I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill delivers an important part of the work that the Government are doing to protect animals, both in the wild and in captivity, and to ensure that we as a country maintain our world leadership on safeguarding and respecting animals. This important Bill seeks to bring to an end outdated practices that have no place in modern society and delivers a long held Government commitment. It addresses the specific concerns of the public and Parliament about the use of wild animals in travelling circuses and seeks to bring that activity to an end. That requires primary legislation, for reasons that I will explain in a moment.
The Government published the draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny in April 2013. I pay tribute to Members who have taken the Bill forward as private Members’ Bills. First, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who is in his place, picked up the Bill at the end of the 2010 to 2015 Parliament. Then my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster) attempted to take the Bill forward during the last Parliament. Last, but by no means least, during this Session my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who is in her place, really sought to give the Bill wings. Sadly, those attempts were not successful, for reasons that I will not go into here, but I thank those Members for their efforts.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who, I am pleased to see, is also in his place. His Backbench Business debate back in June 2011 put this issue firmly on the Government’s agenda and made it clear what Parliament was specifically concerned about.
The Minister is setting out the history—the long time it has taken to get the Bill to this point. Although I very much welcome the fact that it is here, it is very overdue. Will he confirm that the Bill will come into force in January 2020? Will he also confirm that, if by some strange happenstance it gets delayed by Brexit or anything else—even if the Bill has not finished its progress through Parliament—the Government will not issue any more licences after January 2020?
This has been a pretty sorry story of delay, but I welcome the fact that the Bill is now here, given the lack of legislative business. Will the Minister say when the Government will bring forward legislation on increasing the penalties available to the courts for those guilty of animal cruelty? That is another issue that has been waiting a long time. It urgently needs to be resolved.
I completely understand my right hon. Friend’s concern. We have had conversations with circus owners, who certainly have no such intentions whatever—they regard these animals as part of their families. The issue is that the practice is outdated and society has moved on; it is not appropriate for such performances and exhibitions to take place. As I will explain later, circus owners will still be able to own the animals and look after them, but they will have to seek licences and will be inspected.
Many Members on both sides of the House have spoken passionately about this issue. Time prevents me from naming them all, but we recognise the concerns and I am pleased that we are able to take action today. I am delighted that there is strong support across the Chamber today. I will, of course, talk about the important work that took place under the previous Labour Government. I am delighted at the degree of co-operation. Of course we understand that there will be challenges, but we are grateful for the co-operation, which will ensure a smooth passage for this legislation.
We were promised that the Bill would come in after the Backbench Business debate secured by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard). One of the reasons subsequently given by the Government for not introducing it was that the European Union would not allow us to—there is a stream of responses to my written parliamentary questions on the subject that told me that. However, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Malta, the Netherlands, Scotland, Slovenia and Slovakia have all introduced a ban. Will the Minister put on the record that that line that we were given—that we could not introduce a ban because we were in the EU—was just not true?
I was not around at the time of whatever was said. I have been involved for eight months and we have been working closely together on a wide range of activities. We are trying to get this legislation through at pace. I pay tribute to the work that has gone on in Scotland since we declared that there would be a commitment to introducing this ban. The ban has been introduced there and we are pleased that there has been support for what we are doing today from the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) and the Scottish Government.
The Minister was not around at the time and cannot be held responsible, but the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) is absolutely right. France is another member of the European Union that has introduced a ban.
I welcome the Second Reading of this Bill in the House of Commons. It has taken some time, perhaps longer than it should have, but I am grateful that the Government have brought it forward. I have two quick questions. Will the Minister give a commitment that the timetable for introduction will not slip beyond next January? Secondly, does he believe the Bill is tough enough on enforcement?
I thank my hon. Friend for those questions and again acknowledge his work and tireless commitment on this issue. I remember him discussing the issue at length and in depth.
No, the timetable will not slip. Obviously, what was said when we made the commitment to bring the legislation into place was that there would be interim regulations involving licences. There was a sunset clause on those, and we will get the legislation in place so that there is no gap. There have been questions about that matter previously.
On enforcement, this Bill, as I will explain, is based primarily on ethics rather than welfare concerns. It does not have some of the enforcement powers that some people have talked about. However, it is important to note that other legislation is in place—not least the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and legislation from 1976—that will enable us to have those enforcement powers. This Bill complements that: the legislation works together to provide the enforcement mechanisms that my hon. Friend is seeking.
When we first announced in March 2012 that we would introduce a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, the Government were clear that primary legislation would take time. As I have said, we introduced interim measures—welfare licensing regulations. Those regulations will expire in 2020 and the Government have announced that they will not be renewed. That is why this Bill is being introduced: so that we can deliver with confidence on that commitment.
It might help if I provide a bit of historical context, to put the timeframes into perspective.
Given all the statutory instruments of recent months, I am used to this sort of barracking and harassment from the other side, but I take it in the intended spirit.
The subject matter itself has long been a source of debate: the issue was considered by a parliamentary Select Committee between 1921 and 1922, which resulted in the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925. No Members in the House today were around at that time. As hon. Members may be aware, this Government replaced that Act when we introduced the Animal Welfare (Licensing and Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018. Since the 1925 Act was introduced, debates and motions in Parliament on animals in circuses have been commonplace.
As I said, it is important to recognise the work undertaken by the previous Labour Government. During the debates on the Animal Welfare Bill in 2006, the then Government agreed to look at the issue in order to bring forward a ban on the use of certain wild species in travelling circuses using the delegated powers provided in the Animal Welfare Act 2006, subject to there being sufficient scientific evidence to support it. To assess that evidence, the academic lawyer Mike Radford was appointed to chair a circus working group. His report, the Radford report, concluded that there were no welfare concerns over and above animals kept in other captive environments. Therefore, any attempt to take forward a ban on welfare grounds under the Animal Welfare Act would fail the test of proportionality and primary legislation would be needed.
Following the report, a feasibility study was undertaken during 2008 to assess whether regulations were appropriate. The study concluded that a regulatory regime could be devised and implemented. The previous Government issued a public consultation in December 2009 on how best to protect wild animals in travelling circuses and about 95% of respondents supported a complete ban.
Is the Minister aware that the British Veterinary Association concluded:
“The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus—in terms of housing or being able to express normal behaviour”?
Does he agree with the evidence brought forward by the BVA?
We have worked closely with the BVA and I am really pleased that it has welcomed the steps we have taken. I agree that it has put forward some compelling arguments and I am pleased it recognises we are able to deliver on them. Again, we are seeing collaborative working relationships across Parliament with the welfare groups to get the proposed legislation through. It has taken time—more time than any of us would have liked—but it is now moving forward.
That is a fantastic question—a terrific question—which I know the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), with her encyclopaedic knowledge, will be answering in a little time. It will be worth waiting for. I know the hon. Gentleman asked me the question, but we will get that answer in just a little while. Joking aside, the important point was that 95% of respondents wanted the ban. That is the key point. Society has moved on and this is not appropriate activity.
In terms of the next milestone, I have already talked about the important Backbench Business that was put through unopposed by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, calling on the Government to introduce a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. In response, in March 2012, the Government announced they would pursue a ban, with licensing regulations introduced as a temporary measure. In April 2013, the Government published the draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny, leading to subsequent attempts, by the hon. Members mentioned in my introduction, to introduce the Bill via the private Members’ Bill route.
There are now only 19 wild animals left in travelling circuses. That is a low number, but the BVA captured the importance of the Bill when it said that a ban is emblematic of how we should be treating animals in the modern world.
There are two circuses, Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s Circus, with the 19 animals. Is the Minister going to ensure the welfare of those animals is secured after they have been released from performing? They are not wild animals or domestic animals. They will need to be well looked after.
As defined in this Bill, they are wild animals, but I understand my hon. Friend’s point. As I tried to make clear earlier, their welfare absolutely will be looked after. We have had assurances of that from the circuses themselves and we have legislation in place that will ensure that there are ongoing inspections to make sure that their welfare is looked after. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend. I recognise his interest as the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and the important work the Committee has done on this issue and across a wide range of other activities on animal welfare. I am grateful to him for that.
I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being very generous. A lot of people across the House have supported me over the years—the Greens, Labour, Liberal Democrats and so on. This is a tribute to them all. He mentions the Animal Welfare Bill under the previous Labour Government. I remember working with colleagues across the House on that. Is it not time for the Government, however grateful I am for the introduction of this Bill, to introduce a comprehensive animal welfare Bill of their own, which incorporates so many other private Members’ Bills that have been discussed in this House over the past few years, rather than take a piecemeal approach? Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, for plugging my own private Members’ Bills, but there are three I could name: the Protection of Common Birds Bill, the Sale of Primates as Pets (Prohibition) Bill and the Sale of Endangered Animals on the Internet Bill. Those are just three Bills from one lowly Conservative Back Bencher. Many other important animal welfare thoughts, ideas, policies and Bills have been introduced over the past few years. Will the Government seriously consider a comprehensive Bill to modernise animal welfare once and for all?
That is another important question. There is a strong rationale to do that. We are looking at other proposed legislation going forward. The environment Bill will be absolutely pivotal in the next Session, but as my hon. Friend knows we have other legislation we need to get through. We all know, including those on the Opposition Benches, that there is a lot of other proposed legislation that will take up time and make matters more complicated. However, he makes a good point and it is vital we seek ways to get other Bills in place, not least on animal sentience. We have already had a question about sentencing and increased sentences. I share the commitment to seeing that proposed legislation through. We just need to find the right vehicle to do that.
There are key arguments about necessity. It is not necessary to use wild animals to operate a circus or to enjoy the circus experience. The public can still, as the vast majority already do, attend travelling circuses that do not use wild animal acts. They can also readily see wild animals in zoos and safari parks. We need to consider the intrinsic value of wild animals. Modern society recognises the intrinsic value of these animals. This concerns the respect of animals and their natural behaviour. Wild animals in a circus are trained for our entertainment and amusement. That sends the wrong message to audiences about the intrinsic value of those animals. We should appreciate wild animals behaving naturally, not in a comic or superficial setting. We need to look at the educational conservation benefits. The practice of using wild animals in circus performances, unlike in zoos, does nothing to further our understanding or the conservation of wild animals. There is no greater benefit to humans or animals that justifies the use of wild animals in circuses. In short, it is an outdated practice that is no longer necessary to operate a circus or to enjoy the circus experience, and it is demeaning to the wild animals involved.
In 1990, 29 years ago, there were over 250 wild animals across some 20 circuses, including tigers, lions, elephants and bears. By the time of the 2009 DEFRA consultation, it was estimated that there were only four circuses in the UK using some 47 wild animals. Today, there are only 19 wild animals left and only two travelling circuses. Attitudes and audience appetites have changed, but if we fail to bring in a ban by the time our licensing regulations expire in January there is a risk that we could see more travelling circuses using wild animals such as lions and tigers again. It is crucial that we do not let that happen.
Let me turn to the Bill itself. Clause 1, the main clause, will make it an offence for a circus operator to use a wild animal in a travelling circus in England. The offence applies only to operators of travelling circuses in the circus environment; our view is that most people are employees or hired acts who are firmly in the control of the operator, so it should be the operator who carries responsibility for any illegal use of a wild animal.
Will the Minister look again at the need to define “travelling circus” in the Bill? A concern exists that without such a definition, the law will be unclear on circuses that travel without actually showing the animals. Many animal welfare organisations think that it would be much clearer if the Bill included a definition of “travelling circus”.
The Minister says that he believes that the definition is adequate, but surely he will concede that such matters can be explored and tested in Committee. If it can be demonstrated that the definition is not as clear as it ought to be, will the Government be open to amending the Bill before Third Reading?
Of course, in Committee, we will have the chance to review these things in more detail. There has been ongoing discussion with Opposition Front Benchers about the Committee process.
Clause 1(2) defines “use” as either performance or exhibition. It should cover circumstances in which wild animals are put on display at the circus, usually just adjacent to the big top, as well as performances in the ring. The penalty for a circus operator who is found guilty of using a wild animal in a travelling circus is an unlimited fine; the Animal Welfare Act 2006 also provides powers to seize animals where there are grounds to do so.
Subsection (4) provides for corporate liability where the circus operator is a corporate entity. Subsection (5) sets out definitions of terms used throughout clause 1, including “wild animal”—a term that is well understood and has already been defined in other legislation such as the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012. We have largely replicated that approach in the Bill:
“‘wild animal’ means an animal of a kind which is not commonly domesticated in Great Britain”.
To meet that definition, an animal does not have to have been born in the wild. Most of the wild animals currently in English circuses have been bred in captivity, usually from several generations of circus animals, but that does not make them domesticated. Domestication is a process that happens over many generations—hundreds of years, if not thousands.
To return to a question asked by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), clause 1 does not define “travelling circus”. The term is left to take its common meaning, which we believe the courts will have no trouble in interpreting. Indeed, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s July 2013 report on the draft Bill agreed that we did not need to include a definition of the term; nor was a circus itself defined by the Scottish Parliament in the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018. Defining a circus in a specific way might be unhelpful, because it could provide parameters for an operator to seek to evade the ban.
The common meaning of “circus” is
“a company of performers who put on shows with diverse entertainments, often of a daring or exciting nature, that may include, for example, acts such as…acrobats, trapeze acts…tightrope walkers, jugglers, unicyclists”.
The role of wild animals in a circus, when they are used, is to provide an entertaining spectacle for our amusement, often as a way to demonstrate the skill or dominance of the trainer. That is outdated, and it is what we are legislating against.
Clause 2 relates to inspections, for which powers are set out in the schedule. Inspectors will be appointed by the Secretary of State, although we envisage that the numbers required will be small. We already have a small panel of inspectors to enforce the interim wild animals in circuses licensing regime, all of whom are drawn from the Department’s list of zoo licensing veterinary inspectors and are highly experienced in the handling and treatment of wild animals in captivity. Inspectors will be appointed on a case-by-case basis by the Animal and Plant Health Agency to investigate evidence of any offence.
