Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1321-1339)




  1321. Good afternoon, Ms Creamer, Dr Joanne Knight and Mr Phillips. You are most welcome and we are grateful to you for coming to see us. We look forward to your views being put forward. Ms Creamer, would you like to introduce your colleagues and then briefly introduce the stance you are going to take?

  (Ms Creamer) First of all, my Lord Chairman, I would like to say that we are extremely pleased to be here. As you know, there are not very many opportunities to discuss this issue with parliamentarians. The last time was between 1982 and 1986 and before that 1906, so we are very pleased and very grateful that you have invited us today. On my right I have Mr Tim Phillips who has been a Council member of the National Anti-Vivisection Society for the last 16 years. He is a writer and a consultant to campaign groups and he has co-authored numerous NAVS reports and publications. To my left my colleague is Dr Joanne Knight, Senior Science Researcher with the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research. Dr Knight assesses grant applications and also monitors Lord Dowding Fund projects. Also she conducts academic research into non-animal alternatives to animals and other research issues. As for myself, I have been Director of the National Anti-Vivisection Society for 16 years. I have worked at the Society for 20 years as a public speaker, writer and editor of our publications. I would like to take the opportunity of setting out our stall, so to speak, of putting forward some of the ideas that we very much hope your Lordships will take up. We see this Select Committee as a unique opportunity to look at perhaps a new mechanism so that we can move forward on animal experiments. As I am sure you have heard at these hearings, we have traded debating points for over 100 years, and what we really need to find is a way forward. There are several things that we have to suggest that we hope we can discuss this afternoon; first of all, removal of the blanket ban on information, the secrecy clause, section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, and draw animal experiments under the Freedom of Information Act. There are two clauses within the Freedom of Information Act that protect scientists from attack and also protect commercial confidentiality. Section 38 allows the Secretary of State to bar release of information if releasing that information would endanger person's health, and section 41 allows the Secretary of State to bar information that is given in confidence. Therefore all of the protection that would be wanted is already within the Freedom of Information Act. What section 24 gives the scientific community is belt and braces, a blanket ban, and what I would submit to you is that it is that blanket ban which causes such frustration and people feeling that their voices are not being heard, that they do not know what is going on, and they cannot have an input into the decision-making process.

  1322. Thank you very much. We hope to elucidate your views and you will have opportunities as the questions go, but we only have 45 minutes for our first set of witnesses. If you could turn to the questions, the first one is, what ethical principles should govern the treatment of animals? Are welfare considerations sufficient or should animals be accorded rights?
  (Ms Creamer) Certainly the NAVS feels that in many cases rights and welfare are very much linked. We must have ethical principles governing the use of animals. The NAVS is opposed to any work on animals that would cause pain, fear and distress. However, animal experiments are with us and, today, we believe that the way to deal with this would be to utilise our ideas for applying the Freedom of Information Act; give the Animal Procedures Committee more power; have a separate assessment board where organisations like ours can have input; and for the government to help us to co-ordinate a centre for the development of alternative methods. All of this we see very much as part of the ethical principles that should be governing what is done, but obviously the NAVS is opposed to all animal research.

Lord Lucas

  1323. Picking up on the point you have just made, you are looking at having an input into the basic moral judgements which are made by the inspectorate and by the system as a whole. How would you see that working in practice? What body would you see that would allow you and people at the opposite end of the spectrum to put reasonable views and reach a consensus?
  (Ms Creamer) For us to have input, there are several problems to overcome. The NAVS remit is that we oppose animal experiments and that remit is written into our Memorandum of Association, so we could not become involved in regulation of animal experiments. What we can do is contribute research information and resources to reviewing animal experimentation and project licence applications. There are several things. The APC needs to have some power. It needs to be given teeth. It should be looking at all of the applications. The inspectorate needs to become a policing force. We know that over the years on many occasions the inspectorate has said that they do not want to be a police force, but that is what the public expect. If you have a piece of animal welfare legislation, which is the way the public perceive this law, and if you have people licensed to do something, and you have something called an inspectorate, people do expect that to be a policing force. We think that would be an essential role. Obviously you would have various considerations; with freedom of information we can look at the technical details of project licence applications, but you would need a mechanism for organisations like us to feed through ideas. What we are suggesting is a jointly funded board of assessment. The members of the board, such as our organisation, would contribute to the cost of this board of assessment which could look at areas of research and make recommendations to the APC and suggest where non-animal alternatives can be applied or review the applications with a view to whether they are duplication, whether there is another source of the information that is required.


