Mention was also made in the opening speech of the Scottish Government’s position. My understanding is that the new Scottish Government are sympathetic to a ban. However, when I questioned the previous Scottish Government last year on their position, they said that they were awaiting the results of the DEFRA consultation.

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Securing a vote today and, for once, taking the lead on this issue would not just send a powerful message to England and Wales, but would be helpful to colleagues in the Scottish Parliament who want a ban enacted there.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): The hon. Lady may also be aware that colleagues have tabled a motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly on banning wild animals in circuses, but when I corresponded with the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development I was told that the Department was looking to DEFRA to take a lead and establish the principle.

Cathy Jamieson: The hon. Lady makes a valid point. The devolved Administrations have powers that they can use, but on issues such as this, which are important across the UK, it is important that DEFRA Ministers show leadership.

I understand that the Minister may be in a difficult position. It is always difficult if a Minister has strongly held personal views but the advice that they receive—legal advice, or advice from others in the Department or civil servants, or even from higher up their political party—does not correspond with those views. I hope that the strength of feeling shown across the House today will give the Minister the opportunity to give us hope that the Government might be able to move if this vote is passed. That is certainly what my constituents who have been writing to me all week expect. We have a consensus building in the public’s mind. It is time to show a consensual approach and, come voting time, to ensure that this afternoon’s vote is registered in support of public opinion, the organisations that have campaigned over many years and, most of all, the animals who would otherwise continue to be at risk.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. As the House can see, several Members are still trying to speak. The wind-ups will start at half-past 5, so if Members can show restraint and reduce their five minutes themselves—perhaps to three and a half minutes—everybody might get in.

5.7 pm

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): I will try to be brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on calling this debate, which gives me the opportunity to introduce the House to Donkey, who is a Barbary macaque who now lives in my constituency—if Members want to see what he looks like, I would be happy to show them afterwards.

Donkey’s story is not a happy one. Caught as a youngster and smuggled into Europe from Morocco, probably via Spain, Donkey wound up as a circus performer. Donkey suffered years of abuse in the circus, where he was beaten and forced to perform in front of large crowds. He was castrated, to avoid him becoming aggressive towards his captors, and denied the company of others of his kind, which causes immense mental and emotional suffering in all primates. All primates are highly social animals. Maternal deprivation is known not only to hinder psychological development, but to

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have physiological consequences, such as abnormal brain development. Donkey displays all those damaging signs: he has very poor social skills and is underdeveloped for a monkey of his age.

Donkey will never be able to return to the wild, owing to the damage he has sustained, but he now lives with friends of his own species. I hope that in time Donkey will be able to live a fairly fulfilled life in my constituency, at the Wild Futures monkey sanctuary near Looe. I would like to give a quick plug to the monkey sanctuary, which does fantastic work. If hon. Members are down our way during the recess, they should pop in and see the sanctuary, because Donkey and all his friends would love to see them. More importantly, the entrance fee and donations will feed him and other rescued primates at the centre.

Please remember Donkey, and the message that he cannot bring to the debate himself. It is time to ban wild animals in all circuses, so that the terrible life that Donkey has suffered need not be repeated. This is why I will support the motion.

5.10 pm

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who has spoken up for animals such as Donkey that cannot speak up for themselves. It is also a pleasure to speak in this important debate, and I congratulate the hon. Members for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and for Colchester (Bob Russell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on bringing it before the House. There is overwhelming public support for the introduction of a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, and it is crucial that we have a vote on this motion today. I am pleased to hear from the hon. Member for The Wrekin that there is to be a free vote across the whole House. That is what the country is asking for on this issue, and it is what the country should have.

There are only three circuses left in the UK that use wild animals in performances. It has been recognised that to use them for human entertainment is unethical and unjustifiable, and that it should therefore be opposed. The previous Government consulted the country on a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses in 2009, and the consultation closed in March 2010. It received more than 10,000 responses, 94.5% of which supported a ban. That illustrates the extent of public opinion, which has been reflected in our postbags over the past couple of weeks.

Ian Mearns (Gateshead) (Lab): I have received just one item of correspondence from someone who is against a ban—he is not a constituent of mine; he was writing from an address in Dorset—but I have had hundreds of e-mails and letters from my constituents calling for a ban.

Nic Dakin: I have received no correspondence opposing a ban. Indeed, we have heard from only one Member this afternoon adopting a different point of view. It is good that that point of view has been aired, because it is important in democratic debates that all points of view are heard.

I am particularly pleased to see a good turnout of Lib Dems for this debate. I suspect that they feel a certain empathy with circus animals, as an endangered

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species being kept against their will for the entertainment of others.




But this is a serious issue, and if the motion is carried today, the Government should listen to hon. Members on both sides of the House and to members of the public. They should listen to what the British people are saying, and they should stop clowning about and introduce a ban on wild animals in circuses.

5.13 pm

Angie Bray (Ealing Central and Acton) (Con): As a child, I used to get rather excited by the prospect of a visit to the circus; one reason was that I wanted to see all the exotic animals that I could not normally get close to, apart from those that I saw in zoos, which in those days were rather caged affairs. Obviously, however, things have changed. We are all now entertained by brilliant films on TV and in cinemas that contain amazing footage of wild animals in their natural habitat. Most zoos are made to look rather boring in comparison with what David Attenborough shows us. Thanks to many animal welfare associations, we are also much better educated about world wildlife and how it should be treated. For those who really want to see wildlife close up, let us not forget the modern tourist industry. People can save up their pennies and take themselves off on a safari or a trip to the rainforest. These are the ways in which we can see wild animals at their best, and there really is no excuse or need for wild animals in circuses.

The more we know and understand these magnificent animals, the more we recognise that a circus tent is no place for them. Some of them might have been whipped, goaded or herded into their rather pathetic performances. I can still remember from my visits to the circus that when the lions and other big animals came in, extra security was immediately put on and a man with a whip, if not a chair, would appear. That tells us everything that we need to know. Of course these animals are not safe in the circus environment; they have to be controlled. Of course they cannot be relied on to relax and enjoy themselves; they are in an unnatural environment, surrounded on all sides by human beings, of whom they are instinctively frightened. Frankly, these animals’ continued presence in the circus ring, even if there are only about 39 of them, diminishes us all.

I know that some will argue that some animals are not, in fact, wild because they were born in captivity. We heard that this afternoon, but I do not see what difference that makes. A lion or an elephant still has natural instincts; it still needs proper space to move around in, and being driven around the country for much of the year in the back of a van is no place for these animals.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that introducing a firm ban with a firm date means that no new animals will be brought into circuses and that the circus owners will be put on notice that those currently operating in circuses will need to be retired to appropriate circumstances that suit their needs?

Angie Bray: I certainly agree that we need a ban, although I am just a little worried about whether the time frame is practical; I will come back to that issue later, if I may.

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I want to put it on record that I am not in favour of banning all animals from circuses. I think that some of the more domesticated animals—dogs and ponies spring to mind—thoroughly enjoy themselves. I recall going to a charming little circus in France where a farmer, his wife, their two children, a goat and a dog held us all spellbound for about an hour. I can say that that dog and goat had a good time, getting a treat every time they did something brilliant. We know that there is room for some animals; it is the big wild animals that are the problem.

In conclusion, I want a ban on wild animals in circuses. I recognise, however, that there might be certain legal obstacles to getting that straight away. A time frame of one year is perhaps a little impractical. I am not an expert on EU law, but I know that before a ban of this sort could be introduced, there would have to be consultation and a way would have to found to re-home these 39 animals. That is why I intend to abstain this evening. However, I also put the Government on notice that I want to see a ban and want them to do whatever they must to introduce a ban as practicably as they can.

5.17 pm

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): As the third signatory to this motion, I would like to congratulate my colleagues, the hon. Members for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on their positive speeches. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for his bravery in the lion’s den, as the only Member thus far to speak against the motion. That takes courage, and I congratulate him on that.

I detect the fingerprints of No. 10 Downing street on this. I have tabled a parliamentary question and I await the written answer with great interest. Opposing live animal acts in circuses is something that I first got involved with on 15 May 1971, when, as a borough councillor of 48 hours, I was contacted by Mr Murphy of Barrack street who urged me to get circuses banned from Colchester. I put that to the council, but I was a lone voice and nothing happened. A few years later, however, Colchester became one of the first local authorities in the country to ban circuses from its land and buildings. Unfortunately, we need a nationwide Government ban, because we still have a landowner in the town who I regret to say allows his land to be used for circuses. Circuses are barbaric; they have no place in a civilised society of the 21st century.

Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and briefly congratulate him on his long-standing work on this and other animal protection issues. I would also like to say that many of our councils led the way, but do not have quite enough power, as my hon. Friend said. I think we should therefore move on this issue as soon as possible.

Bob Russell: I am grateful for those comments.

To follow up the issue of what happens to the remaining 39 circus animals, I am pretty confident that this country’s zoos will be ready and available to accommodate them. Colchester zoo took in three elephants from a circus, and Rolf Harris was there to open the spirit of Africa enclosure . The bull elephant was particularly pleased because he was then put with four cows, which he had to look after. He was very happy.

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There are circuses that we can support, however, such as the Chinese and Moscow state circuses, as well as small local circuses involving just a few people. The Netherlands national circus is currently performing in Ipswich, then next week in Lowestoft and the week after that in Colchester, and I intend to be there, subject to confirmation that it is, indeed, animal free as I am advised.

5.20 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I support the motion as it is high time we banned animals in circuses. I have been worried about the stance that has been taken and I am glad the Government Whips have now given us a free vote on this, because animal welfare is a moral issue and Members on both sides of the House want a ban on wild animals in circuses.

The plank of the Government’s argument relating to Austria is fragile, and I fear that it might be sawn off at some stage. I would prefer us to take a much firmer stance by going for a ban and letting somebody challenge it if they want to, because I do not think that anybody will do so.

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): Given the position my hon. Friend has set out, why has he decided to be the lead signatory to the amendment to the motion? If my understanding is correct, the amendment would have prevented any ban from being introduced until some supposed EU legal issue was resolved.

Neil Parish: I will deal with that later, but I have previously stated that we should challenge the court ruling in the Austria case.

There has been too much talk today about the process of government and who is to blame and who is not to blame, instead of getting to grips with the welfare issues of animals in circuses. If we do have to take note of the case in Austria—

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): My hon. Friend talks about process, but does he not agree that the best thing to do is vote in favour of the motion and get the ban put in place, job done?

Neil Parish: Yes, but putting the ban in place will take a little while, so meanwhile we should consider certain animal welfare issues. The conditions endured by circus animals when being transported are totally wrong. The conditions need to be greatly improved. There must be much more comprehensive inspection of that, which would lead to much greater costs on such circuses. Therefore, a great deal of pressure can be applied in the meantime, before we introduce a ban.

I may disagree with the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell), but in a democracy he has the right to raise them. He talked about the fact that many of these animals have performed for many years. They will need to be rehabilitated and found homes, so let us use the time available to good effect in that regard.

We want the Government to listen to the arguments on a total ban. I do not know what the Minister is going to say, but I would like him to say that the Government have thought again and that they are minded to introduce

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a ban in the future. That is what we want. In this day and age, we cannot have wild animals in circuses. Many of us also know about the pain that can be caused by the amount of training those animals are put through and the way in which they are trained to perform in unnatural ways.

Mr Dodds: The hon. Gentleman has not yet answered the question put to him by the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) about how he reconciles his current stated position with his position as the leading signatory to the amendment.

Neil Parish: Perhaps I am being criticised for taking a pragmatic view on this. I want a ban and the only reason for the amendment was that the requirement in the motion that a ban would have to be in place in 12 months might not have settled the legal situation. We do not want to give the Government an excuse not to move towards a ban.

Mark Pritchard: To which legal cases is my hon. Friend referring? There are currently none in England, the United Kingdom or in European law. There is only one possible case in Austria. Is he, as a former Member of the European Parliament and allegedly a Eurosceptic, suggesting that we should wait for the decisions of domestic courts in other capitals, let alone in European courts, before making our own decisions in this country?

Neil Parish: I covered that point at the beginning of my speech when I said that the case in Austria is not a good one on which to put the whole plank of the Government’s reasons for why we cannot ban the use of wild animals in circuses. As far as I am concerned, the only reason for the amendment was to give the Government time to come forward with a ban. Clearly, there is a move from all parts of the House to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. Now we want to hear from the Minister very clearly what the timetable for that will be, how we are going to deal with the court case and how we will move to a ban as quickly as possible.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. There are four minutes and three speakers left—we must finish by 5.30 pm.

5.26 pm

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I am not a fan of wild animals in circuses, I would not take my children to see them or go myself and I think that the quicker we can move to a situation in which they do not exist the better. I do not even like dancing dogs on Britain’s Got Talent very much—I think it is demeaning for the owner and the dog—so I strongly sympathise with many of the arguments that have been put forward this afternoon. However, what I like even less is taking a populist route because it seems to be the easy one against, sometimes, principle and evidence. We are charged, whether we like it or not, with taking a responsible approach to these things, which is sometimes difficult in the face of overwhelming and well-targeted pressure on us as MPs. It seems to me that we are making this more difficult for ourselves by confusing an argument about ethics and morality with

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one about legal enforceability. This has been complicated by the haunting image of possible challenges in the European Court.

However, let me curtail my contribution. Regulation can work. I simply do not buy the argument that it would somehow open up a Pandora’s box. If we are sensible about regulation, not only can we improve animal welfare standards and move to a situation in which animals in circuses are a thing of the past, but we can do it without putting the taxpayer at risk of having to fork out for a lengthy, time-consuming and very expensive EU challenge. We can do it in reasonably quick time and without the need for primary legislation. The Government were right about this 10 days ago when the Minister spoke in Westminster Hall and nothing has changed in the intervening 10 days. It seems to me that if he is genuine to his word, as I am sure he is, we can achieve everything that everybody in the House wants without all the nonsense, cost and threat to the taxpayer that we have been talking about. I shall be voting against the motion tonight and commending the Government’s approach.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. There are two minutes left. I call Tessa Munt.

5.28 pm

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Nothing short of a ban seems to be the answer to making this absolutely clear. The views of many organisations have been represented in the debate this afternoon, but I would like to pay particular tribute to Virginia McKenna and the Born Free Foundation, who are observing the debate from the Gallery this afternoon.

I want to make two quick points. First, the Government’s proposals for licensing and regulation are still going to be subject to a legal challenge and I do not see how that would be any different. I refer the Minister to an answer to a parliamentary question in the European Parliament that was answered by Commissioner Potocnik. The question was:

“What is the Commission doing to enforce animal welfare standards in European zoos and circuses?”

In his answer, Commissioner Potocnik dealt with the question of zoos and then said quite clearly:

“Circuses are specifically excluded from the scope of the Zoos Directive, and are not covered by any other EU legislation. Therefore, the welfare of circus animals remains the responsibility of the Member States.”

That was at the end of May.

My constituent, Gerry Cottle, ran away at the age of 15 to join the circus, and very successful he has been. I spoke to him yesterday. He said that the circus has moved on and times have changed, and that public opinion was against “the dinosaurs” who use wild animals in circuses. We do not need them. He runs a successful circus without animals, creating good old-fashioned theatre and entertainment.

There is no way that any circus owner could say that banning animals from circuses was a human rights issue because it caused loss of livelihood. Many circuses operate without animals, which is a testament to progress. I support the motion and I trust that the Minister will hear the clamour for a ban both in this place and outside.

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Several hon. Members rose

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I call Mr Gavin Shuker for the Opposition. He has 10 minutes.

5.30 pm

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the hon. Members for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) and for Colchester (Bob Russell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on their work in securing the debate. It is right that it was secured by the Backbench Business Committee, given the depth of feeling on both sides of the House.

It is appropriate to mention some of the Members on the Government Benches who made brave speeches, specifically the hon. Members for Hendon (Mr Offord), for Manchester, Withington (Mr Leech), for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), for Colchester and for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). In many ways, they are lions led by donkeys. I am pleased that we as a party and as an Opposition stand firmly behind them. Indeed, almost every speaker supported a ban, with the exception of the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) who looks like the man who bet everything on red but it came up black.

Today, the Minister has the opportunity to offer some kind of leadership. Unfortunately for him, however, it seems that the position has changed since he took his seat in the Chamber today. That is a shame, because we want to hear a justification for his current position.

Let me be clear: there is a majority in the House in favour of a ban. The public consultation launched by Labour found massive support for a ban. I have no desire to overturn the cross-party consensus on the issue, but it raises serious questions about DEFRA’s decision making. A new Government come in, and what do we see? Yet more dither and delay, instead of a clear, consistent position from them. I direct Members to the Minister’s answer on 19 May, when, outrageously, he said:

“If people are really so opposed to the use of wild animals in circuses, I suggest that they do not go to the circus.”—[Official Report, 19 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 499.]

What a pathetic response.

Indeed, the Department’s entire response has not been great—to say the least. First, there was a year of delay in which we saw shocking images of Anne the elephant being beaten. Who knows what else has gone unseen? Secondly, we saw DEFRA dithering from the top, because in April, the ban was on. The Secretary of State had made her decision, and she briefed the Sunday Express that a ban would be introduced, but within a few weeks, she had made her first U-turn. The Secretary of State’s favourite interviewer without coffee—the Prime Minister—had intervened in DEFRA affairs once again and now the ban was off.

Thirdly, we saw the incompetence of a Department that many have described as in special measures. New decision made, along came the policy-based evidence-making process. The Secretary of State provided a written ministerial statement outlining her reasoning. In it, she cited an Austrian court case that did not yet exist. A second statement tried to fix that. She owned up: the Government only thought the case was on after reading a press release. Dragged to the House for an

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urgent question, there was no apology for misleading Members, just the tired excuses we have come to expect—this time, amazingly, about the Human Rights Act. Talk about digging a hole.

