HL Deb 23 February 2005 vol 669 cc85-6WS
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

In its report published on 16 July 2002 (HL Paper 150-I) the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures made a number of recommendations that were broadly accepted by the Government in their published response in January 2003 (Command 5729).

The Government have since acted upon most of the Select Committee's main recommendations. This Statement concerns two remaining key recommendations, that the application form for a project licence under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 should be simplified and shortened, and that anonymised details of granted project licences should be published.

The chief inspector of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate has at my request, and in line with proposals from a joint Home Office/ stakeholder working group, been considering these recommendations as part of a review of the project licence application process. The review has been taken forward in close consultation with project licence holders, other stakeholders and members of relevant representative bodies. who have been involved at all stages in the related development work and field trials.

A revised project licence application form has now been placed with other licensing forms on the Home Office website at www.homeoffice.gov.uk/comrace/animals/licensing.html. The revised form commands the broad acceptance of all directly concerned with its use. It is generally seen as more user-friendly and as a significant improvement on the form it is replacing. It will allow applications to be submitted either in electronic format or as hard copy, and is expected in due course to be adapted for use in a new IT case-working system as a prelude to eventual online processing.

The revised form is gradually being phased into use, and we expect it to be used for all applications started afresh after 31 March 2005. There is provision on it for an applicant to produce an abstract of his/her proposed programme of work for publication on the Home Office website once a licence has been granted. This will help to implement a key recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee, and will also meet the requirements of the Home Office publication scheme approved under the Freedom of Information Act.

We expect that a licence abstract in each case will cover points of general interest to the lay reader. These might include the expected benefits of the project, the reason for using animals and the choice of species, the procedures to be undertaken and their likely effects on the animals, and the steps taken to minimise the number of animals used and their suffering. Examples of abstracts provided by existing licence holders are already on the website and can be accessed at WWW.homeoffice.gov.uk/comrace/animals/index.html.

The publication of licence abstracts is a major step towards greater openness and more informed public debate about animal experimentation. We wish to record the Government's appreciation of the willingness of many of the scientists concerned to co-operate in such a ground-breaking development. We also wish to make clear that we will continue to take the greatest care, in collaboration with the scientists, to ensure that no details are published which could jeopardise their safety or their work.