Examination of Witnesses

Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 21st May 2019.

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Dr Ros Clubb, Daniella Dos Santos and Nicola O’Brien gave evidence.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee 9:28 am, 21st May 2019

Good morning, everyone. We will now hear oral evidence from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Veterinary Association, and Freedom for Animals. I remind all Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill, and that we must stick to the timings in the programme order the Committee has agreed. We have until 10.30 am for this session. Will the witnesses please introduce themselves for the record?

Nicola O'Brien:

My name is Nicola O’Brien. I am campaigns director at Freedom for Animals.

Dr Ros Clubb:

I am Ros Clubb. I am senior scientific manager in the wildlife department of the RSPCA.

Daniella Dos Santos:

I am Daniella Dos Santos. I am the junior vice-president of the British Veterinary Association.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

Thank you. I am happy to take questions.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Thank you for coming. There seems to be lots of cross-party agreement on the principle behind the Bill—that wild animals should not be in circuses for our entertainment—but we have some questions about the detail of the Bill, and in particular the definition of a travelling circus. They stem from the desire to make sure the Bill is as comprehensive as possible, to ensure that in the future there will be no wiggle room or loopholes. What is your view of the current definition in the Bill? Is it sufficient, or could it be tightened upQ ?

Dr Ros Clubb:

From the RSPCA’s perspective we are on the same line of thinking. We think it should be comprehensive, to capture the activities that are of concern, and that the public want ended—and that the RSPCA wants ended, as well. We favour a definition of a travelling circus very much in line with what is currently in the circus regulations that currently license wild animals in circuses. We favour a meaning of “travelling circus” as any company, group or institution that travels from place to place for the purpose of giving performances, displays or exhibitions, and as part of which wild animals are kept or introduced, whether for the purpose of performance, display or otherwise. Our main thinking is that we want the less formal display or exhibition of wild animals to be captured, meaning association with the circus and not necessarily just animals performing in the ring.

Nicola O'Brien:

We feel similar on that. Also, we feel that it has been working, obviously, with those businesses that have registered under the travelling circus regulations. It has been effective. It has not accidentally caught any other businesses that travel with animals for other purposes. We feel that that is a robust definition.

Daniella Dos Santos:

From the BVA’s perspective, while we are broadly in line, we have a slightly different take. We would support including the definition of a travelling circus in the Bill itself, but we would support a definition in line with that in the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018, so that there would be a cohesive understanding between them, and so that when it comes to implementation and enforcement there is no confusion about cross-border issues. We would favour a definition in line with the Scottish Act. Also, we feel that that would avoid unintended consequences for other types of animal displays that might move to temporary locations—for example, for educational purposes.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland

The RSPCA referred to the requirement for police constables to carry out checks and enforcement, as well as inspectors. Can you talk us through thatQ ?

Dr Ros Clubb:

Certainly. It is similar to the Scottish Act. The powers to enter premises and gather and seize evidence lie with inspectors as well as constables. We favour that approach. It would be in line with the powers under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It would give more flexibility. With temporary arrangements in relation to animal use, the police would be allowed to go in and investigate illegal activity and gather evidence. The RSPCA gets complaints about temporary events, and it is important to be able to get in there and gather evidence as they are going on. The police would be given that additional power to do so. If they needed expertise in terms of animal identification or anything along those lines, they could take a suitable expert with them.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland

Q What would be the consequences of not having police constables available to do that?

Dr Ros Clubb:

We feel it would be more restrictive in terms of what could be investigated. Also, if a complaint were made, presumably it would come to the Animal and Plant Health Agency, which would have to task it out to an inspector it had appointed. So while there would be a power to go and inspect, it would be more restrictive in terms of the availability of inspectors and their coverage across the country.

Photo of Trudy Harrison Trudy Harrison Conservative, Copeland

Q And the very nature of a travelling circus means that it is transient, so we must have people available there and then to inspect.

Dr Ros Clubb:

Exactly. Any illegal use of animals in that way might not be in the ring, or advertised on websites or in advertising material. It is probably more likely to be less obvious than that, and in association with the circus. It is very important to be able to get in there and gather that evidence while the circus is on site and the animals are there.

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury

What is the panel’s opinion on the current state of wild animals in circuses? Are the guidelines being enforced strongly enough?Q

Dr Ros Clubb:

From the RSPCA’s perspective, we did not agree with the introduction of licensing because we do not believe that the needs of animals can be met in a travelling circus. We were not in favour of that, and we do not think that deals with the situation at hand. The constant travelling, the temporary enclosures and the restrictions they place on the environment and husbandry you can provide for those wild animals are not suitable. When you look at the standards in the circus regulations, you see that they are very different from, for example, those for licensed zoos. An animal in a circus is treated very differently from the same animal in a zoo, and we do not think that is good enough.

