Together with Stanley Johnson (ex-MEP), social justice campaigner Peter Tatchell and MPs Caroline Lucas, Jim Dowd, John McDonnell and Adrian Sanders, I delivered a letter about animal circuses to Prime Minister David Cameron at 10 Downing Street today.
The letter, signed by 75 politicians and celebrities, calls on the Coalition Government to ban wild animals from circuses. Signatories include Eddie Izzard, Julian Clary, Moby, Michaela Strachan, Brian Blessed, Dominic West and sustainable investment leader Ben Goldsmith – all have joined our initiative to persuade the Government to fulfil its promise to end the suffering.
As we gathered for the presentation, the PM stopped to briefly discuss the issue with Peter Tatchell and Stanley Johnson, and said: “we’re going to do it.”
Hopes were high when the Coalition Government promised the long-awaited ban on wild animals in circuses in 2012; an issue that is supported by over 95% of the public (DEFRA survey) and over 60% of Members of Parliament (poll for ADI).
The campaign has a long history: Between the late 1970s and the end of the 1990s, a wave of animal circus bans were won in over 200 local authorities across the UK, as town, city and county councils looked at the issues of animal cruelty and suffering, public safety, nuisance and traffic. They concluded that travelling animal circuses are no longer acceptable in an advanced, civilised society. Our undercover investigations provided irrefutable evidence of the brutality of circus life.
Last year, a Draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill was finally sent to the Parliamentary Environment, Food and Agriculture Committee (EFRA) for comment. However, following EFRA’s ill-considered remarks and recommendations (which we vigorously critiqued), the Government confirmed that the Draft Bill would be presented to Parliament as it stands. Importantly, the Bill stipulates that the ban will come into effect in December 2015, so time is short.
Since then, the Government has allowed the Bill to drift into the long grass, and with a General Election on the horizon for 2015, it is clear that the opportunity to end the suffering of wild animals in circuses in the UK could be lost, if the Bill is not moved forward quickly.
If this Bill is not presented in time for MPs to discuss and vote before the end of this Parliament, the Government will not only be directly responsible for the continued violence and suffering from environmental deprivation, but also for the suffering of many more animals – especially those coming from abroad.
A failure to ban wild animal circuses in the UK will inevitably result in foreign circuses bringing a wider range of species to the UK – the kinds of animals we have not seen here for decades. Species observed in European circuses include hippopotamus, rhinoceros, giraffe, elephant, chimpanzee, sea lion, python and other snakes, lion, tiger, zebra, and more.
Having failed (twice) to overturn Austria’s ban in Europe, the European circus industry will see the UK as a prime new outlet for their increasingly unpopular shows.
We are not saying that travelling circuses should be banned. In fact, the animal acts are usually a small part of the average 2-hour show. So the circuses can re-tool, modernise and go animal free, providing employment for human acts. This has certainly been the case in the UK, where wild animal circuses have been steadily replaced by all-human performer shows – but that is not an excuse to do nothing – failure to get this widely-supported Bill passed, will cause an unacceptable level suffering.