HC Deb 16 February 1962 vol 653 cc1771-82

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. McLaren.]

4.1 p.m.

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

In 1876, whilst accepting that experiments on living animals provided a valuable source of physiological and pathological knowledge, Parliament determined that strict safeguards should be laid down to restrict the number of experiments and to ensure that animals used in those experiments were not subjected to unnecessary ill treatment.

The Cruelty to Animals Act of that year required that experiments must be performed with a view to the advancement of new discovery of physiological knowledge or knowledge that would be useful for saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering; that experiments must be performed only by persons licensed by the Home Secretary; and that they must take place in a place registered for the purpose by the Home Secretary. The Act also laid down that during an experiment the animal must be sufficiently anaesthetised to make it insensible to pain, and that, if pain is likely after the effect of the anaesthetic has worn off, the animal shall be killed before its recovery from the anaesthetic.

The Act also stated that experiments shall not be performed to illustrate lectures in medical schools, hospitals, colleges or elsewhere and shall not be performed for the purpose of obtaining manual skill. Accepting the provisions in respect of anaesthetics, experiments may be performed by persons giving lectures in medical schools, but they must be absolutely necessary for the instruction of students with a view to their acquiring physiological knowledge and information that will help to prolong life and alleviate suffering.

There was also a provision which ensured that experiments to animals without anaesthesia, or in which animals are likely to suffer after recovery, could be allowed only in circumstances in which the destruction of the animal would frustrate the object of the experiment. Experiments on cats, dogs, horses, mules and asses would not be undertaken without anaesthesia unless no other animal was available for the experiment.

In fact, many experiments on cats and dogs have taken place, and in the last year for which I have been able to obtain a full report no fewer than 18,000 experiments were carried out on cats and dogs. That number represents the attendance at many First Division football matches. In total, although not, perhaps, a great proportion of the 3¾ million experiments a year on animals which take place nowadays, it is a very large number.

It is also laid down in the Act that experiments may be performed for testing a former discovery, provided always that such testing is absolutely necessary. The standardisation of vaccines, for instance, is obviously within this category. To provide further protection, the Secretary of State is empowered to call for reports from persons carrying out experiments and these reports may be in any form which he determines to be necessary and provide such detail as he may require from time to time. The inspection of all places in which experiments take place must be carried out by inspectors enrolled by the Secretary of State for that purpose to ensure that the provisions of the Act are carefully fulfilled.

The Secretary of State has power under the Act to appoint a special inspector either permanently or temporarily at any time, according to what he may determine as expedient. Experiments are authorised by the inspectors by certificates which may be given by them for such time or such series of experiments as they, the inspectors, may think expedient or desirable.

There are in the Act provisions for prosecution, but no prosecution under it may take place without the written consent of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. In fact, no prosecution has taken place since the Act was passed in 1876. It is perfectly clear from what I have said that the plain intention was that the Act should protect animals, requiring that they should be used only for essential experiments and that they should be saved all avoidable suffering.

In 1876, the maximum fine of £50 for a first offence was a very serious penalty, and the maximum fine of £100, or three months' imprisonment, for any subsequent offence clearly shows the importance which Parliament attached to the provisions of the Act. Relating those fines to present values, the £50 would become £210 for a first offence, and any second or subsequent offences would merit a maximum penalty of no less than £420. This re-emphasises the importance attached to legislation for the protection of animals.

I approach the whole subject of vivisection not from the point of view of the abolitionist. That is an uncompromising standpoint which I do not accept. I accept reluctantly that experiments on animals have provided, do now provide, and will in the future, no doubt, provide, knowledge and information valuable to medicine which has helped, and certainly will help, to save life and alleviate a great deal of suffering among human beings and among animals. Many people, however, are today asking whether the safeguards written into the Act are being disregarded.

During the first year after the passing of the Act there were 300 experiments. There were two inspectors. In 1960, there were no less than 3¾ million experiments. There were only six inspectors. Whereas, in the first year of the Act, each inspector was responsible, shall we say, for certificating 150 experiments, in 1960 each inspector was responsible for certificating 625,000 experiments.

