Skip to main content

Westminster Hall

Volume 745: debated on Monday 19 February 2024

Westminster Hall

Monday 19 February 2024

[Dame Caroline Dinenage in the Chair]

Animal Testing

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petitions 633591 and 645885 relating to animal testing and non-animal research methods.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Caroline. On behalf of the Petitions Committee, I would like to introduce two petitions dealing with legislation on animal testing and the promotion of non-animal research methods. I stress that we are here once again—this is becoming an annual debate. That demonstrates the strength of feeling of our constituents and of people across the UK, a nation of animal lovers, that these procedures and processes really must start being brought to an end.

I will start by reading the prayers of the petitions. The first, e-petition 633591, advocates for the ending of animal toxicity tests and the prioritisation of non-animal methods, or NAMs. The petition was started by Maria and closed in September 2023 with 109,378 signatures, including 233 from my Carshalton and Wallington constituency. It argues that NAMs are

“more predictive of human biology, more economically advantageous,”

and prevent animal suffering. E-petition 645885 calls for the banning of the use of dogs for testing and research, citing their cognitive abilities and emotional range. The petition was started by singer-songwriter and actor Will Young, who I am delighted to see in the Public Gallery today. As of now, it has over 30,000 signatures, including 35 from Carshalton and Wallington.

Let me begin with a bit of background information. Animal testing is covered by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which was amended in 2012 to include cephalopods as protected animals. Regulated procedures include acts that may cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to animals. Animal testing is often cited by some in the industry as being necessary for various purposes, including drug development, veterinary medicines, and chemical or environmental safety testing. However, we have already made movements away from it, for example in the 1998 ban on testing of beauty products and cosmetics, and in a recent written answer, the Government confirmed that there are no laws mandating its use. Nevertheless, we are still in a very challenging situation, and these practices continue.

I want to reiterate some of the data that we spoke about last year. In 2021, over 3 million scientific procedures were conducted on animals. If that number were not bad enough, that was actually an increase on previous years—an increase in the use of dogs by 3%, of cats by 6%, of horses by 29% and of monkeys by 17%. We can only speculate why the number increased, but that certainly does not tie in with the messages we hear that the use of NAMs is on the up and the use of animals on the down.

The issue is not just that these procedures are happening to animals, but the awful conditions that animals are often kept in while waiting for procedures to be done to them. A recent report from the Animals in Science Regulation Unit described “deeply troubling” animal welfare standards in British laboratories between 2019 and 2021. I am sure that many of us will have received emails containing pictures and videos of some of those procedures. I have seen some pretty awful things that are happening to animals here in the UK, despite the industry telling us that it upholds the highest possible animal welfare standards. Failings include a non-human primate dying after becoming trapped behind a restraint device; 112 rats being crushed alive when they were moved in error to a compactor; and numerous incidents of animals being left without water or food.

As I said, the UK purports to be a nation of animal lovers, and I truly believe that it is, but we need to ensure that we update our laws to truly reflect that fact. I acknowledge that efforts are being made to promote NAMs—including cell cultures, human tissues, computer modelling and volunteer studies—and that organisations are trying to invest in and improve the use of NAMs to reduce reliance on animal testing. However, I want to pay particular attention to the second of the two petitions that we are debating, which relates specifically to dogs.

Dogs are most commonly used in secondary species testing. That is where a test on an animal, normally a mouse or rat, has already been conducted but some researchers go on to conduct a secondary test on a different species, and dogs are commonly cited as animals used for that. However, the industry itself says that that is almost completely unnecessary now. Companies such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca have stood up at global health forums and said, “We don’t want to do secondary species testing any more. Please help us find the road map to get us out of the need to do this.”

I thank my hon. Friend for allowing me to intervene; he is making a passionate speech on such an important matter. My constituency is Ynys Môn, and we are an island of animal lovers—animals ranging from dolphins and red squirrels to sheep and cattle and our feline and canine friends—so it is no surprise that many of my constituents actively campaign for the rights of animals and support reducing the use of animals in scientific experiments. They and I would like to know what steps the Government are taking to support the pharmaceutical industry in the development and use of non-animal testing models.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention; I think that more than 100 of her constituents signed this petition too. I hope that the Minister heard her request—indeed, I am sure that it is an ask of all of us in the Chamber today. What is being done, and what more can be done, to try to encourage people out of using animals and into using non-animal methods?

I want to pick up again the point about animal welfare. Many people will cite the regulations that are in place in the UK for animals in experiment environments. However, this statistic might shed some light on why welfare standards are so low. As of 2021, there were only an estimated 23 full-time equivalent inspectors in the United Kingdom. That is 23 inspectors trying to look at 3 million different procedures. The fact that so much self-reporting is going on in the industry and there are so few inspectors leads, again, to the argument that non-animal methods are a much better use of money and bring with them higher ethical and moral standards.

I want to go through some of the proposed solutions before I hand over to some of my colleagues. PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—has proposed a solution known as the research modernisation deal, or RMD, which offers a strategy to eliminate the use of animals in biomedical research, regulatory testing and education. It prioritises non-animal methods, conducts critical reviews to assess the necessity of animal use, and reallocates funds to non-animal methods. This is aimed specifically at making the UK once again a leader in innovative, ethical scientific practices. Furthermore, we have seen advances in technology such as in vitro and in silico tests, and innovative technologies such as organs on chips, which offer higher levels of protection and prediction accuracy.

That is one of the things I want to stress, but before I do so, I will give way to the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.

My hon. Friend makes the really important point that non-animal methods can be much more accurate than using animals in these experiments. Does he agree that companies such as Lush, which came to Parliament before Christmas to advocate for those methods, have shown the way in which, through science, we can do better?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. This is something that we cannot stress enough in this debate: it has been proven in the data time and again that non-animal methods are highly accurate, and much more accurate when it comes to predicting human responses than animal testing is. In fact, animal testing has such low levels of success when it comes to measuring how a drug or something else might affect a human that we would not accept that in any other form of business. When the levels of prediction are so poor, why are we still accepting it? It does not make any sense—not when we have alternatives that can offer much greater clarity about to how humans will react to products and drugs.

