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Government defeat as MPs' vote 'no' on badger culling

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 26, 2012

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The Government last night suffered a humiliating defeat on its plan to cull badgers in two South West bovine TB hotspot areas.

In the first-ever debate resulting from an online petition, it lost a backbench business motion calling on it to cancel the pilot culling schemes and find other ways to defeat the disease, which cost the lives of 26,000 cattle last year.

The voting was 147 in favour of the motion and 28 against.

While very disappointed by the result, which is not binding on Government policy, Westcountry farmers are calling on Ministers to show fortitude and press ahead with the culls in West Somerset and around Tewkesbury in late spring next year.

"It would be a pretty sorry state of affairs if Government policy were dictated by internet campaigns run by pressure groups," said Ian Johnson, regional spokesman for the National Farmers' Union in the South West.

But the badger cull was ill-judged and deeply unpopular, said Green MP Caroline Lucas, as MPs from across the political divide called for the abandoning of the controversial policy.

Miss Lucas told MPs that shooting badgers would never achieve the Government's target of reducing bovine TB by 16%, and she accused Tory MPs who supported the ban of being emotional. She said any cull would only move the problem elsewhere, while one trial which destroyed 10,000 badgers had limited success.

The MP for Brighton Pavillion had tabled a motion calling on the Government to "stop the cull and implement a more sustainable and humane solution" of vaccinating against TB, and improved testing for the disease.

Twenty-nine other MPs from all three main parties signed the motion, including the Tory MPs Zac Goldsmith and Tracey Crouch, while more than 160,000 people put their names to an online petition.

The heated debate came after the Government announced on Tuesday it planned to delay the culling of badgers until next year as there were more of the animals than anticipated.

Speaking in the Commons, Miss Lucas said: "While Tuesday's announcement to suspend the cull is very welcome, it does not amount to a change in policy. Today's motion calls on the Government to stop its ill-judged, unscientific and deeply unpopular culling policy for good, not just for a few months. This motion is about an abandonment of a cull, not just a postponement. That's what the majority of the public wants and it is what the science demands. Public opinion overwhelmingly opposes a badger cull, including in those places where a pilot is due to take place.

"The scale of the problem is such that it is deeply irresponsible and unfair to gamble, as this Government is doing, with farmers' livelihoods and with the future of one of our best-loved wildlife species."

Miss Lucas said she understood the distress caused to farmers by bovine TB, but claimed culling actually increased the prevalence of the disease in badgers.

Earlier, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said it was "completely essential" the Government continued with the cull.

He told MPs he had: "every intention that these culls go ahead. There will be time to prepare, there will be no hitches next year, we shall deliver this policy. It is completely essential that we go ahead with these culls and prove that they will work, so that we bear down on disease in wildlife and we bear down on disease in cattle."

Tiverton and Honiton Tory MP Neil Parish said: "We are taking out the cattle with TB but we are not taking out and controlling the badgers."

Conservative Mel Stride (Central Devon) said it was "simply impractical" at the moment to consider vaccination of badgers as a sensible way forward before achieving a reliable oral vaccine. There were not the resources to trap badgers individually and inject them.

And Tory Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) said: "What we are doing here is not out of some bloodthirsty desire to kill, but is a serious reaction to a pressing problem, is sincerely intended, is meant to tackle the disease, a disease that so badly requires to be tackled for the sake of the country."

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  • pollybrock  |  October 26 2012, 4:28PM

    "It would be a pretty sorry state of affairs if Government policy were dictated by internet campaigns run by pressure groups," said Ian Johnson, regional spokesman for the National Farmers' Union in the South West. Errrr - this was MPs, our elected representatives voting overwhelmingly against the cull. I'm not aware the NFU is a political party in Parliament.

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  • Clued-Up  |  October 26 2012, 11:40AM

    @DougBrett Yes, the NFU spokesman ignored the public's longstanding rejection of badger culls expressed in various polls over the years. Whether the polls have been a professionally designed and conducted or much more informal ones, the consistent message is that AT LEAST two-thirds of the public don't want a badger cull. Public opinion significantly hardens against a badger cull when one seems in the offing, a localised poll recording 97% public against killing badgers.

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  • eyeopener  |  October 26 2012, 11:33AM

    @DougBrett I also meant to add that there are also people (I do not include you in this or myself) who are paid to contribute to forums like this to influence public opinion. Unlike parliamentary lobbyists who are required to register. They do not of course decalre themselves.

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  • eyeopener  |  October 26 2012, 11:30AM

    @ DougBrett "It would be a pretty sorry state of affairs if Government policy were dictated by internet campaigns run by pressure groups," Of course that is exactly what happens as the extract below shows: Lobbying in the United Kingdom plays a significant role in the formation of legislation and a wide variety of commercial organisations, lobby groups 'lobby' for particular policies and decisions by Parliament and other political organs at national, regional and local levels. The phrase "lobbying" comes from the gathering of Members of Parliament and peers in the hallways (or lobbies) of Houses of Parliament before and after parliamentary debates. One definition of lobbying says it means: "in a professional capacity, attempting to influence, or advising those who wish to influence, the United Kingdom Government, Parliament, the devolved legislatures or administrations, regional or local government or other public bodies on any matter within their competence." On this occasion of course, many of those seeking to influence the governments policy were ordinary voters as well as The RSPCA and similar bodies, Farmers, The NFU, Scientists, Vets and people like myself who do not believe in the effectiveness of the cull and contacted my MP to ask for his support.

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  • DougBrett  |  October 26 2012, 10:51AM

    "It would be a pretty sorry state of affairs if Government policy were dictated by internet campaigns run by pressure groups," It's what we call 'democracy' :-)

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  • eyeopener  |  October 26 2012, 8:41AM

    MPs have voted against the government's policy of culling badgers in two pilot schemes in England. In a non-binding vote, MPs rejected the policy by 147 votes to 28, calling instead for vaccination, improved testing and bio security. I watched that debate and it was interesting to see how the schism between pro and no cull protagonists did not follow party lines. Obviously the government had to support its own policy but it was obvious that individual MP's had investigated the evidence for and against before deciding what stance to take. Some of the facts that emerged underline how flawed the cull argument is: * It will take NINE years to achieve a 16% reduction in bovine TB leaving 84% of the problem in place. * Even if you kill every badger the soil can retain TB for up to two years. * That the killing of badgers will disrupt the local ecology causing not just badgers but all wildlife to evacuate an area in which culling is being carried out. Consequently the optimum period for culling is five days to avoid such an evacuation, NOT the six weeks this cull was to run for. We would lose wildlife, possibly never to return with the resulting damage to our tourism industry. * The cull is meant to be discreet, using rivers and roads to isolate culling areas; except….. badgers successfully cross roads at night and can swim rivers and canals. One could go on and on but culling could never have solved beef farmer David Barton's problem. One last but often overlooked fact… with all the hysteria calling for a cull…Bovine TB is the cause of just 10% of cows being slaughtered… other causes such as lameness are even higher in the league tables. Why this focus on the 10%? The pro-cull case was not helped when Owen Paterson the Environment Secretary walked out of the debate after twenty minutes saying "I can't stand any more of this" It looks like he had a tantrum and threw his toys out of the pram. I can't think that his performance would have done to reduce the defeat of govt policy by 147 votes to 28." With MPs rejecting the policy by 147 votes to 28, the public at large overwhelmingly against culling as well as scientific opinion and an election approaching… it would not come as a surprise if the government didn't find a face saving reason not to cull in 2013.

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