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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, October 5, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 05 October 2017

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Air Departure Tax (Update), City Region Deals, Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Decision Time


Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-08062, in the name of Roseanna Cunningham, on stage 1 of the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill.


I first thank the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee for its consideration of the bill. The committee took a great deal of evidence from a wide range of stakeholders and produced a very detailed stage 1 report, especially for such a short and concise bill. The Scottish Government has responded to the committee’s recommendations and I would now like to explain what the bill will and—perhaps of equal interest—will not do, and why I am bringing the bill before Parliament.

The bill will, quite simply, make it an offence for a circus operator to cause or permit a wild animal to be used in a travelling circus in Scotland. There has been growing concern for many years about the use of wild animals in circuses. Although such circuses have not recently visited Scotland, they continue to perform in the rest of the United Kingdom and across much of Europe. The bill is a Scottish National Party manifesto commitment. Scottish Labour and the Green Party had similar commitments, as did the United Kingdom Conservative Party.

The bill will address the widespread concerns that led to these commitments by preventing travelling circuses from ever showing wild animals in Scotland in the future. It will also demonstrate to the wider world that Scotland is one of the growing number of countries that no longer condone use of wild animals in that fashion.

Previous concern about wild animals in travelling circuses focused on perceived animal welfare issues. In 2007, the Radford report, which was the product of extensive evidence gathering by a committee that was appointed by the United Kingdom Government, ruled out a ban on welfare grounds. By 2016, the academic Dorning and her colleagues considered that, nearly 10 years on, there was sufficient new evidence on welfare to support a ban. However, such evidence varies greatly according to the type of animal, and much work is focused on a few naturally wide-ranging animals—in particular, tigers and elephants.

However, when the Scottish Government began work on the issue we recognised that there are much wider ethical concerns that apply to use of all wild animals in travelling circuses. The Scottish Government consultation in 2014 therefore asked specific questions about the potential for a ban on purely ethical grounds. The response was overwhelmingly in favour of a ban—98 per cent of respondents supported a ban on performance and 96.4 per cent supported a ban on exhibition. Many responses from individuals and organisations gave detailed replies to the ethical questions that were posed.

The bill seeks to address three main ethical concerns. The first is the impact on respect for animals. Most people now consider it outdated and morally wrong to make wild animals perform tricks that they would not perform naturally, and to display them in an unnatural environment simply to entertain the viewing public, thereby seeing animals as an entertainment commodity rather than as sentient beings.

The results of the 2014 consultation also showed that 89.5 per cent of respondents considered that the performances that are required of wild animals—not just their keeping—compromise respect for the animals concerned. In addition, more than 94 per cent of respondents considered that exposure to such acts has an adverse impact on the development of respectful and responsible attitudes to animals, particularly in children.

I am grateful for the additional engagement with young people that was undertaken by the committee, its clerks and the Scottish Parliament education service, and I welcome the results of the survey of young visitors to the Parliament. That survey showed that, of the 1,045 children and young people who were asked whether it should be an offence to use wild animals in travelling circuses, 81 per cent were in favour of a ban. That work echoes the results of the Scottish Government’s recent survey, which was carried out in conjunction with Young Scot. The clear majority of young people who responded to our survey—80 per cent—were in favour of the prohibition.

The second area of ethical concern is the impact of the travelling circus life on wild animals. In response to the 2014 consultation, more than 90 per cent of respondents considered that the ability of wild animals to undertake natural behaviours is compromised in the travelling circus environment. Many people regard that as morally wrong, regardless of whether it can be proved that the animals suffer, because it compromises the integrity of their wild nature and, therefore, their wellbeing.

The third area of concern is the balance between ethical costs and wider benefits. I know that other types of animal use cause concern about the environment in which the animals are kept, how far they are transported and what acts they are expected to perform. However, despite there being a range of individual views on the ethical challenges of other uses of animals, it is generally accepted that there are clear benefits to be obtained from conservation of exotic species and from food production. Those benefits are generally assumed to balance out the ethical costs.

A query was raised in the committee’s report about why the bill addresses only travelling circuses. I believe that use of wild animals in travelling circuses is unique among all the uses. It is the only situation that raises significant ethical concerns in all three of the areas that I outlined. Other types of animal use could give rise to unease in one or two areas of ethical concern, but not all three.

The bill will not stop use in travelling circuses of domestic animals including dogs and horses, or use of wild animals in displays in static circuses and zoos and at public gatherings. Penguin parades at zoos, birds of prey demonstrations at fairs and reindeer displays will not be affected. The use of wild animals in television and film production will not be affected. The programme for government includes a commitment to develop new licensing requirements to protect the welfare of wild and domesticated animals that are used for public performance or display, which will address a number of those other uses. Those requirements will replace the somewhat dated Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925.

I would now like to address some of the issues that are raised in the committee’s report. The committee is concerned about the definition of “wild animal”. However, the definition in the bill is clear and easily understood, and has been at least since the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. The definition includes two parts: a requirement that an animal not be

“of a kind that is domesticated”

and, equally important, a requirement that it is not

“commonly domesticated in the British Islands.”

Even if a circus was to argue that, in its opinion, its lions or tigers had become domesticated across successive generations of use, such animals would still be caught by the ban because they are clearly not

“commonly domesticated in the British Islands.”

Furthermore, I do not believe that including in the bill a definitive list of wild animals that are covered would be either proportionate or effective in addressing the aims of the bill. Nevertheless, I will seek to provide ministers with a power to create secondary legislation that is subject to affirmative procedure in which particular kinds of animals can be classified as wild or commonly domesticated in the British isles, or not, for the purposes of the bill. That power could be used in a targeted manner in any unforeseeable cases of genuine doubt in the future.

The committee has also expressed particular concern about the definition of “circus” in the bill. An ordinary meaning allows for flexibility and common sense at both enforcement and prosecution stages. A specific definition is, by its very nature, frozen in time and risks, because of its rigidity, capturing or excluding unintended enterprises. It could also provide a clear signpost to the potential loopholes that would be caused by that rigidity. We must not be naive: listing the constituent parts would also lay out a path to circumventing the ban.

There is a common public understanding of what “circus” means. In the 2014 consultation, the respondents did not have any difficulty understanding the word, and it is the word that is commonly used in other legislation that covers similar areas. I strongly believe that the approach that we have taken is most likely to achieve the purpose of the bill.

In the meantime, my officials will continue to engage with stakeholders to draft guidance for the bill. That should, I believe, be sufficient to allay unfounded fears about the definition and the danger of it being misinterpreted to include what are clearly not travelling circus activities.

I hope that my opening remarks explain why we are taking forward this important, proportionate and simple bill. It seeks to prohibit a singular practice that is morally objectionable to the people of Scotland: it seeks to do no more and no less. A more detailed Government response is available for people to consider; I think that most committee members will have had it relayed to them earlier today.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees to the general principles of the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill.

Thank you, cabinet secretary. I call Graeme Dey, convener of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, to speak on behalf of the committee.


I am delighted to speak in the debate on behalf of the committee. I thank the members of the committee for their efforts in producing the unanimous report on the bill, all the stakeholders who gave evidence, and the clerks to the committee.

The committee recommends to Parliament the general principles of the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill and is supportive of its aims. However, the committee believes that it will achieve those aims only if several key concerns are addressed. Let me explore the specifics of those concerns and react, in so far as I can do so, to the response to them that we have recently received from the Government.

The most significant of the concerns is about the definitions in the bill. It defines a “wild animal” as

“an animal other than one of a kind that is commonly domesticated in the British Islands.”

It also provides a definition of “domesticated”, stating:

“an animal is of a kind that is domesticated if the behaviour, life cycle or physiology of animals of that kind has been altered as a result of the breeding or living conditions of multiple generations of animals of that kind being under human control.”

The committee believes that it would be helpful if the definition of “wild animal” in section 2 was made clearer. The Scottish Government suggested in evidence to the committee that a flexible definition is appropriate, which was supported by some stakeholders. However, local authorities and circus operators feel that the classification of animals as domesticated or otherwise is open to interpretation.

Local authorities also suggested that there may be circumstances in which veterinary assistance would be required to classify an animal in order to ascertain whether an offence had been committed. Although the committee accepts that flexibility can be helpful in some circumstances, we do not believe that operators and local authorities should be in any doubt as to what would be considered a wild animal.

The definition of domestication was also the subject of debate in the committee’s consideration of the bill. People who oppose the bill suggested that animals living in circus environments could be domesticated—and therefore not covered by the bill—due to changes in their behaviour being developed through their having been reared in captivity, including when it had taken place over several generations.

Similarly, those who support the bill proposed that the definition be removed in order not to suggest that domestication could be achieved from captive breeding and rearing over time. The fact that such views exist persuaded the committee that further consideration might be worth while, in order to nail down what is and what is not a “wild animal”.

The committee also feels that the rationale behind omitting a list of animals that would be covered should be revisited by the Scottish Government. The committee has suggested that such a list would provide clarity and could, if the processes are right, be updated to react to unforeseen circumstances.

I note the cabinet secretary’s comments in her formal response to the committee, which she has repeated this afternoon. I welcome her willingness at least to explore the development of an amendment to provide a regulation-making power to include or exclude animals that become the subject of genuine doubt as to whether they are wild. Members will want to reflect on her wider response on that, in due course.

I will continue with the theme of definitions. Perhaps the biggest elephant in the room—I suspect that will not be last pun we hear this afternoon—was the omission of a definition of “circus”. Although a definition of what constitutes a “travelling circus” is included, it is undermined by the lack of a clear idea of what is meant by “circus”.

The bill has been introduced to address the public’s ethical concerns about the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. The most recent such enterprise to visit Scotland that caused the public to express their views on the subject to the Scottish Government—a display, while they were wintering here, of lions and tigers from a show that contains only lions and tigers—would not, in the view of the committee, be covered by the bill. Similarly, the committee received several representations from stakeholders from both sides of the debate to the effect that any ambiguity would mean that the bill could apply to enterprises beyond those that it is intended will be caught by the bill, in particular due to the application of the ethical arguments for the bill to other animal acts.

The committee believes that the bill should be clear as to what acts will be covered. The committee heard evidence from Scottish Government officials suggesting that the term “circus” would be interpreted by courts using the “Oxford English Dictionary” definition, which includes references to elements such as “a circular arena” and “acrobatic” performances. The committee was also told that the omission of any one of those elements could mean that an act using wild animals would not be considered to be a circus. The ordinary or commonly understood definition was also advocated in evidence to the committee.

Not only does the committee believe that the bill’s reliance on such a definition opens the door to its purpose being undermined, it also considers that approach to legislating to be unsatisfactory. The law should be clear for participants and for enforcers without the need for immediate recourse to legal challenge. Let me pose a scenario: let us say that a show containing only lions and tigers was set up in a non-circular cage inside a major exhibition arena and no horses or acrobats were involved. Would that, beyond doubt, be captured by the bill?

The committee has recommended that a definition of “circus” be included in the bill. However, I welcome—as I am sure will the committee—the commitment to producing accompanying guidance with examples of what constitutes a circus, and to consider amendments that define “circus” without inadvertently capturing the likes of birds of prey displays or festive reindeer, or allowing circus enterprises to modify their offering in order to circumvent the ban.

The committee recommends that the accompanying guidance be ready as soon as the bill is passed so that there is no point at which legislation is in place without local authorities having supporting clarity. I hope that the cabinet secretary will confirm her intention in that respect, in due course.

Evidence to the committee suggested that the definition of “circus operator” should be extended to reflect the everyday hierarchies and employment scenarios that are at work in circuses. Having received the Government’s response to the report only last night, members will want to take time to reflect on its comments on that.

Although definitions occupied most of the evidence that was received on the substance of the bill, local authorities also explored proposals on potential additional enforcement powers. The committee proposed that such powers should be considered by the Scottish Government. The Government has provided a detailed response on that, on which members—individually and, perhaps, collectively—will come to a view.

Representations were also made to the committee on the potential wider impacts of the bill on the entertainment industry. The committee received evidence suggesting that moves to restrict the use of wild animals in travelling circuses could have an impact on, for example, Scotland’s attractiveness as a filming location. The committee has highlighted that evidence in its stage 1 report. The cabinet secretary has helpfully acknowledged the validity of such concerns, in as much as she will issue additional clarifying guidance reiterating that the bill is intended to capture only travelling circuses.

I have focused mainly on the substance of the bill, but I wonder, Presiding Officer, whether by way of conclusion I can turn briefly to the issue of further legislation on performing animals.

Yes. We have a little time in hand.

On the day on which the bill was introduced, the cabinet secretary wrote to the committee to highlight the intention to review the operation of the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925. Although that is welcome, there remain concerns about whether it was best to introduce the bill in isolation instead of including it as a part of more comprehensive approach.

Similarly, we sought assurances that at the end of the process there will be no gaps in clarity on whether the use of wild animals in static circuses is to be addressed. The detail that has been offered in response, indicating that new licensing requirements are planned to protect the welfare of wild and domesticated animals that are used in public performances and displays other than in zoos—which will cover static circuses—is again to be welcomed, as is the confirmation that a consultation will be undertaken and the affirmative procedure used for the subordinate legislation.

Finally, the committee believes that the decision to frame the bill based on an ethical basis has been difficult to justify, particularly in the light of evidence that would have supported a welfare-based approach. The committee does not question the value of the ethical arguments against the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, but it does not consider that they have been well utilised and, as I have stated, believes that the wisdom of what has been described as a “piecemeal” approach should be questioned. However, that does not detract from the fact—

Will the member give way?

I am sorry, cabinet secretary—the member must wind up now. [Interruption.] That is a fearsome look you are giving me, cabinet secretary, but I think that we really must move on. [Interruption.] Excuse me a minute—I am conferring with the clerk.

You may take a brief intervention, Mr Dey, but you will have to wind up very quickly after that.

I would just like to ask my colleague whether he would seriously have preferred to have delayed all this for a number of years, because that would be the consequence of what he has just said.

Briefly, convener.

As the cabinet secretary knows, I am reflecting the views of the whole committee, not just my own. I take her point on board, but that view was reached unanimously by the committee.

Regardless of what the report says, it does not detract from the committee’s support for the bill’s aims, and it looks forward to working with the Scottish Government to ensure that the aims can be delivered as effectively as possible.


I commend the committee’s report and the convener’s comments, which we have just heard. The Scottish Conservatives will support the Government’s motion, and I want to reiterate many of the points that the convener has already made.

