[Julie Elliott in the Chair]
Before we begin, I encourage Members to wear masks when they are not speaking, in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. Please leave other Members and staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the Chamber.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petitions 581641 and 590216, relating to animal testing.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. The first petition, which calls for all animal testing in the UK to be banned, has attracted 236,000 signatures. The second, which calls for a phasing-out of animal experiments, has attracted more than 83,000 signatures and remains open.
Before I begin my remarks, I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my friend and colleague the late Sir David Amess. I am sure that everyone here will agree that it is particularly pertinent to remember him for, and praise his efforts in, fighting for animal rights. Indeed, on his last day in the Commons Chamber, he asked the Leader of the House to find time for a debate on World Animal Day. It is also relevant to note that he was a signatory to early-day motion 175, which, among other things, called on the Government to stop funding animal experimentation, which has been proven to be a failed practice, and to increase funding for state-of-the-art human-based research. I have no doubt that he would have been here to support the petitions, and it would be a fitting eulogy if the Government were to act on them.
The number of people who signed petition 581641 reflects how important the matter is to so many people. That is not surprising when we consider that every two minutes in the UK, a dog, cat, rabbit, rat, monkey, goat, sheep, mouse or fish is subject to animal testing, conducted on them against their sentience and welfare rights. Animal testing is a significant industry in the UK, where 3.4 million procedures took place in 2019. Let us not forget that animal tests have a 90% failure rate.
The UK Government responded to both petitions on 4 August, and, perhaps predictably, both responses used a very similar standard text. I hope that by opening the debate with a focus on the Government’s response to the first petition, I will also address some of the concerns raised in e-petition 590216. Before analysing the Government’s response, however, I will say a few words on how the petition came about.
Sarah Austin, who is here today, is a member of the collaborative partnership Merseyside Animal Rights. Sarah believes that the animal model for human medical research is outdated, and she is certainly not alone: her petition attracted signatures from the length and breadth of our countries, including 681 from my constituency of Linlithgow and East Falkirk. Indeed, there are a fair number of Scottish signatures, which is to be expected. Although animal welfare is a devolved area that the Scottish Government take seriously, animal cosmetics and scientific procedures are reserved to the UK Government.
Sarah’s work exemplifies how a single locally run voluntary group can influence like-minded people all around our nations. Without so many signatures, the debate would not be happening. It also shows how animal rights philosophy has advanced since the 18th century, when the English philosopher and legal theorist Jeremy Bentham wrote “An Introduction to the Principle of Morals and Legislation”, posing,
“the question is not, Can they reason?, nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?”
That is an early endorsement of the idea that the interests of animals are a moral and legal consideration.
Just last month, during the debate on real fur sales, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), set out how the UK Government have
“introduced landmark legislation in this Session that will recognise animals as sentient beings in UK law”
and that they are
“establishing an expert committee to ensure that animal sentience is considered as part of policy making.”—[Official Report, 14 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 320WH.]
That is a clear acknowledgment from the Government that animals can experience feelings and sensations. That is progress, but will it take another 240 years to acknowledge that animals, as sentient beings, deserve the same consideration as humans, and have the right not to suffer at our hands? We can exhibit social evolution sooner rather than later by taking steps now to ban animal testing across Britain. Will we be judged to have missed an opportunity in the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, which is currently being scrutinised in the other place, or do the Government have the courage to step into the 21st century and urgently consider enshrining in law other viable options for scientific research that do not involve animal suffering?
We should be aware that it is not a new concept. In 2004 The BMJ published the article, “Where is the evidence that animal research benefits humans?” That called for urgent clarification on clinical relevance of animal experiments, yet here we are 17 years later debating the issue. Some 10 years on, the same journal published, “How predictive and productive is animal research?”, which argued that,
“our ability to predict human responses from animal models will be limited by interspecies differences in molecular and metabolic pathways.”
The BMJ is not alone in highlighting medical failures of animal testing. In 2004, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported:
“Change is needed. Thirty years of experience with subcutaneous xenografts, human tumours implanted under the skin of the mouse, have satisfied few because so many drugs that cure cancer in these mice fail to help humans.”
With these few examples in mind, allow me now to discuss the Government’s response in some detail. They state that scientific research using animals is vital in understanding how biological systems work in health and disease. I have already touched on how there is a long-standing and growing body of evidence showing that non-animal methods of scientific research are superior. I am aware that the charity People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—PETA—recently produced literature highlighting other available methods for research into brain diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. These include neuroimaging techniques, which can be done non-invasively in diverse groups of patients and healthy volunteers, and can be coupled with tissue and cell sampling, micro-dosing, epidemiological analysis and other human-centred research methods. It is simply logical that human-based studies provide human-relevant data as well as sparing animals from immeasurable suffering.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy response said that the Government were overseeing the development of the three Rs technique, referring to replacing, reducing and refining the use of animals in research and its delivery of robust regulation. I can think of many words to describe regulation that allows factory-farmed puppies to be daily force-fed chemicals directly into their stomachs for up to 90 days with no pain relief or anaesthetic, but robust certainly is not one of them. I have not seen any evidence that the use of animals in research is being replaced, reduced or refined. The Minister might cite the top line in the publication of the most recent Government statistics, which states that in 2020 there was a decrease of 15% in scientific procedures carried out on living animals from the previous year. In case we forget, the report reminds us that the national lockdowns affected activity at research establishments last year.
Alarmingly, there was also an increase in the number of regulatory practices involving cats, dogs and horses in 2020 compared with 2019. According to the BEIS response, the Government
“believes scientific research using animals plays a vital part in our understanding of how biological systems work in health and disease.”
The response further states:
“The use of animals in science supports the development of new medicines and cutting-edge medical technologies… Many products which would be unsafe or ineffective in humans are detected through animal testing thus avoiding harm to humans.”
Unfortunately, however, there is growing scientific criticism of those statements. Let me bring one quote from another peer-reviewed journal to the Minister’s attention, which was published two years ago. A ScienceDirect article asserts that:
“Human subjects have been harmed in the clinical testing of drugs that were deemed safe by animal studies.”
That is a very sobering thought. Given the evidence for viable options that are now available, the Government response is certainly ambiguous when it states that,
“animals must only be used where there is no alternative.”
They say that, in addition to “robust regulation”, the Government achieve this through
“support/funding for non-animal alternatives.”
I and, I am sure, others here today would be most grateful if the Minister gave us the detail of how funding for “non-animal alternatives” has been increased and how that correlates to a decrease in animal experimentation. And when I say “detail”, I do not mean the headline figures that are mentioned in the Government response. I mean: tell us the minutiae of the funding that has been targeted towards human-based research.
My final question on the Government response is directed at where it says:
“Under UK law no animal testing may be conducted if there is a non-animal alternative available.”
As the limited examples that I have cited today show, non-animal alternatives are available, so my question is this: are animal testing establishments breaking the law? The elephant in the room is of course:
“In the UK, no animal testing may be conducted expect for a permissible purpose enshrined in law.”
In short, the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act needs to change. That is the nub of this petition, of the petition that is still open and of early-day motion 175, which my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) tabled.
