The BUAV has welcomed reports that Home Office Minister Norman Baker will today announce a review of Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, the so-called secrecy clause, with a view to ending the blanket ban on the Government releasing information about animal experiments into the public domain.
The BUAV has for many years been calling for a change in the law to allow people to find out what is happening to animals in laboratories and why. Apart from the terrible suffering of animals in laboratories, we all have a stake in ensuring that medical research is scientifically sound and that scarce research resources are wisely targeted.
Section 24 states that Home Office ministers or officials who disclose information about animal experiments, given to them in confidence, commit a criminal offence carrying up to two years in prison and an unlimited fine. This extends to information given to Parliament. Section 24 overrides the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). So, at present, the law prevents the Home Office disclosing details of what is done to animals and why.
The UK is one of the largest users of animals in experiments but current legislation makes it one of the most secretive in Europe. The BUAV believes that informed public debate is essential but that it cannot happen without meaningful information being available. Effective scrutiny – parliamentary, public and, ultimately, judicial – of the way the Home Office regulates the experiments is impossible under this secretive system.
The BUAV has a long history of bringing Freedom of Information cases and campaigning for greater transparency. We are not interested in finding out personal names and addresses or commercially sensitive information, but strongly believe the public has a right to know what is happening on their behalf.
Our recent high profile case involving Newcastle University and its controversial publicly funded research on primates continued for a number of years with the University trying every which way and spending over £250,000 in the process to avoid providing the information. But researchers now say they favour openness.
Michelle Thew, Chief Executive, BUAV stated: "For too many years, researchers have had a free rein to decide what information about animal experiments is released. It is only with proper transparency that a full debate can take place, not only about the ethics of the use of animals but also scientific reliability, which is crucial to human health. The sooner section 24 goes the better, with names and genuinely confidential information still protected."