Question for Short Debate
In last year’s excellent Commons debate highlighting the economic contribution of zoos to local, regional and national economies, Andrew Rosindell MP proclaimed:
“Zoos are at the heart of everything”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/12/2011; col. 274WH.]
After Rosindell’s bold assertion, speakers glowed with proprietary pride about the pride of place that each of their zoos has in the heart of their local communities and about the important but unsung job contribution of our some 300 UK zoos, but economic questions remain. Will Her Majesty’s Government explore, with the redoubtable British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums—BIAZA—the zoos’ role in regenerating local communities and, with BIAZA, produce a policy statement on the untapped potential of zoos to aid training, apprenticeships and job schemes in this time of economic downturn? Will the Government recognise the singular regional role of zoos, well illustrated by my local zoo, Chester, which sits at the heart of and astride the north-west and North Wales region, its benign tentacles spreading across the scientific community, the vibrant tourism industry and the education and research community in schools, FE colleges and local universities?
Chester Zoo also promotes forward thinking on the care of the environment. Zoos will have an as yet untapped and influential role in charting our response to climate change. Indeed, zoos’ pivotal role in preserving, conserving and displaying the wealth of wildlife in our interconnected world was brought home to me in a recent visit to Chester Zoo and its black rhinos. Informed of the danger to the world’s black rhino population from illegal rhino horn trading in Far East and African markets, I raised Questions here in your Lordships’ House and actively took up the matter in Vietnam, the centre of the illegal trade and entrepôt for Chinese dealers who trade in the mistaken belief that black rhino horn confers aphrodisiac or medicinal powers on the recipient.
Given zoos’ roles in innovatory thinking within a languishing economy, the incoming coalition’s overhasty abandonment of RDA grants was unwelcome in the zoo world. In the same vein, will the Minister investigate the difficulties that zoos have in accessing lottery and heritage funds? Given that zoos are for the most part independent, self-financing institutions, will the Government look more favourably on zoos as hothouses for enterprise? Indeed, will the Government directly respond to BIAZA’s well argued An Economic Impact Assessment for the Zoo and Aquarium Sector and sponsored, but still relevant, Manifesto for Zoos?
Given the variety of zoos’ functions and footfall, will the Minister assure me that he has had full briefings not just from Defra but from other departments, even from the FCO? After all, panda diplomacy at Edinburgh Zoo panders admirably with the FCO’s wider and wiser engagement with China. In the preparation for replying to this debate, which departments other than Defra spoke of their distinctive interest in the success of Britain’s zoos? Did the Treasury, which might just recognise investment opportunities in active zoos; DCMS, wrongly vested with responsibility for tourism, which is more properly the domain of the Treasury or BIS; or the Department for Education, for instance? Zoos cater for an important group of unengaged children who, cabined, cribbed and confined by classroom teaching, are liberated among zoo animals and their enthusiastic keepers in the classroom of the open air. Zoos demand a multidisciplinary approach from the Government. Will the Minister confess that we have not yet achieved that?
DCLG is important too, given that local authorities are charged with the task, devolved from Defra, of licensing zoos, but local authorities are already wilting under the burden of delivering local services to national standards in a climate of dwindling resources. It is to this issue, the running of zoos generally, that I now turn. A Licence to Suffer is a controversial and contentious analysis of the regulatory protection of animals in zoos. Its methodology is challenged, as are many of its dispiriting conclusions about the state of animal welfare in our zoos. It declares that,
“there are simply too many zoos, too many animals, too little training, too little understanding of the legislation, too little enforcement”.
That should give us pause for thought. In their proper concern for the welfare of the 190,000 animals in our zoos in England, are the Government convinced that we have a suitable supervisory system? If the author of the report, the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, is even one-quarter right, we have much still to do to comply with our own domestic legislation, the Zoo Licensing Act 1981, and the EU zoo directive 1999.
In that regard, it is disappointing to learn that Defra has recently discontinued its instructional workshops for local authority licensing officers who may simply not have the time, expertise and resources to ensure compliance with the local authority’s statutory duties in respect of zoos. The Born Free Foundation makes similar criticisms. Will the Government introduce a more formal mechanism to evaluate and measure the outcomes of the education and conservation programmes that zoos are legally required to undertake? Is sufficient time and expertise given to quality zoo inspections currently undertaken by local authorities? Are sufficient experienced veterinarians available to help the local authorities in that task? Will the Minister ensure a regular national analysis of all zoo inspection reports to monitor compliance with the Zoo Licensing Act, thereby highlighting the efficacy or otherwise of the current inspection regime? Furthermore, is the Minister alarmed that some one in four zoos may fail to respond to licence conditions imposed in the aftermath of adverse zoo inspections? Indeed, does the Minister accept that improved and modern methods of animal welfare assessment should be urgently and universally introduced, and that there is a compelling case for improved science-based, species-specific guidelines when keeping animals in zoos? Finally, will the Minister agree that zoos that repeatedly and wilfully transgress in the welfare of kept animals should be closed? Indeed, what will the Government do to help the zoo world fulfil its own proper ambitions for the highest standards of animal welfare?
