Labour has attacked the government for failing to introduce a ban on wild animals in circuses.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has introduced a strict licensing regime for circuses in England wishing to use animals such as tigers, lions and elephants, but stopped short of implementing an outright ban.
Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh used an urgent question in the Commons on 19 May 2011 to press the government to explain its position.
Environment Minister Jim Paice said the government had received "very strong legal advice" that a ban "might well be seen as disproportionate action under the European Union Services Directive and under our own Human Rights Act".
He said a case was being prepared by the European Circuses Association against the Austrian government after it banned the use of performing animals.
Mr Paice admitted that an earlier written ministerial statement had been inaccurate when it said that the case was already before the courts.
But the clarification did not change the government's legal position on any ban, he added.
Ms Creagh accused the department of "hiding behind human rights legislation" and challenged ministers to make available the legal advice they received.
"This is another all-singing all-dancing disaster from the worst performing department in government," she said, and called on the minister to apologise for misleading the House.
Lib Dem MP Bob Russell said the government's policy was "not good enough", while Green MP Caroline Lucas called the minister's position "cowardly".
Mr Paice said the government was taking all the action that it could take for now.