An MP who persuaded 89 colleagues to sign a Parliamentary motion urging the Government to deliver on its promise to ban wild animals in circuses has expressed his concern at new regulations that seem set to delay it.
The animals, including lions, tigers and camels, have been covered under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which was followed by the establishment of a Circus Working Group to examine specific legislation to safeguard the animals’ welfare. The group was criticised by animal welfare organisations for not considering video evidence that they claimed showed animals being beaten during training and enduring long periods of isolation.
Early in 2010 the public made their views very clear on the issue when 94% of 10,500 consultation responses backed a ban on wild animals in travelling circuses.
However when Conservative MP Mark Pritchard asked MPs last summer to support the public’s demand, he reported he “had a call from the prime minister’s office and was told that unless I withdrew this motion the prime minister would look upon it very dimly indeed.” MP’s backed the motion, but were told by Environment Minister Jim Paice there was a “serious risk” of the UK facing a legal challenge similar to one that was then being mounted in Austria. However when this was dismissed in December 2011, Paice told MPs: “we are considering its relevance to the legal position here.”
In January 2012 the Labour MP for Coventry South, Jim Cunningham drew cross-party support for his motion, which was backed by 89 other MPs calling on the government to ban wild animals in circuses from this summer.
In response the government promised in March a ban in 2015. Animal welfare minister Lord Taylor said at the time: “There is no place in today’s society for wild animals being used for our entertainment in travelling circuses . Wild animals deserve our respect.”
He promised a tough new licensing scheme to improve conditions for animals while legislation for the ban was being developed. Failure to hold a licence to own circus animals or comply with licensing conditions could result in criminal prosecution.
The licensing scheme has now received parliamentary approval but Cunningham insists the government has not gone far enough.
“What is urgently needed is a complete ban and not simply regulation,” he said.
“Furthermore, it is the expert’s view that there are no possible regulations sufficiently adequate to guarantee the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses. I hope these regulations do not mean the government is backtracking on its commitment to a full ban, which I will continue to press for in Parliament.”
Last week a Northampton court was shown footage secretly filmed by Animal Defenders International of a circus staff member beating 58-year-old elephant Anne with a pitchfork at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus’s winter quarters. The elephant was also filmed chained to the ground.
Circus owner Bobby Roberts denied he condoned such actions.