Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Tuesday, 2 August 2005 11:48 UK

No 10 forbids any monkey business

Sketch
By Ollie Stone-Lee
Political reporter, BBC News website

The "monkey" suit protesters
The anti-vivisection protesters were left behind bars at the gates
It's official: monkeys are banned from Downing Street.

No 10 has put up with the shouting journalists, angry ministers, even drinks parties with Noel Gallagher.

But when it came to a troop of "suited and booted" monkeys, those at the heart of government drew a line.

Instead, the "monkeys" - in reality anti-vivisection campaigners - were told to leave their ape costumes outside until they had delivered their petition to the famous black door.

Unsurprisingly, Downing Street had security worries about allowing people hidden in animal costumes to enter its heavily-policed gates, presumably without even "pets' passports".

Perhaps No 10's officials were wary of writer HL Mencken's observation that "democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage".

Puzzled tourists

Once Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker had left a stack of box files full of petitions, he was joined by five "City gent apes", complete with gloves and umbrellas.

Again the monkeys were left behind bars - this time those of Downing Street's gates.

Tourists looked bemused to see Britain's seat of government looking like a scene from the Planet of the Apes.

They have got enough monkeys there already
Norman Baker, outside Downing Street

"It's not what I expected but it's OK," giggled one woman.

The petition, organised by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV), demands an end to experiments on all non-human primates - testing on great apes is already banned.

The government says primates are specially protected so they can only be used when no other species is suitable and the costs of using them must be outweighed by the benefits of research.

Medical value

The Home Office says it cannot end the use of primates without damaging important areas of scientific or medical research and ultimately jeopardising human safety.

Primates were used for testing for research on vaccines, diabetes, Parkinson's Disease and other "devastating human conditions", as well as for ensuring the safety of medicines, said a spokeswoman.

In 2003, there were 4,799 procedures conducted on non-human primates.

But the government says it and others are striving for alternatives and since 1995 there has been a 24% reduction in the number of non-human primates being used for the first time.

Out-dated?

Long-time animal welfare campaigner Mr Baker said most of the experiments were for toxicology rather than medical research.

People were concerned about using primates because they were highly intelligent animals who could feel and understand, said the MP.

Mr Baker said: "It's time we stopped using Burke and Hare methods in medicine."

He argued cell culture and computer modelling could be used instead of animal experiments.

It was also unsafe to extrapolate information about animals for use about humans, he claimed.

And what did Mr Baker make of Downing Street's ban on "monkeys": "They have got enough there already."

SEE ALSO
Animal efforts 'need bigger push'
25 May 05 |  Science & Environment
Animal tests see steady decline
23 Apr 04 |  Science & Environment
Primate research lab plans axed
27 Jan 04 |  Science & Environment

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