HL Deb 25 April 1989 vol 506 cc1244-62

9.21 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action is being taken on the Report of the Animal Procedures Committee for 1987, the Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals Great Britain 1987 and the Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Animals Used in Scientific Procedures.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is quite some time since last I had the opportunity to raise these matters. We did not then have before us some of the documents that are available now. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, responded for the Home Office on that previous occasion and I am glad to see that he will do so again tonight. The first document mentioned in the Unstarred Question is the Report of the Animal Procedures Committee for 1987, which is new. It is the first one. The second is the Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals Great Britain 1987, published by the Home Office. It is not new but very old. However, it is very much better than it has ever been before. The third is the Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Animals Used in Scientific Procedures, which is new.

I shall deal first with the Report of the Animal Procedures Committee for 1987. In so doing I shall mention the fact that all the documents before us tonight are the direct outcome of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which, I continue to repeat, was an historic measure; historic not only for what it set out to do—it replaced the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876—but historic also for the way in which it was done. After years of frustration and futility in efforts to get changes by means of the Private Member's Bill procedure to the law on animal experiments, some of us had enough sense to come together to see whether we could find a consensus and secure the highest common denominator of agreement among animal welfare organisations and scientific and commercial interests which for along time had been at loggerheads. We succeeded. We were able to offer to the Government a set of proposals which if they adopted them or anything like them we could undertake to influence our constituents to ensure that the Bill went through Parliament with the least obstruction and delay. We could bring about reform in that way. And so it happened.

We then formed the strongest and most fruitful combination of animal organisations that I know, called the Welfare Alliance. It is composed of the British Veterinary Association, the Committee for the Reform of Animal Experiments, of which I have been chairman since the outset, and FRAME, the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, which has very strong support on all sides of the Houses of Parliament. That combination was the most influential in bringing about the Act of 1986 and has been most influential in the course of implementing the various recommendations of the Act.

I strongly recommend this lesson to all those concerned who think that they can get business done in Parliament on extremist solutions by using the Private Member's Bill procedure. It will not succeed. Parliament is not a body that will absorb extremist views or fundamentalist views into national legislation. One might as well get this common denominator before setting about it, rather than have to seek it when legislation has been wrecked, obstructed or scattered on the floor—something of which we have recently had experience.

The Animal Procedures Committee is a statutory committee. It is not an advisory committee in the superficial sense that advisory committees in the past have been, easily appointed, easily ignored and easily falling into disuse. It is a statutory committee which can run under its own steam and it does not have to wait for an indication from the Minister as to what it should do and what it should talk about. Again as a slight digression, I would say what a pity it is that the Farm Animal Welfare Council is not constituted with similar authority and similar independence.

There is one member of the Animal Procedures Committee who has the distinction of being also the only person who is a member of both the Animal Procedures Committee and the Farm Animal Welfare Council; he is Mr. Clive Hollands, who is probably one of the most able, distinguished and experienced representatives of animal welfare opinion that we have in this country today. His influence on all the committees on which he serves is very strong indeed.

The Animal Procedures Committee is a body of 19, with 18 specialists of various kinds and an academic chairman. It has made a very promising start and produced a report which has considerable self-confidence and is optimistic. The committee believes that it has made a good start and for a committee of that composition to feel that means that it really has made a good beginning.

There are one or two questions that arise on the report. The committee has taken special notice of one or two aspects of the use of animals in laboratories. They are matter of constant public concern. One is known as the Draize test, which covers the use of animals' eyes for the testing of irritant and corrosive substances, and for this purpose the most numerous sufferers of this test are New Zealand rabbits. The use of animals for eye irritancy and corrosion testing has increased considerably in the last 12 months. It has risen by about 100 per cent. and 59,000 rabbits are used for this purpose alone.

Many of the figures for 1987 have increased not because more animals have been used but because of the more rigorous and particular classification. In regard to sheep, for example, some procedures which were regarded in the past not as experiments but almost as normal veterinary practice are now brought within the scope of the definition of "procedures" and have to be recorded and classified. This is good because it means that henceforth the Home Office statistics will come nearer to the truth than they have in the past.

The committee refers to the Draize test and is concerned about its continued use on the present scale. It remarks on steps that it has taken in conjunction with those who use animals for this purpose to obtain more stringent observation and use of animals. We welcome that. There are difficulties. It is extraordinary that as yet there seems no alternative to using animals' eyes—the most sensitive parts of the bodies of all mammals—for this purpose. A great deal of suffering is caused when substances are put into the eyes of animals and left to corrode, or to establish whether they will corrode, the eye tissue.

