HL Deb 14 July 1983 vol 443 cc946-67

7.1 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that their proposals in the White Paper on scientific procedures on living animals (Cmnd. 8883) are meeting with a mixed reception, with some strong criticism of the so-called "pain clause" (paragraphs 24–26), "permissible purposes" (paragraphs 27–34), and "project licences" (paragraph 37), and what method of consultation they propose to follow to obtain the greatest measure of agreement on these important and sensitive parts of the White Paper.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. First, I believe that I should welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, who, if I am correct, is on the Government Front Bench for her first major assignment in your Lordships' House since her recent appointment. She has exchanged her accustomed seat and her freedom for the dicipline of where she now sits. Henceforth she will find herself uttering ministerial pronouncements on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, enslaved by departmental policies and procedures, but nevertheless enjoying it very much: at least I hope she does.

Just before the election there was published a long awaited White Paper dealing with scientific procedures on living animals. We had been waiting a long time for this White Paper. We knew that there had been a brake on progress by the work being done in the Council of Europe on a draft convention of some importance to all the European countries. Although we were impatient, we understood about the delay in the Council of Europe while so many different viewpoints were reconciled in order to get an agreed draft convention. I think that the election coming on rather earlier than was expected must have put very heavy pressure on the Home Office to get the White Paper out before polling day. After all, it was important that the Government should be seen to be doing something to fulfil the election pledge given on this subject in 1979, when they said that they would up-date the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 dealing with this matter. They got the White Paper out just in time. This is a notable landmark on the way. It is not of course the finished product. We still await a Bill, and it is to that Bill and preparations for it that my Question relates.

Much work has gone into the White Paper, and I must pay tribute to the care and attention that must have been given to what is a very complex subject by those who were responsible for preparing the document for the Government. There are quite a lot of good things in it, and they are very welcome. But I think the main point is, now we have the White Paper, what do we do with it? I must be careful not to convert a Question into an attempt at a full-dress debate on the White Paper. That would not be suitable for either the time or the occasion. But what do we do with the White Paper now that we have got it? In many cases where White Papers are issued Governments arrange for debates on them in order to gain an indication of the feelings of the House on the matters within the Papers. That procedure probably has become more conventional in relation to Green Papers rather than White Papers. Nevertheless, it is sometimes useful to test opinion in both Houses, if need be, on a complex and controversial subject before proceeding to the final preparation of a Bill.

So my present point is about procedure. What is the timetable? If we knew something of the timetable it would help to arrange the consultations that are needed in order to bring to bear on the final product as much agreed opinion as possible. The White Paper gives until 12th August for written representations to be submitted. With the interruption we have recently had, and the Summer Recess which is coming on, it is a difficult time of year to impose a short period during which representations can he submitted. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the various organisations and bodies representing animals and the scientific and commercial interests will do their best to get their papers into the Home Office within the timescale.

Well, what then? What is the Government's intention about the Bill? Most of us concerned with this matter were acutely disappointed to find nothing about it in the Queen's Speech. Whether this subject is intended to be among those things referred to by Her Majesty in the phrase, Other measures will be laid before you", I do not know. Is it the Government's intention to introduce a Bill this Session—this Session being an extended one which will go well into 1984? Are we going to get a Bill in this Session, or have we to look ahead to the 1984–85 Session? These are important questions, because upon the answers, or the approximate answers, will depend probably the timescale for consultation. I hope that we are to get a Bill during this Session. To have to go into 1984–85 would be too long to wait for the culmination of so much work that has been done and preparation that has been made for fresh legislation.

This is a turning point in the history of scientific procedures on living animals. We do not want undue haste. We should rather have more time in which to do a good job than to have a scrambled job in order to fulfil a particular timetable. But I should be very glad if the noble Baroness would kindly tell us how she sees the programme.

On the assumption that there is a reasonable period—say, between now and the end of the year—for us to collect the voices on the various matters in the White Paper, how are the consultation and the consideration of the various points of view to be undertaken? It would be very odd indeed if after a White Paper which, so far as I am aware, has been formulated following no recent consultations with interested parties, and upon which there will be considerable differences of opinion, we proceed to a Bill without any further conversations with Ministers about it. It cannot all be done by correspondence. After all, we are part of the process of formulating legislation and proposals and we should expect to have consultations with Ministers at an appropriate stage.

In order to bring those consultations within reasonable compass, it would be desirable for the various groups of representative bodies, so far as possible, to begin to work together. That is why in the Question I have asked what method of consultation the Government. propose to follow to obtain the greatest measure of agreement on these important and sensitive parts of the White Paper", to which I shall come in a moment.

I have strong connections with the animal protection movement or the animal welfare movement. It is a very difficult area for any reasonable person to try to operate because animals generate internal combustion in many human beings. All can tell from reading the newpapers from time to time how restive the animal welfare people can become. The noble Baroness is coming very close to an area where passions run high and emotions go deep. Out of it one has to try to rationalise opinions and to translate something into sensible legislation. This is the most difficult problem of all. To define in statute law some of the things that have to be defined will be extremely difficult. We know that the 1876 Act has worked, as is often said, because it has been so adaptable. It has allowed a wide area of adaptation to be followed to meet the flexible requirements of changes in scientific research and in many other aspects of scientific development.

I have written to the Minister asking if we can arrange something so that the animal welfare movement, to take it as one group, can be brought together for discussions with the Minister to state how it feels on several proposals in the White paper. Could the same thing be done for scientific and commercial interests? The Minister tells me that this is a little premature. His approach is to say, "Let us wait until we get the representations and see the measure of disagreement. We may be able then to decide better how to resolve the disagreements and get the largest measure of harmonious acceptance for the provisions of a new Bill". I agree with that. I am not trying to hasten the Minister before he is ready. I am preparing the way. It would be wise if he had an idea of how he was going to operate. This is very important.

What are these sensitive areas? I have referred to them. I do not propose to argue the merits of them. I wish merely to refer to them so that we know the kind of difficulties that we face. There are three in number—in simple terms, pain, permissible purposes, and public accountability. It is in that field that the main differences and difficulties about the proposed new Bill will arise. Take pain, for instance. How much? How severe? How long? Pain that endures? Prolonged pain? What is pain?

There are the questions of distress and suffering. We have been talking about pain for years. Many of us, in the meantime, have been feeling it. If, however, you are defining in the statute law what is permissible as to the amount of torture that can be inflicted on an animal for what are said, in the White Paper, to be the proper interests of man and animal, that is a proposition of considerable complexity and ethical importance. The White Paper does not take the control of pain beyond what is now the practice of the Home Office. That is not far enough.

If we are to enlarge the field of permissible purposes—that is what the White Paper does and is, indeed, what various advisers to the Minister have already proposed—we must relate the extension of the field of protection to the amount of pain that may be inflicted on those within it. If there is stronger control of pain, then the area of permissible purposes can be widened. If the control of pain is to be no more than it is now, then we are all in difficulties in extending the field of permissible purposes. That is the relation between those two.

The third area of difficulty is what we call public accountability. How far is the Home Secretary going to take responsibility and account to Parliament for what is done, a great deal of it at public expense and on behalf of man and animal. I know that the Home Secretary was a little reluctant to accept the proposals of the Select Committee on the Halsbury Bill when we proposed to assign to him responsibility for justification of some of the experiments that would be permitted under the protection of the new law.

I know that the Home Secretary may feel that he does not want to take on a load of accountability that may expose him unnecessarily to questions and debates in Parliament as to the exercise of his discretion or his judgment in matters of this kind. But who is going to decide what is justifiable in this difficult field of science and research? It is said that when Queen Victoria was supporting the Bill that preceded the Act of 1876 she declared that it was her desire that we should control the sovereign state of science. Have we got a sovereign state of science within the secular state, the layman's state, the political state, the social state, the moral state? Is the field of science supreme and independent? Or is the public, through Parliament and through the Home Secretary, to have some control over what it does and what goes on within it? This is the issue of public accountability.

I think that I have said enough without arguing for or against them to suggest to the noble Baroness that, on the main areas (two of which can be regarded as connected) of pain, permissible purposes and accountability, we want a better Bill than the White Paper fore-shadows. That is the issue. I am sure that the representations that will come to the Home Secretary will indicate pretty clearly that there is a strong desire for that.

Looking at the situation, the prospect of difficult representations coming forward and the need to narrow gaps and differences, so far as possible, between one interest and another—without reconciliation, a Bill will have to be bulldozed through Parliament in extremely difficult circumstances in order to get something on the Statute Book at all—I would respectfully suggest to the noble Baroness that it is better that the legislation should start in your Lordships' House than in another place. This is probably where a Bill of this complexity and this difficulty could better begin, with consideration being given to it by Members of your Lordships' House who served on the Select Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Adrian, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, I myself and other noble Lords, who served on the Select Committee, have gone through the drill on this Bill probably more intensively than anyone else in Parliament. With all the expert help and wisdom available in your Lordships' House, we might put a Bill in better shape to send to another place than another place could do to send here. I leave that idea with the noble Baroness.

Therefore, I conclude by saying that in the end we must resolve what can be tolerated in the form of suffering by living animals in the proper interests of man and animal. This is a very difficult judgment to make. That is why I plead that there should be the maximum attempt at a reconciliation of differences of opinion, in order that in the 18 months ahead we can get a Bill which will be a most significant sequel to the 1876 Act, which has never been amended in a single particular from the day it was passed through Parliament until tonight. In those circumstances we embark upon an important job, and I urge the Government to take all possible steps to make a thoroughly good job of it.

7.21 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, we are particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for having asked this Question in the House tonight at a time when we certainly should be considering the White Paper. Of course, we are also extremely grateful to him for his work on this particular subject over the years. He is one of those who has helped to bring the status of animals and their welfare into the centre of politics, and I cannot but think that that has been a good thing. We welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, to the Front Bench to deal with this matter. Her views on whether it is a good thing that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has brought the matter into the centre of politics may be sightly different—I do not know. Nevertheless, I am sure that she will deal with the matter with her usual competence and good humour.

However, it has come into the centre of politics because it has come into the centre of people's consciousness in this country. A leader in The Times Higher Educational Supplementsaid recently: No longer is it possible to smile politely while raising a metaphorical eyebrow when animal rights are defended, and then to steer the discussion into more 'sensible' channels. Nor is it possible to discuss animal rights as an interesting and important, but essentially long-range and rather theoretical, ethical speculation. It has become clear that this is an issue on which very many people, although confused, are also deeply disturbed. If they are deeply disturbed, it is something of which this House and another place should rightly take notice; and if they are confused, it is something on which your Lordships' House, in particular, may be able to help.

Over the years, particularly since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, we have had a growing divorce from our roots—from the countryside, from growing things and from the rest of the animal kingdom. It has been bad for our animals; it has been had for ourselves. But I think that we are now having a reaction. That reaction is shown by the general public opinion to which I have referred, and we now know that the arguments which used to be thrown out so easily, putting down people who protested about the way in which some animals were treated, will no longer do. For instance, we now have polls to show that people are prepared to pay higher prices for food which is produced in less cruel ways. I think we also have sufficient evidence that people realise they can buy all sorts of other things—including health, and certainly including cosmetics and probably a great many other things—at too high a price by way of the suffering of animals.

In this matter it seems to me that as legislators we should be in accord with public opinion, perhaps leading but basically in tune with what people think. This means setting up a flexible machinery which will respond to the feeling of our democracy on this particular matter. By "a flexible machinery" I do not mean something that will respond to every particular scandal which is raised in one of the more popular papers, but a general determination to make the people who produce our merchandise, and also our scientists, the servants of society as well as of knowledge.

