Mark Pritchard: This flawed decision must be reversed

Last week the Government reiterated its plans not to introduce a ban on wild animals in circuses. Its flawed decision flies in the face of expert evidence which reveals the circus industry’s daily detention, transportation, and housing of wild animals, is cruel, debilitating, and stressful.

It also ignores the consultation exercise by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which revealed that 94 per cent of the public want to see an outright ban. Discarding public opinion so readily is surprising for a government which has made much in recent weeks about its willingness to “listen” to voters.

The decision to reject the advice of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), who called its decision “disappointing” and has repeated its call for ministers to introduce an outright ban, also questions the Government’s claim to listen to experts. The BVA agrees, like all the leading animal welfare charities, that the proposed licensing system will not tackle the welfare needs of circus animals.

Similarly, 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.

It is also surprising that at a time of financial restraint that Defra is proposing a costly and complex licensing system, which will be difficult to regulate, monitor, and enforce and will cost taxpayers up to one million pounds annually. “Tough” licensing may save a handful of highly paid jobs in Defra, but it will do nothing to stop those circus owners who abuse their animals continuing their cruelty once inspectors have departed the big tent.

,The Government says it will consult with “welfare experts” on how licensing will work. But having so blatantly and previously ignored the advice of the same experts, who still want to see an outright ban, what guarantee is there that their recommendations will be listened to?

Today, thanks to the tireless work of animal welfare campaigners, there are no more elephants in British circuses. However, this is likely to reversed as the licensing scheme does nothing to prohibit circuses from importing a new generation of wild animals. Future imports will invariably include tigers, lions, camels, zebras, and even crocodiles. So much for progress.

In last week’s statement, the Government claimed it wanted to “protect animals” as soon as possible and that licensing was better than waiting for the outcome of a “developing” court case between the circus industry and the Austrian Government. But what if the court case is never brought? What if Austria’s decision to ban wild animals in circuses is upheld? And even if the Austrian Government lose, which most legal experts agree is unlikely, should not the British Government make its own decisions, and test its decisions in British courts, rather than be advised by judgements in Vienna? For Defra to hide behind Brussels and Strasbourg courts is no nothing new, but obscuring itself behind a court in Vienna is an innovation.

There is one easy way ministers can settle this long running debate once and for all: to allow Parliament a vote on the issue. 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.

Mark Pritchard is Conservative MP for The Wrekin - and Secretary of the Parliamentary Group on Conservation and Wildlife.