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14 Oct 2008 : Column 245WH—continued

All UN agencies and NGOs left the area last month after the Government requested their withdrawal, stating that their security could no longer be guaranteed. The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent remain in the area and are critical to the protection of the population. We welcome the stated commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to allow humanitarian access and regular convoys of essential supplies to the north, and acknowledge the value of the continued international presence of the ICRC in the
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Vanni region. We are urging the Government of Sri Lanka to facilitate the work of other impartial humanitarian actors to enable them to deal with the growing crisis.

Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Foster: I should like to make a little bit more progress.

The UK monitors the situation in Sri Lanka constantly and has increased its humanitarian aid in the light of circumstances on the ground. We provided more than £532,000 for conflict-related activities in 2006, an additional £1 million in 2007, and £250,000 in January this year. Only a few weeks ago, we sent a humanitarian expert to assess the situation and to see what further help is needed. On the basis of his findings in Vavuniya and Jaffna, I am pleased to announce that DFID is providing an additional £2.5 million to support the efforts of the ICRC and other UN agencies and NGOs. Part of that funding will go to the north and part to the ICRC and UN High Commissioner for Refugees to support their work in other conflict-affected areas of Sri Lanka, including the Jaffna peninsular and the east of the country.

To tackle the urgent risk of starvation, last month we lobbied for an emergency delivery of UN food aid. On 2 October, a UN humanitarian convoy of 51 trucks successfully delivered food rations to northern Sri Lanka. The food will provide emergency rations for an estimated 230,000 people. With the rainy season upon us, as has been said, the demand for humanitarian aid will grow markedly.

Andrew George: I went to Sri Lanka in early April and was privileged to visit the north of the country. When the President came to this country in June, I had the opportunity to ask him about the role of Sri Lankan and international NGOs and human rights monitors. His attitude worries me. He believes that the majority of Sri Lanka-based NGOs are in fact fronts for the Tamil Tigers, and that international NGOs and human rights monitors are involved in gun running for them. If that is the attitude of the Sri Lankan Government, does the Minister agree that the international community needs to be a great deal more forthright to ensure proper monitoring and humanitarian relief?

Mr. Foster: I am coming to that very point right now.

The Government welcome the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to protect civilian populations and have continued to lobby for all parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. Those include the protection of the civilian population and humanitarian workers, the preservation of humanitarian space, and ensuring free and unfettered access to all affected areas by neutral, impartial humanitarian actors. Unless those basic requirements are met, funding will not ease the plight of IDPs and other vulnerable residents.

Barry Gardiner: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Foster: No. I should like to make a little more progress and my hon. Friend has already had one bite of the cherry.

The Government are doing all we can to help to build the foundations for a lasting peace in difficult circumstances. We have created an innovative political and development
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section in the high commission in Colombo, which works in tandem with the defence section to promote peace building in Sri Lanka, using funds from the UK’s conflict prevention pool. Funding from the CPP for projects in 2008-09 will be some £2 million.

The impact of the conflict builds on the suffering of a nation that is still recovering from the impact of the tsunami four years ago, which killed 35,000 people and displaced more than 500,000. Some good progress has been made on post-tsunami reconstruction.

Keith Vaz: Before the Minister talks about the tsunami, a simple message could be sent to the Sri Lankan Government. We are giving aid because they have displaced all those people, and the simple message from the British Government should be, “Stop the bombing of the innocent Tamils.” Why are we not sending that message to the Sri Lankan Government?

Mr. Foster: I pointed to post-tsunami reconstruction as an example of the conflict harming the Sri Lankan people whom my right hon. Friend wants to help.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Foster: I should like to make some more progress.

Post-tsunami, approximately 75 per cent. of people have regained livelihoods, and progress is being made on improved education and health facilities. According to Sri Lankan Government figures, about 98 per cent. of the permanent housing requirement in the south has been fulfilled, although in the east there are still significant shortfalls, and the conflict is further threatening the situation.

As the intensity of the fighting has risen, the space in which humanitarian agencies can operate has been constricted. Both the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam must ensure that humanitarian agencies may have full access to civilians in need of support and respect their neutrality.

Much has been said about human rights. In areas under LTTE control, there is no tolerance for dissent or freedom of expression. The LTTE needs to develop its role as a credible partner for peace. It cannot continue to persecute people simply because they have opposing views. Similarly, in the south, there have been restrictions on the freedom of expression, with journalists and newspaper distribution agents intimidated and sometimes killed. Three democratically elected MPs have been killed in the past few years, and many ordinary people have been reported as disappeared or have simply been killed.

The EU notes with concern the trend in attacks and threats on journalists, civil society organisations and lawyers. As far back as 2006, Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was sufficiently concerned to call on the international community to monitor the unfolding human rights situation, suggesting
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that the events were not simply ceasefire violations, but grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law. That situation remains.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Foster: I am limited for time and would like to say more.

I am sure that the House agrees that one of the most abhorrent human rights abuses is the continued recruitment of children to fight. We urge all organisations that undertake that practice to stop, and we will continue to work with the Government of Sri Lanka and UNICEF to protect children from forced recruitment and other human rights abuses.

Mr. Llwyd: Is it not high time that the matter was discussed at the UN, at the highest possible level? Cataloguing the disasters is not taking us further. The Government are working on the issue, but it would be far better to go straight to the UN to have the matter thrashed out internationally.

Mr. Foster: I shall reflect on the implications of the hon. Gentleman’s point.

There is an urgent need to deal with the current crisis, but we also need to consider the future. Even if the hundreds of thousands affected by conflict survive and return to their homes, they would face a long struggle to regain their lives and livelihoods after not months, but decades, of conflict. In Sri Lanka, violent conflict has denied people their rights to live without fear, to health and education and to economic opportunity—it has denied them a future. Parts of Sri Lanka, particularly the capital, benefit from strong development, but inequalities elsewhere are rising.

Joan Ryan: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Foster: I am running out of time.

In conclusion, the situation in Sri Lanka is grave, but we stand ready to support the Sri Lankan people in building a long term, sustainable and equitable peace. That is the most effective way to fight poverty and to ensure that the country and its people meet their development goals. Sri Lanka has been a country of huge but unfulfilled potential for far too long. Our greatest wish for Sri Lanka is that it finds a peaceful solution to the conflict. Despite the current fighting, opportunities for peace can still be grasped, and we will continue to search for that peace.

I should point out—

John Cummings (in the Chair): Order. Time is up, but the Minister who is replying to the next debate is not here.

Joan Ryan: May I speak?

John Cummings (in the Chair): No, this debate is over.

14 Oct 2008 : Column 249WH

Animal Testing

1.30 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): It is a pity that a Minister is not here at the moment, but I am sure that one will turn up.

I did not seek this debate because there is an immediate need to make decisions about the testing of cosmetics on animals. A set of decisions has already been made, and I am delighted that we are now moving away from the testing of cosmetics on animals. I raise this topic because I want to point out some of the conclusions that flow from that fact and to highlight some of the philosophical issues that need to be debated as we move forward over the coming years because they have been too little debated and discussed.

It is evident that there is no obvious set of dividing lines. In this area, we are dealing with things that are continuums of one kind or another. To illustrate, let me start with the supposed distinction between cosmetics and household goods. Clearly, a distinction can be drawn between life-saving drugs at one end of the spectrum and cosmetics at the other. I wonder whether one really can draw meaningful distinctions between cosmetics and household cleaning items. Moreover, it is not clear exactly where the distinctions come as we move along the spectrum. We know when we are at a point of dealing with a life-saving drug. We also know when we are at a point of dealing with something frivolous such as a cosmetic. As we move between the two, however, we encounter severe difficulties of definition and identification. That is not unusual. Philosophers call it the sorites paradox. For example, when is a pile a pile? One stone probably does not amount to a pile, but 50 certainly do. However, where does one hit the pile? Is it at two, three or four? That is a feature of one of the most difficult issues that we face as human beings.

It is not just the continuum between different kinds of things for which animals might be used in experimentation. It is also a question of the continuum of different kinds of animals. I do not mean to disrespect hon. Members or anyone else, but we are all animals. We are a particular kind of animal known as a human being. Partly because we care about our own species, partly because of the extraordinary effects that any other attitude would have on our society and our preference for democracy and liberalism and so on, and partly because of an internal revulsion, we would hugely object to anybody who sought to conduct an experiment on a human being—to experiment on an unwilling human being in a way that was painful—even if the purpose of the experiment was to produce a life-saving drug that might save millions of lives.

From time to time, some people are inclined to argue that the right position ethically is always one that produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number. One of the reasons that I am not a supporter of that view about ethics is precisely that I am revolted by the idea of an in vivo experiment on a human being, even if someone could persuade me that the result would save millions of lives. On the assumption that we take that view—I think that we are entirely joined in taking that view—one has to start asking where the dividing lines are as one moves down the chain from human beings to ants and mosquitoes. I have ho hesitation about how we treat ants and mosquitoes—perhaps I should, but I do not—but there
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are people who are concerned about ants and mosquitoes. I am enormously concerned about human beings. Where do I start drawing lines?

At the moment, the line is drawn broadly between the great apes and the other primates. I know that lines have to be drawn, and that no lines are perfect. For the life of me, I cannot see how one can rationally defend the proposition that there is such a great difference between great apes and the other primates as to make sense of a law—the current law—which prohibits experimentation on the one and allows it on the other. I do not say that it is easy, or that as one concerns oneself with the consequences of recognising that degree of incoherence in the current law, one will suddenly come across the great truth about where the dividing lines should be. That is why I said at the beginning that I see this not as a debate leading to some immediate conclusion, but rather as the beginning of a very long process—or intervention in what is already a very long process—of debate and discussion, which I thinks needs to be much more general and much deeper.

Therefore, we face difficulties of definition, both in respect of the application of such controls across the range of things for which the experiments are intended and a debate about the dividing lines between those beings that may legitimately be used for such experiments and those that may not. In neither case do we have good and clear criteria for making robust and coherent distinctions. That is not because our Ministers, officials, political establishment as a whole, thinkers and scientists are collectively deficient, and if they were a little cleverer such things would be resolved. That is not the case. These are genuinely difficult matters. We will not come quickly to obvious and robust dividing lines.

That leaves us with the practical question of what we do in the knowledge that the current construction of the law is not easy to defend on a coherent or rational basis, that there are potentially great advances to be made in things that matter desperately, such as advancing the cause of science to relieve disease, and that we do not have a clear intellectual apparatus for making robust and coherent decisions in this area. As a society, we ought to press forward and explore some practical steps while we continue—it may be a long time—to try to sort out such extraordinarily difficult issues and to arrive at more robust and coherent arrangements.

The first thing that is evident is that we will not be able to have a prolonged, careful and rational debate unless there is more transparency about such matters. I draw an analogy between this area and the efforts that many have made to investigate the efficiency with which the Ministry of Defence spends its money. I do not make that as a partisan point; the issue has been ongoing in British politics for as long as I can remember. Every time one asks a question of the Ministry of Defence, one is told that the answer cannot be given because it is a matter of national security. Some of the time, that is undoubtedly true. Some of the time, however, it is not entirely true. But it is a useful device for those sitting in a place that does some things brilliantly and others not so efficiently for avoiding transparency about the things that are not so efficient.

In a somewhat similar way, because of the activities of some entirely reprehensible individuals whose main motivation, I fear, is hatred of human beings rather than love of animals, and because those activities have
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involved violence, and because there are entirely innocent, law-abiding and in many cases talented and deeply devoted scientists at work whose lives, livelihoods and families are under threat—which prompts the analogy with national security—there has been a tendency to clam up about what is going on in the domain of animal testing. Some of that tendency is justified. Clearly, we must not enter terrain in which there is transparency about the names and addresses of individuals who do things that might lead them to be attacked. I do not recommend any such thing. Proper safeguards must be observed. On the other hand, as in my analogy involving the Ministry of Defence, such genuine anxiety should not be used as the basis for refusal to reveal the details of what is going on in a way that creates confidence that there is transparency about the nature of the actions being taken and their effects on the animals concerned.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol, East) (Lab): I am listening to the right hon. Gentleman with great interest. On a point of clarification, he is expounding on the philosophical issues that should be discussed in terms of where we should draw the line, how many experiments should happen and to what extent they are necessary. Does he agree that we should not be considering what experiments on animals are necessary for cosmetics testing, because there is no need for any to be carried out?

Mr. Letwin: I am sorry. I explained at the beginning—before the Minister arrived, and while it was rather noisy—that I did not seek this debate to discuss whether cosmetics testing should take place on animals, as it has already been decided, in my view rightly, that it should not. I chose the topic precisely because, as it happens, it has already been decided. I wanted to make the point that this debate is not—although most debates, quite rightly, are—about an immediate, practical policy issue. I am trying to raise a wider issue, so I chose a topic on which the decision has been made. I am reflecting on the consequences and reverberations of that decision. I agree entirely with the hon. Lady on that point, and, thank goodness, so will the law in due course. We are rightly heading towards the abolition of cosmetics testing.

Transparency is a vital component of a rational debate, but a second issue merits much more attention in light of the fact that we do not know exactly how to think about such matters or where to draw the line, yet we know that some experimentation is necessary. That issue is the question of alternatives. It is characteristically the truth that a good thing to do when we face an extraordinarily difficult issue that we do not know collectively how to resolve is to look for a way of not having to resolve it. It is not intellectually noble, but it might achieve the practical result that we all seek. I think that this is such an issue.

I am not a scientist, and I do not pretend to know what the alternatives will be or how fruitful they will prove, but I do know some important facts, which the Minister will know much better than I, about the quantities of money involved. I also know a general rule: scientists are incredibly clever, and if they are given a lot of money to do something, quite a lot of them will do it sooner or later, but if they are not given much money, it is jolly lucky if they come up with something.

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