However, there are challenges standing in the way, and one of them remains funding for NAMs. Pfizer and AstraZeneca have said that they do not want to do things such as secondary species testing, but regulatory guidelines often expect new drugs to be tested on animals and there is a lack of consensus on possible transition timelines. There is also push-back from the industry, which is resistant to change. However, in advance of this debate I spoke to many scientists and industry leads who said they are crying out for change and want to be at the forefront of non-animal methods. We need to give them the tools to do so and look at the way we fund research.

My hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech. He is standing up for all the animals that do not have a voice in the industry and speaking for those across the UK who want to support them. Several organisations contacted me and talked about the need for change. They said that we must look after animals—particularly beagle pups—post testing where possible, but they pointed out that the industry has been very resistant to engaging with rehoming centres, even when the beagle pups have not undergone lethal testing. Surely we can do better. Whenever an animal can have a life in a loving home afterwards, we must make that happen.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I hope the Minister heard that.

Commercial breeding—in particular, of beagles—is hard for this country to accept. The data shows that a lot of such testing, if not all of it, is unnecessary because the accuracy of the tests is so low. Given that secondary species tests on dogs seem so unnecessary, why are we still allowing them to happen?

Since the debate last year, there has been some welcome news internationally: Canada, Australia and countries within the European Union have come up with road maps for ending animal testing. It is critical that we ask the Government to consider how we do that. We need a strategy and a road map to work with the industry, campaign groups, charities, other organisations and the people who are in the Public Gallery today, to move us away from the use of animals and towards non-animal methods as the default standard. I appreciate that some countries have found it difficult to come up with precise timelines because of disagreements within the sector, but that does not mean we should not try. That is the key thing to take away from this debate.

There are things that we can do in the immediate and interim terms, one of which is to look at animal welfare standards. Twenty-three people looking at 3 million procedures simply is not enough. We also need an immediate review of the necessity of secondary species testing. Whatever happens next, it is imperative that we prioritise the development and adoption of non-animal research methods. The fact the number of scientific procedures conducted on animals went up in 2021—we actually stopped collecting data after that point, so we are not entirely sure how many we are doing, which I think is a mistake—demonstrates that there is not enough impetus behind the agenda of moving towards non-animal methods.

I ask the Government to invest in and fund NAMs properly by reallocating existing funds and promoting collaboration. They have an incredible ability to bring together the industry, researchers, advocacy groups, campaigners and others to create a road map and a strategy so we can truly say that the UK does not need to use animal testing methods any more. We can stop the use of animals and hold ourselves up to an incredibly high international standard as a nation of animal lovers.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Dame Caroline. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on leading the debate in such a detailed, passionate and knowledgeable way.

My constituents, like all others, are passionate about animals, and many have contacted me to oppose their use in laboratory testing. It is upsetting for all those who love animals to learn that, in laboratories across the country, so many animals—including dogs, which we often describe as our best friends—are subjected to awful experiments under the guise of the public good.

It is often said that the UK is a nation of animal lovers, and I think that that is absolutely true. The UK was the first country to instigate animal protection laws, in 1822, and the first to set up an animal welfare charity, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Public opinion is clear, and nearly 100 of my constituents have signed the petition to end the use of animals for toxicity tests and to prioritise non-animal methods, or NAMs. There is enough evidence now that non-animal methods can be more accurate, more cost-effective and quicker than traditional animal models.

Although researchers are already required to use non-animal methods wherever possible, concerns have been raised that the process of checking whether NAMs have been used is not rigorous enough. Cruelty Free International has found cases of animal testing being used despite non-animal alternatives being available. It is therefore disappointing that the Government’s response to these petitions is that there will be no change in the law. Although we should all welcome the fact that we have improved our animal welfare laws over the years, we should not be complacent. At a time when new alternatives and non-animal methods are being developed, we should embrace this opportunity for leadership and to make regulations more stringent.

I am sure we all want to minimise the use of animals in scientific experimentation and the cosmetic industry as much as possible, including by funding research into alternatives. We have already heard about Lush and its very successful reception at the end of last year. There are enough companies that are really promoting the use of alternative methods, so we should really listen to industry on this issue.

We know that animal testing can be unreliable and unpredictable and that it causes unnecessary suffering. Humans differ considerably from animals, so the use of animals often leads to poor results. The regulatory requirement that animals be used before human trials is more than 70 years old. Reviewing that, and removing the needless suffering of animals, will finally bring scientific research into the 21st century.

Of course, there are also methods of digital testing, so we really have moved a long way since the law was last revised. A growing number of human-relevant methods are already being developed. Those are made up of innovative technologies that are helping to deliver better results for humans. Despite that, there is a continued misconception that animal testing provides a gold standard for the regulatory approval of a product.

An expert advisory taskforce could play an important role in exploring animal-free innovation. We should also review all animal procedures to remove duplicative and wasteful methods and to prevent the retesting on animals of any material, chemical, food or drug currently in use. Retesting should be conducted using only non-animal methods or existing human data.

The Government have responded to the petition to ban any testing on dogs by saying that welfare standards are already high and that testing would still continue in other countries. Those are valid responses, yet I think that we can do better and provide even more leadership to other countries. That other countries continue to use dogs is not a good reason as to why we should do so in this country.

Although we should be proud that the UK has some of the highest welfare standards in the world, we must build on our robust record and lead by example. To achieve that, greater funding is required to support the development of new technologies and new, innovative testing methods. Sadly, Government funding for such methods currently represents less than 1% of total UK biomedical research. We can do better, and I would particularly like to hear from the Minister on this point. We know that increased research funding often pays back multiple times to the economy—we have had a debate on research funding in this Chamber before—so investment makes good sense.

There is no excuse for animal cruelty, and we must do all we can to ensure that the humane treatment of animals is upheld everywhere. The moral and scientific case for tighter regulation of laboratory testing is clear. It is time that the Government listened to increasing numbers of scientists and voters.

This is an incredibly important debate, which has been brought about by these two petitions. In 1986, this country introduced the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act. At the time, it was seen as world-leading and as the gold standard, with its three Rs principles: to replace animal testing wherever possible; to reduce animal testing where it was not possible to replace it; and to refine it to reduce suffering where it occurred. However, it is increasingly clear that a review of the legislation is now needed and that we need to make further legislative improvements. We have always been ahead of the United States on animal welfare issues, but this is one area where, arguably, we have now fallen behind them. Until recently, the US required animal testing for certain product authorisations, but it has now brought forward legislation to modern its statute and make it explicit that there is no need for animal testing for any of those products.

