HC Deb 08 July 2002 vol 388 cc596-7
5. Mr. David Watts (St. Helens, North)

If he will introduce stronger controls on animal experiments. [64749]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Bob Ainsworth)

Our existing controls, under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and various regulations passed since then, are widely regarded as the most rigorous in the world, and we currently have no plans to change them.

Mr. Watts

The Minister will be aware that many people are opposed to any animal experiments, but the majority believe that they should be carried out provided that they are strictly controlled. Will he assure me that the introduction of genetically modified animal technology will not increase the number of experiments carried out?

Mr. Ainsworth

I cannot give my hon. Friend that assurance, but I am sure that he will be aware that there are various pressures on both sides of the equation. On one hand, the use of robotics in testing chemicals is removing the need for animal experimentation in many cases, but, on the other, he is absolutely right to suggest that the potential of some genetic procedures to develop cures for illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, cancer or Alzheimer's puts a great deal of pressure on the medical establishment. There may well be a growth in experimentation as a result of those opportunities, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and many other hon. Members would not want that development to be slowed down.

Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Is it not also important to underline the fact that doctors and scientists do not carry out scientific procedures on animals gratuitously and for fun? They do so because it is for the benefit of both veterinary and medical science. Many years ago, my father was research secretary of the British Tuberculosis Association. A cure would not have been found for killers such as TB if researchers had not been able to carry out scientific procedures on animals.

Mr. Ainsworth

Every establishment, every procedure and every individual who is involved in animal experimentation must be licensed under our current procedures. I would hate to think that anyone was prepared to carry out unnecessary testing on animals. I am sure that that is not the case, but we need to be ever-vigilant. We need to make absolutely sure that the procedures that we have in place are rigorously enforced if we are to maintain the necessary confidence in such work. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman also understands that there are very strong feelings about that work.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Did Home Office Ministers welcome as enthusiastically as I did the implied statement by the Government when an award was given of a CBE to Dr. Brian Cass of Huntingdon Life Sciences, which renders such important service to medical advance in this country?

Mr. Ainsworth

Some of the procedures that are carried out at Huntingdon Life Sciences, at other companies and at our universities the length and breadth of the country are absolutely vital to the development of medicines that will ultimately be in the interests of humanity. We should never be slow in coming forward and saying so, and in recognising some of the truly magnificent work that is done in this area. I agree with my hon. Friend.

Norman Baker (Lewes)

Does the Minister share my concern that the number of animal experiments in this country—to return to an earlier point—has remained virtually unchanged since the Government came to power five years ago? We have not even properly sorted out cosmetics testing yet. Is it not time that we tried to eliminate duplicated experiments, of which there are many; that we tried to promote alternatives such as computer modelling and cell culture; and that we eliminated those experiments that are unethical, such as those that are still being carried out to test tobacco smoke?

Mr. Ainsworth

The hon. Gentleman and I have many dealings together in the portfolios that we share on behalf of our two parties. If he has any evidence of unnecessary duplication of animal testing, he should bring it forward. It is no good making allegations in the House without bringing forward specifics. If he can do so, we should examine the matter and do what we can to eliminate it. We are doing our very best in the areas of publication and data sharing to make absolutely certain that unnecessary duplication does not take place. No evidence has been presented to me that suggests that it is taking place in the UK. If the hon. Gentleman has such evidence, he should bring it to my attention.