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Cruelty To Animals Act 1876(Amendment)

Volume 889: debated on Wednesday 9 April 1975

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3.57 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876.
This is by no means the first attempt that there has been under this procedure and others to amend the 1876 Act, and it may well be that it is not the last. Others have tried before me, and I should like to pay tribute to those others, such as the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body), the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) and Lord Houghton, for all they have done in this respect.

I make no apology for delaying the House in its deliberations on matters of great moment today to take a few minutes to intrude the voice of animal welfare. Since the Cruelty to Animals Act was passed almost 100 years ago there has been an immense increase in the number of experiments. The intentions of the Act were admirable and the debates upon it are still enlightening to read. It stipulated that experiments should be carried out under licence and must be performed with a view to the advancement by new discovery of physiological knowledge or of knowledge useful for saving or prolonging life or alleviating suffering. I ask the House to remember those words.

The standard licence stipulated that animals likely to suffer pain must be given an anaesthetic or, if serious pain would continue, they should not be allowed to come out of the anaesthetic That was in 1876, and there were at that stage about 300 experiments a year. Now there are nearly 5½ million experiments annually on animals in this country. The overwhelming majority of those are carried out under one of the three certificates of exemption from the basic provisions of the 1876 Act. There are a total of 4½million alone under Certificate A, which allows experiments without anaesthetic.

Mr. Richard Ryder, in his recent book "Victims of Science", has calculated that only about one in three of these experi- ments has any medical purpose whatsoever. Many, as we have seen from recent Press publicity, are carried out for the purely commercial aims of those who are pandering to the vanities and vices of our consumer society.

I am prepared to concede that there is a great deal of sentimental thinking about animal experiments, particularly from those who say that no such experiments are justified. I would never go that far. Those of us who have seen a loved one struck down by some fatal disease would be the first to concede that in such cases experiments on animals which might lead to a cure being discovered for the disease would be necessary however many such experiments were needed. But how many of the experiments carried out meet the spirit of the 1876 Act?

Are we really advancing the frontiers of physiological knowledge if we blind a monkey to establish that when blind it will bump into obstacles? Are we really advancing the frontiers of physiological knowledge if we force-feed animals to death, pumping either anti-freeze or shredded polythene into their stomachs?

Mr. Richard Ryder in a recent newspaper article has discussed some of the experiments he saw carried out when he was a medical researcher. He talks of watching a cat being blinded and having its tail cut off. It was then put into a rotating cage to deprive it of sleep. Every few hours it was taken out to have fluid drawn from the brain. He said:
"It was a crazed, pathetic creature. And the experiment was for such a stupid cause."
That kind of thing, and the force-feeding to which I have referred, are all too common among the categories of these experiments. Very frequently they are to establish toxicity and no more than that. Toxicity in many cases can be assumed. All hon. Members know that if we were force-fed an exclusive diet of shredded copies of the Official Report for several days, however wholesome we find a diet of our own words, we would sooner or later expire. So it is with the wretched animals. If we force-feed an animal to the point of death all that we establish is that it dies.

The Home Office inspectorate which has been set up to oversee these experiments is just 14 strong—fewer than the Littlewood Committee recommended 12 years ago. In 100 years there has been no prosecution under the 1876 Act, nor do the annual returns from the Home Office give a detailed breakdown of the purposes for which the animals have been used. One laboratory assistant told Mr. Ryder:
"We usually know when the inspectors arc coming and have plenty of time to clean up the blood and put the instruments away."
In these matters Parliament has moved too little and too late. The recommendations of the Littlewood Committee for amending the 1876 Act have never been carried out. The Bill introduced by Douglas Houghton as he then was and he is still widely remembered and respected in this House—designed to amend that Act received an unopposed Second Reading two years ago but was "talked out" on Report. Now, because the public conscience has been inflamed by the notorious ICI smoking beagles, more palliative action seems to be in prospect. Now at least we have my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill), a sponsor of Mr. Houghton's Bill, installed in the Home Office, where she can do good, not necessarily by stealth.

Let me speak plainly to my hon. Friend, for whom I have a high regard. We do not at this stage want the offer of a few more inspectors or the strengthening of the advisory committee alone. We want amending legislation, achieved by the time of the centenary of the 1876 Act. We want it to distinguish between the medical and non-medical purposes of vivisection and to discourage the latter. We want it to stipulate that experiments shall not be licensed if their purpose can be achieved by means not involving the use of a living animal. We acknowledge that the Government and the Medical Research Council must give a lead here along the lines advocated by the RSPCA, FRAME, the National Anti-Vivisection Society and others.

That is what my Bill seeks to do. Lord Houghton asked in 1973, at the time of the Second Reading of his Bill:
"upon what pinnacle do we base human life and well-being that denies all rights to every species but our own?"—[Official Report, 11th May 1973; Vol. 856, c. 894.]
That is my position today.

It is not enough to say that those who advocate such a measure are a hysterical group of hypocritical softies, more concerned with the welfare of mice than that of men. Concern for human suffering and exploitation goes hand in hand with that for animals, and so it has done since the days of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, who were also concerned with animal welfare.

Many of the arguments advanced for the continuation of the slave trade are precisely those we see today for the continuation of these experiments. It is said, first, that it is commercially necessary; second, that the creatures concerned do not feel suffering as we feel suffering; and, third, that if we do not do it, others will. They were nonsense arguments then and they are nonsense arguments now.

Animals cannot speak for themselves in this House. They can only suffer for themselves. It is our responsibility to see that where that suffering is needless it should be alleviated. It is for that purpose that I seek to introduce this Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Phillip Whitehead, Mr. Richard Body, Mr. F. A. Burden, Mr. Ivor Clemitson, Mr. Robin Corbett, Miss Janet Fookes, Mr. Clement Freud, Mrs. Helene Hayman, Mr. Kenneth Lomas, Mr. Roderick MacFarquhar and Mr. David Madel.