However, before I do so, I feel it necessary to point out that it is customary for the Government to respond in writing to the committee’s report prior to the stage 1 debate. Such a letter arrived in my email inbox shortly after 9 o’clock this morning, but, with the greatest respect, I think that a 14-page letter containing detailed points and arriving a mere six hours or so before the debate is insufficient. The Government’s failure to give adequate notice of a position that committee members can analyse and scrutinise properly respects neither the committee nor the wider work of the Parliament. Given that the timetable to which we are operating on the bill is being driven by the Government, not the committee, having a stage 1 debate with only the committee report to go on and limited time to digest the Government’s lengthy response means, inevitably, that the debate itself is prejudiced. I, for one, have simply not had enough time in the course of the day to go through the Government’s letter in detail.

That aside, I want, first, to assure the chamber that the Scottish Conservatives are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare. We are clear that those who abuse and inflict cruelty on animals should be punished in accordance with the law. The Scottish Conservatives support a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses on ethical and animal welfare grounds. We do not believe that the majority of the public are either comfortable or satisfied with that on-going practice, albeit that there is no evidence that such a practice is under way in Scotland at this time.

The Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill was discussed at a committee meeting on 27 June. As I did not join the committee until after that date, I was not there in person, but my colleagues Finlay Carson, Maurice Golden and Alexander Burnett were present. At that meeting, the committee’s Conservative members made it clear to the cabinet secretary that, in tackling the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses, the bill did not go far enough; it needed to tackle the welfare of animals in static ones, too.

Let me move on to the bill. We support the principles behind the bill, but I regret to say that it requires much improvement. Broad criticisms of the bill include that it risks criminalising shows and events that have a good track record of animal welfare. Many examples of such events have been given, but they include reindeer at Christmas markets, falconry displays and llamas at the Royal Highland Show. This issue is a major concern across the country, but particularly for those of us who represent rural areas, where agricultural shows and Highland games are often part of the lifeblood of the summer economy. The cabinet secretary was trenchant in her views about that in committee and again today, but I venture that the bill does not give similar comfort.

I will concentrate on a couple of areas, the first of which is legal definitions. I can almost sense former colleagues in the legal profession rubbing their hands at the prospect of this legislation, given the issues of interpretation that the bill throws up in its present state. Strangely for a bill that is all about circuses, it does not define the word “circus”. As the cabinet secretary said, there is sometimes sense in having a general, flexible definition, but I submit that there is not in this case. The bill defines “travelling circus”, albeit that the word “circus” in that phrase is not defined. “Travelling circus” is currently defined as the public’s perception of a travelling circus, which is vague, open to all sorts of interpretations and risks criminalising people who put on a show or event to which animals have to be transported. That leaves anyone who tries to comprehend the bill in great difficulty.

There is also an issue with the term “wild animal”. The current definition of “wild animal” is an animal that is not “commonly domesticated” in the UK. Where does that leave reindeer from Scandinavia or llamas from South America, which would be classed as wild animals and might therefore be banned from being on show at public events?

Given those issues, I urge the Government to consider whether having a detailed list of defined species, which it could add to or subtract from at will through secondary legislation, would be a more sensible way forward. That might avoid some of the issues that my committee colleagues have mentioned and which I am sure others will go on to mention.

Unlike the Foreign Secretary, I will resist the temptation in closing to make reference to a roaring lion, but let me be clear that we accept that robust legislation must be in place to ensure that wild animals are properly protected. We welcome the creation of the offence and support the overarching principles of the bill, but it needs serious work before it is in a fit state to be enacted.

Thank you very much, Mr Cameron. I hope that we have run out of animal references, but we probably have not. I call David Stewart to open on behalf of Labour—have I just sabotaged something?


Thank you, Presiding Officer. I rise to speak in support of the general principles of the bill. However, a number of recommendations that have been proposed will, in my view as a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, improve the bill at stage 2. Like Donald Cameron, I have only just received the cabinet secretary’s response to the committee’s recommendations, so I have not had the opportunity fully to assess the Government’s potential position at stage 2. Nevertheless, other members have referred to a number of key strands, including animal welfare versus ethics, the scope of the bill, definitions and enforcement.

Animal welfare organisations such as the well-respected OneKind believe that there are strong animal welfare justifications for a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. In its public petition to the Parliament, OneKind stated:

“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 UK 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, Animal Defenders International filmed the beating of elephants prior to performance at the Great British Circus.

Earlier this year, a further exposé by the same organisation showed an aged arthritic elephant named Anne being repeatedly beaten and abused by a member of staff in the Bobby Roberts Super Circus. Video footage also showed a camel being spat at while tethered in its stall. Both of those animals have now been rehomed. Prior to that, however, they were regularly brought on tour to Scotland. The elephant was too ill to perform traditional tricks but was used for photographs in the circus ring, and the camel was also exhibited after performances.

Around half of Scottish local authorities have a policy of not letting public land to circuses with wild animals. However, the same circuses were shown to have used wild animals in defiance of specific licensing or a licence condition that was imposed by some councils.

Since the time of the public petition, an authoritative review of the animal welfare issues—by Jo Dorning and others—has been published by the Welsh Government, and was referred to several times during evidence that was given to our committee.

In its 2014 consultation, the Scottish Government acknowledged the strength of public concern about animal welfare and the strong body of opinion that the animals’ five welfare needs, as set out in the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, could not be catered for in relation to wild animals in a travelling circus environment.

Other members have talked about definitions, and I want to say a little about that issue as well. The Scottish Government’s position is that anyone enforcing the legislation would know what a circus was and that the courts would be well placed to interpret that if there should be any doubt. However, I note the points that were made by local authorities regarding enforcement activities, where the court process is only the culmination of the process. Council officers need to have a clear basis for initiating action and must feel confident that the legislation is applicable before they act.

The discussion in the committee referred to the “Oxford English Dictionary” definition. However, that could cause confusion to anyone who was seeking to rely on Scottish Parliament proceedings for an interpretation. Under the circumstances, I endorse what the convener said about the necessity of including in the bill a definition of the word “circus”.

The definition of the term “wild animals” in the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1974 provides an interesting starting point, but it would require refinement. The bill’s current definition of “wild animal” refers to an animal that is not

“commonly domesticated in the British Islands”,

which accords with the existing definitions in the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Zoo Licensing Act 1981. However, the definition of “domesticated” in section 2(2) is unclear and requires amendment. Domestication is a process that takes hundreds or thousands of years, and that is not reflected in the concept of “multiple generations of animals”.

I am conscious of time, so I close by saying that local authorities need to be resourced to deliver on their animal welfare powers or they will not be able to use them effectively.

I believe that the bill is a step in the right direction for animal welfare. I urge the Scottish Government to make improvements to the bill at stage 2, reflecting the recommendations of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. However, I support the general principles of the bill.

We come to the open debate, and I ask for speeches of four minutes. One member who is due to speak has forgotten to press their request-to-speak button—I will not name them.


I am a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, which is responsible for scrutinising the bill, and I thank the members, the clerks and everyone else who has been involved for the work that they have done.

The Scottish Government has put forward an argument for a ban on wild animals in travelling circuses, using ethical grounds. That is outlined in the policy memorandum, and I support the Scottish Government’s bill. Today, I will focus on the ethical arguments.

The three areas that it has been suggested have ethical implications are the impact of travelling environments on an animal’s nature or behaviour; respect for animals; and the ethical costs versus the benefits. There is also the argument that of the five freedoms, which were developed by the Farm Animal Welfare Committee, the fourth and fifth freedoms—the

“Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour”

and the

“Freedom from Fear and Distress”—

are where the ethical concerns lie.