Our ethics demand—and I think particularly our Christian ethics demand—that if we do evil (and the infliction of pain is in itself certainly a form of evil) it should be for an end that can justify it. It is often thought that the end does not justify the means, and should not be allowed to justify the means. That, of course, is complete nonsense. As we know, every time we have any form of surgical operation performed on ourselves or our loved ones harm is done and pain is inflicted in order that good should come about.

Therefore, in trying to frame the limits within which our work on this matter should take place, we have to set certain levels that should not be exceeded. Pain should not be inflicted beyond certain levels unless that particular pain can be justified. This was very well put in the paper produced by the British Veterinary Association and others in their paragraph 6, headed, "Pain, Anaesthesia and Analgesia". They said: If a procedure is likely to cause pain, suffering or distress of more than momentary duration or trivial intensity, which cannot be alleviated, prior authorisation by the Secretary of State should be obtained. Such authorisation should only be given when the procedure is judged to be of exceptional importance in meeting essential needs of man or animals". That was not produced by any extremists group; it was produced by some very responsible people, including the vets, for whom in this field we all have the highest regard. As far as one can see, it has been largely ignored in the White Paper. That is where I should most like to support, both personally and on behalf of my party, the plea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, tonight.

There is one other minor point which I should like to mention before I sit down. We have, as I said, spoken about the stringent controls on cosmetics. In the White Paper they have been selected for particular attention. I am just the slightest bit cynical about this because, as we know, the cosmetic argument (and I have deployed it in my time) is a very easy one to deploy. These days cosmetics are regarded, to quite a large degree, as frivolous and not as an essential in the lives of anyone, and, therefore, they can be taken out and used as an example of something where certainly no kind of animal suffering should be encouraged. But between the work that is done on diseases, where there is very wide agreement that animal experimentation is justified, and the other extreme of dealing with cosmetics there is a whole range of other matters which need just as much attention, just as much testing and just as much weighing up as to whether the pain to which we submit animals is justified.

If a washing up liquid is being tested in order that I can buy it more cheaply and in order that when I wash up, it cleans my saucepans rather more quickly, that is just as much an object which should be weighed in the balance against the pain which animals have to put up with in the production of that better washing-up liquid as is the case with a lipstick or any other form of cosmetic. The cosmetic target is an easy one, and it is not really a worthy one. We need a much better judgment across the whole level of products.

What I think the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and certainly I and a great many other people are asking for generally is no more than what would be recognised as reasonable by the great majority of people. There are, of course, a handful of bigots on both sides. There are a handful of bigots who think that nothing else is more important in the world than the stopping of pain for bunny-rabbits, and there are a handful of bigots who think that science is such a god that it must be pursued, and that truth and facts must be pursued no matter what pain is caused on the way.

Both those views are rejected by the great majority of people in this country. I think that is entirely clear. Therefore, what the people of this country are surely asking from the Government in producing a new scheme is flexibility; is procedures which will allow the pain inflicted on animals to be tailored to the needs and to the urgency of what must be achieved. I hope that in answering this Question and in finally drafting their Bill the Government will let the common sense and compassion of the ordinary man have their say in this matter.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Zuckerman

My Lords, I begin by apologising to your Lordships' House for the fact that I cannot remain to the end of this debate, and in particular to the noble Baroness. Lady Trumpington, because I shall not be here to listen to what she says in summing up. I shall read with great care what has been said. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in the way that has been done by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for having drawn the attention of your Lordships' House to this White Paper.

At the same time may I also say that I greatly welcome the Government's White Paper. I think that it sets a very good stage for the introduction of new legislation for which so many of us have been hoping for so long. None of us was alive when the original Act was passed by this House, hut, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, I am not surprised that it has taken so long to get to the point we have now reached. I know I am no exception here in caring about the welfare of animals, except in so far as I did once have a licence to do animal experiments under the 1876 Act. It is many years since I 'surrendered it, but let me assure your Lordships that I was aware when I was first allowed a licence by the then Home Secretary—this takes me way back; I shall not attempt to hazard a guess at the number of years—that there was much public disquiet. There has always been public disquiet about inhumanity to animals.

I am aware, too, that there have already been many attempts to improve the Act as it now is. I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, knows why it has been so difficult to get to the position we have now reached, which I think is a major step forward. As a naturalist as well as a scientist, and in my long association with the Zoological Society of London, about which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, knows full well, and he and I have also had friendly exchanges about the question of badgers—I have always been concerned that only the best and most humane procedures should be tolerated not only in the conduct of experiments in which animals are used but equally in the conditions in which any animals are kept—any exotic animals, any domestic animals. However, that is a separate issue and I shall not dwell on it. The Government have already taken some useful steps to see that the worst practices are held in check.

At the same time, I have been conscious of the difficulty of passing a new Act to update the legislation under which experiments on living animals are now being conducted. That is why I more than welcome this Government's White Paper. It is a major step forward. While I join with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, in hoping that in subsequent discussions which relate to whatever Bill is laid before your Lordships' House we shall have a full opportunity to consider all the matters to which he has referred, and I would myself add certain others on the basis of my experience of having been a working scientist under the Act, your Lordships should not be unaware of what is stated in paragraph 8 of this White Paper. It is most important.

It is those fundamental inquiries which this Act permitted that underpin the knowledge on which we secure the health not only of ourselves but also of our livestock and of the exotic animals that may be kept, I hope always in the right conditions. As the White Paper says, there are many and essential inquiries which would not be possible without the use of animals for the purpose of research.

I shall not spell out what is said in the paragraph. It is only too obvious to your Lordships that many and essential inquiries would not be possible without the kind of experimentation in which animals are being used by responsible and proper scientists. There may be some improper use, and I agree with Lord Houghton's fears in this matter. The son of a very great Member of your Lordships' House, of a great experimental biologist, will be speaking after me. The knowledge which he gained underpins our entire understanding of the operations of the nervous system.

