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Lord Winston: My Lords, I thank the Select Committee which produced this excellent report and its chairman the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, for his thorough and succinct introduction of this debate.
This is certainly a very timely issue. I declare an interest. I am possibly the only current licence holder for animal research in the Chamber. In that respect I must tell your Lordships of a recent discussion that I had with my own religious leader. I framed the certificate signed by the president of the Institute of Biology that granted me my training credentials. The certificate reads that Professor Robert Winston is now qualified to operate on mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters and rabbi. So nothing in the regulatory framework is perfect.
The first point I need to make is that there is a huge and important need for animal research. In my view many things get obfuscated in the scientific debate, and we often concentrate on the wrong things. For example, the Government have given a huge amount of investment, progress and profile, to the Genome Project, as of course they should.
However, in actual terms of human welfare and the prospects for human life, there is no question but that a far more important issue scientifically is the issue of animal research. My view as a scientist is that animal research is absolutely essential to promoting well-being, to exploring the science of biology better and to understanding the Genome Project. One key aspect of animal research is that using the intact animalnormally a mousegives us a dynamic assessment of what genes are actually doing in a way that no other experiment, either in tissue or in any other situation, can possibly do. That is a very important point. It comes back to one response that the Government have made, and something about which I want to ask my noble friend in a second.
This is a truly independent committee. Its approach to the issue is extremely fresh and it has made some extremely valuable observations about the importance and deficiencies of the regulatory procedures.
I have a number of specific questions to ask my noble friend. They are addressed in the report, and the issues seems to me to be of very great importance. The first question I need to ask the Minister is: why is there still very often a considerable slowness in replying to requests for project licences? As I explained when giving evidence to the committee (I was called to give evidence), in the United States, where I work a great deal of the timeindeed, I have laboratory work going on in California at this momentI can get proper, ethical, peer-reviewed licences to do work on large animals, not just mice, within two to three weeks of my application through the institution itself. That organisation is every bit as thorough in how it conducts the proper surveillance of animal research as any laboratory in the United Kingdom.
We might think that we have the best system in terms of animal care. Actually, the quality and standards of animal care in this country are extremely high, but we should not forget that there are other countries which have an equally high standard. My experience of three different laboratoriesin Texas, on the east coast of America and most recently in California at the Californian Institute of Technology, or Caltechis that they are of the highest standards. We could do much by examining their system, which puts that in place. It is of course rather more expensive. That is one of the issues to be considered.
However, the fact is that my practical experience in this country is that it takes many months to get animal licences. That is unacceptable, particularly if you are working in a field which is scientifically highly competitive. I know that my noble friend Lord Sainsbury deeply believes in the need to drive our intellectual economy. We cannot do that if we are competing against the odds where other research can be done much faster because of the bureaucracy in the Home Office. It is a very real issue for the research scientists.
The second point is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has already referred. I hope that my noble friend will take some time to explain exactly what the Home Office meant. I know that he can speak only for the Home Office, but it would be helpful if he could convey our concern back to the Home Office about the bureaucracy involved in an application and the length of those applications. Very often, that seems to us unnecessary, particularly
One problem is that if, half-way through an experiment, an experimenter recognises that the design of the experiment needs to change, because he has now produced some new data to examine something afresh, he cannot alter that project licence. He has to go back to the inspectorate. He has to go through the same rigmarole in order to get that approval. That is very counterproductive to good science and to working on the unexpected. Science is about the unpredictable. So often, we consider the unpredictable in our laboratories far too complacently. Truthfully, it is when things arise unexpectedly in a project that we really need to be able to react to unexpected findings and consider why they are happening.
My third question for my noble friend is one to which the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, did not refer, but which is important. It is the question of returns for transgenic animals. I am grateful that the committee paid some attention to the issue. In my viewin that of most biologists, I thinkduring the coming years the number of transgenic animals that will be needed in research will spiral. There are real needs to put genes into mice to understand how genes work. I must tell your Lordships in all faith, being involved in transgenic technology myselfI do that sort of work in my laboratorythat such mice do not suffer. They do not have abnormalities of their phenotype; they do not look different from other mice; but we can see what is happening in the working dynamic of the intact animal.
It makes absolutely no sense under the current return system. The current return system means that every transgenic animal, usually a mouse, that is produced must be recorded in the statistics. Moreover, those mice cannot be moved without permission from one laboratory to anothereven though they are scampering around their cages, climbing on their wheels and doing all the other things that mice like to do in their spare time, without the slightest problem. That is nonsense. The Home Office's response is grossly inadequate in that respect. There should be a way to tackle that important issue, which was raised by the committee.
My fourth question refers to a simple issue concerning surgical training. As a once practising surgeonI hardly practise at all nowand having been involved with microsurgical experiments in their earliest stage, I can vouch for the need for such surgical training on animals. At present, surgeons are training on human patients. That cannot be terribly sensible. It must make sense to have live tissues shown to a surgeon.
It is of course deeply regrettable that in modern biology, students at school cannot now see intact animals as I did, when I saw mice, rabbits, rats and other animals being dissected in the classroom. But when it comes to medical schools, it must be of advantage to ensure that there is adequate training on live tissues of terminally anaesthetised animals. As the report mentions, how many licences have been given for training in manual skills other than for microsurgical purposes?
If I have a criticism of the report, it is simple. It is marginally regrettable that it places insufficient emphasis on the fact that the standards of quality of care in United Kingdom laboratories are as high as they are and that the dedication of the staff working in them is as great as it is. Believe me, the quality of that care and the ethical attitudes of those peopleoften working under great stress, sometimes in darkened basements with diminished incomesare of great credit. Those people are in many ways the backbone of British biology. I pay tribute to them. We should recognise that the quality of care is extraordinarily good, and was so before the Select Committee met.
Finally, I want to discuss some aspects of major importance in science. One thing that we scientists have got wrongI am as responsible for this as anyoneis our complacent belief that the mere communication of sciencegoodness knows, I have done that often enoughis adequate to persuade the public of what we are doing. It is now clear that communicationhowever it is performed, whether through the Royal Society, the Royal Institution, television or the mediais not the key or the answer. We must understand that the public must feel that they can take ownership of the science.
An important point is made in the report that deserves implementation: the need to promulgate the experiments that are being performed to show people their benefits. Perhaps we should state on every packet of pills prescribed across the counter of every pharmacy, "These drugs were made possible only by the use of animal research", because that is the absolute truth. Most members of the public are not prepared to recognise that when they receive a vaccination or take a pilleven paracetamol.
We scientists have been poor at going above the parapet on animal research. There are notable exceptions, such as Professor Colin Blakemore, now director of the Medical Research Council. I have had the bomb squad round to my house and the street cordoned off, so I understand the threat, but we must be much more public. We must be prepared to speak out to explain why the public must take ownership of science.
Next, as well the need for the Government to helpthey have not been helpful in this areathere is a need to recognise that we as scientists must demonstrate our ethical attitudes and provenance. We are not good at showing ethical judgment. For example, if we consider my field of embryology, Jamie Grifo in the United States mixed the DNA in two of a woman's eggs and transferred that back to the uterus of a womana
Finally, we must recognise that one difficulty in this field is commercialisation of research and scientific attitudes towards commercialisation. That is a sensitive issue, but that commercialisation, especially from drug companies, is one of our major scientific strengths and one of the biggest reasons why we have as healthy a population in the United Kingdom as we do. The Select Committee report is excellent; I recommend its wholehearted acceptance by the Government. It is sad that parts of it have not yet been properly taken on board.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 has regulated animal experimentation for 17 years. As noble Lords have said, it is one of the most rigorous pieces of legislation in the world governing animal experimentation. So it should be, but it should not be rigid. One criticism made by research workers in the field is the lack of adaptation to developments in modern biological science, such as animal sentience and our better understanding of how animals behave and how we should provide for them in experimental situations. It has also been criticised by anti-vivisectionists for its lack of rigidity. So it is timely to review the regulatory legislation to assess what changes are required and what new developments in biological science mandate new approaches.
