Examination of Witnesses (Questions 940-956)|
TUESDAY 15 JANUARY 2002
940. How do AMRC charities assess research proposals?
What differentiates the AMRC from, say, the MRC in the types of
research which it funds? This is very much a question of fact
rather than opinion, so if you could please tell us what the difference
of approach is between your two organisations?
(Dr Layward) Do you wish me to address the question
of research proposals and how we assess them or just talk about
the difference between the two organisations?
941. I think we will skip that one and just
talk about what differentiates the two.
(Dr Layward) The Association of Medical Research Charities
is an umbrella organisation of many different charities. There
are over 100 members from the very large, like the Wellcome Trust
and British Heart Foundation, down to very tiny medical research
charities, usually focusing on quite rare single diseases. It
is a big variation. The one thing that binds us altogether is
the fact that we have strong and published guidelines on peer
review and that is very similar to the way in which the MRC reviews
its grant applications as well. I would say in terms of quality
of the research, the differences between the AMRC and the MRC
really is very little. I would say the big difference is that
AMRC charities obviously have to fund according to their charitable
aims. We can only use the funds that we raise for the purposes
for which the charity was set up. For example, I cannot fund research
into cancer and into heart disease but I can fund research into
infertility, osteoporosis, liver disease and diabetes, because
all of these things affect people who have cystic fibrosis; we
are constrained by our charitable aims and, of course, our published
research strategies, which most charities have. I would say a
big difference is really that we have less money than the MRC
so we obviously cannot fund the great breadth of research that
the MRC can fund. In many instances we can fund very similar funding
schemes, such as career development funding schemes, but some
of the larger initiatives are really outside the scope of many
of the smaller charities, such as funding institutions, large
collaborations or large clinical trials; we just do not have the
942. But you do fund in a complementary way?
(Dr Layward) I would say that the word "complementary"
is ideal. Because we wish to only fund the highest possible quality
science we are obviously going to be funding the best scientists
within the UK and, as such, they will also be funded by the MRC
and from other Government funding. This is complementary funding.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton
943. I am a scientist but I am very well aware
of something which the Americans always talk about, good science,
and I know that sometimes that is quite a long way from being
useful. Scientists like to muddy that area in my view. To get
funding for good science they say you have to do all this fundamental
work before you get to the practicality and that is not often
the case, you can often get to a practical solution quite quickly
and not necessarily understanding everything. What puzzles me
sometimes about the medical charities is how much you are, if
I may say so, pushed by the need to do very good science that
is very well peer reviewed in scientific literature as opposed
to solving some medical problems which could perhaps be solved
in a more quick and dirty way, if I may say so.
(Dr Layward) Let us just talk about the single disease
medical research charities because that is a very focused type
of charity. Most of those medical research charities will have
a very mixed portfolio of grants. Usually a section of it, about
half, will be on basic research but the other half will be much
more short-term and about trying to alleviate the symptoms, the
here and now, of a particular disease. If you look at most of
the single disease charities you will see this type of division,
less or more depending on what the disease is. We do need to do
high quality science, there is no question, otherwise we will
not be able to use the results that come out of it. That must
be fundamental to our funding but nonetheless we recognise that
we need to have a mixed portfolio of more instant answers, if
you like, usually in terms of symptom control, balanced with long-term
944. This being the Animals in Scientific Procedures
Committee, how does this dichotomy between the two strands affect
the use of animals?
(Dr Layward) Quite frequently the type of research
that is more likely to be using animals is going to be the basic
research, understanding the fundamental biological mechanisms
that underpin any particular disease. More animal work is done
on that area. As we get on to the symptom control it becomes much
more applied science and, as such, is quite often on human beings.
Baroness Eccles of Moulton
945. If we could move on to the last section.
As we have got ten minutes left what I think might be a good idea
would be if you could make some general comments on the subject
of transparency, openness and public opinion and that might give
us some guidance on how the views at the two extremes of the debate
might be brought closer together, which is slightly outside the
(Dr Matfield) The RDS is an organisation which exists
to explain to people why animals are used in research, so if you
ask us how much information on animal procedures should be made
available to them, the answer is more from our point of view.
We believe it is important for people to understand why animals
are used in medical research, and to understand that some of the
more lurid and shocking stories they might read are not realistic
or representative. In principle we are very much in favour of
providing more information and more transparency and openness.
At the same time, that has to be balanced against a number of
considerations, such as the safety of the individual. It is an
issue that comes up all the time when we are asking scientists
to go on television to explain what they do in their research
with animals. There is an enormous amount of concern and fear
amongst them that they will be targeted by animal rights extremists.
I certainly have been targeted by extremists and I know it is
not something that I would want any scientist to go through. On
the other hand, unless somebody takes a lead nobody else will
start standing up in public and talking about what they do. I
think it is important that scientists do that, so our job is to
provide a lead in that direction. There are other areas in which
people's interests should be safeguarded, not just with information
that might lead them to be at risk. Commercially sensitive information
obviously needs to be safeguarded from unwarranted disclosure
and information supplied in confidence needs to be protected.
You may recognise that what I am describing are the main tenets
of the new Freedom of Information Act. We actually believe that
this has struck the balance quite well. Lack of openness, often
for the very good reason that people are scared of being targeted,
has not helped the public understanding of the use of animals
in medical research and greater openness will help. One of the
things we like to do is try and organise occasions for people,
journalists, school children, anyone, to visit animal laboratories
and see what it is like for themselves. It is the best way for
them to understand it.
946. Professor Page, is there anything that
you would like to add?
