Extent, commencement and short title

Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 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) 9:45 am, 22nd May 2019

I beg to move amendment 2, in clause 4, page 2, line 14, leave out “on 20 January 2020” and insert

“on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument appoint, and no later than 20 January 2020.”

This amendment would enable the Act to be brought into force earlier than 20 January 2020.

Since the introduction of the Bill, it has been clear from the Second Reading debate, the evidence sessions and cross-party discussions that hon. Members on both sides of the House support a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. The only question is when that should take place. The last Labour Government had hoped to introduce legislation around the time of the 2010 general election; sadly, that general election got in the way and we have had to wait nine years. I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House who have promoted private Members’ Bills during that time in an attempt to legislate sooner.

The Bill’s enforcement date is 20 January 2020. The amendment seeks to explore whether that date can be brought forward, so that we can ban the use of wild animals in circuses sooner. During yesterday’s evidence, the Born Free Foundation said that there was a risk of new species and new animals being brought into travelling circuses before January 2020.

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

We also heard during yesterday’s evidence that 45 countries have already banned or restricted the use of wild animals in circuses, so we are behind the curve. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is no need for further delay?

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

I entirely agree. If we as a country had taken this action in 2009 or 2010, as proposed by the last Labour Government, we would not be here and we would not be chasing the pack. In Britain we like to think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers—indeed, I believe we are—but we have to put that into practice. Every animal matters. It has taken nearly a decade to introduce this ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, and it is being introduced at a time when the Government are light in legislation, including the missing fisheries and agriculture Bills, on which we really need to make progress. I agree with my hon. Friend that there is an opportunity to bring forward the Bill’s enforcement date.

During yesterday’s evidence we heard that many circus animals are not used for entertainment purposes over the winter season. Peter Jolly said that he stops touring around November. I understand from conversations with the Minister that there is concern that bringing forward the commencement date would overlap with the current licensing arrangements. I am sympathetic to that view. The Opposition want to the ban to be brought into effect as soon possible, but we do not want taxpayers’ money being spent on compensation. There is a balance to be struck and I would be grateful if the Minister could set out his thoughts on that.

I would also be grateful if the Minister could set out a clear direction for those circus operators who may be thinking of introducing new animals before the commencement of the ban. I certainly do not want a final hurrah for circus animals: “Your last chance to see the raccoons, the zebu and the macaw!” Given that circuses operate in a commercial environment, there will always be that last PR sell.

We have an opportunity to send a message that no additional animals or new species should be introduced to any circus. As we heard from Born Free yesterday, a big cat exhibitor has applied for a new licence, but that flies in the spirit of what we are trying to do.

We want to ensure that the powers come into force as soon as possible. The period between now and 20 January 2020 is important because, every single day that goes by, those animals remain in travelling circuses and potentially in cruel and unusual environments that may damage their wellbeing. More people are encouraged to presume that it is normal for those wild animals to be in a circus and that we as a country accept that.

We have established from public polling, as set out in yesterday’s evidence and during the Minister’s comments on Second Reading about the weight of consultation responses received by the Department, that the general population do not support the use of animals in circuses and that it should be brought to an end as soon as is reasonably possible. I would be grateful if the Minister could set out whether there is an opportunity to bring forward the commencement date. Our amendment would not prevent 20 January 2020 from being the commencement date. It refers to bringing forward the powers

“on such day as the Secretary of State may by regulations made by statutory instrument appoint, and no later than 20 January 2020.”

The Government’s proposed date would remain in legislation but they would have an opportunity to bring it forward. Ministers need to retain that important tool, especially to prevent any circus operators from using the provision as a last hurrah for the use of wild animals in circuses, and from introducing new species and animals for a final show before the commencement date. I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to those concerns.

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

I need to update the Committee on an important point raised by the hon. Member for Bristol East. Everything is okay with Anne, who was rehomed at Longleat zoo, which is licensed under the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. Anne was recently moved to a new purpose-built enclosure. She is not currently housed with other elephants but she does have other animals for company, so she is in a much better place. I thank the hon. Lady for raising the issue and I apologise for not providing that update previously. I hope I have made up ground there.

I will move on to the Bill, unless there are concerns about other animals. I will try my best to find out, though perhaps not quite as speedily.

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

My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset—soon to be right hon. no doubt—shows his age by mentioning Tarka the otter. Or is it timely?

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

I remember it well. We will move on to amendment 2, if that is all right with you, Mrs Moon.

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

The Government understand the sentiment behind amendment 2 but are not able to support it. We have committed to having a ban in place when the regulations expire and that is what we intend to deliver.

It is important to recognise that the two remaining circuses still using wild animals are businesses, despite the fact that there are practices not approved of by Parliament, which will need notice of when they need to stop using wild animals. Both circuses are currently licensed by DEFRA to continue using wild animal acts, until the interim Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012 expire on 19 January 2020.

The commencement date in the Bill deliberately aligns with the expiry date in the 2012 regulations, to ensure that the two circuses have absolute clarity about when they must stop using wild animal acts. In the Government’s view, that allows sufficient time for both circuses to adjust the rest of their circus shows.

The Government have always been clear that any ban should not come into force while circuses are out on tour, and that once a licence was awarded, the circus should plan accordingly for that touring season. Introducing a ban before 20 January 2020 would require us to revoke existing licences, which would entitle the affected circuses to compensation.

The interim licensing regulations were reviewed last year and have been found to be successful in securing and monitoring the welfare of those remaining wild animals used by travelling circuses. The licensing regime combined with the Animal Welfare Act 2006 will continue to protect the welfare of those wild animals while this ban comes into effect. While the animals’ welfare is protected, the Government are satisfied that commencing the legislation on 20 January 2020 is reasonable.

Even if we had a power to commence by order, as per the amendment, the Bill still has to be considered by the other place, and there would be no reason for departing from the usual practice of allowing for two months between Royal Assent and commencement. At best, the earliest the commencement could be brought forward to would be October, leaving only a few months between the commencement date in our Bill and the commencement date suggested by this amendment.

I hope this is a probing amendment. Having spoken to the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, I know he understands both sides of the debate on this amendment. Given my comments and the conversations we have had, I hope he will withdraw the amendment.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the final hurrah. I hope and believe that the owners of the different circuses that appeared before us in the evidence session yesterday fully understood the strength of opinion in Parliament on this issue. They will also understand that if they were to bring wild animals into a circus event at this point in time, there would be a strong public reaction. There might be an economic cost, because they will need to consider how they will look after those animals in retirement. Notwithstanding differences of opinion about the efficacy or rightfulness of the work that they do, the circuses seemed to be concerned about the welfare of animals.

Photo of Sandy Martin Sandy Martin Shadow Minister (Waste and Recycling) 10:00 am, 22nd May 2019

Can the Minister give us a categorical assurance that those circuses that currently have licences to show animals cannot bring additional animals in for the last few months of the licence that they already have? Clearly, the close relationship between the two circuses that gave evidence yesterday and the gentleman from Circus Krone, who shows large numbers of big cats, suggests that he might want to bring his big cats over to this country, just to make a point.

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

I am going to wait for a little bit of inspiration to answer that question as fully as I would like. Any animals would need to be inspected first. The point that the hon. Gentleman raises is a good one, but there would be a requirement for those animals to be inspected.

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

I am trying to understand what the Minister said after his moment of inspiration. The implication is that there is a possibility that new animals and new species could be introduced, between now and the commencement date of the legislation on 20 January 2020. The only restriction in the licences is that these animals must be okay and subject to inspections; it does not prevent lions, tigers or elephants being introduced in the final few months of wild animals being allowed in circuses. Is that what the Minister is saying?

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

Clearly, those animals would need to be inspected. I understand the concerns that further animals could be introduced to those circuses in the last few months, but the circuses are licensed to use wild animals and we have no welfare grounds to refuse animals being added unless they are inspected.

Technically, Opposition Members have made an important point. However, I think circuses are under no illusions about public opinion on this, and certainly parliamentary opinion. It is also clear that there could be economic costs for them, so there is a disincentive to introduce new animals within the last few months. However, given the strength of concern, let me see what more we can do to raise awareness of and concerns about these issues.

However, as I have said, apart from the powers of inspection, that is where we are at the moment. The key thing is that we want to get this ban in place as quickly as we can. Given the journey that we have been on, the good news is that it will be in place by 20 January. That is not too far off now.

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

I am concerned that, between now and the commencement date, new animals and new species could be brought into circuses. I do not agree with the Minister that the strength of public feeling was adequately understood by the circus operators yesterday. In fact, we heard oral and written evidence from Mrs Brown—I fundamentally disagree with her written evidence on several grounds—that she does not believe the strength of feeling in the DEFRA consultation, due to the size of the response compared with the UK population, even though that was a very good response for a DEFRA consultation.

I worry that there is a risk of a last hurrah for wild animals in circuses. The amendment does not change the 20 January 2020 date, but it provides the Minister with a stick to use should we be under the impression that additional wild animals and new species could be brought into circuses. Certainly, based on the strength of feeling among my constituents in Plymouth, if there is a risk of an elephant or big cat—a lion or tiger—or even an extra zebu or raccoon being brought into our circuses, they would want the Government to take steps to stop that from happening. I am absolutely certain that, in the event that Government compensation is only paid for animals already there, plenty of the British public would be willing to chip in a fiver to prevent an elephant from being brought into our circuses for a last hurrah.

On that basis, I disagree with the Minister on this. Because of the risk of new animals being brought into circuses, the powers proposed in the amendment are important. The amendment would not substantively change the commencement date but would provide a stick to ensure that no new animals are brought in before that date. I will press the amendment to a vote.

Division number 1 Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill — Extent, commencement and short title

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 8 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 8.

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.