§ 11.28 a.m.
The Earl of HALSBURY
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on Recommitment on this Bill.
The Motion for re-commitment is an opportunity to thank all those members of the committee who gave so generously of their time, energy, patience and willingness to study the complex issues involved during the course of our proceedings. It was an excellent committee in the best tradition of your Lordships' House. We shook down into a team from the start and everything was discussed on its merits without any parti-pris attitudes intervening on so factious a matter to spoil the logic of our debates.
Much of the credit for that happy state of affairs must go to our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, who brought his customary distinction, experience and urbanity to our proceedings. The noble Lord has asked me to express his regrets to your Lordships for not being able to be present this morning. He is in Canada on university business, and I am sure that your Lordships will more readily accept his regrets if I remark that I know that his private arrangements for the first half of this year have been extensively interfered with by his dedication to the proceedings in our committee.
The report of the committee paid tribute to the contributions made by our Clerk, Mr. Mitchell, and his secretarial team and also to the skill of our specialist 1322 advisers, Mr. Carter and Dr. Goodwin. And, to the thanks of the committee, as reported, it is a pleasure to add my own in your Lordships' House, and I am sure that I speak for your Lordships in doing so. Lastly, of course, I should like to offer our thanks to the witnesses, many of whose evidence occupies 350 pages of a closely written report and without whom we could not have reached the conclusions that we did.
I shall not make an extended Second Reading-type speech on the Bill as amended, but rather will use the occasion to ask the Government about their intentions in the light of the committee's report, and to state my own. The Bill is substantially what your Lordships approved on Second Reading, although it looks very different. The committee ends its report by stating in paragraph 91:we feel confident in putting forward the amended version as fully conforming with the spirit, intent and policy of the Bill which came-before us".In the last section—paragraph 92—it provides a table, as it were, a gloss, between the clauses in the Bill as committed and in the Bill as amended; in its own words:as a guide to the relationship between the two versions of what is essentially still the same Bill".The principal amendment, entailing a good deal of internal reconstruction, arises out of a legal point; namely, that it is in principle wrong to have two criminal statutes covering the same offence. When it was first passed, the 1876 Cruelty to Animals Act was the first general Act bringing the protection of animals within the scope of the criminal law. There had been other Acts before it, curtailing bear-baiting, bull-baiting, cock-fighting and so on, but it was the first general Act. Then came the 1911 Act. If we now repeal the 1876 Act and give it an honourable place in the statutory museum, the 1911 Act would become the principal statute of the criminal law in this connection. Therefore, all cognate Acts would have to be subordinate to that. If that is accepted, what then follows is that it is necessary to convert the Bill, as committed, from a criminal statute to an enabling Act empowering the Secretary of State to grant licences, the possession of which is a defence against any prosecution under the principal Act.
1323 The Bill as restructured on these lines is what is before your Lordships, and is what I ask noble Lords to approve. If noble Lords do so, it would acquire considerable prestige as a Bill that has passed one Chamber in the most experienced Legislature in Europe on these matters—a Europe whose Council is working on a draft convention to standardise legislation on this matter throughout the Continent. On Second Reading I stressed the importance and the need for Britain to show leadership in this field and when your Lordships were kind enough to approve it on that occasion, I sent it to the convention secretariat in Strasbourg where it was duly studied and noted. Since then the British representative has been moved into the chair at Strasbourg, where I am sure his influence will be exercised in the direction of good sense guided by experience, and I hope guided by this Bill as a model.
It is the opinion of your committee that:the amended Bill we present to the House would enable the Secretary of State to ensure United Kingdom compliance with the Convention as it now stands in its present draft version.This provides my first question to the noble Lord the Minister. Does he agree with that, and, if so, what are we waiting for? His right honourable friend referred in sub-committee in the other place to:the pain condition as currently drafted at Strasbourg".So I would ask him, how does this now stand and does it bear upon the above quotation from the report?
My second question relates to the recommended powers and duties of the Secretary of State and the advisory committee as provided for in Clauses 1 and 2. When two factions, if you like so to call them, disagree in a field of this kind and are in conflict, only a Minister responsible to Parliament can act as the reconciling agency. Does the Minister accept his function as the keeper of the national conscience in this field?—with all its awkward implications for him, requiring him to take responsibility for what will always be in many cases controversial acts of judgment.
The Bill gives him advisers, but of course he cannot shelter behind them. The responsibility for taking the advice they proffer is inescapably his own. But we have left him free to choose the 1324 composition of the advisers whom he collects around him. They will sit as persons, very much in the British tradition, not as representatives of this or that interest. We considered that, but only by sitting as persons could we foresee that they would shake down into a team and avoid factions of the "we" and "they" kind, considering whom they thought themselves to represent. His right honourable friend in the other place in committee appeared to think that the committee had too strong an executive look about it. Therefore, I would ask the noble Lord whether he could elucidate what, in his view, gives this impression of too strong an executive look.
One facet of ministerial responsibility on which the committee has insisted is that the annual report to Parliament must contain a real review of what goes on and the utilisation of animals in the various contexts where they are employed. A mere proliferation of statistics, divorced from the sort of comment which would elucidate their implications, is more likely to prolong misunderstandings than to resolve them. Would the Minister agree with this, and if not, can he suggest who else would be better placed than the Home Office to present and comment on the Home Office statistics, which they alone are in a position to publish?
I come next to a few, I might call them, hardy annuals on which the committee's report is quite incisive and clear. Alternatives to the use of animals are cheaper and lead to more reliable results where they are applicable. For that reason they are widely used. It is not necessary to urge people to use alternatives. But they are not applicable in all circumstances, so I must ask: Does the Minister accept that view? Next, there is no significant trade in stolen animals. This is a legend and in this respect the situation has not changed since the days of the Littlewood Report. Does the Minister accept this as an accurate assessment of the position?—and if it is accurate, then I think that it is very great cruelty, for propaganda purposes, to put into the minds of people who have lost a pet animal on which they rely for companionship the thought that it might have been stolen for vivisection purposes. It is much more likely to have been run over on the motorway.
1325 Next comes that much-abused whipping-boy of the anti-vivisectionists, the toiletry and cosmetic industry. Of this the report states, in paragraph 68(d):We should record in this context that according to the evidence before us, relatively few animals are used for toiletry and cosmetic research and that the procedures to which they are subjected are seldom painful".Does the noble Lord accept that, and will he use such good offices as he commands to see that this view is given a reasonably wide circulation, and that this branch of industry ceases to be the controversial whipping-boy?
