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5 October 2017, 17:39
Legislation to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses has passed an initial vote at the Scottish Parliament.
MSPs voted unanimously to back the general principles of the Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (Scotland) Bill which would make Scotland the first part of the UK to enact such a ban.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said using animals in this manner was "morally objectionable to the people of Scotland" and rejected concerns that the Bill, if passed, would lead to animal shows such as birds of prey displays and penguin parades becoming illegal.
She highlighted a 2014 public consultation in which 98% of respondents backed a ban on wild animals being used in performances.
In a stage-one debate at Holyrood, she said: "Most people now consider it outdated and morally wrong to make wild animals perform tricks that they would not perform naturally or to display them in an unnatural environment simply to entertain the viewing public.
"This is animals as entertainment commodity rather than as sentient beings."
Tories and Labour both backed the proposals but raised concerns about the Bill's definition of a wild animal and claimed there was currently no definition of what a circus is.
Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said: "Strangely for a Bill all about circuses, the bill chooses not to define the word circus."
He warned the legislation as it stands could risk criminalising events with animals that "have a good track record of animal welfare", such as the presence of reindeer at Christmas markets.
Holyrood's Environment Committee warned in a report the legislation in its current form is "at risk of not fully addressing the issues it has been proposed to cover and capturing animal performances it had not intended to".
The committee agreed to the general principles of the Bill but has said it will only achieve its aims if it implements a list of recommendations such as tightening the definition both of "circus" and "wild animal".
Mr Cameron went on criticise the Government for not responding to the committee's report on the general principles behind the Bill until the morning of the debate, accusing the Government of lacking "respect".
Labour's David Stewart echoed these concerns and stressed that a definition of circuses should be "included in the face of the Bill" but said overall it was the "right direction for animal welfare".
Ms Cunningham said fears over definitions were "unfounded" and the definitions of both phrases were clear, the former through common public understanding and the latter via earlier legislation.
She added: "The Bill before you will not stop the use of domestic animals in travelling circuses such as dogs and horses or the use of wild animals in displays in static circuses, zoos or at public galleries.
"Penguin parades at zoos, birds of prey demonstrations at fairs and reindeer displays will not be affected."