House of Lords debate revision of EU regulations
On Wednesday, the House of Lords ‘took note' of a committee report into the revision of the EU Directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. This meant that the report was formally discussed and debated by interested parties within the Lords chamber. It was initially raised for debate by Lord Carter of Coles, and in total nine peers spoke of their thoughts in relation to both the revisions to the Directive and the commission report.
The tone of the debate was positive and all the speakers mentioned how important it was that the Directive becomes more up-to-date (the original law was introduced in 1986).
"...I welcome the report and the Directive should be implemented. I hope that it will be consistent across the member states and that laboratory animals are used across what is often called a level playing field."
Some of the speakers had previous experience of animal research as they have held, or currently hold, licences to conduct research; others had been involved in various committees and subgroups relating to animal research over the years. However most of the Lords have little knowledge of the report or Directive at all. Therefore in preparation for the debate, a briefing was put together by the Bioscience Sector and distributed to peers who were likely to participate or be interested in the subject.
The Bioscience sector briefing included hopes from the sector that:
"...the House of Lords will recognise the need to strike the right balance between animal welfare and medical and scientific progress. This means not gold-plating the Directive in the UK (to maintain harmonisation), and keeping administrative burdens to the minimum. Any such burdens should be justified by a corresponding gain in animal welfare."
So far, the UK government has ensured the Directive has not been gold-plated, indeed during the debate The Earl of Caithness praised the Home Office for not allowing this to happen:
"The Home Office has not gold-plated this Directive as it did the 1986 directive, and there is clear evidence that it is being less bureaucratic, for which I am grateful, but there is no doubt that the continuing stress and suffering of animals will be at varying levels throughout Europe."
The issue of varied implementation was one which recurred throughout the debate, and was one on which all the speakers agreed was of paramount importance.
"The case for a new directive boils down to one simple argument; namely that the old one failed. It failed because it was inconsistently applied across the EU"
Lord Carter stressed that this task falls partly to the UK government in the current negotiations:
‘...we look to those involved in the current negotiations - in particular, the UK Government - to ensure that they take the opportunity of agreeing the new Directive to secure high standards of animal welfare across the EU and, most importantly, at the same time place all concerned on an equal footing.'
If the Directive is not consistently applied, then there is the risk that it may damage UK's competitiveness within Europe. However as some of the UK policies are more stringent than in the proposed Directive this consistent implementation will not be straightforwards. The current Directive states that the European Commission will have a leading role in coordinating member states, ensuring that the Directive is applied consistently across Europe. The Earl of Caithness emphasised the need for the UK to support the Commission.
It is hoped that the Government will ensure that the concerns raised at the debate are considered before the Directive is finalised and that the desired ‘level playing field' will be achievable across Europe.
Brief history of the report:
The revision of EU Directive 86/609/EEC concerning the use of animals in research was introduced in 1986. In November 2008 a revised draft of the Directive was published by the European Commission.
The House of Lords published a report into these proposed revisions in November last year. The report was largely favorably received by the Bioscience sector, and many of the findings can be seen in the current draft of the Directive.
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