§ 2.41 p.m.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In rising to do so, I should like first to assure your Lordships that down to the last comma it is identical to that which your Lordships were kind enough to pass in the Session of Parliament that has recently ended. Your Lordships passed it about six months ago. It is no longer just a Private Member's Bill, my own Bill drafted by myself and those who help me. It represents the best solution that a Select Committee of your Lordships' House could find to a complex and controversial matter. It was a formidable well-qualified Select Committee, and I am glad to see my noble friend Lord Ashby in his place and so many Members of that committee down on the speakers' list to speak about it. I have already expressed my thanks to my noble friend Lord Ashby in absentia, and it is a pleasure to be able to repeat them again in his presence and to look forward, as I am sure your Lordships will too, to what he has to say.
The subject of the Bill is the prime responsibility of Government and I recognise that I cannot get the Bill on to the statute book without their approval and assistance in due course. But, a succession of Governments have avoided the embarrassment of discharging this responsibility following the report of the Littlewood Committee 16 years ago, by simply sitting tight and 1250 doing nothing. It was a political hot potato that nobody wanted to touch.
The Bill as drafted by me and those who helped me in the first place, and as amended later by the Select Committee, is now before your Lordships for the second time round. It represents my attempt to get the subject up from down under not by bringing animals into politics through the pressure of an unsupportable mailbag on honourable Members in another place, but by keeping them out of politics through a Private Member's Bill.
I shall not repeat my exposition of the details of the Bill. Your Lordships went through it all before when you passed it and sent it to the other place in the last Session, where it was taken up, but where there was insufficient time to give it attention. My reasons for asking your Lordships to give it attention again are twofold: domestic reasons on the one hand, and on the other hand reasons connected with the Council of Europe's working party on the same subject—home affairs and foreign affairs if you wish to put it that way.
On the home front we have had for 104 years what I have heard called an ineptly drafted Act under which no conviction could ever be secured on any prosecution likely to be brought. But, just because of that rather loose drafting it has been possible to bend the Act and thereby update it by the interpretation that one puts on it. What is not in the Act explicitly can be imported into it implicitly in the form of potential licence conditions over which the Home Office has a monopoly of authority, but of which the public knows very little in the matter of detail.
I do not myself, think that this authority at the Home Office is exercised wrongly, insensitively or unwisely. But the age-old analogy between doing justice and letting it be seen that justice is being done operates in this context and has left the militant, anti-vivisectionists free to argue—though not, to me, convincingly—that the Home Office is no more than the stooge of scientists indifferent to animal suffering. I do not accept that the the Home Office is a stooge. I do not accept that my fellow scientists are indifferent to animal suffering any more than I am myself. They are just as likely to be fond of animals as anyone else and have the same number of pet animals in their homes as other people. Nor do I accept that the alleged suffering is on anything like the extended scale that is made out. Nor do I believe that well-informed opinion among animal welfarists differs very much from mine. Nor do I think mine differed very much from that of the Select Committee.
However, we live in abnormal times in which any advocates of minority opinion now feel free to emphasise their opinions by civil commotion and violence at a time when the judiciary seem to have lost their faith in punishment as a deterrent. In any case, our gaols are so full of every form of serious criminal that there is no room to incarcerate those who merely make nuisances of themselves by damaging property and harassing individuals.
I have always been on good terms with the genuine animal welfare movement, with whose purposes I entirely sympathise. However, it has always had an extremist fringe with whom one cannot really talk—it is a dialogue of the deaf. When I meet them, as I have done, they seem to be somewhat disturbed personalities over a rather wide spectrum, towards whom I think sympathy 1251 rather than hostility is the appropriate reaction. They include people who like making speeches in public about this and, after all, that is what I am doing myself. In the middle of the range there are somewhat more neurotic types who are embittered about the subject and resemble the man with a grievance—if you remove his grievance, he only acquires another one; if they could not protest about animals, they would be protesting about putting flouride into drinking water or something like that.
Then, at the far end of the spectrum, there are people who are getting on to the border of what is psychotic rather than neurotic and suffering from delusions of persecution, not on behalf of themselves, but on behalf of something else—animals, for instance: a kind of paranoia; one might call it, vicarious paranoia. We have lived with this for over 100 years and we know how to live with it. But unfortunately this militant fringe in modern times has been infiltrated by backstreet bully types who use what is a good cause as an excuse for violence and vandalism, which is their real objective.
Your Select Committee was in no doubt about this. If your Lordships will allow me to read from their report, they said:There are small militant groups and fanatical individuals who cause great anxiety to a few scientific workers and who bring undeserved discredit upon the animal welfare lobby".I emphasise "undeserved discredit".
We received evidence, including a sworn statement to the police, that some physiologists are the victims of intolerable intimidation. They suffer abusive telephone calls at all hours of the night, threats to themselves and their families, even calculated harrassment of their children. Similarly militant persons are responsible for offensive acts of vandalism, involving damage running to thousands of pounds, at places where scientific work is going on".Those are not my words; they are the words of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House after listening to the evidence.
Did those so criticised accept this rebuke from your Lordships House?—one of the Houses in the Mother of Parliaments. Not they. Within a few weeks of those words being published, there was organised a protest movement deliberately intended to vandalise the Agricultural Research Council's Institute of Animal Physiology at Babraham, near Cambridge. Emotions had been irresponsibly worked up by that paragon of Fleet Street, the tabloid newspaper, the Star, which described the institute as "Frankenstein Farm" and similar emotive denotations. It hinted at unspeakable horrors going on behind locked doors.
This may have promoted the Star's circulation but it was particularly silly since, like all research council stations of such character, Babraham published an annual report of its general activities while the details were of course published in the various scientific journals, veterinary journals, physiological journals, and so on, devoted to the subject matter. In the result, thousands of pounds worth of damage was done to public property, the animals were far more disturbed and frightened by noise, commotion, rioting, the flashing of camera bulbs, than they ever were by experimental procedures, and nothing whatever emerged from the exercise which could be of the slightest value to any cause at all.
1252 Arrests were made, and a prosecution followed, but the offenders were only bound over to keep the peace for a period, and promptly claimed it as a moral victory. I have here a photocopy of the Star the day afterwards.
Fury at horror farm. Furious animal lovers clashing with police yesterday after smashing their way into Frankenstein Farm".Next door to it, just to illustrate the tatterdemalion standards of journalism to which this belongs, is a picture of a provocatively naked bosom, and underneath it is written:Loving it up on the Costa del Sex. Secrets of those seaside singles, see centre page".I have not got the centre page to flourish at your Lordships, but I am sure it would be much more interesting than the details of mob violence at Babraham.
To continue with the story, a few weeks later vandals interrupted a church service at which prayers of thanksgiving were offered for the work of the Wellcome Foundation, whose centenary it was. I should explain that the foundation is a trading enterprise whose share capital is entirely owned by a trust, the Wellcome Trust, and from the profits the trust receives as shareholder it donates funds in support of medical and allied research all over the world.
Of course animals are used in the foundation's laboratories as they are in other such establishments. But this was made an excuse for noisy interruptions of a church service of thanksgiving by vandals. These people are quite lost to any sense of what is fitting. In so far as the updating of legislation and the failure to update it can be made an excuse for mindless violence of this kind, the judiciary appear little disposed to punish it very severely.
May I then ask the noble Minister my first question? Does he not agree that this situation must be dealt with seriously? Will he condemn publicly, right now and in the strongest possible terms the sort of vandalism detailed in the report of your Lordships' Select Committee? In particular will he condemn the odious practice of adults inciting children to harass other children because they are the children of scientists and their parents' work is disapproved of in fantasy by the inciters, though they make it clear they do not really know what sort of work the parents are doing at all?
Will the Minister tell the House what steps can be taken to draw the attention of the judiciary to what is going on? Needless to say, I am not concerned in the least with interfering with the independence of the judiciary, or their judgment of what is proper to impose as punishment in particular cases, but I see no reason to suppose that magistrates at large are close students of Select Committee reports of this House on matters of no immediate legal concern to them, and surely it is permissible to draw their attention to what is going on generally. There must be some machinery for doing this.
