HL Deb 08 May 2001 vol 625 cc894-6

2.45 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking, in addition to clauses in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, to prevent the Animal Liberation Front from damaging the pharmaceutical industry in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, new legislation is being introduced in the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. We have also published a consultation paper on the Government's strategy for tackling animal rights extremism, copies of which have been placed in the Library.

Last week the Home Secretary met representatives of the City and financial institutions to discuss ways of supporting those who have concerns about being targeted by extremists, and a ministerial committee has been set up to co-ordinate work across government to tackle animal rights extremism.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that the excellent performance of this industry and its valuable exports are still at risk from violent attacks on individuals and their property? Can he confirm that United Kingdom law requires new drugs to be tested on at least two species of mammal before they can be marketed?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I and the Government certainly recognise the value of the pharmaceutical industry. It would be a tragedy if companies were forced to move abroad to continue their research. The pharmaceutical industry has made a tremendous contribution to medical science, to the welfare and health of human beings and to the welfare of animals. On the second question raised by the noble Lord, I am not an expert in such matters. That is beyond my ministerial brief. However, I shall undertake to advise the noble Lord. I am sure that he knows more about this subject than I do.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that for the rule of law to prevail in this particular area, as in many other areas where people abuse the right of free speech and the right to demonstrate, more is required than the passing of legislation? Does he agree that the robust enforcement of the law by the police and deterrent sentencing by the courts are also required to make it clear that people who go beyond the rule of law are beyond the pale and that such behaviour is not acceptable in a democracy?

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is evident that your Lordships' House shares those views. I certainly do. We believe that the rule of law should be upheld; we believe in effective and firm police action. We have been unstinting in our support, particularly for Cambridgeshire Constabulary. We have provided the constabulary with extra funds, which have been used well. Important protection work has been undertaken with great vigilance and the constabulary is to be congratulated on the way in which it has policed that difficult situation at Huntingdon.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, is the fact that shares in Huntingdon Life Sciences Company are now not being dealt with by certain financial houses such as, I believe, Charles Schwab an indication of the Government's apparent failure in this area? Is that an indication that the rule of law has not been successfully upheld and that apparently respectable organisations are effectively being intimidated?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I believe that we have been unstinting in our support. As I said earlier, only last week my right honourable friend the Home Secretary met with financial institutions to press them and to ensure that there is support for Huntingdon Life Sciences. It is in nobody's interests that financial institutions should withdraw their support from those lines of scientific investigation and inquiry. I believe that we must continue to give our support, and we want to work with everyone to ensure that they can operate effectively. It is in everyone's interests that they do so.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, is this a case where we should use whatever pressure we have within the European Union to try to do something on a pan-European basis? The financial institution mentioned in my noble friend's question is, in fact, an Irish bank that has now withdrawn its support from Huntingdon Life Sciences, if the Financial Times is to be believed. Perhaps we should achieve a uniform approach to such issues, not necessarily just because of the Huntingdon Life Sciences case, but also for other companies involved in this necessary type of work in the pharmaceutical industry.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, ultimately it is for those financial institutions to make their own commercial decisions. The role of government is to encourage and to ensure that we provide the right level of support and commitment. In that regard, we have been doing all that we can. The noble Baroness makes an important point in relation to Europe. I congratulate her on her support for European institutions. I have no doubt that in working across Europe in this area we can bring extra pressure to bear so that we can protect the important work that organisations like Huntingdon Life Sciences carry out.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there may be areas in which unnecessary testing of animals takes place, particularly by some of the pharmaceutical firms? Would it not strengthen our case if those were reduced, particularly those which damage the pharmaceutical industry?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I do not have the statistics in front of me but my recollection is that testing on animals is at its lowest level since 1955. That is as a direct result of government policy. It is our desire to minimise the level of testing on animals and we have carried that through in government.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, does the Minister realise that consultations and task forces are one thing but what is required is action?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I do not recall that the previous government were wanting in calling up task forces and taking joint ministerial action when they though that right. No doubt the noble Lord will make a case that it was action. I believe that we have been firm and resolute and have been taking action. That action is demonstrated by our commitment to four crucial changes in the current Criminal Justice and Police Bill which is before your Lordships' House.

Lord Renton

My Lords, does the Minister recollect that last week, during the second day in Committee on the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, it was pointed out to the Government that the head of the research centre at Huntingdon, who was attacked at the research centre, would have been protected had he been attacked at his own home but not at the research centre? Therefore, can the Government point out to the Home Secretary that that matter must be put right before the Bill returns to another place?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I do not believe that ABH travels as an offence; I believe that it is an offence wherever it is committed. We have tried to ensure that Cambridgeshire Constabulary has more than adequate resources to deal with the problem at Huntingdon Life Sciences and we have done exactly that. The Bill tries to provide for an additional range of offences and penalties which can be applied where people pursue directors and so forth to their places of residence. We are intent on doing that and I understood that the noble Lord supported us in that.

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