Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill Debate

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

Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
David Rutley Excerpts
Tuesday 4th June 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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HM Treasury
Sir Mike Penning Portrait Sir Mike Penning - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:25 p.m.

She does not look 30 years of age, as my hon. Friend comments. She said to me when she was about 11 years of age, “Daddy, I’m going to be taken to a zoo by the school, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to see animals in cages.” We have never gone to a zoo and never gone to a circus that has had live animals. My youngest daughter is 28 and my eldest daughter is 30. My eldest daughter is now a marine biologist, so the House can probably realise where I am coming from on this. If we are going to make a law that says that we are banning live animals in circuses, let us do that for them, and for the public. If there are animal welfare issues, that can be picked up, but actually over the years it has not been, which is why we are going to ban it ethically now.

Should the animals be taken if they are found in this situation? This is a really difficult grey area that the Minister is going to have to address. Why would someone travel with an animal if they have not been training it and using it? Why would they keep it in its winter quarters when perhaps there are better types of quarters that it could be kept in? If it is travelling, why would they do that if they are not using it within a circus production? I hope that there can be an accommodation in this Bill—whether in this House, around guidance, or as it proceeds to the other House, which will also understand that the public are with us on this—whereby we can do what it says on the tin. This Bill says that we are going to ban live animals in circuses—we are going to protect those animals should they be in a circus.

There will be loads of good will out there regarding these animals. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said that he tweeted out about this —yes, but they have to go to the right place. We are talking about myriad different types of animal that are used within circuses. It is really important that these animals go to a place of expertise to be looked after, because a lot of them may well have been through very stressful procedures. They may have been in a circus nearly all their life and then they are taken to a completely different environment. That takes a degree of professionalism and expertise. That has to be addressed in terms of payment, which should come from the circus, as they are the people who are responsible for these animals. They can be passionate about them. I have heard some of the debates in public over the years where they have said, “We love these animals.” I do not doubt that, but we need to say, “If we have a situation where we are going to have to remove animals from you, as an organisation, then it is not right for the taxpayer or a charity to pick up that tab—it is your job.” We need to consider how we can move that forward within the guidance. Perhaps the other House will debate this for a little bit longer.

We are trying, on principle, cross-party and as a nation, to get the animal rights part of this right. My kids—our kids—are driving this forward. It is like the environmental arguments that are going on out there at the moment. They are right, because it is their future, not our future. I have been lucky enough to be in Kenya with the military and have been in most of the safari parks. Seeing an animal in its natural environment coming down to the water hole in the evening because that is what it naturally does is an absolutely moving thing, not like seeing an elephant standing on its back legs in a circus, which is very damaging for the animal.

The House should be very proud of bringing this legislation forward. I would disagree only slightly with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport on one thing. The previous Labour Administration had a huge majority—an absolutely enormous majority. They could have got whatever legislation they wanted through this House at any time during that period, but is a Conservative Government who have brought this through. I am very proud of that, but it should have been brought in years and years ago.

David Rutley Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Rutley) - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 5:24 p.m.

It is an honour to participate in the debate, and I welcome the genuine cross-party spirit. We are good friends on these issues, and it is good to hear well-informed, well-thought-through opinions, which will add to what we are taking forward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) on setting out his concerns so clearly. We have spoken outside the Chamber, to facilitate further discussions, which shows the cross-party approach we are taking.

Animal welfare is a vital issue for everybody in the Chamber. All Members here have played an important role in trying to secure debates and take forward legislation on this issue. It is time to stop the outdated practice of wild animals performing or being exhibited in circuses. I will go into some technical details, but I think we all agree that we need to move in that direction.

I will start with new clause 1, new clause 2 and amendment 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I have known him for a very long time. He is an extraordinary orator and a scrutineer extraordinaire—I am not very good at French, as Members can tell. I have enjoyed working with him in various roles. He got to this place well before me and has made a remarkable and important contribution.

Break in Debate

Liz Twist Portrait Liz Twist (Blaydon) (Lab) - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 5:24 p.m.

