HL Deb 18 July 1957 vol 204 cc1358-68

Debate resumed.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, there is one aspect of this matter upon which I should like to touch for a few moments before the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, replies. Before doing so, I should like to add my congratulations to those of my noble friend Lord Silkin to Lord Cohen of Birkenhead upon what we all agree has been a most agreeable maiden speech. It is of some pleasure to me, a humble member of the Bar, to think that those two noble Lords, the one, the Lord Chancellor, in the legal profession and the other in the medical profession, should have reached the highest eminence more or less contemporaneously.

My Lords, the ethical side of the matter under debate has been greatly emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Dowding in his speech, and also by Lord Somers. It seems to me that in the case of both of these distinguished Members of your Lordships' House their hearts are stronger than their heads; and even when they are arguing that pain to animals is not ethically justifiable just because it has enabled human beings to be better looked after medically and cured of painful diseases, they overlook completely the fact that one of the great triumphs in, modern science has been the progress of veterinary science, which has alleviated pain and suffering in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of animals. This science has been just as much dependent on the same sort of experimentation on their fellow animals as has the progress which has been made in medicine for human beings.

I dislike the arrogance of those who attack scientific progress of this kind when they arrogate to themselves the title of humanitarians. Lord Somers spoke of humanitarians and others who take this view. Surely the medical scientists, whose contribution to progress in the modern world has perhaps been more outstanding than that of any other group of people, are just as much, and perhaps still more, deserving of the term "humanitarian" I would therefore suggest to both noble Lords, Lord Dowding and Lord Somers, that they should realise that these experiments have relieved animals themselves from a good deal of pain and suffering. From that point of view, what has been going on is clearly ethically justifiable.

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I find myself at what has been agreed to-day to be rather a late hour, and therefore I must start by asking the indulgence of your Lordships if my remarks, in the interests of brevity, should seem to be a little on the terse side. I particularly ask for the indulgence of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding, in that respect. The noble and gallant Lord told us, in the speech in which he moved his Motion, that he considered that his effort when he spoke five years ago seemed to have been wasted. If he will allow me to say so, I do not quite agree with him, because not only do we respect his strong views on this matter but I believe that this is a subject capable of considerable misunderstanding and even, in some quarters, misrepresentation. I think it is a good thing that from time to time it should be brought forward and discussed publicly from all angles.

We should, I think, welcome the fact that he has put down this Motion, and our gratitude is due to him for even more than that. Personally, I am most grateful to him for his courtesy in giving me notice of all the points he proposed to raise. I hope to be able to give him some satisfaction upon them. Your Lordships will also be grateful to him for the very reasonable way in which he approaches his subject, with his strong views, because we know that it is one that is not always approached in such a spirit of reasonableness.

I feel that it would be proper for me, also, to say here and now that I am sure there is no-one, individually or collectively, in Her Majesty's Government, in your Lordships' House or in what I may loosely term the world of science and medicine, who has not the utmost personal sympathy with the basic object which the noble and gallant Lord has in mind. All of us, certainly including myself, have the strongest feelings against any form of practice causing avoidable pain to animals. But I do not think it is for me to-day to launch into a discussion of the moral aspect of vivisection or to debate with the noble and gallant Lord the esoteric responsibility that we may feel towards animals. I think my function is merely to mention something of what is the law in the matter, and how we can see that the necessary safeguards, which all are agreed must be provided, are in fact adequately provided.

It must be remembered that the Department for which I am speaking, the Home Office, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, have no vested interest in vivisection, either for or against. They are simply charged with the duty of seeing that the law is properly enforced. It is from that aspect and that aspect alone that I am going to make my own approach to this problem. Fortunately, I do not have to say anything about the question of the medical and scientific desirability of animal experiments, because that has been said for me in that most remarkable and powerful maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, to whom I should like to add my sincere congratulations from this Bench. If it no longer sounds trite, after other noble Lords have said it, may we hear him often again! Supported by Lord Hailey, I think that that side has been most strongly, effectively and completely put, and in a far better way than I can ever hope to achieve. Therefore I shall try to say what I want to say about the Act, with what I hope is going to turn out to be a complete record of brevity.

My Lords, nobody can perform an experiment on a live animal unless he has a licence. Nobody can get a licence unless he is a properly approved person; his application must be backed, as I think is known pretty widely, first of all by the president of a learned society, and secondly by a professor of a branch of medical science. His application is submitted and is considered; and if necessary it is referred to the Advisory Committee. If everything is satisfactory, including the premises on which he proposes to perform the experiments and the purposes of those experiments, he is granted a licence. Having been granted a licence he may do nothing unless the animal is under an anæsthetic of sufficient power to protect it from feeling pain, except in certain circumstances, where certificates come in. These certificates were the subject of criticism by the noble and galiant Lord. I will not go right through them; I will just quote one or two to show the type of things they are. In fact they do not permit practically anything to be done; they are a protection for animals. They are a very considerable restriction on what may be done to animals, and they are far more in the interests of animals than of those who perform experiments under the Act.

Certificate A, for instance, permits experiments without anæsthetics. Such a certificate has to be applied for with a statement giving the reasons for which it is wanted and the nature of the operation, and, again, it has to be countersigned by the two learned gentlemen I mentioned. The Home Secretary invariably imposes as a condition of that certificate that no operative procedure that takes place must be anything more severe than simple inoculation or superficial venesection. Let us now go to the other end of the scale, to Certificate F. Certificate F permits nothing except experiments on horses, asses or mules, and no other certificate will permit an experiment on any of these three unless it is accompanied by Certificate F. Certificate F, naturally, is not granted unless everyone concerned is satisfied that it is necessary to do so. So these certificates which the noble and gallant Lord has criticised do, in fact, constitute safeguards for the animals more than anything else.

The noble and gallant Lord went on to criticise the inspectors. I think he used what I may perhaps be forgiven for terming almost strong language on the subject. He talked about "a hollow sham", and "throwing dust in people's eyes". With the greatest respect to the noble and gallant Lord, I think that in making that statement he does a disservice to a most conscientious and hard working body of public servants—the inspectors under the Act. Furthermore, it is my personal opinion that he does rather a disservice to the cause of the animals which we are seeking to protect by inferring that such an inspection is no good. It was said also that five inspectors to cover some 2,500,000 experiments was ridiculous, which perhaps it might be in certain circumstances. But I think that the proper figure to which we must relate the number of inspectors is the number of places in which those experiments are carried out. The number of registered places in the year 1956 was 511 and I think in these days of rapid communications—and I can assure your Lordships that the inspectors work hard and conscientiously—that is not too great a number for them to cover. After all, it is possible to take a room the size of the Princes' Chamber in your Lordships' House and have two thousand experiments carried on simultaneously in it.


May I ask what is the number of inspectors?


Five. The noble Lord also said that there had been no prosecutions under the Act since 1876. That is perfectly true. I think it can be fairly regarded as a tribute to the spirit in which experiments are made and also to the successful working of the Act. It is, I think, proof that scientific workers have no interest at all in causing unnecessary pain to animals. It must be remembered that there are also other measures that can be taken. No one is likely to engage in vivisection unless there is some good reason for it, and there is the penalty of suspension of licence which can be imposed by my right honourable friend and which can prove a very heavy penalty.

There is yet another course which can be followed in cases of deliberate, wanton cruelty to animals, for this can well be tackled under the common law—under the Protection of Animals Act, 1911. Many cases have been brought under this Act, but, it is a notable point that no successful prosecution has ever been brought under it against a licensee—anyone who holds a vivisection licence. The noble and gallant Lord gave us some instances of information being obtained from laboratories. He mentioned a doctor who saw certain things and made it his business at Oxford to find out about them. He was horrified, he said, by what he saw, and since then he has been imbued with a crusading spirit. The noble and gallant Lord will forgive me if I am a little sceptical about this particular doctor. If he saw these terrible things, why were they not reported? There are the inspectors whose sole duty it is to stop that sort of thing and see that the law is preserved. In fact, the Chief Inspector is within the confines of your Lordships' House at this moment and it would be possible for the noble and gallant Lord to get in touch with him at once if these things are so.

Further, why did this doctor take a remark from a medical student as being indicative of what was the object of an experiment? I do not suppose that the medical student had anything to do with the experiment. He had merely been told to do a certain thing and he was proceeding to do it. I should have thought that if the head of the department had been referred to he could probably have shed a good deal of light on the matter. But apparently no inquiry was made of him. I hope that these matters may be brought forward. I can assure the noble and gallant Lord that the appropriate authorities would be only too keen to hear about them if they are as he says.

The noble and gallant Lord referred to a case of something that was seen by a window-cleaner in Birmingham. I must tell your Lordships that that case was fully investigated by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and that that Society took no action. It was also thoroughly investigated by an inspector from my right honourable friend's Department. The inspector investigated it right through and found that everything was all right. In a later interview with the Press the window-cleaner virtually retracted most of what he had said in the first instance. He stated that he was "not a bit sure", that he "could not really tell", and that in any case he was a layman and did not really understand. I do not think that information coming from such a source in the first instance could really hold a good deal of weight as to the terrible things which were suggested.

The noble and gallant Lord also mentioned the case of the 300 monkeys which were suffocated in a van by a most regrettable accident. Of course, they were not our monkeys; they were going to America. He then went on to talk about the remainder of the quarter of a million monkeys exported by India. I shall be only too happy to withdraw this inference if I am wrong, but it seemed to me that there was always the suggestion underlying the noble and gallant Lord's words that they came to this country for some foul and revolting purpose of our own. That is not so. They went, perhaps, all over the world, and in this debate I must confine myself to what goes on in this country. I really cannot be responsible for what happens in America.

The noble Lord mentioned the names of the experimental establishments at Porton and Harwell as though they were vast consumers of monkeys. I assure your Lordships that that is not so. The establishments there, and all other Government establishments, come under exactly the same rules and are inspected in exactly the same way as any other establishments in this country where experiments are practised. They enjoy no favourable position. They enjoy no freedom from inspection or anything of the kind and have to get licences in exactly the same way as any individual. I should like to make that clear here and now.

It is fortunate that the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, made such a good "maiden", because he has covered the ground much better than I can do it. In conclusion, I can only repeat the assurance I have given, addressing myself particularly to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Dowding. The objects of this Motion have the full sympathy of us all. I assure him that my right honourable friend and his Department, his inspectors and all those who carry out this kind of work, are most careful and conscientious. I give the noble Lord the assurance that we will continue to be watchful to see that the law is properly carried out. I believe that it is adequate for the purpose, as I have tried to show, and that it is not riddled with loopholes. But I would give the noble Lord this final assurance: that if ever the law proves to be inadequate, we shall be the first to wish it amended.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, I thought it only right in my opening remarks to say what my own personal opinions were about vivisection, but I wish to make the point that I did not make my speech on that basis. What I asked for was that there should be an inquiry into the state of affairs as it existed to-day, because there has been no public inquiry for nearly fifty years. A great deal of the speeches and arguments that we have heard this afternoon has not been entirely relevant to the Motion which I raised. If it is contended that in this matter all is for the best in the best of possible worlds, and that five inspectors are sufficient to supervise this great number of experiments and ensure that the law is enforced, I suppose I must accept that answer for the time being; but I cannot be expected to agree with it.

As points have been raised in other speeches, I think it is only right that I should deal with one or two of them, otherwise it might be thought that I have been convinced by what has been said. The question of diphtheria immunisation was raised. According to my information, if there is any fear or any evidence of any form of polio in a neighbourhood, diphtheria immunisation is absolutely stopped. If I am wrong about that, I shall be glad to be corrected. The question of insulin was brought up, as an example of a triumph of vivisection. There is no question that a great many lives have been saved, or prolonged, by the use of insulin; but, of course, insulin is not a cure for diabetes, it is merely a palliative for the symptoms. The fallacy of quoting insulin as a great success in the medical world lies in this argument. Before insulin was invented and brought into general use, the number of diabetic women patients who were able to produce children was 2 or 2½ per cent. Since the general use of insulin, the number of women diabetics who can produce children has gone up to something like 25 per cent. The result of this is that the incidence of diabetes as a disease is growing rapidly, and in ten years' time it may be a major problem in this country.

I feel much at a disadvantage as a layman in having to conduct medical arguments with people who know infinitely more about it than I do, and what I should like to see is a B.B.C. television discussion between a really competent defender and a really competent attacker of vivisection. I am sure that that would be of the greatest interest and of the greatest value. One other matter the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, referred to was the number of experiments which doctors have made on themselves. I am heartily in agreement with that, but I cannot understand how that can be used as an argument against objections to vivisection. It is precisely the sort of thing one would advocate; that experiments should be on doctors in preference to on animals.

One last point with regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead—it relates to the often reiterated argument that an animal suffers nothing more than a pinprick. It is quite true the original operation consists only of a pinprick—something is injected into the animal. But the suffering comes later, and it may be that weeks, months, or even years of suffering result from that original pinprick. The noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, asked about specific instances. I am not quite sure to whom these specific instances are to be given. If I give a list of them to the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, will he be in a position to deal with the question? I am quite sure that I can produce a long list of specific instances, but to whom am I to give them? Will the Home Secretary accept such a list?


If the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting, I did say clearly that the person to whom it should be given is the Chief Inspector, whose duty it is to see that these acts are carried out properly. The noble Lord can give the list to him direct, or, if he will be good enough to give them to me, I will see that the Chief Inspector receives it.


I thank the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Hailey, said that the Cruelty to Animals Act needs to be brought up to date. I do not know whether that view is endorsed by the Government. What I have asked for is an inquiry, the results of which eventually will be communicated to the public; and such an inquiry has not been carried out for nearly fifty years. I would earnestly request that that suggestion should receive consideration, and that it should not be turned down flat. I think there is ample evidence to show that, in spite of the good intentions of the law and the devoted work of the five inspectors, serious irregularities take place from time to time. I will mention just one case: is it suggested that the "Siamesing" of rats by a student working for a degree is a reasonable experiment that is likely to have any lasting benefit to society? I could, I am sure, produce a number of instances of that sort. I will only ask the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, that the matter may be kept open for a little while to enable me to produce some of the evidence which is apparently required in order to convince the Government that action is necessary.

There is no secret about the name of the doctor to whom I referred, and I shall be glad to give his name—indeed, I think it might be a good thing if I could put him in direct touch with the authorities. Here is a practical man, and he can say what he has seen, not as an amateur, but as somebody who knows what he is talking about; and I am sure he will be able to convince the authorities that some of the things he saw are not experiments which would be justifiable by any responsible outsider.

The noble Lord, Lord Chesham, was kind enough to thank me for giving notice of what I was going to say. But it would have been foolish of me to get up and make a speech without letting the authorities know what I was going to say, because I could not expect the Home Secretary suddenly to be moved by my eloquence and give a satisfactory answer on the spot. So what I did in giving preliminary notice of my speech was willingly done, and it seemed to be elementary common sense. I do not intend to press this Motion to-day and, as I have the assurance that the matter will not be considered as finally closed now, and that I may take it up later, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.