Obviously the White Paper is only a prelude to the introduction of new legislation. And clearly, too, while it pays tribute to all the various inquiries that have been made in the past about the improvement of the 1876 Act, and the inquiries which Her Majesty's Government undertook in the preparation of this White Paper, I assume—and I am certain that I assume correctly—that Her Majesty's Government will be consulting further in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, implied is so essential with the various bodies concerned; both those whose activities are dependent upon the use of animals in research, and those concerned that the unnecessary use of animals is prevented.

It is clear—and I say this without qualification—that no experiments should ever be allowed that do not satisfy whatever criterion about pain—a most difficult criterion, we all know, to establish—is laid down and becomes law. It is not only pain, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said. We have to be quite clear about what are permissible purposes. He rather lost me when he spoke about public accountability, because I did not quite know which particular public he was going to turn to, and who was going to be responsible for the Government in taking advice on that matter of accountability. However, this is an issue to which I am certain he will return, when, as we all hope, a Bill is laid before the House and that Bill comes up for its Second Reading and then for the Committee stage.

I am confident that, in the preparation of a new Bill, close attention will also be paid to the respective functions of the Home Office and its inspectorate and to the duties and responsibilities of the Home Secretary's advisory committee and of what I understand is likely to be its successor body, the Statutory Animal Procedures Committee, to which reference is made in the report. I became aware only this afternoon, after I had spoken to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, during the course of proceedings in your Lordships' House, that these various papers had already been submitted. I had not seen them. Indeed one was put into my hands as I walked into the Chamber this evening. These various submissions have been made by bodies that have an interest in the subsequent deliberations on the Bill.

I fear that there may be differences; indeed, some have been indicated already in matters of detail, but there is an enormous measure of agreement with the Government's White Paper, and in what those who are concerned and what the public want. We should emphasise those areas of agreement and try to put into proper perspective the small differences in detail which will have to be debated fully in your Lordships' House.

As is stated in paragraph 16, the Home Secretary will be required to consult the new committee on animal procedures before formulating the standard conditions to which all licences will be subject and before granting project licences in particular. I suppose it would be administratively impossible, or certainly very difficult, to consult the procedures committee about every application for a licence which the Home Secretary receives. In its advice, therefore, the committee has a very difficult role to play. It can hardly impose stricter conditions than those now embodied in the Council of Europe conventions.

Equally the eminent individuals who, according to the White Paper, will be appointed by the Home Secretary "in a personal capacity" will have to recognise—I speak as a scientist—that very rarely, if ever, does the course of any scientific inquiry proceed from a clear starting point to a pre-determined goal. In the course of any work which is undertaken by a good scientist, observations will emerge which may reveal a new and different goal and may certainly qualify the goal that the experimenter had in mind at the start. More than that, they may even indicate that the wrong questions had been put at the beginning of the inquiry. A degree of flexibility, therefore, is essential in the conduct of research. This is something that I trust the advisory body, or bodies, to whom the Home Secretary and his officials will be turning, will bear in mind. If they are the kind of people I hope they will be and people in whom, I trust, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, will have confidence, they will recognise this fact.

I do not propose at the moment to touch on the difficult question of confidentiality which surrounds so much of the applied work done by pharmaceutical firms and equally—this was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley—the firms which produce cosmetics, which are in such demand in the market place. Much more important is the point that came up in the previous debate on Ireland to which the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, referred—that of food processing. We have to recognise that in food processing and distribution, this country, including Ulster, is totally urbanised. We depend entirely upon processed food. We depend on food which contains food additives, which may be preservatives or additives of a different kind. It is unthinkable that those who are responsible for seeing that the country is truly and properly fed should be inhibited from making quite certain that what is purveyed has been properly tested.

However, these are all matters that will emerge at the Second Reading of the Bill, which I hope the Government will produce soon. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Houghton will use all his influence to see that this is done without too much delay. These are matters which will come up and in which most of us will have a part to play. We shall certainly be extremely interested. All I need now say in conclusion is that, whatever their interests in the matter, everyone should be pleased that the nettle has at last been grasped and that new legislation to control the use of animals in experiments will in due course be introduced.

7.47 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, the House will be very grateful, not for the first time, to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for allowing this very important debate to take place, whatever conclusions some of us may reach in the long run. I should like at the outset to offer my congratulations—it is the first time I have had the opportunity of doing so—to my noble friend Lady Trumpington on her elevation to the Front Bench, I am sure that the House will recognise that she will treat this matter with sympathy and conviction which always marks her contributions.

We have at least two very distinguished scientists taking part in the debate—the noble Lords, Lord Zuckerman and Lord Adrian. I intervene briefly for two reasons, albeit at a late hour. First, I have served on a hospital committee for a number of years. In mental health particularly, drugs have to be used which involve the use of animals. Also I am a member of the all-party parliamentary Chemical Industry Committee, though I am neither a scientist nor a chemist. I have visited a number of pharmaceutical establishments in this country and at least one large one in one of the EEC countries. I have seen for myself one or two of these experiments taking place.

I would make the general point that if one compares the experiments which are carried out in this country—and, in such experience as I have had, those in the EEC—with the types of experiments carried out in some of the countries in the Far East (pictures of which have appeared in some of the tabloid newspapers), while in no way allowing apathy to creep in here, I believe our record has much to be commended.

It is a relief that the White Paper has at last appeared, the first since 1876. I agree very much with the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, when he presses the Government for an early Bill. It may be that a full-scale debate—and it is a great pity that this vital question comes on at such a late hour—on the White Paper will be needed before the Government produce a Bill. Even if it does not appear in the next 15 months, I would urge the Government to press on and at least to let us have one in as short a time as possible. It is not an easy matter on which to legislate. Even those of us who are not scientists recognise this. The thing has to be got right.

If I may comment briefly on one or two paragraphs in the White Paper, undoubtedly paragraph 30, on cosmetics, is the one which causes the most concern. If, as I understand it, animals are going to be used for experiments on cosmetics, I would hope that this would be confined as far as possible to skin diseases such a psoriasis and impetigo. These are distressing conditions and anybody who has suffered from them or who has seen people, and particularly children, who suffer from them will recognise this. It is my belief that these are the only justifications for cosmetic experiments. I cannot, certainly at this moment, think of any others; but I believe that these are important matters. But this is obviously something which will have to be discussed very fully when the White Paper is more fully debated.

