Prohibition on use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England

Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 22nd May 2019.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (Fisheries, Flooding and Water) 9:25 am, 22nd May 2019

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 2, line 3, at end insert—

“‘travelling circus’ means a company or group of entertainers which (i) travels, whether regularly or irregularly, from place to place for the purpose of giving performances, displays or exhibitions, and (ii) as part of which animals may be kept or introduced (whether for the purpose of performance, exhibition, display or otherwise).”

This amendment would ensure the inclusion of circuses which tour venues other than a traditional circus tent, or which use animals for exhibition or display away from the circus site, or which do not regularly travel.

It is good to see hon. Members back in their places for another fun sitting. I am not sure this sitting will be as exciting as yesterday’s second evidence session, but I will try to make it as enjoyable as I can for everyone involved. This is an important piece of legislation to free the 19 wild animals currently used for human entertainment in British circuses.

The Opposition’s amendment 1 would insert into the Bill a clear definition of “travelling circus”. It is necessary to have legislative certainty about what a travelling circus is to ensure that there are no loopholes or “get out of jail free” cards for people who use wild animals for our entertainment.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about Mr Jolly’s evidence yesterday, which—no pun intended—slightly let the cat out of the bag? He said, “We don’t have to be in a tent. We could go to a county show. We could do exactly as we do at the moment and we wouldn’t fall under the auspices of this Bill.” The hon. Gentleman makes a key point, and I urge the Minister to consider a broader definition.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who makes a good point. The narrow scope of the Bill means that we need to ensure that the circus element is tightly drawn and understood. A good point was made in the evidence session about the other environments in which wild animals can be displayed, but, although I am a fan of broadbrush interpretations and including as much animal welfare as we can, I fear that that might slip slightly outside the scope of the Bill. However, I echo the hon. Gentleman’s request for the Minister to respond to the points that were raised in evidence yesterday.

It was obvious that the Government were not prepared for the level of cross-party concern that was raised on Second Reading that the Bill was missing a definition of a travelling circus, which was also raised a number of times by the organisations that we took evidence from yesterday. Our amendment seeks to use established wording, which will be familiar to people who have looked at other pieces of legislation that ban wild animals in circuses.

The Minister has a number of options. I think we have established that having a definition of a travelling circus would be beneficial. That definition can sit either in the Bill—in primary legislation—or in the guidance that accompanies it. There are merits to both options. If the definition sat in the Bill, it would be clear, it would have good legal standing and there would be legal certainty about it. Putting it in the guidance, however, would give us greater flexibility and perhaps allow us to include some of the environments that the hon. Member for North Dorset mentioned.

There are advantages to both approaches, and it would be worth the Minister reflecting on how the definition should be drawn. My preference is for a clear definition in the legislation. However, I know that the Minister has strong thoughts on this matter, and I would like to hear his views before deciding whether to press the amendment to a vote.

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

I fully concur with my hon. Friend, but does he agree that it is a little anomalous that there are definitions in clause 1(5) of “animal” and “circus operator” but no definitions of a circus?

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

I agree with my hon. Friend about the Government’s choice of definitions to include, or not to include, in the Bill. Indeed, in evidence, we heard stakeholders’ concerns about the missing definition of what a travelling circus looks like and broad concerns about what “wild animal” means.

Having heard the evidence yesterday, Members on both sides of the Committee will think it important to ensure that we can comprehensively ban the use of wild animals in circuses. That means making sure that the legal definition is correct. We need to ensure, whether in the Bill or in guidance, that performances outwith a typical circus tent, such as on a tour of arenas or activity involving touring from place to place and not returning to the home location, are within scope. Our suggested definition refers not to a place but to the group of people and animals making up a circus. That reflects more accurately how circuses work, as we heard yesterday.

The definition that we propose is in line with the guidance accompanying the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018. Scotland does not have regulations on licensing animals in entertainment. There is a chance that circuses in England could merely classify their animals as being used for entertainment. That might, for example, be the case for reindeers in the circus being used in Santa’s grottoes. A definition of travelling circuses will provide clarity on what is in or out of scope. Without a robust definition of a travelling circus, there is a risk that wild animals could be used with entertainment licenses as part of performances that are travelling circuses in all but name.

