HC Deb 01 May 1969 vol 782 cc1595-6
7 and 8. Mr. Burden

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) why a Home Office licence was granted for experiments to be carried out at Cambridge University in which chaffinches were deafened;

(2) whether he is satisfied that the criteria used in granting a licence for experiments under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876, namely that the information obtained might alleviate human or animal suffering, applied in the case of the recent experiments at Cambridge University in which chaffinches were deafened in order to ascertain how the birds learn to sing; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Section 3(1) of the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876 permits experiments to be performed with a view to the advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge which will be useful for saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering. These experiments, undertaken with the object of gaining further knowledge of brain mechanisms, satisfied the requirements of the Act.

Mr. Burden

How can that be the case when no indication of the purpose of the experiment was obtained at he time the licences were given? Will the hon. Gentleman take into account the fact that Littlewood has said that it is necessary to replace the present licensing system by one in which the sponsors certify the novelty and justification of experiments? Will his right hon. Friends therefore give time to debate Littlewood, which they have withheld for four years?

Mr. Rees

I must tell the hon. Gentleman, whose interest in the matter I respect, that if the Littlewood Report had been implemented it would not have altered this situation in any way. I am prepared to provide the information, and if the hon. Gentleman looks carefully at it he will see that the results of the experiment were of great value to those interested in the mechanism of the brain. Whilst I have a certain built-in feeling against experiments of this sort, it is of value to the human race that they should be done.

Mr. Murray

Does my hon. Friend agree that the licences are granted under an Act over 90 years old, and that it is time a Measure based on the Littlewood Report was introduced, covering cases like this and bringing the whole legislation up to date?

Mr. Rees

I must make it absolutely clear that, whatever the arguments for or against, Littlewood would not have affected the experiment mentioned in the Question. The number of experiments is increasing every year as biological sciences expand. What we should be thinking about is the basic problem with the use of data processing, tissue cultures and things like that, before introducing legislation which simply improves that which was passed a hundred years ago.