Clause 3 will make a minor consequential amendment to the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, which requires persons who wish to keep dangerous wild animals to be licensed. Those who keep dangerous wild animals in a circus are currently exempted from that requirement, but once the new ban comes into force, there should no longer be any vertebrate dangerous wild animals in travelling circuses. We have therefore taken a belt-and-braces approach to make it clear that using dangerous wild vertebrate animals in a travelling circus is not allowed.
The Scottish Government, who have already introduced a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in Scotland, have asked us to extend to Scotland our amendment to the 1976 Act, and we are pleased to enable that request. Once again, we are grateful for the Scottish Government’s work on this and many other aspects of animal welfare. The Welsh Government are considering their own ban; we have also discussed the matter with the Northern Ireland Government, who are not in a position to consider a ban at this point.
Clause 4 provides for the Bill to come into force on 20 January 2020, the day after the interim circus licensing regulations expire. I hope that I have already reassured hon. Members that it will come into effect in a timely way.
It is worth clarifying what the Bill will not do. First, I make it absolutely clear that we are not proposing to ban circuses, only their use of wild animals. Plenty of travelling circuses do not use wild animals, or indeed any animals, in their acts; the Bill will have no impact on them. Nor will it stop circus operators owning wild animals. If circuses wish to continue to own them after the ban is enacted, they will be subject to the appropriate licensing requirements, for example under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 or under the Department’s 2018 licensing regulations for animals hired out for TV or film productions. If a circus does not intend to continue using wild animals in other work, we expect to see retirement plans being deployed under the interim licensing regulations.
Nor will the ban lead to the banning of other animal exhibits such as falconry displays, zoos, farm parks or the sort of displays that we might see at summer fêtes in our constituencies. Even though such activities may move animal displays from one place to another, they do not fall within the ordinary interpretation of a circus and will therefore not meet the definition of a travelling circus. We do not wish to ban them, because we acknowledge that they have a role to play in education. The important distinction is that circuses move from A to B to C, whereas other displays may go to one place, come back to a home base and go to another place some time later—they are a very different activity.
Lastly, the Bill will apply only to wild animals. I know from parliamentary debates and from my Department’s postbag that the overriding concern is about the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, which is precisely what the Bill will address. Other domestic animals such as horses and dogs will continue to be subject to inspections under the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 to ensure that the highest welfare standards are met.
Continuing to allow wild animals to perform often absurd and unnecessary behaviours for our amusement in travelling circuses goes against the Government’s efforts towards—and the House’s interests in—raising awareness and respect for animals. People can continue to enjoy the experience of going to a circus, but we must move on from the age when wild animals were paraded around as a spectacle. We want people to see animals in a more dignified and natural setting. We cannot make that message clearer than by introducing this Bill to ban that practice. I commend it to the House.
Circuses are no place for wild animals. That view is shared not only by animal welfare organisations and animal lovers, but by the vast majority of people in our country and—as I am very glad to see—by hon. Members on both sides of the House. As the Minister said, banning wild animals in circuses is a policy that began under Labour before we lost power in 2010, so we support the Bill. It is long overdue, but we are pleased that, having walked the tightrope of parliamentary time so many times, it has now arrived. I thank Members on both sides of the House for their advocacy for wild animals. This will ensure that we can have the greatest shows: circuses that do not have wild animals in them.
In welcoming the Bill, I want to echo some of the points that have been made by hon. Members. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar), I ask the Minister where the Bill is to increase the penalties for animal cruelty. The Bill before us is welcome, but it is not the only Bill that we need in relation to animal welfare. That is one of the promises that remains missing.
The Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012 will expire in 2020. Now is the time to address this issue once and for all. Forcing wild animals to perform in circuses is one of the most archaic and inhumane forms of animal exploitation. We should be clear that we no longer want it to take place in Britain.
According to the latest figures from September, 19 wild animals are owned by the two remaining circuses that use wild animals in their performances. I am very pleased that the six reindeer, four zebras, three camels, three racoons, one fox—which is not for hunting—one macaw and one zebu, which of course is a type of humped cattle, will soon be free from their lives in circuses and able to enjoy the rest of their lives without being put on display for our entertainment.
I have received a few questions about the Bill since I mentioned I would be speaking in the debate. I would be grateful if the Minister set out whether birds are included in the Bill, as a few people want to know. I believe that they are, but it would be helpful if the Minister made it clear for the record in her concluding remarks.
The problem with the current regulations is that if the licensing conditions are met, there is nothing to stop more animals and different types of animals returning to circuses unless further action is taken.
The review of the science on the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses by Professor Stephen Harris, which was commissioned by the Welsh Government and 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”. Every circus animal matters. That is why we should have no wild animals in our circuses anymore. The report built on existing evidence that shows that the welfare needs of non-domesticated wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus—a conclusion with which the Opposition agree.
I am sure that all hon. Members are animal lovers. I am sure we can all agree that animals need a suitable environment to live in, an appropriate diet, the ability to express normal patterns of behaviour and to be housed properly, whether that is with or without other animals, and that they should not suffer. Wild animals that are used in travelling circuses are carted from one venue to another, sometimes in cramped cages and barren trailers, and are taught to perform tricks, often through fear of punishment. In many cases, animals are not suited to the travelling life, where they are denied their most basic needs. When animals suffer, we all suffer.
Labour planned to ban the use of wild animals in circuses before the 2010 general election. The draft legislation had been prepared and consulted on, with a substantial majority of respondents in favour of a ban. While we are pleased that there is finally parliamentary time for this crucial and urgent Bill, it is disappointing that we have been overtaken by no fewer than 30 countries worldwide in banning the use of wild animals in circuses. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) for setting out just how many EU member states have banned the use of wild animals in circuses and showing just how paltry was the Government’s line that our EU membership prevented it.
My intervention on the Minister was long enough, with the long list of countries, so I did not make the point that I wanted to go on to make. The line that we are not allowed to do things because the European Union will not let us has been used frequently by this Department and by the Minister’s predecessors. For example, there were discussions about limiting the journey times for live exports. Other countries were prepared to sign up to that, but the UK was not prepared to take part in those discussions. We need a thorough investigation into how often that has been used as an excuse, because there are a lot of things we could have done on the animal welfare front that are now coming to a head because we might be leaving the European Union. We could actually have done a lot more.
My hon. Friend is right: there have been many times when our membership of the European Union has been used as a reason not to do something, when that has not been true. In many cases, the Government have had the power to change the law for the better. We should be using those powers to do so, not find excuses not to do so.
The previous Labour Government published the draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill in 2013 but sadly did not make time for it to become law. Despite a 2015 manifesto commitment to implement the ban, the Conservative Government failed to introduce the necessary law in the last Parliament. The Government have been dragging their feet for far too long and I am glad that the Minister who introduced the debate has brought forward the Bill. However, every day that the Bill has not been in place, there have been wild animals in circuses in England that should have been free to enjoy life beyond the circus. That is something that the Government’s action can never take back.