The urgency of the need for new legislation brings me to my second reason for reintroducing the Bill. The declared policy of Her Majesty's Government is to wait on the promised convention on which a Council of Europe working party is engaged at Strasbourg. That was never my intention. On the contrary; I wanted us to give Strasbourg a lead by 1253 introducing legislation they could copy into their convention based on our 100 years of experience in this field. I do not believe they would have been the least bit adverse to our doing so, for I have visited Strasbourg and talked to the officials engaged on the task and they are well aware that lawyers as such are quite out of their depth in this sphere and that what is needful is experience.
What are we doing to place our experience at their disposal? Are we giving them special facilities for studying this Bill? I have of course sent a copy to the secretariat there and there has been correspondence with them about it, but that is different from putting it on the agenda of the working party; I cannot do anything about that. I am told that the Home Office Advisory Committee is studying the Bill; but if Strasbourg is not, why not? And in any case, should we not know a little more about who are the members of this working party on whom we shall be so critically dependent? What expertise do they command, and does it compare with the expertise present at meetings of your Lordships' Select Committee? What evidence will they listen to, as your Select Committee did? Are there proceedings in public, as your Select Committee's were? What specialist advisers have they, as your committee had? What progress are they making, how often do they meet, what is the state of the all-important appendices—the details of how the convention would work, without which it would be inoperative—and is it the case, as I have heard, that the redrafting referred to by the Minister on the last occasions when we debated this matter (that is, Recommitment and Report stages of this Bill) has set the timetable back by a whole year?
I ask the Minister to tell us frankly how he views the timescale involved. Let me recite all that, in my view, has to be dealt with. First of all, the draft convention must be agreed as between those who are drawing it up and then the appendices must be written. To whom will the draft and its appendices then be submitted for approval, and with whom will the approving authority discuss the draft before approving it? How will the mechanisms of democracy work? What sort of discussions will be held here between the Government and interested parties in this country, not only the animal welfare movement but the medical profession, the scientific profession, the pharmaceutical industry and so on? At what point will Her Majesty's Government be irrevocably committed to ratification? And what of the other Governments; how long will they want before committing themselves?
I would ask the Minister for something else: will he give an undertaking that Her Majesty's Government will not commit themselves to ratification before an opportunity for parliamentary discussion here has been given? If the present state of the draft is not matured to the point where it can be published for public discussion, has it notwithstanding been made available to the Department of Health and Social Security and the Department of Education and Science, both of which are deeply interested in the outcome? Are they satisfied with the present state of the pain clause? When we last debated these matters it was in quite unsatisfactory terms, but the Minister seemed then to be assenting with what I felt, after reading his remarks in Hansard, was some complacency thereto. I repeat 1254 what I said to him then: it is in my view quite insupportable that, through a statute which leaves no scope for escape, the avoidance of limited suffering by relatively short-lived animals should for ever and in all circumstances have precedence over the avoidance of unlimited suffering by long-lived human beings, men, women and, above all, children. But, my Lords, I do not of course forget the animals, which so much of this research benefits. There must be an escape route from the pain clause which requires that an animal in severe pain which is likely to endure must be put down. The Minister must have power to make an exception to that in special circumstances. Does the noble Lord the Minister agree?
I come now to the pinch of the vice in which the Minister is gripped by the pledges that he has already given. Can he put his hand on his heart and say that the transaction of all this business will be completed in such time as will permit him to be in a position to draft legislation—itself a time-consuming process—which could come before Parliament in the lifetime of this present Parliament? Of course I say "could", not "will", because I know, and your Lordships know, that the Minister cannot pre-empt what will be contained in some future Speech from the Throne, and I should not be so foolish as to expect him to do so. He cannot promise that the Government pledge of new legislation can be kept in the lifetime of this Parliament; but, if not, can he put his hand on his heart and say that in such a case it will not be the fault of Strasbourg?
If the Minister cannot say that much, can he give me another promise instead, a conditional one? If there is undue delay in coming forward with a European Convention and its appendices acceptable to Her Majesty's Government, and likely to be ratified by the Governments of Europe, will he undertake to reopen the decision to wait on events elsewhere and proceed independently with domestic legislation, possibly on the lines of the Bill now before the House? In this sense, my Lords, the Bill is my pressure point. I am not prepared to wait indefinitely without trying to do anything while I watch my fellow scientists harassed because the judiciary is waiting upon the Government to put one branch of the law into an up-to-date form before reacting with severity to a breach of some other branch of the law by way of protest, while the Government are waiting on the rest of Europe.
That is why I would appeal to all interested parties who have supported me so far not to rock the boat at this stage. Doubtless some of my friends would like to see one amendment here or another amendment there which, from their point of view, would be improvements to the Bill. Equally, some of those who support my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who has been so helpful to me throughout, would like to be able to say, "We would prefer a little more of this and a little more of that". But I think that the time to give expression to such views should be in the future. No one who keeps his counsel now by assisting the passage of the Bill need suppose that he has forfeited his right to raise his voice or lobby for support at another time or in another place. The compromise wrought by my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby and me, with the help and support of our friends outside Parliament, and of our noble friends on the Select Committee, is one that I believe 1255 should be allowed to stand, for the time being at least. In that spirit, my Lords, I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Halsbury.)
§ 3.3 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, those whom I represent on these Benches very much welcome the reintroduction of the Bill. I had the honour and pleasure to serve on the committee, and it was a most interesting and fruitful experience. We owe much to the hard work and the peace-making faculties of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and of course to the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, whom we very much look forward to hearing during the debate. It was a considerable achievement that a unanimous report, and therefore a unanimous draft Bill, were produced at the end of the day, particularly since the whole Bill had been completely redrafted, from top to bottom, in the course of the proceedings.
Lord Houghton of Sowerby and myself would in fact have liked the Bill to go rather further. In particular, we should have liked to seek a way of banning experiments on animals for the validation of products which are non-essential to the health and welfare of mankind. I still think that that is an important step which we ought to take in the future, but I accept that the feeling of the committee and of your Lordships' House was against it and the feeling of the public is also against it, and that therefore it is not yet ready for legislation. So we produced a report which we all supported and which we thought was practicable and as humane as in the circumstances it could possibly be. Certainly I stand by that and would wish to support the Bill as much as possible.
I am not going to detain your Lordships for long. We have already had two or three debates on this subject, and it may well be that it will be one of those subjects on which we may have further debates in the course of the next two or three years. But I think it is right that the noble Earl has brought it to us to press it again, and that we can have another airing of some of the criticisms which have been made, although I would go along with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, in thinking that none of the criticisms has really a very sound basis, or enough of a basis to make us reconsider the conclusions to which we came. Criticism was made of the powers being given to the advisory committee, but in the last resort the powers stay with the Secretary of State; and it seems to me that the composition of such an advisory committee is one way of keeping the unanimity and the agreement that we ourselves found in our own committee, and thus administering the Bill with common sense and humanity.
The problem of the Council of Europe Convention is a slightly difficult one. Of course, the Government do not want to waste time having too much legislation, or having to legislate first and then legislate again, but I agree that we should keep this matter as much as possible before the face of Parliament and before the face of the Government. Conventions do get bogged down. The Council of Europe (as I know, having served on it for several years) does move unconscionably slowly, and it may be right that we should enact this Bill before the convention goes 1256 through—certainly, as the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said, in case there should be any particular delay. I will not at this stage enter into the arguments about the exception to the pain clause. I think there are arguments on both sides, and without necessarily refusing the pleas of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, that we should not try to amend the Bill, I nevertheless think that there may be a case for at least raising this subject again and talking about it; but that is not on Second Reading.
It is important that in a matter like this, which arouses an immense degree of emotion and which is capable of arousing emotions in a large number of citizens of the country, we have a situation where people who regard themselves very much as the spokesmen of particular sides in this dispute have agreed together, and the only people who disagree are a number of extremists who, for one reason or another, cannot bring themselves to this practical solution which most of us have agreed is the best that could possibly be achieved at this particular time. If we have that situation, do not let us throw it away; do not let it fritter away through the sands of time until we go back to the same old sterile arguments again. Let us strike now, and let us do the best we can to put this into law as soon as possible.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Lord Ashby
My Lords, the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, have put the case so clearly that there is really hardly anything for me to add except to underline what they have said and to support the Bill. I have one contribution to make. It is this. On a subject so savagely controversial as this, I wish to declare a disinterest. Half my career has been spent in experimental biology, but it has all been with plants, never with animals, and therefore I have never been put in to the position of having to declare loyalty either to those who believe in using animals for experiments or those who oppose it. So I came to the Select Committee with a completely open mind. I am now equally completely convinced that the law needs to be changed, that it needs to be changed as soon as practicably possible, and that, give and take a few compromises and amendments, the law should take the rough kind of pattern which is in the Bill that the noble Earl has presented to us this afternoon. When the Bill was recommitted last June, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, assured the House Committee that the Government were resolved to replace the present Act. He paid very generous compliments to the revised Bill, but went on to say that the Government were not prepared to act yet and that the Government were not prepared to act on the lines of the Bill now before us.
Therefore, the Bill faces two obstacles: one on time and the other on content. Although it involves some repetition—but this matter needs to be rubbed in—I should like to say a few words about timing. The noble Lord advised us that the delay was necessary because the first draft of the European Convention was being revised and that the chairmanship is now in the hands of the United Kingdom. The noble Lord said that even last June—that was six months ago—the first eight Articles of the Convention had been provisionally agreed and he hoped that the rest would be agreed by (what is now) last September. He concluded 1257 that by this time next year—that will be, by June 1981—we shall have the complete convention upon which it will be possible for the United Kingdom to act quickly. One of the things which we hope and are quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead will tell us this afternoon is the present state of play in this matter.
But if there is to be a delay, I suggest to your Lordships that there is a strong case for pressing on with this Bill, even though it might need amendments at a later stage, partly because we are ahead of any other European country in our legislation and our plans for further legislation about this. We could, as the noble Earl has said, give a lead to Europe rather than following behind; and I hope that when the noble Lord the Minister replies he will be able to give some encouragement to that idea. Noble Lords know, and it is already clear from the opening speech of the noble Earl, that there has been long and bitter conflict between those who oppose experiments on animals and those who believe that these experiments, done humanely, are necessary and serve both humanity and the animals.
It so happened that two noble Lords closelyassociated with the two sides of the conflict—and, I hasten to say, moderates on each side—were members of the select committee that revised the Bill. It is, I think, a remarkable occasion that they are both here today supporting each other in pressing for this Bill to be adopted. This is an unprecedented situation. To use the noble Earl's simile: The hot potato is cooler than it has ever been before and, I dare say, cooler than it is ever going to be again. So this is a unique opportunity to seek a consensus on an issue which deeply moves some sections of the public.
Your Lordships may be interested to know that at an early stage of the work of the Select Committee, the committee was receiving some 200 letters a week from the public about this issue. If the decision is delayed this opportunity may be lost. That will cause widespread disappointment among people who have shown a deep concern about this matter and widespread disappointment among two opposite "sides"—if one can put that word in inverted commas—like the Research Defence Society, which looks after the interests of the scientists, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, of which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is such an important and almost legendary figure.
Secondly, may I say a few words about the Minister's comments on the content of the Bill? I hope that other speakers will take up what I omit. I want to deal with only one point. The Bill provides for a statutory advisory committee with the duty to advise the Secretary of State and to submit, through him, an annual report to Parliament. For many years there has been a non-statutory advisory committee. It has been somewhat sleepy in the past but it has recently been reconstituted and given new responsibilities; but it can only make its views known through the departmental channels. It cannot report formally to Parliament or to the public as, say, the University Grants Committee can.
Your Lordships' Select Committee regarded a statutory advisory committee with the powers you see set out in the Bill as an essential link in the chain of accountability between at one end those who use animals under the Act for tests and experiments, and, 1258 at the other end, the public. It was to be a watchdog for the public conscience. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was apprehensive about this proposal for a statutory committee. With his permission, I will quote from his speech at col. 1335 of Hansard of 20th June. He said that it would have the power:to circumscribe the Secretary of State in the exercise of his responsibilities, and undoubtedly quite often to impose its own policies on him".and that (at col. 1336):the Secretary of State is required in effect to clear his annual report with the committee before submitting it to Parliament".With respect to the noble Lord who sits on the Front Bench, that is not all the way the Select Committee regarded the words they drafted. Clause 2(1) of the Bill says that the Secretary of State:shall have regard to the advice and guidanceof the advisory committee. Clause 10(5) says that the Secretary of State:shall receive any comments which the Committee makeon his draft report to Parliament. Surely to have regard to advice and to receive comments from an advisory committee cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as circumscribing a Secretary of State. Nowhere in the Bill is the Secretary of State obliged to act on the recommendation of the advisory committee.
I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I suggest that he may not have been fully briefed on this issue; and it is the most important issue in the whole Bill because the ethical problems involved in this legislation are extremely difficult. The Home Office inspectors—as the Select Committee makes clear in its report—are doing a remarkably efficient job, and they are doubtless thinking about the ethical issues all the time. But they are not philosophers, physiologists or animal psychologists, and they have a statute to administer. They cannot represent the public conscience as the advisory committee could. That is why your Lordships' Select Committee wanted a statutory body of advisers, charged with a continuing responsibility to reflect, among other things, on the nature of pain, suffering and stress in animals, about which we still know far too little.
This, in the Select Committee's view, is indispensable if public opinion is to be satisfied in these days of open government. It is essential, too, for the welfare of the animals used under the Act. As long as 20 years ago two people writing on this whole problem summed up what could be the continuing brief of such an advisory committee. They said what was necessary was continuing study of the three Rs, by which they meant replacement, reduction and refinement: that is, the replacement of animals by non-animals so far as possible, reduction in any case of the number of animals used, and, where there had to be stress or pain put upon an animal, refinement of the methods to minimise that.
So even though the Government will doubtless want to redraft this Bill in the light of the advice they are now getting from the advisory committee, I do plead with the noble Lord the Minister to press for action in 1980–81. If there has to be delay because of procrastination at Strasbourg, can the noble Lord give an undertaking to the House that, pending the introduction 1259 of fresh legislation, he will ask his right honourable friend the Home Secretary to encourage this at present informal advisory committee to act as it would act if it were a properly constituted statutory committee? My Lords, I leave other points to be made by other speakers, and end by repeating my total support for this Bill and also for the advocacy of the noble Lords who have preceded me in this debate.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Lord Skelmersdale
My Lords, it is with some diffidence on two counts that I rise to address your Lordships on this occasion. In the first place, I am a very strong supporter indeed of this Government. I believe that if anybody can put the "Great" back into Great Britain it is this Government, and I think that in many ways it is beginning to do just that. I wish that the Home Office and my noble friend Lord Belstead, who is speaking for the Government at the end of this debate, were striding ahead quite as fast as some other departments and Ministers of this particular Government. The second reason why I rise with great diffidence is that it is always extremely difficult to get on the same wave-length of clarity of explanation as the noble Lord, Lord Ashby. I am grateful to him in that, without any collusion on our part, he has in the most miraculous way led in to what I want to say.
When I was asked to serve on the Select Committee, I did so in a spirit almost of fear and trembling. I was very worried that, on the one side, we would have the big battalions of science, represented in this case by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, and, on the other hand, the animal welfare side represented by the noble Lords, Lord Houghton of Sowerby and Lord Beaumont of Whitley. Great was my relief, then, when at I think the second sitting of the committee I discovered that my fears were groundless and that we would almost certainly come up with a Bill which was agreed by all members of the Select Committee. That is exactly what we did.
Many of your Lordships will have been sent the pamphlet I am holding, which is Information Sheet No. 12 from the Committee for Information on Animal Research, the Government's comments on the Select Committee's amended Laboratory Animals Protection Bill. It is really a distillate, a précis, of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on 20th June last, when we were going through the Recommitment and Report stages of Lord Halsbury's Bill of the last Session. It boils down to six-and-a-half points, one of which the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, has already made. Without wishing to be nasty in any way, I should be grateful if my noble friend Lord Belstead could explain a little more fully the rationale of his arguments; of many of the criticisms that he had of the Bill on that occasion.
One of his points was to cast doubts on the new demand that the Bill made on the Secretary of State to have regard to what is justifiable for the advancement of knowledge, or for the health and welfare of mankind or animals. This was done by the Select Committee to take account of the change in public opinion and public need over a period of years. We recognised that the present Act of 1876 had then been running on the 1260 statute book without amendment for 103 years—it is now 104. So what possible reason have we to be sure that any Bill that eventually emerges will not be in force for the next 104 years?
Secondly, on this problem of advisory bodies, the Government fear that the Secretary of State might be controlled by the statutory advisory body which it is recommended should be set up under this Bill. Now an advisory body's job, basically, is to advise the Secretary of State and, although this body is to be set up as a free-thinking one, its job, in the end result, is purely to advise. We have had an example from the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, of a similar body. I am thinking, although perhaps my analogy is not so apt, of the Nature Conservancy Council, which is also free-thinking, but which also, in the last resort, advises.
The Government's view on the permitted purposes for the granting of licences is that it would be difficult to conceive of any purpose that could not be brought within the terms of Clause 1(2). Again, we have already heard this mentioned this afternoon. But they are also complaining that the Secretary of State must have regard to what is justifiable et cetera. You really cannot have it both ways. Either the criticism is that the power is being passed to the Executive, or the criticism is that too much power is being passed to the Secretary of State. I really do not understand how you can have it both ways.
Next in the new Bill, whether it is to be a Government one or this one is to become law—which, as the noble Earl said, is extremely unlikely and not really desirable; it is something on which the Government should legislate—the Government feel that the pain condition should be inviolate. How, then, is scientific work on the subject of pain to be conducted? How are we to know that new procedures in the future may not make it absolutely essential to have this very carefully drafted exclusion? There may very well be good reasons why the Secretary of State wants to exclude the pain clause for a particular experiment or a particular class of experiments.
I can assure the Government and my noble friend that the Select Committee spent many hours and had more expert opinion on this point than on any other. I thought at one stage that we had reached deadlock on this with the opposing forces that I spoke about at the beginning. The trouble was that they were all absolutely correct in their own viewpoints, and what we had to try to do was to marry their opinions to get a sensible compromise, and I believe that this compromise has now been reached.
All speakers have referred to the Council of Europe convention. The Government again criticise this Bill, in that it does not follow this and does not deal with the procurement, breeding and supply of laboratory animals; whether animals are to be used a second time for laboratory purposes, and so on. But what do the Government think Clause 6 is all about? It covers these points absolutely clearly. It enables the Secretary of State to make regulations on all these points. As we have heard, and will hear again later from them, the Government have promised new legislation of their own on this subject, but only after the Council of Europe convention is signed. I accept that this must be done but I cannot help regretting, in passing, that so often we have to wait, swinging on the coat-tails 1261 of Europe, before anything is done. I believe that we ought to lead and not to wait unduly. We have a golden opportunity to press not only for a quick convention but for a more positive convention along the lines of the noble Earl's excellent Bill.
We have here a very fragile peace on what is undoubtedly a very sensitive subject. I could not urge my noble friend more strongly to see that the European convention is pushed along with all possible speed. This Bill, which I accept may well need tidying up on some minor matters, presents the Government with a framework not only for their own legislation but also for the convention.
To sum up, I believe that the Government are presented with a golden opportunity, presented, as our American friends would say, "sunny side up". I can only hope that we do not all of us—the Government, the Select Committee, the House, the welfare bodies, the scientists—end up with egg all over our faces.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, whenever the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, speaks on this subject I wonder how long it is going to be before I pray to be saved from my friends. I associate myself with the first two minutes of his speech this afternoon; I dissociate myself completely from the next 10. It was only when he reached the business before the House of taking stock and trying to find where we go next that I found myself in sympathy with what he was saying. The noble Earl has got vandalism on the brain. He cannot leave the subject alone. I warn the noble Earl, and the House, that the more one talks about vandalism the more of it one will get. I said this in the Select Committee about the very excerpt from the report of the committee which the noble Earl read to the House.
I regret to say that the noble Earl has no understanding at all of the mood, the outlook and the desire for idealism and action of the young people of Britain today. With great respect to him, he is "an old square". It is not a bit of good lecturing the magistrates and criticising the judiciary and virtually asking them to send these people to remand homes or institutions for reform and better order and discipline.
None of that is going to carry any influence with young people. They are disenchanted with the society which has been created for them by their elders. They do not like what they see; they want to change it. They want to be where the action is. Unfortunately, where the action is is usurped by the older people in the community who stand in the way of the attainment of the life and of the vision they want to see.
I appeal to noble Lords to understand this problem more deeply than it has been presented to them this afternoon by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. I felt so indignant when he was speaking that had I been in the House of Commons I should have interrupted him. I should have been rude to him. If I had been handy for the Mace I should have run away with it. I should have shown my indignation in the same sort of way that young people do when they find there is no other course open to them.
I am going to leave that aside. I thought we were going to have a business session this afternoon: no restatement of our respective philosophies, no going 1262 over the ground of whether experiments are necessary for the benefit of humanity or for animals and no confrontation between the "pro" and the "anti" point of view on this deeply sensitive and controversial issue. We had come together on the Select Committee, we had presented a Bill to this House; that Bill was passed through all its stages in June and that marked a positive and historic step forward. So I will leave aside the noble Earl's special pleading for scientists and the defence of the Home Office. Let me tell your Lordships, neither of them are any better than they should be and we will take it for granted that they are doing their best, so, like the pianist, we will not shoot them. We will just leave them aside and get on with our job, and our job this afternoon is to ask the noble Lord the Minister where we are going from here.
One good reason for urging the House to give this Bill a Second Reading for the second time is that it is the best Bill that we have got. It is the only Bill we have got. This is the only Bill which has gone through either House of Parliament on this subject within living memory. Just ponder on that, my Lords—within living memory no Bill on this subject has passed either House of Parliament! Here we are, on the eve of Christmas with a Bill which represents the highest attainable agreement in sentiment and in practice on this subject. Therefore we should regard this as a moment of great potentiality from the parliamentary point of view. If I may say so, it is bigger than 12 minutes of the speech of the noble Earl. I am sorry to refer to him again.
The question is, why are we not getting on? We are not getting on because the Government will not give facilities for us to get on. They will put up with this, but they do not want to do anything about it yet. What, then, are we waiting for? We are waiting upon the work being done in the Council of Europe. That is the main reason for delaying action in our own Parliament. We have heard this before but I think it is time to ask the Minister to be much more precise about the likely period that we may have yet to wait before the final draft of the Convention is available for our consideration.
At column 1332 of the Official Report of this House of the 20th June the noble Lord said that he hopedthe remaining articles will be settled at the next meeting in September. This is likely to be followed by a meeting of a small drafting group to prepare the final document for presentation to the Strasbourg Committee in March or May of next year"—that is 1981.
Therefore I believe that by this time next year we shall have a complete convention upon which it will be possible for the United Kingdom to act quickly".What we ought to know from the noble Lord is whether that timetable still holds. Is that what we can confidently expect?
In connection with the Wildlife and Countryside Bill the other day we had occasion to look at the Convention on the conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, which came from the same source—the Council of Europe. I looked at the timetable in that report to see how long these things take. In that case the first meeting of the body concerned was in November 1976 and the draft Convention was December 1978. It was adopted by the Committee of Ministers in June 1979. It was opened for signature 1263 in September 1979, and we got the Bill implementing the recommendations of the Convention in December 1980. Are we going to have a similar lapse of time between the draft final Convention and the introduction of legislation? How long is that going to take? I do think that the Minister has now to come clean with the House and tell us candidly where we are, because he knows as well as I do that the longer this business drags on the more precarious is going to be the unity on this Bill. It is only held there by the prospect of action, and if the prospect of action recedes then I am afraid the stresses and strains which underlie the present unity may well break again. I certainly will not be able to keep in partnership with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, indefinitely. I will cling on to him for a bit longer, but I warn him that he is in danger of losing me, and if he makes any more speeches like he did this afternoon he will lose me more quickly. So I do beg of him to hold his peace and put the responsibility where it belongs, and that is on the Minister, to obey the will of the House, to respond to the mood of the country, because that is very strong indeed, and let us get on.