If this Government really are
“committed to supporting, funding, and accelerating cutting edge technologies that allow animal use to be replaced or avoided”,
as they say in their response, let them put their money where their mouth is and enact that commitment. At the same time, they should remove animal experimentation as an “alternative” in scientific procedures, and simultaneously expedite effective cures and treatments for humans. I certainly hope the Government will take on board the petitioners’ request to ban all animal experimentation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Elliott. I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for introducing this important debate on behalf of all those people who have signed the petition and for giving such a persuasive speech, covering so many of the different areas that we need to talk about when debating this issue.
As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, more than 319,000 people have signed the petitions, which shows the huge strength of feeling on the issue across the UK. More than 200 people in my constituency of Putney have emailed me on animal welfare issues, ranging from testing, to warfare experiments, to sentencing. And nearly 300 of my constituents in Putney have signed this petition. I am sure that many more would have signed it if they had known about it. There is strong feeling about this issue, so I am glad to be debating it.
I have long believed that the UK should lead the world in high animal welfare standards. We are a nation of animal lovers, so this issue speaks very much to our British values. I became a vegetarian when I was 12, at school, because quite honestly the food was better on the vegetarians’ table and so I joined them. They were better company as well; we had a great time. Then I started looking into animal welfare issues. I am really grateful to organisations such as the Body Shop, Cruelty Free International and PETA for the information that they make available in order for us to understand what is quite a secret practice and the suffering of animals that goes on in animal testing. When I found out about that, I became a very committed animal rights activist, and have been ever since.
I am really glad and proud that the UK banned cosmetics testing on animals in 1997 and extended that to cosmetic ingredients in 1998. However, despite that—according to Cruelty Free International—in 2020 alone, 2.88 million experiments were carried out on animals in the UK. The UK reports conducting more animal tests than any other country in Europe. I think that that is not very well known by the public.
The Environment Bill, for which I was on the Bill Committee, was a perfect opportunity to make progress on this issue. I was really disappointed that the Government voted down a new clause that would have required the Secretary of State to set targets to reduce animal testing. The Government’s resistance to change in this area is very frustrating and, I think, the reason why so many people signed this petition—they want to see more action.
It is welcome that animal testing practices have improved and advanced greatly over recent years and that non-animal methods of research have also developed and improved over time, so it is time for a rethink. We should not let the scientific community just continue with this practice for lack of ever being questioned about it. I remain concerned at the lack of transparency around animal testing and project licence applications, as well as the continued permissibility of severe suffering, as defined in UK law.
Animal testing is not the answer to protecting people and the planet. In fact, there are major scientific problems with animal experiments. Significant differences in our genetic make-up mean that data from animal experiments cannot be reliably translated to people. The current reliance on animal experiments may well be holding back the progress that patients so urgently need. More than 92% of drugs that show promise in animal tests fail to reach the clinic and benefit patients, mostly for reasons of poor efficacy and safety that were not predicted by animal testing. If animal testing was 100% proven to really work, I do not think we would be having this debate. However, the fact that it causes suffering and does not work means that we absolutely need a rethink. Most animal tests have not been validated to modern standards, to prove that they do predict effects in humans, and there is a reluctance on the part of Government and regulators to do this.
As has been said, a growing range of cutting-edge techniques provide results that are directly relevant to people and can replace, or at the very least immediately significantly reduce, the use and the suffering of animals. These new-approach methodologies include the use of human cells and tissues, artificial intelligence, and organ-on-a-chip technology.
I echo the calls for the Minister in his response to give information about funding for these non-animal alternatives and about the route and deadlines by which we will move away from the suffering of animals in testing and to non-animal techniques. Put simply, there are better ways to make progress in public health and the environment while reducing and eliminating the suffering of animals in laboratories.
While we are speaking in this Chamber, a debate is taking place in the main Chamber on animal welfare. We must join these two things up. We cannot make progress on one side and, on another, continue this barbaric practice. If the UK is serious about its commitment to animal protection, the Government must stop the suffering. They must take decisive and ambitious action to phase out animal experiments and phase in the use of cutting-edge, human-relevant, non-animal techniques. Modernising medical research in this way will deliver major benefits, which the people of Britain want to see for people, animals and the economy.
It is a pleasure to speak under your chairship, Ms Elliot. I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for securing this debate and for helping to maintain pressure on the Government to retain their historic commitment to banning the inhumane practice of animal testing. I also pay tribute to organisations such as Cruelty Free International and For Life On Earth for the vital campaigning they have done over many years on this issue.
This is a very timely debate, following the tragic death of Sir David Amess. As Members will know, Sir David was passionate about animals and had long been admired for the animal welfare campaigns he led throughout his time in Parliament. Most notably, he was responsible for introducing the Protection against Cruel Tethering Act 1988. His legacy on this issue will continue. Last week, I was proud to be asked to take over an early-day motion tabled by Sir David relating to the banning of trophy hunting imports. I encourage all MPs to support early-day motion 86 if possible.
My thanks also go to the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for tabling the early-day motion in June on a public scientific hearing on animal experiments, which not only made clear the pain and suffering that animals are subjected to in the name of science, but gave shocking examples of the practices that continue to take place on our shores. I was proud to sign that EDM, which highlighted the consistent claims of scientists that animal testing has largely been a failure and urged the Government to mandate an independent and rigorous public scientific hearing to stop the funding of animal experimentation and instead increase investment in world-leading human-based research, such as state-of-the-art organ-on-a-chip and gene-based medicines, to end the unnecessary suffering of animals and prioritise treatments and cures for humans.
On the point around vegetarianism made by my good and hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), I am a life-long vegetarian too, and I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) is also a vegetarian, so there is high representation in this debate of people who do not eat meat. I thought it important to highlight that.
It is with deep sadness that I am compelled to speak in today’s debate, given our country’s historic stance against animal cruelty. The UK was the first country to establish a ban on animal testing for cosmetics and their ingredients when, almost a quarter of a century ago, we introduced the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. That was reinforced by the EU’s cosmetics directive in 2004, which established an EU-wide testing and marketing ban on finished cosmetic products tested on animals, and later prohibited testing ingredients on animals and introduced a full marketing ban, outlawing the sale or import into the EU of cosmetics tested on animals anywhere in the world.
Despite leaving the EU, the UK has retained what is now the cosmetics regulation; however, despite the ban, EU producers of substances used in cosmetics have been required by the European Chemicals Agency to carry out tests on vertebrate animals to comply with the requirements of the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—more commonly known as the REACH—regulation. That means that the European Chemicals Agency now routinely requires some widely used cosmetic ingredients to be used on hundreds of thousands of animals in order to comply with REACH in the EU.
Worryingly, since leaving the European Union our Government have introduced UK REACH, effectively replicating EU chemicals regulation in UK law. Furthermore, the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are now under no obligation to follow the recent landmark ruling in the Symrise appeal. As many Members will be aware, Symrise AG, a major German manufacturer of flavours and fragrances, successively appealed against a European Chemicals Agency directive to carry out animal testing. Symrise argued that under the EU cosmetics regulation its products could not be tested on animals because they would no longer be able to be sold or marketed in Europe.
