Sainsbury told to protect labs

February 13, 2004

The government should help foot the bill for security at universities under threat from animal rights extremists, MPs said this week.

In the first of its new "science question time" sessions with Lord Sainsbury, the science minister, the Commons science and technology select committee pushed for a stronger commitment to protecting researchers.

Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, described the events leading to Cambridge University ditching plans to build a primate research centre last month as "a dog's breakfast", resulting in an unnecessary victory for animal-rights extremists.

He called on Lord Sainsbury to underwrite security in institutions such as Cambridge. He expressed concern that Oxford University, which The Times Higher revealed last week is building a new animal facility, might also come under threat from extremists.

Dr Harris told The Times Higher : "If MPs were threatened because of their pro-animal work, they wouldn't have to bear the cost of security themselves. The same argument should apply to people doing research for the public interest."

Lord Sainsbury told MPs the government was looking at ways to fund primate research at Cambridge. The decision not to build the centre was "unfortunate", he said. But he insisted it was "not a disaster" as the government would ensure there were other facilities capable of continuing the work.

However, he refused to commit to underwriting security at universities. He said: "Where there have been situations such as the one at Cambridge, additional funds have been given to the local police. One has to think carefully before one makes it a rule that every university and person who is threatened has protection."

Lord Sainsbury agreed with MPs that the government needed to ensure there was a proper legislative framework to deal with threats from campaigners.

But he placed a question mark over the science community's campaign for a single new bill to deal with the problem. He said: "A large part of that (new bill) covers legislation already in existence. Clearly you can't have legislation that duplicates."

But he added that the government would consider some proposals, such as the criminalisation of "home visits" by activists.

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