The ban has been on the “to do” list for many years. When out celebrating the re-election of Plymouth’s Labour council last week, the leader of the council, Tudor Evans, told me about the controversial measure to ban wild animals in circuses visiting Plymouth back in 1991, when I was only 11. Plymouth City Council had wanted to do that, but it did not have the power to do it. However, it discovered that it did have the power to ban animals in theatres, so it did. That caused immediate controversy, with the performance of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Theatre Royal demanding the use of a dog. Apparently, the show went on without the dog, and circuses will go on without wild animals. That is a lesson that we should all be very proud of.
The Minister mentioned that other countries have led the way in introducing a ban on wild animals in circuses. Scotland has introduced a ban and Wales will be introducing a ban this year. What is happening in Northern Ireland on introducing such a ban on wild animals? While there is no Executive, it is hard for some of the rules we pass in this place to be applied in Northern Ireland. I would be grateful if the Minister set that out so that we can ensure that no wild animals are able to be used in circuses in Northern Ireland.
May I ask the Minister about the robust transition that needs to take place? There must be no unintended consequences when the ban comes into effect. The British Veterinary Zoological Society has highlighted potential concerns about the guidance that will be given regarding the future of wild animals that are currently in circuses. There must be a robust transition process in place to ensure their welfare. I am grateful for the answer the Minister gave my fellow south-west MP, the Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, on ensuring that all the animals will be rehomed in a good way. However, I would be grateful if the Minister who responds gave further reassurance that not a single wild animal that is used in a circus today will be put down because of the new law. I am sure that there are many animal lovers across the country who would love to rehome any of those animals—the raccoons, the macaw, the zebras, the zebu or the reindeer. We must make sure that no animal dies because of this law.
Turning to unintended consequences, we look forward to scrutinising the Bill in Committee. We will consider what amendments to table to clarify how the Bill will work in practice and to ensure that there are no loopholes that a coach and horses, a zebu, a camel or a raccoon can be driven through. For example, the Bill does not contain a clear definition of the word “circus”, so there could be confusion with the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018, which are about the use of snakes that are not commonly domesticated but are under the control of humans. Circuses could therefore fall into both areas. They could say that they have a licence under those regulations and operate as a travelling exhibition if the term “circus” remains undefined.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) for setting out that concern. There is a need to tighten the definition and I would be grateful if the Minister looked favourably on attempts by the Opposition and, I suspect, Government Members to do that.
The Opposition will also explore powers to enforce the ban on wild animals in circuses. We will consider what powers will be needed to seize animals that are used in circuses after the ban comes into place, what powers courts should have to disqualify offenders from keeping animals if there is repeat offending, what powers of entry should be extended to constables and appointed inspectors, and what additional support the Government will give the national wildlife crime unit by extending its funding. There are only 12 officers in the unit, which is nearly one officer per wild animal in a circus today, but it is very important that their excellent work continues after the current funding round comes to an end. I would be grateful if the Minister set out what plans the Government have to extend that funding.
There is never enough animal welfare. We need to give a voice to the animals because they do not have one. That is why it is right that we have heard interventions from both sides of the House in support of greater animal welfare. I am very pleased to be a Labour MP, because Labour is the party of animal welfare. From bringing forward the landmark Hunting Act 2004 to protecting domestic animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, Labour has always placed the welfare of animals high on the policy agenda.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) asked about an all-encompassing animal welfare Bill. If the Government choose not to introduce such a Bill, the hon. Gentleman need only vote for a Labour Government. We have made a policy commitment to introduce a broad animal welfare Bill to ensure that all animals are protected, based on our animal welfare plan, which has been published and consulted on.
Labour fought for animal sentience to be part of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, but, sadly, that was voted down by the Government. I hope that it will return as a full provision. At a European level, Labour has helped to secure better welfare standards for battery hens and chickens, and has tightened the rules on the transport of live animals. That is a record of which my party can rightly be proud, but it is also a record that requires us constantly to ask for improvements, and to support animal welfare wherever the animals may be, in the United Kingdom and abroad. My party and, I believe, Members on both sides of the House will continue to do that.
Labour will support the Bill tonight, and I hope that the Minister will take our suggestions on board in the good faith in which they were intended. I think that there is cross-party support for the Bill, not only in the House but among the public. Labour will seek to tighten the rules to ensure that there are no wild animals in our circuses, and that all the wild animals that are currently in circuses can have a good life after their days of entertaining people have come to an end.
I support the Bill, not least because, as a Minister in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I spoke in favour of such a Bill on many occasions. As a number of Members have pointed out, it has been on the agenda for some time—it was a manifesto commitment in both 2015 and 2017—and, as the Minister said, the existing licensing regulations will expire in 2020, so it is necessary to ensure that we have something with which to replace them.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, of which I was a member before I became a Minister, examined this issue in some detail. At that point, the committee proposed a slightly different approach to dealing with this challenge. It proposed an annexe to the Bill listing the animals that would not be allowed to be in travelling circuses: a negative list. We envisaged that the most controversial species—lions, tigers and elephants—would be banned immediately, and that other species, such as snakes and camels, could also be removed in due course. I understand that, in the event, DEFRA took the view that that was over-complicating the issue, given that 19 species were involved, and that a simple ban was what was needed.
As the Minister said, this has been on the agenda since 2011. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who has just left the Chamber, initiated a number of debates at that time. The initial debate followed a public reaction to the terrible abuse of Anne the elephant in one of the circuses in this country. I am happy to say that a couple of years ago I visited Longleat safari park, where Anne now has a new home, is being properly cared for, and is ending her days in a suitable fashion.
Now that the Bill is before us, I think it important for us to perform our role as legislators: to scrutinise it, and to ensure that there are no inconsistencies in its application. As the Minister pointed out, it is a rather unusual Bill to deal with the regulation of animal welfare and the way in which we manage animals. It imposes a ban not on the grounds of animal welfare, but on ethical grounds.
I have great respect for the former Minister, as he knows. Does he share my lack of understanding of the fact that animal welfare was never a reason for us to ban wild animals in circuses, and that—as he has just mentioned—we had to find alternative ethical grounds? Surely the Animal Welfare Act 2006 was the appropriate vehicle for these measures.
It was, but, as the hon. Gentleman says, the legal advice was that these were not necessarily animal welfare issues per se.
I support the Bill. I have argued for it, and I want it to be passed. A number of Members have said that it is perhaps a little overdue; I was in the Department and it took time for this to be done, so I cannot criticise others on that front.
I am going to make some progress.
However, the Bill does raise some anomalies. For instance, two or three of the animals in the list of 19 are camels. They will be banned from circuses in future, but I understand that camel racing takes place in some venues in the country, and that that practice would continue. Only a few years ago, there was a dancing raccoon on “Britain’s Got Talent”, the ITV show. Do we think that that is ethical? If it is not ethical to have a dancing raccoon in a circus, why is it ethical to have one on “Britain’s Got Talent”?