At this point I should like to pause and dwell for a moment on the cosmetic industry, because I know that it is a little worried by the fact that explicit provision for it is not made in Clause 1(2). But there are subtleties in the drafting which are not perhaps apparent at first sight. The word "cosmetic" is often ambiguous in coverage. A cosmetic may be bi-functional, serving both a serious and a frivolous purpose at the same time. Sun-tan oil, for example, is both a skin protector from a potentially harmful radiation—if any of your Lordships have been badly burned in the sun you will realise what a valuable protection it is—as well as the promoter of what, in this day and age, is a fashionable post-holiday tan colour of the skin.
The former purpose would be covered by one or another of the provisions of Clause 1(1) or Clause 1(2)—that is to say, the health and welfare of mankind, or medical prophylaxis, or public health, or whatever it may be—and the existence of the second, the frivolous factor, would of course be an irrelevancy. The same would be true of any product that was on sale de facto and where safety testing against some suspected hazard was thought necessary. You must recognise that substances that are widely on sale may suddenly come under suspicion, as saccharin did, for instance. Hair dyes, for instance, may be carcinogens. Again, testing would be permitted under medical prophylaxis, public health, and so on.
Where some new product was to be developed of a purely frivolous character let us say glue for sticking artificial eyelashes on people's lids, then so long as the industry's evidence that the procedures on animals were only seldom painful applied in this case, and no pain was 1326 inflicted on the animal, no prosecution could succeed under the 1911 Act and no licence would be necessary. It is only in the exceptional case where the purpose is purely frivolous and pain would accompany the research that the Bill would not empower the Secretary of State to grant a licence.
But this is precisely what Parliament and public opinion would not wish to give him a blank cheque to do. The cosmetic industry must accept that in those circumstances they would not get a licence to do it because it would not be the will of Parliament that they should. I think that those circumstances are probably rare and exceptional. So the drafting accomplishes what is the general will without having to set out in black and white the complexities of what is, or is not, frivolous. Each case will be decided on its merits by the Home Secretary. I believe that these are the principal matters on which the House would like to be informed, but others may emerge in the course of the debate.
I come lastly to my own intentions. I never claimed the status of a pathfinder, only that of a pacemaker. Both political parties have announced their intention of bringing in legislation, but I cannot believe that either of them really wants to if it can find an escape route. It is far too much of a political hot potato. It is the proper function of Parliament in general, and of its Members in particular, to keep Governments up to the mark and see that they keep their promises. That is what I feel I am doing. I have no intention, if I can stop it, of allowing Strasbourg's possible potential inexperience to fix an unacceptable yoke round the necks of medical or biological science in order to provide a governmental escape route from militancy on the domestic front.
I often, in the still watches of the night, feel that it may have been an audacious thing to embark on private legislation in a field so manifestly the province of Government as this, and to have had the temerity to ask your Lordships to set up a public inquiry in the form of a Select Committee of the House, with all that implies as to the, demands made upon the time and goodwill of its Members. But I feel that my decision to do so was a proper one, 1327 and that it has been vindicated by the terms of the report and the amended Bill.
For this reason, my Lords, I continue to solicit your support, and shall move accordingly. If my Motion is agreed to this morning, I shall continue to seek to pilot the Bill through your Lordships' House past its remaining stages. If I succeed through your good graces, then I shall press on and seek to find a sponsor for it in the other place. It will of course be lost at the end of the Session, there being no time left for Private Members' Bills there in the present Session, but I shall seek to introduce it in the next Session of Parliament and thereafter until I see and approve of the colour of a Government Bill in print, which I hope will be modelled on mine.
May I therefore end on a note of encouragement. Militant minorities in marginal constituencies are an embarrassment all round and to everyone. Notwithstanding this, sooner or later there must be a Government-supported Bill. The Government of the day will then come under every imaginable pressure to alter their Bill in one way or another. The Government will, human nature being what it is, run for shelter where they can find it. The temptation will be to hide behind Strasbourg and say, "That's what they have laid down", and hope for the best. But it is extremely important that pressure should be brought to bear on Strasbourg to see that whatever they lay down is something on the lines of this Bill.
I believe that the Government would be much better advised to look at what my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby and I have wrought between us, with the support of those who have encouraged us to do so and are prepared to go along with us, without rocking the boat, by pressing for a Bill which has been—is the right word "sanctified"?—let me say "dignified" by the approval of a Select Committee of your Lordships' House. This favourable conjunction of the constellations may not recur. It owes a lot to the personal relations between my noble friend and myself. Both of us want to see an end to accusations and counter-charges—accusations of cruelty and indifference to animal welfare on one side; countercharges of ignorance and misrepresentation 1328 on the other. We want to see a new beginning, and advance to a new and up-to-date statute. We therefore think that we have given the Government a model. I hope that they will adopt it in due course, and for that reason I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill.—(The Earl of Halsbury.)
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, I wonder whether I am in order, before the noble Earl sits down, in asking him if, in his kindness, he could clarify one point for me on the Bill as it now reaches us from the Select Committee. If this point arises out of ignorance, I ask for forgiveness because for most of us this is the first time we have had an opportunity of hearing an explanation of the Bill as it now stands.
The noble Earl made it clear that the principal Act which now governs the question of offences is the Protection of Animals Act 1911 for England and Wales and the Protection of Animals (Scotland) Act 1912 for Scotland. If we look at an additional offence which is now added to the principal Act by this Bill, in Clause 8(1), we see that it is that someone,not being the holder of a licence in force under the [Act] uses a living animal for any research or other procedure for which a licence is required under that Act and which causes the animal pain, suffering or ill-health".Does that mean, or does it not mean, that if somebody manages to show that wrongly, without a licence, an animal was used for experiment, but it was caused a painless death, no offence has been committed?
The Earl of HALSBURY
My Lords, I should like to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that the passage to which he has referred is an importation from Clause 1(1) of the Bill as committed by way of a transfer to the first section of the 1911 Act, which includes all sorts of things like bull-baiting, horse beating, and so on, in order to make sure that scientists, as it were, do not come under the suspicion of all these various horrors. It is stated explicitly in the Act—I hope the noble Lord will give me time to find the reference to it before I wind up—that the painless killing of an animal, in a 1329 slaughterhouse, for example, is in no way covered by the 1911 Act, or by anything in this Bill.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, not only for his speech but for a Bill on a subject which is both complex and controversial and which your Lordships' House decided last October to commit to a Select Committee, and had it not been for the Bill which the noble Earl brought forward and the many hours of work, and no doubt of negotiation, which he put into the matter, it would not be possible for us to have the report of the Select Committee and indeed the Bill which is now before us. I pay tribute, too, to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and to your Lordships who were members of the Select Committee.
As soon as the committee had been appointed, on 29th November, it was quickly off the mark; only a week later it had published a brief special report and had invited bodies known to be involved in the operation of the present law to give written and oral evidence. A week later, officials of my right honourable friend's department were the first to appear before the committee to give evidence, and during the following weeks I understand the committee received some 900 letters and memoranda and took oral evidence from a range of bodies concerned with the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876.
