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Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 15:27 GMT
Animal demos may prompt law change
Huntingdon Life Sciences
Huntingdon Life Sciences is targeted over animal experiments
Home Secretary Jack Straw is to propose changes in the law in the wake of animal rights demonstrations at Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS).

The company has been targeted daily by activists because it uses animals for pharmaceutical research work, and staff say they face a high level of intimidation.

At Thursday's cabinet meeting, Mr Straw told fellow ministers many people would not be alive today if it was not for the work of companies like HLS.

Earlier this week he pledged a special 1m grant to Cambridgeshire Police to help them cope with the demonstrations.

He also said that tough new laws would be drawn up to stop "animal terrorism".

The changes in the law proposed by Mr Straw would relate to intimidation and malicious communication and will eventually form part of the Criminal Justice Bill.

But the details are not likely to be published as part of the main bill on Friday.

Financial troubles

The home secretary also said the Science Minister Lord Sainsbury was looking into a solution to HLS's financial problems.

The government has introduced tighter rules on animal experimentation but in the medical context such experiments were absolutely essential and a huge range of drugs depended on them, he said.

The cabinet meeting was chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, as the prime minister is in Belfast.

A spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said drug companies were "enormously encouraged" by Home Secretary Jack Straw's willingness to act.

But the Research Defence Society, which represents scientists who use animals, called Mr Straw's proposals "half measures" and demanded that animal rights extremists be treated as criminals.

An RSPCA spokeswoman expressed concern about the welfare of animals kept in laboratory conditions saying there was an onus on companies to find alternative to vivisection.

"We campaign for laboratories to look in to alternatives (to vivisection) where possible."

On the issue of a possible change in the law she said: "If people are protesting peacefully they will still be able to do that.

"Any campaigning we would do would be in lawful circumstances."

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