Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1380-1398)



Lord Taverne

  1380. We have had a lot of evidence that delays do not in any way mean better security for animals. I put the same question to you that I put to the previous witnesses: suppose that these delays and the element of bureaucracy actually makes the suffering of animals worse and it means that more are killed, would it not be better to simplify the procedure and have less bureaucracy?
  (Mr Ward) I was interested in that. I would ask you before I answer, how would more animals be killed? Why would more animals have to be killed because of bureaucracy?

  1381. We have had examples of people who have done experiments on rats but their licence does not allow them to kill mice, so then they have to spend weeks or months waiting for the new licence and in the meantime the rats or whatever it is have to be killed because they are no longer of any use.
  (Mr Ward) That is not a failure of the system, that is a failure of the scientist and the scientific community. I would say that is an appalling state of affairs where the scientific community are incapable of deciding the choice of animals that they should be using. This law that we have was introduced in order to protect animal welfare at the same time as protecting science. If scientists cannot get their act together then it is no fault of the law or the Act. Animals should not lose their lives because of that. I would hope that those individuals would be reprimanded for their lack of judgment.

Earl of Onslow

  1382. May I follow that up. Let us assume that during this experiment it becomes clear that the course of the experiment has to change because of what they have learned during that. That is the delay to which Lord Taverne is referring, not the general human tendency to bog things up, with which I am in complete agreement one sees around us all the time, there is nothing new in that, that is the way of humanity. There are occasions when from knowledge of what has been learned you actually have to change the format of the experiment and getting approval for this does, as far as we have learned, take an enormously long time to the detriment of science and to the detriment of animal welfare. You do not accept that is possible?
  (Mr Ward) I am absolutely astonished. In my time as a member of the APC I was in sufficient contact with the Inspectorate to know that once a project licence is issued the cost benefit analysis continues right throughout the experiment if it is three years, four years, that goes on all the time. Circumstances change, the level of severity might change, the types of procedures might change, a need to move on to a more relevant animal might change, but the system copes with that. I cannot understand where the logjam lies. For example, how on earth could you have a logjam if you have 100 rats which you have put a cancerous tumour into? You could not wait a month or two months while they got approval because the cancerous tumour would grow and you would have to put down the animals. There is a system within the system which allows for fast track approval and that was how I always understood the system.

  1383. The evidence that we have had is that our system in many ways, as you rightly say, is an extremely good one but we have also got evidence that it is actually very sclerotic. I am not allowed to say "constipated" because the alternative gets us into serious trouble. What one is trying to do by making the system in some ways quicker is actually to ease suffering. Your implication in answer to Lord Taverne was it is only through scientific incompetence that that extension comes about. I thought your second answer agreed almost identically with what Lord Taverne and I are possibly saying, that you do get changes. Our evidence is that there are delays in licensing which are producing extra suffering but you do not accept that.
  (Mr Ward) There were two questions put. One by Lord Taverne that I answered because I was shocked by it. I took your question, and I have given you the answer to that, that there is a system within the 1986 Act that actually allows for that situation. I was totally unaware of what you are suggesting, that there seems to be such a delay that would result, possibly, in some animals having to be put down. I cannot believe that happened, that is not my understanding of the system. I could facetiously say that whoever gave you that information may well not be coming from the welfare side, it may well be someone who is pro-research, I do not know. I think you have to go back to them and ask them to come back with more information and then go to the Home Office for clarification. It is not what I recognise.

