HL Deb 27 November 1991 vol 532 cc1379-96

7.33 p.m.

Lord Houghton of Sowerby rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take on matters raised in the Report of the Animal Procedures Committee for 1990 (Cm. 1646) and in particular in Chapter 3 (Research to reduce animal procedures); Chapter 5 (Scientific work on primates) and in Chapter 6 (Use of animals in safety testing of cosmetics and toiletries).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, contrary to what noble Lords may think, this is not the Question to exclude all other Questions. Although I agree that it is a rather lengthy one, it is so solely for the purpose of being helpful to the Minister and to noble Lords who might be interested in the subject.

It is five years since the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 was passed. The transitional period of bringing it fully into operation has now ended. it took over three years and, as a result, everything now being done in licensed laboratories is being done by licensed people, whether personally or on project licences authorised under the Act. The new regime is now fully in operation so we are able to look at it and will be able to do so more closely in the future to see how it works.

I am particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. who is the present Chairman of the Animal Procedures Committee, is to take part in the debate. This is the fourth report of the Animal Procedures Committee and it is written in an agreeable and persuasive style. In fact, when reading it, it is a little difficult to think that there is anything seriously wrong anywhere, but we must be on our guard against all forms of bureaucracy and institutional tradition. There is something about institutional life that requires a remedy which is so difficult to find, but which in so many directions we now describe as "the market". The market is not included in this case, but supervision is.

I wish briefly to refer to one matter which is not detailed in the Unstarred Question, but which appears early in the committee's report. It refers to the case of Professor Feldberg who was discovered using animals improperly and unlawfully and in contravention of the licence under which he was working. It created quite a scare at the time. Although the committee's report refers to information appearing in the media as though, somehow or other, there was some divine origin for disclosures of that kind, the fact is that it was part of the discovery by the animals' "MI5". It was undercover work undertaken at the expense of an animal welfare organisation, which gained admittance to a laboratory and was able to take 40 feet of film of a professor at work unlawfully in that laboratory. Both the Animal Procedures Committee and the Medical Research Council, which had authorised some of that work, had to pay serious attention to the implications of that discovery.

One of the features about the case which hurts me personally is the suggestion that, because the professor was 89 years of age, that alone disqualified him from being competent to do the work that had been assigned to him. I resent that business of being too old for work. It is a matter of how good you are and how able you may be. The test of granting a project licence is not necessarily age but competence at all ages, ability, reliability and integrity. Everything was wrong with that man, his age included. It was one of those cases which should never happen again, but of which Britain's story is so full. Apparently, one of the reasons for the charge was his age, so we now have an age limit on the issue of project licences—not an age limit of 89, but of 70.

It is sometimes desirable to impose a general rule in order to exclude the isolated case, but—this is the point that I want to put to the Minister—the fundamental weakness in this case was the failure of the named veterinary officer and the named care officer to discharge the responsibilities laid on them by the Act to be vigilant and to draw attention to anything being done improperly. If it fails there, the whole security system may collapse. Paragraph 2.12 on page 4 of the report stresses the importance of ensuring that those named officers, whose names are up in the laboratory as being the key people to be on watch with responsibility to call in veterinary advisers and to stop unauthorised work going on, carry out their responsibilities with courage.

I hope that I may receive an assurance from the Minister that the system of named veterinary and day to day care officers is reinforced by a strict instruction that those who accept such responsibilities should discharge them zealously and courageously while safeguarding against misuse of those animals. That was the intention of the provision.

Chapter 3 refers to research for alternatives. It was referred to by the Animal Procedures Committee. The hope of millions of cruelly treated, miserable specimens in laboratories lies in the discovery of alternatives to their use for laboratory purposes. Yet the grant given to the Animal Procedures Committee for research on alternatives, replacements or refinements which reduce the use of living creatures, though a small amount, was summarily cut as part of Government policy. The cut in grant interfered with research that was in progress, some of which was wasted because once interrupted it could not conveniently be resumed.

What is the current grant? Can it be relied upon to be at the disposal of the Animal Procedures Committee? I believe that the amount is very small. However, it may have to be enlarged if it is to be adequate to finance research which has the potential to find alternatives to the use of animals. If we cannot find those alternatives there will have to be a campaign for the reduction in the use of products—cosmetic, pharmaceutical, kitchen, garden and workplace—which require animal testing.

Cosmetic products occupy a separate part in the report. They are involved in the research programme into alternatives. May we have the assurance that I seek, that there will be no further arbitrary cutting of the grant without proper notice? Indeed, will the grant be adequate to give the Animal Procedures Committee a small margin to build up some reserve against needs of an urgent character, whatever they may be?

A good deal of voluntary work is being done on the replacements of animals. The fund for the replacement of animals in experiments for medical research is doing good work. It raises much money for independent research. Private companies are indulging in that on their own account. All those factors are needed to reduce the number of animals in laboratories.

My next point relates to primates. Matters are being raised now which require us to consider the operation of the project licence system. Animal Advocates in Scotland—the organisation behind the discovery of Feldberg—has also been behind the scrutiny, on a highly sophisticated basis, of about 100 project licence cases in the past year or two to see whether the projects can be justified. A very large dossier has been sent to the Home Secretary and to the Animal Procedures Committee of cases which have been independently examined in that way. The full disclosure appeared in the Observer newspaper a week last Sunday. Noble Lords will probably wonder, as does the article and other people connected with the newspaper, whether there is justification for some of the projects for which licences apparently have been granted. Under the new regime the Home Secretary is responsible for the granting of project licences. These licences are necessary to define and to limit the scope of specific procedures for the purposes referred to in the project licence. It is therefore no good passing all the responsibility to the laboratory or to the scientists. The work authorised by the Home Secretary must be justified. How can we be satisfied that it has been properly scrutinised?

Over 600 project licences were issued in England in 1990, and about 60 in Northern Ireland. That is a large number of project licences to scrutinise in order to consider whether the purpose of the experiment justifies the pain that may be inflicted on the animals. That is the key question in the new regime. Under the new Act—and never before—the Home Secretary has responsibility for weighing up the balance between what will be done to the animals and the value of the purpose which the experiment is intended to serve. It is his judgment that can prevail, subject to the right of appeal. It is the project licence granted by the Home Office that can be the source of doubt and difficulty.

How shall we achieve some monitoring system of project licences issued by the Home Secretary? They are not automatically scrutinised by the Animal Procedures Committee. It may undertake observation on particular cases. It may have cases referred to it by the Home Secretary for its opinion. The Home Secretary has the right to appoint an assessor to advise him on certain matters. But we must now have some system whereby there can be scrutiny of project licences granted by the Home Office which offers the opportunity for doubt to be expressed as to whether the projects are justified.

I shall not go into detail, but there is a growing restlessness. I fear that we have reached the stage in the operation of the Act at which many people are doubtful about its effectiveness. If such doubt spreads, we are in for trouble. There are two animal matters that I wish to keep out of the next general election; this aspect is one of them. I do not believe that there is at present a need for parliamentary or political campaigns on experiments on animals. We have the machinery. It has been in operation for five years. It has greater scope than perhaps we realised. I believe that the Home Secretary should be encouraged to use the provisions more fully and to give some safeguard.

I suggest that there should be a monitoring committee, a body of referees, or assessors, appointed to whom the automatic right of audit should be granted so that a judgment can be made; not for publicity purposes but in order to advise the Home Secretary as to whether project licences are being granted on the basis for which the Act intended.

We are dealing with a bureaucracy that is used to acting in this delicate field. Perhaps an independent viewpoint on what that body does would be beneficial; otherwise, we are in for more undercover work. After all, such undercover work apparently plays an important part in the disturbance that exists in the public's mind as to the use of animals without their knowledge. The trouble in the Quorn hunt was made known through undercover work. Feldberg's work was made known through undercover work. There are other undercover jobs in progress now because people are determined to find out the truth. It is better to set up a safeguard within the system than to leave the growing "MI5 for animals" to find out.

I now turn to Chapter 8 of the report entitled "Forward Look". Is the Minister keeping under review the composition and balance of the Animal Procedures Committee? Of the list of 21 members only one name has no letters after it. Presumably that person is the well-informed layman who sits with 20 experts in the law, philosophy, veterinary surgery, medical surgery and so forth. What is his mission? Does he represent the well-informed members of the public who wish to question what is being done? Such voices are not numerous on the Committee, and that aspect should not be lost.

The only layman on the Animal Procedures Committee is the only member who is also on the Farm Animal Welfare Council. Therefore, he must be good—very good. He is probably one of the most active and valuable members of both committees. He is the only person to be honoured by membership of both. However, he needs reinforcements. I ask on behalf of the Animal Procedures Committee whether its composition is being kept under constant review. Is it getting ready for the forward look?

The forward look must have as one of its prime responsibilities the non-fundamental research aspect of the use of animals in laboratories. Toxicity testing is that grievous act of finding the toxicity element in a specific substance. It involves the horrid Draize test which is designed to discover from New Zealand rabbits' eyes what eye shadow will do and what is the reaction when other substances are put into the eyes. Therefore, it is said to be a safeguard against unnecessary injury to members of the public.

If women were more restrained in the use of cosmetics many animals could be spared a great deal of misery. Women should be more perceptive in where they shop and what they buy for their adornment because animals lie behind the development of so many of the products. The forward look must be bold and imaginative if it is to carry public confidence into the future. I ask the Minister for assurance on the questions that I have put to him. I hope that the debate will be noted in the future activities of the Animal Procedures Committee.