It may be helpful if, before I come to some of the formidable questions which the noble Earl put to me, I first explained the Government's position in relation to the 1876 Act. We are committed to replace the Act, and no one should be in any doubt about that. The Government intend to honour that commitment, and anyone who has reservations about our resolve to do so has misconstrued our position. As the Select Committee's report recognises, no proposal to prohibit absolutely the use of animals for experimental purposes is realistic or responsible, but a revision of the 1876 Act is timely.
Having taken that decision, the issues to be considered are, I suggest, the form and timing of its implementation. But in 1330 talking about the replacement of an Act which is 104 years old, we need to be clear as to why this is necessary; mere antiquity is not necessarily a good enough reason. As the Select Committee state in paragraph 43 of their report:There is no doubt that the Act has, by and large, been successfully applied by the Home Office Inspectorate to meet modern needs: a remarkable achievement, for modern biology has overtaken the terms of the Act as dramatically as the motor car has outdated the road traffic laws of the 1870s".I entirely agree with that view, but as the report in the same paragraph sets out very clearly:There are significant deficiencies in the present law".It is necessary to be clear about the general form for putting those deficiencies right. In paragraph 71 of the report the Select Committee say:there is a public need for new legislation; and what is required is much more than mere amendment or re-hash of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876".In case there is any misunderstanding, new legislation is also the intention of the Government.
That leads to the question of the timing of new legislation. During the Second Reading of the Bill last year I said that we would introduce legislation when we knew the final form of the Council of Europe convention, and that remains our position. In his speech, one of the questions asked by the noble Earl was about that, and he expressed the view that it was unnecessary to delay the introduction of legislation until the final requirements of the convention were known—that in essence we should lead Europe in this matter—and the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, said very much the same thing in an article he contributed to the Guardian on 5th June.
In paragraph 34 of their report, the Select Committee say:The amended Bill we present to the House would enable the Secretary of State to ensure full United Kingdom compliance with the Convention as it stands in its present draft version".I must answer that point. What the Select Committee were saying there, what the noble Earl said in his speech, and what the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, said in his Guardian article may very well be the case so far as the earlier draft version of the convention was concerned; 1331 at the end of the day it may also be the case when the convention is finalised, but that remains to be seen. The fact of the matter is that the draft version of the convention to which the Select Committee was referring emerged from the meeting of the Strasbourg Committee in October last year, and following that meeting the Home Office consulted, by letter and at a meeting, a large number of scientific, research, commercial and animal welfare interests in this country. As a result of that consultation we concluded that the draft required a good deal of restructuring and redrafting.
Following a meeting in London with four of the key countries represented at Strasbourg—West Germany, France, Sweden and the Netherlands—the Home Office prepared a new draft of the convention which the Strasbourg Committee, I am happy to say, at their meeting which took place between 22nd and 25th April of this year under, for the first time, a United Kingdom chairman, as the noble Earl said, accepted as their working document. In this new draft there are some significant changes. For example, a reference in the old draft, Article 2, tothe improvement of the life of man or animalas a purpose for which animals may be used experimentally, which is quoted at paragraph 35(c) of the Select Committee's report, has been deleted because it was considered that that concept was too wide. There are substantial changes in the new preamble, which now includes the main sentiments in the earlier articles which were devoted to a code of ethics. The convention as at present drafted lays down provisions about the circumstances in which the requirement to anaesthetise animals may be relaxed and about the permissible degree and duration of "the pain condition".
The noble Earl referred to that in his speech and to the relevance of the pain condition to the Bill. The convention as it now stands requires that a procedure must be terminated when it is found that an animal is suffering severe pain or distress which cannot be prevented or alleviated. It is not envisaged that it would be open to member countries subscribing to the convention to waive this stringent requirement in their own legislation, and I must make it clear that we in 1332 the Home Office believe that the United Kingdom should be able to support such a proposal.
A pain condition of this sort has in practice been a permanent feature of the administration of the 1876 Act, although it has never actually been put in the legislation. We believe the experience of the past 100 years or so shows that the pain condition should be an inviolate provision, and that it could therefore be embodied in a new statute. But in this respect the Bill before us would be insufficiently stringent in that it would still leave discretion on this vital issue to the Secretary of State, acting of course on the advice of the proposed advisory committee.
The draft convention also includes articles laying down rules in regard to the difficult question whether an animal should be destroyed or kept alive after an experiment; about making provision for the release of an animal into either domestic care or the wild; about dealing with the conditions in which an animal is kept before, during and after the procedures performed upon it; and the convention would also provide for the control of the supply of animals and in some cases require that they be specifically bred. Those are the sort of changes which I have in mind when I suggest to the House that we are talking about rather a different draft from the sort of draft that the noble Earl, the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and indeed the Select Committee were referring to when they were referring, I think, to the previous draft of the convention of last year.
How much actual progress has been made at Strasbourg? At the April meeting the new preamble and Articles 1 to 8 were provisionally agreed. It is hoped that the 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. 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.
Thus I consider that we can fairly claim that the Strasbourg Committee, now under United Kingdom chairmanship, is continuing to draw with advantage on the 1333 practical experience gained in these matters in this country over a century, not least through the participation in the United Kingdom delegation of the Chief Home Office Inspector and its other expert members.
For those reasons, together with the important considerations that we should show a proper concern for the welfare of animals in other European countries, and that jumping the gun is not necessarily always the best way to get one's friends to agree that what one is doing is a good thing, and so follow one quite happily in what one is doing, we think it is only good sense to be sufficiently certain of the final outcome before we embark upon the replacement of the 1876 Act.
I should like to turn to the Select Committee's approach to the details of the Bill which has been presented to us for consideration. In paragraph 75 of the report, the conclusion is reached that,The Bill before us should be, as the 1876 Act has by historical accident become, enabling and permissive in character. Its purpose should be to enable the Secretary of State, subject to the dictates of public policy founded on an ascertained public opinion, and with appropriate legal safeguards, to license qualified and responsible persons to do things which might otherwise be unlawful.I do not in any way dissent from that as a statement of general principle, but I should like to say to the House that I think it is not too difficult to envisage developing in the future a rather similar situation to that which now very often exists in the administration of the 1876 Act, where the law and the Government come in for some fairly sustained criticism because the legislation is so broadly drawn, particularly as further progress is made in the biological sciences, and interpretation is left to the Executive, albeit of course with the advice of an advisory committee. I realise that that is not exactly the same kind of advisory committee as proposed in the Bill, but I should like to deal with that in a moment.