Another matter of concern to the committee is cosmetics, to which it devoted a couple of pages. If there is one sector of the use of animals in laboratories that has created a greater upsurge of discontent than anything else it is surely cosmetics. I draw attention to the fact that an early day motion has been tabled in another place and signed by over 300 Members. It expresses very strong views about the continued use of animals for cosmetics testing and requests that draconian measures be taken to reduce the number so used. I recommend that anyone concerned with the use of animals in the testing of cosmetics should read what the committee says. It is in this sphere that the question of alternatives will have to be pursued rigorously so as to avoid consumer reaction. Many manufacturers of products in wide use in households and consumed in various ways will have to watch that consumer reaction does not compel them to take steps more successfully than they have so far done to minimise the use of animals.

We should not overlook the fact that the European Community, in parallel with ouselves, is pursuing exploration in this respect, which may result in directives from the EC of a kind that have not been forthcoming recently. The European dimension is becoming more and more important all the time because we shall suddenly find one day that we have a directive which will supersede our national legislation in particular respects, and we must be ready for that. In some ways, Europe will take a firmer line on the use of animals in laboratories than we have so far taken here.

That brings me to the other part of the report which it is important to note; that is, the fairly brief reference to the pursuit of alternatives. Of course, 1987, the year of the report, was only the beginning of the committee's work. It had not got into its stride in utilising the power which the Act gives it to pursue its own functions of research, to sponsor research and to turn itself into sub-committees on particular research projects. That is an important part of the committee's work. We want a much stronger resolve to pursue research into alternatives than we have had so far.

The Government have provided something like £70,000 in the current year—it may be a little higher than that now—towards the sponsorship of research projects. The committee advertised for applicants with good projects to send them in and it received well over 100. Those were examined by expert assessors and an appraisal was made of them. More received a favourable appraisal than could be accommodated within the government grant FRAME and others are searching for sponsorships from other sources to finance the work that is being undertaken and that which should be embarked upon without further delay. We want more sponsorships for the pursuit of alternatives.

A good deal of work is already being done by some firms and laboratories. In my opinion that is the salvation of a good deal of the problem: the finding of alternatives to the use of living animals. That is what we are after. It should be a prime purpose of the 1986 Act.

I hope that the Government will feel that what they are asked to do in that connection matters. It will probably give a better return than a good deal of restrictions and other restraints upon the use of animals in laboratories which under present circumstances are difficult to impose. I hope that we shall receive assurances from the Minister on the Government's policy on alternatives.

I want to say a word or two about numbers. I have already referred to the fact that the numbers for 1987 are up. We expected that in view of the reclassification and definition of the word "procedure" as against the old word "experiment". The figures are up 17 per cent. in 1987 as against 1986. Something like 3,600,000 animals are used in experiments; 63 per cent. of the total is used for commercial purposes—in the course of testing or developing commercial products; and 66 per cent. of the animals used are not subject to an anaesthetic. That does not mean that there is a good deal of deliberate cruelty going on; it means that many of the animals are being used for experiments other than medical. They are used for toxicity and other forms of safety precautions which can be very uncomfortable and sometimes very painful indeed. The pain cannot be alleviated by anaesthetising the animal concerned.

One of the uses of animals, in commercial production especially, falls within a well-known piece of jargon in the trade—the LD50 test. Lethal dose 50 means that one finds the point at which at least half the animals dosed with a particular substance die. That can be pretty horrible. I think it is probably in that field that there is more pain from substance testing than anywhere else because most of the testing is for toxicity.

The reason I mention this particularly is because Mr. David Mellor, the Home Office Minister at the time of the passing of the 1986 Act, was holding out the hope and indeed expectation that the numbers being used in the LD50 test would fall. I am afraid that they have not done so and about 130,000 animals are still being subjected to the full rigours of the LD50 test, the lethal dose procedure. That means enforced inhalation of gases or enforced absorption of substances that are pumped into them or put in by needle or whatever it is. The animal is fed with the substance until it cannot take any more and then people wait and see what happens. It is a very crude system.

I wish to ask the Minister whether the licensing system is being used effectively now to reduce and restrict performance of what is called the classical LD50 test in this country. To get the numbers down on the LD50 test is one of the first indications of the success of the 1986 Act. Can the Minister tell us why the numbers are still up, why the expectations of Mr. Mellor have not been realised and what the Government are doing to get the numbers down?

Finally, I come to the third document, the Code of Practice of the Housing and Care of Animals used in Scientific Procedures. The code represents the Secretary of State's paper under the statutory provisions of the 1986 Act. It ought to be well understood that the document is now the definitive and official code of practice for the care of animals in laboratories and it supersedes all the informal ones—good though they have been—in use in laboratories at the present time. I have it here and a very good document it is.

We have to be grateful to the Royal Society and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare who combined in the production of the original basic document. But their proposals have been much improved upon in discussions between the welfare organisation and the procedures committee and the Home Secretary. Probably in more than 20 respects the final document is stronger on its conditions and requirements than the earlier voluntary document that was examined.

I think it has to be said that although this is not a body of regulations enforceable in law, nevertheless it is a code of practice and everybody has got used to the idea of it. It seems to me that it should now prevail as the standard provision for animal welfare, otherwise it will have to be reviewed again if we are to obtain satisfaction in this field.