In considering the impact of the travelling component of the circus, we must consider the stress and trauma to the animals of being coerced out of the environment that they are normally in and being loaded into a vehicle, which is a strange, alternative environment, and the further stress and fear of the travelling itself—the movement, the vibration, the noise, the lights and the smells. Mike Flynn of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stated in evidence to the committee that the loading and unloading of animals was the issue that caused the stress. The requirement to secure animals, especially big cats, to keep the animals safe—and to keep the public safe from any potential escape—is also a concern.

I struggle to see how any of that could satisfy the animal’s need for

“Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour”

and the

“Freedom from Fear and Distress”.

The ethical concern around respect is whether it is right and respectful to coax, coerce, train and tame wild beasts to perform for human entertainment or amusement. It is not normal behaviour for wild animals to perform for humans under the direction of another human.

I asked the cabinet secretary whether it is

“just time that we stopped having wild animals, such as tigers and lions, in circuses”.—[Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, 27 June 2017; c 8.]

That is the third aspect that I will speak about today, with that same question: is it time? There was a time, about 100 years ago, when a wee lass who grew up in Stranraer, like I did, would have no way to see wild animals, such as lions or tigers, except for something like a travelling circus. There was no television or internet; there were no David Attenborough DVDs. That is no longer the case in 2017. I struggle to see the potential educational benefits outweighing the ethical costs.

There is already a history of displays or exhibitions in circuses being stopped on ethical grounds. We no longer display “Siamese twins”—conjoined twins—in circuses. We no longer exhibit “The Wolfman” or “The Bearded Lady”—that is a medical condition called hypertrichosis. We no longer display persons with birth defects such as Joseph Merrick, who was known around the world as the elephant man. There was a time when people like him were displayed in travelling circuses for the amazement, amusement and entertainment of paying customers, but, eventually, the time came when that archaic practice was no longer acceptable ethically.

I welcome the bill—I get the ethical argument and I get the fact that restricting the freedom to exhibit normal behaviour, which is what happens in a travelling circus environment, is not ethical, whether the animal is a lion, tiger, elephant or any other wild animal. Wild animals should not be tamed, trained or otherwise coerced to perform for the amusement of human beings. It is unethical and it is time to stop it. Nineteen countries have already implemented a ban.

I am afraid that you must conclude now.

I will conclude, Presiding Officer. Nineteen countries have already banned it, so it is time for Scotland to lead the way for the rest of the UK.

Sometimes I do not win. [Laughter.]


The debate is about wild animals, so for once I do not need to declare an interest. [Laughter.] To be honest, when I am in a pen with a newly calved coo, I sometimes think that I would be better off with a lion.

I wonder why the bill is being pushed through Parliament, as Scotland has not seen a travelling circus that uses wild animals for many years; there is no possibility that we will see one any time soon. Nevertheless, I welcome the bill and I support the principle that a circus should not be allowed to use wild animals as performance pieces. However, although I welcome what the bill is trying to do, there are far too many loopholes and a lack of clear definitions. It is poorly drafted and simply not fit for purpose.

One of my main concerns is that the current bill might criminalise shows and events that display animals yet have a good record of animal welfare and are ethically sound—many local businesses might be concerned. The Ythanbank reindeer park at Ellon allows children to visit Santa’s real reindeer during the festive season. In May, alpacas from a farm in Fife travelled to the University of Dundee for students to visit in a destressing exercise to emphasise the importance of maintaining good mental health. Will all those travelling and seasonal events be impacted by the bill? Unless it is amended and more detail and clarity are provided on its poorly defined terms and what a “wild animal” is, all of those events are at risk.

The bill defines a “wild animal” as

“an animal other than one of a kind that is commonly domesticated in the British Islands.”

That is open to interpretation. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals defined wild animals used in circuses when it stated:

“Some circuses in Britain currently tour with wild animals, including zebras, lions, snakes, tigers and camels”.

I believe that the Scottish Government has a duty to take note of that and to list the animals that the bill seeks to protect. The bill should not be subject to interpretation. It needs to be much more clearly defined.

The bill provides no clear definition of “travelling circus” either, leaving it open to debate and the public’s and laymen’s perception of a travelling circus. Again, that is not something that should be subject to interpretation. There is no mention of static circuses, which is yet another loophole that would see the bill failing animals if a static circus were set up in Scotland.

The bill fails to address the issue of transportation. There is nothing in it to stop travelling circuses moving through Scotland, as long as they do not perform. For example, they could travel through Scotland to get a ferry to Ireland.

I agree with the committee that the bill as drafted does not fully address the issues that it is supposed to cover and is at risk of capturing animal performances and shows that it might not be intended to capture. It is vital that the Government addresses those issues.

It is the Government’s job to introduce clear legislation that does what it sets out to do, not legislation with loopholes and definitions that are subject to public perception—that is lazy and unacceptable. The Government needs to do better for the clear benefit of the animals that it wishes to protect.


As an elected parliamentarian and councillor, I have been pleased to make links over the years with the Scottish Showmen’s Guild. On a number of occasions, I have attended their annual lunch to hear about their history, traditions and commitment to the entertainment of our communities. On one occasion, I was thrilled to discover that the grandfather of my host had been a lion tamer in London. I say “thrilled” because it conjured feelings of the unexpected, the bizarre, the amazing and the exotic. As the granddaughter of a steelworker, I was suddenly within touching distance of a romantic, dangerous, alien history and a lifestyle that I knew of only from my story books and imaginings as a child, but which was so real for the families of the Showmen’s Guild. I pictured Mucha-esque billboards with ringmasters in fabulous redder-than-red jackets, cartoon-like strongmen and exotic animal displays—images that are memories of a thankfully bygone era.

At a Showmen’s Guild fair today, someone would not even find a goldfish in a bag as a prize. That was another era, and our values have changed, as my colleague Emma Harper so eloquently outlined. Modern society no longer has a taste or tolerance for the thrills and exhibits of the past. Documentaries such as “Blackfish” have altered our views on the display, captivity and ethical use of animals.

I am not a member of the committee, but I thank it for its substantial work on the bill at stage 1 and I am delighted that it supports the general principles. I would like to drill down into one area that the committee examined, which is the meaning of “wild animal”. It is extremely important that we get that right.

My interest in the area comes from the work of Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyayev. He hypothesised that the anatomical and physiological changes seen in domesticated animals could be the result of selection based on behavioural traits. He conducted an experiment on silver foxes over 40 generations. Animals were selected for the breeding process based on temperament and there was a control group. He rated each fox’s tendency to approach an experimenter standing in front of its home pen, as well as each fox’s tendency to bite or be aggressive towards the experimenters. They were able to breed out aggressive and fearful traits and change the foxes by selecting fewer than one fifth of them for breeding.

There were changes to the appearance and behaviour of the animals that were bred to be domesticated. They wagged their tails and they were happy or excited to see people. Further, their fear response to new people or objects was reduced. The first physiological change detected was in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. That system is responsible for the control of adrenaline, which is a hormone that is produced in response to stress and controls fear-related responses. The domesticated foxes had significantly lower adrenaline levels.

I give that example to the chamber because it explains domestication and informs us about what it—as opposed to training—means. To my mind, genetic and biological changes that took hundreds of thousands of years to make in domesticated breeds such as dogs cannot possibly have been made in animals—such as those held in circuses—that have not been selectively bred from a very small group. They are wild animals, and should be considered as such.