I am not going to keep the House more than a minute or two longer, but I just want to remind the House of where the differences lie. I agree that it is difficult for us to legislate while a draft convention is reaching its final stages in the Council of Europe. That does provide some difficulties, let us be honest about it. But we must ask the Council of Europe to have regard to our difficulties. We are not waiting to come up to the standard of the draft convention, as I understand that draft is likely to be; we are impatient to get ahead of it. Indeed, the convention will provide for nation States to introduce legislation going further than the conditions of the convention. That is what we are waiting for. The convention is likely to bring other European countries up to the standards we have now, but we want to go further than that. Therefore, from our point of view waiting for the convention impedes our drive for progress. That is why we have to tell the Council of Europe, "Do not shilly-shally too long, you people, because if you do we shall he bound to go on and show you and the world that our standards are better than yours". That is the first thing.
The second thing is, what is the trouble about this Bill, which we might well be considering while we are waiting for the final draft of the convention of the Council of Europe? The noble Lord, Lord Skelmers-dale, referred to this little pamphlet, which I hope I may modestly say I asked this committee to produce. I said, "Let us have in an impartial and intelligible form a summary of the Government's objections to this Bill", and we have got it here. I would refer your Lordships to the last page. Under the heading of "Summary" it says:The government spokesman clearly felt that the Select Committee has left too many decisions to the discretion of the Secretary of State, and that Parliament ought to be able to 'grasp the nettle of being more precise about what may or may not be done to animals'".That summarises one of the main objections expressed by the noble Lord to the recommendations of the Select Committee—too much is left to the Home Secretary, exposing him to too much advice and 1264 circumscribing his own judgment too much. Heavens above! Ministers are surrounded by advisory committees. They could not live without them. We all know that the Home Secretary is the jack of all trades and the master of none and that he needs all the advisory committees that he can get, because he has no time to reach a judgement of his own in any depth on any subject. In those circumstances this advisory committee would be a godsend to any Home Secretary who wished to share his responsibilities with representative expert opinion.
The Conclusion reached in this document is extremely pertinent. It says:If the government draftsman were to succeed in the difficult task of defining unacceptable purposes, prohibiting unduly severe procedures and imposing clearly delineated limits on pain and suffering, this could safeguard animals through the direct control of Parliament.That seemed to be what the Minister was thinking the House ought to do. However, in the document there is added a comment which is highly relevant, namely:Such a task is not easily accomplished".We realised that in the Select Committee. We thought that some of these difficult decisions would be better taken after close examination, consultation, advice to the Minister and the issue of statutory instruments or draft orders which would deal with complicated matters more intelligibly and in greater detail than would be possible in the Statute. But the document goes on:An Act that failed to impose restrictions in effective terms, and also failed to vest a wide discretion in an accountable body, would fail altogether to protect animals and achieve nothing beyond a tidying of the statute book.If that is what the Government mean by updating the 1876 Act then we are against it. It will not go far enough. It will not achieve the main purpose behind the reforms that we want.
So I think that in the circumstances the Minister—if I may respectfully suggest to him—might confine his observations, not to condemnation of all and sundry but to defending his own position in this matter, which is accountability to the House that wants to get on and is being held back, partly by discussions that are going on elsewhere and partly because of reservations in the mind of the Minister and the Home Secretary as regards the recommendations of the Select Committee. I think that on those two points the utmost candour from the Minister would be most welcome this afternoon.
I am sure, from the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, that the House will realise the quality of his chairmanship of the Select Committee, his open-mindedness and his capacity for impartial judgment and reconciliation of opposing points of view. The Select Committee, this House and Parliament were very fortunate indeed in getting a chairman of a Select Committee of such composition who could enable that body to reach an agreed report and present to your Lordships an agreed Bill. That is something to which I think the House should pay tribute.
In conclusion, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, will disown this Bill from his own name and give it a different one, because the term "Halsbury Bill" on my side of the House is an extremely sensitive subject to live down. The sooner it can be known as 1265 the "Ashby Bill" the better. Then we can get on and have less prejudice against its recommendations. I beg forgiveness of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury; I think that we shall remain friends for a little while longer, but I warn him, not too long.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Lord Adrian
My Lords, I hope to take no more than a few minutes of your time. I should like to support the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, to whom we are all immensely grateful, for the initiative that he has taken in this extremely difficult and controversial matter.
As an experimental scientist and a Member of the Select Committee which considered this Bill under the immensely skilled chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, I am extremely aware of the importance of achieving legislation which can be agreed upon by reasonable men. I believe that the Bill which is before us today for a second time does, indeed, pass that crucial test.
There may be other legislative forms which would equally pass that test, and I very much hope that when the Government's own proposals are unveiled, they will do so. However, as a member of the Home Office Advisory Committee, which is at present considering the principles which should govern the Government's proposals, I am sure that your Lordships will understand if I leave it at that.
When we debated this Bill last year, it was newly drafted. There had been no lack of alternative proposals and, as amended by your Select Committee, the Bill was based on unfamiliar legislative approaches. Not surprisingly, it has taken some time for scientists to digest these proposals, and I am very glad of the opportunity today to say something of the reactions of my colleagues to them.
Scientists are extremely conscious of the importance of agreement and, indeed, all noble Lords who have spoken today have stressed this very point. We could hardly be otherwise, as many of us have been subject to harassment and abuse by those who do not like what we do and do not like the 1876 Act within which we work, for whatever idealistic reasons they may have taken these actions. Indeed, we could hardly be unaware that a legitimate concern for the welfare of animals is sometimes combined with a dislike and fear of scientific inquiry itself.
Biological scientists share the concern for the welfare of animals, but they are convinced by the experience of 400 years—that is the period since William Harvey discovered the circulation of the blood—they are convinced of the great utility of experimental inquiry. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, will not accuse me of being provocative when I say that.
Any legislation which replaces the 1976 Act will inevitably affect the work which we do and the contribution which we can make to knowledge, to medicine and to human and animal wellbeing. Although it was written in the language of another century, the meaning and the administration of the 1876 Act were familiar and well-tried. There was a community of understanding about what it meant and what might be done.
The new language and the new limits in this Bill do not have that reassurance of familiarity, but I believe 1266 that they have the support of scientists, and I profoundly hope that they will have the general support of the mainstream at least of the animal welfare groups. If our support is as yet qualified in some details, this Bill, should it become law, will have our wholehearted support if it diminishes pain and suffering and does not obstruct the:improving of natural knowledge by experiment",to use the words of Charles II in a letter to the Royal Society.
In particular, academic scientists welcome the inclusion of university teaching among the permitted purposes. That teaching is in a constrained position under the existing Act. We also very much welcome the new statutory position of the advisory committee.
I should like if I may to add my voice to the words of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, about the final discretion of the Secretary of State in the matter of severe pain which is likely to endure—that is, the pain condition, Clause 3(8). The noble Lord the Minister of State said in the previous Second Reading debate that all licences are now issued with a pain condition which lays down that an animal found to be suffering severe pain which is likely to endure shall forthwith be painlessly killed.
I should say at once that no one would dispute that this should in general be done. This condition is not embodied in the 1876 Act and is not in principle at the moment sacred since, on my licence at least, it begins with the words, "Unless otherwise provided below". I should add that it is not so provided below. The noble Lord the Minister of State said that the time had now come to put such a condition into legislation and to make it inviolable. He made the point that we should be required to do this by the articles of the European Convention. My Lords, the relevant passage of that convention is not finally agreed, and its current form is moreover open to a number of interpretations. Article 8 reads:When during a procedure it is found that an animal is going to suffer or is suffering severe pain or distress, or a degree of pain or distress greater than was envisaged, which cannot be prevented or alleviated, that animal shall be humanely killed without avoidable delay even if the main object of the procedure has not been achieved".One needs only to point out that this article is so drafted that, if strictly construed, it does not apply to severe pain which has been envisaged and can be prevented or alleviated but for some reason is not.
I gather that this article is to be reconsidered at Strasbourg in May, and I hope that our delegates will be able to agree a form of words which achieves the protection which we wish to see given to animals, and does not have unforeseen pitfalls.
If the pain condition becomes statutory and inviolable its meaning will be subject to judicial interpretation. And it is here that I foresee difficulty because it is at least possible that a judge might consider that some procedures done under licence today would fall within the words "severe pain likely to endure". I have in mind as an example the testing of the vaccine used to prevent black-leg, which is a painful and sometimes fatal disease of cattle akin to gas gangrene. It might be no trivial matter if testing that vaccine had to be discontinued.
I believe that the European Convention as it now stands is unsatisfactory so far as the pain condition is 1267 concerned. The Bill before us is, as has been mentioned, a compromise, an essential part of which is the final discretion of the Secretary of State. I believe that a statutory and inviolable pain condition of the kind suggested by the noble Lord the Minister of State could have a number of unfortunate consequences, and it is my own personal view that the pain condition, the spirit of which I am entirely committed to, is better left as it is; a condition put upon the licence by the Secretary of State under authority given him by statute to impose such conditions as he sees fit. I should like to support Lord Halsbury's proposal at this stage.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Lord Ferrier
My Lords, I have followed every word of this debate, as I have followed the words of other debates on this matter over the years whenever I have been able to be in London. It seems to me that hitherto the one subject on which we were all absolutely agreed (with the exception of the noble Lord who has just sat down, who is precluded from taking a view) was that we want to get on with it; we want the Government to get on with it. With that in mind, I ask your Lordships' forgiveness for taking up some time on a few points which I am sure are apposite for consideration by us, and are necessary to have on the record before this measure goes to the other place.
Much of what I have heard has enabled me to cut items from the speech I would have made, though some of what I have heard compels me to add to it. I will not weary noble Lords with details of why I speak and the connection I have had with animals and research, because I do not want to detain the House unduly. Important as it is that the Bill goes forward to the other place without delay, it is equally as important that it should not leave this House without mention of some of the misgivings which arise regarding certain of its provisions, as the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, indicated.
The effect of Clause 8(1) is to subordinate the Bill to the 1911 Act, which was and is designed to prevent deliberate cruelty to animals and to punish offenders who torment them. Licences under the Bill give immunity to experimenters from the provisions of the 1911 Act, but an offence such as the inadvertent omission to renew a licence would be prosecuted under the 1911 Act. I understand that scientific workers object to this innovaton on the grounds that it is wrong that they might be indirectly regarded as having a licence thereby to be cruel. Indeed, is it necessary for the word cruelty "to occur in Clause 8(1) at all? Though not a scientific worker, I strongly object to the inclusion of that word in this context, implying, as it does, that medical research involves cruelty.
This is something which is alleged by the arrogant and sometimes hysterical mischief-makers who seem to be willing to break the law in pursuit of a somewhat bogus campaign, accusing their fellow citizens of all sorts of enormities without true regard to the facts, and here I wish to reinforce what the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, said, and to differ with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I interpreted the latter as saying that young people today are saying, "Get on with it. Get out of our way or you will get hurt". 1268 That is not my view of what the young people of today are thinking, although it may be the result of watching the awful violence one sees on the television screen. As one of my grandchildren said to me, "I don't know, Grandpa, but they seem to think we go about hitting people all the time. We don't". This is just another of 100 contexts in which we can complain about the situation today; indeed, even when they show the trailer of a film on television it shows somebody being shot or getting run over by a car. But I am leaving the subject matter of the Bill, and I mention it only because I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, went too far in what he said, and that we must look out for the extraordinary condition of mind which the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, described so well.
People have substantial financial resources nowadays and can employ stipendary personnel whose livelihood consequently may be to harry people who are carrying on highly responsible scientific work. I wonder how many of them know that in 1947 the House of Lords, in its judicial capacity, found that the National Anti-Vivisection Societyhaving as its object the total suppression of vivisectionwas not a body to be exempt from income taxbecause any assumed public benefit in the advancement of morals would be far outweighed by the detriment to medical science and research and consequently to public health, and … because a main object of the society was political in the promotion of legislationIt was a surprise to me when my attention was drawn to that fact in the Law Reports of 1948.
I yield to no one in my devotion to animals, brought up, as I was, in a tradition of kindness and compassion. I feel justified in being infuriated by what some of the busybodies are prepared to do. But be that as it may, there is a body of opinion strongly opposed to making this legislation subordinate to the 1911 Act. They resent the fact that the Select Committee appear to have taken the view that animal experiments should be deemed to amount to cruelty. Is this departure from the principles of the 1876 Act necessary?
The establishment of a statutory advisory committee (to which the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, referred) is a welcome proposal, provided that it is not to be burdened with minutiae. This is a difficult point which must be thrashed out before the Government adopt the Bill, as I hope they will, and put it under their legislative umbrella, if that is the right word—and that at no distant date. If the advisory committee were to be so burdened that it has to meet frequently, that might limit the range of people of the requisite calibre—which means busy people—who should be available to assist the Secretary of State in major matters of policy.
The Secretary of State's administrators are well able to deal with day-to-day matters and reach prompt decisions. I feel that some of the delays are far too long. With applications, for instance, it takes far too long to get a "Yea" or "Nay". Such delays must be cut to the minimum. Clause 6 provides a substantial range of regulatory provisions, which are adequate.
There are one or two other problems which will remain to be ironed out if, as I hope, the Government will take on the Bill without delay. Bearing in mind the important position occupied by the pharmaceutical 1269 industry in respect of the country's export trade, there must be considered, for instance, the complex matter, that has already been referred to in the debate, of the relationship with EEC requirements. Furthermore, there are problems about the testing of non-medical products, and this point too must be covered, since the Bill makes provision only for testing products and substances having a medicinal purpose. In this respect I dare say that both the Ministry of Agriculture and the Department of the Environment might be involved in making relative provisions in respect of pesticides and agricultural chemicals on which the provision of food depends. Care should be taken to see that our regulations will not drive the testing of such non-medicinal materials into countries where experimental animals are less protected than they are in this country and than they will be under this legislation.
In posing those questions I nevertheless feel that the Bill should go forward without delay, as everyone else has said, for the reasons which have been so well disclosed. In conclusion, I need hardly mention that the Scottish Act of 1912 is also included in Schedule 4. I only hope that I have satisfied the noble Earl and your Lordships that, in delaying the progress of the Bill for a few minutes, I have made a serious contribution to this important measure, to which I wish well.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Lord Peart
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for his speech. Mention has been made of one's interest. It so happens that I am an honourary associate fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons—a body which I can assure your Lordships has great connections with the industry that we are discussing. "Vets" are really remarkable men and women who seek to help animals when they are either very sick or very ill. I hope that no one will assume that a body like that, which is so involved in this subject, would want to cause divisions on this Bill. I cannot understand why my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who has done so much in this field, cannot get together with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, to settle their differences; because I believe it is essential from the point of view of legislation, and also from that of propaganda, that we should have strength. I know that Lord Houghton is a great man in this field, but I think he ought to try to meet the noble Earl.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. We have got together. We have settled our differences. We are agreed on this Bill. What more?
§ Lord Peart
My Lords, I think my noble friend went a little further than that. However, I am glad I made the point. Thank goodness my noble friend and the noble Earl have agreed. I take the view that Clause 2 is the important part of the Bill in many ways. This provides for the setting up of the advisory committee, whose work will depend on the quality of its members. The noble Lord, Lord Adrian, made a fine speech; and may I also say to the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, who has been involved in this subject very much, that I think he did, too.