I am most definitely not a zoo abolitionist. Indeed, I believe passionately in well run zoos performing their myriad roles of conservation, preservation, education and scientific discovery, and providing sheer enjoyment and wonder to millions of our citizens, including children, by displaying the world’s unparalleled fauna. I am reminded that the imperishable Charles Darwin learnt not only from studying animals in their natural habitats, such as the turtles on the Galapagos Islands, but from his regular visits to the then newly established London zoo. Jenny the orang-utan and the fast-breeding finches each helped him to formulate his far-reaching thoughts on the origins of species and, ultimately, of humans themselves. Zoos, too, are at the heart of science and human understanding.
All the interested parties that I have consulted share common cause in promoting animal welfare, and none more so than the estimable BIAZA. Its regular questionnaires to its membership provide us with a veritable wealth of data on who runs zoos, their viability and economic impact, including the numbers of visitors and scales of entrance charges, zoos’ education role and their marketing strategies and, perhaps most importantly, their conservation and research roles, including field conservation and animal management. The Government should acknowledge and immerse themselves in BIAZA’s treasure trove of zoo facts and figures. In the 2010 survey, BIAZA’s cri de coeur is the crying need for its members to reply diligently to the questionnaires. Only then can BIAZA document the transparency and accountability of zoos as well as celebrating their achievements and calibrating their shortcomings. BIAZA is alive, unlike some of its members, to the imperative to explain to the world—
I am in the fortunate position that I can see a clock. The noble Lord might like to know that he has exceeded his allotted 10 minutes and perhaps he might bring his remarks to a close. Given the lack of a clock in front of us, I will keep an eye for other noble Lords.
I was completing my remarks about the Government helping and aiding BIAZA in its task of bringing in the very best standards of zoo management. I have not been able to touch on the European angle, which I had hoped to do, but I look forward to hearing from colleagues examples of the good that zoos do for our communities, as well as what the Government can contribute to this important task, which I think all of us around this Table share.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for initiating this debate. I can keep an eye on a clock just behind the noble Baroness. I spotted the time so I will not be short-changed. I also welcome the Minister to his position. He has taken on an excellent role. Considering that most zoos deal with endangered species, it is perhaps fitting that we are talking here about Defra, which has taken such savage cuts—which is reasonable given the number of people working for it—as of course have most other departments. However, there are probably too many cuts in the area that we are looking at.
I am a major supporter of zoos. I think that those who are against zoos have made very valid arguments. However, zoos have changed massively over the past few years from the zoos that I remember as a child. I am a particular supporter because I used to live almost next to London zoo and I could tell the calls of the gibbons and hear the lions. It was fantastic. My mother remarked that she knew that she had been to London zoo too often when my sisters knew the difference between an Arabian oryx and a gazelle more than they knew the difference between sheep and cows, but that is one of the joys of living next to London zoo. In fact I had my wedding reception at London zoo. We cut the wedding cake in the ballroom and were then directed to the aquarium for the reception. I learnt something amazing: do not walk through the monkey houses at night, since monkeys and apes will apparently throw soft and squidgy substances at you if you walk too close to their cages.
I am not alone in appreciating zoos; roughly 24 million visitors visited zoos last year, which is about one-third of the population. We should not forget that about 1.3 million educational visits took place in that time, and those are often children’s first introduction to zoos. Now, unlike when we went to zoos as children, it is clearly shown how endangered those species are, and children, including my children, come away understanding how fragile the environment is and how much damage we as a species have done to it.
Zoos are incredibly important to the economy: 11,000 permanent jobs are related to zoos, and BIAZA members contribute around £658 million of activity to the economy. One of the problems with zoos, however, is that we often associate them only with large species such as elephants, tigers and lions. In London zoo the elephants were moved out because of concerns about space. In fact, I know many of the elephant keepers. If you want to hear about zoos, go to the Albert pub just around the corner, where most of the keepers go for a drink after work; some of the stories about their dedication, but also about the problems of elephants can cause, are quite fun after a couple of pints.
