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Lord Winston: My Lords, does not the noble Lord agree that one of the most important advances made in stem cell biology recently has been the use of exactly that model to demonstrate the cure of Parkinson's disease in a genetically modified rodent?
These practices must be challengeable. If there is doubt, we must have a forum in which these issues can be challenged. That is one of our most important recommendations. There should be a way in which these matters can be properly debated, at a scientific level, between those who oppose particular lines of scientific research and those who advocate them in order that we may ultimately arrive at a common view. We know from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence that evidence-based medicine is doing a great deal of good for the National Health Service. We need to have evidence-based animal experimentation and the same kind of challenge in what we are doing.
One of the most extraordinary things that I noticed as a member of the committee is how little evidence there is that animal experimentationparticularly animal testing for toxicological purposesreally works. Very little research has been carried out. It took me a long time to get any information from the ministry as to what had been done. Ultimately, there was only one research paper with that focus, which had gathered information of all the testing carried out on pharmacological compounds and had started to look at which ones worked and which ones did not and at what were the deficiencies.
It becomes a matter almost of ritual that we are sacrificing animals because in some way it allows us to be comfortable that something is safer. Because we know it does not cause cancer in rats, we believe that it is safe in us; that because these animals have died in our name we are therefore safe. But we have not been doing the basic science; we have not been watching what we have been doing; we have not been gathering evidence to show that this, that or the other animal test is effective.
It is quite clear that many tests are effectivewe have gone a long way down the road with animal testsbut we should be challenging what is being done. We are causing a great deal of cruelty in order to do us good and it is a moral imperative on us that we should make sure that the cruelty we are causing is in a good cause and that it is doing us good.
The development rate of new chemical compounds in the drug industry is slowing downit is becoming slower and slower. It takes longer and longer to produce new effective compounds and it is becoming more and more expensive. We are piling on bureaucracy and safety tests. The whole business of
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, drew attention to the slowness of getting approvals for projects and, particularly, for amendments to projects. We found no evidence that that saves an iota of animal suffering. We saw no evidence that it improves the science. It is merely a sclerosis in the system that has been allowed to develop because of a belief that a long and detailed process must be doing good. We need to concentrate on the evidence and make sure that everything we are doing with animals and science is effective. If we do that, we can hold our heads high and say that the cruelty we are inflicting on animals is justified.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. Not only did it get to the very heart of the matter that we are discussing today, but it also gave me some relief in feeling that I would not be a lone voice in this debate. I may go a little further than the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, would, but if I do it is because I am speaking not only for myself but on behalf of the Green Party, to which I belong.
Before I move to criticise the report of the Select Committee, I pay tribute to the absolutely admirable speech of the noble Lord, Lord Smith, in presenting the report. I also pay tribute to the public-spiritedness of the people who took part in the Select Committee, even though I believe that their report and the Government's reply are severely flawed, not to say loaded.
Let me say, first, where my party and I come from. I myself am a carnivore; therefore, I cannot take the extreme position taken by some people, such as C.S. Lewis, that it is wrong for us to use animals as a means to our own ends. Nevertheless, I feeland this is something to which most people pay lip service, at any ratethat in dealing with all animals who are under our control, including farm animals, about which I have been involved in legislation for a period of time, we owe them a duty to impose on them the absolute minimum of suffering, and then only for truly, undeniably important ends.
I differ from the Green Party's policy on animal rights just as I differ from most people not only in thinking that there are such things as animal rights, but also in thinking that there are human rights.
The Green Party says that the prevailing assumption that animals can be used for any purpose that benefits humankind is not acceptable in a green society. I would say that it is not acceptable in a human society, either.
While I commend the emphasis on the three Rs in the report, I deplore the Select Committee's failure to consider some of the rather more complex and detailed parts of the subject such as research conducted for household products, war-related psychological
As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out, experiments on animals are notoriously fallible when it comes to predicting for humans. The only really useful experiments are those which we carry out on ourselves. Here I pay tribute to those humansdoctors, scientists and otherswho have pursued this path, often at great personal risk.
It is time to pass from the failings of the Select Committee to the failings of the Government. You might expect that I would therefore speak for as long again, but I will not because I think that noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, starting with the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and most others, have made so many good points about the inadequacy of the Government's response that it would be pointless for me to repeat them.
