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Circuses (Wild Animals)

Volume 541: debated on Thursday 1 March 2012

4. What assessment she has made of the Austrian constitutional court’s decision to dismiss the legal challenge against a ban on wild animals in circuses; and if she will bring forward proposals to implement such a ban in the UK. (97376)

A written ministerial statement published this morning sets out the Government’s policy on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England. The statement includes our assessment of the Austrian constitutional court’s recent judgment on the legal challenge against the Austrian ban on wild animals in circuses. As a result, we are developing legislation to provide for a ban.

I thank the Minister for his response and am aware of the ministerial statement. When does he anticipate that the legislation will come to the House? In the interim, are the Government willing to review the licensing regime to prevent the import of any new wild animals for circuses?

I cannot be precise on the timing of the legislation, partly for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave in answer to the previous question. It will take time, which is why we believe we must proceed with the licensing process. We are advised strongly that the hon. Lady’s proposal on new animals would almost certainly fail a judicial challenge, but importing animals is anyway covered by the convention on international trade in endangered species regulations.

Further to the question of the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long), I congratulate the Government on their announcement today, but will this welcome measure be implemented by the time of the next general election? When will it be implemented? It is important that we have a date.

My hon. Friend knows full well that it is impossible to put an exact date on it, but I would be extremely surprised and disappointed if it was not implemented before the next election.

Last year, Parliament voted unanimously for a ban on wild animals in circuses with the backing of 95% of the public. DEFRA Ministers showed how out of touch they are with the public and hid behind spurious threats of legal challenges in the EU as an excuse for doing nothing. They now say that they will introduce a Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows, but yesterday they introduced a water Bill that will be passed in just two days. Why cannot they do the same with the ban on wild animals—

Order. We are grateful to the hon. Lady. I think we have got the gist of it, but both sides really must speed up.

If the hon. Lady reads what I said in that debate, she will see that I made it abundantly clear that the Government are in favour in principle of a ban—that is laid out in front of us in Hansard. As I also laid out, a ban for welfare reasons would almost certainly fail if challenged in the courts. That is why we must act on ethical grounds, which means that we must be sure that our measure is watertight. It would be easy to pass legislation today only for it to be bogged down in the courts for several years under challenge, with no protection for the animals. That is why we must take the two-pronged approach of licensing urgently while we proceed with a ban.