The Government refuse to publish their legal advice, although, of course, they remain happy to hide behind it. The Government-backed amendment to the motion, quite rightly not selected, calls for a ban to be introduced as soon as legal impediments are resolved. That gives rise to some confusion. First, the Government say that there are no legal impediments, then that there are overwhelming legal impediments, and now that there are resolvable legal impediments. That is less a U-turn and more a giant arc, gobbling up and spitting out unprepared Ministers in its path. Now there is to be a free vote: U-turn complete.

Most depressing of all, the Government were right the first time; there is nothing wrong with banning the use of wild animals in circuses and that ban should be introduced right now. The Government argue that a ban may contravene the European services directive, but that is incorrect. Last month, the EU Commissioner for the Environment reiterated that the EU’s position had not changed, saying that

“the welfare of circus animals remains the responsibility of the Member States.”

The Government state that there is a lack of scientific evidence in support of a ban. Again, that is not correct. A global research study supported by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals concludes that

“species of non-domesticated animals commonly kept in circuses appear the least suited to a circus life”.

The Government argue that a ban requires primary legislation. Again, that is incorrect. DEFRA’s impact assessment makes it clear that powers under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 are sufficient to introduce a ban.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): Those are fine words, but will the hon. Gentleman explain to the House why the Labour party did not do something about the issue when it was in power?

Gavin Shuker: I appreciate the opportunity to say what we did when in government. We banned animal testing for cosmetics. We banned the process of battery farm eggs. We created new powers to stop animal cruelty. We banned tail docking. We stopped the trade in seals. We ended fur farming, and we passed the hunt ban. I am proud to stand on that record as a Labour Member of Parliament. We introduced the 2006 Act that allows the Minister to ban the practice of wild animals performing in circuses, and that is exactly what we are calling for today.

Mr Leech: The previous Government had a reasonable record on animal welfare, but they had four years from the 2006 Act until they lost the general election. Why was the ban not introduced in those four years?

Gavin Shuker: I am delighted to say that we had a clear commitment to do that in this Parliament. As a Member of Parliament, I share the desire, expressed across the House, to implement the ban. We must be

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clear that the barrier to implementation is the Tory-led Government, who found the roadblocks in the first place. I hope that we will hear much more about that.

Mark Pritchard: Has not the strength of the debate been the cross-party consensus? Notwithstanding the right of any Member to make points about this Government or previous Governments, that strength has been shown in all Members working together, reflecting the will of Parliament and the British people.

Gavin Shuker: I am glad to associate myself with those sentiments. There are serious questions to be asked about the process—we will certainly ask them at a later date—but the most important thing about tonight’s vote is that we follow the Members who raised the issue in the first place through the Division Lobby and ensure that a ban is enacted.

One of my major concerns if we do not pass the motion is that circuses are saying that the Government’s licensing scheme could produce an increase in the number of performing animals in British circuses. Surely, that alone must give us pause for thought. The issue is straightforward, and the solution is pretty clear. The Government should introduce a ban under the previous Government’s Animal Welfare Act 2006.

Events have moved on in the House since we started the debate. It now seems clear that there will be a free vote. I am glad to hear that because I believe that, on such issues of conscience, we are strongest as a House when we stand together against practices that have no place in a modern society. Perhaps more importantly, I believe that the DEFRA ministerial team had the right position in the first place. They instinctively felt that a ban was the right way go on the issue. For that reason, I should like to encourage them to go through the Lobby with us tonight to make a clear and definite case about the kind of society that we seek to create, and in doing so, we will be much stronger as a House together.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Before I call the Minister, may I suggest that we have until five to 6 before I call the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard)?

5.38 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr James Paice): I will forgo the obvious opportunity to use many of the numerous witticisms that I have heard during the past 48 hours about my appearance here, but I will start by simply trying to say that I will walk the tightrope over the next 10 or 15 minutes.

As several hon. Members have shown, this debate has demonstrated that, with one or two exceptions, there is passionate agreement across the Floor of the House that we should see an end to the use of wild animals in circuses. I assure the House that nothing divides us on that front. When we came to office a year ago, we had the advantage of receiving the results of the consultation to which the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) referred, and we had to examine all the options. A ban was one of those. We did not have the advantage of the advice that he received because that was confidential to the previous Government.

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We had a new set of advice from our lawyers and we had to use that in coming to our view. It clearly indicated that there were serious risks of a legal challenge should we opt for an outright ban, despite our being minded to do so. I will return to the detail of those legalities because that has occupied much of the afternoon’s debate, but it is for that reason and in the interest of avoiding a long judicial process that we concluded that the quickest way to reduce and, we hoped, eliminate cruelty to wild animals in our circuses would be a robust licensing system, which might well result in circuses deciding to stop keeping such animals.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard), who moved the motion, has shown diligence in pursuit of his cause. However, I am afraid his dedication has allowed him to misrepresent a number of issues, and some of that has been repeated by other hon. Members. The first is the Commission’s view about whether this is entirely a matter for member states. I remind the House that the view of a Commissioner is simply that. I have seen the letter sent by the Commission to the Captive Animals Protection Society, and I understand that that is the view of the Commission, but as I said in the House last time we debated the subject, it is ultimately the courts that interpret legislation, and our lawyers have to advise us not about what the Commission’s view is, but how they believe a court might interpret the legislation.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Had there been time for me to be called, I would have made the point that cruelty, in the sense of physical cruelty to animals, is not the only issue. People’s experience of wild animals is much richer through the internet, television and, indeed, the Cheltenham science festival, making it unnecessary for animals to be kept in captivity. There is increasing scientific evidence that there are complex emotions and intelligence in animals, especially intelligent animals such as elephants, which make any kind of systematic confinement inherently cruel, even if physical cruelty is not present.

Mr Paice: I fully understand my hon. Friend’s comments and I shall pick up one or two of them in a moment.

Angela Smith rose

Mr Watts rose

Mr Paice: I shall make a few more points before I give way. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin listed, as did other hon. Members, a range of other countries that have allegedly banned the use of wild animals in circuses. Many of those references were incorrect. A number of countries have selectively banned certain species. A number have rightly banned wild caught wild animals, which is a different issue. My hon. Friend and others speculated that licensing might mean more animals in circuses. I find that difficult to believe. I note the comments from the circuses that were mentioned, but we are not talking just about issuing a licence. We are talking about very tough licensing conditions for keeping such animals.

Gavin Shuker: I am sure the whole House would like to hear what those tough licensing conditions would be. If they incorporate travelling for weeks on end up and

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down motorways chained in a cage and going from place to place, many people would conclude that they are not worth the paper they are written on.

Mr Paice: That may well be the judgment that the hon. Gentleman and many others—and probably even I—would come to, but as we have clearly stated, we would go out to consultation in order to form a view of what those standards should be.

Let me conclude my comments on the introductory speech of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin. He never made any attempt to justify using section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006. I shall refer to that in a little more detail. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse also referred to that. I respect him immensely. We shared a mutual respect when I shadowed him, and I think that remains the case, but I must correct his memory on the previous European case, without going through all the detail. He remarked earlier that the circus lost against the ombudsman, but that is not the case; the ombudsman made a damning criticism of maladministration against the Commission, based on the view that it had abdicated its responsibility to maintain the treaties by not interfering in the rights of member states, so there is a distinction.

The hon. Gentleman reminded us of the 2006 Act. I served on the Bill Committee, as did the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith)—I remember her efforts at that time to introduce a ban, which she described today. It was resisted by the Minister at the time, the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), and by Lord Rooker in the other place. While the Bill was on Report on 8 March 2006, the right hon. Member for Exeter stated:

“I intend to use a regulation under clause 10 of the Animal Welfare Bill to ban the use in travelling circuses of certain non-domesticated species”.—[Official Report, 8 March 2006; Vol. 443, c. 61WS.]

That was in March 2006, over four years before the general election. Whatever the good intent of the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse, the fact is that his Government did nothing, despite that declared intent.

Mr Watts: Let us go to the root cause of the problem between the Minister and everyone else. He seems to be pinning his case on the idea that someone might take legal action and might win a court case. On that basis, the House could not pass any legislation.

Mr Paice: I am coming to that exact point.

If the House were to approve the motion, the Government would have to respect that, but as a Minister I am duty bound to lay before it the possible consequences—I stress the word “possible”—of that decision not only for the Government, but for the House, taxpayers and possibly the animals that we are concerned about.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Paice: No I will not; the hon. Gentleman was not here for much of the debate.

The legal advice we have received on section 12 of the 2006 Act is that although it could be used as the basis for a total ban, it is highly likely that we would be challenged on the basis that an outright ban was a

23 Jun 2011 : Column 583

disproportionate measure for improving welfare in circuses. That is exactly the same advice as the previous Government received in the Radford report, which they commissioned after the discussions in 2006. The report makes it absolutely clear that there was insufficient evidence to ensure that the animals’ welfare could be improved only by a ban and not by other means. That was the Radford report’s advice, and it remains the legal advice.

Caroline Lucas: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Paice: No. I will finish with the legal matters before giving way again.

Obviously I cannot tell the House that there would be a challenge, or what the result would be, but we do have to note the advice. The Radford review concluded in 2007 that no scientific evidence existed to show that circuses by their nature compromised the welfare of wild animals. It was on that basis that it concluded that a ban on the grounds of welfare would be disproportionate in the absence of evidence that welfare was compromised.

There are two further risks from that action: the cost to the taxpayer and the risk that a court might agree to suspend the ban until legal proceedings had concluded. In other words, although the law itself might have been passed, nothing would have changed for the animals themselves.

Stephen Phillips: On that point, will the Minister give way?

Mr Paice: This is in comparison with a licensing system that would be in place by the end of the year.

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): He is a lawyer.

Mr Paice: I am well aware of who wishes to intervene.

I turn now to the European aspects of the legislation. The European legislation would apply whether we use primary or secondary legislation to implement a ban. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in her statement on 19 May, informed the House of the error in referring to an action currently before the Courts in the European Union, and I repeat our regret over that error. Nevertheless, I can inform the House, as has already been stated, that as I predicted on the same day, a case has been laid by Circus Krone against the Austrian Government in the Austrian constitutional court. We know not the outcome, but the fact that that case has been laid supports the legal advice that we have previously reported to the House, namely that a wholesale ban may well be counter to section 16 of the EU services directive, and that any subsequent legal challenge would have the same consequences that I have described.

Stephen Phillips: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way, and it is well known in the House that I do not often give free legal advice. He refers to the advice that he has received, and I have no doubt that that is the advice he has received, but I have to tell him that in my opinion that advice is wrong, and that, having seen the quality of some of the advice that the Government receive from the European Scrutiny Committee, it is about time that outside legal advice was taken.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 584

Mr Paice: No doubt we could lay every lawyer in the House end to end and not reach a definite conclusion. I note my hon. and learned Friend’s comments, and obviously I respect them.

May I turn to the nub of the issue? When hon. Members decide in a few minutes’ time how to react to the motion before us, I hope that they will pay heed to what I have said about the risks attached to it. It is of course a matter for the House to decide, but I hope that hon. Members will not focus on whether we ban or, indeed, wish to end cruelty, because I hope that there is no doubt about our desire on the latter point, but focus on how we go about achieving the end to cruelty in circuses, on which we are I believe united.

Although a complete ban, as advocated in the motion, might well achieve that end in time, there are, as I have tried to describe, significant risks in taking it forward with the deadline and using the legal mechanism to which my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin has referred. That is why the Government have come forward with a proposal that might achieve the same end with more certainty. Nevertheless, as I say, the House has a right to decide otherwise.

I understand and fully respect the very high emotions involved, including on the issue of the ethics of animals performing for human entertainment.

Tessa Munt: Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr Paice: I am sorry, but I am rapidly coming to the end of my time.