There is concern about using two different bits of legislation to solve one problem. Would it not be clearer to cover this issue in the Bill, rather than relying on the Animal Welfare Act?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard

That is an interesting point. It is difficult to get the balance right, but the key thing to remember is that we are discussing an outdated practice that we want to see removed on ethical grounds. Seizure is much easier where there are genuine welfare concerns—I will explain why in more detail—and those powers are contained in the 2006 Act.

If the animal is subject to the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976—of those animals currently kept in circuses, only camels and zebras are subject—it may be seized if it is being kept without a licence or if a licensing condition is being breached. There is no need to replicate those powers here. In Committee, concern was raised about repeated breaches of the Act. The courts would have the power to impose unlimited fines, which makes it highly unlikely that a circus would continue to reoffend, for economic reasons.

Powers to seize animals interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of possessions, which is protected by article 1 of protocol 1 to the European convention on human rights. Interferences must be justified and proportionate. That may be easy to do if an owner is mistreating an animal and the powers are being exercised under the Animal Welfare Act, which is the point I was trying to make earlier. However, the objective of this legislation is simply, but importantly, to prevent the use of wild animals in circuses on ethical grounds. Preventing someone from using animals for other purposes, which is what the seizure and deprivation powers do, goes beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Bill.

Alex Sobel Portrait Alex Sobel (Leeds North West) (Lab/Co-op) - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:40 p.m.

I would like some reassurance from the Minister about a circus that operates in my constituency—Circus Mondao—which has a zebra and two camels. I have been campaigning for it to cease the use of these, and I ask that the Bill cover that so that I can happily go to Circus Mondao in the knowledge that, because of this Act, it is not using wild animals.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:40 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman sets things out incredibly clearly, as he has done on others Bills I have been involved in. Absolutely—I can categorically say that, at commencement of this Act, those practices will no longer be able to be taken forward, so his campaign will have come to fruition. I hope that reassures him.

Amendment 4 seeks to extend the enforcement powers in the Bill to police constables. A few points have been made, not the least of which were those made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), who is passionate about many things, including these issues. I always have a soft spot for Hemel Hempstead because that was where one of my sons was born. We are all talking about our children today.

Dr David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op) Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:40 p.m.

You just put them in a circus then.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:40 p.m.

I do not know how to take that comment. I think I will move on.

Again, we do not feel that the amendment is necessary if an animal is in distress, when the Animal Welfare Act 2006 already provides powers for the police to respond quickly. The offence we are talking about—a ban on use on ethical grounds; let us keep that in the front of our minds—does not require such an urgent response. It does require a response, but it does not have same immediacy. It can happen only in the context of a public performance, which will of course take place in a public place. If a travelling circus wanted to break the law, it would have to do so in front of an audience. An inspector could be at the circus in sufficient time, and the schedule provides powers to search for evidence. As outlined in the schedule, that includes questioning any person on the premises, taking samples and taking copies of documents. Indeed, inspectors can seize anything, except an animal, found on the premises that they reasonably believe to be evidence of the offence in clause 1.

We do not believe it necessary to extend these powers to the police. DEFRA has approximately 50 circus and zoo licensing inspectors, who are qualified and experienced in identifying and, if need be, handling species of wild animals. In fact, in Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) made the point that we do have the expertise, and I think it is best to get qualified veterinarians or people with extensive experience of working with captive animals to take care of this work. Few, if any, constables would have that level of knowledge, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead pointed out.

In the rare cases where a police presence is needed, as I explained in Committee, the Bill also provides powers for an inspector to take up to two other people with them on an inspection. These could include a police constable, who would be able to exercise, under the supervision of the inspector, the powers of inspection provided in the Bill. Let me assure the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and other hon. Members that the guidance DEFRA will issue will also make it clear that police constables are able to accompany inspectors during the inspection, and I have also set that out to him in writing. I hope that gives him and other Members a greater degree of assurance that the police will be able to play a role, as required.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:43 p.m.

Will the Minister go into slightly more detail about where the guidance will land on that point? Will the police constable be one of the two people who can accompany an inspector, or will that be in addition to those two people, since there may be very good reasons why certain specialists are required for certain animals?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:43 p.m.

That is a good question, and we will take a closer look at that. At this stage, it would be one of the two people, but that is something we can take a closer look at.