Daniella Dos Santos:

I would second that. I do not think there is any way we can meet the welfare needs of wild animals in a travelling circus situation. They have very particular welfare needs and, by the nature of a circus, where they are constantly moving, the spaces they are provided with have to be smaller and more portable. Therefore, you are not going to meet their needs. Because of the requirements of performing and so on, their day-to-day routines are not going to be adhered to. Therefore, that may impact on their diet and so on. We would say their needs cannot be met under any circumstances.

Nicola O'Brien:

We would say something very similar. I do not have anything to add on that.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

I am a great supporter of this Bill and supported the proposal when it was made in a private Member’s Bill promoted by Q my hon. Friend Will Quince. May I check a couple of things? They may seem a little peripheral. First—this may sound the maddest question of all—are all circuses across Europe travelling by definition, or are there any permanently located circuses?

Nicola O'Brien:

When we reviewed this a few years ago, there were two establishments in the UK that had been classed as circuses by their local authority. They had a theme park set-up and did not have an attached zoo, but they did have a sea lion show. They were deemed by the local authority to be circuses because they did not meet the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 requirements on numbers of animals and on animals being out on display all the time. I believe one of them has closed down; I am not sure of the current legal situation of the other location, but it has not changed, grown or added to its animal collection, so we believe it would still not meet the requirements of the Zoo Licensing Act. That is, to our knowledge, the only one in England.

Dr Ros Clubb:

That is also my understanding of the situation.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

Q Ms Dos Santos, in answer to an earlier question you referenced educational purposes. Will you clarify where you think pony rides, donkey rides and falconry displays sit? Although those animals are not travelling long distances regularly, they do a huge amount of travelling in the season. Would you like to see those things included in the scope of the Bill, or are we best to leave that for another time?

Daniella Dos Santos:

My feeling would be that they would not come under this Bill, because ultimately those animals would have a permanent place to call home with appropriate facilities and appropriate housing, and with their environmental needs met. The travelling they do would be to go from the home environment to a display and back again, rather than being constantly on the move.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

Q You are satisfied that they are effectively outwith the scope of the Bill.

Daniella Dos Santos:

I believe so, yes.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

Q My final question speaks to Mrs Harrison’s question but it relates to inspectors. Inspectors are only as good as their powers. One thinks about the debate about police constables and police community support officers, for example. Do you envisage that there is enough under either the proposals or existing inspectory powers for inspectors to be able to go in and see each and every part of a travelling circus to satisfy themselves, and that they have the weapons and armoury to act in a speedy and expeditious way should they find a breach of what we hope will be the Act?

Dr Ros Clubb:

From our perspective, we would like to see a couple of additional powers. We have talked about one already in terms of extending powers to constables as well as appointed inspectors.

Dr Ros Clubb:

Yes. We would also like the power to seize an animal—that has been specifically excluded from the powers—so that if there is an issue, there is an opportunity to remove the animal from the situation rather than leave it there while an offence is being committed. We would also like to see more powers for the court to deprive someone of ownership of an animal, if it decides to do so.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

Q On the issue of seizing an animal, I can understand how one might be able to seize a racoon, a fox or a squirrel. However, If it was something larger—for example, a camel—or if somebody was seriously in breach of the Act, one then has to think about the resources of high-welfare standards for kennelling purposes, in a general sense. I do not detect that there is a resource out there. People who have to round up dogs have enough difficulty. Were one to move in that direction, how do you meet that challenge?

Dr Ros Clubb:

We would envisage that to be rarely used, but we think the powers should be there. There are powers under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 to seize animals that are kept without licence, which would cover the larger, more dangerous creatures. We have worked with organisations to remove animals of a zoo-type nature and board them, obviously looking at the provisions and whether the welfare of the animal will be at a reasonable level if we remove it.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

Can I ask everyone to speak up? This is a dreadful room for acoustics. It would be really helpful. I am certainly struggling at this end of the table. I am sure everyone must be having the same problem.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

Is that an invitation to repeat all my questions?

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

I was leaning forward to make sure that I could hear everything. My apologies for the room. The microphones are at their maximum, so there is nothing else I can do except ask people to speak up. A lady at the back has also indicated that she cannot hear, so it is not just me.

If Members have one or two questions that they want to run together, I am more than happy for them to do so. You do not have to limit yourself to one. Equally, if you want to come back later with another question, I am happy with that.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Shadow Minister (Waste and Recycling)

Some of the people who argue that we should not pass the Bill or that we should water it down say that we need to be much stricter about the definition of wild animals. In particular, they say that if animals are born and bred and live all their lives in a circus environment and know nothing else, it is wrong for us to take them away from that environment. What is your view of the animal welfare of animals that are born and bred in a circus environment and have lived there all their livesQ ?

