HC Deb 05 February 2001 vol 362 cc643-5
1. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

What measures he is taking to protect the employees of laboratories conducting medical research involving animals from intimidation by militant animal rights activists. [147087]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Jack Straw)

As I told the House last week during the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, we intend to give the police additional powers to ensure that businesses and individuals can go about their lawful business without fear of violence or intimidation. The measures will allow the police to take action to prevent extremists from protesting outside people's homes and will strengthen the law against the sending of malicious communications.

In addition, we are consulting closely with the police service, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to achieve an effective and consistent approach to the enforcement of the law in this area.

Dr. Iddon

The Government have already done a great deal to cut out unnecessary animal testing, but is my right hon. Friend aware that if the current harassment of workers continues, animal testing will be driven abroad, where regulations are not as stringent as those in this country? That will not only damage a world-class pharmaceutical industry and defeat one of the prime objectives of the campaigners but will result in a loss of jobs.

Mr. Straw

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. So-called animal rights protesters are at best misguided, and, frankly, many of them are evil, both in their intention and their actions. We need to recognise that many medical advances are based on necessary animal testing.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Is the Home Secretary aware that there is a farm in Hall Cross in my constituency which breeds guinea pigs and other animals for testing, specifically to find cures for diseases and to create vaccines and so forth, and that its staff and owners have been intimidated? Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that such animal fascism practised by human beings is totally wrong? The irony is that British pharmaceutical companies will simply import guinea pigs and mice from abroad, where there are not regular inspections of the kind that the Home Office conducts here.

Mr. Straw

I do not know that particular farm, but I have great personal knowledge of a similar farm in west Oxfordshire, where I know the farmer and his wife. That farmer was subject to the most appalling intimidation by so-called animal rights protesters. In the end, he decided to close his cattery, with exactly the consequence, I imagine, that the hon. Gentleman has described; I entirely agree with what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

I concur entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) about the importance of the work. One of the difficulties is the lack of public understanding of some of the important issues surrounding the processes used by pharmaceutical companies in developing drugs that are essential to our lives. Will my right hon. Friend consider liaising, through the Department of Health, with the chief medical officer to try to introduce into the public domain a simple guide explaining why animal testing is essential? Some of the activists are winning the argument unnecessarily, and I am sure it is possible to persuade the public otherwise.

Mr. Straw

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I shall certainly take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health; but British pharmaceutical companies could do more together, through their association, to publicise all the drugs and changes in medical and surgical procedures which have been dependent on animal experimentation, and I urge them to do so.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

I endorse the Home Secretary's approach. Does he agree, however, that one of the underlying problems that allows such terrorism to take place is the public availability of the home addresses of directors and ordinary shareholders of public companies? I invite him to take the lead in trying to achieve joined-up government on this matter because I was advised by one of his ministerial colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry on 8 January that that Department is unlikely to consider introducing legislation to change the requirements to disclose home addresses until late in 2002 at the earliest. Does the Home Secretary agree that the terrorism and intimidation occurring at people's homes at the moment is utterly intolerable in a liberal or civilised society? I urge him to contact his ministerial colleagues to see whether other Departments can follow the lead that he is taking in Whitehall.

Mr. Straw

I agree that this problem is also faced by the directors and shareholders of the companies. My colleague at the Department of Trade and Industry, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, was right to say that the DTI is unlikely to introduce legislation until 2002. However, I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are actively considering whether there is a vehicle in this Parliament which would allow us to take powers to do exactly what he, and I believe the whole House, wishes to be done.