Question: Which Private Members’ Bill is expected to have its second reading debate in the House of Commons on Friday 25 January 2019?
Clue: Long ago (1963), in the far-away suburbs of Oxford, when milk came in bottles, drinking water came only from the tap, and TVs were black and white, what could you watch on Christmas Day, sometime after Watch With Mother in the morning, and sometime before Sooty’s Christmas Party in the early evening?
My story begins on Christmas Day , when after a dinner of chicken (bought frozen, with giblets inside which later on went into soup), and home-made Christmas pudding served with Birds custard, my father, my brother and I set out on the long walk across Oxford to visit my grandmother, who had a television set. There, sitting in front of the gas fire, balancing a splendid tea of chocolate finger biscuits and trifle on our knees, we settled down for the serious business of the afternoon, watching the Circus on TV.
Politically incorrect, and also, I now realise, cruel, circuses in the 1960s were about glamourous, exciting, escapism. And indeed if, as in the song Nellie the Elephant, an animal actually had escaped, it would have been into a world that we would barely recognise today, with an aura of Empire (‘Hindustan’ and ‘Mandalay’) and assumptions about female compliance in a male dominated hierarchical society (‘The Head of the Herd was calling …’)
Legislation such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/2932) reflect both changing attitudes to circuses and wider changes in British society. 94.5% of respondents to the Labour Government’s 2009 public consultation on how best to safeguard the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses in England considered that a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses would be the best option to achieve better welfare standards (see Wild Animals in Circuses House of Commons Briefing Paper CBP05992 6 March 2018). But in the 1960s, I enjoyed Noel Streatfeild’s book The Circus is Coming, just as I loved her book Ballet Shoes, which I now see echoes so many between-the-wars attitudes and concerns (while Great Uncle Matthew is away gathering the geological spoils of Empire to bring back to his house in the Cromwell Road, those at home are living with the impact of Russian post-Revolution migration, the erosion of the class system through economic necessity, the Malayan rubber slump, and there is even a hint of homosexuality … )
But this is a diversion from my opening question, to which the answer is: the Wild Animals in Circuses Bill 2017-19, a Private Members’ Bill, sponsored by Trudy Harrison.