I, too, say no to animal terrorists and yes to a reasonable rate of change in reducing animal experimentation until we get to the point where we do not have to have any of it. My colleague, Dr Caroline Lucas, a Member of the European Parliament, said yesterday that last year there were 2.7 million more animal experiments. That is 2.7 million more examples of our inhumanity to other species. I look forward to a society in which there will be virtually none or absolutely none.
I hope that both the noble Lords who have been involved in the Select Committee and, more particularly, the Government, will pay attention to the great feeling that exists about this in the country, and do something about it.
Baroness Eccles of Moulton: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate our report and the Government's response, and also to add my thanks to our excellent chairman, our gifted Clerk, our special adviser, and to say how much I enjoyed working with the members of the committee.
I shall now say a few words to endorse the recommendation that a centre to promote the three Rs should be set up. Included in the appendices to the report are two other items on the subjectthe report of the working group on a centre as part of the conference held by the committee on 21st May 2002 and the oral evidence given to the committee in Paris by Mr Koeter of the OECD.
Since the report was published, there have been a number and variety of full and interesting comments. These have come from the Boyd Group, the MRC, FRAME, the RSPCA and many others. It has been said that the committee's recommendations on the subject of a centre were too sketchy. However, as they have stimulated such a lot of comments and suggestions, perhaps it is a good thing that the report was not too prescriptive.
It is accepted that, broadly speaking, animals used in scientific experiments fall into roughly two categoriestesting for toxicity and basic medical research. Industry-driven testing for toxicity avoids some of the information transfer problems experienced by those undertaking blue-sky research. Regulatory testing will frequently use standardised tests which are internationally recognised and accepted. Cost is an important factor, as using animals is expensive, and any new method which reduces the number of animals involved will have considerable appeal.
However, as many more animals are used in biomedical research than for regulatory testing, alternatives are much harder to develop. Because of the very nature of academic research, despite the rigorous demands of the three-part licensing system it is not always possible to predict where the research will lead, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, emphasised when making a different point. As seeking improvements in the three Rs is not always top of the agenda, in order to help busy scientists in the search for alternatives it is important that useful and relevant knowledge, data and support are available to them.
It is generally agreed that work on alternatives must be embedded in existing research establishments. The hub and spoke model for a centre has been widely supported. What kind of hub? Real or virtual? How real or how virtual? One suggested model would have a director, scientific officers, secretariat and an executive council. That would inevitably lead to authority and control and impose a layer of bureaucracy on scientists already overburdened with process. It would need unrealistic levels of funding and
It is possible that the model most likely to succeed, anyway to start with, would be an almost virtual hubalmost because it would need a small secretariat to research and collate data and an expert committee which would meet occasionally. Its main purpose would be to create and maintain a database which would be designed to be attractive and useful to the scientific community in general, but particularly to those carrying out fundamental research, where there is the greatest need. It is also important that there should be a forum where scientists could meet at seminars, conferences and so on, and that is something the centre could organise.
The spokes would be embedded in research institutions. Every major institution should have a scientist working alongside those using animals who would be dedicated to pursuing the three Rs. Although scientists tend to use traditional methods, they recognise the advantages of maximising the use of each animal and thereby reducing numbers. Animals do not produce perfect results and experiments will be developed which will be more reliable. To raise the profile of alternatives it would be necessary for senior and prestigious scientists to be taking a lead in championing the research. That could be the nucleus of a centre based on the hub and spoke model that could grow into something more substantial.
A vast amount of research will continue to be carried out by universities, research institutions, pharmaceutical companies, and other establishments. A centre for the three Rs would provide a facility that will enable scientists to take the message on board and provide them with a remit to promote alternatives.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, it was a privilege to sit on the Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures, under the wise and calming chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton. I apologise for my late arrival during his opening speech. Our thanks, too, go to the Clerk and our special adviser, Professor Reiss.
I am a physical scientist with no involvement in animal experiments. However, I declare an interest as a professor in University College, London, where there is of course animal experimentation. We were all struck by the great care and scientific thoroughness exercised by all those involved in experimenting with animals for scientific and medicinal purposes. As I hope the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, would acknowledge, no one undertakes such experiments without a great deal of thought and concern.
