HL Deb 24 February 2004 vol 658 cc109-11

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Barker asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to support the continuation of research using primates in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)

My Lords, the Government are determined that Cambridge University's decision will not damage the ability of the UK to remain a world leader in medical research into diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and into strokes. We are exploring ways to ensure that the university can continue its important work in neuroscience. The Government support the need for biomedical research involving animals in line with the stringent conditions laid down in the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. We are also firmly committed to the protection of those scientists and research staff undertaking this vital work.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Given that the main reason for the decision was the estimate by Cambridgeshire police of the cost of laboratory security, what steps will the Government take to enable universities that carry out a great deal of this research to manage risks such as those posed by animal rights terrorists? How will the Government ensure that the necessary medical research into immunology, which requires work to be done on primates, will be continued in this country?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, clearly the decision about the particular situation in Cambridge was for Cambridge University to make. However, I have already had a meeting with the MRC and the Wellcome Trust to examine alternative ways to expand and develop the world-class neuroscience research taking place at Cambridge. We are also looking at how we can ensure that the facilities for this expanding area of research are available on a national basis. I have met the Director General of the Research Councils, the head of the MRC, Colin Blakemore, and Mark Walport of the Wellcome Trust to initiate work in this area.

Lord Campbell-Savours

My Lords, on the question of primate rights, has my noble friend had a chance to examine the work of Sue Savage Rumbeau and Duane Rumbeau in Atlanta. Georgia, which shows that primates, and apes in particular, are capable of intelligent communication with the use of voice synthesisers? If that is the case, does it not have implications for this whole policy area?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, I do not know about that research. As far as using animals or non-human primates for this work is concerned, I direct the noble Lord to the report by the Select Committee of this House that considered this very question and came up with three conclusions: 1. The view of the Select Committee is that it is morally acceptable for human beings to use other animals, but that it is morally wrong to cause them unnecessary or avoidable suffering … 2. There is at present a continued need for animal experiments both in applied research and in research aimed purely at extending knowledge … 3. Toxicological testing in animals is at present essential for medical practice and the protection of consumers and the environment, as it often provides information that is not currently available from any other source". Having said that, I will certainly look at the research although, from my rather limited knowledge of this area, what is being suggested is rather unlikely to be the situation.

Lord Smith of Clifton

My Lords, given that my Select Committee report to which the Minister referred also suggested the establishment of a national centre for the pursuit and development of the 3Rs with a view to reducing the amount of animal experimentation, what progress has been made towards the creation of such a centre since we last debated the matter in October?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, we are very supportive of that idea and I hope within a few days to make an announcement of our plans.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, could the Minister tell the House tell us whether there are any statistics on, or whether any information has been collated about, the number of people who oppose experimentation on animals for medical research—and, indeed, of that number, how many are prepared to take the medicine and receive the medical procedures that result from that testing?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

My Lords, it should always be pointed out that the number of people involved in the harassment and violence is in fact rather small. The great majority of people in this country are very supportive of work in this area, when they know about the stringent regulations of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Whether those people who resort to that violence and harassment take medicines, I do not know; it is quite likely that they do so, regardless of the fact that major medical advances in the area require work to be done with animals.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, I am aware of the work being done at the Yerkes primate centre in Atlanta, Georgia. Would the Minister agree that it is precisely because of the development of the primate brain that work on such animals, with the appropriate precautions, is essential for the improvement of the treatment of diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and many more? In that circumstance, will he ensure, as seems to be implied by his Answer, that such work is protected in the United Kingdom?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville

Yes, my Lords, it is quite clear that such work is necessary, and necessary for the very reasons that the noble Lord mentioned. It is an essential part of studying diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's that primates are used. We in this country are world-class leaders in neuroscience, and I am absolutely determined that we shall continue to be world-class leaders in that field. Therefore, we shall take all the action that we can to support that work.

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