20 December 2017
Labour will support the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill at decision time.
As a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee and a strong supporter of a number of animal welfare organisations such as OneKind, I moved a number of amendments that I felt would have improved the bill. I am grateful to the cabinet secretary and the committee for supporting my amendment on the offence ground.
At one level, one could argue that we are attempting to restrict something that does not happen, as we have no travelling circuses in Scotland. However, once passed, the bill will futureproof that position as it will be introduced on ethical rather than welfare grounds.
As the Scottish Parliament information centre paper makes clear, “circus” is Latin for a circle or a ring.
One of the first major entertainment complexes in ancient Rome was the circus maximus, which held up to 300,000 spectators.
Moving to more modern times, in 2014 the Scottish Government public consultation received more than 2,000 responses.
A strong majority of 98 per cent were in favour of the ban, while 96 per cent were opposed to the performance or exhibition of wild animals.
As we have heard, the bill proposes to prohibit the performance, display or exhibition of wild animals in travelling circuses.
The policy memorandum lists the Scottish Government’s view of the ethical challenges to society of using wild animals in travelling circuses, which are basically the impact on people’s respect for animals, the impact of travelling environments on the animals, and the ethical costs versus the benefits of such animal use.
On a technical point, the bill does not seek to prohibit circuses from travelling with wild animals but to create a criminal offence of travelling with or transporting such animals for the purposes of performance, display or exhibition.
The offender is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 5, which is currently £5,000.
Enforcement will be by local authorities, but the philosophical underpinning is based on the five freedoms that were set out by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in 1979, which are basic freedoms relating to environment, diet, normal behaviour, housing with or apart from other animals, and protection from suffering, injury or disease.
As I said during the stage 1 debate, animal welfare organisations such as OneKind believe that there are strong animal welfare justifications for a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses.
OneKind’s excellent petition to the Public Petitions Committee said:
“A travelling circus combines a number of specific characteristics (including extreme confinement, frequent transport and relocation, and training for performance) which create an environment where the needs of wild animals cannot be met.
This combination is not found elsewhere, even in zoos where wild animals are kept captive.
It increases the risk of stress and, in some cases, ill-treatment of the animals, and makes effective inspection and regulation very difficult.”
Investigations into United Kingdom circuses in recent years have documented shocking examples of severe habitual abuse of animals.
For example, in 1999, individuals from Chipperfield’s circus were found guilty of cruelty to a chimpanzee and an elephant and, in 2009, the beating of elephants prior to performance was filmed in the Great British circus by Animal Defenders International.
Earlier this year, a further exposé by Animal Defenders International showed an arthritic elephant named Anne being repeatedly beaten and abused by a member of staff in the Bobby Roberts circus.
As OneKind has argued, it is crucial that, in the future, there are no gaps in legislation covering performance, display or exhibition of animals in Scotland.
The Scottish Government has announced its intention to develop new licensing requirements to protect the welfare of wild and domesticated animals in areas that are not covered by legislation.
I am pleased to support and endorse the bill.
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