Wednesday 8th June Westminster Hall Adjournment Debate.
In a Parliamentary Adjournment Debate secured by Robert Flello MP, speaker after speaker called on the Government to bring about, without delay, a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. They cited the overwhelming public support for such a measure, widespread support from Members of Parliament across all Parties, the expert opinion of animal welfare groups including Born Free Foundation, RSPCA, British Veterinary Association, Captive Animal Protection Society (CAPS) and Animal Defenders International and they sought to persuade the Government that it was time to bring this sorry circus to a close.
Answering for the Government, James Paice MP, repeatedly pointed out his concerns about legal challenges to a ban, quoting from legal advice provided to him by Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). However, referring to an internal Parliamentary convention, he said he was unwilling to publish this legal advice, much to the frustration of MPs attending the Debate and observers in the Gallery including myself.
The Minister commented that, in his view, a more effective way forward was to licence and regulate and to set standards so high, that it would be most unlikely that certain species, particularly large mammals such as lions and tigers, would continue to be a feature in circuses in England. However, he then described the timetable for such regulation which he stated would involve a further consultative period with stakeholders in 2011, draft regulations to be published and again subjected to consultation at the end of the year and into 2012, and the regulations themselves coming into force sometime next year. Undoubtedly, there would also then be a “grace period” to allow circuses to meet the new standards. Clearly, we could be looking at 2013 or even later before such a system takes full effect.
Will members of Parliament and the public be satisfied with this? I doubt it.
There is a potential opportunity later this month for a full debate leading to a vote in the House of Commons and, should this take place – and the motion before the House be worded sufficiently strongly – and provided that the Government does not apply the Whip and allows members to vote according to their conscience, there is a chance that a ban could still become a reality (although even such a vote may not be binding).
Something seems very badly wrong with our parliamentary system when matters of ethics and morality can no longer be the basis for legislation. Because the expert report submitted to the previous administration in 2007 did not come down conclusively one way or the other as to whether the welfare of wild animals is compromised in the circus (an outcome welfare organisations such as the Born Free Foundation, RSPCA, Animal Defenders International and others predicted, since video evidence of cruel treatment was deemed inadmissible as was evidence relating to training and performance!) apparently a ban based on morality and ethics would be regarded as disproportionate and politically unacceptable. When do we get to make the right decisions for the right reasons?
Meanwhile, wild animals are still in circuses, still on the road, still in beast-wagons, still in the ring, still being trained, still performing – welcome to the 21st Century.
Frustrated of Westminster.
If you have time could you write to the Prime Minister, urging him to reflect the wishes of the majority of the public, and to reconsider any decision to withdraw a proposed ban on wild animals in circuses.
How to contact David Cameron: