Coalition 'cowardly' over wild animals circus ban

The coalition was attacked from all sides in an emergency Commons debate yesterday over its failure to ban wild animals in circuses. In a bruising, 20-minute session, the Animal Welfare Minister Jim Paice admitted that he and Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, had misled MPs three times last week by suggesting there was a live legal challenge to a ban in Austria.

Speaker, John Bercow, ordered the urgent debate after checks by The Independent and Animal Defenders International revealed that there was no challenge. Yesterday Mr Paice told MPs that legal advice suggested circus owners could sue the Government if it proceeded with its previous intention to introduce a ban.

Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative backbenchers demanded the Government over-rule the advice and press ahead with a ban.

The former Labour minister, Geoffrey Robinson, told Mr Paice that "advisors advise and ministers decide", while leader of the Greens Caroline Lucas described the Government's behaviour as "cowardly".