HL Deb 14 October 1952 vol 178 cc631-58

3.20 p.m.

LORD DOWDING rose to draw attention to the unnecessary suffering caused by surgical and medical experiments on animals; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am speaking to-day on an unpopular subject. People who are normally humane have the idea that the suffering inflicted on animals by surgical and medical experiments avails to reduce the suffering of human beings. I want to make clear at the outset my own personal position. It is this: that even should it be conclusively proved that human beings benefit directly from the suffering of animals, its infliction would nevertheless be unethical and wrong. This, however, is not the aspect of the question which I propose to raise to-day. I am sure that the average man and woman in this country has not yet learned to appreciate the part played by animals in the great drama of evolution, or our responsibilities towards animals, or the ill-effects which follow our neglect of those responsibilities. Many people are sceptical of the idea that even human beings survive physical death; and the percentage which will accept, even as a possibility, the idea that animals are immortal spirits in the process of evolution towards a higher state, is something quite absurd. Therefore I shall not approach the subject from this angle, except to state my own conviction that these are facts.

The points which I wish to raise to-day will not, I think, be regarded by anyone as unpractical or visionary, whether or no I succeed in convincing your Lordships that they are valid. My first point is that the law designed for the protection of animals against cruelty is gravely defective. The second point is, that there is neither adequate inspection nor proper enforcement. Thirdly, the numbers of experiments are grossly excessive and unduly repetitive; and fourthly, the majority of these experiments are quite unpractical when it comes to applying them to human maladies—in fact, they may even be definitely injurious. One of the difficulties in dealing with vivisection and animal experiments in general is that, broadly speaking, laymen do not have access to the laboratories and the places where this suffering is inflicted, and therefore the evidence available must be incomplete, and restricted to accounts; which the experimenters themselves give in medical and scientific journals. It is not unreasonable then to assume that the actual situation may be a good deal worse than there is evidence to show. On the other hand, what evidence there is is incontrovertible, because it comes from the experimenters themselves.

The Cruelty to Animals Act originated in your Lordships' House in 1876. It was a humane and honest attempt to control the terrible cruelties which were inflicted on animals at that time by vivisectors. The original Bill laid down, by Restriction 3, that the animal must, during the whole of the experiment, be under the influence of some anæsthetic sufficient to prevent it from feeling pain. I must apologise, in parenthesis, for reading so much of my speech; the fact is that, as the old lady said about Hamlet, it is so full of quotations. Restriction 4 laid down that if serious injury had been inflicted on the animal, or if the pain was likely to continue after the effect of the anæsthetic had ceased, the animal must be killed before recovering from the anæsthetic. Clause 5 contained an absolute prohibition against performing painful experiments without anæsthetic, on dogs, cats, horses, mules or donkeys. All these human; provisions were whittled down during the passage of the Bill into law. Amendments gave power to issue special certificates of exemption. Certificate A allows experiments to be performed without anæsthetics; certificate B excuses experimenters from killing animals before recovery, and other certificates permit the employment of dogs, cats, horses, mules or donkeys if the object of the experiment would be frustrated unless it was performed on one of those prohibited classes of animals.

Furthermore, no serious attempt is made to enforce the law, even in its emasculated form. In 1950, over 1,750,000 experiments were performed on living animals, at 478 places, and 3,780 persons were licensed to perform experiments. In 1876, when the Act was passed, there were about 300 experiments per annum. To supervise these, two inspectors were appointed. Now that the number of experiments has been multiplied by 50,000 the number of inspectors has been increased from two to five.

In the seventy-six years during which the Cruelty to Animals Act has been in force no single prosecution has ever been brought under it, so far as I have been able to ascertain. The inspection system is merely a sop to public conscience—not that that conscience is a very sensitive organ, alas! In 1911 the Protection of Animals Act was passed. This Act goes a long way to establish the light of animals to fair treatment, and deals at length with various forms of cruelty. But Section 1 (3) reads Nothing in this section shall render illegal any act lawfully done under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876. So the Act of 1876 becomes a Cruelty to Animals Act in fact as well as in name; it is indeed the vivisectors' charter.

At Dartford, on July 21, 1949, a man was found guilty of not giving his dog enough food. He was imprisoned for three months, and was debarred from holding a dog licence for the rest of his life. Sonic experiments in starving puppies to give them rickets and other diseases were first reported on by the Medical Research Council in 1921, when they referred to 400 cases. Deficiency experiments, as they are called, have been continued until the present day. In 1949 the Journal of Physiology described the latest results. Imprisonment for the amateur in cruelty; honours, and rewards for the professional wholesaler. So much for my contention that the present law is gravely defective and that the machinery for its enforcement is futile and delusive.

My next point is in connection with the number of experiments carried out. As I have mentioned, the number has increased from 300 in 1876 to over 1,750,000 in 1950. Of course, it must be said at once; that only a small proportion of these experiments are cases of vivisection, in the literal meaning of the word. There are the so-called deficiency experiments, to which I have referred, and there are very many experiments in which animals are infected with some disease and left to suffer the consequences. But, so far as I have been able to ascertain, no sort of attempt is made to check the indefinite repetition of painful or lethal experiments. There is no authority to say, for instance: "Why do you want to carry out this experiment? It has already been done, and you can find the report of it in such and such a publication." I quote a fairly recent instance. As your Lordships may or may not be aware, successive Governments have been in the habit of subjecting the flour of which our white bread is made to a process known as "agenising." This process was devised in New York, and it consists in treating the flour with N.C.I, gas to make it look white and to delay the onset of mould in the bread. The gas is of itself deleterious, if not actually poisonous, and some of the few people who knew what was going on wondered whether the resulting product was altogether good for the health of the people. So an American experimenter carried out the test of feeding dogs on agenised flour between 1938 and 1940. The dogs developed canine hysteria, with most distressing symptoms, and I think all of them died. "Ah," you will say, "Here is a useful experiment at last. Doubtless the process of agenising our daily bread was at once discontinued." But you would be wrong. The verdict was that what happened to dogs was not applicable to human beings; so the poor dogs had suffered and died in vain, and our bread continued to be agenised. But that was not the end of it. The cruel and useless experiment was repeated at least twice more in England, and the results were described in the British Medical Journal of December 14, 1946, and the Lancet of August 23, 1947.

