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There has been a long running campaign in the UK to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, which is a devolved issue. A licencing scheme for wild animals in circuses, with a 2020 sunset clause, was introduced in England in 2013. The then Government committed to the introduction of ban by end of 2015 and published a draft Bill for consultation.

The current Government set out in 2016 its intention to introduce legislation to ban the use of wild animals in circuses when parliamentary time allowed. On publication of a review of the existing regulation in 2018 it announced that it would enact a ban by 2020 and allow the licencing regulations to expire.

A short Bill was published on 30 May 2019, introducing a ban from 20 January 2020. Second reading of the Bill will take place on 7 May 2019.

Support for a ban

Following on from debate during the passage of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 through Parliament, the Labour Government carried out a public consultation on how best to safeguard the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses in England. At the time 94.5% of respondents considered that a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses would be the best option to achieve better welfare standards.

Licensing Scheme for Wild Animals in Circuses

In May 2011 the Coalition Government announced its decision to introduce a licensing scheme for wild animals in circuses in England, using powers provided by the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It considered that a complete ban would require primary legislation. It then consulted on the proposed licensing scheme. The regulations to bring in the licensing scheme came into force in January 2013.

How many animals are licenced?

Defra figures for 2018 show one licence application for five animals (one zebra, two camels and two reindeer), and a second for fourteen animals (one camel, four reindeer, one fox, three racoons, three zebra, a blue and gold macaw and one zebu).

Policy in the Devolved Administrations

The Scottish Government passed legislation to ban wild animals in travelling circuses in December 2017. The Welsh Government has carried out independent review on the evidence of animal welfare of wild animals in travelling and non-travelling circuses and has announced a ban will be introduced in 2019. Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Executive has investigated the possibility of an all-island approach to the issue of wild animals in circuses through adoption of a Code of Practice. However, the Republic of Ireland banned wild animals in circuses in 2018.

Second Reading and Committee Stage      

Second Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons took place on 7 May 2019. The Bill was welcomed across the House. Committee stage of the Bill took place on 21 and 22 May 2019. There were two sessions taking evidence from witnesses on 21 May, and line by line consideration of the bill on 22 May.

Witnesses included animal welfare organisations, circus owners, the European Circus Association and the Chairman of the Circus Working Group. The Bill was unamended in Committee with one division on a failed opposition amendment. This would have allowed the Bill to be bought into force earlier than the January 2020 date proposed by the Government, with the aim of preventing any further animals being licenced before the ban comes into force. The Committee also discussed whether police constables should be given powers of entry and inspection in the Bill. 

Further Stages

Report and Third Reading of the Bill in the House of Commons took place on 4 June 2019. The Bill is currently in the House of Lords, having had Second Reading on 19 June 2019 and been before Grand Committee 0n 3 July 2019. It is due to have its Report Stage on 17 July 2019. To date there have been no amendments to the Bill.

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