(Professor Page) I think you asked the question about
how public confidence in the inspection system may be increased
and I think having a system equivalent to a lay visitor, for example,
for prisons would work very well, going in with the inspectorate,
because then I think people could go along and see for themselves
that, in what we do, we have got nothing to hide. That may be
one way of allaying public concern about this issue, if the inspectorate
were able to bring in specified lay visitors. I think that would
help enormously. I personally, and I think I speak for most of
the scientific community, would be against web-cameras. Not because
I have anything to hide but I already have cameras on my house
linked to Special Branch because I, like Dr Matfield, have been
threatened with death by animal rights extremists and having my
face on a camera 24 hours a day, for anybody to recognise who
I am, where I work, is a security risk that I do not think anybody
should be under.
947. No, but for the inspectorate I think was
(Professor Page) For the inspectorate is a different
issue but that was not clear from the question.
948. It is not clear from the question but the
problem arises, and no doubt you have seen It's a Dog's Life,
the programme, there is no way that inspectors could detect that
kind of wrongdoing. If you cannot do it by inspection how else
would you find it acceptable to be done?
(Professor Page) Personally speaking, I would have
no problem having a web-camera linked to the inspectorate. I think
other people may for commercial reasons inside the pharmaceutical
industry but as an academic, speaking personally, I would not
have a problem because I have nothing to hide in my laboratory.
That was not clear from the question but now you have put it that
way I think it is a different issue completely.
(Dr Matfield) If I might come in on that. I think
the inspectorate might have a problem with it. They too have been
threatened, just as scientists have. I would wonder about the
Home Office's ability to recruit inspectors if part of the job
Earl of Onslow
949. It is basically a non-stop inspection.
If the man goes in unannounced on Tuesday he is seeing with his
own eyes what is actually running all the time while the laboratory
is functioning. It does not show either the inspector or the scientist
to anybody in the outside world, it is in effect a closed document,
it is not for outside.
(Dr Matfield) To be honest, I find it difficult to
imagine any area of human life that is regulated, where a 24 hour
a day web-cam would be taken as a normal and acceptable part of
regulation and would not be considered an invasion of privacy.
950. You did not see the first episode of Judge
John Deed evidently.
(Dr Matfield) I believe that is fiction.
951. The Home Office published a mass of information
that nobody seems to know about. How can the information which
they publish get across to the public more effectively?
(Dr Festing) Could I comment on that. We felt that
it was very important that there was, in fact, greater information
coming from the inspectorate themselves rather than just from
the Home Office. We would like to see a greater degree of independence
of the inspectorate from the Home Office. That would include perhaps
a dedicated website for the inspectorate in which they would make
clear what their role is, have questions and answers, and, as
we suggested in our original submission, quarterly reports on
their inspections of facilities and their efforts to apply the
Baroness Eccles of Moulton
952. So you would semi-detach the inspectorate
from the Home Office but you would probably have to set up some
sort of buffer committee or something between the two because
the inspectorate has got to be directly accountable to somebody
somewhere, does it not?
(Dr Festing) I am talking here about the provision
of information in that sense.
953. Not the activities?
(Dr Festing) Not the functions, no.
954. It might not be such a bad idea anyway.
(Dr Festing) Could I possibly comment on the question
of dialogue. We do consider that there is, in fact, a very healthy
and active debate at the moment about animal science and animal
welfare and the 3Rs, which goes on in meetings, in conferences,
in the International Journal of Laboratory Animal Welfare, also
FRAME has a newsletter, and we have meetings with the RSPCA. The
responsible animal welfare groups engage very constructively with
ourselves in debate on almost all aspects of the 3Rs and animal
welfare and that often does result in policy changes, like the
ban on using animals to test tobacco or alcohol products. There
is still a problem with the polarisation. The anti-vivisection
groups do not appear to see dialogue as useful. The mainstream
groups refused to participate in the Boyd Group, which is a forum
set-up. They do not come to meetings or conferences. I have got
a number of letters here from anti-vivisection groups refusing
to meet or even, indeed, to correspond with us because they call
us a trade industry vivisection group. They do not actually attempt
any dialogue with the various institutes that they target as part
of their campaigns. We do consider this a real problem. Anti-vivisection
is clearly a very absolute philosophy with no compromise whatsoever,
they make that very clear, and it is difficult to know where to
find the common ground. As a suggestion of the way forward we
think, firstly, greater openness should stimulate more debate
and so we are very enthusiastic supporters of the Freedom of Information
Act. Secondly, we want to involve more organisations in this debate.
There are many others, the medical associations, the universities,
who could certainly get more involved. Thirdly, we would like
to see organisations involved in both sides of the debate. As
an example I have brought an article from Diabetes UK magazine,
one of our member charities, who allowed a debate to go on, almost
a for and against, with the RSPCA and myself writing articles
on both sides just to show that there are both sides of the debate.
Earl of Onslow
955. Surely there is a difference, is there
not, from the RSPCA, who are purely animal welfarists, they do
not take an absolutist position, but if you say it is wrong ever
to do tests with animals there can be no dialogue. There is a
perfectly reasonable question for dialogue between welfare organisations
and people who wish to test but there can be no dialogue between
(Dr Festing) I would like to see you questioning the
mainstream anti-vivisection groups as to why they refuse to participate
in the debate.
Earl of Onslow: We have.
Baroness Eccles of Moulton
956. I think that quite a lot of the argument
here relies on public opinion and if public opinion becomes stronger
and stronger against the anti-vivisectionist moment, because it
is so obdurate, then that will play very much into the hands of
the moderates. I am afraid the witching hour has arrived. Are
there any points that any of you would like to make that have
not been covered by the questions?
(Dr Matfield) I think, looking to my colleagues, we
have made all the main points we would like to in response to
your questions. Thank you very much for inviting us and giving
us the opportunity to present to the Committee.
Baroness Eccles of Moulton: Thank you for providing
us with such excellent answers. Thank you.