I accept the point that has previously been raised that the Scottish Act provides powers for police constables to enforce the legislation. The Scottish guidance states:

“Although constables are provided powers for enforcement, it is expected that it will primarily be Local Authorities that will enforce the Act as part of other responsibilities relevant to travelling circuses.”

Even under the Scottish Act, the police are not seen as the primary inspection force.

Since Committee, DEFRA officials have discussed enforcement of the Bill with the chief constable of Hertfordshire constabulary, Charlie Hall, who is the national policing lead on animal matters. The view of the police is that while they would of course support DEFRA-appointed inspectors, should this be required, they do not want to take on the additional responsibility of being the primary enforcer of what is a very specialist area of business. They see their role as being one of support in keeping the peace when necessary to enable inspectors to conduct the work provided for in the Bill.

Mention has been made of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and we certainly respect its contributions, but we are concerned here with an offence involving captive wild animals, not wildlife crime, so it is unlikely that that group will have a primary role in inspection. That will be for the other inspectors we have talked about.

Sir Mike Penning Portrait Sir Mike Penning - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:45 p.m.

There could be a situation in which a wild animal has been inappropriately brought into a circus. We are not talking about everything coming from Africa or Asia; it could, for instance, be a wild animal from the UK, or one illegally imported. There are people who have that area of experience, and all we are asking for in the guidance is that they should be appropriately contacted and their expertise used, should that be needed.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:45 p.m.

I think that is a perfectly fair point, but the point I am trying to make, to reassure colleagues, is that we have 50 inspectors who are well trained to take care of this. Of course, we would get the police involved at the right time, and we will put that in guidance. We can anticipate that there may be circumstances in which we need to get the National Wildlife Crime Unit involved, and we will set that out as appropriate. Again, I hope that the points I have made give sufficient reassurances to hon. Members, and that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport feels that he need not press amendment 4.

I turn to amendment 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. He seeks to prevent circus operators from euthanising their wild animals, which is something we all want to be avoided, unless they have permission from a qualified vet. Again, I assure him that these issues were raised directly with the circuses during the evidence session. I understand the sentiment behind the amendment, but we have not seen any evidence that current circus operators would seek to euthanise their animals. Indeed, the two remaining circuses have assured us that they would not do so. In oral evidence during the Bill’s Committee stages, Peter Jolly senior was clear that:

“I would change my business to something else, but the animals would stop with me.”––[Official Report, Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Public Bill Committee, 21 May 2019; c. 42, Q107.]

Carol MacManus suggested that the other circus, Circus Mondao, was considering either rehoming its wild animals or keeping them at winter quarters with people to supervise the animals

“because we would have to look after the animals.”––[Official Report, Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Public Bill Committee, 21 May 2019; c. 50, Q152.]

They are concerned about their animals and consider them to be part of their family.

I would also point out that, in practice, the amendment would unfairly target circus operators by requiring them to obtain permission from a veterinarian to have an animal euthanised. No such legal requirement exists for pet owners or other owners of working animals who operate a business. As we have discussed, we do not need to seize an animal under the Bill to prove that an offence of using a wild animal in a travelling circus has been committed. The other thing it is important to set out to my hon. Friend is that retirement plans are in place for these wild animals, and the Animal Welfare Act will of course continue to apply to protect these animals. Once again, I hope that the points I have made will give reassurances to my hon. Friends and to Opposition Members.

New clause 4, as set out by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, aims to prevent new animals from being added to existing licences and to prevent new licences from being passed, and amendment 3, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, seeks to allow the circuses two more years on their existing licences. We do not believe new clause 4 is necessary, although I understand what the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport is seeking to achieve with his amendment—to mitigate the risk of additional wild animals being brought into travelling circuses between Royal Assent and the Bill coming into force on 20 January 2020. New clause 4 appears to be intended to come into force on Royal Assent; I think that is the intention. By convention, there is a strong presumption against commencing any earlier than two months after Royal Assent, because the public are entitled to be given a reasonable period of time to adapt to a change in the law and to reorganise their affairs in response to it. It would be highly unusual to commence a clause such as this on Royal Assent.