The question of supervision, I believe, is very important. So far as I am aware, the Home Office inspectorate can visit any laboratory without prior notice. This should certainly be the case. It is absolutely essential that this should be done and I am very glad to see in the White Paper that there is planned a tightening up of the scandalous state of affairs where stolen pets are picked up and sold to laboratories. Of course, it would be very naive to expect a complete assurance that no stolen pets find their way there, but I hope that my noble friend the Minister can give a guarantee that the Home Office inspectorate, or whoever will be dealing with this matter, will make quite sure that this provision is carried out to the letter.

This is an emotive subject. I think that we would all wish that experiments on animals could be discontinued. What is absolutely vital is that experiments should be humane, and be seen to be humane, and that, wherever possible, the absolute minimum use of experiments takes place. In conclusion, I believe that this White Paper is a considerable step forward. Once again, I hope that legislation will emanate from it very quickly because this is a matter of considerable seriousness and urgency.

7.55 p.m.

Lord Adrian

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has asked a very timely Unstarred Question and I think we are all grateful to him for doing so; as, indeed, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Zuckerman and Lord Auckland, for the things that they have said about this in their speeches. In his Unstarred Question Lord Houghton indicated that the Government White Paper had a mixed reception. I do not think that that is in any way surprising in view of the very many interests that it had to satisfy. I would have expected Lord Houghton to be critical of some of the proposals in the White Paper, although I had hoped—and my hope was not unfounded—that some of the proposals would meet with his approval.

For myself, I should like to say that I believe that the Government's proposals are mostly along the right lines and that such problems as remain should not be insuperable. Indeed, I believe that that is the opinion of scientific and industrial interests. Although we have waited, patiently I hope, for this White Paper, in terms of the result I think that the waiting has been very well worth while. I should like to congratulate the Government on having squarely faced the dilemma of this extremely contentious matter.

If they can in the end devise new legislation which will, in the words of the White Paper, give better protection to animals without—and I repeat, without—prejudicing benefits to man or animal which flow from the use of animals by scientists, all reasonable men will be grateful. I think that that would be a worthwhile achievement and one to which I believe this White Paper points.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, has singled out three issues in his Unstarred Question: pain and permissible purposes and public accountability. Although he considered the timetable of legislation primarily, I should like to speak briefly on two of these. On what has become known as the pain condition, it has always been my belief that the administrative application to licences of a condition limiting pain and suffering is the best course to adopt. I very much welcome the Government's intention to continue this course. I do not doubt that it has been applied without exception to all licences since 1929 and I do not doubt either that in general it has been very effective.

But I wonder whether there are some procedures, which will come under the new proposed legislation, which will in fact stretch present interpretations of the pain condition. To continue, as before, applying it to every licence could, I believe, give rise to the worry that either the pain condition could, under some circumstances, relatively rarely, be ignored or that, in practice, the definition of "severe pain" has been set out unreasonably high. It seems to me that more thought is needed in this matter and there might be greater reassurance for genuine public anxiety in a system where the few necessary exemptions were noted and justified than in a system which simply denies that severe and enduring pain is ever allowed or could ever legitimately be allowed.

I am wholly in agreement with what has been said: that unjustifiable pain should be avoided as far as is humanly possible. The difficult question—and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, stressed its difficulty—is where it becomes unjustifiable. That is the question that we have very seriously to address. I have no quarrel with the list of purposes for which procedures will be permissible; nor do I agree that it is widely increased in such a way that there will be an increase in painful experiments.

However, I am glad that paragraph 32 makes it clear that important scientific work may not always have an immediately identifiable application. This makes it imperative that addition to knowledge and scientific research is an important permitted purpose. But—and here I speak personally, perhaps—with respect to teaching I find the Government's attitude perplexing, and especially on the particular matter of teaching physiological sciences to medical students and B.Sc. students, which is what I have been involved in for most of my career. It appears that to do any practical work for students involving animals will need personal licences—for which, incidentally, a fee may be charged. But I am not clear whether teaching such students will be an allowable project.

In recent years, under the 1876 Act, the conditions under which such students can do non-recovery work on anaesthetised animals have become very restricted, and the proposals in the White Paper do not appear, in my view, to improve the situation. I would hope that the Home Office could take further advice from those concerned with teaching medical sciences and reconsider their rejection in paragraph 40 of the White Paper of the recommendations on student licensing which have been more or less unequivocal and consistently dealt with by the Littlewood Committee, the Select Committee on the Halsbury Bill and their own Advisory Committee.

Central to the Government's proposals, I believe, is the new licensing system, and the approach of personal and project licensing is one of many possible systems. It has many merits, but I believe it has dangers, and one's ultimate judgment will depend upon the way it is administered. Licence holders have learned to rely on the wisdom and good sense of the inspectorate, and will no doubt be able to do so in the future. Indeed, I believe the inspectorate has carried out its difficult task with great skill and understanding. Under the new proposals project licences will have to be allowed by the inspectorate and, if asked, by the new statutory Animal Procedures Committee, and the administrative practices of the inspectorate and the committee will be crucial.

In that context it is reassuring that the committee, as well as the inspectorate, will have the necessary scientific expertise, but the powers of the inspectorate and the committee could be used (I do not say they would be) deliberately or inadvertently to restrict the freedom of the scientist to decide the direction of his work, and even a committee of fair-minded men is not infallible. I believe that no Government should lightly take away an existing freedom. I would hope that in the terms of reference of the Animal Procedures Committee they might be warned against the temptation to direct the course of a scientific inquiry.

