I began my speech by welcoming the change of heart over the past couple of hours. I have not been part of that process, so I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I am very pleased that we will have a free vote—it is the kind of issue that should have a free vote. I am very much on the record before the debate as saying that I would have defied a three-line Whip and voted for the motion, as a very large number of Government Members would have done. That is perhaps one of the reasons why we will now have a free vote.
The most disturbing aspect of the Government’s change of position is that it is not based on a change of heart. As a number of hon. Members have pointed out, the only reason we have been given is that the Government fear a possible EU legal challenge some time in future. The Minister was quoted in The Independent today, I believe, as saying that
“a total ban on wild animals in circuses might well be seen as disproportionate action under the European Union services directive and under our own Human Rights Act”.
If that is true, it is hard to imagine anything more embarrassing for the House. The Government are effectively saying that even though they want to do this minor thing, and even though the public would support such a move, they cannot do it because they no longer have the authority. What does that say about Parliament, democracy or this country?
Let me put it another way. What is the point of making promises up and down the country in the run-up to an election on the campaign trail if we no longer have the authority to fulfil even the most basic promise? That makes a mockery of parliamentary democracy in this country.