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OneKind has lobbied Scottish Government and Members of the Scottish Parliament on this issue since the passage of the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006.  In our response to the consultation on the Bill in 2004, we sought a ban on all animal circuses, although the current petition concerns wild animals only. 

The current petition was launched when evidence emerged of the serious abuse of an elderly, arthritic elephant, Anne, and other animals in a circus which regularly toured central and southern Scotland.  This abuse was exposed in an undercover investigation by Animal Defenders International, and the resultant outcry led the circus to re-home the two animals.  However, under current legislation the circus could still legally acquire more wild animals, and other circuses continue to tour the UK with wild animals.

OneKind has corresponded with Scottish local authorities about their licensing policies and their land use policies regarding circuses with wild animals.  Following a judicial review in 1989 (Gerry Cottle’s Circus v City of Edinburgh District Council 1990 SLT 235 DC), councils have taken the view that they are not permitted to refuse a licence to a circus simply because it uses wild animals.  OneKind believes that councils could in fact refuse licences for any relevant reason that can be justified, so long as it is not a blanket policy-based ban.  This position would be strengthened following the passage of the 2006 Act.  However, we have not found any council that wished to test these issues.  

OneKind has raised legal and animal welfare considerations several times when objecting to licence applications by the Bobby Roberts’ Super Circus, which owned the elephant and a camel, and regularly visits Scotland. In all cases the licensing panels granted the applications although some made it a condition that the wild animals should not be used in performance.  OneKind monitoring showed this condition being breached on several occasions.

OneKind inquiries also indicated that the circus did not always make accurate declarations on its licence applications regarding the elephant and the camel. This meant that an outside party (OneKind) had to ensure that the information was known to the council, which is clearly unsatisfactory. 

Following representations by OneKind, other animal welfare groups and local residents about the use of animals in circuses, some councils now invoke their freedom as landlords to choose who should have the use of their land.  Around a dozen have a policy of not letting land to circuses with wild animals, or, in a few cases, any animals.  Unfortunately in the experience of OneKind, not all parts of all councils are fully aware of their land use policies, and it can be difficult to persuade officials of the need to enforce these. We therefore believe that a national solution is required.

OneKind has received support on this issue from a number of Members including Elaine Murray MSP who introduced a Member’s Debate on the use of wild animals in circuses on 9 June 2011.  OneKind, the Born Free Foundation and the Captive Animals’ Protection Society circulated a joint briefing to Members for this debate.

The Scottish Government has indicated that it is considering legal advice on the possibility of a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. Responding to Written Questions in 2008 and 2009, Richard Lochhead MSP, the Cabinet Secretary responsible for animal welfare, said that he could not introduce secondary legislation under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 to outlaw circuses using wild animals as there was no scientific evidence of welfare problems.  The Cabinet Secretary was referring to the report of the UK government working party on circuses (the Radford report).  However, the Radford report did not in fact examine all of the scientific evidence as the terms of reference set for it by the UK government excluded the fundamental issues of training and performance. OneKind believes therefore that evidence exists which has not been assessed.

The Radford report also discussed (paragraph 8.3.2) the options for primary legislation, saying that Parliament (the UK Parliament) would not then be confined to taking account of the scientific evidence. It could legitimately give consideration to ethical issues and public opinion, and attach greater weight to the interests of the animals involved.

We are concerned that supposed legal constraints might stand in the way of progress on a serious animal welfare and ethical issue and, while we await the Scottish Government’s decision, we feel it is essential to demonstrate the strength of public feeling against these outmoded and inhumane entertainments.  We therefore request the Public Petitions Committee to bring the matter to the attention of the wider Scottish Parliament for full consideration.