A parliamentary debate will take place in the House of Commons next week to discuss the imminent badger cull.

The six-hour debate is planned for Thursday 25 October in the main Commons chamber after a government e-petition calling for the cull to be scrapped gathered more than 155,000 signatures.

Campaigners, led by Queen guitarist Brian May, have called for the badger cull, which is due to start any day, to be suspended until after the debate.

Natural England has approved licences for two pilot culls, in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire, for the shooting of free-roaming badgers.

Farmers and the government say the cull is needed to reduce bovine TB, which is spread by badgers. Last year, 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in the UK owing to the disease, which cost taxpayers £90m.

NFU president Peter Kendall welcomed the debate and said it offered a fresh opportunity for the science to be fully explained.

The badger cull policy has already been thoroughly scrutinised and been upheld after two legal challenges by the Badger Trust, both in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, failed in the summer.

Mr Kendall added: “No cattle vaccine is available, and one with the ability to provide near whole herd immunity is years away. Badger vaccine is being used and will continue to be used as part of the package of measures in this policy to try and halt the spread of TB.

“But we must remember that no other country in the world has ever got on top of this disease without also tackling the reservoir of infection in the wildlife host, thereby breaking the cycle of infection between badgers and cattle.”

Nick von Westenholz, NFU head of government affairs, said the outcome of the debate would not be legally binding, but it will test the opinion of the House of Commons.

“If the House votes in favour of the government plans then we would welcome that as an endorsement of these tough but necessary measures.

“But regardless of the outcome of any vote, the government has already conducted extensive public consultation and its plans have faced two legal challenges.”

Farm minister David Heath said the debate would offer “an opportunity to put right a lot of the misleading information I’ve seen recently from opponents of the cull”.

A spokesman for Natural England said: “I do not believe the debate will be legally binding. There will be a vote at the end, but it is an advisory debate.

“We cannot speculate about what our response to the parliamentary debate will be. However, the badger cull remains on track to begin this autumn.”

Philip Case on G+

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