What about falconry displays? They travel from agricultural show to agricultural show. Falcons are wild animals. What is the difference? We are starting to enter borderline territories.
Then there is the issue of snakes. There is a growing trend for the keeping of corn snakes and other exotic pets such as bearded dragons, a type of lizard. Are we convinced that every 10-year-old boy in the land who has a corn snake or a bearded dragon is looking after that pet adequately? A number of vets are increasingly concerned about the welfare of some of these pets, not least because many vets lack the expertise to deal with their specialist needs. Why is it OK to have pet snakes with, in many cases, no regulation at all unless they are deemed to be a species of dangerous wild animal, while having one in a circus is seen as wrong? And what about reindeer? There is nothing in the Bill to prevent a reindeer from being outside a Santa’s Grotto, yet reindeer in circuses will now be banned.
I have made all those comments not to suggest that I will oppose the Bill—as I have said, I fully support it—but simply to highlight a matter that I think we ought to consider. As we introduce a rather unusual Bill that is based on ethics rather than animal welfare, it will throw up issues that we, and those tasked with implementing the policy, will have to resolve, and we ought to be thinking about those issues now.
It is a privilege to speak for the Scottish National party on this important Bill, which is crucial to future animal welfare legislation. I thank the excellent animal welfare organisations that have campaigned on the issue for many years. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but let me name just a few: the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Animal Defenders International, Animal Justice Project, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
As the Minister said, the Scottish Government passed legislation to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in 2017. Forcing wild animals to travel in circuses and perform confusing and degrading tricks is an outdated practice that has no place in our modern, compassionate society. Animal welfare remains a vital area of concern for the Scottish Government, who will establish a Scottish animal welfare commission to give advice and set best policy standards and practice.
The Bill is important, and is fully supported by the SNP. I know that the Minister has been in contact with the Scottish Government, who agree that it strengthens existing legislation and makes progress for the future. I do not think that “borderline territories” such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) are sufficient reason for procrastination, although I note the importance of the points that he raised. I am pleased that steps are being taken now, and that they will lead to further steps, however difficult they may be to resolve in the future.
The Bill is important in many respects. The first relates to animal welfare. There may be only a few animals in today’s circuses in the United Kingdom, but we cannot avoid noticing, with empathy, that they live in cramped travelling conditions. They are often transported in small cages in vans, or in barren trailers. They are taught to perform—owing to their fear of punishment—in artificial surroundings. That is certainly not entertainment, and animals themselves are not entertainment. These practices must not continue anywhere across the UK, and I hope the Governments in Wales and Northern Ireland will quickly follow suit in relation to this legislation.
The second important point is education—education of our future generations—because this is the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to wonder in the resplendence of wild animals in their natural habitats, behaving in the wild in a way that is entirely free and natural. The right thing to do is to learn respect for wild animals as living beings, not tools of man or money-making objects, to want to do our bit to preserve species and to protect biodiversity, to teach the importance of conserving endangered species for our children and our children’s children, and to recognise how wondrous the world is via different cultures and species, and nature and our planet.
The third issue is public awareness and what the public demands. We are all here by courtesy of the public and of the voters in our constituencies. Public consultation has consistently found that 94.5%, and similar high percentages, of respondents in all areas of the UK support a ban, because the public know that circuses do not provide animals with psychologically or physically healthy lives. The public abhor the abuse in circuses that has been uncovered by Animal Defenders International, whose members have gone undercover and investigated British circuses over the past 20 years to expose it. They realise, as per the work of Professor Stephen Harris at Bristol University, that the life of animals in circuses does not constitute a good life or even a life worth living.
As others have said, the Minister should consider funding for the national wildlife crime unit; this issue was raised during the good work done on the Ivory Act 2018 and it must be addressed.
We must now join cross-party and work together to do all we can to secure the swift progress of this Bill. I thank all MPs here today, and MPs past and present who have wholeheartedly supported a ban over the decades; today they can be proud because we take this step towards this ban together built on their efforts in the name of improving animal welfare standards for the good of the animals and society.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate.
I welcome the Bill, but further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick)—I do call him an hon. Friend—said, I am interested in why this is being done on ethical rather than animal welfare grounds. Government lawyers have made heavy weather of this Bill. As several Members across the House have said, we have been dealing with this for a long time; this was one of the first issues that I dealt with when I came into the House in 2010, and it rumbled on and on through various Secretaries of State, and now we have finally got there, which I greatly welcome.
When I asked a question of the Minister just now and said that the animals were not wild, I suppose that technically I was wrong, but the point I wanted to make is that they are neither wild nor domesticated because they have been so used to performing in circuses and to being taken around. I am not saying that was the right thing to do to them, but we cannot just suddenly turn them back into the wild, because they are not strictly wild animals. If we put the reindeer back into Norway or Sweden or wherever they could roam naturally, I am not sure for one moment that they would survive. That is the issue: we have to make sure that not only are these animals banned from travelling circuses but they are looked after. The No. 1 priority is that they are not put down of course, but they do need to be looked after properly.
My hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), a previous agriculture Minister, made the further point that lots of other types of animals—snakes, lizards and all sorts of things—are being kept for various reasons. We live in a block of flats in Battersea and, interestingly, mice and dead chicks are brought in. I am not sure the inhabitants of the flats are eating those chicks; I think we will find that snakes and other animals are eating them. So lots of animals are being kept across the piece and we must make sure they are looked after properly. We cannot expect this Bill to deal with that, but the point has been made that it is interesting what people will keep in their homes, and then there is the question of whether their homes are fit for it and whether they should be keeping them. There are also all sorts of other animals, such as primates, that should not be kept at home, and we must deal with that.
I do not wish to detain the House for long as this Bill has cross-party support and I welcome that, and we have done a lot of work in the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on these matters previously and now. However, I also want to make the point that we really want the five-year sentencing for animal welfare crimes. We have the ridiculous situation at the moment that someone who beats a dog to death gets a maximum sentence of six months and if they plead guilty they get an automatic 30% or 40% reduction, so they end up serving four months. This is not right, and every time we want to tag this measure on to one Bill or another it never seems to be the right Bill, so I urge the Government that it is time that that was done.
We can all work together on this, but the point has been made that there are other species that we need to look at. I welcome the fact that the 19 animals from both the Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly’s will no longer be able to perform after 2020, but I reiterate that we must make sure they are properly looked after afterwards, a point that I think we all agree on across the House.
I am grateful to be called to participate briefly in this uncontroversial and consensual debate, and it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish); although we sit on opposite sides of the House, we are on very good terms and share a lot of common ground, especially on animal welfare issues. Like him, and everyone else who has spoken and is likely to speak, I support the Bill, and I congratulate the Government and the Minister on bringing it forward. I am grateful to the RSPCA, the British Veterinary Association, Animal Defenders International, the Born Free Foundation and the Commons Library for their briefings and assistance.