Again, the reduplication of experiments in deliberately infecting animals during the process of cancer research knows no limits. Of course, it would be unreasonable to expect the authorities to keep an up-to-date tally of all animal experiments and to prevent all duplication. But surely it is not unreasonable that, when experimenters apply for licences to exempt them from the provisions of the 1876 Act, they should be called on to state what they want to do and why they want to do it, and should be obliged to render a report on the experiment within a certain time. Indefinite carte blanche exemptions should not be given. Subsequent applicants for permission to perform similar experiments should be referred to reports already in existence. There is good reason to believe that the most cruel experiments are never reported on at all. This applies especially to experiments on dogs. Some 3,950 dogs were experimented on in 1950, and probably some of the most "important" experiments were performed on them. Yet it is rare to find, among the many experiments described in scientific journals, reports upon the vivisection of dogs. It seems not improbable that physiologists may appreciate the danger of arousing public indignation if they give details of what has happened to these dogs—or if the physiologists are beyond such considerations, it may well be that the editors of the said journals exercise a worldly-wise discretion regarding the articles which they select for publication.

I must not omit to mention the poor animals which are deliberately infected with poison gases or exposed to the radiation which accompanies nuclear fission. But so long as man does these things to his fellow man, it is perhaps unreasonable to object to his doing them to animals. The process of preparing this Motion has been a most painful one to me, because it has compelled me to read of many cases of revolting and sickening cruelty. I do not wish to base my appeal to your Lordships on sentimentality, or to attempt to work up a reaction beyond that which is justified by the facts. But this is a subject which is resolutely thrust aside by the average citizen, by the Press, and by the broadcasting authorities—in which I include the Church. They wish to believe that all is well with the existing system, and that its only critics are cranks. They have no wish even to listen to the evidence, and so my case would not be complete if I did not adduce some instances in support of my assertions.

The Journal of Physiology of May 15, 1949, contains a report on cats in the Royal Naval Laboratory at Alverstoke. They were exposed to 100 per cent, oxygen until they convulsed or died. The lucky ones convulsed and died after three days continuous exposure. One was removed after sixty-seven hours, suffered convulsions fifteen times at short intervals and was then killed. An unlucky cat was intermittently exposed for forty-five days, then it was given another forty-five days to recover, and was then put back into the chamber where it took a week to die. The same journal describes experiments on pregnant cats after mutilation, and also revolting experiments on cats' eyes. There is also a description of the making of a window in the chest wall of a cat and the insertion of a light bulb so that observations might be made during experiments.

The British Journal of Experimental Pathology describes what must be given a high place in the scale of cruel and useless experiments. A number of rats were subjected to two severe operations in six weeks. The first was to establish collateral blood circulation in order that the rats' livers might be cut out at the second operation. Shortly after the second operation, the rats died in convulsions, but it was found that the administration of a poisonous drug named "Ompa" did not hasten the death of the rats whose livers had been cut out, whereas it did kill other rats whose livers had not been cut out. All the rats died after varying degrees of pain. So I suppose that the experiment was regarded as successful. What possible value it could have to human beings, or even to other rats, was not explained.

A frightful experiment in inoculating monkeys with rabies was conducted at the Lister Institute in London and described in the Lancet of December 19, 1931. The monkeys clutched the bars of their cage uttering piercing shrieks which got fainter and fainter over a period of five days until they became nearly comatose. Further stimulation induced aggressiveness and violent muscular spasms, sufficient to throw the animal violently across the cage. Three animals bit themselves severely. Two chewed off the end of a finger and one chewed off the whole skin of the forearm, exposing the muscles from the elbow to the wrist.

The published accounts of experiments in Canada and the United States of America are very shocking, but it may be only that their physiologists are less inhibited than ours in what they choose to publish. One experiment described involved the injection of boiling water into the veins of a dog until it became unconscious from pain. Then there is a devilish device known as the Noble-Collip Drum, which has been in regular use on the other side of the Atlantic for the past ten years. It consists of a rotating drum with a projection from the circumference which picks up the animal at every revolution and drops it from a height of seven or eight inches. Thus the animal is very slowly battered to death. Rats and guinea pigs are chiefly used. The rats tried to jump over the projection, so their paws were fastened together with adhesive tape. In one experiment described, female rats were subjected to 4,200 falls in 65 minutes before death released them. Autopsies showed bruising of the skull and paws, broken teeth, and internal injuries to the muscles, liver, bowels, kidneys, lungs, rectum, duodenum and stomach. Further experiments were carried out on animals which had first been mutiliated and eviscerated. I have no evidence that this appliance has been used in England; but my point is that there would be nothing illegal in its use by holders of certificates allowing them to experiment on animals without anæsthetics.