It was remarkable to see that, in surgical operations conducted on monkeys, as a monkey came round after an operation, one of its carers was holding its hand. One knows the feeling oneself after general anaesthesia. That is just one example of how the scientific community feels about its moral duties and does something about them. The inspectorate can certainly take some credit, but more because of its advisory visits than its bureaucracy. The noble Lord, Lord Winston, made the point strongly about the moral involvement of his colleagues.
Given that our fundamental recommendation is broadly supported by society as a whole and by Parliament, it is incumbent on government and their agencies to ensure that those who work directly or indirectly with animals for science and medicine are publicly approved and protected against threats of violence or other intimidation. That issue was addressed on page 45 of our report, in a rather small piece of text, where we note that the Government must not only continue to speak up on behalf of the individuals and organisations involved in this work but must be much more energetic than hitherto in ensuring that individuals can go about their normal lives without the frightening abuse and even physical violence.
One notes that in Britain, the police seem to require only that people making threats and nuisance move away a few hundred yards. We learned that industry staff in the United States feel much safer because such people are banned for many years from even entering the county where those activities are going on. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, made some useful suggestions.
Similar ambivalence about providing robust support to those engaged in animal work is shown by the City of London, who have buckled under the pressure of animal rights protesters. We should not be surprised by their pusillanimous attitudes; Samuel Johnson commented in the 18th century on the,
Fortunately, today, the Government have used their financial resources to support companies, and we should acknowledge and be grateful for the extraordinary personal efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, the Science Minister, in that respect. Will he confirm that the policy will continue? Will the
An innovative and controversial element of the report was the recommendation that the Government and scientific community should devote more resources to seeking methods that can replace or reduce the numbers of animals used in experiments. We learned from witnesses that industry, universities and societies are very interested in using such methods, when they are effective, because of the obvious welfare benefits and because they can reduce costs. That is not a new idea, but the momentum for substitution is growing and will have huge repercussions for research, education and industry.
In the UK, pioneering research in which computer modelling is used to study the effect of drugs on the body is going on. As our report explains, there are two aspects: one is statistical, in which data from animal experiments are analysed and extrapolated to other situations. That would ensure the most effective use of the experiments and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, argued, could be used to challenge standard techniques that may not be effective. The other aspect is based on mathematical representation of certain processes and organs of the body and how they respond to drugs or other influences.
We learned of the exciting scientific and commercial developments of Professor Noble at Oxford. That approach is growing. However, it must be said that many biologists, some of whom I spoke to yesterday at the Royal College of Physicians, are very sceptical, because it is only through animal experiments that one can understand interactions in a full body. Such biologists appear to believe that any resources devoted specially to the three Rs will detract from scientific and medical research.
I recall the 1960s, when we saw such negativism about the use of computers. It was interesting, in the early 1960s, when Farnborough and the National Physical Laboratory were considering the use of computers for the design of aeroplanes. Because they were so good at an older technology of theoretical aerodynamics and wind tunnels, they were quite sceptical. The developments in fact took place elsewherefortunately, still in the UK, at Imperial College, Swansea, Cranfield and so on. Perhaps surprisingly, those revolutionary efforts were supported by the government through the research councils. We need a similar dual approach today.
The other methods involve laboratory-based experiments with some small samples of living matter. In the United States, the committee visited a small company developing in vitro methods to substitute certain animal experiments. The company is working towards making those methods also available for schools and universities, where animals and other dissection experiments are no longer available.
Therefore, I hope the Minister will take back to the Home Office and other government departments the general feeling of disappointment about the Government's response to Recommendation 6. I note that the Medical Research Council essentially supports this Government's lukewarm response on this recommendation. There seems to be little recognition by the Government and by the Medical Research Council of the wider economic, educational and, dare one say, political advantages of increasing resources for the three Rs and of having some centre or focus to drive them forward. Such a centre would ensure that the developments were widely understood and the potential benefits properly emphasised and explained. I hope that the Department for Education and Skills can be involved regarding the points that I have already mentioned.
As the present and previous governments have bemoaned and, as the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, wrote in a recent Parliamentary Monitor article, there have been all too many examples of scientific developments not being exploited. Will the Government ensure that the Medical Research Council and other government departments pursue those developments diligently and imaginatively? A ministerial reply in the other place indicated that there would be a response by the autumn. Will this House also be informed at the same time?