Many people believe that the inspectors, because of this pressure of work, must spend most of their time rubber-stamping the requests for certificates which come to them. But I am reliably informed that in London at least the inspectors, who are devoted to trying to carry out their duties properly, pay considerable attention to the provisions of the Act. We must ask ourselves, however, whether the number of inspectors is sufficient and whether they can adequately meet the requirements laid upon them.

I am sure that laboratories are visited, but I should like to know how many times in 1960 they were visited and whether the experiments are supervised. I should also like to know how many visits were made to laboratories to observe experiments without prior notice being given that a visit would be made.

Quite a few—it may well be many—of the experiments which took place in 1960 were necessary. I have selected just a few to show the sort of experiment which I believe need not have taken place. In 1959, in a single experiment, 59 dogs were subjected to an investigation involving resuscitation from acute carbon monoxide poisoning. I should have thought that we had sufficient evidence already about the effect of carbon monoxide poisoning on human beings and the problem of their resuscitation to have made it unnecessary to carry out this experiment on so many dogs on this one occasion.

There were instances of animals being deliberately starved. A number of female rats were starved for periods of between one to seven days in order that certain constituent samples of their bodes could be taken for analysis. Some of these animals apparently starved to death. I should have thought that we had sufficient evidence from German sources, because of the clinical records which they kept of their systematic starvation of the Jews and other human beings in concentration camps during the war, without needing to carry out these experiments on animals.

On another occasion, rickets was induced in puppies. The report on this says that pain was a marked feature in a certain group. Again, I should have thought that we knew enough about dietetics to have made it unnecessary deliberately to cause puppies to have rickets and that under the Act this should have been avoided.

On another occasion, cats had one of their eyes removed, and some of them were allowed to live for as long as a year with one eye removed so as to ascertain the effect on the membrane during that period. Many hundreds of people have been forced to have an eye removed by surgery and I have no doubt that they would have been extremely willing to allow whatever clinical observations were necessary to take place. In any case, there is a great difference between the eyes of a cat and the eyes of a human being.

There is a vast increase in the number of experiments carried out every year. Many of them are passed over by saying that they are mere pinpricks or very simple injections. Many involve the injection of virulent diseases which cause much pain, suffering and fear to the animals. It is absolutely inexcusable that experiments which have provided already all the information that can possibly be provided should be repeated time and time again.

I cannot condone the repetition of experimentation from which no new knowledge can be gained. If, in the past, it could be supported on instructional grounds, I suggest that it can no longer be supported on those grounds in view of the possibility of using film and close-circuit television for purposes of illustration.

I draw the attention of my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary to "The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique", by Mr. W. M. S. Russell and Mr. R. L. Burch, the latter being formerly of U.F.A.W. and the former still an experimentalist of U.F.A.W., in which they say that Even in research, therefore, the film is liable to diminish overt experiment. In teaching it is still more important. Teaching consists (for our purposes) of demonstration and class-work. The demonstration of relatively inhumane experiments may be largely or wholly replaced by the use of filmed experiments. They go on to talk about some of the unnecessary pain and some of the worst features of experiments that are undertaken on animals, and they say that The use of vertebrate hosts in virology must often involve direct inhumanity. They make a series of such statements, one of which, in particular, is that If progress in the bioassay field is not yet all it could be, the position is more serious in that of toxicity testing. This is one usage which is an urgent humanitarian problem". This book, which I again commend to my hon. and learned Friend—and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State —is written by men who are used to experiments, but they say that very necessary reforms are required in the whole field of animal experimentation.

There it is, the direct evidence of the fear and pain inflicted on animals during experimentation, and yet I am not an anti-vivisectionist. I hope that the anti-vivisectionists will not turn their rage upon me for making this clear and inundate me with letters, which I should not be able to answer. I do say, however, that there must be a complete reappraisal of the position and that it is necessary and urgent. How can we stand by and accept the great yearly increase in the number of experiments on animals in laboratories without discharging our duty towards the animal kingdom by ensuring that their pain and misery in these establishments is cut to an absolute minimum? We could ensure that no experiment or series of experiments shall be carried out without previous application and thorough check both of the need for the experiment and the procedure for carrying it out.

