Conservative Councillors Hijack Vote on Badger Cull

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COUNCIL CHEATEDIn the immortal words of Johnny Rotten, ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

Today a motion by Councillor Dan Brember was put before Dorset County Council for debate and a vote. A strongly worded rebuke of government’s badger culling policy and a plea to use a science-based approach to tackle bTB, the motion was always going to raise the hackles of certain councillors. Still, there was hope at least for a vigorous debate and a show of support from those councillors who understood and appreciated the overwhelming scientific consensus that killing badgers is not the solution to addressing TB in cattle. Sadly the Conservative majority had no intention of even allowing this motion to be debated.

Before the debate began, Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare challenged the report from the Director of Environment, which had been sent to all Councillors along with the motion. The question we posed was:

 Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare are a group of local people who oppose the culling of badgers on both moral and scientific grounds and promote vaccination and improved welfare and biosecurity on farms as an effective and humane means of dealing with TB in both cattle and badgers. We support Councillor Brember’s motion to the Council, but take issue with the briefing note in your agenda papers. It suggests that scientific consensus, especially from those involved in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), supports the current badger culling programme being rolled out by the government. Nothing could be further from the truth. The quotes used in the briefing paper are woefully out of date. Quoted in The Guardian on 13 October 2012, Prof Lord Krebs, architect of the RBCT, states “The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. The government is cherry-picking bits of data to support its case.” We contend that the briefing paper is also cherry-picking data to support the governments case. In addition, lead scientist of the RBCT Professor John Bourne contends that scientific opinion is overwhelmingly against the cull and states, “I just don’t know anyone who is really informed who thinks this is a good idea”. Given that current scientific consensus, especially among those scientists who were behind the £50m ten-year-long Randomised Badger Culling Trial, is now firmly against culling badgers, why is it that the briefing paper appears to paint the opposite picture?

The disappointing reply that came back was, “Given that the cull is being instigated by a government department, it is only right that the evidence used by the government to support its action is presented to the County Council”. Right, no matter whether that ‘evidence’ is based on sound science or not? The Cabinet Member for Environment went on to claim “there is a lack of published data to support the suggestion that culling will not reduce the incidence of bovine TB. It is for that reason that no counter argument is presented”. It’s difficult to know where to begin when dealing with such blatant misinformation, so we’ll leave this for another day, it requires a much fuller, dedicated, post. Back to the “debate”.

No sooner had Dan Brember introduced his motion when Conservative Councillor Hillary Cox proposed an “amendment”. To call this an amendment is like calling the new Council building in Charles Street an annex. This was a gutting that ripped out the heart of the motion and replaced it with straw. Here’s what Councillor Cox proposed:

To delete al words in the motion after “damaging” in line one, ands to substitute the following words in bold:

“This Council recognises the serious and damaging impact which bovine TB has on animal welfare and the economics of farming.

The County Council also recognises that dealing with the problem of bovine TB is a matter for the Government and Parliament at national level and, locally, for the County Council’s tenant farmers under the conditions of their tenancies. 

The Council urges the Government to be led by the best available science in finding a solution to the problems associated with bovine TB and. when implementing a solution, to ensure that it is the most humane available.”

The Chairman then directed Councillors to now only debate and comment on this amendment, which would then be up for a vote. Now it’s important at this stage to point out that Dorset for Badger and Bovine welfare is not party political, but the way this played out was certainly party politics at its worst. The makeup of Dorset County Council is as follows; the Chair, Leader of the Council, Deputy and all Cabinet members are Conservative. There are a total of 27 Conservative Councillors; the total remaining Councillors number 18. Voting as a block, the Conservative Councillors effectively shut out all debate on the most pertinent issues and didn’t allow for the original motion, which had significant non-Conservative support, to get the airing it deserved. The original motion was never even voted on, instead the weakened toothless amended motion was passed, 26 to 12.

Today it wasn’t just badgers, bovines and science that lost out, it was democracy itself.

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16 responses »

    • This was just one of many ways we are working to stop the cull in Dorset. We have lots of public outreach events planned, are still working with farmers and landowners to get land out of the cull, and taking advice as to what sort of challenge can be made to the process and procedures that took place at the council meeting. Please join us at our next meeting where we’ll be talking about all this and more. Thanks!

