Wild Animals (Circuses)

Part of Backbench Business — [29th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 23rd June 2011.

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Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin 3:44 pm, 23rd June 2011

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Today, this country has three travelling circuses with a total of 39 wild animals, including zebras, tigers, lions and camels. Until the recent exposure of the brutality with which Annie the elephant was treated, there were also elephants, but there are now no elephants in circuses in England. Let us remember that this measure applies to England only. I give credit to the Scottish National party for possibly moving towards a ban in Scotland.

The trouble with the Government’s proposed licensing scheme is that it would create a new generation of animals that could be imported. It would give a green light to new imports. We might not have any elephants left in our circuses now, but we would certainly have some if the new licensing regime came into effect. My concern is shared by 92% of the public, and there are very few public policy areas that attract that support. I am concerned about the cruel and cramped conditions in the housing and transportation of these wild animals. Countries including Singapore, Bolivia, Israel and Hungary have banned the use of wild animals in circuses. Many of those circuses are commercially successful. I should also like to pay tribute to the media, especially The Independent and the Sunday Express, which have campaigned on the issue for many years.

I want to address the specifics of the Government’s proposal for licensing. It is well intentioned, but it will not improve animal welfare. It would be difficult to monitor, implement and enforce. The licensing regime would also be very costly; it could cost taxpayers more than £1 million. An unintended consequence of the regime could be inadvertently to legitimise the import of new animals and continue the use and, I believe, exploitation of wild animals in circuses. Are colleagues really prepared to vote for that today?

Some of my colleagues have quite legitimately approached me to say, “I don’t really believe in banning things.” I take a similar approach, but I like to look at each case on its merits and take each issue case by case. If we followed the logic that we do not like to ban anything, the House would not have banned bear-baiting, badger-baiting or dog fighting. Perhaps we would also not have banned carrying knives in a public place, or even slavery.

Some myths have been put about prior to this debate. It has been said that passing this motion would result in the end of zoos. That is not right; the motion would not affect zoos. It has also been claimed that it would put an end to falconry, but that is not right either. It would not affect falconry. It relates only to wild animals, some of which I have listed. The definition of a wild animal is a species that does not originate in the British isles.

Concern has also been expressed in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about the effect of the motion on the entertainment industry. I reassure the House that it would not have an impact on the film and television industries. Paragraphs 34 and 37 of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ regulatory impact assessment state that travelling circus animals are entirely different from those kept in static locations by private keepers. I hope that with the advancement of digital technology, there will eventually be an end to the use of wild animals in films and on TV because when they are not being used many of these animals are warehoused like a carton of vegetables.

I shall concentrate primarily on the legal issues. Notwithstanding the Government’s written ministerial statement of 13 May and the subsequent revised Government response on 19 May to an urgent question, I hope that the Government will accept that there are no legitimate outstanding legal impediments to prevent a ban in England.