This Bill has been quite a long time getting here. Its provisions were omitted from the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and picked up again by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2009, following continued lobbying by animal welfare groups. I was Minister of State then, and the consultation in 2009 that we held on this issue, as mentioned by the Minister, led me and the then Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), to say approaching the 2010 general election that if re-elected we were minded to ban wild animals in circuses, but of course we never got the chance. The coalition then ran into a number of the same obstacles Labour had encountered when in office, and immediately the Bill was back in the slow lane.
Various explanations followed, such as that it was a European matter, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), and that it could not be determined by nation states. The suspicion arose that there was a departmental disagreement between the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and DEFRA and the Government could not agree on a unified position, or it was said that a licensing regime could do the job better. However, as has been said, neither side of the House was persuaded by any of the explanations and there were various debates, oral questions, written parliamentary questions, ten-minute rule Bills, lobbies and public pressure, all the way to the next general election in 2015. At that time, every main political party went into the general election committed to a ban. Public support has always been high, at more than 70%, and the consultation we held in 2009 showed that more than 94% were in support of a ban.
It is not difficult to conclude that transporting wild animals around the country in heavy goods vehicles and keeping them in temporary confined spaces for the duration of visits to various locations is not in the best interest of the animals, physically or psychologically, and that it is contrary to their welfare. I am sure that the public got that before the Government did. There is confusion as to whether this is an animal welfare issue or an ethical one. I understand that there are some separations, but locking wild animals up in HGVs and transporting them around the country, then putting them in small temporary enclosures for the duration of visits, is primarily an animal welfare issue. If taking the ethics route gets the job done, I am happy to do that, but I believe that there is a fundamental animal welfare question here as well.
The British Veterinary Association concludes:
“The welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within a travelling circus—in terms of housing or being able to express normal behaviour.”
That is what I think is called a no-brainer. The RSPCA has raised four issues that it wants to see addressed in Committee. Several of them have already been mentioned, so I will not repeat the arguments, but the headings are: the definition of a travelling circus; the power of the courts to disqualify individuals from keeping wild animals; the limits of appointed inspectors; and the powers to seize animals. The Minister has generously indicated that both Ministers will be prepared to discuss all those matters in Committee.
Given that we have all waited so long, we want the best conclusion and the best Bill. We want to ensure that it is as fit for purpose as we can make it. Given the assurances that we have received from the Minister, I am looking forward to the Committee stage of the Bill. I am confident that we will continue to adopt the consensual tone that has characterised this Second Reading debate and that we will get the Bill on the statute book in less time than it has taken to get to this point.
I thank the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for taking the Bill through our parliamentary process. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), for his dedication in seeing it through and for his detailed explanation of the Bill today.
Many Members have been involved in campaigning for this ban over many years. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who rightly distinguishes between the conditions that a wild animal experiences while on the road and during and in between performances, and those of an animal in a conservation park or zoo, where animals can be enclosed in areas reflecting their native environment, where the public benefit from gaining knowledge and where they will therefore be better able to support the work of breeding programmes and wider conservation.
Yesterday, while welcoming a delegation of Indian travel company representatives to Muncaster Castle as part of a VisitBritain campaign to encourage the visitor economy in Copeland, we enjoyed an incredible display of sky hunters, including owls, hawks and vultures flying high in the sky and swooping and diving, with the mountains of the English Lake district as their backdrop. These experiences capture our imagination and dazzle, while also teaching us about natural habits, abilities and vulnerabilities. For example, we learned yesterday that vultures are perilously close to extinction. These opportunities and organisations have my full support. However, making wild animals travel in crates and perform unnatural tasks for our amusement does not have my support and nor does it have the support of the public.
If successful, the Bill will become an Act of Parliament preventing the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. As world leaders in animal welfare, we are strengthening our position as animal protectors. The Bill follows a long list of other protections making progress in the House, including making CCTV mandatory in slaughter- houses, improving puppy welfare and bringing about one of the world’s toughest bans on ivory sales.
Prison sentences for animal abusers have been increased and I look forward to a ban on the live export of animals for slaughter when we leave the EU.
The ban in this Bill would not be possible without the vast amount of work carried out by the DEFRA team, officials and organisations such as the RSPCA, all of whom have got us this far. I put on record my thanks to all of them as the Bill, which I will be support in the Lobby tonight, makes progress through Parliament.
As we have heard from so many hon. Members today, this Bill is long overdue. We have heard about the many earlier attempts to get this ban on the statute book. A statement from the Government in 2012 indicated that they were going to pursue this path, so the Bill today is well overdue.
My constituents have been contacting me about this issue since I became a Member of Parliament, and I know that people feel strongly about it. Indeed, a change.org petition on the subject attracted more than 200,000 signatures—I know that many of my constituents signed it—and there have been other e-petitions along the way. It is about time that we moved on from this archaic practice and recognised that our entertainment comes at a huge price—the welfare and care of the animals that are moved from place to place in poor conditions and under a great deal of stress. As I have said, this Bill is well overdue.
In 2010, a Labour Government public consultation found that 94.5% of respondents supported a ban, which really is not surprising. Animals in circuses are subjected to brutal training methods and violence, which have no place in our society. I am glad that it looks as though a ban will finally be imposed. As others have said, it is frustrating that we are way behind the times in this country. Many countries across the globe have already implemented similar bans, and it is simply unacceptable that the UK is left lagging behind other countries with regard to animal welfare standards in circuses. Furthermore, recent research shows that animal freedoms and animal rights are not being adhered to, even though people care very much about them. That is why I am keen to speak in this debate.
Hon. Members have referred to various issues that will require work in Committee. They include the definition of a travelling circus; the powers to seize animals; liability; the disqualification of offenders from keeping wild animals; and the power of entry. I am sure that all those details can be dealt with in Committee. A key issue is the definition of a travelling circus, and I hope that great consideration will be given to ensuring that people’s concerns are addressed in that respect.
I am glad to see this Bill coming forward, but a lot of other important animal legislation is needed and my constituents are certainly keen to see it passed. The issue of recognising animal sentience has been mentioned, as has the fact that we missed the opportunity to include that in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. We have also talked about longer sentences for animal cruelty and about extending the scope of the Ivory Act 2018, which will be familiar territory for many people in the Chamber today.
I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us about the fate of the animals that are currently in circuses. Can he confirm that what happens to them will be monitored? The question of monitoring is a consistent theme when we look at legislation to protect wildlife; it was also discussed during the passage of the Ivory Bill. The same concerns apply to the strengthening of the National Wildlife Crime Unit. Can the Minister confirm that the unit’s funding will be continued?
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) and to take part in this debate. Times change, and when they do we have to change the rules and regulations to reflect mindsets. To some in this House, it might seem like only yesterday that films such as “The Greatest Show on Earth”, with Dorothy Lamour and Charlton Heston, were great hits because they had the romance and excitement of circus life.
If we fast-forward to just a few weeks ago, as a father I made probably the worst decision I have ever made in my life when I decided to take my three daughters to see the remake of “Dumbo”. My eldest daughter, Imogen, just about managed to survive with some degree of stoicism. My middle daughter, Jessica, cried five times during the film. My youngest daughter, Laura, had to be taken out of the cinema by me, so upset had she become by the film. I have to say I was rather relieved because I, too, was finding the film rather upsetting. The question they asked at the rescue centre afterwards—also known as Pizza Express Dorchester—was, “Why? Why would you have an elephant in a circus? Why would you treat an elephant like that?” I think that just shows the change in our society.
Everyone in the Chamber is completely committed to the welfare of animals, including me, but will my hon. Friend think about what he is saying? If he is saying that an animal does not belong in a circus—I accept that that is what the vast majority of people believe is right—does he think that animals in other contexts should be where they are? Does an animal belong in a zoo? Does a horse belong on a racecourse? Does a greyhound belong in a greyhound stadium? He has to look at the implications and precedent that legislation sets.
I think I can help, because what the hon. Gentleman asks would broaden the debate outside the scope of circuses. The Bill is about circus animals. It is not about breeding programmes in zoos or different things. The hon. Gentleman is comparing horses and dogs to a circus, but the Bill is about wild animals in circuses. I would like to keep the debate contained to the subject before us.
If I may, I will reply briefly and within order to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) raised. Representing Romford, he would be a very brave man to suggest that greyhound racing should be stopped. He makes a valid point. I can well remember being taken as a young boy to Barry zoo, which Vale of Glamorgan Council eventually closed because it was so fiendishly awful and the treatment of its animals was so bad. Standards have to reflect the very highest standards of animal welfare.
Those days have gone. When circuses were at their most popular and wild animals were in use, circuses could say, “We are doing some sort of education as well.” However, the likes of David Attenborough and co have changed that. We can be educated in our own homes about wild animals in their natural habitats and we can get more information and education in that way. Those people do that important job in a much better way.
I can remember as a boy being taken—my mother is still not entirely sure why—to Gerry Cottle and Billy Smart’s circus when it performed in Cardiff. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) nodding almost with reminiscence at those names. We never left those circuses elevated by joy; we left with a terrible feeling of sadness. There was something alien, wrong and outdated about it, even in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It just goes to show that sometimes this place needs to find ways of moving far more quickly to better reflect changes in mindset.
I was pleased and proud to be a co-sponsor when my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince) brought forward a Bill on this issue in February 2016. I am delighted to see him in his place. I remember, as on similar occasions, that it was opposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope). I have to say that anything opposed by him usually seems a good thing in my book.
I am delighted by this Bill. I am grateful that Ministers are bringing it forward. I know that the numbers we are talking about are low, but I view the Bill as a sender of a message and an articulation of a set of values. It is also an insurance policy. Were there to be a European renaissance of wild animals performing in circuses, through this legislation the message would go out from the House and across our parties that such circuses would not be welcome in the UK.
I have no need to repeat the sound case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), or to mention the interventions by other Members that he picked up, other than to reiterate that my party very much supports the Bill. My hon. Friends and I have done what we can to ensure that the Bill is finally before the House.
I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) about other situations in which animals find themselves, but I do not believe that that would justify the House not taking this step. The points he makes provide very good reasons for demanding a coherent, up-to-date and comprehensive animal welfare Bill in the near future to take forward the intentions of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. However, let us not let our anxiety to cover the gamut of animal welfare lead us to rewrite the starting point of this Bill.
Would the hon. Gentleman clarify something? Does he feel that the legislation should be extended to performing animals—animals in adverts or films? Where would he extend it to? At what point would he say it is okay for a wild animal or any creature to take part in something? Would he stop at circuses, or would he go further?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As I said, we should not allow our wish to have a comprehensive animal welfare Bill to get in the way of our passing this specific Bill, which has the support of the whole House.
The way we treat animals is often a litmus test of how we treat human beings and I believe that the steps we are taking in this country and around the world to show not only kindness but respect to other creatures are important in creating the consciousness we desperately need if we are to protect our planet and all its creatures.
So many people in this country are concerned about our treatment of animals, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) emphasised. People have hopes for a better world and a million dreams ride on our better relationship with our fellow creatures. Even if all the animals performing in circuses in this country were healthy and happy, there is something fundamentally demeaning about using animals to do tricks for our entertainment and we should not be encouraging it.
Animal welfare is an ethical issue. Although it is true that only 19 wild animals are currently performing in circuses in England and Wales, this is meaningful legislation. There is no guarantee in the licensing system currently in operation that that number could not grow. Indeed, the licensing regime ends in January next year. Unless we pass the Bill in time, so that it comes into operation in January, there is a danger that there will be no restrictions on the use of wild animals in circuses. We do not want to see the humiliation of lions, tigers and bears coming alive in our circuses once again.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) mentioned other countries that have already implemented the ban, but we need to be aware of the appalling cruelty meted out to various animals in other countries, such as bears milked for their bile in China or beach donkeys in Santorini. How can we argue for decent treatment for animals around the world unless we are seen to be above reproach in this country?
Most circuses in this country stopped using wild animals years ago, and I believe that some of the biggest circuses made that decision entirely voluntarily before the licensing system was ever introduced because they recognised from first-hand experience that it is no longer acceptable for circuses to feature such acts. However, unless we act to implement a ban, there is a continuing danger that other less scrupulous circuses will take trade away from those that have made the ethical choice. We need to act now to enable those that have behaved honourably in this matter to flourish.
Above all, I am amazed it has taken us so long to get to this stage. After my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) introduced his ten-minute rule Bill in September 2014, was it really necessary for hon. Members to object to it 12 times; it was finally dropped in April 2015? And did an hon. Member really need to object to the ten-minute rule Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) in 2015?
A similar Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) fell due to the general election in 2017. An almost identical private Member’s Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) was due to be heard in October but, if the Government had not taken it on, it would almost certainly have been blocked by an hon. Member, just as the Bills on upskirting and female genital mutilation were blocked.
It is a great relief that the Government have finally taken on this Bill, but it is a matter of regret that we could not have dealt with this issue before now. I fully agree with the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) that the Government need to get on with the Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill, too.
This Bill is long overdue, and it has the full support of every party and of the campaigning groups that have worked to get us to this point. I look forward to it passing into law at the earliest possible moment.
It is my pleasure and privilege to respond to this debate, and I thank hon. and right hon. Members from all parties for their contributions. I am encouraged by the general consensus in the House that this Bill addresses an important question about the treatment of wild animals, and I am convinced it can make quick progress, which is clearly the desire of hon. Members present today.
Many animal welfare charities, veterinary groups and, of course, parliamentarians have been calling for this ban, and I recognise the huge public support for it, too. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (David Rutley), is particularly grateful to the RSPCA, the Born Free Foundation and the British Veterinary Association for their support on this matter.
