I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 611810, relating to commercial breeding for laboratories.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. The prayer of the petition states:
“Revoke all licences (PEL) for commercial breeders of laboratory animals. Require all Project Licences (PPLs) applications be reviewed by an independent Non Animal Methods (NAMs) specialist committee. Revise s24 ASPA 1986 to allow review. Urge International Regulators to accept & promote NAMs. We believe the use of animals is scientifically, ethically, morally and financially (taxpayer funded) unjustifiable. Defined in 1959, UK law enshrines the principles of the 3Rs. The UK must abandon these old principles and focus on the development and use of Non Animal Methods. Having an independent NAMs specialist committee review applications for Project Licences (PPLs) prior to their approval, so that a licence is only granted if there is no replacement method. Commercial breeders of laboratory animals are profit rather than animal-welfare focused.”
The petition received over 102,000 signatures and counting, including 144 from my own Carshalton and Wallington constituency. I thank the petition creators for taking the time to come and speak to me about why they set up the petition and why they thought it was so important. I also thank everyone who signed the petition and in particular everyone in the Public Gallery.
The inspiration for the petition, while broadly focused on the policy of animal testing, relates to an individual case, which I am sure hon. Members will want to reference, of the ongoing peaceful protest organised by Camp Beagle of a laboratory just outside of Cambridge. Activists have been sitting outside the MBR Acres site in Cambridgeshire for over 18 months. The petition is another way of supporting those trying to raise awareness of commercial breeding and animal testing. The petition creator also took the time to tell me that this is a first step in a campaign to try to change the law so that animals in facilities such as MBR Acres are protected by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, instead of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which they currently fall under. There is a lot of interest in the debate, so I will try to keep my remarks as brief as possible so that everyone can have a say. I will set out the current regulations and processes for animal testing in the UK, before talking about the asks of the petition in more detail.
The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 requires research establishments to use scientifically satisfactory non-animal methods wherever possible. The premise of my speech is the fact that this requirement is not being properly enforced or regulated. The UK legal framework should ensure accordance with the principles of the three Rs, which stand for replacement, reduction and refinement. Under the law, a licence cannot be granted to a testing laboratory unless the Home Office is satisfied that a non-animal approach could not give the desired scientific answer. Applicants are asked to demonstrate that they have considered non-animal alternatives for the tests they propose to do, but in reality this is treated more like a box-ticking exercise, providing only the most cursory information, such as how opportunities to replace animal testing with non-animal methods were considered. The application is then evaluated by one of a very small number of inspectors—a medical doctor or veterinarian who is not necessarily an expert in that area of testing—and inspectors often have a background in animal testing themselves.
The reality is that applications are very unlikely to be refused. According to some research, no licences were refused for animal experimentation between 2018 and 2021. That is a problem, because analysis of the licences granted during the first half of 2020 showed that researchers often failed to adequately explain their strategy to search for non-animal methods. In one example, only a one-word answer was given on the application. Simply put, the legal framework to uphold the principle of the three Rs is not being effectively enforced. The implications of that cannot be overstated.
I came across a shocking statistic when preparing for this debate. In 2021, over 3 million scientific procedures were conducted on animals. If that figure was not large enough already, it was a 6% increase on the year before. The use of dogs increased by 3%, cats by 6%, horses by 29% and monkeys by 17%. I can only speculate why those increases occurred. Will the Minister share any data collected by the Home Office on the reasons for that increase? It seems counter-productive, because only a small proportion of animal experiments are conducted to satisfy regulatory requirements. In 2021 again, around 21% of experimental procedures fell into that category. That is a really low number.
A recent report from the animals in science regulation unit described deeply troubling animal welfare failings in British laboratories between 2019 and 2021. I am sure colleagues have been sent videos, pictures and links to many of them, especially regarding the MBR Acres site in Cambridgeshire. Those failings include a non-human primate dying after becoming trapped behind a restraint device, boxes of 112 rats being moved in error to a compacter, where they were crushed alive, and numerous incidents of animals being left without food or water.
In my view, the UK cannot claim to have high standards of animal testing welfare when we allow animals to die of starvation, suffocation or asphyxiation—whether they are used for testing or whether they become one of the numbered surplus that get slaughtered every year. To give some numbers on that, in 2017, 1.81 million animals were either bred for laboratory use and discarded as surplus, or killed for their body parts to be used for testing.
On a more positive note, the number of procedures being carried out by commercial organisations has fallen, although the number conducted by medical schools has risen. For example, 60% of procedures were commercial in 1988, compared with just 27% in 2020. However, no information is published about which establishments are primarily engaged in the breeding and creating of genetically altered animals, as opposed to experimental procedures.
The Government stopped publishing detailed information on procedures by establishment type in 2021. That means we do not truly know how many surplus animal deaths there have been. To be clear, that is animals bred only to be killed without any testing. This used to happen under an EU regulation, but since leaving the European Union, the UK is not required to publish statistics on the number of animals that die within the system without having undergone any testing procedures.
Currently, aside from the annual publication of non-technical summaries for projects granted licences for regulated animal research procedures, the Home Office is not obliged to release details of licence applications. Some information is actually prevented from release under section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. That lack of transparency is concerning. A Government consultation took place way back in 2014 to consider amending that legislation, but no action has been taken since and the consultation results remain unpublished. Section 24 prevents an open debate and wider scientific scrutiny of the use of animals in research. I hope that the Minister can update us on the Government’s position on the future use of section 24.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for setting out this extremely important issue to the House. Does he agree that it is crucial that the work taken forward should be based on evidence, and that as such we should have a public scientific hearing, as I called for in early-day motion 278, with support from Peter Egan, Ricky Gervais and the Betsy Beagle campaign, For Life On Earth? We must take forward this issue, but it has to be based on science, and we therefore need a scientific hearing to find the evidence base.
I absolutely agree. The prayer of the petition calls for the establishment of a non-animal methods committee to look into this very issue. I hope we will hear some positive remarks on that.
The number of animal laboratory inspectors remains very low, with just 23 full-time equivalents in 2021. This is particularly concerning as the vast majority of non-compliances continue to be self-reported, rather than discovered through a series of inspections. Last year, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals resigned from the animals in science regulation unit, citing concerns about the lack of in-person visits to animal testing sites by inspectors.
With so many procedures taking place—again, there were more than 3 million in 2021—and with so few inspectors and so much self-reporting, it leads one to question whether the picture of animal testing welfare in the UK is actually accurate. Could the Minister provide us with more information on the steps the Government are taking to increase the number of inspectors? Surely, 23 full-time inspectors looking at more than 3 million procedures cannot be enough.
My hon. Friend presents a worrying situation caused by having so few animal inspectors. The UK used to lead the world in animal testing, banning animal testing for cosmetics some 15 years before the EU. Does he agree that we should use this opportunity to once again make the UK a world leader by banning animal testing and ensuring that the NAMs come forward?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The UK led the way on banning the use of animals for cosmetic testing. Indeed, just in this Parliament, we have passed so much animal welfare legislation. This issue does seem to be a glaring omission that I believe we should look at.
We can debate the merits or otherwise of animal testing in the past, but there is growing evidence and a growing consensus in the scientific community that we are reaching—if we have not already reached—the limit of any research potential of animal testing. There has been a lack of progress in many key areas of health that concern all of us, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and many other diseases, especially cancer. Animal experimentation is cited as playing a major role in the slow rate of progress, due to the significant biological differences between species, which prevent the translation of findings from animals to humans.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful presentation. On that point, is it not increasingly the case that animal experimentation is just bad science and, worse still, is actually hindering the development of treatments that benefit humankind? On both scores, it is something we should be consigning to the history books.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The evidence demonstrates that animal testing has very little benefit. I think we are in the single figures when we look at the percentage of tests that have gone from being successful in animals to successful in humans. It is a waste of money, and we should therefore increasingly be looking to consign animal testing to the dustbin of history. To give a further example, a 2019 study found that it could not recommend any animal model that could reliably predict the efficacy of potential treatments for Alzheimer’s, which is one of the largest health challenges facing this country.
Finally, I want to talk about what the petition is calling for—a NAMs committee—and expand a little on what NAMs, or non-animal methods, are. Because of technological advancements, NAMs have the power not only to replace animal testing but to improve the robustness of the testing that we do, provide more accurate results and be more cost-effective. They are directly relevant to human patients, so they are much more likely to provide the scientific and medical breakthroughs that we are looking for than animal testing. There is growing evidence that NAMs are able to predict potential harms to patients from new drugs that were not identified by animal tests. For example, a recent study found that Emulate’s liver-on-chips were able to correctly identify 87% of drugs that caused drug-induced liver injury to patients despite passing through animal testing. University of Oxford researchers have developed an animal-free model of stroke by using organ-on-a-chip technology. They were able to replicate the blood-brain barrier and mimic a stroke, which creates new possibilities for testing stroke drugs in human cells.
Without regulatory change, the Government could create a NAMs committee to ensure that the UK legal framework is enforced. An independent NAMs specialist committee could review applications for project licences prior to approval so that a licence is granted only if there truly is no replacement method. If the committee felt that that was not the case, it could refer the application back to the applicant, and those assessing it, with advice on where to find appropriate NAMs to meet the research or testing need. That would help to ensure that, as the 1986 Act stipulates, animal testing licences are granted only if there are no appropriate replacements, and it would promote the wider use, research and development of NAMs. A NAMs committee could be constructed in the same way as the existing, animals in science committee: as an advisory, non-departmental public body that is sponsored by the Home Office. Members would be independent NAMs experts who represent a wide range of expertise.
Those proposals are not something that I or the petition creators have picked out of thin air; they are already being implemented across the world. The most recent development came just in December last year, when US President Biden signed the FDA Modernisation Act 2.0, which will make it easier for researchers to choose non-animal testing methods. I strongly believe that if the US can do it, we can do it too—and make a success of it.
I reiterate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) mentioned, our fantastic record of implementing animal welfare reforms, including the recent Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, the Ivory Act 2018, the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021, which increased the maximum penalties for animal cruelty, and so much more. However, this issue is a glaring omission. I hope that the Minister can update the House on what steps her Department is taking to address problems surrounding commercial breeding, what investigations there are into the MBR Acres site, and what consideration she has given to establishing a NAMs committee, so that the UK can finally adopt the three Rs, adhere to the letter of the 1986 Act and move away from animal exploitation in favour of innovation.
I remind Members that they should bob—be on their feet—if they wish to be called. I will not impose a fixed time limit at the moment, but roughly six minutes per speech should see us comfortably home and allow time for the Front-Bench spokespeople and Elliot Colburn to wind up.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on his excellent opening speech.
It might come as a surprise—it certainly did to me—that animal experimentation is on the increase in the UK. As we have heard, according to the Government’s own figures, in 2021 over 3 million scientific procedures were conducted on animals in Great Britain, which is an increase of 6% on 2020. The use of dogs increased by 3%, cats by 6%, horses by 29% and monkeys by 17%. Some 80% of experiments on animals were for research-only purposes. Commercial breeding exists to meet the demands and needs of this industry in animal experimentation; without that demand, commercial breeding would not exist, and there would be no need to have this debate.
I think it is fair to say that when I talk to members of the public about this issue, those who do accept animal research think that we have to have it because it is the only option and it really benefits humans. They therefore support commercial breeding for the same reason. However, I think most of those people are unaware that, when it comes to treatment for humans, there is a growing body of evidence that animal procedures produce poor-quality results, and in some cases can actually hold back progress.
Scientific progress has shown us that many assumptions we held as common sense were wrong; the discovery of DNA and the sequencing of entire genomes has shown the amazing close relatedness between the genetic make-up of different mammals. However, when it comes to how those genes actually function—the internal chemistry of animals—our common-sense assumption that humans are not the same as mice, dogs, monkeys, cats, or any other animals used in scientific research and testing, has proven correct. While supporters of animal experiments will point to the successes of the development of the cancer drug Herceptin and diabetic insulin, there are failures as well, such as TGN1412, where a dose 500 times smaller than the “safe and effective” dose used in animals killed five human subjects, and Vioxx; relying solely on its results when tested on monkeys resulted in the deaths of, and injuries to, nearly 8,000 people.
To be of value, a research method must prove reliably predictive results. Animal methods fail to do that, for a number of reasons. Major differences exist between species, relating to anatomy, organ structure and function, metabolism, chemical absorption, genetics and lifespan. A homogenous group of animals living in a controlled experimental setting cannot predict varied human patients with their individual life histories and wide range of environmental factors. Artificially created diseases in animals in laboratories cannot accurately reflect naturally occurring human illnesses. Common adverse reactions from humans, such as nausea, mental disturbance, dizziness, fatigue, depression, confusion and double vision, cannot be detected in animals.
A number of articles have been published in The BMJ and elsewhere criticising the lack of any systematic review of the efficacy of using animals in biomedical research. In fact, a bias in favour of animal research has been shown to be holding back progress in some areas—we have already heard the example of Alzheimer’s treatments. I fear that millions of pounds and tens of thousands of hours of research may have been wasted on a scientific dead end, but worse than the time and money wasted: a drug that damages animals in early tests and is therefore abandoned could be safe and effective in humans. Valuable drugs that were nearly lost because of their toxicity in animals include the breast cancer drug Tamoxifen and the leukaemia drug Gleevec.
We cannot know how many potential treatments have been overlooked in this way, but thankfully, as we have heard, there are alternatives that focus on human biological processes to investigate disease and potential treatments. Those use human cells, tissues and organs, and existing data and technologies such as organ-on-a-chip technology or artificial intelligence, along with other procedures. They are called the new approach methodologies. By providing results that are directly relevant to human patients, NAMs are much more likely to generate breakthroughs than outdated animal-based techniques.
