Government under fire over circuses

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.

Will Travers
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:

Join Born Free

7 Responses to “Government under fire over circuses”

  1. Margaret McFarlane Says:

    This is so frustrating. I don’t understand how the politicians can say that a ban based on morality and ethical decision-making would be disproportionate and politically unacceptable. Surely the logical extension of this thinking would require them to repeal the entire Animal Welfare Bill (such as it is) – not to mention the Human Rights Act!

    Thanks heaven for the Born Free Foundation and other animal welfare groups who are ensuring that this important issue stays on the agenda.

  2. Sue Hughes Says:

    I watched the debate, live, this morning and found James Paice’s response to be totally inadequate. I have written so many letters to him and to Caroline Spelman and they just refuse to listen. As the Sec of State will not disclose the legal advise they have received, even to MPs, how can the public begin to challenge it? I would point everyone to the conclusions reached by Bircham Dyson Bell, Solicitors and Parliamentary Agents. These can be found on the Animal Defenders International website. They deem there to be no legal impediments to a ban. I am at a loss to know what to write now to Mr Paice (who happens to be my MP) and Ms Spelman. I notice that JP did not reveal who had made this decision when asked if it was the PM! The transcript will be available on the Parliament website later. It will make depressing reading but we all need it to refer to when writing to MPs and the Prime Minister. I am sure this wonderful coalition of animal protection groups will be planning the next move. We are all here to help them.

  3. Jean Says:

    This is very frustrating but a minister has called for it to be put to the vote in the house and with so many ministers backing it, hopefully there will be long awaited progress, fingers and everything crossed!

  4. Susan & Derek Rankine Says:

    We are totally incensed with David Cameron and his Government. Our own MP and MSP, who are both Labour, are absolutely fantastic and our MP recently wrote to us to say they are furious that the Government has decided to ignore public opinion. They said they will continue to fight for a ban with the UK and Scottish Governments. We will be writing to David Cameron again and will keep on writing until he does the right thing. The moral of this is if you care about animal welfare NEVER vote Conservative. We were distraught when they got in to power as we knew the animals would suffer.

  5. Neville Animal - Freer Says:

    Saw debate and am studying Hansard transcript. No mention of wild animal training and performance of circus tricks requiring force and fear of pain infliction for refusal or failure. This would contravene the Animal welfare Act 2006 as a criminal act to be prosecuted. Have written thus to defra but previously just standard replies from correspondence unit so will call Henry Hoppe defra circus policy lead. Under article 1 of protocol 1 of HR Act 1998 any limit on the use of a person’s possessions must be proportionate to the aim of the action being taken. If the aim is to get a circus animal to do unnatural tricks by force as above then surely this action should be limited to nil, as it is criminal. Hence a ban can be justified. Just keeping wild animals for display only will be of no interest to the paying public and the cost will be uneconomic to the owners. I too rue the day Labour lost the last GE purely for teh sake of wild animals in circuses. I have told my MP I will not vote for him ( “Con”) again if circus animals are not freed and an early ban imposed this year.

  6. Neville Animal - Freer Says:

    The Five Freedoms afforded to animals under the AW Act 2006 cannot be provided by the operators of animal circuses any more than they can by zoos. Do not forget the “domestic” animals such as dogs and horses who also suffer at the hands of circus owners and employees.

  7. Diane Says:

    Any right minded person would strongly believe we have ‘more than enough’ human talent to keep us all entertained! The government can barely cope in tackling immigration, public transport and the NHS, so how can it demonstrate it is capable to regulate cicuses?

    I demand the Government advises the public at large of the legal advice received, on which it claims to have based this opinion and to deploy a foward thinking approach that fits into a modern society. Ban all animals in entertainment!

    We must unite our voices together and to keep fighting until our voices are heard!