Oral Questions in Parliament | Wild Animals in Circuses

Posted on: 15th June 2011

Andrew George (St Ives, Liberal Democrat)

Like my hon. Friend and doubtless many others, I would have liked to contribute further to this debate but unfortunately I too have to be elsewhere shortly for another meeting. Nevertheless, I wish the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, who secured the debate, great success in advancing the cause.

I want to respond to the point that my hon. Friend has just made. Leaving aside the legal debate around the issue, there must be a debate across all Departments about whether a policy of working towards a ban on wild animals in circuses can proceed. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful for DEFRA to say, in due course, whether it is minded to introduce a ban if all the other impediments to imposing a ban can be overcome?


Duncan Hames (Chippenham, Liberal Democrat)

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I agree that a statement of intent—of desire—by the Government would be helpful, so that our constituents would be in no doubt that the refusal so far to countenance the introduction of primary legislation to end the practice is not a political judgment but a practical one, in light of the legal impediments. A statement from the Government to express that view would certainly be very helpful.

However, in response to the urgent question that was put last month in the main Chamber on this issue, we had a somewhat more laissez-faire piece of encouragement from the Minister, when he said:

“If people are really so opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses, I suggest that they do not go to the circus.”—[Hansard, 19 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 499.]

I am happy to take the Minister’s advice, but to be honest I do not think that his response is sufficient. That type of response has certainly not been considered in relation to many other issues of animal welfare. For example, when it comes to the regulation of practices within abattoirs, it would not be sufficient simply to tell people not to eat meat. People who eat meat expect good standards and I know that the Minister’s Department is keen to ensure that good standards are upheld. In recent months, concerns have been expressed about other animal welfare issues, for example in horse racing, and it would not have been sufficient for people simply to have turned off the television set that Saturday afternoon in April.

There are other examples of animal welfare issues when such a response would not have been sufficient, for instance in relation to the fur trade. Yes, consumers, members of the public and society as a whole can take a stand and make their views clear. However, to do that alone ignores the fact that we are all part of one democratic society where we want to be able to set standards that we should all have confidence in, regardless of our personal choices, as I said just now in relation to the meat industry.

I hope that the Minister will accept that there is widespread support for action on the issue of wild animals in circuses. In the Government’s consultation, 94% of respondents wanted an end to the use of wild animals in circuses. In addition, 26,000 people signed the petition that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South referred to in his speech. That petition was also supported by many respected organisations, such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the British Veterinary Association, the Born Free Foundation and the Captive Animals Protection Society. I hope that we can find a way through the current impasse.


Read more of the debate here