I conclude with one further general observation. I think that the use of animals for laboratory purposes is a matter that probably lingers in the minds of more people than we realise. When we talk about the moral issues that confront the nation today, we must not leave out the treatment of animals. If a society has any morals at all, they must surely apply to animals too. It is an easy temptation when a scare arises concerning a phenomenon like AIDS or salmonella, or when a nation wants to discover something through embryo research which it has not been able to discover by any other method, for people to suggest that animals should be used as they do not like the idea of embryo research. But whether it is a matter of embryo research or research into the cause of AIDS, we must utter the caveat that animals are not just expendable to meet the requirements of the human species, just because it has worries and problems it wants to solve.

The tendency of the human race is to seek out cures rather than preventive measures. That is why there is such a drive for cures and so little enthusiasm for prevention. That has a very important bearing on the future use of animals in research. However, on the whole, I am glad to say that all my friends who are concerned directly with this matter are very pleased with the start that has been made in the implementation of the 1986 Act and with the start that has been made by the Animal Procedures Committee. We look forward very eagerly to future reports from that committee.

At the present time, there is a lull in animal welfare activity in this field. I am sure that the Home Office must feel the benefit of that. I imagine that the postbag received by that office on this subject is very much smaller today than it has been for many years past. That is an indication that people are waiting for the visible results of the reforms of 1986 which caused such high hopes to be raised. They still raise high hopes for those of us who want to see good results. We put our faith in that Act. We put our faith in a consensus. That view is freely accepted by the Government. We believe that view is represented in the public's attitude. That is the strength of the Act; we want to see it produce the goods. The goods are lower figures in all branches of animal use. When that trend is noticeable and continuous, we shall be on the way to making a testimonial to all who were concerned in work on the Act. That includes the Ministers and staff at the Home Office who worked diligently in the preparatory work that was needed to get the Act and all its ramifications on the road. I am sure that the Minister will have further assurances to give on the points and comments I have made.

9.49 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I have a confession to make to the House. When the task of replying to this Question was allocated to me at our party meeting, I thought we would be talking about farm animals. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, who has done so much work, and such effective work on this matter, has a fairly low opinion of farmers and their treatment of their animals. However, I can assure the noble Lord that I have read the three documents with a great feeling of satisfaction that something is now being done.

We all share the noble Lord's concern but we do not all express it or do something about it so effectively. We share his concern about the use of animals in experiments which may sometimes be for selfish purposes or for purposes which are not necessarily for the good of the human race. I know from personal experience that once one becomes deeply involved in technical matters—as I was long ago in the last war in the techniques of warfare—one becomes totally inhuman because one thinks only of the techniques one is trying to evolve and apply. I am sure that that is true of scientists in all fields. Without the concern and sympathy for animals which are properly expressed by the public and through government and legislation there would be a great deal of unthinking cruelty in the search for knowledge.

Turning to the three documents, I was very impressed by the report of the Animal Procedures Committee. The committee is composed of a number of very distinguished people. I thought that it had gone about its task in an extremely practical manner and its recommendations are practical. To take one small example, it recommends that the nominated veterinary surgeon should be impartial. These are practical recommendations which are bound to be effective.

I have no specific questions on the report, but I should like to know how well the inspectorate is staffed. There has been a certain amount of criticism by the RSPCA that there are insufficient staff to do much of the work that it is thought would be desirable for it to do. It appears that it has a great deal of work to do and it needs a good staff.

The statistics were fascinating and rather frightening. Apparently there are 20,434 licensees. That is a very large number of people who are licensed to carry out experiments. Perhaps the Minister can inform the House whether 3,631,000 animals were used or whether that was the total number of experiments with perhaps more than one experiment on one animal. It is a frightening figure. Out of all those experiments, apparently the inspectorate found nine infringements: one licence was revoked and eight licensees were admonished.

All that was the responsibility of an inspectorate which comprises one chief inspector, two superintending inspectors and 16 inspectors. That means that there is one inspector per rather more than 1,000 licences. There are 386 designated places, 25 per inspector.

I should like to know what training the inspectors have and what backing they have. They obviously have a great deal to do. Apart from the 386 designated places, there are a great number of additional establishments concerned with the breeding and supply of animals. They need to be looked after.

The code of practice, which also applies to farm animals, appeared to me to be quite excellent. Again, I wonder whether the inspectors have been able to assess the number of designated places and breeding establishments, which number rather more; I believe that the figure is about 2,000. How many of those have been inspected and are up to standard? If the Minister would be good enough to answer those practical questions, I should like to finish by saying that this is obviously a tremendous step forward. The matter is being taken seriously by the Government. The measure is much approved, certainly by all the people who are concerned with the welfare of animals and the proper use of animals by humans. However, while it is a step forward, perhaps we may have some detail on the management of those animals.