I absolutely recognise the difficulties, which are set out in paragraph 77 of the report, about trying to define in legislation the multiplicity and diversity of procedures. That is absolutely fair comment. In any legislation which Parliament finally agrees there must be a balance between the need to lay down guidelines that are as clear as possible and the provision for some 1334 flexibility in those guidelines to meet situations which change as the years go by.
I am bound to say, however, that the Government do not think that the amended Bill, as it stands, strikes entirely the right balance. We believe that there are matters on which there ought to be greater precision. I have tried to indicate the approach in the present draft European Convention. On the Bill itself, we shall wish to look closely at the list of permitted purposes in Clause 1(2) to see whether they might be more clearly drawn. There are no relevant definitions in the Bill, and we would wish the parameters of the list of purposes to be as reasonably clear as possible.
I should like to give an example of what I mean in that respect. For instance, does work designed to increase food production or the efficiency of agriculture come under the "maintenance and enhancement of public health", or does it come under "the biological sciences"? Perhaps it is scarcely possible to find answers to those difficult questions; I do not know. I say merely that these are the matters that we are thinking of as we read the noble Earl's draft, it having come out of the Select Committee for the first time.
The main feature of the Bill is to give the Secretary of State broad powers to license the use of animals for widely drawn purposes where, in the words of Clause 1(1),he thinks it requisite and justifiable for the advancement of knowledge, or for the health or welfare of mankind or animals".But there is a powerful counter-check to be found in Clause 2, in the form of a reconstituted statutory advisory committee with substantial responsibilities and powers of initiative of its own.
I fully appreciate that such an approach has attractions, in that, on the face of it, it would draw together the views of the research interests on the one hand and of animal welfare interests on the other, if one can define the interests in such a broad-brush approach as that. In fact, I do not think that one can. But we are not convinced that the formula as laid down in the Bill provides an effective and efficient machinery which is in the best interests of the legitimate requirements of 1335 science and industry and the protection of animals against avoidable suffering.
I shall try to explain within the space of a few moments why I have made this criticism. We foresee considerable difficulty in a solution which advocates a statutory advisory committee of the kind envisaged in the Bill, with 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. Such an advisory committee is far removed from the concept which lay behind the reconstitution last year by my right honourable friend of the present advisory committee.
The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has been absolutely consistent over a number of years in supporting the desirability of the formation of an advisory committee with strong and independent powers. Indeed, the memorandum which was prepared by the noble Lord and the late Lord Platt in 1976 advocated a committee with virtual equality of numbers between scientific and non-scientific members, withan initiative and powers of investigation of its own",and with a full-time secretariat and professional advisers. Those proposals were actually rejected by the previous Government, largely on the grounds, I understand, of duplication of the functions of the Home Office, particularly the inspectorate, and expected doubt about their acceptability to user laboratories. But to a large extent these proposals are now incorporated in the Select Committee's Bill.
However, our objections go rather deeper than that. In determining the policy for granting licences and the policy generally in the administration of the Act, the Secretary of State is charged with havingregard to the advice and guidanceof the advisory committee, as proposed in Clause 2(1). He is required by Clause 1(3) to refuse a licence where it appears to him, in the light of the committee's advice, that the use of animals is not justified for any of the purposes specified in the Bill. Furthermore, he is required by Clause 3(7) to consult the committee if the anaesthesia or pain conditions attached to a licence are to be relaxed.
1336 As I understand it, that last requirement would mean that there would be a considerable volume of applications for certificates to conduct procedures—for example, fundamental studies relating to certain toxins, and some of the tests required by statute—each one of which would have to be carefully weighed by the committee. We cannot estimate the number, but I suggest that even if it were only a small percentage of the 5 million or so experiments performed at present, the proposed system would grind to a halt. These proposed tasks, would, I judge, be a very different matter from the advice which the present advisory committee is, as occasion arises, asked by the Home Secretary to provide on certain new or exceptional types of experiment or procedure, such as the recent applications to conduct experiments into stress.
The committee envisaged in the Bill would have wide powers of review, inquiry and advice, all of which are set out in Clause 2. If one looks for a moment at Clause 10(5), one sees that the Secretary of State is required in effect to clear his annual report with the committee before submitting it to Parliament. With regard to the point that the noble Earl made on that matter in his speech, not for a moment do I say that the present form of the annual report cannot be improved, though I remind the noble Earl that its format was significantly revised in 1977 in order to provide substantially more information. Nonetheless, I have certainly taken on board what the noble Earl has said about this matter, and we shall keep his words in mind.
I think it is clear from what I have been trying to say to your Lordships that to a considerable extent the day-to-day administration of this Bill by the Secretary of State and by the Home Office would be dependent on reference to, or upon advice from, the advisory committee. I wonder whether this would work in practice. In order to carry out its duties, not only would the committee have to meet in quite regular session—and it must be very doubtful whether its work could be discharged by 15 or fewer part-time members—but it would demand significantly more civil servants in order to service it. Of course, these problems could be overcome if extra resources were devoted to the task; but there is a more basic condition which 1337 would also, I think, have to be met. To fulfil its decision-making role, the advisory committee would have to be capable of holding a corporate view on the controversial and often emotive problems coming before it. Furthermore, I am doubtful whether the powers of the committee would harmonise with the duties of the inspectorate. In particular, the proposal that members of the advisory committee should be able to accompany the inspectors on their visits to laboratories would be a concept which I think would need a good deal of further thought.
My Lords, those are the major features of the Bill about which I venture to put some thoughts to your Lordships. There are some other aspects and I would, if I may, very briefly touch on them. The noble Earl has explained that there would be a rationalisation of the penal provisions which are required as a back-up for enforcement of the principal purposes of the Bill by reference to the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the 1912 Act of Scotland. We shall certainly wish to give careful study to the implications of the noble Earl's interesting proposals. For example, we shall want to consider the position of a person who is not the holder of a current licence at the material time, perhaps merely because of a genuine oversight in omitting to renew his licence. Such a person would not benefit from the Secretary of State's protection against vexatious prosecution. I think it is also for consideration whether provisions should be made to protect a person who formerly held a licence from proceedings being brought for an alleged offence committed as a licence holder. There is no protection in the Bill against the commencement of proceedings against such a person. On the other hand, Clause 8(7) provides for the extension to two years of the period of limitation under the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952 for the bringing of summary proceedings for an offence under the Bill. This limitation has been a source of difficulty under the 1876 Act for many years, and I very much welcome the drafting for the concept of Clause 8(7).
Under Clause 1(2) of the Bill the Secretary of State is required to ensure that the number of procedures which he permits by grant of licence does not—I quote—go beyond what seems to him justifiable".1338 This seems to be a reasonable proposition, but in practice the Secretary of State cannot be competent to say what is in effect the maximum number of animals that should be permitted, or what limit should be set on a scientist engaged in research. I make this point because I think it is important, before we go any further along this road, just to say that new legislation should not encourage expectations that cannot be fulfilled.
