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Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill

Volume 799: debated on Wednesday 17 July 2019


Amendment 1

Moved by

1: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—


(1) Not later than 20 November 2019, the Secretary of State must issue guidance on the provisions of the Act, including on the scope of the offence in section 1 and the significance of “travelling circus”.(2) The Secretary of State may issue revised guidance at any time.(3) Guidance under this section may not be issued unless a draft has been laid before and approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.”

My Lords, I will explain briefly the reasoning behind this amendment. During earlier stages, some concern was expressed about the meaning of certain points in the Bill, notably “travelling circus”. It was not included on the basis that this was a widely understood, everyday term, but concern was certainly expressed that it might be interpreted in an unexpected way that might widen it unattractively.

I would have preferred to have this on the face of the Bill. Perhaps I am ultra-sensitive, but as a former member of the Delegated Powers Committee, and its chairman until I stood down owing to serious illness, I am particularly sensitive about anything which is not dealt with in a proper parliamentary fashion. My noble friend the Minister was willing to offer guidance about this after the Bill receives Royal Assent. That is very welcome, but I am still concerned that this guidance is what I would call untethered: it is not attached to any proper delegated legislation. I have tabled this amendment to offer the guidance in a proper, regulatory, reformed manner. I am aware that we are anxious to get the Bill through, but I would welcome my noble friend’s telling us considerably more about his intentions to give this guidance. I hope he will be able to give a substantial slice of the loaf, rather than a few measly crumbs. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, in seeking assurance from the Minister that appropriate guidance will be issued in a timely fashion to clarify some of the definitions in this short Bill, notably “travelling circus”, and to help ensure that the Bill does not set a precedent of restricting further activities involving animals for which there is scant evidence of harm. With the indulgence of the House, I would like to make a few brief but important points.

We live in a liberal democracy in which activities are allowed unless there is evidence of harm to persons, property, animals or the environment which justifies their abolition. On that definition, this Bill fails. As the Minister knows, I am a passionate advocate for animal welfare, but there is no evidence of a case to answer on animal welfare grounds in this instance, despite this activity having been under close inspection as a condition of its licence.

Even if there were, and even if, as in this case, the justification for this legislation is ethical, this Bill fails on any test of proportionality. There are 19 animals involved. The various and multiple conditions to which these animals are exposed are not, I would submit, significantly different from those to which millions of other animals are exposed in all manner of activities with which I—and, I suggest, many in this Chamber and most of the public—acquiesce. Members of the circus community have suggested that this legislation is discriminatory against them, because it singles out circus people and circus animals, and regrettably I feel they have a point.

This Bill will go through, and I do not mean to oppose it. The three main political parties support it. However, I make a plea to this and succeeding Governments that they base their evaluations and decisions involving animal activities on sound evidence of harm, estimates of the severity of that harm and objective measures of the quantum of that harm—how many animals are involved. Otherwise, I fear that we are moving—and indeed this Bill takes the first steps—from animal welfare legislation to animal rights legislation. I do not doubt that this is not the intention of Her Majesty’s Government or the Minister. I continue to commend them, as I have in the past, for their previous excellent measures to improve animal welfare, but I fear that others may interpret the passing of this Bill differently.

My Lords, I add the support of our Benches to the noble Baroness in seeking reassurances about the critical issue of guidance. This is an important piece of legislation, albeit one that affects a very small number of wild animals. Ensuring that we have clear guidance on the definition of “travelling circus” and who can seize these animals is critical, but it is equally critical that we get it done soon, as these licences will expire in January. Given that critical timing, if there is not time for this House to have further scrutiny, it would be beneficial if, in summing up, the Minister could reassure us about who the Government are talking to when compiling appropriate guidance to take this matter forward.

My Lords, I have great respect for the positions of the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, and I agree that decision-making in this House should be based on sound evidence. That is always how we operate.

The issue of guidance was raised at Second Reading and debated again in Committee. It is important that we have detailed guidance to support the core objectives of this Bill, which has widespread support. At Second Reading, we were pleased that the Minister placed on record that the guidance will be published by 20 November, two months before the Bill comes into effect. We were also persuaded that the common-sense approach to spelling out the details of many of the issues that noble Lords were raising—such as the definition of “travelling circus”—would be to include them in the guidance, rather than on face of the Bill.

Let me make our position clear. Our priority is to finish all stages of this Bill before the coming recess, so that it can be put on the statute book. It is a good Bill, which delivers on my party’s long-standing commitment to ban wild animals in circuses. Any amendments passed today would jeopardise it. I therefore urge the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, to consider that and to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, this new clause would require the Secretary of State to produce guidance on the provisions of the Act by no later than 20 November 2019. It would also require guidance to be approved by resolution of both Houses, including if and when guidance is revised. I say particularly to my noble friend Lady Fookes and to the noble Lord, Lord Trees, that I have already stated on the official record during debates on this Bill at Second Reading and in Committee that the Government will be producing guidance. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, has said, that guidance will be issued by 20 November 2019, two months before the commencement of the Act.

