HC Deb 19 October 2001 vol 372 cc1396-7W
Dr. Starkey

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the Government's response to the recommendations of the Animal Procedures Committee report on public access to information about the use of animals in research. [7736]

Angela Eagle

I welcome the Animal Procedures Committee's report on openness, which was published on 22 August 2001, and I am grateful to the Animal Procedures Committee for the time and thought that it has given to its recommendations.

The Government's response to its detailed recommendations is as follows.

The Committee's recommendations regarding the relaxation of section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and the publication of plain English summaries of programmes of work licensed under the Act have been noted and will be taken into account in the current review of section 24.

It is already Home Office policy to encourage publication of research findings, but we cannot require it. However, we agree that we must do everything possible to ensure that there is no unnecessary duplication of animal use in scientific procedures and will examine possible mechanisms for publishing negative results, consulting the scientific community and others as necessary.

We agree in principle that anonymised information regarding infringements should be published and will consider how this might best be achieved.

The content and format of the annual statistics is kept under review in line with the requirements of the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The statistics for the year 2000, published in July 2001, included an invitation to readers to submit comments and will be followed by wider consultation with the scientific community, who provide the data, and with other interested parties.

Summary information regarding the performance of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate, together with licensing information, is published as part of the annual statistics report and in the Home Office Annual Report. Scientific and the laboratory animal science and welfare literature and the Home Office websites also contain material produced by the Inspectorate.

We regularly encourage the scientific community to present its work more effectively to the public. The extent to which they do so is, however, a matter for the relevant organisations and establishments to decide.

It is intended that the advice provided to Ministers by quality assurance panels appointed in connection with special investigations by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate will be published.

We agree that interaction between the Animal Procedures Committee and other similar committees will be helpful and look forward to seeing more detailed proposals in the Committee's work programme.

Dr. Starkey

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what consultation the Government have undertaken to ensure that increased public access to information about the use of animals in research does not increase harassment of scientists and institutions involved in animal research. [7737]

Angela Eagle

Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 prevents the disclosure by Home Office Ministers and officials of information about the use of animals in scientific procedures that has been provided in confidence. Following the enactment of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, all statutory bars to the disclosure of information are being reviewed, including section 24 of the 1986 Act.

My predecessor, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) held a seminar with representatives of animal protection groups and the scientific community in September 2000 to discuss the review of section 24 and he and officials subsequently held a series of separate meetings with some of the organisations that participated in the seminar. Views have also been received from the Animal Procedures Committee on this subject and from respondents to the consultation document on animal rights extremism published in March 2001.

The Government have a clear commitment to freedom of information and are equally committed to the maintenance of necessary protections for individual scientists and their research institutions. I am considering very carefully how these commitments can best be met. A decision on whether to appeal or amend section 24 will not be made until later this year.

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