[Jim Sheridan in the Chair]
Thank you very much indeed, Mr Sheridan, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
There are four main issues that I will raise in this debate on animal experimentation and Government policy: first, reducing the number of animals used in experiments; secondly, the testing of household products on animals; thirdly, section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986; and fourthly, the implementation of the new EU directive—2010/63—which, of course, took place on 1 January.
The coalition Government’s programme for government was very welcome as it included two specific pledges on the use of animals in experiments, stating:
“We will end the testing of household products on animals and work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research.”
The European Commission has recently confirmed that the ban on importing and selling animal-tested cosmetics throughout the EU will come into force, as planned, on 11 March. The UK was rightly one of the first countries to adopt this position, and the ban comes into force after more than 40 years of campaigning—principally led, I must say, by the British Union Against Vivisection, and others—and it is, of course, most welcome.
As we pass the mid-point of this Parliament, I hope through this debate to examine the Government’s progress and see how the very worthy commitments that they made in 2010 can be realised in a timely manner.
I turn to the first of the four main points that I will raise: reduction. In their recent mid-term review, the Government said:
“We worked to reduce the use of animals in scientific research through a science-led programme headed by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research. However, the Government continues to recognise that there remains a strong scientific case for the carefully regulated use of animals in scientific research where no practicable alternatives exist.”
As the number of such experiments has risen further, to its highest level since records began, my concern is that the use of the past tense in that sentence could be interpreted to imply that the Government have given up their attempt to reduce numbers. If not—and I sincerely hope that the Government have not given up that attempt—what new steps will be taken and when do the Government expect a visible impact?
The number of animals currently being used in experiments in Great Britain—of course, Northern Ireland has a separate system—is the highest since 1986, when statistics were comprehensively collected for the first time following the introduction of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act. According to Home Office statistics published in July 2012, in 2011 there were 3,710,621 animals used in 3,792,857 procedures in Great Britain. That represents an increase of 1.9% on the 2010 figures. Procedures were performed on particular species, including 1,459 primates, 11,844 rabbits, 11,514 guinea pigs, 2,865 dogs, and 161,733 birds. Of those experiments, only 13% were directly related to human health. Some of the non-medical experiments included: the use of 3,524 animals to test food additives; the use of 541 animals to test the effects of alcohol; the use of 13,676 animals in experiments examining the effects of pollution; and the use of 22,785 animals in experiments relating to agriculture. More than half the animal experiments in 2011 were carried out on animals that had been genetically altered, and many such animals are killed before they are even used because they do not show the correct characteristics.
The second issue that I will raise is the testing of household products on animals. The Government have recently announced their guide for licence holders on the operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which takes account of the changes introduced by the new European directive, under which no project licence will be granted for
“work using any animals for testing household products”.
However, the definition of “household products” is unclear. In response to a recent parliamentary question, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said:
“There is no authoritative definition of ‘household product’ in UK or European legislation. For the purposes of the current annual statistical collection, project licence holders are required to report the use of animals to test ‘substances used in the household’. Where there is uncertainty, decisions on whether procedures should be recorded under this heading are taken on a case by case basis. No procedures were reported for this purpose in 2011, the latest year for which figures are available.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 151W.]
The statement that there were no tests of this nature in 2011 leads me to believe that the ban would cover only finished products, rather than also covering ingredients. I believe that would seriously undermine the ban, as the vast majority of testing for household products involves testing ingredients. Indeed, as much was admitted in response to another parliamentary question, which was answered on 28 March 2011 by the then Home Office Minister, who is now the Under-Secretary of State for International Development. She said:
“We plan to apply the definition of ‘substances used in the household’ used for reporting purposes in the Statistics of Scientific Procedures on Living Animals published annually. This includes all products that are primarily intended for use in the home, including detergents and other laundry products, household cleaners, air-fresheners, toilet blocks, polishes, paper products such as infant nappies, paints, glues (and removers), other furnishing and DIY products and household pesticides. The prohibition will apply to both finished household products and their ingredients, although in practice mainly the latter are tested.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 80W.]
However, recent Home Office reports have indicated that the actual definition may well be much narrower than that.
I move on to section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, under which it is a criminal offence to divulge any information that a researcher would have liked to be kept secret, regardless of whether there is any personal information involved. In May 2012, in response to the public consultation on transposing European directive 2010/63, the Government said that
“the new Directive focuses on greater transparency in relation to the use of animals in scientific research”.
It was the Government’s view that the requirement is incompatible with section 24 of the 1986 Act as it currently stands. The Government said that they would
“consider the options for reforming Section 24 and publish conclusions separately in due course.”
Indeed, in Grand Committee in the House of Lords, Lord Taylor of Holbeach said:
“Our consultation revealed no clear consensus on whether the provisions of Section 24 should be repealed and replaced, and we need to give that further thought.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 13 December 2012; Vol. 741, c. GC399.]
I understand that currently there is no date set for any further conclusions or consultations to be published by the Government.
The fourth point that I will raise is the Government’s implementation of the requirements of European directive 2010/63 on 1 January. Most of the UK controls, which are of a higher standard than those in many other EU countries, will remain in place. However, as some features may be slightly different, it will be some time before it is clear how the changes will affect animals. Nevertheless, there are some ongoing concerns.
In transposing the new European directive into UK law, while existing UK standards are retained where they are higher than those set out in the directive, a key concern is how the legislation will be interpreted in practice. The draft guidance, which has now been released for consultation, needs to be unequivocal, to ensure that UK standards are retained.
The revised legislation includes a move to transfer more responsibility for its implementation from central to local control at individual establishment level. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals believes that the Home Office must have a robust programme in place to ensure good practice, to identify shortcomings within establishments and, where needed, to have proper sanctions. It will also be important for establishments to maintain a strong and effective local animal welfare and ethical review body, so that each establishment can ensure compliance with the law and with good practice. The new body replaces the local ethical review process, which progressed well over its 12 years and had widespread support. Indeed, the RSPCA has developed guidelines on best practice for the ethical review process, which should form the basis of the new body’s roles.
The Home Office has chosen to retain the personal licence system, but the content of the proposed new licence has been considerably reduced and now, I fear, contains inadequate detail. The proposed new licence removes much of the detail from the previous licence, and places greater emphasis on an individual’s training and competency record. Potential licensees will have to specify only the broad categories of animals and experimental techniques they want to use, whereas the previous licence required a detailed list of techniques, along with details of the species and the stage of development of the animals to be used. The information will now be held in a training and competency record within the establishment, which could lead to inconsistencies.
Is it not also important to ensure that staff are not asked to undertake duties that they are not competent in or trained to perform, because of the risk of unnecessary cruelty to animals?
The hon. Lady anticipates something I was going to come on to. It would be particularly pertinent to ensure that that was the case when someone had to step in to undertake a procedure, perhaps because the individual who usually did it was off sick, or for another reason. I am concerned that the watering down of the licensing regime could lead to staff being asked to undertake procedures in such a way.
I contend that the personal licence should set formal, legal boundaries with respect to what people are, and are not, allowed to do. The fear is that the new licence will erode the previous protection. The processes that establishments put in place for ensuring that all persons are both trained and competent will need to be robustly enforced by the Home Office.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. Does he think that there ought to be some provision that would protect staff from having to carry out procedures they did not wish to carry out, within the licensing system?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Just as the new licensing system should ensure that people carrying out procedures are properly qualified, people who have an objection to certain types of procedure should have such protection afforded to them. I am grateful for that helpful intervention.
The project licence has already been rewritten several times over previous years, with animal users being fully engaged and account taken of their views. There may be pressure from establishments for the amount of paperwork to be further reduced, but that could seriously affect the ability of the local ethical body and the Home Office to carry out a proper assessment of whether the three R’s of replacement, reduction and refinement had effectively been applied, and so consider the justification for using animals.
Despite the number of animal procedures increasing, recent years have seen reductions in the number of Home Office inspectors and the number of visits they make to research establishments. As the animals in science regulation unit is fully funded through fees paid by those holding licences to use animals, the inspectorate must be re-strengthened and given adequate resourcing to perform all its functions, including providing advice on welfare and promoting good and best practice.
The new Animals in Science Committee—ASC—has a wider remit than the Animal Procedures Committee—APC—had under previous legislation. Completely new tasks include advising ethical bodies on animal care and use, ensuring the sharing of best practice, and exchanging information with the national committees in other EU member nations. Despite the new functions, no extra funding or resource has been made available, and the remuneration for the chair has been withdrawn. The Home Office should demonstrate that it takes the role of the ASC seriously, by releasing the protocol for its operation and resourcing it properly.
There are several steps that would enable the number of experiments to be reduced significantly. One would be to ban the importing of primates for use in experiments. In 2011, 47% of primates used in the UK were sourced from outside the EU. A recent British Union Against Vivisection investigation found that a breeding centre in Mauritius was killing monkeys that were not of the correct size. Another important step would be rigorous implementation of the new regulations, especially those relating to ethical consideration of whether and how animals are used. A third important step would be better implementation of the three R’s—the replacement of animals with humane alternatives, a reduction in animal use, and refinement to reduce suffering and improve welfare. Fourthly, it is important to have an effective system that ensures that all persons involved are well trained in the legal, ethical, animal welfare and three R’s issues, and are fully competent with respect to practical skills.
A fifth step would be to introduce more transparency into the system by repealing section 24 of the 1986 Act, which enables information about animal experiments to remain secret. Other steps would be to set a detailed timetable for the ending of all research not for medical purposes, which could reduce the number of experiments by an estimated 87%, and to ban the most severe experiments allowed by the new European directive. In transposing the new directive, the Government have, unfortunately, yet to rule out those aspects, which means that animals could, for example, be subjected to repeated electric shock treatment to induce a state of learned helplessness or be forced to do exercise until they suffered from exhaustion. Although the transposition is now complete, the Government still have time to issue a policy statement making it clear that no project licences will be granted for such experiments. In particular, more must be done to end suffering that is graded as severe.
Only absolutely necessary animal experimentation should be allowed. To do otherwise is bad science, inefficient and ultimately cruel.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on securing this debate, and on outlining in such depth and detail the case against not animal experimentation per se, but the huge number of unnecessary experiments. He says that we need to get to a situation in which only absolutely essential tests continue. I would very much like one day to see a world in which there was no animal testing, but I accept that, at the moment, we should be lobbying and campaigning for a gradual incremental approach, highlighting the fact that there is so much duplication of unnecessary animal tests and that there are areas in which it is completely unethical to test products on animals.
