Animal experiments in the spotlight

THE animal rights lobby has found a champion in West Suffolk Tory MP Richard Spring who wants the Government to find alternatives to animal research "wherever possible" in order to keep suffering to a minimum.

THE animal rights lobby has found a champion in West Suffolk Tory MP Richard Spring who wants the Government to find alternatives to animal research "wherever possible" in order to keep suffering to a minimum.

Following the publication of a House of Lords Select Committee report, he asked the Home Office "how many animals were used in experiments in 2002, and what plans he has to reduce that number."

In a Commons written reply, junior minister Bob Ainsworth told Mr Spring that in 2001 – the last full year for which statistics are available – the number of animals used for the first time in scientific procedures was 2.57million, out of a total of 2.62m, the number is the lowest since the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 came into force.

There were 1.657m procedures on rats, 500,000 on other rodents, 61,000 rabbits, 11,600 carnivores, 37,400 ungulates, 4,000 primates, 8,000 other mammals, 126,900 birds, 17,500 reptiles, and 171,000 fish.

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Of the experiments, 778,700 were for "fundamental biological research," 689,900 for human medicine or dentistry, 182,200 for veterinary medicine, 153,600 for "the protection of man, animals or the environment," 4,600 for education, and 1,200 for training.

Mr Ainsworth said in his reply: "As the regulator of the use of live animals in scientific procedures, the Home Office is demand-led – it has no control over the number of project licence applications which it receives.

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"While we must seek to minimise the number of animals used in particular programme work, the Home Office cannot therefore influence the overall amount of animal research and testing which takes place."

And he warned: "There are current developments, such as advances in the use that can be made of genetically modified animals, which may lead in coming years to more rather than fewer animals being used overall."

Commented Mr Spring: "I have received a vast number of letters from my constituents on the failure of the Government to address the issue of animal experimentation.

"While I understand we cannot end the use of animals in scientific procedures without halting important areas of medical and technological research, it is important to be vigilant in finding alternatives to animals wherever possible, and that any suffering has been weighted against the potential benefit. The Home Office should play a key role in this and not just accept that progress is unlikely."

THE all-party Commons Public Accounts Committee this week called for radical constitutional reform, handing of powers from the Government and to Parliament. Ministerial prerogative, or executive powers, allow the Government to deploy troops, confer honours, run the Civil Service, grant passports and sign treaties without approval of Parliament.

"Much of Government in Britain is based on ancient powers handed down from monarchs to ministers," said Committee chairman Tony Wright. "It is time to re-examine this strange state of affairs.

"No-one doubts that ministers need to have effective executive powers, but it is vital that Parliament has a chance to scrutinise them properly before they are exercised. It is no longer enough for Parliament to have the chance to examine decisions after they have been taken."

The Queen's constitutional prerogatives, including the ultimate right to appoint the Prime Minister, to advise ministers, to assent to legislation and to dissolve Parliament, would not be affected.

BASHIR Khanbhai, Conservative Euro MP for the East of England. has warned that the introduction of compulsory environmental liability insurance, passed last week by the European Parliament in Strasbourg, will do little to help the environment but will place huge costs on local industry. 

He believes it will result in a fall in profits and will put jobs at risk as UK industry is forced to pay as much as £1.8bn every year to meet the cost of the premiums that European law will now insist upon.

The environmental insurance market is underdeveloped, with uncertain risks. Compulsory financial security is opposed by the insurance industry and even the British Government.

"This legislation will not help the environment. We want to stop industry polluting, not put measures in place which mean that the mess is paid for at a later date," says Mr Khanbhai.

"There can only be two possible outcomes – either profits will fall and local jobs will be lost, or prices will rise and local consumers will foot the bill. Neither outcome is acceptable."

BURY St Edmunds Tory MP David Ruffley, Alan Hurst (Labour, Braintree), Chris Mole (Labour, Ipswich) and Bob Russell (Liberal Democrat, Colchester), have signed a parliamentary Early Day Motion calling on the Government to ensure that the treatment of arthritis is given a proper clinical priority in the National Health Service and that victims do not fall foul of the "post code lottery" of treatment.

Mr Ruffley said: "Arthritis is a crippling disease affecting many people and my I get many letters from them. I do have some idea of the suffering arthritis causes because my mother developed severe osteo-arthritis. With one in five of the population suffering from this disease, we need to address these important issues and improve the quality of life of arthritis sufferers."

Mr Ruffley and Mr Russell also signed a motion praising the work of all those who care for people who suffer from the illness.

THE bicentenary of the Parliamentary Press Gallery was marked by a dinner on Wednesday at the London Hilton Metropole Hotel, attended by the Prime Minister and Mrs Blair, other party leaders, Commons Speaker Michael Martin, Cabinet ministers past and present, and national and regional newspaper editors and their staffs.

John Fry, chairman of Archant Ltd, publishers of the East Anglian Daily Times and the Eastern Daily Press, hosted a table accompanied by Terry Hunt, Editor of the EADT, Peter Franzen, Editor of the EDP, Chris Fisher, Political Editor of the EDP, and Graham Dines, Political Editor of the EADT. Guests of the company were: Education Secretary Charles Clarke (MP for Norwich South), former Conservative Cabinet minister Gillian Shephard (MP for Norfolk South West), Shadow Minister for Europe Richard Spring (Conservative, Suffolk West), Ivan Henderson (Labour MP for Harwich), and Norman Lamb (Liberal Democrat, Norfolk North). Joining the Archant table, as guest of the Press Gallery, was Baroness (Shirley) Williams of Crosby, a former Labour cabinet minister and now President of the East of England Liberal Democrats.

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