HC Deb 30 November 1962 vol 668 cc105-10W
Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has yet received from the Chairman of his Advisory Committee on questions arising under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876, the report on the matters concerning the administration of the Act on which he was asked to give his advice.

Mr. Brooke

The Chairman of the Advisory Committee, Lord Morris of Borth-y-Gest, has consulted the Advisory Committee and has reported their views to me. The suggestions which were referred to Lord Morris were those raised in the course of the Supply Day debate on 10th May last, namely that:

  1. 1. There should be an inquiry into the administration of the Cruelty to Animals Act.
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  3. 2. The number of Inspectors under the Act should be increased.
  4. 3. The possibility should be considered of reducing the number of places registered under the Act.
  5. 4. Members of Parliament or experts in zoology should be allowed to visit registered places from time to time.
  6. 5. A woman should be appointed to the Advisory Committee.
  7. 6. The annual return of experiments should be enlarged to give information about the beneficial results of experiments.

The following is the reply which I have received from Lord Morris:

"Dear Home Secretary,

In July last Mr. Butler wrote to me and informed me in regard to certain suggestions which had been made during a debate in the House of Commons on the 10th May last concerning the question of experiments on animals. Having summarised the suggestions which had been made during the debate he said 'I do not know how far you will feel able to comment on these proposals, or to what extent you may feel that it would be worthwhile consulting the Committee as a whole on them.' I replied that I would be happy to consider whether I could offer any helpful comments on these proposals. I felt that it would be desirable that the Advisory Committee should be consulted. As a result the members of the Advisory Committee have been good enough to attend three meetings in order to give consideration to the matters raised. The observations that I submit in regard to the six suggestions summarised by Mr. Butler in his letter to me represent the general consensus of the opinions of the members of the Advisory Committee.

1. The first suggestion concerned the question whether there should be some kind of inquiry into the administration of the Cruelty to Animals Act. 1876. The question is, I think, the most difficult question that has been raised. Recent debates in Parliament have shown that there is some measure of concern. It can, I think, be recognised that such concern arises from the genuine and natural desire of well-meaning and humane-minded people to ensure that defenceless animals should not be subjected to any unnecessary suffering. Whether there is public disquiet which is very wide-spread is a matter which it is very dfficult to assess. It would appear, however, that some of the concern that has been expressed arises from the fact that the annual returns to Parliament show what at first sight seem to be very high numbers of 'experiments'. Thus the return of August, 1961, shows a total of 3,701,187 experiments during 1960. The return of August, 1962, shows a total of 3,896,581 experiments during 1961. These numbers, of course, exceed very greatly the numbers in the early years after the passing of the Act of 1876. It may be difficult for many members of the public to have an adequate appreciation of the necessary extent of present day research, or to have full understanding of the nature of many of the 'experiments'. It may not be widely or fully appreciated that a very high proportion of these 'experiments' do not constitute vivisection in any real sense of the word. In many instances they are perhaps only technically to be regarded as covered by the word 'experiments'. The increase in the number of experiments has been inevitable in view of the great advances which have been made in recent years both in science and in medicine, and experiments are necessary in order to increase medical and scientific knowledge. Very many are also necessary in order to safeguard the public from the ill effects that might result if untested products were placed on the market. It should also be appreciated that certain tests are required under the Therapeutic Substances Act, 1956. The recent return of August, 1962, records that over a million experiments were performed in the course of preparing and testing substances intended for use in the treatment of disease in man or in animals, these including 1,113,874 experiments for standardisation of sera, vaccines, or drugs as required under the Therapeutic Substances Act, 1956. It is felt that there may he misunderstanding about these experiments because they are performed under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876, and under Certificates A. The Act was passed to control the performance of 'Experiments calculated to give pain'; and Certificate A was provided to deal with exceptional cases, in which, in the interests of science, it might then have been considered important and proper to exempt a licensee from the necessity of using such anaesthesia as was then available, in the performance of the kind of experiments then contemplated. The legislators of 86 years ago could certainly not have had in view the present need for large numbers of experiments involving no procedure more severe than hypodermic injections, but still requiring the exemption, provided by Certificate A for essentially different purposes. The view of members of the Committee is that the advances in science and in medicine since 1876 have been so rapid and so numerous that the increase in animal experimentation is not to be regarded as startling or excessive. In 1876 occasion had not arisen for the inevitably large use of tests which are now necessary in order to ensure the safety of modern remedies.

The question as to whether there should or should not be some kind of inquiry is to some extent a question of policy. Is it thought that there is such a measure of disquiet as by reason of its very existence warrants the holding of an inquiry? Such members of the Advisory Committee as can draw upon personal knowledge and experience have no reason to think that the Act is not being administered properly and do not consider that there is either callousness or carelessness in the treatment of animals. The fact that the number of experiments is now very high does naturally prompt the inquiry whether too many people are conducting investigations or whether too many investigations are being conducted. As to this it must be recognised that different people or different bodies may be conducting research on parallel lines and this may be inevitable and, indeed, may be desirable as increasing the likelihood that answers may be found to certain medical problems that are still stubborn and baffling. The members of the Committee have no reason to suppose that experiments are being wantonly or lightly or unnecessarily undertaken. The Committee have had discussions with the Chief Inspector and they do not suppose that the Inspectors would be likely to be tolerant of any failures to comply with the requirements of the Act.