Most vivisectors in this country defend their practices on the ground that their experiments benefit humanity. But the true vivisector will have none of this mawkishness. Dr. Ludimar Hermann, late professor at Zurich University, is on record as having said: The advancement of our knowledge, and not utility to medicine, is the true and straightforward object of all vivisection. No true investigator in his researches thinks of the practical utilisation. Science can afford to despise this justification with which vivisection has been defended in England. That is a reasonably callous and hard-boiled attitude, one would think; but to find the pure, true-blue vivisectionist one must go to Russia. Dr. Cyon, one-time Professor of Physiology at St. Petersburg, in his book, puts it thus: The true vivisector must approach a difficult vivisection with joyful excitement. He who shrinks from cutting into a living animal, he who approaches vivisection as a disagreeable necessity, may be able to repeat one or two vivisections, but he will never be an artist in vivisection. The sensation of the physiologist, when, from a gruesome wound, full of blood and mangled tissue, he draws forth some delicate nerve thread…has much in common with that of the sculptor.

But it is not only the cranks and laymen who are shocked and horrified by the ghastly tale of animal experimentation. The volume of criticism from doctors and medical journals is steadily growing. Nearly twenty years ago Dr. G. F. Walker, late medical registrar at Leeds University expressed the following remarkable opinion: My own conviction is that the study of human physiology by way of experiments on animals is the most grotesque and fantastic error ever committed in the whole range of human intellectual activity. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, had said something of the same nature, though much less forcibly expressed, when he stated three years earlier in Toronto his views on the indifference of physiologists to clinical medicine. He said: It is true that they have been busy in the practice of animal research but not seldom their labour has seemed aloof from human problems, and the results incapable of application to the maladies of man. He added that he could not repress a feeling that they might have been much better occupied.

I have with me a booklet in which the opinions of twenty-four qualified doctors and surgeons were collected in 1948 for the presentation of the Anti-Vivisection case to the Home Secretary, Mr. Chuter Ede. It would take too long to quote extensively from it, but it bears out my contention that there is appreciable medical support for the view which I am here advocating. The acknowledged medical journals have published many leading articles and editorials which one might quote. I will spare your Lordships any lengthy quotation, but I think I might quote from the Medical Times of March, 1934. It states in a leading article: Then there is the physiologist. Here we are up against the most flagrant example of the uselessness of animal experiment…Such experiments lead us nowhere. In fact they hamper the progress of medical science. And the Lancet, which is normally a staunch protagonist of vivisection in general, admitted in its editorial of July 3, 1948, that it is notoriously dangerous to apply experimental results from animals to the treatment of human beings, because human and animal physiology show subtle but important differences. I must now refer to a new form of animal exploitation which, so far as numbers are concerned, has caused vivisection to take a secondary place. I refer to the employment of animals for the manufacture and the testing of many modern specifics. Calves, of course, have been used for many years in the production of anti-smallpox vaccine. Here are a few of the other things which are done to animals in the process of testing modern drugs.

Insulin: rabbits and mice are injected with insulin and a count made of the number which pass into convulsions.

Supra-renal hormone: rats have their supra-renal glands removed under anæsthetic, are allowed to recover and are then given injections. They are placed in a refrigerator a few degrees I above freezing point and left there for; five or six hours. The number of dead is then counted.

Thyroid: the test is to find out how long injected mice can live in hermetically sealed jars. They live in increasing discomfort for about half an hour, when they die in convulsions.

Pain-killing drugs have been tested by burning the end of a rat's tail by an electric lamp and noting the time before the tail twitches. Another method is to drop mice into a glass jar heated to 131 degrees Fahrenheit. I quote from the British Medical Journal: When the pain was too great to be borne by the back paws the mouse kicked its legs and danced about. The movement of the hind legs was taken as a sign of acute discomfort. The standard time of exposure was thirty seconds. These tests can give only approximate results, and manufacturers have complained of having to satisfy tests which have a possible error of 30 per cent. Surely it should be possible to substitute chemical and mechanical tests for this traffic in flesh and blood. So far as I am aware, the large number of animals which are used by the manufacturing chemists as machines for the manufacture and testing of drugs is not included in the Home Office statistics of the number of experiments on living animals—namely, 1,780,000 in 1950. This additional number is probably large, and increasing annually.

I do not think there would be much point in pressing now for the appointment of another Royal Commission to re-cover the well trodden ground of the anti-vivisectionist case, especially as that case was so excellently put by the deputation introduced by Mr. Ronald Chamberlain, M.P., to Mr. Chuter Ede on February 3, 1948, and rejected by him so uncompromisingly. But I do think that there is a case for an adequate inquiry into the entirely new conditions which have arisen since the issue of the report of the Royal Commission of 1912 on which Mr. Chuter Ede based his decision. If and when such an inquiry is made, the whole subject, as well as the report of the inquiry, might be reconsidered. But it needs no special inquiry to demonstrate how badly the Act of 1876 is working to-day; and it should require no fresh legislation to enable the authorities to correct the defects in its operation.

To recapitulate, I personally should wish to see the abolition of all experiments bringing pain to animals, and also the abolition of their employment as machines for the manufacture and testing of drugs, but I realise that it is not practical politics to ask for legislation on those lines at present. It may be that this state of affairs will never be brought about by legislation, but by the spread of the knowledge of the place of animals in the scheme of evolution, of man's responsibility to the animals, and of the ills which assail mankind if it neglects this responsibility. The action which I now ask Her Majesty's Government to take is: first, to devise means for enforcing the Act of 1876; secondly, to tighten up the process of granting permits to experiment on animals; thirdly, to take steps to put a stop to the indefinite repetition of experiments which have already been made; and fourthly to make some form of official inquiry into the vast new field of animal exploitation in the manufacture and testing of drugs, a field which has not been touched by previous legislation.