Cosmetic testing is the one such area in which I think most people would support that kind of lobbying work. Indeed, public opinion polls show that the vast majority are against cosmetic testing on animals, which is one of those things that, if asked, people are very much against, but they struggle as consumers to put that into practice. People like me might spend ages looking at all the labels on everything—the Leaping Bunny logo is useful if people are trying to find a product that has not been tested on animals anywhere through the supply chain—but many others are misled by products such as Herbal Essences. People think that because something has “herbal” or “natural” in its name, all the ingredients must be derived from the plant world with no chemicals. They also extrapolate that those products are humane and not tested on animals, whereas we know that in most cases they are, or at least they are produced by companies that do a lot of animal testing.
It has taken 20 years to get to the stage where the cosmetic testing ban is about to come into force. In 1991, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection set up the European coalition of leading animal protection organisations with the aim of ending the use of animal testing for cosmetics. We now have the ban on the import and sale of animal-tested cosmetic products and ingredients, which comes into force on 11 March.
I am interested to know how that ban will be enforced—I believe that that is the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I recently asked a question of the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) and was told that her Department is working with trading standards to develop guidance for local authority trading standards services on implementing the ban. My concern is that trading standards has many other things on its plate, that it is not well resourced and that it is affected by cuts, as are many other public sector bodies. Will the Minister tell us whether the guidance has already been published? Will there be consultation? What is the timetable for disseminating that guidance to local authority trading standards, and what training will there be on implementing the guidance? What enforcement action are local authority trading standards likely to take?
There needs to be more proactive testing of cosmetics during the import process, rather than waiting to try to catch people in shops and market stalls who are selling products that are still being tested. We ought to be able to stop those products from coming into the UK in the first place. The BUAV suggests that that could involve an inspector checking documentation to ensure that batches are compliant. Not only would that act as a deterrent to companies that might want to chance their arm, but it would uncover anything before it reached the market. When we consider the way in which the recent horsemeat situation came to light, everyone would agree that we should not find out after the event that something such as horsemeat has entered the food chain; we want to stop it coming into the country in the first place. Will the Minister examine the BUAV’s proposal to ensure that the ban is properly implemented?
The pledge to end testing household products on animals was set out in the coalition agreement in 2010. I remember in the run-up to the 2010 general election there was an event in Parliament at which speakers from the three main political parties pledged their support. Obviously, there is political will to do something, and the Government have said that no project licences will be granted for testing household products on animals.
When I recently tabled a parliamentary question asking for the definition of “household product,” the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice answered:
“There is no authoritative definition of ‘household product’ in UK or European legislation.”
He said that new guidelines will apply to
“‘substances used in the household’”,
and that decisions will be made
“on a case by case basis.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 151W.]
Obviously, substances “used in the household” may cover a wide range of things, and I could imagine getting into a dispute about whether something will be covered by those rules.
As the hon. Member for Crawley said, there is no mention of any restriction on testing the ingredients of household products. As the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice confirmed, Government figures for 2011 show that the number of tests on finished household products was zero. So implementing a ban on the testing of finished products will not achieve anything; it is the ingredients that are important. When the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), who was then a Minister in the Department, was asked about that in 2011, she said that when the ban is introduced, it will
“apply to both finished household products and their ingredients, although in practice mainly the latter are tested.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2011; Vol. 526, c. 80W.]
I would be grateful if the Minister elaborated on that. Does the ban apply to ingredients, as well as to finished products? If the ban applies only to finished products, how effective will it be? Or is the ban simply an empty gesture?
A new version of some household products seems to hit the market every few months. One moment we are told that a washing powder is the best ever and that it gets everything 100% white—it is marvellous, wonderful and cutting edge, and nothing could be better. Then, three months later, there is suddenly a new, improved version. That constant drive to get market share, to sell a new product and to present it as something different in some ways buys into the need to test more things that go into the product. Perhaps I am a bit old-fashioned, but we have plenty of household products that are capable of washing our clothes and cleaning our floors and windows. We do not need to introduce any new products or ingredients. We certainly do not need to do so at the expense of animals that have to have ingredients tested on them.
I hosted an event in Parliament on 16 January, which the hon. Member for Crawley attended. At that event, the Dr Hadwen Trust announced that it is funding the first professorial post in animal replacement science at Queen Mary, university of London. The post is an academic position, and another researcher will also be funded as part of the unit. They will be working solely on replacements for, and the reduction of, testing on animals. That means that the UK will be at the forefront of efforts to provide alternatives to animal testing. The new professor will be appointed in the next few months and will be based at the Blizard institute. The professor will particularly look at things such as developing in vitro models using human cells and tissue, and developing three-dimensional models in cutaneous gastroenterology and cancer research, which is a welcome move that provides credibility to the field of animal replacement.
People often think that the debate is just scientists against people who care about cuddly animals and have an emotional response, rather than people who are interested in the most effective scientific methods. At the launch, it was interesting that so many research scientists came up to me saying, “We don’t actually think that testing on animals is an effective way of doing it. We don’t think it gets the right results. Mice are genetically not the right animals to test something that we are developing to treat humans.” The professorial post creates credibility for the search for alternatives to testing on animals, which is important.
I welcome what the hon. Lady is saying. She talked earlier about science and new technology. Does she welcome the fact that, last year, the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research established 15 PhDs to consider alternatives to animal experiments? I think it is great to see both more scientists and more funding.
That is another welcome development. The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research has done some good work, but more can be done. As we know, the number of animal experiments has gone up, partly because of medical developments, new forms of testing, and so on. I will judge the centre’s success by the reduction in the number of overall animal experiments, rather than success in one area and increased tests elsewhere.