In the evidence sessions yesterday, it was quite clear that the circus operators were keen to hold on to their animals and continue to use them in entertainment, perhaps under different licences, if only because of their close emotional bond with the animals that they currently own and use. There is overwhelming evidence that, if we do not define what a travelling circus is, that might create difficulties with enforcement, and there could be unintended consequences. As the hon. Member for Isle of Wight succinctly put it yesterday,

“unintended consequences are often the consequences of things that were not intended in the first place”.—[Official Report, Wild Animals in Circuses (No.2) Public Bill Committee, 21 May 2019; c. 29, Q77.]

The attempt to get a clear definition of a travelling circus is an attempt to prevent unintended consequences and to make the scope of the measure sufficiently tight to be legally enforceable.

I should be grateful if the Minister set out the options. Is primary legislation the right place for a clear definition of a travelling circus or would including it in guidance to be published by his Department carry similar weight and allow flexibility? I am interested in the end effect, and not necessarily the words on the page.

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

It is good to see you in your rightful place, Mrs Moon. Thank you for all the work that you have been doing on the Bill.

Amendment 1 would introduce a definition of a travelling circus into the Bill. We recognise the concerns about the absence of a definition, but we cannot accept the amendment. We deliberately chose not to include a definition in clause 1 because we do not feel it is necessary or helpful. In fact, a specific definition might actually be unhelpful. We considered several definitions and found that those that were was drawn too widely, as in amendment 1, might ban activities that we do not want to ban, such as falconry displays with accompanying entertainers that might travel to different county shows. We discussed that issue at length in the evidence sessions yesterday. Such displays would fall within the definition in amendment 1, but it is not our intention to ban them. They are clearly not travelling circuses.

Moreover, the definition in amendment 1 includes a reference to animals being

“kept or introduced (whether for the purpose of performance, exhibition, display or otherwise).”

To reflect for a minute on the word “otherwise”, it could capture any number of activities, including keeping wild animals as pets. The amendment would greatly expand the scope of the ban beyond performance and exhibition in a travelling circus, which I think is the public’s primary concern, by far.

Conversely, any definition that is drawn too narrowly is problematic. Setting out in detail what a travelling circus is or is not could create loopholes or a list of ways for a travelling circus to avoid a ban altogether. If we said, for example, that a travelling circus had clowns, trapeze artists and so on, but one of them did not include a clown, it might not be included in the ban. There are therefore challenges either way. Rather than trying to define the term, it is better to use its common meaning. We believe that the courts will have no trouble at all in understanding what a travelling circus is or is not, and a “common understanding” approach will mean that it will always be relevant and move with the times.

The Government note that neither the Scottish Government, in their Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018, nor the Welsh Government, in their draft Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Wales) Bill, have attempted to define the term “circus”. Likewise, the DEFRA ’s interim licensing regulations for wild animals in travelling circuses do not attempt to define “circus”, and the enforcement of the regulations has effectively protected the welfare of wild animals in circuses over the past six and a half years despite that.

However, to reassure the Committee, and learning from what the Scottish Government have done, we will be producing detailed guidance to accompany the introduction of the Act, to assist inspectors and circuses. It will set out clearly the types of activity that we consider will and will not be covered by the ban.

I note that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport has accepted that there are arguments in favour of putting the definition in either the legislation or the guidance. I am grateful to him for our conversations in this debate and outside the Committee. As he knows, we have been looking at this matter very carefully in DEFRA. I would like to reassure him that we have not taken the decision lightly, but we feel that taking the approach of having guidance will enable us to address his concerns and, I think, the concerns of the Committee in a pragmatic way.

It became clear in the evidence sessions yesterday that this is probably a more flexible approach as well. The challenge of defining the term tightly or expansively in the Bill is that that makes it more difficult for us to make changes. We know how long it has taken to get the legislation before us today, so the more pragmatic approach will be to list excluded activities, as we have seen in the Scottish guidance, which obviously is available to colleagues. It is interesting that bird of prey displays, festive reindeer displays, school and educational visits, animal handling sessions and animals being used for TV, community celebrations or zoo and safari park outreach activities are not included in the Scottish arrangements.

We would look to do something very similar. I cannot say definitively what it would be, because the other thing that I would like to assure the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and other members of the Committee of is that we want not only to learn from the Scottish Government’s approach—it has been very important for us to learn from that—but to seek the views of and engage with the animal welfare organisations that we heard from yesterday. I had a quick conversation with a number of them at the end of their session, and what they said then—obviously, it is for them to say this more formally once we reach a conclusion on this—was that they would be open to being engaged in helping to shape the guidance.

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

I am grateful that there is a willingness to engage with the people who gave evidence to the Committee yesterday. Will the Minister say whether other stakeholders, who were not able or not invited to attend the Committee yesterday, could also be involved in that process? Having a broad range of views could be helpful in doing the defining or at least creating guidance that would be as comprehensive as is required to do the job.

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

I agree with that. We do not want to have a cast of thousands, but I think that the hon. Gentleman was talking about people with expert knowledge and understanding particularly of animal welfare, rather than about extending this to people with other experience. From an animal welfare perspective, yes, we will do that. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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

Based on the assurances that the Minister has given, I am happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment 5, in clause 1, page 2, line 4, leave out “commonly” and insert “normally”.

This amendment would align the definition of “wild animal” with that used in the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012 and the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.

The Opposition are moving the amendment to ensure legislative consistency across the different pieces of animal welfare legislation and to avoid creating any legislative conflicts or loopholes. The Bill defines a wild animal as one that is “not commonly domesticated”. Although protected animals in the Animal Welfare Act 2006 are defined as “commonly domesticated”, the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 defines a wild animal as one that is “not normally domesticated”. I am not normally one to go into the minutiae of the meaning of words, but I would be grateful if the Minister set out why the definition is not aligned with the 1981 Act and gave a clear reassurance that there is no legal interpretation in the difference between “commonly” and “normally”, to make sure that we are consistent across our legislation.

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

The hon. Gentleman suggests that he does not get involved in the forensic detail, but I suggest that he does. We have been in enough debates and statutory instruments for me to know that he takes a forensic approach, so I expect nothing less than for him to go through the technical detail, which is the right thing to do.

The Government do not believe that the amendment is necessary, however. Amendment 5 seeks to align the definition of a wild animal in the Bill with the definitions used in the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012. Both pieces of legislation define a wild animal as an animal that is

“not normally domesticated in Great Britain”.

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

In the evidence sessions yesterday, several circus owners made the point that the animals in their circuses were exotic animals, rather than wild animals. To ensure that there is no ambiguity about that, it would be helpful if the Minister confirmed that the definition of wild animals in the Bill covers the 19 animals in circuses today.

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

That is a very good question, and it is important to get it on the record, because there was quite a tangle of conversations about different definitions. We are clear that those 19 animals are wild animals. We can have all sorts of technical debates—I hope we do not have them today, because I think we discussed it enough yesterday—about domestication, but we are clear that those 19 animals are included in the definition.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s report, “Wild Animals in Circuses”, also noted the slight difference between the definition of wild animal in the draft Bill and in the 1981 Act. The Government were happy to explain their thinking in response to the Committee then, and I will do so again.

The term “animal” or “wild animal” is used in several places in the statute book, but there is no common definition of either. Our approach is in line with the definition of animal in section 1 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which refers to an animal being

“commonly domesticated in the British Islands”,

rather than “normally”. To reassure hon. Members, any difference in the precise wording does not have any material impact on the workings of the definition; the terms “commonly” and “normally” are interchangeable. I note that the Scottish Parliament’s Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018 includes

“commonly domesticated in the British Islands”,

in its definition of a wild animal, as does the Welsh Government’s Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Wales) Bill.

I hope that this is a probing amendment—I get the sense that it is—and that I have been able to reassure hon. Members that there is no material difference between using “commonly” and “normally” in the definition of a wild animal. I hope that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

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

I am not commonly or normally pedantic about such things, except for apostrophes. On this occasion, given the reassurance that the Minister has put on the record, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.