In the UK, we have a degree of ambiguity. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency does not explicitly require animal testing, but there is a degree of ambiguity because it is equally cautious about saying that there should not be animal testing. I will come on to that later.

In debates such as this we should always give credit where credit is due, and it is important to note that the Government effectively banned the use of animal testing in the development of cosmetics in 2023, or at least made it clear that there would be no new licences for such activities. That followed the huge progress made by companies such as Unilever and others to phase out the need for animal testing on their products. However, the greatest concern for me is that despite exponential growth in non-animal methods and huge leaps in that technology over 20 years—with the development, for instance, of organ-on-chip technology and bioprinting—the number of animals used in animal tests remains stubbornly high, at around 4 million per year, principally mice.

The 1986 Act is deficient in some minor but quite obvious ways. When it was originally drafted, it simply covered invertebrates, which was consistent with the animal welfare legislation we had at the time. In 2012, the coalition Government decided to add cephalopods to the legislation—for those not familiar with that terminology, it essentially means species from the octopus family—but they did not add decapods. As the Minister will know, the recent Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 now recognises both cephalopods and decapods as being sentient species. At the very least, therefore, we should bring the 1986 Act into line with our current animal welfare legislation, which would require the addition of decapods as protected species.

My more important concern is that if the three Rs had been applied correctly, given the exponential growth in technology that we have seen in the last 20 years, we would have expected to see a correlation and a sharp reduction in the number of animals being used, as the replacement principle was applied. Instead, over the last 20 years the number has really drifted along sideways. I appreciate that it has dipped at times, but it is telling that in the first year of lockdown, when the number of animals being tested fell quite significantly, it was said that it had fallen to the lowest level since 2004. That is quite damning in itself, because if an anomaly year, when the amount of testing was at an all-time low, meant that the level had still got back only to the level it was at in 2004, that suggests that something is going wrong and that the application of the three Rs is not having the effect originally intended by the 1986 Act.

I am afraid that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that what started out in 1986 as a robust regime—perhaps the most robust regime in the world—has probably drifted and coalesced into a rather unsatisfactory system of self-regulation. We have to ask ourselves why those three Rs principles are not being effectively applied. Ultimately, I think it is because everybody defers to process but no one really takes proper ownership. We have ended up with cultural attitudes around the use of animals in scientific procedures that masquerade as science, when actually the science does not require those animals to be used in such numbers at all.

I have always thought that one of the problems—as a former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will have insight into this—is that animal welfare sits with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs but the Home Office is in charge of licensing. Usually it is in the hands of a Minister who has 101 other things on their plate, and it is a small part of their brief. Today, we have the team from the Science Department here, and I hope they are looking at the more progressive view. Is the problem that there is no one Minister who can take ownership of the issue?

That is part of the problem. I am sure that the Minister has a busy diary, and there is an argument that the issue falls partly on the Science Department and partly on the Home Office. At the moment, the unit that processes the licences sits in the Home Office but, as I will say later, there is a strong case for a machinery of government change that relieves the Home Office of that burden, which it is not really qualified to carry out, and transfers it to a Department such as DEFRA, where there are vets and where the legislation can be treated, rightly, as a piece of animal welfare legislation, rather than a piece of scientific licensing.

I want to explain why we have this problem. Three types of licence are needed to carry out these scientific procedures. An individual has to have a licence, and there is a licence on the establishment, which is fairly uncontroversial. The difficulty comes with the project licences. Universities and research institutions have internal animal welfare and ethics boards, which assess applications before they go to the Home Office. But how hard do they challenge requests from academics working in their institutions? Perhaps they occasionally ask a few questions and challenge a bit, but it appears that they, effectively, defer to the judgment of the academics who put in the requests, and the academics then agree. The ethics board agrees to the application, which is then submitted to the Home Office.

Let us bear in mind that the team in the Home Office have to process around 4,000 project licences a year. They are overworked and stretched. They will see that an ethics board, with professors and people with “Dr” in front of their names, has assessed that the project is necessary. They will defer to the scientific knowledge of those boards—and perhaps wrongly so. Although scientists are qualified to give good technical analysis, they are not, by and large, qualified to make good decisions, least of all when it comes to decisions relating to policies underpinned by laws made in this House. Only the civil service, backed up by Ministers, can make those kinds of decisions.

I suspect that there is, in the Home Office, a large degree of deference, which is possibly misplaced, to those animal welfare and ethics boards. That is why the Home Office almost never refuses a licence. I understand that, in response to parliamentary questions on this issue, Home Office Ministers will say, “You cannot really judge the fact that we have not refused a licence as evidence that we are not applying ourselves with voracity to this task, because we will often question things and send applications back for further consideration.” I completely understand that, and it is a fair point, but we have over 4,000 project applications a year. Are we really saying that the Home Office might not judge it appropriate to refuse even one in order to create some boundaries and parameters and to inject some vigour and rigour into the system?

A further cultural problem stems from the MHRA, which regulates medicinal and pharmaceutical products in the UK. Although it has confirmed that it does not require animal testing, and that it is open to individual companies and research establishments to decide what type of research they need, a perception exists within industry and academia that experiments carried out using live animals have greater credibility and acceptability. A clear statement from the MHRA that it is not neutral or indifferent, but will take a dim view of products brought before it that have used animal experiments when they might not have been necessary, would sharpen the process and focus minds as to the need for using animal experiments.

How can we get to a position in which the three Rs are being applied as the original Act intended? One of the petitions calls for more funding for non-animal methods. In the UK, we are blessed with some of the world’s best researchers in this area. The Blizard Institute at Queen Mary University of London, which I visited a few months ago, hosts an animal replacement centre of excellence. It is doing some extraordinary work on organ-on-chip and bioprinting. In dermatological research in particular, there is now no doubt that such non-animal methods are far superior to using live animals.

