THIS afternoon the House of Commons is expected to pave the way for a debate on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, leading ultimately to a ban in December next year.
The Wild Animals in Circuses Bill is being introduced as a Ten Minute Rule Bill by Glasgow-born Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, a former Minister at the department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). If the Bill is unopposed a second reading could take place on a forthcoming Friday.
At least that is the hope of pressure group Animal Defenders International (AID), a spokesman for which said: "We have heard that MPs will allow it to be debated. One MP could block it, but we don't know of anyone intending to do that.
"The Government has been promising this since 2012 but they have been dragging their heels."
Last summer a Defra committee recommended that the Government reconsider it's plan to legislate for a total ban on wild circus animals and instead introduce a proscribed list of animals used in travelling circuses.
For example, big cats and elephants would not be allowed, but snakes, zebras, camels and raccoons would be. The Government rejected this proposal, re-stating its intention to bring in a blanket ban:
"The issue that the Government has been asked to address is not the number of wild animals used in travelling circuses nor their species, but the fact that they are used at all."
Were there a ban on circus animals in place Circus Mondao would be putting on a very different show over the next week-and-a-half at Leaventhorpe Hall, Thornton Road. As things stand, Circus Mondao is licensed by Defra to use the horses, camels, llamas, reindeer and zebras in its show which also includes acrobats and aerial performers.
Petra Jackson, the circus ring mistress, has publicly responded to objectors by declaring: "Our animals are in tip-top condition. We get complimented about the high standard of our animal welfare. We are inspected on a regular basis, about seven times a year."
Sixteen years ago in September, 1998, Bradford Council registered its disapproval of the arrival of Circus King on farm land at Cottingley by authorising officers to remove dozens of posters advertising the show.
What made the council show its claws was the presence in the circus of Fred, described at the time as the country's last circus bear. The council had already banned animal circuses from using council-owned land. It was the first local authority in West Yorkshire to take that step.
Councillor Barry Thorne, the-then chairman of the council's Leisure Services Committee, said: "I have joined picket lines in protest at circuses which use wild animals and I'd like to see the law changed to ban them."
A year ago the number of licensed circus wild animals totalled 20. The AID spokesman said of the circuses now touring the UK - 25 to 30 of them - only two had wild animals: Circus Mondao and Peter Jolly's Circus. The last circus to use big cats was Great British Circus.
With the growing popularity of alternative circuses such as Cirque du Soliel, the idea of animals being put through their paces or made to do tricks for the entertainment of the public appears to be losing its appeal although the popularity of keeping fierce dogs as domestic pets or deterrents does not seem to be declining.
Animal Defenders International, founded 1990 with offices in London, Los Angeles and Bogota, aims to raise awareness about all forms of cruelty to animals, alleviate suffering and protect animals in their natural environment.
It has attracted a number of entertainers to its cause: Ricky Gervaise, Dame Judi Dench and Brian Blessed among them. Dame Judi said: "It is unbelievable that there is still no ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. Twenty-seven countries around the world have taken this action, so why haven't we?"
Bearded Brian Blessed intends to lend his considerable voice to the campaign by joining the outside Parliament today. He said: "I fully support ADI and Jim Fitzpatrick in their efforts to make wild animal circuses a thing of the past.
"It's about time the Government stopped making promises and started taking action for our animals. Let's do the right thing and ban this practice now."
Once again the Government is under pressure to make this reality. Failure to start this process today via the Ten Minute Rule Bill would only serve to give David Cameron and Nick Clegg another unwanted bone of contention.