As a young boy, I remember the thrill when the circus came to town.
Unlike the fair, the circus drew its audiences from across the city. It brought with it a special sort of excitement…. and smell. It had clowns and trapeze artists, jugglers and acrobats and....wild animals.
Times have changed, and for the better. We now know that a travelling circus is no place for wild animals. This is the overwhelming public view, animal welfare organisations and Members of Parliament across the political spectrum.
Throughout my time in Parliament, I have championed the protection and welfare of animals. I was delighted with the passing of the historic Animal Welfare Act in 2006 and then, in 2010, I supported the then government’s decision to pursue a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
Unfortunately, this intention was not shared by the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government. Instead, David Cameron decided in May 2011 to introduce a licensing system, rather than a ban. It chose to prescribe that any circus in England that wished to have wild animals - such as lions, tigers and elephants – would need tomeet high animal welfare standards before it would be granted a license to keep them.
This is the wrong and outdated approach. No travelling circus could ever meet the needs of wild animals. We cannot continue to justify keeping captive wild animals purely for our own entertainment.
David Cameron has repeatedly stated that he is sympathetic to a ban ‘when Parliamentary time allows’. In April, last year, his Government even published a draft Bill prohibiting wild animals in circuses. It was clear there was going to be plenty of parliamentary time this year to fully consider and debate such a Bill. So I am appalled that it wasn’t included in the Queen’s Speech. Four years have already been lost.
OnSeptember, my colleague Jim Fitzpatrick MP will present an important Ten Minute Rule Bill calling on the Government to introduce the necessary legislation to end the practice. Please write to your MP now and ask her/him to support this Bill.
Let’s ensure we get a Big Tent of support to ring the change.