  1384. What prompted your decision to set up and participate in the Boyd Group? What do you consider it has achieved? How can it be made more effective?
  (Mr Ward) I, like many others, was frustrated with the way we, the animal welfare and scientific communities seem to always be fighting a trench warfare; we are in trenches, letting fly about why animal experimentation is wrong. The scientific community comes back and says why animal research is right, always wishing, when you see comments in the paper, if only I could have put in another comment. I was on that terrible programme Kilroy one morning and whilst on Kilroy, as he was flitting about smiling to the camera, we were not getting anywhere on the subject of animal experiments, it was not a serious programme. I had had enough. On that programme was Professor Colin Blakemore and he asked me, and he did not expect the answer he got, whether or not I condemned the activities of those who plant fire bombs and I said, without reservation, I did. I then said to him after the programme, maybe, you know, if you feel the same way as I do, we could get together and see if it is possible to bring together the scientific and anti-vivisection and animal welfare movements. We could all sit round the table and rather than slagging each other off in the press we could do so round the table. We would then have an opportunity, to hear all the arguments, they could hear mine, we could test the arguments, and we could see if there was someway of finding common ground to move this whole controversial subject of animal experimentation forward—to avoid situations where a certain Chancellor of a university once said, "we need to man the barricades against the anti-vivisection movement." That will get us nowhere. With Colin Blakemore we managed to bring together a wide range of people and opinions. I regret I have to disagree with the NAVS that this is a PR exercise. If it was a PR exercise I would not be with the Boyd Group. It is not totally fail safe. There are still people there who I believe are holding entrenched positions. I would greatly welcome the inputs of the NAVS, BUAV and the other mainstream anti-vivisection organisations to get in their and test the arguments of the scientific community. If they do not like any of the reports coming out they can make it clear they do not like any of the reports coming out. Not everyone is there as an individual, as they have suggested. Advocates is there as an organisation and we are prepared to stand up and be counted on what we believe. What have we have achieved? Interestingly, there was a circular that went round all of the group recently and one of the initial things when the Boyd Group was established that I hoped to get out of it was for people to understand where I was coming from. In the questionnaire, when returned, were comments like "now I understand why the anti-vivisectionists hold such a strong view on morals, on ethics, on why animals should not be used in particular areas", and similar comments like that. I wanted to test the scientific community who said, "we dislike using animals", I wanted to test the authenticity of this statement. Before cosmetic testing was abolished by the government, or a ban introduced, the Boyd Group called for it to be banned. That was great, here was the animal welfare and the scientific community going together to the Home Office with a powerful voice and putting the case forward. Lord Taverne was there when they were discussing household products, it seems we are getting very close to the scientific and anti-vivisection movement going to Government to say household product testing is wrong. I have hopes for the Boyd Group. However, I am not naïve. If it looks if the Boyd Group is becoming no more than a talking shop, it is turning into a PR exercise, and that is why it is important to get the other anti-vivisection groups in, but if it did turn into those things then Advocates for Animals would have to walk away from it.

  1385. That is a very comprehensive explanation. If you can go to the crucial question, how could alternatives to animal procedures be developed more effectively, published more widely and accepted by regulatory bodies more rapidly?
  (Mr Ward) To be brief, I am not an alternatives expert. However I believe the following would help. A centralised database most certainly. I do not believe scientists know where all of the alternatives exist at the moment. As I touched on earlier, there should be more funding and there should be more effort put into funding alternatives. At the present time alternative science lacks status and I think we would really benefit if those who use animals, scientists who use animals, were to get in contact with those scientists who did not use animals and together matters could be moved forward considerably. I would love to see the United Kingdom establish, and I believe the NAVS touched on this, its first centre for alternatives, where resources could be pulled and minds could be put to good use in finding these alternatives. There are difficulties of comparing the alternative tests to the flawed animal tests that exist. In toxicity testing, I believe, as NAVS have also indicated today, there are a number of toxicity tests where alternatives exist. I believe that with greater effort and pressure we could bring an end to a considerable number of toxicity tests. I think we should avoid duplication. I think there should be a sharing of data with these commercial companies. If there is any concern over confidentiality claims then I believe there should be an honest broker, an ombudsman who can look into the claims and decide whether or not that is the case or not. I would be all for placing a levy on every animal that is used in a laboratory, it would not only concentrate the minds of the scientist over the number of animals used but I think it could raise an amount of money that could then be targeted into alternatives. I think we should also set targets to reduce animal numbers, and so on.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

  1386. Some of us were in the United States a couple of weeks ago and we were told that in the library of the US Department of Agriculture there was a very big database on alternatives for animal experimentation, and indeed, before anyone could have a grant application processed they must have shown that they consulted that database. Do you know of that database? If you do, could we build on that in this country?
  (Mr Ward) Absolutely Lord Soulsby, that is why I believe the United Kingdom should establish its own database in this country, that takes Medline and all of the other databases that exist and put them into one central database so when a scientist puts in a project licence that he or she, in their opinion, believes there is are no alternatives available, then at least the public can have some sort of confidence that if they have gone to a central database they would have found all of the alternatives available.

Lord Taverne

  1387. Unfortunately I did not go to the United States but have heard reports on it. Do you think that the American model of having a Centre for Alternatives is something that we should copy?
  (Mr Ward) As someone who does not like to give too much credit to the Americans however, if the Americans have got a system that works well and we can learn from that system and the system is as good as people say it is, then absolutely. If we can learn lessons in this country then we should. My understanding is that in the UK there are enough minds around, both within the pro-research community and in the alternatives community, to come up with a very, very good central database for the UK.


  1388. There is also a centre in Utrecht in Holland and we are taking evidence from them later.
  (Mr Ward) Indeed.

  1389. Your view is that there should be perhaps minimally one but preferably more than one centre which particularly prosecutes the whole research for alternatives?
  (Mr Ward) My own view would be that we have one central database that takes in everything.

  1390. You do not think there is a case for dispersing this a bit, that in other words we should have more than one?
  (Mr Ward) At the moment it is dispersed all over the place in three or four different databases. We have heard already this afternoon, claims that scientists research is being held up. Here they could go to the one central database, programme in the details and out comes the information that they require. They could also go to individuals working within the database for confirmation that that is the case or further advice.

