HC Deb 21 April 1986 vol 96 cc84-90

'The provisions of this Act shall apply to projects, premises and personnel in the control of government departments'.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Mark Hughes

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Those who support the broad spectrum of the Bill and those who have grave reservations are aware that an area which causes some of the deepest public concern is that of experiments carried out under the direct control and auspices of Her Majesty's Government—the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, the Ministry of Agriculture or whosoever it may be—and that unless the new clause is accepted an element of Crown immunity will inevitably be involved with this as with most legislation.

I am fully aware that the long-established practice is that Government Departments, through good will, invite Government inspectors in at all times. I am satisfied, however, that the public would be more convinced of the Government's intentions concerning animal welfare if they set their own house in order and said, "We accept a legal responsibility not to do to any animal what we seek to prevent private laboratories doing."

I cannot believe that the public will accept that controls which apply to private pharmaceutical, medical, university or research laboratories or to establishments used to train vets should not apply to the Government. Are we prepared to accept dual standards? If ever I had to debate a proposal concerning which there are dual standards, this is it. I regret that my colleagues are under a two-line Whip. This is a matter of conscience.

We should not provide the Executive with a power which will be imposed differentially. It would be an obscenity of legislation to provide that laboratory animals at Porton Down should have less protection than animals at Cambridge university or the finest pharmaceutical laboratories. An enlightened legislature cannot want that. I accept, however, that current practice is that the Ministry of Defence, for example, allows inspectors in.

I should like to draw attention to what the Minister said in Committee on 25 March. He said: The Home Office is given the same access to Government establishments as to all other establishments. It would not expect Crown immunity to be invoked, if proceedings against any person working in those establishments were started. I accept without demur the good will and bona fides of the Minister and I find it difficult to conceive of a successor who would wish to renege on that. He continued: It might be better if there were no Crown immunity, and if it were taken away by the Bill. I have no entitlement to agree to that. I am dealing with matters that are of significance to other Government Departments."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A: 25 March 1986, c. 617.] I do not ask the Minister to withdraw one jot or tittle.

The current arrangements provide some protection but there is a lacuna, to say the least, in that a benefit to the public must be proven if an experiment is to receive a project licence. I am not satisfied that current arrangements take that into account. If the Ministry of Defence says that an experiment is in the interests of defence, the animals come second, but that parameter is missing from current arrangements. Nothing allows an external body to consider the public good and to balance that good against hurt to the animal.

The House is aware that a minority will find whatever is proposed unacceptable. There is little that we can do about that. I am trying to allay fears that it might not be thought that what is good enough for the goose is good enough for the gander. If the private sector is to be required to have project licences and the rest, it ill behoves the Government to say that they should not have to have such licences.

New clause 3 would make relatively little difference to animal welfare in practice. I hate to put ideas into the Minister's mind, but I believe passionately that the Bill will be perceived to be flawed unless the new clause is added to it.

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnor)

New clause 3 plugs a massive loophole. Animal experimentation should not be given Crown immunity. Most people would not want the Government to be in such a privileged position. Experiments conducted at Porton Down, for example, should be done on the same basis as experiments elsewhere.

I want to refer in particular to defence, warfare and wounding experiments. The Minister gave certain assurances in Committee about these matters, but the whole subject should be allowed to come out into the open. I hope that we live in an open and free society, not a closed one. We shall therefore support new clause 3 and hope that the Minister wil accept it.

8 pm

Mr. Mellor

Crown immunity is one of the oldest parts of the British constitution. It was even around when Lloyd George was responsible for our affairs, and I do not recall that Liberal Governments at that time objected to it. I do not resile from a word of what I said. For myself, I would sweep it away just like that, but I doubt whether that is the basis on which we should do so, given that this is an ad hoc argument on one aspect of a large subject.

My concern is with the practicalities of the issue. In practical terms, Crown immunity makes not a jot or tittle's worth of difference to the practical enforcement of the law. It never has, and I assure the House that it certainly will not in any of our plans. I feel sure that successor Governments will feel precisely the same.

As it happens, it was an interesting exercise for my officials to count the number of premises entitled to claim Crown immunity. We had to count them, because we never thought about it before. We apply the law to premises and do not think that some may be different from others simply because some can claim Crown immunity whereas others cannot. Indeed, I asked my officials to trawl through the records, and they discovered that there is not one instance of any establishment under any Government seeking to invoke Crown immunity.