However, we are talking not only about elephants and tigers but about much smaller species, such as the massive success of ZSL in British field cricket conservation. If you look this up on the website, the story is fantastic; I had not seen a field cricket before, but London zoo has bred 14,000 of them since 1991 and probably saved the species in this country. It is a biodiversity strategy action plan species in Britain that might well have disappeared. We are talking not just about British species, however; we are talking about species such as the Dominican mountain chicken. It is very important to preserve this frog—I was surprised when it turned out to be a frog, but it is a fabulous thing. There is a video on the website showing the mountain chicken feeding its unfertilised eggs to its tadpoles that have just hatched, a first in British zoos.
One of the questions that arise for the Minister is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, pointed out, licensing is a vital aspect of the operation of zoos, and one of the problems due to the funding cuts is that there has been a merger between those bodies—I was going to say what they were but I cannot actually remember what their acronyms stand for—that look after zoos. Defra, which used to supply the training for local authority inspectors, no longer does so because of the cuts; in fact it does not send out timings for local authority visits, which it used to. I hope that the Minister will reconsider this.
I understand my noble friend’s problems in dealing with budgets in particular areas, but it is not in zoos’ interests to have poor zoos operating, and there are examples of that, although the majority of zoos in this country run to the highest standard. I suggest that due to these cuts, which for many reasons will probably not be rolled back by any party after the next election, we should probably look outside the box. There are extremely good zoos in this country and most of the people who work in them are passionate—if you go down to the Albert and talk to the people who work in the zoo, you will see how passionate they are—about the standards that should apply.
I know that the Minister cannot answer tonight, but could he talk with his officials about self-regulation being a way forward? One problem is that if local authority licensing inspectors are not trained, that stores up problems because they do not know what they are meant to be looking for. Self-regulation is not the best solution, but it might be a very good cost-effective solution for the future.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for giving us the opportunity to debate this issue today. When we are looking at legislation and government responsibility regarding zoos we have to understand how wide the definition is of zoos and how many different kinds of premises can be licensed. As well as the smaller number of large, more professionally managed zoos, there are probably hundreds of zoos in various shapes and sizes and some are clearly more willing and able to follow their obligations under their licenses and EU directive than others.
I am a patron of the Captive Animals Protection Society and a supporter of the Born Free Foundation. I am grateful to both of those organisations for the information and advice that they provided for this debate and also for the wider education and monitoring role that they fulfil, whose value the Government have recognised.
Zoos should operate only under a local authority licence. The system of regulation across the UK is there to ensure that zoos are safe for the public to visit, that they have high standards of welfare that are maintained and that they make a contribution to the conservation of wildlife. The legal basis is the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 which was amended in 2003 to include the provisions of the European zoos directive. That is informed by a set of standards from the Secretary of State for Defra and additional guidance. They are not just there to be bureaucratic. They are there for real value to ensure high standards for both animals and the public.
The legal protection is only ever as good as its enforcement. I refer to a report from the Captive Animals Protection Society which commissioned an independent study. The report was based not just on visits to zoos, but as we are talking about regulation of zoos, official documents from licensing authorities and from Defra. The report was called A Licence to Suffer: A Critical Analysis of Regulatory Protection of Animals in Zoos in England. Unfortunately, its findings give real cause for concern because a fundamental requirement of inspections was not being met in too many cases.
Some 70% per cent of local authorities with zoos have missed one inspection since 2005. That is around 380 inspections missed over the course of the study. I quote from the report which is an indication. In one district council,
“informal inspections were not carried out in 2005 or 2006”.
In Portsmouth City Council, the report stated:
“The only record of inspections on file are 2008, 2009 and 2010. It would appear that with the exception of complaint visits, no inspections were carried out since 2002”.
That was not uncommon. There were a number of areas where no inspections were carried out at all.
For those inspections that took place, there was real concern whether enough inspectors were available for enough time to ensure that the licence conditions of the EU directive and legislative conditions were not being breached. Using the Defra Zoo 2 forms, inspectors, even though they gave a positive report, would then identify that there were problems. In 34% of cases identified from the official Defra forms—more than a third—the inspectors stated that the existing licence conditions were met but then went on to provide additional information as to why they were not being met. I quote from one of them where the inspector marked “Yes” to the question,
“Are on site veterinary site conditions adequate?”
