On Monday, the government published its proposals to update the current UK law governing animal research to bring us into line with a new EU Directive to harmonise regulation across Europe. Back in May, the Home Office published information on how it planned to update UK law – retaining the UK’s current welfare standards where they are higher than those proposed by the Directive while taking steps to streamline the licensing process. The published draft legislation will put these plans into effect and make them law. MPs and peers will now have the opportunity to scrutinise the proposals in Parliament before deciding whether to pass them into law. This must be done by 1 January 2013, when the Directive comes into force across the EU. For more background information you can see all our posts about the Directive here.
The amendments will be made through a type of secondary legislation called an affirmative Statutory Instrument (the affirmative bit means it must be debated by both Houses) and will go before a committee in the House of Commons and the floor of the House of Lords to be agreed before it can become law. First it will be considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments on 7 November. Along with the updating of the law there are also changes being made at the Home Office’s Animals in Scientific Regulation Unit (ASRU), which implements the law, including computer system improvements to make licensing more straightforward for researchers.
The Home Office is still in the process of reviewing other aspects of UK regulation around the use of animals in research not dealt with by the Directive. In particular section 24 of the current regulation which prevents the Home Office from disclosing confidential information relating to animal research. The Home Office plans to review this, recognising the need for protection of sensitive personal and commercial information on one side, and transparency and public trust on the other.
This Directive is an important step in raising animal welfare standards across Europe and increasing investment in research to improve welfare and develop alternatives to using animals in research. In the UK this sits alongside focused investment through the Coalition government’s programme to replace, refine and reduce the use of animals in research, which is being taken forward by the NC3Rs.