My Lords, this is a straightforward Bill. It seeks to prohibit the use of wild animals, whether in performances or displays, in travelling circuses. There is strong public opinion in support of this and government consultations in England, Wales and Scotland show that well over 90% of respondents are in favour. This reflects the Government’s view that seeing wild animals in circuses does nothing to further our understanding or conservation of wild animals.
In 1990, there were 20 travelling circuses using over 250 wild animals between them. Now, there are two travelling circuses with 19 wild animals in total—specifically, six reindeer, four camels, four zebras, two racoons, one fox, one macaw and one zebu.
Consideration of this issue arose during debates on the Animal Welfare Bill in 2006. The Government at the time agreed to consider whether it would be possible to bring forward a ban on the use wild animals in travelling circuses under powers in that Bill, now the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
Matters moved on and, in 2012, the Government announced their intention to introduce primary legislation on ethical grounds, but as an interim measure they introduced a seven-year circus licensing regime to ensure that a high standard of welfare was secured for any travelling circuses still using wild animals while parliamentary time was found to enact a ban. The regulations were recently reviewed and found to have been successful in safeguarding the welfare of the animals. In their review of the regulations, the Government confirmed that they would not be renewed.
The regulations are due to expire on
Clause 1 makes it an offence for a circus operator to use a wild animal in a travelling circus in England. The offence applies only to the operator of a travelling circus; that is, the person with overall responsibility for it. The “use” of a wild animal is defined as both performance and exhibition as part of the circus. This should cover those circumstances where wild animals are put on display by the circus, usually just adjacent to the big top, as well as where the animal performs in the ring.
The penalty for a circus operator found guilty of using a wild animal in a travelling circus is an unlimited fine. Where any evidence is found of a wild animal being mistreated, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 will of course apply, as is currently the case. The Act provides powers to seize animals should there be welfare grounds to do so.
Subsection (5) contains definitions for some of the terms used in Clause 1. “Wild animal” is defined as,
“an animal of a kind which is not commonly domesticated in Great Britain”.
This is based on the definitions used in the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012. The guidance to the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 sets out clearly which animals should be regarded as wild or domesticated, and we intend to take a similar approach in guidance.
To clarify, a wild animal is still “wild” if it has been born in captivity. While most of the wild animals currently in English circuses were bred in captivity, usually from several generations of circus animals, they are still wild animals. Although the animals will have been tamed and trained to respond to humans, this does not mean that they have become domesticated. Domestication refers to a genetic selection process that occurs over multiple generations, often over hundreds if not thousands of years, effecting changes in traits across a population of animals. Individual or groups of “tame” wild circus animals are still wild animals for the purposes of the Bill.
The Bill does not include a definition of “travelling circus”. The Government’s view is that it is better for the term to take its common meaning and that prescribing a definition of “circus” is problematic on two counts: either it would be defined too broadly and thus reach further than intended, capturing other activities involving animals that move from place to place, or it would allow circuses to avoid the legislation by avoiding any features that captured them in the definition.
Clause 2 provides for the powers of inspection in the schedule to the Bill. Inspectors under the Bill would be appointed on a case-by-case basis by the Animal and Plant Health Agency, drawing on our existing list of approximately 50 zoo licensing inspectors. Given the expertise of these inspectors and their experience in working with captive wild animals, we can draw from this existing list of inspectors if there is ever a need to gather evidence to prove the offence in the Bill. If it were necessary for a police constable to be present during an inspection, the powers in the Bill allow for two people to accompany the inspector and use the powers of search and entry under the inspector’s supervision.
Clause 3 makes a minor amendment to the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. The 1976 Act requires persons who wish to keep dangerous wild animals as listed in the Act to be licensed; however, the Act currently exempts any dangerous wild animal kept in a circus from that requirement. This amendment would remove that exemption and mean that any dangerous wild animal, as listed in that Act, kept by a circus would need to be licensed by the circus’s local authority, with an annual inspection. For example, the zebras and camels would need a licence under that Act. The Scottish Government, who have already introduced a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in Scotland, have asked to extend our amendment to the 1976 Act to Scotland.
Clause 4 provides that the Act comes into force on
The Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill has come at a time when we increasingly appreciate that the use of wild animals in circuses does nothing to advance either our understanding of animal behaviour or the conservation of wild animals. I believe that people wish to perceive wild animals in their natural state, expressing all the natural attributes of being wild, not performing tricks in the circus ring for our amusement. The promise of this legislation was contained in my party’s 2015 manifesto and I know that there is strong support for the Bill across the parties. The timing of the Bill is critical, with the sunset clause on the regulations approaching. It is time to make progress on this legislation and I beg to move.
My Lords, this little Bill will probably reach the statute book, but it does not deserve to do so. It does not pretend to be an animal welfare Bill; the Government accept that. It is not being used to remedy any existing animal welfare problems; that is accepted by the Government. The Government say it is an ethical Bill and in a moment I shall come to the reasons why it is the opposite. It is a Bill without any evidential basis to justify its introduction: in fact, it is pure gesture politics. The Bill has serious implications for the future, which I will come on to a moment.
The circus of my childhood contained lions, tigers and elephants. For myself, I totally accept that they have no place in travelling circuses, but they have long gone in this country because the public did not want to see what they regard as wild animals in such circuses and because of the introduction of a robust licensing system. I think that that was some seven years ago—I will be corrected if I am wrong—and it effectively ruled them out for the future. They are no longer there, nor could they come back, because, under the present legislation, no licence would be granted for them.
The Bill is about just 19 animals in two travelling circuses, most of which members of the public, I suspect, would not even classify as wild. I am thinking of the majority; the four camels and the reindeer, which have been domesticated for generations in other countries but not in this one, so they fall foul of the definition. I believe that the zebu, which I am told is some form of African cattle, is also domesticated in its own areas. We have to accept that the raccoons, the fox, the macaw and the zebras, of which there are but a handful, are wild.
However, this Bill uses the word “wild” in its title rather differently from its usual, generally understood meaning as any animal of a kind which is not commonly domesticated in Great Britain. The camels, reindeer and zebra with which we are concerned this afternoon have been bred by these circus communities and have lived all their lives among them. They could not be returned to the wild; they are effectively domesticated. There are animals of these kinds in zoos and private ownership up and down the country. Those animals and their conditions are not affected by this Bill.
