Mr. Speaker, may I say what a pleasure it is to be back and to serve under your chairmanship for the first time? It is interesting how much has occurred. I have given birth to a baby, and an awful lot has occurred in Parliament in that same period.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, but we have no plans to review section 24 before we know the outcome of directive 86/609 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, which is currently being debated in the European Union.
Campaigners and politicians are rightly concerned by a 14 per cent. increase in the number of animal experiments licensed by the Home Office in 2008, yet section 24 denies them the information on which they can properly debate the direction of policy. Will the Government urgently review the operation of this democratically dubious legislation, despite any understandable concerns that they might have about animal rights extremism?
The situation is slightly more complex. There are two points in my hon. Friend’s question. One is about the total number of experiments. It is important to say that we do not have a percentage cap on the number of experiments that can take place, so more science can equal more experiments. We make an effort to ensure that most of those experiments are done on the least sentient animals, and that wherever there is an alternative, that has to be used.
On section 24, there was a review in 2004 prior to the Freedom of Information Act coming in. Another review was scheduled for 2006, but that was delayed because of a court action. That finished in 2008, at which point the draft European directive was published. It makes sense to align ourselves with that draft European directive, which borrows from the best practice in Britain, before we look at transposition, hopefully in the summer of next year.
Will the Minister acknowledge that despite Labour’s promise to cut the number of scientific procedures involving animals, levels have risen to numbers not seen for up to 20 years? Until we legislate appropriately for greater transparency in this area, how does she envisage implementing the Government’s promise?
I refer to my earlier point. It is a simple maths lesson, in a sense. If more science is proposed, more experiments are likely to come before the animals scientific procedures division to see whether it is acceptable to carry out those experiments. At all times the Home Office inspectorate looks very carefully at the suggestions put forward, ensuring that only experiments that can be done only on animals are agreed. If not, alternatives have to be used. We have also invested an awful lot of money in the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research—NC3Rs—to reduce the use of animals in experiments, but more science in the global context is something that we should welcome, even if it sometimes leads to perverse outcomes, as in this case.