  1391. Perhaps we will go back to a question which I missed out. How might more information on animal procedures be made publicly available without compromising the personal safety of researchers? You touched on the intellectual property side and the commercial interest side, what about the safety of researchers? You said that you have condemned the harassment of them.
  (Mr Ward) Yes, I have. I think I have already touched on that, which is the project licence system. It is the secrecy that causes so much concern in the UK over animal experiments. Before I was a member of the APC I was never allowed in a laboratory, no-one would let me in. But when I was on the APC it was open doors and it was great. At last I could meet scientists and other research staff and discuss directly with them their own and my concerns. I think that is what also needs to happen. Organisations like the NAVS, the BUAV, should be invited into laboratories if they are willing to go so they can discuss their concerns at face to face with those who use animals in research.

  1392. Now you are not on the APC can you get into laboratories?
  (Mr Ward) I have not tried, but who knows? I think I am seen as the moderate face of the anti-vivisection movement, maybe I possibly could get in.

Earl of Onslow

  1393. I find myself in agreement with a considerable amount of what you are saying and I am nearly on the point of saying you seem to be mainstream, but there are people of such nastiness in the "animal rights" movement who will do really barbaric things to people who are involved in any way in the scientific experiments or experimental work and those people do have to be condemned and the others protected. Surely that is the concern which question five is designed to address rather than somebody of such eminent respectability and such mainstream views as yourself.
  (Mr Ward) If you maintain the secrecy that surrounds animal experiments then I think the point that the NAVS made, and I thank the clerk of this committee for sending me their written submission, is a valid one, ie that unless they and the other responsible anti-vivisection groups are able to see what is going on and alleviate the concern that is out there, the extremists, who are in the minority, will continue to gather apace. I think the anti-vivisection movement has to be able to see these project licences on a website or wherever appropriate it might be so they can see what is going on as well as being given the opportunity to suggest alternatives but of course remove from these licenses all of the details of the research team and also the research laboratory. I think that is possible.


  1394. We heard in America that even if you take those sorts of details out it is not too difficult to identify the researchers.
  (Mr Ward) I think it is possible to identify a research team in a specific field, ie Parkinson's research, but again that is why I believe there should also be this ombudsman who would decide. That would be something that when a project licence is submitted the team would suggest by having that particular research on to a website that would identify them and where they work. I think steps can be taken to overcome that. I think it would be completely unworkable, as the NAVS has suggested, for the APC to see all project licences, there is just no way the APC could take on board that work. When I was there, and as I believe is the case now, the APC is just overstretched with work. I do not think that is possible but I think what the NAVS is trying to secure is right and if we are to take on these extremists and maintain the support of the majority within those who support anti-vivisection then there has to be some give by the scientific community or, regretfully, those who do plant firebombs will continue to do so.

Chairman: One last question from Lord Soulsby.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: I would just like to challenge you a little about making research public, putting it in the public domain, because the majority of research is, in fact, put in the public domain through scientific publications. What you are saying in a way looking at the grant applications, the proposals, and many of these do not get funded of course, is what you are concerned about is those that do get funded and what is happening, but eventually they get published in journals that are available to the general public and you can see what has happened, the number of animals used, the methods used, materials and methods of conclusion and the rest.


  1395. Lord Soulsby is primarily talking about academic research, there would not be too many papers coming out from the pharmaceutical industry.
  (Mr Ward) In my opinion there are a couple of problems with that. One is it would be very unusual for a project licence application to get all the way to the Home Office if funding is not already there because otherwise to go through all this system only to find that they have not got the money to do the work would be a . . . . I know what you are going to say.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

  1396. Quite frankly, I would agree with that.
  (Mr Ward) It would be very, very unusual in my opinion for that to happen. When the research papers are published they are often published three years, five years sometimes, after the research ended. What we are saying is we want to be given the opportunity to suggest whether there are alternatives available because once the work is done and once it is published there is no way we can do that and that is what we seek.

  1397. The point I was making was that research is put into the public domain eventually so you can in fact read it, analyse it, see who has done it, where it has been done, and so on.
  (Mr Ward) But the problem with that is on the research that is put into the public domain it is very, very difficult to get a real handle on what has actually been done to the animals, their welfare, what thoughts were given to enrichment, the suffering the animals had to undergo. Advocates for Animals have had experience of this. We had a senior scientific panel, we got the research papers, we passed them to them and they said some of it was okay in their opinion, other work was not. We then published a report only for the scientists to come back and say, "you misunderstood". We only misunderstood, if that was the case, because the details were not there. The project licence contains all the details you need to be able to assess the project licence and that is not in the published papers.

Baroness Warnock

  1398. I was going to ask whether a small step in the right direction of public relations might be through the Home Office itself improving the way that it publishes the statistics?

  (Mr Ward) Absolutely. I think there is great scope for the Home Office statistics to be improved. Certainly it would be good to know what was actually done under the mild, moderate and substantial bands.

Chairman: Mr Ward, thank you very much indeed for coming before us, we much appreciate it.

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