It is no surprise, given the UK’s long and leading role in banning animal testing that there are such strong public sentiments against the process and that almost a quarter of a million people signed the e-petition calling for our Government to outlaw the practice. Indeed, in my constituency several hundred people registered their objection and urged the Government to do the humane thing by banning all animal testing in the UK, not just for the development of cosmetics but for all household products and medicines. The Government’s response has been disappointing, using the often used but unsubstantiated argument that
“scientific research using animals plays a vital part in understanding how biological systems work in health and disease.”
The reality is that, almost a quarter of a century after setting a global precedent on the issue, the UK is now on the verge of allowing those inhumane practices to take place once again. As I alluded to, many prominent campaigns in recent years have helped to raise awareness of the practice, which many believed had been consigned to history once and for all more than two decades ago. More recently, For Life On Earth publicised disturbing footage showing the factory farming of thousands of laboratory dogs here in the UK. The clip showed the savage procedure, in which the force-feeding of an animal takes place via a tube. The footage is horrific. There is further concern, given that UK-bred laboratory dogs and all other laboratory animals are excluded from the protection of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. My thanks to FLOE for exposing that barbaric practice alongside high-profile figures such as Ricky Gervais, Peter Egan and rescued laboratory dog Scarlett Beagle in their public campaign this year.
As colleagues on both sides of the House have said so eloquently, animal experiments must be banned immediately and funding should be redirected to progressive human-based research, which has a far better track record of success. I would be grateful for clarity from the Minister about the current regulatory guidance on animal cosmetic testing in the UK, as well as on what position the Government plan to take on the Symrise ruling. In addition, I urge them to reconsider their assessment of force-feeding, given that it is currently classified only as mild suffering under Home Office licensing.
The Government must acknowledge the concerns and evidence-based assessment of leading campaigners and scientists, including the British Medical Journal, the Food and Drug Administration, the US-based National Cancer Institute, and many scientists working in the pharmaceutical industry. They must heed the concerns raised in early-day motion 175, as well as the e-petitions that are the reason for today’s debate. They have repeatedly insisted that, despite leaving the EU, they would continue to uphold the highest standards of animal protection. For that to be the case, they must develop an animal-free approach to further protecting human health, and continue our legacy as the world leader in tackling animal rights abuses.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for opening the debate and congratulate the petitioners on bringing this important topic forward for consideration. Some 810 of my constituents signed e-petition 581641.
Before I begin, I too pay tribute to Sir David Amess, the Member for Southend West, a longstanding and vocal advocate for animal rights. I am sure that he would have been here to speak passionately on this issue if not for his tragic passing. His presence is sorely missed. I send my deepest condolences to his family and staff.
Animal welfare is an issue close to my heart, and one that constituents often contact me about. I am honoured to have the opportunity to represent them in this debate. Perhaps the best place to start is where public opinion stands on this matter. Earlier this year, YouGov conducted online polling in Scotland, in partnership with Cruelty Free International. The findings were clear: overwhelmingly, the public do not support animal testing. Some 79% of Scottish adults believe that it is unacceptable for experiments on animals to continue when other testing methods are available. Some 62% were in favour of the Government setting deadlines for the phasing out of animal testing. The majority of Scots consistently agreed that testing on cats, dogs and monkeys is unacceptable.
The Scottish Government have made many commitments to strengthen animal welfare legislation, but the issue of testing on animals for scientific research remains reserved to the UK Government. The Government’s response to the petition notes the global requirement for animal testing in medical research. The legislation is frankly outdated, as science has developed. We now know that 90% of drugs tested on animals eventually fail in human trials. That prompts the question: why, in 2020 alone, were 86,000 experiments allowed to go ahead, despite being found to have caused severe suffering to the animals involved?
That other nations continue to test on animals does not mean that the UK cannot seek to become a leader in alternative methodologies and tests. We banned the use of animal testing for cosmetics in 1998, ahead of other countries, such as China, which required animal testing until only very recently. If we look back to the YouGov polling, 76% of Scots believe that finding alternatives to animal testing should be a funding priority in the science and innovation space. In fact, Cruelty Free International is of the opinion that by not doing so, and continuing to rely on animal experimentation, we are stifling scientific development. Will the Minister commit Government funding to research into such alternatives?
The Government have argued that the current law is clear that animal experiments should be conducted only where there is no alternative. Will the Minister explain why no applications for animal testing were refused at all last year? It is hard to believe that they were all necessary. For example, hundreds of skin sensitisation tests were carried out on mice last year, despite alternative non-animal-reliant tests being available.
Ending animal experiments can only be a positive change. In today’s society, there is no excuse for allowing them to continue. The Government have introduced animal sentience legislation, for which I am sure we are all grateful, but to allow animal testing to continue is in direct contrast to that legislation’s aims. I hope the Government’s commitment to animal welfare extends to all animals, and that they will seek to outlaw the unnecessary suffering caused by testing. To do so would bring Government policy much more in line with public opinion.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliot. I congratulate the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) on opening the debate and on the forceful and cogent argument he put forward to make the case for the petitioners. I also thank good and hon. Members across the House who have spoken so forcefully on this issue. I support petitions 581641 and 590216, signed by more than 320,000 petitioners, quite a number of whom were from my constituency.
I wish to declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on human-relevant science. It would be remiss of me not to take the opportunity to pay tribute briefly to the late vice-chair of the group, Sir David Amess. He was an unwavering voice for animals in laboratories and a champion for human-relevant science. He will be remembered as a tireless and principled campaigner for animal welfare. I hope that Members from the Government side, who are absent from tonight’s debate, will step up and take on Sir David’s mantle.
The APPG on human-relevant science is a discussion forum in which politicians, the human-relevant life sciences sector, the third sector, scientists and stakeholders can promote new-approach methodologies that provide unique insights into human biology, transform our ability to understand human disease, and develop new and effective medicines more quickly, without the use of animals.
I certainly take on board the point made earlier that the stats seem to show a slight reduction in the number of animals used in testing in 2020. However, that might be a consequence of the pandemic. In the 10 years up to 2019 the average annual decrease in animal testing was only about 1% a year. On that trajectory, animal testing looks like it is set to continue for another 90 years.
The case for transition to human-relevant science is absolutely compelling. A growing range of cutting-edge techniques provide results that are directly relevant to people and that can replace, or at the very least significantly reduce, the use of animals. Such new-approach method-ologies include the use of human cells, tissues, tissue cultures, artificial intelligence and organ-on-a-chip technology.
Significant differences in the human race’s genetic make-up mean that data from animal experiments cannot be reliably translated into humans. In fact, the current reliance on animal experiments may well be holding back the progress that many patients so urgently need. More than 92% of drugs that show promise in animal tests fail to reach the clinic and do not benefit patients, mostly for reasons of poor efficacy and safety that were not predicted by animal testing. In disease research, the picture is similar. Decades of efforts towards understanding neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and towards finding effective therapies for them, have been huge failures due to the majority of animal experiments lacking human relevance.
The APPG on human-relevant science has held several meetings by Zoom over the past year, examining two main areas: funding barriers and regulatory barriers. As it stands, the funding made available for research via the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research—the NC3Rs that the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk referred to—is not sufficient to support the transition to human-relevant research. Indeed, the NC3Rs’s annual budget amounts to only around £10 million. By comparison, the Association of Medical Research Charities estimates that the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research provided a combined total of £1.8 billion in funding for UK medical research in 2019, while medical research charities provided £1.9 billion.