9.56 p.m.

Viscount Allenby of Megiddo

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for introducing this important topic for debate this evening. It is noticeable what tremendous support the 1986 Bill and code of practice have had in all spheres of influence in the veterinary and scientific world.

I shall confine my remarks to the 1988 code of practice and the current practices. Perhaps I may say that, following on from the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, as it does, the code of practice has been generally welcomed by the veterinary profession and the scientists involved in the use of animals for experiments, as well as by those bodies which seek to protect the welfare of animals.

I should like to point out that the licensing procedure brought in under the 1986 Act became effective only in January of this year. Will the noble Earl be able to say whether any work carried out under the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 has been stopped under the new licensing procedure of the 1986 Act?

Recently, there have been significant developments in biotechnology, both in the treatment and control of diseases and in increased agricultural production. Anything to ensure better health and welfare in animals, such as new drugs, diagnostic agents and vaccines, is obviously very welcome. However, it is clear that some of the new and potential developments in the field of agriculture and medicine have an adverse effect on animals.

Here I cite the example of the use of growth hormones in pigs, causing arthritis and considerable discomfort to those pigs that are treated in this way. I am glad to say that that practice has now largely been stopped, but I believe that there is a danger of additives which could promote growth in pigs being put into foods. Transgenic animals are being developed to improve agricultural production. Here again, I do not believe that the enhancement of BST in milk-producing cattle to increase milk production by an estimated 10 per cent. is wholly justified when one considers that milk quotas are full and that we already overproduce. However, one greatly welcomes the possible development of Factor IX, a blood clotting agent from the milk of sheep for the treatment of haemophiliacs and other people who suffer from blood deficiency. There are no side effects on sheep which produce that blood clotting agent.

There are therefore both good and bad developments facing us today, but I believe that there is a need for clarification regarding the point at which animals used for experiment should be put into agricultural production and so released from the control of the 1986 Act. There may be a problem in that long-term adverse effects may not show up until later in the animal's life, or only become apparent under changed conditions such as diet, climate, age or production stress.

Turning to the LD 50 test which has already been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, and to certain comments made about that test, in 1979 the Home Office Advisory Committee on Animal Experiments, now known as the Animal Procedures Committee, reported that properly conducted LD 50 tests should continue. However, it urged that there should be closer liaison between the authorities which regulated the potency and safety of drugs and the Home Office in order that the welfare of animals should receive more careful consideration.

More recently it is the view of certain toxicologists that the classical or formal LD 50 test procedure should be regarded as unscientific and unnecessarily wasteful of animal lives. There have been suggestions that alternative procedures do approximate to the LD 50 test and that the limit test could be used instead. Will the Minister comment on that point and say whether the Government will consider bringing in a special justification for the use of the LD 50 test, or even a referral procedure to the Animal Procedures Committee, and so achieve an even bigger reduction in LD 50 testing in the future? I think that that would be beneficial.

My belief is that the 1986 Act and the 1988 code of practice are working well and that those involved in their everyday implementation, particularly the officials in the Home Office, should be congratulated on their sensible and practical approach to the licensing procedure. Advances are occurring on many fronts but I think that there is cause for concern in the development of transgenic animals, and there is a need to limit further the LD 50 tests. We must be increasingly mindful of the welfare of the animals that we use in scientific tests.

10.2 p.m.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, the 1986 Act was a triumph for my noble friend Lord Houghton. He used his great powers of persuasion, conciliation and advocacy to have the Act drafted and then to get all sides to accept it. His immense reputation for concern for animal welfare was the guarantee to all animal lovers that the Act would constitute a definite advance in care for animals used in science, while allowing the necessary use of animals to continue, albeit historically, as I am sure he would agree, on a steadily reducing scale. As a result we in this country now have a system of tight controls which is the best in the world. I know that it was a great satisfaction to my noble friend that the Council of Europe convention was very much patterned on the UK example. As he said, a cornerstone of the Act is the Animal Procedures Committee which advises the Home Secretary so widely. There is much to welcome in the report of its first eight months. I select some points at random.

It is heartening that in all but one of the issues with which it deals the committee has obviously been able to work and proceed unanimously. The report notes that at least two members disapprove completely of testing cosmetics on animals. I understand that, but after visits to establishments the committee reports that testing is for mildness rather than severity and that important hygienic products, as distinct from beauty products, must probably continue to be tested on animals where no in vitro testing is available. The committee has sensibly recommended that the area of cosmetics should be split into two, and that in future licences for testing should be issued only when applications identify whether the testing is intended to be on hygienic or on beauty preparations.