Is it not also important that the key Departments work together on reducing the incidence of animals used in research? The Home Office regulates research, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs funds much of the research and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills often funds academia to undertake research on alternatives. Is it not important that those Departments should be committed to working together to deliver the coalition Government’s objective?
That is true, and I would add the Department of Health into the mix with its role in new drugs, safety standards, and so on. To an extent, the issue has suffered from being parked in the Home Office. The previous Minister, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green, for example, had the equalities brief and so much else to deal with that did not sit neatly with addressing the animal experimentation side of things. There is a tendency for the issue to be sidelined and not given the attention that it deserves. It would have been better to pull it together in a cross-cutting way under one post.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. The recent legislation carrying forward the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 came into force in January 2013. It requires that alternative non-animal research techniques be used in medical research if available. Researchers must ensure that, wherever possible, a scientifically satisfactory method or testing strategy not entailing the use of live animals should be used, and the number of animals used in projects should be reduced to a minimum. How will scientists know whether a non-animal alternative method is available, given that no central database currently exists? Without such a resource, how will the Home Office be able to monitor compliance properly or encourage the promotion of alternatives?
As I mentioned earlier, that topic leads into the ongoing problem of duplication. Currently, researchers have no way of knowing the results of previous experiments involving animals. An experiment at Cardiff university, for example, which involved sewing up the eyelids of newborn kittens had already been done elsewhere; it had turned out to be fruitless in finding a cure for lazy eye in children. Has the Home Office assessed the feasibility of introducing a central database that licence holders would have to search before submitting a project application? I understand that it has been discussed recently at European level in working groups, but that no progress was made. Why, and what steps will the Minister commit to take to help those discussions progress?
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way before coming to the end of her contribution. She is absolutely right about duplication, but one problem is that not all scientific work is published, because sometimes no journal is willing to publish it. Would it not be a good idea to have a system of open access, so that all work could be published on a database and everybody could have access to it, even if journals were not prepared to publish it?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is partly that results of some research are not publicly disseminated, but there is also an issue of commercial confidentiality where products for sale are involved. People do not want to reveal in what direction their thoughts are headed, in case someone steals their research and comes up with a similar product. They do not want to give their rivals a commercial advantage. I can see why drug companies, for example, would resist the idea of a central database, but we definitely need to go down the path of open access.
Finally, I hope that the Minister will welcome the creation of the professorial chair at Queen Mary, university of London. Can he do anything in conjunction with his colleagues at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to roll it out in the research departments of other universities in the UK?
It is a genuine pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Sheridan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on securing this important debate. The participants so far have certainly reflected quality rather than quantity.
Over the past few decades, many improvements have been made to the welfare of animals in research laboratories. We banned testing for cosmetic products and toiletries back in 1998, and conditions have improved under strict adherence to the three R’s. Unfortunately, as has been said, the number of animals used in scientific research continues to increase.
The guiding principles for the humane use of animals in scientific research are known as the three R’s: replace, reduce and refine. According to those principles, scientists must prove that there are no alternatives to using animals, use the minimum possible number of animals and refine their experiments to ensure that animals suffer as little as possible. The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research is the organisation working on the coalition Government’s pledge to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. According to its research, drastic advances have been made in implementing the three R’s. As a result, thousands fewer animals are being used in certain experiments.
The problem of animal testing is global, and progress towards minimising its use has been hit and miss. As of March this year, EU law will prohibit not only animal testing for cosmetics within the EU, but importing any cosmetic products tested on animals outside the EU. Sadly, many companies responding to the growing appetite for cosmetic products among China’s middle classes are abandoning their cruelty-free status and resuming animal testing. Chinese law currently requires all cosmetics to be tested on animals to ensure that they are safe for humans. The law forces cosmetic companies to test every product in that way, even products that have been tested by other means and deemed safe.
There is knowledge within China of how to test cosmetics without animals. A grant from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals helped train a number of Chinese scientists at Beijing technology and business university to test cosmetic ingredients without using animals. Perhaps we should add the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the long list of Departments mentioned by the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and involve it in cross-departmental action and discussion on the protection of animals from cruelty.
The hon. Gentleman might be aware that one of my other hats is shadow Foreign Office Minister. I talk to animal welfare groups, and then I meet ambassadors or visiting delegations. People have raised with me the dog meat trade in the Philippines, for example, but the problem is that, if our Foreign Office representatives go over there, that issue will be so far down their agenda that they never raise it. There are far more important issues of trade, defence, security and so on to raise. I accept entirely his point that the FCO should be involved as well.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention.
I hope that the training will ensure that if China changes the law requiring mandatory animal testing of cosmetics, scientists will know how to test products without using animals. The only way that the situation within China will change is if pressure is put on the Chinese Government to change their laws.
The claim that animal testing is needed for safety reasons does not hold up, given that the EU and many countries around the world manage to ensure that products are safe without involving animals. It is important that we all encourage cosmetic companies to put principles before profits and, rather than reversing years of progress, to stay firm by refusing to conduct tests on animals. Testing on animals is not necessary, and the companies that have started using animals again are doing so only to increase their profits.