As I confirmed at Second Reading, we do not consider it appropriate for the guidance to be statutory. The aim of the guidance is not to set out additional requirements or obligations but to provide clarity on the Government’s interpretation of certain terms used in the Bill and the approach that will be taken to enforcement. If a challenge is brought, ultimately it will be for the courts to interpret the Act. This is the position taken by the Scottish Government, who have produced well-considered non-statutory guidance to accompany their Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Act 2018, which is a good example of the type of guidance Defra will be looking to produce.

The Government’s commitment to issue guidance is on the record; I put it on the record again. I should also add that the Government have committed, during debates on the Bill in the other place, to consult with welfare groups, the police and other stakeholders on the guidance. Defra officials have already begun the process of drafting the guidance. If my noble friend Lady Fookes, the noble Lord, Lord Trees, or indeed any other noble Lords wish to see the guidance in draft before it is issued, I would of course be pleased to share it with them.

There is also a timing and practical point, which a number of your Lordships have already raised, with regards to my noble friend’s amendment. I recognise that my noble friend is speaking to the principle of having statutory guidance, but I have made it very clear as to the work that we will undertake on the contents of the guidance and the timings for publication. I am concerned that my noble friend’s amendment does not allow sufficient time for both Houses to consider the guidance between the Bill gaining Royal Assent and the deadline for the guidance to be published on 20 November.

As I have said, it will, and it should, be for the courts to provide the ultimate interpretation of this Act. The guidance that we will produce will aid circuses and enforcers in understanding the requirements of the Act by providing an explanation of some of the key terms used. This is a particular point that the noble Lord, Lord Trees, is getting at—I understand it. The Government have no further intention beyond this measure in terms of wild animals in circuses and travelling circuses. The guidance will set out examples of the types of activities that the Government consider would and would not constitute a “travelling circus”. So, for example, the guidance will make clear that we do not consider that the Bill affects activities such as travelling bird of prey displays, festive reindeer displays, educational visits to schools involving small zoo animals or wild animals used in television or film work, for example.

The guidance will give examples of what the Government intend to be meant and not meant by performance and exhibition, as used in the Bill. So, for example, “exhibition” would include positioning a wild animal in a manner calculated to promote the circus, whether or not a payment is required, whereas a wild animal spotted in a field by a passing member of the public grazing unadorned—where that viewing is not being encouraged by the circus—would not count as being “exhibited”.

My noble friend Lady Fookes also spoke at Second Reading about the definition of “wild animal”. The guidance will provide examples of animals considered not to be commonly domesticated in Great Britain from the definition of “wild animal”. The guide to the provisions of the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 provides advice on what animals may fall into either the normally domesticated or not normally domesticated categories, and we plan to draw from that approach. So, for example, the guidance will explain that cats, dogs and horses would not be deemed “wild animals” under the Bill, but tigers, wolves and zebras would be.

That brings me to the final reason as to why we do not believe this amendment is necessary or desirable. The purpose of our guidance will be to aid interpretation and provide clarity on the approach that the Government will take in relation to enforcement; it will go no further. It will not introduce any additional requirements or obligations with which circus operators would have to comply. Accordingly, it will be quite different from the type of guidance which would usually be statutory, such as the codes of practice that Defra issues under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. These codes of practice set out what animal owners should do to meet the welfare needs of their animals, as required under that Act. They can be used in courts as evidence in cases brought before them relating to poor welfare of animals, and as such are rightly subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The Defra guidance on this Bill will merely explain in more detail the Government’s view of how the Bill will work in practice.

The Government feel that, given the circumstances, and the fact that the guidance will explain only what is already covered by the Bill, non-statutory guidance is not only desirable but appropriate. As I have said—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, was seeking this confirmation—the guidance will be considered with welfare groups, the police, stakeholders and, in particular, circuses, and will be published no later than 20 November this year.

As I have said, if any noble Lords would like to see a draft copy of the guidance, given that officials are aiming to have a first draft ready for wider circulation by the time the House returns in September, then I would be very pleased to hear from them. I will ensure that there is an opportunity to comment on the draft.

I understand the intention of my noble friend’s amendment, but we should now be making speedy process on this legislation. I very much hope that, with the reassurances I have given today to my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Trees, she will feel in a position to withdraw her amendment.

My Lords, as I explained at the outset, this was a point of principle about always challenging Governments when they introduce legislation to ensure that they do not go beyond the bounds of what I would call propriety—just taking off into the sunset with whatever they fancied. I am entirely with the noble Baroness: I have no wish to see this Bill deferred or put at danger in any way whatever, but I felt it important to put the point of view that I have expressed on the record.

My noble friend the Minister has also done a very good job in reassuring me. He has been kind enough to make a number of detailed points. As for inviting anybody who would like to see the draft guidance to do so, I shall take him up on that at once. Please will he let me know when it is available? That may well be the case for other Members of the House, though I dare not speak for them.

I am grateful to my noble friend for the care he has taken in putting the case for the Government and, in those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.