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

I regret that we as a Labour Government did not introduce a ban, but the Animal Welfare Act was a major piece of legislation and we tried our best. Given the constraints and the time frame between when I was appointed Minister of State and the May 2010 election, there was not long enough to introduce that ban. However we gave a commitment to the animal welfare lobby, to parliamentary colleagues and to the public that we were minded to introduce a ban if we were re-elected, which sadly we were not. I am convinced that we would have gone ahead with that.

The biggest obstacle to progress that I can remember, as has been mentioned by the hon. Member for The Wrekin, was at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which contended that any such ban could harm our creative industries by outlawing the use of animals in film and TV productions at worst or by reducing the number of performing animals available at best. Either way, the contention was that the threat to film and TV production would move it abroad and cost us jobs and revenue. We had numerous discussions about this and we were eventually able to reassure DCMS that that would not be the case and that we could limit the ban to the use of wild animals in circuses, as the hon. Gentleman has outlined. DCMS dropped its objection and the Government had a united policy, which appeared in our manifesto in May last year.

All kinds of questions were raised about whether wild animals should perform at all and which should be allowed to. My main concern was and is about the conditions in which animals are kept in venues and on the road. We are mostly reassured that modern zoos create environments that try to reflect animals’ origins, natural habitat and behaviour patterns, and we have to ask how that can be done in the back of a cage attached to a lorry driving along the motorways of Britain. Even this morning on BBC “Breakfast”, the camera crew visiting a circus was not allowed to film the animals’ living quarters. I think that that speaks volumes. Why the reluctance? I think we all know.

The Government say they want to introduce a licensing system rather than a ban. The system would mean that any circuses wishing to have wild animals such as tigers, lions and elephants performing in them would need to demonstrate that they met high animal welfare standards for each animal before they could be granted a licence to keep them. Areas being considered as part of the licensing conditions include the rules on transporting animals, the type of quarters they could be kept in, including winter quarters, and their treatment by trainers and keepers.

I know from my time at DEFRA that it wants to improve the welfare of animals across the piece and to improve the situation. It has even been suggested by some that the licensing regime could introduce a ban by the back door, but we do not want a ban by the back door—we want a ban through the front door. We want honesty and transparency in the laws and regulations we debate and introduce. We want clarity, not confusion. The public have used their voice to articulate that they want a ban and Members of every party have said that they want a ban. I hope and appeal to hon. Members in all parts of the House when it comes to the vote at 6 o’clock tonight to support the motion in the names of the hon. Members for The Wrekin, for Colchester and myself.