Environment Secretary accused of 'hissy fit' in badger cull debate
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was last night accused of a “hissy fit” after he walked out of a heated debate on the badger cull.
Critics claimed the ministerial meltdown came before MPs voted by a large majority to stop the controversial cull.
The Western Daily Press told earlier this week how Mr Paterson pulled the plug on proposed pilot schemes to cull badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset this year.
He blamed bad weather this summer, the Olympics and Paralympics and the fact there are more badgers in each cull zone than had been thought.
Mr Paterson insisted the cull would go ahead next June, probably in the same two areas, but delighted opponents are now working to ensure it never happens.
Yesterday MPs held a long Commons debate, triggered by more than 160,000 people signing an epetition.
It ended in an overwhelming vote of 147 to 28 for a motion calling on the Government to abandon its plans completely.
Mr Paterson was there at the start, but other MPs said he suddenly walked out during a speech by Labour’s Iain McKenzie.
Labour’s Jamie Reed and Kerry McCarthy both tweeted about it, leading to anger among some members of the public following the debate.
Richard Bolton said: “How dare Owen Paterson walk out of the debate. Not only has it been ordered by us democratically in a system set up for this purpose… but he is one of the Ministers responsible for this debacle. You work for us Minister… get your butt back in your seat.”
Shadow health secretary Jamie Reed said Mr Paterson’s comment was “absolutely crystal clear”.
The senior Labour MP told the Daily Press: “He said ‘I can’t stand any more of this’ and it was picked up quite clearly by the microphone.
“I think it is completely up to any given Secretary of State to stay for as little or as much of the debate as they want.
“But where there is very real public interest, and given the heightened emotions on both sides, and the need for the Secretary of State to build a consensus to solve this problem for our farmers, it doesn’t help the policy if he has a hissy fit when he hears an argument he doesn’t like.”
Bristol East Labour MP Kerry McCarthy told the Daily Press: “He got very angry during the statement on the cull on Tuesday, and he got angry during Defra questions today.
“He was previously Northern Ireland Secretary, where it tends not to be so contentious, so I have never seen him under fire before.
“He has obviously got a real temper, and this was not whispered as an aside, he wanted to be heard.
“It was only the third anti-cull speech he had heard, and It is not really the way of doing things. It will be so, so difficult for them to go ahead with the cull next year, and the people who support it are going to be furious.”
Defra said it was a backbench debate and Mr Paterson intended to sit in for about 30 minutes, which he did, and Agriculture Minister David Heath would respond for the Government.
“So it would be wrong to say it was a snub, or that he stormed out.” However the spokesman said Mr Paterson was not denying he made the comments.
Mr Paterson was reported as saying he had to go for another meeting, did not storm out, but as he left he “might have joked about the ill-informed comments of the other side”.
Queen guitarist Brian May, a celebrity opponent of the cull, was in the Commons to hear Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh say it should now be scrapped.
It had already cost taxpayers more than £1 million. and the cost of policing would add to the final total.
But Somerton & Frome MP Mr Heath said bovine TB was the “pressing animal health problem in the UK” and the cost could be even greater if the Government did not act.
Former agriculture minister Sir Jim Paice said ministers and civil servants involved in the cull have been placed under extra security to protect against the threat from animal rights extremists.