HC Deb 22 June 1993 vol 227 cc79-81W
Sir John Wheeler

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the outcome of the investigations into allegations by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection in respect of Wickham laboratories.

Mr. Charles Wardle

The Home Office Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate and the Medicines Control Agency have investigated allegations made by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) into procedures and practices at Wickham laboratories.

The investigation did not find substantiated some of the principal allegations against Wickham, but it did disclose poor local management, resulting in lax attitudes and practices among certain staff. These included a readiness to falsify test and environmental data on occasions. There was also one case of unnecessary animal use. Some aspects of the technical training were unsatisfactory: initial training was poorly structured and unrecorded and left some basic gaps in coverage. The system also lacked formal assessment of competence before unsupervised tasks were allocated to new employees.

My right hon. and learned Friend has concluded that direct responsibility for the failures detected by the investigation lies with the individual who was line manager for the named day-to-day care person at the time to which the BUAV allegations relate, and who was himself named day-to-day care person at the time of the Home Office investigation. My right hon. and learned Friend has directed that he be replaced as named day-to-day care person and deputy project licence holder, and that his personal licence be revoked. In addition, the individual who was named day-to-day care person at the time of the BUAV investigation has been warned that particular attention will be paid to her current skills and knowledge if in future she should apply for a personal licence. A number of other members of Wickham staff have received letters of admonition, reminding them of the importance of a proper understanding of their responsibilities and obligations under the legislation.

In addition to action in respect of individuals, my right hon. and learned Friend has directed: that Wickham agree with the inspectorate a formal training scheme for all animal unit staff, including full records of training given and an assessment of expertise for specific tasks being made from the beginning of each individual's employment; that Wickham's standard operating procedures relating to the care, husbandry and euthanasia of animals should be revised to the satisfaction of the inspectorate and to reflect best current practice.

It has been made clear to Wickham that a serious view has been taken of the lapses which this investigation has revealed, and that Wickham's operation will be subjected to particularly close scrutiny in the future. The Animal Procedures Committee has been informed of the outcome of the investigation, and has endorsed the action taken.

Other allegations made by the BUAV were not substantiated, and the inspectorate had reservations about some of the evidence presented in support of the allegations. In particular, the investigation did not find that there had been unauthorised reuse of animals, or that animal suffering had resulted from poor accommodation, or that problems had arisen from a potential conflict of interests among the senior management at Wickham. On the latter point, however, the Animal Procedures Committee has decided to look in general terms at the conflicts which may arise when the posts of certificate holder, project licence holder and named veterinary surgeon are not all held by separate individuals.

The BUAV alleged that unnecessary animal testing took place. I am satisfied, however, that all the work carried out at Wickham was properly licensed udder the Act. The general issue of animal testing performed to satisfy the requirements of regulatory authorities is currently being examined by the Animal Procedures Committee, and I look forward to receiving its advice.

Finally, I understand that the Medicines Control Agency's conclusion is that although there were operational and procedural deficiencies at Wickham, they do not call in question the validity of the particular tests, nor do they raise doubts about Wickham's continued operation as a contract research establishment. A range of improvements has been insisted upon by the agency and it will he keeping the situation under close review.

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