Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 506-519)



  Q506 Chairman: Good morning. I feel almost like revealing my age because in my days of listening to radio on a Saturday morning the children's programme used to been introduced by a man called Uncle Mac and Uncle Mac used to say: "Are you sitting comfortably, then we will begin". I can see you are all now seated comfortably. The fact there was not a flicker on any witness's face means that they are all considerably younger than me. You are very welcome to our evidence session on the Draft Animal Welfare Bill. For the record, before us we have the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, represented by Malcolm Clay, their secretary; Mr James Clubb, an animal trainer, and Martin Burton, the proprietor of a travelling circus. Is that right, Mr Burton?

  Martin Burton: Yes.

  Q507 Chairman: What is the name of the circus?

  Martin Burton: Zippo's Circus.

  Q508 Chairman: We also have, representing the  Performing Animals Welfare Standards International, PAWSI, which I think is rather nice if looking at cats and dogs, Rona Brown, their Chief Executive Officer, and Peter Scott, their veterinary adviser. You are all very welcome. I want to ask you the same question we have asked all our witnesses, it is a very simple starter for 10, which is: given the weight of evidence which the Committee is considering, if you wanted to make certain there was one thing that we did not forget that you were in favour of the bill about, that assumes there is anything in it you like. Conversely, if there is one key issue of your area of concern about The Bill that you would not want us to forget. Perhaps Mr Clay, you might like to start on behalf of your organisation.

  Malcolm Clay: On the positive side, we welcome legislation which now seeks to regulate circuses. We are a surprisingly unregulated industry. We have been saying for a long time that we should have in the interests of animal welfare certainly regulation. I must point out that we are not a compulsory body so we tend to represent those circuses which have a very progressive view of animal welfare and not all of circuses. If we are going to move towards specific circus legislation which takes into account how circus animals are kept and trained as distinct from animals in zoos and animals which are kept under the Dangerous Wild Animal Act we welcome that. What gives us considerable concern is the lack of any detail in this bill and the fact that we could very well have regulation without proper public debate. What we desperately want to see is specific circus animal welfare legislation which, properly is debated, rather than legislation which is going to be introduced in a very secondary manner with no guarantee of inquiries or informed veterinary opinion and particularly public debate. I think we need to recognise that there are those people who are very supportive of circuses and do love to go and see them, have a real interest in training animals. There are those people whose views you have to acknowledge are totally opposed to circuses. In the middle there is a vast majority of the public who like to see animals but are perhaps indifferent or ambivalent about circuses but do expect there to be control and regulation of them but do not want to see them disappear.

  Q509 Chairman: Fine. That was succinct and clear. Rona Brown?

  Rona Brown: We represent the animal trainers that work in the film, TV and theatre world of entertainment. The things we like about the bill is that, hopefully, it will be mandatory for a duty of care towards animals that we look after and work and train. We also would prefer for there to be some specifics for animals that work in the film industry. Although what is in there already we like, although it is not written in there it is written or has been said in other ways that we can move towards the people who are not licensed to take animals to a film set and work with them. This is where we have our biggest concern. We would like to see that in the legislation that the licensed people only should be the people who go and work animals.

  Q510 Chairman: Mr Clay, yesterday we heard from an organisation called Born Free, which was implacably opposed to wild animals, as they put it, being in circuses. They painted a graphic picture of poor conditions, lack of space for animals both in their travelling circumstances and in what they described as their winter quartering. If you took everything they said at face value you could well move to their position to say: the use of wild animals trained for performance and titillation of audiences in the 21st century is something that we should ban. How do you react to that?

  Malcolm Clay: I think that, listening to what Animal Defenders have to say, was it Animal Defenders or Born Free?

  Q511 Chairman: Born Free.

  Malcolm Clay: I have to say you can certainly pick out very bad examples, which is why we need regulation and legislation, but there is nothing wrong with the concept of the illustration of the rapport between the animal and the trainer, provided that you can illustrate that the standards of animal welfare which are being imposed in that situation by way of the keeping, the exercise area, the veterinary care and the transport, you cannot say that all circuses and all wild animal training is bad when they are citing one particular example. I do not know whether they were talking about in the UK or elsewhere because the standards across Europe certainly differ vastly.

  Q512 Chairman: I notice you did not immediately rebut the line that they put particularly over the question of the physical environment in which the animals were kept. My knowledge of circuses and animals is very hazy; it is a long time since I went to one. Animals as opposed to human beings doing exciting and interesting things, perhaps you might like to just say a word or two (a) about the conditions in which the animals are kept, and (b) the justification for taking animals, which most people would regard as wild, I think they were talking principally about lions, tigers, bears, this kind of thing, and training them for the entertainment of people. Could you talk about the justification of that and also the physical circumstances?