The single fox was handed to the circus to look after as an orphaned cub. Macaws can be bought by any member of the public in a pet shop. These 19 animals are currently inspected three times a year and, by common consent, are looked after immaculately. The herbivores are treated like horses, with extensive grazing at every site to which they go, which is prepared for their arrival. Their stays are usually two to three days in each. Their average journey each week is 50 miles, and the horseboxes used to transport them would not be out of place in the smartest racing yard.
It is also worth saying that these animals are much loved by their owners. Many of them have been bred by them, some over generations. The owners live with them, work among them and regard them as part of their circus family. These two circus communities are part of a long tradition of travelling showmen, which is dying out, who live their lives in very close proximity to animals and work with them. This Bill tells these people, who look after their animals well, that they must get rid of them by
The Government say that this is an ethical Bill; that it is not right to have wild, albeit really domesticated, animals in travelling circuses. This raises the question of whether the taste of some people, even a majority, should be imposed on others without evidence of harm. It is surely an ethical tradition in our country, which we still at least claim is a liberal democracy, to limit the rights of Governments and majorities to prohibit or criminalise the activities of others without evidence of significant harm, whether to people or animals. There is no such evidence here, as has been conceded.
Some find animal acts in circuses distasteful. Some do not. It is worth noting that the number of those responding to the call for evidence on this Bill is dwarfed by the numbers attending and enjoying the two remaining circuses each year. On the face of it, this Bill affects only a very small number of people, but I am afraid that its implications go much further. A number of other travelling circuses are operating with domestic animals, and they are well supported. I enjoy visits every year, when I can, to Giffords Circus in Oxfordshire, which has horses and even chickens. Zippos Circus has no wild animals but has some horses and ponies, and among other places it regularly visits is Hove in Sussex, where it is greeted by a small handful of protestors. Posters are torn down; violence is threatened; those who attend, both parents and children, face abuse and even spitting at the entrance. The next step in the campaign is to stop all animals in circuses; that campaign is under way.
Many of us have seen similar demonstrations elsewhere where animals are involved. Last year, my local Dunster Country Fair had a thankfully peaceful one at its entrance. In yesterday’s Daily Telegraph was an article about the famous chef Raymond Blanc producing vegan dishes for diners at Royal Ascot this year. One would have thought that the Vegan Society would have been pleased, but the reaction of Ms Piasecka, its spokesperson, was that,
“no vegan would attend horse racing”,
and that it,
“is a romanticised industry that on the surface may seem a harmless sport, but it’s cruel and exploitative”.
I add that 300,000 people are expected to attend Ascot this week.
We have all read in the papers about recent protests against the dairy industry with expensive national advertising. I have seen demonstrations outside abattoirs —most recently, perfectly peaceful, on the outskirts of Taunton. There have also been protests about many other things that perhaps one would not expect: sheep and pig racing, sheepdog trials, falconry displays and even, heaven help us, pony painting.
The animal rights movement protests are against any use of animals for entertainment or human pleasure and are increasingly common. No matter how vehemently the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, protests that the Bill will not lead to further such prohibitive legislation, this very well-funded rights campaign will continue. A Bill such as this, with no evidence to support it, adds fuel to those causes.
There is a much larger problem that we need to confront before we go down this path. As a nation, we are increasingly distant from the countryside, the natural world and animals. Few people today live at close quarters with animals—apart, perhaps, from a pet dog or cat, which all of us are often guilty of treating as quasi-human. What is right for us to do with animals for our own purposes is an important debate, but any laws that we change as a result must surely be based on evidence that what we allow presently is harmful before we stop it. The views of the animal rights movement deserve a hearing. Some of their arguments may be good and valid on some issues, but we should not change the law to ban things unless there is good evidence that they do harm.
Despite what we keep telling ourselves, I do not believe that we are a nation of animal lovers. We are animal sentimentalists, too often attributing human emotions and characteristics to attractive-looking animals while looking the other way at some of the real abuses and areas where real improvement could be made if we had the will. We need as a nation to make a proper reassessment of our whole approach to animals and their welfare based on evidence. Other countries are way ahead of us and have acted on, for example, non-stun slaughter, which affects millions of farm animals here each year. Last week in London, the Animal Welfare Foundation met to identify the top animal welfare priorities for managing animals in the UK, and the highest priorities for every species were identified. Some of them were obvious to all of us: for cats, neglect and hoarding; for dogs, behavioural problems, often insufficient exercise and isolation; rabbits kept in small cages; for pigs, painful management procedures; for sheep and cattle, untreated pain and ill-health. As president of the Horse Trust, I know that every horse charity in the country is currently full to capacity with rescued, neglected, abandoned or mistreated horses.
On exotic animals, which is the proper description of the animals we are concerned with under the Bill, the Animal Welfare Foundation made no finding because, it said, too little is known to draw a conclusion. They did not even make the list of priorities.
If the Government have time for a gesture measure such as this Bill, which I was told this morning was rejected by a previous Secretary of State as being not right to touch, there could surely have been time for a short, well targeted Bill to increase the penalties under the Animal Welfare Act for the deliberate infliction of unnecessary suffering to an animal, which is currently a derisory six months’ imprisonment. Real neglect and cruelty go on, much of it unrecognised and, when it is, scarcely punished, while in the Bill, we are imposing a measure to hit a small group of people who care greatly for their animals and their welfare. What a waste of time.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. I totally agree with some of the things she said. There is a movement gathering pace against using livestock for entertainment in a way that has traditionally gone on in the countryside, and I accept that. There is currently a great harassment of our farmers and she raised the whole question of animals not being stunned before slaughter. I share her view on that. Today, however, we are looking at the Bill, which she quite rightly says is a small Bill, and I actually do not follow her logic or her thoughts as to why it should not go ahead.
I thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner for introducing the Bill, which I personally welcome. I see that there are a couple of noble Lords in the Chamber who sat through the Animal Welfare Bill, for which I was shadow Minister back in 2006. In Committee, I introduced an amendment to ban the use of all wild animals. The noble Baroness will probably not agree with me, but that was my view at the time. All these years later, my view has not changed. At the time—it would not have been the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville—the Liberals were trying to bring in an amendment alongside mine which would have banned the use of all animals in circuses. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, I do not think that this is right. I think that domesticated animals have a real role to play in circuses and bring a lot of pleasure to those who go to see them, but I am still as strongly committed to the proposal that all wild animals should be banned.
