Wild Animals in Circuses (No.2) Bill

Written evidence submitted by Chris Barltop (WAC08)

Dear Chair

I am the former Chair of the group of circus people whose work with DEFRA under the Circus Working Group led to the so-called 'Radford Report' (Nov 2007) on Wild Animals in Circuses. I was also for many years the elected Circus Councillor of Equity, the performers' trade union.

Radford exonerated circuses of the accusations made over many years of generalised neglect, cruelty, inappropriate conditions, and stressful transportation Our work led to the current stringent Licensing regime for circuses which include animals not native to this country and which are therefore colloquially referred to as 'wild'.  Since its inception, the Licensing regime has provided solid proof of exceptionally high standards of care.


The Conservative government has publicly acknowledged that there is 'no welfare problem with circus animals'.  Non-native animals are in general ownership in the UK.  For example (though these are not the only examples) anyone can buy a raccoon or a macaw and transport it and show it without having to pass the stringent tests imposed on circuses.  The circus community has proved its high standards; this measure is discriminatory against that community.

The Bill is put forward on 'ethical' grounds.  The former government Minister Mr George Eustice said in a TV interview last week: "I understand that camel racing takes place in some venues in the country, and that that practice would continue...If it is not ethical to have a dancing raccoon in a circus, why is it ethical to have one on 'Britain's Got Talent'?  What about falconry displays? They travel from agricultural show to agricultural show. Falcons are wild animals. What is the difference?"  Mr Eustice's comment reveals the weakness of this Bill.  All these activities are accepted and acceptable.  One can't ethically ban well-kept animals in one context but not in another when the only difference is the label 'circus'. 

Apart from the clear discrimination shown by targeting the circus community, there are frighteningly wide implications in the imposition of the proposed ban.  The UK film industry is a major contributor to our economy, and also brings prestige to Britain.  Most films include trained animals; by definition, any animal, domestic or otherwise, even a spider or a rodent appearing in a film or a TV programme is 'trained', and they must of course work under strict welfare standards.  The circus community's expertise makes it a major source - THE major source -  of film animals.  All the animals in British circuses are several-generations bred in that context; none have been removed from a ‘wild’ habitat. If such animals are not permitted to be used in this country, film-makers will go elsewhere, Britain will be financially and culturally poorer, and the animals themselves may suffer as they will not be protected by our laws.  If the intention of this Bill is truly to protect animals, it must not allow itself to be party to potential animal suffering abroad.

I suggest that, in contrast to claims they 'serve no educational purpose', animal circuses demonstrate the rapport and partnership which can be achieved between human and animal.   Circus people are our horse-whisperers; from them, we can learn a great deal about animal communication, which is now the subject of formal research but which depends on the wealth of practical knowledge of animal trainers such as circus people.  Coming into contact with real live animals heightens public awareness of their qualities and of our responsibilities towards them.  If we are to protect our wider environment, we must understand that animals are more than an image on a TV screen; circuses contribute to that understanding.

This Bill is unnecessary.  Its consequences - perhaps unintentioned ones -  offer a wider threat to those working with trained animals in many contexts, and to the UK economy.  All former welfare concerns regarding circus animals have been dealt with under the DEFRA Licensing regime. Any further concerns, or those regarding species not currently included in circuses under that scheme, can be dealt with under the Animal Welfare Act.  I urge the Committee to ask that the Bill be withdrawn until greater consideration can be given to the wider implications of such legislation.

Please accept my thanks for the Committee’s consideration of these arguments.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Barltrop

May 2019


Prepared 23rd May 2019