HL Deb 06 February 1969 vol 299 cc203-7

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have yet considered the Littlewood Report on Experiments on Animals, 1965; what action, if any, they propose to take on it and whether they can provide more up-to-date statistics than those given in the Report for the year 1963; namely, total experiments 4,196,566, licensed premises 556, inspectors 6.]


My Lords, the Government recognise the desirability of replacing the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 by legislation more suited to present-day requirements, but at this stage I cannot say when it may be possible to introduce a Government Bill on the subject, or whether new legislation would give precise effect to all the 83 recommendations of the Littlewood Committee. Statistics are published in the Return of Experiments on Living Animals, which is presented to Parliament annually. Recent returns show that the number of experiments each year has remained fairly steady at about 4¾ million. In 1967 there were 614 premises registered for the performance of experiments; and there are now 10 inspectors in post.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his most satisfactory Answer, that we are to have legislation, I should like to ask him two supplementary questions. First, is the Minister satisfied that the present 10 inspectors are sufficient to supervise 4¾million experiments carried out by about 8,000 licensees in 600 different places? Since no legislation is required, cannot the Littlewood recommendation for 21 inspectors be brought into effect?

The second point on which I should like further information is whether there is readily available to the Secretary of State sufficient information about previous experiments to enable him to refuse new applications which would duplicate experiments already performed, and whether the repetition of experiments is forbidden, except for training purposes?


My Lords, with regard to the number of inspectors, we take the view, which was endorsed by the Littlewood Committee, that the task of the inspectors is to ensure that the licensees understand and fulfil their responsibilities under the Act rather than to supervise experiments. In the course of 1967 the inspectors made 2,000 visits, which is rather more than three per annum per establishment, and these visits were made mostly without notice.

The Government are keeping under review the strength of the inspectorate within their overall manpower policy for the Civil Service. Since the Littlewood Committee reported the number of inspectors has been increased from 6 to 10, and the number is constantly under consideration. We now have five times the number of inspectors that we had in the 1930s. There is no ban on the repetition or duplication of experiments because such a ban would be quite unenforceable. When new information is published it may stimulate other experimenters to repeat the original experiment as a starting point for further research. On the other hand, the Little-wood Committee was satisfied that no scientific worker would repeat experiments unnecessarily.


My Lords, may I ask whether, among the 10 inspectors, there are any women? If not, are women given the opportunity of applying for this job?


My Lords, I have not inquired into the sex of the inspectors. It is extremely difficult to get inspectors with the necessary qualifications. At present, of the 10 inspectors, 9 are doctors, of whom one is also a veterinarian—a combination which is somewhat rare—and the tenth is a veterinarian. I can say that of course there is no kind of sex discrimination.


My Lords: would the noble Lord be good enough to assure me that Recommendation 77 of the Littlewood Report will be implemented?


My Lords, I will try to do so, if the noble Lord will tell me which recommendation No. 77 is; because there are 83 recommendations and I do not pretend to remember them all.


My Lords, it is the recommendation to deal with the purchase of stolen dogs and cats. Recommendation 77 is one of which I am sure he will find his Office is very much in favour, and I should like to receive his assurance that it will be dealt with.


My Lords, I can give that assurance, and the Littlewood Committee also expected that in the not too far distant future experiments would be conducted only on animals that had been specially bred for the purpose.


My Lords, the point in question here is the way these animals are obtained. Is the noble Lord aware that at present a great many animals are stolen and that it would be possible, by adopting this recommendation, to cause the purchasers to stop their practice of buying stolen animals? The purchasers are universities and hospitals, and they need to be restrained from making purchases other than from authorised people.


My Lords, I am fully aware of the position, but this is one of the recommendations that requires legislation in order to carry it into effect. Noble Lords will have to await the Bill which will eventually be produced.


My Lords, is the noble Lord not aware that there is in fact great duplication of experiments done by students?


My Lords, no one is legally able to carry out an experiment without a licence, and every one of the licensees must have his application approved by the president of one of the learned societies and a professor in a branch of medicine. When the application is received by my Department it is considered by the inspectors, who are highly experienced in their work and highly qualified. Therefore I do not think it is fair to presume that any licensee is not properly qualified to do the job, and in my view it is a reflection on all of them to suggest that they do not have care for the animals on which the experiments are carried out.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that this Committee, which I was responsible for setting up, presented its Report almost four years ago? In view of the widespread interest throughout the nation in all matters of cruelty to animals, can he give an assurance that the Government will expedite legislation on the subject, even though it does not precisely reflect all the recommendations of the Littlewood Committee?


My Lords, I am perfectly well aware of the facts that the noble Lord has put forward. In fact I think that every day I sign six to ten letters on this subject to Members of Parliament. I am kept constantly aware of the concern in the country, and the Government are aware of it. It is not a matter of considering legislative details with regard to particular proposals; it is a question of the pressure on the time of Parliament. The Littlewood Committee made it quite clear that in the Committee's view the 1876 Act was working very well and that although legislation was necessary in regard to some of their regulations the Committee did not regard it as urgent.


My Lords, could the Government undertake to publish a White Paper on the subject setting out their ideas on the Littlewood Report? We have not had that.


My Lords, the Government have made their ideas on this subject quite clear on a number of occasions, and I hope I am now making them clearer. But I will consider the noble Lord's suggestion.


My Lords, is it not utterly revolting that cats and dogs should be specifically bred for the purpose of these detestable and unholy experiments, and will Her Majesty's Government consider now the prohibition of all experiments on all domesticated animals such as cats and dogs?


My Lords, this, again, is in the recommendations, but I would remind the noble Lord that while recommending that there should be power to prohibit the use in laboratories of animals not bred for the purpose—the kind the noble Lord is talking about—the Littlewood Committee decided that it would not be practicable to introduce such a prohibition for some time; and that is the view of the Government. But we are aware of the implications of this question, as indeed of the earlier question on the same subject. It is a matter we have under consideration. It is not easy.

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