Circus animals ban 'may be blocked'

13 May 2011, 10:56 | Updated: 13 May 2011, 10:58

MPs have been warned the government may not be able to ban animals from circuses because of European laws.

There was a public outcry earlier this year when undercover footage emerged of a 59-year-old elephant called Anne being beaten with a pitchfork in her small, metal compound.

Arthritic Anne, owned by Bobby Roberts Super Circus in Northamptonshire, was later freed and taken to Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire to see out her days in a 13-acre paddock.

The case led to calls for wild animals to be banned in British circuses and was raised on Thursday 12 May 2011 in the Commons, with Labour's Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) urging Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman to "find it in her heart'' to back a campaign calling for such a ban.

Mrs Spelman said: "Every member of this House can find it in their heart, of course they can.

"We all read newspaper reports about the terrible suffering of Anne the elephant, and I'm very glad she is being spared and has a new and far more enjoyable home.''

But she blamed European rules for delaying, and possibly blocking, a UK ban on the controversial spectacles.

"The fact is...there is a court case under way where the Austrian Government has been taken to court by a German circus company because of a breach of the European Union services directive,'' said Mrs Spelman.

"It would be irresponsible for any government to recommend something that is presently under legal dispute.''

Speaking at Environment questions, Labour's Gavin Shuker (Luton South) said: "It has been suggested there will be enhanced inspections rather than a ban on wild animals in circuses.

"Latest consultations showed 94% of respondents favoured a ban. An independent petition has attracted nearly 15,000 signatures in the past week.''

He accused the Government of ``drift, dither and delay''.

But Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said: ``Whether we like it or not, there is the court case going on in Europe and therefore the British Government could not bring forward a proposal which may prove shortly to be unlawful.''

He added: "Our government can hardly recommend something that may not be legal.''

But Mr Paice said plans due to be announced later this year would be "tough enough to ensure animal welfare in circuses is properly protected''.