  1. I am not particularly familiar with Council processes but from my experience in other for a (Parliament, CITES, etc) I would suggest that there should have been a Point of Order called by one of the council members in support of the original motion. The Point of Order would have been to call for a debate and a vote as to whether the new text should or should not be substituted for the original text. If the PoO was accepted then a debate on the new language of the amendment, its impact on the intention of the original motion and its relationship with the original language would have then taken place. This may not ultimately have changed the outcome. Given the make up of the council the vote as to whether to support the amendment would have passed whatever, but the debate on the respective merits of the new language versus the original language would then have been possible.

    Should such an issue and process come up again it might be worth exploring procedural opportunities that could help make sure that subjects like this are not buried without a debate of substance.

    Best Will

  2. How utterly despicable of Councillor Hillary Cox but so expected from a committed Tory. And no…I’m not a leftie or labour supporter. I have been a Tory voter all my life but this fiasco about Badger culling has turned me away from ever voting Conservative again. Cox is typical of the way Cameron’s cronies are riding rough shod over the concerns of many thousands of ordinary citizens, forcing their will in dictator like manner upon us all. There must be many, many people like me who are re-thinking their voting strategy because of their unyielding stance. We, the people must not let this Government carry out this senseless killing of out wildlife. It is unnecessary, immoral and will lead to Cameron’s downfall at the next election. I urge all local councillors to reject this policy for what will be forced upon us next?

    • Agree senseless and unscientifically based and alternative options available. Now they’re (osbourne) subsidising fracking! unbelievable, why not further green safe cleaner green energy! This government are backward thinking and our fragile habitats and our beautiful wildlife that rely upon them are suffering more and more. Shameful after all our efforts with organisations such as Wildlife Watch to protect and introduce our youngsters to badgers over the years how does it stand to then destroy these precious animals all to protect meat/cattle & I expect to protect the huge intensive dairies that are coming over from America such as the one planned for Bedfordshire/MK, (along with the huge American Incinerator undermining our recycling), just not good, not sustainable, and not forward thinking.

  3. Please be seen to be a responsible person and someone who can be relied upon to act independently if required. The proposed cull must be stopped.

  4. Comprehensive report, thanks. The whole bTB debacle is politics at its most corrupt and the way certain individuals within Dorset County Council hijacked and re-span the Brember Motion is local politics at its worst. Fortunately DBBW is strong…

  5. Disgraceful. Democracy is being eroded at an alarming rate. Hopefully the good people of Dorset will remember this at the next election

    Does any one who standsfo r election have any ethics or conscience any more?.

  6. There should have been a debate on the substantive motion on the order paper following the motion being moved by the proposer, who would have had five minutes to put it in full and the seconder three minutes to speak. Speakers are agreed in advance and others allowed by the Chairman or Mayor and they have three minutes to speak without a right of reply. Any amendments would have to be proposed and seconded debated and amended as proposed and the amendment voted upon. Other amendments can be moved in the same way. The substantive motion would also have to be voted upon but before that the Proposer has the right to reply to the debate upon his/her motion. Standing orders of the Council apply and anyone can intervene on a point if order quoting the relevant order number. I believe that moving a motion to delete substantially the substantive motion is out of order and should be investigated by the Council Solicitor or Monitoring Officer.

  7. Well actually if they had a majority of votes, then it is democracy. It doesn’t stop being democracy just because you disagree with something or someone. I agree that the cull is unnecessary but I feel that he emotiveness of your post was completely lost on me after I read the democracy died bit.

    • GM, we would agree with you had there been a chance for the original motion to have been properly debated and voted on by the whole council. That was not the case. Instead the vast majority of the original motion was deleted and substituted with text that was the polar opposite of the motion that had been raised for debate. Councillors who had read the motion and carefully prepared their supporting statement were then not able to deliver their arguments. Instead it appeared that only Conservative and a supportive Independent Councillor had pre-warning of the amendment, giving them a chance to prepare, while all other councillors were left without even a written copy of the amendment. The meeting was adjourned for 5 minutes while copies were made and distributed, and then the amended motion was debated. This meant there was no time for adequate preparation for those who wished to dispute the new amended text. Earlier in the meeting it was made clear that a motion could not just be proposed without first being approved and circulated to all Councillors well in advance, yet the same did not apply to an amendment that in essence was an entirely new motion. Even if it transpires that this with within the “rules”, it was a dirty tactic to give an unfair advantage to some councillors and put others at a significant disadvantage. This is against the spirit of a free and fair democratic process, and as has been pointed out above, it may transpire that it is also against procedural practices as well.

  8. Pingback: Conservative Councillors Hijack Vote on Badger Cull. | Scott Rennie

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