Equally, I am convinced—and here I have to declare an interest since I am a member of the Home Office Advisory Committee—that that committee's recommendation in paragraph 65 of their report was the right one. We recommended there a mechanism for making representations by an aggrieved applicant against a licence refusal. The power to reject a project licence, and therefore to block a particular line of research, makes an appeal mechanism very important, and I believe that its absence from the White Paper is disturbing. I fully agree that scientists can reasonably be asked to offer justification for what they propose to do. Indeed. I believe that in practice this is very often what is done in applications today. But I believe that scientists ought to have the right to make representations to the Animal Procedures Committee in the case of a refusal to license a project.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, asked what methods of consultation the Government propose in order to obtain the greatest measure of agreement on these proposals in the White Paper, and I shall listen with particular interest, as I am sure we all shall, to the noble Baroness (whom I, too, am delighted to welcome to the Front Bench) when she speaks about consultation, because I know that industry and the scientific societies, including the Royal Society, would like to contribute to any further consultations. I hope that their thoughts and their anxieties will not go unheard. They are much affected by these proposals, and they have given very serious thought to the issues involved.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Bishopston

My Lord, we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby for giving the House yet another opportunity to discuss this important matter and to hear the views of her Majesty's Government. We are all indebted for his vigilance, perseverance and tenacity in matters of animal welfare. As other speakers have, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, to the Front Bench. We hope she will show the same degree of independence in the future as she showed when she sat on the Benches behind the one on which she now sits. I have no doubt she will take note of the views of all noble Lords who have spoken this evening.

I believe the discussion we are having tonight is opportune in view of the long delays, to which reference has been made already tonight, in taking action to update the legislation of 1876, although there have been various small improvements from time to time. Indeed, paragraph I of the White Paper begins by saying that Her Majesty's Government will introduce new legislation as soon as parliamentary time permits. This seems rather slow progress in the light of the fact that, of course, the last Government were elected on the basis of a manifesto which promised: We shall update…the legislation on experiments on live animals". So we hope there will be some time in this Session for action to be taken. As paragraph 2 of the White Paper says, "This will be the first legislation of its kind", when it comes, "this century". It seems now, 83 years afterwards, that we ought urgently to review, to repeal and to revise much that is out of date. The march of science is such that surely many living animal experiments (now numbering about five million) are no longer necessary, and, where they are, there must be methods to by-pass some experiments and to ensure that pain and suffering are minimised.

Paragraph 3 of the White Paper is important. I am not sure whether there is something sinister about the reference to the United Kingdom's large pharmaceutical industry, when it says: The United Kingdom has a large pharmaceutical industry which makes a big contribution to our balance of payments and employs 67,500 people. In devising new controls it is very important not to put industry at risk unnecessarily". This kind of comment makes one wonder whether there will be a proper balance of the interests of all concerned in this matter of animal welfare. The White Paper rightly states that the Government have a duty to safeguard the community from avoidable harm and to enable science to continue to make progress in saving life and alleviating suffering. This requires research and testing to proceed, but, of course, with adequate controls.

There is a great deal of controversy regarding what research is necessary and what should be allowed. That, of course, is one of the themes put forward by my noble friend Lord Houghton and by others. The Government may boast of legislation they have passed and of the wider opportunities it gives: but in this area, as in others, inadequate investment, insufficient research, lack of up-to-date techniques, insufficient inspectors (which is most important) and lack of enforcement makes legislation rather a mockery. I understand that there are 15 inspectors to cover about 500 laboratories, so although legislation may require—and, indeed, the White Paper requires—that there should be adequate inspection and enforcement, this really depends on resources which the Government say in other connections they do not have. So, if they bring forward legislation, we hope that they will also provide the means whereby it can be really effective.

I was prepared to make some detailed comments on the three aspects which my noble friend used as the basis for his Question tonight. But some of those comments have been made by the noble Lords, Lord Zuckerman and Lord Adrian, in particular with their special knowledge and concern, so I shall just summarise some of my comments. On the pain clauses, the White Paper seems to give no indication about the progress being made concerning pain restriction. It makes great play of the fact that the draft European Convention allows exceptions to the pain condition, but it seems that those exceptions have not been allowed in this country.

Here again, as in all legislation, definition is most important on the aspects of these paragraphs. The Home Office has never satisfactorily defined the concepts of such words as "severely" and "enduring" in the sense of pain. It has been left to the researcher to interpret them, and the researcher would consult the Home Office inspector. But, as I said, in 1981 there were only 15 inspectors to cover 500 laboratories, which means that, to a large extent, the legislation is ineffective.

The other aspects of permissible purposes are important, and it has been suggested that the Government could have used the permissible purposes section as an alternative approach to controlling animal experiments, given that the pain approach is so vague, but they seem to have missed the opportunity. Of course, as others have mentioned, particularly obnoxious is the fact that experiments are still being allowed in the cosmetic and tobacco industries. It may still be true to say that smoking can endanger your health, but it also endangers the health of animals.

With regard to project licences, paragraphs 37 and 38, in theory paragraph 37 is an improvement. At present, a researcher applies for just one licence which covers both him and his experiments. To obtain a licence, a researcher approaches the Home Office inspector for advice on his application and then sends an application to the Home Secretary. The licence usually lasts for a number of years. Now the Government propose that two licences be issued to cover a person and the other projects.

The weakness in this system is that the project licence must have a sponsor who must be either—as required in paragraph 38—a professor in the relevant discipline or some other person in authority. The sponsor must be acceptable to the Home Secretary, but the question arises: how is he chosen? One wonders what reaction there would be if the person concerned had some doubts about animal welfare experiments. But, in all these things, definition is a most important matter and there needs to be some tightening up of these aspects if any legislation is to be effective.

My noble friend rightly draws attention to the limited number of important aspects of the White Paper. However, we should not debate these issues in a vacuum and it has been essential for other noble Lords and myself tonight to widen the debate a little in order to get our perspectives. This has been greatly helped by the comments of noble Lords who have spoken from immense experience.

It would be helpful to the House, and indeed to many who are concerned in the country, if the noble Baroness could say what is the state of play since 1876. I shall not ask her to cover too long a period, but I notice that in another place on 19th November 1982 the then Minister, Mr. Raison, at col. 560 of the Official Report, when talking about the Government's programme and policy on this matter, said this: As soon as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had reconstituted the advisory committee on animal experiments in 1980, with wider terms of reference, he asked it to make a comprehensive study of the framework of legislation to replace the 1876 Act. The advisory committee presented its report towards the end of 1981 and that is an important factor in the Government's deliberations". We have gone from 1981 and are now well through 1983, and it would be helpful if the noble Baroness could enlighten the House on the Government's intentions.

The Labour Party and many other bodies have produced detailed proposals and we believe that there is room for further consultation. This should not take too long, because a lot has already been said and written and we certainly need progress in the very near future. The Prime Minister's delight at espousing Victorian values has surely been helped by our use of legislation based on the concepts of the 1870s. But it is not good enough when we are going towards the 21st century and concern for animals should animate us all.

In the debate at about this time last night I quoted John Donne's memorable comment that, Every man's death diminishes me". I believe it is equally true to say that the death of every man and the suffering and death of every living creature diminishes us all. I am sure that we await the noble Baroness's comments tonight to see what further progress may be made in ensuring less suffering for everyone.

8.17 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, may I start by thanking all those noble Lords who welcomed me to this Dispatch Box. Actually they were wrong. This Question was pipped at the post by a Question earlier this week, so this is my second time here. But I am grateful for their kind remarks.

I recall with pleasure the collaboration between the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, myself and others which led to the preservation of the curlew during a debate last year. I cannot say that I have relished in the same way the prospect of replying to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, today. Partly this was because the subject matter is, unfortunately, not a heart-warming one and arouses so many violent passions that in any other place I should fear at the number of friends I might be losing and opponents gaining as soon as 1 opened my mouth. I would also add that I feel I am responding to a Question which, with all respect, has been asked a little prematurely.

As the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said, comments upon the White Paper have been requested soon. As a matter of fact, the date is 12th August—not, perhaps, the most appropriate date in the circumstances. It also happens to be slap in the middle of many people's holidays and I understand that most of the responses so far have been requests for an extension of the deadline. So I suppose the simple answer to the noble Lord's Question is that the Government have very little formal idea of the reception the White Paper is getting. Therefore, I dispute his assertion of a mixed reception. The general election campaign may also have contributed to the general hush on its appearance. But the Home Office's ears flap widely and, one way or another, the Government were pretty well aware of the sort of criticisms mentioned by the noble Lord even before he drew them expressly to the attention of this House.

Not all that the Government have heard has been criticism. however, and I most grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Zuckerman, Lord Adrian, Lord Auckland, and others, for their helpful speeches this evening. After all, the Government's proposals are similar in many respects to those put forward jointly by the British Veterinary Association, the Committee for the Reform of Animal Experimentation, of which the noble Lord is chairman, and the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments. There are some differences and, as the noble Lord points out, they are important ones; and they will undoubtedly continue to provoke criticism. But I think the fact that the White Paper has not been greeted by an outcry demonstrates, even allowing for the general election factor, that in many respects it has been well received and is seen by many people to represent a fair and sensible balance between the interests of science, industry and animals.

Before I deal briefly with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and others, I should like to answer his point about consultation. The Government are anxious to ensure the greatest possible measure of agreement, although it would be illusory to expect that we shall obtain unanimity. But, despite the range of anxieties which have been expressed here, I really do not think we shall have the full picture until comments have come in from the wide variety of interested organisations. It is only when we have them that we can decide exactly how best to proceed. All I can promise is that consultation will be of the fullest kind.

With regard to joint representation from animal welfare bodies, which was touched upon, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, I cannot commit the Government to any particular form of consultation, but I think it must be obvious that little would be gained by talking to a lot of groups, supposedly representing similar interests, which all disagreed with each other. It is much easier if broad interest groups can reach agreed views, as the BVA, CRAE and FRAME did so successfully.

The first of the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, was about the pain condition. That point has been touched on by most speakers. As the noble Lord said—and I could not agree more—trying to decide what is the acceptable level of suffering which a sentient being without a choice should be asked to endure on my behalf is a horribly difficult issue. The Government's approach is to say, first of all, that no animal should be required to suffer anything at all unless there is no scientific alternative and unless it is one of the permissible purposes.

Having reached that point, the Government do not then think that it is possible or advisable to distinguish formally between types of purposes for which an animal should only be permitted to suffer a pinprick and those for which it may be required to undergo more prolonged or intensive pain or distress. It may seem easy to say that a new shampoo is worth much less suffering than a cure for multiple sclerosis, but it is not as simple as that in practice. If we were to attempt to grade work according to whether we thought it was useful, essential, urgent, exceptional, et cetera,we should be in grave danger either of unwittingly preventing a really important discovery because the research gave no promise of one at the outset, or of devaluing the grading by accepting that more or less everything was essential and exceptional. It is far better to say that work within the areas of permissible purposes may be carried out and then stipulate, as all licences do now, that no animal shall be required to suffer severe and enduring pain.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, asked whether the pain clause would be a statutory requirement and legally enforceable. That is very much a question for the lawyers. We have not yet made up our minds, but we shall bear in mind what the noble Lord has said.

The noble Lord, Lord Adrian, asked the Government to reconsider the question of an exemption to the pain clause. The Government were strongly opposed to the provision for an exemption which is contained in the European Convention. We cannot go back upon our stance. We cannot offer less protection to animals in the future than we have in the past. Our new legislation cannot be regressive. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, but I really do not think that researchers have been unduly inhibited in the past, nor need be in the future. The admission of only one or two exemptions in the legislation would, I am convinced, lead to the gradual erosion of the system protecting animals which has been so carefully built up and so scrupulously maintained.

With regard to the subject of permissible purposes, the main thing to say here is that, as the White Paper makes clear in paragraph 28, the list of purposes contained in the European Convention is only a basis for the Government and that they may have to modify some of them, possibly in the light of the comments we hope to receive by or shortly after 12th August.

