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
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone