DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has rejected an opposition MP’s call to hold a full vote in government on the future of the badger cull in England.
During an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs question and answer session in the House of Commons on Thursday (27 March), Mr Paterson was challenged by shadow environment secretary Huw Irranca-Davies to hold a new vote on the policy.
Mr Irranca-Davies asked Mr Paterson if he would have “the courage of his convictions” and give parliament a vote in government time “before proceeding with any more failed badger culls”.
Mr Paterson replied: “We have been punctilious of keeping parliament informed through a regular number of statements.
“The last vote showed a majority of 61, very clearly endorsing our strategy, which is very wide encompassing.
“The last vote on the substantive motion showed considerable support for our strategy, which encompasses vaccination of both species, significant changes to our cattle movement regime and tighter biosecurity.
“So I do think he (Mr Irranca-Davies) should concentrate on the whole strategy, which was endorsed by parliament by 61 votes.”
MPs voted by 219 to one in support of the motion to end culling. But critics later questioned the rational behind the vote – which was not binding.
It took place before the publication of a crucial independent report into last year’s pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire, which Mr Paterson will use to inform its decision over whether culling should be rolled out further to up to 10 zones this year.
During Thursday’s Commons’ session, Mr Paterson said culling badgers in the Republic of Ireland had helped reduce the number of TB cases in cattle from 44,903 in 1999 to 15,612 last year.
By contrast, Northern Ireland, which does not remove badgers, has not seen the same “dramatic reduction” in TB cases, he added.
Mr Paterson said there were “clear lessons to be learned” from other countries, although the circumstances were “not entirely the same in the UK”.
“That’s why our strategy encompasses a whole range of other activities, involving vaccination of badgers, vaccination of cattle and strict cattle movement, which has been a key to other countries’ success,” he added.
Mr Paterson told the House he was still considering the findings of the Independent Expert Panel’s report into last year’s pilot culls, which he received last week.
“I received the panel report only recently,” he said. “I’m considering it and I will come to the House in due course when it has been fully considered.”
Conservative MP for Tewkesbury, Laurence Robertson, asked the minister to give an update on the development of TB vaccines for badgers and cattle.
Mr Paterson said: “I raised this issue with (EU) commissioner Borg on the first day I was back, Monday week.
“We are pressing on with the development of a cattle vaccine. But sadly, it will be some years.
“We have to develop a vaccine which is valid and works. We have to develop a DIVA test to differentiate between vaccinated cattle and diseased cattle and then we have to go through the legal process. That, I’m afraid, is going to take at least 10 years.”