I return to the fundamentals. Animal experiments are essential and the UK can learn from other countries. I refer in that regard to governments, doctors, pharmacists and perhaps even the health centre at the Palace of Westminster. Much more publicity is needed to explain this inescapable feature of modern medicine. As regards the broader areas I hope that we shall hear the Minister say how he might spread this message through the Central Office of Information.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, first, I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, for arriving slightly late for his opening speech. If the first half was as good as the second half, I am sure that I have missed something rather special. I am pretty certain, though, that the stop shack had switched off the traffic lights to make sure that I was late arriving here.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for his excellent chairmanship. I also thank our musical Clerk. I and my fellow members of the committee were a happy band of brothers. I believe that we had a completely and utterly fascinating time.
When I asked the head of the Rosslyn Institute how cloning worked, he started to say, "Lord Onslow, if I were to clone you", but before he could get any further, my noble friend Lord Smith said, "Do not let it even begin to cross your mind". That was not uttered sotto voce but in the manner extempore. After the quality of the work done by my colleagues, the Clerk and my noble friendI use that word completely advisedlyLord Smith, the reaction of the Government immediately reminds me of the two words "damp" and "squib". The only thing that slightly cheers me is the sight of my old housemate, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, sitting on the Front Bench opposite. At least I know that he knows what he is talking about. Earlier this week I spoke to the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, who was due to reply to this debate. She expressed blank terror at the thought of having to deal with this matter as well as the Criminal Justice Bill. I thank the Government for allotting the reply to the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, who knows what a molecule is.
On being appointed to the committee I was determined to be open-minded and to give the anti-vivisectionists a fair run for their money. After all the evidence that we have heard, I am completely sure that animals must continue to be used in the way that we are debating. I read a report published by the APC in June this year which further increased my certainty. But that does not mean that all in the experimental world is correct. The committee was made up of a group of people who could be said to be disparate. But at the end of our deliberations it was impossible to drive a fag paper between our views as expressed in the report. We went thorough it line by line, co-operatively and constructively. It was an object lesson in how these things should be done.
I wish to comment on three aspects and three aspects only. First, I want to underline regulation, secondly, statisticswhich I regret to say the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, seems to have misunderstoodand, thirdly, genetic modification. They all interact. The regulations are always said to be the tightest in the scientific world. In paragraph 5.32, we state:
The time that it takes to approve projects is much longer than in any other country. The time taken even to get minor changes in a licence, such as reducing the number of rats used from 99 to 98, is like the death of Charles IIunconscionable. We were told of one certain case of it being cheaper to do an experiment in the United States rather than wait for the licence for
Secondly, I turn to statistics. What is the phrase, "Lies, damned lies, and statistics"? It is a cliche. However, it has a grain of truth in it. The statistics on animals used are misleading, as the numbers contain all the mice and rats bred for genetic modification, a large proportion of which will not be used. Under French, European and American law, they are not covered by the legislation.
Statistically distorting though genetic modification may be, the progress that can be achieved through the science is mind-blowing. Introduce the human gene into a mouse so that it can get human cancers or diseases such as Alzheimer's, and drugs can be tested on a creature where the time of progression can be concertinaed by years. The APC appendix states:
We must do nothing to inhibit the experiments, for two reasons. The first is the benefit of mankind, and the second is not to fetter the achievements of British science which, although I understand little of its intricacies, I came to admire enormously during my time on the Select Committee.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and his colleagues on their report on animals in scientific procedures. I am a layman, but I found the report to be a fascinating inquiry into issues that are both significant and sensitive. If I may say so without being patronising in any way, I found the report as clear as it is thorough as it is direct. The subject is one about which the general public have become progressively more concerned and interested in recent years. It also inspires many diametrically opposed opinions, some of which have been aired during the debate, so it is appropriate that the report should be wide-ranging and yet meticulous in its analysis and conclusions.
By contrast, I am afraid that I found the tone of the Government's reply to the report disappointing. I am aware that many noble Lords have used harsher words than that about it. I found it particularly disappointing given the Labour Party's great enthusiasm for the topic when in opposition. The Labour policy document entitled New Labour, New Britain, New Life for Animals, published before the 1997 general election stated:
At the outset, I should make it clear that on these Benches we share the committee's view that some testing of animals in scientific procedures is necessary. It may be unpleasant, but it is regrettably unavoidable. Views in support of that were powerfully expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. Jane Asher recently brought attention to the debate in a speech at a medical conference, published in the Daily Telegraph on 9th October, where she asked:
In my view, the Select Committee has performed a very valuable service in drawing attention to the regulatory balance to be struck, the difficulties in so doing and, in particular, the challenges posed because of the rapid rate of technological advance and the shift in public opinion about the acceptability of animal testing.
An example from a parallel field may help to underline my point. In a previous incarnation, I was a member of one of the City's regulatory bodies. I am slightly nervous about admitting that in the light of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, about the City, but I shall proceed. Every time that anything went wrong in the City there would be a cry for some new regulation. The easy option was to introduce it. However, there is no God-given reason why financial services have to stay in the City of London. Raise the regulatory barrier too high and slowly, even imperceptibly at first, the business will move to centres which are seen to have a more appropriate regulatory touch.
That is equally not an argument for a free-for-allquite the reverse. A financial market rocked by frequent scandals will lose business for the converse reasonthat it is not a good place for individual firms to be associated with. That seems to be a key point in the Select Committee's report, with its emphasis on the "best regulation" rather than the "tightest". Many noble Lords have commented on the level of bureaucracy, which is an issue to be addressed in the
Another important achievement of the Select Committee's report was to address what has been labelled as the crisis of trust. Chapter 9 of the report explains that, in 2002, the Science and Technology Committee of this House published Science and Society, a report on the relationship between scientists and the public. It suggested that the crisis of trust was particularly apparent in the debate about the use of animals in scientific procedures. Some of the reasons for that crisis have a wide application over a variety of scientific fields: people are generally more questioning of authority; some government departments and institutions still operate too much under a culture of secrecy; and some scientific issues have in the past been framed so as to exclude consideration of moral, social and ethical issues.
That all contributes to creating a public suspicion of science and scientists. The example of Hillgrove Farm illustrates how, in that climate of secrecy and suspicion, matters can get out of hand. It was an appropriately licensed facility that bred cats for the purpose of experimentation. There was a strong and very active campaign against the farm from critics over a long period, eventually resulting in its closure. Despite implications, no experiments were actually carried out on the cats at Hillgrove Farm. The show of protest required a constant police presence around the farm during its last two years costing an estimated £3 million. Protestors saw its closure as a milestone victory.
However, the RSPCA, not an organisation which can be considered a pushover when it comes to animal welfare, took a different view, as can be seen from a detail of its briefing released at the time of the closure. It reads:
How could costly and fundamentally unhelpful events like that be avoided, or at least their frequency reduced? As many noble Lords have pointed out, there surely can be no doubt that better communication with the public would have benefited all parties, not least the Government. Establishing and developing a means of communication must be a major responsibility of the Government. Most members of the general public do not approve of the harder, more aggressive line taken by, for example, the Huntingdon Life Sciences activists, but the disturbing stories about animal experimentation, which have circulated over the years, have none the less caused certain public concerns. The only answer must be to be open and tell the truth. Despite a supportive introduction, the Government do not seem to be yet ready to respond sufficiently vigorously to the Select Committee's specific
For example, the Select Committee devoted considerable attention to public information. Indeed, the whole of Chapter 9 was devoted to it. However, the Government's response to Recommendations 28, 29, 30 and 31 and the contents of paragraph 9.5 could best be described as lukewarm. Above all, they did not appear to show much urgency, preferring instead to fall back on further consultation.
Another way in which the committee helpfully suggested that public concern could be dispelled was through greater lay involvement. Recommendation 23 proposes that an external lay member should be required as part of each ethical review process.
ERP provides independent advice to the certificate holder on standards of animal care, advises on ethical issues and promotes awareness. There is no point in the process at which lay involvement could be more effective, yet the Government apparently do not consider it to be practical or reasonable to make the involvement of a lay person mandatory on the ERP. However, a lay role in bringing an additional perspective to the process is extremely important. Paragraph 6.18 of the report states:
The Government reacted similarly to paragraph 5.18, which proposes the inclusion of "lay visitors" on the visits by the inspectorate to the designated establishments. It is hard to see how the Government can be seriously concerned about issues of security and bio-security if the inspectorate is to be accompanied by a named animal care and welfare officer or a lay member from the ERP. Surely that will both encourage best practice in animal care and promote public confidence in the system.
