LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Jim Fitzpatrick circus animals ban update

Endangered Lion Act
Britain's last big cat act, presented by
Thomas Chipperfield at Peter Jolly's Circus

The question of animals in the circus just won’t go away. With the Government failing to deliver its long-promised - or threatened - Wild Animals in the Circus Bill in the current parliamentary session, Labour backbencher Jim Fitzpatrick hopes to hasten a ban with a private members bill introduced under the ten minute rule on September 3.

The bill was due for a second reading in parliament on Friday but the second reading was postponed until October 17 -  and thanks to an objection by circus-supporting Andrew Rosindell MP, has now been pushed back to November 21 - so if you want your local MP to oppose a ban, get writing to him and her now and let them know you want to support a Great British tradition.

(Click here for 7 November update on the second reading.)

The 10 minute rule allows any MP to propose a piece of legislation for future debate. Most never progress to law, but a rare few do. Since 1945, sixty acts of parliament have become law after originally being introduced under the 10 minute rule. The most recent was the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002.

In most cases, however, MPs know private members bills stand little chance and introduce them purely as a way of gaining publicity for their chosen cause.

In this instance, leading animal rights campaigners Animal Defenders International (ADI) have leapt on Fitzpatrick’s announcement by issuing a press release that says the Government are still fully behind a ban.

Click here to read the 100 year historyof attempts to ban animals from British circuses
According to the release, ADI president Jan Creamer this week received a letter from the Prime Minister which stated, “While the recent Queen’s Speech did not contain the Government’s proposed Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, let me reassure you that it remains our position that the use of wild animal acts in travelling circuses is an outdated practice and that we will introduce a ban as soon as Parliamentary time allows.”

The communication from David Cameron was in response to a letter signed by ADI and 75 celebrity and political campaigners including Eddie Izzard, Julian Clary, Moby, Michaela Strachan, Brian Blessed, conservationist and former MEP Stanley Johnson and social change campaigner Peter Tatchell, urging the Government to bring forward legislation to ban wild animals in circuses. On the day it was presented, in April, the press release claims, the Prime Minister confirmed to the ADI deputation, “We’re going to do it.”

But would ADI be wise to believe anything a politician says when their promises are so often different from their actions?

Update: November 7: Circus Bill blocked again.
Jim Fitzpatrick made another attempt to get his circus bill read again this afternoon. This time it was blocked by another Conservative MP, Christopher Chope. Fitzpatrick will try again on November 21. But is there a limit to the number of times he can keep bringing his bill to Parliament, or will the issue be brought to the Commons and blocked every few weeks from now until the next election? Sounds to me like it's becoming more of a pantomime than a circus...

"Circus Madness"

And can we take anything seriously about an ADI press release? ADI were responsible for the undercover films that led to the conviction of chimp trainer Mary Chipperfield 15 years ago and more recently, Bobby Roberts, who’s groom was filmed abusing Britain’s last circus elephant, Anne.

Tsavo the lion relaxes backstage
at Peter Jolly's Circus - and perhaps wonders
what the animal rights protesters are
on about.
But ADI’s most recent claim, that the big cats on Peter Jolly’s Circus were displaying ‘stereotypic behaviour’ or ‘circus madness’ suggested the only ‘circus madness’ being displayed was in the hysteria of the protesters.

Film shot backstage at Jolly’s showed lions pacing in their cages, but no more than you might expect if they were about to be fed - and it is when the cats are fed, after the evening’s show, that members of the public would be most likely to be wandering backstage with a camera. It also showed one of the lions freely stepping from its “tiny cell” into a generous exercise enclosure.

The ‘expose’ was such a non-story that only one paper, the Daily Express, ran it.

The rest of the ADI press release tried to stir outrage by reporting:

Protest or publicity?
took this picture of animals in the ring
at Peter Jolly's Circus
- Would this image put you off going,
or make you more likely to buy a ticket?
“Animal acts in the ring included a fox being made to ‘ride’ on the back of a donkey, and a ‘parade’ featuring the ankole, camel and zebra. For the big cat act, two tigers and a lion were made to sit on their hind legs and jump between podiums. A tiger was also made to sit upright on a glitter ball, and a lion ‘kiss’ Thomas Chipperfield.

“During the interval, children were invited to ride on the camel and photo opportunities were provided with the snakes. Camels are known to be difficult to handle and transport, and as a result of their size, strength, mobility and aggressiveness, they can be dangerous, with the ability to inflict fatal injuries. Meanwhile, snakes are known carriers of salmonella, which is of particular risk to pregnant women, the elderly and young children – the latter were documented posing with the animals.”

Hang on a minute. A fox riding on a donkey? A parade featuring an ankole, zebra and camel? A lion kissing its trainer? Camel rides for kids and photo opportunities with snakes?

Sounds more like an advert for the circus than a protest against it.

I’d go and see a show that included those things. In fact, I did. Click here to read my review of Peter Jolly’s Circus.

I was brought up to believe that the idea of performing animals was wrong. But when I became fascinated by the bravery of human circus daredevils, and decided to write my book, Circus Mania, I realised I had to go to some of Britain’s last traditional circuses with animals because that’s where the history of the entertainment lay. Read about my experiences in Circus Mania, the book the Mail on Sunday described as “a brilliant account of a vanishing art form.”

Click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.

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