Wild Animals in Circuses (No.2) Bill (First sitting) Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Legislation Page: Wild Animals in Circuses Act 2019

Wild Animals in Circuses (No.2) Bill (First sitting)

(Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
David Rutley Excerpts
Tuesday 21st May 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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HM Treasury
Mr Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael - Hansard
21 May 2019, 10:13 a.m.

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.

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Rutley) - Hansard
21 May 2019, 10:13 a.m.

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.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
21 May 2019, 10:14 a.m.

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.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
21 May 2019, 10:15 a.m.

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.

Sir Oliver Heald Portrait Sir Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con) - Hansard
21 May 2019, 10:15 a.m.

Q Birds 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.

Break in Debate

Bob Seely Portrait Mr Seely - Hansard
21 May 2019, 11:09 a.m.

Q You used the words “free to choose”. Animals respond to their behaviour types; they do not have freedom of choice in the same way that humans do. When you talk about being free to choose, you are getting into a grey area, are you not? A lot of people would dispute the idea that animals are free. Okay, going to a circus is not natural behaviour for an animal—I get that—but what about galloping with a human on?

Jordi Casamitjana: I agree that there is a grey area and different interpretations. I am an animal welfare expert—that is my background. The fact that the behaviour is used in a domestic environment does not mean that that behaviour is the behaviour that the animal would use if it was alive and doing it their way.

For instance, an animal running from a predator is natural behaviour, but running too much is no longer natural behaviour, nor is running for another purpose, because it has been hit or for other reasons. There might be behaviours that have their origins in natural behaviour that have been forced and modified to the extent that they become an animal welfare concern. From that point of view, you can say that even humans have some behaviours that are instinctive and some that are learned. That is no different from any animal. We have feelings; they have feelings. We have intentions; they have intentions.

Angie Greenaway: Regarding the legislation, we know there is long-standing public and political support and commitment to legislate on the issue, as opposed to some of the other issues. People probably accept that there are welfare issues involved with those and things that we might speak out against, but there are inherent welfare issues with the travelling nature of the circus.

We also accept that there are issues with domesticated animals in travelling circuses. Actually, most opinion polls show that there is majority support for a ban on those species as well, although it is not quite as high as wild animals and it has obviously not been consulted on and debated. We would like that to be addressed in the future. There have been so many arguments about the science, the consultation process and all the markers along the way over the past 10-plus years. That is why it is really important to get this legislation through. I am sure people will address some of these other issues in due course.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
21 May 2019, 11:15 a.m.

Q Thank you for your contributions. Do you as groups agree that societal attitudes towards wild animals in circuses have changed over time? Why do you think that might be? What are the drivers of that? I am interested in your thoughts about public perception.

Angie Greenaway: That is something we have seen over the past 20 or even 30 years. Public opinion polls have shown that there has been consistent support— 70% or 80%—for a ban. The Government consultations in England, Wales and Scotland show that 94.5% to 98% are in favour of a ban. I think some of that is because people generally are more aware of the needs and the lives of animals through documentary programmes, scientific research that comes out and investigations by groups such as ours, which expose living conditions and the training and handling techniques used in circuses. When people are aware of that inherent suffering, attitudes change, and over time that is happening not just in this country but all over the world.

Dr Chris Draper: All I would add is that I think public attitudes have reached a crescendo. They perhaps reached a crescendo quite a few years ago and we have been kept waiting. This dates back to discussions in Parliament in the 1920s, in the run-up to the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925. Concerns have been raised about how animals fare when they are used for entertainment and exhibition in circuses. Those concerns never went away, but awareness increased of what was going on behind the scenes. This is not just about people’s ethical and moral consideration of animals, as it was in those days. It is an emerging picture, but the picture is consistent: the public are now united against the use of animals in this way.

Jordi Casamitjana: I would go even further than that. Some 300 or 400 metres from here, years ago, there was badger baiting, bear baiting and bull baiting going on. In 1835 we banned those activities. There was already a concern then that having wild animals in a circus-like spectacle, where they fought with each other for entertainment purposes, was wrong. The enlightenment—this political, social and philosophical movement—started there, and it has not finished. Time is constantly moving. Our views about how we treat animals are opening up. We see animals as sentient more than we used to. We realise they are suffering. We realise their needs better than before. This drive towards a belief that we do not have the right to impose suffering on animals just for entertainment purposes has continued. It is not surprising that it has taken some time, but it has never stopped—and it will never stop, because that is what social progress does.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
21 May 2019, 11:15 a.m.

Q On the discussion about defining travelling circuses in the Bill, there are concerns, which we have discussed at length, that defining them too narrowly may mean that certain activities, such as falconry, cannot happen. It sounds as if you would be quite understanding of an approach that involved using guidance to define things more clearly. I think one of you actually said that might be a more flexible approach that could adapt to changing circumstances in the years ahead. Obviously, primary and secondary legislation can take time. It would be interesting to hear your more definitive views on that. If we were to move forward with guidance, would your organisations be willing to get involved in that process and help review it?

Angie Greenaway: Yes, we would be very happy to contribute to that and to comment on the Scottish legislation as well. Guidance is needed for clarification. As Committee members have mentioned, there are circumstances in which people are not sure whether the legislation would cover something. Guidance would help provide clarity.

Dr Chris Draper: Statutory guidance is necessary in this case; leaving things with an industry-led guidelines approach would not be wise. In terms of the statutory guidelines type of approach, I would be more than happy for Born Free to be part of that process.

Jordi Casamitjana: I would also be happy to be involved. Guidelines give special flexibility, so you can perceive problems and make modifications in the future, when there is suddenly an unforeseen type of activity. We have the reality right now; there is a variety of activities, and therefore it is already neweded right now.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard - Hansard
21 May 2019, 11:16 a.m.

Q I wanted to go back to Angie’s written submission, which talks about the circus animals suffering. There is a general understanding that banning wild animals from circuses is a good thing, and we want to do that, but I have not yet heard—apart from in small bits—about the levels of suffering that we have in circuses at the moment. There is a sense that that has already been banned, so any animals that are already there must be well treated; otherwise, how would people pay money to go to a circus if they felt animals were not well treated? Can you give us a sense of your assessment of the welfare of the animals we have in circuses in the UK currently? What is the best way to assess the wellbeing of an animal in any type of captive environment, especially one where they are subject to so much touring and travelling?

Angie Greenaway: I think the British Veterinary Association covered it well when they talked about the inherent welfare issues of travelling and the fact that the accommodation needs to be small and collapsible and to be put on the back of the trucks. Big cats, even though they are not currently touring, will be in a series of small cages on the back of a lorry; that is their permanent accommodation. Sometimes they might have access to an exercise enclosure, but it will only be for x hours during the day. Elephants will be kept chained all night, at least, and possibly all day.

Other circus animals, such as camels and zebras, might be tethered and on their own. Obviously, they are herd species, so those are unnatural social groupings, which was touched upon earlier. The provision of the accommodation is not suitable, nor is the constant travel. The report by Professor Harris, commissioned by the Welsh Government, said that there is no evidence to show that these animals get used to the travel. Some people think it does not matter and say, “Oh, they’ve been touring for years.” That is still going to be a stressful experience that will compromise their welfare.

There are issues across the board, but also those that are species-specific, depending on how the animals are socially grouped, managed and trained. The welfare of the animals is compromised, and that has been accepted by veterinary bodies. The scientific evidence is overwhelming about the issues involved.