The economic potential of animal-free methods is huge. By providing results that are directly relevant to people, new-approach methodologies can accelerate the development of effective treatments that will transform patients’ lives and reduce the economic cost of ill health. I hope the Minister will respond to the important point raised earlier that over 450 skin sensation tests were carried out on mice in 2020, even though validated non-animal tests were and are available. In 2020, not a single application for licences to conduct experiments on animals were refused permission.
There is major public support for replacing animal testing with human-relevant techniques, and the petitions that formed the basis for today’s debate attest to that. A YouGov poll also shows enormous public support. The Government must take decisive and ambitious action to phase out animal experiments and phase in the use of cutting-edge, human-relevant techniques. Modernising medical research in this way will deliver major benefits for people, animals and the UK economy.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott. I am grateful to speak in such an important debate; official parliamentary petitions on the banning of animal testing have gained hundreds of thousands of signatures from people across our country. As Members here today will know, this was not the intended day for this debate. Sadly, remembrance proceedings following the shocking death of one of our colleagues meant that this debate was rightly postponed. I send my heartfelt condolences to the wife and family of my hon. Friend, Sir David Amess. We have lost a parliamentarian of enormous experience, intellect and warmth. He was someone with an infectious smile, and used that cheeky smile without being reprimanded by Mr Speaker when he somehow squeezed into virtually every single debate the need to make Southend-on-Sea a city. Sir David also did a great deal of work on animal rights. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) mentioned, I am very sure that he would have spoken in today’s debate. He was responsible for introducing the Protection against Cruel Tethering Act 1988; he campaigned against puppy mills and wildlife trafficking; and, this year, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) noted, he tabled an early-day motion to end animal experiments.
We need to adopt modern methods that do not require the suffering of animals. That is why we are all here today; it is in the spirit of kindness, co-operation and humanity that this issue should be considered. In 1998, animal testing on ingredients exclusively used in cosmetics was banned in our country. That same year, we saw a modern-day low point of 2.7 million procedures involving animals, even though the overwhelming majority of that testing was unsuccessful, as my hon. Friends the Members for Easington (Grahame Morris) and for Putney (Fleur Anderson) noted. That testing proved to be of absolutely no use for human advancement. It peaked in 2015 to 4.1 million procedures, and while the number of experiments had been falling, last year there was a 6% rise since 1997. Previous statistics have indicated that we have topped the grim leader board for the most animal experiments per person in the European Union. Our three Rs policy to replace, reduce and refine, limiting the number of animals used in science and pushing licence applicants to consider alternatives is clearly not having the desired effect. That is why I feel the Government need to change their policy.
We are a nation of animal lovers. My inbox is often overflowing with concerns about animal rights and legislation impacting on animals. Survey after survey indicates that public acceptance of animal testing is dependent on there being no viable alternative. How can we allow such barbarity within our science when modern-day alternatives exist? Innovations such as complex cell models—CCMs—offer the potential to use human tissue to provide data that is far more relevant to patients than animals tests, and could even replace animal procedures in their entirety. There are a plethora of approaches; some areas of research are even being held back by animal testing. A recent report on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s research noted that an
“important obstacle to progress in the field of neurodegenerative diseases is the heavy reliance on animal models which are failing to capture key features of human biology and disease.”
This shows that, in part, moving forward and modernising our scientific trials and testing can benefit both humans and animals, making scientific methods more relevant to human health.
As a vegetarian—and as noted by other speakers—I feel that we should be a world leader in scientific innovation. Have we not moved on from such brutal acts on sentient beings who have no say? Sadly, the Government’s record on protecting animals is not promising. As usual, they focus on grandiose language and gestures rather than implementing policy that will effect change. They delay animal welfare legislation on the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and on increasing sentences for animal cruelty, and instead choose to legislate on trophy hunting rather than the simpler and more effective measure of the Home Secretary simply no longer issuing licences.
Recent media reports suggest that the Home Office could pave the way for a return to animal testing for cosmetics, so I ask the Minister today for the Government’s plan. We need a review of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. We need to commit to properly ending animal testing for good, ensuring that we eliminate avoidable procedures on animals, and banning the export and import of animals for research unless with specific Home Office consent; and we need to commit to proper investment in non-animal-based research methods and technologies to encourage further innovation and work in this field.
We need to use this opportunity to press forward and invest in our future with the scope and opportunities for change. If the Government fail to grasp this challenge, I fear that this outdated practice will simply proliferate.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for his comprehensive exposition of the issue we are debating today. I want to echo the tributes paid to David Amess. We very much feel his presence in this debate, despite his absence, as a great champion of animal welfare. I am sure his colleagues in the main Chamber, who are currently debating the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, have David Amess at the forefront of their minds as well.
I know how interested my constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran are in this issue, as I suspect citizens across the UK are, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of signatures to the petitions we are debating. That can be said with some confidence because of a survey carried out by the UK charity, FRAME, which undertakes research into alternatives to animal testing. In a survey conducted last year, it found that 84% of respondents would not buy cosmetics if they knew that any of their ingredients had been tested on animals. Based on my experience as an MP in this House since 2015, I can say without hesitation or equivocation that I receive more emails about animal welfare-related issues than about any other issue currently facing politicians or this Parliament today. I can see some nods of agreement. I am sure we are all in the same boat in that regard. People care about animal welfare issues profoundly and deeply. It is something that I think every constituent shares with every other constituent. There is no disagreement on it and we have to take note of it.
The sad fact is that, despite widespread public abhorrence of animal testing, it is a significant industry in the UK. Home Office statistics show that 3.4 million procedures involving animals took place across the UK in 2019. Unfortunately, there is growing consensus that not enough is being done truly to represent a significant and consistent decrease in animal experiments. We have heard much about that today.
Evidence shows that people in Scotland and Wales believe that more should be done to prioritise humane and human-relevant science. I suspect that the good people of England feel exactly the same. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of people believe that where alternative non-animal research methods are available, experimenting on animals becomes even more unacceptable. It is worrying to learn that animal tests have been undertaken in Europe and the UK for which there are accepted, validated alternatives. What my North Ayrshire and Arran constituents and I what to know is: why is testing in such circumstances permitted? Why is it, for example, that tests are carried out where a substance is dropped into the eyes of a live rabbit that causes damage and blindness or where a lethal dose of botulinum is injected into mice that causes paralysis and suffocation within days, as documented in the short briefing from Cruelty Free International? Why are these tests carried out when non-animal viable alternatives are available?
When asked about specific species in research, the overwhelming view of the public is that testing on animals such as dogs, cats and monkeys is unacceptable and that alternatives to animal testing should be a funding priority for science and innovation, yet the UK remains one of the top users of primates and dogs in experiments in all of Europe. We know that recent developments in evolutionary and developmental biology and genetics have significantly increased our understanding of why animals have no predictive value for the human response to drugs or the pathophysiology of human diseases.
