Defra’s deal with the animal circuses

Today’s announcement by the British Government that it plans to “ban wild animals in circuses” may be the most cynical announcement we’ve heard in years.

Has the Government struck a secret deal with circuses?  http://bit.ly/zXKfOO

Whilst claiming to acknowledge the suffering of wild animals in circuses, the Government has today introduced another delaying tactic to avoid introducing the necessary ban, which is so widely supported by public, Parliament, and animal protection bodies, including vets. 

Instead of a ban, Defra has called yet another consultation and laid proposals for an inspection/licensing regime which, if introduced, will consign these animals to suffer forever. 

The Coalition Government’s claim that primary legislation must wait for a slot in the Parliamentary timetable (conveniently, predicted to be after the next General Election) is nonsense.  If a Government wants to push something through, they do it. 

As Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh MP, commented:  “Today, Ministers announce a licensing regime until a ban comes in 2015, saying there is no room on the parliamentary timetable for new legislation. Yet only yesterday they introduced a water bill into the house, which will be passed in 2 days.  There is nothing to stop them doing the same thing for circus animals, but it’s clear that animal welfare is way down the list of this Government’s priorities.”

Precisely. 

We were promised a ban during debates in the House of Commons and the House of Lords in 2006, when several MPs and members of the Lords had tabled amendments for a ban under the (then) Animal Welfare Bill. 

Defra persuaded the Members to withdraw their amendments on the promise that a ban would be enacted under the auspices of the new Animal Welfare Act 2006.  There followed years of Defra expert consultations, working parties, impact assessments, and feasibility studies.  This successfully kicked the issue into the long grass until after the 2010 General Election.

The last Defra public consultation (2009-2010) produced a 94.5% approval rate for a ban on wild animals in circuses. 

Then, following ADI’s undercover expose of the beatings of Anne the elephant, a body of MPs led by Mark Pritchard, together with Caroline Lucas, Jim Fitzpatrick and others, pushed for a crucial debate and vote at the Backbench Committee in June 2011.  MPs voted for a ban and directed the Government to introduce proposals for a ban by June 2012.

There is absolutely overwhelming evidence of circus suffering and not a single animal welfare body that will defend this industry. Yet Defra has decided to ignore both public and Parliament in this extraordinarily cavalier and arrogant move. 

Mark Pritchard MP, who led last year’s Commons debate:  “If the government ignore the will of Parliament they will be moving towards a constitutional crisis as well as once again confirming their reputation as being against animal welfare legislation”  http://bit.ly/z9v777

Animal Defenders International (ADI), Four Paws, Animal Aid, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), and the BVA (British Veterinary Association) want to see a clear ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. 

Meanwhile, Defra has given the circuses some cover.   Chris Baltrop, ringmaster and occasional spokesperson for the Association of Circus Proprietors, today claimed in a radio debate with me, that Defra had conducted inspections of circuses and pronounced them to enjoy a “clean bill of health”.

This is interesting.  Especially since ADI has been asking to see reports of Defra inspections of circuses dating back to 2008, and access has been blocked, forcing us to follow up with an appeal to the Freedom of Information Commissioner.

Does this mean that the fundamental tenet of the licensing regime is ‘trust-us-you-don’t-need-to-know’?

The problem with inspections and licensing is that it does not work – we have produced video of a sick lioness being hidden behind bales of hay, while an inspectors stands feet away, chatting to the circus workers.  In another undercover operation, of Great British Circus in 2009, we show how a series of inspectors (apparently six inspections in one tour), failed to note that the elephants were being beaten and were being chained for 11 hours a day.  The police, local authority inspectors, Defra inspectors and RSPCA did not see the hasps for the chains, hidden under straw.

See ADI’s report ‘Out of Control’ at:  http://bit.ly/y3l5Gg

And certainly the beatings of Anne the elephant would not have been revealed by an inspection:  http://bit.ly/u7phf2

What our independent polls say:

  • ADI ComRes poll, 2011, 71% of the public backed a ban.
  • 2011 Dods Parliamentary Poll commissioned by ADI asked 100 MPs whether the Government should ban the use of wild animals in circuses, or let the industry self-regulate:  63% of MPs agreed or strongly agreed; 14% disagreed or strongly disagreed; 6% did not respond.
  • MORI opinion poll in Autumn 2005, commissioned by ADI –
    • 80% say ban all wild animal circus acts.

    • 65% say ban all animal circus acts.

    • 90% against whipping and beating when training circus animals.

    • Only 7% strongly opposed the calls for bans
  • ADI 2004 NOP poll found–
    • 63% of the public wanted to see all animal acts banned from circuses
    • only 8% disagreed
  • 1999, an ADI MORI poll found 72% wanted wild animals banned.
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