Colchester: MP backs bid to ban wild animals in circuses

Sir Bob Russell MP

Sir Bob Russell MP - Credit: Andrew Partridge

AN Essex MP who has campaigned for circuses to end the use of live animals has welcomed new Government proposals to make the practice illegal.

The draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill was introduced in Parliament this week and under the proposals all travelling circuses in England must stop using wild animal acts by December 2015.

The main aim of the draft Bill is to make it an offence for any circus operator to use a wild animal in performance or exhibition in a travelling circus in England.

The announcement by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) was welcomed by one of Parliament’s leading campaigners on the matter, Liberal Democrat Sir Bob Russell, MP for Colchester, and animal welfare groups.

Sir Bob said he had made his first move to get animal acts banned from circuses 42 years ago when, as a newly-elected borough councillor in Colchester, he proposed such a ban in council buildings and on council land.

Sir Bob said: “I congratulate the coalition Government on taking this very important step.

“The campaign, which has all-party support, has been long – but hopefully success is now in sight.”

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Under the terms of the draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill the ban will cover any creature not normally domesticated in Great Britain.

The Government has already introduced strict regulations to improve conditions for performing animals until the law is changed.

Speaking on Tuesday, Environment Minister Lord de Mauley said the draft Bill was a big step towards making it illegal to use wild animals in circus performances.

He said: “Until the ban comes into force, travelling circuses owners must meet strict licensing conditions to ensure high welfare conditions for wild animals. Since the licensing scheme was introduced on 20 January 2013, the number of circuses using wild animals in England has reduced. Two now operate with a licence and one has removed all wild animals from its circus performances.”

British Veterinary Association (BVA) president Peter Jones said there was “no place in today’s society” for wild animals to be used for entertainment and that he was “absolutely delighted” by the news.

He said: “The BVA has strongly supported a ban because we believe the welfare needs of non-domesticated, wild animals cannot be met within the environment of a travelling circus, especially in terms of accommodation and the ability to express normal behaviour.

“We have been adamant that a licensing scheme will not address these issues.

“Once we have studied the detail of the Bill, we will be consulting our members on the definitions and proposals to ensure that we can help to develop appropriate and robust legislation.

“The welfare of these animals is emblematic of the way we treat all animals and I am heartened that we will soon see the end of the exploitation of these animals in the confines of a circus.”