As the chairman of the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, mentioned, the inquiry was conducted by members who, with the exception of me, had little or no practical experience of animal experimentation and who have never held a Home Office licence to conduct such experiments. Hence there was no conflict of interest, and the committee should be warmly congratulated on its quick understanding and identification of the issues to be addressed.
In particular, I congratulate the chairman on his skilful handling of the committee, our Clerk, who demonstrated the exemplary competence that we have come to expect of committee Clerks, and our scientific adviser, who showed the agility of mind to understand both biological and experimental science and to marry them with the ethical issues involved, the Reverend Professor Michael Reiss.
The conclusions that we came to are important. First, it is morally acceptable for human beings to use other animals for research but morally wrong to cause them unnecessary or avoidable suffering. Secondly, there is a continued need for animal experiments in applied research and research aimed purely at extending
As one would expect, those who submitted evidence, of which there was a large amount, and those who commented after the report was published, identified many areas that need attention. Those include the need to extend the inspectorate, which I understand is in progress, and the improvement in administrative support for the inspectorate and the Animal Procedures Committee at the Home Office. Both matters, if attended to, would greatly assist in, and would speed up, the process of dealing with licences and other aspects of animal experiments.
Changes since the Act was established include the introduction of an ethical review process. That has been a success and serves to safeguard the welfare of animals in the planning and conduct of experiments. The conduct, composition and functioning of ethical review panels (ERPs) varies between institutions. We recommend a much more formal structure.
One of the criticisms of the ERP is that extensive time may be taken for a proposal to be processed for approval. The noble Lords, Lord Smith of Clifton and Lord Winston, mentioned that. It is particularly so, and can be extremely irritating, when routine or very minor amendments are required in a proposal. We recommend that the Home Office empower local ERPs to approve minor changes. The Government's response is that that would probably require new legislation. But, nevertheless, it is to be hoped that a sensible solution can be reached, as research may be held up while awaiting central approval of even minor modifications. As the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, research is very fast-moving these days. We are in a very important and fast-moving gameif one can refer to research as such. Delays in the modification of protocols have become quite obvious as research has progressed. If we fail to speed up, we may lose important advantages in this country.
An innovative proposal in the report is that the details of anonymised project licences, giving the expected benefit and harm to animals, should be made public after approval by the Home Office. That should help to remove criticism that experiments are conducted in secrecythe charge levelled against the Home Office and science in general. There has been concern about the identification of institutions and scientists involved in research. Information on who is doing what can be gleaned from publications in the scientific literature, but only after the work is done. In the United States, where I worked for some considerable time, following approval of a proposal by the National Institutes of Health, it was placed wholly in the public domain and was available for scrutiny by anyone. That did not seem to harm the research system.
It is now accepted that the three Rs are an important guide in planning and conducting experiments. They encompass many aspects of biological science. The need for testing chemicals is one, but not the only one. However, there is no single approach to almost any experiment or testing. Certainly, the replacement of mammalian organs or biological systems would require much development work; so refinement and reduction become particularly important in that context.
The committee recognises the importance of the three Rs. It recommends a centre for the three Rs, consisting of a small administrative hub that would co-ordinate research units embedded in other centres of scientific excellence. The concept has come under intense scrutiny and met with some resistance. My noble friend Lady Eccles will deal in more detail with the pros and cons put forward. But, in considering the concept, we start from the point that, if all believe the three Rs to be fundamentally important to animal experimentation, whether we like it or not, hitherto there has been no major effort on the part of scientific establishments or the Government to advance the concept in a meaningful manner. One can, however, exempt certain pharmaceutical companies from that criticism. Only a small amount of research funding is available from the Animal Procedures Committee, but it is woefully inadequate. Good progress can be made in the area, as instanced by the European Centre for Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) and the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM).