The time has gone, perhaps never to return, when Britain could mould the world to her will by force of arms or by the power of money. But I am one of those who believe that the power of Britain will be exercised, and effectively exercised, through the example which we set to other nations of humanity in the widest sense of the word. May we not make a start to-day by discarding the old shibboleths, and approaching this evil of animal exploitation without prejudice and with a genuine desire to abolish the pain and terror to which we subject God's creatures in the supposed interest of our own health and comfort? I beg to move for Papers.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, no one, I am sure, could venture for a second to question the great sincerity or the singleness of purpose which has actuated the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, in bringing this Motion before the House. What he has said shows deep feeling and great sincerity, and is in full accord with what we know of his character in other respects. But he has put forward views which are strongly at variance with those held by a large body of scientists and a large body of public opinion in this country. I do not think it would be right if some of the points of view which the noble Lord has expressed were allowed to go without comment from those who hold differing opinions. I am not a scientist, and I am not able to speak on behalf of scientists. But, after all, this is a question in which every layman must interest himself, and on which he must inform himself. There are at stake not only great moral issues and great ethical questions, but practical questions of the greatest importance to the health and happiness of the community at large.

I may say that, as a layman, my own interest in these questions was first aroused when I witnessed the great devastation and suffering caused in India by the great epidemic diseases such as cholera and bubonic plague—with the latter I had a somewhat close personal and painful acquaintance—and when I realised the immense losses caused by the epidemic diseases of animals, such as rinderpest. This interest was renewed when I witnessed in Africa the pitiable wrecks of mankind who were suffering from sleeping sickness, or when I came into contact with the horrible disfigurement of yaws, almost a universal complaint in some parts of Africa, or when I saw vast areas of land, untenanted either by man or cattle because of the ravages of tripanosomiasis, or rinderpest, or East Coast fever. It is experiences such as these which offer one, in a more insistent and dramatic way than is possible in this country, proof of the scourges of nature for which modern science has to find a remedy. I have witnessed in my own lifetime the growing measure of control which science has achieved over these terrible scourges, and have seen the beneficent effects on the peoples of the countries concerned and on their animal population. I have never heard it questioned that, in regard at all events to the great scourges which I have just mentioned, this measure of control has been effected as a result of experiments on animals, and could not possibly-have been achieved had that agency not been available.

It was this experience which led me some years ago to become closely associated with the Research Defence Society, which was founded during the sittings of the Royal Commission which began in 1906. Their main object was to combat the activities of certain anti-vivisectionist societies, which were at that period very militant in their activities. These bodies no longer find it possible to take so militant an attitude, for there has been a great expansion of scientific education in the last half century. But they are still capable of creating a great deal of prejudice and misunderstanding, and members of the Defence Research Society, to which I belong, still have an active function in serving as a source of information to the public, both in regard to the vast debt which society owes to the use of animals in surgical and medical experiment and also in conveying information as to the safeguards under which those experiments are carried out. I believe that the men of science who are associated in the Society of which I speak are as humane in their outlook on the use of animals for experiments as any noble Lord in this House could be: they would recoil as strongly from the infliction of any avoidable suffering, and they would readily co-operate in any change of law or regulation designed to effect this result. But they are determined to resist, by any legitimate means in their power, any unreasonable curtailment of the power which they now enjoy, subject to the conditions laid down by law—the power, that is, of utilising experiments on animals as a means of gaining the knowledge necessary to lessen the burden of disease and suffering in human society and in the animal world.

Their task in maintaining this attitude has, I may say, been somewhat lightened in recent years by certain views expressed by the highest courts in this country, including that of the House of Lords. These decisions were given in the course of dealing with the claim made by one of the anti-vivisection societies to enjoy exemption from income tax on its investments, on the ground that it was a charitable institution. The courts found it necessary to inquire whether the objective of the society, so far as it involved the total abolition of all forms of experiments on animals, would or would not conduce to the public welfare. They accepted and fully endorsed the evidence presented to them on behalf of the Crown, that the use of experiments on animals had led to a number of most beneficent discoveries affecting human and animal health, which could not have been achieved by any other means. They united in expressing the view that the attainment of the professed object of the anti-vivisection society in question—namely, the total abolition of vivisection in any form—would prove injurious to the community. One of the Lords Justices, Lord Justice McKinnon, expressed himself in very emphatic terms on this point He said that the object of the society, so far from being beneficial, might with reason be stigmatised as malignantly designed for the injury of the community. That was a pronouncement which must meet with the support of anyone who realises that the society had demanded of the Royal Commission of 1912 that it should stop inoculation against rinderpest; that in 1914 it spent a great deal of money and effort in order to prevent troops undergoing preventive inoculation against typhoid, and that to-day it has waged a campaign against the adoption of the system of inoculation against diphtheria.

I am well aware that the noble and gallant Lord, in putting forward this Motion, has not gone the whole way of some of these societies. His own principles are such as were described in some of the judgments to which I have referred. His own principles lead him to advocate as a final aim the abolition of all forms of experiment on animals, whether surgical or medical; but he hesitates to take that step at the present moment. All he urges is that there should be an inquiry into the method of the working of the 1876 Act; that the system of inspectorate should be tightened up; that more control should be exercised over the issue of certificates, and that all those who use experiments on animals should be forced to declare the purposes for which the experiments are made.

I do not believe that the scientific world would object to any form of inquiry in cases where this was shown to be necessary. It is admitted that in some respects the Act is out of date and may need amendment, but the scientific world would, I think, with the assent of large numbers of the public, object strongly to any curtailment on the part of the Government, or on the part of the Home Department and its inspectors, of the range of experiments which they should carry out. I feel myself that the result of any such inquiry would be once more to stimulate the energies of the antivivisection societies to advocate once more the total abolition of all forms of experiment on animals, whether surgical or medical, with the result that science would be deprived not merely of the means of achieving advance in physiological science but also of the means of testing and standardising drugs, and the means of testing new processes as applied to medical science. As a result, we should find that once again there would be a campaign against the use of experiments on animals, a campaign supported on a great deal of misrepresentation, and the misuse, in some cases, of statements as to the purpose of the experiments.

Undoubtedly we should run that danger. It is a danger which I think the scientific world, in this country at all events, would deprecate. There is a real danger of misrepresentations of this kind. Let me, for example, read one passage from the Report of the Commission of 1912, which referred in particular to one of the dangers to which I have alluded. It said: We desire further to state that the harrowing descriptions and illustrations of operations inflicted on animals, which are frequently circulated by post, advertisement or otherwise, are in many cases calculated to mislead the public, in so far as they suggest that the animals in question were not under an anæsthetic. To represent that animals subjected to experiments in this country are wantonly tortured would, in our opinion, be absolutely false. It is danger of this description to the progress of science that I and many of my friends would deprecate.

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to say only two or three words which may perhaps be of some comfort to the noble and gallant Lord who initiated this debate. Forty or more years ago I was Secretary to the Royal Commission on Experiments on Animals. It was a very strong Commission. Lord Selby, the late Speaker, was Chairman, and Sir William Church and Sir John McFadyean, distinguished medical men, sat on the Board. I cannot, of course, recapitulate any individual items of evidence, but I am quite clear that the impression left on the minds of all of us at the end of that long Commission—it sat for nearly seven years, when our Report was published—was that the greatest care was exercised by the Home Office and the authorities under them in supervision and ensuring adherence to the regulations. About the value of the experiments I am not competent to speak, but we were completely satisfied that the regulations were not broken and that every sort of bar was placed upon the opportunity of inflicting unnecessary suffering —whatever "unnecessary" means. That may, possibly, put the noble Lord's mind at rest on one side of the question.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, I am in complete sympathy with the noble Lord who moved this Motion in his anxiety that we should be always watchful that proper precautions are taken in the issue of certificates authorising experimenters to carry out operations on animals. It is good to be watchful; but under the Act several watch-dogs have been appointed. I myself for eight years, as President of the Royal College of Surgeons, acted as a watch-dog; and I refused to sign many applications for licences for experiments, either because the experimenter was not working under conditions which I considered satisfactory or because I thought (a point which has been emphasised by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding) that the experiment had been repeated a sufficient number of times to prove that the results obtained were actually established as facts. Experiments have to be repeated a certain number of times because the essence of experimental science is that any result which is achieved by one research worker can be repeated by another; otherwise the statement of the first is open to doubt.

In regard to supervision, I should like to inform your Lordships that my visits to other countries, including some which we regard as the most tender-hearted and civilised, have satisfied me that the precautions taken in this country are stricter than those in any other country in the world. The British safeguards are, I think, sufficient. Moreover, your Lordships can take it as a fact that those who are engaged in experimental science involving work on animals are just as humane as any of those who oppose experiments on animals. They are just as anxious to spare the animals as much suffering as possible. It is all a question of relative values.

We must not shrink from doing an experiment which may involve pain anti may require the survival of the animal after the operation. We must not shrink from it any more than an experimental worker, where necessary, does not shrink from experimenting on himself. I have put sixty-nine stitches into myself for the purpose of ascertaining what was the best absorbable suture material. And who can fail to be moved by the thought of Pasteur—of the courage and heroism of the man sucking saliva from the mouth of a mad dog in order to make sure that he had got the poisonous virus of rabies? Nor does one hesitate to give perhaps an even greater due to the attendant who held the rabid animal and who was not spurred on by the scientific urge for new knowledge but knew only what the pursuit was.

We can also pay a tribute to those great heroes of the American Army Medical Corps who in Panama sacrificed their lives to prove what was the vector of the infecting organism of yellow fever. They slept in a but stacked with the discarded and soiled clothing of those who had died of the disease; they slept in a but with patients who had yellow fever; and they slept in a but containing mosquitoes which had feasted themselves on the blood of yellow fever patients. They paid the inevitable price. It is a tale of herosim equal to that in any other field of human endeavour. The suggestion that experimental workers are indifferent to the suffering of animals on whom they experiment is very far from the truth. That does not mean that I do not still sympathise with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, in his desire for vigilance.

Before I sit down, perhaps I may refer to experimental surgery, to which particular reference has been made. Experimental surgery generally involves operations on dogs. The dog, in certain breeds, is an animal of just sufficient size to give a surgeon an opportunity to ascertain whether a certain operation can be done, and the experiment generally means allowing the survival of the animal. Take the developments of only the last few years. Dramatic facts have been brought to light with the application of certain techniques. The blood vessels in the neighbourhood of the heart can be joined to each other like pieces of gut. I saw other experiments when I was at Harvard just before I came back from my last visit to America, and I have seen them repeated since. I saw the placing of an artificial valve in the aorta carrying blood all over the body. I have seen the natural valve replaced a plastic valve. I saw a dog which had been operated upon eight months before and was raced around the track attached to the laboratory. The only difference between that dog and any other dog was that when you listened to the heart you could hear the "click click" of the plastic ball valve instead of just the closing of the natural valve.

