Wild Animals (Circuses)

Part of Backbench Business — [29th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 23rd June 2011.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:01 pm, 23rd June 2011

That is a good question, and I will discuss the 2006 Act in due course. It is my understanding that that Act could be used as the enabling legislation to introduce a ban, and I hope that my later remarks on it will clarify the situation for the hon. Gentleman.

When I took over as Minister of State in 2009, the question of wild animals in circuses had been left over from the 2006 Act. That Act was much needed and warmly welcomed and took animal welfare to a much better place, but wild animals in circuses were not specifically covered. I was lobbied by the Born Free Foundation, as well as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Animal Defenders International, and also by many Members. DEFRA organised a consultation, and we all know the outcome: 94.5% of the 13,000 respondents said they wanted a ban. The then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, agreed that we should express our conclusions before last May’s election and we said we were minded to introduce a ban.

Recently, there has been much comment about legal impediments. The European Circus Association challenged the Austrian ban at the European Commission in 2006, and it lost. It invoked the European ombudsman and it lost. The ombudsman asked the Commission to evaluate whether the Austrian ban on wild animals in circuses was proportionate. The Commission’s final opinion of September 2009, as laid out in the documents available in the Library pack for today’s debate, set out why it did not believe there were grounds for an accusation of maladministration and also set out its view on the proportionality of the Austrian ban. It ruled that this was a matter for member states to decide.

Much advice was offered to me when I was a Minister, but my recollection is that the legal questions were about whether a ban would require primary or secondary legislation. I do not remember there being a European dimension to the advice, but of course memory does play tricks on us.