Presiding Officer, as your deputy on the cross-party group on animal welfare, it is a privilege to speak in a debate that I hope will take Scotland a step forward in ending the cruelty and distress that are inflicted on animals in travelling circuses. Later today, I hope that we will be unanimous in our vote to approve the principles of the bill, so that we can progress to more detailed consideration and—crucially—amendment.

This week saw the birthday of one of the greatest practitioners of non-violence: Mahatma Gandhi. He did not distinguish who he included in that non-violence, and he once said:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

There is nothing great about the treatment of animals in a travelling circus, from either an ethical or an animal welfare point of view. The animals are faced with cramped and restrictive accommodation, without the space to recreate their natural behaviour, to explore, to socialise and to find food as they would in the wild. From stress, to ligament damage, to disease, the behavioural, psychological and physical impacts that such conditions have on the animals are clear, as is the impact of the work that they are forced to do in order to perform. So-called tricks are learned through intensive training and there are many well-documented instances of trainers using abuse and negative reinforcement.

The performances themselves, in the presence of human audiences, often cause distress to the animals. I am sure that we are all aware of examples of that in our constituencies and regions, and—I say this for the benefit of Peter Chapman—not that long ago. Although I did not attend, I remember the Bobby Roberts Super Circus touring Dumfries and Galloway with its aged, arthritic elephant, named Anne, who was mentioned earlier by David Stewart. Having been taken from the wild in Sri Lanka, Anne was used for entertainment for more than 50 years, right up until 2011, when her last trick was to stand and pose for photographs with audience members for £5 a time, before she was eventually rehomed after protests at the appalling treatment that she received. That example shows that existing regulation or monitoring of the industry did not and does not work and that, without a full ban, the mistreatment of animals such as Anne is inevitable.

That is a view that appears to have overwhelming support. Public consultation on the bill showed that 98 per cent of respondents supported a ban on travelling circuses keeping wild animals for performance and 96 per cent believed that a ban is the only way to end such cruelty. Respondents were clear in their comments about the physical and psychological cruelty to which animals are subjected, describing it as “archaic” and “barbaric”.

The bill is a positive step towards relegating that cruelty to the history books. However, I very much commend the work of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee in highlighting problematic definitions, potential loopholes and, ultimately, the need for the bill to be strengthened, and I welcome the 20 recommendations in its report. In particular, I echo the committee’s calls for the bill to include a list, which can be easily updated and amended, of animals covered by the legislation, to ensure that ambiguity over the distinction between domesticated and wild animals does not prevent the bill from working as intended.

I also reiterate the importance of not only making enforcement of the bill statutory, but taking steps to ensure that local authorities have the resources to enforce it. Council officials expressed to the committee their concerns about the practicality of enforcement, and Mike Flynn of the SSPCA expressed his doubt over whether enforcement powers would be used. The discretionary aspect of enforcement should be removed, but if the burden of enforcement is to be devolved to local authorities, they must also receive the necessary resources.

I hope that the Scottish Government will accept the changes to the bill that the committee has proposed, so that we will have a thorough and robust ban. I understand that the Government has now responded to the committee, but that that was only a few hours ago. I point out to members who are not members of the committee that we have not yet seen that response.

The bill is a step in the right direction for animal welfare but, in all sincerity, it is one that is badly needed. The failure of the Government to ban electronic shock devices or to consult on a ban on snaring, and its recent decision to reintroduce tail docking, together with concerns that it will not go beyond Lord Bonomy’s recommendations and ensure a proper ban on hunting, all seriously undermine its credibility when it comes to animal welfare. We badly need steps such as the bill if our “moral progress” as a nation is indeed to be judged in a positive light.


As a member of the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, I join the convener in thanking all the stakeholders who gave evidence and the clerks, who did a great job in herding the evidence into another excellent report for the committee.

This should be a victorious moment, because banning wild animals in travelling circuses is absolutely the right thing to do on both ethical and animal welfare grounds. Emma Harper really nailed the ethical argument in her speech. Green MSPs will back the bill at stage 1.

I moved an amendment to the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Bill more than a decade ago that would have introduced a ban but, at the time, it was supported only—curiously—by SNP members. A ban is long needed and long overdue.

However, what should be a moment of celebration about the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill feels more like a headache because of some of the poor drafting. Many of us on the committee who started with very different positions on the bill have ended up sharing some of the same grounds for concern.

Let us take two of the most fundamental definitions. What is a “circus”? What is a “wild animal”? In evidence to the committee, the Scottish Government officials said that if it looks like a circus, walks like a circus and talks like a circus, then it is a circus. They also said that we should not expect people to “overthink” the definition of a circus—except, of course, that there are people who are paid exactly to do that, called lawyers.

We heard from a witness with a performance act with lions and tigers. He certainly talked like a circus when he gave evidence to the committee, but no one can tell him whether he would be a circus under the bill because he does not have a tent or clowns. Simply leaving it for the courts to decide is not good enough.

On the definition of “wild animal”, again, there needs to be much more clarity. The word “domesticated” is unhelpful and could be used by circus operators to argue that animals that have evolved over millions of years in the world are actually domesticated because they have lived in captive training environments for several generations. Certainly the taxonomy required to add a list of wild animals to the bill would not be too hard—a list would not have to name every individual wild animal on planet earth.

Given that more than a decade has passed since the wild animals in circuses issue was raised, I am perplexed about why the Scottish Government has not followed the Welsh Government route of updating legislation for all animal performances—of which travelling circuses are just one type—at the same time. That would have addressed the problem that the bill has in targeting the plight of wild animals in travelling circuses while simply ignoring those in static circuses.

We heard contradictory evidence from the cabinet secretary about the importance of the travelling environment being an ethical concern rather than an animal welfare issue, which had us, quite frankly, chasing our tails. Surely it would have been better to bring in a proper framework that places animal performances into categories that see them banned, regulated further or left alone.

The ethical basis for the bill was based on circuses being the top public concern, but no consultation or polling was conducted to understand the public’s view on greyhound racing, for example; yet those and many other types of animal performances raise ethical and welfare questions of varying degrees that need to be addressed.

The Government has much to do to make the bill look like a ban, walk like a ban and talk like a ban. I look forward to amendments being introduced at stage 2.


I thank Graeme Dey and his colleagues on the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee for the work that they have done.

I recognise the overwhelming support in favour of a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, and the Liberal Democrats will gladly support the bill’s general principles later today. We welcome the bill but, as many others have identified, we believe that there is room and considerable scope for improvement of it. The committee has helpfully highlighted a number of those areas.

The cabinet secretary reiterated the ethical basis for the ban. There are clearly ethical reasons for such a ban, but the committee is right to raise awareness of the shortcomings of that approach. Furthermore, the ethical basis is difficult to justify in the light of the evidence, which supports a welfare-based approach.

The British Veterinary Association has reminded us that the welfare of animals in circuses is emblematic of how we treat all animals that are under the care of humans. At stage 2, when the detailed scrutiny of legislation gets under way in earnest, considerable work has to be done in that regard. Similarly, notwithstanding the points in the cabinet secretary’s speech, more work is needed to address the ethical and welfare considerations that arise from the use of wild animals in static circuses—Mark Ruskell and others picked up that point.