However, he said that the facility was inadequate and,
“should be brought up to a modern standard as a matter of urgency … It is strongly advised that the zoo management discuss these changes with the collection’s veterinarian without delay”.
However, he had been saying that every year since 2007 and no action had been taken.
In one question, where the inspector said that the conditions were being properly addressed, he also said that there are a few issues that need addressing, such as conditions 16, 17, 19 and 30 of the licence. So although inspectors are satisfied that conditions are being met they then move on to list the conditions that are not being met. Clearly there are a number of unsatisfactory issues that are not being addressed. The report stated:
“The study found that 68% of inspection reports had unsatisfactory issues found during inspections that did not make it into suggested conditions and 40% of reports had unsatisfactory issues found which were transposed into neither suggested conditions nor recommendations”.
I appreciate that many people have affectionate relationships with local zoos. The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, talked about his relationship with London zoo, as will the noble Lord, Lord Paul, and the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, talked of Chester Zoo. My experience is somewhat different. In my former constituency and my hometown, we used to have a small embarrassment of a zoo of which the highlight was Carla the lioness. An undercover BBC reporter claimed that he was able to buy this sorrowful, pathetic lioness for £1,500 with no paperwork or regard for her welfare. The zoo eventually closed in 2001, but I never understood how it could get a licence or how it had been inspected and allowed to remain open. I draw that distinction because when people think of zoos, they think of the great zoos, the big zoos, which are open to public inspection regularly so that people know what goes on. Smaller zoos and other establishments around the country are not of the same standard. If the inspection regime is inadequate, we must raise concerns about the welfare of animals in those zoos. It got to the point where I dreaded getting another distraught letter from a child upset at what they had seen in that zoo.
Given the report, there was clearly a need for the Government to take the evidence seriously. A second report was given to the European Commission regarding the lack of enforcement action taken against zoos that were not meeting even the most basic legal standards. That is now being investigated by the EU and we hope for a response in the next few months. More immediately, the Captive Animals Protection Society presented its report to local and central government. I congratulate the Government, who should take pride in the way that they responded with new formal guidance and detailed recommendations for local authorities regarding inspection. The Government have beefed up the tools available to ensure that standards are being met and legislation is being enforced. That may lead to some zoos closing down, like Basildon, but if they are unable to meet the most basic standards, that is the right way forward. That is a positive response from the Government on which I congratulate them.
A further inquiry by the Born Free Foundation in 2011 investigated the implementation and enforcement of the EU directive regarding zoo animals across a number of European countries. Again, it gave real cause for concern. Born Free has presented a number of recommendations to the Government, including on inspection, conservation and education. There are some very good examples of zoos that are abiding by the regulations and their licence conditions, but the only way that we can allow all zoos to proceed is if they all abide by their licensing conditions and the European regulations.
My Lords, these are times when our attention is largely captured by the great economic and political concerns that dominate the public agenda. Consequently, we tend to neglect or downplay some of the naturalistic dimensions of life that underpin our humanity. Today, we have an opportunity to reflect on such elements, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, has initiated this debate and thank him for the same.
In various ways, modern society has reduced the public spaces in which people everywhere can commune with nature. That is perhaps inevitable, but we are in danger of losing something very precious. Zoos and zoological gardens are places that are both instructive and recreational and which people of all ages and backgrounds can share. Well-managed zoos, in particular, increase our awareness of the natural world and illustrate that man does not and should not live by bread alone.
I say that with a certain passion because of a particular personal experience. Nearly 50 years ago, I came to this country to give my daughter some desperately needed medical treatment. Sadly, it could not save her, but in those last few months I saw and felt the extraordinary happiness that this small child with a terminal condition derived from frequent visits to London zoo. Somehow, this environment, where other children and animals relaxed in a natural setting, brought all of us in the family closer together and eased the pain of the tragedy she and we confronted. These memories will always linger and I recount them not out of emotional nostalgia but because these are circumstances that in some way or other are re-enacted in countless families everywhere.
In good times and bad, parents and children are brought into close communion through sharing facilities such as zoos. The modern zoo, perhaps more than any other public institution, is now a location for family-building and reinforcement. In my regular visits to London zoo I have also seen our senior citizens, some of whom are often adrift in our modern society, find comfort in the relaxed atmosphere and feeling of community. My own fateful experience awakened me to the importance of zoological gardens. After my daughter’s passing, I continued to visit London zoo often. Some years later, in 1990, I learnt that this zoo was in distressed financial circumstances and on the brink of closure due to the withdrawal of government funding. I felt an obligation to help in whatever way I could. Since then I have supported London zoo financially and engaged with it in an advisory capacity. This may also be considered as my declaration of interest. In these 20 years I have learnt a great deal about zoos and the social role they play. Today, the renamed Ambika Paul Children’s Zoo at London zoo sets the standard for children’s zoos around the world.
London zoo is now a thriving institution visited by over 1 million people annually. It has conservation activities in Britain and more than 50 other countries. It has educational programmes whereby each year more than 100,000 children receive information and instruction. The zoo academy teaches career potential in areas such as zoo-keeping, veterinary and conservation and its workshops, higher education courses and awards receive high recognition. Whenever your Lordships have a little spare time, I urge a visit to the Rainforest Lookout, Penguin Beach, Gorilla Kingdom and Ambika Paul Children’s Zoo. You will see why I am so enthusiastic about the benefits that such excursions bring to young people.
In recent times, the concept of zoos has been redefined. They are no longer cramped and caged accommodations for animals as objects on show. The modern zoo is a centre of interaction between man and nature, a place for conservation and preservation of endangered species and a kind of living classroom where both adults and children from all walks of life can move around freely. Zoos have become doors through which we can wander into the worlds that we are losing. This is not an Arcadian vision; the best British and Irish zoos and associated aquariums have more than 24 million visitors a year. Yet UK zoos, unlike museums, receive no direct government funding. Surely, this in itself tells us something about the way we assign our public priorities. That is why I strongly urge the Government to give appropriate consideration to renewing support for zoological gardens. We all understand that funding sources are scarce, but surely we can spare something to support activities that inspire us to treasure and preserve life rather than destroy it. We too rarely value and appreciate the places of peace, tranquillity and interaction with nature that affirm our faith in humanity. Thank you.
My Lords, in congratulating my noble friend Lord Harrison on instituting this needful and interesting debate, I declare an interest as a vice-president of Chester Zoo. I believe that most of us carry in our heads a sad image of a tiger or bear miserably pacing up and down behind bars and being gawped at by a crowd of onlookers. In larger zoos in the Western world, this is becoming a thing of the past. It is less so in small zoos; this must change.
Chester Zoo was established nearly 80 years ago to be a zoo without bars, and now it cares for more than 8,000 animals representing 400 species in 110 acres of gardens. The aim of the zoo is to be a major force in conserving biodiversity worldwide, achieving this through a combination of field conservation, research, conservation breeding, animal welfare and education. It is an example of what zoos should be. In addition to this, it is a major local employer with over 310 permanent staff, rising to about 600 employees at peak season. Regional spending generated by the zoo equates to about £40 million per annum and nearly £3 million at a local level. Those who administer zoos, particularly zoos which are neither very successful for the animals nor for those who come to see them, would do well to emulate Chester and study what has made it so successful and how it raises its own funding.
Looking in particular at those projects and innovations that zoo purists may have had doubts about but which became major attractions there is, for instance, the exhibition of giant dinosaur figures in a special area that is immensely attractive to children, the overhead train that spans the zoo and refreshment outlets and shops that make a special appeal to child visitors. The zoo is an important education venue in the north-west, teaching around 28,000 pupils annually on site in dedicated classrooms, with a further 70,000 pupils visiting as part of self-education trips. Children and young people are particularly important, for it is they who will bring their own children in the future. Those who run Chester Zoo know what a part zoos have to play in showing children kindness to animals and daily care for them. Certain species particularly attract children, notably the reptiles that so many adults find repulsive. I remember taking my own grandsons to Chester when they were little and how much they loved hearing zoologists talk while they held a snake and a rat.
Chester Zoo has 10 major field programmes working on a variety of species and habitats worldwide and covering 150 projects over 50 countries. It spent more than £1 million in 2011 to support these field conservation projects. It has a master plan with its first phase due to open in spring 2015. Entitled “Islands”, it is a scheme focused on the fragile biodiversity of south-east Asia. It awaits planning consent and should lead to: an increase of 150,000 visitors on delivery of the project; additional revenue of £2.8 million per annum for the zoo; 45 full-time jobs on the site plus an additional 35 from the related construction work; and an anticipated 31 long-term jobs within the wider business community.
