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Animal Welfare

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what criteria he applies when deciding the form a Government investigation should take into allegations that the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate has failed to fulfil its role properly in relation to a particular establishment. [117605]

There are no set criteria, as the handling of such allegations against the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate must be determined in the light of the particular circumstances of each case. I must reserve the right on each occasion to commission whatever form of investigation seems to be most appropriate.I should add that the Government has confidence in the integrity and high professional standards of the Inspectorate, and in the rigorous way the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 is administered and enforced.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps the Government is taking to reduce the number of animals used in scientific procedures. [117606]

Under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 the Home Office can only license the use of animals for scientific purposes where there is no non-animal alternative, and then only when both the number of animals and their suffering is minimised. This reflects the principles of the 3Rs—replacement, reduction and refinement.As a regulator the Home Office has no control over the number of project licence applications which it receives. While therefore we must seek to minimise the number of animals used in particular programmes of work, the Home Office cannot influence the overall amount of animal research and testing which takes place—that is determined by many other factors, including the economic climate and global trends in scientific endeavour.Although scientific activity has increased dramatically since the 1986 Act was introduced, technical progress with development and adoption of 3Rs strategies has resulted in an overall reduction in the number of animals used each year over the same period. There are, however, current developments—such as advances in the use that can be made of genetically modified animals, and the proposed European chemical testing strategy—which may in coming years reverse that trend and lead to more rather than fewer animals being used.The Government fully supports and encourages development and promotion of the 3Rs in a number of ways, and additional impetus has been given to its efforts to that end by the related recommendations recently put forward by the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures. One of those recommendations—that there should be a centre for the 3Rs—is now being considered by the Inter-Departmental Group on the 3Rs, which is also reviewing the effectiveness of the Inter-Departmental Datasharing Concordat.This is not however an area where quick gains can be expected. In the longer term we must rely for any further significant reduction in animal use largely on the scientific community's own continuing efforts to develop, validate and adopt non-animal alternative methods.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps are being taken to establish a culture of care in laboratories which carry out scientific procedures on animals. [117607]

In their Report published last year, the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures recognised the progress that had been made since the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 came into force, in fostering a culture of care in establishments designated under that legislation.The culture of care as regards animals used in scientific procedures in the United Kingdom is indeed probably better than anywhere else in the world, and we remain committed to maintaining and improving that position.The animals must be housed and cared for in accordance with codes of practice published and laid before Parliament under the 1986 Act. These codes set standards which have to be met as a requirement of licence conditions, and the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate closely monitors compliance.A number of other measures have, we believe, contributed to a culture of care. These have included the mandatory training of prospective and existing licence holders, and of named veterinary surgeons—and we plan shortly to bring in such training for named animal care and welfare officers—and the introduction and development of ethical review processes in designated establishments. Expansion of the Inspectorate is also beginning to make a difference in this area, as it enables more resources to be devoted to the proactive dissemination and promotion of best care and husbandry practice. Moreover, we continue to encourage communication and networking among licence holders so that best practice can be shared, and we continue to press for the highest standards to be incorporated in European legislation.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what research or training the Government are funding abroad concerning animals in scientific procedures; and if it is his policy that the requirements of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) 1986 Act are followed in such cases. [117608]

The Government accept that Government-funded procedures should be consistent with the principles of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The Home Office does not routinely collect information on the funding of such research, or training. I shall, however, consult Government colleagues and write to the hon. Member.