I have a probing proposal for the Minister. As a way to raise money, sharpen the incentives in the current system and get the three Rs enforced, I propose that we consider applying a levy on the use of each individual animal in testing, as part of the project licence. In some ways, it feels quite incongruous to have to put a monetary value on the life of a mouse to get people to take it seriously, but if researchers are not taking the intrinsic value of that mouse’s life as seriously as they should, let us consider some other incentives that might reinforce the original three Rs. Let us consider applying a project licence levy of £100 or £200 for each mouse used, and see whether that focuses minds on the animal welfare and ethics committees. Let us see if it makes them think twice before saying that they need 100 mice for something when they could do it with less. We should consider something like that. The other advantage of a levy is that we could ringfence all its proceeds and put them directly into research on non-animal methods. That is my suggestion to the Minister.

I was a Minister myself for nine years, and I know that it is very easy for people to call for more money for things, but it is not straightforward to be the Minister who has to go to the Treasury and say, “By the way, we’d like just a little bit more money for this one thing that is quite important.” Traditionally, 20 years ago, the Treasury did not like levies and saw them as a hypothecated tax, but we are in different territory post the financial crisis and the many other problems since then. I am sure that if the Minister went to the Treasury and said that he was going to apply a levy of £200 per mouse used in experiments, the faces in the Treasury would light up. They would see the potential to do something useful with that.

Finally, where should responsibility reside for the 1986 Act and the policy under it? I know that that discussion is ongoing within the Government. My view is that the Home Office is a very busy Department and has a huge amount to contend with, and it is very unlikely that its Ministers would be able to give this issue the attention that it deserves. The right thing would be to make a machinery-of-government change transferring full responsibility for animal testing, the 1986 Act and the regulatory regime under it to DEFRA, which has the vets, the scientists and people who would approach this issue as an animal welfare issue. Equally, it has people who understand the importance of science. As our vets have proven on multiple occasions, they are not squeamish about these matters: they will take difficult decisions if need be. Most importantly of all, if the policy were within DEFRA, veterinary science could challenge medical science. Often, we find in veterinary science a better understanding of vaccinations, epidemiology and medicines, with a body of technical expertise that can challenge the medical expertise sitting in other Departments. That is why I think that such a machinery-of-government change should take place.

I hope that the Minister will look favourably on some of those suggestions. I appreciate that it is very unlikely that he could bring forward a levy that might sharpen the implementation of the three Rs between now and the general election, but all parties will be able to think about these issues as they draft their manifestos for the general election ahead.

As always, Dame Caroline, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on his excellent introduction to this debate, which set out all the issues in his usual informed style.

I have spoken about animal welfare on many occasions in Parliament. It has consistently remained at the forefront of the issues that my constituents write to me about. I am honoured to represent them in this debate. I have always maintained that we are a nation of animal lovers; I believe that the nearly 110,000 signatures that e-petition 633591 gained is proof of that, along with the 31,000 that e-petition 645885 has so far gathered.

In 2022, 2.76 million scientific procedures involving live animals were carried out in Great Britain. Of those, 55% were for experimental purposes; creating and breeding genetically altered animals accounted for the other 45%. A smidgen of good news is that between 2021 and 2022, there was a 10% decrease in the number of procedures, which reached the lowest numbers since 2002, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) pointed out. Although 4,122 procedures were used on dogs, that was a 2% decrease on 2021. The problem is that there are still too many of these experiments taking place.

In a recent YouGov poll, nearly three quarters of respondents were opposed to the testing of both ingredients and completed cosmetics on animals. This included 58% of people “strongly” opposed to both types of testing. While some 47% of people think that testing individual ingredients from medicines on animals is acceptable when there is no non-animal alternative, 30% think that it is not acceptable.

As somebody who has campaigned on these issues for a long time, I naturally fall into the majority view on animal testing with respect to cosmetics; I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth for his work on the issue as Secretary of State. When it comes to medicines, however, I tend to melt into a mess of complexity. Sometimes, personal experiences and those of our constituents can muddy a binary view on this issue. I have absolutely no doubt that the success of my breast cancer treatment is down to past experiments that have taken place on animals. It is hard to remove that from the equation.

At the excellent meeting I had with Animal Free Research UK, I was keen to explain my quandary. In the process of doing so, it was good not only to hear of the work being done on human-specific technologies at hubs such as the University of Exeter’s, but to learn of the work that the Association of Medical Research Charities is doing to improve transparency around animal research and animal welfare. It is worth noting that many of the AMRC’s members make it very clear that they support research involving animals only where there is no alternative. Given that cancer survival rates have doubled in the past 40 years, the scientific community ought to be thanked for its painstaking research and analysis. We know that sometimes this involves studying the biology of a disease in a whole body, and not just on individual cells or tissues. However, even those of us who are beneficiaries of that research want to know that good animal welfare practices have been employed and that the use of that research has been clinically justifiable.

How long can we keep doing animal testing when technology and NAMs are advancing so quickly? I would argue that if this country is to become a science superpower, we should lead by example and rapidly accelerate the use of animal-free research with a long-term ambition of zero animal experiments. We need the road map that my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington outlined. Bold action needs to start today if the UK is to keep pace with global action to support human-specific technologies. The US Congress has now passed the Food and Drug Administration Modernisation Act, facilitating the use of non-animal methods for drug testing, while the European Commission has committed to developing a road map for ultimately phasing out animal tests.

Animal Free Research UK and others have made some short and medium-term recommendations, which are reasonable asks. They note that the forthcoming Budget could be an opportunity to launch an ambitious funding call to develop human-specific technologies and attract private investment. They suggest providing dedicated transition grants to leverage the potential of human-specific tech and provide tax relief for companies that are working on these innovations. They also suggest establishing a non-animal science innovation hub, which I am sure would be really attractive to the next generation of scientists, whose animal welfare and environmental conscience seems so naturally embedded.

For what it is worth, I agree with the point that colleagues have made about ministerial responsibility and the challenges that it brings. However, I am pleased that we have a Science Minister who cares about these matters. Ending animal experiments can only lead to positive change in research methods. The Government have introduced a great deal of legislation on animal sentience and animal welfare in recent years, for which my constituents and I are truly grateful. Allowing the continued use of animal testing only undermines the achievements of that legislation. I hope that the House will join us today in upholding the Government’s commitment to animal welfare by supporting these excellent petitions and looking at how we can continue to reduce the use of animals in research so that one day it is not necessary at all.

I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for opening the debate so comprehensively, as he has done with other such debates. I am delighted to participate in this debate on animal testing and non-animal research methods, arising from e-petitions that have attracted more than 140,000 signatures between them. The petitions call for an end to the use of animals for toxicity tests, the prioritisation of non-animal methods in research, and a ban on the use of dogs for testing and research purposes.

The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) is not alone in receiving a lot of emails about animal welfare. I certainly receive more emails about animal welfare than about any other issue, which is quite remarkable when we consider the issues that we see on the news every day, but which shows the level of concern, commitment and affection that our constituents across the UK have for animal welfare.

We have debated many times the principle of using animals in research—and here we are again. It is frustrating, but those of us who believe that testing on animals must end must keep debating it and making the case until we see an end to these horrific and unnecessary practices. As we have heard, it has long been accepted that animals are sentient beings that are able to have physical and emotional experiences. We know that the public wish overwhelmingly to see an end to animal testing, because it is cruel, causes suffering and, more importantly, is unnecessary, yet 2.7 million procedures involving animals took place across the UK in 2022. That number is very high. Experimental procedures are decreasing, but the reality is that even where alternative non-animal research methods are available, animals are being used for experiments. Of all the distressing aspects, that is perhaps the most difficult for anybody to justify.

We know that animal tests are taking place in the UK and Europe where there are accepted, validated alternatives. Over three quarters of adults living in Scotland—76%—believe that alternatives to animal tests should be a funding priority in the UK for science and innovation. A majority of Scots—62%—want deadlines for phasing out animal tests. When it comes to specific species, more than two thirds of Scots think that it is unacceptable to use dogs, cats and monkeys in such experiments. Undoubtedly, and despite huge public opposition, the UK is one of the top users of primates and dogs in experiments in Europe, but it seems that a culture change is needed. That is what we must keep pressing for.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, most drug testing on dogs sees them repeatedly force-fed or forced to inhale substances over prolonged periods to measure the effects of repeated exposure on their major organs. In some factory farms, female dogs are forced to spend their entire lives as puppy-producing machines, allegedly churning out between 1,600 and 2,000 offspring for medical testing each year.

The well-known campaigning group Camp Beagle, some of whose members may be here today, has led calls for the UK Government to ban toxicity testing on beagles of products such as household bleach, cleaning products and weed killers. I am sure we all welcome the fact, mentioned by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, that Canada recently banned the use of animals for regulatory toxicity tests, but we need to see the same happen here in the UK.

The public are appalled to learn that, in the name of animal testing, dogs are kept in overcrowded cages, forced to inhale toxins with funnels strapped to their snouts and undergo immense pain and suffering until they die or are killed. Legally, they can be poisoned with toxic chemicals, shot, irradiated, gassed, blown up, stabbed, drowned, burned, starved, subject to electric shocks, deprived of sleep and infected with diseases, and have their bones broken and limbs amputated. Yet, recent developments in evolutionary and developmental biology and genetics have significantly increased our understanding of why animals have no predictive value for human responses to drugs or the pathophysiology of human disease. Indeed, over 92% of drugs that show promise in animal tests fail to translate into safe and effective medicines for humans.

Cruelty Free International research shows that the UK is in the top 10 of animal-testing countries—that is, it is one of the top 10 users of dogs and monkeys in experiments in the world. That is quite something. In the face of such unnecessary cruelty and suffering, we must again call for rigorous public scientific hearings to reduce the unnecessary harm caused by animal experiments, ban this immoral and unjustifiable practice, and pursue alternatives instead.

There is a need for greater transparency in the animal research industry, as the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford said. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington talked about challenges of funding new approach methodologies, but it is worth remembering that when the UK—as I assume it will—updates its legislation in this area, industry will adapt, just as it will in Canada and in others taking a leading approach. One thing we know with confidence about scientists and researchers is that they are able to innovate; it is their very reason for existence.

It is long past time that the UK updated animal welfare legislation to reflect the ethical and humane rights of animals and to improve animal welfare standards domestically, as so many of us want. It is also past time that we worked internationally to better animal welfare standards globally. New approach methodologies do not use animals and so avoid the inherent cruelty and the problem of animal-human species differences. They use advanced in vitro and in silico technologies to model diseases, test treatments and investigate biological processes in humans. That should be the scientific focus instead of outdated, unreliable animal experiments.

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act was important because it enshrined the rights of sentient animals, but it did not go far enough. It did not recognise the rights of sentient animals undergoing scientific testing and in Ministry of Defence military experiments. That glaring omission must be corrected. We in the SNP condemned that omission at the time and on Report tabled two amendments to correct it, but the Government voted them down.

The European Union is moving away from cruel experiments on animals and is using cutting-edge replacements, as evidenced by the European Parliament’s vote in favour of developing an action plan to phase animals out of EU science and regulation. It is vital that the UK Government support a new regulatory environment that enables a transition to new approach methodologies.

In 2020, 77 scientists and academics from Animal Free Research UK signed an open letter to the Government and medical agencies calling for a clear timetable for regulatory change to enable the development of medicines without the use of animal testing, and indicating that investment in human-relevant science is a golden opportunity to revitalise medical research, save money, create wealth and improve public health. Last month, leading scientists in human-specific technologies wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer asking him to consider providing Government support to unlock the potential of future-focused technologies in the upcoming spring Budget; specifically, they recommend tax relief for companies developing and using these cutting-edge technologies, a bold funding call to industry and academia, and transition grants to facilitate a shift away from animal use.

While the Government appear content to let the status quo continue, sentient animals continue to endure horrific and unnecessary suffering, and our constituents continue to be horrified as they look on, helpless, at a Government who are simply not listening to them. Swathes of the respected scientific community and renowned academics also feel that they are not being listened to. It is past time that this unenlightened and unnecessary torturing and testing on our fellow creatures ended, and I hope that the Minister will act without delay. I and many other MPs have been and will continue to be a voice for the voiceless and a voice for common sense. I hope that the Minister’s response today will show that he is ready to add his voice to this growing chorus, which also will benefit science and public health.

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Caroline.

I acknowledge the strength of public feeling about animal testing. Together, the petitions that we are debating today received more than 140,000 signatures, including 114 in Newcastle upon Tyne Central. I thank everyone who signed the petitions for bringing these important issues to be debated in Parliament once again. The petitioners are calling for an end to the use of dogs in testing and research in the UK, an end to the use of animals in toxicity testing, and the prioritisation of non-animal methods, which are key issues.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on his expert introduction to the debate, and all those who have made speeches or intervened. All the contributions have been very well informed and thoughtful.

As the Opposition spokesperson in the debate, I state clearly and emphasise that the Labour party believes that the unnecessary suffering of defenceless animals is unequivocally wrong. The Labour party was founded to support the rights of working people, and I believe strongly that human rights and animal rights are intrinsically linked. Those who are cruel to animals or ignore their rights often do the same to humans, so recognising and standing up for the rights of animals is an important part of Labour’s record. From the Hunting Act 2004, which banned the cruel practice of hunting with dogs, to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which put in place strong domestic protections for pets, livestock and wild animals, we have used the power of Government to protect animals. We introduced the offence of causing unnecessary suffering, mutilation and animal fighting, and we banned the testing of cosmetic products on animals in 1998. The last Labour Government had a record to be proud of and, if we are privileged to form the next Government, we will build on that legacy.

The British people expect nothing less because, as Members have pointed out, we are a nation of animal lovers. As the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) said, the RSPCA was founded in 1824—60 years before the founding of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I do not think that reflects a hierarchy of concern, but it does reflect the extent to which we are concerned about the welfare of animals, and it is no wonder. Animals improve the welfare of humans in many ways, ranging from providing companionship and improving mental health, to facilitating rescues during natural disasters. Animals serve as the best companions, offering emotional support and reducing feelings of loneliness. Domesticated animals can help people to recover from severe illnesses, and they help us in speech therapy, occupational therapy and further physical rehabilitation.

On Thursday, I visited St Paul’s CofE Primary School in Elswick, Newcastle. I asked them what they wanted from Parliament, and top of the list was an end to food poverty and a support dog. Animal welfare and the love of animals are at the heart of British society and culture. As the shadow Minister for science, research and innovation, my priority is to enable the best possible science in this country, which will deliver the best possible outcomes for people across the UK, people across the world and, I believe, animals as well.

Since the introduction of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, animal testing practices have improved. The three Rs—replacement, reduction and refinement—have already been mentioned, and they remain worthy principles. As the right hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) emphasised, however, many people are rightly distressed and concerned by the scale and, at times, severity of animal testing. Over 1.5 million experimental procedures involving animals were carried out in 2022; 4% of those were assessed as non-recovery—that is to say, the animal died—and almost 4% again were classed as severe.

There are real reasons to foresee a better future. We are in the midst of a scientific and technological revolution that is transforming the economy, society and the conduct of science itself. Non-animal or new approach methods—NAMs—for scientific research are developing at great pace, enabled by advances in artificial intelligence and engineering biology. It is true that there are currently limits to the efficacy of NAMs, but that is becoming less true with each passing year and, as has been pointed out during the debate, there are clear limits to the efficacy of animal testing. Cell cultures, advanced modelling and donor tissues are already helping to reduce the use of animals in testing. In cosmetics, we have seen great success in using NAMs to predict skin sensitisation. A 2018 study found that they were even better than the once-standard mouse test.

One of the petitions calls for an end to the use of dogs in testing. Dogs currently cannot be used in testing if any other species could be used, but in 2022 4,122 dogs were experimented on. I thank the 31,350 people who signed the petition, including 18 of my constituents in Newcastle upon Tyne Central. The other petition calls for an end to toxicity testing in favour of NAMs, and I thank the 109,378 people, including 96 of my constituents, who signed it. The two petitions naturally overlap. For example, beagles are used for toxicity testing; they are injected, fed poisonous chemicals and asphyxiated in their numbers. It is impossible not to feel for these animals.

At the same time, we must recognise that advocates of that type of testing will argue that it is necessary to save human lives, as the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) highlighted so powerfully.

For the record, I do not advocate or support any testing on dogs, particularly in the manner that the hon. Lady described. My point was that some past research on animals has enabled a great many positive outcomes for cancer patients, such as myself.

I thank the hon. Member for her intervention. I was not implying support for a specific type of testing, but making a general point: some have argued in the past that animal testing has been necessary to save human lives, and groups such as Understanding Animal Research argue that currently. Understanding Animal Research also gives the example of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a lethal childhood disease, as a condition where canine models are effective.

Science and innovation can show the way out of this moral maze. To take the example of testing on dogs, NC3Rs, the UK’s National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research, has established a project to develop a virtual second species—a virtual dog—using historical data. On toxicity testing, the UK-based company XCellR8 has developed the AcutoX test as a humane alternative to the LD50 test, which involves giving increasing doses of toxic substances to groups of animals until 50% of them are killed.

Just this month, Newcells Biotech, a spinout from Newcastle University based in my constituency, raised over £2 million from the North East Fund for its models of the retina, kidney and lung, which are used in drug development and which reduce reliance on animal testing. The chief executive officer, Dr Mike Nicholds, told me:

“Over the last 10 years, advances in stem cell biology, 3-D bioprinting and high-content analytical methods such as transcriptomics have revolutionised our ability to build laboratory mimics of human tissues that can reduce the use of animals in the early stages of drug discovery. Pioneered in academia, these approaches are now established in mainstream biotech and importantly the regulators have moved to increasingly accept these non-animal models as reliable. Innovations such as retinal organoids, produced by Newcells Biotech, are being used globally to support the development of drugs that cure blindness, demonstrating the power of these new alternatives.”

He went on to say:

“While the prospect of fully replacing animal testing is likely to be at least a decade away, that prospect is no longer beyond the horizon and certainly significant reductions in animal testing will be driven through innovation and awareness within this timescale.”

The hon. Lady makes an important point. Although these technologies are developing year on year, they have been around for some time. She said 10 years, and some would say that some of them have been around for closer to 20 years. Why does she think we have not seen a corresponding fall in the number of animal tests to date? Does she believe that the current project licensing regime is rigorous enough?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I thank him for it. In his speech, he talked about some of the challenges around the existing regime. We have seen a huge growth in science, and in biotech specifically, which may, unfortunately, have led to increases in animal testing. But it is also true that the regulatory regime needs to reflect the advances in technology, and I will go on to talk about that.

As well as chips and organoids, we have techniques such as proteogenomics, single-cell sequencing and access to human cell types that we did not previously have. For example,, a leading UK cell-coding company, is able to manufacture human neurons that were previously available only through brain surgery. With such advances, I am certain that our brilliant scientists and innovators can help provide workable alternatives to animal testing. Given our country’s strengths in artificial intelligence and data science, Britain can be at the forefront of this scientific revolution, which will make animal testing a thing of the past.

