Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
David RutleyMain Page: David Rutley (Conservative) - Macclesfield)
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Legislation Debates - View all David Rutley's contributions to the Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019
The Minister is setting out the history—the long time it has taken to get the Bill to this point. Although I very much welcome the fact that it is here, it is very overdue. Will he confirm that the Bill will come into force in January 2020? Will he also confirm that, if by some strange happenstance it gets delayed by Brexit or anything else—even if the Bill has not finished its progress through Parliament—the Government will not issue any more licences after January 2020?
This has been a pretty sorry story of delay, but I welcome the fact that the Bill is now here, given the lack of legislative business. Will the Minister say when the Government will bring forward legislation on increasing the penalties available to the courts for those guilty of animal cruelty? That is another issue that has been waiting a long time. It urgently needs to be resolved.
I support this Bill, but will the Minister confirm that nothing in it should cause any animal affected by it to be put down?
We were promised that the Bill would come in after the Backbench Business debate secured by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard). One of the reasons subsequently given by the Government for not introducing it was that the European Union would not allow us to—there is a stream of responses to my written parliamentary questions on the subject that told me that. However, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Scotland, Slovenia and Slovakia have all introduced a ban. Will the Minister put on the record that that line that we were given—that we could not introduce a ban because we were in the EU—was just not true?
The Minister was not around at the time and cannot be held responsible, but the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) is absolutely right. France is another member of the European Union that has introduced a ban.
I welcome the Second Reading of this Bill in the House of Commons. It has taken some time, perhaps longer than it should have, but I am grateful that the Government have brought it forward. I have two quick questions. Will the Minister give a commitment that the timetable for introduction will not slip beyond next January? Secondly, does he believe the Bill is tough enough on enforcement?
That will have to be long!
Is the Minister aware that the British Veterinary Association concluded:
“The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus—in terms of housing or being able to express normal behaviour”?
Does he agree with the evidence brought forward by the BVA?
The Minister said that 95% of people responded to the previous Government’s consultation. What does that mean in numbers, so the House can have a good idea of how many people were actually consulted?
There are two circuses, Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus, with the 19 animals. Is the Minister going to ensure the welfare of those animals is secured after they have been released from performing? They are not wild animals or domestic animals. They will need to be well looked after.
I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being very generous. A lot of people across the House have supported me over the years, whether the Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats and so on. This is a tribute to them all. He mentions the Animal Welfare Bill under the previous Labour Government. I remember working with colleagues across the House on that. Is it not time for the Government, however grateful I am for the introduction of this Bill, to introduce a comprehensive animal welfare Bill of their own, which incorporates so many other private Members’ Bills that have been discussed in this House over the past few years, rather than take a piecemeal approach? Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, for plugging my own private Members’ Bills, but there are three I could name: the Protection of Common Birds Bill, the Sale of Primates as Pets (Prohibition) Bill and the Sale of Endangered Animals on the Internet Bill. Those are just three Bills from one lowly Conservative Back Bencher. Many other important animal welfare thoughts, ideas, policies and Bills have been introduced over the past few years. Will the Government seriously consider a comprehensive Bill to modernise animal welfare once and for all?
Will the Minister look again at the need to define “travelling circus” in the Bill? A concern exists that without such a definition, the law will be unclear on circuses that travel without actually showing the animals. Many animal welfare organisations think that it would be much clearer if the Bill included a definition of “travelling circus”.
The Minister says that he believes that the definition is adequate, but surely he will concede that such matters can be explored and tested in Committee. If it can be demonstrated that the definition is not as clear as it ought to be, will the Government be open to amending the Bill before Third Reading?
Circuses are no place for wild animals. That view is shared not only by animal welfare organisations and animal lovers, but by the vast majority of people in our country and—as I am very glad to see—by hon. Members on both sides of the House. As the Minister said, banning wild animals in circuses is a policy that began under Labour before we lost power in 2010, so we support the Bill. It is long overdue, but we are pleased that, having walked the tightrope of parliamentary time so many times, it has now arrived. I thank Members on both sides of the House for their advocacy for wild animals. This will ensure that we can have the greatest shows: circuses that do not have wild animals in them.
In welcoming the Bill, I want to echo some of the points that have been made by hon. Members. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar), I ask the Minister where the Bill is to increase the penalties for animal cruelty. The Bill before us is welcome, but it is not the only Bill that we need in relation to animal welfare. That is one of the promises that remains missing.
The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012 will expire in 2020. Now is the time to address this issue once and for all. Forcing wild animals to perform in circuses is one of the most archaic and inhumane forms of animal exploitation. We should be clear that we no longer want it to take place in Britain.
According to the latest figures from September, 19 wild animals are owned by the two remaining circuses that use wild animals in their performances. I am very pleased that the six reindeer, four zebras, three camels, three racoons, one fox—which is not for hunting—one macaw and one zebu, which of course is a type of humped cattle, will soon be free from their lives in circuses and able to enjoy the rest of their lives without being put on display for our entertainment.
I have received a few questions about the Bill since I mentioned I would be speaking in the debate. I would be grateful if the Minister could set out whether birds are included in the Bill, as a few people want to know. I believe that they are, but it would be helpful if the Minister made it clear for the record in her concluding remarks.
The problem with the current regulations is that if the licensing conditions are met, there is nothing to stop more animals and different types of animals returning to circuses unless further action is taken.
The review of the science on the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses by Professor Stephen Harris, which was commissioned by the Welsh Government and published in April 2016, provides strong evidence that wild animals in travelling circuses not only suffer poor welfare, but do not have a “life worth living”. Every circus animal matters. That is why we should have no wild animals in our circuses anymore. The report built on existing evidence that shows that the welfare needs of non-domesticated wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus—a conclusion with which the Opposition agree.
I am sure that all hon. Members are animal lovers. I am sure we can all agree that animals need a suitable environment to live in, an appropriate diet, the ability to express normal patterns of behaviour and to be housed properly, whether that is with or without other animals, and that they should not suffer. Wild animals that are used in travelling circuses are carted from one venue to another, sometimes in cramped cages and barren trailers, and are taught to perform tricks, often through fear of punishment. In many cases, animals are not suited to the travelling life, where they are denied their most basic needs. When animals suffer, we all suffer.
Labour planned to ban the use of wild animals in circuses before the 2010 general election. The draft legislation had been prepared and consulted on, with a substantial majority of respondents in favour of a ban. While we are pleased that there is finally parliamentary time for this crucial and urgent Bill, it is disappointing that we have been overtaken by no fewer than 30 countries worldwide in banning the use of wild animals in circuses. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) for setting out just how many EU member states have banned the use of wild animals in circuses and showing just how paltry was the Government’s line that our EU membership prevented it.