Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee

23 June 2008

No. 59A (07-08)



A number of UK laboratories dealing with highly dangerous pathogens such as Foot and Mouth Disease have been neglected, the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee warns today.

The Committee's report, Biosecurity in UK Research Laboratories, points out that some high containment facilities in the UK are world class but others, such as the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright and the Health Protection Agency at Porton Down, are in need of significant investment.

It found that even for laboratories dealing with the highest category of dangerous pathogens, containment level 4 (CL4), there were shortcomings in funding for ongoing maintenance.

The Committee also found:

€ A striking lack of co-ordination between organisations that sponsor and run high containment facilities.

€ No one organisation or minister has the remit to maintain a strategic overview of capacity and to coordinate these laboratories.

€ Nor have current ministers ever met to discuss the issue of biosecurity.

The Committee recommends:

€ An inter-agency body is set up for the strategic planning and coordination of those facilities dealing with the highest risk pathogens.

€ Long term funding to cover running costs to ensure that risk management at all sites can take place effectively.

€ A single minister to take responsibility for co-ordinating biosecurity.

€ The Government present a report to Parliament every two years outlining the UK's readiness in the face of the threat posed by dangerous pathogens.

€ Government vetting procedures are used at all CL4 labs so that all those working with the most deadly pathogens can be reliably security-vetted.

€ Training courses for handling dangerous pathogens be introduced to ensure basic common standards of training for those handling dangerous pathogens.

On Pirbright specifically, the Committee says DIUS and Defra need to settle how they are to share to cost of its redevelopment.

On HPA Porton Down, the Committee finds it is not acceptable that scientists are asked to work in such aging facilities. It recommends the Department of Health redevelop the site as a priority.

The Committee considered the location of such laboratories and consider there is no reason in principle why laboratories dealing with the highest category of dangerous pathogen CL4 should not be built in urban areas or be operated by universities.

Chairman of the Committee Phil Willis said: "At present the UK enjoys a high international profile in the field of infectious disease which it is essential to maintain but that can only be done if we protect the economy and the health of humans and animals effectively by ensuring that appropriate bio-risk management occurs at these high containment facilities.

"The outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease at Pirbright highlights that in the long run, proper regulation, running and maintenance of high containment facilities is considerably cheaper than remedying a breach of bio-containment."


In the UK, ten sites work with the most dangerous category of pathogens CL4. The Health and Safety executive estimated that around 600 laboratories operate at the next level down, with CL3 pathogens. These are operated by government agencies, research institutes, universities and private organisations.

There are also two high security disease isolation units designed for the care of suspected cases of viral haemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola or Lassa at Coppetts Wood and at the Royal Victoria Infirmary at Newcastle.


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Committee Membership is as follows:

Mr Phil Willis (Liberal Democrat, Harrogate and Knaresborough)(Chairman)
Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods (Labour, City of Durham)
Mr Tim Boswell (Conservative, Daventry)
Mr Ian Cawsey (Labour, Brigg & Goole)
Mrs Nadine Dorries (Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire)
Dr Ian Gibson (Labour, Norwich North)
Dr Evan Harris (Liberal Democrat, Oxford West & Abingdon)
Dr Brian Iddon (Labour, Bolton South East)
Mr Gordon Marsden (Labour, Blackpool South)
Dr Bob Spink (UK Independence Party, Castle Point)
Ian Stewart (Labour, Eccles)
Mr Graham Stringer (Labour, Manchester, Blackley)
Dr Desmond Turner (Labour, Brighton Kemptown)
Mr Rob Wilson (Conservative, Reading East)

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