The zoo is lovely. All the animals have plenty of space. The tigers have a wooded park; three cubs were born this year. The Indian elephants have a wide plain with a lake and waterfall; three elephants are currently pregnant. I have been honoured by being asked to name two calves, a male and a much prized female, Tunga, the powerful chieftain and Jamilah, the beautiful one. The bat house is dark and mysterious, populated by these beautiful fluttering creatures. The jaguars have a huge home, which is provided by the car company and divided into segments. Each has a house of its own. Jaguars are solitary creatures that like to live alone. They meet when going to the stream to bathe and drink. Red pandas live in the tops of tall trees and are free to move away if they wish, but they do not wish to. This should become a general standard, not a particular one, of wildlife care in captivity, a far cry from those pacing creatures of what we must hope are former times.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Harrison on securing this interesting debate, and I hope that the visitor numbers for Chester Zoo and London zoo rise as a result of the attention that they will no doubt receive. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, on his new position, and warmly welcome him to the Dispatch Box. I am sure that he is relieved to have moved on from the sort of “super-sub” role that he was performing there and which is now being performed by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. He has a hard act to follow in the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who I really enjoyed working with, and I wish him in turn all the best at the Home Office.
We have heard praise for the great work that Chester Zoo and London zoo perform. We were privileged to listen to a particularly moving speech by the noble Lord, Lord Paul, regarding his involvement in London zoo. My own experience, more personally, is with Monkey World in Dorset, which is licensed as a zoo but is actually a sanctuary. Effectively, it is the largest rescue centre for primates in Europe; it is also the nursery for orang-utans for Europe and is about the only place in the world successfully breeding woolly monkeys at the moment. Not that it wants to treat many of the species of primate there—it has more than enough chimpanzees, for example; I think that it is on its third or fourth troupe of chimps—but, sadly, that is a demonstration of the need for a rescue centre.
Monkey World started by rescuing chimps from the beaches of Spain and has now grown to encompass all manner of primates. It is not a collection, though, and that is an important thing to say in the context of the debate about zoos. A lot of zoos look to collect a couple of each species so that they can show everyone what they all look like. Clearly that does not apply to all zoos, nor to all species, but we should move welfare standards so that animals live as closely to how they live in the wild as possible. My noble friend Lady Rendell talked about the Jaguar being a solitary animal. Clearly you would not want to put a bunch of Jaguars in an enclosure together, but there are other species that you would want to because that is the way that they like to live and we do not want to put them in solitary confinement.
When my children were young, we followed the recommendation of their grandfather and took them to Marwell Zoo, near Winchester in Hampshire, which showed me as a parent the extraordinary educational value that well managed zoos can offer. Indeed, when I was exchanging views on zoos on Twitter over the weekend, one came from a friend of mine who works in one of the most innovative schools that I know, the Essa Academy in Bolton, talking about the marvellous educational value of zoos and what technology can now do to enhance that using, for example, augmented reality to show evolution and some of the extinct species that obviously are no longer available in zoos.
When I was a Defra Minister, I was also pleased to visit a wonderful project in the heart of the Amazon that the Darwin Initiative was funding with the Zoological Society for London to sustain local communities that were farming ornamental fish and looking at alternative ways of creating a living for those people.
It is worth recalling, though, that there are problems at times with zoos. We heard about those from my noble friend Lord Harrison in his fine speech, and there are horror stories from around the world of cramped cages, the illegal trade of social animals living in solitary confinement and animals dying of malnutrition, including in US zoos—this is not confined to zoos in the poorer parts of the world but can be in some of the richest places in the world. When I was researching this, I was hoping that I would not find any examples from this country that would cause me concern, but sadly there are indeed areas of concern. I had a look on YouTube at a film about Noah’s Ark zoo near Bristol that was made a couple of years ago. According to the TV report, it would appear that that zoo was effectively breeding tigers to supply circuses. We will shortly be debating wild animals and circuses. Certainly, we on this side do not support the use of wild animals in circuses and encourage the Government to end that practice as soon as they can. The keeper of that zoo seemed to regard it as being just a business and had lost touch with the conservation and education concepts that are at the heart of a successful zoo.
I have also seen the Born Free Foundation’s excellent report evaluating the implementation and enforcement of the 1999 directive, to which my noble friend Lady Smith referred. The foundation produces specific country reports for members of the Union. It is worth noting that the report says of England:
“Despite a concerted effort by Defra to support and advise Local Authorities in the implementation and enforcement of the ZLA, it is questionable as to whether Local Authorities have the time, funding and expertise to ensure effective application of zoo legislation in England”.
That point has been made in the debate with reference to the Zoo Licensing Act. The document continues:
“Overall, the findings of this investigation indicated that licensed zoos in England were not fully compliant with the ZLA”.