NAMs and human-relevant research is a fast-growing sector, and one in which the UK has the potential to be right at the forefront of innovation, leading the way. At the University of Oxford, for example, Dr Paul Holloway has developed a new, animal-free model of stroke, as we have just heard. Using organ-on-a-chip technology, he was able to replicate the human blood-brain barrier and mimic stroke, enabling new possibilities to test stroke drugs in human cells. A 2021 report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research predicted that the UK NAM industry could contribute £2.5 billion to UK GDP by 2026, an increase of 700% from 2017. There is so much that the Government could and should be doing to promote that area of technology.
I support three of the proposals from Animal Free Research UK, which has urged Members to speak in this debate: to produce an action plan for encouraging the widespread adoption of human-relevant research techniques; to launch a well-resourced programme of practical support and training to improve awareness and knowledge of human-relevant techniques; and to provide funding to improve the human relevance of research on a scale that reflects the urgency and importance of the issue.
I urge the Minister to take whatever steps she can to move research away from the cruel, wasteful and unhelpful focus on animal experimentation, and towards a future of new technologies and research methods focused on human modelling that are better for us, better for animals and better for our economy.
As always, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Efford. I thank the more than 102,000 people who signed the petition. I know there was some anxiety among them that we would not do justice to it today, and I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) for doing it more than justice. There appears to be a degree of consensus in the room, and I hope the Minister does not let us down at the end of the debate but indicates the way forward.
Breeding animals solely for the purpose of animal testing all too often condemns them to a life of suffering, culminating in a painful death. As we have heard, conditions in such breeding facilities have been shown to be unhygienic and cruel, with the animals exhibiting signs of extreme stress and frustration. That is just in the breeding facilities, and we know that the animals then go on to the laboratory, where who knows what they will have to endure. I do not want to repeat the stats and everything my colleagues have said, but I do want to endorse the point that the three Rs are clearly not working as they should, particularly when it comes to replacing animals in testing.
I do not think we will see a “big bang” moment at which animal testing just stops, so I want to focus on the five incremental steps where swift progress is possible. There is really no excuse not to act. First, we know that not all animal experiments are conducted for the purposes of medical research; many animals are still used in the development and testing of products such as food additives and pesticides. At one uni, researchers tested cannabis on, I think, rats to see whether it gave them the munchies—given that they were based at a university, I do not think they really needed to test on animals to come to a conclusion on that! After the ban on using animals for cosmetics testing, and the more recent ban on using them to test household products, will the Minister tell us what is next? Let us keep moving the issue forward.
Secondly, the Government could restrict the types of tests that are licensed. Colleagues of a similar age to me will remember the campaign to outlaw the infamous Draize test, whereby toxic substances were dripped into the eyes, or on to the skin, of healthy rabbits. I have recently had several robust discussions with Bristol University about its use of the forced swim test on mice to induce anxiety, fear and stress—all to collect data of questionable quality. That raises another point, which has come up in some of the figures that have been mentioned: is scientific curiosity a good enough reason to carry out endless tests on animals that do not actually yield results? Surely they should be used only when trying to reach a conclusion, not just out of curiosity.
Thirdly, the Government could build on the success of the primate testing ban by restricting the range of animals that can be tested on. As we have heard, MBR Acres in Cambridgeshire continues to breed 2,000 beagles each year, solely for animal testing. Beagles, as opposed to other dogs, are favoured for this kind of toxicity testing precisely because of their docile, compliant nature. They are either injected or force-fed poisonous chemicals, and they are asphyxiated before an autopsy is conducted to assess the effects on them. Dogs bred for testing have also been forced to inhale pesticides or have been deliberately given heart attacks. We have also heard that cats, horses and monkeys are still being used. I do not think any of my constituents would support the continued testing on beagles, and we could have a quick win on this issue if we outlawed that.
The hon. Lady makes a powerful point, especially on the types of animals being used. It is abhorrent not only that dogs such as beagles and others, and horses, are used but that, as we have heard, they are increasingly being used. Some 3% more dogs, and more than 20% more horses, have been tested on this year. Does the hon. Lady agree that, with the physiology of these animals being so different from that of humans, we should not be increasing the number of dogs and horses that we are testing on? Does she agree that we should ban testing on dogs and horses?
I entirely agree.
Fourthly, we could reduce the number of licences issued by simply encouraging greater transparency. We have heard about section 24 of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said that from 2018 to 2021, every licence that was applied for was granted, but we need to know the figures; they need to be out in the public domain.
We also need to avoid duplication. I know that commercial interests come into play, but, particularly with the UK leaving REACH—the EU’s chemicals regulatory regime—there is a real danger that we could end up with even more tests having to be carried out when they are already being done elsewhere. I know that campaigners and scientists have called for data sharing, but it is just not happening.
Again, the Government have been very slow to respond. The Environmental Audit Committee did an inquiry into chemicals regulation post Brexit, which was notable mainly because the now Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), suggested that the British version of REACH should be called BREACH, which would not be ideal for a regulator. I hope the Minister can say a little about that.
My fifth and final point relates to what everyone has been saying about the development of NAMs and alternatives. I will not rehearse the arguments that have already been made about effectiveness, but I have certainly spoken about how effective animal testing is, as opposed to the non-animal methods that are being developed. Queen Mary University of London has set up its own unit. When I spoke to scientists who are involved in that, it was clear that there are real experts in the field who support a move away from animal testing and do not think it is effective. I will conclude on that point.
As I said, I am not expecting the Minister to say today that she is going to declare an end to animal testing. We want to see the three Rs—which have been Labour policy for a long time—being properly enforced, and I have suggested some ways in which she could make some progress in that regard.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for leading today’s debate on this important topic, and the 102,230 members of the British public that signed e-petition 611810, including 137 from my constituency of Rutherglen and Hamilton West.
The petition raises a crucial point when we think about animal testing. The breeding of animals specifically for this purpose may not immediately cross our minds. It is interesting and concerning that the Government’s response to the petition did not address this point. The text of the petition itself raises an important consideration about the model used in the UK:
“We believe the use of animals is scientifically, ethically, morally and financially (taxpayer funded) unjustifiable.”
With the use of animal testing so completely out of step with the large majority of public opinion, the financial aspect—the part taxpayer money has to play in funding continued animal experiments—should not be overlooked. The Government need to reconsider their position on this matter.
As an animal lover, laboratory testing of animals is an issue I feel strongly about, as do many of my constituents. That is why I tabled an Adjournment debate on the matter just before Christmas 2021. It is why I am also very disappointed to see a continued lack of nuance in the Government’s stance. At the close of the Home Office’s reply to this petition, it states:
“The Government is clear that the use of animals in science is justified, for the benefits it brings to human, animal and environmental health and safety.”
I am disappointed to be here almost 13 months exactly from my Adjournment debate, in which I covered the unpredictability of animal testing results when replicated in human medicine trials, to have to labour the same points once again. Let me be clear: it is well documented that animal trials cannot reliably predict, or translate to, outcomes for humans. One might think this would be common sense; as a species, we are inherently different to the animals tested on. That has been shown time and again by experts in detailed and peer-reviewed research, and in relation to a huge number of diseases, including—I will give just a small sample—diabetes, cardiovascular disease and HIV. About 100 HIV vaccines have been tested on animals and zero work in humans. In fact, Dr Richard Klausner of the National Cancer Institute said:
“We have cured mice of cancer for decades—and it simply didn’t work in humans.”
Even if we did not care about the suffering of the animals tested on, which I am sure is not the case for almost everyone, how can anyone justify the money and time wasted on seeking out cures and treatments through methods that we know do not work? Even if we take away all the reported issues with the scrutiny given to licence applications and the reliability of results, the key thing I cannot understand is why we are still relying on a legislative framework passed in 1986.
Investment into research and more sophisticated non-animal reliant methods and technologies is overdue. It is not acceptable that in 2021, 161,000 animals were involved in procedures judged “severe” or “non-recovery” in terms of harm caused. It is not acceptable that the Government view that as a necessary evil. It is not necessary, and a solution requires just a little more thinking and work.
I hope the Minister will provide a commitment that the Government will look seriously at this issue, and urgently publish a strategy that will see animal testing phased out and other methods better funded and researched. I hope she will acknowledge that the current framework is not fit for purpose, and that continued state-licensed animal experimentation is a stain on the reputation of the UK, which is at the forefront of animal welfare issues. The UK prides itself on being a leader in the animal welfare space. If we do not adapt and change immediately, we will fall behind our international allies; we already are falling behind.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for introducing this e-petition debate. I also thank the 170 constituents of mine from Coventry North West who signed the e-petition.
Let me be unequivocal: Britain must reclaim its position at the forefront of animal rights protection. For years, this crucial issue has been sidelined. Key legislation, such as the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill and the animals abroad Bill have gone missing without a trace. We cannot allow the same to happen with animal testing.
I am proud that our country outlawed the testing of cosmetics on animals in 1997. Although it was long overdue, it was a welcome achievement. However, over the past two decades, technological advances have changed the testing landscape dramatically, so it is time the law caught up. With fewer than 3 million procedures a year, animal testing is at its lowest ever level since 2004, and more humane and non-animal alternatives are used to achieve the same end. Many Members have spoken about the alternatives.
As the chair of the all-party parliamentary pharmacy group, I have no intention to oppose legitimate medical research. However, as the RSPCA said, far too many animals are still being put through experiments that do not constitute vital medical research. Most concerning of all is severe suffering, whereby animals are subjected to the highest level of pain, debility or death in the name of research. Although there has been significant progress in recent years, with a 61% drop in the number of procedures causing severe suffering carried out in the UK since 2014, we need a cast-iron commitment to ending the procedure all together.
The time for action is now. A generation on from the achievements of the 1990s, we need a fundamental and binding review of the entire field of animal testing. Only a root and branch, searching inquiry will protect animals in the short term and prevent their use in testing in the long term, as more and more alternatives are developed. Equally, as we set goals for the future, we cannot neglect the animals that are suffering as we speak, so a review must also commit to examining conditions as they are today, and it should review the situation at Camp Beagle.
Despite the progress that has been made, I am deeply concerned that animal rights are on the verge of a dramatic leap backwards. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill could wipe thousands of vital regulations from our statute book overnight. That means that the ban on testing cosmetics on animals may be brought to a sudden end. More and more of my constituents are concerned about the dangerous pattern they see emerging from the Government’s action on animal welfare. New laws, long promised, are dropped the moment the spotlight moves to the next issue dominating the front pages. Even those that manage to slip through the net and reach the statute book are frequently watered down with enforcement mechanisms that nobody could honestly believe are transparent or effective. All that is taking place against a backdrop of a flurry of vital laws that are due to be jettisoned with no democratic oversight whatever.
Animal research and testing cannot be swept under the rug any longer, so I urge the Government to seek a compassionate and thorough understanding of the science and the consequences for both animals and people alike. Going backwards cannot be an option. As science makes more and more research possible without the need to involve animals, it is our duty in this place to react and ensure that the law keeps up.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Efford, and to take part in the debate, which is of great concern to many of our constituents. I am here on behalf of the 169 people in and around Canterbury who signed the petition, and of those who contact me regularly about animal welfare issues. I want to declare an interest as a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and also as chair of the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group. At a recent meeting, we heard from people who work for animal charities who outlined the trauma, abuse and suffering that some dogs experience in the laboratory settings used in commercial breeding. It is very traumatic to hear those cases and to see the footage gained, often at risk to the people who take it.
At first, “commercial breeding” as a singular term does not sound too controversial. It sounds as though we allow dogs to give birth and animals to be bred in order to save lives, and then give those dogs to a loving family, but, once we have had our eyes opened to the horrific practices that operate up and down the United Kingdom, that cloak of innocence is soon removed. I want to pay tribute to my friend Marc Abraham OBE, who arranges the events for our APPG to bring together professionals from the industry and to allow discussions to be had and strategies to be created. That ensures that debates such as this take place in which Members of Parliament have full knowledge of the issues.
It is important to reiterate that of the 3.1 million procedures conducted in 2021, 1.7 million were experimental procedures—often a codeword for abusive practices—and 1.3 million were cases of genetically altered animals. I acknowledge that there is a difference between trying to prevent life-limiting disease and experiments about whether rats get the munchies, as we have heard before, or about whether hair conditioner makes our hair more shiny, which, thankfully, are against the law now.
The annual statistics provided by the Government allow for analysis of trends. However, I have concerns that the data gathering does not record the type of establishment used—the data previously showed that—and I would be grateful if the Minister could outline whether there are any plans to re-commit to that type of data collection.
The petition calls for a number of amendments to the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, a 37-year-old piece of legislation. Since then, we have of course had huge technological advances. I hope the Minister will agree that it is time for a new piece of legislation that not only addresses how state-of-the art equipment is used when genetically engineering animals, but how technology can help issue licensing and monitor the behaviour and operations of commercial breeding with the aim of bringing the cruellest aspect of that practice to an end.
With new technology being created every day, some of the procedures that inflict the most pain and suffering on animals such as beagles can now be simulated artificially through computer modelling, non-invasive scanning methods and cell cultures, to name a few. We have heard about AI as well. Those new opportunities can lead to better animal welfare, which is what the 102,000 members of the public who signed the petition, and many more, demand of us. Let us end the outdated, unpopular and barbaric procedures sooner rather than later and encourage investment in NAMs, which we know are the future of medical research.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford.
I am here today because three separate constituents have come to my Friday surgery and opened my eyes to how the existing framework in this country is ethically, practically, morally and scientifically bankrupt. I pay tribute to the valiant protesters at Camp Beagle who, for 18 months, have been outside the gates of Marshall Bio Resources in Cambridgeshire—it is happening not too far from here.
I was sent some secretly obtained footage of just a couple of minutes, not highlights culled from several hours, and it was concerning and upsetting to see the barbaric conditions that the beagles are kept in, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) said. Beagles are good-natured animals who will not bite back, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) pointed out. They are bred in factory conditions, with no space to run around. They have never experienced sunshine, wind, rain or any such things—no natural light. I think there were some pictures of them eating faeces, so God knows what diet they are given.
In those beagles’ lifetime, after 16 weeks—they are only babies, puppies—they go to laboratories and who knows what happens. They are injected with bleach, fertiliser and all such things, even at that young age. They are sentient beings, just as we are, and that should not continue. MBR Acres sounds quite nice, as if the beagles are running around, gambolling in the fields, but that is far from the case, and every time what happens to them is put to MBR Acres, it says it is fully compliant with the law and a fully licensed establishment. That law, however, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury pointed out, is the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986—but 1986 was a different world. Even I was at school at then. How many Prime Ministers have we had since then—okay, we have had three this year alone—and there was not even the internet.
People ask: “What is the alternative?” We heard about NAMs, the non-animal routes we should be going down, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy). There is a better way of doing things: cutting-edge technologies, modelling three-dimension cell cultures, organs on chips, artificial intelligence. That all harnesses scientific progress. Why are we still stuck in 1986, when “The Chicken Song” by Spitting Image—“Hold a chicken in the air”—was No. 1? It was a completely different world.
The Cruelty Free International pressure group sets everything out in a detailed plan. We could have a regulator, or even a committee to mirror the Animals in Science Committee, a NAMs committee that could monitor such things. ASPA, the 1986 Act, sets out just bare-minimum guidelines, not even best practice, for the care, transit, housing and killing of research animals. We have two sites in this country: the Marshall Bio or MBR one, and Envigo. If we look across the Atlantic at the USA, one of the Envigo sites in America was closed recently because of gross welfare violations. We were told that when we left the EU, we would level up and have higher standards than anywhere else, but that is very far from the truth and from what seems to be happening.
I am also concerned about how protesters are demonised—as recently as today—even though in this country we have a long tradition of civil disobedience, with the suffragettes, the Levellers, the Diggers and all such things. As a statement of MBR Acres puts it:
“Unfortunately, extremists, including long-time activists, are committing unlawful and dangerous activities each day.”
My constituent, Helen Cheese-Probert, is not what we might call a troublemaker. She is a scientist by training, who came most recently to my surgery on Friday. It is not only her; Ricky Gervais, Will Young and Chris Packham are all on side as well. It is not just the demonisation of protesters that worries me, but the validity of animal experimentation for human conditions. Some figures show that 95% of cases of things done to animals fail to translate to human conditions, so why are we doing it? When our kids are sick, we do not take them to the vet, do we? That stands to reason.
It is time to deploy NAMs technology to its fullest extent and to consign commercial breeding for animal experimentation—it just sounds horrible—to the history books, to the scrapheap or dustbin of the past. When people my age were kids we used to see videos of monkeys being forced to smoke cigarettes, but now we think that is totally barbaric and wrong.
I will end by saying that, as Gandhi put it, the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals. There is a lot of room for improvement and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about fixing this outmoded picture.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Efford, and I am delighted once again to lead for my party in this debate on calls to ban commercial breeding for laboratories and to implement reform to approve non-animal methodologies. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for opening it so comprehensively.
Like many of my constituents in North Ayrshire and Arran, I am one of the majority of people who believe that we need to act on what is widely accepted as the unethical, cruel, immoral, counter-productive and damaging use of animals in experiments, as has been explained by Members from across the Chamber. We have, of course, debated the subject before, most recently, I think, in October 2021. We have debated it many times, but it keeps coming back to us via the Petitions Committee, because it simply will not go away. The huge number of people who repeatedly sign petitions about the matter ensures that it will keep coming back for debate unless and until common sense prevails—until science prevails, as inevitably it must. However, we need that to happen as soon as possible for a whole range of reasons, many of which we have heard about today.
Before I go any further, I must thank all the organisations that have provided such excellent briefings for today’s debate, such as the Betsy, Beagle Ambassador For Life On Earth campaign; the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, or FRAME; the RSPCA; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA; and a whole range of other organisations that have campaigned on this issue for decades.
Animal experiments fail in the search for human treatment and cures. Penicillin stayed on the shelf for over a decade because the tests done on rabbits by that great Scot, Alexander Fleming, led him to believe that it would be ineffective in humans. There is a mountain of evidence to show that failure and that is why we need a rigorous public scientific hearing to demonstrate it. Anyone who wishes to argue the opposite, without any confidence or credibility, should relish the opportunity to demonstrate their views in the forum of a public scientific hearing.
We know that some Members of this House and some on the Government Benches would argue in support of the status quo, yet in the repeated debates that we have on the issue they never seem to turn out to defend that position, except for the Minister, of course, who has little choice in the matter. We have MPs in this House who believe that the current situation is the correct one. If that is genuinely a held view, it should be able to be defended. If it cannot be defended, these things ought not to be happening.
While we wait and push for change, the opportunities for the treatment of and search for cures of terrible diseases such as cancer are, according to the USA’s National Cancer Institute, being lost, because studies in rodents have been believed. Far from assisting and advancing the treatment of and cures for terrible human diseases, which is what we all want to see, the use of animals in experiments is actively frustrating that end.
The problem with the petition calling for the NAMs specialist committee is that the fear is that it would be able to act in only an advisory capacity, whereas a public scientific hearing would require animal researchers to prove their claims about the efficacy of the use of animals in animal testing. A rigorous scientific hearing would show that the arguments being made for animal testing simply do not hold up to scrutiny.
Reducing licences and the range of animals on which tests can be carried out is all very well and good, and they are important steps, but we need to be much more stringent. The best way forward—the only way forward—is a robust public scientific hearing to secure the overhaul of the industry that so many of us want to see. Of course, such an overhaul is challenging, because we know that interests have grown up around it that, which defend it even in the face of evidence that it is not really the best way forward. It is certainly not the best way forward for treating diseases or, indeed, for animals.
It is widely reported by experts that 90% of new medicines fail to pass human trials because animals cannot predict human responses. The former editor-in-chief of the British Medical Journal has indicated that it is almost impossible to rely on most animal data to predict whether an intervention will have a favourable clinical benefit-risk in human subjects and, if that continues to be the case, endorsement and funding of pre-clinical animal research seems, at the very least, misplaced. That chimes with the conclusions of Dr Richard Klausner, director of the National Cancer Institute, who was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), that we have cured mice of cancer for decades, but it simply does not work in humans. In the world of science and in the pharmaceutical industry it is openly acknowledged that animal models on drug development simply do not work.
We should have cause for optimism, however, because on 4 January the Prime Minister delivered a speech. In that speech, he set out his priorities for 2023 and declared that he wants to
“make this country a beacon of science”.
The UK of course comprises four nations, so I will generously assume that he meant to say “the UK” and not “this country”. Putting that aside, I look forward to his Government making good on that commitment, following the science on the issue, taking note of and acting on the significant body of science that tells us that animal experiments are not helpful and, worse, can even be obstructive as we seek to treat and cure a whole range of human diseases.
It is worth recalling the remarks of Dr Lindsay Marshall, the UK’s biomedical science adviser for the Humane Society International, who said:
“The UK cannot expect to have world-leading science innovation whilst we rely on failing animal-based research methods that are rooted in the past.”
