National Anti-vivisection Society

 

National Antivisection Society

Freedom of information & animal experiments

Background to Freedom of Information on Animal Experiments.

The campaign for freedom of information on animal experiments has remained in the political boiling-pot for many months now. Our submission to the Select Committee on Public Administration was backed by thousands of postcards from you, our supporters. This was followed up with a document to the Home Office as part of the ‘public consultation’ process, and postcards from supporters.

The Freedom of Information Bill (FoI) has since passed through the House of Commons and onto the Lords. However, the decision on animal experiments has been delayed for over a year. Last July, our Director, Jan Creamer, presented the case for applying any Freedom of Information Act (FoI) to animal experiments, at the Minister’s Forum organised by George Howarth, the Home Office Minister at that time.

Since then, we, and our supporting MPs, have continued to press the current Minister, Mike O’Brien, for a decision on whether the Home Office is going to apply FoI to animal experiments. The response in parliament, and letters, has been that the matter remains under ‘consideration’.

Yet both Ministers accepted that there is no logical reason for this industry to be treated any differently from other companies, government departments, and others, under a FoI Act. However, disturbingly, we have recently been advised that FoI on animal experiments may be blocked for reasons of ‘security’.

It appears that the vivisection community is now arguing that, due to intimidation (including the publication of lists of personal addresses, urging to actions of intimidation and threats) in the Huntingdon and Shamrock campaigns, the Government should not draw animal experiments under FoI rules.

The Government regards much of the demonstration activity as legitimate , but draws the line at encouraging people to threaten and intimidate .

At the time of writing, the Government is not content to let us have FoI on animal experiments. We have always insisted that personal risk is not an issue in our FoI campaign.

We do not need names and addresses; all we are asking for is the technical details of Project Licence applications.

URGENT action needed

We need everyone to write to their MP, urgently, and ask them to write on your behalf to the Minister at the Home Office, Mike O’Brien MP, making the point that it would be unjustified to deny FoI on animal experiments, for reasons of personal risk, or endangerment. Personal details are simply not required!

These are the main points:-

  • When an experimenter completes a Project Licence Application Form to use animals, there needs to be a wider scientific scrutiny of the application to assess whether a non-animal method is available, or whether there is another source of the information required.
  • Supporters will recall the Home Office’s backdown in 1998 , when we took the Home Secretary to the High Court, obtaining leave for a Judicial Review of the policy of treating everything on a licence application as ‘confidential’. On losing this point, the Home Office immediately issued advice to all Project Licence Applicants, that they mark their whole application as ‘confidential’ . Which of course, was at odds with the legal agreement.
  • Everything on a Project Licence Application is treated as confidential’, and therefore only the Home Office Inspectorate and the vivisector know whether all possible alternatives have been explored.

Yet it has been admitted that the Home Office does not have a comprehensive database of non-animal alternatives. Therefore when the Home Secretary signs a licence to confirm that he is satisfied that all possible alternatives have been explored, his officials cannot be sure it is correct.

Key dates in the campaign so far:

1993
Unlock the Labs Bus Tour.
96,000 signatures on ‘Anti-Secrecy’ petition in 8 weeks.
Opinion Poll: 72% felt that the Government should consider expert opinion on animal experiments from NAVS.

1994
Unlock the Labs (freedom of information) Bus Tour.
March through central London.
Open Silver Padlocks to symbolise the campaign.
NAVS reveals findings of undercover investigations of St.
Mary’s and Toxicol, in ‘Labs Unlocked’ report.
Unlock The Labs protest postcard, leaflets and posters.

1995
Anti-Secrecy Early Day Motion, gains us more political support.
Unlock the Labs campaign for freedom of Information and opportunity for public to make an informed choice.

1996
’Access Denied’: findings of undercover investigation of Institute of Neurology & Charing Cross & Westminster Medical School. Includes evidence that a monkey experiment was licensed in 3 working days (although it was claimed that prior meetings had taken place; there is no public evidence of this).
Institute of Neurology cat licence suspended pending inquiry.
Charing cross licence revoked due to killing methods.
Anti-secrecy postcard campaign to MPs, gains support from Labour Party spokesmen.

1997
2nd Anti-Secrecy Petition 105,000 signatures.
Over a year after the event, the new Labout Government admits in Commons that the Charing Cross licence had been revoked after the NAVS investigation.
However, there is a new Government but the same old responses from the Home Office. We outline the problems: ‘Accountability: animal experiments and freedom of information’ report launched at the party conferences.
Supporters send thousands of Accountability postcards to MPs. Campaign gains celebrity, media, public, and parliamentary support.

1998
NAVS takes Home Office to High Court, and wins action concerning blanket secrecy on Project Licence Applications.
Thousands more postcards are sent to MPs; MPs lobbied at the party conferences, and support increases.
A parliamentary reception on FoI is held at the House of Commons, featuring otherwise unseen evidence from labs.

1999
NAVS submits evidence to the Select Committee on Public Administration’s Inquiry into the Draft Freedom of Information Bill.
Thousands of you e-mail the Select Committee with your views.
Followed by NAVS submission to Home Office Foi ‘public consultation’; campaign launched to generate public interest in the consultation, includes newspaper advertising.
Thousands email their views, write, and send postcards.
New Unlock the Labs leaflet.
NAVS exposes dealer secretly supplying cats to labs.
NAVS addresses Home Office Forum, speaking on FoI.
Government admits that, in principle, FoI must apply to animal experiments.
Findings of undercover investigation of Oxford University released.
More MPs join up to the campaign at the party conferences.
New Unlock The Labs video, featuring footage inside 10 UK labs and lab suppliers, is launched at the House of Commons.

2000
The Home Secretary’s APC issues ‘consultation on openness and animal procedures’. Reprint in the magazine encourages letters and emails.
Over 600 shops, and many celebrities, join the Silver Lock FoI campaign, and thousands march through London.

Write your Letter These are the points to make in your letter to your MP:-

(a) We have requested the technical details of project licence applications, so that we can bring in our scientists to suggest a non-animal alternative.

Personal details are irrelevant, so we are not asking for them. Only the widest possible scientific scrutiny befits a proposal to use animals in painful experiments, especially since this issue gives rise to such enormous public concern.

The public want medical progress, but without animal experiments. There is no reason that this cannot not be delivered.

(b) There has never been an instance of an animal researcher being targeted by extremists because of information obtained from a Home Office source. Information about names, addresses, work locations,funding bodies,etc.,is found on the internet, and from scientific papers published in journals, which are available in newsagents.

This information is already in the public domain - it would be unjustified to withhold FoI for reasons of personal endangerment.

(c) The Home Office should provide full details of all breaches of the 1986 Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act, and the action taken. Full details of a ny breaches of the Government’s Code of Practice should also be published.

Codes of Practice are used to allay public concerns, so they should be seen to be working. There is no good reason to withhold information about wrong doing in the field of animal experiments, when in other sectors of the community, it is considered a matter of public interest, and duty.

What Happens if We Get FoI?

Should we gain FoI, the Home Office might continue to licence projects to which we are opposed, but, it will do so knowing that its actions are under scrutiny.

Whatever happens, we will have more information about the world of vivisection than ever before. At present, the only way of finding out what happens to animals in labs is by what the vivisectors choose to tell us in science journals, or through our own undercover investigations. Both are limited.

As always, we are confident that the more that people know about vivisection, the less they support it.

© National Anti-Vivisection Society