MPs vote against the cull, but will the Government listen?
Badgers have been in the thoughts of the British public since the Government started planning to kill them two years ago, in a mistaken attempt to solve the problem of Bovine TB. We opposed such plans since Day One, and were joined by people from all walks of life - sometimes on the streets in marches; sometimes in the political arena.
Today, there was the most recent opportunity for the latter.
A few weeks ago the leaked Independent Expert Panel (IEP) report on last year’s pilot badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset suggested that the pilots had failed in the efficiency and humaneness test (two out of the three tests which they were designed to run) – problems that were predicted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and other animal welfare groups before the culling even started.
With such damning evidence against plans to expand the cull, Team Badger and all its political sympathisers realised that we needed Parliament to speak out again, and challenge the Government.
With just a week’s notice, a backbench parliamentary debate was secured for today, Thursday 13 March, called by Anne Main MP and a cross-party group of MPs.
As soon as we knew about it, we asked to all our supporters to contact their MPs, asking them to attend, and so they did.
Anne Main was the ideal MP to call the debate as she did not originally oppose the cull but having studied the subsequent evidence has concluded that vaccination and better biosecurity, rather than culling, are the best way forward.
She got cross-party support from Caroline Lucas, Adrian Sanders, and Barry Sheerman, and the following motion was tabled:
“That this House believes that the pilot badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have decisively failed against the criteria set out by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in guidance to Natural England for licensing of the culls, which stipulated that 70 per cent of the badger population should be culled within a six-week period; notes that the costs of policing, additional implementation and monitoring, and the resort to more expensive cage-and-trap methods over an extended period have substantially increased the cost of the culls, and strengthened the financial case for vaccination; regrets that the decision to extend the original culls has not been subject to any debate or vote in Parliament; further regrets that the Independent Expert Panel will only assess the humaneness, safety and effectiveness of the original six-week period and not the extended cull period; and urges the Government to halt the existing culls and granting of any further licences, pending development of alternative strategies to eradicate bovine TB and promote a healthy badger population”.
As expected, her opening speech was both informative and eloquent and was delivered in a particularly courageous way as she was unable to stand up to deliver it (as is the common practice in the House of Commons) as she had only just been discharged from hospital following an operation.
Throughout the debate, pro-cull MPs called for the vote to be delayed until the Independent Expert Panel report was published – but as was pointed out, it has been – it’s just that the Secretary of State at Defra wouldn’t release it in time for the debate.
We can only speculate why.
The leaks suggest that more than 5% of badgers took longer than five minutes to die and less than 50% of badgers were killed in the cull areas, at a cost of over £4,000 per badger killed.
Alongside this, the recent drop in bTB in cattle in areas where no culling is taking place was stressed in the debate.
It was sad to see the evidence from Wales, where vaccinating badgers has reduced the outbreaks of bTB, being dismissed out-of-hand by pro-cull MPs. Importantly, even those who supported rolling out the cull, raised the need for the European Union to accept the vaccination of cattle as an important part of the way forward.
The number of MPs wanting to speak meant time limits were called for and a ‘full and frank’ discussion was certainly heard. The strongest possible arguments were put forward from both sides and it showed a Parliamentary debate at its best – with many MPs that would not normally speak in an animal welfare debate wishing to make their points.
Perhaps the most moving and convincing speeches were from those like Tracey Crouch MP who originally supported culling, but have been convinced by the science to oppose it now. As Caroline Lucas MP said, Government must put “science at the centre of future policy.”
Surely Chris Williamson MP gave the best summary of the pilot cull:
"It's failed farmers, failed taxpayers and failed wildlife in our countryside…they have made the circumstances even worse."
Angela Smith MP offered the Government a chance to move forward on “a new consensus”. It wasn’t forthcoming. The Government and their pro-cull MPs attempted to stop a vote on the motion by not calling a division (when the Speaker calls for a vote, supporters of both sides need to shout out in order for one to be taken).
Their plan did not work, a division was granted, and so the vote took place. The opponents to the cull won outright because 219 MPs voted for the motion to protect badgers, while those in favour of the cull decided in the end not to vote (possibly because they realised they could not win).
This vote is not binding, but nevertheless gives the Government a clear message, again.
Will the Government listen this time?
As Tracey Crouch MP and others said during the debate, the Government must now commit to a new binding vote in Parliament once the Independent Expert Panel report has been considered.
One step at a time, the pressure to stop this irrational cull continues.
Thank you for your continued support.