That would be similarly true of Recommendation 28, concerning the repeal of Section 24the confidentiality clauseof the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The Government's response is that they recognise,
The Government's reaction suggests that the recommendation is pushing for the disclosure of the identities of all involved in any experimentation, but, as I read it, that is not the case. The recommendation's wording runs,
Recommendation 24 was spoken to powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and my noble friends Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior and Lady Eccles of Moulton. It proposes setting up a centre for the three Rs, comprising a small administrative hub to co-ordinate research units embedded in existing centres of scientific excellence.
I agree with my noble friends that the Government's response to this is typical of many of their responses. While they "broadly" accept the gist of the recommendation, their preference is clearly for an exclusively toxicology-based centre as they are prepared only to "consult further" on the Select Committee's proposal of an all-embracing centre.
The RSPCA further observed that the Government claim two centres already exist; the MRC Centre for Best Practice in Animal Research (CBPAR) and the Inter-Departmental Data Sharing Group (now IDG3Rs). But the RSPCA points out that neither of the organisations has yet achieved any track record in realising alternative methods,
All that information suggests that there has simply been a cosmetic change rather than a fundamental one. So the Government's claim that the CBPAR and the IDG3Rs provide sufficient development of the three Rs is clearly arguable. Backing focused development of the three Rs is a policy on which all parties can agree. On the other hand, trying to co-ordinate this development among numerous disparate factions with varying interests and commitments may well produce little of value.
I conclude where I began by saying that I consider this to be a valuable and meaty report. The Government could and should have made better use of it. No one underestimates the fine judgments that need to be made on a number of issues: on the right level of regulation; on the right level of public knowledge; and on the right level of lay involvement. And these fine judgments have to be made against the background of groups holding very different views.
The Select Committee is to be congratulated on a brave attempt to strike these balances. It remains to be seen whether the Government will be brave enough to build on that work. I look forward to hearing their response.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and members of the Select Committee for their excellent report. The subject of animal experimentation raises many sensitive and difficult issues, and the Select Committee heard many sincerely held and diverse views expressed in the evidence it received.
Faced with that diversity of view, the Select Committee produced an extremely well-informed, interesting and important report containing many helpful suggestions. It was right in taking a tough-minded view about the need for animal experimentationa clear view that we needed to continue to improve the system of controland at the same time rightly calling for more information in terms of public debate.
Secondly, I do not consider our approach to this matter to have been at all negative. We believe that most of the recommendations are being taken forward. However, they are complicated and, therefore, they are not being taken forward as fast as I would like. But I believe that all the important ones are being taken forward and that the complex issues are being dealt with.
In that connection, perhaps I may say that the question of a centre for the three Rs is very complicated. I shall come to that in a moment. However, I do not believe that we should fall into making the mistake, which is common in these situations, of saying, "You have a problem. The solution to it is to set up a centre". We should not do that without examining what the centre should do and what the effect would be, and why there is a difference between general scientific research and toxicity. In this connection, that is an important point.
Thirdly, I turn to the question of animal terrorism. I do not believe that it was central to the report but it provided a context for it. I totally agree with the noble Lords, Lord Taverne and Lord Hunt, that it is intolerable in our society that people who carry out such experiments should be subjected to the level of harassment and violence that they have experienced. We are dealing with part of that problem in the Anti-social Behaviour Bill. Having been away for the past week, I do not know whether that section of the Bill has been dealt with, but we are taking forward new legislation and other legislation has previously been introduced in that respect.
I am not convinced that it is right to bring forward new legislation specifically on this issue. Most of the activities undertaken are covered, if inadequately, by current legislation, and I believe that our first line should be to improve that legislation. However, if necessary, we shall have to deal with it. I say clearly that I do not believe the Government are at all satisfied with the level of protection that we can give to people in that situation and certainly, in the future, we must do better.
I return to the subject of the report. It recognises that the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 is a complex piece of legislation, making provision for the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes and balancing that against the legitimate needs of science and industry.
In that context, the cost-benefit analysis is fundamental to that legislation. We cannot have a situation in which, on the one hand, we pass legislation which has a very specific approach to this issue and, on
I turn to the substance of the Select Committee's report. The Government share the Select Committee's view that it is morally acceptable for human beings to use other animals in scientific research but that it is morally wrong to cause them unnecessary or avoidable suffering. We believe the same view is held by the great majority of people in the United Kingdom.