Nicola O'Brien:

There are, perhaps, animals that find themselves born and bred into a situation that is not in their best interests. That does not mean that is all they know and therefore a situation that they should remain in. When a wild animal is born in captivity, it is still a wild animal with the same needs as its counterparts living in the wild. What matters is the fact that the environment is limited and does not provide that wild environment, not whether that is all they have ever known. The aim should be to give those animals the best that we can give them. If we deem that a circus environment does not meet those needs, that is what is important, and removing them from that situation into a better situation is the aim of this, ultimately.

Dr Ros Clubb:

We are in agreement that whether an animal is born in a circus environment or in the wild, it is fundamentally the same animal biologically and has the same needs. We are satisfied with the definition of “wild animal” in the Bill, because it is very close to the definition used in the Zoo Licensing Act, which has been well used and well understood for many years; this definition will provide parity with another piece of legislation. We are satisfied with the definition as long as it is clear that an animal born in captivity is not domesticated; it still falls within the definition of a wild animal.

Daniella Dos Santos:

We also agree on the definition of “wild animal”. Just because a wild animal is born in captivity does not make it domestic. It takes generations for an animal to become a domesticated animal. And a wild animal born in captivity will not necessarily have a life worth living, so we are not meeting their welfare needs. I do not think it is a justification: just because an animal is born in captivity does not mean that that is the best that we as a society can offer them.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Shadow Minister (Waste and Recycling)

Q What would you say to the argument that because animals are used for other purposes in other countries, that means that it is all right to use them to perform tricks in circuses in this country?

Daniella Dos Santos:

We have a duty to lead. We have a duty to set out good animal welfare legislation and be at the forefront of animal welfare. It reflects directly on how we, as a human society, will respond to other humans and animals in our care. Just because something is occurring in a different country is not a justification for it happening here. I do think we need to put animal welfare above all else.

Dr Ros Clubb:

In terms of the definition of “wild animal”, if an animal is not commonly domesticated in this country, we agree it should fit within that definition of a wild animal. The animals are not commonly kept as domesticated species, so they should fall within the “wild” category.

Nicola O’Brien:

We have nothing to add, really.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

Each of you has made the very good point that this is about travelling circuses; we need to have effective legislation, as people move around the country. And you have mentioned the Scottish definition and how you feel that it would be beneficial if this Bill were to include that definition. It is my understanding that the Welsh Assembly has a draft Bill as well, so could you comment on the draft Bill and how compatible you feel that that is with the Scottish legislation and potentially this BillQ ?

Dr Ros Clubb:

In terms of a comparison with the Scottish Act, there are a number of differences, one of which is that, on the definition of “travelling”, that Act goes into a bit more detail. There is also a quite detailed guidance document that goes along with the Act. We would like to see a similarly detailed guidance document to go along with England’s Act, to help to provide the background in terms of what is and is not covered. Scotland’s Act includes powers for constables to go into premises and to gather and seize evidence, which we would like to see in England’s Bill. My understanding from the Welsh draft Bill that we have seen is that it is more similar to Scotland’s Act. It would be beneficial if there were parity between the Acts across those three areas, because the circuses are travelling, as you say. Some of that could be done within the Act itself, but there is also that route of providing additional guidance to help to marry up the pieces of legislation.

Nicola O’Brien:

Again, we do not have much to add to that. Fundamentally, the Acts will have the same impact as to where the circuses can be and what they can do, in terms of using animals or not, so we feel that the pieces of legislation match up quite well, but again, we would include the comments made by the RSPCA.

Daniella Dos Santos:

My only extra comment would be that the more parity that there is, the less likelihood there is for any confusion when it comes to cross-border implementation and enforcement.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

Q What is really reassuring, from what you say, is that this can be dealt with either in the Bill or in guidance, and clarity and consistency can be achieved. You mentioned Scotland, and we have had a discussion about the role of the police in enforcement. It is my understanding that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs inspectors have an important role to play in animal welfare. Would you comment on that and whether you feel that anything more could be considered alongside this Bill, in terms of the powers that the DEFRA animal welfare inspection regime has?

Dr Ros Clubb:

From our understanding, the intention is for this Bill to appoint inspectors. We envisage something similar to what is happening with licensing; inspectors drawn from the zoo inspectorate have been appointed and have powers, as described in the Bill, to go into premises, inspect them, and seize and gather evidence. I envisage that that is what is planned. We would like those powers extended to constables as well, so that there is additional flexibility and power to go into temporary venues at short notice, to investigate potentially illegal activity.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

Before we proceed, I remind everyone that it can be tempting to think of this session as a personal conversation between the person asking the question and the person replying. The rest of us would like to be involved. When you ask a question, please make sure that I can hear it—and everyone else at this end of the room—and also when giving the replies. Especially with women, there is tendency to lower the voice; do not do that. Just pretend you are a man and yell.

Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton Conservative, Truro and Falmouth

Q I want to come back to the point about the DEFRA inspections. DEFRA has a huge amount of expertise on animal welfare and has teams looking at the misuse of farm animals, as well as domesticated animals. Why do you feel that additional powers need to be given to the police over and above those that DEFRA animal welfare officers have?

Dr Ros Clubb:

Really, to our mind it is about having flexibility and swiftness to go and investigate reports of illegal activity and breaches of this legislation, so that the police would have the powers to go in and investigate as well. We agree that there is a lot of expertise there, but we think it could be extended. Hopefully, there will not be frequent reported breaches of the legislation, but where there are we would like them investigated swiftly and thoroughly, with the powers that are in that area, as well as the appointed inspectors under the Bill.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

OneQ of the things we were constantly told as we discussed this issue in Parliament over the last eight years, was that we could not introduce a ban because the EU would not let us. Now, 16 EU countries have—I hope—successfully introduced a ban. Can you tell us how it has worked in those countries? Has there been any need for enforcement or has the law been complied with? Are there any lessons we can learn from how those EU countries have done it?

Nicola O'Brien:

If I am honest, I do not know much about that. We have been focused on the UK. Perhaps other panel members here or in the next session, such as Animal Defenders International, would have data about that.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Labour, Bristol East

Q Presumably, if it had been problematic it would have been more likely to have reached your attention than if it had worked well.

Nicola O'Brien:

Yes, of course. In terms of us viewing the situation, it seems that circuses no longer have wild animals in those countries where bans have been implemented.

Dr Ros Clubb:

That is our understanding as well. Up to 19 other countries in Europe have now introduced bans and there are 30 around the world. The situation varies hugely across the different countries, with many having many more circuses with wild animals than we do, but we are not aware of any enforcement issues in those countries.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

Before I proceed, gentlemen, if any of you are finding it close in here, please feel free to take your jackets off.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Tell me how I can ask this question, because it slightly relates to my own patch but I suspect it might relate to other places as well. I represent an island and we have lots of lovely falconers on the island. They do great shows in the summer but they sometimes also travel with their birds to the mainland. I do not know if I am asking you or whether I am just highlighting a point for the civil service team. I have assumed the definition of a travelling circus and it includes irregular or regular travelling. If it is irregular travelling, at what point do falconers, be they in Scotland or from the Isle of Wight, risk becoming a travelling circus? I would not want this law to be used against those people, first, because they are my constituents and secondly, because that is not the purpose of this law. Are we assuming that the definition of travelling circus is tight enough not to be used against people such as falconers, who might go and spend a night or two away from home with their birds?Q

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

The questions are specifically for the witnesses and not for the civil servants.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Q I am sure the civil servants have heard. Would the witnesses like to comment?

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

Our attention should be on the witnesses.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Q Thank you so much for your guidance, as ever.

Dr Ros Clubb:

One of the reasons we would like a bit more guidance on the definition is to be clear about what is and is not out of scope. Scotland’s Act has guidance that has a list of activities that are specifically excluded. We would envisage falconry displays as you described them being captured within this legislation. As you say, it is not the intent of this Bill and we think that should be covered elsewhere. It is not that we are not concerned about falcons and other raptors being used in that way, but we do not think it is within the scope of this Bill.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Q So you want greater clarity. You are saying that the list—I have not seen the list—means that falconry is specifically excluded in the Scottish Act. You would like to see that same list applied to this Bill as well.

Dr Ros Clubb:

In order to alleviate any concerns about activities being covered that are not intended to be, it would be useful to have some guidance around the scope and that would belong in guidance.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Q What is your opinion on falconry? Do you think it is cruel the way people train hawks and other hunting bird species for these shows?

Dr Ros Clubb:

It very much depends how it is done in our experience. We approach it as we would any other animal welfare issue, looking at how it is done, how the animals are kept, whether they are flown sufficiently. There are some concerning aspects of the practice in terms of restriction of normal behaviour, but we understand that it varies very much with who is doing that practice. Within the legislation we are discussing, we do not see that being covered.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Q Can you see the RSPCA calling for the ban of falconry at some point in the next decade or so, or is that not on your horizon at all?

