The government is, once again, under pressure to ban wild animals in circuses. Sixty-six MPs have now signed a fresh early day motion in the House of Commons calling on Cameron and Clegg to act.
Currently the animals – defined by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] as ‘a member of a species that is not normally domesticated in the British Isles…..not having a fixed place of residence for over six months’ - are regulated under the Animal Welfare Act [AWA]. This was passed in 2006 and its wake a Circus Working Group [CWG] was established to consider specific legislation.
Containing representatives of the circus industry, animal welfare organisations and academics this disappointed animal welfare campaigners by failing to find sufficient scientific evidence to justify a complete ban on the grounds that the animal’s welfare need were not being satisfactorily met. The group was criticised by many for its unwillingness to consider photographic or video evidence, with animal rights organisations pointing out these showed animals being regularly beaten during training and enduring long periods of isolation.
In early 2010 members of the public were asked their opinion, when Defra asked people to complete a questionnaire on whether they supported a complete ban, voluntary or statutory regulation to safeguard the welfare of the animals, the numbers of which are estimated at between 40 and 50. The result was overwhelming, with 94% backing a complete ban.
Soon after the results were announced a new coalition Government was elected.
They replaced a Labour administration that had failed to follow through on its 20006 promise made by Ben Bradshaw, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs “to use a regulation under clause 10 of the Animal Welfare Bill to ban the use in travelling circuses of certain non-domesticated species whose welfare needs cannot be satisfactorily met in that environment.”
Yet if anyone harboured hopes of a change of attitude, from May 2010 onwards, they have proven misplaced. When Tory MP Mark Pritchard put down a motion in June 2011 in the Commons, asking MPs to support the public’s demand for a ban, he complained during the debate on it that he “had a call from the prime minister’s office directly and I was told that unless I withdrew this motion the prime minister would look upon it very dimly indeed. “
MP’s approved his motion with a formal vote, but with it not being binding Environment Minister Jim Paice, who’d like to see the Hunting Act repealed, said the government was restricted from acting because there was a “serious risk” of a legal challenge to any UK ban. This followed a legal challenge to Austria’s ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
Last month though the Austrian courts dismissed this and on January 16th Pritchard asked Paice when “he expects to make progress on the banning of wild animals in circuses?”
With the Environment Minister replying that “we are considering its relevance to the legal position here” he is now coming under increasing pressure from MPs, with the numbers signing EDM 2563: Ban on Wild Animals in Circuses expected to rise sharply over the next few weeks.
As always the group Animal Aid at www.animalaid.org.uk/ is doing an excellent job of bringing public pressure to bear and is urging members of the public to contact their MPs to ensure they sign the EDM.