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Wild Animals in Circuses

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 30 June 2011

The Government will listen to the views of the House of Commons, and are sympathetic to the motion for a ban. We are taking active steps towards finding a way in which to introduce a ban and clearing the obstacles that prevent us from doing so now. In the meantime we have begun, as a matter of urgency, to develop a tough licensing regime which will stop circuses from using wild animals if they do not provide the appropriate welfare standards.

As the Minister acknowledges, the House made a clear decision to ban wild animals in circuses. As with so many other issues, would not it be a good idea for his Department to start listening to the electorate rather than the civil servants? Should he not just get on with it?

I have just made it clear that the Government respect the view of the House and are sympathetic to the motion for a ban. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the specific measure mentioned in the motion constituted secondary legislation. All the advice given to us—and to the last Government—suggests that that is not the right way to proceed, which is why we are trying to overcome the obstacles.

I appreciate the Minister’s response, but it appears that confusion still reigns at DEFRA. After last Thursday’s vote, an official in the Department said:

“Given that a ban is not an immediate possibility, we will proceed with a tough licensing regime”.

That prompts an obvious question: why does the Minister continue to frustrate the will of the House? Will he commit himself to introducing a ban during the current parliamentary Session?

I wish that the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said. The fact is that it is unlawful for a Minister to legislate if he knows that it is unlawful to do so. According to all the advice that we have been given, using section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 would be extremely likely to raise a judicial challenge, which would not benefit the position.

I have made it clear that we are taking the matter forward. We are exploring all avenues, both in the Department and more widely outside Government, in trying to find the best way of satisfying the desire of the House.