Sir Roger Gale MP (North Thanet) is the President of Conservative Animal Welfare and Chairman of the Trustees of The Society For The Protection Of Animals Abroad (SPANA).
As the then Chairman of the All-Party Animal Welfare Group, I instigated and, in 1997, delivered to the incoming Labour Government the initial report on The Use of Wild Animals in Circuses. Time has passed, but I am pleased that the present Prime Minister has nailed his colours to the mast and affirmed his commitment to this cause. I hope that we can now end this practice once and for all by passing the Private Member’s Bill of which I am a co-sponsor.
Traditionally, the UK has led the world on animal welfare issues. We were one of the first to end the farming of animals for their fur and the use of animals in tests on cosmetics and tobacco, and we have made significant progress in the control of “factory farming,” where our standards are amongst the highest in Europe.
We do, though, lag behind in ending the use of all wild animals in circuses. 27 other countries have already prohibited their use and it is more than time that we joined those proud ranks.
Amendments to ban the use of animals in circuses were tabled during the passage of the Animal Welfare Act 2006, but were resisted on the grounds that the then Government would take action in its own time. After years of inaction from Labour, it took images from Animal Defenders International of Anne the elephant being brutally beaten and chained to set the wheels of change in motion. MPs voted unanimously in favour of a ban in June 2011, and pledges promising action have followed from successive ministers.
Since then, Conservative ministers have been committed to a ban, with David Cameron himself calling the practice “outdated” and saying “we’re going to do it”. A draft Bill has already been published and scrutinised by MPs, with a planned implementation date of December 2015. We are ready to go, but without swift action the remaining lions, tigers, camels, zebras and other wild animals currently made to perform in circuses will continue to suffer. Despite reassurances from the circuses that do continue to use wild animals, we have to remember that there is no way that they can provide wild species with anything that enables them to live a remotely natural life.
It is clear that there is no longer the public appetite that once existed for the opportunity to see great and proud animals subjected to indignity and humiliation in the circus ring at the end of a whip. Public support for circuses with wild animals is at an all-time low and in the dying days of the last Labour government an overwhelming 94.5 per cent of those surveyed supported a ban. At a local level, over two hundred councils have introduced bans of their own, but without national legislation circuses will continue to be able to use performing wild animals on private land.
We know that circuses can succeed and prosper without wild animals and many do so, enjoying large audiences and without the adverse publicity attached to wanton cruelty. In response to concerns about the future of those big cats and other wild animals currently in use, Animal Defenders International and other welfare organisations have offered to help rehome them. ADI has already achieved this in Bolivia and is currently working on a similar project in Peru.
In the years since the pledge was first made six other countries have passed legislation. A lack of parliamentary time has recently been cited for the present delay, but a slot for a Private Members Bill was secured on 3rd September, and the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill has its second reading tomorrow, 17th October. Although it’s pretty rare that bills introduced in this way become law, and although Jim Fitzpatrick’s bill is only fifth on the order paper, there is, given its cross-party backing and overwhelming support from the public, a chance that, unless an objection is shouted when the bill is called, it could be “nodded through” its second reading, allowed into committee and then onto the statute book before the General Election. I want my party to seize the opportunity to demonstrate our continued commitment to animal welfare. The time has come to act.