There has been so much confusion about this definition that I very much welcome the committee's recommendations. The committee will be able to study the matter further. Let us note from the statistics that cosmetic testing was only 0.5 per cent. of experiments last year, and only two research projects were approved for licensing in 1987. We must keep this matter in proportion. On the Draize eye irritancy test, which was tightened up in 1987, there was no mention of dissent in committee. Guidelines on such testing are apparently working well. They stress preliminary screening by in vitro methods and minimal use of animals. However, the committee concludes on this issue that has caused such emotional comment that they cannot see any way of avoiding altogether, for the present, the use of some animals. Once again, we must welcome the balance in the committee's findings.

It was important that the committee should establish good relations with the Home Office inspectors. It is good to know that this has happened, with attendance of the chief inspector and superintending inspectors at meetings and even a joint meeting of the inspectorate and the committee.

The committee has sensibly obtained for itself an important role in the preparation of guidelines on the care of laboratory animals. It will watch over the operation of the guidelines and has intervened to check in particular on control of pain and suffering. I am sure that my noble friend is pleased about that.

It is clear from the report that the committee has not only examined carefully the applications for licences referred to it in specific areas but has recommended substantial modifications to the proposed programme of work presumably in the interests of animals inevitably involved.

I offer a warm welcome to the section of the report dealing with non-human primates. The committee has endorsed the report sent to the Home Secretary by a group of institutions with wide-ranging proposals for care, choice of animal, use of the lowest possible order of primate, and for special restrictions on use for the experiments that can cause substantial severe effects on the animal. These paragraphs in the report lead to my first suggestion. It is of course the case that of the 3 million or so experiments on animals in the year, the number on primates is very small indeed. Eighty per cent. were on rats and mice and a tiny fraction of 1 per cent. were on primates. The figure is much less than 1 per cent. Nevertheless this is an area where public concern and inflammatory comment are high. The report does not specifically mention continuing work by the committee on the issue. I suggest—I hope that the Minister will pass it on—that the committee might consider preparing special paragraphs for a future report on the use, across the spectrum of research, of primates, showing why, for what important medical research reasons, and to what extent primates must occasionally be used. This would be of great public interest, and would calm many fears.

My noble friend Lord Houghton must be disappointed, as we all are, that the Act has not led to reduced violence by animal protesters. However, he should take heart. Despite the bombings at Debenhams, Dingles and Bristol University, and despite the many less publicised incidents which cause great personal suffering to scientists who are persecuted, very often with their families, I sense that the public supports violence less and less and feels that a fair balance has now been struck in the 1986 Act.

Our experience in AMRIC—the committee on research with animals—is that impressionable young people increasingly seek both sides of the case nowadays. That is a good augur for the future. Some of the more violent protesters are now seeking to persuade rather than to set off bombs. Membership of some of the extreme groups is said 1 o be declining. Scientists are fighting back by giving—sometimes at risk of danger to themselves—chapter and verse of the importance of the experiments that they feel bound to undertake to cure disease and increase human welfare.

In this connection I mention in particular Professor Colin Blakemore, who has been persecuted and vilified for his work on eyesight, using for part of his work some monkeys and kittens. His work has, by common consent in the medical profession, led to a completely different approa.ch in treating childhood blindness, amblyopia, as I think it is called, and to cures that were previously not possible without his research. The attack on Professor Blakemore in the Sunday Mirror was particularly unbalanced and despicable. We must all be glad that the Press Council condemned the newspaper in the strongest terms. I note that the Sun then published an article calling Professor Blakemore a "rat", a "butcher", "evil" and "mad". This should not go on.

The Home Secretary has announced an inquiry during the next 12 months into press excesses and the kind of sensationalism and erroneous reporting that led to the right of reply Bill in another place. My second suggestion to the Minister who is replying is that this promised inquiry should cover not only the invasion of privacy and similar excesses by the press but also this kind of sensational and hysterical attack on reputable scientists who are using animals to further human welfare.

Throughout the country such humane, devoted and caring scientists are being pursued, despite the careful and stringent controls that are exercised over their work. It is partly because of what I call the Houghton Act, the 1986 Act which will always bear the noble Lord's name, that the experimenters using animals are feeling more confident. It is clear under the Act that experiments are now being rigorously controlled. They feel able to fight back more strongly. I hope that that will continue, despite the personal risk that some of these scientists take in fighting back.

Perhaps I should end by agreeing with an article in the Sunday Telegraph some months ago which ended: David Mellor, MP, once said that 'One of the tests of a civilised society is its treatment of animals'. Another is its treatment of scientists". It is a point worth bearing in mind as we look forward to the further progress on the use of this admirable Act in the years to come.

10.12 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, as previous speakers have said, we are all very grateful to my noble friend Lord Houghton for introducing the debate this evening, because these three reports present the first major tests of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. I remember in the debate on the Third Reading of that Bill saying, with the support of other speakers, that the hope of the House was that one of its main effects would be a reduction in the number of experiments on animals. That is what my noble friend has repeated this evening.

How far do the statistics we are examining demonstrate this? The figures, once adjusted to take note of a different accounting method, show a welcome fall of 5 per cent. in the number of experiments over the first year since the Act's introduction. There is concern, as my noble friend has already said, over the number of largely discredited LD 50 and cosmetic tests that were performed over the same period. The statistics show that 14,500 animals are still used in cosmetic testing. This is something that many Members of the Commons, as well as members of the public, feel strongly about.

We are glad to see that the APC recommends licences for such testing only when details of procedures have been submitted. We hope to read details in next year's report of the number of cosmetic licences which have been refused recommendation by the committee. As my noble friend has said, there are still far too many acute LD 50 tests, a fact which has been repeated by other speakers.

While the statistics are to be welcomed for the fuller picture that they give of the type of tests being undertaken and the animals used, they provide us with no way of assessing the cost to the animals as balanced against the benefits of conducting a given experiment. The severity of individual tests is not acknowledged in the figures, and that is to be noted.

When questioned in the other place about whether the Government plan to publish severity data on individual procedures, the Minister's written reply was: There are currently no plans to incorporate in these annual statistics assessments of the severity of procedures … because of the inevitably subjective nature of such assessments".—[Official Report. Commons 13/3/89; col. 10.] Does the Minister not agree that that reply calls into question the system of banding project licences according to severity as provided in the 1986 Act? Can he give an assurance that the confusion will be resolved and that the Government will consider including individual severity tests in the annual statistics?

The figures show that the number of institutions licensed under the Act dropped from 573 in 1978 to 386 in 1987. However, I am concerned that there is no indication in the statistics or the report about how many personal and project licences were refused. Does the Minister have that information? Are there plans to include such information in future annual statistics and reports?

The role of the committee in assessing the desirability of granting licences is one which we should like to see increased. The annual report gives details of the review of licences for cosmetic testing. But can the Minister assure us that the co-operation between the APC and the procedure inspectorate will lead to a more widespread referral of licence recommendations to the APC?

We believe that the critical strength of the APC and the inspectorate is very much weakened by their lack of administrative resources. I understand that the committee has the use of only two part-time employees, as pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. The Home Office inspectorate has so few resources that it cannot provide computer search facilities for those requiring a more detailed breakdown of information of experiments. Can the Minister say whether the Government will commit more resources both to the APC and to the inspectorate to allow for the proper investigation of animal procedures and the granting of licences?

When considering animal testing, it is easy to overlook the fact that the welfare of an animal has more to do with the period it spends waiting in a laboratory than the time undergoing a test. A laboratory animal spends 99 per cent. of its time there just waiting. In that respect we are glad to see that the code of practice for the housing and care of animals used in scientific procedures recommends a strengthening in some instances of the guidelines drawn up by the Royal Society and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare. It takes full account of the animals' environmental, social and handling needs, as well as simply cage size and diet.

However, we believe that there are gaps in the code which are the result not of negligence but of inadequate research in the area of laboratory animal welfare. For instance, relatively little is known of how to reduce stress caused to rabbits waiting for testing. Unfortunately the one institution which dealt specifically with such issues, the Animal Laboratory Centre, was closed down some years ago by the Medical Research Council. Therefore we should like to see the Government commit funding to research into that very important area of laboratory animal welfare.

I wonder whether the Minister could also clarify the precise status of the code. Can he say whether action is to be taken—with even prosecution to follow—against those who fail to observe the standards set by the code? Can he confirm that that is now the definitive document for the housing and care of animals used in scientific procedures?

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the ultimate test of the success of the 1986 Act is to be found in the reduction in the number of animals used in testing. But it is difficult to see how that will be achieved if the Government continue to grant such small sums of money in this respect; for example, in 1988–89 the sum was only £60,000. That was a cut of £40,000 from the sum which was originally promised for the development of alternative forms of testing and research. Therefore we should like to see more funds being allocated to the important work of bringing down the number of animals being used for such testing.

I am sure we all agree that the documents which we have been considering today represent a most encouraging start to the process of implementing the 1986 Act. As the committee said on page 2 of the annual report: The first years of implementation of the new Act are the most crucial". Finally, I should like to join with what other speakers have said: we are extremely grateful, as indeed are all animal lovers, to my noble friend for once again focusing attention on this very important legislation.

10.22 p.m.

The Earl of Arran

My Lords, although the hour is quickening, I must nevertheless say that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has done the House a great service by raising the issue of animal experiments and scientific procedures this evening. As I am sure your Lordships appreciate, he brings to the subject many years of experience. I am also equally aware that many questions have been asked of the Government this evening and, although the hour is late, I shall do my best to cover as many of them as possible. However, as regards any questions which I fail to answer, noble Lords may rest assured that I shall write to them on the issues raised as soon as I can.

Scientific procedures involving living animals raise difficult and emotive issues, as we all know. The noble Lord is an example to all of us in the careful and rational way in which he presents his case and contributes towards this important debate. The subject is so often discussed against the background of the outrages of animal rights extremists that it is genuinely welcome to debate it this evening on its merits.

