Zoos, Aquariums and Wildlife Sanctuaries: Reopening

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:52 pm, 11th June 2020

May I start by thanking Andrew Rosindell for allowing me to speak in the debate? I pay tribute to his outstanding opening contribution, which set the tone. I go beyond that and thank and congratulate him on the leadership he has consistently shown on this issue over many years. It is inclusive leadership, which takes in the detail of the case so very often. As we saw from his contribution, the work that he does is detailed and well informed, which makes it so much easier for the rest of us, because he does the hard miles. He is a fantastic leader of the all-party parliamentary group on zoos and aquariums, and I for one am extremely grateful to him.

Growing up in Cheshire, a visit to the zoo, whether with my family or with the school, was always a highlight. A visit with my family to Chester zoo, which lies within my constituency and that of my hon. Friend Justin Madders, is always a great highlight, as it is for so many other families around my neck of the woods.

It has been a difficult couple of weeks for the zoo, for the reasons that my friend, the hon. Member for Romford, talked about. It ran a high-profile public campaign, which I must inform the House it did not want to run. For a couple of weeks beforehand, it was briefing me and other interested parties on the difficulty of the situation, for all the reasons outlined by the hon. Gentleman: its responsibilities to maintain animal welfare; its responsibilities to maintain the scientific basis for which it is renowned; and its inability to do so because money was, quite frankly, running out. It made the very difficult decision to go public just over a week ago, when the Government made it clear that zoos were not allowed to reopen.

If I have a criticism of the Government at that point, it is that no reason was given for why zoos could not reopen. We know, for example, that IKEA was allowed to reopen, and I am pleased for it. We know that Kew Gardens was allowed to reopen, and it is a beautiful place to visit. Chester zoo lies in 128 acres of parkland and gardens. The inconsistency was not easy to understand.