of use of the centre, including widening the age range, subject to notice being given to the contractor and agreement being reached on the price. The contract specifically excludes change of use for offenders detained under Section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 or for those over the age of 17.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My right honourable friend wrote to members of the Home and Social Affairs Committee, which includes my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health, on 18 June, seeking their approval to his proposals to implement the secure training order, and to continue with the contract for Cookham Wood and with plans for four other centres.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: The signed contract for Cookham Wood was a legacy from the previous government. We decided to continue with the contract to avoid the waste of public money that would be involved in withdrawing from it and because the contract provides an early opportunity of ensuring that the courts have the appropriate powers to deal with persistent young offenders aged 12-14 years. Fast track punishment for persistent young offenders is one of our key priorities.
The provision of 40 places at Cookham Wood alone would be insufficient to meet national demand, and would concentrate resources in one part of the country. This would inevitably mean some children serving the custodial part of their sentence some considerable distance from their families. The five planned secure training centres will fulfil the need for more secure accommodation across the country for these offenders. The centres will provide positive regimes with high standards of education and training.
My right honourable friend has commissioned a review of the secure accommodation currently available for young offenders. Our decision to proceed with the procurement of four further secure centres will not preclude the implementation of any changes which we decide are necessary in the light of this review and we will ensure that plans for the four further secure centres are sufficiently flexible to be consistent with this.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 provides that secure training orders can only be served in secure training centres (STCs). I am satisfied that these will offer good value for money. It would be inappropriate to publish the budgeted cost of the STCs while there are contracts yet to be awarded.
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