I am grateful for the various briefings that I received from individuals and organisations, some of whom support the ban, while others are opposed. When we reach Committee, we will no doubt have well-argued debates on the practical definitions, which my noble friend the Minister mentioned earlier. We will be looking for unintended consequences, about which the noble Baroness rightly highlighted some of her concerns. Back in 2006, it was argued by some that the care of wild animals in circuses was not a welfare issue. In those days, the majority were well looked-after, as I am sure they are now. I do not think that that is an issue. However, there were some suggestions that the films that were shown at the time—which I have not seen on this occasion—contained some footage that was not necessarily taken in United Kingdom circuses. If that is still true, we should recognise it, because one cannot compare what goes on somewhere else with what goes on in our circuses here today. Having said that, in my view it is still a matter of, “Do we think it is right in this day and age?”.
As I said, my views have not changed and I believe that there is much more general support for people wanting to see wild animals in their proper environment. The BBC programmes have helped enormously in that. For most people in this country, if they were not looking at wild animals on television, they would be going to zoos to see some of these animals in as near as one can get to their natural habitat. As I said, mine is a very personal view. I believe that animals are much better seen, where possible, in their natural environment.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, is going to speak later, but I was particularly pleased to receive the briefing from British Veterinary Association. I declare my interest—and I suspect that several others will do the same—as a long-standing honorary member of the BVA. I quote from its key points:
“BVA strongly supports a ban on wild animals in travelling circuses. The welfare of these animals is emblematic of the way we treat all animals under the care of humans. The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within the environment of a travelling circus; especially in terms of accommodation and ability to express normal behaviour as per the five welfare needs (as outlined in the Animal Welfare Acts)”.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that the care and love the existing circuses have for those remaining 19 animals is very apparent, but the Bill poses the question of whether the animals should be in a circus to perform in the way they have traditionally done.
I know that many others will come forward with their views, but my view is still as strong as it was. As I said, I agree with some of the noble Baroness’s concerns about other ways in which wild animals are used for demonstration purposes—for example, at agricultural shows or sheepdog trials or on other occasions—but that is not the same as having wild animals enclosed in travelling circuses. I hope that the Minister can clarify one or two points that have already been made and will be made again as we go through this Second Reading.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. It is fantastic to be able to agree with a Member from across the House.
The Explanatory Notes set out the policy background with deadpan humour by informing Your Lordships:
“The Bill takes forward the Government’s policy in relation to the use of wild animals in travelling circuses as set out in the Written Ministerial Statements on
I was not a Member of your Lordships’ House in 2012 but, since I became one, I have grilled the Minister on this exact issue. Over the years, he has diligently listed his 19 animals and the promised legislation. I did not realise that the policy went so far back. It may have taken us seven years, three Brexit extensions, two Prime Ministers and an ungovernable House of Commons to get here, but I am glad that the Government have finally got round to this. I see it as a tidying-up exercise and I hope that, in time, it might lead to other things.
I also hope that Defra’s other policy announcements do not take quite as long to reach the Floor of this House; there is only so much long grass into which the Government can kick important policies such as the clean air strategy, the 25-year environment plan and dealing with the climate emergency.
The Bill is simple. It marks a small step forward for this country in its relationship with wild animals and the natural world. However, the Government are perhaps taking a bigger jump in recognising that, no matter how well looked after a creature may be, there are limits to the quality of life that can be enjoyed when an animal is denied the ability to express its animal nature as nature intended. I have huge sympathy for, and agree with almost all of the points made by, the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, but we are coming from completely different directions; I would like more, rather than less, legislation.
Others from across the political spectrum will cover these questions. Some of us have questioned why the Bill focuses only on wild animals in circuses. Why does it not cover all animals in circuses, and why not animals in other places as well? Why is a zebra that spends most of its time grazing and a bit of time parading in a circus tent singled out against its unstriped cousins, which are cheered on at Ascot and then unceremoniously shot when they get an injury? I declare an interest in that I have attended Ascot.
These are valid questions. I hope that the Bill is a stepping stone towards questioning the wider relationship between humans and animals in the world that we share. As the noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Byford, asked, what will happen to the animals affected by the Bill? We are talking about only a small number of animals, but we should not change their lives without foresight of the outcomes. They may continue to be kept as pets by their current owner or some other owner, but are they then living the “wilder life” that is supposedly the ethical purpose of the Bill?
Alternatively, on being rendered economically unviable, will they be redirected to other, non-circus work? I am not sure that a reindeer getting a job as Rudolph in Santa’s grotto, or as an extra in TV or film, is any more wild and free than one in circus life. That loops around again to the question of why we are focusing purely on circuses and not on other forms of commercial exploitation.
I hope that future legislation will deal with the wider questions of human domination over nature and take a much more holistic view. For example, does the Minister know the story of the fox who is currently serving as a circus exhibit? I am told that he was rescued as a pup from fox hunters. If foxes could speak, would that particular fox say that he was happier for having run away to a circus or would he rather have been ripped to pieces by a pack of dogs? It is an important issue because it shows how viewing this in isolation does not make any sense. We cannot save animals from the circus on Wednesday and then trot down to the hunt on Saturday.
In tackling the broader issues and to avoid delaying the Bill as it goes through its future stages, would the Minister kindly update the House on the Government’s legislative proposals around animal sentience? This is something that has come up and is an issue of concern and interest to many noble Lords. Consideration of animal sentience was promised enthusiastically during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, but it seems to have hit a brick wall. Will there be another seven-year hiatus on this or can we hope to see something a little sooner? Animal sentience legislation is needed to fill an important gap in the law caused by our departure from the EU, so we cannot afford to be still debating this in seven years’ time.
Although I do not feel that this Bill on wild animals in circuses goes far enough, it does do something important. I feel that we are being held hostage by the parliamentary timetable and the prospect of a Prime Minister in waiting as we try to avoid kicking this Bill back into the long grass. For that reason I will support it and I do not intend to try to amend it in its future stages.
My Lords, I warmly support the introduction of this Bill, and that will come as no surprise to my noble friend the Minister. My beef is that it has taken so long to get to this point. I could have done with the Bill back in the 1960s, when I was a very young councillor faced with the prospect of a travelling circus coming to town seeking a loan of council property to stage the circus. I had misgivings and that was why I had my first contact with the RSPCA, to ask what it thought of this. The reply was unequivocal: the society felt that circus performing was damaging to wild animals and expressed concerns about two aspects. The first was whether there was cruelty in the training of animals, particularly the very wild ones. I believe that much of the training at that time took place abroad, where there could be no control whatever. The second aspect is still valid today: that travelling from place to place, even if only 15 miles as someone suggested, means that animals are held in close confinement. I do not believe that animals which are probably used to roaming as part of their natural way of life should be confined in that way. The Bill is a great step forward.
