I thank the right hon. Gentleman; I was about to make that very point.
Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of wild animals in circuses. There are now only about 38 or 39 animals being used in three circuses. That is a welcome decline and I hope that the trend continues as more and more people support a complete ban. Recent surveys have suggested that at least 70% of people support a complete ban, and more than 94% of people who responded to the consultation did so as well.
Unfortunately, I understand from the Captive Animals Protection Society that the day after the Westminster Hall debate Malcolm Clay, secretary of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, said that far from a licensing scheme discouraging circuses from using wild animals—which the Minister suggested might be the case—
“Once we have… regulation which reassures the public we may see some circuses return to using animals.”
Surely that is not the Minister’s intention.
There has been a public focus on the issue of wild animals in circuses in recent times, not least because of the spotlight on the poor treatment of Anne the elephant, but also owing to the number of people who have seen the film “Water for Elephants” in the cinema. I urge
Members who have not seen the film to go and see it. Unfortunately, however, the plight of Anne the elephant has muddied the waters to some extent. I do not think anyone would deny that no one with a brain would condone the mistreatment of animals, and I have no doubt that this was only one of a very small number of instances of animal cruelty in circuses. I am sure that the vast majority of wild animals in circuses are looked after as well as they possibly can be. What concerns me is that the nature of a circus, which involves moving from place to place in cramped conditions, makes it impossible to provide a suitable living environment for wild animals.
The nature of a circus also makes it impossible to provide an inspection system that could adequately check that regulations were being adhered to at every location unless that system is ridiculously expensive. Although the Minister has said that the cost will fall on the circuses, I suspect that the result will probably be an inadequate inspection system and an insufficient number of inspections. An inspection system will not work, and may result in more wild animals in circuses and more suffering. It will not address the fact that the constant movement of animals in cramped conditions is not good for the welfare of the animals. The only way to ensure an end to animal suffering in circuses is a complete ban, and I urge Members in all parts of the House to vote for that ban