The Spectator

Tolerating terror

The government must see something in the ideas of animal rights extremists

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‘My point to you is this,’ Tony Blair said of terrorists last month, ‘It’s time we stopped saying “OK, we abhor their methods but we kinda see something in their ideas or maybe they’ve got a sliver of an excuse or justification.” They’ve got no justification for it.’

The Prime Minister’s words must sound pretty hollow to the Hall family of Newchurch, Staffordshire, this week. The Halls have been driven to close their farm, which breeds guinea pigs for medical research, after a six-year sustained campaign of terror by animal rights extremists. Over that time they have been subjected to numerous death threats, a firebomb attack and hundreds of acts of criminal damage. The final straw for the Halls was the desecration of the grave and theft of the remains of one family member, Gladys Hammond, by a group calling itself the Animal Rights Militia.

When the Halls finally threw in the towel earlier this week the government did not immediately condemn the tactics of the animal rights lobby. Staffordshire police have arrested 60 protesters over the years, 28 of whom have been cautioned or charged, mostly on minor public-order offences. But why have there been no early morning raids on the sinister Animal Rights’ Militia? Why, in spite of Patricia Hewitt’s promise to jail extremists, and the promise to set up a National Extremism Tactical Co-ordinating Unit, are none of them behind bars? Why have the Halls been refused an exclusion zone for protesters when the government has enthusiastically established just such a zone in Parliament Square?

It is hard to come to any conclusion other than that — in contrast to the Prime Minister’s views on Islamic terrorists — the government kinda does see something in the ideas of animal rights extremists. This is perhaps not altogether surprising, given that the Labour party once accepted a £1 million donation from the animal rights lobbies and that Labour backbenchers are in the habit of bringing Early Day Motions to Parliament nearly every week to emancipate some furry family or other; several of which, such as the ban on under-16s receiving goldfish as fairground prizes, have been followed by government legislation. In particular, the government’s resolve to tackle animal rights extremists seemed to founder while David Blunkett, who was a patron of a peaceful animal rights pressure group, the Human Research Trust, was at the Home Office. During Mr Blunkett’s tenure the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Committee, which polices the strict rules on animal research, visited Huntingdon Life Sciences no fewer than 121 times. Whatever Mr Blair might think privately of the bully boys — and perhaps even more commonly bully gals — of the animal rights movement, he has clearly come to the conclusion that to take any effective action would be politically too dangerous.

But Blair’s inaction is causing havoc to Britain’s £3.6 billion medical research industry. The government admittedly did help Huntingdon Life Sciences, when no commercial bank would work with it, by offering it an account at the Bank of England instead. Yet the company was still forced to re-register itself in Maryland in order to keep its shareholders’ home addresses private and stop them suffering the same fate as the company’s chief executive, Brian Cass, who was beaten up with baseball bats outside his home.

As Tony Blair implied in his speech on Muslim suicide-bombers, however, it isn’t just terrorists’ methods that need to be tackled, it is their ideas. The government has made healthcare one of its core policies, showering the NHS with money as never before. Yet there is little point in putting up the money for new and exciting medical treatments unless ministers are first prepared to mount a spirited defence of the research which makes them possible: namely, animal experimentation. Anyone who pipes up against animal experimentation should be challenged to practise what they preach, and to refuse any form of medical treatment which has ever been tested on an animal; among them antibiotics, asthma medicines and blood transfusions. Just as foreigners taking British citizenship are first made to swear their allegiance to the country, perhaps all NHS patients receiving such treatments should first be obliged to declare their support for animal experimentation.

Contrary to the image of crazed bunny-killers portrayed by the animal rights lobby, pharmaceutical companies do not like experimenting on animals. It is expensive, messy and must be conducted in very controlled conditions beneath the noses of government inspectors. Thanks to the elimination of duplicated tests, the number of experiments conducted on animals has halved over the past 30 years. That said, there is no possibility that drugs can continue to be developed without some animal testing. If it isn’t conducted in Britain, it will simply go abroad. That is the message which the government needs to put across. It is shameful that the government, in spite of showing admirable resolve against Islamic terrorism, has been so feeble in tackling the methods and ideas of animal rights terrorists.