In this connection, may I pick up the reference which was made by the noble Earl to the use of alternatives to living animals? I certainly agree generally with his remarks, and, indeed, licensees are regularly reminded about the desirability of this. But, of course, the opportunities for their more extensive use are limited. In response also, if I may, to the noble Earl's words about trade in stolen animals for experimental use, my information is that such allegations have not been found to be substantiated, and I agree with what the noble Earl says. However, not only does the draft Strasbourg Convention deal with the whole question of the supply of animals for experiments, but it goes into some detail on the matter of strays. Furthermore, the United Kingdom delegation proposes to press for an absolute ban on the use on stray dogs and cats.
My Lords, there are other detailed matters which we shall need to examine carefully, but I will not detain your Lordships now. I have noted with interest what the Select Committee's report, and indeed the noble Earl in his speech, said about the relatively few animals used for toiletry and cosmetic research, and that the procedures are seldom painful. I agree with the noble Earl that this is the case, but I should add that the question of subjecting even a proportionately small number of animals to, thankfully, normally only slight discomfort when testing commodities which are not usually essential to the health of man or woman is rightly one where we all have a moral duty to be sure of our justification. The relevant provisions of the European Convention have been most carefully drafted with this in mind, and it is a matter to which we must give the most careful attention in our own, new legislation.
I need not say that the Select Committee has performed a most valuable service by providing a fresh insight into 1339 one of the forms which new legislation could take, but I have to repeat that we believe that the Bill goes so far in enabling the Home Secretary to exercise a very wide discretion—albeit with the advice of an advisory committee—that it would simply pass responsibility from Parliament to the Executive to a degree which I find it hard to accept. I have more faith in Parliament than to believe that we cannot discharge our duties as legislators rather more precisely than this. While it may well prove in the end that the Home Secretary must be allowed some flexibility, I am not yet convinced that the flexibility need be as wide as the Bill would allow. It is the extent to which we can be more specific in the new legislation that is one of the key matters that the Government wish to examine further.
But even if we thought that Parliament could not grasp the nettle of being more precise about what may or may not be done to animals in the legitimate interest of scientific knowledge and medicine, the Government have, as I have sought to explain, fundamental reservations about the machinery proposed in the Bill. Nevertheless, I should not want to leave your Lordships' House in any doubt about the value that the Government will find in the work done upon this Bill. As the noble Earl said in his speech, it will almost certainly not be possible for this Bill to make progress through both Houses of Parliament during this Session, but the work of the Select Committee and the Bill before your Lordships' House, all based upon the work which the noble Earl has put in, can only be useful for the further work to which the Government, I assure your Lordships, are committed.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for the very long comment that he has made on the Bill, and I shall be referring a little later to some of the important matters that he has raised. First of all, however, I must join with the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, in a word or two of warm appreciation, not only for his work (which, after all, has paved the way to this very important occasion), but of that of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, our chairman—amazingly skilful and patient. Altogether, the work 1340 that we did on the Select Committee has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my very long parliamentary life. It is a pity that we do not use Select Committees more to deal with complex matters, instead of having unsatisfactory wrangles in Standing Committees in another place and on the Floor of this House during the long Committee stages of difficult and controversial Bills.
I think that the Government may not fully appreciate the value of the work that has been done. They themselves have done no thinking about this question for years. I speak of "Governments", and not only of this Government. When a few moments ago the noble Lord said that he thought that Parliament could be a little more precise than this, and that it would be undesirable to transfer from Parliament to the executive, or from the executive to the advisory committee, important functions in the development of policy on this matter, all I can say is that Governments have frustrated Parliament for 50 years in trying to get changes made to the 1876 Act. They have blocked them all and have had no alternative to offer. Indeed, they blocked me more than once; and other people who tried to introduce changes to the 1876 Act were equally unsuccessful. Nevertheless, let us not go into the past and reproach probably our predecessors rather than have recriminations among ourselves.
We all have our contribution to make to this difficult matter, whether we are in Government, on the Back-Benches or wherever we are. This is a matter of great public interest and concern. The Bill that is before the House today is a very different Bill from the one which was given a Second Reading at the end of last year. The short title is the only part that is left in the literal form in which the Bill left this House. We have even amended the long title by introducing the world "control" in the purpose of the Bill in addition to the purpose of regulation. That is an important addition because some control, as distinct from regulation, is an important part of reform in this field. But, as my noble friend Lord Halsbury said, the Bill does not, either of itself or in terms, take full care of the conscience of the people on this difficult matter. We say in paragraph 48 of our report: 1341The ethical problem remains—and is likely to remain—unsolved, but the evidence in favour of practical action is clear.That is really what this Bill tries to do.
We thought that the use of words, attempts at definitions, in the 1876 Act had by experience been shown to be inadequate for the continuing application of an Act of Parliament. The 1876 Act is said to have worked well for well over a century. It has worked well because administration has by-passed Parliament. Parliament has never been given the opportunity, and the courts have never been given the opportunity of revising the words and the construction of the words used in the 1876 Act. They were made to mean what administration in conjunction with the field of laboratory work wanted them to mean. There was no opportunity given to the public or to welfare organisations to challenge the construction of words in the administration of the 1876 Act. The Minister has to bear that in mind in the hope that he expresses of being more precise in the use of words in the Bill rather than leaving more to the discretion and the authority of the Minister with the advice of an expert advisory committee to help him. This, I think, is the big difference between the two approaches.
Another important aspect is that this Bill fixes responsibility in a way in which the 1876 Act never did. What may be done to living animals is what the authority of the Home Secretary permits to be done. The authority of the Home Secretary would be subject to the will of Parliament because this Bill makes him accountable to Parliament in a way in which he has not been accountable to Parliament under the existing legislation. Nobody in the House of Commons was ever conscious of the accountability of the Home Secretary to Parliament for what happened under the administration of the 1876 Act. The Bill provides the framework for the authority which it seeks to vest in the Home Secretary and in Parliament. It provides him with reliable advice and guidance in the field in which he would have discretion.
Another point is that the Home Secretary must have some protection against uninformed and irresponsible criticism. He must be as free as possible from challenges in the courts; he must be as free 1342 as possible from continuous criticism in Parliament on an emotive issue where feelings and bitterness are often developed to an unusual extent. This is why the Bill, investing him with authority, placing upon him the duty of accountability to Parliament, gives him the maximum possible assistance in the exercise of his duties.
