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Minister admits previous comments incorrect on status of Austrian legal proceedings

Government accused of further inaccuracies regarding delayed court proceedings

Government have been accused of misleading the public once again today, with the claim that the Austrian court proceedings are active, but have been delayed. This is incorrect and the legal action was never filed, a fact which has been confirmed by The Austrian Constitutional Court, says Animal Defenders International.

In a highly charged Commons debate that lasted over twenty minutes this morning, the Defra Minister Jim Paice MP was put under intense pressure to explain the Government's position by politicians from all parties. He admitted that his comments made regarding the legal case were incorrect.

In addition, he stated that the Austrian court proceedings had been delayed, although a case is in preparation.

The Minister also said that Government remained convinced that a licensing regime to protect wild animals in circuses was the most effective way forward, which only served to rally the chamber even further to attack Government's position.

ADI, politicians, veterinary organisations and celebrities have expressed their grave concerns regarding Government's handling of this issue and the declaration that they still seem intent on pressing ahead with the proposals for a licensing regime.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of ADI said: "ADI revealed yesterday, at a meeting with the minister, that there was no legal challenge involving the Austrian Government's circus ban under EU law. We're pleased that the Government has at least admitted that the initial comments made were incorrect. However, it is now being claimed that these court proceedings have been delayed, with a case in preparation. The fact is that there has been no movement whatsoever on the proposed court case in question since 2009, therefore they really are clutching at straws. This issue has been avoided for far too long now.

"The Government needs to stop pontificating and get on with implementing a ban, which is what the public wants, politicians want, and animal welfare groups want. There have been more expos�s of the brutality of the circus industry in the UK than any country in the world. It's time to be a strong and decisive Government and do the right thing to protect animals from suffering."

BVA President Harvey Locke said: "The British Veterinary Association is dismayed to learn that the Government made a misguided decision without first checking the full facts of the legal challenge in the Austrian Courts. But on the positive side there is nothing that now stands in the way of introducing a complete ban on wild animals in travelling circuses and we would urge the Government to evaluate the situation urgently in light of this new information."

Mary Creagh, Labour Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary said during the debate that the "Defra big top is spinning out of control", and was "an all signing and all dancing disaster."

Conservative MP and Chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare Neil Parish said: "There is evidence to suggest that there is no pending case involving Austria under EU law. The Government should review the advice it has been given and urgently issue a statement about this case, and once this is confirmed should move to a ban on wild animals in circuses as soon as possible".

Conservative MP and Secretary of the 1922 Committee Mark Pritchard said: "If the claims about the absence of a live court case in Austria are true the government will not only need to inform Parliament but also re-examine the whole basis on which it has 'ruled out' a ban on the ongoing use of wild animals in circuses, and, instead has 'ruled in' a costly and complex licensing regime. The development of a possible legal case by the circus industry could take months, and even longer to be heard in a court, meanwhile animals are suffering."

And Brian Blessed, the revered actor, author, and great supporter of ADI said: "Now this new information has come to the fore, Government now needs to do the honourable thing and implement a ban as soon as possible to prevent further animal suffering. We have presented them with strong evidence and now proved that no legal challenge exists in Austria. It is now time for them to get on with it and ban the use of wild animals in circuses - period."

The Government also reiterated that a ban might be illegal under EU law and added, to the disbelief of the House, that a ban may be in breach of the Human Rights Act. These suggestions were received with amusement and bewilderment by MPs and seen as a blatant excuse.

The Austrian ban has been firmly in place for over 6 years and other European countries such as Denmark have implemented similar bans without challenge. Countries such as Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Poland, Portugal and Sweden all have similar legislation with restrictions.

The debate can be watched at: newsid_9490000/9490875.stm

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