HL Deb 11 February 2003 vol 644 cc106-8WA
Lord Dubs

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will publish the report by the Chief Inspector of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate of his review following allegations made by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection of aspects of research projects at Cambridge University involving marmosets. [HL1621]

Lord Filkin

The Government have today published a report by the Chief Inspector of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate, following his review of aspects of three animal research projects being conducted at Cambridge University. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library and are being put onto the Home Office website—www.homeoffice.gov.uk.

The Home Office licensed the three projects under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. They comprise studies relevant to various human neurological disorders, such as amnesia, psychoses, stroke-related conditions, dementia, and Parkinson's and Huntington's diseases. These studies involve subjecting marmosets to surgical and other procedures, including behavioural and cognitive testing.

The research has been the subject of a campaign report and video produced last year by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) in which a number of detailed allegations are made based on the testimony of, and material gathered by, an undercover sympathiser. These allegations call into question the severity limits and bands assigned to the projects, challenge other aspects of the licensing decisions, raise compliance issues and record concerns about the standards of care given to the marmosets.

In the light of the BUAV material I asked the chief inspector for a report on the assignment of the severity limits and bands concerned and for his advice on the licensing decisions and on compliance with the licence authorities.

The chief inspector's review has been thorough and his detailed report addresses all the key issues. In it he refers to the official published material about severity limits (relating to individual authorised procedures) and severity bands (relating to entire projects). He concludes that the severity limits and bands for these projects, none of which is classed as higher than moderate, have been correctly assigned in accordance with the published criteria. In reaching this view he has taken account of all relevant factors. These include the degree and duration of suffering likely to be experienced by the marmosets as a result of the procedures, the use of analgesics and special post-operative care, and the controls in place to ensure appropriate action if the severity limits seem unexpectedly likely to be breached.

The BUAV claim that there is a widespread misallocation of severity limits and bands in non-human primate research, so that the true amount of laboratory animal suffering is being concealed. In view of this, the chief inspector has also examined 37 other licensed academic projects where primates are used in procedures placed in all the different severity categories. He found the limits and bands had been correctly assigned in all cases.

In reviewing the licensing decisions for the Cambridge projects, the chief inspector points out that the lead researchers concerned have long experience in this type of neurological research, their work has been peer-reviewed by funding bodies and their findings have been published as they have emerged. Consideration of two of the licence applications involved specialist members of the inspectorate in addition to the local inspector, and in all cases account was taken of all the detailed information on the application forms, as well as of material from other sources. The chief inspector is satisfied that the decisions were correct and properly taken with due regard to all the criteria set out in Section 5 of the 1986 Act.

The chief inspector considers that the marmoset facility at Cambridge University meets, and in some respects exceeds, the standards of housing and care set out in the relevant Home Office codes of practice, and that some examples are to be found there of best practice. He considers that there is a culture of care within the establishment and that the marmoset colony is generally healthy. This is borne out by veterinary records and previous inspection reports, as well as by the chief inspector's own observations.

The Government are grateful to the chief inspector for having produced a comprehensive and balanced report. We accept his main findings and conclusions. In particular we are satisfied that the Cambridge University marmoset projects have been properly licensed and assigned the correct severity limits and bands. We are also satisfied that the projects, the value and importance of which must be recognised, are well run and that the marmosets are generally well looked after. No evidence has been found to support any of the BUAV's main contentions.

The chief inspector has additionally made some recommendations on matters arising from his review. There are three addressed to the Government. The first is that there should be a forum of those who breed and use marmosets for scientific purposes, so that contemporary best practice can be shared in a structured way. The second is that consideration should be given in the next review of the published annual procedures statistics to a possible remedy for a technical problem encountered in capturing the data relating to all the uses made of some laboratory animals. The third is that further consideration should be given as to whether the severity limit and band labels should continue to be used.

These are constructive recommendations and we fully accept them. I have asked the inspectorate to set up the proposed forum for licensed breeders and users of marmosets. The point about the statistics will be considered in due course as part of a wider review of the annual published statistics. I have asked for the question of future use of the terminology of severity limits and bands to be considered as part of the review currently being undertaken by the Animal Procedures Committee of the cost-benefit assessment required under Section 5 of the 1986 Act.

A few technical infringements were discovered during the chief inspector's review on which appropriate action has been taken. These do not detract either from the chief inspector's main findings or our acceptance of them. Nothing seriously untoward has been discovered about the licensing and running of these projects at Cambridge University, and on those aspects there are no grounds for significant concern or further action.