We are aware that many developments in the three Rs arise as spin-offs of work which proves to be a better approach to the problem than hitherto. But is it not wiser to rely on something better than serendipity? The three Rs must not be a peripheral initiative but part of mainstream scientific research. There is a multitude of possible avenues with the three Rs concept, but it cannot be encompassed by a single centre. There should be a hub with spokes creating a national network to reach out to major centres of excellence throughout the country. The concept requires development and substantial funding. Critics of the concept should realise that we were not in a position to be prescriptive in the report and did not wish to be so. Some have said that we already have something similar to the centre that I have just mentionedthe MRC Centre for Best Practice for Animals in Research. However, that is not the same and is applicable in some ways only to grants funded by the Medical Research Council. It could become part of the hub and spoke system. One gets the
If we are serious about advancing the three Rs for the purposes of good science and animal welfare, as I believe we must be, this dilemma must be carried forward in a much more determined and vigorous way than at present. It must be adequately funded and receive the endorsement of all concerned with animal experimentation. I believe that better and more humane science would be the result.
In one of our final paragraphs, Paragraph 7.25, we stated that we all realise that animals are highly imperfect models for research. However, that should not be understood to imply that they are valueless. Any model will have its imperfections but, over the years, animal models have proved critically useful in the solution to and the production of methods of control of disease in man and animals. An excellent example of that is given by a paper that I received this morning from the Biosciences Federation. Models have proved critically useful for research over the years and will continue to do so. I believe that the three Rs will play a very important role in that.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, although it now seems a long time ago, I had the honour, as have other noble Lords, of serving on the Select Committee under the admirable and genial chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, to whom I, like other noble Lords, wish to pay a very warm tribute. I should also declare that, even longer ago, I was chairman of the committee that became the Committee on Animal Procedures, which led to the 1986 Act. I therefore have a very long-standing interest in the workings of that Act. I welcome the fact that there is now a chance to follow up the Government's response to the report of the Select Committee. I will mention one or two randomly selected areas of particular concern about which I would like to ask the Minister for some clarification or updating of the Government response.
In general, although in the response the Governmentor the Home Officedeny complacency, it does seem rather complacent, timid or, should I say, conservative. However, I do not expect the Minister to answer such a vague generalisation. In my view, one of the crucial issues on which the Government have shown unwillingness to extend their thinking beyond the way things are now is in the matter of the role and credibility of the inspectorate itself. There is no doubt that the Home Office inspectors are experienced and professional, and that they generally enjoy a helpful relationship with licence holders and applicants for licences. They are also becoming more numerous, which is good.
The Government have not, however, properly addressed a major cause of complaint that other noble Lords will emphasise even more strongly: the length of processing time for applications for licences. From April 2002, the Home Office target was to process
In their response to the report of the Select Committee, the Government promise, as we have heard, to revisit the question with a view to simplifying the application procedure, but without any show of conviction that they could possibly succeed. Has any progress been made in this matter? There is, perhaps, a more fundamental question, at least from the point of view of the public interested in animal welfare and the laboratory, and I pay tribute to the committee and all my colleagues on it because it is fair to say that we represented the public and heard a good deal of evidence from members of the public. The question that arises from their point of view is the extent to which they can actually trust the inspectorate to ensure that no unnecessary suffering is caused to animals in the pursuit of toxicological testing, which is 18 percent of all procedures, and in medical and scientific research.
We know that the inspectorate exercises judgment in that area of research on a cost-benefit basis. The cost is not measured in financial terms, but in animal suffering, and the benefit is the hoped-for benefit from the experimentation itself, although the distinction between immediate and long-term benefits seems somewhat artificial. At any rate, the inspectorate bases its judgment of licence applications on that cost-benefit analysis. However, because the inspectors both advise applicants about their applications for a licence to carry out specific procedures and also monitor the ensuing work, there is, or may seem to be, a danger that the monitoring will not be truly impartial.
The Select Committee did not recommend separating the two functions of advising and monitoring, but did recommend that some inspections of licensed premises should be carried out by inspectors from areas other than where the laboratories are located, so that their relationship with the licence holders could not become too cosy. Secondly, the committee recommended the establishment of a body charged with reviewing and monitoring the work of the inspectorate as a whole. That is important from the point of view of public trust. On the first of those points, the Government said in their response that it often happened already and need not be made mandatory. On the second, they promised to consider whether some sort of periodic review might contribute to public confidence. Will the Minister tell the House whether that consideration has yet borne fruit?
