Government humiliated as it loses animal rights vote

By Ian Dunt

The government was humiliated this afternoon as it lost a vote on animal rights after a series of botched attempts to avoid a debate altogether.

Tory backbencher Mark Pritchard told the Commons that Downing Street tried to blackmail him into scrapping the debate on his proposal to ban circus animals, first by offering him a job and then by insisting it would harm his political career.

His outburst saw the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) capitulate and offer a free vote rather than imposing a three line whip. MPs subsequently supported the motion.

"I had a call from the prime minister's office directly, and I was told unless I withdraw this motion, that the prime minister himself said that he would look upon it very dimly indeed," Mr Pritchard told MPs.

He added: "Well I have a message for the whips and for the prime minister of our country, and I didn't pick a fight with the prime minister of our country, but I have a message: I may just be a little council house lad from a very poor background, but that background gives me a backbone, it gives me a thick skin and I am not going to be kowtowed by the whips on an issue that I feel passionately about.

"We need a generation of politicians with spine, not jelly," he shouted, amid cheers in the Commons.

Although a minor vote, Downing Street's poor efforts to block a debate and then its strong-arm tactics in the run up to it will be seen as a humiliation to the government.

It will also be treated as a significant error by Defra, which is still reeling from the backlash to its plans to sell off English forests.

"The vote brings to end 48 hours of chaos and confusion from the government about their position on a ban," Mary Creagh, shadow environment secretary, commented.

"It is extraordinary that David Cameron used such bully boy tactics to threaten his own MPs and tried to impose a three line whip on the vote."