Ministers under pressure over failure to ban circus animals

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Government ministers are to be put under pressure in Parliament this week over their failure to bring forward plans to ban wild animals performing in circuses.

Labour frontbenchers intend to raise the lack of progress in announcing the measure at environment questions in the Commons on Thursday.

The Independent revealed last week that Downing Street had blocked proposals by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) for a ban, in an apparent attempt to reduce the flow of new regulations.

Since Friday, almost 7,000 people have signed our petition calling for the Government to rethink and announce a timetable for a ban.

Defra ministers have repeatedly indicated they want one, but failed to take advantage of a groundswell of public support last month during the row over the beating of Anne the elephant at Bobby Roberts Super Circus.

Gavin Shuker, Labour's shadow environment minister said he was "delighted" to support our campaign. He said: "When the Labour Government consulted the public last year on a ban it received overwhelming support, yet since the election the new Government has sat on the issue.

"Following the shocking revelations of cruelty towards Anne the elephant it looked like the Government might change its mind. It now appears Number 10 have slapped down all talk of a ban as 'red tape'. I have again written to Lord Henley [the Defra minister] today urging him to listen to expert advice and the public and come forward with plans for an outright ban."

In the letter, Mr Shuker wrote: "Is this another example of shambolic policy making at Defra following theU-turn over forests? Or yet more proof that the department responsible for nature and animal welfare is being increasingly sidelined?"

Labour gave an "unequivocal" commitment to introduce a ban on wild animals in circuses at last year's general election. The Liberal Democrats are also committed to a ban.

About 20 exotic animals, including tigers, zebras, camels and pythons, are still used by three circuses – the Great British Circus, Peter Jolly's Circus and Circus Mondao, all of which say they are well cared for.

Animal welfare groups and vets back a ban, citing small enclosures, constant travel and performances in front of loud crowds. Public support for a ban has ranged from 63 to 80 per cent during the past decade. Last year 94 per cent of responses to a government consultation were in favour of a ban.

The RSPCA, British Veterinary Association, Born Free Foundation and Captive Animals' Protection Society are all backing The Independent's campaign. Virginia McKenna, the actress who played the conservationist Joy Adamson in the film Born Free and the founder of the Born Free Foundation, said: "Have our ministers and Defra civil servants actually considered the circus life that a lion, a tiger, an elephant, a bear must endure – confined for endless hours in a trailer or beast wagon, rattled round the country from town to town to perform mindless tricks while blaring music and dazzling lights conspire to make the public ignore the reality of life behind the 'show'?"

Her son Will Travers, the chief executive of the Born Free Foundation, accused both Labour and the Coalition of dithering over the issue. He said: "The previous administration was ponderous and lacklustre on this issue and we were waiting for years – and this administration have taken an inordinate time period to deal with this."

HOW TO BACK THE CAMPAIGN

Join our campaign by signing our online petition for the Government to set out a timetable for banning wild animals from the big top. We will present the petition to Downing Street. To sign it and read more about the campaign, visit independent.co.uk/circusanimals

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