Without the advisory committee the Home Office and the Home Secretary would be in a very exposed position indeed. The Home Secretary, in the past, has avoided as far as and as long as possible being put in that exposed position, because many a time when he is asked for some evaluation and some opinion upon what has been happening in the laboratories throughout the country, he has been able to disclaim any responsibility for evaluation of experimental and research work being undertaken which in some people's minds was very dubious indeed.
The advisory committee that we propose is not an executive committee. I must make that clear. It would not tie the hands of the Secretary of State. It may guide his hands but it would not tie them. The advisory committee cannot make a single regulation. It cannot issue a single circular to anybody. It can only advise the Home Secretary. It is true that the Bill stipulates in a number of respects that the Home Secretary should consult before he takes action which the Bill envisages might be controversial if he took the responsibility on his own without getting at least the advice of the advisory committee.
Another aspect about the advisory committee is that while it is the Home Secretary who appoints it, it is independent under the provisions of the Bill in having an initiative of its own. As the Minister said a few moments ago, I have been very keen on that for a long time. The advisory committee that we had for so long—it was changed on reconstitution last year—was literally the Home Secretary's "poodle". This advisory committee would not be the Home Secretary's "poodle"; nor would it be the Home Secretary's boss. That is very important, too.
The late Lord Platt and I, in the original memorandum which started this long debate in 1976, laid down a very 1343 firm condition that the advisory committee should have an initiative of its own. The Home Secretary, in reconstituting the advisory committee last year, came very close to that, but did not go the whole way. Moreover, another point of great importance about the advisory committee is that there must be some recognised place for expert and public opinion to be brought to bear. There must also be a channel of communication to the advisory committee and between the advisory committee and the Home Secretary.
I think that we must have regard to the voices that are going to be heard outside the administration of any new legislation. I think that any situation which leaves no place for complainants to go and which gives no opportunity, or limited opportunity, for those with a point of view to express it and where it can be properly considered and a report on it can be made to the Government will be a very sad failure indeed. Another point about the advisory committee is that we have to provide the animal welfare societies and those who are engaged in trying to reform the present conditions for the use of living animals in laboratories with an opportunity for more constructive work. The 1876 Act and the administration which has been reserved to the Home Office throughout that period has frustrated those who sought to bring about improvements in conditions. They have forced the animal welfare organisations into propaganda, into lobbying and, some of them, into violence because there has been nowhere for them to go, no repository for their sense of grievance, no outlet for their sense of frustration. This is highly emotive and has a profound significance for the point of view of social contentment and the observance of what is usually called law and order. Shut these people out and they will bang at the gates! The main purpose of setting up the advisory committee on these lines was to allow these societies to have somewhere to take their point of view.
In passing, I think I ought to say that the next piece of legislation that this House might embark upon is the reform of the charity laws. We have just been reading of the rebuke which the Charity Commissioners administered to the RSPCA 1344 for, as they put it, improper activities in the general election last year in support of the Government's acceptance of responsibility for bringing up to date the 1876 Act. This is another difficult question and I think it is most unfortunate that reformers should be working under the prohibition of the charity laws and getting pompous rebukes from the Charity Commissioners when they are alleged to be in marginal breach of rules and regulations which are very difficult to maintain in present circumstances.
I think that the Government, with all their criticism of this Bill, must bear one or two things in mind. One is that they have now got a consensus that they have never enjoyed before. Secondly, they will need that consensus to see Government legislation through. If the Government are going to tear apart the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and myself, they will be in serious trouble because we both command formidable forces. It will be a great pity if in the end we are thrown into conflict when so much effort has been put into obtaining the basis of peaceful reform. I must warn the Government. They must grasp this opportunity. They have been presented with something on a plate which Ministers in the past would have given their ears to have. That is a precious thing for the Government to be able to use as a basis for their future legislation.
We do not want to go on fighting over the bodies of millions of animals who die in the laboratories of England every year. I want to know who will be the first to come out of the entrenched warfare in this situation and offer an armistice to the other side. That is what I want to see now. The Bill is the meeting ground for constructive work to begin. I sincerely hope that the Government will have regard to the political aspects of all the criticisms they are making. They are not after just good administration; they are after a peaceful basis for reform and constructive work in this field for the future. They may not get another chance of building on the work that has been done by the Select Committee. I give another little warning to the Government. Do not let the siren voices of bureaucacy divert you from seeking a satisfactory political and parliamentary solution.
1345 Finally, I come to the European Convention. I think that a few months' delay would be a good price to pay for seeing whether the Council of Europe can come up with a convention which would be useful in formulating our own parliamentary proposals. I do not wish to brush that aside. It is the more important, in a way, because there is no satisfactory solution to this problem on national lines alone. We are already in difficulties in exporting substances to the US which have ceased to be tested on animals in this country but which the Americans insist on being tested on a whole range of species before they will allow the substances to be imported into their own country. While we might not get the basis of agreement between ourselves and the USA because they have an obsession about their state of health, we want to get as large an area of agreement as we can within the EEC. But, let us be clear, the Council of Europe is not the EEC. There will be no directives issued as a result of this particular convention. This will be a voluntary convention to the participating countries, however strong their moral obligation to adopt it in their respective territories: there is no authority centrally in the Council of Europe which can impose upon member countries any changes in this direction. We are still left with our own options in the matter at the end of the day. Nevertheless, the maximum agreement we can get will enhance the value of whatever we do in our own and other countries in Europe.
At the same time we cannot wait indefinitely. This pledge of the Government must be honoured in this Parliament. I think that that should be made clear. They will have enough trouble on their hands at the next general election without animals. If they can have something accomplished on this subject under their belts for the next general election, it might be something on the credit side. I think that is important, too. We can wait until next year, but I do not think we can wait any longer because then, I think, we shall be getting dangerously near the end of this Parliament. I hope that our patience will not be strained too far. I think also that we should not regard the particularisation of the Council of Europe's draft convention as being necessarily a better way of dealing with this matter than providing a wider range of 1346 discretion in the hands of the Home Secretary under the guidance of his advisory committee.
All in all, my Lords, I think that this day is a conspicuous milestone on the long path of reform and those who take no notice of milestones are not on the march! That is what I want to say to my friends ouside: that we are on the march to an extent that we have never seen before. This is a significant milestone in that long time we have been waiting to make these changes and I sincerely hope that we shall not have to wait unduly long to carry this matter further.
In the meantime, I thank the Minister for his careful attention to the recommendations of the Select Committee. What he has said will give us all an opportunity of examining his point of view about proposals that we did consider very carefully indeed. Nowhere in the Home Office yet, I venture to say, has the amount of time and study been given to this matter that was given by us, with our advisers, on the Select Committee. We are grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, for laying the foundations of our work today. I sincerely hope that we may all keep together in the achievement of reforms that will be regarded by a critical public as a substantial contribution to the work of the future.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, I shall occupy no more than five minutes, so if anybody is feeling uncomfortable they know now. First of all, I should like to pay a tribute to the noble Earl and to my noble friend who has just sat down for the magnificent job of work which has been done. It is the best that has been done in a generation. I should declare an interest in this because I have a slight interest in the pharmaceutical industry. I read carefully the minutes of evidence given to the Select Committee by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry, the Beecham Group, the vets and by other people who know what they are talking about in this area.
