Tuesday 1st May 2018

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Lisa Cameron (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (SNP)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered a global ban on cosmetic animal testing.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. In his first keynote speech back in July 2017, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made global standards on policies for farm animal welfare and air quality a priority. In responding to the row about the Government’s non-inclusion of animal sentience in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, he vowed to ensure that Brexit works not just for citizens, but for the animals we love and cherish. This initiative to end the cruel, unnecessary and outdated use of animals in cosmetics testing is the perfect opportunity for the Government to set global standards and ensure that our laws work for animals and the UK’s animal lovers.

The public overwhelmingly want cosmetics testing on animals to end worldwide. More than 5.5 million people to date have signed a petition, jointly with the Body Shop and Cruelty Free International, for a global end to cosmetics testing on animals, which can be achieved by adopting an international agreement reflecting the combined will of United Nations member states to map a harmonised framework that would end the use of animal tests for cosmetic products and continue the development and international validation of non-animal methods.

What has Parliament done already? The fact that 116 Members across Parliament have already signed early-day motion 437 shows that there is cross-party support for that proposal. The EDM calls on the Government to lead on such an initiative by tabling, actively pursuing and supporting a resolution at the UN General Assembly for an ad hoc committee, as the UK-based Cruelty Free International has called for.

Cosmetics testing on animals has been banned in the UK since 1998. We have led the way on this issue. The UK was in fact the first country to take that step, and we motivated the EU ban on testing and sales. It is time to make that commitment global. If the use of animals in cosmetics testing is wrong in the UK and the EU, it is wrong everywhere around the world.

Philip Hollobone Portrait Mr Philip Hollobone (in the Chair)
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Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but a Division has just been called in the House. We will suspend for 15 minutes if there is one Division, and an extra 10 minutes for any subsequent Divisions. As soon as Dr Cameron and the Minister are back in their seats, we can resume the debate.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
On resuming
Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Cameron
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A majority of the public surveyed—74%—agree that much more needs to be done to find alternatives to using animals in all forms of research. That is particularly their view when it comes to animal testing.

Where policy starts, industry follows. Following the EU’s ban, growth in the non-animal methods industry surged. There are now 33 scientific facilities working on alternatives to animal testing. Internationally, that market is expected to reach $8.74 billion by 2022, up from an estimated $6.34 billion in 2017. Such growth is widely attributed to the increasing adoption of alternative methods in the cosmetics industry. I highlight to the Minister that the UK is well placed to lead that work, and even more so in a globally harmonised market.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con)
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I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. I echo what she said about this country’s role and our proud history of taking the lead. However, is it not also the case that the UK is reported to be the biggest user of animals in experiments within the whole EU? Not all of those experiments are for serious medical conditions. For example, skin rashes account for a high proportion of animal experiments, where non-animal alternatives already exist and are considered to be more scientifically sound.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Cameron
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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that important intervention. Yes, I agree that much more needs to be done to look at non-animal testing methods in all forms of research, particularly for those types of experiment for which other methods are available. Animal testing should always be the last resort. I chair the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group, and just the other month we heard about the 400-odd dogs tested—a figure that was reported to me as in Hansard. I was then told that the number had not been reported accurately to me and that it was more likely to be 4,000 across the UK. Will the Minister get back to me on that point? That also highlights that much is done underground, and we need to be much more transparent. We need to have the figures and to know that animal research is the last alternative, as it is meant to be. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman that much more needs to be done about the transparency of the animal research industry.

Although no global ban has yet been enacted, the European Union ban on animal testing for cosmetics and on the sale of cosmetics tested on animals came fully into force in 2013. Other bans, some more comprehensive than others, are now in place in many countries. Guatemala, New Zealand, India, Israel, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey and Vietnam now have legislation, and things are moving forward in Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Chile, South Africa and China. In the USA, state-level bans have been enacted, as well as some mandated alternative laws. In a global market, it is essential that all countries ban the practice, to avoid testing simply moving around the world to countries with no effective laws, to ensure a level playing field and to put an end to animal suffering. The challenge is to make cruel cosmetics a thing of the past once and for all, and to achieve one coherent global ban on animal testing for cosmetics.

To market a product, a company must demonstrate its safety. Of course, of that we all agree, but that can be done by using approved non-animal tests and combinations of existing ingredients that have already been established as safe for human use. Increasing awareness of animal sentience and the pain, suffering and death inflicted upon animals via product testing has led the public to reject the idea in their droves. The number of companies seeking certification under Cruelty Free International’s leaping bunny programme is increasing, as their market insights tell them that consumers want cruelty-free personal care products.

The information that historically was gained from animal tests is increasingly being provided through quicker and more reliable non-animal methods. Modern methods are more relevant to humans and have been found to predict human reactions better than traditional animal-model methods. For example, an evaluation of the reconstituted skin model for skin irritation found that it predicted human skin reactions much better than the cruel Draize skin test on rabbits.

Rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, hamsters and rats continue to be injected, gassed, force-fed and killed for cosmetics testing worldwide. It is estimated from OECD figures that more than half a million animals are killed each year for cosmetics testing. Examples of the types of tests that are undertaken include repeated dose toxicity: to assess toxicity, rabbits or rats are forced to eat or inhale a cosmetic ingredient or have it rubbed on to their shaved skin every day for 28 or 90 days, and are then killed. Several reviews of the ability of rodent tests to predict human toxicity have found that they are only 40% to 60% predictive. They also include reproductive toxicity tests: to assess such toxicity, pregnant female rabbits or rats are force-fed a cosmetic ingredient and then killed, along with their unborn babies. Such tests take a long time and use thousands of animals, although studies have shown them to detect only around 60% of known human reproductive toxicants.

In toxicokinetic testing, rabbits or rats are forced to eat a cosmetic ingredient. They are then killed and their organs examined, to see how the ingredient is distributed in their bodies. Animals have significantly different metabolisms and physiology to humans. Thus, before the now available non-animal alternatives were routinely used by the pharmaceutical industry, the failure rate of drugs for poor prediction in this area was 40%.

Although some finished product tests take place, they are increasingly rare; most animal testing takes place on ingredients. It is important that consumers are aware of that; otherwise, they might unwittingly buy products that carry a meaningless claim, stating that the finished product has not been tested on animals, when the ingredients could well have been.

What are the alternatives? Companies can prove that their products are safe by using non-animal methods and utilising established ingredients. There are almost 30,000 ingredients on the EU’s database for which some safety data are available. There is an increasing number of non-animal methods available to replace outdated animal tests. To assess skin irritation, for example, we can use alternatives such as reconstituted human epidermis, such as the Episkin model developed by L’Oréal. More than 700 brands across the world are “leaping bunny” certified. Other companies may also follow this example and remove animal testing from their supply chains but, sadly, animal testing continues.

Some questions have been asked about the completeness of the EU ban. Since the introduction of the EU cosmetics directive, the European regulation concerning the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals—REACH—has come into force. Although Cruelty Free International has fought hard against the animal testing provisions in REACH, it does have implications for many types of chemicals, including some that may be used in cosmetics. That is something to highlight to the public.

Some 80% of the world’s countries still allow the practice of testing cosmetic products on animals. In the global cosmetics market, it is essential that all countries end the practice of testing on animals, to avoid it simply moving around the world to countries with no effective laws. That has to ensure a clear playing field for this country and others that have done the right thing and give consumers confidence that they are buying cruelty-free.

Being able to claim that a product is cruelty-free is the most important packaging claim for a beauty product. A 2015 Nielsen study found the “not tested on animals” claim to matter the most to consumers. By ending animal testing for cosmetics, businesses will gain a competitive advantage here, across the EU and in the global cosmetics market. Worldwide consumers are increasingly demanding ethical, sustainable and humane products and services.

Cruelty Free International, which is represented in the Public Gallery this afternoon, has partnered with the global beauty brand The Body Shop. In less than a year, more than 5.5 million people worldwide have signed their joint petition, calling for a UN resolution to end cosmetics animal testing across the globe. They are aiming to bring 8 million signatures to the UN by October 2018, which would make it the largest ever animal protection petition. The overwhelming support from the public in more than 60 diverse countries shows clearly that people want international leaders to work together to adopt this resolution. The resolution would also be compatible with the sustainable development goals.

I ask the Minister and the Government to ensure that, once again, we are at the forefront of championing animal rights right across the globe. With sufficient political support from different regions around the world, including our own, member states could submit a resolution under the sustainable development item of the UN General Assembly second committee agenda, ahead of the 74th session in September 2019. That timetable would create enough space for consultation and learning, but would be flexible enough to adapt to change.

The UK Government must continue to lead on this issue. The public are calling for it. Let us stop the cruelty now and make that happen.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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I will begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). I have found from other debates that I probably have the distinction of being the only Member in the Chamber who can pronounce her constituency properly. I am delighted to participate in this debate to call for a global ban on animal testing, for which, as she so eloquently put it, the time has definitely come.

Cosmetic testing on animals has been banned in the UK since 1998, and we have heard that there has been a ban on the sale of all testing of cosmetics on animals in the EU since 2013. Noticeably, that has not prevented the EU cosmetics industry from thriving; indeed, it provides about 2 million jobs. However, Members of the European Parliament have expressed concern that most cosmetic product ingredients are also used in many other products, such as pharmaceuticals, detergents and food, and may therefore have been tested on animals under a different legal framework. It is therefore important that the EU develops alternative testing methods, and that those methods receive international regulatory acceptance for use in the safety assessment of cosmetic ingredients and products.

Despite the progress that has been made in the EU and the United Kingdom, we still have a long way to go globally, as my hon. Friend has pointed out. Astonishingly, 80% of countries still allow animal testing and the marketing of cosmetics tested on animals. China has a major cosmetics market that not only allows but requires products to be tested on animals in Government labs before being approved for sale. It is generally thought that China’s mandatory animal testing requirement for imported cosmetics is likely to be the biggest challenge for a global ban.

As my hon. Friend has pointed out, there is also a lack of reliable animal-testing data for cosmetics imported into the EU. We need to ensure that no product on the EU or UK market was tested on animals in a third country, and that requires us to do a little more work. I am heartened that our partners in the European Parliament have called on EU leaders to use their diplomatic networks to build a coalition and launch an international convention within the EU framework. I hope that a ban will be in force before 2023.

We know that a UN treaty would not guarantee a global ban on the testing of cosmetics on animals, but it would be a bold and progressive step in the right direction, and I think the UN and everyone in the Chamber would agree that it really must take that step. That would certainly help considerably in encouraging China and other countries that mandate testing to modernise and to stop blinding, poisoning and killing animals so that we can have lipstick, mascara and blusher.

As we have heard, what is most distressing about this issue is that cosmetic testing on animals is wholly unnecessary yet it causes our fellow creatures huge suffering. Transferring the results of animal tests to humans has proven problematic and even, at times, misleading. Using approved tests that do not involve animals, and sticking to the many combinations of existing ingredients that have already been established as safe for human use, would be a better way of ensuring safety. We heard from my hon. Friend that consumers are becoming increasingly ethical when it comes to purchasing power and consumer choice, so, aside from the cruelty aspect, a ban on testing on animals would make sense as a response to consumer demand.

Despite the availability of alternatives, countless animals around the world continue to be subjected to cruel tests so that a new eyeliner or perfume can be developed. I acknowledge that progress has been made, but the lack of concerted global action means that the cosmetics industry in large part continues to test as it always has done. We know that if the industry were legally required around the world to stop testing on animals, it would adapt, survive and thrive. Modern science is replacing last century’s animal tests with kinder, faster and better tools for consumer safety. Global action is needed; otherwise, as my hon. Friend has said, testing will simply move to countries where there is no ban.

There is huge public support for a global ban. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, there is clearly widespread political support for such a measure—I believe that we have support from every party in the House and right across the European Union. We should harness that support to influence the bad practices that we know go on in other parts of the world. Testing cosmetics on animals is indefensible from an ethical viewpoint—our fellow creatures suffer unnecessarily for our vanity, because of global inaction—and a scientific viewpoint. There is a better way.

It is time for cosmetic testing on animals to stop. The beauty industry needs a makeover, and it is time for global action.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Sue Hayman (Workington) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I thank the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for securing this important debate.

An end to testing cosmetics on animals was first promised in the 1997 Labour manifesto. I am proud that that was delivered here in the UK, under a Labour Government, 11 years before the EU-wide ban was brought in. Labour led the way then, and we continue to lead the way now.

Although testing practices have advanced greatly in recent years, there is still a lack of transparency about project licence applications and the allowance of “severe” suffering, as it is defined in UK legislation. That is one of the reasons the Labour party stated in our recent animal welfare plan that we will review animal testing. Our 50-point plan includes important proposals to build on our already proud record, and I encourage anyone who is interested to look at those proposals and give us their comments. We started by banning animal testing for cosmetics here in the UK, and it was then banned in the EU; it is incredibly important that it is now taken out globally.

As the hon. Lady said, in the EU animal testing has been banned for finished cosmetic products since 2004 and for cosmetic ingredients since 2009. It has also been illegal since 2009 to market in the EU cosmetic products containing ingredients that have been tested on animals. Those bans have done a lot to boost animal welfare due to the EU’s economic influence. As was said, the EU is the world’s largest market for cosmetic products. From soap and shampoo to moisturiser, perfume and make-up, it is estimated that consumers use about seven different cosmetic products every day. EU rules ensure that those products are safe for us to use, but not at the expense of animal welfare being ignored.

