HL Deb 06 May 1986 vol 474 cc588-91

3 Clause 5, page 4, line 36, at end insert— ("(4A) The Secretary of State shall not grant a project licence unless he is satisfied that the applicant has given adequate consideration to the feasibility of achieving the purpose of the programme to be specified in the licence by means not involving the use of protected animals.")

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, I beg to move that this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 3.

This amendment concerns possibly the single most important principle behind this Bill: the use of alternative techniques which do not involve living animals of the type protected by the Bill. During Committee stage and Report stage in this House we had a very full and useful discussion of these issues during debate on amendments which sought to incorporate a reference to this point in the Bill. It will be no surprise to your Lordships that the debate on this matter was also full and vigorous during the Bill's consideration in another place. It was cogently argued that the Bill should include a reference to the fact that granting of a project licence will only take place after the Secretary of State has satisfied himself that the applicant has given careful consideration to the use of alternatives, and to whether suitable techniques of this sort exist which would enable the work to be carried out.

At Committee stage in another place the Government gave a commitment to introduce an amendment on these lines and the amendment which we are now considering was brought forward at Report stage in fulfilment of that commitment. The amendment was widely welcomed in another place and I am sure that it will be equally welcomed by your Lordships' House. The amendment inserts into the Bill a clear requirement for the important question of alternatives to be given the prominence which it deserves in the consideration of project applications. I commend it to the House.

Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in the said amendment.—(Viscount Davidson.)

Lord Mishcon

My Lords, the noble Lord the Minister correctly anticipated that this would be a very welcome amendment in this House, as indeed it was in another place. One remembers the debates upon this which took place. The noble Lord has described them very accurately with the appropriate adjectives.

They were very forceful debates and now this amendment appears in order that there is writ large in the Bill that the Secretary of State must take into account all other alternatives before granting a project licence. We certainly approve this amendment from these Benches.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby

My Lords, in supporting the Motion that we should approve the Commons amendment, I should like to say that this amendment includes in the Bill a proviso that it was always intended should be borne in mind by the Secretary of State in granting project licences. But so many people have wanted to see additional safeguards in the Bill, and these are the additions that are being made for that purpose.

We all agree that the hope for many animals in laboratories is the discovery of alternatives to their use; and much work is being done to find these alternatives. They are not as easy to discover or to use as many people think. Nevertheless, work is being done and should continue to be done. We bear in mind that the Government have made grants towards research to find these alternatives. I think it is only fair to the original drafter of the Bill to say that it was never intended that the existence of alternatives should be ignored or not inquired into. However, this amendent makes it clear beyond any doubt that, in granting these licences, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that there are no feasible alternatives. That is a comfort to a great many people who wanted to see this in the Bill itself.

Much doubt has been expressed in different quarters about the genuineness of the administrative scrutiny which will be applied by the Secretary of State to the various provisions of this Bill when it becomes an Act of Parliament. It should be said that not only will the Secretary of State, of his own responsibility, wish to exercise to the full the power of surveillance, consideration and authority which are given to him under this Bill, but we must bear in mind that there will be a procedures committee—to which we shall refer later on—which is a committee of great importance and authority. A later amendment will strengthen very greatly its powers of investigation. That committee will be there all the time to keep an eye on what is happening and may decide for itself to investigate anything which it feels needs further inquiry.

I therefore warmly support this amendment. With one exception (when we come to the amendment relating to Clause 14) all the amendments strengthen the Bill and are welcomed by those of us who have been watching the Bill so closely for so long and who wish to see it improved even further from when it left your Lordships' House.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, I do not oppose this amendment. I simply regard it as largely otiose and as applying a greater burden of administrative work on the Secretary of State. It is accepted by everyone that alternative methods are cheaper and most of them evolve as a by-product of research on animals. I do not believe that it will make very much difference to the state of play, except that there are always grey areas and a lot of time and administrative effort can be spent in placing a particular proposal at its appropriate point on the spectrum of grey.

Lord Melchett

My Lords, I think I moved an amendment which had a very similar purpose to this when we debated the Bill here; so I very warmly welcome the fact that in another place the Government have amended the Bill in this way. It is quite right—if I may pick up a point made by the noble Earl—that sometimes administrative effort should be spent in ensuring that in the grey area that he mentioned the maximum number of experiments on animals do not take place and the maximum number of alternatives to the use of animals are employed. I think that the amendment is important for that very reason. I know it was always intended that this should be done. It makes a great deal of difference—and we shall see it making a great deal of difference over the years—to have this written into the face of the Bill. I am delighted to see it there.

I have one question which really picks up something mentioned by my noble friend Lord Houghton. Perhaps the noble Lord will write to me if I have this wrong. However, I presume that the actual detailed implementation of this—the day-to-day oversight—will be something for which the Home Office inspectorate will be responsible. I do not wish to delay the proceedings now and so I am quite happy to leave it there. Perhaps the noble Viscount will drop me a line if what I have said is wrong, and will explain exactly how it will work.

Viscount Davidson

My Lords, the answer is that the inspectorate will be in charge of it. So that saves a stamp! I am most grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon, Lord Houghton and Lord Melchett, for their welcome of this amendment. All I can say to the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, is that I note the caveat he expressed. I do not think there is anything more of use that I can say.

On Question, Motion agreed to.