Straw plans laws to protect animal laboratory staff

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The Government aims to bring in emergency legislation before the general election to protect the home addresses of directors and staff working at animal laboratories.

The Government aims to bring in emergency legislation before the general election to protect the home addresses of directors and staff working at animal laboratories.

Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, branding some ofthe "so-called" animal rights protesters as "frankly evil", insisted yesterday that a huge amount of medical advance was based on "necessary animal testing".

Mr Straw said during question time: "The measures will allow the police to take action to prevent extremists protesting outside people's homes and will also strengthen the law against the sending of malicious communications."

He added that he was "actively considering" finding a way in this Parliament of introducing powers to keep the addresses of directors and staff private.

The Home Secretary first raised plans to extend the police's power during the second reading of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill last week to ensure that companies and individuals "can go about their lawful business, without fear of violence or intimidation".

They are related to proposals being considered by Stephen Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, to give company directors an anonymity clause in legislation to streamline company law.

Allowing directors to conceal their private addresses would be a controversial step, which could give unwarranted protection to fraudsters. It was opposed by the Government two years ago during a review of company law.

However, the increasing violence of some militants in the animal rights movement has convinced ministers that more must be done.

David Lidington, a Tory Home Affairs spokesman, told Mr Straw: "One of the underlying problems which allows this sort of terrorism to take place is the public availability of the home addresses of directors and the ordinary shareholders of public companies."

Mr Lidington said the Department of Trade and Industry was unlikely to consider introducing legislation to change the requirements to disclose home addresses until late 2002.

He said: "The sort of terrorism and intimidation that is going on at people's homes at the moment is utterly intolerable in a liberal or civilised society.

"Can I urge you to contact your ministerial colleagues to see whether other departments can back up the lead which you are giving within Whitehall?"

Mr Straw replied: "I agree with you that this is also a problem which is faced by the directors of these companies and those working within the companies.

"I can provide you with a reassurance that we are actively considering whether there would be a vehicle in this Parliament to enable us to take powers to do exactly what you and I believe the whole House wishes to do."

The Home Secretary added: "The British pharmaceutical companies could do more together in their association to publicise all those drugs and other changes in medical and surgical procedures which have been dependent upon animal experimentation, and I urge them to do so."

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