These things are worth doing. Human lives have been saved as a result of these operations on the great vessels. Many children's lives have been saved, and they will grow up to be useful citizens, as a result of experiments on the heart. These are dramatic results. And we are now only just raising the curtain. The blood can be led out of the body and put through an artificial circulation and returned to the body. Thus the heart can be stilled while an operation is performed. These things can he achieved only by experiment. The blood can be led out of the body when the kidneys go on strike and acute congestion is causing the patient's life to be in imminent danger leading, perhaps, to death within forty-eight hours or less. The blood can be led through an artificial kidney and be brought back into circulation, and at the end of forty-eight hours the kidney has had time to recover and function again. These things are worth while. It is a matter of relative values. So, while I sympathise with the noble and gallant Lord's anxiety, I do urge that he should not press his Motion, for nothing must be done to interfere with the progress of science.

4.21 p.m.


My Lords, others who have spoken have said that they sympathise with the noble and gallant Lord's views on this matter. I join with their Lordships who have spoken in expressing similar sentiments. I was very impressed with the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Webb-Johnson. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, in his speech made reference to certain experiments on dogs. I am sure he would not like a tribute to be paid, wrongly in my humble submission, to another country, the U.S.A., since the experiments to which the noble Lord referred in feeding dogs with bread of the variety that is served out to-day, loaded with, amongst other things, nitrogen trichloride, were first carried out in France about two hundred years ago, and then forgotten.

The recent experiments, which are so well known and which have been quoted in your Lordships' House time and time again and also in the United States of America, were initiated and carried out under the direction of Sir Edward Mellanby, then Secretary of the Medical Research Council. I should not like the statement of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, to go by, as he omitted to pay tribute to one of the leading men in this country. Sir Edward has pointed out the evil of adding this chemical to bread, as he declares that it then becomes not suitable for human consumption.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, for giving me the advantage of seeing some of the notes which he prepared for his remarks to-day. I am grateful to him. It would be idle for me to pretend that the subject which the noble and gallant Lord has raised is not one of great controversy. I am fully aware that diametrically opposed views are held on this subject, and are expressed with great force and conviction. The extreme view on one side—and I recognise that there is a moral issue in this subject—is that the conduct of experiments on animals, no matter what those experiments produce, is wrong. The noble and gallant Lord has pressed substantially that view himself to-day: that, no matter what advantage is to be gained from it, man is over-stepping his dominion in undertaking that type of work. The other view is that in the search for knowledge, particularly medical knowledge, any sacrifice, either human or animal, is justified. That is the other extreme. These views are irreconcilable and I do not attempt to draw them together; nor have any duty to do so. On behalf of the Home Office, who have no interest either in the promotion of experiments or in their suppression, I say that our duty is to see that the Act of 1876 is carried out. It is that task which I propose to try to discharge this afternoon.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, has suggested that the Act is gravely defective and that, in any case, it is not enforced. I should like to go into those two points, because they are matters on which Parliament will necessarily have to decide. Before doing so, may I say that the Act of 1876 is, I think, unique in the world, in the sense that no other country has an Act of that character provided for that purpose. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Webb-Johnson, in the extremely interesting speech which he made this afternoon. I should also like to suggest that some, and perhaps the most harrowing, of the examples which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, has given were drawn from abroad. May I make the further point that even if the use of animals for training and practice in surgery does exist in other countries, it is specifically forbidden by Statute here.

I shall now run through the Act of 1876, such as it is. It is now seventy-five years old. First of all, it provides that no experiments on living vertebrates—I am given to understand that a very wide interpretation is applied to the word "vertebrate"—may be carried out except under stringent conditions. Such experiments can be carried out only for definite purposes—that is to say, for the acquisition of knowledge useful in the saving of life or the alleviation of suffering and for certain other purposes of that character, which are laid down in the Statute. Before anyone obtains a licence he requires two signatures, one from the president of a learned society, and the other from a professor of a branch of medical science. The noble Lord, Lord Webb-Johnson, as, I think, President formerly of a learned society, gave a certain number of these signatures, but I should like the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, to note particularly that Lord Webb-Johnson stated that he refused a number of licences because he considered the man incompetent or, at all events, unsuited to carry out that particular work. The same, I know, applies in regard to the professor of medical science, who also has to give his signature and in many cases is possibly better equipped to judge, in the sense that he would know more of the applicant than the president of a learned society, who may or may not be so closely acquainted with the experimenter personally.

Under the licence that is given—that is, the basic licence under the 1876 Act—the animal must be anæsthetised during the whole operation, and if the pain is likely to continue after the anæsthetic has ceased, the animal must be killed before recovery. Experiments can be carried out only in registered places, and full records must be kept and annual reports submitted stating the number and nature of the experiments performed. These places are, of course, open for inspection at all times. These, as the noble Lord has stated, are the basic conditions of the Act.

Certificates can be granted which vary these basic conditions, and those certificates are known as Certificates A, B, C, E and F. I will take them in the reverse order. Certificate E deals with horses and donkeys. A special certificate is required before any experiments can he carried out on these animals. Certificate E deals with dogs, on which no experiment may be carried out unless they are completely under an anæsthetic, with death before recovery. It is only under a certificate E that such an experiment can be carried out. Certificate C permits experiments to be performed in the illustration of a lecture. Such experiments must be conducted entirely under the influence of anæsthetic, and the animal killed while still under that influence.

It is perhaps natural that in regard to Certificates A and B a certain amount of controversy has arisen. Certificate A permits an experiment to be carried out without an anæsthetic, and Certificate B permits an animal to recover after the experiment has been completed. Before a certificate of this character can be granted it is necessary for the applicant to obtain two signatures of the type which I have already described. Those signatories must state specifically that the dispensation sought is necessary—that the object of the experiment would be frustrated if the animal were killed. That represents a fairly strong statement, if I may say so, from the President of the Royal College of Surgeons. But, besides this, the applicant has also to obtain the recommendation and signature of the chief inspector, and has also to satisfy the Department that the dispensation is necessary. I have been into this matter and I can say that that stage is not a formality, either. When the certificate is granted it invariably includes this condition, which I should like to read. In regard to Certificate A, where an experiment may be carried out without an anæsthetic, it is stated that No operative procedure more severe than superficial venesection or simple inoculation may be adopted in any of the said experiments. Under Certificate B, where the animal is allowed to recover, the condition lays down that strict antiseptic precautions must be carried out, and if these fail, the animal must be killed.

Over and above these conditions, the certificates are subject to what is known as the pain clause, which I should like to read, because I think it is not unimportant. It is as follows: If an animal at any time during any of the said experiments is found to be suffering pain which is either severe or is likely to endure, and if the main result of the experiment has been obtained, the animal shall forthwith be painlessly killed; If an animal at any time during any of the said experiments is found to be suffering severe pain which is likely to endure, such animal shall forthwith be painlessly killed; If an animal appears to an Inspector to be suffering considerable pain, and if such Inspector directs such animal to be destroyed, it shall forthwith be painlessly killed. These are the conditions which are the background of the law as it stands at the present time.

The number of experiments which are carried out (a matter to which the noble Lord has referred) is, of course, considerable, but I am informed that in practice almost all this work under Certificate A concerns inoculations, the application of a substance, or the administration of a drug or toxin. I should perhaps add that when a certificate is granted the inspector has to recommend whether the applicant's knowledge, experience and ability are adequate, and, moreover, that the place is suitable for the performance of such an experiment. When the inspector feels that he cannot make such a recommendation, the matter is referred to the Advisory Committee, which is appointed by the Secretary of State from a panel submitted by the Royal Society, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons. I am able to say that the Home Secretary has recently decided to add to the Committee a person nominated by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

My Lords, I think it is clear that the whole object of this Act is to reduce suffering to the absolute minimum, and the question which may remain with the noble Lord, Lord Dowding, is whether the inspectors are sufficiently rigid in enforcing to the letter the terms of the Act itself. Therefore, I should like to say one or two words about the inspectors. They are appointed by the Secretary of State and are responsible to him for their duties. The post is advertised in the ordinary way and the inspectors are appointed on the recommendation of a Civil Service board. Their duty is to see that this Act is properly carried out, and I can only presume that they would be sacked if they did not fulfil their duties properly. I may add that it is not normal to select for this post a person who has ever held a licence under the Act. Their duties are to visit regularly all the registered places on their list, and I am informed that this amounts to a visit nearly once a quarter. In almost every case these visits are unannounced.

The chief inspector receives some 1,200 reports a year from his sub-inspectors, and submits an annual report to the Secretary of State which is presented to Parliament. As I think anyone who reads them knows, in these reports, are recorded the irregularities brought to his notice in the course of the year. The inspector, amongst other things, scrutinises all publications dealing with experiments, and satisfies himself that each of these published experiments has been carried out under proper authority. This is quite a considerable work. The Ministry of Supply establishments for defence purposes are licensed and inspected in exactly the same way as any other laboratory in the country. As I have already said, the inspector has to approve the nature of the experiment, and such approval has also to be obtained from the Department.

I should like to emphasise that it is quite wrong to suggest that this is in any way a formality. The purpose of the Act (and I have every belief that, so far as is possible, it is carried out) is to prevent useless experiments; mere experiment for no useful purpose is not within the terms of the Act. It is true, as the noble Lord has pointed out, that in 1878 there were two part-time inspectors, whereas to-day the establishment is for five full-time inspectors, although, of course, the number of reported experiments has increased considerably since the earlier, date. But the chief inspector assures me that he is fully satisfied that he knows what is going on in every place on his register in this country. I think perhaps it is fair to point out that since 1878 telephones and motor cars have come into general use and it is possible for one man to cover a much wider area than would have been possible at the former date. It is true that there have been no prosecutions under the Act, but I do not think that is a wholly satisfactory way of judging the success of the Statute because, besides noting the irregularities each year in the annual report to which I referred, certificates and licences have been refused, warnings have been issued and in certain cases matters have been brought to the attention of heads of departments or to senior officials of the universities concerned.

The noble Lord has raised the question of the production of sera. It is true that this is not covered by the Act of 1876, because it is not regarded as being of an experimental nature. It is worth noting, however, that this work is covered by the Protection of Animals Act, 1911, so that anyone who is not engaged in experimental work is subject, should be perform such work, to prosecution for cruelty in the ordinary way, without what the noble Lord referred to as the more advantageous position of the Act of 1876. This work is carried out, and inspectors are appointed, under the Therapeutic Substances Act of 1925, to look after it. The inspectors are responsible for ensuring that the places whore the work is carried on are suitable for their purposes and that the animals are maintained in a healthy condition. I nay say that the inspectors are appointed by the Ministry of Health in England and by the Department of Health in Scotland. If any sera are tested, that is regarded as an experiment, and as such it comes under the original Act of 1876.