She said that,
“animal models are really bad at telling us what will happen in a human body”
and are sometimes “dangerously misleading”. That is despite the UK Government response to the petition indicating:
“The UK’s strengths in research and innovation put it at the forefront of global science. The Government is committed to supporting this science base”.
If we are following the science, there should not be a problem after we have a robust scientific public hearing.
There was much excitement among campaigners recently when President Biden signed into law the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act 2.0, which removed the mandatory requirement that US-based animal tests are used in human drug development. That is a hugely significant step forwards, but animal data can still be used if those who are developing drugs choose to use them. There is no way round the fact that a public scientific hearing would be enormously helpful and useful as a global reference point for drug development.
The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act’s three Rs— replacement, reduction and refinement—established in 1959 for humane experimental techniques on animals, are a concept developed decades ago to benefit individual experimental design, not to address the need to understand and develop treatments for many human diseases. The three Rs policy, as we have heard from hon. Members, is not fit for the purpose of advancing scientific progress through a shift to innovation without using animals.
A significant body of scientific thought believes there is urgent and pressing need to modernise UK research to keep pace with advancements. Far from the Prime Minister talking about being a world leader, we need to modernise for that to be the case. That requires redirecting resources from unreliable experiments on animals and shifting to a focus more fully on superior, non-animal methods that will benefit humans, animals and the world of science. Otherwise, both animals and patients who are waiting for treatments for terrible diseases will continue to be failed by outdated methods. Could anybody argue that this picture is compatible with the Prime Minister’s vision of the UK becoming a “beacon of science”?
This Government have accepted that animals are sentient beings, and that principle is enshrined in law. However, it is a source of deep frustration, disappointment, concern and even anger that that recognition of sentience does not appear to extend to animals in laboratories, which are subject to painful, cruel and distressing procedures that are not necessary, and following which the vast majority are killed. The recognition of sentience must be extended to all animals through the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022, so they can be protected by the unnecessary suffering clause.
We are often told that the experiments to which animals are subjected are not crucial to the development of any new human medicines. On the contrary, those experiments are failing the search for human treatments and cures, as is shown by unequivocal evidence and is widely reported in the peer-reviewed medical literature. We have heard today that the regulatory requirement that animals be used in tests before proceeding to human trials was first established in 1946 in the Nuremberg code. Since then, science has advanced by 77 years, so why are we still using outdated laws to govern human medical research practice? Where else has that happened—that there has been no change in 77 years? It is nonsensical and indefensible.
Our EU partners are moving away from animal experiments. We need a rigorous, public, scientific and transparent hearing, so that we can have a full scientific debate on the reasons for banning animal experiments, where those who disagree can present their evidence for doing so in a transparent and public forum. As I keep asking, why would those who defend the current position shy away from that level of transparency? If those of us who wish to see an end to animal experiments are correct in our views and beliefs and in the evidence that is presented, that will accelerate the arrival of human treatments and cures, while also freeing animals from the cruel and unnecessary fate that awaits them in laboratories.
I hope that when the Minister gets to her feet, she will have taken full cognisance of the very powerful and reasoned arguments made across the Chamber today, and will respond by telling us how her Government have every intention of moving away from the use of animal experiments, as our EU neighbours are doing. I hope that she and her Government will mandate a rigorous public scientific hearing on this matter, which will show transparently and beyond doubt that lab animal models are not capable of predicting the response of human patients, as well as the need to ensure that all creatures are recognised as sentient beings in the Animal Welfare and Animal Welfare (Sentience) Acts. That is what the vast majority of the population across the UK wants to happen, and it is long past time that this Government acted.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford, and to follow the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), who made a compelling case for putting science first that should guide us all today. I thank the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for what I thought was an excellent speech, setting out the petition and its aims and the context in which we are having this debate; I also thank the 102,000 people who signed the petition, as other Members have, including the 128 in Croydon Central who did so. As a shadow Home Office Minister, I deal with immigration, police and security. Those issues dominate a lot of our time in this place, and it is good that members of the public push us to talk more about animals and animal welfare, because otherwise, I suspect we would not talk about them nearly often enough.
The e-petition we have debated calls on the Government to ban commercial breeding for laboratories, an issue that the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington set out in some detail. As the Labour Front Bencher in this debate, I want to be clear that the Labour party believes that the unnecessary and prolonged suffering of defenceless animals has absolutely no place in a civilised society. That is part of the DNA of our party, and the history of our party is tied to the defence and protection of animal rights.
It is nearly 20 years since the Hunting Act 2004, when the Labour Government ended the cruel practice of hunting with dogs—a clear testament to the progress made since the days of bear-baiting, cockfighting and other awful things. The year 2006 saw the Animal Welfare Act, another landmark piece of legislation that put down serious protections in law for pets, livestock and wild animals alike. We introduced the offence of unnecessary suffering, mutilation and animal fighting, and we promised to end the testing of cosmetics on animals in our manifesto back in 1997.
The last Labour Government were, I like to think, the most animal-friendly this country has seen, and working from the foundations laid by our predecessors, that is what we would hope to be again if we were to get back into Government. This country should lead the world with high animal welfare standards. No animal should suffer unnecessary pain and degradation. It is not a binary decision to be for animal welfare or human welfare; they can and should exist alongside each other. Many hon. Members have set that out very clearly in the debate today.
It is welcome that animal testing practices have improved over many years and advanced over recent years, but as we have heard today we are seeing an increase in testing on some animals. I am concerned about the lack of transparency on animal testing project licence applications as well as the continued permissibility of “severe suffering” as defined in UK law. We heard that in 2021 there were over 3 million procedures involving living animals. Of those, around 1.7 million were experimental procedures on living animals, and the remaining 1.3 million were cases of the breeding and creation of genetically-altered animals. Over 160,000 animals were involved in procedures judged as “severe” or “non-recovery” in terms of harms caused. Some still argue that research on animals is a necessary evil and a key tool for scientific process, but as times, science and views all change, so too must our behaviour.
The Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which we have heard much about, is now considered way out of date for modern animal welfare standards and is not properly enforced. We have talked a lot about the 3Rs, and I will not go into more about that now. The development of alternative methods using human cells, AI and modelling techniques was set out very eloquently by many Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) earlier in the debate and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who had five very clear action points about the lack of necessity for experiments because of scientific curiosity. We heard much about the alternatives, which are very clear and in many cases much more effective than research on animals.
As the official Opposition and probably with support more widely across the House, we ask the Government to institute a comprehensive review of animal testing with a view to improving practice, limiting animal suffering and increasing transparency, as well as having a long-term objective of phasing out animal testing entirely. The Government must invest more in non-animal technologies as an alternative to animal testing. There are some very sophisticated technologies, as we have heard, which are becoming more sophisticated by the year. They are clearly the future.