Paragraph (a) of new clause 4 seeks to prevent new licences from being issued after the Bill has passed, so it would apply only to new travelling circuses or existing ones that currently do not use wild animals in their performances. If a travelling circus wished to start using wild animals before the end of the current touring season, typically at the end of October—for those who have not been part of this debate, circuses would not continue until 20 January, because they normally stop performing at the end of October—it could technically have a last hurrah, and the hon. Gentleman has made that point with conviction. However, it would have to apply for a licence as soon as the Bill was published to maximise the revenue it would want to get. I reassure hon. Members that DEFRA has received no inquiries from anyone regarding even the possibility of an application for a new licence.

If, however, a new circus decided to apply for a licence, say, next week, DEFRA’s application takes a minimum of six weeks, and for a new circus unfamiliar with the demands of our licensing regime, it could take considerably longer for an application to be determined. Both current licensed circuses, when they first applied for a licence, needed to be inspected twice before their licence was awarded, and those inspections took place at winter quarters, which is an easier place to conduct an inspection; even then, both applications took two months to be approved. Even if a circus were to submit an application for a licence next week, it would be able to use its wild animals for, at most, 14 weeks or three months before the end of the current touring season.

Luke Pollard Portrait Luke Pollard - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:50 p.m.

That is quite a long time.

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:52 p.m.

The hon. Gentleman says that is quite a long period. It is long enough to take what he is saying seriously. We understand his arguments, but for the sake of completeness, I want everyone to understand the processes.

Paragraph (b) of the new clause would affect circuses already licensed by DEFRA. The two licensed circuses still using wild animals have not said that they have any plans to add further wild animals. Given that a ban will be in place before the next touring season, it would make little economic sense for them to invest in new trained animals or equipment now, and significant changes to a performance require planning, which would usually happen when the circus is at winter quarters, from late October onward. Also, in the unlikely event that a circus sought to add a wild animal to an existing licence, the proposed moratorium would not prevent that from happening between now and the moratorium coming into effect.

I assure the House that that is a highly unlikely scenario. The current 2012 licensing regime would safeguard the animal’s welfare. Existing licence conditions require circuses to provide DEFRA with at least two weeks’ notice of their intention to add a wild animal to their circus, and inspection would follow as soon as possible after the animal’s arrival in the circus. The Government accept that that leaves open the possibility—albeit a very small one—that new animals could be used in travelling circuses for a maximum of 14 or 16 weeks, or just over three and a half months, if the licence application was submitted and approved, unless the proposed early moratorium comes into effect. Although we have had no indication that any circus in the UK would try to make use of such a gap, I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead. I will take the matter away and, ahead of Committee stage in the Lords, consider how best we can ensure that no new wild animals are used in travelling circuses by the time the ban comes into force on 20 January 2020.

On amendment 3, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, we believe that circuses have had enough time to plan for the ban. He suggested, I think probingly, that the decision has only just been made; in fact, the legislation has been long in gestation, and the general feeling is that it would have been better had it been introduced sooner. I think we all share that view. It has been difficult to get parliamentary time. Circuses have had six and a half years to prepare, ever since the introduction of the licensing regulations, which contain a sunset clause that made it clear that the ban would be in place by January 2020. We do not believe, therefore, that the amendment is necessary.

The Government have always been clear that the licensing regulations were an interim measure only. It is important to highlight that licences must be renewed every year, and in February last year we reaffirmed that any license issued to circuses this year would be the last, because a ban would be in place by the time the interim regulations expired on 20 January 2020. The coming into force date of the Bill aligns with the expiry date of the regulations, which means that the two circuses will be able to update and plan their routines for next year while they are not on tour, as the majority of circuses would do anyway.

It should not be too difficult for the circuses to replace the wild animal elements of their shows. DEFRA has been inspecting these circuses at least three times a year for the last six and a half years. Our inspections show that the animals, where they are used, are used for only about five to ten minutes as part of a two-hour show. As long as the ban comes into force during the winter season, which has always been the Government’s intention, we believe that the two circuses have enough time to adjust their routines. Indeed, there are about 25 circuses in the UK and Ireland that do not use wild animals in their show, and they operate successfully. They show what can be done. To reassure my hon. Friend further, comparisons with ticket prices in other travelling circuses that do not use wild animals do not show a premium for seeing or involving wild animals.