There has certainly been a change in public attitudes, a point touched on by my noble friend. He said that programmes made by the BBC Natural History Unit had done a great deal to allow us to see animals in their natural habitats. We owe a lot to Sir David Attenborough for his wonderful work in this regard. These programmes have opened up a completely new world, with the technological advances in film-making such as attaching devices to animals so that they can be tracked. That makes circus animals look so old-fashioned that we really do not need them any more.
I am anxious that the Bill should go through, so I do not want to make too many points that might prevent its progress. However, I want to ask my noble friend about the proposed guidance to be brought forward. As a former chairman of the Delegated Powers Committee, I have slight misgivings the moment that guidance is mentioned because I am anxious that Parliament should retain some control. Very often guidance means that Ministers are free to issue whatever they like, and its precise status is sometimes in doubt. I would much prefer a modest bit of delegated legislation, where we could retain some interest in what was put forward.
Again, I am anxious not to delay the Bill, and I know an element of haste is needed because of the end of the current regulations—we must not have a hiatus—but, as I say, I am somewhat concerned, particularly about the definition of “wild animal” as an animal not normally domestic in Britain. I find that phraseology somewhat woolly and hope we might have much better guidance on precisely what it means. That said, I warmly appreciate the fact that this Bill is at long last going through, and it has my complete support.
My Lords, I first declare my interest as a veterinary surgeon and a long-time member of the British Veterinary Association and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, of which I was president. I am currently co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare. I originally thought the Bill was a simple proposition—in short, a good thing, a no-brainer. But in preparing for this debate, reading and thinking about the issues, I have come to realise that it raises some profound and even far-reaching implications.
I will first consider the welfare aspects. Public opinion supports a ban, presumably because of concern for animal welfare. A report commissioned by the Welsh Government in 2016, The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses, concluded that,
“the evidence would … support a ban on using wild animals in travelling circuses … on animal welfare grounds”.
So far, so good.
The Bill refers to wild animals and defines them as animals “not commonly domesticated” in the UK. Yet, as we have heard, of the 19 animals currently in the two circuses, six are reindeer and four are camels—both species commonly domesticated in many other places. There is a further animal, a zebu, an African cow that has been domesticated for 10,000 to 30,000 years.
The animals in question in travelling circuses are now subject to licensing and to inspection by Defra-appointed veterinary inspectors. There do not appear to have been any concerns over their care in recent years. While it might be argued that their ability to express some of the five welfare freedoms is compromised—such as freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, pain, injury or disease, freedom from fear and distress, and freedom to express normal behaviour—I contend that that could be said about many not only wild but domesticated animals kept by humans, especially the freedom to express normal behaviour. I am sure that many in this Chamber keep a dog. The dog is a social animal—it lives in packs—but how many people own more than one dog?
Furthermore, a report in 2007 to Defra by a leading animal welfare lawyer, Dr Mike Radford at the University of Aberdeen, concluded that, within the terms of reference of his inquiry:
“There appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments”.
Finally, Her Majesty’s Government have not introduced the Bill as a result of welfare concerns. It is introduced on the basis of ethics; it is an ethical decision. In that context, I submit that this leads us on to very contentious ground. I have been impressed by one of the briefings many of us may have received from Professor Ron Beadle, a professor of organisation and business ethics at Northumbria University. He argues that it is difficult on ethical grounds to single out animals in travelling circuses from animals involved in almost any other relationship with humans—such as, among others, zoos, displays of birds of prey and horseracing, through to eating meat and even keeping pets.
“it is an outdated practice ... and it is demeaning to the wild animals involved”.—[
He spoke for many people and I understand that position. Indeed, it is one with which I may concur, but by using the term “demeaning” we are attributing anthropomorphic feelings to animals. What is really meant is that we are not comfortable with this and we do not like it. The fundamental question is whether that is the basis on which to ban something. If we are thinking about banning things on ethical terms, as Professor Beadle argues, consistency of position necessitates that many human activities involving animals should also be called into question. I hasten to add that that is not a position I would accept and I dare say that many would not welcome it.
I shall give two important examples of demeaning animals. The French bulldog is the most popular breed of dog in Britain today. Thousands are bought and bred by people. It is a brachycephalic dog—it has a squashed nose. Many of these dogs suffer respiratory problems because of obstructive airway disease that necessitates surgery to allow them to breathe normally. In most cases their pelvic canal is too small to allow normal birth. More than 80% of French bulldogs have to be delivered by C-section. We have bred these dogs and we buy them because they are cute. That is demeaning to animals.
My second example is the Scottish Fold cat. It has a genetic deficit of cartilage formation. Its ears hang down. It looks sweet. I am sure noble Lords know what cartilage does. It is the soft stuff at the end of all our bones that prevents them grinding together. It is the stuff I am short of in my right knee. It is the lack of that stuff that gives many of us in the Chamber osteoarthritis. We breed these cats deliberately and sell them because they look cute. That is demeaning to animals.
The point of this polemic is that when we start making judgments about such matters, it is important to do it on the basis of evidence, rationality and proportionality. I therefore have some difficulty coming to a conclusion on the Bill because I sympathise with much of it. I recognise that there is very strong public opinion on this issue, and that the Government must pay heed to that and to changing societal views, but to what extent should we in Parliament take heed of public opinion when the evidence is at best equivocal? In this case, I suspect public opinion is still thinking of the days when lions, tigers, elephants and chimpanzees were displayed in circuses, but the irony is that society’s views have led to those practices ceasing without legislation. I dare say that if we did nothing, in a few years’ time we would be unlikely to see any wild animals in a traditional circus.
In conclusion, I recognise that this is a measure on which public opinion has a clear point of view and which the Commons has passed. I also recognise and sincerely commend the positive measures to improve animal welfare brought forward by the Government in the past year or so. Indeed, it is fair to say that the cause of animal welfare has been advanced more in the past two years than in the previous 10, since the excellent Animal Welfare Act 2006, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford.
I also recognise that, while there are many far more important concerns regarding animals than the current Bill addresses in my opinion, we must not do nothing because we cannot do everything—or, in the cliché of the day, we do not want the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Where have I heard that before?
I will support the Bill, but I am concerned that unintended consequences could flow from it. At the very least, I ask the Minister that a definition of the term “travelling circus” be incorporated into the guidance notes, as the RSPCA has called for. If it is not defined, I fear there is a danger that more extreme animal rights groups and clever lawyers will challenge various other activities under the umbrella term “travelling circus”. Many of these other activities contribute to and enhance people’s knowledge and understanding of, and concern for, animals, with a very positive impact on their conservation and welfare. Introducing our increasingly urban population, potentially divorced from nature, to the wonders of the animal kingdom—subject to the welfare needs of animals always being met—is an important and positive outcome that needs to be considered when debating the ethical pros and cons of keeping animals.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out concisely and clearly the objectives of this short but useful Bill which will ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England and Wales from
Like others, I remember my parents taking me to travelling circuses with wild or exotic animals. It was some 60 years ago for me, but I remember it vividly. I thoroughly enjoyed it; it was viewed as innocent entertainment at the time. But times, public opinion and my views have changed. I now think that travelling circuses are not the place for performances by wild animals in the 21st century.
“a ban is emblematic of how we should be treating animals in the modern world”.
That is my approach.
Secondary legislation is deemed inappropriate for this change because the provisions reflect actions taken on what are described as ethical grounds—as the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, challenged in her very strong opening speech—rather than being based on scientific evidence. I am of course keenly aware that there has not been a problem about the welfare of those wild animals being held by the two circus owners who will be affected directly by this legislation. We were advised by the Minister in the other place that any attempt to take forward a ban on welfare grounds under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 would therefore fail the test of proportionality—thus we require primary legislation.
However, this goes to the heart of ethical questions about how we expect wild animals and animals in general to be treated, as well as how the treatment of wild animals may differ from our treatment of domesticated animals, or those in the food production system, transport, sport, education or projects for the preservation of the species, or those animals that perform such valued work as assistance animals.
I support the Bill, but I have some questions for the Minister. Between now and
I have a question regarding Northern Ireland. In another place, the Minister, Dr Coffey, said:
“As it stands, the Administration do not believe it is appropriate at this point to join in this Bill, recognising it is a significant policy decision and would need to be devolved”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/5/19; col. 520.]
I know that all of us hope that the disagreements in Northern Ireland will be resolved politically and that we can therefore ensure that action can be taken there, but it does mean that there is a hiatus at the moment. Could the two travelling circuses go to Northern Ireland and set up shop there, pending legislation some time in the future that might happen in Northern Ireland to bring it into line with England and Wales?
My final question concerns paragraph 7(k) of the Schedule, which provides that animals cannot be seized if there is a contravention of provisions in the Bill. Is this because they are already protected by existing legislation? If so, where is that provision to be found? I hope that my noble friend can give me some comfort on that.
The Bill is indeed part of wider government action to improve animal welfare at home and abroad. I was made aware of that wider approach to animal welfare when I was a Minister for Human Rights at the Foreign Office for a few years. While there, I had a brush with the FCO’s animal welfare work when I visited Uganda. The primary purpose of the visit was connected with my role as the Prime Minister’s special representative on the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. I was therefore rather surprised to be asked by the Foreign Office to ensure that, despite a packed schedule, I should go to a conservation project to see the UK’s work to support the conservation of the white rhino and visit the Ziwa rhino sanctuary. It was certainly different from the rest of my visit, but it taught me a lot about community cohesion and safety.
Ziwa is a private, non-profit animal sanctuary supported by the United Nations Development Programme through its Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme, which the UK contributes to. Black rhinos and white rhinos are both indigenous to Uganda, but, due to a number of factors—prolonged armed human conflict, poaching, of course, and mismanagement of their natural habitat—both species had been wiped out altogether by 1983. The sanctuary was established in 2005 to reintroduce the white rhino to Uganda. Visiting Ziwa was quite an experience. It is not something that I had ever done as a tourist. The experience was cemented not least because, when I was told in advance that I and my Private Secretary would be walking with rhinos, I had not quite cottoned on that they really did mean walking with the rhinos and their calves, having told me that the mothers might be quite protective. Of course, we had armed rangers with us, and the rhinos ignored us.
The illegal wildlife trade poses a serious long-term risk to the global economy and international security. Tackling this trade is critical both to protecting wildlife and thus improving the lives of the vulnerable communities who live alongside it, and to combatting corruption and international crime. I very much welcome the work that our Government continue to do on that.
As others have mentioned, on the home front this Bill has been a long time coming. The Government first announced in March 2012 that they would introduce a ban on wild animals in circuses and that this would require primary legislation. At that time, I was Government Chief Whip and thus automatically on the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee, which,
“manages the Government’s current legislative programme on behalf of Cabinet and advises Cabinet on strategic management of the forthcoming programme. It aims to ensure that the Government’s legislative programme reflects its overall priorities and that the passage of each of those bills through Parliament is as smooth as possible … PBL Committee usually receives around twice as many bids for legislative slots as there are slots available. Many potential bills are not awarded a place in the programme”.
There is nothing confidential about any of that; I am quoting from the Guide to Making Legislation, a document published by the Cabinet Office.
Today’s Bill has spent many years waiting in the wings. As government Chief Whip, perhaps I contributed in a small way to its delay, since it was one of the 50% of Bills that did not find its way into the legislative programme on my watch. Well, mea culpa; I want to put that right with my support for it today. I hope that it makes swift and successful progress to the statute book.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for setting out the rationale behind this Bill and for his time, and to his officials for providing a briefing. I am also grateful for the Library briefing and the briefings I have received from other organisations and people—three in favour of a ban and five against it.
This is an extremely important Bill, but it is also one over which we must keep a sense of proportion. There are circuses touring the country providing enjoyment to children and adults alike. As we have heard, only two of them contain performing wild animals. There is a world of difference between domesticated animals, such as dogs and horses, and wild animals, such as elephants and large cats.
I remember, as a primary schoolchild, responding to an advert in the local paper for free tickets to the circus in Bristol. I was successful—much to my mother’s horror, as she then had to accompany me. I loved the magical experience and for a long time afterwards secretly harboured an ambition to become a trapeze artist, although the thought of swinging by my teeth did worry me. I do not remember lions or tigers, but I do remember the wonder of the riders galloping around, balancing on the backs of the horses. Some noble Lords may remember the spectacle of lions and tigers performing inside wire cages to the crack of the keeper’s whip. That is certainly not something I would take my granddaughter to see under the guise of entertainment, but circuses—and society—have moved on. As a country, we, like many others, are far more conscious about animal welfare than we were in the past. I was very interested in the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about the plight of the white rhino. I have watched that on the television and been extremely saddened by it.