The Scottish Government relied on the premise that ethical objections to the use of wild animals in travelling circuses do not apply to the same extent to other types of animal performance or display. The cabinet secretary may be justified in that assertion but, to date, not enough evidence has been set out clearly or compellingly.

The problem to which colleagues on the committee have drawn the most attention, as anyone who reads the committee’s report will see, is with the definitions of “circus”, “circus operator” and “wild animals”. In her opening speech, the cabinet secretary sought to offer reassurance on those definitions again but, at the moment, it looks as if the bill will open up a bit of a paradise for lawyers rather than provide suitable and appropriate protection for animals in circuses.

It is critical that we get the definitions right, not least—as David Stewart and others emphasised—because we need to ensure that local authorities, which will be left to enforce the new restrictions, have the clarity that they require. We do not want decisions to be challenged in court, and the matter will fall to local authorities in the first instance. Whether the issues should be dealt with in the bill or in subsequent guidance, most of the work that needs to be done at stage 2 will focus on them.

The bill and the proposals that it seeks to introduce are welcome. They reflect our values as a society and the importance that we attach to the high standards of animal welfare that we want to see. I look forward to supporting the bill’s general principles at decision time.


As a member of the ECCLR Committee, I am pleased to contribute to the debate, not least because it is a further step towards Scotland leading the way for the rest of the UK in tackling the important ethical issue of the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. It is also welcome because the use of wild animals in circuses has been the subject of deliberation by campaigners for decades, with part of the existing framework dating back to the Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925.

The cabinet secretary alluded to this but, for the record, it should be noted that the UK Government announced in March 2012 that it would

“bring forward primary legislation at the earliest opportunity to ban circuses from using wild animals on ethical grounds.”

However, as of this year—more than three years after the initial offer of a joint UK bill—no date had been set for a bill to be introduced in the UK Parliament, so the issue seems to have gone off the UK Government’s radar.

We have heard contributions from members that covered a number of issues, including the need to tighten definitions—particularly the definitions of “travelling circus” and “wild animals”. The ethical and welfare arguments have also been well aired. I will concentrate on enforcement and the need to support local authorities in their enforcement duties.

In its stage 1 report, the committee expressed the view that enforcement powers in the bill could go further, particularly given the evidence that we took from local authorities, which called for additional powers to intervene to prevent shows from taking place. The bill does not make it a statutory duty for local authorities to enforce the powers, so enforcement will, in effect, be discretionary.

I have some difficulty with that, and I wonder what the point of introducing the bill is if it will not remove the discretionary element of the local authority enforcement powers. However, I welcome the assurance that the cabinet secretary gave in evidence to the committee that any non-enforcement of the bill by local authorities could be solved by ministers appointing their own inspectors. As she told the committee,

“The bill also allows Scottish ministers some flexibility to appoint inspectors, so it will not be up to local authorities alone to do that. There is a power in the bill for ministers to appoint an alternative inspector if we think that certain local authorities are not enforcing this legislation.”—[Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, 27 June 2017; c 13-14.]

That would be fine if we were not dealing with travelling circuses but, as it says on the tin, they travel, so there is every possibility that, by the time a Scottish Government-appointed inspector was alerted to a local authority’s non-enforcement, the travelling circus could have moved on. I therefore urge the cabinet secretary to re-examine the issue and consider removing the discretionary element of the local authority enforcement powers.

In addition, guidance is proposed to support local authorities in their enforcement duties. Given the importance of that document for interpretation, the committee considers that it should be available to councils as soon as the bill is enacted, if it is passed.

I look forward to further consideration of the bill at stage 2 in the hope that we can get it right by the time it reaches stage 3, so that, once enacted, it will enable the ban on wild animals in travelling circuses to be put into effect immediately. Implementation of the ban should be accompanied by the issuing of the appropriate guidance, which the committee has called for.


I declare an interest as an honorary member of the British Veterinary Association.

The Scottish Conservative Party and I welcome the bill’s general principles. I know that the British Veterinary Association, OneKind and others have campaigned for a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses for many years, as they and we believe that the needs of non-domesticated wild animals—in particular, their accommodation needs and their need to express normal behaviour—cannot be met in a travelling circus.

For the time being, Scotland’s legislative benchmark is the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and the five welfare needs of animals that it details. In this stage 1 debate, we seek to build on that position. That said, we note the 2007 review by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which found that there was a lack of evidence to support a science-based ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. On the other hand, we note the scientific review that was carried out for the Welsh Government post-2007, which concluded that

“captive wild animals in circuses and other travelling animal shows do not achieve their optimal welfare requirements”.

Although it is surprising that we in Scotland are relying on work that has been carried out elsewhere in the United Kingdom to support the bill, that is probably because no wild animals in travelling circuses are visiting Scotland at the moment and none is likely to do so in the foreseeable future.

The ethical case for the bill has, at best, been poorly made by the Scottish Government, notwithstanding Emma Harper’s valiant attempts to make it. It is much easier to make the case for such a ban on animal welfare grounds, and the Government’s response to paragraph 130 of the stage 1 report tacitly acknowledges that it would be much more sensible to take forward the bill on welfare grounds.

We must seek to improve the bill to make it fit for purpose, which it currently is not. As others have said, the term “travelling circus” must be properly defined, and I welcome the Government’s intention to provide a guidance note for the bill that will

“include guidance and examples around the definition of circus.”

I also welcome the Government’s willingness to consider appropriate amendments of the definition, although I might leave that possibility to finer legal minds than mine, given the parameters that the Government has set for its acceptance of such amendments.

In addition, a list of wild animals should be provided in the bill. It need not be exhaustive, but it should be indicative and it should be able to be added to or subtracted from by statutory instrument, as appropriate, over time. I note and welcome the Government’s response to that suggestion, but I nonetheless urge it to lodge an appropriate stage 2 amendment to create a list of wild animals.

When there is an opportunity for principles, policy and definition to be expressed clearly in any bill—not just this one—the opportunity should be taken and as little as possible should be left to subordinate legislation. My recollection is that the cabinet secretary adheres to that view.

Local authorities need clear guidance on the enforcement duties that will be expected of them under the bill, so I welcome the Government’s response to paragraphs 315 and 320 of the report. In particular—unlike my colleague Angus MacDonald—I welcome the level of discretion that it is intended will be given to local authorities and I welcome the intention not to overburden local authorities with potential extra expenses.

We support the general principles of the bill, but there is still much work to do to make it fit for purpose. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party will, of course, work constructively with the Scottish Government and others towards that goal.


It is great to have this debate in the chamber after lengthy discussions in committee. We spent a number of hours taking evidence on and discussing the bill—I can only presume that those who watched the live stream were tempted to whistle a mash-up of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” and “In the Jungle” as we talked about sheep, cows, reindeer, llamas, camels and even, courtesy of Emma Harper, ligers.

To move on to the serious matter of the debate, it is clear that there was in the committee and continues to be in the chamber unanimous support for the principles of the bill. When the bill is passed, Scotland will lead the way for the rest of the UK in tackling the important ethical issue of the use of wild animals in travelling circuses.

I am pleased to follow a number of excellent speeches. In highlighting their support for the bill and noting areas where they feel that it could be strengthened—particularly around definitions—others have said much of what I might have said. To avoid going over the same ground, I will go back to basics and, as the last speaker in the open part of the debate, remind members why we are here in the first place.

I recognise the work of Mark Ruskell and others when a similar ban was proposed 10 years ago, and I agree with Liam McArthur that a ban on the use of animals in travelling circuses and our discussions around the issue reflect our values as a society.