Dr Ros Clubb:

It is not on the horizon as far as I am aware.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Q Having read your evidence, clearly we are all mindful of the point about circuses preventing wild animals from roaming, especially larger ones and so on. Is there the same strong case for small animals? There are very few numbers of travelling circus animals in this country. There are 19, I think, of which two are raccoons. Raccoons are not the same as zebra and much larger animals. They still need space but, if they are semi-tame, do they occupy the same moral ground as larger animals, in your opinion?

Daniella Dos Santos:

They are still wild animals. Size should not come into the discussion of whether we are meeting their welfare needs. We are still not going to meet their behavioural or their enrichment needs in a travelling circus situation. Granted, the portable exhibits may be more suited to an animal of that size, but ultimately, we are still not meeting their welfare needs.

Nicola O'Brien:

A large part of why we are here discussing this and considering a ban is that people are not comfortable with seeing wild animals being used in circuses. It does not matter what species they are; it is more about the fact that, although there are arguments about their welfare needs not being met in the environment, a large part of this is that people do not think we should use animals like that anymore.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Q You are assuming 100% that that is likely. You say “people” think that—I would agree that a lot of people do, but I am not sure everybody does. You are slightly assuming that it is everybody.

Nicola O'Brien:

Fair enough—not everybody, but going on the consultations carried out by the Government, and in Scotland and Wales, there is wide-ranging support for the Bill. That has already been discussed by Members. We have worked on this issue for 60 years—not me personally but the organisation has. The interactions we are having with people about this issue show strongly held beliefs that animals should not be used in this way, for welfare reasons but also relating to the use of wild animals in these environments.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Q We have a fantastic zoo on the Island, which has some tigers that came from fairly horrible travelling circuses. I understand that the conditions they have now are much better than the conditions they had then. We know that there is a strong case for not having wild animals in circuses; are you saying there is enough of a gap between how well circuses treated animals and how well zoos treat animals, so we do not have the same problems letting animals be themselves in zoos? Does that question make sense? Do you see what I am trying to get at? Do zoos meet the required standard for caring and looking after animals compassionately, especially regarding the space arguments?

Dr Ros Clubb:

I think they have the facilities to do so far more than a circus does, because of the fact that they are permanent. I do not think that applies in zoos in their entirety—they very much vary across facilities—but they certainly have the ability to meet the animals’ needs much more than a travelling circus.

Daniella Dos Santos:

An environment that is more permanent can be better adapted to meet an animal’s welfare needs than an environment that is constantly on the move. To pick up on the earlier point about the challenge that not everyone agrees, following a public consultation after Scotland introduced its Act, 98% of respondents backed the ban in Scotland, which is quite a large percentage of the public.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q After the Second Reading debate when we talked about the 19 wild animals, I had a message from someone that asked, “Are they going to be destroyed or rehomed? What about the fox—how do you rehome a fox?” That was an interesting question because it showed that as a nation of animal lovers, we are concerned about what will happen to those 19 animals. Currently there is no provision in the Bill that prevents animals from being destroyed if taken off their owners. Is that something that you think is necessary, or are you sure that there are enough good homes out there for the zebus, zebras and raccoons, so they can be rehomed in a safe and decent way?

Dr Ros Clubb:

The RSPCA has offered many times to help to rehome the wild animals that are currently used. We reiterate that offer. We do not believe that there would be a need to put any animals to sleep. Obviously, we are as concerned as members of the public about the fate of those animals. We feel they should be rehomed, and our concern is that they will continue to travel with the circus but not made to perform. From a welfare perspective, we have real concerns about their being put through regular transport, being kept in temporary accommodation and all the other issues we have with that.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q Can I ask about the seizure of animals? In your written evidence you talked about the ability to deprive those convicted of the offences of the animals. It is implicit in the Bill that wild animals should not be kept after the Bill becomes law, but there is no provision in there to authorise the taking of those animals from their current owners. Do you think that requirement should be in the Bill, to make that crystal clear so that there is no doubt that current owners of wild animals should not have them after the Bill comes into force?

Dr Ros Clubb:

We would like it written into the Bill that animals could not continue to tour. We understand that that will lead to the deprivation of ownership of animals, and legally that might be tricky, but we are concerned that allowing traveling circuses to continue to keep and travel around with those wild animals does not deal with the welfare issues for those particular animals—although it would potentially stop more animals coming into that situation—or the risk of illegal use along the way. The definition we suggested would prevent those, but we understand that it might be tricky to get that written into the legislation.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q This was picked up in the answer that Nicola gave a moment ago about public views towards this. My sense from the research and the consultation that the last Labour Government did on this, albeit a decade ago, is that there is massive overwhelming public support for this actually being put into law. From your point of view, and from the experience of Scotland and other countries that have done this, is there a reaction afterwards? Are the general public coming back and saying, “Where are the zebras in the circus display?”? They are actually supportive of this?