The function of the inspectorate should be to license premises and to have personal knowledge of the experimenters. This is proposed by U.F.A.W. It should examine applications for experiments and pass them only when it is satisfied that the real intention of the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876, is observed and that the experiment will help to solve specific medical problems. The inspectorate should watch personally—and without previous notice of intention to visit—a reasonable proportion of the experiments carried out to ensure that the minimum of pain is inflicted and that an animal is destroyed before coming round from the anaesthetic, except in clearly defined circumstances.

At present, the decision to destroy is left entirely to the personal whim of the experimenter quite regardless of his feelings for animal suffering or his knowledge of veterinary problems. It should be the function of the inspectorate to ensure that experiments are not repeated unnecessarily. The inspectorate should include persons with veterinary knowledge. All inspectors should have periodical veterinary courses, thus ensuring that the most modern veterinary anaesthesia and surgery techniques are used.

The advisory council should be an executive body and should give decisions to the inspectorate on all applications for experiments which are of unknown value. The council should include at least three veterinary surgeons and two representatives of animal welfare societies. The number of inspectors should be increased to a figure which would enable them properly to perform the duties with which they are charged under the Act. I make no charge against the members of the present inspectorate. I am sure they are doing the best they can with the tools they have.

Man has been given great powers to control and regulate the lives of animals. He must take care that in ensuring his purposes, which are often not in the best interests of the animals themselves, he exercises his power over them with consideration and kindness. The excess of fear with which the animal frame is hedged around, and the power which man has over animals' life and death, involve him in very great responsibility. I hope that as a result of this debate today some new steps forward will be made to ensure that animals are not used and experiments are not used which can be avoided.

4.21 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke)

We are all concerned to avoid any unnecessary suffering by animals, and it will be my object to show that a proper balance has been kept between the welfare of animals on the one side and the promotion, by means of experiments on them, of human welfare on the other. We must not be cruel to animals, but we must not be cruel to human beings either.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) for his approach towards this problem. If the time available does not enable me to deal fully with all the points he has made, I will gladly meet him for further discussion.

I am glad to hear that it is common ground between us that we both think that experiments on animals are necessary provided that there are adequate safeguards to prevent unnecessary suffering. This has been the view of successive Governments and the great majority of medical and scientific opinion since the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876. My hon. Friend, however, has raised the question of the adequacy of some of the safeguards which the Act provides or enables the Home Secretary to impose. I should like to remind the House of some of the safeguards. My hon. Friend has done that already, but they cannot be too often repeated.

No one may perform a painful experiment on a live animal without the Home Secretary's licence. No one may get a licence unless he is suitably qualified, and his application must be backed by the president of a learned society and a university professor of a branch of medical science. An applicant must show that his experiment is intended to widen physiological knowledge or knowledge useful for saving or prolonging life, or alleviating suffering.

If an applicant is given a licence he is allowed to do his experiment only in a place approved by the Home Secretary, and every experiment must be done under an anaesthetic of sufficient power to prevent the animal from feeling any pain, and if pain is likely to continue after the effect of the anaesthetic has ceased, or if any serious injury is inflicted, the animal must be killed before it recovers from that effect.

Where these safeguards would necessarily frustrate the object of the experiment the Act provides that they may be relaxed if a certificate to that effect is given by the learned gentlemen I have already mentioned, and those certificates have to be approved by the Home Secretary, who may disallow or suspend them or attach conditions to them. Because of the lack of time, I will not go through the various forms of certificates, but the qualifications and the safeguards with which they are hedged about are well known, and, indeed, my hon. Friend touched on some of them.

For example, Certificate C permits the licensee to perform experiments under anaesthesia throughout in illustration of lectures if necessary for the due instruction of students or members of learned societies in hospitals, but the animal must be killed before recovery from the anaesthetic. In all experiments performed without anaesthesia, or in which the animal is allowed to recover from anaesthesia, the licensees are required to adhere to the operative procedure dealing with certification and to take steps to put an end to undue suffering.