The Government also note, and endorse, the Select Committee's finding that there is a continuing need for animal experiments both in applied research and in research aimed at extending knowledge. We agree that fundamental and applied scientific research is essential for progress. We note that, in the field of healthcare, research using animals has contributed to almost every medical advance in the past century. I simply say to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, that the great value of the report is how clearly it sets out the arguments as to why animal experimentation is necessary. In addition, the 2.7 million experiments that he mentioned are the total number of experiments carried out in a year; they do not represent the increase in animal experimentation.
I also believe that public opinion, which the noble Lord quoted, is very sensible and entirely right on this issue. Most people in this country accept the idea of animal experimentation but are very clear that it should not take place in any case where it is unnecessary or causes unnecessary suffering. I also believe that the whole issue of information and openness is important because, if people are asked what type of regulations they would like to see in relation to animal experimentation, they describe what they see as the ideal system, and that is the system that we already have in this country. Therefore, there is a huge job to be done in communicating what already exists so that people understand what is going on. Although the situation may change in the future, the development of all new drugs, and a number of medical and veterinary technologies, continues to depend on the carefully regulated and responsible use of animals for research.
I turn to some of the major issues raised by the Select Committee. We welcome the committee's recognition of the progress that has been made since 1987 in reducing the number of animals used in scientific procedures and in establishing a "culture of care" in establishments licensed under the 1986 Act. In spite of the essential role that animal studies continue to play, significant progress has been made with the three Rsthe refinement of scientific procedures, the reduction in the number of animals used, and their replacement, wherever possiblesince the 1986 Act was implemented.
We accept, however, that those successes are no reason for complacency. Therefore, the Government welcome the opportunity provided by the Select Committee's report to reaffirm their commitment to the further development and fullest possible application of the three Rs. We also acknowledge that that commitment is shared by the research community, whose ideas and resources drive progress in these areas and with whom responsibility for advances in the three Rs must primarily lie.
Having said that, we have agreed that the persuasive case put forward by the Select Committee for a United Kingdom centre for research into the three Rs should be taken forward and explored further. The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, the noble Baroness, Lady Eccles, and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, raised the question of what the centre should do.
Perhaps I may explain why I believe there is a difference between general scientific research and toxicity testing. In the case of general scientific research, it seems to be clear that every kind of scientific experimentation has its own problems and issues. If one is dealing with a single-cell recording from the brain, that presents a different problem from dealing with drugs and other issues.
Therefore, it is very difficult to carry out general work which, in the multitude of areas, takes the methodology forward. It is far better to try to encourage and incentivise the individual scientist who carries out those specialised procedures to develop them, to do them better and to find other ways of doing them rather than to try to implement general programmes. That is not true in relation to toxicity testing, where it may be possible for major programmes to take the science forward. That is why we are concerned to get right our ideas on what the centre should do before going ahead.
That is, in fact, being taken forward by the inter- departmental Group on the three Rs, led by the Home Office and comprising officials from the Department of Health, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Office of Science and Technology, the Food Standards Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and other agencies.
The work of the group has so far established that there is support for a body to act as a means better to publicise and co-ordinate what is already done by way of research into the three Rs. There is also agreement among the scientific community that each of the three Rs is important and that work on them should remain part of mainstream biomedical research rather than be separated from it.
There is also support for an Internet portal to provide easy access to reference material and advice, and strong support for the Medical Research Council's Centre for Best Practice in Animal Research as a major new resource in relation to fundamental research. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, cast doubt
The responses we have had to this proposal are encouraging and will form the basis of the group's further consideration of the Select Committee's recommendation. However, I reiterate that there is no point in having the centre as a totem pole; it is what it does which will be important in taking forward this agenda.
Many responses to this proposal have emphasised the need for a global rather than a purely national approach to research into three Rs. So, there are many practical issues which remain to be resolved, including how a UK centre would be managed and funded and its relationship with the European Centre for the Validation of Advanced Methods and other international bodies.
The interdepartmental group will report back to Ministers on its findings in the early part of next year. The Government have also noted the Select Committee's view that the United Kingdom should aim to have the best regulation of animal procedures properly enforced rather than the tightest regulation. In our response we made clear that we already strive for the most efficient and effective regulation.