We have a number of great companies here in Britain, such as The Body Shop, Lush and many others, which refuse to stock products tested on animals. I hope that we can do more to promote such companies and refuse to buy from the growing number of companies that are selling out by needlessly testing their products on animals. I hope that the Minister can give us some reassurance that the Government are aware of the growing problem and will introduce measures to reduce it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on securing this debate and speaking expertly and clearly about the four issues that he wanted to raise, particularly the importance of reducing the number of animal experiments —he pointed out the 1.9% increase in their number—and the issue of inspections. I will address both those issues in my contribution.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who reaffirmed and reinforced the point that animal testing should be carried out only when essential. She explained duplication in animal testing and raised the issue of public opinion on cosmetic animal testing, as well as asking numerous detailed questions that I hope the Minister will address. I thank the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) for giving us an international perspective. He spoke about the high-quality contributions that had been made to the debate, and his was one. He talked about the global challenges we face and about the need for a global strategy.
I should say that I am standing in for the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). If people want to raise issues, I will make sure they get the answers they require.
Many Members talked about the EU directive, which the Labour party was proud to support. It ensures that welfare standards do not drop below a certain level. Where the standards in it were lower than those in the UK, the Labour party called on the Government to maintain the UK’s high standards, and I am pleased to say there was broad agreement on that. Where the directive raised standards, we of course welcomed the extra protection.
As Members have said, the key to how the regulations work will be in the detail of the codes of practice. Although we have not seen all the regulations, I can assure hon. Members that the Labour party will examine them in great detail when they are published to ensure the UK remains a leader on animal welfare standards.
Although the directive will come into force under this Government, it is the result of 10 years’ work, much of which was done by the previous Labour Government and our MEPs, who were instrumental in strengthening the animal welfare provisions in the European Parliament so that all EU countries have the same basic standards of animal welfare for the first time. That will not only protect animals from unnecessary suffering, but prevent UK bioscience jobs from going to other EU countries, thus ensuring that one of our most important sectors remains competitive with its rivals around the world.
It is essential that the Government’s policy on animal experimentation continues to strike the right balance. As Members have said, it is vital that we keep a watchful eye on the number of experiments being conducted. The Labour party supports the coalition agreement to reduce the number of experiments conducted on animals, and we want to ensure that the Government stick to their pledge. As Members will be aware, the number of experiments involving animals has been steadily rising for a number of years, reaching a 25-year high in 2011.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise to the Minister to hear that the shadow Front-Bench team are as concerned about the issue as we were when my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North raised it towards the end of last year. Clearly, the Government need to examine the issue and to get to grips with the numbers as quickly as possible. As with any other issue, Governments are judged on what they say and what they deliver, and this issue should be no different. The Government need to work with the bioscience industry to ensure that progress is made.
The shadow Front-Bench team’s other concern, which the hon. Member for Crawley also raised, is the fall in the number of laboratory inspections and the closure of regional inspection offices. The Labour party’s stance on the issue remains the same. The UK has some of the world’s highest animal welfare standards, but the number of inspections has fallen, while regional inspection offices have been closing. We have understandable concerns about how the Government expect to implement those closures without compromising the quality of inspections and animal welfare standards. The public, campaign groups, animal rights groups and the Labour party expect the Government to ensure policy is strictly enforced.
We have heard a lot about the three R’s, and I reaffirm the importance of the need to reduce the number of animals used, to refine experiments to avoid suffering and to replace animals where possible.
Animal experimentation is an issue that both sides of the House can feel passionate about, and I have no doubt that it will remain high on the agenda of animal welfare groups and our bioscience industry. It is essential that the Government continue to do their utmost to guarantee that their policy on animal experimentation is well protected.
To conclude, I have two questions for the Minister. First, I ask him to address the rise in the number of animal experiments and the steps the Government are taking. Secondly, has an assessment been made of the impact of the fall in the number of laboratory inspections on the quality of inspections and animal welfare standards?
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) on securing the debate, which has been a good one. I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero) in the Chamber, standing in for the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson).
I am pleased that colleagues have given me time to elaborate at length on all the points raised by my hon. Friend and other Members, including, in particular, the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). First, however, I will set out a bit of context. I can do that because we have time left, so people will not think this is an excuse for not getting to my hon. Friend’s detailed questions.
The position of both coalition parties—I think it is shared on both sides of the House—is that we should license the use of animals only when it is essential and when there is no alternative. That is, indeed, Government policy, and it was the policy of the previous Government.
As several Members, including my hon. Friend, said, our current legislation—the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986—has recently been revised to transpose European directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. There were two key objectives in the new directive. One was to strengthen the protection of animals used in scientific procedures, and the other was to promote the three R’s—strategies that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in scientific procedures. The hon. Member for Bristol East asked about an academic post in that regard, and I will come to that in a little while.
The Government have fully embraced those aims in transposing the directive. The amended Act provides a high level of protection for animals. As several Members have made clear, work cannot be licensed if it could be carried out without using animals. The procedures must also cause the minimum possible suffering to the smallest number of animals of the lowest sensitivity.
We have taken the opportunity to place in the legislation absolute bans on the use of great apes and stray animals of domestic species. We have retained stricter United Kingdom standards, which provide for: special protection for cats, dogs and horses, in addition to non-human primates; protection for immature forms of birds and reptiles; larger enclosure and cage sizes for dogs and a number of other species; and more humane methods of killing animals. Those measures are necessary and justified on animal welfare grounds and to maintain public confidence that animals used in experiments and testing will continue to be properly protected.
At the same time, animal experiments continue, at the moment, to be necessary if improvements in health care are to be developed with the minimum of delay. It is a fact that our national health service would be unable to function effectively were it not for the availability of medicines and treatments that have been developed and tested through research using animals. Almost every form of conventional medical treatment has relied in part on the study of animals. That includes asthma treatments and medicines for ulcers, schizophrenia and depression, polio vaccine, and kidney dialysis and transplants—those are just a few examples.