As far as inspectors are concerned, my hon. Friend has paid a well-deserved tribute to them. He suggested, however, that they should have veterinary qualifications as well as medical qualifications, but the last Royal Commission took the view that medical qualifications are essential but veterinary not. Their duties are to examine and report on all applications for licences and on the certificates, to approve the places for the purposes of experiments, and to visit those places annually.

In response to my hon. Friend's inquiry, I can tell him that 1,500 visits are made annually and I am told that about 95 per cent. of them are unannounced. The norm is that they should be unannounced but they are sometimes announced if there is a person whom the inspector wishes to see, to make sure that that person is present.

Mr. Burden

Those are visits to laboratories. There was also the point about how many experiments were watched.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

I cannot give that figure. I do not have it.

It is in the Home Secretary's view a misconception to relate the number of inspectors to the number of experiments, the great majority of which, as I shall show, involve no suffering whatsoever. Behind all these safeguards there is, of course, the Home Secretary's Advisory Committee to assist him with advice in difficult cases, to which I will refer later if time permits.

I must say a few words about the growing number of experiments. The number is indeed large but, as I shall show, this is no reflection at all of the amount of suffering involved. Ninety per cent. of experiments performed under the Act are performed without an anaesthetic, because they are no more than a simple inoculation or superficial venesection, and simple inoculation is not vivisection at all because that is defined as an act of cutting or dissecting some part of the living organism.

This number of experiments includes numerous feeding experiments, few of which include suffering at all. They also include over 1 million experiments designed to secure the purity and efficacy of the remarkable drugs which have come into use in the last twenty-five years for the treatment of common infections, which cannot be satisfactorily tested chemically and cannot otherwise be tested legally because the Therapeutic Substances Regulations require animals to be used for the purpose.

My hon. Friend has suggested, if not today at least at other times, that the only experiments which should be allowed are those for the furtherance of human welfare. There must be wider objects, including animal welfare among other things, and the Act permits these to the great advantage of the animal kingdom itself. I remind my hon. Friend, and I think he reminded me, that the Act prohibits experiments for the purpose of gaining manual dexterity.

My hon. Friend mentioned that there had been no prosecutions under the Act. This absence is rather a tribute to the spirit in which experiments are undertaken and demonstrates that licensees have no interest in causing needless pain. Indeed, why should they have? From time to time a licensee is found to have misunderstood the restrictions on his work or to have paid insufficient attention to their observance. The Annual Return which my right hon. Friend lays before Parliament contains particulars of such cases. If some more severe penalty than a reprimand is needed he may suspend or cancel a licence or certificate. I understand that this is regarded in the scientific world as a punishment with far-reaching consequences for a licensee.

It has been said that the Advisory Committee should include representatives of the animal welfare societies. The Committee consists of a Chairman, Lord Morris of Borth y Gest, with three members chosen from a list submitted by the Royal Society, three from a list submitted by the Royal College of Surgeons, together with a veterinary surgeon selected from a list submitted by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. My right hon. Friend considered a suggestion for widening the membership a year ago, but he remains of the opinion that the present composition of the Committee is appropriate.

My hon. Friend drew attention to certain individual experiments which in his view are undesirable. The House will appreciate that in the minute or so left to me it is not possible to go into details of the experiments which my hon. Friend mentioned. All these procedures and experiments have to be considered against the background of the medical circumstances in which they were performed. I am able to say, however, that it is not the practice of the Home Secretary to authorise a dog to be deprived of food so as to induce gradual starvation, but in recent years some dogs were deprived of food for periods not exceeding six days. The Home Office inspectors were satisfied in those cases that no appreciable suffering would be involved, and, of course, the dogs were not deprived of access to water.

My hon. Friend mentioned experiments on the eyeballs of cats. A small number of experiments have been allowed for the removal of one eye and in a few cases cats were the subject of this experiment, which was vital for the advancement of knowledge, but the licensee was required to destroy them painlessly within a short period—nothing like one year—of observation of the effect. In all such cases the same strict conditions which I described a few moments ago for the avoidance of severe and continuing pain have to be observed. I will, of course, report to my right hon. Friend the outcome of this interesting debate which we welcome and for which I thank my hon. Friend——

The Question having been proposed after Four o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at twenty-nine minutes to Five o'clock.