Public attitudes have clearly changed over time, and we now recognise that wild animals no longer belong in travelling circuses. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) is not yet back in his place—perhaps he is not as quick as a zebra or a racing camel—but there were 10,572 responses to the consultation issued in 2009, and an additional 2,500 postcards. Approximately 95% of those who responded to the consultation suggested that the best way to improve welfare would be to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and the whole team has done a great job on this Bill. I apologise for being late, but I was at the World Wildlife Fund launch of “Our Planet”, which is another wonderful Attenborough film about biodiversity and protecting our wonderful cornucopia of wild species. It seems so timely that we are discussing this Bill in a week when the UN has published a big report on declining species. It is more important than ever that we make our mark by saying that we cannot have wild animals performing for us in circuses.
My hon. Friend raises an important point about the state of biodiversity in the world. I was privileged to be at the G7 summit when we had a presentation from the intergovernmental science-policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services on this issue, and I can assure her that the leading countries of the world are actively working together and have declared the Metz charter on biodiversity. She is right to stress the importance of wild animals being in their normal places, rather than providing unusual forms of entertainment, which is what the Bill seeks to address.
I wholeheartedly endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow). Can the Minister tell the House how we will define “wild animal”? That is central to this Bill and we need a clear definition of where we stand, as some countries have definitions that are different from what we may be considering.
I can answer my hon. Friend directly, because clause 1(5) states that
“‘wild animal’ means an animal of a kind which is not commonly domesticated in Great Britain.”
I hope that answers his point.
The Scottish Government’s 2014 consultation ahead of their ban showed similar figures in support, and last year’s consultation by the Welsh Government on a proposed ban found some 97% in favour. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said earlier, this is an outdated practice that no longer reflects the views of modern society, and I am pleased that we have started the Bill’s passage through Parliament.
My hon. Friend has already replied to some of the points raised in this debate, and he was generous in saying that some of the issues that have been raised can be considered in Committee, and it is important that they are.
On the European Union and the limits of legislation, there was a legal challenge to the ban introduced by Austria under the European services directive. I am confident the Government did not say a ban could not be introduced, but we had to wait for the outcome of that challenge to understand how we can properly legislate to do this. The legal challenge failed, which has given us confidence to bring this Bill forward.
It is also worth pointing out to the House that, although we have heard about a number of countries that have banned wild animals in circuses, many of the exemptions are a lot more generous than the Bill allows for. We have come up with an exemplary Bill that will be more comprehensive than the legislation in other countries.
Are birds included? If they meet the definition of “wild animal” in clause 1(5), they will be included.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and a number of other Members mentioned the Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is conscious of that. He is responsible for animal welfare—I tend to deal with wild animals—and we are both committed, as is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to making sure that we find the appropriate parliamentary vehicle to do so.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) asked about Northern Ireland, and the Administration have been consulted on this issue. As it stands, the Administration do not believe it is appropriate at this point to join in this Bill, recognising it is a significant policy decision and would need to be devolved.
I assure the House that we have been told by the owners of the two circuses that they will not be putting down any animals as a consequence of this Bill. Indeed, their retirement plans are already in place, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made clear.
A variety of questions have been asked about the potential definitions and about the amendments that might be tabled, such as on powers to seize an animal. Where any evidence is found of a wild animal being mistreated, the Animal Welfare Act will, of course, apply and provides powers to seize animals should there be grounds to do so. The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 also provides powers of seizure and, depending on the species of animal, may also be applicable. We have not provided powers to seize animals where it is demonstrated that an offence has been committed, but inspectors have powers to video or photograph an animal to provide evidence of such an offence.
Several Members mentioned the national wildlife crime unit, for which there is funding here, but I am sure the House understands that the Government will shortly be starting their spending review. I have no doubt that my Department will be pushing for the unit to continue being funded because we believe it has an important role in tackling wildlife crime. Indeed, the unit received additional funding from the Department to address new avenues of wildlife crime.
The Conservative party introduced the most important piece of legislation, on which we still heavily rely, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. We have had additional legislation specific to badgers and wild mammals in 1992 and 1996. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 was another milestone in making sure that appropriate legislation was put in place.
On biodiversity, I am pleased about our position on international obligations; I genuinely believe the passing of the Ivory Act 2018 will be a significant element in that.
On the welfare of pets such as snakes, we were asked why it is okay to have no regulations. In fact, there are regulations; these animals are covered by the Animal Welfare Act, as they are seen as animals that are cared for, as opposed to other kinds of animals that may be used in so-called performances, be it in Santa’s grotto or elsewhere. The new Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) England Regulations 2018 apply to those, and there is a specific reason in respect of what is happening in circuses. This Bill does not seek to prohibit wild animals in other activities; it is not a loophole. Those regulations specifically require those activities to be licensed.
There has been a lot of discussion about ethical and welfare matters, and why one thing is happening and not the other. The Government are clear, and have been for some time, including under previous Administrations, that the scope of the 2006 Act did not give the necessary powers in this regard. Section 12 provides powers only to regulate to promote the welfare of animals. I appreciate that people, including hon. Members, may have different views on this. No robust scientific evidence is available to indicate that the basic welfare needs of wild animals cannot be met in a travelling circus environment. Moreover, the review of the Department’s interim circus regulations found that the regulations were successful in establishing an effective licensing scheme to promote and monitor high welfare standards for wild animals in travelling circuses in England.
I wish to clarify something for the benefit of the whole House and everyone outside who works with animals, including performing animals. The Minister mentioned Santa’s grotto, and we have all seen animals in our constituencies for different special events. Can she tell the House how this new law will affect such events? In line with the question I posed earlier, may I ask where the ultimate end to this is? Is she saying that, ultimately, animals will not be able to take part in any kind of performance, be it a film, special activity or outside event? Where will this conclude?
This is specifically about circuses, and the basis for it is the itinerant nature of such events and what happens when these animals are moved. Falconry and displays have been mentioned. Typically, a falcon returns to its principal place of residence after such a display, so the effect is not the same. I assure my hon. Friend that mobile zoos will still be mobile, but of course licensing is undertaken, through the 2018 regulations.
Let me return specifically to the evidence. My understanding is that after the 2006 Act came into place, the academic lawyer Mike Radford was appointed to chair a circus working group. His report concluded that there were no welfare concerns over and above those applying to animals kept in other captive environments, and therefore any attempt to take forward a ban on welfare grounds under the 2006 Act would fail the test of proportionality and primary legislation would be needed. I should also point out to the House that that is also the legal position of the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and that the bans that have been brought forward have been justified on ethical, not welfare, grounds.
Let me deal with some other aspects of questions that have been asked. I think I have addressed the questions asked by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron), and I welcome the fact that the legislative consent motion will go through to make sure that the amendment is passed and the legislation has a smooth passage. I have already addressed the question about animal sentencing and when that can be undertaken.
I am very conscious of the strong support given today by hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), my hon. Friends the Members for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), for Tiverton and Honiton and for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow), the hon. Members for Ipswich (Sandy Martin) and for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, and my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice). A variety of people have decided to attend this debate and support this Bill. I hope that that support will continue in Committee. It is an honour to have closed this debate. We care passionately about this and I am sure the same spirit will continue as the Bill makes its passage through the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill (Programme)
Motion made, Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7),
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 23 May 2019.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of proceedings on Consideration.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Jeremy Quin.)
Question agreed to.