While we accept that animal experiments are effective and necessary, they should be used only when the benefits have been carefully weighed against the costs to the animals; when there is no other way of achieving the desired result; when the procedures applied to the animals will cause the least suffering possible; when the minimum number of animals will be used to achieve the outcome; and when high standards of animal welfare are applied. That approach closely reflects what the public want. They understand the necessity and importance of using animal experiments in some areas, but they want the number of such experiments to be the minimum necessary.
While animal welfare considerations must always be paramount, the use of animals in scientific procedures is extraordinarily expensive, so there is pressure in that sense to ensure that other forms of experimentation are used where appropriate.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is sometimes a caricature of those involved in research. If they had alternatives to using animals, they would implement them; they use animals because there are not currently alternatives in all cases. My hon. Friend puts his finger on the issue: the use of animals for experiments, particularly in a country such as the UK, which has high standards, is expensive. Companies use animals only because there are not more effective remedies. Also, they are conscious that they could develop effective alternatives that would also be more cost-effective. However costly—in several senses—animal experiments are, if there are no alternatives, those cannot be used; but many pressures are pushing researchers towards the use of alternatives when they are available, and that is welcome to all of us, including my hon. Friend.
We also accept that regulation must not be overly bureaucratic, so we have made some small but important changes, allowing us to simplify the detail required in personal licences and the way we process applications for them. Another important change in the revised Act is the requirement placed on member states to collect and publish statistical information, on not just the number of animals used, but the severity of the procedures applied to them. Publication of information about the experience of the animals will be an advance in transparency. Combined with the mandatory requirement to publish non-technical summaries of authorised projects, that will help to inform the parliamentary and public debate .
To what extent is security an issue affecting the making public of the kinds of testing that are going on? I do not agree with some of the more extreme, violent protests used to highlight animal testing. Would that prevent some experiments from being made public?
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. This may be a good time to pick up on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley about section 24 of the 1986 Act, which, as he said, currently prohibits the disclosure by Home Office Ministers and officials, other than in their discharge of functions under the Act, of confidential information about the use of animals in scientific procedures. There are two reasons for the provision. One relates to the hon. Lady’s point, and covers information that might put individuals at risk from those people who sadly are not content with democratic decision making and debate, but choose to use violence—something that we in the House would all abhor. In addition, the provision protects intellectual property. I think that I can say a little more on that than my hon. Friend did.
The Government agree that section 24 is not framed satisfactorily. There is little room for manoeuvre, and it acts somewhat as a blanket ban on disclosing information. It can, for example, make it difficult for Home Office inspectors to share good practice between establishments. The hon. Lady raised that, and so did my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley. The problem is that clear consensus about what we should do did not emerge in the recent public consultation on the transposition of the European directive—whether we should repeal the section or change it in some way. There was a range of views, and we wanted, as my hon. Friend said, to give it further thought. As to a timetable—I think that is what he was after—I can be a bit more specific. We are doing that work now, over the next six months, and aim to report our conclusions to Parliament before the House rises for the summer. I hope that that gives some reassuring firmness to the timetable.
The problem was that many of the people who responded to the consultation did not like the status quo, but there was no really clear sense of what to replace it with. We must be mindful of the two issues I raised: intellectual property, which it is legitimate for researchers to protect; and the extent to which we need to protect those involved in important work. Changes to the regime for animal welfare should be made by Parliament, after legitimate public debate. They should not happen because people take it on themselves to try to drive out of business through intimidation and violence those who conduct lawful work. Those are the things that we shall be thinking through: being as open as possible, but with those two constraints. I hope that that is helpful, and that that approach is widely shared in the House.
It is probably worth picking up the point about statistics, which my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley and several other hon. Members raised. He is correct to say that the latest statistics, for 2011, showed that the number of animals used in experiments and testing was higher than it had been for some years. It was not the highest ever number. The high point was reached in statistics produced under the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, which preceded the current legislation: in the 1970s about 5 million animals were used. Thus there has been a drop, but my hon. Friend is right to say that the number is going up.
An interesting point arises in that context, which brings me back to a point made by the hon. Member for Ashfield, about the United Kingdom’s reputation as a place to do life sciences and bioscience. I understand that that industry is growing in the UK, more quickly than the increase in the number of animals used; so the usage of animals for each £1 of research, or however one might characterise it, is falling, but more such work is being done in the UK. It seems to me that that is a good thing, because we want that work to be done here; we want those generally well-paid jobs to be in the United Kingdom. Also, because we have high standards of welfare in our animal testing regime, it is better for animals, if research is to take place anywhere in the world, for it to happen in the UK. However, if the size of the business in the UK grows, that may mean that even if the number of animals used for every given type of research falls, the overall number goes up.
Of course, the quickest way to reduce the number of animals would be to drive the work overseas, which would not be good for the United Kingdom, for jobs or for animal welfare. We must be thoughtful about the numbers. We should consider the size of the industry and the work that is being carried out, and whether we are driving down the proportion of animals being used in that work. We need to think about the global position. It is a coalition Government objective to get more of the life sciences business—the bioscience industry—in the United Kingdom. As the hon. Member for Ashfield said, the Opposition support that, and if we attract such business here more quickly than we manage to deliver on the three R’s, the number of animals that are used will rise. However, we may be driving down the rate at which they are used, while the industry grows. That is a bit of a conundrum, and I do not have the answer, but it shows that care should be exercised in using statistics.
