Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee.
New Clause 1
Meaning of wild animal
‘(1) In this Act, “wild animal” means an animal other than one of a kind that is commonly domesticated in Great Britain.
(2) For the purpose of subsection (1), an animal is of a kind that is domesticated if the behaviour, life cycle or physiology of animals of that kind has been altered as a result of the breeding or living conditions of multiple generations of animals of that kind being under human control.
(3) In this section—
“animal” has the meaning given by section 1(1) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006.’—(Philip Davies.)
This new clause adds a more detailed explanation for terms used within the bill.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Meaning of other key terms—
‘In this Act—
“circus operator”, in relation to a circus, means—
(a) the owner of the circus,
(b) any person, other than the owner, with overall responsibility for the operation of the circus, or
(c) if neither of the persons mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) is present in the United Kingdom, the person in the United Kingdom who is ultimately responsible for the operation of the circus;
“officer”, in relation to a body corporate, means—
(a) a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, and
(b) any person purporting to act in any such capacity;
(a) means a circus which travels, whether regularly or irregularly, from one place to another for the purpose of providing entertainment,
(i) a circus which travels as mentioned in paragraph (a) for the purpose mentioned there, despite there being periods during which it does not travel from one place to another,
(ii) any place where a wild animal associated with such a circus is kept (including temporarily).
but not a circus which travels in order to relocate to a new fixed base for use only or mainly as a place to give performances.’
New clause 4—Moratorium on the issuing of new licences and adding animals to current licences—
‘On the day on which the Act is passed, the following provisions will apply to circus operators using wild animals in travelling circuses—
(a) there will be a moratorium on the issuing of new licences under the provisions of the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012; and
(b) current licences granted under regulation 4 of the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012 will not be extended to include additional licensed animals.
These provisions will apply until the Act comes into force.’
This new clause would prevent the issue of new licences, or the addition of animals to existing licences, from the day the Act is passed.
New clause 5—Powers of seizure: animals—
‘Where an animal is seized under paragraph 7(k), an inspector or a constable may—
(a) remove it, or arrange for it to be removed, to a place of safety;
(b) care for it, or arrange for it to be cared for—
(i) on the premises where it was being kept when it was taken into possession, or
(ii) at such other place as he thinks fit.’
This new clause would enable an animal which has been seized to be removed and cared for appropriately.
Amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 15, leave out subsection (5).
Amendment 3, in clause 4, page 2, line 14, leave out “2020” and insert “2022”.
This Amendment will enable circuses to have enough time to plan for the Act coming into force.
Amendment 4 to the schedule, page 3, line 5, at end insert—
“(1A) A police constable shall be considered to be an inspector for the purposes of this Act.”
This amendment would allow a police constable to have the same powers as an appointed inspector with respect to the Act.
Amendment 5, page 4, line 38, leave out “except” and insert “including”.
This amendment would allow animals, held by those who are suspected of committing an offence under the Act, to be seized.
Amendment 2, page 4, line 40, at end insert—
“7A An inspector may require that the owner of a wild animal may not destroy the animal unless with the permission of a qualified veterinarian.”
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I know that we have three hours allocated for consideration, but I do not intend to detain the House for so long, Members will be relieved to learn. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] That is one of the most popular things I have ever said in the Chamber. There is some important Back-Bench business to come and I am sure that we want to get on—
That changes things. We are in business now. I do not, however, intend to detain the House for long, and I do not intend to press any of the new clauses or amendments to a Division as they are probing in nature. One of the points that I always make is that we should properly scrutinise legislation that comes before the House. Even when we have a Bill with a worthy title it is always important that we scrutinise the detail, because these are important matters. They are important for the circuses, and for the animals. They are clearly at the forefront of what the legislation is intended to protect, and therefore it is important to check that we are doing everything right.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) has also tabled some amendments, but I will concentrate on those I have tabled. In passing, I will say that some of the points he makes are worthy of consideration and I hope that the Minister will do so, even if he is not prepared to accept the amendments today. I hope that in the other place some proper scrutiny will be given, so I do not expect that we will have a ding-dong on these issues tonight.
I am a great admirer of the Minister and not just because of his time in Parliament: we used to work together at Asda many moons ago. Obviously, he was much more senior than I was, and far better at his job—that will not come as any surprise to anyone. We worked on projects together in our time at Asda, and he has taken his common-sense approach there into his ministerial responsibilities. It is great to see him in his place, and all I ask of him—he is a reasonable man—is that he goes away after the debate and considers all the new clauses and amendments to see whether the Government want to have another look at them when the Bill reaches the other place.
New clause 1 addresses the meaning of the term “wild animal”, and would add a more detailed definition to the Bill. The wording I have used mirrors that in the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018, and will thereby enable consistency around the UK. Simply falling into line with the law in Scotland has advantages in and of itself—as a Unionist, I think it is good and always a positive when we have the same laws in England and Wales as we have in Scotland—but more importantly it would provide more clarity to what is otherwise a rather vague description of a wild animal.
The Bill currently states simply that a
“‘wild animal’ means an animal of a kind which is not commonly domesticated in Great Britain”,
but the new clause delves deeper into what that actually means. Specifically, it would add an explanation of what a domesticated animal is, by stating that an animal
“is domesticated if the behaviour, life cycle or physiology…has been altered as a result of the breeding or living conditions of multiple generations of animals of that kind being under human control.”
It can reasonably be argued that many of the animals that currently reside in the two circuses to which the Bill will be relevant fit into that definition of a domesticated animal. Given that some of the animals are from the seventh generation of their line to be born into the circus environment, their very nature and general behaviour will be much altered compared with their native wild counterparts. Thus, the term “domesticated” would be made relevant to the specific animals, which should be at the forefront of our minds. That point often seems to be lost in debates on this subject.
For the specific animals we are talking about that are currently in these circuses, it would be more unkind to release them into what many would assume to be their natural habitat, because generations of living under human supervision will have left them without the traditional instincts and abilities necessary to survive in the wild. We describe these animals as wild when they quite clearly could not survive in the wild, and to that extent they are not wild animals. They do not have the traditional instincts and abilities required for them to survive in a habitat that is different from what they are currently accustomed to. They have no knowledge of anything different.
The whole point of new clause 1 is to get into the Bill a more sensible definition that applies to the particular animals involved. It seems to me to be bizarre that on the one hand we are talking about wild animals and on the other hand we are passing legislation for animals that could not be released into the wild. It is crazy. We want to stop genuinely wild animals being used in circuses—I certainly do; I have no objection to that at all—but the specific animals that are currently relevant are not really wild animals any more.
Like new clause 1, new clause 2 mirrors the provisions of the 2018 Act. If the House agrees to new clause 2, that would provide consistency in the law throughout the UK and more clarity on the definitions of relevant key terms. The Bill currently describes the definition of a circus operator and an officer, but new clause 2 would also define a travelling circus, which is a key part of the legislation, and the fact that it is not currently covered in the Bill, despite the title suggesting that it applies specifically to the circus industry, is not only concerning but leads to a lot of potential loopholes. Many forms of entertainment involve animal participation at their heart and I have heard people discussing their wish to use this legislation as a Trojan horse to affect other industries in which animals are trained.