It may, of course, be that the holding of an inquiry could be the means of allaying any public disquiet that there may be, but if an inquiry were to be held it would have to be thorough and it would inevitably be protracted. The fullest opportunity would have to be given for every anxiety to be expressed and examined and for every viewpoint to be ventilated, explored and considered. If there were to be an inquiry it would probably be most usefully conducted by persons with medical and veterinary and scientific knowledge. No one can, of course, express any definite view as to whether an inquiry would or would not bring to light any undesirable practices or as to whether any proposals as to improved or altered procedures or administration might be recommended. Short of holding an inquiry no one could be expected to give any assurance as to the present state of affairs and the most that the members of the Committee can say is that they are not themselves aware of failures to administer the Act properly and effectively.

This is not to say that there are no improvements in the machinery of the Act that could be made. Having regard to the advances in medicine and science since 1876 it might or might not be that a modern Act would adopt a different structure in the classification of experiments from that contained in the 1876. The Act imposes requirements of obtaining the signatures on applications of the Presidents of various medical and scientific societies. These requirements may under modern conditions be very burdensome for those concerned. A modern Act might contain some different machinery. The existing Act does not make provision for the housing, maintenance and welfare of the animals, nor does it deal with any questions relating to the procuring of animals. These and similar matters are however we conceive not those which are now primarily raised. Furthermore, whether an inquiry is or is not held, other questions can be independently considered. One such question is that with which we next deal.

2. Should the number of Inspectors under the Act be increased?

Whether there is or is not any widespread public anxiety at the present time the Committee consider that it must be the public wish that there should be adequate and effective supervision to ensure that only necessary "experiments" take place and to ensure that they take place in compliance with the requirements of the Act. The size of the Inspectorate is such that doubt may well arise as to whether so few Inspectors can do all that is needed The Inspectors have many responsibilities in regard to the applications for licences and they cannot in the nature of things observe very many experiments. It may well be that the Inspectors' most valuable work is to ensure that only the right kind of people are doing only the right kind of work in the right kinds of places. The Committee understand from the Chief Inspector that he has not felt that the Inspectors have been unable to discharge their responsibilities. The Committee nevertheless feel that public confidence would be fortified if by an increase in the number of Inspectors still more frequent contacts between the Inspectors and licensees and still more visits to licensed premises could be provided. The Committee consider that these contacts and visits provide the best means of ensuring a constant measure of conscientious concern on the part of all persons who are in any way involved. It is further to be observed that the Act requires "all registered places to be from time to time visited by inspectors". There are some 529 registered places. It is understood that it has already been decided to appoint an additional inspector and that it is hoped to appoint someone who has both medical and veterinary qualifications. This is all to the good but the Committee feel that further additional appointments could with advantage be made and that those with either medical or veterinary qualifications should be eligible for appointment. Frequent visits by Inspectors with the consequent opportunities to consult them, would probably be welcomed by those working in the various laboratories and research departments. The perfectly legitimate wishes of all animal-lovers and other well-intentioned people would furthermore be met. The fact that the demand for licences is more likely to increase than to diminish and the fact that there are so many laboratories and research departments, form further reasons why it is desirable to have adequate numbers of Inspectors.

3. The general opinion of members of the Committee is that it would be undesirable to contemplate reducing the number of registered places. Such a reduction might inevitably impede the progress of scientific and medical research.

4. In regard to visits by Members of Parliament or experts in zoology, there are one or two considerations to be had in mind. Some who have genuine anxiety in regard to experiments on animals often feel that there is a shroud of secrecy covering the whole subject. If there is such an impression it may lead to the view that there is something wrong. It would seem highly desirable, therefore, that every reasonable facility should be given to enable visits to be made by persons who are competent to form judgment and who would be prepared to make visits without having formed any settled or predetermined views. If fair-minded people who are competent to form opinions are given facilities to visit registered places it would be highly satisfactory. If as a result they found that there was something wrong, then the sooner attention was given to such a state of affairs the better. It must be remembered, however, that registered places are private property and that those who are engaged upon experimental work are entitled to do their work in reasonable privacy and without undue disturbance. If, however, any arrangements can conveniently be made which might remove the suspicions of genuine seekers after truth that would be a good thing.

5. The Committee know of no reason at all why a woman should not be appointed to the Advisory Committee provided she possesses the qualifications which are considered to be the helpful ones. The mere fact that this point has been raised suggests there may be some misconception both in Parliament and in the minds of the public as to the work of the Advisory Committee. Many may think that it is a body that frequently meets, whereas being advisory it only meets when its advice is sought and, as a general rule, that is only when there is some specific application for a licence to consider which appears to the Inspectors to raise some new question of principle. Thus apart from meeting to discuss the matters now being considered the Committee has only been summoned twice in about the last four years.

6. It would not appear to be practicable to make any annual assessment of the year's achievements resulting from experiments carried out in the particular year. Any significant information of this kind might be contained in the annual report of the Medical Research Council. It is usually impossible to assess the beneficial results of experiments even some years after their completion. At the same time it may well be that further annual returns could be drafted in such a way as to be not merely statistical, but so as to give rather more indication as to the nature of the experiments that have taken place.

Yours sincerely,


Having given careful consideration to the whole position, and in the light of Lord Morris's letter, I have decided to appoint a Departmental Committee to inquire into the working of the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876. I hope shortly to announce the composition of this Committee and its terms of reference. I have also decided to accept the views of the Advisory Committee on the other matters referred to them. The strength of the Inspectorate under the Act will be increased from six to eight as soon as suitable candidates can be found, and persons with medical or veterinary qualifications will be eligible for appointment to these new posts, and to any vacancies which may occur in the future.