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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 January 2006, 22:34 GMT
Animal bill 'won't kill circuses'
Circus dog
Campaigners say making animals perform is cruel
New animal welfare laws will not destroy circuses, Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett has insisted.

The Animal Welfare Bill, debated in the Commons on Tuesday, includes harsher fines of up to 20,000 and jail terms of up to 51 weeks for cruelty.

It does not ban animals performing in circuses, but some claim the bill could eventually result in such a move.

Mrs Beckett said it was "not our intention to sort of use this as an excuse to ban circuses".

'Genuine concerns'

She added: "If we thought circuses should be banned then that is something we would do in the bill.

"We are basically trying to make sure that the concerns people have, genuine concerns, can be addressed."

Under the bill, the minimum age for buying a pet would rise from 12 to 16.

Welfare groups say legislation does not go far enough and should also ban the docking of dogs' tails for cosmetic reasons and animals performing in circuses.

Ringmaster and circus consultant Chris Bartlop told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are concerned that the surface intention of the government may actually be altered later on and this may be a way of trying to ban performing animals in circuses completely.

"That will be a great fear because that legislation, if it comes to pass, would go against not simply those emotive caged animals - the image that is always presented - but it would stop circuses having horses and dogs and simple domestic animals as well and that would kill off the circus completely."

Mrs Beckett said: "Very few circuses still have animal acts. Our understanding is there are only about seven, and only three of those have what you might consider wild animals."

The bill, published last October, makes owners in England and Wales legally liable for their pets' welfare.

It represents the first overhaul of pet law in 94 years.

The bill gained its second reading without a vote in the Commons on Tuesday.


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