Tonight we have little time but a wide range of issues have been raised. We shall take note of all of them. We consider that we are making good progress in the implementation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The project licence is the key innovation in the Act. The applicant has to describe exactly what he plans to do and justify it to himself and to the Home Office inspector.

The conversion to project licensing from the provisions of the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 to those of the 1986 Act—an Act in which the noble Lord played such a crucial part—is almost complete. At the turn of the year over 3,500 project licences had been issued. Only a handful of applications were outstanding. In each of those cases, where the work is continuing, this is only on the direct, written authority of the inspector.

By the middle of this year we expect that all the work will be covered by project licences, thereby bringing that aspect of the transitional arrangements under the Act to an end. We are planning soon to lay the orders which will bring into force the new provisions for the designation of establishments for the breeding and supplying of laboratory animals. On current plans, that will take effect from the beginning of next year, 1990. This is the last key element in bringing the Act fully into force.

Transforming the way in which scientific procedures involving living animals are regulated in this country has been a major task and we have accomplished it very much according to the timetable which we originally set. When these last stages are completed, we will be fully complying with—indeed, we will be going much further than—the European directive on animal experiments and we will be ready to ratify the Council of Europe's convention on animal experimentation.

I was pleased to hear the comments which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, made about the Animal Procedures Committee and its annual report. This report was also warmly welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. As regards the point he made on staffing, we are aware that the view has been expressed that the committee might have a larger or even full-time secretariat. I believe that point was brought out by the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs. We are not persuaded that this is necessary. The staff resources available to the committee were strengthened only last month, but I can say that we are keeping the matter fully under review.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, also asked about the training and background of the inspectors. Under the requirements of the Act inspectors have to be either qualified medical officers or veterinary surgeons. The inspectors visit all designated places unannounced and all designated establishments are visited at least once a year. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, also referred to the number of animals used, which is slightly smaller, in fact, than the number of experiments.

I can assure the House that the committee's report for 1988 will not be so long delayed, I understand that the report should be available in time for my right honourable friend to lay it before Parliament in July. That is a timetable which I believe the committee intends to observe for future years.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred to the assessment of severity for the project licences which had been issued. Perhaps I may take the opportunity to give the House slightly corrected figures. A total of 1,293 project licences were issued; 570 were assessed as mild; 629 were assessed as moderate; 23 were assessed as substantial and 71 were unclassified because they involved either terminally anaesthetised or decerebrate animals.

The assessment of the severity of a project licence is inevitably subjective. Moreover, it is made before any procedures have been carried out. But the detailed control which the project licensing system allows over the way in which scientific procedures are performed—in particular, the tight control over end-points—ensures that the great bulk of scientific procedures do not involve substantial suffering by the animals concerned.

The noble Viscount, Lord Allenby, asked whether any work carried out under the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 had been stopped under the 1986 Act. The answer is undoubtedly yes. Under the new Act the programme of work which the scientist wishes to undertake is carefully examined by the inspector and the Home Secretary only authorises it if the applicant satisfies him that the work is justified.

The noble Lords, Lord Houghton and Lord Northfield, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewat-Biggs, all raised the issue of the testing of cosmetics. We have so little time tonight that I hope the House will forgive me if I say that I have nothing to add to the detailed statement by my honourable friend in another place on 23rd March.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, reserved some of his stronger comment for the level of funding which the Government have made available for research into the reduction of animal experiments, the refinement of procedures and the replacement of animals in scientific procedures. I must leave your Lordships in no doubt that the Government attach great importance to this research. I believe the words "really does matter" were used by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. This is work we would like to encourage in the scientific community.

The whole thrust of our licensing system is to ensure that the number of animals used is minimised; that the design of the procedure is the best available; and that the possibility of carrying out the work without using living animals has been closely examined. The sponsoring of research to achieve these ends is therefore an integral part of the implementation of the 1986 Act.

But we have never sought to represent ourselves as a major research funder. Instead we have started to build up a specialist, well-focused research programme which is manageable and for which we can ensure value for money. It is most important for the survival of the scheme that the projects we support are worth while and fully justify the expenditure. We spent approximately £70,000 in the first year of the scheme. We anticipate that we can commission almost the same level of additional work in the second year. And we have given an undertaking to stretch resources a little bit further if this can be justified to support particular work of high merit and outstanding value.

The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, mentioned the Draize eye test. It is worth mentioning that one of the research projects that the Home Office is funding on the advice of the Animal Procedures Committee is into what we hope will be an alternative to the Draize test. There has been talk of much higher levels of grant support for this kind of research. I think that that is fanciful. We are seeking to build up this scheme carefully, to maintain its credibility with the scientific community and to sponsor research which is genuinely of high quality. I am sure that that is what your Lordships would expect, and to a certain extent we must be patient as the scheme develops.

