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What Is Section 24 of the Animals Scientific Procedure Act 1986?

Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986s is often discussed in parliamentary debates and petitions. But what is it? Here we explain what section 24 is and how  ‘repealing it’ could help increase transparency around animal research.

What is Section 24?

Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) concerns the protection of confidential information. Under Section 24, the Home Office cannot release any information received in confidence under ASPA, even if the provider of the information has no objection to its disclosure. This prevents the sharing of licensing assessments, the content of licensing applications, inspector visit reports, and review papers. 

This is incompatible with the government’s policies on openness and transparency, and the central principles of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI). The Freedom of Information Act allows for public access to information held by public authorities and is predated by ASPA by 14 years.  

Repealing Section 24 and allowing access to the information currently protected would allow external scientific bodies and welfare groups, among other relevant organisations, the opportunity to scrutinise the proposed procedures for animal use before they are conducted. This could lead to a reduction in animal use as there would be more opportunity to identify whether procedures are duplicates or scientifically unnecessary. This would also create a push for human-relevant, non-animal methods, as those who work in these areas would be able to suggest these methods prior to licenses being given and animals being used.  

The government continually talks about its commitment to the 3Rs, openness, and transparency, and repealing Section 24 would be a huge step in proving its commitment to these factors.  

Governmental reviews 

The first account of an MP questioning Section 24 post-FOI was in 2001. Ms. Candy Atherton, Labour MP for Falmouth and Camborne, asked when a decision is expected on the changes to Section 24 of ASPA. This was followed by a review of the section in 2002. The review concluded that the section should be retained for the time being but may be re-reviewed in 2 years. Between 2004 and 2014, several MPs asked for an update on whether repealing the section would be reconsidered. Each time this was asked, it was answered in the same manner, stating that there were no plans to review the repeal plans.  

In 2014, the government published their ‘Working to reduce the use of animals in scientific research’ delivery plan. MP Norman Baker, Minister of State – Home Department, stated that the government was actively reviewing section 24 in line with the delivery plan and their policy on openness and transparency. This led to a public consultation being conducted in May and June 2014. The consultation proposed three options for amending section 24: 

Option 1: Retain Section 24 of ASPA.

Option 2a: Repeal Section 24 and amend ASPA by creating a criminal offence of malicious disclosure of information about the use of animals in scientific research. 

Option 2b: As option 2a, but with the amended legislative framework to include a statutory prohibition on disclosure of information relating only to people, places, and intellectual property. 

Option 3: Repeal Section 24 of ASPA, allowing all information to be publicly disclosed unless exempt under the FOI act.

The consultation ended on the 13th of June 2014, and on the 14th of July 2014, Norman Baker stated “we are actively analysing responses in preparation for pursuing legislation change. We are already exploring the use of an Order under Section 75 of the FOI Act to amend or repeal Section 24 of ASPA. My intention is that any legislative change that we decide to make will be in force by May 2015.” 

Despite this, as of March 2022, no results have been published.  

Between 2014 and 2020, several MPs asked when, or if, the results would be published. Each response stated that “the consultation results would be published in due course”, despite the number of years that had passed. A public petition was also started on GOV.UK in 2018, calling for Section 24 to be abolished, however, the petition only received 1831 signatures. In order to gain a governmental response, a petition must reach 10,000 signatures, with 100,000 required for a petition to be taken to debate. 

The most recent update on the consultation was given during the laboratory animal and animal welfare debate on the 7th of February 2022. During the debate, MPs questioned why Section 24 was still in place and questioned why the results of the public consultation had not been published. In response to this, the government representative, Kit Malthouse, stated that he was not aware of why the results had not yet been published, and he understands that they should be published later this year as part of a new integrated policy unit. This is the first time a time frame has been given for the publishing of these results; however, it is questionable as to how reliable and worthwhile they will be, considering they will be at least 8 years out of date by the time of publishing.  

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