Parliamentary debate on EU Directive
An adjournment debate was called by MP Nic Dakin, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experimentation.
He voiced concerns that the new rules would be introduced without ensuring that current UK standards were maintained, causing a “serious, deleterious effect on the standard of protection of laboratory animals in the UK".
Many of the regulations set out in the new EU Directive set lower requirements than those already in operation in Britain. He said many organisations and individuals feared that existing high standards of laboratory animal protection will be relaxed. “There is concern that the UK legislation might be watered down to harmonise with an EU minimum.”
Recent statements by organisations like FRAME and the BUAV, and professional bodies such as the British Veterinary Association and the Laboratory Animals Veterinary Association, expressed concerns over several aspects of laboratory animal care. They included cage sizes, husbandry standards, potential reduction of the Home Office Inspectorate, and the special protection of some species, including chimpanzees.
He said: “The fear was that the Government will not take advantage of article 2 of the directive, which permits member states to maintain higher standards than those required by the directive, but will merely copy out those standards word for word into UK law. Recent experience indicates these concerns may be justified.”
Mr Dakin wrote to Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone earlier this year on behalf of the all-party parliamentary group about the use of chimpanzees and other apes.
He told Parliament: “Unfortunately, the reply was disappointing, saying the intention was indeed to copy out the paragraphs in the directive that allow member states to apply to permit the use of great apes in certain circumstances.”
The Government’s view is that they did not envisage any circumstances in which the UK would claim that there was a compelling need to use great apes.
“So why not make it clear in this legislation? Unfortunately, the Government’s approach to great apes fuels concerns about their overall approach to the transposition.”
He also discussed fears that the Home Office Inspectorate might be reduced. “Such changes could undoubtedly be made to fit with the requirements of the directive, but they would have a serious, deleterious effect on the standard of protection of laboratory animals in the UK, which, we are regularly informed, is currently the highest in the world and is something that we in the UK can rightly be proud of.
“Given the high regard in which it is held and the key function it plays in ensuring compliance with the law, the implementation of the three R’s—replacement, reduction, refinement—and the maintenance of best possible practice, the Home Office inspectorate should be maintained at its current capacity and its advisory role should be kept intact.”
He called on the Minister to clarify the issues and commit to retaining existing standards, rather than substituting the lower ones outlined in the EU legislation.
HO Minister Lynne Featherstone, whose duties involve responsibility for overseeing the relevant legislation, was not present at the debate. Instead she was represented by the Minister for Immigration, Damian Green.
He pointed out that current rules state that animal experiments should not be carried out if there is an alternative, in line with public opinion. But he went on: “At the same time, animal experimentation continues to be a vital tool in developing health care improvements and in protecting man and the environment. The potential health and economic benefits from new and innovative treatments are dependent on providing the right framework for the UK’s life sciences sector and university research base, which are vital national assets and critical to our long-term economic growth.
“Many requirements of the directive are similar to current UK legislation and practice. For example, it places a strong emphasis on minimising the use of animals and the promotion of alternatives. Some requirements go further than current UK legislation, most notably the introduction of mandatory minimum standards of care and accommodation for animals. Other requirements are potentially less stringent; the directive does not, as UK legislation does, provide special protection for cats, dogs and horses.”
He said that part of the EU legislation would allow the UK to retain existing stricter standards, as long as they do not inhibit the free market, but did not confirm that they would be kept. Instead he said the Government was still analysing responses to a consultation carried out last year and would announce its decision later.
“We are aware of the concerns that have been expressed that transposition will lead to a lowering of welfare standards for laboratory animals in the UK. That is not our intention, and we are determined not to weaken UK standards, but that does not mean retaining stricter UK standards when there is no clear evidence that they translate into better welfare, nor does it mean that we must put everything into the legislation if we can achieve the right outcomes by encouraging good practice.”
The full Hansard record of the debate can be found here.