I should add that the amendment does not reflect the fact that the interim licensing regulations expire next January. The amendment would therefore permit wild animals to be used in travelling circuses for two years—that is, to 2022—with a much lower level of scrutiny than they have been subjected to for the last seven years. In those circumstances, I would certainly share the concerns about more wild animals being introduced into travelling circuses. A two-year moratorium, with no DEFRA licence required at all, could well lead to more wild animals being used in travelling circuses. That is not something this Government would agree to.

I hope I have made it clear why the Government believe that next January is an appropriate date for the ban to come into force, and that hon. Members in all parts of the House are reassured by my comments. I hope my hon. Friend feels that it would be best were he not to press his amendment.

Philip Davies Portrait Philip Davies - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:56 p.m.

I thank the Minister for an extremely thorough response to the amendments tabled by me and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). People will now see why I speak so highly of my hon. Friend, not just in his time as a Minister but in his time at Asda. His courteous, serious and thorough treatment of all the amendments does him credit and shows why he is such a fantastic Minister, and I am grateful to him. I am pretty sure that he will discuss these matters further with the shadow Minister and me before the Bill goes to the Lords.

As the Scottish National party Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), is present, I should restate my view that the law introduced by the Scottish Government is better than the Bill we are dealing with, but I have heard the Minister’s response and, based on that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Dame Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton) - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 5:29 p.m.

Consideration completed. As the Bill has not been amended since its introduction, Standing Order No. 83L does not apply and I do not need to suspend the House to reconsider the Bill.

I remind the House that on Second Reading the Speaker certified that clauses 1 and 2 and the schedule relate exclusively to England on matters within devolved legislative competence. Under Standing Order No. 83M, a consent motion is therefore required for the Bill to proceed. Copies of the motion are being made available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website, and have been made available to Members in the Chamber.

Does the Minister intend to move the consent motion?

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Parliament Live - Hansard

indicated assent.

The House forthwith resolved itself into the Legislative Grand Committee (England) (Standing Order No. 83M(3)).

[Dame Eleanor Laing in the Chair]

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Eleanor Laing) - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 7:59 p.m.

I remind hon. Members that, if there is a Division, only Members representing constituencies in England may vote. I call the Minister to move the consent motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Committee consents to the following certified clauses of, and Schedule to, the Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill—

Clauses and Schedules certified under SO No. 83J(1)(h) as relating exclusively to England and being within devolved legislative competence

Clauses 1 and 2 of, and the Schedule to, the Bill (Bill 385).—(David Rutley.)

Break in Debate

The First Deputy Chairman - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 8:01 p.m.

I look around expectantly and discover that nobody wishes to catch my eye.

The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decision of the Committee (Standing Order No. 83M(6)).

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair; decision reported.

Third Reading

David Rutley Portrait David Rutley - Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 8:02 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I am pleased to move the motion for the Third Reading of this short but very important Bill. It is a Bill with a very simple purpose: to ban the outdated practice of using wild animals for performance or exhibition in travelling circuses. The Bill addresses important ethical concerns about the way we use and perceive wild animals in the 21st century. This country is rightly proud of its place in the world for the protection and care of animals. Our regard and respect for wild animals, and our sense of their intrinsic value, are now much more important to us than allowing them to be used for entertainment.

The Government’s belief, which I hope is widely shared by many in this House, is that travelling circuses are not the right place to experience or learn about wild animals. Frankly, circuses do not need to use wild animals. Most circuses have been thriving without the use of wild animals for a long time now. The continued use of wild animals in travelling circuses, often performing demeaning routines for our amusement, sends completely the wrong message about the value and respect we should accord them. The Government’s view is that the very notion of inducing wild animals to perform tricks in a circus setting is well past its sell-by date and should now stop.

The Bill fulfils a long-term commitment. I once again pay tribute to those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have sought to take it forward as a private Member’s Bill, including my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince), for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who took this important issue forward initially, for his advocacy and support.

