Rupa Huq – 2023 Speech on Commercial Breeding for Laboratories

The speech made by Rupa Huq, the Independent MP for Ealing Central and Acton, in Westminster Hall, the House of Commons on 16 January 2023.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Efford.

I am here today because three separate constituents have come to my Friday surgery and opened my eyes to how the existing framework in this country is ethically, practically, morally and scientifically bankrupt. I pay tribute to the valiant protesters at Camp Beagle who, for 18 months, have been outside the gates of Marshall Bio Resources in Cambridgeshire—it is happening not too far from here.

I was sent some secretly obtained footage of just a couple of minutes, not highlights culled from several hours, and it was concerning and upsetting to see the barbaric conditions that the beagles are kept in, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) said. Beagles are good-natured animals who will not bite back, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) pointed out. They are bred in factory conditions, with no space to run around. They have never experienced sunshine, wind, rain or any such things—no natural light. I think there were some pictures of them eating faeces, so God knows what diet they are given.

In those beagles’ lifetime, after 16 weeks—they are only babies, puppies—they go to laboratories and who knows what happens. They are injected with bleach, fertiliser and all such things, even at that young age. They are sentient beings, just as we are, and that should not continue. MBR Acres sounds quite nice, as if the beagles are running around, gambolling in the fields, but that is far from the case, and every time what happens to them is put to MBR Acres, it says it is fully compliant with the law and a fully licensed establishment. That law, however, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury pointed out, is the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986—but 1986 was a different world. Even I was at school at then. How many Prime Ministers have we had since then—okay, we have had three this year alone—and there was not even the internet.

People ask: “What is the alternative?” We heard about NAMs, the non-animal routes we should be going down, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Emma Hardy). There is a better way of doing things: cutting-edge technologies, modelling three-dimension cell cultures, organs on chips, artificial intelligence. That all harnesses scientific progress. Why are we still stuck in 1986, when “The Chicken Song” by Spitting Image—“Hold a chicken in the air”—was No. 1? It was a completely different world.

The Cruelty Free International pressure group sets everything out in a detailed plan. We could have a regulator, or even a committee to mirror the Animals in Science Committee, a NAMs committee that could monitor such things. ASPA, the 1986 Act, sets out just bare-minimum guidelines, not even best practice, for the care, transit, housing and killing of research animals. We have two sites in this country: the Marshall Bio or MBR one, and Envigo. If we look across the Atlantic at the USA, one of the Envigo sites in America was closed recently because of gross welfare violations. We were told that when we left the EU, we would level up and have higher standards than anywhere else, but that is very far from the truth and from what seems to be happening.

I am also concerned about how protesters are demonised—as recently as today—even though in this country we have a long tradition of civil disobedience, with the suffragettes, the Levellers, the Diggers and all such things. As a statement of MBR Acres puts it:

“Unfortunately, extremists, including long-time activists, are committing unlawful and dangerous activities each day.”

My constituent, Helen Cheese-Probert, is not what we might call a troublemaker. She is a scientist by training, who came most recently to my surgery on Friday. It is not only her; Ricky Gervais, Will Young and Chris Packham are all on side as well. It is not just the demonisation of protesters that worries me, but the validity of animal experimentation for human conditions. Some figures show that 95% of cases of things done to animals fail to translate to human conditions, so why are we doing it? When our kids are sick, we do not take them to the vet, do we? That stands to reason.

It is time to deploy NAMs technology to its fullest extent and to consign commercial breeding for animal experimentation—it just sounds horrible—to the history books, to the scrapheap or dustbin of the past. When people my age were kids we used to see videos of monkeys being forced to smoke cigarettes, but now we think that is totally barbaric and wrong.

I will end by saying that, as Gandhi put it, the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way it treats its animals. There is a lot of room for improvement and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about fixing this outmoded picture.