National Anti-vivisection Society

 

National Antivisection Society

Political Animals 2015: Transparency–Accountability–Replacement

Posted: 24 September 2015. Updated: 29 September 2015

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It is now over a year since the government opened its consultation on the review of Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (ASPA). Also known as the “secrecy clause”, Section 24 places a blanket ban on the release of any information from animal experimentation laboratories by regulators or those responsible for animals or their use within a laboratory.

Section 24 is currently under review as part of the UK’s implementation of EU Directive 2010/63/EU on the use of animals in research, which includes specific aims for greater openness and public accountability; it is also incompatible with government policies on openness and transparency and the central principles of the Freedom of Information Act (2000) (FOIA). Section 24 has prevented open public debate and wider scientific scrutiny of the use of animals in research, a matter of intense public concern. In addition to blocking government accountability when it comes to the regulation of animal experimentation, this level of secrecy has stifled serious attempts to examine the use of animals in research and encourage the adoption of advanced scientific techniques to replace animal use.

In 2013 former Home Office Minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach announced: "The requirements of Section 24 are now out of step with our policy on openness and transparency and with the approach taken in other legislation, such as the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The solution we develop must improve the overall transparency surrounding research using animals, to create an environment which fosters informed debate leading to greater public trust, and also must protect personal identities and intellectual property".

In 2014 the UK Government consultation put forward three options for the review of ASPA Section 24:

  • Option 1 Do nothing. Retain Section 24 in its current form
  • Option 2a Repeal Section 24 and amend ASPA by creating a criminal offence of malicious disclosure of information about the use of animals in scientific research
  • Option 2b As option 2a but with the amended legislative framework to include a statutory prohibition on disclosure of information relating only to people, places and intellectual property
  • Option 3 Repeal Section 24

The NAVS supports Option 3, in line with the government’s policies on openness and transparency, and the current Freedom of Information Act. However the government’s preferred option is 2b. The NAVS does not support 2b as the Freedom of Information Act already provides protection for individuals, places and intellectual property and there is already an established mechanism for challenge and independent review if information appears to have been withheld unreasonably. Whereas statutory prohibition has, in the past, been used to create a complete block on the release of information.

The response to the consultation is currently with ministers, and we understand an announcement has been delayed due to the overhaul of the Freedom of Information Act, which will have an affect on the functioning of Section 24. For almost 30 years, the UK Government has licensed animal experimentation in secret whilst assuring the public that animal experiments only occur when necessary. Yet it remains impossible for the public to verify or assess in any meaningful way, what is being done in their name.

Secrecy remains the greatest obstacle to a real strategy to replace the use of animals in research with advanced non-animal methods.

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