Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1321-1339)|
TUESDAY 12 MARCH 2002
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.
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.
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
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
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
(Mr Phillips) We believe that there is no need for
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
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
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
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