As much trouble has been taken to get the figures, I am sure that the House will be riveted by them. Of the 447 places registered with the Home Office under the 1876 Act, 124 would be entitled to claim Crown immunity—48 Government establishments, 20 public health laboratories and 56 NHS hospitals and associated research facilities. But none of them do, and I have had clear indications from colleagues since this matter was raised in Committee that no Department has it in mind to claim Crown immunity and that all Departments will abide by the power of the Home Office to inspect and direct what goes on in all these facilities, as is the case with the other 323 that cannot claim immunity.

Porton Down is subject to particularly rigorous scrutiny. The inspection of Porton Down is a personal responsibility of the chief inspector himself. In fact, there is only one apocalyptic reason for the maintenance of Crown immunity, and that is in relation to Porton Down and perhaps one or two other facilities. It is just conceivable in our wildest and most depressive moments that we can think of such an emergency in which work would have to be done that could not be fitted within the Bill and that the invocation of Crown immunity in those wholly exceptional and most unlikely circumstances could be envisaged. For that reason, I suspect that my colleagues are reluctant to contemplate the removal of Crown immunity.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I anticipate that the Minister is just about to sit down and that he will say that he accepts the new clause. Before he does so, will he say whether the Animal Procedures Committee will be able to see the details of the project licence from any of the premises that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned?

Mr. Mellor

I hope that we shall be passing an amendment later which makes it clear that the Animal Procedures Committee will be self-regulating and can determine what work it wishes to do. The purpose of creating an independent Animal Procedures Committee is that if the committee as a whole wills a particular investigation, it should be able to look at any part of the regulations under the Bill.

There may be a case for looking at Crown immunity across the board, but that is for others greater than myself to say. It is not for me to embark on this matter on an ad hoc basis. The real assurance to which the House is entitled—I hope that it has already got both barrels from me—is that the Bill will be enforced in respect of all registered places, whether they are run by the Government or anyone else, without fear or favour and without any exception between any of them on anything other than proper grounds set out in the Bill.

It is for only one purely residual reason that I ask the House to do what even Lloyd George was content with—to retain Crown immunity. It would be exceptional if we sought to remove it tonight. On the basis of the assurances that have been received, I hope that, with their customary wisdom and moderation, the Opposition will not press the matter to a vote.

Mr. Hancock

What the Minister has said leads us all to believe that he should accept the proposal to try to break the mould in relation to Crown immunity. We must start somewhere—why not with a Bill that will give us the first chance in more than 100 years to make any significant changes to animal welfare rights?

An integral part is to remove any ambiguity between the private and public sectors in relation to experiments. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) made the point eloquently when he exposed the difference in public perception about what the Bill will achieve—a tightening up of the regulations on the one hand but cloak-and-dagger stuff from the Government on the other.

More than 103,000 experiments—by far the largest number in the country—were carried out last year by various arms of the Government. The Minister referred to 124 establishments. I wonder how easy it will be for hon. Members to get specific details of the experiments that are being carried out? Will there be a relish to answer specific questions?

Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)


Mr. Hancock

I am about to conclude, and the hon. Gentleman will no doubt have his chance to intervene.

The removal of Crown immunity in this one area is a golden opportunity for the Government to show some real enlightenment over animal experiments. It is the one area above all else in which there is widespread public concern about the way in which experiments are conducted in the Ministry of Defence and Government establishments. It is the one area in which such experiments are not readily available to public scrutiny, and I doubt whether they will be in the future, despite the Minister's assurances.

Sir Dudley Smith

I suppose that I had better declare my interest in being involved in the industries affected, just as I declared it on Second Reading and in Committee.

To the best of my knowledge, over many years, the standards operating in Government establishments have been of the highest quality. There have been complaints from time to time, but I do not think that there have been complaints about Governments. I may be wrong, and the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) looks surprised. Government establishments operate at the highest level. While I agree that Crown immunity is puzzling, it has operated for a long time. There appear to be good and adequate reasons for it. If we make an exception in this case, that will surely open up the possibility of changing Crown immunity in many other avenues of legislation. In those circumstances, we would be wise to take the Minister's advice.