The Minister makes a good point. I put a question to the Home Office about the number of animals used for experimentation in Wales, and was surprised that the figure had gone up; but after I visited Cardiff university, I understood that its success in attracting research funds, and its high status in life sciences and bioscience, was the reason for the rise.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I was really only cautioning about the need to examine data and be careful about how we apply it. It is also worth commenting on the way statistics are set out, which was put into primary legislation. The most significant number relates to the breeding of genetically modified animals—largely mice. When the relevant table was designed, that was a small number at the end. Most of the animals that are bred—1.4 million mice—are used in other areas of research: they might well be used in medicine studies, or in fundamental biological research, but they are not categorised in that way. We need to be careful about categories and how we define uses. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley said that only 13% of procedures relate to applied studies for human medicine or dentistry; but, of course, the remaining 87% includes fundamental research, which can involve any of the categories; and applied veterinary studies and the protection of man, animals and the environment also underpin much medical research. Again, therefore, it is worth being cautious about numbers and what we read into them.
Several hon. Members mentioned enforcement. It is no good having good legislation if we do not enforce it properly. The Home Office inspectorate picks up much of that work. The Home Office inspectors are skilled individuals. They are all registered medical or veterinary practitioners and usually have first-hand experience of biomedical research and possess higher scientific or clinical postgraduate qualifications. Their work underpins the 1986 Act. They provide advice to the Secretary of State on licence applications, and technical and operational advice on issues related to regulating animal experiments. They also visit the facilities where work is carried out, to check compliance with licences and certificates and to provide advice on applications and good practice.
The majority of visits are unannounced. The relationship between inspectors, licence holders and animal care staff is critical to our implementation of the regulatory framework. We want to be careful not to jeopardise that. The Government are committed to maintaining a strong, properly resourced inspectorate with a full programme of inspections.
There is no magic number of inspections. Under the revised Act, there is a risk assessment for determining the frequency of inspection. We look at the number and type of procedures that take place at an establishment; the severity of those procedures; the number and species of animals housed and used; any special conditions placed on the licences; the history of compliance of that institution; and any information that might come to light and indicate non-compliance with the terms of the licence. That means that inspectors focus their effort where they can be most effective.
The Government made two specific and important commitments on animal research and testing, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley and Opposition Members. One was to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research, and the other was to end the testing of household products on animals.
The commitment to work to reduce the use of animals is ambitious. There is no quick fix, as people have acknowledged. We want genuine reductions that improve animal welfare. We must be careful not to drive work abroad to countries where, it is generally accepted, standards are lower and there may be less stringent guidelines. The strategy should be science-led and that is why we have asked the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research to take a leading role in its delivery.
That might be a good point to pick up something the hon. Member for Bristol East said. She referred to the Dr Hadwen Trust chair in replacements. We welcome that. Home Office officials meet that trust regularly and we look forward to seeing the impact of its professorial post. That is a welcome step towards the science of replacement methods and will contribute to our commitment. The hon. Lady raised the specific question about the extent to which it could be rolled out elsewhere. We will take that away and think about how we might practically do that.
The Home Office takes this issue very seriously. Lord Taylor of Holbeach this morning visited a research laboratory to observe the work. He also has a close relationship with the Minister for Universities and Science, and they work closely together on examining trends in the industry, attracting life sciences to the UK and the implications for regulating this area. There is a fair bit of joined-up activity between the Home Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The hon. Lady also raised information sharing. I mentioned in connection with section 24 that that sometimes gets in the way of inspectors sharing best practice. We will think about that as we consider how we change that section. She also mentioned databases and alternatives to animal testing. Several databases already exist. A new role has been created of the named information officer, who, we hope, will be able to assist scientists in searching for alternatives. I have said this before, but I repeat that nobody really wishes to use animals when there are alternatives. We need to make it easier for those involved to seek those alternatives and use them where we can.
Several other issues were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley and supported by others. The number of procedures conducted for testing household products and their ingredients has fallen since 1997. There were no procedures under that heading in 2011. We have already announced our commitment to end testing household products on animals, to be implemented using licensing powers under the 1986 Act. We will put a condition on the relevant product licences. We have consulted on that to get a working definition of “household product”, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Bristol East. We are close to finalising a definition that we think will be workable—there is no point having one that is not. We will make an announcement on that in due course.
Several responses to the consultation favoured inclusion of ingredients in the ban, a point made by the hon. Lady. That is a bit more complicated than it might at first appear. Some substances used as ingredients in household products can have other uses. There are also ingredients, such as chemicals and biocides, that under other legislation have mandatory safety testing requirements that involve using animals. Therefore, it is quite a difficult area. We are in the process of thinking the matter through to come up with something that is workable and sensible, but does not have a chain of unforeseen consequences. It is complicated, and an obvious answer did not present itself during the consultation. I assure the hon. Lady that we are thinking and working on that, but rushing to do it and getting it wrong would not be helpful. I hope that she can take it on trust for the moment that the thought processes are under way. I have listened carefully to what she and my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley said and will feed that into our thinking.
My hon. Friend also talked about the mid-term review. He was slightly concerned by the use of the past tense. That was simply because it was a mid-term review, looking back over the first period of government. However, we are very much in the present tense in terms of continuing work. The national centre I talked about is actively pursuing a wide range of initiatives, including increased funding for three R’s work in universities. It supports innovation in the three R’s through its CRACK IT programme. It looks at new disciplines such as engineering and mathematics to reduce animal use. I think the hon. Member for Bristol East touched on that when she talked about the professorial post.
Other initiatives include working with regulators to reduce animal use, investment in education and training and support for stem cell and tissue engineering technologies. There is quite a lot of work going on led by experts in their field. That is what we want: a science-led approach to driving some of the change. That was touched on by my hon. Friend, and by the hon. Lady when she spoke about those involved in the business having alternative methods of delivering testing and safety assessments.
My hon. Friend also talked about the animals in science committee—the advisory committee that is in the process of being set up. There will be a working protocol agreed with the committee chair that sets up the size and qualifications of the committee. That working protocol will be published and will set out the issues that will be automatically submitted to the committee for advice. It will also cover important issues such as the promotion of the three R’s.
My hon. Friend talked about the use of non-human primates and their importation. Many people have a particular concern about the use of non-human primates in scientific research. It is a small part of animal research compared with overall usage, but it is an important part. In the UK, we use small numbers of non-human primates for developing and testing vaccines against some of the world’s largest killers, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB, and for the potential future treatment of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The majority—about three quarters—of the primates used in 2011 were used for the safety testing of medicines.
Most such primates are sourced outside the UK, where animals of the right quality are readily available—I am afraid that that comes down to our not-brilliant climate. For those particular animals, rearing them in the UK is not viable, as they would have to be reared inside. It is much easier to rear them outside in overseas locations, which makes the process more productive. Banning their importation would harm essential work. However, what is important, as my hon. Friend said, is for those who import the animals to ensure that the suppliers they deal with have proper controls and processes in place so that, in the breeding part of the operation, the animals are well treated.
My hon. Friend also talked about the personal licence system, which identifies the individual, the place where the work will be carried out, the species authorised for use and the types of techniques. Granting a licence depends, as it did previously, on a demonstration that the person has done the appropriate training, both for the species they are using and the techniques they are carrying out. The application requires a declaration by the local named training and competence officer to confirm that that level of training has been carried out by the applicant, and that the list of species that may be authorised is similar to the previous descriptions provided by applicants. It is also similar to a list used for the statistical returns. It is personal to the individual, which is important—when we debated the transposition of the directive, the personal link was felt to be welcome and valuable—and so it is not transferable to someone else. Furthermore, not only training, but the practical work experience under supervision, is important. That is something that the Home Office inspectors can monitor on their visits—not only someone’s initial training, but the practical experience under supervision to ensure compliance with the terms of the personal licence.
The hon. Member for Bristol East asked a couple of questions to do with cosmetics. She rightly noted that the UK banned the testing of finished cosmetics and ingredients in 1997 and 1998, because the Government considered the justification for using animals to be inadequate given the benefits of the products and the alternative tests available. She also referred to the European cosmetics directive; the EU banned animal testing for finished cosmetics in 2004 and for ingredients in 2009. To meet the requirements of the directive, a partial marketing ban was also implemented in 2009. It banned the supply of cosmetics for which animal tests had been carried out anywhere in the world, but did not extend to the test for the three most complex human effects of testing. A full marketing ban, which includes such tests and to which the hon. Lady referred, is expected to come into effect on 11 March, regardless of the fact that validated replacement tests are not available.
The ban is not a complete sales ban on all animal-tested cosmetics. Some parts of the world, as discussed by my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders), insist on animal testing as a regulatory requirement, so products subject to such a regime are not banned from the EU. Nevertheless, animal testing to meet the requirements of EU cosmetics legislation will be prohibited once the marketing ban enters into force. That is a bit complicated, and I have probably made things less clear, rather than clearer. The impetus, however, will come from consumer pressure, which the hon. Lady talked about, and transparency. Moreover, as other countries develop, as their consumers become more sophisticated—as happened in this country—and as their legislative processes improve, they will come under pressure on such issues. It is helpful, working through the Foreign Office and elsewhere, for us to explain what we have done in the UK and the EU to set our standards, to show that we can deliver on testing when necessary, or simply to lead by example when it is not necessary. We can all participate in that.
The hon. Member for Bristol East mentioned enforcement of the marketing ban, which does indeed fall to local authority trading standards, on which the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills leads. I will talk to my colleagues in BIS to see where that issue has got to and how it is being rolled out to trading standards departments. It may be rather dreadful to hand the action over to my colleagues, but I will ask them to look into the subject and to write to the hon. Lady. I will put a copy of the reply in the Library. I suspect that she will then use that information to go and duff up her local trading standards organisation, to ensure that it is fully engaged in that important work.
I hope that I have set out the Government’s approach. My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley made a wide-ranging speech. I think I have addressed all his questions, as well as those asked by the hon. Member for Ashfield, who spoke for the Opposition. I am grateful for the shared work with the Opposition on the subject; when the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and I debated the transposition of the directive, she was machine-gunning her questions at me, so it did not feel entirely as if we were on the same side, but I machine-gunned all the answers back. A lot of the work in this area, however, which we supported, was done when the Labour party was in government, and now we are taking things forward with support from the Opposition.
The United Kingdom has a good reputation for delivering expertise in science and research, which is recognised throughout the world, and for doing so while delivering high standards of animal welfare and minimising the use of animals in research. That sends out all the right messages. Working together, we can continue to move in the right direction, minimising the use of animals, using them only when absolutely necessary and, if we do use them, having the highest possible standards. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley for the debate, which has been an excellent opportunity.