The noble and gallant Lord has mentioned a number of cases which I do not think any of us could hear without being harrowed: they were stories which were deeply repellent. I should say that a fair number of them came from countries abroad. It was in 1948 that the then Secretary of State, Mr. Chuter Ede, received a delegation, and an that occasion a number of specific cases were brought to his notice. I believe that his attention was also drawn to various groups of cases. All these cases have been carefully investigated. I am assured that they have been gone into with great thoroughness. Simply on hearing what the noble and gallant Lord has said this afternoon, and without being in possession of a great deal more detail relating to the circumstances, it really is not possible to form a clear picture of what is happening. I am informed that the Secretary of State came to the conclusion, after hearing all that the delegation had to say, and after making very thorough inquiries, that no sufficient ground existed, either as respected the law or its administration, to justify him in recommending the appointment of a fresh Royal Commission on the subject. I have to say that there is nothing which has arisen recently which has caused my right honourable friend to take a different view.

I have tried to deal fairly and fully with these two questions—the question of the law as it stands, and the question of its administration. I have tried to show what the law is. I am not saying that the law is perfect, but what I do say is that my right honourable friend is satisfied that the inspectors, acting on his behalf, carry out the full letter of the law as it exists. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, has not pressed very hard on the question of whether these experiments are useful or not. I think that that is a point which has been fully dealt with by noble Lords who are much better qualified to speak upon it than I am. I would say only that the opinions of two Royal Commissions—that of 1875 and that of 1912—are on record and can be studied. Both those Commissions dealt with this matter, and their views on the question of the usefulness of experiments can be fully borne out. I think I have now covered the points which affect the Department, and I would emphasise that those responsible are carrying out their task to the full. I cannot, I suppose, hope to have convinced the noble and gallant Lord that the situation is satisfactory. Some of his remarks seemed to me to convey the impression that he thought the Department treated their responsibilities under the Act rather lightly. I am certain that that is not the case, and I ask the noble Lord to accept my assurance that those who are engaged in this work are carrying it out conscientiously and to the best of their ability. I will not add anything further, except to say that I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Webb-Johnson, Lord Hailey, and Lord Mersey, for expressing their views on the various aspects of this matter of which they have had such full experience.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, some years ago I was in the position of one under authority saying unto the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, "Do this," and he did it. But that state of affairs no longer exists. I am grateful to the noble Earl for so nearly covering the scope of my recommendations—I say "so nearly" because I think there was one point which he entirely failed to cover. I also thank other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, but I will not go into all the points raised in their speeches. Lord Hailey was a little concerned to refute my personal opinions against these animal experiments altogether, but I said specifically that I did not want to press them to-day. As I say, the points that I raised have been, with one exception, covered by the noble Earl. I am deeply obliged to him for the trouble which he has taken in formulating his reply to my Motion.

There are just one or two matters upon which I should like to touch. The noble Earl spoke of the use of animals in connection with training and practice in surgery. I did not raise that matter myself although it was in my mind. I rather thought that the contention was one that was not raised nowadays. It has certainly been repudiated in fairly strong terms by notable surgeons. But I am interested to know that it is still in the minds of the authorities that these experiments can be made in connection with training and practice in surgery. I did not go at length into the sections in the Act relating to pain—which the noble Earl has now explained—for I did not wish to make my speech too long. But it seems to me that the real point is that the person who decides whether the pain is severe, or whether the pain is prolonged, or whether it is prolonged and severe, and so on, is the experimenter himself. Therefore it seems to me that his conclusions on this matter are not of any great value. I was interested to learn that the number of inspectors is considered adequate today. The noble Earl gave us to understand that each place where experiments are carried out is visited, roughly, once a quarter. My own information rather indicates that visits are somewhat less frequent than that. At any rate, if these inspectors are able to get round to these numerous places once every quarter it speaks volumes for their industry.

The two noble Lords who have taken part in the debate suggested that most of the harrowing accounts which I gave of painful experiments on animals came from abroad. That is not the case. I mentioned only two instances from abroad. One was the horrible experiment of pumping boiling water into a dog's veins, and the other was that of the dreadful rotating drum in which animals are slowly battered to death. All the other instances I gave were of experiments carried out in this country. If I did not give sufficient chapter and verse for them, I can say only that I shall be glad to supply the noble Earl with further and fuller information, but all information comes out of the published accounts in scientific and medical journals.

The point that I think was not covered in the noble Earl's reply concerns the testing of drugs and sera. He referred to the manufacture of sera, but it is this vast new industry of using animals as machines to test drugs, of which I think I gave adequate instances in my speech, which, it seems to me, requires an impartial investigation. I would ask the noble Earl whether he will reconsider that point. The last Report of a Royal Commission on this question was published in 1912, and I think nobody will deny that very great changes have taken place since then. So I would ask him whether he will be so kind as to confer again with the Home Secretary to see if some rather more impartial inquiry than an ex parte statement from the Home Office itself cannot be made into the largely changed conditions which have arisen since 1912.


My Lords, I have mentioned the subject of the testing of drugs: that is directly under the Act as it stands, and all safeguards that exist apply in regard to this sphere. The only matter is the number of tests which are carried out. I should like to ask the noble Lord one thing: why did he speak of an "ex parte statement" from the Home Office? The Home Office have no interest in experiments on animals or in suppressing the experiments. They have certain duties laid down by Statute, and I do not think they can be accused, if I may use that word, of making an ex parte statement.


My Lords, I readily withdraw that word. I was speaking, of course, without notes and without preparation. All that was in my mind was that the statement which we have been given to-day comes from the Home Office, and I should like to see an inquiry conducted in which some sections of the community outside the Home Office were included. For example, I was glad to hear that a member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons had been included in the membership of the Advisory Committee. I feel that that is an excellent thing. All I meant was that the inquiry, if it were granted, should be on a wide basis: I had no intention of impugning the motives or the honesty of the Home Office. With those remarks, if I may have the leave of the House, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.