Nicola O'Brien:

We have not had anything like that, and I do not think there has been any large public uproar or any need for a review. This is something that people have wanted. In fact, we find that most people think it is already banned. They are really surprised when we talk about this Bill being another great opportunity to come and discuss this industry and to perhaps ban it. They think, “Wasn’t this banned a long time ago?” That is probably because there has been political activity over the years and we have seen such a decline in the number of wild animals being used in circuses and the number of circuses offering those animals. So yes, we think it is going smoothly and is what people want.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water)

Q Have you seen a movement of animals from countries that have implemented bans, such as Scotland, into countries that have not? Would this effectively encourage a trade in circus animals, such as raccoons being shipped from England to a country that would continue to allow them to be exhibited in circuses?

Nicola O'Brien:

I do not believe any circuses using wild animals were based in Scotland—very occasionally one would travel up—so I do not think it is possible to see that effect. I guess in Ireland, where there is a ban, some of those circuses have moved on, so yes, I guess that is a potential outcome.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

ToQ look at some of the practical applications of this, in relation to your answer to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, in Scotland—my knowledge relates to the operation of this in a Scottish context—there would be a general power of forfeiture at the end of a prosecution, made on the motion of the prosecutor. Would you not have the same power in England?

Dr Ros Clubb:

My understanding is that, as the legislation is currently written, we would not. For example, I think there are powers of forfeiture in the Fur Farming (Prohibition) Act 2000, so we would be looking for a similar kind of deprivation.

Dr Ros Clubb:

Yes.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q Thank you, that is helpful. To pick up the point that the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth made about the interaction between DEFRA inspectors and police constables, is it your understanding that in practical terms operating DEFRA inspectors will get new powers under this Bill?

Dr Ros Clubb:

That is my understanding.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q In practical terms, is it not the case that their inspections will for the most part be focused on animal welfare considerations, rather than on prosecution?

Dr Ros Clubb:

If the same inspectors who are operating under the circus licensing regulations are involved, they very much go and inspect to check that the standards are being met as outlined in those regulations. The question is whether that would proceed to a prosecution. That is a question we have: if there were signs of illegal use and evidence of use, who would make that call?

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q The point I am driving at is that there is a difference between someone focusing on acquiring evidence, if that is the main purpose of their job—as it would be for a police constable—and the approach that might be taken by somebody whose primary concern and function relates to the maintenance of animal welfare standards. I do not want to put words in your mouth but, for the benefit of the written record, you need to give me some.

Dr Ros Clubb:

I see your point. Yes.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q Also, in practical terms, is it not the case that a lot of the time we will at least need to take a multi-agency approach? If you are a DEFRA inspector going into a situation, you may want police constables in attendance with you. Is that also fair comment?

Dr Ros Clubb:

Yes, that is fair.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Q If you have people there exercising functions under the Act, does it not make good sense for everybody to have powers to gather evidence in the normal way?

Dr Ros Clubb:

Yes.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip

Q Thank you very much for your contributions, which are much appreciated. When DEFRA carried out its public consultation, 95% of the public supported a ban. I am interested in your views, either anecdotally or through any other survey data that you have seen, on whether the public’s view has changed significantly since that time, which was 10 years ago.

Daniella Dos Santos:

I would say that most people think there already is a ban; their belief is that this not happening any more. I would suggest there has been no significant change in public support.

Dr Ros Clubb:

From the public opinion polls that we have seen over the years, support has remained at a similar level. The majority, when questioned, believe that there should be a ban. Anecdotally and from talking to people, including our supporters, many people believe that a ban has already been passed and are not even aware that this practice is still allowed to continue.

Nicola O'Brien:

As I said before, people are surprised that we are still talking about this and that all animals are not banned in circuses. People are really surprised that there has not been legislation in England on this yet. We have seen an increase in frustration that there is not a ban in place yet. We think public opinion is still as strong. Again, the consultations carried out in Wales and Scotland more recently show wide public support for a ban.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip

Q Questions have been raised around seizures and disqualification. Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, there are powers for seizure. This Bill would be based on a rationale of ethics, as we discussed on Second Reading. If there are any animal welfare issues, the enforcement powers would be available to seize the animal under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The courts are also empowered to disqualify those who have held those animals. Notwithstanding your concerns, those are strong powers. Do you accept that they will have some real weight in this area?

Dr Ros Clubb:

We accept that those powers exist and, where there is evidence of animal welfare issues in contravention of the Animal Welfare Act, those powers could come into play. We absolutely accept that. Similarly, there are powers of seizure for species that fall under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976. Our concern is if neither of those apply, something might fall between the cracks. Our angle is to be consistent and ensure that any illegal use can be addressed with those powers.

Photo of David Rutley David Rutley Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), Government Whip

Q There has been a lot of discussion around travelling circuses in Scotland and Wales. The Governments there—in their various stages of taking this legislation through—have not felt the need to define what a circus is, and neither did the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee when it was dealing with its evidence. Should we have a different approach here?

Daniella Dos Santos:

From the BVA’s perspective, our issue is that the meaning of “travelling circus” is not defined in the Bill. We would support the inclusion in the Bill of a definition in line with the one used in the Scottish Bill.

Dr Ros Clubb:

From our perspective, our main concern is to ensure that the activities meant to be captured by this are captured. Part of that could be covered in statutory guidance, if it was associated with the Bill, to ensure that the less formal use of animals associated with circuses is captured and that there is more guidance around what is meant by “travelling circus”.

Nicola O'Brien:

I have nothing further to add.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

BirdsQ are covered by the Bill because the Animal Welfare Act 2006 defines an animal as being a vertebrate. Is that correct?

Dr Ros Clubb:

Yes that is correct.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Q Are there any birds that would still be able to perform in a travelling circus if this Bill was passed?

Dr Ros Clubb:

Using the definition of “wild animal”, some species that fell outwith the definition could potentially be used in travelling circuses if they wished to use them. The guidance under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 gives examples of species that are and are not covered within the definition of wild animal. Presumably that would be used in a similar way to define the species that could be used in a travelling circus.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Q Would that be birds that are commonly kept as pets, such as budgerigars and parrots?

Dr Ros Clubb:

They are considered to be domesticated.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Q What about birds used in magic shows such as doves? Would they be covered?

Dr Ros Clubb:

I would not envisage magic shows as falling within the definition of travelling circuses. Those animals could potentially be covered by licensing of exhibited animals in England, were there to be a business being made out of that, if they met those criteria.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Q So they could be covered by the Bill?

Dr Ros Clubb:

I would not envisage that they would be covered by the Bill.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Q Falconry displays go back to the middle ages and are long-established events. Is falconry and keeping a falcon equivalent to domesticating a falcon or not?

Dr Ros Clubb:

In terms of the domestication process, it is the selective breeding of animals for a particular purpose and fundamentally changing the physiology and behaviour of that species. We would not envisage that animals used in falconry would fit that definition.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Q They would remain wild. In your evidence from the RSPCA, you suggest that you wanted a wider definition of “travelling circus” to include any company or group that travels from place to place to give performances, displays or exhibitions involving wild animals either being kept or introduced for display. If that definition was adopted, why would that not include the sort of activity referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight: falconers from the Isle of Wight doing shows on the mainland?

Dr Ros Clubb:

From our perspective, the key difference between those activities is that animals are generally returning to a permanent home base between shows or displays. From an animal welfare perspective, one of the issues is animals being used in travelling circuses, because it is much easier to provide for those animals’ needs in a permanent facility.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Q If a travelling circus did a deal with one of the falconers in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight to do some shows, introducing the falconry exhibition as part of the show, would that be covered by this Bill?

Dr Ros Clubb:

I would think so, because it would be part of the circus.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Q If one of those falconers decided, rather than travelling back to the Isle of Wight every night, to make arrangements with farmers to put birds in a particular aviary overnight and do a tour, would they be covered by the Bill?

Dr Ros Clubb:

That is where the guidance would need to come in. If the desire was to exclude those activities, they would have to be listed as out of scope. Animals are used in many different ways in exhibition and performance, so what is within scope needs to be as clear as possible.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Q Is it not true that if your definition of a travelling circus was included, it would make it more likely that falconers would be covered?

Dr Ros Clubb:

If they are not coming back to a home base but travelling from one place to another, then yes.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

Q But you are still arguing that the wider definition that you give in paragraph 3.2 of your evidence—a definition that is not in the Bill—is needed. You want that.

Dr Ros Clubb:

Yes, we would like that. If that is not feasible—we do not want to hold up the passage of this Bill, which is very much needed and is something that the RSPCA has campaigned on for decades—there could be scope to provide additional guidance and statutory guidance associated with the Bill to further outline what activities are in scope.

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald Conservative, North East Hertfordshire

I am a strong supporter of this Bill, but I just wanted to find out where we are with birds.

Photo of Anna Turley Anna Turley Labour/Co-operative, Redcar

Thank you very much for your evidence this morning. It is clear that there is support for the Bill not only in Parliament but in the wider public, as we have heard. Given that you here to give evidence and given your level of expertise, can you remind us of the reason and purpose of this Bill? Please set out as specifically as you can the impact that being in circuses has on the welfare and mental and physical health of wild animals. Why are we here? Why is the Bill behind public opinion? Can you reiterate from an evidence-based, veterinary perspective why it is wrong to have wild animals in circusesQ ?