I share the views of hon. Members who are concerned about the use of performing animals, but I also have to react to and respect the legislation that we have enacted in this House in the past, and the reality is that section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 does not allow ethical considerations to justify a ban, so I hope that in considering how to vote hon. Members will consider those points.

The Government are determined to stamp out cruelty to and the bad welfare of animals in circuses. We have put forward our proposals, and it is of course for the House to decide that we should perhaps reconsider them, but I ask the House to consider the legislative background against which it might ask us to do so.

5.53 pm

Mark Pritchard: I pay tribute to and thank the Minister, who has been very brave and courageous today and deserves a parliamentary medal for a valiant attempt to defend the indefensible, given his personal position, which he stated clearly on the Floor of the House on 19 May. I thank also all Members from all parts of the House for a very vibrant debate that has informed the House on a range of issues relating to what I and, more importantly, 92% of the public believe is an important issue.

This nation once led the world in animal welfare. There is no reason we cannot drag ourselves into the 21st century and regain and reclaim those global animal welfare credentials. That is why I hope that Members will support my motion.

Question put and agreed to .

Resolved ,

23 Jun 2011 : Column 585

That this House directs the Government to use its powers under section 12 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to introduce a regulation banning the use of all wild animals in circuses to take effect by 1 July 2012.

Business without Debate



That, notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the intervals between stages of Bills brought in upon Ways and Means Resolutions, more than one stage of the Finance (No. 3) Bill may be taken at any sitting of the House.—(Bill Wiggin.)

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): We now come to motion 3, which can be debated until 6 pm.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. On the Order Paper it says that there will be no debate before 6 pm on the motion on the draft House of Lords Reform Bill. Can you guide us on the correct procedure in terms of whether this motion can go ahead now or whether it will be taken after 6 o’clock?

Mr Deputy Speaker: It can be debated or the Question can be put.

Draft House of Lords Reform Bill (Joint Committee)

Motion made, and Question put,

That this House concurs with the Lords Message of 7 June, that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider the draft House of Lords Reform Bill presented to both Houses on 17 May (Cm 8077).

That a Select Committee of thirteen Members be appointed to join with the Committee appointed by the Lords to consider the draft House of Lords Reform Bill (Cm 8077).

That the Committee should report on the draft Bill by 29 February 2012.

That the Committee shall have power—

(i) to send for persons, papers and records;

(ii) to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House;

(iii) to report from time to time;

(iv) to appoint specialist advisers;

(v) to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom.

That Gavin Barwell, Mr Tom Clarke, Ann Coffey, Bill Esterson, Oliver Heald, Tristram Hunt, Mrs Eleanor Laing, Dr William McCrea, Dr Daniel Poulter, Laura Sandys, John Stevenson, John Thurso and Malcolm Wicks be members of the Committee.—(Bill Wiggin.)

The House divided:

Ayes 140, Noes 7.

Division No. 306]

[5.57 pm


Aldous, Peter

Allen, Mr Graham

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Benn, rh Hilary

Beresford, Sir Paul

Bingham, Andrew

Blackman, Bob

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brake, Tom

Bray, Angie

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Bryant, Chris

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Duddridge, James

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellison, Jane

Eustice, George

Evans, Jonathan

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Goldsmith, Zac

Griffiths, Andrew

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Hart, Simon

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Huppert, Dr Julian

James, Margot

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Laws, rh Mr David

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Leslie, Charlotte

Loughton, Tim

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Michael, rh Alun

Mills, Nigel

Mosley, Stephen

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Nokes, Caroline

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rosindell, Andrew

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sharma, Alok

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Henry

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Sturdy, Julian

Syms, Mr Robert

Thurso, John

Tomlinson, Justin

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Wheeler, Heather

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Ayes:

Miss Chloe Smith and

Mr Robert Goodwill


Durkan, Mark

Edwards, Jonathan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Lucas, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Wishart, Pete

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Peter Bone and

Mr Philip Hollobone

Question accordingly agreed to.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 586

23 Jun 2011 : Column 587

Dental Bleaching

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Stephen Crabb.)

6.7 pm

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con): I thank the Minister for being present to respond to the debate. I understand that he is in some matrimonial difficulty because I have delayed him here this evening and it is his wife’s birthday. If it is any compensation, I am sure that I can arrange for his wife to be given a free bleaching treatment quite soon—on the understanding that he explains to her that it is free, so that he does not get away with allowing her to think that she has been presented with an expensive gift.

Let me first declare a simple interest and then add to it, because of the specifics of the debate. I am a qualified and practising—although admittedly very part-time—dentist. I am also a member of the British Dental Association, the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the British Endodontic Society, and the British Dental Bleaching Society. That explains why I am a target for some 36,000 dental practices which are leaning on this issue. I hope that the Minister will bear with me.

The Minister will be aware that tooth bleaching by dentists has been around for a long time. I first used it about 30 years ago. My tutor was my now retired dental partner, who qualified during the second world war, and his tutor was his father, who qualified shortly after the first world war. Dental bleaching has therefore been used for more than 100 years. In the early days we used a 30% solution of hydrogen peroxide, known in those days as Superoxol. It was extremely destructive of soft tissues, which needed to be protected. In those days we used something called a rubber dam, which was a small sheet of latex rubber with holes placed in it so that the teeth could poke through. The teeth could then be bleached, and the soft tissues were looked after.

The aim of bleaching is to remove discolourations from the teeth without harming the teeth themselves. The discolourations can come from a number of sources, including tobacco, hard water, tea, coffee and, according to the actresses, red wine. Teeth may also be iatrogenically discoloured, the most famous example being tetracycline discolouration. In the early days of antibiotics, children were given an antibiotic called tetracycline, which was one of the early broad-spectrum bacteriostatic antibiotics and was widely used. Although it generally dealt with the targeted infection, if taken by children it discoloured the developing teeth, sometimes to a grotesque degree.

Second or adult teeth that have received a blow can often darken quite quickly, particularly if the individual is young. The teeth most frequently hurt in that way are the upper incisors, particularly the upper central incisors. Endodontically treated teeth often darken, particularly if the operator has been unable to remove, or has not removed, all the pulpal tissue from the internal dentine.

Nowadays, dental restorations are generally of a more cosmetically acceptable material. If someone is to have a filling, it is good for it to be done in a cosmetically acceptable way. It is becoming increasingly accepted as standard practice that when composites, porcelain crowns, porcelain veneers and porcelain inlays are used for restorations, it is sensible to bleach the teeth first. That achieves a benchmark colour to which the new restoration

23 Jun 2011 : Column 588

is then colour-matched. As the patient’s teeth become discoloured over subsequent years from all the hazards, including red wine, it is possible to use that same process to bring the teeth back to that original benchmark level.

Dental bleaching is not available on the national heath, but I believe that in some cases it should be, because it is less destructive than other options. To provide a simple example, if an NHS patient has badly tetracycline-stained teeth, the only option on the NHS to restore normal appearance is extensive crowns or veneers. They are destructive to the teeth and much more costly, and in time they will need regular replacement. The better approach is dental bleaching, which leaves the teeth intact and can produce an acceptable colour.

Techniques of dental bleaching have improved. First, the dentist has to check that the patient’s teeth are in good order; then there are essentially two different bleaching techniques available. The first is the so-called home technique, whereby after inspecting the patient, the dentist constructs close-fitting trays that the patient wears for a period of time at home. The bleach trays are designed to hold the gel against the teeth but away from the soft tissues.

The second method is so-called power bleaching, which is done in the surgery and generally uses much stronger hydrogen peroxide concentrations. The soft tissues are protected by either the aforementioned rubber dam or, more generally nowadays, by a foam that is set by an ultraviolet light. Some techniques use a light or heat source, although I personally believe that that is more for the image of the procedure as the patient sees it than to benefit the process.

Nowadays, hydrogen peroxide is generally delivered in varying strengths of carbamide peroxide. Those strengths vary from 10% to 38% when used in the surgery. The actual hydrogen peroxide concentration delivered is lower. For example, 10% carbamide peroxide delivers approximately a 6% concentration of hydrogen peroxide. As logic will tell the Minister, the higher the concentration, the faster the bleaching, but the more likely it is to produce sensitive teeth.

I hope that the Minister understands from what I have said that the procedure should be in the hands of a trained dental professional, as misuse can cause harm, sometimes extensive harm. Even bleaching at home must be under the direction of a dental care professional. Recent decisions of the General Dental Council have stated that dental bleaching by trained dental professionals is a part of professional dental treatment. That has been endorsed by the Secretary of State for Health and the Health Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The reason for this preamble is to explain to the Minister that the dangers of the material involved when it is misused must be understood and taken into consideration. Organisations such as the British Dental Bleaching Society run certification training courses to ensure that the dental professional teams undertaking the treatment are properly trained. Unfortunately, a number of non-dental professionals, particularly in beauty salons, are illegally bleaching teeth. Sadly, some of those individuals are using a material called chlorine dioxide, which, although it produces an initial appearance of whitening teeth, actually badly damages them.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 589

As the Minister will be aware, the fly in the ointment is the European cosmetics directive, which restricts the sale of tooth-bleaching materials containing more than 0.1% hydrogen peroxide. Clearly that makes eminent sense when applied to over-the-counter medicines, but from a dental treatment point of view 0.1% hydrogen peroxide is absolutely useless.

The enforcement of the cosmetics directive is in the hands of local government trading standards officers on behalf of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Most trading standards officers recognise that higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide delivered as part of dental treatment by dental professions are completely different from over-the-counter sales or the actions of non-dental professionals. The directive is inappropriate, because tooth bleaching is accepted as part of dentistry.

In 2005, the European Commission scientific committee on consumer products recommended that tooth-whitening products containing 0.1% to 6% hydrogen peroxide are not safe to be sold over the counter. The recommendation was that they should not be used freely, but that they are safe to be used after the approval, and under the supervision, of a dentist. Since then, the UK Government, along with most EU members, have been trying to change the directive in the light of the recommendation. However, because two or three EU members of the committee keep baulking, there has been no change, despite seven years of pressure. I understand that the Minister could reassure me tonight that the issue is to be taken above the committee, where it is expected to be passed—at last—by a majority vote.

However, the situation has come to a head locally, as the Minister is aware. A patient of a Hull dentist complained to Hull trading standards. Hull trading standards took samples from the dentist and asked Essex county council trading standards to investigate a firm called Dental Directory, which is a major supplier to dentists and the supplier to the Hull dentist in question. I believe that Essex trading standards officers have taken the names of other suppliers and suggested to respective trading standards organisations that they should investigate. Some did so, but others thought it through and decided that that was inappropriate.

After full consideration, Essex trading standards sent an e-mail to Dental Directory, which states:

“This Service has no issue with peroxide-based whiteners over 0.1% supplied to GDC registered dentists for use in the course of a professional whitening service conducted by a registrant. It is the view of this Service that such treatments would be regulated by the GDC.”

That is a brilliantly sensible response.

However, another big firm of suppliers, Henry Schein, has a number of different depots in different areas, which are covered by different trading standards. It has received differing instructions. Kent trading standards echoed Essex’s eminently sensible position, but Medway trading standards informed Henry Schein that it is not allowed to supply dental bleach with over 0.1% hydrogen peroxide. Needless to say, enormous pressure was applied. I suspect to the Minister’s relief, Medway has reverted to the sensible Essex county council position.

That leaves me with two simple requests for action to sort out this particular nonsense. First, I urge the Minister, if at all possible, to obtain a change in the directive, and

23 Jun 2011 : Column 590

secondly, to inform all UK trading standards that the approach taken by Essex and Kent trading standards should be the norm.

As the Minister may recall, a few moments ago I mentioned beauticians and non-registrants illegally bleaching teeth. Many of those people are dangerous. For example, a plasterer from Kent plasters walls during the day, and bleaches teeth in people’s homes in the evening, using 38% hydrogen peroxide, with no guards or safety measures. To put it bluntly, he probably burns the gum off the bone and the teeth. He is dangerous.