The petition refers to licensing. It would be helpful to see greater transparency in the issuing of licences so that the public can see when and why animal testing takes place. According to the 1986 Act, wherever possible a scientifically satisfactory method or testing strategy not entailing the use of protected animals must be used. It is a requirement for those seeking a licence to demonstrate that they considered non-animal alternatives. I wonder if the Minister could clarify how that self-certification is then evaluated and whether licensing applications are assessed by a non-animal methods expert. It is important to understand the scientific rationale behind an application, to understand the procedures and to know that they will have the minimum possible impact on the animal in question. Will the Minister outline the steps that the Government will take to review the system and make it more transparent, and look at licensing applications in the round?
In 2016, Ipsos MORI found that 74% of people believed that more work is needed to find more non-animal alternatives. I am not quite sure why it was only 74%; I suspect it is now much higher. This is clearly a matter of great interest to the public, and this place should respond to what the public are demanding of us in this petition. Many other petitions on animal welfare issues receive hundreds of thousands of signatures each year. We can work harder. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and her all-party group on their work—lots of good work is done across this place—but, as the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran said, there are people in this place who think the status quo is acceptable. What is their argument, what have they got to say and where are they today?
In our opinion, the Government have been dragging their heels on animal issues for years. I would like the Minister to indicate when they will announce a review to identify and eliminate at least avoidable testing, and in the long term testing in its entirety. Will the Government commit to eliminating every unnecessary test? Will the Minister clarify whether the Government are committed to upholding firm standards on animal welfare? We have heard some horrible stories. My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) talked about the animal welfare side of things—I have not even touched on that—which is of course incredibly important.
I would be grateful if the Minister can set out where the Government’s views on higher and higher restrictions on animal testing sit in relation to the trade deals currently being negotiated and the post-Brexit world that we live in. We should remain firm in our commitments. We do not want to become more reliant on ingredients and chemicals that have been tested on animals abroad. The offshoring of animal cruelty and poor standards is unacceptable. It would be good to hear from the Minister about that.
Finally, the Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, the right hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp), answered a written parliamentary question just a couple of weeks ago and said:
“The Home Office assures appropriate protection of the use of animals in science through licensing and compliance assurance under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. This legal framework, implemented by the Home Office Regulator, requires that animals are only ever used in science where there are no alternatives, where the number of animals used is the minimum needed to achieve the scientific benefit, and where the potential harm to animals is limited”—
and that was pretty much a full stop. There was no “We can go further,” “There are things we can do,” or “We can improve.” No inch was given on the status quo. I echo the view across the House that we can do better and go faster. Will the Government commit to that today?
It is a pleasure to appear under your chairmanship, Mr Efford. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) for introducing today’s debate, and I thank all other colleagues for their valuable interventions and contributions.
The Government recognise that this is a policy issue of huge importance and high public interest. It is therefore right and proper that there is scrutiny of the matters that we have discussed today. In opening, I would like to clarify the Government’s position on the use of animals in science and make some overall comments on progress in this area.
We all benefit from the use of animals in science. That can be through improved knowledge of how tissues and organs work to help find new treatments for disease and illness; the development and safety testing of medicines before they are trialled and then used in humans; the safety testing of chemicals to protect workers and the environment; veterinary research and medicines to support animal health; and the protection of the natural environment and the preservation of species. When we need medical care, we benefit from medicines and medical technologies that are possible due to knowledge gained from the use of animals in research. We trust those medicines are safe to use because of the rigorous testing requirements, including at times the use of animals.
There seem to be an awful lot of presumptions in the opening of the Minister’s speech, including presumption that we all benefit from testing on animals, despite the evidence that many Members have provided. I gave two examples, including a case where animals were used for testing, but when a dose 500 times lower was used on humans, it killed five. I ask the Minister to re-evaluate the assumption that humans always benefit from the testing of products on animals.
With the greatest respect, the Government are not saying that humans always benefit from animal testing. It is in the nature of testing that it has to be rigorous. Sometimes what is being tested works, and sometimes it does not, but testing can take place only if it is necessary. No one wants unnecessary harm to animals, which is why the Government have the aim of replacing live animals in scientific research and testing with non-animal alternatives wherever possible. Perhaps we can all agree that that is the aim.
I will make some progress first. Our approach has two fronts. First, robust regulation will ensure that animals are not used where a non-animal alternative could deliver the benefit sought, and secondly, our strategic aim is to facilitate and promote alternatives to animals in scientific research and testing. I therefore believe that we have a shared aim of fully replacing live animals as soon as possible, where that is safe and scientifically possible.
A number of Departments have a stake in the use of animals in science, including: the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which leads on science, research and innovation, including alternatives to the use of animals; the Department of Health and Social Care, which is responsible for the regulation of medicines; and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for chemical safety and veterinary medicine regulations. The Home Office does not require or commission the use of animals in science. Instead, we regulate to ensure that all proposals for work are authorised only where there is justified benefit, that animals are used only where there is no alternative, that the minimum number of animals is used, that harm is minimised, and that the animals are appropriately cared for. I reject the narrative suggesting that that is not the case. My colleague Lord Sharpe has ministerial responsibility for this work.
By way of background, the debate on animals in scientific research has at its centre three critical strategic imperatives: first, the delivery of the benefits of the use of animals in scientific research; secondly, the delivery of a rigorous and robust regulatory system; and thirdly, the development of alternatives to the use of live animals in procedures. Taken together, these imperatives drive the Government’s policy on the use of animals in science. I will focus my comments on the issues raised by Members in this interesting debate.
I will make a little more progress, and then I will, of course, come back. The issues raised include the use of animals in science and its regulation, the commercial breeding of laboratory animals, and the development, promotion and acceptance of non-animal methodologies. To be clear, as was said, the UK has never set out to use animals in science. Instead, we have set out to deliver public safety, world-class health innovations and breakthroughs, and to make life-changing discoveries, from new vaccines and medicines to transplant procedures, anaesthetics and blood transfusions. Indeed, the development of the covid-19 vaccine was possible because of the use of animals in research. The use of animals in science must always be considered in the broader context. Animal research and testing is only ever a small part of a wider programme.
I really must make progress.
In all these instances, the drive has never been to use animals, but to deliver benefits through the justified use of animals. There is significant public concern around the ethical and moral case for the use of animals in science. Animals are expensive to use and difficult to work with, and their use carries a burden of regulation. Animal experimentation is something that people, including this Government, do not like. It is therefore not a matter of choosing to use animals, but of using the best method for the scientific experiment, and ensuring that animals are not used when other methods can give the information needed.
Although much research can be done with non-animal models, there are still purposes for which it is unfortunately essential to use live animals. In many instances, that is because the complexity of whole biological systems cannot be replicated simply using validated non-animal methodologies. However, the Government are committed to looking at alternatives, especially where the safety of humans and animals needs to be ensured—a point that is central to some of the concerns we have heard today. The data from animal testing and research has an important function in the human drug development process, which primarily concerns the safety of new medicines. The use of animals is required by international regulators to assess any adverse effects before clinical trials. Such testing is crucial to protect the safety of participants and the public. If we were to remove the requirement for animal testing, many potential medicines would not progress on to the market, and the risk to humans in clinical trials would be considerably higher.