In winding up from the point of view of the Opposition—and I do not want to delay the House too long; 1270 we had a late night last night and I was speaking here late—all I say to my friends who are in this field of animal welfare is: For goodness' sake close your ranks! That is the message. I think that would be the view of the Government, too, and when the noble Lord replies I hope he takes that view. We had a debate on the details a long time ago. I used to go to the Council of Europe—in fact, I led a delegation there—and I am glad that the Council of Europe took a great interest in this question. All I am trying to say to the Government is that I think this Bill is a good Bill. What is needed now is action on the Bill, and certain things which are important will have to be done. With good will on all sides, I think this is a major step forward.
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Peart, has reminded us that he is an associate fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It is quite right that the noble Lord should have mentioned this, because at the end of this debate it has reminded us of the very wide range of interests which have lain behind the speeches made by your Lordships at the end of a long week and just before we break for Christmas, on this very important subject. Like the noble Lord, Lord Peart, I think, and the Government think, that Clause 2 is perhaps in some ways the most important part of the Bill, although there is an aspect of Clause 1 to which I want to refer before I finish where the Government still see difficulties.
My Lords, may I come to the noble Earl whose Bill this is, the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury? He made his intentions clear in the last Session, when he acknowledged that, although his then Bill would be lost in that Session through lack of time, he would reintroduce it in this Session and thereafter until he saw and approved of a Government Bill which he hoped would be modelled upon his. I believe I made the Government's position equally clear on that occasion. Nevertheless, in order that there should be no lingering doubts, I should like to reiterate it. The Government are committed to improve and modernise the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876. We intend to do so when we know the outcome of the current work in the Council of Europe on the preparation of the convention. A drafting group is to meet in January to draw up a final draft for consideration by the full committee next May. This is the timetable that I forecast in our debate on 20th June [Official Report, col. 1332]. As a result of next May's meeting we then expect to have a clear idea of the obligations of the convention to enable us to carry forward our pledge.
I am well aware of the suggestion that the Government should implement their commitment without waiting for the outcome at Strasbourg. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, that because of this country's unique experience in the field of animal experimentation we should certainly be able to do this. But we do not think it right to jump the gun when we are playing a leading part, both through our chairmanship of the committee and through the substantial contributions by the United Kingdom delegation in drawing up an international instrument to provide for the better welfare of animals used in experiments throughout Europe.
1271 We entirely agree with the Secretariat of the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts for the Protection of Animals, which is drafting the convention, that that drafting is a matter for experts (as the title of the committee implies) rather than for lawyers. That is normal with a convention of this kind; and it is for that reason that the United Kingdom's own official delegation to the committee includes no lawyers, but it includes three experts in the field of animal care and experimentation. The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, asked if I would specify who are our representatives in that respect. They are the chief inspector under the Cruelty to Animals Act, with his great experience of the operation of that Act; the principal medical officer of the Medical Research Council, and the professor of Veterinary Clinical Studies at the University of Cambridge, who is a former President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. There is no doubt that the contributions from the United Kingdom delegation at the twice-yearly meetings since 1978 have been welcomed by the members of the Committee, as have the no less distinguished and expert contributions from other national delegations.
I am also aware of the criticism that certain provisions in the convention will be pitched possibly at a lower level of control than we should expect in this country, but I do not accept that that is an argument for proceeding with Government legislation now. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said that he wanted to go further than the convention and that we want to go further than the convention and that we in this country want to go further than the convention. There is provision in the convention to apply stricter controls in domestic legislation as each country sees fit; but there is no mechanism allowing domestic legislation which is inconsistent with the parameters of the convention. With very few exceptions, those parameters are already clearly defined. We expect those exceptions to be settled also at the meeting in May and we should then have a clear view of the obligations and so should be able to frame our legislation accordingly.
In addition, we shall then have before us the views of the Advisory Committee on Animal Experiments. The committee was reconstituted last year by my right honourable friend with wider terms of reference. As its first substantial remit, he invited the advisory committee to study the framework of new legislation, with particular reference to recent proposals, including the provisions of this Bill and also of the forthcoming convention. We expect to have the benefit of the advisory committee's advice on these matters early next year. These are the reasons why the Government think we should wait a little longer. This is the background against which the Government propose to carry forward their commitment to next year.
My Lords, may I briefly look at the Bill itself. At the present time it has been, if I may say so quite genuinely, very valuable to have had the benefit of the work of the Select Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby.
In its report, the Select Committee had some interesting considerations to lay before this House on the replacement of the 1876 Act. But I must leave your Lordships in no doubt that, while the Government 1272 appreciate the value of the Select Committee's work, they do not think the Bill strikes the right balance. We do not consider it is the right vehicle for Government legislation.
Very briefly, the reasons are these. The central feature of the Bill is to provide a structure which gives the Secretary of State broad powers to licence the use of animals for widely drawn purposes, and this is all provided for in Clause 1. I realise that it is easier to criticise than to put provisions into place, but I ventured some criticisms which, I must say, I stand by this afternoon. I think we can be rather more specific than Clause 1. I very much hope so. None the less, that is the way Clause 1 is drawn. As a countercheck to those powers Clause 2 provides for a statutory advisory committee with substantial powers and responsibilities of its own.
At this late hour, at the end of a long week, I am going to say that I make a criticism of the advisory committee from a practical and not, I promise your Lordships, from a bureaucratic point of view. The implication, as I see it, of Clause 2 is that there should be on the advisory committee a balance of numbers between persons with knowledge of scientific research and laboratory procedures and those with concern for the care and welfare of animals. In other words, a virtual balance between scientific and non-scientific members. After hearing Lord Houghton's speech, following the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, I doubt that a body so constituted would be capable of having a corporate view on the controversial and often emotive issues which the Bill would require the advisory committee to consider.
I assure the House that I am in no way saying that therefore I do not believe in the existence of an advisory committee, either necessarily statutory or non-statutory. This is a matter for further consideration. What I am saying is that the Government believe that, whether statutory or non-statutory, the composition and functions provided for in the Bill for the advisory committee are almost certainly not compatible and probably would not work in practice.
May I turn now to try to answer a few of the questions which were put? The noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, related examples of vandalism and asked whether I would condemn such vandalism and draw the attention of the courts to what is going on. Harassment and vandalism in all their forms by militant anti-vivisectionists are to be deprecated. Such actions can in no way be condoned—and I say that on behalf of the Government. These are matters to be dealt with by the police and by the criminal law.
Regarding the suggestion that the Home Office should draw the attention of the judiciary to these matters, I should have thought that the judiciary would read the newspapers in the same way as the noble Earl has and as he has related to us today. One must be careful about the independence of the courts in these matters. I hope that the view that I have given to the noble Earl is acceptable to him so far as the merits of this particular matter are concerned.
The noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, both referred to the pain condition. As I understood the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, they possibly did not entirely agree so far as how the question of the pain conditions should finally be 1273 sorted out. I know that my right honourable friend will take particular note of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, who devoted the greater part of it to this subject.
The whole question of pain is fraught with difficulty, as your Lordships will be the first to tell me, because there is no way in which it can be measured in animals. It must be a subjective judgment and there is therefore a real problem here. The noble Lord, Lord Adrian, explained very clearly the case for provision to be made in new controls for a facility to consider the waiving of the pain condition. I would say no more today than that we have taken careful note of his view.
I come to a series of points made by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, with regard to the convention. If I may say so, I was just a little puzzled by the apparent anxiety of the noble Earl to question and to be so obviously worried about the work being done at the Council of Europe to prepare the convention. This is work designed to try to secure real protection for animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes throughout, effectively, the whole of Western Europe. If it is successful it will be the first international instrument in the field and we believe it will have an important influence on the rest of the western industrialised world.
The noble Earl wondered about the accountability to the British public of our delegation who are working at Strasbourg. It is the normal practice for Council of Europe conventions to be drafted by committees of experts which are appointed by the Council of Ministers. When this committee of experts on the protection of animals has completed its draft, it will submit it to the Council of Ministers and it will be for that Council to decide whether the convention is to be opened as an instrument for signature by member states. That will be a political decision and my right honourable friend will be answerable for whatever part the United Kingdom plays in it. It is there that the democratic process will have its first crucial impact.