That brings me to my other point. The public would have more confidence in the efficacy of the 1986 Act in ensuring the maximum possible care for animals in the laboratory and the advance of science and medicine if the statistical report published annually by the Home
On that point, the Government's response was, once again, a bit sad. They promised to think about it and to get statisticians to think about it, but they said that it was difficult. The committee knew that it was difficult. Will the Minister tell the House whether progress has been made on that front? It would not be difficult to ensure that the annual report concentrated its attention not simply on the number of procedures, nor on the number of animals used, but on the number of animals who suffer significant pain individually. Other animals are, in that respect, unlike human beings. They cannot count up the number of their fellow sufferers, nor can they present to themselves the thought that it is wrong for the species as a whole to suffer as they suffer, if they do. However, if they suffer, they suffer one by one.
In a way, the number of animals used makes little difference; it is the degree of suffering to which each animal may be subjected that worries the general public. After all, where rodents are specially bred to be used in research or testingthey form by far the largest group of laboratory animalsthe number of animals used is, for the public, far less important than what the animals experience. We cannot make an aggregate sum of pain by counting the rats and mice that experience it. It seems to me and, I think, to the committee that it should be possible to think up a better way of categorising degrees of suffering and showing how intense or minute the suffering was in a particular case. Average figures are useless and, indeed, positively misleading.
It would be nice to hear from the Minister that the Home Office has been galvanised into activity, innovation and imagination by the Select Committee's report. I cannot see much sign of such a phenomenon. Still, I suppose that I must not be too gloomy. One innovation that should change the level of understanding among the general public has nothing to do with the Home Office: it is the new pilot scheme for a GCSE subject called "Science for the 21st Century", which will allow pupils to address the question of the use of laboratory animals for testing in a properly structured way. That is a good beginning to a wider public understanding of the issues that the Select Committee had to address. Such increased understanding is what the Select Committee and the Government most sincerely want.
Lord Taverne: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Chairman on his excellent chairmanship and the Clerk and the special advisers, who have been mainly responsible for and deserve most of the credit for the report. It is a good report and shows a good sense of balance.
I would not put as much emphasis as the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, did on the aspect of the report that has, perhaps, received most attention: the new centre for the three Rs. I agree with the recommendation because there is a certain conservatism in the scientific profession, but it is often forgotten that most progress towards the three Rs comes from scientists. They have every incentive to promote the three Rs. First, it saves an enormous amount of cost; it is much cheaper to avoid the use of animals. Secondly, it avoids the enormous delays caused by the bureaucracy involved in applying for a licence. Thirdly, experiments are not effective if there is undue stress on the part of the animal. There is every incentive for scientists to minimise the use of animals and cause the minimum suffering.
That is not the issue that I want to address. I shall concentrate on two issues. The first is bureaucracy. It is constantly saidI have heard Ministers say itthat we have the best system in the world because it is the tightest. Our most important recommendation is that the best system of regulation is not the tightest. It is not the best system if it drives research abroad or stops it coming to this country. It is not the best system if it causes delays and wastes animals as a result. That is counter-productive. It is not the best system if it leads to a mass of unnecessary form-filling.
Next, there is the question of the impact on research. We had some impressive anecdotal evidence, notably from the noble Lord, Lord Winston, that it was easier to do certain kinds of research abroad. Paragraph 5.31 of the report refers to evidence from the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry that,
Then, there is the question of the forms. We saw some of the forms. One of them was over 300 pages long. It is ludicrous that scientists should have to go into such detail that they must fill in over 300 pages. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said. Everybody knows that no scientific programme ever works out as planned; it has to be changed, and delays can be considerable. The simplification of the forms ought to be a high priority. We recommended that the aim should be to have 10 pages. It may not be possible in every case to have a 10-page form, but it would be a wonderful discipline to aim to achieve a form of only 10 pages. It would mean simpler language.
This is a serious matter; it is not just our committee which pointed out that the forms cause problems. The last report in June of the Animal Procedures Committee, at page 66, when considering the cost/benefit trade-off, states:
What did the Home Office say in answer to our application? The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, referred to the fact that the apparent target of 35 clock days has not been achieved; it seems to be getting worse. It said that it would set up a joint committee with scientists to reduce bureaucracy. Could the Minister tell us what happened? As noble Lords have pointed out, I, too, understand that nothing has been done. There is a committee on freedom of information, which has two sub-committees. But the Research Defence Society knows of no working party on lessening bureaucracy. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) apparently reported exactly the same.
If that is true, it is a scandal. It is disgraceful. We have become a very bureaucratic nation. We love detailed regulations. As a matter of fact we do not, but the civil servants love detailed regulation. I met it as chair of a charity concerned with the treatment of drug offenders at two clinics. It was appalling how much detailed legislation regulates residential care and health and safety. We seem to be aiming for the no-risk society. Civil servants do not wish to be criticised. It means the death of enterprise. Is there no Minister who will turn to civil servants and say, "These regulations are ridiculous. Something up with which we will not put"? It is urgent that we should cease such regulations. It is high time that we should review regulations, in particular, in relation to research.
My second subject was not explicitly dealt with by the committee, but it is highly germane; namely, animal terrorism. Animal terrorists are a tiny group, but they do immense damage. Everyone knows of the case of Huntingdon Life Sciences. Very bravely, its staff have not been deterred. However, there has been an effective campaign against insurers. It is disgraceful
Terrorists are now targeting suppliers. Worse in some ways than what happened to Huntingdon Life Sciences is the case of the Hallsguinea pig breeders in Staffordshire who have been terrorised for three years. They are extremely brave people who live on the premises. Terrorists have now targeted their other business. They are dairy farmers and have had to sell their herds and abandon their business because no one is willing to take away their milk. How can we tolerate that kind of behaviour in our democratic society? We should not allow it to happen.
Either the police are responsible for not doing what they should or we need a change in the law. It is just as important to guard against these terrorists, who are actual terrorists, as against the hypothetical terrorists of Al'Qaeda. Why have the Staffordshire police failed to provide effective protection to the Halls? From time to time, the Home Office says that best practice is being applied. On the face of it, better protection is provided by the Cambridgeshire police for Huntingdon Life Sciences than by the Staffordshire police for the Halls. Is the Home Office satisfied with what is being done? Clearly, we are failing if we cannot protect our citizens from terrorism.
Police authorities should urgently review the situation. We should also have a coherent set of laws in one piece of legislation to deal effectively with these terrorists. The Research Defence Society and others recommend that there should be one piece of legislation. First, it should be illegal to conspire to organise, incite, support or conduct a campaign of harassment against a legitimate business. Secondly, any demonstration against a work or employment activity in the vicinity of employees and directors' private residences should be illegal, including demonstrations that are in sight or sound of the property and its access routes.
I am glad to say that, already, the number of protestors required for the police to put restrictions on demonstrations is being reduced. Legislation should allow companies to lodge harassment charges or to act on behalf of employees. It should allow restraining orders to be applied for by companies on behalf of individual employees and should restrict overseas travel of those people with related convictions, as has been done with football hooligans.
This is an issue which must be tackled. We should also go somewhat furtheras a number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Winston, saidto encourage people to put their heads above the parapets. I wish that we had made a recommendation to that effect. I should have liked the committee to have done more to encourage the brave individualssuch as, Professor Blakemore, Brian Cass and David Hallwho have borne the brunt of terrorist attacks.
Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to my close friend the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, and the members of his committee for the report. It is a thorough and very high quality report, which is particularly interesting if read in conjunction with the evidence and the debates between members of the committee and those giving the evidence. I am moved to speak today because for two years I was the lay chair of a local ethical review committee at the university at which I was working. I was a lay chair in the sense that I am not a scientist; I am a philosopher by trade. The university had large and well regarded medical and biological sciences faculties. To some extent, my comments will reflect my experience in that role.
While animals do not have rights, it makes good sense to say that they do have interests, which are of some moral salience. We can ascribe these interests to animals even though they cannot articulate them. They are rooted in the idea of the normal functioning of the animal. Anything which facilitates that normal functioning is in the animal's interests. Ideas about animal welfare, animal flourishing and animal intereststhe subject of a fascinating debate between the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and one of the evidence-giversare rooted in the idea of the normal functioning of an organism and the needs associated with that.
Deliberate interference with normal functioning and the animals' interests is of moral concern. In our own case, we recognise that such interference that causes pain, fear and suffering impedes normal
The harm-benefit calculation would have to be based on judgment rather than the assumption that there is a clear scientific calculation to be made, for all the reasons given in the report about the difficulty of measuring the degree of suffering and the cognition of suffering in the case of animals. So the report gets it about right in its general view of the moral legitimacy of using animals in scientific experimentation.
I wish to reflect briefly on my role serving on an ethical review committee. My experience was that, up to a point, it worked quite well. I was a lay chair, along with the certificate-holder in the institution, the registrar of the universityalso a non-scientist and therefore a lay member. It is very important to have lay membership in order to lend greater legitimacy to the ethical review procedure mentioned by the committee. Further, they aid in serving as a step towards achieving a more general ownership of the whole process, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Winston.
However, we have to recognise some of the difficulties of recruiting lay members for precisely the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne. There is a perceptionhow realistic it is, I am not in a position to judgethat such a role might be quite dodgy and dangerous to undertake. Certainly, in inviting me to take on the role, the vice-chancellor of my university thought that he was asking a great deal of me in those terms. That may be rather overdone, but nevertheless it may well be the case that some people will be reluctant to become involved. However, we need to take strong steps in that direction, and I was rather disappointed with the Government's response on this. It is part of a whole process of building public trust and public ownership.
I turn to a small but nevertheless important point. One condition of opening up ethical review committees to lay members should be that scientists themselves have to become a little more user-friendly, as it were, in how they write up their research applications. Some of the applications we considered involving moderate to severe experiments on animals seemed to be completely unintelligible. Again, as a part of the aim of encouraging the public to become more involved and supportive, thus building greater confidence in the process, scientists themselves must bear some responsibility in ensuring that they communicate effectively what they are trying to do. They must explain why the work is necessary in language that most of us can understand.
Given the role that the ethical review committee is supposed to play in an institution in formulating best practice and giving that institution some confidence in the procedures, the issue again arises of the perception of the security situation. Certainly at the university I worked in at the time, there was a great reluctance to publicise even the existence of the ethical review committee, never mind promoting its reports, because it was thought that that might give some kind of entree to terrorists bent on tracking down scientists. Again, that may be a real and genuine concern and I do not seek to underestimate it. It reflects the size of the problem that we have to overcome.
I agree that, as a part of the solution, it would be a good idea to have anonymised research project applications written up intelligibly and then, after they have been approved and funded, publicised. However, that raises further security concerns, although I do not know whether the anxiety is real. Given the obsessional nature of many animal rights people, it is perfectly feasible to conclude that, if a certain piece of research is concentrated in only one or two university departments, it may be possible for someone accessing a computer to watch over time the pattern of publications from those institutions and then to make a pretty good guess at who is the author. If they so wished, terrorists could then try to track that person down. There are some dangers that would not necessarily be overcome by anonymity; we need to think about them carefully.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Smith, and my noble friend Lord Winston in their argument for delegating to ethical review committees the responsibility for making minor changes to licences. Having chaired such a committee, I see absolutely no reason why they should not have the competence and integrity to do so. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Winston is absolutely right in his remarks about the problems of delay. We encountered very lengthy delays in securing licences even for pretty standard procedures.
Finally, speaking as someone whose wife has had 10 years of her life blighted by surgical incompetence, I would very much approve of the idea of doing everything to increase the competence of surgeons. If that involves practising on animals, then I think that is a jolly good thing.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I share in the tributes paid to our chairman, Lord Smith of Clifton. He opened the debate with a fine speech that was entirely consistent with the qualities he demonstrated during our long hours together. I have enjoyed enormously being a member of the committee. I share, too, his opinions of the Government's response to our report; "patronising and complacent" are the words that I would use. The response was very disappointing.
One day we will have a Minister in the Home Office with responsibility for this corner who has an interest in the subject and sufficient expertise and who stays in office long enough to do something about it. This area is a typical administrative backwater, one given to the Minister with the least prestige in the department who, if they are lucky, find themselves bumped on in the next reshuffle. So these matters are never addressed.
The noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, is himself an excellent example of how one can put a skilful Minister in the Lords, leave them in the same job for a number of years and watch them achieve things that are not possible through the rotating ministerial responsibilities that occur when a Commons Minister is attached to such areas. I hope that, one day, we will have a Home Office Minister in this House with responsibility for this area. I hope, too, that he remains for long enough, so that we can tackle the underlying issues. I say that because it is the lack of commitment and lack of interest on the part of the Government which shines through their responses.
I want to concentrate on the subject of information. As has been admitted, some of the procedures which are carried out on animals are extremely cruel. One of the product licences that we were allowed to readand goodness, we had to fight hard to be shown anywas classified as "moderate", "gentle" or some other word which would have appeared in the statistics as procedures involving a few animals doing not very much. But within that classification was a percentage of animals that suffered in ways that just made my heart stop. We were doing things to those animals which were unbelievably crueland we were doing them for our own good.
These things are being done in our name. I support them being doneI believe that it is reasonable to use animals in this way to alleviate human sufferingbut we ought to be told what is being done. We ought to give our permission, in an understanding way, for these things to be done to animals for the benefit of ourselvesbecause they are certainly not being done for the benefit of animals.
At the moment, the way in which we present statistics is dishonest, and the way in which we withhold information from the public of what is being done is one of the principal causes of animal terrorism. We do not allow any legitimate democratic discussion of these matters and we should not be surprised when that causes ulcers to erupt on the body politicalthough I share in the deprecation of what the animal terrorists get up to, which is entirely unreasonable. If they were reasonable in their activities they would
I am very keen that we should make decent progress on some of the recommendations we have made, particularly in regard to the forum which would allow the many rational anti-vivisectionists and the organisations they represent to debate the fundamental science that lies at the heart of some of the things we are doing.
It is quite clear to me from visiting laboratories that some of the practices we follow exist only because they have always been there. We saw a large number of rats living in bad cages with absolutely nothing to do. Why? Because that is the way it has always been done. If you give the rats something to chew, something to amuse themselves with, it makes them happier, healthier rats. That means that the results of the experiments will be different. So we keep the rats in conditions which are fundamentally cruel and unpleasant because no individual experimenter can afford the costs of changing the parameters of the experiment they are carrying out. They want to line up with the experiments which have been carried out before, and if they make their rats happier they will get different results to which no one will pay attention.
The core of doing something about that situation is for the Government to take an enthusiastic and committed line with the OECD and the other international organisations which set the standards and to say, "No, we want these experiments carried out on rats which are as happy and as fulfilled as possible". It will take money, time and commitmentbut the commitment required is of the Government. It cannot be done by individual researchers who, in order to make a success of what they are doing, of the grant money they have been given and of their careers, have to follow the patterns which have already been set. That needs to be challenged and discussed in a forum with a strong scientific basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, said that we are trying out a number of genes in animals. So we arewe will learn what these genes do in micebut genes are not stable in what they do between one species and another. It has been a long timeabout 40 million yearssince our lines separated from mice. Genes learn to do different things in that amount of time. The same gene can have different functions in different animals however similar they may seem. We have to allow for the fact that sometimes we develop animal models which are not very goodor appear to be not very goodmodels of human disease, although often it is argued that they are and it becomes scientific practice to follow them, at great cost to animals.
The practice that causes me greatest distress is giving the symptoms of Parkinson's disease to monkeys. I cannot see that it is producing anything of use in the treatment of the human disease but, because it is the
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