A travelling circus does just that. It travels around the British countryside from location to location, providing entertainment for families in accessible local venues at a reasonable cost. Travelling circuses allow children access to animals that many of them may never have experienced before. As we all know, animals have distinctive smells; their fur, feathers and manes are distinctive. For those children who live in inner cities and urban areas, and for whom the only experience of animals is from television programmes, the sight and smell of the real thing can be mesmerising. There are thousands of families for whom the cost of a trip to the zoo will be way beyond their means, especially if they have to take into account the travelling costs as well, but for whom the local circus might just be within their means.
I was not expecting to have to defend my party’s policy, which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to. That policy was formulated in 2003. Things have moved on since then. While I am in favour of this Bill and will support it, we need to be careful that we are not setting a precedent which could see all animals banned from circuses. This in turn would have implications for very many legitimate pastimes which involve what we class as domesticated animals. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Byford, have touched on this issue. We need to be careful about babies and bathwater.
One fairly obvious thing, sadly, is that an enormous amount of misinformation has been circulated by both sides of those lobbying us prior to this debate. When talking to one of my colleagues on the Benches about the Bill, they were under the impression that elephants and wild cats were still performing in UK circuses and that other animals were kept in wire cages. They had got this from YouTube and Facebook. As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, it is not the case. We are dealing with just 19 animals; we have heard that they are six reindeer, four camels, four zebras, two racoons, one fox, one macaw and one zebu. These animals have all been bred in captivity for generations. Those that graze are let out to do so in open paddocks and do not perform tricks. They are led around the circus arena by a halter for the audience to see. The animals are well cared for by their keepers.
As others have said, we need to be absolutely clear that this Bill is not an animal welfare one. It is about the ethics of keeping in travelling circuses animals which are not naturally domesticated in the UK. Just as horses and dogs in the UK are domesticated and trained to be useful to their owners, so zebu, camels and reindeer perform the same function in their indigenous countries, as the noble Lord, Lord Trees, has said. I understand the passion of those on both sides of the argument but believe it is extremely unhelpful to demonise those who run and work in circuses, or for them to be personally intimidated and threatened in the way that the Animal Liberation Front and others have operated. Spreading misinformation and doctored videos also does absolutely nothing for the reputation of those involved. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, for listing the activities of some of those engaged in these undertakings.
Sensible, reasoned argument has to be the way forward. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, has given us a thoroughly professional view from the veterinary profession, and I too received the briefings to which he referred. We know that the vast majority of the public are behind the thrust of the Bill. When the Bill was in the Commons, concerns were raised about the definitions of a “travelling circus” and a “wild animal”; the powers of enforcement and inspection; and the welfare of the 19 animals after the ban comes into force. I believe the Minister has given reassurance about the term “travelling circus” and the Minister for Animal Welfare in the other place has also given assurance that detailed and clear guidance will be issued alongside this legislation when it comes into effect. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, about the impact of guidance; we need to see that.
I am surprised that previous speakers have not raised the issue of enforcement and inspection. I believe this was raised in the other place. What is currently in place are inspectors drawn from Defra’s list of zoo-licensing veterinary inspectors, all of whom are extremely competent and experienced people. The question is whether the police should accompany these inspectors when visiting the two circuses. These circuses, as we have heard, are already inspected on a fairly regular basis to ensure compliance with the current licensing regulations. I am sure that this is something we will return to in Committee. This leaves the very emotive question of what will happen to these 19 animals—bred in captivity, known, well cared for and loved by their owners and keepers—when
Lastly, I return to the issue of unintended consequences. We heard from the noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, who spoke so eloquently about this. The Library briefing referred to falconry displays and county shows. I would like to seek the reassurance received by the other place that these matters will be covered in the accompanying guidance to the Act. Can the Minister tell the House when this guidance will be available and whether it is to be circulated to circuses which operate in the UK? Much appears to hang on this guidance. It is vital that it is available long before
That said, I support the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the Bill today and for arranging a helpful briefing with civil servants beforehand. I say at the outset that we support the Bill, which, as several noble Lords have said, has been much delayed in its arrival. Nevertheless, we have it here now. It reflects the ban on wild animals in circuses, which has been our party’s policy for some time, and is virtually identical to a Private Member’s Bill that was co-sponsored by our shadow Secretary of State in the other place.
While the Bill’s arrival is of course welcome, it also highlights the Government’s lack of action on the broader issues of increasing penalties for animal cruelty and recognising animal sentience, which seem to be stuck in some sort of legislative limbo despite the cross-party support for urgent action on them which we know exists. While my noble friend Lady Mallalieu will not be surprised that I do not agree with much of what she said, I agree that if we were going to prioritise our activities properly, priority could have been given to a Bill on animal cruelty at this time.
While we pride ourselves on being a nation of animal lovers and having the most advanced animal welfare legislation, the truth is that on this issue we are falling behind many other nations. It is no surprise to hear that at least 30 other countries have already placed a ban on wild animals in circuses. As we heard from the Minister, it seems the main reason the Bill is being prioritised is that the existing Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012 are set to expire on
Not only is the Bill the right thing to do but, as noble Lords have said, it has huge public backing. Some 94% of the public supported the ban in the consultation carried out by the Labour Government in 2010. Most people are amazed to discover that wild animal performances are still allowed. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said that people think that wild animals are long gone, particularly lions and tigers, and therefore feel the issue has been resolved. But when people in this country are confronted with the reality, the vast majority say that they do not want wild animals in circuses. The Bill also has considerable support from animal welfare organisations, which have argued on ethical and welfare grounds that wild animals need a suitable environment to live in, with the ability to express normal patterns of behaviour and associate naturally with others of the same species, particularly if they are herd animals. Again, this was an argument that the Minister made.
It is impossible to imagine how life in a travelling circus, constantly being transported to new venues in cramped conditions, can ever replicate life in the natural world. Most people find it abhorrent that these animals are then expected to do tricks for our enjoyment. It is not surprising that the scientific review of the welfare issues for the Welsh Government in 2016 by Professor Stephen Harris concluded that wild animals in travelling circuses not only suffer poor animal welfare but do not have “a life worth living”.