Daniella Dos Santos:

There are a couple of points. Wild animals have complex instinctive natural behaviour patterns. The nature of the travelling circus—when they are being moved from one place to another, without a fixed, permanent habitat—means that they cannot exhibit their natural behaviours. As I mentioned, the enclosures that they are provided with are often far too small for them to exhibit natural behaviours.

Also, performing for human gratification is not a natural behaviour. From a psychological perspective, that is a serious issue for these animals. They will be working to timetables and shows. Some of these animals may be nocturnal or need to eat at certain times of day, or even all day. Their eating and dietary patterns will be altered. They will also have social grouping or isolation requirements, depending on the species. As a consequence of circuses moving these animals from place to place, often either they are not housed appropriately, in a socially complex structure—zebras should have a socially complex structure—or they are housed in inappropriate groups, because it is easier to house them closer together and so on. Prey and predator species might be living in close proximity, which puts them under an undue amount of stress as well.

Dr Ros Clubb:

I agree with that point. We would argue that there is quite a lot of evidence about what wild animals need and what is bad for their welfare in general terms. There is extensive research showing that regular transport and barren temporary enclosures are bad for welfare. The most recent study, commissioned by the Welsh Government from the University of Bristol researchers, cites extensive evidence that life in a travelling circus will not provide a good life for those animals and that their welfare needs cannot be met. The evidence has always been there but has very much come to the fore. The public wants to see animals treated well. Times have changed; we can see from opinion polls that people do not want to see wild animals in circuses any more.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

We have five minutes left for this panel. I currently have five Members who wish to ask a question, and I intend to take those who have not yet done so. May I please ask everyone to be succinct?

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

On the points you made about human gratification and being moved from place to place, how far does that go? Although Q horses, for example, are not wild animals, they are ridden, used for human gratification and moved around to races for three-day events. Is that inherently cruel?

Daniella Dos Santos:

The scope of the Bill is specifically about wild animals. The use of domesticated animals is a completely different discussion to be had. Here, the point to focus on is that these are wild animals, not domesticated ones.

Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Conservative, Cheltenham

Q Just on that point, is there a distinction, in that wild animals would feel more traumatised than domesticated animals?

Daniella Dos Santos:

Domesticated animals have come to be under the care of humans for generations, have been bred to exhibit traits that we find useful and find life under the influence of humans less stressful than a wild animal would.

Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Labour, Lewisham West and Penge

You talk very compellingly about wild animals in circuses and their welfare. There is nothing in the Bill about domesticated animals in circuses. Do you have any views about whether that should be in scope, or whether there are welfare needs of domesticated animals that are not currently addressedQ ?

Nicola O'Brien:

Our organisation feels that those should also be banned from circuses. We feel that there are welfare needs of domestic animals that, again, are difficult to meet in a circus environment. The transportation—the loading and off-loading, and being transported—has its impact. A large part of the Bill is about ethics, and we feel that people are uncomfortable with animals being used in circuses, full stop, not necessarily with whether they are wild or domesticated. There is probably a difference: they are probably more concerned about wild animals because of their wild nature and freedom. There is definitely the argument that domestic animals are more suited to being around humans in the kind of environments that we house them in. However, we also recognise that the Bill is about wild animals. That was the question put to the public in the consultation—that is the focus for today—but this is something that we would also like to see prohibited in future.

Dr Ros Clubb:

From the RSPCA’s perspective, we also have a position against the use of any animal in circuses. We have concerns because of issues such as the travelling, temporary enclosure and so on, of domestic animals. As Nicola said, in some cases the concern is probably less, because they are more adapted to a captive environment; nevertheless, concerns remain. We are very much minded that this legislation is focused on wild animals. That is where the opportunity lies to make change.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Shadow Minister (Waste and Recycling)

Q I want to ask quickly about the problem that might arise if there is nothing in the Bill about the seizure of the animals and care for them afterwards. There was an allegation in the evidence we have been sent that, after the ban was introduced in Mexico, a large number of animals were destroyed. Do you think that powers to seize animals and ensure that they are properly cared for afterwards would be important parts of any Bill that was going to protect the animals?

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

Single-word answers and quickly, please.

Daniella Dos Santos:

Yes, we would welcome guidance.

Dr Ros Clubb:

Yes, we would also welcome that.

Nicola O'Brien:

Yes.

Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

That brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions—we really do count it down in seconds in this place. I thank the witnesses on behalf of the Committee for their evidence and Committee members for being so tolerant and withdrawing questions at the end.