What is needed—what my constituents want to see—is the UK Government to mandate a rigorous public scientific hearing to reduce the unnecessary harm involved in animal experiments and ban this immoral practice, pursuing alternatives instead. We need greater transparency in the animal research industry and a commitment by the UK Government to understand the sentience of animals and their welfare in relation to the outdated methods of animal testing.
I am sure that my constituents and those of every Member in this Chamber would be shocked to learn that although the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill enshrines in law the ability of animals to experience joy and feel suffering and pain, the UK Government do not recognise animals undergoing scientific experiments as having sentient rights, as they are excluded from the protection of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and its “unnecessary suffering” clause. That is an unacceptable state of affairs, especially in view of the fact that in a previous debate in which I participated, on the testing of cosmetics in animals, the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), said that testing on animals is carried out
“only where there are no practical alternatives”.—[Official Report, 1 May 2018; Vol. 640, c. 111WH.]
Clearly, that is not the case—perhaps the Minister can comment on that and provide clarification—as has been pointed out in some detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk. There is an apparent contradiction, so I hope that the Minister can clear it up today.
New approach methodologies do not use animals and instead use advanced in vitro and in silico technologies to model diseases, test treatments and investigate biological processes in humans. With the new medicines manufacturing innovation centre to be based in Renfrewshire, we in Scotland are well placed to spearhead a paradigm shift to next-generation human-relevant medicine. That is the kind of shift that we need to see and which our constituents want to see, as the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) indicated.
In the debate on 1 May 2018, I remember the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth saying that the Government would continue to tighten regulations on animal testing. Will the Minister tell us today what tightening of regulations has taken place over the past three and a half years since the previous Minister gave that commitment? It is also the case that, in that debate, the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth said that an independent trade policy would provide “opportunities” to look at this issue. Will this Minister tell us what exactly has been looked and what actions that looking has brought about, as I am sure we are all keen to know? I hope it is not the case that we have had three and a half years of drift and delay on this matter, because that would be most disappointing.
We have been told repeatedly that Brexit offers the opportunity to raise the bar on the quality of the products that we import, as well as on animal welfare issues. My inbox—I am sure many other Members would echo this—is filled with messages from constituents who fear that standards will fall, not rise. Nevertheless, if Brexit really does offer that opportunity, as we have been told, to go further on issues such as animal testing than we did before, can the Minister update us on what advantages have been taken so far of these much-lauded opportunities, which were so loudly proclaimed at the time? Again, I am sure that we are all keen to know.
Like many in this Chamber, I represent tens of thousands of constituents who are very exercised about these matters, so I hope that the Minister can reassure us on these points and the other questions raised today. We are keen to hear progress on this issue since anything that is, or is perceived to be, unnecessary cruelty to animals is anathema to the overwhelming majority of people, and has no place in our society.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak for Labour today, and it is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Elliott. I am, however, a stand-in. I apologise on behalf of the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), who is unable to be here because he is in the Chamber for the Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) for opening and leading this important and timely debate. We are considering e-petition 581641, which received 235,000 signatures from across the UK, including 657 in my own constituency of Newport West. The petition called on the Government to ban all animal testing in the UK, including for
“the development of cosmetics, household products and medicines.”
We are also considering e-petition 590216, which received over 83,000 signatures from across the UK, including 106 people from Newport West. The petition requires Ministers to
“recognise the urgent need to use animal-free science and publish a clear and ambitious action plan with timetables and milestones”.
These two important petitions have received support from more than 300,000 people. I thank all those who signed the petitions for ensuring that this matter was brought to the House today.
There have been important steps forward since the introduction of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. As my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) pointed out, it was a Labour Government who banned the use of animal testing for cosmetic products in 1998, and I proudly acknowledge that. I also welcome the fact that the Conservative Government banned animal testing for household products in 2015. For many years, the UK has been a leader in instituting protections against unnecessary animal testing. That is good and how it should be, and Labour encourages Ministers to do more, go further and keep the faith. We should continue to lead on this issue and to find alternative research methods, as has been eloquently outlined by fellow Members.
We should all work together to completely eliminate animal testing. That is the place that Members across the House and thousands of people across the country want us to reach. Our responsibilities as Members require us to do our best by our constituents, but we also have a responsibility to our natural world, wildlife and animals. To honour that responsibility, we must be ever vigilant, and that is why this debate is so important. It provides us with another opportunity to look at animal welfare, our approach to animal testing and what we can do to keep our animals safe.
The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act admittedly contains strong language, stating that animal testing must be a last resort and, importantly, that stringent requirements for licensing are necessary. However, the Opposition are deeply concerned that Ministers in this Government may fail to prioritise the safety and wellbeing of animals. When the Minister winds up the debate, I would be grateful if we received a guarantee that every effort is being made to reduce the suffering of animals in research.
The latest Home Office report let the cat out of the bag when it confirmed that 2.88 million procedures were carried out on living animals in 2021. While this number is a 15% decrease on the previous year, the most obvious reason for the reduction was the pandemic rather than any reduction inspired by a change in Government policy. That was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame Morris). Of those 2.88 million procedures, 1.44 million were carried out for the creation and breeding of genetic alterations, but the other 1.44 million were for experimental procedures on live animals. It is easy when we talk on such scales for these animals to become just another statistic and to forget the very real pain that they were experiencing.
Some 18,000 procedures conducted were carried out on specially protected species, including horses, cats, dogs, monkeys and primates. In 2020, there were tests on 1,700 for experimental procedures. It is important to understand those figures and digest the scale of the challenge ahead of us. I ask the House to think, for just a moment, about the pain and suffering those animals were put through in the last year alone. Many were brought over in small shipping containers from Africa and Asia before being subjected to all manner of experimentation and testing. However, the suffering extends far beyond protected species. Of the 1.44 million experimental procedures, 100,000 caused mild or moderate pain to the animals; more worrying is the fact that more than 50,000 animals experienced severe pain during those procedures. That is serious, and it has to stop.
Some will argue that the research is a necessary evil and a key component of scientific discovery, but I have to disagree. As times change, views change, and so too must our behaviour. Indeed, as we have heard, there is still no consensus on the efficacy of animal testing. How a compound interacts with mice might prove to be the opposite for humans at the clinical stage, as cited by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk.
An article by Pandora Pound and Michael Bracken published in The BMJ in 2014 states:
“The current situation is unethical. Poorly designed studies and lack of methodological rigour in preclinical research may result in expensive but ultimately fruitless clinical trials that needlessly expose humans to potentially harmful drugs or may result in other potentially beneficial therapies being withheld.”
Only £10 million is invested in the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research each year, compared with the billions of pounds invested in basic research, as my hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for Easington pointed out. If we do not properly invest in alternatives, how can we ever hope to solve the problem? I would like the Minister to outline the steps that will be taken to ensure that alternatives to animal testing receive the funding and focus they need and deserve.
There must also be greater accountability on the part of researchers to publish the results of their studies. When research can cause suffering to animals, for it to be worthy of investment—particularly of public money—we need to see what researchers are up to and why. Can the Minister indicate when the Government will announce the review to identify and eliminate avoidable testing?
Another simple question for the Minister is whether the Government will commit to eliminating any and every unnecessary test, and will they do that now? Finally, how will the Brexit arrangements affect the previous agreement with the EU under the chemical REACH regulations? There is a danger that new post-Brexit arrangements will lead to a duplication of animal testing, rather than a decrease. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) for highlighting that in his speech, and I look forward to the Minister’s response on that point in particular.
