Sir Mike Penning welcomes ban on using wild animals in circuses

4th June 2019

Sir Mike Penning speaks in support of banning wild animals in circuses at both the Report Stage and Third Reading of the Bill.

It is a pleasure to speak at the Report stage of this Bill. I apologise to the House that I was not able to speak on Second Reading. That is probably why I was not invited to serve on the Bill Committee. For me, this is, exactly as the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) said, an ethical question. It is not about animal welfare, although there are some real animal welfare issues, as we have seen over the years in fly-on-the-wall documentaries and other reports of animals being abused and kept captive.

There are two major parts of this Bill where the Minister should listen to the proposals in the Opposition amendments as well as in the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). As a former Policing Minister, I know that the police will not want an officer to be the sole person with the knowledge to go in and carry out this activity. Let us put that on the record now—they would not want to do that. There is a completely different reaction from members of the public, whether they are running a circus or any other organisation, to an inspector arriving and to an officer of the constabulary arriving, particularly together. That is the sort of reaction that we need to have.

The excellent National Wildlife Crime Unit, which was also under my portfolio, is a small unit, and it might well need some extra resources if it were to take this duty on in general. The principle of that unit means that it is exactly where the power should come from. That should be addressed within the guidance, as it is probably easier for it to be done in that way. This applies to the 43 authorities in England and Wales. Scotland already has legislation just like this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was just telling me that it was actually better, in principle, and we are trying to make this Bill better through some of the lessons that have been learned there.

I absolutely agree that no new animals at all should be allowed into circuses in this interim period. We are trying to go with public opinion, which has changed over the years. My eldest daughter is now 30 years of age.

Never! She doesn’t look old enough.

She does not look 30 years of age, as my hon. Friend comments. She said to me when she was about 11 years of age, “Daddy, I’m going to be taken to a zoo by the school, and I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to see animals in cages.” We have never gone to a zoo and never gone to a circus that has had live animals. My youngest daughter is 28 and my eldest daughter is 30. My eldest daughter is now a marine biologist, so the House can probably realise where I am coming from on this. If we are going to make a law that says that we are banning live animals in circuses, let us do that for them, and for the public. If there are animal welfare issues, that can be picked up, but actually over the years it has not been, which is why we are going to ban it ethically now.

Should the animals be taken if they are found in this situation? This is a really difficult grey area that the Minister is going to have to address. Why would someone travel with an animal if they have not been training it and using it? Why would they keep it in its winter quarters when perhaps there are better types of quarters that it could be kept in? If it is travelling, why would they do that if they are not using it within a circus production? I hope that there can be an accommodation in this Bill—whether in this House, around guidance, or as it proceeds to the other House, which will also understand that the public are with us on this—whereby we can do what it says on the tin. This Bill says that we are going to ban live animals in circuses—we are going to protect those animals should they be in a circus.

There will be loads of good will out there regarding these animals. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport said that he tweeted out about this —yes, but they have to go to the right place. We are talking about myriad different types of animal that are used within circuses. It is really important that these animals go to a place of expertise to be looked after, because a lot of them may well have been through very stressful procedures. They may have been in a circus nearly all their life and then they are taken to a completely different environment. That takes a degree of professionalism and expertise. That has to be addressed in terms of payment, which should come from the circus, as they are the people who are responsible for these animals. They can be passionate about them. I have heard some of the debates in public over the years where they have said, “We love these animals.” I do not doubt that, but we need to say, “If we have a situation where we are going to have to remove animals from you, as an organisation, then it is not right for the taxpayer or a charity to pick up that tab—it is your job.” We need to consider how we can move that forward within the guidance. Perhaps the other House will debate this for a little bit longer.

We are trying, on principle, cross-party and as a nation, to get the animal rights part of this right. My kids—our kids—are driving this forward. It is like the environmental arguments that are going on out there at the moment. They are right, because it is their future, not our future. I have been lucky enough to be in Kenya with the military and have been in most of the safari parks. Seeing an animal in its natural environment coming down to the water hole in the evening because that is what it naturally does is an absolutely moving thing, not like seeing an elephant standing on its back legs in a circus, which is very damaging for the animal.

The House should be very proud of bringing this legislation forward. I would disagree only slightly with the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport on one thing. The previous Labour Administration had a huge majority—an absolutely enormous majority. They could have got whatever legislation they wanted through this House at any time during that period, but is a Conservative Government who have brought this through. I am very proud of that, but it should have been brought in years and years ago.


Third Reading

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) has addressed exactly the memory loss that I had during my speech on Report. I could not remember the dates when the all-party group dealt with this. I was here in a different capacity at that time. All of us would understand the situation in ’97, when there was so much legislation from a new Government. Finding time was difficult, but there was a huge majority on this issue and it was not contentious. I remember the discussions absolutely vividly. People were saying, “Would you do this private Member’s Bill? Would you take this forward? Would you go into the ballot?” It has taken until today to get the Third Reading of a Bill that, frankly, is a no-brainer in this day and age.

I am thrilled that the Minister has taken on this Bill and by the way in which he has done so. I was not invited to go on the Public Bill Committee, and I was genuine when I say that I would have loved to. I was not here on Second Reading, so people obviously thought that I was not interested, and so on—but we are where we are.

I hope that when this very short Bill goes to the Lords they will look at what this House has done—how we have come together—and move the Bill through the other place quite fast so that it can be on the statute book in time for what the Minister is looking at doing.

People out there will say, “We miss this” and “We miss that”, but there is not very many of them. As the Minister said, the country has changed. If we had tried to bring this Bill through in the ’70s and ’80s, we might have struggled, because people were different. I am not saying that they were bad, but what was acceptable then is not acceptable now. Making animals do things that are completely unnatural to them is not acceptable. I vividly remember one of these fly-on-the-wall videos that was taken at one circus—I will not name it, because a lot of circuses were bad. People were abusing and torturing animals to make them do things that were not natural. I hope that the Bill means that that never, ever happens again.

Other legislation needs to come forward, and I am conscious of what the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Ipswich (Sandy Martin), was saying. We have legislation on the statute book but we have to be good and strict on this issue. Dogfighting is on the up in this country. Cockfighting, believe it or not, continues to this day. There is badger-baiting.

Trophy hunting.

To me, a trophy-hunting Bill is the simplest thing in the world. If someone wants to do that sort of thing, do not bring trophies—the animal’s head—to this country. That is so abhorrent to 99.9% of the British public.

We have set a line in the sand and shown that we can bring such Bills through the House—it is a shame that more people are not in the Public Gallery to listen us when we get things right. I am sure that, tomorrow, in Parliament this will get thruppence, because of President Trump and other things that have been going on, but this indicates what this House can do and is right morally and ethically. We should be very proud of what has happened in this House today.

If I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is a great pity that when something of importance is achieved in the proceedings of this House, as it is about to be, it is not noted because the commentators prefer drama to care and doing the right thing.

Perhaps they prefer a circus in this House.

Yes, we will not go on about which circus is really the circus. To bring about what everyone in the Chamber has been aiming towards for a very long time, let me put the question.



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