HC Deb 10 December 1991 vol 200 cc396-8W
Sir John Wheeler

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he has considered the evidence of possible breaches of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 by Professor Wilhelm Feldberg and Mr. John Stean at the National Institute of Medical Research; what action he proposes to take on this and other aspects of the report of the inquiry set up by the Medical Research Council; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Rumbold

When the Medical Research Council inquiry's report was published, the Home Office accepted its finding that, as a result of failure by Professor Feldberg and Mr. Stean to maintain anaesthesia of sufficient depth, up to four rabbits were caused avoidable suffering.

In view of the responsibility placed on all holders of certificates of designation to ensure that the requirements of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 are properly observed at their establishments, officials discussed with the certificate holder for the National Institute for Medical Research a number of proposals for improving the management, control and monitoring of animal procedures following publication of the MRC report. The improvements agreed with the certificate holder have now been implemented. The chief inspector of the Home Office animals (scientific procedures) inspectorate has also written to all certificate holders reminding them of their responsibilities under the 1986 Act.

In its annual report for 1990, the Animal Procedures Committee recommended to the Home Secretary changes in policy on the issuing of personal and project licences under the 1986 Act to those who are past retirment age. The Home Secretary has accepted the recommendations. He has agreed that in future project licences should not be issued to those aged 70 or over, other than in exceptional circumstances, and that personal licences should be reviewed when it is known that the holder has retired. When personal or project licences are held by those over 70, they will be reviewed every 12 months. These revised arrangements, with which the Animal Procedures Committee agrees, will be introduced in April 1992.

We have now completed consideration of the evidence of possible breaches of the 1986 Act, including Professor Feldberg's notebooks, which the MRC forwarded to the Home Office.

We do not consider that, in all the circumstances of the case, there are grounds to justify referring the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. As soon as it was clear that avoidable suffering had been caused to animals, the Home Office took action to remove the personal and project licences held by Professor Feldberg and Mr. Stean, thus ensuring that they did no further scientific work involving the use of living animals. While there is prima facie evidence that there were breaches of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, we consider that, in the light of all the circumstances of the case, including the effective administrative action already taken, no further purpose would be served by asking the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider prosecution.

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