As I said nearly a year ago on Second Reading, if as much attention had been paid to the felicity, happiness and freedom from pain of animals used in the agricultural world and in factory farming as has been paid by the pharmaceutical industry and medicine to the use of animals in 1347 justifiable experimentation for the progress of mankind, we should have had greater happiness in the factory farming world. I shall not develop that further, but I listened with care to the noble Lord who spoke from the Front Bench opposite and it seemed like "on the one hand, this" and "on the other hand, that" and I was getting a bit afeared that he was doing a first-class demolition job in his inimitable, felicitous way.
I take the warning, but I would say to my noble friend who gave the warning that, when he talks about milestones, we do not want to go back to 1876 when they did not have cars. I should like them to move a bit quicker than marching. I would give them a public vehicle which would get them to their destination quicker than marching. I want something before this Parliament has run its course. Having pointed out that I rather feared the noble Lord was about to do a demolition job, I must now thank him for the attention that has been paid to this matter.
I would draw your Lordships' attention to the current issue of the Lancet. There is a mention in there—I will not quote it because I promised to keep within a limit—but there is a question raised there of the Council of Europe. We are not bound entirely, as has already been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, by the findings of other people. Never in the history of this problem has so highly-qualified a Select Committee paid such attention to this job and had the benefit of such brilliant advice. If anybody takes the trouble to read the minutes of evidence, as I have, they will see the excellent advice which was given.
I do hope we can see some constructive answers to this problem and that work is done pretty soon on it. I could expand for perhaps 20 minutes or more, but what is the purpose? We want action, and to demonstrate that fact, I shall not be verbose but shall sit down hoping that something will be done in the very near future.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Lord PEART
My Lords, we have had an extremely interesting, and indeed very important, debate. May I add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and also to my noble friend Lord Houghton. I know he has chased 1348 Governments and has chased Ministers. Perhaps I have been on the other side in many of the arguments, but I am convinced that what he and his colleagues have been doing is the right approach.
Here, for the first time, we have the possibility of putting into being a code of practice in legislation which will be the envy of the world. Mention has been made of making representations at Strasbourg. I was asked by my noble friend Lord Davies: did it mean the EEC? I said, "No, it is the Council of Europe." I know that some people probably feel that the Council of Europe is solely a talking shop. It is not, and I am glad that we have a British chairman this year. I am sure that, out of their discussions, inevitably weight will be given to the arguments put forward by our two noble colleagues in this House.
May I cross swords with my noble friend Lord Davies? He mentioned the pharmaceutical industry and compared it with what is happening in agriculture. When I was an agriculture Minister, he will remember that I got a Bill through the other place which became the Agricultural (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act which was concerned with the welfare of livestock. One of its clauses says:Ministers may from time to time, after consultation with such persons appearing to them to represent any interests concerned as the Ministers consider appropriate—(a) prepare codes containing such recommendations with respect to the welfare of livestock for the time being situated on agricultural land …".The provision goes on to specify the importance of seeing that no damage is done to cattle or livestock which would injure them or cause suffering. The agricultural world has led the world in this field—
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? I did not mean any indictment of the agriculture Ministry. I remember the Littlewood Report and the work that was done but, despite all that, the impression is sometimes given that in the medical world and in the pharmaceutical industry little care is taken. I want really to correct it: that is all.
§ Lord PEART
My Lord, I am grateful for what the noble Lord has said. There 1349 is another factor. We must remember the medical side, the practitioners who look after the animals. I am thinking now of our veterinary surgeons who are men and women of high standing. In fact, our veterinary profession is one of the best in the world and I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate this. A lot has been done and the ending of pain by a veterinary surgeon in his own surgery is what they seek to do. I am sure that noble Lords will have followed very closely the Herriot series on television. That series has done so much good for animals; it has brought to the attention of towns people the importance of animal welfare in the best sense. It showed the care we have for our animals—and I am thinking not only of animals for food production but of animals like dogs. I love dogs myself. I had a wonderful Lakeland terrier and my family missed it very much when it died. That is true of all families; so we are basically a nation of animal lovers.
On the other hand, one can exaggerate. There is always a danger that this subject can be put in the wrong perspective. I think of all those thousands of people, according to a report in the Economist, who are dying in Somaliland. I am not saying that that should prevent us from having a code of practice for animals; and I believe that people who press the need for care and kindness to animals must be encouraged. That is why I strongly support my noble friends who have spoken and both noble Lords, who have done so much and now have reached the point where we are going to achieve something.
I hope that the Government will not delay. I do not think they will. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, made a sympathetic speech, and I believe that my noble friend Lord Houghton, despite his criticisms of the past, quite rightly, now has a feeling of confidence that here we have an opportunity to have legislation in the best sense, which will be the envy of the world. This is a great day, and may I again congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, and my noble friend Lord Houghton.
I shall not make a long speech, because they have said everything. We must now wait to see what the Government are going to produce. We shall have to see 1350 what is in the legislation which will, inevitably, have to be brought in. I would say only that this is a big day for those who have worked so hard over the years to prevent cruelty to animals. Let us succeed, and let us pay tribute to them, and remember that it is only the activities of noble Lords that have paved the way for something that will be positive. I believe that I have now said everything that I should say.
§ 12.52 p.m.
The Earl of HALSBURY
My Lords, I shall wind-up as briefly as I can, dealing first with what I call the minor negotiable points which the noble Lord the Minister has raised: should there be a little more precision; should we explicitly include agriculture; is it to be interpreted as public health or biological science—one or the other, or possibly both? I do not regard this as a very serious matter. I regard it as a negotiable point, between what I might call consenting draughtsmen in private, and I should be very happy to open talks with the noble Lord on those lines.
The noble Lord again mentioned the overload on the advisory committee. This is a drafting matter. Over and over again in Committee—and the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will bear me out on this—I have asked: ought we not to put "case or classes of case" or "experiment or classes of experiment" and so on, and the very best advice that we could get from draftsmen is that this is not really necessary in modern draftsmanship. It has been decided that "case" means "case" or "class of case" and so on. So that the advisory committee could, as it were, legitimise a whole block of tests of a particular or typical kind. The format of the report was, of course, revised in 1977, but I suppose that the Select Committee was about the only body that ever really sat down and waded through it. When we had done so, we did not feel, in spite of its great mass of statistical content, that we were very much wiser as to what went on.