  1324. Presumably you make your advice known to them on an informal basis anyway.
  (Mr Phillips) Just to comment on something which you said at the beginning of the questions, which is how we would ethically review this, we are more looking for something which could practically be used to break the deadlock on animal experiments rather than pressing for something saying, "We want X animals to have rights" and so forth. The basic principle of the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act as it stands is that animal experiments should only proceed if they are absolutely necessary. Certainly that is the way it is presented to the public. There are various ways in which an animal experiment might be unnecessary in that there might be another research method of doing it. There might be other information available. That animal model might have been discredited quite clearly elsewhere. We would like an opportunity to object on scientific grounds to animal procedures before they take place. At the moment that avenue is completely closed to us. As you are probably aware, the majority of animal experimentation is never published so there is no way of reviewing this great body of work, two and a half million procedures in the UK each year.

Lord Taverne

  1325. I want to go back to the basic question of animal rights. You talk about rights. Do you recognise some sort of scale of rights? The primates seem very close to human beings. They are capable of rather similar suffering to humans. A mosquito on the face of it is at a different end of the scale. On the other hand, if one simply goes on the basis that some sentient being is capable of feeling pain then one has to recognise that worms do react to stimuli. Do you recognise a scale of parts of the animal kingdom where you are less concerned about their rights and other parts, the more sophisticated parts, of the animal kingdom, like primates, where you are more concerned about rights, or do you feel that animal rights are something which are not part of a scale but absolute?
  (Ms Creamer) There are several answers to that, several points to cover. First of all, the National Anti-Vivisection Society is not an animal rights organisation as such, although we do perceive ourselves as being part of the broader movement that you are thinking of, on the rights of animals. The remit of the people that we are representing today is against animal experiments. Some of our members are vegetarians, some are not. Some oppose fox hunting, some do not. We are representing a group of people who just agree on animal experiments. Secondly, in terms of the way we view the suffering of animals, we are opposed to causing pain in scientific procedures or experiments on animals that can feel pain, having a central nervous system and so on. Obviously we recognise there are differences by degree. A mosquito's nervous system is far more rudimentary than that of another animal. The Lord Dowding Fund, the Department of the NAVS that funds research has funded projects on amoeba and other areas like that, so at that level where we perceive that there is no suffering involved, that is not a problem.

  1326. Would you object to experiments on mosquitoes?
  (Ms Creamer) We would not fund experiments on mosquitoes.

  1327. You would not?
  (Ms Creamer) No.

  1328. There is an absolute ban on any sort of animal experimentation of whatever part of the scale as it were of sophistication they appeared on?
  (Dr Knight) That is not completely correct. We are currently funding experiments on protozoa to model conditions in the human body, so down to that scale we would fund experiments.

Earl of Onslow

  1329. I am slightly of the impression, and correct me if I am wrong, that what you are trying to do is make animal experimentation unnecessary rather than stop it per se. In other words do you agree that if there is no alternative you have to use it, but you would desperately try to find an alternative? If that is the case I would have thought that you were in mainstream scientific thought. If, however, you are saying that under no circumstances whatsoever should animals be experimented upon, that to me is a different thing. Do you think, and can you explain, where you find cruelty in the present range of experiments that are being carried out?
  (Mr Phillips) Would you repeat the last bit of your question please?

Earl of Onslow: The last bit is, do you have examples of unnecessary cruelty in the present regime of animal experimentation? We all know that in the 1870s vets were practising on live cab horses without an anaesthetic, a piece of research that nobody in their right mind now would accept, and then they produced the 1876 Animal Welfare Act. Nowadays there is so much more regulation. Do you have examples of cruelty and things that you think should not happen?


  1330. That is slightly broad, that last one. We have a number of questions which touch upon it.
  (Mr Phillips) I will start with the first part. The National Anti-Vivisection Society is opposed to all animal experiments.

Earl of Onslow

  1331. And would stop it now irrespective of the consequences?
  (Mr Phillips) We believe that there is no need for animal experimentation.

