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Scientific Procedures on Living Animals

Volume 584: debated on Thursday 10 July 2014

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today laying before the House “Statistics of Scientific Procedures on living Animals, Great Britain 2013” (HC 372).

Overall, the annual statistical report shows a very small (0.3%) increase in the total number of procedures (4.12 million) performed during 2013 compared with 2012. Of the overall total, fewer than half (2.02 million) of the procedures were performed for purposes other than for breeding. This represents a 5% decrease in the number of such procedures compared with 2012. The majority were undertaken to breed genetically modified (GM) and harmful mutant (HM) animals. This represents an increase in such procedures of 6% compared with 2012.

Since 1995, the number of procedures undertaken for purposes other than to breed GM and HM animals has decreased by 16% whereas breeding to produce GM and HM animals has risen by 573%.

Procedures involving dogs, non-human primates, cats and horses (that is, specially protected species) have decreased by 23% since 1995 and, in 2013, accounted for only 0.4% of all procedures.

Mice, fish and rats were the most commonly used species in 2013, accounting for 93% of all the procedures carried out.

In 2013, the numbers of procedures for safety testing (toxicology) decreased by 0.5%. Since 1995, this use of animals has decreased by 45%.

The latest statistical report and supplementary information, including those for previous years, can be found at:

I am pleased to inform the House that I have also today placed in the Library the annual report of the Home Office “Animals in Science Regulation Unit” (ASRU) for the year 2013. The annual report can be found at: using-animals

The report describes how the Home Office has delivered its responsibilities under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act to regulate the use of animals, implement the new regulations as part of the delivery of the transposed directive, and engage with stakeholders. The report also provides details of inspection and cases of non-compliance with the Act and the outcomes of those cases completed in 2013.

The actual severity experienced by each animal used will be reported in the statistics from 2014 onwards and I welcome this change. The annual report describes a pilot study carried out to test the process of collecting and reporting such data. The results of this small sample showed over 80% of procedures to be mild, with 11% moderate and 2% reported as severe. The remaining 5% were considered to fall below the threshold for reporting.

A key area of ASRU’s work is promoting the 3Rs (replacement, refinement and reduction) which is at the heart of a coalition commitment to work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. In February of this year, together with the Minister for Universities and Science in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Earl Howe, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for quality, Department of Health, I published a delivery plan with a framework of measurable actions for delivering the commitment through a science-led programme across Government, its agencies, the research community in both academia and industry, and animal welfare organisations. The scientific and economic arguments to use alternatives to animals in research are now as strong as the moral one. I fully support the drive to develop methods to reduce the use of animals and which will also deliver fast, high quality research and boost the UK’s economic growth through cutting-edge competitiveness. My ministerial colleagues and I will report on progress in early 2015.

Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act provides for the protection of information, given in confidence, in connection with regulatory activities under the Act. I am committed to enhancing openness and transparency about the use of animals in scientific research, and I launched earlier this year a public consultation to review section 24 to which there has been a substantial response. Once I have given proper consideration to the views expressed I will publish the Government’s response. I intend to make changes to the legislation during this Parliament.

The coalition Government expects all licensed establishments to foster a strong culture of commitment to their compliance with all aspects of the regulations and their implementation. As the regulatory authority, the Home Office ensures that the provisions of the Act are rigorously applied and only authorises work that is justified and that minimises both the numbers of animals used and the animal suffering that may be caused. Earlier this year, to assist establishments to ensure their compliance, we published the guidance on the operation of the Act. In this, we explain in detail how we administer and enforce the Act, and also how we expect duty holders to deliver on their responsibilities.

In December I commissioned the Animals in Science Committee (ASC) to provide me with an independent report to consider lessons to be learnt from reviews and investigations into non-compliance stemming from allegations of non-compliance at Imperial College London (ICL). The ASC report was published on 2 July 2014 and I have today published my consideration of their advice.

The ASC found no evidence of omission on the part of ASRU and its inspectors in their oversight of ICL. I welcome and endorse their confidence in the work of inspectors. Nevertheless, the ASC report makes several sensible recommendations to support inspectors in achieving improvement in establishments where a pattern of low-level concerns is apparent. The outcome of all the ASC’s recommendations should be to drive better practice across all licensed establishments and I intend to ensure these improvements are made. I therefore propose to fully accept all the recommendations.

It is not acceptable for individuals to fall short of the obligations placed upon them as duty holders under the Act. The provision of a licence entrusts duty holders to uphold their legal obligations and to ensure the highest standards of animal care and welfare at all times. In this respect, I need to have total confidence in all those responsible for compliance under the Act.

I have discussed the ASC report with ICL and have now been informed by them that the current establishment licence holder has agreed to step down from holding that responsibility with immediate effect. I believe this will enable them to make a fresh start and move forward. I am pleased to note that that significant progress has already been made by ICL in addressing the matters identified.