As to members of the advisory committee accompanying inspectors on visits, I feel that the noble Lord the Minister is being a little "uptight" about the relationship between advisory councils and Ministers for whom they work. I have been a 1351 member of many advisory councils and of many executive councils, and I am accustomed to the ambience that represents the difference between them. I am currently the chairman of the advisory council which is responsible to the Minister of Defence for the affairs of the Meteorological Office, on both home research and the services. I go everywhere that I want to. We report on anything that occurs to us. At each meeting we settle the agenda for the next meeting; out of a long list of topics that we should like to think about, talk about or see, we settle the subjects for the next meeting.
I think that at the back of the noble Lord's mind is a feeling that he may have maverick members on his advisory committee who are going to make trouble. All I can say is that it is up to the Secretary of State, who appoints the members of the advisory committee, not to appoint maverricks. I do not believe that those are very real points. It seems absurd that I, as a private citizen, if I want to go to Babraham or to see the smoking dogs, can merely write to my future hosts and ask whether I may pay a visit and I am invited along. Yet, unless we expressly write into their terms of reference that they may go, there is resistance from the Home Office to the idea of the advisory committee going, which creates an unnecessary atmosphere of secrecy.
I come to the more serious matters. I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead—and I am very grateful to him for answering so many of my questions, as I am grateful to all those who have taken part in the debate—that, obviously, compatibility with the earlier drafts does not imply compatibility with the later draft conventions. But if those later draft conventions are wrong, and one of them is disastrously wrong, then it is a question of bringing Strasbourg into line with my Bill and not vice versa. I shall come to that in a moment.
The first illustration that the noble Lord gave was the phrase "the improvement of life". That was in the Bill as I presented it to the House on Second Reading and as committed. But I borrowed it from the Strasbourg Convention, because I could not think of a better term and I always said that the phrase was negotiable, if someone would come 1352 along with a fair alternative; and I believe we have succeeded in building a fair alternative into the Bill. So the fact that "the improvement of life" has been withdrawn from the Strasbourg Convention has no bearing on the present structure of the Bill, as amended, whatsoever.
But we then come to the pain clause, and here there is a disastrous mistake, if the Strasbourg Convention is as I understood from the noble Lord. We had a tremendous battle in the Select Committee, which resulted in the wording of Clause 3(8), for which the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, found a formula which was the ultimate solution. In order to convince the Committee of the need for having, in the hands of the Home Secretary, discretion to do more than would normally be permissible, I invented a fable which I will relate to your Lordships, which although it is science fictional in a sense, is something that could very well happen.
I call it the fable of the Brighton Plague and it is set at any time you like in the future, but the season is August, when Government effectiveness, and administrative effectiveness, are at their annual nadir. It starts with a strange outbreak of sickness on the beach at Brighton, among the children and the donkeys that they ride. A veterinary surgeon, who is on his toes, diagnoses this as a mutant strain of an extinct disease called glanders, which is a notifiable disease requiring any horse suffering from it to be shot, by which means the disease has been extinguished. But it is fatal to man and horse.
I have supposed that, in the article of death, the dying horse secretes sufficient immune globulins to be able to immunize from one dying horse 100 children who could be granted life. Unless Clause 3(8) in the Bill, as it stands, was law, the Home Secretary would be statutorily barred from exploiting the sad, terminal agony of this horse, because it would be required to be put out of its misery before it had secreted the immune globulins, and the suffering would be transferred to human children. You know what would happen, my Lords. Someone with a sense of heroism and initiative would break the law, preserve the horse and save the children. Subsequently, the public prosecutor would have to enter a nolle 1353 prosequi, or the person would have to be given a pardon or, perhaps, a decoration for having broken the law and taken it into his own hands. But we ought not to pass law which can produce a public disaster unless someone breaks it.
I really enjoin upon the noble Lord the Minister, with all the force at my command, to appoint an envoy to stir his stumps, go to Strasbourg, tuck under his belt a copy of my Bill and Hansard and what I am saying now, and tell them to go into reverse because their convention is wrong, and on this issue I feel that my Bill is right. I have a note to let the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, know something that he asked me a question about, but I will write to him so as not to take up the time of the House any further. I do not believe that there are any further points that I need to make.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee (on Recommitment) accordingly.
§ [The LORD ABERDARE in the Chair.]
§ 12.55 p.m.
§ The CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Aberdare)
There are no amendments set down to this Bill. The Question, therefore, is that the various clauses stand part of the Bill. If I read through the numbers of the clauses, perhaps any noble Lord who wishes to speak on any of them will so indicate.
§ [Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.]
§ Clause 6 [Regulations]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord AIREDALE
I have a small drafting point to make. It will take only a moment. Subsection (1) says:The Secretary of State shall make regulations providing for the registration of premises …".It is mandatory. Subsection (2) invents and coins the expression "registered laboratory". However, this does not carry one very much further because subsection (2) says:In this Act, registered laboratory ' means any premises registered under the regulations;".I think that the expression "registered laboratory is a red herring and that we should do better to abandon it and simply 1354 stick to the expression "registered premises".
The Earl of HALSBURY
I can only say that we occupied much time in Committee on this very point and that this was the balance of our considered judgment. Noble Lords will notice that the words "registered laboratories" occur in Clause 6(3)(b). The words are, "the management of registered laboratories". It seemed to be a convenient way of referring to them throughout the rest of the clause. I hope the noble Lord is satisfied with that explanation.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ [Clauses 7 to 9 agreed to.]
§ Clause 10 [Annual Report to Parliament]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord AIREDALE
Clause 10 is about annual reports to Parliament. In both of his speeches the noble Earl made appeals to the Minister for more comprehensive and fuller annual preports because the noble Earl said that it was difficult to gain much valuable information from the annual reports which are now being submitted. I feel that it would be very much in the interests of the Home Office itself to prepare more comprehensive and informative annual reports. If annual reports are not informative, suspicion will be aroused in the public mind that perhaps they are not more informative because there is something to hide. I do not suppose that there is anything to hide. In that case, let us have these more comprehensive and understandable annual reports.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
In case the Committee should think that the Home Office has anything to hide, may I remind your Lordships that the noble Earl has been good enough to complain of the mass of statistics which are given in the annual report. However, I think it is valuable that the Home Office should have expressions of opinion on this matter. The noble Earl kindly gave me notice before the proceedings today that he would be referring to the annual report, and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, now delivers 1355 himself of that particular expression of opinion. To both may I repeat what I said in the speech which I made: that we take on board what is being said and that we certainly look very carefully at what both noble Lords are saying on this matter.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ Schedules 1 to 4 agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported without amendment.
§ Report received.