Under the UK’s regulation pertaining to the use of chemical substances—the REACH regulations, mentioned by Members—industry participants must understand the hazards and risks of the chemicals that they manufacture, place on the market and use. That is to protect human health and the environment from the effects of harmful chemicals. For some chemical hazards, there is no immediate prospect of developing a non-animal alternative test method that could be used as the standard test method across the full range of chemicals. These hazards include reproductive toxicity and bioaccumulation up the food chain in the environment. REACH contains the “last resort” principle for vertebrate animals. That means that an animal study can be carried out only once all other ways of assessing the chemical’s hazard have been exhausted.
The Government are clear that when animals are used in science, they must be protected. The use of animals in science is therefore highly regulated. A licence is required for every establishment, project and individual involved in performing regulated procedures with animals. All establishments are required to have dedicated individuals, including veterinary surgeons, with legal responsibility for the care and welfare of animals, and an ethical review body. Establishments are required to comply with published standards for the care and accommodation of all animals bred, supplied or used for scientific purposes.
I apologise to hon. Members for not allowing interventions, but I want to leave time to respond directly to comments made.
We continue to develop our approach to regulation, so that we can continually improve compliance with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. We are modernising our approach to ensure that all establishments deliver stronger internal governance systems and processes.
If we are to achieve the benefits of the carefully regulated use of animals in science, there must be a supply of animals bred specifically for that purpose, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington said. Establishments that breed or supply animals for use in science contribute to activities that are critical to protecting human health and to making advances in science. Moreover, they are operating within a regulatory framework, set out under the 1986 Act, which requires an establishment licence and assessment of their compliance with regulation. In the UK, under the Act, establishments that breed animals for use in science are also required to provide care and accommodation to those animals in line with the published code of practice. Adherence to the code of practice and the requirements of the Act are assessed by the regulator as part of its compliance assurance programme.
I recognise the strength of feeling shown today on the subject of breeding animals, particularly dogs. It elicits an emotional response, and I understand that. However, I must be very clear that while we fully uphold people’s right to peaceful protest within the law, recent events at the dog-breeding site that was mentioned have gone beyond peaceful protest, leading to criminal investigations and sanctions. The tactics of protestors have included intimidation, direct action against staff doing their job, and the criminal theft of animals from the site. I confirm that sites are regulated and regularly inspected, so we can assure ourselves that such companies are conducting their work in a manner that complies with the law. It is important that we agree that individuals doing legal business, under an Act of Parliament made in this place, should have the freedom to continue to do that without threat.
The call for a ban on commercial breeders appears mainly focused on the breeding of dogs. It is important to recognise that under the Act no dogs can be authorised for use if the scientific objective can be achieved without using those animals or by using animals of less sentience. The majority of dogs used in science are required for safety testing potential new medicines, in line with international requirements designed to protect human health. Research using dogs has been a step in the development of more than 95% of all chemical medicines approved in the European Union in the last 20 years, including medications for use in treatments for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and specific genetic disorders.
Banning commercial breeding of dogs for scientific purposes could prevent potential new medicines from being tested in Great Britain. If that happened, safety testing work to assure public protection would no doubt have to be offshored to other countries. We cannot guarantee that such testing, or the treatment of animals there, would be carried out to the standard that we expect in the UK. Moreover, having exported that work, we may then be importing it back by means of new medicines. Seeking to close commercial breeders is not the answer. We must continue to address the issue on other fronts.
In supporting and accelerating advances in biomedical science and technologies, the Government are led by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We seek to reduce the reliance on research and work that involves the use of animals, and to avoid some of the scientific limitations mentioned by hon. Members. Such advances include stem cell research, cell culture systems that mimic the function of human organs, imaging and new computer modelling techniques.
The UK has a world-leading reputation for the delivery of the 3Rs, which are the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in science. Our framework is replicated internationally. We lead the way in various areas, and I do not accept the characterisation of the framework as defunct, old fashioned or out of date; we are leading on this work. The national centre received core funding of multiple millions of pounds, and the Government are committed to investing appropriately in that centre.
Since it was established, the centre has invested £77 million in research and £27 million in contracts, and it has recently published its new strategy to increase the focus on animal replacement technologies; it also champions high standards in animal research. We are seeking proper funding to move away from the use of animals. The UK contributes significantly to the development and embedding of non-animal methods in chemical testing internationally, for both human and environmental safety, through participation in a number of collaborative research and development programmes. That includes both leading on and supporting projects undertaken with the OECD to introduce internationally harmonised tools and guidance for new approaches.
I will mention briefly the points made so eloquently by the Members who spoke. I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy) that we must grip the new opportunities to move away from animal use, if we can. We are spending money, and we seek to move forward. To the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), I point out that we regularly commission independent work; the Animals in Science Committee gives valued advice on the development of policy. I can confirm that we have commissioned advice on the rabbit forced swim testing that was mentioned. She may want to look further at that important work for more information.
My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington mentioned that the statistics in this area are not as informative as they should be. We have the most comprehensive system in Europe for the publication of statistics, via the Office for National Statistics. For example, we know that in 2021, the use of dogs decreased by 3%; last year it decreased by 7%. Over the past 10 years, advances have been made. Inspections were mentioned; there are regular inspections. The regulator publishes the number of inspections in its annual report, and we are running a modernisation programme focused on improving those inspections.
The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) mentioned, with eloquence, her desire for improvements in this area. I agree that we are a nation of animal lovers. We believe in high welfare standards. As a nation, we believe in public safety, environmental safety and the protection of animals where possible. That is why the Government’s approach focuses on alternatives that get us away from using animals. Animals will be used only when absolutely necessary. There were many other very useful contributions, which I value and have considered. It would be unfair if I took up all the time, but if there are any specific issues that I have not addressed, I would welcome any letters, to which I will respond when there is more time.
I thank the petitioners who brought us here today, and thank colleagues for their contributions. I gently say to the Government that this is an issue that the Petitions Committee has to keep bringing back, because petitioners feel so strongly about it that they keep asking us to debate it again. It will not go away.
It is nearly 40 years since the regulatory framework was set out in the 1986 Act. While there were admirable ambitions in the Act for reducing animal testing and refinement, the fact that animal testing went up between 2020 and 2021 demonstrates that those ambitions are not being met. Technological advances have since overtaken events. There is inevitability here; we will have to move on this anyway. The USA did in December, and other countries are going in that direction already. International regulatory frameworks are already looking to revise guidance. The assumption that the 3Rs are being met, or that the undertakings on the search for alternative methods are being met, is demonstrably untrue, given the evidence collected by the third sector. The Government are sitting on a piece of work from 2014. I repeat my request for an update from the Home Office on what happened to that piece of work.
Ending animal testing is not just a nice thing to do; animal testing is demonstrably bad for animals, produces bad results and is bad for the economy. There is benefit to humans in massively increasing the amount of research and development we do through non-animal methods. I urge the Government to go away and look at the matter again, update the House on the 2014 consultation results, set up the committee, and move towards the ambition of reducing, and finally eliminating, the use of animals in testing.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered E-petition 611810, relating to commercial breeding for laboratories.