The second and decisive stage will be when the United Kingdom Parliament is asked to pass legislation which will enable the Government to ratify the convention. I think that answers the question put to me by the noble Earl about whether Parliament will have a chance to look at it first, so making the United Kingdom a contracting party to the convention and bound by it, if Parliament so decides. May I give the noble Earl an assurance that in no way has the United Kingdom delegation been in some way shut off in Strasbourg from the views held in the United Kingdom by all those interested in this subject.
Earlier I gave an account of those who are experts, giving expert opinions for the British delegation. Throughout, our delegation has taken close account of the views expressed in both Houses of Parliament on this subject and in particular those arising from the earlier consideration of the noble Earl's Bill, of the views of the Select Committee and those of your Lordships' House upon it, and also of the consideration in another place on the Bill introduced last year by Mr. Peter Fry.
I assure the noble Earl that valuable points arising from the debates on both Bills have been incorporated by the United Kingdom delegation into its proposals to the Council of Europe Committee. There has also 1274 been continuous and extensive consultation with up to 50 organisations, and of course with other Whitehall departments, throughout the period this convention has been under consideration.
Finally, in short, informed by the extensive discussions in both Houses in recent years, advised on matters of principle and detail by all those organisations with a primary interest in this field and strengthened by the unique individual expertise of its own members, I think I can claim that the United Kingdom delegation has played and continues to play a leading part in the deliberations at Strasbourg.
I hope I have said enough, at not too great a length, to substantiate the Government's attitude to the Bill and our intentions to this field. In advising your Lordships' House about the Government's views, may I go back to a final point? The work which has gone into this Bill and the time which your Lordships have devoted to it and to all the work which went into the enormously important Select Committee Report—which is really unique, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, so rightly pointed out—in recent years, has clearly shown the importance and the urgency which are attached to improving and modernising the 1976 Act. The Government attach no less importance to the matter and they intend that there shall be no unnecessary delay in implementing our commitment.
§ 4.30 p.m.
The Earl of Halsbury
My Lords, in winding up what has been a most interesting debate, I shall try to do so as quickly as possible, because I am sure you all want to start your Christmas holidays—certainly with my good wishes—as soon as possible. If I may take those who spoke in that order, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and I often did not appear to be agreeing. But I think that our disagreements were not always as wide as they sometimes appeared to be, if one took a superficial view of them.
Of course, I would not myself wish to sanction any form of cruelty to an animal, or a painful experiment on an animal, for something of an entirely frivolous kind. The difficulties that we always had were about where you could draw a line between what is and what is not frivolous, in terms of specifying a product. If I may refer to the demonology of this subject, it was usually nucleated around the word "cosmetics". How do you view a cosmetic? Is it a beauty aid for the public and a means of frivolity, or is it a concealment of some disfigurement which could be a source of very grave mental distress to somebody? Or, for actors and actresses who have to cover themselves with thick layers of greasepaint every day, is it an occupational hazard? Does it come under safety at work?
Can you specify the purpose by merely specifying the classification of the product? That was the kind of disagreement we had, and it turned more on the utilisation of words than the actual difficulties of administering an Act. That, to some extent, bears on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, as to non-medical usages. This is a distinct non-medical use.
I was so glad to have the support of my noble friend Lord Ashby. I put exactly the same interpretation on this question of advisership as he did. In books on managerial theory, it is always held that no man can 1275 hide behind his advisers, because the responsibility for taking their advice is his. However many advisers a Minister may have, the responsibility for taking their advice is his own and he cannot duck it.
The difference between an informal committee and a statutory committee is simply that, if he chooses to disregard the advice of an informal committee, that is that. But if it is a statutory committee, then Parliament has locus standi in the matter and it can be debated. That is the real difference between the two things and I think it is right that it should be debated.
I was so grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for bringing in the whole question of how you can investigate pain by experimental methods. It is extremely important. When I come to my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby—if he will still allow me to call him so—he tells me that I am square. He rather reassures me, against the evidence of my weighing machine, which tells me that with the passage of years I am getting rounder. But he also complained that I have vandalisation on the brain. I have not got it on the brain. I have got it in the post-bag. I am rung up in the middle of the night and harassed about it. I do not believe that my noble friend Lord Houghton is.
I am reminded of the line in Thomas Love Peacock,The toad beneath the harrow knowsExactly where each tooth point goes.The butterfly upon the roadPreaches contentment to the toad".If I liken my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby to a butterfly, I hope he will find it a not unacceptable comparison when it is evident that I am the toad. But, if I may pass from Peacock to Shakespeare,The toad, ugly and venomous, bears yet a precious jewel in its head",and the precious jewel that I bear your Lordships by way of a Christmas present is this Bill on Second Reading.
I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, for what he said about the uses of the word "cruelty". If your Lordships will bear with me for a few moments longer, we are in difficulties here over a rather anomalous usage of words. The Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 has nothing to do with cruelty to animals. It is concerned with licensing experimenters to perform experiments in laboratories, under licence from the Home Secretary. The concept of cruelty does not enter into the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act.
The 1911 Act, which deals with cruelty to animals, is not called a Cruelty to Animals Act. It is called the Protection of Animals Act. Whereas in many cases the words, "shall be guilty of an offence under this Act", are used in other Acts, in the 1911 Act it says:shall be guilty of an offence of cruelty under this Act".When one repeals the 1876 Act, the 1911 Act becomes the senior statute under whose umbrella all other protection of animals Acts come.
Noble Lords will notice that my Bill is the Laboratory Animals Protection Bill, so it has the same sort of connotation of protection as have all the other Acts. It is not acceptable to parliamentary draftsmen and parliamentary counsel that you should have two criminal statutes for the same offence, so Clause 1 of 1276 my Bill, as read a Second time, was deleted from the Laboratory Animals Protection Bill and transferred as an offence under the 1911 Act, leaving the Bill as amended by the Select Committee a pure enabling Bill, allowing the Home Secretary to grant licences, the possession of which would be a defence in any prosecution brought under the senior Act.
It would be quite easy, although we did not get it under our belts in the Select Committee, merely to increase the scope of the modification of the 1911 Act a little by omitting the words "of cruelty" in Section 1(1) of that Act so that it would simply read:shall be guilty of an offence",as it did in the original draft of my Act. That is my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, and I am grateful to him for raising the point. I am sorry to have taken up your Lordships' time on this rather knotty little matter, but it is necessary to get it right.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Peart, for his support. I hope he will continue to support me in such pressures as I bring to bear on the Government within my humble capacity as a Private Member.
I come now to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. I thank him very much for the obvious trouble he has taken over the brief. He tells me that everything will be through in May, so he may expect a parliamentary Question from me on 1st June. I conceive of the advisory committee as recruited from men of good will, of types specified. I did not think of them as representing this or representing that. I did not think of them as having a sort of conflict. Yes, I was worried about the progress of affairs at Strasbourg and I was very grateful to hear that the noble Lord is satisfied on the question of the judiciary. Yes, of course they read the newspapers, but individual magistrates do not subscribe to press cutting agencies and get an overall picture of what is going on in the country. There are precedents for a ministry informing the benches generally of what is going on.
I believe I have said enough at this late hour to wind up the debate. It only remains for me to ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.
On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, in moving that this House do now adjourn I should like to wish noble Lords opposite, and indeed noble Lords in all parts of the House a very happy Christmas and, if I may, on your Lordships' behalf, to extend that same wish to all those members of the staff who serve us so well throughout the year.
§ Lord Wells-Pestell
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends on this side of the House—and indeed all others on this side of the House—I should like to thank the noble Lord for his good wishes and to say that we on our side quite sincerely wish all Members of your Lordships' House on the other side all the joys associated with Christmas and we hope that when we return they will be mindful always of the needs of others. I associate my noble friends with the noble Lord's good wishes to the staff of this House, who serve us so well.
§ Lord Wigoder
My Lords, may we on these Benches, as always, have the last word and reciprocate the noble Lord's good wishes.