I want to see greater transparency in the issuing of licences so that the public can see when and why animal testing takes place. Can the Minister outline which steps the Government will take to create a more transparent method for licensing applications?
This debate is not difficult. More than 300,000 people signed the two petitions before the House, so we know there is clearly widespread interest in seeing action and progress on the issue. Indeed—I suspect the Minister will already know this—a 2016 study by Ipsos MORI found that 74% of people felt that more work was needed to find alternatives to animal research. While the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 made a difference and moved us forward, there is more to do. It is clear that efforts to invest in research that is effective and does not harm animals must be redoubled.
This issue is not political. As others have said, I think very much of the late Sir David Amess, who showed huge commitment to animal welfare over his many years in the House, and I wish his dog Vivienne well in the Westminster Dog of the Year competition. This has been an interesting debate, and I am grateful for the opportunity to reiterate Labour’s calls for action to do away with harmful and unnecessary animal testing once and for all.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in my fifth week in office, Ms Elliott. I am hugely grateful to the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) and other colleagues for raising these important issues today, not least in the week in which the comprehensive spending review will be settled. I will then have a chance to look at the overall allocation of funding within the ecosystem for which I am responsible as Minister for Science, Research and Innovation.
I reassure colleagues, and those in the Public Gallery and elsewhere, that I take this issue very seriously, and I will explain my background in the sector.
I echo the comments made by a number of Opposition colleagues: if we are to provide a legacy for Sir David Amess, we ought to come together on this issue. I welcome the tone of everybody’s contributions, in particular that of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), which highlights the lack of partisan politics in this matter and the need to seek cross-party consensus. I welcome her reference to this Government’s 2015 ban on cosmetics tested on animals and the 1997 Labour Government’s ban. This country has taken and will continue to take the matter seriously, and we should be proud of that.
I was asked about 36 questions, which I will try to cover, but I want to flag in particular the important opening points made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, who spoke about the moral and legal considerations at the heart of the issue—he is right: this is not just a utilitarian argument, but a moral and legal issue about the values that we hold as a country—and about the importance of recognising that sentience confers an additional responsibility, which is enshrined in legislation but merits saying. Our obligations to mammals, for example, are much greater than our obligations to insects. That might be controversial in some places in this country, but I think that in this Chamber, people will understand the difference. I think that was an important and well-made point.
The number of signatories to the petitions indicates the strength of the public view on the matter. I sincerely thank all hon. Members for the quality of their contributions. I suspect the reason that there are not more colleagues on the Government Benches is that the main Chamber is currently debating the Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, and while hon. Members have been speaking in this debate, I have been watching Conservative Members speaking in that one. It is fair to say that there is strong cross-party support for getting the framework for animal research right.
I thank and pay particular tribute to those who have spoken, including the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), who raised the issue of values and the important role of companies such as the Body Shop and campaigns such as PETA—I echo those considerations. Transparency for consumers when purchasing goods is quite an important factor in driving the culture change that we need to see, and I support her on that point. She, like other Members, mentioned the importance of technology and the human-on-a-chip and organ-on-a-chip technologies that may hold the opportunity for us to completely liberate ourselves from reliance on animals.
The hon. Member for Stockport (Navendu Mishra) raised the important issue of force-feeding and factory farming. I think the whole House would like to move away from any reliance on factory farming, but while there is such a reliance, it is important that that activity is carried out to the highest standards and that public trust is supported by sufficient accountability.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) raised an interesting point about why no applications are turned down, which I will come to. The hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) mentioned the importance of complex cell models and highlighted the need for us to review the workings of the legislation. The hon. Member for Easington (Grahame Morris) highlighted quite powerfully the big difference between the amount of money—around £3 billion—spent on broader life science and medical-related research compared with the £100 million, or £10 million a year, spent on this issue. He made an important point about ensuring that the matter gets enough attention.
The Minister is being very thorough on some of those points. We are not, as he alluded to in his opening remarks and again just now, arguing for the outcome of the comprehensive spending review to be huge additional resource. It is about skewing the huge sums of money that are available towards this particular area. That would be more efficacious and beneficial for everyone concerned.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I was about to say that the National Institute for Health Research—for which I was responsible in my previous ministerial role but one, as Minister for life sciences—puts about £1 billion a year into research on the practice of health. I will happily raise the issue with the relevant Minister at the Department for Health and Social Care, because quite important part of the NIHR’s remit is to build confidence in health research.
The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) raised the important issue of accountability on the rate of progress, and the opportunities arising from the UK’s departure from the EU. I will try to come to all those issues in due course, and if for any reason I miss any, I will happily write to Members with the answer that I would have given had I had time.
I am personally passionate about this agenda for a whole raft of reasons, not just because I have a much beloved cat and dog as pets. Like everyone in the Chamber, and I think most people in this House, I feel very strongly that we have a duty of care as human beings to the animals around us. Also, having had a career in medical research before coming to Parliament in 2010, I have seen for myself the importance both of using every piece of technology to try to remove dependence on animals in the development of medicines and of carrying public trust in the research process with us.
As hon. Members have set out, in the life science sector a quiet revolution is going on, in which the traditional model of drug discovery—which typically takes 15 years and $2 billion, and has an 80% failure rate—is being quietly transformed by revolutions in genomics and informatics, allowing us to move from a paradigm in which the industry would typically try to develop one drug that suits all through a long and complex cycle of theoretical drug discovery targeting, in silico chemistry, then through into in vitro models, animal trials, human trials, and marketing and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence approval.
The revolution in genomics and informatics allows us to begin to target patient groups, develop drugs around particular blood types, genotypes and phenotypes, and cut out a lot of the long, traditional drug discovery process. It is a revolution that I am passionate about, not just because it will in due course reduce, and possibly even eradicate, the need for us to rely on often unreliable animal models. Members will have heard me talk in other places about the need to move away from necessary but imperfect models of human disease.
The Minister is being generous with his time. I take on board his points about the quiet revolution in genomics and medical science more generally, but while that is taking place, millions of animals are being terrorised and killed. It is not benefiting us or them, so when will we set some deadlines and targets for the elimination of animal testing?
I understand the hon. Member’s point and I will come to it. I could not quite agree that our reliance at the moment on animal testing is of no use at all; it is of important use in defining certain elements of toxicity and safety. It is not perfect, but to say that it has no use is not fair. I will come to his point about how quickly we need to make progress.
Part of my passion for this is that I tried to found a company developing toxicology artificial intelligence—predictive software that would predict the toxicology of compounds so that we do not have to rely on animal models. I care sufficiently about it that I took the trouble to do that. Let me share with colleagues one thing that I discovered in that process, which speaks to the delicacy sometimes around transparency. Passions in this sector understandably run very high. I know that colleagues will be shocked to discover that, in the course of putting together a company to develop toxicology software, one needs to be able to understand the experiments that are currently being done in order to model them better using software. That meant that on the board of the company we had somebody from Huntingdon Life Sciences so that we could understand the processes that we were having to replace.
