The Sketch: Not everything is black and white in the battle of the badgers

There was a plea for 'team cattle' and 'team badger' to unite in their love of countryside
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Flood. Plague. Pestilence. These were the big themes in the Commons yesterday. In fact MPs couldn't get enough of them. By the end you'd have thought the whole country had been visited with some biblical-scale retribution.

It escalated rapidly through questions to the bullish, some might even say brutalist, new Environment Secretary Owen Paterson on the inadequacy of flood insurance, the threat to bumble bees from pesticides, to the minister's announcement that he intended a "ban on imports and tight restrictions on ash movements" to deal with the "horrific danger to our 80 million ash trees" from dieback disease.

And this was just a warm-up for the big debate on the blight of bovine TB and the plan for "controlled shooting" of badgers blamed by the NFU for its spread. Supporting a cull, the Tory MP Anne McIntosh made a valiant plea for "Team badger" and "Team cattle" to unite in their love of the countryside. But while each paid lip service to the plight of their less favoured beast, emotions were too charged for this. At one point Labour's Andrew Miller responded to the pro-cull "Bosnia" Bob Stewart, Tory MP and much decorated former Army officer, "I know that the hon. Gentleman is fascinated with firearms, but shooting badgers will not work..."

They argued about the science and about the merits of vaccination as an alternative.

Even before the debate, Paterson had repeatedly stated the need for "pilot" culls, telling MPs the "trauma" inflicted on farmers of the "appalling loss — 26,000 cattle last year," while Labour's Barry Sheerman told him the cull was wrong "because these wonderful creatures roamed this country before we did and ... it would destroy tens of thousands of living animals."

Much earlier, MPs had decided to take literally Richard II's appeal to sit down and "tell sad stories of the death of kings". But it was another English king and Shakespearian anti-hero, Richard III, they wanted to discuss now that some archaeologists have dug up what they think may be his bones in a car park in Leicester.

Sir Tony Baldry, representing the Church Commissioners, indicated that by tradition the right place for burying the Ricardian remains would be Leicester Cathedral, and then reassured the Commons that those of all other kings and queens had been accounted for except "Henry I, who seems to have got lost somewhere in Reading after the dissolution of the monasteries."

Regishambles! Could Baldry, a Tory, though a genial and centrist one, have been subtly defending the present government by showing that even one run on Henry VIII's behalf by the ruthlessly efficient Thomas Cromwell had its competence problems?