Last night the Lords passed the Statutory Instrument to update UK law governing animal research. A Commons committee had already passed it on 3 December. Now it has passed through both houses of parliament, we expect the update to officially become law before Christmas and come into effect on 1 January 2013.
But this isn’t the end of the update. Now the Home Office is preparing guidance and codes of practice that lay out in detail how the system will work in practice. We are expecting them to publish a first draft of this guidance before Christmas and we will then have an opportunity to comment before it is finalised. This will then go through Parliament later in 2013.
AMRC will be working with the coalition of bioscience organisations with an interest in animal research to engage with this process over the coming months.
Theses changes will come into force on 1 January. The Home Office is going to be working very closely with all those conducting animal research to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible and tightly regulated research can still go ahead.
The Animals Procedures Committee which advises the Home Secretary on the implementation of the Animal Sciences and Procedures Act will cease to exist at the end of 2012. A new National Committee with a similar but broader remit will get up and running in the New Year. Adverts seeking members will be out soon.
The Home Office is also updating the computer system that handles license applications to make the system easier to navigate – this is ongoing.
Draft guidance and codes of practice will be out soon – we expect before Christmas. The Bioscience Coalition will be looking at these in detail to identify any problems and feed into discussion of these. They will then go through Parliament later in 2013.
And there are still some areas of legislation to be updated, in particularly Section 24 of the Animal And Scientific Procedures Act which currently prevents the Home Office from disclosing confidential information relating to animal research. This was put in place to protect individuals and sensitive information but there are questions whether this non-disclosure conflicts with steps to increase transparency and public trust. This was a big feature of the Lords debate yesterday. Lord Holbeach, the Home Office minister speaking at the debate said:
Having said that I am in favour of transparency, I have to say that I am still in favour of maintaining some control over it in this area at this stage. Our consultation revealed no clear consensus on whether the provisions of Section 24 should be repealed and replaced, and we need to give that further thought. Opportunities may exist for some modification of the current provision.
The Home Office has said that it plans to review Section 24 in the new year, recognising the need for protection of sensitive personal and commercial information on one side, and transparency and public trust on the other.
And Lord Winston called for more engagement with the public about how and why we do animal research, and how strictly this is regulated.
From various polls, including a fairly recent MORI poll, it is clear that most people still do not really understand, first, how stringent and well conducted our regulations are and, secondly, the value of the research that is going on. We should be trying to focus more of our attention on that.
The bioscience sector – including medical research charities – are working together on this to develop a set of principles and practical steps to increase openness about animal research – more about this here.