Sir Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)

I am troubled by the debate, because I think that the time to have another look at Crown immunity is now with us. I accept the Minister's conclusion that it would be a distortion of legislation to address this major constitutional issue—which requires a lot of thought—solely on the basis of this Bill. However, I understand the points made by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes).

I wish to make a couple of logical points. I have never quite understood how the House can bring itself to trust a Secretary of State—as it must, and as it will do under the Bill—to ensure the welfare of laboratory animals, and say that it does not trust him to look after animals in those institutions for which he is specifically responsible. There is a logical fallacy in what is proposed. Either one trusts the Secretary of State to look after the animals and enforce the provisions of the Bill, or one does not.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend and found that his assurances went a long way. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Mr. Hughes) does not seem to have listened to a word that the Minister said. I noted that the Animal Procedures Committee will be a powerful body, because my hon. Friend said that if it wishes to enter any of the Government experimental institutions it can do so. That is a precedent, because I do not know of a quango that has the power of access to military establishments. I am sure my hon. Friend was on sound ground when he gave the House that assurance. I have a lot of sympathy with the views expressed and with the view of my hon. Friend about Crown immunity. The time has come for it to be examined, but this is not the occasion upon which to do that.

Mr. Mark Hughes

I listened with great interest to the speech by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) but I remain unconvinced. The arguments of the Under-Secretary and of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) come up against the difficulty that it is not the same Secretary of State. The Secretary of State for Defence may authorise a procedure and the Secretary of State for the Home Department may not query that without the say-so of the Secretary of State for Defence.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

Perhaps the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that, in law, "Secretary of State" is a collective term, and for the purposes of enforcement of the statute, one Secretary of State means all Secretaries of State.

Mr. Hughes

I will gladly give way to the Minister if he wishes to assure the House of that.

In law can the Secretary of State give permission for something that he has prohibited? That seems an extraordinary position, because, like Pooh-Bah, with one hat the Secretary of State can allow an experiment to take place at Porton Down and with another hat can turn a blind eye to it because with that hat he can apply Crown immunity. That is absurd. The Under-Secretary of State was almost intellectually limbo dancing, with the bar set rather low. He does not believe there is a case for maintaining Crown immunity in animal experiments, other than that it should be included in the more general rule. That does not apply to hospital kitchens. The Minister says it should be done seriatim but generally, yet within the last five days his own Government have introduced a Bill to remove Crown immunity from hospital kitchens. I see no reason why it should not be done on a general basis.

Mr. Mellor

I understand the point made by the hon. Gentleman. The provision about hospital kitchens was to deal with a specific point where it was thought that hospital prosecutions were not being brought because the prosecuting authorities believed that Crown immunity either could be or perhaps was invoked. I have not been properly briefed on this. I want the House to be clear. My basic defence is that I and all my predecessors have always been sure that the 1876 Act is applied in all registered places, whether Government or other establishments, where work is carried on. That will continue. The problem is not at all similar to the case that the DHSS has to contend with.

Mr. Hughes

There is, where the nature of the problems produces differences. The Minister argued as a point of principle that Crown immunity should not be removed seriatim but should be done on a broad scale. The Bill published by the Government last week about the application of Crown immunity in the Health Service scuppered that argument. Out of 447 establishments, 124 are legally excluded from the provisions of this Bill. That is over a quarter of all establishments. Unless this clause is accepted, those establishments will be excluded. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote for new clause 3.

Question put, That the clauses be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 106, Noes 176.