The unanimity in the chamber reflects the broad consensus among the public around a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. In early 2014, the Scottish Government conducted a public consultation on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in Scotland in order to identify ethical concerns and gauge public support for—or opposition to—a Scottish ban.

It is probably fair to say that the use of wild animals in travelling circuses has caused discomfort to many people for many years, including those who actively fight for animal welfare and those who have respect for animals. The majority of respondents to the consultation supported a ban: 98 per cent supported a ban on performances by wild animals, and 96 per cent supported a ban on the exhibition of wild animals.

However, I accept that the consultation is not the main reason why the bill is before us today. I remind members of the three ethical arguments for introducing the bill. The first is the impact on our respect for animals that are forced to do unnatural tricks and acts for public entertainment that cause them harm. The second is the impact on wild animals of travelling environments, in which they are kept in temporary mobile accommodation for long periods and transported over long distances. Finally, there are the ethical costs and benefits—in other words, the weighing up of whether the ethical challenges, which are probably fairly obvious to us, had any benefit. When the benefit was seen to be minimal, it was deemed that we should introduce legislation to bring in a complete ban.

It is also important that we assure circuses, other shows and events more generally that the bill should not be a threat to their work or to entertainment services. I have been contacted by constituents—they know who they are—seeking confirmation that the bill will not affect the good work that they do. It is vital that we assure those who do not display wild animals and whose work does not constitute a travelling circus that they can continue to provide excellent entertainment services.

I am delighted that the bill will see Scotland leading the way in tackling the important ethical issue of the use of wild animals in travelling circuses.


Yesterday was world animal welfare day. As we have heard this afternoon, we should all work together to sharpen the bill and to develop further protections for the future.

OneKind reminds us that bans have already been introduced in at least 34 countries around the world, including 19 European Union member states. It says that banning the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in Scotland is a forward-looking and progressive act that will lead the way for the rest of the United Kingdom, and it urges members to support the bill at stage 1.

Although the ECCLR Committee and Scottish Labour support the bill’s principles, as members have said, its present form has necessitated a significant amount of committee work and consideration, leading to our stage 1 report recommendations to the Scottish Government to make it fit for purpose. It is disappointing that the cabinet secretary’s response to our report was only available this morning, meaning that there has been little time to consider it.

I intend to focus on three issues: static circuses, definitions—about which I will make a brief comment—and enforcement.

When they gave evidence, the cabinet secretary and a Scottish Government official noted that the travelling aspect of the use of wild animals in travelling circuses was not a primary concern. It therefore seems illogical not to re-examine the use of wild animals in static circuses, too. I acknowledge that a stage 2 amendment would be inappropriate as that issue has not been consulted on in relation to the bill, but I ask the Scottish Government to seriously consider the issue as soon as possible.

In relation to the definition of “wild animal”, it is positive that in her response to our report, the cabinet secretary stated:

“I would be willing to explore a possible amendment giving a regulation-making power to exclude or include specific animals as ‘wild animals’ that might be used in cases of real doubt in future. Regulations could be used when necessary following the coming into force of the Bill to remove doubt in particular cases where there is uncertainty as to which category a particular kind of animal falls into. That could be either to include or exclude an animal as ‘wild’.”

Like a number of members, I still think that a list in regulations, at least, that could be added to and amended is the best way forward. I am also of the opinion that the removal of references to domesticated animals in the bill would bring clarity as we go forward.

As Angus MacDonald mentioned, the committee considers that the enforcement powers in the bill could go further and supports evidence that was received from local authorities calling for additional powers to intervene to prevent shows from taking place. David Kerr of Argyll and Bute Council said:

“as things stand, our only recourse currently would be to take the person to court. I do not know whether any of you have been involved in court cases recently”—

I hope that none of us has—



“a case to court is not a quick process”.—[Official Report, Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, 6 June 2017; c 22.]

The committee recommendation is that the Scottish Government adopts that suggestion from local authorities and gives them powers to serve notices, to issue fixed-penalty notices and to obtain records.

I understand the argument in the cabinet secretary’s response that

“the only question is whether or not the circus operator has caused or permitted a wild animal to be used in the travelling circus. All other activities ... are outwith the ambit of the Bill”.

However, I ask her to look very carefully at whether a stop notice would be as disproportionate as she said that it would be, or whether it would be possible to find a way forward on that issue to provide clarity.

I thank the clerks, and I reflect again on how well the committee appears to have worked together on this complex issue; it was perhaps more complex than it would have been if there had been more clarity in the bill at an early stage.

We support the principles of the bill and we will continue to support them and many other welfare and ethical issues involving animals in the future.

I call Finlay Carson. You can have a generous six minutes, Mr Carson—but not too generous.


Today’s debate has been constructive with many valid and important points made about the bill. The committee convener addressed concerns over definitions, which raises the first question: is Graeme Dey a tame wild politician or a wild domesticated politician? Has his domestication taken place in this semi-circus over the many years that he has been here?

Graeme Dey mentioned the elephant in the room, and I wondered whether he was referring to Donald Cameron’s wonderful elephant design tie. We were also almost treated to some songs by Kate Forbes.

Although there have been plenty of puns during the debate, that should in no way detract from the seriousness with which the committee and my colleagues on the Conservative benches treat the subject of animal welfare. As my colleagues Donald Cameron, Peter Chapman and John Scott have eloquently set out during the debate, the Scottish Conservatives support the general principles of the bill. That support reflects my colleagues’ commitment to the highest standards of animal welfare. We support a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses on ethical and welfare grounds through the delivery of robust legislation.

However, as we have heard today and in the committee, members of all parties have a range of concerns about the current drafting of the bill. I hope that the cabinet secretary takes those concerns on board.

We on the Conservative benches support the findings and recommendations in the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee’s stage 1 report, which I take this opportunity to commend.

Why the rush? There are concerns that the apparent need to rush the bill through will result in yet another piece of weak legislation from the Scottish Government that will fall down or be ineffective in the courts. Angus MacDonald said that Scotland would be leading the way. That is all very well, but we need to show that legislation passed by this Parliament is good and robust. Such legislation might address Mr MacDonald’s concern about councils’ confidence in taking action in future.

As the committee’s report sets out, and as many of my colleagues have reiterated in the debate, travelling circuses that use wild animals in the circumstances covered by the bill have not visited Scotland for many years, and there is no indication that they are likely to do so any time soon. Therefore, is there any need to rush the bill through?

I cannot speak for other colleagues but, before the bill was introduced, I had not heard anything from anybody about wild animals in travelling circuses. I suggest that, unlike puppy trafficking and other animal welfare issues, it is not necessarily a hot topic. I understand that the cabinet secretary, in a rather late response received by the committee last night, disputes that point. Nevertheless, my point still stands. Why are we rushing the legislation? Why not hold off and introduce a bill in a broader context—a bill that takes account of static circuses and other animal welfare issues, as suggested by my colleague Mark Ruskell? Surely it would make more sense to introduce a cohesive, well-balanced and comprehensive piece of animal welfare legislation later on in this session of Parliament. Liam McArthur rightly suggests that the current draft of the bill would be a paradise for lawyers.

As a number of members pointed out, the bill does not define “circus” and inadequately defines “travelling circus”—although that is the entire premise of the bill. The concern is that the vague definitions risk criminalising those who put on a show or event that animals have to be transported to. That must be clarified.

