Stop Circus Suffering

Government blocks access to circus inspection reports

‘Plans for a licensing regime are doomed to failure’

Great British Circus tiger

Animal Defenders International has accused the Government of a lack of transparency and using blocking tactics in their refusal to allow access to Government circus inspection reports, conducted in 2008 and 2009.

ADI, together with MPs Fiona O‘Donnell, Caroline Lucas and Gavin Shuker have been pressing Defra to release the reports conducted by Defra vets as they would contain information crucial to the public interest, as the Government is now considering a licensing and inspection regime for wild animals in circuses, in place of the ban recommended by all animal welfare groups and overwhelmingly supported by Parliament.

Defra refuses to be transparent

ADI has submitted a series of freedom of information requests, but Defra has repeatedly refused to be transparent about the information they are relying upon to make their decisions about their proposed licensing regime. The Government’s refusal to share the contents of these reports is depriving both stakeholders and the public of the opportunity to consult with the Government, or challenge Defra’s conclusions.

Jan Creamer, ADI’s Chief Executive said:

“The Government is now bullying us over this issue. These reports are vital to inform any decisions made about licensing proposals and would provide the opportunity for an open, public debate. Now more than ever, when the Government is ignoring public and parliamentary opinion on this issue, there needs to be access to the information they are using, and an open debate. At least one circus has already published parts of one of the reports, so it’s one rule for the circus industry and another for everyone else.

“Refusal to allow access to inspection reports will prevent concerned stakeholders and independent experts from reviewing the scope, criteria used and overall quality of the inspections, and thus public confidence in the system will be undermined.

“This blocking of information has reached farcical proportions this week, when Defra had invited us to a meeting to discuss their proposals and then refused to allow us to see the proposals beforehand.”

The Government’s arguments for keeping the reports secret are weak – they have cited confidentiality, health and safety, and even the extraordinary conclusion that the reports could potentially invite attacks against circus operators – when during this time, at least one circus has already published parts of one of the reports.

MPs’ attempts to access reports meet with resistance

In recent weeks, Fiona O’Donnell MP, Caroline Lucas MP and Gavin Shuker MP have all asked parliamentary questions in an attempt to obtain access to these reports but the Minister Jim Paice MP continues to resist. Other parliamentary questions continue to be tabled to maintain pressure for access to these reports and ADI is grateful to all of those politicians who are standing firmly behind their ‘Stop Circus Suffering’ campaign.

Fiona O’ Donnell MP for East Lothian and Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responsible of the issue of wild animals in circuses said:

“Given that Defra has continued its plans to enact a licensing system to regulate the use of wild animals in circuses, it has an enhanced responsibility to place all relevant information, including the circus inspection reports, in the public domain so that they can be properly scrutinised and discussed which is clearly in the public interest.”

What have they got to hide?

Gavin Shuker, Labour MP for Luton South and Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:

“Defra says that it carried out these inspections to evaluate whether an inspection regime can work, but without transparency, no system can work. Refusing to release this information will lead many to ask ‘What have they got to hide?’.

“Without knowing the methodology, criteria and outcome of inspections, the public and parliament will never know if the licensing system that this government has invented can safeguard animal welfare.”

Condoning the unacceptable abuse of animals

And Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion Vice Chair of the Animal Welfare APPG, said:

“Defra’s refusal to allow access to the circus inspection reports does nothing to address public concerns about transparency and accountability on this issue. These documents must be opened up to scrutiny. Furthermore, by refusing to enact an outright ban on the use of wild animals in UK circuses, the Government is effectively condoning the unacceptable abuse of animals – and totally ignoring public opinion.”

This latest development follows the Commons backbench debate in June, this year where MPs unanimously approved a motion directing the government to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. Shortly after the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that he was ‘minded’ to ban.

Inspection system doomed to failure

ADI has recently released previously unpublished evidence of the failure of inspections to detect animal suffering in circuses. The ‘Out of Control’ report provides clear evidence that an inspection system is doomed to failure. The lack of access to previous inspection reports confirms that a statutory licensing system that lacks transparency and accountability will perpetuate the suffering of wild animals and will also fail. View the report here.

An ADI investigation into the winter quarters of Bobby Roberts Super Circus this year revealed a staggeringly high level of violence and serious animal husbandry flaws. Incidents included Anne, an elderly, severely arthritic 57 year old elephant, being hit with a metal pitchfork and kicked around the face and body 48 times over the period of observation by workers, who are also seen beating and spitting on a camel and beating miniature ponies and horses on numerous occasions.

At the request of ADI, and given enormous public concern over the case, the Director of Public Prosecutions has agreed that the Crown Prosecution Service take over proceedings with the case to be heard in June 2012.

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