I would, however, like to ask the Minister whether he considers that a priority. Estimates show that NAMs receive as little as 0.2% to 0.6% of UK medical research funding. Being a first mover in this field will bring with it jobs, investment, economic growth and better animal welfare. Will he therefore explain what the Government are doing to support British scientists and to incentivise them to proactively seek to use NAMs in British labs, creating a customer base to pull through new labs?

Before I entered Parliament, I worked for the regulator Ofcom, so I know that regulation can drive innovation and open up competition—or be a barrier to it. Labour is proposing a regulatory innovation office to help ensure that regulation does the former, not the latter. We need to take a proactive approach to ensuring that regulation reflects emerging methods of research if we are to drive forward scientific discovery and trials while reducing animal testing.

With these new technologies, there is a huge opportunity to create new drugs much faster and for less money. Today, in the US, it takes an average of 12 years and $1 billion to create a drug, from initial filing with the FDA to FDA approval. These tools can provide significantly better possible targets for a therapy, reducing time and therefore costs.

Responsive, proactive regulation will help to improve the uptake of new NAMs in accordance with the current regulations’ principles of replacement, thereby eliminating avoidable tests as soon as is practical. That would help to assure the public that their Government are moving in the right direction and doing things proactively.

At the same time, our pro-innovation approach will create opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators to develop and bring to market new NAMs, with a stable business environment and a path to market. Our ambition is clear, and the views of Members here today are well known. The opportunity is there to support NAMs development, drive the replacement of animal testing and support the welfare of all life—animal and human alike.

That will not happen overnight, and animal testing in human health has long been embedded in our pharma sector. However, we will not advance human therapies and cures, as we should, if we continue to rely on animals that do not get the diseases that humans suffer from.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Caroline, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for opening today’s important debate. As this is the first time I have spoken since, let me also commend him for his personal bravery when he spoke at the most recent Prime Minister’s questions.

The number of signatories to these petitions—I think almost all hon. Members have mentioned it—indicates the strength of public feeling on this matter. This is not the first time that this issue has been debated, although it is my first time. Although I think none of us would want such a debate to become an annual event, this is absolutely the right forum in which to debate these important matters. I therefore congratulate all those who have contributed and everybody who has signed the petitions.

I completely understand that the use of animals in science, including in toxicity testing, is a sensitive issue. More than that, I believe that everyone here would share my view that the day cannot come quickly enough when we are able to end the practice of animal testing. It is to hasten that moment that, as hon. Members have observed, the UK is one of the world’s leading nations in the development of non-animal methods. The Government are keen to ensure that those are utilised wherever possible, and I heard some frustration or concern from colleagues about the pace of adoption where the scientific methods exist. It is fair to say that most hon. Members accept—I have met charities and organisations working in the sector, including Animal Free Research UK—that we are not quite at that moment when we can fully replace animal testing.

To a degree, we are all in what my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) eloquently called that “mess of complexity”, but that does not mean that we are not clear about the direction of travel and the goal that we seek over time. As the Science and Research Minister, I take extremely seriously my responsibility within the multiple Departments that my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) talked about.

The Government are supporting and accelerating advances in biomedical science and technology to reduce reliance on the use of animals in research. When we hear data points about the percentage of research money that is spent, it is important to remember that not all of that research is clearly labelled as non-animal research. Developments in respect of artificial intelligence, cell cultures, cell research, understanding the function of human organs, and better imaging can all contribute to the advance of non-animal methods that can be put to work in this space. Indeed, we heard from the hon. Member for Newcastle ex vivo analysis upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah) about the very successful spin-out from her university, and we are seeing that sort of development elsewhere. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth said, the rate of growth has been exponential, and this is an amazing moment in science of all kinds. There have been extraordinary advances in non-invasive techniques, such as medical imaging, sensing and ex vivo analysis, which are revolutionising human healthcare.

Through UK Research and Innovation, the Government are actively supporting and funding the development and dissemination of the three Rs, and I will have more to say about that later. Anyone who was not familiar with the three Rs when they came here today is probably more familiar with them now. They stand, first, for the replacement of the use of animals where it is not necessary for research, which I think is the aim we all share. Then, there is the reduction in the use of animals in the meantime, and the latest figures I have, which are slightly more recent than the ones my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred to, show a 10% reduction in the use of animals in research. I do not want to over-weight any particular year’s numbers, and we will have to look through and see the continued reduction we all seek. However, the latest data I have, for 2022, showed a 10% reduction. Finally, in addition to replacement and reduction, there is refinement to eliminate or reduce distress to those animals that are involved. All of that is achieved primarily, but not exclusively, through the approximately £10 million of funding per year that goes to NC3Rs, the national centre for the three Rs. We heard of other examples, including Queen Mary University of London’s centre for animal research, which is also doing great work in this area.

We have also heard that the use of animals in science lies at the intersection of two important public goals. There are the benefits to humans and animals—a lot of the research benefits animals themselves—and to the environment, as we seek to have the very highest standards of environmental protection. But we must also balance that with the UK’s proud commitment to the highest possible levels of animal welfare. That is why, as we heard from a number of Members, the use of animals in testing is strictly limited to specific purposes, including assessing the safety of medicines or chemicals, protecting human health and protecting the environment—a lot of research goes on into compounds to understand their downstream effect on our rivers, lakes, oceans and natural habitats.

We also heard that the use of animals in scientific procedures is permitted only if there is no non-animal alternative available, and I will try to address some of the remarks that have been made specifically about the way in which that legal principle, laid down by Parliament in legislation, is applied in practice and whether it is as effective as my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth would like.

Despite the general legal protections, some animal testing of chemicals is required under UK law to protect the environment, but such testing is permitted only once it is established that no alternative exists, and it is dependent on the chemical and quantity being manufactured.

As I said, we are world-renowned for our leadership in this space, and we should continue to be alive and open to what other countries are doing. The example of Canada was mentioned, and some of the work I have done and the meetings I have had have focused precisely on how we can ensure that the UK remains the best place in the world in terms of the legislative framework and the science and how we can ensure that non-animal technologies and the constant advances in them are reflected in policy, practice, legislation in this place and animal research regulations.

Since it was established, the NC3Rs has invested in total almost £90 million in research and £27 million in contracts through its CRACK IT Challenges innovation scheme for UK and EU-based institutions, with that funding mainly focused on approaches for safer assessment of pharmaceuticals. The UKRI Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Council—a different body—supports research aimed at developing and applying innovative methods to study human and animal physiology, including in silico approaches, organ on a chip, and organoid and other advanced cell culture systems.

Despite that funding, I believe that more can be done. Ahead of today’s debate, I asked UKRI that we double our investment in research to achieve the three Rs and develop non-animal alternatives. I can announce that, from £10 million this year, that investment will reach £20 million per annum across the system in fiscal year 2024-25, which is a doubling of what is given to research in this space. In addition—I hope this is welcome across the House—I can announce that this summer, following on from work done by my predecessors and across other Departments, the Government will publish a plan to accelerate the development, validation and uptake of technologies and methods to reduce reliance on the use of animals in science. The former Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth, will recognise some of the impedance on a Minister at the Dispatch Box, but I can see no reason why that plan could not at least consider some of the machinery-of-government changes that he talked about.

I think everyone will welcome the significant increase in funding that the Minister has pledged today to support research on non-animal methods, but is his Department at all curious why the number of animals used in experiments has not gone down, despite huge increases in technology in this area? As part of a review of the licensing process for projects, would he consider trying to get us some analysis of whether the decision to grant a licence is objective, or subjective and based on something that some ethical committee claims?

My right hon. Friend makes a very good set of points, and that is something that we will look at further. I am already in discussion about the efficacy of the licensing regime with the noble Lord Sharpe, who is the Home Office Minister responsible.

As the Minister stands here today, how confident is he that the regulatory bodies that monitor these matters are sufficiently well versed and up to date with placement and reduction opportunities to prevent unnecessary testing? Does he have confidence in that system?

The hon. Lady asks a very detailed question, and she has made some statements that I would like to verify anyway. I was concerned to hear about dogs being shot or blown up and I would ask her, if she has evidence of that, please to share it with me. That would be a subject of great concern and perhaps bring to life some points in the regulatory system that have not crossed my desk to date. I take that matter very seriously, but it is also important that these debates are led by the facts, and I will let the facts decide the efficacy of the regulatory system.

We will produce the plan together with not only officials but the very widest group of stakeholders. In the coming weeks, a cross-Government group will convene to lead that work, and we will consult stakeholders across the industry, academia, medical research charities and those operating in this space. The commitment is to publish that detailed plan this summer.

Given the support for the petitions and the strong interest in this issue, on which Members of Parliament are regularly petitioned, I can announce today that we will restart the public attitudes to animal research survey, which was unfortunately delayed during the pandemic. It is important to me, and I am sure to the House, that these debates are informed by that survey. It was seen as a very useful tool for those working in this space, and I am keen that it is restarted. The next survey will take place in the coming months and the results will be published this autumn, restarting that chronological series about public attitudes.

We talked about how animals in science are highly regulated, and I hear the concerns about that process. Understandably, as with any regulatory process, different people will have different views about efficacy. There is a three-tier system of licensing, at the establishment, project and individual level. Again, I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth made a very thoughtful contribution; perhaps I will meet him to benefit from some of his insights on that. He talked about the importance of having qualified vets in the process. It is important to say that there are qualified vets, and the Animals in Science Committee oversees that process and advises the Home Office on it.

However, endemic in any regulatory or licensing regime is the danger—I do not say that this is indeed the case— of incumbent thinking. My right hon. Friend talked about there not being enough challenge in the process. One potential way of putting in more challenge—or nudging—is increasing the fees for licences, which the Home Office is going to do shortly. My right hon. Friend talked about a levy. This is not a levy, but by increasing the fees, and therefore the burden, we will perhaps shift some of the presumption away from defaulting to testing with animals.

In addition, the Home Office will review the duration of licences. The current duration is typically five years. We have observed the fast rate of change in technology. The Home Office will review the duration to see whether a shorter licence period would be more appropriate, and whether people coming back more often would put more challenge into the system.

In conclusion, I want to be clear: it is the Government’s position that we want to replace the use of animals in scientific procedures with non-animal alternatives wherever we can. For now, the carefully regulated use of animals in scientific research remains necessary if we are to protect humans and the wider environment. That is why our current approach is to continue to support and fund the development, dissemination and adoption of techniques that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research, and to ensure that the regulatory framework is both robust in law and rigorous in practice. I thank hon. Members for their insightful and thoughtful contributions to today’s debate, and I look forward to working together going forward.

Do not worry, Dame Caroline; I do not intend to take the full remaining hour and a half to wind up. I thank the petitioners for bringing this topic to the House for us to debate, and I thank colleagues for their contributions.

I want to clarify for the record something I said earlier about the non-publication of data. I was referring to detailed information on procedures by establishment type—in other words, whether the venture is a commercial or an academic one—which ceased being published in 2021, and the annual publication of technical summaries for project licences that are granted. I may have inadvertently suggested that we stopped publishing data on how many procedures took place; I just want to clarify that that is not the case.

I thank again all the organisations, campaign groups, charities and others, many of whom are represented in the Public Gallery, for briefing me and colleagues in advance of today’s debate. I thank in particular my right hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who made an incredibly detailed and knowledgeable contribution, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch). I particularly enjoyed her description of her “melting in a mess of complexity”—a great Tinder profile if ever I heard one. I will certainly be investing in that.

I thank the Minister for his response. Regulars at petitions debates will know how frustrating it is to come here only to hear a response stating why the status quo is to continue; it is rare that we leave with nuggets of future policy. The restarting of the public attitudes survey, the doubling of investment next year, the Home Office review of licence duration and fees, and that all-important plan are excellent steps in the right direction. I am grateful that he was able to make some announcements during the debate, and I am sure that the organisations that are represented in the Public Gallery and that briefed Members will want to engage with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology in order to feed into the plan. I am very grateful for that announcement. As we have made clear, if we do not make any progress, we will be back next year talking about exactly the same thing, because that is what the petitioners expect of us.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered e-petitions 633591 and 645885 relating to animal testing and non-animal research methods.

Sitting adjourned.