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Circuses (Wild Animals)

Volume 515: debated on Thursday 9 September 2010

The Department is currently reviewing the summary of the responses received in response to the consultation held on that issue. Lord Henley has met representatives of the circus industry and animal welfare organisations to discuss this issue further. Following his meeting, he requested further information from the industry, which he has now received. He anticipates that the review will be completed shortly and a response to the consultation will be published later this autumn.

The Minister will be aware that in the consultation 94% of respondents said they supported the ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, and the previous Government said they were minded to go ahead with that ban. There is great concern about the delay in this matter. I know that autumn in this place really means Christmas, so may I urge him to make a decision as soon as possible so that there is no more delay?

As the House has returned in the first week of September, I am not sure that the hon. Lady is right to refer to Christmas. However, I will tell my noble Friend of her words. He is considering the results of the consultation and that further information, and I am well aware of the response to the consultation and my predecessor’s mindful remarks, to which she referred. However, other issues have to be addressed, not least that of the definition of a circus and how we distinguish that from other forms of performance, such as in films or theatre.

Does the Minister sincerely believe that exotic animals being forced to dance and do tricks is natural? Bearing in mind that very few animal circuses are now left, surely the best thing is to abolish them, which the last Government failed to do but had promised to do while in opposition.

The direct answer is no, I do not think it is right for large animals, in particular, to be forced to perform acts for people’s entertainment. I do not think that is right. However, the role of Government is to look at the whole picture. One issue that we have to address is the fact that, if we ban wild animals, we will ban not just elephants and big cats, but snakes and all sorts of things that might be present in a circus and which might be perfectly reasonable. A lot of issues have to be addressed, but my noble Friend is considering them and will make an announcement later.