That has to be of great concern in this debate. The document further states:
“Overall, English zoos were making an insignificant contribution to Threatened and ‘conservation sensitive’ species”.
The report also contains other findings. Those findings are clearly of considerable concern to us and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s response to them. I would also be interested to hear anything he has to say about the story that appeared in the Sunday Express this week about zoos being inappropriately hired out for wild raves. Will he comment on the questions raised about local authority capability and expertise, consistent licensing quality and consistent inspection by local authorities? On balance, we are in favour of well managed zoos but are concerned that more needs to be done to raise the quality of regulation.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for bringing this debate today, and to all noble Lords for their contributions. In fact, noble Lords probably have no idea how grateful I am for the opportunity to be here today.
I assure your Lordships that the Government are firmly of the view that well managed zoos play a key role in a number of areas. Most importantly, zoos play a significant part in promoting wildlife conservation. Several noble Lords referred to that. As I see it, this is their key role, and their activities include direct financial and in-kind support for projects aimed at conserving populations in the wild in this country and overseas. They also contribute and work together in managed breeding programmes and carry out research; for example, to support field conservation as well as to learn more about the animals in their care.
Noble Lords may have seen the “top 10” list of endangered species whose future is most reliant on conservation programmes supported by UK zoos. The list, published by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums in August, contains species such as the scimitar-horned oryx, from north Africa, which is extinct in the wild, and our own white-clawed crayfish, which is endangered. As an example, Bristol zoo has bred these crayfish in captivity and recently reintroduced 80 into the wild in the south-west. My noble friend Lord Redesdale mentioned another successful example.
Zoos have an important role in raising public awareness, as the noble Lord, Lord Paul, so movingly said, and educating their visitors, who are often young people, about wild animals and their habitats in a relaxed and natural setting. The noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, also spoke about the importance of the educational facet of zoos. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, rightly said, zoos contribute to their local and regional economies. Last year a BIAZA report estimated that zoos contribute more than £600 million pounds to the economy each year. That economic contribution is important However, I am sure that BIAZA will be the first to agree that the contribution of zoos to conservation is paramount. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, highlighted a number of areas where work might be done with BIAZA to supplement support through its work. Following this debate, I shall ask officials to meet BIAZA to discuss a range of issues, and I myself will also look forward to meeting it in due course. One of the specific issues that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, raised was its concern about access to lottery funding, and I shall make sure that that is on the agenda.
We value the work that BIAZA is doing continuously to raise standards among its members, not to mention the key role that it plays in supporting the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria in striving to raise standards across Europe. The Government also benefit from BIAZA’s expertise in that two members of the Zoos Expert Committee—the Government’s advisory body on zoos matters—are currently also from BIAZA member zoos.
I should add that we welcome the contribution made by the British Association of Leisure Parks, Piers and Attractions and the National Farm Attractions Network and we look forward to continuing to work with all organisations involved in zoos matters.
Of course, not everyone supports zoos, and some zoos are indeed still striving to meet the required standards. I shall come back to that because noble Lords have specifically raised the issue.
The Born Free Foundation asks that the conservation and education contributions made by zoos are formally evaluated and measured. Zoos are expected to review their activities. Indeed, this is a recommendation of the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, among others, referred—which sets out the minimum standards that zoos are expected to meet. The conservation and education contribution is also assessed at each zoo inspection to make sure that these activities are taking place and are commensurate with the size and nature of the zoo.
The Born Free Foundation also asks for species-specific guidelines for zoos, illustrating the optimum standards for zoo animals. As noble Lords may know, the Government have recently updated and published the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice, which for the first time include a specific section on elephants. The welfare of elephants in zoos had become a matter of concern, with research indicating that serious problems existed. These new standards, which we introduced after discussions with BIAZA, will help to ensure that improvements are made to the welfare of elephants in UK zoos. While I am not yet persuaded that specific guidelines are needed for all animal species, I am happy to look at any evidence which suggests that further government intervention is needed. The Born Free Foundation’s inquiry has been very useful in raising awareness of zoos standards across Europe and I welcome any action which will help to improve standards wherever there are difficulties.
The Captive Animals Protection Society—the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, referred to this, as did other noble Lords—claims that the zoo licensing and inspection system is not being implemented properly and that, as a result, zoo animals are suffering. It is claimed that most of this is because local authorities are inconsistent in their application of the legislation. The Government have always been concerned to help and support local authorities in their role. They have had this role for 30 years—local authorities have been responsible for implementing the zoo licensing and inspection system since 1981. They arrange regular zoo inspections and issue zoo licences. They have powers to attach conditions to zoo licences to require that the standards are met. They have powers to require zoos to comply with any conditions, and ultimately they have powers to close a zoo.
It is the Government’s position that local authorities are best placed to implement the zoo licensing system. They know their local area and have close links with local communities. In many cases, they will be in touch with the zoos in their areas on a day-to-day basis, where they will be able to spot problems before they arise. To help them to carry out these activities, the Government have published comprehensive guidance on the requirements of the 1981 Act and have made this widely available.
I should add that, partly in response to concerns expressed about inconsistency in the implementation of the Act, the Government commissioned research to review local authority implementation. The research found that it was generally good and had improved in recent years, but that further improvement could be made.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and my noble friend Lord Redesdale expressed concern that central government support to local authorities in delivering their zoo licensing obligations has diminished recently. Many local authorities have responded positively to these challenging times by working collaboratively to share good practice across local authority boundaries and through nominating officials who are experts in zoo licensing and who willingly share that knowledge and expertise with their colleagues in other local authorities. My noble friend Lord Redesdale asked me to look into self-regulation, and I am certainly happy to do that, although the directive clearly has an impact on it.
Let me assure noble Lords that the Government are tenacious and, to be fair, I pay tribute to the previous Administration who worked hard over many years to make sure that zoos aspire to and strive to achieve ever higher standards. The 1981 Act first set out the legislative framework for the inspection and licensing of zoos. This framework provided the model for the 1999 EU zoos directive. It is fair to say that the UK has led the way in setting and measuring standards in zoos since that time.
The Secretary of State’s standards are at the heart of the zoo licensing and inspection system. They are the minimum which zoos must meet and are taken into account by zoo inspectors and by local authority licensing officers. The Secretary of State has a list of zoo inspectors who he can call upon, including veterinary surgeons and practitioners who have experience of zoo animals and people who are competent to inspect animals in zoos, to advise on their welfare and to advise on the management of zoos generally. Inspectors play a key role in checking that zoos are meeting the required standards. They also support and assist zoos, helping them with any improvements which may be needed. They also support local authorities, for example, by recommending conditions which should be attached to zoo licences.
Successive Governments have also put in place arrangements to make sure they have the best possible advice to help them in developing policy on zoos matters. The Zoos Expert Committee consists of people who, between them, have a wide range of expertise in zoos matters. They provide independent, impartial and objective advice to the Government, which is invaluable, and for which I am very grateful. In particular, the committee has been instrumental in our work to support local authorities who arguably have the most important role in ensuring high standards in zoos.
But what of the future? I can advise your Lordships that the updated standards will come into effect on 1 November. Also on that date, a new guidance document will come into effect. Zoo Licensing Act 1981: Guide to the Act’s Provisions replaces and updates the existing guidance on the legislation and simplifies and brings together the ad hoc documents which are currently in place. It will help local authorities in carrying out their roles.
In November, Defra officials are hosting a second seminar for Secretary of State Zoo Inspectors who will have the opportunity to share their experiences and to compare their approaches to inspections. The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, asked whether the Government could undertake further assessment of inspection reports. The Government have not only looked at local authorities’ implementation of licensing and the contribution that zoos make to education and research but have also responded to concerns on elephant welfare and have put measures in place to improve it.
The noble Lord, Lord Knight, referred to the Born Free Foundation’s 2009 EU zoo inquiry. The Government welcomed the BFF’s report on England’s zoos and have looked at it carefully in the context of their review of standards in their work on the new guidance for local authorities, taking it into account where appropriate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, raised the Captive Animals Protection Society report A Licence to Suffer. The Government welcome that report and I shall cut things short a bit by saying that we have also taken it very much into account in the preparation of the guidelines, as I think she kindly mentioned.
I hope that noble Lords will agree that the Government are working hard to maintain and improve standards in zoos. I have not mentioned the subject of the better running of European zoos. I suspect that I am running out of time, like the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, but it is extremely important to us and we are at the heart of that. I can assure noble Lords that the Government will do all they can to help support improving standards in zoos, but at the same time we have to continue to recognise in the European context individual member states’ authority in ensuring high standards in zoos in their countries, and the Commission’s role in holding member states to account in complying with the directive.
Finally, I acknowledge the good work being done in zoos up and down the country, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, for giving us an insight into the activities of Chester Zoo in particular, which I know he holds in high regard.
Committee adjourned at 6.29 pm.