However, the responsibilities placed upon Ministers by the 1986 Act impose stringent criteria that must be satisfied before licence authorities are granted. We believe that that is as it should be and is necessary in order to generate and maintain public confidence in the regulatory system and the degree of protection it affords to the animals concerned.
We accept that the project licence application form should be as short and simple as possible. That is a real issue for applicants. But the form must provide the minimum information necessary for the inspectorate to conduct the assessments required and for Ministers to demonstrate that they have properly discharged their duties under the 1986 Act. That is clearly an interest of the regulated and the regulator alike.
Previous efforts by government and representatives of the research community, including the industry-based Expert Group on Efficient Regulation (EGER), have shown that the production of a much shorter application form and licence that will meet existing regulatory needs is a difficult task. It is easy to point out that there is a problem here, but difficult to come up with solutions.
On a number of occasions when I have spoken with both scientists and industrialists I have made it clear that if such a document could be produced I would personally take it forward and make certain that it was implemented. However, we are currently again considering this matter with the research community
Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, that both the ABPI and the Research Defence Society took part in a working group, which was set up this year to look at simplification of the project licence. Indeed, it met recently with a Home Office Minister to discuss the way forward on this work. If the Select Committee has any more detailed thoughts on how this application form should be changed, we should be keen to hear them. This is a subject on which we want to make real progress. However, it is not one on which there are quick or easy answers and it would be wrong to build high expectations. But together the Government and the scientific community will redouble their efforts to find a workable solution. A joint project team will report back to Ministers on this matter in the early part of next year.
I turn to the question of openness and the review of Section 24 of the 1986 Act. The Government share the view of the Select Committee that there is a need for more open and better informed debate about the use of animals in scientific procedures. Government departments, industry, the scientific community and funders of such research all have an important role in explaining their legitimate use.
We also believe that more good quality information should be made available to the public explaining the scientific work that is done using animals and the reasons for it. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winston, that we must move away from the idea of a public understanding of science to science in society and that, indeed, we must have a situation where the public take ownership of research. Also scientists need to tackle these ethical issues sooner rather than later and to be seen by the public to be doing so.
Subject to safeguards for personal and confidential information, we are therefore pressing ahead with our plans to publish summaries of project licences on the Home Office website as part of the Home Office publication scheme under the Freedom of Information Act. Discussions with the scientific community have so far identified an encouraging degree of agreement on their content.
However, strong concerns have been raised by some scientists that the requirement to produce licence summaries will increase the administrative burden on project licence applicants, something we are anxious to avoid unless it is offset by streamlining of the application form. That is another matter which has been taken forward by the joint project team considering the licence application form. However, the Government are determined to iron out the practicalities in consultation with the scientific community and to start publishing summaries in an agreed format next year.
As to the future of Section 24 of the 1986 Act, the so-called "confidentiality clause", we are aware from our further consultation with the scientific community earlier this year that there remains a significant level of
In a climate which the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, graphically described as "animal terrorism", it is not clear to me that reducing penalties on civil servants and others who put into the public domain information which should not be divulged is an obvious sign to the scientific community that we take this question of animal terrorism very seriously. An announcement about the outcome of the Government's review of Section 24 will be made to Parliament in the next few weeks.
I turn to some of the more specific issues raised by noble Lords which I have not yet covered. As regards the question of the project licence processing times, first, we have not made a great deal of progress but we have not gone back on this. The target concerns 85 per cent and 35 clock days. Compared to most other countries, certainly in Europe, that is not bad, if it can be done in seven weeks. The figure of 94 per cent probably was an old target. It was a target of such spectacular nonsense that we have, quite rightly, got rid of it. It was simply a target number of days which civil servants who issued the licences took between the time they received the information that the licence could be granted and sending out the licence. In view of the fact that we achieved 94 per cent, or whatever, three or four days, as one can imagine is neither here nor there. The question concerned the number of clock days between the licence application being received and an answer being given. That is what we now monitor. The performance is not as good as it should be but is quite a lot better than it was in the past.
As a society we cannot have it both ways. We either have a complex piece of legislation which requires a cost-benefit analysis, which will take a certain amount of time, or we can have something which is much simpler and quicker but the legislation is on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis.