The secrecy surrounding animal research is to be swept away with the public gaining the right to demand details of experiments conducted by scientists, the Home Office will announce today.
The move was welcomed by anti-vivisection groups and follows a campaign by celebrities including Joanna Lumley, Brian Blessed and Eddie Izzard.
Critics have claimed that the cruelest of practices – such as monkeys being deliberately brain-damaged and dogs being force-fed with chemicals – have been covered up by a so-called “secrecy clause”.
At the moment the Home Office releases overall figures for animal experiments in Britain, but blocks any requests for further data as the issue is currently exempt from freedom of information legislation.
In future the department will be required to provide details of research contracts, including the justification for using live creatures and whether humane alternatives were considered.
Information about the techniques used by scientists, estimates of the pain felt by animals and the methods for relieving their suffering could also be released.
Ministers hope the new transparency will help to drive down the number of times animals are used in experiments. It stood at just over four million in 2012, a rise of eight per cent on the previous year.
Moves to scrap the “secrecy clause” – Section 24 of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 – will be confirmed today by the Home Office Minister, Norman Baker.
He will announce a review of the legislation with a view to ending the blanket ban, with exemptions to protect the identity of individuals involved in animal research and commercially sensitive material.
Mr Baker told The Independent: “The primary objective of the review is to increase openness and transparency, assist public understanding and to provide more information that is presently hidden.”
The Liberal Democrat minister added: “It will enable more scrutiny of what’s going on in the name of science.
“I am a great believer in transparency. When you have a spotlight shone on something, it drives up performance, it means those who undertake activities have to justify them.”
Although the Coalition is committed to reducing the use of animals in research, the numbers involved rose sharply last year. There were 545 experiments on primates, 1,500 on rabbits and 960 on pigs, as well as 379,000 tests on mice, 5,157 on sheep and 1,203 on guinea pigs.
A petition against Section 24 was handed to Downing Street signed by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green MPs, as well as high-profile figures from the arts and entertainment.
Michelle Thew, the chief executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: “It is high time the veil of secrecy is lifted on animal experiments. The public has a right to know what is being done to animals in experiments and why.
“Animal researchers claim they want openness, so the sooner Section 24 goes the better, with names and genuinely confidential information still protected.”
Jan Creamer, the chief executive of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, said: “The Section 24 ‘secrecy clause’ has kept animal experiments in the dark for too long.
“Animals have been made to suffer in tests despite the availability of non-animal alternatives, to needlessly test drugs that are already on the market or to ‘prove’ things we already know from human studies.”