I was interested by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, concerning the retention of cosmetics testing. I do not think I can usefully add to what the White Paper says on this issue. The main points are that the term "cosmetics", as defined in the European Directive with which we must comply, covers a wide range of substances, not all of which are by any means trivial. There are very few cosmetic tests. I have the percentages from the Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association. Only 0.56 per cent. of animal tests carried out in 1981 were for the cosmetics industry. Small as it was, this percentage represented a decline from 0.68 per cent. in 1980. The cosmetics industry has to guarantee the safety in use of such products as shampoos, toilet soaps and dentifrices which are likely to be in contact with eyes or skin or which could be swallowed. The industry has an absolute duty under the EEC cosmetics directive to market products which are safe in use.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, will the noble Baroness permit me to say that these percentages, small though they are, are considerable in terms of numbers? Some thousands of animals are involved in the 0.6 per cent. of the total number of animals involved. We are talking in millions. The number represented by a small percentage is rather greater than many people would imagine.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. I give the percentages merely in order to show that from the point of view of the cosmetics industry this is a very small percentage in terms of actual experiments and that they have to carry out these experiments in order to protect themselves before they market new products which could be harmful.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, questioned the use of "unnecessary" products. Some of the same arguments I have just put forward apply to other goods which may not seem essential, in that they appear to duplicate existing products. What they offer may be an improvement. They may clean better or be less potentially harmful than other products on the market; or they may work significantly better for some people than available alternatives. Either these products are adequately tested or they fail to come on to the market altogether. That may not be a matter of great concern to your Lordships or to me, but we should not presume that nobody is concerned about it.

Turning to the subject of scientific research, I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman. Again, the White Paper really says it all. We cannot stop our research—or, rather, we can, but we do so very literally at our own risk. I could presume to wonder whether the two persons who recently had their arms sewn back on would have received the necessary medical expertise for this delicate operation had not a great deal of research involving animals taken place over the years.

Turning to the subject of public accountability, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, took me a little by surprise when he raised this issue, since the Question on the Order Paper refers to "project licences", not public accountability. But the two are in fact connected and I should like to comment on project licences, first because they were touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, and secondly because they are, I know, a matter of great concern to potential licensees. This is partly because we have been putting out feelers about the way in which the new system might work in practice. Because our own ideas are not fully worked out, a certain amount of scepticism has been encountered. It is an area where we are very reliant upon consultation. We cannot just work out a paper scheme and thrust it upon people. The Government are well aware of the fears that laboratories will be filling out thousands of project licence application forms; that the new system will not be sufficiently flexible to cover changes of direction in research; and that the new sponsors will lead to breaches of commercial confidentiality.

All I can say is that officials are working to devise a system that will be practicable for both licensees and the inspectorate, while at the same time providing sufficient information for the Home Secretary to know what is proposed in every project—however widely or narrowly that has to be interpreted—and to be satisfied that it is justifiable within the limits of permissible purposes. When the Home Secretary is in that position, I believe that the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, will be allayed.

With regard to other points which have been raised, the noble Lord, Lord Zuckerman, mentioned the subject of food processing. I do not wish to dwell on this matter. Suffice it to say that in some instances we have a clear duty to ensure that foods are safe, and this may involve tests of preservatives and the like on animals. My noble friend Lord Auckland commented on the role of inspectors; and the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, also commented on ineffective legislation concerning that same matter. The White Paper promises to increase the strength of the inspectorate, because of their new duties. It has been suggested that there are not enough inspectors to fulfil their role adequately. We should bear in mind that some 90 per cent. of experiments are carried out at about only 10 per cent. of registered places; and that the large-scale establishments are frequently inspected, usually without notice, so that inspectors really get to know what is going on in those places for which they are responsible.

I entirely reject the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, that present legislation is ineffective and that the inspectorate cannot and do not exercise adequate control. I am happy to say that I believe the noble Lord is alone in that view.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, may I intervene very briefly?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I would much rather the noble Lord did not. As my noble friend Lord Auckland said concerning stolen pets, there are always allegations about stolen pets being used in laboratories. Proof of actual instances is very rare. At all events, the Government are anxious to take the maximum steps to prevent the possibility of such a traffic.

In reply to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, about appeals, the noble Lord urged the Government to give their views on an appeals system for licensees whose projects are refused. The Advisory Committee recommended some form administrative mechanism, not a statutory one, and so it is hardly surprising that the White Paper does not cover it. I very much doubt whether a formal mechanism will prove necessary. As the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, is aware, licensees keep in close touch with the inspectorate, which can advise on ways in which the work of the licensees can be modified to meet the requirements of the Act. It is therefore very unusual for a licence to be refused outright. In the same way, I doubt whether projects will often be refused, because the informal discussions which take place with the inspectorate will lead to adequate work being proposed and will enable the scientist to make his views well known to the inspectorate and, directly or indirectly, to the Home Secretary.

The last Government promised in their election manifesto that they would update the law, but work was delayed while the United Kingdom played a leading role in shaping the draft Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Vertebrate Animals, work on which was not completed until April of this year. The convention now awaits the approval of the Committee of Ministers. The United Kingdom will not be able to ratify it until new legislation has been introduced, and in fulfilment of their manifesto commitment the last Government announced their plans for legislation in the White Paper Scientific Procedures on Living Animals,published on 12th May, which we have been discussing this evening.

As I have already said, the Government are most anxious to obtain views from all relevant bodies. Consultations will obviously follow—and a Bill will come before your Lordships as soon as parliamentary time permits—but it is not for me to comment on when that start will be made.

While it is never possible to please all the people all the time, your Lordships can rest assured that the Government will do their best to ensure that future legislation will protect animals while at the same time permitting the necessary research to advance knowledge helpful to both humans and animals.

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I assure her that we do appreciate the assurances she has given? However, the assurance that there will be more inspectors is not quite the same thing as an assurance that there will not be an inadequate number of inspectors.

House adjourned at twenty-four minutes before nine o'clock.