HC Deb 06 March 1975 vol 887 cc1755-7
14. Mr. Terry Walker

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement about his investigation into the use of dogs in experiments to develop new smoking materials.

Dr. Summerskill

I am not yet in a position to make a statement. My inquiries are continuing.

Mr. Walker

Does the hon. Lady appreciate that that reply will not satisfy many in this House and in the country? About 150 hon. Members of all parties have signed a motion about this, and I have been petitioned by hundreds of people. Many of us are disgusted by these tests, and we ask the Home Office to take urgent action straight away.

Dr. Summerskill

I recognise that there is strong feeling in the House and the country that these experiments are cruel and unnecessary. At the same time, I am aware of the view that as long as people are permitted legally to smoke, doctors, scientists and the Government have a duty to protect them as far as possible from harmful effects, even if those harmful effects are self-inflicted. This view is held by many people, and therefore all these aspects of the problem must be considered.

Sir J. Eden

Meanwhile, will the hon. Lady immediately set in hand a review of the guidelines to be followed when licensing live animals for research? Will she also urge upon the Secretary of State for Education that he should give active encouragement to the Medical Research Council to give greater priority to research into alternatives to the use of live animals for this type of work?

Dr. Summerskill

Research into the development of alternatives to animals is, as has been said, a matter for my right hon. Friend. I am making inquiries with great urgency. They involve, as well as the Home Office, the responsibilities of other Departments, including especially the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of Education and Science.

Mr. Michael Stewart

Granted that there may be a case for research to make smoking more safe, is that duty so absolute that it should be pursued by means of research involving cruelty to live animals?

Dr. Summerskill

That is an aspect of the problem which I am bearing in mind. I shall be making a statement as soon as possible, and I shall be writing separately to all those who have written to me.

Mr. Beith

Is the hon. Lady aware that many of us believe that the only basis upon which experiments on living animals can be accepted is that it is the only way of relieving suffering and of avoiding death? Does she recognise that in this case those principles do not apply?

Dr. Summerskill

Every experiment on every animal has to be considered independently for the purpose which it is being carried out. That is what is being done in this case.

Mr. Molloy

In view of my hon. Friend's replies, is there not a possibility that she may have to concur with the view that those who carry out these experiments on dogs may wish to submit themselves to being bitten by dogs, in the interests of trying to find the cause of rabies?

Dr. Summerskill

My hon. Friend's remarks illustrate the wide ramifications of this subject.

Mr. Burden

Does the hon. Lady agree that the Act which covers experimentation on animals is 100 years old, that there were then about 366 experiments, whereas there are now 5 million every year, and that there are 16,000 people carrying out experiments but only 14 inspectors? Despite the hon. Lady's remarks in her penultimate reply, surely it is quite impossible, in view of the number of experiments being undertaken, to make sure that they help to save or to prolong human life and ease suffering? The whole situation needs examining in the light of today's circumstances.

Dr. Summerskill

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the Cruelty to Animals Act is 100 years old. But the Littlewood Committee sat with the specific object of investigating the whole subject of experiments on animals, and that committee reported in 1965.