Bats are wasting taxpayers' money and should not be given a "free ride" in Britain's churches and cathedrals, the Commons has heard.

The row over bats erupted after Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman said the flying mammals should not be persecuted and ought to be free to continue living in places of worship.

But several MPs rounded on the Labour man's comments, saying it would do bats no harm to be driven out of churches as "they didn't start there", and pointing out that places of worship are "not field barns".

The Church of England's Commons representative Sir Tony Baldry even joked that Labour stalwart Dennis Skinner - known as the "Beast of Bolsover" - could be sent around churches to exorcise the bats.

But Mr Sheerman said he did not want to see bats endure the same fate as Britain's badgers which are being "exterminated".

Sir Tony gave him short shrift, pointing out that around 6,400 churches are infested with bats causing significant financial cost and damage to cultural heritage.

During church commissioners' questions in the Commons, Mr Sheerman said: "Will you make sure that when any restoration takes place that the role of wildlife - you might have heard on the radio recently about the falcon living above York Minister very happily - but can you make sure that bats are preserved in this country?

"They should not be persecuted, we don't want bats and badgers exterminated in this country.

"Can you make sure that bats are protected?"

Sir Tony replied: "Churches and cathedrals are places of worship, they are not field barns, and it is not appropriate for bats to urinate and defecate in churches where people are trying to worship and have broader community activities such as toddlers' groups, lunch clubs for pensioners and so forth.

"We have to find a way in which churches as places of worship can exist without being disrupted by bats."

Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman
 



Meanwhile, Tory former minister Andrew Robathan said bats were wasting public money.

Mr Robathan said: "It will not harm bats to be excluded from churches, they didn't start there, they started in trees and wherever else it might be.

"And we need to exclude them from churches where they are doing damage because they are doing a huge amount of damage and actually wasting taxpayers' money that is already being spent on restoring churches."

Sir Tony replied: "We are doing research and work with natural England and we hope this will offer solutions for managing bats in the worst affected churches in the country and most significantly financial help in carrying these plans out."

After Mr Skinner joked that he did not see any bats when he opened the Christmas fair at Wessington Church in his constituency because "the Beast of Bolsover was there", Sir Tony quipped that the Labour MP may
prove useful in ridding churches of infestations.

Sir Tony said: "Baldry on bats part three hasn't actually contemplated the idea of getting you round to every church which is infested with bats to exorcise them but it is something which is certainly worth considering."

Meanwhile, Tory Christopher Chope (Christchurch) called for the "full might" of the Church of England to weigh in behind his Bat Habitats Regulation Bill.

Mr Chope said: "Can I ask you whether the full might of the Church of England will be deployed in support of the Bat Habitats Regulation Bill due for a second reading on January 16 2015?

"That Bill would actually protect churches and deregulate the system so that bats do not get a free ride inside our churches."