Coalition attacked over wild animal circus ban failure

The Coalition was attacked by politicians from all three main parties in an emergency Commons debate yesterday over its failure to ban wild animals in circuses.

In a bruising 20-minute session, the Animal Welfare Minister Jim Paice admitted that he and Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, had misled MPs last week by suggesting there was a live legal challenge to a ban in Austria.

To jeers from backbenchers, Mr Paice, appearing in place of Ms Spelman, who was on an official visit, insisted the Government could not introduce a ban because there might soon be a court challenge to Austria’s ban.

The Speaker, John Bercow, ordered the urgent question debate after Mr Paice and Ms Spelman misled the Commons three times last week by stating circus owners were challenging the Austrian ban through the European courts. Checks by The Independent and Animal Defenders International, which filmed a circus groom beating of Anne the elephant earlier this year, revealed that there was no challenge.

Mr Paice told MPs that legal advice suggested circus owners could sue the Government if it proceeded with its previous intention to introduce a ban, using either the EU Services Directive or the Human Rights Act. “To have pursued a ban in the light of that legal advice would have been irresponsible,” he said.

Mary Creagh, the Shadow Environment Secretary, described Defra’s U-turn on a wild animal ban as “an all signing, all dancing disaster.”

Referring to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ backtracking on the sale of public forests, she added: “It’s about time for another Defra U-turn.”

Mr Paice - who erroneously referred to the beating of “Nellie the elephant” -said Defra’s proposed licensing system could ultimately lead to “few if any wild animals in circuses.”

Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative backbenchers demanded the Government over-rule the legal advice and press ahead with a ban. They pointed out that challenges to the Austrian ban had failed since its introduction in 2005. Bans or restrictions on wild animals in circuses are in place in Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Portugal and Sweden.

Geoffrey Robinson, the former Labour minister, told Mr Paice that “advisors advise and ministers decide” while Caroline Lucas, the leader of the Green Party, described the Government’s behaviour as “cowardly.”

The Conservative backbencher Roger Gale criticised Labour for not introducing a ban during its 13 years in power, but said that was no excuse for the Coalition not acting now.

Liberal Democrat MP Bob Russell criticised the “Department for Failure, Error and Rotten Administration.”

Mark Pritchard, secretary of the Conservative 1922 Committee, said the Government should reconsider why it had ruled out a ban on wild animals in circuses and “ruled in a costly and complex licensing regime.”

More than 22,000 people have signed The Independent’s online petition calling for a ban on lions, tigers and other animals in the big top. Opinion polls show that more than 70 per cent of the public supports a ban.

Animal Defenders International said: “We’re pleased that the Government has at least admitted that the initial comments made were incorrect. However, it is now being claimed that these court proceedings have been delayed, with a case in preparation. The fact is that there has been no movement whatsoever on the proposed court case in question since 2009, therefore they really are clutching at straws.

“The Government needs to stop pontificating and get on with implementing a ban.”

Animal welfare organisations are planning to increase pressure for a ban by launching a campaign featuring celebrities, in the hope of emulating the protests which led to Defra’s abandonment of the forests sell-off earlier this year.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit