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Animal Research: Primates

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether there are any legal impediments (a) to the imposition of a ban on imports to the United Kingdom of all primates, dead or alive; and (b) to the restriction of research using them to descendants of animals already resident in the United Kingdom. [HL6933]

Any European Union (EU) or UK ban on the import of primates, dead or alive, not prohibited by the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) would amount to a prima facie breach of World Trade Organisation rules. In order for a ban to be justified, it would have to be capable of falling within the scope of the permitted exceptions listed in Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. Those most likely to apply are Article XX(a) (public morals), Article XX(b) (protection of health and life) and/or Article XX(g) (conservation of exhaustible natural resources). Further, any such restriction must also be compliant with the requirement that there is no unjustifiable or arbitrary discrimination nor a disguised restriction on trade.

There are no animal health grounds for imposing a total ban on imports into the UK of all primates, dead or alive. A unilateral UK ban would not be in accordance with Community law, which provides for imports subject to compliance with animal health controls. The Government have no policy in favour of imposing restrictions on the import of non-CITES listed primates on the grounds of conservation.

In addition, any restrictions on imports to the UK from within the European Community would have to be justifiable within Community law and the requirement of free movement of goods. Any departure from an EU-wide position on trade with third countries could be held to be in breach of trade rules under Community law.

The restriction of research using primates to the descendants of animals already resident in the UK is not permissible under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which regulates the use of living animals in research and testing. This is because the 1986 Act gives the Secretary of State a discretion which can be used to authorise regulated procedures to be undertaken on primates which are sourced from overseas.

Section 10(3) of the 1986 Act provides that the conditions of a project licence issued under the Act shall, unless the Secretary of State for the Home Department considers that an exception is justified, include a condition to the effect that no non-human primates shall be used under the licence unless it has been bred at a designated breeding establishment, or obtained from a designated supplying establishment. The Secretary of State for the Home Department cannot fetter his discretion to grant an exception; he must always consider each application on its merits. The published guidance on the operation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 gives guidance about the exercise of this discretion to permit the use of non-human primates from overseas.