Peter Chapman is quite right when he highlights the further concerns about the definition of “wild animal”. The vague nature of the definition leaves far too much room for interpretation. I echo colleagues from across the chamber in asking the cabinet secretary to seriously consider including a list of the animals that the bill seeks to protect.

We agree with the committee’s view that the current draft of the bill does not fully address the issues that it proposes to cover and is at serious risk of capturing animal performances and shows that it may not have intended to capture.

Unlike Emma Harper, Colin Smyth and Clare Adamson, I have not spent any time exploring the use of the ethical argument or justifications behind the bill. That is because, across the chamber, we believe that public performance by wild animals is no longer acceptable. As Liam McArthur said, the bill reflects our values as a society. The majority of the arguments that have been made in the chamber this afternoon have involved concerns over the bill’s poor drafting, and its potential to fail in what it sets out to achieve.

There is plenty for the Scottish Government to take away from stage 1, and I hope that it will consider all our concerns inclusively and constructively. Members on the Conservative benches support the general principles of the bill and look forward to the Scottish Government bringing forward a much more robust, comprehensive and carefully drafted bill following stage 2.

I call Roseanna Cunningham to close the debate. Can you take us up to our 4.30 decision time please, Ms Cunningham?


I will do my best.

I begin by thanking all the members who contributed to the debate, not only today or in the committee’s considerations but in the wider considerations of Parliament. Once again I am struck not only by the depth of insight afforded but by the passion and genuine commitment shown here to ensuring that Scotland continues to be seen as a country that considers its animals with respect and compassion.

I thank members and stakeholders, especially those from animal welfare organisations—[Interruption.] Presiding Officer, the vagaries of the iPad will slow me down. I thank members and stakeholders for being pragmatic about the bill and what it will achieve. I might return to some issues to do with that, because some of the interventions that were made today run the risk of losing sight of that pragmatism.

The bill is not a complex piece of legislation. It is a short, focused bill that will address a distinct and particular ethical concern in the most timely way possible, making the most efficient and proportionate use of parliamentary time possible. The Parliament’s commitment to tackling the issue head on has drawn praise from across the world and it would truly be a shame if we were to falter because of misunderstandings or technicalities that can be resolved.

I will remind members briefly of some of the key points that I made earlier. The bill will not interfere with the ownership, keeping or transport of wild animals by a travelling circus, as long as the animals are not performing or being displayed or exhibited. It will have no impact on the use of wild animals, whether they are sourced from a circus or otherwise, in film and TV production.

What the bill will do is ban the use, performance and display of wild animals in travelling circuses, reflecting the strong and clear mandate that the Scottish people gave us in our consultation on this matter.

I very much welcome the contributions that were made to the debate and the consensus from across the chamber that we should be at the forefront of this important issue.

I will now respond to some of the particular contributions that were made. Quite a few members, such as Graeme Dey, want to discuss issues with the various definitions, or, in their view, the lack of definitions. I repeat for the record that the definition of, for example, “wild animals” is consistent with the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012, the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006, the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and the Animals Act 1971.

There has been quite a lot of discussion about listing wild animals. I understand the desire to see such a list, but I truly caution members as to where we could go with that in the bill. I think that Mark Ruskell suggested that we should have a list of wild animals because taxonomy is straightforward. I am advised that taxonomy is not straightforward, that it is constantly changing and that people make scientific careers out of it. There is even further complexity when we consider hybrids and sub-species and so on. If we started to list wild animals that cannot be used in this fashion, such a list would never be comprehensive and it would need constantly to be reviewed and updated.

One can imagine that the list would constantly be subject to the imaginative use of animals that were not on it. Currently, we do not have performing tapirs. Would a list that we produced of wild animals in travelling circuses include a tapir? It would probably not, because we would not think of it as a standard animal to use in that fashion. However, if an animal is not on the list, the likelihood is that we would begin to see it being used in that way. That is my concern about starting to list animals.

The cabinet secretary said that there are people out there who make their careers in taxonomy—in making these kinds of lists. Why cannot the Scottish Government just ask them to produce a list?

Ultimately, I suppose that it would be possible to have a list of every wild animal in the world, but there would always be some animals of which we are not currently aware. What I am trying to do is to caution people as to the unintended consequences of producing a list that then, by definition, excludes other wild animals because they are not on it. That is the problem that I want people to consider.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?

I will, as I have a generous amount of time, although it is not unlimited.

I understand the technical point that the cabinet secretary is making, but I presume that it would be easy to have a list of wild animals and a provision that ministers may use secondary legislation—the statutory instrument process—to add any exemptions that come to mind.

As I have already said, the term “wild animal” is already widely used in legislation. What I propose as a concession is that we have the capacity to make specific reference if, perhaps, the use of unexpected wild animals suddenly pops up. I am making a point about what happens with legislation once it is in black and white.

I made clear in my opening speech why I believe that the word “circus” should be left to ordinary interpretation. It is already in use in the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012. If someone believes that they can come up with a perfect definition that has previously been unavailable to legislators, we will of course look at it, but I am not sure that it is as easy as people think it is, and we already have the use of the word “circus” in legislation in the UK.

Understandably, many members, such as David Stewart and Peter Chapman, talked about the balance between welfare and ethics, and I get that point—I understand it. However, I remind people that welfare evidence tends to be species specific, so the welfare requirements of one species are not the same as those of another, whereas ethical arguments apply across the board. Many members veered from welfare concerns to ethical concerns and back again.

I just want to remind people of the timeline. The situation in 2014, when we consulted on the matter, was that the 2007 Radford report had ruled out a welfare-based approach, so we consulted on an ethics-based approach instead. Two years after that came the Dorning report, which is the Welsh report that members mentioned. It provided more up-to-date evidence on welfare concerns for particular species in travelling circuses and other mobile animal exhibits but, as I said, that does not necessarily support a complete prohibition of those uses for all conceivable types of wild animals on welfare grounds alone.

If wide-ranging, accurate, detailed and robust welfare evidence had been available when we started working on the issue—I have to push back a little on the notion that the bill has somehow come out of the blue and we are rushing it through, as we consulted on the matter in 2014—perhaps we would have taken things forward on the basis of secondary legislation under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006. We could perhaps have followed that slightly different route if the welfare approach had not become too complicated because of the different species that are involved. However, I do not detect any desire on the part of stakeholders to delay a ban any further, and I do not believe that there is any need to do that, as the ethical arguments that have been put forward in support of the ban are valid.

I will conclude, Presiding Officer, to be on the safe side with you. We have seen successive Westminster Governments commit to a ban such as this and then be unable to see it through, for whatever reason. Perhaps that addresses some of the concerns that have been raised today. I am proud of the work that this Parliament has done to progress the issue this far.

I am conscious that I have not covered all the points that members raised. Some talked about the late arrival of our response, but I point out to members that we did not receive the final report until 22 September, so we have had to turn it round in quite a short timeframe.

In all truth, the practical impact of the bill will be minimal. There are no travelling circuses with wild animals based in Scotland, none has visited for some time and none is likely to visit in the future. The bill lays down an important and symbolic marker on how we value and treat all our animals. I commend the bill to the Scottish Parliament.

On a point of order, Presiding Officer, like John Scott, I should have declared that I am an honorary member of the British Veterinary Association. It was an oversight for which I apologise, not least because I quoted the BVA in my remarks.

Thank you for that helpful clarification.