Many forms of entertainment involve at their heart the participation of animals that have been trained and bred for a particular purpose. For example, I am very keen on the horse-racing industry. I am pretty sure, Madam Deputy Speaker, that at this point I should refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am not sure whether there is anything relevant in there, but there may well be, so I do so just to be safe rather than sorry. The racing industry has animals that are trained for entertainment and that are bred for that purpose. I might add that they are particularly well looked after, as animal welfare is at the heart of everything that the racing industry does. Throughout the country we have zoos and falconry, and even the more obscure alpaca walking experiences.
My concern is that the Bill does not seem to provide a clear enough definition that separates the circus industry, which the title suggests it is specifically targeted at. As I referred to earlier, this issue has been dealt with in Scotland. New clause 2 would provide the clarity that the Bill needs to ensure that it will not blur any lines and to make sure that the legislation will not be used as a Trojan horse to affect other industries—including those I have mentioned, the greyhound industry and whatever else it might be—because other people might have some of those industries in their sights. I hope the Minister will reflect on these points and go away and look at the merits of the relevant legislation in Scotland to see whether we might wish to mirror it in England and Wales.
Amendment 1 would leave out subsection (5) of clause 1. In effect, it is consequential on new clauses 1 and 2, and would remove the current set of definitions of key terms to replace it with those that I want to introduce in new clause 2. Rather than anything more substantial, it would just tidy up after the other changes.
Amendment 2 states:
“An inspector may require that the owner of a wild animal may not destroy the animal unless with the permission of a qualified veterinarian.”
As I said at the start, as I see it the whole purpose of this Bill—the motivation behind it—is to protect the animals. We must not do anything that will have a negative impact on animals—we often see unforeseen and unintended consequences of legislation—so it is important to make it clear that the owner of the so-called wild animals covered by the legislation may not destroy an animal without a vet’s permission. We cannot have a situation in which the animals cannot be used in a circus and are therefore put down. That would be completely unacceptable. I am not suggesting for a minute that that is the intention of the people who own the animals—absolutely not, and quite the reverse. I am not casting any aspersions on them at all, but it is important to have this safeguard in the Bill to make sure that we nail it down and prevent that from happening.
Amendment 2 would add to the list of powers that the inspector of travelling circuses will have. It would ensure that animals that will no longer be able to participate in any aspect of circus life will not be put down as a result of the legislation coming into force. As I said, that is not to suggest that the owners of the animals are likely to be so callous. The point is that if people suggest, as it seems they have, that what the circus owners do to these animals is cruel, why would those people, who have pressed for the legislation because they think that circus owners are cruel to the animals, then trust the circus owners to look after the animals when they are no longer able to use them in their circuses? Either these circus owners are cruel to the animals and therefore cannot be trusted to care particularly well for them in retirement, or they are not cruel, in which case I am not entirely sure why we are going down this route in the first place.
It seems to me that the argument that the Minister may well have is that, well, these people look after their animals really well. I think he has made it clear in the past—he will correct me if I am wrong—that there has never been any question about the welfare of the animals in these circuses. I am happy to be corrected by anybody, but as far as I am aware no one has suggested at any point that there has been any problem with the welfare of the animals. If there were problems, there are rules to deal with them. This is not about the welfare of these animals; no one has a question about that as far as I can see. It is about the principle of whether the animals should be used for this purpose, even though they have been bred and trained for it—they cannot be untrained obviously. They will not be used for any other purpose, and they will not be released into the wild, so what will be done with them? They will just live a life in retirement. My amendment is about making sure that they are able to enjoy a long and fulfilled retirement.
Clearly, it would not be right to destroy an animal that is deemed fit and healthy by a vet simply because it has no further purpose within the circus industry—a lifestyle that, in many cases, it would not know from any other form—or because there is no alternative location for it to rehomed in following its seizure from the circus. I would be interested to hear what plans the Minister has to ensure the welfare of these animals in retirement if, for any reason, the circus owners and operators are not fulfilling their duty. Surely just banning these animals from being used in circuses cannot be an end in itself. The end has to be that the animals are particularly well looked after in retirement. It is the animals that I am more interested in than the circuses.
Amendment 3 is a probing amendment that changes the date that the Act comes into force from 2020 to 2022. Basically, it will flag up whether the Minister thinks there is a case—if he does not, we would like to hear what he thinks—for delaying this Bill coming into force by extending it to January 2022. This would give time to the two current circuses that I think are in operation to make preparations and alternative arrangements for the animals. It would also give time for them to come up with an alternative business model. I am not entirely sure how important these animals are for the viability of the circuses—perhaps the Minister can shed some light on that. Given that the circuses have been acting completely within the law and given that everybody has made it clear that the welfare of the animals is not in question, it is clear, as far as anyone can see, that the circus operators have not done anything wrong. People may not agree with the use of animals in circuses, but given that it is allowed, and given that these circuses look after them well, it seems to me that the Government have just decided to do this despite the fact that it may well put circuses in a great deal of financial difficulty—it may not, I do not know.
I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten me because I am sure that he has looked into this point. Of course we do not want circuses to suffer undue hardship because we want them to have the money to look after animals in retirement. We need them to be financially viable to make sure that the animals are properly looked after. It seems to me that there may well be a case for giving them an extra 18 months or two years to prepare for this and to have an alternative business model. They will also have the time to make sure that the animals are sufficiently cared for and provided for. The figure and the timescale are arbitrary. This is merely a probing amendment to tease out from the Minister why he thinks the timescales that are currently envisaged in the Bill are right. At the end of the day, we must make sure that we do not have the unintended consequence of the animals not being looked after properly because this Bill was rushed.
I think that that pretty much covers my amendments. I look forward to hearing from the shadow Minister because I am genuinely interested in his amendments and believe that there is some merit in them. If he does not mind my saying so, I am particularly keen on new clause 5, which would enable an animal that has been seized to be removed and cared for appropriately. That is a very good point, because, at the end of the day, this is all about the animals.
I hope that the Minister will consider these points in good faith and perhaps, in another place, think about whether he wants to support any amendments to the law, particularly to bring us closer in line with what has happened in Scotland.
I am glad that we have found parliamentary time in this otherwise packed parliamentary schedule for this really important Bill—because this is a really important Bill. The focus on it and the attendance in the Chamber today should not be taken as a lack of interest in this important area. There is cross-party support for the Bill. I wish to put on record my thanks to the Minister for the way that he has led this Bill from the Government’s point of view, genuinely listening to the concerns of the Opposition, and particularly the concerns of the stakeholders that we have been giving voice to.
There are currently 19 wild animals in circuses. It has been made clear by the evidence we heard in the Bill Committee that the British public do not want wild animals in circuses any more. They want to see wild animals out of circuses. That means that the six reindeers, four zebras, three camels, three racoons, one fox, which is still not for hunting, one macaw and one zebu need to be freed. In doing so, we send a strong message that our values as a country will be put into legislation. This effort was started 10 years ago by the then Labour Government who tried to bring in a ban on wild animals in circuses. Sadly—sadly for many reasons—the general election got in the way and that was thwarted. It has taken us nine years to get to the point where this legislation is being considered by the House of Commons and I am glad that it is.
Labour will support this Bill in principle today, but there are some aspects that we would like to see strengthened. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) raised a number of those in his opening remarks for this debate. As soon as this Bill receives Royal Assent, there should be no new wild animals in our circuses in the country. We should send a clear message to circus owners and to the general public that once this Bill has passed, not only will wild animals be banned from 20 January 2020, but no new licences for wild animals will be given by the Government—that is one of the amendments that I will come to in a moment. It is important that we prevent a last hurrah for wild animals in circuses. This is not just about the camels, the zebu and the macaw, but about the risk that we get other wild animals—elephants, tigers, lions and other wild animals that we currently do not have in our circuses—being brought back for a last hurrah. I am talking about a PR stunt by circus operators—those with animals now and perhaps those without—to say that they will give one last push to show a tiger perform tricks, one last push to show a lion stand on its back legs and clap, and one last push for people to see horrendous displays. That is not something that the Opposition want, that the Government want, or that the British public wants. That will be one of the amendments that I will come to in just a moment.
In travelling circuses, wild animals are carted from one venue to another, sometimes in cramped cages and barren trailers and are taught to perform wholly unnatural tricks, often through fear of punishment. There is unequivocal evidence that wild animals are not suited to the travelling life where they are denied even their most basic needs. Animal welfare groups and Labour members are concerned that, without extending the powers of entry to the police and without a power to seize wild animals, the enforcement of this Bill will be much more challenging than it needs to be. While this Bill is being brought forward on ethical grounds, Labour believes that we still must champion the welfare of animals through its implementation. Without the powers of seizure it will not be possible to ensure that the welfare needs of these animals are fully met in the future.
Labour’s new clause 4 would introduce a moratorium on issuing new licences and adding any new animals to current licences. The moratorium would come into force on the day the Act is passed to ensure that there is no last hurrah for wild animals in circuses. In Britain, we rightly think of ourselves as a nation of animal lovers, but we have to put that into practice because every wild animal matters. We are sadly chasing the pack, because 45 countries have already banned wild animals in circuses, and Britain is following in their wake. For our animal welfare policy to be a roaring success, we must claw back the ground lost to other countries. We must send a clear message that it is not only from January 2020 that we must ensure there are no wild animals in circuses; there must also be no new wild animals added to travelling circuses in the period between Parliament considering this legislation and its coming into full force.
People in England and the rest of the UK do not want to see wild animals performing in circuses. There is a strength of feeling that has only increased since the Labour Government consulted on the matter in 2009. I am grateful to the Minister for outlining in Committee DEFRA’s latest consultation, which shows a continuing and overwhelming support from the British people for banning wild animals in circuses. The interesting thing is that quite a lot of British people already think that there is a ban in place. They already believe that wild animals are no longer allowed to be used for entertainment in circuses, and that tigers, elephants and lions can only be seen in films set in Victorian times that recreate the circuses of old. But that is not necessarily the case. Wild animals can be used in circuses if the Government grant a licence.
The moratorium we are proposing is so important because it sends the message that there will be no new wild animals—no tigers, lions or elephants—appearing in our circuses. We need to put this idea into practice. I have spoken to the Minister and I hope that he will take seriously the concerns about the intervening period raised by the Opposition so that we can prevent a last hurrah. I am open to having a discussion with him about how best to take such a measure forward. There is overwhelming cross-party support for this measure and this is a genuinely non-partisan effort by stakeholders and the Opposition to ensure that no new wild animals can be put in circuses, and that is the spirit in which the new clause was tabled.
Without new clause 4, there is a possibility that new animals and new species could be introduced between now and the commencement date of the legislation on 20 January 2020. The only restriction in the current licensing arrangement is that the animals must be inspected, and found to be fit and healthy. Unless we make it clear in the Bill that introducing new animals will not be permitted, there will be nothing to prevent additional licences being granted so that wild animals can be taken on tour in the final few months of wild animals being allowed in circuses. I can imagine this being used as a public relations sell on posters up and down the country: “This is the final time to see a lion in our circus.” We must send a clear message from this place today that that is not acceptable.
We cannot have any more big cats in circuses. We do not want any extra zebus or raccoons being brought into our circuses. The public would want the Government to stop that from happening. Given that there is cross-party support for stopping such behaviour from 2020, the British public would not understand why we would allow more animals for a last hurrah before the legislation came into force. The public do not support wild animals in circuses, and there is strong agreement across the House that this measure should be put in place. I would be grateful if the Minister would look seriously at what can be done to ensure that there is no last hurrah. Under the current licensing arrangements, Thomas Chipperfield toured Wales and England with two lions and two tigers as recently as 2015. The longer that licences can still be issued, the greater the risk that animals could be brought back into circuses, and none of us wants to see that. New clause 4 would simply tidy up the legislation to ensure that that cannot happen.
If the Minister decides not to accept our new clause or to work with us on the issue, he will need to rely on the good will of circus operators. I do not doubt the passion of the circus operators we heard evidence from in Committee, who feel that they love their animals. I genuinely believe that they love their animals. However, the way to demonstrate that love is not to put them on show. There is a real risk that in the final hurrah—the last few months before the legislation comes into force—there will be an additional sell to try to get more people to buy seats in circus big tops to see the wild animals there. We should not accept that. There is no legal method that the Government could use to prevent licences being issued if a licence application conformed to the existing rules. The only check is on the welfare of the animal, to ensure that it is being well looked after. If there can be wild animals in circuses under current arrangements, there could also be additional or replacement animals in circuses during the interim period under the current arrangements in this Bill. There must not be a last hurrah for wild animals in circuses.
Amendment 4, which stands in my name, would extend the powers currently given to inspectors to police constables. Although the Bill provides for certain appointed inspectors to enforce the legislation, animal welfare groups have told us that these powers should be extended to police constables. This is already the case in the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018. Including this in the English legislation would not only ensure that there was minimal difference in enforcement across the UK, but would also facilitate a quick response to allegations of illegal animal use. Allowing police constables to enforce the Bill, alongside inspectors—we are not seeking to introduce a hierarchy as between police constables and the inspectors—would ensure that any breaches of the legislation were addressed in as timely a manner as possible.
As a minimum, the Opposition would like the Government to include in the guidance associated with the Bill that a police constable could be one of the individuals taken into premises by an inspector appointed by DEFRA under the Act, and that in these circumstances the officer would have the same powers as the inspector. Suitable specialists in wild animals could accompany officers where needed. Since the Ivory Act 2018 passed through Parliament recently and now the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, there has been a renewed enthusiasm for the skills and expertise of the National Wildlife Crime Unit. I want to put on record my continuing thanks for the work of this very small band of dedicated professionals, who look after animals across the UK. In many cases, it could well be this unit that would help to enforce parts of this legislation. Tidying up the Bill to include constables as well as inspectors could make a very big difference. It is essential for the police to have an explicit role to ensure the welfare of the wild animals. This should be made clear, ideally in the legislation itself; if not, it should be clarified in the accompanying guidance.
My new clause 5 and amendment 5 would ensure that if a wild animal was found being used in a travelling circus—in breach of the ban under this legislation—there would be an opportunity to remove the animal and for it to be cared for appropriately, rather than leaving it in situ. In Committee, we heard evidence from circus operators who said that in some circumstances they would continue to tour with their animals after the ban came into place, because they feared they could not leave the animals in any other environment. Although such actions may adhere to the letter of the law being proposed in this Bill, this could mean a risk of breaching the legislation through future use of the animals for entertainment purposes. In the event of a breach of the ban—in which case there is a risk of wild animals being subjected to continued cruelty by being held in small cages and environments that are not suitable for their continued care—new clause 5 and amendment 5 would ensure that the animals could be seized and appropriately rehomed.
When we were in Committee, I tweeted that I was sure that, as a nation of animal lovers, there would be plenty of people who would want to help rehome these wild animals. And, my word, plenty of people responded on social media. Indeed, the wildlife organisations that have been so good and professional in the advice they have given the Opposition have also said that they would welcome the opportunity to rehome any of the animals, should a home be required for them. I imagine that most people who care for the wellbeing of animals would want to know that the animals could be taken to a place of safety in the event of a breach.
The needs of animals in travelling circuses cannot be met if the animals remain in the travelling circus. We must have the proper mechanisms in place to enforce this legislation so that we can protect their welfare when it comes into effect. The Minister said in Committee that although he understood our concern that in some situations animals might need to be removed from the premises on safety or welfare grounds, such powers were already provided for in existing legislation, so our amendments were not necessary. We disagree with that assessment, which is why we have tabled them again today.
Sections 18 and 19 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 enable seizure only when animals are in distress or suffering. The Minister’s comments did not address the RSPCA’s concern that there should be a specific power of seizure and rehoming of a circus animal, even if it is not in distress or suffering. That is important, because this Bill is being introduced on ethical grounds, not necessarily on animal welfare grounds. That distinction is really important. Especially if we are to address wild animals being used or transported in travelling circuses in future, we need to make sure that that works on ethical grounds as well as animal welfare grounds, in the spirit of this Bill.
If a wild animal found in a circus is not in distress or suffering at that moment, there is no power to intervene under the Animal Welfare Act, so the animal could not be seized or taken to a place of safety. We have heard from numerous animal welfare organisations how difficult it is to prove cruelty or suffering under the Act, and that this is even more difficult in the case of a circus that is moving from place to place with no published tour schedule, necessarily, beyond the immediate next performances. One of the reasons we would like police constables to have the same powers as inspectors is to help to solve this issue as well.
I hope that the Minister will respond positively to the issues that the Opposition have set out. At this stage of the consideration of the Bill, there is an opportunity to work further on the moratorium proposals to make sure that no new wild animals can be introduced into circuses. The Minister, as the consummate professional I know he is, would certainly be embarrassed if he had egg on his face as a result of more wild animal licences being applied for between now and the commencement date of this legislation. Introducing a moratorium not only makes good political sense but makes good welfare sense for the animals involved. If he could also set out his ambition to include constables either in the legislation or in the guidance, that would go a long way towards addressing the concerns that we have heard from stakeholders along the way.
In conclusion, I would like to draw on some of the words of Professor Stephen Harris, who was the expert commissioned by the Welsh Government to look into the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses. His report, published in April 2016, provides strong evidence that wild animals in travelling circuses not only suffer poor welfare but do not have a “life worth living”. We need to make sure that all animals have a life worth living. If the Minister can look favourably on these amendments in the spirit in which they are tabled, we can move this Bill forward in a spirit of cross-party co-operation to ensure that there are no more wild animals in our circuses. We can have a future where those wild animals are able to enjoy themselves and live out the rest of their lives in more natural surroundings, and not forced to entertain for human pleasure in sometimes difficult and cruel environments.
It is a pleasure to speak at the Report stage of this Bill. I apologise to the House that I was not able to speak on Second Reading. That is probably why I was not invited to serve on the Bill Committee. For me, this is, exactly as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said, an ethical question. It is not about animal welfare, although there are some real animal welfare issues, as we have seen over the years in fly-on-the-wall documentaries and other reports of animals being abused and kept captive.
There are two major parts of this Bill where the Minister should listen to the proposals in the Opposition amendments as well as in the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). As a former Policing Minister, I know that the police will not want an officer to be the sole person with the knowledge to go in and carry out this activity. Let us put that on the record now—they would not want to do that. There is a completely different reaction from members of the public, whether they are running a circus or any other organisation, to an inspector arriving and to an officer of the constabulary arriving, particularly together. That is the sort of reaction that we need to have.
The excellent National Wildlife Crime Unit, which was also under my portfolio, is a small unit, and it might well need some extra resources if it were to take this duty on in general. The principle of that unit means that it is exactly where the power should come from. That should be addressed within the guidance, as it is probably easier for it to be done in that way. This applies to the 43 authorities in England and Wales. Scotland already has legislation just like this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was just telling me that it was actually better, in principle, and we are trying to make this Bill better through some of the lessons that have been learned there.
I absolutely agree that no new animals at all should be allowed into circuses in this interim period. We are trying to go with public opinion, which has changed over the years. My eldest daughter is now 30 years of age.
She does not look 30 years of age, as my hon. Friend comments. She said to me when she was about 11 years of age, “Daddy, I’m going to be taken to a zoo by the school, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to see animals in cages.” We have never gone to a zoo and never gone to a circus that has had live animals. My youngest daughter is 28 and my eldest daughter is 30. My eldest daughter is now a marine biologist, so the House can probably realise where I am coming from on this. If we are going to make a law that says that we are banning live animals in circuses, let us do that for them, and for the public. If there are animal welfare issues, that can be picked up, but actually over the years it has not been, which is why we are going to ban it ethically now.
Should the animals be taken if they are found in this situation? This is a really difficult grey area that the Minister is going to have to address. Why would someone travel with an animal if they have not been training it and using it? Why would they keep it in its winter quarters when perhaps there are better types of quarters that it could be kept in? If it is travelling, why would they do that if they are not using it within a circus production? I hope that there can be an accommodation in this Bill—whether in this House, around guidance, or as it proceeds to the other House, which will also understand that the public are with us on this—whereby we can do what it says on the tin. This Bill says that we are going to ban live animals in circuses—we are going to protect those animals should they be in a circus.
There will be loads of good will out there regarding these animals. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said that he tweeted out about this —yes, but they have to go to the right place. We are talking about myriad different types of animal that are used within circuses. It is really important that these animals go to a place of expertise to be looked after, because a lot of them may well have been through very stressful procedures. They may have been in a circus nearly all their life and then they are taken to a completely different environment. That takes a degree of professionalism and expertise. That has to be addressed in terms of payment, which should come from the circus, as they are the people who are responsible for these animals. They can be passionate about them. I have heard some of the debates in public over the years where they have said, “We love these animals.” I do not doubt that, but we need to say, “If we have a situation where we are going to have to remove animals from you, as an organisation, then it is not right for the taxpayer or a charity to pick up that tab—it is your job.” We need to consider how we can move that forward within the guidance. Perhaps the other House will debate this for a little bit longer.
We are trying, on principle, cross-party and as a nation, to get the animal rights part of this right. My kids—our kids—are driving this forward. It is like the environmental arguments that are going on out there at the moment. They are right, because it is their future, not our future. I have been lucky enough to be in Kenya with the military and have been in most of the safari parks. Seeing an animal in its natural environment coming down to the water hole in the evening because that is what it naturally does is an absolutely moving thing, not like seeing an elephant standing on its back legs in a circus, which is very damaging for the animal.
The House should be very proud of bringing this legislation forward. I would disagree only slightly with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport on one thing. The previous Labour Administration had a huge majority—an absolutely enormous majority. They could have got whatever legislation they wanted through this House at any time during that period, but is a Conservative Government who have brought this through. I am very proud of that, but it should have been brought in years and years ago.
It is an honour to participate in the debate, and I welcome the genuine cross-party spirit. We are good friends on these issues, and it is good to hear well-informed, well-thought-through opinions, which will add to what we are taking forward. I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) on setting out his concerns so clearly. We have spoken outside the Chamber, to facilitate further discussions, which shows the cross-party approach we are taking.
Animal welfare is a vital issue for everybody in the Chamber. All Members here have played an important role in trying to secure debates and take forward legislation on this issue. It is time to stop the outdated practice of wild animals performing or being exhibited in circuses. I will go into some technical details, but I think we all agree that we need to move in that direction.
I will start with new clause 1, new clause 2 and amendment 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I have known him for a very long time. He is an extraordinary orator and a scrutineer extraordinaire—I am not very good at French, as Members can tell. I have enjoyed working with him in various roles. He got to this place well before me and has made a remarkable and important contribution.
Most of new clause 1 replicates definitions already contained in the Bill. The exception is subsection (2), which would introduce an explanation of the term “domesticated”. I understand the perceived need for clarity, especially given the time spent in Committee on the issue of domestication, and particularly the distinction between exotic and wild animals. My hon. Friend missed some of that debate, but I assure him that we had a detailed debate about those issues.
The Bill mirrors the approach taken in other pieces of English legislation, particularly the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012, and consistency with the regulations is particularly important. Changing our approach opens the door to arguments about inconsistency, and in particular whether animals that can currently only be used in circuses under licence are the same animals subjected to this ban.
The definition of “wild animal” was debated at length on Second Reading, as I am sure Members are aware. For the purpose of the Bill, “wild animal” means an animal of a kind that is not commonly domesticated in Great Britain. I would like to reiterate for the sake of clarity that domestication is a genetic selection process across a significant population of animals for specific traits, often over hundreds or thousands of years. This selection process results in clear physical and behavioural changes from the original wild type. If an individual animal of a wild species has been tamed, that does not mean it falls outwith the definition of “wild animal”. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley indicated, wild animals in circuses will most likely be tamed, and they have usually been bred for a number of generations within the circus environment. However, individual or groups of tame wild circus animals are still wild animals for the purposes of the Bill. As I said, the term “wild animal” is already well established in English legislation, and welfare groups are content that it will cover the animals that we all want to see banned.
I promised in Committee to explain what we mean by “travelling circus” in guidance to the legislation. Should it be necessary, we can provide advice on what is or is not a wild animal in guidance. An example already exists in the form of the Secretary of State’s standards of modern zoo practice, which define what is not normally domesticated. For all those reasons, we do not feel that it is necessary or desirable to elaborate on the term “domesticated” in the Bill. I know that my hon. Friend is not pressing his new clause to a vote, and I urge him to withdraw it, as the question of domestication can be dealt with elsewhere.
Most of new clause 2 replicates definitions already contained in the Bill. In addition, it would add a definition of “travelling circus” to the Bill. The desirability of defining “circus” and “travelling circus” has been debated on Second Reading and in detail in Committee. We have chosen to let the term take its common meaning, which a court will be able to interpret. As I said previously, we are concerned that setting out a specific definition of “circus” might be counterproductive. We have considered a number of definitions, none of which is ideal. If the definition is drawn too widely, it captures activities that we do not intend to ban, such as falconry displays, which we talked about at length in Committee, with accompanying entertainers who might travel from place to place. Conversely, a definition that is drawn too narrowly, by stipulating what features might make up a circus, would allow a circus operator to simply avoid the ban altogether. There are therefore challenges either way.
We believe that, rather than trying to define the term, it is better for the courts to use its common meaning. It has been mentioned that the Scottish Government chose to define “travelling circus” in their circus legislation. We have chosen not to adopt that approach, because it is not clear what the definition of “travelling circus” in the new clause, which is replicated from the Scottish legislation, achieves beyond the current definition, since it goes without saying that a travelling circus is “a circus which travels”. We note that the Scottish legislation does not define the term “circus”.
We have committed to producing detailed guidance—I think that those on the Opposition Front Bench would agree with this—in consultation with welfare groups and police on what activities the Bill will or will not ban. The Government maintain that that is the best place to provide any necessary detail. I spoke with welfare groups during and after the evidence session, and they clearly believe that this is adequate. We are keen to involve them in the drafting of the guidance.
Amendment 1 is a consequential amendment that seeks to remove the definitions provided in the Bill. We believe that the definitions as drafted are appropriate. As I said, we will produce guidance to accompany the Act, explaining what activities are covered by the ban. On those grounds, I hope my hon. Friend feels that those issues have been adequately covered.
I turn to the enforcement powers in the Bill. New clause 5 and amendment 5, tabled by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, seek to provide inspectors with powers to seize animals and to make alternative arrangements for their care. These amendments were considered in Committee—I remember the discussions well, as I am sure he does—and, as I explained then, we do not consider them to be necessary or proportionate, but let us take the argument through, and hopefully we will come to some agreement.
The powers of inspection in the Bill ensure that inspectors are able to investigate potential offences properly. They include powers to enter premises, to examine animals, to seize objects and to video or photograph animals. It would never be necessary to seize an animal to prove that an offence had been committed, so these powers are not needed for that purpose. Where there are concerns that animals need to be removed from premises on the grounds of welfare or safety, those powers already exist in other legislation.
As I have explained previously, under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 an inspector may seize an animal if it is suffering or is likely to suffer if its circumstances do not change. If someone is convicted of either causing unnecessary suffering to an animal or failing to provide for its welfare needs, the courts also have a power to disqualify them from owning or keeping animals.
That is an interesting point. It is difficult to get the balance right, but the key thing to remember is that we are discussing an outdated practice that we want to see removed on ethical grounds. Seizure is much easier where there are genuine welfare concerns—I will explain why in more detail—and those powers are contained in the 2006 Act.
If the animal is subject to the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976—of those animals currently kept in circuses, only camels and zebras are subject—it may be seized if it is being kept without a licence or if a licensing condition is being breached. There is no need to replicate those powers here. In Committee, concern was raised about repeated breaches of the Act. The courts would have the power to impose unlimited fines, which makes it highly unlikely that a circus would continue to reoffend, for economic reasons.
Powers to seize animals interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of possessions, which is protected by article 1 of protocol 1 to the European convention on human rights. Interferences must be justified and proportionate. That may be easy to do if an owner is mistreating an animal and the powers are being exercised under the Animal Welfare Act, which is the point I was trying to make earlier. However, the objective of this legislation is simply, but importantly, to prevent the use of wild animals in circuses on ethical grounds. Preventing someone from using animals for other purposes, which is what the seizure and deprivation powers do, goes beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Bill.
I would like some reassurance from the Minister about a circus that operates in my constituency—Circus Mondao—which has a zebra and two camels. I have been campaigning for it to cease the use of these, and I ask that the Bill cover that so that I can happily go to Circus Mondao in the knowledge that, because of this Act, it is not using wild animals.
The hon. Gentleman sets things out incredibly clearly, as he has done on others Bills I have been involved in. Absolutely—I can categorically say that, at commencement of this Act, those practices will no longer be able to be taken forward, so his campaign will have come to fruition. I hope that reassures him.
Amendment 4 seeks to extend the enforcement powers in the Bill to police constables. A few points have been made, not the least of which were those made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), who is passionate about many things, including these issues. I always have a soft spot for Hemel Hempstead because that was where one of my sons was born. We are all talking about our children today.
I do not know how to take that comment. I think I will move on.
Again, we do not feel that the amendment is necessary if an animal is in distress, when the Animal Welfare Act 2006 already provides powers for the police to respond quickly. The offence we are talking about—a ban on use on ethical grounds; let us keep that in the front of our minds—does not require such an urgent response. It does require a response, but it does not have same immediacy. It can happen only in the context of a public performance, which will of course take place in a public place. If a travelling circus wanted to break the law, it would have to do so in front of an audience. An inspector could be at the circus in sufficient time, and the schedule provides powers to search for evidence. As outlined in the schedule, that includes questioning any person on the premises, taking samples and taking copies of documents. Indeed, inspectors can seize anything, except an animal, found on the premises that they reasonably believe to be evidence of the offence in clause 1.
We do not believe it necessary to extend these powers to the police. DEFRA has approximately 50 circus and zoo licensing inspectors, who are qualified and experienced in identifying and, if need be, handling species of wild animals. In fact, in Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) made the point that we do have the expertise, and I think it is best to get qualified veterinarians or people with extensive experience of working with captive animals to take care of this work. Few, if any, constables would have that level of knowledge, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead pointed out.
In the rare cases where a police presence is needed, as I explained in Committee, the Bill also provides powers for an inspector to take up to two other people with them on an inspection. These could include a police constable, who would be able to exercise, under the supervision of the inspector, the powers of inspection provided in the Bill. Let me assure the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and other hon. Members that the guidance DEFRA will issue will also make it clear that police constables are able to accompany inspectors during the inspection, and I have also set that out to him in writing. I hope that gives him and other Members a greater degree of assurance that the police will be able to play a role, as required.
Will the Minister go into slightly more detail about where the guidance will land on that point? Will the police constable be one of the two people who can accompany an inspector, or will that be in addition to those two people, since there may be very good reasons why certain specialists are required for certain animals?
That is a good question, and we will take a closer look at that. At this stage, it would be one of the two people, but that is something we can take a closer look at.
I accept the point that has previously been raised that the Scottish Act provides powers for police constables to enforce the legislation. The Scottish guidance states:
“Although constables are provided powers for enforcement, it is expected that it will primarily be Local Authorities that will enforce the Act as part of other responsibilities relevant to travelling circuses.”
Even under the Scottish Act, the police are not seen as the primary inspection force.
Since Committee, DEFRA officials have discussed enforcement of the Bill with the chief constable of Hertfordshire constabulary, Charlie Hall, who is the national policing lead on animal matters. The view of the police is that while they would of course support DEFRA-appointed inspectors, should this be required, they do not want to take on the additional responsibility of being the primary enforcer of what is a very specialist area of business. They see their role as being one of support in keeping the peace when necessary to enable inspectors to conduct the work provided for in the Bill.
Mention has been made of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and we certainly respect its contributions, but we are concerned here with an offence involving captive wild animals, not wildlife crime, so it is unlikely that that group will have a primary role in inspection. That will be for the other inspectors we have talked about.
There could be a situation in which a wild animal has been inappropriately brought into a circus. We are not talking about everything coming from Africa or Asia; it could, for instance, be a wild animal from the UK, or one illegally imported. There are people who have that area of experience, and all we are asking for in the guidance is that they should be appropriately contacted and their expertise used, should that be needed.
I think that is a perfectly fair point, but the point I am trying to make, to reassure colleagues, is that we have 50 inspectors who are well trained to take care of this. Of course, we would get the police involved at the right time, and we will put that in guidance. We can anticipate that there may be circumstances in which we need to get the National Wildlife Crime Unit involved, and we will set that out as appropriate. Again, I hope that the points I have made give sufficient reassurances to hon. Members, and that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport feels that he need not press amendment 4.
I turn to amendment 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. He seeks to prevent circus operators from euthanising their wild animals, which is something we all want to be avoided, unless they have permission from a qualified vet. Again, I assure him that these issues were raised directly with the circuses during the evidence session. I understand the sentiment behind the amendment, but we have not seen any evidence that current circus operators would seek to euthanise their animals. Indeed, the two remaining circuses have assured us that they would not do so. In oral evidence during the Bill’s Committee stages, Peter Jolly senior was clear that:
“I would change my business to something else, but the animals would stop with me.”––[Official Report, Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Public Bill Committee, 21 May 2019; c. 42, Q107.]
Carol MacManus suggested that the other circus, Circus Mondao, was considering either rehoming its wild animals or keeping them at winter quarters with people to supervise the animals
“because we would have to look after the animals.”––[Official Report, Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Public Bill Committee, 21 May 2019; c. 50, Q152.]
They are concerned about their animals and consider them to be part of their family.
I would also point out that, in practice, the amendment would unfairly target circus operators by requiring them to obtain permission from a veterinarian to have an animal euthanised. No such legal requirement exists for pet owners or other owners of working animals who operate a business. As we have discussed, we do not need to seize an animal under the Bill to prove that an offence of using a wild animal in a travelling circus has been committed. The other thing it is important to set out to my hon. Friend is that retirement plans are in place for these wild animals, and the Animal Welfare Act will of course continue to apply to protect these animals. Once again, I hope that the points I have made will give reassurances to my hon. Friends and to Opposition Members.
New clause 4, as set out by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, aims to prevent new animals from being added to existing licences and to prevent new licences from being passed, and amendment 3, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, seeks to allow the circuses two more years on their existing licences. We do not believe new clause 4 is necessary, although I understand what the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport is seeking to achieve with his amendment—to mitigate the risk of additional wild animals being brought into travelling circuses between Royal Assent and the Bill coming into force on 20 January 2020. New clause 4 appears to be intended to come into force on Royal Assent; I think that is the intention. By convention, there is a strong presumption against commencing any earlier than two months after Royal Assent, because the public are entitled to be given a reasonable period of time to adapt to a change in the law and to reorganise their affairs in response to it. It would be highly unusual to commence a clause such as this on Royal Assent.
Paragraph (a) of new clause 4 seeks to prevent new licences from being issued after the Bill has passed, so it would apply only to new travelling circuses or existing ones that currently do not use wild animals in their performances. If a travelling circus wished to start using wild animals before the end of the current touring season, typically at the end of October—for those who have not been part of this debate, circuses would not continue until 20 January, because they normally stop performing at the end of October—it could technically have a last hurrah, and the hon. Gentleman has made that point with conviction. However, it would have to apply for a licence as soon as the Bill was published to maximise the revenue it would want to get. I reassure hon. Members that DEFRA has received no inquiries from anyone regarding even the possibility of an application for a new licence.
If, however, a new circus decided to apply for a licence, say, next week, DEFRA’s application takes a minimum of six weeks, and for a new circus unfamiliar with the demands of our licensing regime, it could take considerably longer for an application to be determined. Both current licensed circuses, when they first applied for a licence, needed to be inspected twice before their licence was awarded, and those inspections took place at winter quarters, which is an easier place to conduct an inspection; even then, both applications took two months to be approved. Even if a circus were to submit an application for a licence next week, it would be able to use its wild animals for, at most, 14 weeks or three months before the end of the current touring season.
The hon. Gentleman says that is quite a long period. It is long enough to take what he is saying seriously. We understand his arguments, but for the sake of completeness, I want everyone to understand the processes.
Paragraph (b) of the new clause would affect circuses already licensed by DEFRA. The two licensed circuses still using wild animals have not said that they have any plans to add further wild animals. Given that a ban will be in place before the next touring season, it would make little economic sense for them to invest in new trained animals or equipment now, and significant changes to a performance require planning, which would usually happen when the circus is at winter quarters, from late October onward. Also, in the unlikely event that a circus sought to add a wild animal to an existing licence, the proposed moratorium would not prevent that from happening between now and the moratorium coming into effect.
I assure the House that that is a highly unlikely scenario. The current 2012 licensing regime would safeguard the animal’s welfare. Existing licence conditions require circuses to provide DEFRA with at least two weeks’ notice of their intention to add a wild animal to their circus, and inspection would follow as soon as possible after the animal’s arrival in the circus. The Government accept that that leaves open the possibility—albeit a very small one—that new animals could be used in travelling circuses for a maximum of 14 or 16 weeks, or just over three and a half months, if the licence application was submitted and approved, unless the proposed early moratorium comes into effect. Although we have had no indication that any circus in the UK would try to make use of such a gap, I understand the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead. I will take the matter away and, ahead of Committee stage in the Lords, consider how best we can ensure that no new wild animals are used in travelling circuses by the time the ban comes into force on 20 January 2020.
On amendment 3, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, we believe that circuses have had enough time to plan for the ban. He suggested, I think probingly, that the decision has only just been made; in fact, the legislation has been long in gestation, and the general feeling is that it would have been better had it been introduced sooner. I think we all share that view. It has been difficult to get parliamentary time. Circuses have had six and a half years to prepare, ever since the introduction of the licensing regulations, which contain a sunset clause that made it clear that the ban would be in place by January 2020. We do not believe, therefore, that the amendment is necessary.
The Government have always been clear that the licensing regulations were an interim measure only. It is important to highlight that licences must be renewed every year, and in February last year we reaffirmed that any license issued to circuses this year would be the last, because a ban would be in place by the time the interim regulations expired on 20 January 2020. The coming into force date of the Bill aligns with the expiry date of the regulations, which means that the two circuses will be able to update and plan their routines for next year while they are not on tour, as the majority of circuses would do anyway.
It should not be too difficult for the circuses to replace the wild animal elements of their shows. DEFRA has been inspecting these circuses at least three times a year for the last six and a half years. Our inspections show that the animals, where they are used, are used for only about five to ten minutes as part of a two-hour show. As long as the ban comes into force during the winter season, which has always been the Government’s intention, we believe that the two circuses have enough time to adjust their routines. Indeed, there are about 25 circuses in the UK and Ireland that do not use wild animals in their show, and they operate successfully. They show what can be done. To reassure my hon. Friend further, comparisons with ticket prices in other travelling circuses that do not use wild animals do not show a premium for seeing or involving wild animals.
I should add that the amendment does not reflect the fact that the interim licensing regulations expire next January. The amendment would therefore permit wild animals to be used in travelling circuses for two years—that is, to 2022—with a much lower level of scrutiny than they have been subjected to for the last seven years. In those circumstances, I would certainly share the concerns about more wild animals being introduced into travelling circuses. A two-year moratorium, with no DEFRA licence required at all, could well lead to more wild animals being used in travelling circuses. That is not something this Government would agree to.
I hope I have made it clear why the Government believe that next January is an appropriate date for the ban to come into force, and that hon. Members in all parts of the House are reassured by my comments. I hope my hon. Friend feels that it would be best were he not to press his amendment.
I thank the Minister for an extremely thorough response to the amendments tabled by me and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard). People will now see why I speak so highly of my hon. Friend, not just in his time as a Minister but in his time at Asda. His courteous, serious and thorough treatment of all the amendments does him credit and shows why he is such a fantastic Minister, and I am grateful to him. I am pretty sure that he will discuss these matters further with the shadow Minister and me before the Bill goes to the Lords.
As the Scottish National party Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), is present, I should restate my view that the law introduced by the Scottish Government is better than the Bill we are dealing with, but I have heard the Minister’s response and, based on that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Consideration completed. As the Bill has not been amended since its introduction, Standing Order No. 83L does not apply and I do not need to suspend the House to reconsider the Bill.
I remind the House that on Second Reading the Speaker certified that clauses 1 and 2 and the schedule relate exclusively to England on matters within devolved legislative competence. Under Standing Order No. 83M, a consent motion is therefore required for the Bill to proceed. Copies of the motion are being made available in the Vote Office and on the parliamentary website, and have been made available to Members in the Chamber.
Does the Minister intend to move the consent motion?
I remind hon. Members that, if there is a Division, only Members representing constituencies in England may vote. I call the Minister to move the consent motion.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee consents to the following certified clauses of, and Schedule to, the Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill—
Clauses and Schedules certified under SO No. 83J(1)(h) as relating exclusively to England and being within devolved legislative competence
Clauses 1 and 2 of, and the Schedule to, the Bill (Bill 385).—(David Rutley.)
It is a pleasure to speak very briefly. The SNP is quite happy to support the Bill. As the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said in the full House of Commons 30 seconds or so ago, this law has been enacted by the Scottish Parliament and already applies. I am grateful to hear him think that it is more substantial than the proposed legislation we are passing today.
We are currently not in the House of Commons but the English Parliament, the Legislative Grand Committee (England), and only for England because of the consequential disapplication of some of the Bill to Wales by dint of a clause. It has only taken me most of the afternoon to try to read through it to figure out exactly where the different extents apply.
I was keen to make sure I was here in the absence of my hon. Friends the Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for Glasgow East (David Linden), who usually make sure that the EVEL—English votes for English laws—stages do not go completely unnoticed in Hansard and by the riveted watching public. One day—perhaps today is the day and the hon. Member for Shipley will speak—Members from England and Wales will participate in the Legislative Grand Committee and justify the colossal waste of time and money that has been spent on establishing the EVEL procedure. We wait, perhaps still unfulfilled, for that day to come.
I look around expectantly and discover that nobody wishes to catch my eye.
The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decision of the Committee (Standing Order No. 83M(6)).
The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair; decision reported.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I am pleased to move the motion for the Third Reading of this short but very important Bill. It is a Bill with a very simple purpose: to ban the outdated practice of using wild animals for performance or exhibition in travelling circuses. The Bill addresses important ethical concerns about the way we use and perceive wild animals in the 21st century. This country is rightly proud of its place in the world for the protection and care of animals. Our regard and respect for wild animals, and our sense of their intrinsic value, are now much more important to us than allowing them to be used for entertainment.
The Government’s belief, which I hope is widely shared by many in this House, is that travelling circuses are not the right place to experience or learn about wild animals. Frankly, circuses do not need to use wild animals. Most circuses have been thriving without the use of wild animals for a long time now. The continued use of wild animals in travelling circuses, often performing demeaning routines for our amusement, sends completely the wrong message about the value and respect we should accord them. The Government’s view is that the very notion of inducing wild animals to perform tricks in a circus setting is well past its sell-by date and should now stop.
The Bill fulfils a long-term commitment. I once again pay tribute to those hon. Members on both sides of the House who have sought to take it forward as a private Member’s Bill, including my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince), for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who took this important issue forward initially, for his advocacy and support.
I also wish to thank hon. Members who have contributed to today’s debates and throughout the proceedings in this House, as well as the members of the Public Bill Committee and the expert witnesses, including those who submitted written evidence for their consideration on the Bill. I am grateful for the constructive engagement by representatives from animal welfare non-governmental organisations, especially in their willingness to help to draft the guidance that I have committed the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to producing when the Act comes into force.
I extend my thanks to my hard-working and long-suffering Bill team, my private office, the parliamentary private secretaries, the Whips on both sides and, of course, the Clerks for their work and support on this issue. I thank those on the Opposition Front Bench for the constructive way in which they have taken the Bill forward and most of the other proposed legislation we have been working on over previous weeks.
It is an honour to take the Bill forward. It has had such overwhelming support from all parties, the public and animal welfare organisations from Second Reading through to today. We are committed to enhancing our well-deserved worldwide reputation for caring for animals after we leave the EU. This ban is another important measure to protect and improve the lives of animals, from strengthening the protection of service animals through Finn’s law, to ensuring puppies and kittens are no longer sold by unscrupulous third-party sellers—we will have more of that tomorrow—and combating the illegal wildlife trade. We are grateful for the continued support of colleagues across the House for our efforts to protect animals and to ensure a sustainable future for our shared planet. I wish the Bill safe and speedy passage through its remaining stages in the other place.
I thank all those right hon. and hon. Members whose persistence has led to the Bill coming before us today: in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who as Secretary of State at the time promoted the initial consultation; Thomas Docherty, the previous Member for Dunfermline and West Fife; my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick); the hon. Members for Colchester (Will Quince), for Torbay (Kevin Foster) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison); my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Sue Hayman); and the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), who made the very powerful point that it is important for the public perception of the force of law that the police should have at least equal powers to inspectors in the enforcement of the Bill. Of course, we have all been ably assisted by the officers who have prepared the Bill.
There is overwhelming popular support across the country for the Bill, with 94% supporting a total ban on wild animals in circuses in the 2009 consultation. There is almost unanimous cross-party support shown by the hon. Members from across the House, who have not just signalled their support but have pushed over a 10-year period for this Bill to come before us. As a newcomer to this House I do think there is an issue with the length of time it has taken for various uncontentious Bills to make it into law.
We can be pleased that the Bill has now been taken on by the Government and should indeed make it into law, but there is other outstanding legislation that has still not come before us. In this context, I want to mention the need for an animal cruelty sentencing Bill, the absence of which has been a bone of contention for the last three years, despite the best efforts of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, other campaigning organisations, various hon. Members and despite the Secretary of State assuring us that the Government would introduce one as quickly as possible.
We have supported the Bill all along and will obviously support it today. We have had assurances from the Minister that there is no added danger of a “last hurrah” of additional wild animals being introduced to circuses in this country in the remaining time between now and January of next year. In this context, it is sensible that the hon. Member for Shipley withdrew his amendment, as the opportunity for a last hurrah would be enormous in the additional two-year period that that amendment would have afforded. I expect many of us have been lobbied, as I have, by Martin Lacey of Circus Krone and invited to visit his circus in Munich. Mr Lacey also took the trouble to travel to this country to make the case for his big cats circus, and I feel sure that he would want to take advantage of a two-year grace period to bring his lions and tigers to perform in this country if he were able to do so.
The Minister also assured us that the definition of travelling circus, and the protection and welfare of any animals that were found to be in contravention of the Bill, would be adequately covered by guidance. We believe that the Minister is perfectly sincere in these assurances, but we still maintain that it would be preferable to have these things acknowledged on the face of the Bill.
We have the Bill before because it was made clear that the existing Animal Welfare Act could not be used to ban wild animals in circuses. The test for welfare under that Act would not be clear enough to end the practice of transporting animals to perform for the amusement of the public, but there is a higher test: the respect we have for our fellow creatures. The Bill is but one step in showing that respect, but it is an important one.
Visiting animals in their natural habitat and seeing them living the lives that they would naturally want to live is uplifting and educational. Watching them jump or climb on to bits of furniture, or even on to each other, and contort themselves into unnatural postures is neither educational nor respectful. It is well past time that we should end the use of wild animals in circuses and we are pleased to support the Bill.
I could possibly have tested your patience by making an overlong intervention on the Minister, Madam Deputy Speaker, but rather than do that I thought I would make a brief observation now.
I think I am right to say that on Report the Minister said that the Bill had been six and a half years in preparation. In fact, it was in 1997 that, as the then chairman of the all-party animal welfare group, I presented to the incoming Minister of State at the Home Office in Mr Blair’s Government—who, I think I am right in saying, was the now right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth)—the group’s report on performing animals in circuses. It is comforting to know that matters in this place move so swiftly and that it has taken only 22 years for these measures to reach the statute book.
The fact is that the persistence of colleagues on both sides of the House of Commons has driven us to where we are today, in the hope and expectation that the Bill will get a fair wind in the House of Lords and become law and that performing animals in circuses will be consigned to the dustbin of history along with very many other animal abuses that we have managed to deal with.
In the spirit of total co-operation and in gratitude to the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) and my hon. Friend the Minister, I say that other things that are not contentious can, and should, be going through the House much more quickly. I am proud that this Government and this Minister are in the process of putting the Bill on to the statute book, and I hope that we shall now see a succession of other animal welfare measures following it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) has addressed exactly the memory loss that I had during my speech on Report. I could not remember the dates when the all-party group dealt with this. I was here in a different capacity at that time. All of us would understand the situation in ’97, when there was so much legislation from a new Government. Finding time was difficult, but there was a huge majority on this issue and it was not contentious. I remember the discussions absolutely vividly. People were saying, “Would you do this private Member’s Bill? Would you take this forward? Would you go into the ballot?” It has taken until today to get the Third Reading of a Bill that, frankly, is a no-brainer in this day and age.
I am thrilled that the Minister has taken on this Bill and by the way in which he has done so. I was not invited to go on the Public Bill Committee, and I was genuine when I say that I would have loved to. I was not here on Second Reading, so people obviously thought that I was not interested, and so on—but we are where we are.
I hope that when this very short Bill goes to the Lords they will look at what this House has done—how we have come together—and move the Bill through the other place quite fast so that it can be on the statute book in time for what the Minister is looking at doing.
People out there will say, “We miss this” and “We miss that”, but there is not very many of them. As the Minister said, the country has changed. If we had tried to bring this Bill through in the ’70s and ’80s, we might have struggled, because people were different. I am not saying that they were bad, but what was acceptable then is not acceptable now. Making animals do things that are completely unnatural to them is not acceptable. I vividly remember one of these fly-on-the-wall videos that was taken at one circus—I will not name it, because a lot of circuses were bad. People were abusing and torturing animals to make them do things that were not natural. I hope that the Bill means that that never, ever happens again.
Other legislation needs to come forward, and I am conscious of what the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin), was saying. We have legislation on the statute book but we have to be good and strict on this issue. Dogfighting is on the up in this country. Cockfighting, believe it or not, continues to this day. There is badger-baiting.
To me, a trophy-hunting Bill is the simplest thing in the world. If someone wants to do that sort of thing, do not bring trophies—the animal’s head—to this country. That is so abhorrent to 99.9% of the British public.
We have set a line in the sand and shown that we can bring such Bills through the House—it is a shame that more people are not in the Public Gallery to listen us when we get things right. I am sure that, tomorrow, in Parliament this will get thruppence, because of President Trump and other things that have been going on, but this indicates what this House can do and is right morally and ethically. We should be very proud of what has happened in this House today.
If I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is a great pity that when something of importance is achieved in the proceedings of this House, as it is about to be, it is not noted because the commentators prefer drama to care and doing the right thing.
Yes, we will not go on about which circus is really the circus. To bring about what everyone in the Chamber has been aiming towards for a very long time, let me put the question.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.