By Tim Montgomerie
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Later this week, on Thursday, Mark Pritchard MP will lead a debate on whether to ban the use of wild animals in circuses (FT (£) report). The Tory MP for the Wrekin won the debate as part of the new dispensation for regular backbench time in the Commons.
The Government had been minded to introduce a ban but stopped short when – you guessed it – European courts threatened to strike down a similar ban in Austria.
In the same way that a vote in the Commons was used by David Davis and Jack Straw to demonstrate MPs' strength of feeling on votes-for-prisoners, a Commons vote on circus' use of wild animals will, it is hoped, send a signal to the courts.
Mark Pritchard defended his efforts to get a ban in a recent piece for The Independent:
"94% of the public want to see an outright ban… MPs’ postbags, Early Day Motions, debates, parliamentary questions, and even the ministerial statement last Thursday, show that the call for a wild animals ban has sizeable cross party support. A recent survey of MPs by a leading animal welfare charity disclosed that 63 per want a complete ban… From Bolivia to Singapore, and now on mainland Europe, governments are banning the use of wild animals in circuses. It is now time for the British Government to do the right thing by ending this antiquated, cruel, and barbaric practice, and listen to the voice of the British people."
We'll cover the debate in due course but I'd like to record my admiration for Mark. He's not always popular with his colleagues. His earnestness wears them down. But Parliament is much richer for him. Like my friend Robert Halfon MP – praised yesterday by The Freedom Association for his championing of causes – Mark is a fighter. Earlier this year in a powerful piece for the Mail on Sunday he took on the purple plotters who wanted a formal alliance between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats at the next election. He was the first to publicly warn that the Tories need to fight the AV campaign with more vim. He was also first to argue for a No Fly Zone for Libya and for the arming of the rebels. The Secretary of the 1922 (second from right in photo above) is painted as a conventional right-winger but that's unfair. In his championing of the aid budget he demonstrates that he won't be pigeon-holed.