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Wednesday, 17 January, 2001, 16:22 GMT
The animal welfare balance sheet
Huntingdon Life Sciences - the research firm whose very existence has been threatened by animal protestors - has today been offered concrete help by the Government.
Downing Street said this morning that the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, would make an extra million pounds available to Cambridgeshire Police to protect the company and its staff from animal rights protestors.
Efforts will also be made to strengthen the law on dealing with protestors under the terms of the new Police and Criminal Justice Bill, which is being published on Friday.
The Home Office has not yet provided details of its plains, but it might become involve such moves as a ban on demonstrations against shareholders.
Protest threatens investors
Huntingdon Life Sciences, which employs 1200 people, is certainly in serious trouble.
It's still not known whether the Royal Bank of Scotland will extend a £22 million loan to the firm: many of its institutional investors have sold their shares after being targeted by a group of campaigners calling themselves SHAC - Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty.
The offer of help was welcomed by the British Bio-Industry Association.
The Association's Chief Executive, Crispin Kirkman, told the World at One that he was not questioning the right to peaceful protest. But he added that more needed to be done to protect companies carrying out legitimate research, who might otherwise be driven overseas.
Animal Welfare: pre-election promises
The news of help for HLS coincided with the latest hunting debate at Westminster.
The effect was to concentrate on animal welfare issues, by which Labour set great store in the 1997 election campaign.
The Party could hardly have missed the sudden burgeoning of interest in animal welfare throughout "Middle England", and in the run-up to the election, issued a pamphlet under the title - 'New Life for Animals'.
The sub-heading read, 'We share our planet with a wide range creatures. Labour believes it is our responsibility to treat them humanely.'
There followed a large number of pledges and proposals on all aspects of animal welfare - from farming and fishing, to animal testing, live exports, the protection of wildlife - and, of course, hunting.
The document was decorated with attractive pictures of animals in their natural habitat.
Animal welfare activists unhappy
But many of those involved with animal welfare believe Tony Blair's Government has not lived up to its promises.
Some claim that ministers have done little more than they needed to do to head off the sort of public protests which did such damage to John Major's administration.
In the mid-1990s, for example, there was a great to the outpouring of public disgust at the export of live animals - often transported over huge distances in appalling conditions.
Middle-class, often middle-aged protestors, who'd never been on a demonstration in their lives took to the streets at ports like Brightlingsea to demand an end to the trade.
And when it emerged that some exports were being carried out by air, an angry crowd gathered at Coventry Airport on February 1st 1995. One of them, Jill Phipps, was killed in an accident with a lorry carrying veal-calves.
Mother of protestor voices anger
Today her mother, Nancy Phipps, told me she was bitterly disappointed with what she felt was Labour's complete failure to fulfil the pledges contained in 'New Life for Animals.'
She believed that - in some cases - things had got worse, not better.
Mrs Phipps was particularly concerned with the strict rules - backed by Jack Straw - to keep protestors away from lorries carrying live animals.
And she was shocked by the news that the Government was moving to support Huntingdon Life Sciences, which she wanted to see closed.
However, Labour in opposition did not promise to end all live exports. The animal welfare document proposed maximum journey times and better conditions in transit.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries - MAFF - says that it investigated a total ban, but was told by the European Court of Justice that this would be illegal.
Instead, it says, regulations have been more strictly imposed and efforts are being made to persuade the EU to introduce much tougher rules.
In the World at One's audit of the Government's achievements, the organisation Compassion in World Farming named the continuing trade in live animals as its main concern.
Both CWF and the RSPCA applauded some measures taken in the last three and a half years, but both felt much remained to be done.
The Green Party, meanwhile, complained bitterly about the decision not to set up a Royal Commission on the whole business of animal-testing.
It did not believe that a voluntary ban on testing for cosmetics did not go far enough.
But the Ministry of Agriculture, which has published a detailed account of what it believes it has achieved since 1997, was not prepared to speak to the World at One about the animal welfare balance sheet.
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