I am of course aware that the circus operators are vehemently opposed to this Bill—several noble Lords referred to this—and I read their evidence to the Commons Committee with some interest. Although some of their statements was rather concerning, I do not doubt that they look after the animals in their care and have some affection for them. Circus owners also sought to complicate the interpretation of the Bill by describing their animals as exotic rather than wild. It is important that we pin down that definition so that no loopholes on that matter can occur. We may need to return to this matter at future stages of the Bill.
However, the circus owners also admitted that standards of animal treatment in circuses around the world vary enormously and that there is still a great deal of bad practice and suffering elsewhere. It is therefore important that we maintain high standards in the UK for any touring circus wishing to come here and display animals in this way. As a number of noble Lords have said, thankfully, we are talking about only a small number of animals in the UK being affected by this Bill—a total of 19 at last count—with no big cats or elephants currently involved, although, as I understand it, as recently as 2015, Chipperfield Circus was touring the UK with two lions and two tigers as part of that show.
My noble friend Lady Mallalieu portrayed the Bill as an attack on a long-standing tradition of travelling showmen. I disagree with her fundamentally; nobody is attempting to do that. The Bill will not affect circus owners’ operating model or their economic viability. Domesticated animals will still perform in their circuses. Furthermore, it could be argued that more people would be inclined to go if they felt assured about nature of the spectacle that they were about to see, which might boost attendances.
In the Commons, our colleagues raised a number of concerns that will need to be addressed during the passage of the Bill here—they have been echoed around the Chamber during this debate. First, there was concern that some circus owners would seek licences for a last big tour with wild animals, perhaps including big cats, prior to the implementation date of January 2020. Our proposal was for a moratorium on issuing new licences before that date, but there may be other ways to achieve it. The Minister may be able provide some helpful advice on what measures are in place to prevent this happening.
Secondly, the Bill allows for appointed inspectors to enforce this legislation—again, this issue was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. I seem to recall that during passage of the Ivory Bill a legal difficulty arose in relation to granting civilians the power to enter properties and make arrests. We need to ensure that the same problems do not occur here. Our proposal was for the powers in the Bill to extend explicitly to police constables. I know that the Minister partially addressed this matter in his opening speech, but it was not clear why the proposal for police constables to be written into the Bill has been rejected up until now.
Thirdly, we proposed that if a wild animal was found in a travelling circus in breach of the ban under this legislation, there should be an opportunity to remove the animal immediately to a safe place where it could be cared for properly with a view to rehoming it permanently. We know that a number of animal welfare organisations have already offered to provide such a service. Again, it would be helpful if the Minister could address that.
Finally, we sought to provide more clarity in the definition of a travelling circus to ensure that the common definition, which we would all recognise, could not be misinterpreted. I know that the Minister in the other place said that he planned to address this concern through guidance to back up the Bill. The Minister here has referred to the issue today, so it would be helpful if he could set out in more detail the timetable for producing the guidance. He mentioned that it would appear “in good time”, but I think we all know that “in good time” in respect of legislative processes could be a long, expanding Elastoplast.
As I said at the outset, we support the Bill and want to aid its passage through your Lordships’ House. It represents a symbol of our ethical commitment to strong animal welfare legislation in the UK and has huge public support. I can see that we are heading for an extended debate on the ethical grounds of this legislation at later stages of the Bill. I am happy to be part of that debate if noble Lords so desire. In his closing remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, began to recognise that this is only a small Bill and addresses only one ethical challenge. Of course, there are wider ethical challenges about how we treat animals to address in the future, but he did not particularly make the point that we should not cut off our nose to spite our face. There is a strong ethical reason for addressing this issue now and we can return to some of those wider issues on other occasions. While I listened to what he said with great interest, and he may well be right about a number of the other ethical challenges, this does not undermine the need for the Bill here and now.
In years to come, people will look back on our practice of subduing these increasingly rare animals and subjecting them to performing tricks for our entertainment with considerable disbelief. The time has come to address this issue, so I look forward to passing the Bill in a very short time. Indeed, I also look forward to passing all the other animal welfare Bills that we are still waiting patiently for priority to be given to. In the meantime, we support the Bill and will encourage its safe passage.
My Lords, this has been an extremely thought-provoking debate from the outset. This is a measure which is designed, at this stage, to manage 19 wild animals, but we have gone into a wider debate as well. It is very important from the Government’s point of view to acknowledge the contributions from the noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Bakewell, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and my noble friend Lady Byford, with all her farming experience.
There was concern about whether this could in any way be considered the first phase or step towards addressing what were described by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, as “legitimate” activities. As she said that, I thought about “One Man and His Dog”, falconry displays and, as a farmer, the grand parades at county shows, as well as the respect, love and responsibility we have for our animals. As a country person, the distinction I place is that this measure relates to the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. I want to place it on record that I utterly reject the extreme actions of those who believe that intimidation is how to get their way. I am absolutely certain that all noble Lords who spoke in this debate would not for one minute think that intimidation was the right way forward.
We have thought of this as being the right way forward over time. Indeed, it was in my party’s manifesto and I rather think it was in the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos. We have reached a time when we have an expression or a feeling that the use of wild animals in travelling circuses for our entertainment is not appropriate for those animals. I have no doubt about what the two circus operators have said, on record, about their regard and love for those animals. As I said, the animals were found to have been well cared for in welfare inspections.
This is about whether we should be thinking much more about wild animals having what I would describe as their natural behaviour and expression. I support this Bill for those reasons. I agree with my noble friend Lady Byford that this is about seeing wild animals in their proper environments. I put on record, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that we do not see this Bill as having unintended consequences. This is a measure that we thought should be introduced. We have thought that for some while; indeed, my noble friend Lady Byford referred to her endeavours in the 2006 parliamentary skirmishes. I should say to my noble friend Lady Anelay that this measure relates to England. The Welsh Government are bringing forward their own proposals and the Scottish Government have already gone forward.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Mallalieu and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, referred to the tigers and elephants of yesteryear. Indeed, there are circuses on the continent that still use these types of animals. The point is that without this legislation they could be reintroduced even under the current licensing regime. The Bill does not just stop the use of the 19 wild animals in question, it prevents others being added in the future—that is the point I should make.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, asked why the use of wild animals in travelling circuses is to be banned. Again, I ask whether these performances add anything to our understanding of conservation of wild animals. I go back to their natural behaviour. I think that wild animals in circuses, whether they are trained well or not, are trained for our entertainment and amusement. I am interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Trees, said about this and I am conscious of his veterinary expertise and the points made about the BVA, but that is my distinction.