Division No. 148] [8.15 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)
Alton, David Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Atkinson, N. (Tottenham) Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Barnett, Guy Kirkwood, Archy
Barron, Kevin Leadbitter, Ted
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Leighton, Ronald
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Livsey, Richard
Bermingham, Gerald Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Bidwell, Sydney McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Boothroyd, Miss Betty McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Boyes, Roland McNamara, Kevin
Bray, Dr Jeremy McTaggart, Robert
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) McWilliam, John
Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E) Madden, Max
Buchan, Norman Marek, Dr John
Caborn, Richard Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell-Savours, Dale Maynard, Miss Joan
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Meadowcroft, Michael
Clarke, Thomas Mikardo, Ian
Clay, Robert Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Clelland, David Gordon Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann O'Brien, William
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S) O'Neill, Martin
Corbett, Robin Park, George
Cunliffe, Lawrence Patchett, Terry
Dalyell, Tam Penhaligon, David
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Pike, Peter
Deakins, Eric Randall, Stuart
Dixon, Donald Raynsford, Nick
Dormand, Jack Redmond, Martin
Duffy, A. E. P. Richardson, Ms Jo
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Eadie, Alex Robertson, George
Eastham, Ken Rogers, Allan
Ewing, Harry Sedgemore, Brian
Faulds, Andrew Sheerman, Barry
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Short, Ms Clare (Ladywood)
Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn) Short, Mrs R.(W'hampt'n NE)
Fisher, Mark Skinner, Dennis
Flannery, Martin Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Foster, Derek Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Foulkes, George Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
Fraser, J. (Norwood) Thompson, J. (Wansbeck)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Thorne, Stan (Preston)
Godman, Dr Norman Tinn, James
Golding, John Wainwright, R.
Gourlay, Harry Wallace, James
Hamilton, James (M'well N) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Hancock, Michael Wareing, Robert
Haynes, Frank Weetch, Ken
Heffer, Eric S. Williams, Rt Hon A.
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Home Robertson, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Howells, Geraint Mr. Ron Davies and
Hoyle, Douglas Mr. Ray Powell.
Adley, Robert Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Aitken, Jonathan Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Alexander, Richard Bright, Graham
Amess, David Brinton, Tim
Ancram, Michael Brooke, Hon Peter
Arnold, Tom Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)
Ashby, David Browne, John
Aspinwall, Jack Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.
Atkins, Robert (South Ribble) Buck, Sir Antony
Atkinson, David (B'm'th E) Budgen, Nick
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bulmer, Esmond
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Butcher, John
Bellingham, Henry Butterfill, John
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Blackburn, John Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Cash, William
Bottomley, Peter Chapman, Sydney
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Chope, Christopher
Churchill, W. S. Onslow, Cranley
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Ottaway, Richard
Clegg, Sir Walter Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Cockeram, Eric Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Colvin, Michael Pawsey, James
Crouch, David Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Currie, Mrs Edwina Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Dicks, Terry Pollock, Alexander
Dover, Den Portillo, Michael
Dunn, Robert Powell, William (Corby)
Durant, Tony Powley, John
Eyre, Sir Reginald Price, Sir David
Fairbairn, Nicholas Proctor, K. Harvey
Fallon, Michael Raffan, Keith
Farr, Sir John Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Rathbone, Tim
Fletcher, Alexander Rhodes James, Robert
Fookes, Miss Janet Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Forman, Nigel Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Fraser, Peter (Angus East) Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Freeman, Roger Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Fry, Peter Roe, Mrs Marion
Gale, Roger Rossi, Sir Hugh
Garel-Jones, Tristan Rowe, Andrew
Goodhart, Sir Philip Sackville, Hon Thomas
Gow, Ian Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Gower, Sir Raymond Sayeed, Jonathan
Gregory, Conal Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Hampson, Dr Keith Silvester, Fred
Hargreaves, Kenneth Sims, Roger
Hayes, J. Skeet, Sir Trevor
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Heddle, John Soames, Hon Nicholas
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Speed, Keith
Hind, Kenneth Speller, Tony
Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling) Spencer, Derek
Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A) Squire, Robin
Jackson, Robert Steen, Anthony
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Stern, Michael
Key, Robert Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
King, Roger (B'ham N'field) Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lang, Ian Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Latham, Michael Sumberg, David
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Taylor, John (Solihull)
Lilley, Peter Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Temple-Morris, Peter
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Lord, Michael Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)
Lyell, Nicholas Thornton, Malcolm
McCurley, Mrs Anna Townend, John (Bridlington)
MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire) Tracey, Richard
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Twinn, Dr Ian
Madel, David van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Major, John Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Malins, Humfrey Viggers, Peter
Marlow, Antony Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Walden, George
Maude, Hon Francis Waller, Gary
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Warren, Kenneth
Mayhew, Sir Patrick Watson, John
Mellor, David Watts, John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Wells, Sir John (Maidstone)
Mills, lain (Meriden) Whitfield, John
Moate, Roger Whitney, Raymond
Monro, Sir Hector Wood, Timothy
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Woodcock, Michael
Moynihan, Hon C. Yeo, Tim
Neale, Gerrard
Needham, Richard Tellers for the Noes:
Nicholls, Patrick Mr. Michael Neubert and
Norris, Steven Mr. Gerld Malone.

Question accordingly negatived.

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