Wild Animals (Circuses)

Part of Backbench Business — [29th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:27 pm on 23rd June 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon 4:27 pm, 23rd June 2011

I am pleased to be called to speak in the debate, but I find it rather sad that we are still talking about this issue after so much time. DEFRA officials said in 2009 that the ban could be introduced under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. We went wrong when the Minister of State commented recently that a total ban on wild animals in circuses might be seen as disproportionate under the EU services directive and under our own Human Rights Act 1998. I must say that, on that point, I agree with my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard. Having had some contact with the Whips in the past week, I have become quite an expert on the Human Rights Act and particularly knowledgeable on article 8 of the convention.

With regard to the European Court’s case law, it is difficult to envisage a cogent argument that could support the assertion that a ban would engage the other rights set out in the convention, such as the rights to life and to a fair trail. Therefore, I can only presume that the Minister made his comments while considering a ban under article 8.

Article 8(1) has been interpreted extremely broadly by the European Court, whereas exemptions or limitations to the right have been interpreted narrowly. The right has three potentially relevant elements: private life, family life and home. Private life has been held to include the right to develop one’s own personality and relationships with others. The European Court considered that the notion of personal autonomy is an important principle underlying the interpretation of the right.

However, the right has been held not to apply to activities that relate to the private aspects of a person’s life, such as those that take place in public and where there is no expectation of privacy. In the current situation, a ban relates not to the private aspects of the lives of those potentially affected, but to their employment, which essentially takes place in public and without the expectation of privacy. Equally, the ban would not affect the right to a family life, as it would not prevent or interfere with a person living in proximity to their family.

Finally, the concept of home under the convention is wide and would include travelling accommodation as well as permanent dwellings.