  1332. With respect, that is a different point of view. Irrespective of medical consequences you would like to see an end to vivisection now?
  (Mr Phillips) Yes. We believe that animal experiments are wrong and we oppose them on those grounds. We also believe they are unnecessary. In the practical situation that we all find ourselves in politically, which is living under the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act and a fairly gradual process of legislation (and there are a lot of people who oppose animal experimentation and say that this or that experiment is bad science, even if they do not agree that all of them are bad science) we need an avenue in which we can put those things to the test.
  (Ms Creamer) The way we view it is that we would like to see all animal experiments abolished. We recognise that because they have been around for so long animal experiments are part of many regulations attached to different pieces of legislation.

  1333. I want to go for a quorate because this is fundamentally important. Irrespective of the benefit to humanity and medical science you would like in an ideal world to stop all animal experiments now?
  (Ms Creamer) Yes, we would like to stop all animal experiments now.

  1334. Irrespective of the benefit it produces?
  (Ms Creamer) We do not believe . . . .

Earl of Onslow: That is not, with respect, . . . .

Chairman: We are not cross-examining. We are examining.

Earl of Onslow

  1335. I am sorry, Chairman. I am trying to get at what are the views of our witnesses.
  (Ms Creamer) That is our view. You may not like our view but that is our view.

  1336. I do not object to you having that view. I just want it out in the open; that is all.
  (Ms Creamer) Our view is that animal experiments do not work.

Baroness Richardson of Calow

  1337. You seem to be suggesting that the reason why you are so much against animals being experimented upon is that it is wrong to cause an animal pain and suffering. Is that the major ethical principle upon which you oppose all animal testing or use of animals in scientific procedures: because of the pain and suffering it will cause? If, for example, it could be proved beyond reasonable doubt that the animal concerned was not suffering pain, was not obviously distressed, had no anticipation or memory of the event, would that satisfy ethically your understanding of how animals could be used to benefit the whole of creation?
  (Ms Creamer) First of all, we are opposed to animal experiments on scientific grounds. There have been many instances in history where medical progress could have been achieved without the use of animals. It is very difficult having this constant debate that we have had over the years of trading different facts about animal experiments, so we are hoping to move beyond that. Certainly our objection is scientific. Historically the Society's Memorandum of Association was based on those original ethical principles and we still maintain those today. It is both. However, the emphasis I suppose has shifted as we have found out more about other species and we have learned more about animal experiments and have developed alternative procedures. It is much more on scientific grounds.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

  1338. You mentioned the concept of having an overarching body, a government body, I presume, to examine these proposals. There is something called the Ethical Review Panel that reviews proposals before they go up to the funding agency. I gather from what you have said that you do not think very much of those panels. Is that so? How would you improve them?
  (Ms Creamer) We think the local ethical review process has several faults. It is not possible for 250 committees to be provided with the kind of resources that are needed for a really rigorous review of animal experimentation proposals. What we would like to see is a proper, wider, scientific and rigorous review of project licence applications, proposals to use animals, before the licence is awarded. We do not think that anyone can provide 250 committees for each establishment with the kind of resources they need. We think that since all of the information is already centralised at the Home Office, why not do the review at that stage? We do acknowledge, however, that local ethical panel review committees can help in one or two areas but, broadly, it is better to have the review centralised where the information is at the moment, and have a much more powerful APC that can review all licence applications, and input from organisations like us where we would look at areas of animal research and suggest other ways of finding out the information or non-animal alternatives, and we could have that input from a jointly funded assessment board.

  1339. You may be aware that the APC did at one time look into the possibility of serving as an ethical review panel itself but gave up the idea because of the massive nature of what it would be which would mean an enormous committee doing an enormous amount of work. I and many other people feel that the local committee knows better what is going on at the local level than a major central committee would.
  (Mr Phillips) The problem with local ethical review committees is that animal experimentation in science is a global issue. If you look at any industry, and science is no exception, there are inefficiencies, there are duplications, there are repetitions, even on that basic level, even if we do not look at the fundamental criticisms of animal experimentation. What makes animal experimentation different and why there has been a strong voice against animal experimentation is that animals are involved in procedures which in many cases would otherwise be illegal for members of the public to perform. That is why it is governed by this piece of legislation, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, which was presented to the public as a way of ensuring that animal experiments only proceeded if it was the only way possible. Whenever politicians present the Act in Parliament, in the media and so on, that is how it is consistently presented, and yet there is not a mechanism by which these experiments can be truly challenged. There might be handicaps and bureaucratic issues in terms of the size and scale, but I do not think that is an argument for dismissing completely some sort of process into which the widest possible scrutiny goes with these project licence applications even if it was only gradually installed.

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