  Malcolm Clay: Sorry if I did not make myself clear. The point I make is that: yes, I am sure you can find situations which are unacceptable, not necessarily people who are being most deliberately cruel but people who do not know any better. You are being quoted probably the worst example that could be found and a situation which my Association certainly would not support, which is why we want the legislation. Could I ask Mr Clubb to talk to you on the performing animal concept?

  Q513 Chairman: Yes, I would be grateful. Thank you.

  James Clubb: It is certainly clear that animals, let us talk about wild animals, benefit from training. I feel it is better to entertain the animals, stimulate their minds, than just shut them up and look at them. This stimulation can take various forms, one being training. Circuses do vary worldwide. There are many circuses that are keeping their animals in bad conditions and there are many circuses that keep animals in good conditions. There is no reason why a circus cannot keep its animals in good conditions and employ humane methods of training. I do not think there is any question over the training methods any more within, let us say, the UK. I can only speak of the UK. Perhaps the housing is a different matter, but when you consider that I can only think of one circus in the UK that keeps wild animals now I do not really see it a major problem, but it is regulation on the keeping of the animals rather than an outright ban on them, ie, if somebody wants to keep, I do not know, performing lions, the regulations must fit the case for keeping lions. As far as other animals are concerned, the regulations might be much harder and, therefore, the circus could not comply. All I ask is that regulation be achievable otherwise there is no point in having regulation.

  Chairman: Mr Mitchell?

  Q514 Mr Mitchell: Did you want to come back, Mr Clay?

  Malcolm Clay: I just wanted make the quick point because we do tend to forget the difference between, say, zoo animals and circus animals where zoo animals are just being displayed. Circus animals are being handled and groomed and exercised and do lead a quite different life in most cases from zoo animals, display animals generally, and have this human contact in the exercise.

  Q515 Mr Mitchell: The argument seems to be that rather than have a ban that the use of wild animals in circuses is declining anyway and might well fade away. Why is that?

  James Clubb: The decline is really due to the fact that local authorities, councils, do not permit performing wild animals on their sites. The reason for this is because they are under constant threat of the people that disagree with performing animals and it is far easier just not to let the circus on the site with wild animals.

  Q516 Mr Mitchell: Is that a pattern? Some authorities do allow it, some do not?

  James Clubb: Yes. Some do, some do not. It is much easier if it is an area where they are under constant pressure from anti groups saying you should not have animals in circuses then the council just automatically takes the easy option.

  Q517 Mr Mitchell: Mr Burton, if I can? Are they a big draw? Are they necessary?

  Martin Burton: I operated a circus for 10 years without any animals. Going back 11 years, I worked in a circus for 10 years without any animals. I reintroduced horses initially to my circus because I found artistically that there is something missing from the programme. In order to create the variety that a circus audience wants to see I felt that it was   very important to reintroduce horses. Commercially, as soon as I did that my attendance increased 25%. I strongly believe that there are clearly out there a lot of people who would prefer not to see circuses with performing animals, but those people tend not to come to circuses. If you look at the subset of people who come to circuses, then I would say within that subset of people who want to come to circuses in the first place 99% of them want to see some form of animals in the circus. The key issue that we addressed when we reintroduced, my expertise was as a clown not as an animal person and I therefore—

  Mr Mitchell: We have something in common!

  Chairman: You said it!

  Alan Simpson: He is the honest one.

  Q518 Chairman: Do you have wild animals?

  Martin Burton: Sorry, if I could just finish. I think it is important.

  Q519 Chairman: Yes, sure.

  Martin Burton: I brought in when we reintroduced animals to a non-animal circus, I brought in various animal experts and amongst other groups that I consulted with I consulted with Born Free. We introduced a number of measures. A very simple example would be that we put our stables at the front of the circus so that the public can come and look at the horses before they buy the ticket, they can look in, they can enjoy seeing the animals rather than putting them around the back of the circus so I could charge 20 pence to let people go and wander round the stables afterwards. It was a key move and massively objected to by the traditional animal trainers at the time. They said: "You are mad to do this. You are losing out on a few 20 pences". Actually, it is a key move in making the public comfortable with what they come and see. As well as those things, we developed a code of conduct initially with the Home Office and latterly with Defra, firstly just for horses and then in association with my colleagues here we developed it for all animals. I think that is where—now I get to answer your question—I think that is where animal welfare in circuses lies really. It is perfectly possible to present animals in circuses. You have heard from Jim Clubb that the animals benefit from the stimulation of being handled, trained, groomed and exhibited. In terms of the husbandry, it is simply a question of saying to people: "There are guidelines, there are regulations. You need to follow them". We did that. We self-imposed our guidelines and it has worked massively with the public. Why do I not have lions and tigers: because there is something emotive about bars. When we get to the stage that I can show lions or tigers without needing a cage I think the public will be satisfied, but currently the public will not be satisfied with bars. They do not like cages.

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