HL Deb 20 November 1969 vol 305 cc1062-5

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 when they intend to implement all or any of the recommendations made in 1965 by the Littlewood Committee on Experiments on Live Animal; and whether they consider that nine to twelve inspectors suffice to oversee experiments now running at the rate of over 5,000,000 per year.]


My Lords, the Littlewood Committee recommended against piecemeal implementation of its proposal's, and the Government do not propose to introduce changes in the present system of control in advance of new legislation. With the present pressure on the legislative programme, I am afraid I cannot say now when it may be possible to introduce a Bill. The noble Earl will be glad to know that new appointments have recently been made to bring the strength of the inspectorate up to twelve. The inspectors' task is to ensure that licence-holders understand and fulfil their responsibilities under the Act rather than to supervise actual experiments, and that view was endorsed by the Littlewood Committee.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I feel gratification at the increase in the number of inspectors, but are the Government sufficiently aware that the Littlewood Report was not written by starry-eyed humanitarians but by a cross section of sensible and well-instructed opinion? Further, they made nearly a hundred recommendations, most of which are not contentious, and there is considerable feeling in the country generally that it is high time something was done about it.


My Lords, we are indeed aware of the excellent quality of the people who made up the Littlewood Committee. It is true that they made 83 recommendations, some of which undoubtedly require legislation. The Government are very sympathetic to the recommendations made and intend to bring in legislation, but the Littlewood Committee themselves made no suggestion as to the urgency of the legislation required.


My Lords, I realise that the noble Baroness is in a difficult position, because she does not arrange Government business, but is she aware that the delay by the Government in implementing the recommendations in this Report is becoming a scandal? Is she aware that the present law was passed in 1876, and the Littlewood Committee said the provisions of that Act did not match up to modern scientific and technological requirements? More than four years have passed since then and nothing has been done.


My Lords, I could not accept the word "scandal" in reference to this matter. We are all aware, the noble Lord more than anybody, of the difficulties of arranging Government business. Obviously the Government are sympathetic; they have planned legislation. Four years is not all that long when you consider the complexity of the numbers of bodies involved, or the different interests which must be brought to bear on this issue if we are to get proper legislation. I think it is better to proceed a little more slowly and arrive at a more complete solution.


My Lords, while Government dilatoriness continues to prevail in the matter of this odious activity of torturing live, helpless, in-offensive animals, can the noble Baroness give an unequivocal assurance to the House that these experiments are undertaken expressly and for the sole purpose of demonstrably benefiting mankind, and not with a view to proudly proclaiming and advertising the wonders of science and producing horrific and obscene things like a dog with two heads, and other abominations that we see illustrated in certain organs of the Press from time to time? Such evils—


Question! Order, order!


My Lords, I do not often ask for your Lordships' indulgence. I should like to finish my question—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? He is being very interesting, but I think he is just beginning to over-try the patience of the House. If he would ask a question, it would be helpful. He has managed to make a considerable number of points, but perhaps he could now ask his question. There is also a Resolution about not reading speeches, and I think his question is turning into a speech.


My Lords, I have to accept what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said. If these unholy animal experiences have to continue, can the noble Baroness say whether veterinary advice is available at all—and I repeat, "at all"—veterinary laboratories?


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his question and say that I can give him that assurance. Inspectors are highly qualified medically and in the veterinary sense, and some of them are qualified in both respects. We have tremendous confidence in them. We know the advice they give is accepted. We know that the people who have the licences are given them only after the most stringent inspection. Furthermore, the premises themselves have to be licensed. I have absolutely no shadow of doubt in giving the noble Lord that assurance.


My Lords, would not the noble Baroness agree that one of the chief evils in this practice is the element of wastage—that is to say, the making of between 60 and 100 experiments where perhaps two would do? Would she not agree that one way possibly to avoid this wastage would be to make the purchase of animals for experiment a great deal more expensive?


My Lords, the Littlewood Committee themselves found very little evidence indeed of wastage. It is quite true that the number of experiments has increased and will continue to do so. That is because of the therapeutic revolution and the need for new drugs. I should like to remind the House that many of these experiments are required by law. Before you can put on the market new drugs which have been discovered, each batch has to be tested. Nearly all those experiments are not in any sense horrific, as the noble Lord said; they are injections and that kind of thing—the same treatment as is given to humans.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that the putting up of the price of animals can lead only to an increased risk of thieving for unlicensed sellers of animals?


My Lords, yes, I agree, but it is an extremely complicated business.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that experiments on animals are quite in order to beautify her sex, and that a great number of experiments are carried out on animals for cosmetics—for instance, for eye drops?


My Lords, I do not think that most of our sex needs beautifying; I do not know about the other sex. But I should like to say that in fact very few experiments are done purely for cosmetic value. It is very difficult to draw the line between research on skin disease and skin conditions and that done purely for cosmetic purposes.


My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that those who carry out these experiments are no less humane than any Members of your Lordships' House?