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Letter to the Lords
Posted 1 March 2005
Animal Aid has sent a special 'emergency briefing' to every member of the Upper House, calling upon him or her to thwart the government's new measures aimed at criminalising nearly all forms of effective protest against animal experimentation. The cover letter accompanying the briefing follows below:
GOVERNMENT AMENDMENTS TO THE SERIOUS ORGANISED CRIME AND POLICE BILL ARE DANGEROUSLY ANTI-DEMOCRATIC. THEY REQUIRE URGENT REMEDY BY YOUR LORDSHIPS' HOUSE
The new anti terrorism bill has attracted a great deal of anguished debate because of what many consider to be the profoundly illiberal provision granting powers to the Home Secretary to order house arrest of British citizens or foreign nationals.
The Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill - soon to receive its second reading in the House of Lords - has provoked scarcely any public debate, even though two recently-tabled government amendments amount to a serious assault on the historic rights of peaceful free assembly and expression.
The first amendment (Clause 142) creates an offence of 'interference with contractual relationships so as to harm an animal research organisation'. The second (Clause 143) outlaws 'Intimidation of persons connected with animal research organisation'.
The government argues that these measures will deal effectively, and in a carefully calibrated manner, with animal rights extremism. In reality, the amendments are so broadly-drawn that they will fail to catch those determined to act outside the law, while outlawing many forms of entirely peaceful protest. They will turn minor public order offences, as well as many acts that are currently within the law, into serious criminal offences, if the actions take place as part of a protest against animal research.
In short, the government is seeking to criminalise virtually all forms of effective protest against animal experimentation. This might be regarded as a good thing by those who believe such research is of great value and regard those who oppose it, especially intemperately, as a menace both to medical progress and social order.
However, aside from the need to defend the principle of free assembly and expression, the new proposals are framed so that they can be extended in the future (Clause 146) to encompass all kinds of peaceful protest - whether related to concerns, for example, over environmental pollution, hunting, parental rights, or the war in Iraq.
Animal rights campaigning directed at vivisection has received an extremely bad press during the last two years. The picture drawn is of a large number of activists engaged in widespread intimidation, property damage and physical violence against people who are even remotely connected with establishments conducting experiments on animals.
The picture is false. And yet the creation of this atmosphere of near- hysteria has given the government what it regards as a licence to drive through parliament the thoroughly-illiberal SOCP bill amendments.
Before examining more closely the amendments, let us consider briefly the nature and purpose of the campaign against animal experiments.
While some people opposing animal research have engaged in threats, property damage and - rarely - physical violence, the vast majority are committed to peaceful, non-intimidatory campaigning. The essentially peaceful nature of animal rights protest is borne out by the fact that, since the modern movement took root some 30 years ago, the only people to have been killed or seriously injured are animal activists themselves. Three have been killed, several more have experienced near fatal injuries.
The campaign against animal experiments is driven principally by the distress activists feel over the suffering of animals in research laboratories, where - under Home Office licence - they are poisoned in toxicity tests, surgically mutilated, infected with lethal pathogens, psychologically tormented, scalded and subjected to other serious assaults, all under the aegis of the 1986 Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act.
In addition to the animal welfare dimension, many campaigners - as well as an increasing number of independent-minded research scientists and doctors - are convinced that the 'animal model' has no medical utility. The Home Office itself admitted in a March 31 2004 Parliamentary Answer to Portsmouth South MP, Mike Hancock, that it 'has not commissioned or evaluated any formal research on the efficacy of animal experiments'. In other words, according to H.O. Minister Caroline Flint, the government department in charge of regulating animal research had - neither recently nor at any other time - bothered to assess in a systematic way whether experimenting on animals produced beneficial results for people. Nor were there any plans, it was made clear in an answer to a follow-up PQ, to commission any such evaluation.
This is not the place to elaborate the argument against the use of animals in drug development and disease research. Suffice to say, it is essential that the right peacefully to express robust opposition to such experiments is not criminalised. The government's SOCP Bill amendments have the potential to do precisely that.
Finally, before moving on to the amendments themselves, it is important to consider that there are those - both in the commercial pharmaceutical/biotech sector and in academic research circles - who have invested heavily in the 'animal model'. Their investment is both financial and intellectual. Using animals to test new drugs, or to research the origins and potential remedies for human disease, has become a convenient and deep-rooted habit. This is why, joining the government in insisting upon the imposition of these draconian new measures, are leading drug companies and universities with large animal research facilities.
Director, Animal Aid
P.S. Enclosed is a recent Guardian article by George Monbiot, expressing serious concern about what the government intends with the SOCP Bill amendments.