Circus animal ban is held up as ministers wobble over legal risks

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Ministers appear to be wobbling over banning wild animals in circuses, after a campaign by
The Independent.

The Government had been expected to announce that it was abandoning its previous support for a ban and instead opting for a system of self-regulation. But at Commons question time yesterday, the Animal Welfare minister failed to announce voluntary regulation. Instead, he said the Government was concerned about a potential legal challenge to introducing a ban on wild animals in the big top.

The exchanges took place at Environment questions as The Independent's online petition calling for a ban passed 15,000 signatures.

Mr Paice said: "There have been recent press reports that the Austrian government have been taken to court for their attempt to ban wild animals in circuses, so our Government can hardly recommend something that might not be legal."

He added that the Government's eventual proposals would be "tough enough to ensure that animal welfare in circuses is properly protected."

The Labour frontbencher Gavin Shuker told MPs: "The petition in The Independent attracted nearly 15,000 signatures in the past week, and crucially on 3 April Defra briefed that it favoured a ban as well.

"Another month, more drift and no announcement: is it dither, delay or No 10 that is preventing the Secretary of State from showing some leadership?"

Mr Paice replied: "Whether we like it or not, this court case is going on in Europe and therefore the British Government could not bring forward a proposal... that might well prove shortly to be unlawful."

David Bowles, director of communications for the RSPCA, said: "The RSPCA is furious that the Government appear to have done a complete U-turn on the issue of whether wild animals are to be banned in circuses. The UK hiding behind a challenge to the Austrian government ban is a complete red herring as the European commission have said they are happy with bans on use of wild animals in member states."

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