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Scottish Parliament debates a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses

Posted: 10 June 2011

Minister agrees that it is unacceptable for animals to be used for entertainment.

Yesterday evening there was a Scottish Parliament chamber debate secured by Elaine Murray to debate a motion on the use of wild animals in circuses in Scotland. The debate was attended by politicians of different political parties, including Kevin Stewart, Hugh Henry, Alex Fergusson, Alison Johnstone, and the Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson.

Representatives from Animal Defenders International (ADI) attended the debate and were encouraged by the comments made by the Minister. Currently, the UK Government has opted for a licensing regime for circuses which will be costly, will not address animal welfare, and completely contradicts the will of the public. ADI are therefore pressing hard to overturn this decision.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI said: “On Wednesday there was a Commons Debate at Westminster and the following day there was a debate in the Scottish Parliament, proving the depth of feeling regarding this important animal welfare issue.

“It is abundantly clear from the Scottish debate that an important number of MSPs are in favour of a ban and want to set an example to their parliamentary colleagues south of the border that they do listen to the will of their constituents.

“We hope that the UK Coalition Government carefully takes heed, stops pontificating and looking for excuses not to ban, listens to the will of the public and presses ahead for a ban without further delay, which is in the public interest.”

Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson said: “The general public and animal welfare organisations are unambiguously clear and have been since 2004 in Scotland. Last year, 95 per cent of respondents to a Defra consultation were against the practice. We have heard the numbers quoted, and I do not debate any of them. We will certainly continue to look at the issue.

“As a result of this debate and other inputs that we have had, and the information that continues to come from Westminster, we have been watching the matter with considerable interest and engagement. Elaine Murray asks me to state that it is unacceptable for animals to be used for entertainment, and I am absolutely happy to do so. I will continue to work with the member to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion."


Elaine Murray (Scottish Labour Party) said: “I really believe that the practice of keeping wild animals in circuses is inhumane and unsuitable in a modern age and I hope that the Scottish government will take a lead within the UK in banning outright the use of wild animals in circuses. Scotland has the opportunity on this matter to lead the rest of the UK while representing the majority of public opinion. Subjecting animals to unsuitable and unnatural conditions and behaviour is not entertainment.”

Kevin Stewart (Scottish National Party) opened his speech by making reference to his experience as a child when he went to the circus and made particular reference to the confinement of animals stating that “I realised even at that young age, that that was not right,” and “today we should go beyond what happened in yesteryear and ensure that no child, no adult and no animal must see such conditions again.”


Hugh Henry (Scottish Labour Party said): “We have moved on in life. What is the purpose of travelling circuses and of keeping animals to perform in circuses?,” and “what is happening is perverse.” “They live in extreme confinement and are subjected to frequent transport, relocation and not least the efforts to train them to perform”, and that “we can say that they (these animals) are definitely living in distress”. He concluded his speech with a final question “If we accept that animals are suffering what are we doing to remedy the situation?”


Alison Johnstone (Scottish Green Party) said that: “There can be no justification whatsoever for the use of wild animals in circuses. Such practices should be relegated to where they belong: well and truly in the past. In Scotland in the 21st century, there should be no tolerance or complacency shown towards the abuse of those animals, which are held captive for some supposed entertainment value. An outright ban is the only way to secure that, especially within an industry that does not seem to take animal welfare concerns seriously."


Tim Phillips, ADI’s Campaigns Director said: “Scotland is currently in the position of currently having no wild animals in circuses, but wild animal circuses do however tour Scotland, and it has been suggested by the circus industry in the past that if there was ever a ban in England and Wales, then they would relocate to Scotland, which is something that the Scottish public surely would not want.


“ADI’s recent exposé at the winter quarters of Bobby Roberts’ Super Circus, which showed the appalling abuse of Anne the elephant and Monty the camel and led to a worldwide public outcry, has provided the Government with the perfect opportunity to ban the use of wild animals in circuses.”


ADI has called on its supporters and members of the public to contact their local members of Parliament to request that they sign and support this motion, so that the proposals can be made a reality.

ADI would like to thank the organisation One Kind for their assistance and hospitality yesterday.

ADI is in the process of drafting a series of legal briefings for politicians to keep the pressure up on the Government to do the right thing morally and ethically – wild animals do not belong in travelling circuses.

ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

Media Contact:
Phil Buckley, Media Relations Director, Animal Defenders International, 07716 018250, 0207 630 3344, prdesk@ad-international.org

Interview opportunities are available.

The text of the Scottish motion and the current signatories:
S4M-00102# Elaine Murray: Ban on Use of Wild Animals in Circuses—That the Parliament notes the decision by the UK Government not to introduce a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses; notes that in the recent past a travelling circus visiting locations including Dumfries included an elephant as one of its attractions; believes that there is sufficient evidence to support the view that life in a travelling circus does not allow for acceptable standards of welfare and quality of life for wild animals; notes the work done by animal rights activists and third sector organisations to argue for such a ban, and considers that action in this area is needed to prevent suffering to animals.

Supported by: Elaine Smith, John Pentland, Bill Kidd, Patricia Ferguson, Kevin Stewart, Christine Grahame, Kenneth Gibson, Jackie Baillie, Sarah Boyack, Claudia Beamish, John Finnie, Mike MacKenzie, Stuart McMillan, Patrick Harvie, Drew Smith, John Park, Richard Simpson.

UK taxpayers will have to bear the costs of enforcement and inspection of the proposed UK system that include a bill of up to £11.5K per year to fund annual inspections for only 4 circuses still using wild animals. That is £960 per inspection, despite the fact that the British public overwhelmingly opposes regulation. These figures are likely to rise as the number of circuses using wild animals increase in the UK.

Defra’s decision also contradicts the current Government’s cuts on public spending. If the Government had opted for an outright ban this would have been the cheapest option.

Last year, a survey by Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) resulted in a huge 94.5% support for a ban.

Last month, ADI released the results of its independent online poll carried out by YouGov, which asked impartial participants aged over 18 to what extent they would support or oppose a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. A massive 72% of the public backed a ban with only 8% against – almost 3 out 4 members of the public want a ban.

The release of this poll couldn’t have come at a worse time for the circus industry, as ADI’s shocking undercover footage revealing the terrible suffering of Anne, the UK’s last circus elephant was broadcasted around the world in March. Many believed Anne would be the last elephant people would see chained and beaten in a British circus, but her plight which captured the public’s heart appears to have meant nothing to David Cameron.

Politically there was cross party support with 194 MPs from all parties having signed EDM 403 calling for a ban, making this the 9th most signed EDM in Parliament out of 1790 motions tabled. A recent Dods poll by ADI also found overwhelming support for a ban on wild animal acts in the House of Commons with 63% of MPs in favour and 14% against. So as well as ignoring those who voted them into power, they have isolated themselves from their peers.

National measures to prohibit or limit the use of animals in circuses have already been adopted in Bolivia, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden, Singapore, Costa Rica, India and Israel and similar laws are being discussed in Brazil, Chile, Norway, Peru and Greece.


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