7.55 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for introducing the subject. The document is not an annual report but a revolution which the committee has put into operation. It has caused an immense change which in due course will earn the gratitude of many people. The committee consists of extremely able and experienced people who know what they are talking about. Their judgment is of great value. I did not understand some of the words used and could not find them in what is euphoniously called the Oxford Shorter Dictionary. In reading the report I had to guess what was meant.

I wish to read to your Lordships part of a letter which I believe is most important. It was sent by the Home Secretary to the chairman of the committee. It stated: We … should begin to make a significant contribution to the aim which we all share to reduce, refine or replace animal procedures". That is a step forward. I congratulate the chairman of the committee for obtaining that statement which sets out the aim that for years many people have sought to attain. It is a great achievement and I wish to express my congratulations to the chairman.

We stand in a perilous position in relation to Europe. How can we know whether some law will not be passed in Europe before we can make such changes? I wish to ask my noble friend to clarify a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton. It involves an unfortunate episode in which insufficient anaesthetic was used. The investigation took place largely clue to the stimulus of a young lady. The story is curious but I shall not go into it because I do not know the details. Surely it was a job for the inspectorate, so why was it not involved? I do not know whether the inspectorate reports directly to the committee or to the Home Office. However, it is precisely the kind of case that it should investigate.

I am aware that 10 or 11 cases were examined but the case to which I have referred was special. One was a little surprised by the way in which it was handled. Is it conceivable that the inspectorate is not sufficiently on its toes? I make no suggestions but the matter should have been investigated by the inspectorate.

The report is a great step forward and is a great reflection on the present management of the Home Office. I know that many people oppose the report and that many other people take violent action to try to impose its recommendations. That is wholly undesirable. When we are making progress, such violence is totally and absolutely unnecessary.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Nathan

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for initiating this debate on the report of the Animal Procedures Committee for 1990. I have the honour to be chairman of the committee, a position that I have held for almost two years.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for his kind remarks. I must inform him that the inspectors are responsible to the Home Secretary. While the committee is in close touch with them in the sense that they report to it and discuss various matters, their duty is to report to the Home Office. They are Home Office inspectors and not inspectors of the committee.

The committee is an independent statutory advisory body established under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Its membership includes leaders of industry, science and the academic world, as well as those whose primary interest is animal welfare. They include a professor of law and a professor of philosophy.

In giving advice to the Home Secretary, the committee is bound to have regard both to the legitimate requirements of science and industry and to the protection of animals against avoidable suffering and unnecessary use in scientific procedures. Therefore, we are concerned with the nature and severity of the procedures carried out and, equally important, reduction of the number of animals subject to procedures. Those numbers have continued to fall for some years—a trend much to be welcomed.

Much of the work of the committee is highly technical. Its strength lies in the quality of the debate on matters of great difficulty. Of course, there are differences of opinion and emphasis among such diverse interests. My experience is that there is a high degree of agreement on the fundamentals and such openness on differences that discussion is useful and productive. I believe that the chapters in our report demonstrate that.

The committee considered issues referred to it by the Home Secretary and matters which it decided to study. An example of the former—matters referred to it by the Home Secretary—is the study we undertook at the Home Secretary's request as to whether the practice of the Home Office of not giving details about individual projects or establishments could be relaxed. We took evidence from over 50 individuals and organisations and our conclusions and advice are set out in chapter 4. It was clear to us that in view of the real threat of violence to researchers and their families, we could not recommend a loosening of current policy.

Were it not for the overriding factor of the safety of those engaged in research, we should encourage researchers in the scientific community generally to be as open as possible about research and the reasons for it. For secrecy breeds fear and suspicion. The public are rightly concerned that the provisions and, indeed, the purposes of the Act are being carried out. Openness could defuse much of the worry among members of the public.

It is ironic and, I believe, very sad that the actions of extremists in committing violence result in many researchers being far more secretive than they would otherwise be. That violence produces a result opposite to that which I assume is intended and which I for one would welcome; namely, the greatest possible public knowledge of what is going on.

During the year the case to which reference has already been made as regards Professor Feldberg arose. We were much disturbed that unnecessary suffering was caused to four animals. We considered how best such cases could be avoided in future. The administrative procedures at the National Institute for Medical Research had failed. Our opinion was that that was the major reason for the difficulty which had arisen. It is essential for the future that establishments have proper and effective management structures in place and that those with responsibilities under the Act including, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, said, the named day-to-day care person and the named veterinary surgeon have the necessary clout within an establishment to carry out their functions. That requires the full and active support of the holder of the certificate of designation who is ultimately responsible for compliance with the Act in an establishment. It may be that that is a matter for the inspectorate and the Home Office but it may be that in future the inspectorate must pay greater regard to management structures within the establishments than it has hitherto.

More generally, the question of ageing licensees, to which the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, referred, had to be considered. We made certain recommendations to the Home Secretary as to the maximum age of holders of project licences and the frequency of review of personal licences. I emphasise the difference between project and personal licences. I am glad to say that the Home Secretary accepted that advice.

We considered the use of animals in the safety testing of cosmetics and toiletries—a subject referred to in previous reports. Such tests are carried out for UK and overseas manufacturers. We held a special meeting and received evidence from those involved in testing and those who question the need for animal testing.

The use of the word "cosmetics" is emotive in that it commonly relates to beauty preparations. In the UK as in the EC the word "cosmetics", for the purposes we are discussing, includes beauty preparations but also encompasses toiletries such as soap, toothpaste, shampoo and heavy duty skin cleansers which are not normally thought of at all as cosmetics.

Advertising and labelling products as "cruelty free" or "not animal tested" arises from wide public anxiety. Although it does not fall directly within our remit, we thought it right to bring that aspect of labelling within our study.

We heard that it is difficult to say whether an ingredient has or has not at some time been tested on animals. Sometimes they have been tested for a different purpose, perhaps in the chemical or food industries or because any substance manufactured in quantities larger than one tonne per annum has to be tested for health and safety reasons to assess the occupational risk to factory workers. So it is not always easy to know on whose behalf a cruelty free claim is made. The producer or retailer may claim not to have tested either the finished product or the ingredients while the supplier or a contract house may still have carried out the necessary animal testing. We understand that the European Community may now be considering a ban on such descriptions on the basis that they can often be misleading.

We found that animal testing to enable exports to be made required review at EC and OECD level to iron out the potential conflict between requirements of the 1986 Act, which seeks to ensure that unnecessary animal testing is not carried out, and the regulations which apply to exports to certain markets which require more animal testing data than are necessary.

Therefore, the news that as a result of a British initiative to develop, validate and have accepted by international regulatory bodies, including those in the United States, a more humane test of toxicity than that hitherto adopted—the much criticised LD50 test—was most welcome. I understand that it will be incorporated in OECD guidelines to be published next year. The new test will not replace the need for LD50 testing in all circumstances. However, it is an important advance not only in scientific terms but as a reflection of the willingness of regulatory bodies to accept data obtained by more humane testing methods.

It became clear to us that issues raised by work in transgenics would feature largely in coming years. We therefore held a special meeting on the subject, at which we were assisted by a number of specialists, to familiarise ourselves with the subject. An account of that meeting is in the report which will be of help, I hope, to the interested reader in what is undoubtedly a complex subject.

One of the functions of the committee is to promote research relevant to our functions, particularly research into ways of reducing, refining or replacing the use of living animals in scientific research. The research sub-committee, under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Andrew Huxley, undertakes that task. Projects range from refinements or replacements of lethal toxicity tests to refinement of vaccine production and serology. Research on refinement of animal husbandry has also been funded.

We were therefore concerned, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, mentioned, that the Government put a cash limit on the research budget for 1990–91. Forward planning is essential and is undermined by such action. Sir Andrew wrote to the Home Secretary to register our anxiety. Now the Government have increased funding for 1992–93 to £253,000. That is a clear sign that they recognise the importance of this research. The cost is in fact covered by fees collected by the Home Office for certificates and licences issued under the Act; so there is no burden on general funds.

I should mention here that we were concerned that the Government might fail to fund the cost to universities and others of implementing improvements to animal housing as specified in their published guidelines. However, our misgivings were misplaced. Some £70 million will be made available over a period for that purpose.

In the present year we shall embark on a study of toxicity testing and consider whether cephalopods—squid, octopus, cuttlefish and nautilus—should be brought within the controls of the Act which presently apply to vertebrates.

Let me conclude by referring to the Home Office inspectorate from which the Home Secretary also derives much advice. It consists of medical doctors and veterinary surgeons. The inspectors advise on whether specific programmes of research should be licensed. They play a key role in assessing projects. We are greatly impressed by the depth and breadth of their expertise.

In the European Parliament there is soon to be a debate en a proposal for a directive on patenting life forms. I understand that our report was helpful to Members of the European Parliament from this country and from other member states who are concerned. I hope that it may also be of interest to your Lordships.

8.11 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I join in the thanks tendered to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, as it now is, was his brainchild. The country owes a great debt to the noble Lord for the persistence in which he indulged—it is not the only matter in his long parliamentary career which he has pursued with persistence—to ensure that this important piece of legislation reached the statute book. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, also deserves our thanks for producing a report which even a layman can understand. There are many reports produced which make even those who are professionally concerned scratch their heads. This report is succinct and important.

I approach the matter as one whose family has been involved in medicine for many years. However, only our younger daughter, as a nursing sister, is professionally concerned. The nursing and medical profession generally administer these pharmaceutical products and therefore carry a great responsibility. The thorough testing which must take place is of enormous significance to the medical profession.

The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, referred to the animal rights organisations. This debate is not concerned with animal rights. But where my wife and I live in Surrey there is, within a few miles of our home, a large research laboratory. Several members of the staff and executives have been threatened and their cars vandalised by people who I believe have no real interest in animals. Many of us are dog lovers. As a child I was brought up with dogs. There is nothing I hate to see more than experiments on dogs or any other animals. I do not believe that anybody likes to see that. However, we must ask ourselves, particularly if we knew people with Alzheimer's disease, leukaemia or cystic fibrosis, what is the alternative. I believe the report answers a number of those questions.

The whole subject of animal experiments induces a great deal of publicity. I have visited a number of pharmaceutical companies and seen animals under experiment. I believe also that some people judge the whole idea of animal experiments by what happens in such countries as Korea, Japan, and Thailand, where one has seen pictures of the most ghastly things happening to animals. I believe I am right in saying that the Home Office inspectorate have the right to enter any laboratory 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without prior notice. They can go in at 5 o'clock on Christmas morning; if things are not as they should be, legal action can be taken.

I turn to Chapter 6, which deals with cosmetics. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, made a succinct point regarding the beautification of the female of the species. I suppose we all like to see our wives, fiancées or girlfriends looking nice. That is true. But there is surely a distinction between the various after-shaves, hair lotions, Chanel No. 5 and other such products, and the ointments which deal with such distressing skin complaints as psoriasis, scabies impetigo, and the need particularly for soap containing disinfectant and for shampoos. Those are different to what one might call beautification products.

I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister has any real definition of "cosmetics". I believe that to be at the root of the problem. I have never been against animal experiments. In many cases it is the only alternative. On the other hand, I believe that they should be monitored. The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act ensures that that is the case. Chapter 6, paragraph 6.23, contains the important aspect of cosmetic testing becoming a market consideration. I do not believe any of us wants to see animal experiments carried out purely as a marketing exercise. Animals must be bred specifically for the purpose. However, I am not sure that all members of the general public are aware of the fact that it is illegal to take dogs, cats or guinea-pigs off the streets or from somebody's home and take or sell them to laboratories. Those things may happen; if they do, it is both distressing and disgraceful.

Chapter 6 seems to me to be the nub of the matter, particularly from the point of view of the general public. Undoubtedly there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding animal experiments. The pharmaceutical industry has always received a rather bad press in relation to organisations which make huge profits. We recently read of the Upjohn problem with Opren. However it would be a great pity for the whole pharmaceutical industry to be regarded in the same light as the one or two companies where serious mistakes have occurred. It contributes an enormous amount to our export industry. Treatment for conditions such as pneumonia, gall-bladder problems—the operation which I had—and so on is largely due to what the pharmaceutical industry does. In order to do that experiments must take place. I believe that the House and the country should be grateful both to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, for producing this admirable report and to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, for getting on the statute book legislation which makes an enormous amount of sense.

8.20 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, on this matter I do not speak on behalf of the Labour Party, but purely personally. Your Lordships approach this splendid Report of the Animal Procedures Committee from several angles: the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, spoke authoritatively from the position of chairman of the Committee; my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby from the point of view of a great and long-standing campaigner for animal rights: the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, reminded us of the European dimension of this problem and the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, spoke from the point of view of the medical and nursing professions.

I speak only from the background of many years spent in Britain's universities, many of which have animal houses and are concerned in scientific procedures involving animals. As a professor of English literature of course I have only fleeting, fitful and tangential concern with such problems. But as a literary critic I can perhaps claim some sensitivity to the things that I read. In reading this report with great enjoyment I, and I believe anyone, become immediately aware of the vast variation in urgency, pressure and passion between one chapter and another.

The introduction and Chapter 2 on the working of the Act are written in that calm, dispassionate, measured tone normally considered appropriate for a report to a Secretary of State. One does not want to distress Secretaries of State unduly or to alarm them by what one says. Formal, unhurried prose is the courteous form of address. But when we come to Chapter 3 we find a marked shift in tone and that is significant. On the matter of, Research to reduce, refine or replace animal procedures", we read in the report phrases like "continuing concern", "most dismayed", "expressed its disappointment". We find the correspondence between Sir Andrew Huxley and the Home Secretary reproduced in public and in full. Clearly, the Committee was deeply concerned, and righteously indignant on this issue. As one reads the chapter one can see why. The Government seem to have been strangely unable to comprehend the nature of scientific research programmes and how they must be funded. You simply cannot toss research scientists a bag of gold from time to time and expect them gratefully to get on with their work and win a Nobel prize or find a cure for cancer.

Scientific research programmes are not casual, they are consecutive. They are not lonely excursions into the unknown of the kind a philosopher or a musician may make; they are closely reticulated programmes linked with and dependent on other research programmes whose priorities and timings may make them successful or redundant in a matter of weeks if financial support is intermittent or interrupted. That is exactly what Chapter 3 records. Resources are allocated then withdrawn; projects are authorised then funds are clawed back. That is unfair, unprofessional and, above all, inefficient. It destroys more than it saves. The report states the point succinctly and courteously, but powerfully, when it says: We are most discouraged by the apparent inability of the Home Office to make proper financial provision for this small research scheme and to guarantee those funds, even during a financial year". I believe that we must seriously ask the Government to consider this: is the level of funding for this programme adequate to fulfil the ideals of reducing, refining and replacing of animal procedures to which we are all committed?

Perhaps I may remind the noble Viscount who is to answer that it now costs between £40,000 and £50,000 a year to fund one competent research worker, taking into account the salary and support for the actual work being done. That is £40,00 to £50,000 each. Will the Home Office grant for next year and the next three years be suitably increased to take account of that? We have noted—and he will doubtless remind us—that some work recommended by the Animal Procedures Committee is being funded by charities and by industry. We rejoice in that; it is the icing on the cake. However, I must remind the noble Viscount that it is the Government's responsibility to provide the cake and to make sure that it is of an appropriate size.

However, on one matter I must take issue with the report from the standpoint of the good management of British universities. On page 2 the report says: We are pleased to note that, following the anxiety which the Committee expressed during the course of the year, the proper supply of funds for the necessary upgrading of animal houses in universities now seems to be assured". It "seems to be assured" says the report. Would that it were! I am reliably informed that the facts are quite otherwise. There is no reluctance in the universities to comply with any new legislation which affects them and to do so as soon as they can. But the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said in 1990 that £75 million was needed to bring animal houses up to the standards demanded by the new legislation. At the same time the Universities Funding Council estimated that universities needed an extra £80 million a year for three years for general repairs. The ABRC calculated that £460 million was needed to bring equipment up to date. To pay for all of that the universities received an extra £9.9 million over the planned total allocation.

The Universities Funding Council was then forced to allocate £35 million from both its capital and recurrent budgets in order to meet the legal requirements for the rehabilitation of animal houses. That used up all the increase in capital (£9.8 million) plus £25 million which would otherwise have been used to finance other capital projects. The same kind of thing is true for the 1991 PES round and the allocations for 1992–93. The amount of money that will be earmarked for animal house refurbishment in 1992–93 depends on the Universities Funding Council, but it is clear that the cost of implementing legislation will once again fall on other projects. It is not simply a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. In this case Peter has been robbed, mugged and the muggers have departed, leaving him half dead. The proper supply of funds for the necessary upgrading of animal houses in universities is not by any means assured. It is not too much to say that the upgrading of animal accommodation can only be achieved at the cost of downgrading the accommodation of students and staff.

Perhaps I may ask Her Majesty's Government, as other noble Lords have done tonight, to spare more than a passing thought for those whose job it is to monitor and police the requirements of the Act—that is to say, the inspectorate. They have a highly responsible job of consultation with scientists before the issue of project licences. We have heard that just short of 650 of these were issued in 1990. The inspectors assess personal licences; they must monitor all that goes on and they must maintain a precarious balance on the tightrope of confidentiality since many people engaged in these procedures are at risk. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that some of them literally go in fear of their lives. Yet there are only about 20 inspectors and they have responsibility for 381 institutions as well as a whole host of other duties.

They are overstressed and overstretched. It should be an urgent priority to fund an increase in their numbers. The official MRC report into the Feldberg and Stean case, about which we have heard this evening, makes it clear that, if that project had been fully and properly assessed, the project licence would probably never have been issued in the first place. The Government should pay heed to the implications of that report and take immediate action to see to it that the inspectorate is enabled to do its job properly.

As Mr. Ron Davies, the honourable Member for Caerphilly, said: Animal experimentation is acceptable only in so far that it is a necessary evil". I remind your Lordships of the words of Tom Paine, in Chapter 1 of Common Sense: Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one". We must hope that this Government, on animal experimentation, will not by their parsimony become intolerable.

8.30 p.m.

Viscount Astor

My Lords, I should first like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, for drawing attention to the work of the Animal Procedures Committee. The noble Lord has long been a resolute champion of the welfare of animals and I am delighted to see him making his points as robustly and effectively as ever. This year the noble Lord and I have discussed badgers and dangerous dogs; and we carry on.

The use of living animals in biomedical research continues to be a matter of considerable public interest. Animal research is often portrayed in sections of the press in a sensationalist and misleading way. This makes it all the more disappointing that for the second year running the press gave little if any coverage to the publication of the committee's annual report. It is a matter of regret that, when this important and complex issue is tackled in a rational, responsible and comprehensive manner, the results do not apparently merit being brought to the attention of the public. I am delighted that, today, we can in some way remedy that situation.

I hope that all noble Lords with their different points of view can agree on one point in this debate. It is a point which is central to the argument. The use of animals in research has been responsible for many of the most remarkable medical advances this century: these include the treatment of diabetes, stomach ulcers and head injuries; the treatment of cancer; the vaccines for diphtheria and for polio; drugs to treat asthma and leukaemia; and life support systems for premature babies. None of those would have been possible without the use of animals in research. We still await reliable treatments for such conditions as AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

Many thousands of people—and perhaps some of those present in the Chamber—owe their lives and their health to medical advances involving the use of animals. Many of these advances involved scientists working in this country. It is vital that this lifesaving research should continue. Nor should we forget that the use of animals has led to advances in the treatment of animals as well—whether in developing veterinary products or appliances.

As my noble friend Lord Selkirk pointed out, the use of living animals in biomedical research continues to decline, a trend which I am sure everyone will welcome. The Government are committed to ensuring that work is carried out on animals only when it is absolutely essential and that it is carried out humanely. That is why we introduced new laws which are the toughest in Europe. The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 introduced strict controls on the use of animals in research, including the need for both the researcher and the project he was undertaking to be separately licensed; stringent safeguards on pain and suffering; and general requirements to ensure the care and welfare of animals.

The 1986 Act has been in operation for almost five years. The Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, which the 1986 Act replaced, was operated in such a way as to prevent laboratory animals from being exposed to unnecessary or excessive suffering. The 1986 Act introduced new formal controls. At the heart of the new regulatory system is the project licence. It is through the project licence that the background, objectives and potential benefits to a proposed programme of research and the methodology to be employed must be set out. Applicants also have to show that they have given full consideration to the alternatives to using animals.

Project licences last for a maximum of five years. Many project licences will therefore expire shortly. In considering new applications, we shall, with our experience of operating the new Act, be in an even better position to give effect to the principles of the Act.

The debate this evening concerns the report of the Animal Procedures Committee and we were fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear the views of the chairman of the Animal Procedures Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Nathan. As the noble Lord said, the Animal Procedures Committee is an independent statutory body, and the purpose of the committee is to advise the Home Secretary on matters concerned with the Act and his functions under it. I know that the Home Secretary greatly values the advice which he receives from the committee. The committee has a wide remit. While the Home Secretary may refer matters to the committee for consideration, the committee is also quite free to select areas for study itself, and it does so. The annual report of the committee gives a good indication of the commitment with which it carries out its role.

Much of what I shall say was comprehensively expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, but I still think it important that I should cover some of the areas concerned, although no doubt not with the same expertise as he has. The report, however, does not reflect the extent to which its members carry out additional work on behalf of the committee. In particular I think it only right to pay special tribute to the work of the research sub-committee. The task of seeking out, selecting and evaluating research projects into ways of reducing, refining or replacing the use of living animals in biomedical research is a vital one. The Government are indeed grateful to the members of the sub-committee, under the chairmanship of Sir Andrew Huxley, for the efforts they devote to it.

The Animal Procedures Committee's research sub-committee is not of course the only organisation involved in research into alternatives to the use of animals. It is to the credit of industry that many firms which use animals in research are also funding research into alternatives. It is clearly right, however, that the Government themselves should fund research in this important area. Because of the constraints on public expenditure generally there have in the past been one or two problems in putting the budget of the sub-committee on a firm footing. I believe that we have now established the APC's research budget on a firm basis—a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been able to allocate to it a budget of just over a quarter of a million pounds next financial year. That, together with contributions from other sources, should enable the sub-committee to plan its future programmes of work more effectively.

The committee's report for 1990 deals with a number of issues of particular public concern. One of these, which I think was brought up by every noble Lord who spoke this evening, was the case of Professor Feldberg at the National Institute for Medical Research, who was filmed conducting procedures on apparently under-anaesthetised animals. As soon as the evidence of animal suffering was brought to the attention of the Home Office, immediate action was taken to revoke the licences of both Professor Feldberg and his assistant.

The committee's response to this unfortunate case is a good illustration of the constructive way in which the committee seeks to deal with difficult issues. The committee was keen to learn the lessons of the Feldberg case. In the light of the report of the inquiry set up by the Medical Research Council, it made recommendations to improve the controls on ageing researchers.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary was pleased to be able to accept the committee's recommendations that personal licences should be regarded as having expired when a licensee formally retires; that they should be reviewed more frequently thereafter; and that no one over the age of 70 should hold a project licence. The committee will shortly be considering how these recommendations can best be implemented.

Some consider that the Feldberg case shows that the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 is not effective. This ignores the finding of the MRC inquiry that there is nothing wrong with the structure of the Act. Clearly, there are lessons from the case which all involved, including the Home Office, can learn. There was a failure at institutional level to ensure that the controls contained in the Act were properly observed. As the committee's report makes clear, the Home Office required the Director of the National Institute for Medical Research, where Professor Feldberg was working, to implement a number of changes in the management of scientific procedures at his establishment.

The inspectorate regularly carries out unannounced visits to establishments. It is part of its job to look out for infringements of the Act, and it does so assiduously. It cannot be everywhere at the same time, but I can assure noble Lords that whenever infringements are found tough action is taken. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, that project licences are most carefully scrutinised by the inspectorate. Many are discussed before they are formally submitted to the Home Office and refined in the light of the inspectorate's advice. The inspectorate is a body of highly qualified doctors and veterinary surgeons and its expertise is widely respected.

The noble Lord, Lord Houghton, also raised an area of continuing and understandable public concern. This relates to the use of non-human primates in scientific research. It is natural that we should feel an even closer affinity with those animals that are nearest to ourselves in the evolutionary scheme of things. Concern for the welfare of non-human primates relates not only to their use in scientific procedures but also to their housing and care. The 1986 Act of course gives special protection to non-human primates and requires special justification for their use in research.

The committee's comments on the housing and care of non-human primates is timely. The Home Office code of practice for the housing and care of laboratory animals sets out best practice for, among other things, the housing and care of non-human primates. The committee's report emphasises the desirability of providing environmental enrichment for non-human primates. The committee also draws attention to the desirability of housing monkeys in pairs and in larger groups to alleviate the effects of isolation.

The Home Office Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate actively encourages establishments to introduce these measures where appropriate if they have not already done so. The housing and care of non-human primates remains a matter of particular importance to the Home Office. The Home Office inspectorate carried out a special survey of large non-human primate holding facilities in 1988. It is intended that a further review of establishments using these larger primates should take place next year which will enable the Home Office to judge the progress made in improving such facilities since the 1988 review.

The committee's report also deals with a matter of considerable public concern, and that is the use of animals in the safety testing of cosmetics and toiletries. This subject was raised by my noble friend Lord Auckland. This is a matter on which there is considerable public misunderstanding. The committee is to be congratulated on setting out the issues involved in such a clear form.

There are a number of misconceptions about it: first, the scale. Testing of cosmetics amounts to less than one quarter of 1 per cent. of the total number of procedures carried out each year. Secondly, the testing is to establish safety not efficacy—in other words, to ensure, that it does not harm those who will use the product. Thirdly—and this is important—the term cosmetics does not mean simply beauty products. We use the same definition of cosmetics as our European partners. Cosmetics and toiletries include everyday items such as toothpastes, soaps and shampoos. The Animal Procedures Committee is right to point out the legal requirements on producers to ensure that their products are safe.

There is one important matter that I should like to mention. It has been mentioned by noble Lords this evening. There has been a longstanding tradition in this country of moderate and reasoned opposition to the use of animals in scientific research. The opinion of those who with the welfare of animals at heart take this view deserves to be listened to with respect.The 1986 Act makes it a specific requirement that the interests of animal welfare should be adequately represented on the Animal Procedures Committee, and they are.

There are plenty of opportunities for those who oppose the use of animals in research to make their views known peacefully and within the law. That makes it all the more reprehensible that there should be people who resort to violence to force their opinions on others. Break-ins to laboratories, arson, destruction of property and violent attacks on individual scientists—all this is unacceptable in a democratic society. Those who indulge in it face the full force of the law if caught. In the eyes of the vast majority of people, they damage by their actions the cause which they purport to represent. It is of course incumbent upon everyone, including animal welfare groups, to ensure that they do not give support to the violent actions of extremists.

We have had an interesting and constructive debate this evening about issues which are of real public concern. We have been fortunate to have the experience of the noble Lords, Lord Nathan and Lord Houghton, and all the other noble Lords who have spoken this evening. The 1986 Act continues to operate effectively and to balance the legitimate needs of industry and science with those of laboratory animal welfare. The fact that industry, the scientific community and responsible animal welfare groups continue to support the Act is a testament to the soundness of the regulatory scheme, which was so fully discussed in this House and another place six years ago.

House adjourned at a quarter before nine o'clock.