Wild animals banned from circuses
Travelling circuses will be banned from using wild animals in their shows, the Government has announced.
Ministers unveiled plans to outlaw the "outdated" practice through new legislation at the "earliest opportunity". But a tough licensing regime will be brought in to improve conditions for performing animals while changes in the law are developed.
Animal welfare minister Lord Taylor said: "There is no place in today's society for wild animals being used for our entertainment in travelling circuses. We are developing proposals to introduce a bill as soon as parliamentary time allows. In the meantime we are introducing a Circus Licensing Scheme to ensure decent conditions for wild animals in travelling circuses."
MPs backed a blanket ban last June and though it was non-binding it was highly embarrassing for the Government, sparking Downing Street to later signal it would bow to pressure over the demands. But it warned that Government could be left open to lawsuits from circus owners and workers. That is a hurdle that is still likely to make progress of the ban slow.
Tory MP Mark Pritchard, who led last year's backbench call for a ban, said: "Any licensing scheme should also guarantee that no new new wild animals are imported into UK circuses. Quite frankly, I don't believe the Government when they say they will move towards a ban. I don't trust No 10 on the issue. I will believe it when I see it, but I am not holding my breath."
A consultation on the new welfare licences has been launched and the regulations are expected to come into force by the summer. Anyone responsible for a travelling circus that uses wild animals in a performance will need to hold a valid licence, meet strict welfare standards and have a retirement plan for each animal.
Jan Creamer, chief executive of Animal Defenders International, who exposed the abuse of Anne the elephant last year, accused the Government of "stalling".
She said: "It seems to us that the Government will just keep changing the question until they get the answer they want. It is appalling that public and parliamentary wishes are cast aside in such a cavalier manner."
Agriculture and Food Minister Jim Paice said the Government was always "minded" to ban performing wild animals in circuses. But he said ministers had to wait for a decision on whether a ban in Austria was going to be challenged in the European courts before making a decision.
He said that following a decision not to refer the ban to European courts in December last year, the Government now had "legal confidence" to go ahead with its original plans.