(1) If a person is convicted of an offence under this Act, the court by or before which that person is convicted may, instead of or in addition to dealing with that person in any other way, make an order disqualifying him under any one or more of subsections (2) to (4) for such period as it thinks fit.
(2) Disqualification under this subsection disqualifies a person—
(a) from owning wild animals,
(b) from keeping wild animals,
(c) from participating in the keeping of wild animals, and
(d) from being party to an arrangement under which that person is entitled to control or influence the way in which wild animals are kept.
(3) Disqualification under this subsection disqualifies a person from dealing in wild animals.
(4) Disqualification under this subsection disqualifies a person—
(a) from transporting wild animals, and
(b) from arranging for the transport of wild animals.
(5) Disqualification under subsection (2), (3) or (4) may be imposed in relation to animals generally, or in relation to animals of one or more kinds.—
This amendment would enable a court to disqualify an offender from keeping wild animals and other activities.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause is an attempt to consider what will happen if an offence is committed under the Act, and if wild animals are still being used in circuses after the legislation has commenced. We seek to understand what type of punishment and consequences there will be for repeat offending. For those in breach of the Act, the new clause proposes disqualification from owning or keeping animals, or from participating in the keeping of animals. Should someone break the law on keeping wild animals and using them for entertainment in circuses, the new clause would introduced sufficient punishment to ensure that those animals could no longer be used, because the circus owners would be disqualified from keeping animals.
We heard yesterday about a number of domesticated animals, such as horses, that are used in circuses, and their use can continue because they are not wild animals. That provision would remain, but the new clause sends a strong signal that if the law is breached and wild animals are used in a circus, the owner would be disqualified from owning a wild animal.
We heard yesterday from one circus owner about the possibility that some wild animals would continue to tour with the circus, even though they would not be used for entertainment purposes, because of the owners’ close affection or concern for the wellbeing of those animals. Committee members may have different views about the wellbeing of animals who continue to be taken on tour around the country, rather than put into a habitat that is as close as possible to their natural environment, and where they could live out the rest of their lives in freedom. However, the new clause would prevent owners of wild animals from owning, keeping or participating in keeping those wild animals, should there be a breach of the rules.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the main thrust of the new clause is not automatically to disqualify anybody who has been convicted of touring with a circus with animals, but that it gives the court the opportunity to make that a factor if the treatment of those animals has been bad enough? There are all sorts of different gradations of offence, and if there is a particularly serious offence, people would want the courts to have the opportunity to disqualify the owner from having animals at all.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and that leads into a question about the powers and consequences of the Bill. As a country, we have a number of pieces of good animal welfare legislation. Indeed, we are on the cusp of considering what is animal welfare legislation—meaning in the welfare of the animal—and what is a moral ban. This Bill will be enacted on ethical grounds. We, as a Parliament and a country, have decided that keeping wild animals in circuses is no longer something that we as a society want to participate in or to see. That legitimate and genuine concern is held by Members across the Committee and by our constituents. Beyond that, people want to know about the consequences for breaching these laws. Under existing protections for wild animals and other animal welfare provisions, certain types of punishment are already available. The new clause seeks to explore what punishments would be available to the courts for those offenders who continued to offend under the Act. Beyond that might be a civil sanction. I am trying to understand the consequences if someone breaks this law.
The hon. Gentleman mentions banning circus owners from owning wild animals. It was clear from yesterday’s evidence session that those circus owners are very fond of those animals and would be distraught if they were taken away. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he intends that to be the consequence of what he said, or is it only following a breach that they would lose their animals? It seems unfortunate if he thinks that they should lose their animals instantly; they are obviously very fond of the animals and feel as if they are part of the family.
The hon. Lady raises a good point, which is worth getting on the record. It was clear from the evidence session yesterday that circus owners clearly have a genuine affection for their animals. Whether they should be able to use those animals for entertainment and, importantly, move them around the country in tight conditions is a different matter. I agree that circus owners have that affection, but I disagree with the way that affection is applied to their business model, if that makes sense.
We also heard that elements of cruelty accompany keeping animals in circuses. The new clause seeks to provide courts with an additional option to use in the event of a breach. Effectively, if a circus owner continued to exhibit wild animals as part of their entertainment, a court, on the basis of the regulations, the guidance and the Bill, would have the ability, on confirming a breach of the Bill, to apply a disqualification, should it see fit. That is important, because people who I have spoken to about this want to know that the animals are safe. If the law is breached and wild animals are used in a circus, and those animals continue to be owned and potentially used again by those operators, I imagine that most of my constituents would want those animals taken off those individuals.
The new clause includes the ability for the court effectively to decide to,
“instead of or in addition to dealing with that person in any other way, make an order disqualifying him under any one or more of subsections (2) to (4) for such period as it thinks fit.”
Disqualification under subsection (2) is from owning, keeping or participating in the keeping of wild animals. Effectively, the new clause provides a big stick for courts to ensure, if there is a breach, that there will be sufficient punishment, that those animals can be removed from that environment, and that there is a consequence for people who decide to keep wild animals and to continue to entertain people with them. Our new clause provides for not only the banning but the enforcement and the punishment.
Our purpose, in tabling the new clause, was to ask the Minister what potential punishments he envisages for a breach of Bill. I shall be grateful if he will set out what he anticipates will happen, in the event that a circus owner is in breach of the Bill.
The Government proposed a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses on ethical grounds, as has been discussed. As a result, the penalties and enforcement powers in the Bill must be proportionate to the severity of the offence. The use of wild animals in a travelling circus has until now always been legal in this country. We seek to ban it because the Government, and I hope Parliament, recognise that it is an outdated practice.
The Bill is about sending a signal about the respect that we should show wild animals in the 21st century. If operators seek to be cruel to their wild animals—we have not seen any recent evidence to suggest that they would—other laws are already in place to deal with those offences in a more proportionate way. The penalty for a circus operator found guilty of using a wild animal in a travelling circus is an unlimited fine. We think that is a proportionate penalty, as did the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee when it undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. The Committee also agreed that further disqualification powers were unnecessary. Where a travelling circus chose repeatedly to break the law—given the very public nature of the offence, we think that is highly unlikely—a court could hand out fines of increasing severity. A travelling circus would soon find it simply uneconomic to continue, in addition to the damage that would be caused to its reputation.
Of course, where evidence is found of a wild animal being mistreated in a travelling circus, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 will apply, as is currently the case. That Act already provides powers to seize animals and disqualify people from keeping animals should there be grounds for doing so. Those disqualification powers are proportionate to some of the wicked and cruel offences covered by that Act. Furthermore, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 contains powers to disqualify those convicted under that Act of an offence of not having sufficient licences in place.
The penalty in the Bill is an unlimited fine. As we have discussed, fines may increase in severity. It is useful to note that the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018 has a maximum fine of £5,000 and a criminal record, whereas the Bill will introduce for England a penalty of an unlimited fine plus a criminal record. The Bill empowers the authorities to put in place fines of increasing severity to make this activity not just illegal but increasingly uneconomic to pursue.
I hope that clarifies how the Government would seek to deal with the understandable concerns that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport has raised. I hope he understands that we do not need any disqualification powers in the Bill because there are disqualification powers elsewhere to address the other issues he raises. I hope that, on the strength of the points I have made, he feels he can withdraw the new clause.
On the basis of the Minister’s reassurances that there will be sufficient consequences for people who breach the law, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.