Junior DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw is scared to take action on bovine tuberculosis, the shadow DEFRA secretary Oliver Letwin has claimed.

Mr Letwin told the Conservative party conference in Blackpool, Lancs, that one of his main priorities was to increase the pressure on DEFRA, to force it to tackle the growing menace of bovine TB.

And, the former shadow chancellor began racking up that pressure by making the attack on Mr Bradshaw during a fringe meeting on Monday (3 Sept).

First acknowledging that for any politician to propose a policy involving a cull on badgers would be difficult, Mr Letwin said: “Ben Bradshaw knows the reality of the situation but he’s dead scared of the badger lobby.

“We need action now. It’s a politically dangerous decision but it needs to be made. My job is to put some backbone into DEFRA.”

He said that the department had no plans in place with which to tackle the disease and seemed incapable of dealing with the problem.

“DEFRA just seems to think that the disease should be studied when the reality is it needs to be tackled.”

The Rural Payments Agency also came in for criticism for its failure to make support payments on time. Mr Letwin slammed the government agency as a “shambles of an administration”.

In his main address to the party on Wednesday (5 Oct) Mr Letwin chose to focus on two themes: the need to protect the environment and of the Tories’ need to become the party of the environment.

He stressed the importance of farming’s contribution to shaping and maintaining the countryside.

“The feel of the land of Britain and of the communities that inhabit that land has not been given to us by nature alone, but by mankind farming the land.”