The West Country MP who orchestrated a boycott of a Commons vote on halting badger culls warned opponents yesterday to keep calm and wait for a key report.
The Government suffered a dramatic defeat – in theory – on a motion to abandon culls that could be rolled out more widely in the South West, having already been piloted in controversial fashion in Somerset and Gloucestershire. Some 219 MPs voted in support of Tory MP Anne Main’s motion, with just one MP voting against – though the vote is not binding.
But Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton in Devon, said the debate was unworthy of a vote as a crucial report into the effect culling has on bovine tuberculosis had not been published.
Mr Parish said: “We should now wait for the report. We need to sit down and be calm about it, then deal with it.”
Farming Minister George Eustice would not confirm if he would vote on the Government’s future approach to badgers. Mrs Main warned that ministers risked “contributing to an increase in TB in cattle” by pushing ahead with further culls, saying they were never given a “carte blanche to carry on regardless”.
Although this backbench business vote is not binding, it is seen to underline how strong opposition is to the policy, with Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour politicians speaking out against it.
Bovine TB is rife in the South West. Pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset were due to run for six weeks, with the aim of killing 70 per cent of badgers in each of the two areas.
But both schemes were extended after initial figures suggested only 58 per cent of badgers were eradicated in Somerset and just 30 per cent in Gloucestershire.
Ministers have now received an independent report on their success, and will announce shortly whether to roll them out further, with Devon, Dorset and Cornwall being possible culling zones.
Mr Parish said: “The real vote on the badger cull happened last year. That still holds. We should now wait for the report. We need to sit down and be calm about it, then deal with it. My argument is that where you have very few cases of TB, badgers can be vaccinated. But in areas like mine – where the rate is 40 per cent – you have to use culling as one of the tools in the toolbox.”
Winding up the debate, Mr Eustice, also Tory MP for Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall, defended culls as part of a broader strategy.
He told MPs: “The Government has been clear we need to pursue a range of options in order to roll back this disease. We are clear no one measure on its own will work.
“There is one area where clearly we take a different view to Labour – our view is that there is nowhere, anywhere in the world, that has managed to successfully tackle TB without also dealing with the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population.”
He told MPs he would not confirm if they would vote on the Government’s future approach to badgers. Mrs Main, Tory MP for St Albans in Hertfordshire, told MPs: “This House wants a chance to vote on this issue and I have made repeated calls for it to be brought back before the House.”
Labour’s shadow farming minister Huw Irranca-Davies underlined the Opposition’s argument that culling should be halted in favour of more vaccinations and cattle control.
He said: “We have already the cross-bench support for a new way forward, a new consensus based on vaccination and cattle measures.”
The MP who voted against, Tory MP for Kettering Philip Hollobone, routinely refuses to follow orders from his party enforcers.