Others use chlorine dioxide. As the Minister’s school chemistry will tell him, when chlorine dioxide hits water, as in saliva, it turns to hydrochloric acid, and eats the enamel surface off the teeth. The initial slight whitening appearance turns, on further applications, yellow and then brown, as the dentine shows through because the enamel disappears. To put it bluntly, that simply wrecks teeth.

To add to those problems, a number of highly acidic tooth-whitening products are available over the counter for personal, home bleaching. Many are highly acidic. All the highly acidic ones are highly damaging. To my amazement, even two reputable UK pharmacies—I am not naming them for the moment—are selling such products over the counter. I am therefore also asking the Minister to assist, through trading standards, in stopping beauticians and other non-dental registrants bleaching teeth. The General Dental Council is taking action, but it does not have the strength and spread of trading standards.

In addition, will the Minister seek a ban on the use of chlorine dioxide for teeth bleaching, including on the supply of acidic, over-the-counter home bleaching materials? An awful lot of smiles on the faces of some very pretty young ladies are being wrecked in the United Kingdom.

6.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr Edward Davey): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) on securing this important debate. It is not the first time he has come to the House to campaign on this issue—he deserves a lot of credit for his persistence and determination. This is a serious issue for those adversely affected by people using certain materials they should not be using, as he explained. I also thank him for the offer to my wife—I will convey it to her later this evening.

This is a complex matter involving overlapping issues, which my hon. Friend highlighted. Particular factors to consider are: first, that the current European-derived law clearly restricts the level of hydrogen peroxide to a level at which it cannot bleach teeth. Secondly, prevailing scientific opinion on the safety of hydrogen peroxide in teeth-whitening products is out of step with current maximum limits. Thirdly, how do we most appropriately enforce the law? Fourthly, who should be undertaking teeth whitening? Should the role be reserved to dentists or should it be available from other suppliers and even for home use? Finally, there is the issue about the safe use of other substances used as an alternative to hydrogen peroxide.

Although I recognise how deeply frustrating this matter is for all involved, I will try to address these points and highlight a possible resolution of the issue.

23 Jun 2011 : Column 591

I hope that I can give my hon. Friend some satisfaction tonight, but if there are other points he wishes to make that he feels have not been covered, I will be happy to correspond with him, and if necessary meet him. There is no doubt that teeth-whitening products are cosmetic products within the meaning of the cosmetic products directive. Hon. Members will know that the UK has been pressing for a number of years on the cosmetics regulatory committee for the maximum limit for hydrogen peroxide to be increased in line with the opinion of the scientific committee on consumer products in 2005, to which my hon. Friend referred.

The scientific committee’s view was that allowing a greater percentage of hydrogen peroxide in teeth-whitening products would not be detrimental to the health of consumers. Since then, however, there have been protracted discussions in Brussels on matters of detail. We are now in the position where the European Commission has proposed a number of directives to amend the cosmetic products directive, each of which has failed. The latest was submitted to the standing committee on cosmetic products for vote by written procedure in May last year, at which time five member states voted against the proposal.

The Commission was therefore required to reconsider its proposal, and has since amended the directive. Instead of putting it back through the regulatory standing committee, the Commission intends to submit it to the Council for a council directive. Let me explain the detail of this new development. The Commission believes that use of teeth-whitening products containing more than 0.1% and up to 6% hydrogen peroxide can be considered safe if the following conditions are satisfied: first, if an appropriate clinical examination takes place to ensure the absence of risk factors; and, secondly, if exposure to the products is controlled to ensure that they are used as intended. Teeth-whitening products should therefore not be directly available to the consumer. For each cycle of use, the first use should be limited to dental practitioners or under their direct supervision. This will be communicated to the Council before the summer break, and we will support it.

I note that the General Dental Council considers tooth whitening the practice of dentistry, which is limited to GDC registrants, and this ties in with the new proposal for a directive. Indeed, earlier this year the GDC successfully prosecuted a non-registrant under the Dentists Act 1984. I would urge members of the public who have received a treatment about which they have concerns to raise it with the GDC. This also applies where alternative teeth-whitening treatments, such as chlorine dioxide, are used

23 Jun 2011 : Column 592

with unsatisfactory or damaging results. My officials will contact the Commission about the concerns of the British Dental Association over the use of chlorine dioxide in teeth-whitening products.

On the question of enforcement, I understand that there have been concerns about investigations carried out by trading standards services into the supply of teeth-whitening products, some of which contained significant levels of hydrogen peroxide—more than the newly proposed amendment would permit. Trading standards services have a duty to enforce the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008, but they take a risk-based approach to enforcement. To our knowledge, they have never actively targeted dentists, but where suppliers are marketing home-use kits, they have a responsibility to investigate where such products could reasonably present a risk to the consumer.

My Department neither controls nor directs trading standards services in their enforcement activities. However, officials will be making them aware of the latest developments in Brussels on the issue, so that they can understand the direction in which the law is likely to develop. Officials have also been in contact with many of the trading standards departments looking into the matter to ensure that a consistent approach will be taken. Decisions on whether to progress investigations into suppliers of home-use kits will remain decisions for local authorities. It is unfortunately true, however, that many suppliers of teeth-whitening products have already anticipated a change in the law, which has made the task of trading standards officers extremely difficult over the past few years. On a separate but closely related note, I am pleased to say that a new and specific element on enforcement will shortly be added to the red tape challenge. We would encourage businesses to go on the red tape challenge website and tell us about the problems they are having with the implementation of regulations.

In conclusion, I hope that I have been able to shed light on the latest developments, which could offer a way forward on this protracted issue. Subject to agreement in Brussels, the new directive will clarify the law. I also believe that the decision of the General Dental Council will help to clarify the position on the provision of teeth-whitening services. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for enabling me to put that on the record, and I hope that he and the dentists on whose behalf he has so persistently advocated will be pleased with it.

Question put and agreed to.

6.26 pm

House adjourned.