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

Forgive me, but I am not giving way. I know that the hon. Lady has a long track record on this issue, but I am pressed for time.

If Mr Speaker had selected the amendment this morning, which is relevant to this point, it would have kicked this motion into the long grass and there would have been no ban on the use of wild animals because we would have had to wait, as a country, for other legal cases to be dealt with in other parts of Europe. That, in itself, is a red herring.

In his statement to the House last month, the Minister told Parliament, at column 497, that a court case “against the Austrian Government” would “commence shortly”, given that the Austrian Government wanted to introduce a ban. I understand that the papers have now finally been submitted to the court in Vienna, but there is no live case. Interestingly, despite outright bans in other EU countries—I have already listed some and I could add Greece and Luxembourg—a legal case has never been brought or won before. It is not uncommon to hear of Governments sheltering behind courts in Brussels or Strasbourg, but to hear Ministers in my own Front-Bench team say that this Government are now sheltering behind a domestic court in Vienna is a completely new innovation.

There are two further flaws in the Government’s so-called legal defence. Are the Government of this country suggesting that the threat of legal action or the possible outcome of court cases is enough to paralyse Government decision making? Fear is not usually a prerequisite to success. What is more, the Government are seeking to put Vienna before the courts in London. If the Government waited for the court case in Vienna— the papers have been submitted, as I said—the case went through and the European Circus Association lost, there would be an automatic appeal to the European Court. That would add more delay and procrastination, further getting the Government off the hook when it comes to introducing a ban in this country. Even if that case were spent, there could be another European court considering another case in another European capital.

Notwithstanding my comments, the reality is that the Government’s Austrian defence is a red herring, given that the European Commission has clearly stated that a ban is a matter for member states alone. It is an issue that English courts decide. Surely that is something to celebrate in this age of judicial creep from Europe, and also something to exercise and implement. A ban can be introduced in an English court— without waiting for other European capitals to decide and without interference from Europe, which makes a refreshing change.

The Government have invoked the Human Rights Act 1998—yes, that old chestnut. The sooner the Government scrap the Act and introduce a British Bill of Rights, the better for everyone. Let us test the Act in an English domestic court, where even Brussels wants such cases heard. Let the Government have the courage of their own convictions. Legal advice from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs itself suggests that a ban might breach circus owners’ property rights under the Human Rights Act, so let us test it in the courts. Let us see what the courts have to say—the courts in London and England, not in Vienna, Brussels, Strasbourg, Copenhagen or some other European capital.

I pay tribute to the Minister of State, who has been put in a very difficult position. On 19 May, he courageously and bravely told this House that he personally would like to see a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. We also know that officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs want a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, and it is reported that the Secretary of State herself is minded to favour a ban, yet No. 10 has overruled: so much for devolving power and allowing Departments to get on with their own business, and so much for ending the control-freakery of No. 10; it appears that that tendency under the last Government is continuing under this one.

The Government have also invoked the European services directive, saying that a ban would breach it and would fail to meet the proportionality legal test. I can tell the House that that is not the case, and that the European Commission has denied that it is the case.

I appeal to the House to support my motion. Let us get Britain back to where it was in the last century—leading, rather than lagging behind, the world on animal welfare issues—and let us put an end to the use of wild animals in circuses.