The presence of that person on the board was alone sufficient to attract huge and violent attacks from Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty. Of course, who on the board did they pick on? Was it any of the eight men, of whom I was one? No. They picked on the company secretary—the member of the board least responsible for the company. She lived alone in a cottage in the fens, and woke in the middle of the night to find 20 people in balaclavas daubing her house with red paint, calling her a bunny killer. I flag that story because it speaks to the passions and the need for a balanced approach, in the way that colleagues have raised the issue today.
If we are to be transparent and accountable, we need to ensure that that transparency and accountability can be shared, and that we are not putting particular people at risk. However, I share the point that we need to do everything we can to ensure that the quiet revolution accelerates, and that we reduce the reliance on animals for research as fast as we possibly can and to as great an extent as we can.
Allow me to describe briefly the framework that we have in place. Why is the use of animals in scientific research justified at all? It is justified because, at the moment, it is vital for identifying benefits to humans, animals and the environment. We have to try to balance that dependence with our commitment to the highest animal welfare standards. That is the basis on which the current law is drafted. The balance between those two elements is reflected in the fact that we have a dedicated Act to make sure that animal welfare and animal research are properly integrated. The responsibility for managing that Act lies with the Home Office and the Home Secretary, not with me, but I will raise the issues mentioned today with the Home Office.
The Act specifies that animals can be used in science only for specific limited purposes where there are no alternatives—a crucial point—and provides protection for those animals through the requirement for application of the three Rs: replacement, reduction and refinement. Today’s debate raised three related but separate issues that contribute to the Government's overall strategic direction and policy: first, the benefits derived from the use of animals in science where there are, as yet, no alternatives; secondly, the regulatory regime that facilitates such use; and thirdly, our support and commitment to the funding of the three Rs in order to accelerate progress away from reliance.
Let me take each in turn. At the moment, animal testing research plays a vital role in understanding how biological systems work in health and disease. It is crucial to our understanding of new medicines and cutting-edge medical technologies for both humans and animal health, and it supports the safety and sustainability of our environment by helping to reduce dependency on chemicals. Animal research has helped us to make life-changing discoveries for new vaccines and medicines, transplant procedures, anaesthetics and blood transfusions —not least the development of the covid-19 vaccine, which was made possible because of animal research.
While I accept that we need to try to move away as quickly as possible, one must remember that we are using animals only because it is the way we have evolved towards minimising exposure of human beings to dangerous drugs. I assure hon. Members that if we were to completely remove all animal use from medicines research, we would expose our own kith and kin to much higher risks. That would quickly be seen as irresponsible.
We need to find a way of substituting those pre-human tests as quickly as possible. Although much research can be done into non-animal models, there are still purposes for which, sadly, it is essential to use live animals, as the complexity of whole biological mammalian systems cannot always be replicated using validated non-animal methodologies. That is especially the case where human medicines are developed.
The Minister is being generous, and he will want to make progress. An example of a drug that went through extensive animal testing through the established processes is thalidomide. Animal testing is not infallible. We have discovered subsequently that some drugs that have been through established animal testing can be repurposed. We have now discovered that it is an extremely effective drug against leprosy and other conditions. There is rightfully scepticism about statements that animal testing will ensure that drugs are completely safe, because that is not the case.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I am not suggesting that the current system is 100% perfect at all. In fact, I made it clear in my earlier comments that, often, animal models are not perfect predictors—he is right to say that. But it is equally the case that, without the animal models, an awful lot of drugs would be taken forward into humans with hugely damaging side effects and no benefits. The point is not that once something has been through animal testing it is a perfect drug. Going through animal testing prevents exposing humans to potential drugs that are simply unsafe. It is not perfect, but that is the situation. He is right to point out that animal testing itself is not a guarantor of efficacy.
The truth, sadly, is that without testing of medicines using animals at the moment, we would not know whether medicines are safe or effective for use in humans or animals, and that would limit the availability of medicines to treat disease and of chemicals that could be used for a wide range of purposes in many industries. There is a human health and safety part to this. In order to protect workers in the chemical and agricultural industries, we need to ensure that we understand any toxicity of those chemicals before they are used. Without the testing of chemicals on animals, where no alternative methodologies are available, we would not know what hazards they present. Many products that are not safe in humans or the environment are detected through animal testing, thus avoiding harm downstream.
I thank the Minister for giving way. None of us would disagree that we want to keep humans safe, but a lot of people have concerns about the repetition of unnecessary tests, and about Constant, ongoing testing for chemicals, cosmetics and such. It would be great if the Minister could address that issue.
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point, which I will come on to. Animal testing is required by all global medicines regulators. I want to be clear that this is not a UK phenomenon, but it does include the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which is widely held to be setting the global benchmark, not least in vaccine discovery. Animal testing of chemicals is sometimes required under UK law, often relating to the quantity manufactured to protect the safety of workers exposed to those materials in large amounts and the environment when chemicals may find their way into the waterways, soil or atmosphere. All testing of chemicals on animals under REACH, the EU regulation on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, is subject to the “last resort” principle, which means the manufacturer must always—it is a legal duty—consider alternative approaches first and, in some cases, secure the agreement of the regulator before proceeding.
In order to obtain these benefits that accrue, it is necessary to exempt such animals from the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and put in place specific protections for them in a dedicated Act. A number of colleagues raised the question of why this is not covered by the 2006 Act. It is actually the other way round. We have specifically put the use of animals in research into their own legal framework under the dedicated Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, known as ASPA, which, as I say, is the responsibility of the Home Office. The underpinning principle of ASPA is to protect animals which are sentient, in terms of their capacity to experience pain, suffering and distress. Therefore, protection of animals on the basis of their sentience is the very principle established in the legal framework.
ASPA protects animals in a number of ways. It requires a three-tier system of licensing for individuals conducting procedures on animals, the programme of work that will use animals and the place where animals will be used. Licence holders are required to undergo training and a competency assessment, and to have legal responsibilities to have systems in place to protect animals, in compliance with ASPA. Licences are granted only if the scientific purpose is permissible under the law and the research is conducted in line with the three Rs. That means work can be conducted in animals only if there are no alternatives, the minimum number of animals are to be used to meet the scientific objectives, and the level of harm caused must be limited to the minimum needed to achieve the approved scientific outcome. Thus, it is illegal in the UK to use an animal in science if the scientific objective can be practicably met using a validated non-animal alternative.
ASPA requires that all animals need to be housed and cared for in accordance with the code of practice published for this purpose. The regulator enforcing the Act operates a system to assure compliance of licence holders with the Act and the conditions of their licence, including inspection, audit, review of reports and managing cases of potential non-compliance. Under ASPA any testing required by another UK regulator is permissible. The requirement for such testing is set by the relevant expert regulator, such as the MHRA or the Health and Safety Executive.
With regard to testing of cosmetics, animal testing has been banned in the UK since 1998, and it is illegal to test cosmetic products or their ingredients on animals to meet the requirements of the 2009 regulations for cosmetics. However, ingredients used in cosmetics may require animal testing under other legislation, including REACH, for example to assess the safety of workers in manufacturing plants. Such testing can be lawful in the UK and is not in conflict with the bans under the cosmetics regulations. Under UK regulations to protect the environment and workers from the risks of chemicals, animal testing can be permitted under REACH where required by UK regulators. Again, however, such testing can be conducted only where there are no non-animal alternatives.
That brings me to the importance of the development of those alternatives, which, as the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, I am also committed to, because it is a huge sector for this country to lead in. In the report on post-Brexit opportunities that I wrote for the Prime Minister earlier this year, I argued that the UK should use our freedoms from the EU regulatory bloc to reach for the top and to regulate in these emerging areas of technology in order to build consumer and investor confidence. This is one of the areas where we could set the gold standard—we could set the benchmark for international groups to follow. That is why the Government actively support and fund the development and dissemination of the three Rs—replacement, reduction and refinement—programme. This is achieved primarily through funding for the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research—NC3Rs—which works nationally and internationally to drive the uptake of technologies and to ensure that advances are reflected in policy, practice and regulations on animal research.
It is fair to say that the NC3Rs is viewed as being world-leading. Since its launch in 2004, we have committed £100 million through its research, innovation and early career awards in order to provide new three-R approaches for scientists in academia and industry. I am delighted to say that the relevant research council has increased funding by another 8% in the last year. That includes almost £28 million in contracts through its CRACK IT Challenges innovation scheme to UK and EU-based institutions, mainly focusing on new approaches for the safety assessment of pharmaceuticals and chemicals.
I checked earlier today, and it is not fair to say that nothing has come of that work. There is a whole raft of very important incremental improvements, including the development of in silico models of cardiotoxicity with Professor Rodriguez and in vivo models of liver tox and kidney tox, as well as the development of virtual dog modelling as part of the £2.5 million programme for the digital dog, to substantially reduce dependence on dogs in research.
The NC3Rs and the MHRA work to bring together stakeholders in academia, industry, Government and animal welfare organisations in order to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas and the translation of research for the benefit of both animals and science. That has led to changes in international regulations, and the NC3Rs has just recently launched a new £2.6 million call for the development of the virtual dog, to draw together technologies across the country. Building on the work of the NC3Rs, UK Research and Innovation is also funding a portfolio of research involving humans, animal models and non-animal technologies.
As hon. Members have highlighted, breakthroughs in stem cell research, cell culture systems, lab-on-a-chip, organ-on-a-chip, new computer modelling and imaging technologies, and the place of AI all provide a powerful nexus for technological approaches that will reduce, and in due course eliminate, the need for us to rely on animal models, but we have to move at a pace at which we can guarantee human safety in the development of new drugs. In 2015, the non-animal technologies road map for the UK was published by Innovate UK and the NC3Rs, in partnership with the research councils and the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. The NC3Rs and Innovate UK are currently reviewing the impacts of the investments that were made—a review in which I will be taking a keen and close interest.
In the time available, let me try to respond to some of the specific questions that were raised. The hon. Member for Easington raised the statistics on the number of experiments, but the number of experiments is not the same thing as the number of animals. One of the metrics that we are driving is to reduce the number of animals used—I just wanted to flag the difference between those two.
Animal sentience is already enshrined in law. It is a very important principle, which is precisely why we have a separate legal framework.
Various Members asked why we are not doing more to promote alternatives. I want to highlight that the existing law prevents the testing of animals, if there are alternatives. I am keen to make that very clear and to ensure that the whole industry understands that obligation.
The hon. Member for Easington raised the issue of the failure of medicines in humans, which I have tried to address. Nobody is suggesting that the use of animals is a guarantor of efficacy and safety in humans, but it is an important barrier to the unnecessary exposure of humans to unsafe medicines. I agree with him that we need to move as quickly as possible to find alternative ways to do that.
A number of colleagues mentioned the statistic that 90% of animal experiments fail. That is the same point, really. If “failing” means that those experiments do not perfectly predict efficacy and safety in humans, that is true, but the point is the other way around: those experiments are done to make sure that those things we know will not work in humans are prevented from going near humans. They are not the definitive and final test. The hon. Member for Putney mentioned that work is being done to improve the predictive quality of animal tests, which is a really important point, and we need to continue to manage that work. International bodies such as the OECD and the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use are working on that issue, but following this debate I will be asking for reports on what progress has been made. I will be happy to share that information with colleagues who are here today.
Colleagues asked whether the funding for human-based research has been increased. The £100 million figure is over 10 years. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council has increased that figure by 8% for this year, and I assure Members that, following the comprehensive spending review, I will be looking to make sure that number is not reduced and, if possible, is increased. That is important, primarily for animal welfare and trust in research, but also because moving away from unnecessary and avoidable animal experiments and towards more accurate models as quickly as possible is good for UK life science, research and drug discovery. The hon. Member for Putney raised the issue of the balance between animal and non-animal testing, and I reiterate that using animals is allowed only where there are no non-animal alternatives.
Colleagues raised the issue of animal testing establishments breaking the law. There is a very robust system of licensing and inspection of such establishments, and any non-compliance is appropriately dealt with through a range of remedies, which start with advice, letters of reprimand and retraining, but ultimately lead to fines and prosecutions. I reassure Members that, from my point of view, any evidence of malpractice needs to be treated with the very highest degree of urgency, because public trust in this system is absolutely key.
The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran raised the issue of botulinum. To reassure the public, that was only the case for botulinum as a registered medicine being tested before it goes into humans. The issue of force feeding—which is a controversial term—was raised. I have checked the reason for that, and it is about making sure that the correct dose is administered, but again, the point is well made: we need to make sure that is being done in the most humane and sentient-friendly way. The hon. Lady also raised a question about the tightening of regulations. Those regulations are always being reviewed. This year the Home Office commenced a regulatory reform programme to ensure that leading regulatory practice is followed, and again, following this debate, I will be asking for an update about what improvements have been made. Finally, the hon. Lady raised the issue of tightening of regulations for cosmetics post-EU exit. We are now in the same position as the EU: testing on animals for cosmetic marketing is allowed only if no non-animal alternatives exist. The controversial case of Symrise is currently with the European Court of Justice.
In conclusion, some excellent points have been raised today. I will not repeat them all; I think I have set them out. I will be raising them with the Home Secretary and the Home Office, and while I do not believe we are yet at the point where we can completely move away from reliance on animals, I make it very clear that we need to move faster. We need to reiterate to the public that that is our intent, and that we have a duty of care and a commitment to better drug discovery. I believe deeply that genomics, phenotypics and data are key to that, and I hope all Opposition Members will join me in making the case for better use of data in the NHS to support drug discovery, because that is a key argument that is often not made. I am very happy to accept the challenge of providing a personal guarantee to the hon. Member for Newport West that, as Minister for Science, Research and Innovation, I will make every effort to avoid all unnecessary suffering.
On behalf of the Petitions Committee, which scheduled today’s debate, I thank all Members for their attendance and their contributions. It has been a very well-informed debate and an extremely consensual one, and I am grateful for the tone in which the Minister responded. I am sure that I speak for the other Members present when I say that if there is anything we can do to assist him in accelerating the quiet revolution, we will be happy to do so, because with 3.4 million procedures taking place, that revolution needs to be turbo-charged. I remain of the view that animal testing should be banned, because it is cruel and ineffective.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petitions 581641 and 590216, relating to animal testing.