I also wish to thank hon. Members who have contributed to today’s debates and throughout the proceedings in this House, as well as the members of the Public Bill Committee and the expert witnesses, including those who submitted written evidence for their consideration on the Bill. I am grateful for the constructive engagement by representatives from animal welfare non-governmental organisations, especially in their willingness to help to draft the guidance that I have committed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to producing when the Act comes into force.

I extend my thanks to my hard-working and long-suffering Bill team, my private office, the parliamentary private secretaries, the Whips on both sides and, of course, the Clerks for their work and support on this issue. I thank those on the Opposition Front Bench for the constructive way in which they have taken the Bill forward and most of the other proposed legislation we have been working on over previous weeks.

It is an honour to take the Bill forward. It has had such overwhelming support from all parties, the public and animal welfare organisations from Second Reading through to today. We are committed to enhancing our well-deserved worldwide reputation for caring for animals after we leave the EU. This ban is another important measure to protect and improve the lives of animals, from strengthening the protection of service animals through Finn’s law, to ensuring puppies and kittens are no longer sold by unscrupulous third-party sellers—we will have more of that tomorrow—and combating the illegal wildlife trade. We are grateful for the continued support of colleagues across the House for our efforts to protect animals and to ensure a sustainable future for our shared planet. I wish the Bill safe and speedy passage through its remaining stages in the other place.

Sandy Martin (Ipswich) (Lab) Parliament Live - Hansard
4 Jun 2019, 8:06 p.m.

I thank all those right hon. and hon. Members whose persistence has led to the Bill coming before us today: in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who as Secretary of State at the time promoted the initial consultation; Thomas Docherty, the previous Member for Dunfermline and West Fife; my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick); the hon. Members for Colchester (Will Quince), for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison); my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman); and the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), who made the very powerful point that it is important for the public perception of the force of law that the police should have at least equal powers to inspectors in the enforcement of the Bill. Of course, we have all been ably assisted by the officers who have prepared the Bill.

There is overwhelming popular support across the country for the Bill, with 94% supporting a total ban on wild animals in circuses in the 2009 consultation. There is almost unanimous cross-party support shown by the hon. Members from across the House, who have not just signalled their support but have pushed over a 10-year period for this Bill to come before us. As a newcomer to this House I do think there is an issue with the length of time it has taken for various uncontentious Bills to make it into law.

We can be pleased that the Bill has now been taken on by the Government and should indeed make it into law, but there is other outstanding legislation that has still not come before us. In this context, I want to mention the need for an animal cruelty sentencing Bill, the absence of which has been a bone of contention for the last three years, despite the best efforts of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, other campaigning organisations, various hon. Members and despite the Secretary of State assuring us that the Government would introduce one as quickly as possible.

We have supported the Bill all along and will obviously support it today. We have had assurances from the Minister that there is no added danger of a “last hurrah” of additional wild animals being introduced to circuses in this country in the remaining time between now and January of next year. In this context, it is sensible that the hon. Member for Shipley withdrew his amendment, as the opportunity for a last hurrah would be enormous in the additional two-year period that that amendment would have afforded. I expect many of us have been lobbied, as I have, by Martin Lacey of Circus Krone and invited to visit his circus in Munich. Mr Lacey also took the trouble to travel to this country to make the case for his big cats circus, and I feel sure that he would want to take advantage of a two-year grace period to bring his lions and tigers to perform in this country if he were able to do so.

The Minister also assured us that the definition of travelling circus, and the protection and welfare of any animals that were found to be in contravention of the Bill, would be adequately covered by guidance. We believe that the Minister is perfectly sincere in these assurances, but we still maintain that it would be preferable to have these things acknowledged on the face of the Bill.

We have the Bill before because it was made clear that the existing Animal Welfare Act could not be used to ban wild animals in circuses. The test for welfare under that Act would not be clear enough to end the practice of transporting animals to perform for the amusement of the public, but there is a higher test: the respect we have for our fellow creatures. The Bill is but one step in showing that respect, but it is an important one.

Visiting animals in their natural habitat and seeing them living the lives that they would naturally want to live is uplifting and educational. Watching them jump or climb on to bits of furniture, or even on to each other, and contort themselves into unnatural postures is neither educational nor respectful. It is well past time that we should end the use of wild animals in circuses and we are pleased to support the Bill.