As regards infringements, I can assure your Lordships that we will not hesitate to refer to the Director of Public Prosecutions any case where unnecessary pain or distress has been caused to animals or there has been a flagrant, deliberate or serious breach of the Act. That has always been our position and always will be. So far, and fortunately, there have not been any infringements that in our view would merit prosecution.

I cannot leave the question of the APC's annual report without paying tribute to that committee. It has a distinguished membership and it meets frequently. Because it contains such a range of interests, including those of the animal welfare movement, it will not necessarily find it easy to agree on every issue which is put before it. But the committee is where the important and real debate is carried out about how animal procedures should be controlled and regulated. The committee is led in this by an eminent academic lawyer, Professor David Williams, who so skilfully handles the difficult task of producing a unity out of these different elements. I know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is immensely grateful for the care and attention which the committee devotes to its work.

I will deal briefly, if I may, with the points which the noble Lords made about statistics. The statistics which we published for 1987 were the first under the new legislation. They represent a transition. The statistics will not begin to reflect the full impact of the new project licensing system, and therefore the Act as a whole, until after the end of this year. But in this country we do publish very detailed statistics of scientific procedures involving living animals. This year we went to some length to provide some additional information which we thought would be of interest and of value. I am sure that those who are responsible for preparing the statistics will note with interest the points which noble Lords have made this evening.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, the noble Viscount, Lord Allenby and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, raised the important question of the LD50 test. That is a difficult issue, complicated by international regulatory requirements and responsibilities which stretch across a number of departments. I can assure your Lordships that the Government remain fully committed to their policy of endeavouring to ensure that LD50 tests are used only when they are fully justified. The figures we have indicate that the use of the LD50 test is falling. But we have gone further. As the result of a British initiative led by the Department of Health and sponsored by the Home Office, an international study is now under way to develop an internationally acceptable alternative to the formal LD50 test. This study involves more than 30 laboratories all over the world. The scientific results will begin to emerge in a month or so. They will be collated over the summer. The European Community is supporting a seminar in the early autumn to assess them.

The support which we are giving this study is a tangible demonstration of the importance which we attach to the reduced use of the LD50 test. We know that the key to reducing the use of the LD50 test is international recognition of an alternative method of safety and toxicity testing. That is the hope which is held out by this study.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for his kind comments about the code of practice for the housing and care of animals used in scientific procedures. At the time when this code was issued, my right honourable friend paid tribute to the work of the Royal Society and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare, on which the code was based. I know that other groups were involved in the work of refining the original guidelines and I pay tribute to the work of the Animal Procedures Committee for the contribution it made when the guidelines were being converted into a code of practice.

This code of practice is an important step. It outlines in some detail how we expect animals which are used in scientific procedures to be housed and cared for. That is no less important than the care we take over the regulation of the scientific procedures themselves. Under Section 21 of the Act, the failure of any person to comply with any provision of the code, while not of itself rendering that person liable to criminal or civil proceedings, is admissible in evidence in any proceedings about an infringement. The code has, therefore, a special status and I know that licensees will be conscious of that. But it is, nevertheless, a code of practice. It is not a rigorous prescription which must be followed blindly in all circumstances. The recommendations of the code must be implemented sensibly. If there are passages which either now, or in the future, appear ambiguous in certain circumstances then licensees can always consult their inspector about what to do.

The noble Lord, Lord Northfield, also suggested that the Animal Procedures Committee should undertake a general survey of the use of primates. That is an interesting suggestion. I shall certainly bring his point to the attention of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to pass it on to the committee. The noble Lord also referred to the position of Professor Blakemore. He told the House how Professor Blakemore had been the victim of some mischievous allegations and an unpleasant press campaign. I am pleased to be able to take this opportunity to extend the sympathy of the House to Professor Blakemore for the disgraceful way in which some people have sought to insult and threaten him and his family.

This has been a short but important debate. It has been ably led by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. Most of us would like to obtain the benefits of surgery without having to go through an operation. Equally, we all benefit from the results of animal experimentation and so we must be sensitive to what this may involve for the animals concerned. We have the advantage of having a scientific community with a strong commitment to the ethical approach to its work and we have animal house staff who justifiably enjoy a worldwide reputation for their caring approach.

I would pay tribute to the enthusiastic co-operation of all, or at least, almost all, members of the scientific community in bringing the new legislation into effect so as to raise our already high standards still higher.

We are fortunate to have, in this country, up to date legislation to control all scientific procedures on living animals. It is not an idle claim that we lead the world with our legislation. I think we also lead the world in the way in which we implement this legislation. I have told the House about our conversion to project licensing. We have a full time inspectorate, which I know commands respect. We have a distinguished Animal Procedures Committee. We have already published our code of practice. Moreover, we publish very full statistics of the animal procedures which are carried out.

I am grateful for the opportunity this evening which the noble Lord has provided to tell the House of the action we are taking and the progress we have made in implementing the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before eleven o'clock.