A number of points were made about other legislation in the pipeline and the desire for it. I say to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Mallalieu, that I am fully seized of our commitment to increase sentences. This is something we wish to attend to and to introduce as soon as possible. I will say, because many of us are engaged, that Finn’s law, which has achieved Royal Assent, has very much strengthened the protection of animals. We are going to have a statutory instrument next week. In truth, we can have a bit of a political knockabout, but the noble Lord, Lord Trees, is right: actually, this Government have brought forward many modernising measures to ensure that animals are better cared for. On the point of sentience raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, we have been clear that we will introduce our animal sentience proposals after we leave the EU.
The fate of the 19 was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu. She used the term “get rid of them”. Actually, that is absolutely not what I understand from the operators of both circuses, who have placed it on record that the animals would either be rehomed, retired to their winter quarters or used in other work—for instance, there is television and film work. That will certainly not be banned by this legislation, which is about the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. It is right to acknowledge, as I do, that circus operators have placed on record their care for these animals: they have even referred to them as part of the family. So their future has been assured and that is important, because some are quite young. I was looking at the ages at some of the animals. Given the length of their captivity, some of them have a very long lifespan left.
I disagree, if I have it right, with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, on the use of animals such as dogs and horses in circuses and racing, provided that it is respectful and that animal welfare measures are there. We have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, some of the most impressive animal welfare legislation in the world. If there is no use for animals, they will no longer be bred. As we have unfortunately a much more mechanised world, many of the animals that we used for very heavy-duty work are no longer required—and thank goodness. We need to be thinking about the manner in which we use and respect them.
On the definition of “wild”, I would say to my noble friend Lady Fookes and the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, that we have sought to use an approach that is consistent with other legislation and the definition of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, as I said in my opening remarks. It is important to be consistent. The noble Lord, Lord Trees, and other noble Lords asked about the definition of “travelling circuses”. We have given this a lot of thought; indeed, the Scottish Government have also chosen not to define “circus” in their Act. We think that prescribing a definition of “circus” would open up the possible risk of future circus operators seeking to avoid prohibition.
Indeed, a contrary but wider view is that we also do not wish to prohibit wider ranges of activity than are strictly intended by the travelling circus. So the common-sense approach is to draw up clear guidance. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Bakewell, quite rightly said from the Opposition Benches, “Come on, we want a timescale on this”. I can confirm that we will publish guidance to the Bill by
My noble friend Lady Anelay also raised the question of Northern Ireland. As we all know, this is a devolved matter, and in the absence of a Government in Northern Ireland Defra officials spoke to officials in the Northern Ireland Administration. Those officials believed that,
“practical, administrative and policy considerations”,
meant that they did not feel that they wanted to participate in the Bill. However, I should say that at this time there are no travelling circuses touring Northern Ireland with wild animals, and the Republic of Ireland banned travelling circuses with wild animals last year. So officials felt that these considerations should wait until Ministers were back in place in Northern Ireland—and, of course, we all very much want the return of devolved arrangements in Northern Ireland.
My noble friend Lady Anelay also queried in a sense whether the two licensed travelling circuses could move to Northern Ireland. For these few months it is obviously a possible suggestion. That said, neither has travelled to Northern Ireland; that may well be to do with the costs involved and the distance from their winter quarters. Of course, animal welfare legislation in Northern Ireland would cover the welfare of any wild mammals there until such time as the Administration took a decision on whether to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. However, we have devolution and must respect that settlement, although the message is clear; the Republic has banned them, Wales is about to and Scotland already has. This is our legislative measure.
There are a number of other points. My noble friend Lady Anelay asked about seizure. The powers of seizure in the Bill are reserved for those powers necessary to prove the offence. We would never need to seize a wild animal to prove the offence, so we think that such a power would be disproportionate. If it were necessary to seize an animal in distress, Sections 18 and 19 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 already provide the appropriate powers. Indeed, Section 4 of the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 would also allow an unlicensed dangerous animal, as listed in that legislation, to be seized.
My noble friend Lady Anelay and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, referred to international matters. I wish to record that my noble friend did so much during her term at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to protect the planet’s most iconic species. Last year we hosted the largest ever illegal wildlife trade conference, bring together more than 70 countries. We are spending £26 million to protect and support wildlife across the globe.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about enforcement powers. Interestingly, it is a small Bill with a big schedule on enforcement. The Bill provides inspectors with powers to search for and gather evidence of an offence. Defra has approximately 50 inspectors appointed for zoo inspections, as I said. Several of them inspect the two circuses currently licensed by Defra to use wild animals. All inspectors are either qualified veterinarians or have extensive experience of working with captive animals. They will be experienced in identifying and, if need be, handling species of wild animal. We can draw on the existing list of inspectors if there is ever any need to gather evidence to prove the offence in the Bill. The offence will apply only to the operator of the circus—that is, the person with overall responsibility for the circus.
On the question of police constables, again, if an animal is in distress, the Animal Welfare Act already provides powers for the police to respond quickly. The schedule provides powers to search for evidence of the offence contained in Clause 1. This includes taking up to two persons with them on an inspection. Of course, one or both of those persons could be a police constable. Enforcement of Bills such as this often requires a specialism in wild animals—but, as I said, there is every opportunity, if need be, for a police constable to be part of that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, queried what might happen in these last months. Again, we believe that it is very unlikely that such tours could happen. I shall expand a bit on why. Travelling circuses tour during the summer months and typically return to their winter quarters at the end of October each year. Acquiring new animals and training them to perform a specific routine, which takes time, would normally occur at the winter quarters. It is therefore very unlikely that circuses would change their routine and add new animals to their performances mid-term and mid-tour. Given that a ban will be in place before the next touring season, it would make very little economic sense for circus owners to invest in new animals, enclosures and equipment now. Indeed, if they were to do so, there would have been nothing to stop them doing so before this touring season commenced.
The Government made clear when they published the review of interim licensing regulations that no more licences would be issued after January 2020. I assure the noble Baroness and your Lordships that, since the Bill was introduced on
This debate has been thought provoking. In many cases it has gone beyond what might happen to the 19 animals. It has included issues about the use of animals both wild and domesticated. I again say emphatically that the Government’s intent in this legislation is not to embark on further approaches to what we have all said on record are legitimate activities that respect animals. I beg to move.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.