Wild Animals (Circuses)

Part of Backbench Business — [29th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 23rd June 2011.

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Photo of James Paice James Paice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:38 pm, 23rd June 2011

I will forgo the obvious opportunity to use many of the numerous witticisms that I have heard during the past 48 hours about my appearance here, but I will start by simply trying to say that I will walk the tightrope over the next 10 or 15 minutes.

As several hon. Members have shown, this debate has demonstrated that, with one or two exceptions, there is passionate agreement across the Floor of the House that we should see an end to the use of wild animals in circuses. I assure the House that nothing divides us on that front. When we came to office a year ago, we had the advantage of receiving the results of the consultation to which Jim Fitzpatrick referred, and we had to examine all the options. A ban was one of those. We did not have the advantage of the advice that he received because that was confidential to the previous Government.

We had a new set of advice from our lawyers and we had to use that in coming to our view. It clearly indicated that there were serious risks of a legal challenge should we opt for an outright ban, despite our being minded to do so. I will return to the detail of those legalities because that has occupied much of the afternoon’s debate, but it is for that reason and in the interest of avoiding a long judicial process that we concluded that the quickest way to reduce and, we hoped, eliminate cruelty to wild animals in our circuses would be a robust licensing system, which might well result in circuses deciding to stop keeping such animals.

My hon. Friend Mark Pritchard, who moved the motion, has shown diligence in pursuit of his cause. However, I am afraid his dedication has allowed him to misrepresent a number of issues, and some of that has been repeated by other hon. Members. The first is the Commission’s view about whether this is entirely a matter for member states. I remind the House that the view of a Commissioner is simply that. I have seen the letter sent by the Commission to the Captive Animals Protection Society, and I understand that that is the view of the Commission, but as I said in the House last time we debated the subject, it is ultimately the courts that interpret legislation, and our lawyers have to advise us not about what the Commission’s view is, but how they believe a court might interpret the legislation.