As we leave the EU, consumers tell me that they are concerned. They need reassurance that any trade deals that we do with countries that do not share our standards, such as the US, will not result in our sales ban being watered down, and that cruel cosmetics will remain a thing of the past in the UK. I would be grateful if the Minister provided an assurance that our ban on testing cosmetics on animals will not be undermined by any trade deals.

I welcome the resolution of the European Parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee, which aims to establish a global ban on testing cosmetics on animals by 2023. As we heard, that resolution proposes the drafting of an international convention against testing cosmetics on animals within the UN framework, and calls for that to be included on the agenda of the next UN General Assembly meeting.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) pointed out that about 80% of countries still allow animal testing and the marketing of cosmetics that are tested on animals. We also heard that China’s major cosmetics industry requires products to be tested on animals before they are allowed on the market. That is one of the biggest challenges we will have to overcome if we are to implement a global ban.

We must also be clear that the cosmetics industry has a key role to play. It is simply unacceptable that those cosmetic brands that claim to be cruelty-free and not to engage in animal testing yet undertake such testing are able to sell to Chinese consumers. Many of those large cosmetic companies state online that they do not engage in animal testing but indicate that exceptions are made where required. For instance, Estée Lauder’s website says that it

“does not test on animals and we never ask others to do so on our behalf”.

However, it has the caveat:

“If a regulatory body demands it for its safety or regulatory assessment, an exception can be made.”

That can be confusing for consumers, who may believe that a company does no animal testing at all. Those loopholes and inconsistencies allow companies to brand themselves as cruelty-free while making exceptions if they want to trade in countries such as China.

There can be no excuse for causing distress and suffering to animals for the sake of make-up, soap and toiletries. In the global market in which we live, the only way to avoid animal testing of cosmetics is by having a ban across all countries; otherwise, as has been said, testing will simply shift to those countries that allow it. Work towards a ban must run in parallel with the further development of alternative replacement test methods worldwide. The EU can lead on that, working to speed up the development, validation and introduction of alternative testing methods. We know that the EU ban on animal testing has not jeopardised the cosmetic sector. As we have heard, it is the biggest market in the world, and it is thriving.

The EU resolution that aims to establish a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics by 2023 is a real step forward in improving animal welfare and closing loopholes on cosmetic animal testing worldwide. The EU resolution and events such as this debate do much to help increase visibility of this important issue. If countries outside the EU such as Guatemala, India, New Zealand and Turkey can put in place bans, every other country can, too.

George Eustice Portrait The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice)
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It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron)—I hope I pronounced that right; it always throws me—on securing this debate on an incredibly important issue on which, as she pointed out, the UK has a considerable track record.

Animal welfare is dear to my heart, and dear to all of our hearts. In recent months, both the Secretary of State and I have made a number of important changes to promote and improve animal welfare regulation. Recent announcements have included introducing a ban on ivory and steps to reduce cetacean bycatch. We have published a draft animal welfare Bill that will recognise animal sentience and introduced tougher regulations on pet vendors and puppy breeding. We have also announced our intention to control live animal exports further than we do now, and just yesterday we introduced regulations for mandatory CCTV in slaughterhouses.

The UK has a long track record of being first when it comes to animal welfare. In 1822, this Parliament was the first ever legislature to implement laws to protect animals when it introduced the Cruel Treatment of Cattle Act—“an Act to prevent the cruel and improper Treatment of Cattle”. As long ago as the 1950s, the UK was the first country to introduce new regulations outlawing certain types of inhumane traps for wild animals, and more recently we have promoted humane trapping internationally.

We have also always taken a leading role in international wildlife conventions such as the convention on international trade in endangered species, the convention on migratory species and the convention on biological diversity. This year, I hope to go to the International Whaling Commission, where the UK has a longstanding role in arguing for the ending of commercial whaling. Also, through various regional fisheries management organisations, we promote issues such as shark conservation. Finally—this is relevant to animal welfare in particular—we are a member of the OIE, the World Organisation for Animal Health, currently as an EU member. The duty of loyal co-operation means that we have to attend it as part of an EU delegation, but the UK intends to use its freedom when it leaves the EU to argue strongly and powerfully for improved animal welfare standards around the world through the OIE.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Zac Goldsmith
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The Minister is reeling off an impressive list of achievements, and rightly so. On the opportunities post-Brexit, we cannot ban live exports now, but will be able to do so after we leave the EU. Does he believe that Brexit will enable us to raise the standard of those products we import, so that they meet the animal testing standards that people in this country expect? Is Brexit an opportunity to go further than we can currently?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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Those opportunities do present themselves once one has an independent trade policy, so yes, it is a potential opportunity to look at these issues and take our own independent seat on wildlife conventions such as CITES. I always remember a former Labour Minister telling me of their frustration when they wanted to restrict the sale of bluefin tuna, which was in a perilous state. The UK argued for that, but the European Commission took a different position and we had to fall in line with that. There will be opportunities for us as an independent country to be vocal on those issues, particularly in forums such as the OIE.

As the hon. Lady is probably aware, the OIE’s remit, somewhat surprisingly, does not extend to the welfare of animals and issues such as cosmetic testing. As she rightly pointed out, the UN is the right place for that. I should also point out that many Government Departments have overlapping interests. She may be aware that responsibility on animal testing and licensing of any such testing is the Home Office’s responsibility, deliberately not that of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. DEFRA has responsibility for animal welfare issues, and obviously the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has responsibility for issues pertaining to the United Nations.

As the hon. Lady pointed out, in 1998 the UK was the first country in the world to implement a ban on the use of animals in cosmetic testing. The European Union’s ban on the use of testing in cosmetics was first introduced, I think, in 2013. Ever since we introduced our ban, the UK has shared our knowledge and expertise in this area with other countries. Most recently, for example, we provided support and advice to China on ending unnecessary cosmetics testing on animals and advised on a science-based approach for the use of non-animal alternative testing. In 2015, the Government implemented a similar ban on the testing of finished household products on animals as well as a qualified ban on ingredients. We therefore continue to make progress in this area in terms of both tightening our regulations and sharing our expertise with other countries.

I turn to the regulations in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) raised concerns about the number of animals on which cosmetics are still tested. There was a 5% reduction from 2015 to 2016. The Home Office publishes an annual report that gives details on the statistics for animal testing, which it is important to note is down considerably from a high point in 1971, when 5.6 million animals were used in animal tests; that was the peak. These days, some tests are, for instance, for animals that have been genetically altered, rather than what many people would regard as conventional animal testing. Nevertheless, it is a stated commitment of the Government to reduce the number of tests continually.

We recognise that in some instances animals can be an important tool in scientific research and can build on our understanding of how biological systems work. However, animals are not used lightly in that work, and the Government maintain a rigorous regulatory system under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. That regulatory system ensures that animal research and testing is carried out only where there are no practical alternatives and under controls that keep suffering to a minimum.

As I said, the UK has played a leading role globally in supporting the development and adoption of scientific techniques to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals, known as the three Rs. The three Rs principle is robustly applied to every single research proposal that requires the use of animals, to ensure that animals are replaced with non-animal alternatives wherever possible, that the number of animals is reduced and that procedures are refined as far as possible to remove any suffering that animals might incur during those tests.

The hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow made some important points about the role the UK will take in highlighting the issue internationally. It is already the case that, as the first country to adopt such a ban, we are keen to share our knowledge and experience in this area with many other countries. We have already done so recently with China. She cited a number of other countries that have introduced a ban.

I have made it clear that our general stance, particularly on the OIE, for which DEFRA is responsible, will be to agitate for higher animal welfare standards around the world. I hope the hon. Lady will appreciate that we need cross-Government discussion on this specific issue with other Departments, notably the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which have a particular locus in this area. However, I will draw to the attention of the Ministers who lead on this the points that the hon. Lady raised today, and also the point that the shadow Minister made about other work to highlight this matter within the UN, to ensure that the UK plays an active part and does its utmost to spread the good practice that we began all those years ago in 1998.

Lisa Cameron Portrait Dr Cameron
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It has been a positive debate. We have come such a long way, but there is so much more to do. I am reassured to some degree by the Minister’s response, and I hope that he will highlight this issue to the other Government Departments, because I understand that they will have to work collectively. Perhaps he could write back to me. It is important that we are seen to lead the way on the UN resolution. The public definitely expect us to do that.

The final point I hope the Minister can take forward relates specifically to beagles, which are tested on more than any other breed of dog. An excellent local charity that tries to rehome beagles who have been subject to animal testing told the all-party parliamentary dog advisory welfare group that it was finding it extremely difficult to engage with the scientific community about rehoming dogs that were suitable for rehoming. I hope the Minister can have a discussion with the scientific community; the public want to see animals, particularly dogs—I am chair of the dog welfare group, so I have a particular interest—rehomed wherever possible. Beagles make excellent pets, and we would like to see as many as possible in a secure home. I thank all hon. Members who took part in the debate.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered a global ban on cosmetic animal testing.

Sitting adjourned.