Select Committee on Animals In Scientific Procedures Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1088-1088)



  1080. This brings us to the concluding question. How might public confidence in the behaviour of UK medical and biological researchers be enhanced? We noticed that yesterday the Royal Society produced this paper pointing out the case for the need for animal experimentation and what the benefits of this have been. I think we have detected from witnesses before us, while we have been sitting as a Committee, that there has been a perceptible change in the atmosphere, particularly since the Government came out robustly in defence of Huntingdon Life Science and condemned the tactics used there. Before that, though, we have this feeling that really the science community has been a bit reluctant to come forward, not just because they would be putting their heads above the parapet and they might have their families threatened and that sort of thing, but more than that, there has been a reluctance to put their best foot forward and explain; since 11 September, when terrorism has rather gone out of fashion, this has been an added factor. We have come across this feeling of some reluctance on the part of the science community to come forward and go public, because one of the problems we face is that both the anti-vivisectionists and the science community are really ships passing in the day, there is really no connection. There are some intermediary bodies which try to do this, but there has been no really effective engagement, and this might be aided if the science community, particularly through such august institutions as the Royal Society, were rather more proactive in putting its case.
  (Professor Bateson) I agree with that. It is certainly the case that the Boyd Group, whom I am sure you have heard about, has been very effective. I was involved when Kenneth Boyd was doing his early report with Jane Smith for the Institute of Medical Ethics. We were a disparate group of people ranging from some gung-ho scientists on the one hand to some hard-line animal rights people on the other hand. We worked together for three years and eventually we were all talking to each other. It can be done. Even the groups which seem so implacably opposed can end up understanding that there might be agreed positions, because the moral issues are numerous and we have to try to bring these very different forms of morality together.

Lord Taverne

  1081. We were told by Professor Blakemore, and given some examples, about where the Boyd Group had acted before the Government did, like the question of testing cosmetics on animals, but he was not able to give us any examples of where the anti-vivisectionists had made any concessions. I am very interested to see perhaps the Boyd Group and how it operates, but have there actually been examples of where the anti-vivisectionists have made any concessions at all in the course of the dialogue? How has their attitude been affected and changed?
  (Professor Bateson) I can only talk from my own experience of interacting with people who, I knew, took very hard-line views about these things, and by the end of quite a long period of discussion were talking to each other quite reasonably. So those people changed. I changed too. It was not one way. I think one must hope that most people will eventually start to have dialogues. There will always be those who do not. I suppose I hope that the ones who do not want to have any dialogue will eventually be marginalised.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

  1082. Do you think that the scientific community presenting this point of view are interacting sufficiently strongly with the political world? I notice that at certain party-political conferences you will find lots of spokespeople and organisations who take a very critical view of animal experiments, and I do not see very many there who are advocating the advantages of animal experiments.
  (Professor Bateson) The trouble is that they are full-time scientists, and some of the people who want to stop animal work are full-time activists, they are devoting all their time to it. The trouble is that, when Michael Festing goes to the Animal Procedures Committee he will probably read his papers on the train. The people who represent the activist organisations will probably be preparing for weeks for these meetings. So there is a big asymmetry.It is all very well saying to us: "Go to the party-political conferences." We have other things to do.

  Lord Hunt of Chesterton: I did not say that you should.

  Chairman: Lord Hunt goes to all of them, in the interests of objectivity.

Lord Lucas

  1083. There seem to be some areas where something might be done to improve the public's understanding of what is going on and the feeling that they are in control of it. One of them is certainly publication of information on what projects have been allowed. What sort of information do you think could be made public on a project licence, that you would be happy to see out there on a public website?
  (Professor Bateson) It is a very difficult area, because I think that some scientists still are quite nervous. There has been enough violence around and blatant pressurising, which people are disturbed about. I should have thought it was possible to produce an account of a project, though, which stated the objectives and stated what was going to be done and the procedures which were going to be used, but which was also anonymised so that it was not possible to pinpoint that person, In this way the public would know what projects are about to be done, but without making the scientist concerned feel vulnerable to possible attack. I do not know whether you have a view about that, Michael.
  (Dr Festing) I think it is very difficult to explain the details of science to the lay public; many of them do not understand science at all, and I think it would be quite difficult. I guess that probably it has to be done. I think the problem we are in at the moment is that in the past many of the users of laboratory animals have had a policy of keeping a low profile, and everybody recognises now that that was probably a wrong policy, but we have years and years of that policy to make up in informing the public and explaining our position and so on, and it will take time, but I think we have to do it.


  1084. If some of the anti-vivisectionists are effective—and I take Professor Bateson's point that they can be full time on this, whereas the scientific community by definition cannot—if they put across and persuade people of their views, it seems to me that it is not beyond the wit of humankind to put the alternative case, is it?
  (Professor Bateson) I agree, and in fact we are doing it more. You will see more of that now.

Baroness Warnock

  1085. There are two things I want to ask. In the case of certain diseases which people are really frightened of and know something about, like Alzheimer's, if a fairly detailed explanation could be given of the way in which, say, genetically modified mice or rats are used in order to discover which cells are being affected do you think that people would be more sympathetic than they are now? I think that they do not really understand the way in which you can look at the brain and see what is going on, how amazing those things are. I know that I have learnt an enormous amount from simply seeing what was going on in that area. Therefore, I suppose that if one picked examples with which people really sympathise, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, an awful lot could be done even through schools and then going on. My other question is something that you mentioned briefly before and which we have considered. It does seem to me at any rate and, I think, to all of us, that the way in which the Home Office publishes its figures, its numbers of animals used, is terribly misleading and could be refined really quite easily by distinguishing between very trifling procedures, for example, and more serious procedures and not having to count all of the animals that have gone into every bit of research. Is it possible that they might be persuaded to change their mind, by you or someone influential?
  (Professor Bateson) If your Committee pressurises them.

  1086. That does seem quite an important way in which people are being misled.
  (Professor Bateson) Yes, I agree.

Lord Lucas

  1087. One of the bits of evidence which we have seen was a film called "It's a Dog's Life" which illustrated the difficulties inspectors have in picking up serious misbehaviour. When the inspectors were not there they were bouncing the dogs off the walls and behaving generally very badly, and the only reason we were able to see this was because somebody was holding a camera on them. How would you tackle this? How would you give the public confidence that that was not happening? Would you allow the inspectors to have web cameras watching what is happening there? How would you do it?
  (Professor Bateson) I think that in the areas of research I deal with, if people did that to their animals they would not do any decent research; they would not get animals behaving in anything other than fearful ways if they did that. So I think in the average research laboratory it would not be in the interests of anybody to behave like that. I do not know what went on in that particular case, but if it is happening then I suppose the only way to guard against it is to monitor it, as you say, with videos, or something like that, so it would be possible to reassure people. On the whole, from what I have seen, I think the standards of care and of looking after animals are very high. We obviously have to win the confidence of the public in this respect. We also have to win the confidence of the public with regard to the quality of the work that is being done and its benefits to them. Somebody suggested that what we ought to do is that every medicine which requires research on animals to be developed should have on the label: "This medicine required research on animals", because the fact of the matter is that people do not realise how much lay behind very, very common drugs that we are using every day.
  (Dame Anne McLaren) These inspectors do not always warn you when they are coming; they can make unannounced visits, and if there was any question about what you saw in that film, I should have thought they would do so and should do so.

  Chairman: Presumably there is a communication between the gate and the laboratory, which can allow people to put on a clean white coat, both metaphorically and literally.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

  1088. If I might return to the publication and information point and making known to the public what is being done in research, of course publication is the lifeblood of the scientist. If you do not publish, you do not receive research funding for that. In the USA, as I understand it, in the NIH and NSF, once your research has been approved for funding it is then made public, it is published. I notice a lot of resistance to that happening in this country, but in many organisations they also demand a paragraph or two on the benefit of this research. I wonder if that sort of thing, once a grant has been funded by the appropriate funding agency, could be made public on a website or something like that, so the public could get into it and so you could say, "Well this really is what's happening." We have heard from witnesses that secrecy is one of the things that we are accused of, when in fact there is not a lot of secrecy about it. All the work that is done is in fact published eventually, though it may not be in a form that the public can understand.
  (Dame Anne McLaren) I have always been in favour of scientists telling the public what they are doing and why they are doing it, and I think that can be done. It does not necessarily involve every detail of animal experimentation, but it gives a general picture, and scientists are doing that much more now than they used to. I like the idea of a more detailed case study of, for example, Alzheimer's or some other disease, with much more detailed explanation of what is being done to the animals and why, but that I think would have to be anonymised while the present atmosphere of pseudo-terrorism exists.
  (Professor Bateson) Can I say on that theme that the Royal Society—and we are here representing the Royal Society—has had a programme of public understanding of science for many years now, which is now replicated by other organisations. We are now becoming increasingly interested in the other side of the public understanding of science and explaining what is happening and so on. That new activity is to listen to people, in what we call the Science in Society. We are very keen to see this develop, because it is important that people understand that we scientists are listening to them as well as telling them things.

  Chairman: That is a welcome development. Dame Anne, Professor Bateson and Dr Festing, thank you very much indeed for coming to see us. It has been most helpful. Thank you very much.


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