Apart from the hon. Member who will move the motion, 36 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As a consequence, I have imposed an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. That limit will take effect after Caroline Lucas has made her speech to move the motion, and she knows that she should not exceed 15 minutes.
I beg to move,
That this House
notes the e-petition on the planned badger cull, which has gathered more than 150,000 signatures;
and calls on the Government to stop the cull and implement the more sustainable and humane solution of both a vaccination programme for badgers and cattle, along with improved testing and biosecurity.
The motion is supported by a wide-ranging cross-party group of MPs and let me make it clear that I and, I am sure, all those who support the motion do not in any way underestimate the hardship and distress that bovine TB causes to farmers. Indeed, it is because we recognise the urgent need to address the problem that we are anxious to ensure that we have a scientifically robust and cost-effective strategy that actually works.
Although Tuesday’s announcement that the pilot cull will be postponed until next summer was very welcome, it does not amount to a change of policy. Today’s motion calls on the Government to stop their ill-judged, unscientific and deeply unpopular culling policy for good, not just for a few months. The motion is about an abandonment of the cull, not just a postponement, and that is why it is so important that today’s debate goes ahead. That is what the majority of the public want and it is what the science demands. Public opinion overwhelmingly opposes a badger cull, including in those regions where the pilots were to take place. More than 163,000 members of the public have signed the e-petition launched by animal campaigner and Queen guitarist Brian May. I pay tribute to all of them, to Brian himself, to Team Badger and to all those individuals who played a role in mobilising public opposition to the cull.
Might the hon. Lady accept my paying tribute to the late Peter Hardy, a great Rotherham MP, who introduced the first Badgers Act in 1973, which is why I am proud to stand here in his memory, and honour his dedication to the cause, by voting with her and other hon. Members on this important issue, so that we say no to badgercide?
I very much welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention. He rightly reminds me of the precedence in this House of previous battles that have tried to ensure that we do not have a misguided badger cull as a response to the serious problem of bovine TB.
The Government say that they support an evidence-based approach, so let us look at the evidence. Bovine TB cost the taxpayer £91 million in 2010-11 in testing, in the slaughter of animals and in compensation to farmers. The scale of the problem is such that it is deeply irresponsible and unfair to gamble, as the Government are doing, with farmers’ livelihoods and with the future of one of our best loved wildlife species.
The hon. Lady mentions farmers’ livelihoods, but has she seen the NFU briefing, which makes it clear that it regrets the need for culling and says that other methods, such as cattle controls and vaccination, are being deployed? But it says that culling is a vital component and misleading and emotive campaigns that play on sentimental affection for badgers and unfair depictions of farmers threaten to undermine the chance that we now have of getting on top of this horrendous disease once and for all.
I have seen that briefing, but I would say that the emotion is coming from those on the Government Benches. The science is with the Opposition, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to what Lord Krebs said in the House of Lords just a few days ago, which makes it absolutely clear that quite a lot of misinformation is unfortunately being spread by the NFU and others about the seriousness of the issue in terms of how effective a cull can be. It is clear that the best that a cull can achieve, under strict conditions—not the conditions of these pilots—is a 16% improvement.
I will take interventions in a moment.
The planned pilots would not have got anywhere near to that 16%, because they did not follow the rigour of the randomised badger culling trial and other Krebs reports.
I will give way when I have made a little more progress.
The independent scientific group on cattle TB conducted the most thorough and rigorous study of bovine TB in the UK to date—the randomised badger culling trial. That trial took place over nine years, cost the taxpayer £50 million and destroyed 10,000 badgers. The report on the trial is described by Professor Denis Mollison, the independent statistical adviser to the RBCT, as “painstaking, expert and balanced”, and I commend it to Ministers as an exemplar of how to bring high-quality science into public decision making. The consultation from the coalition Government said of this RBC trial that it was the only one that was conducted as a rigorous scientific trial. The conclusions of that ISG report for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, published in 2007, are well rehearsed, but they are worth repeating. It states:
“Detailed evaluation of RBCT and other scientific data highlights the limitations of badger culling as a control measure for cattle TB.”
It goes on to recommend
“that TB control efforts focus on measures other than badger culling” because
“In contrast with the situation regarding badger culling, our data and modelling suggest that substantial reductions in cattle TB incidence could be achieved by improving cattle-based control measures.”
That is precisely the approach that today’s motion advocates.
The hon. Lady easily reads out what the report says, and she is right that it says “substantial reductions”. But is she not interested in more than substantial reduction, which is elimination of this awful disease? If so, does she agree that even Professor Bourne, who headed the study, has said that it quite clearly cannot be eradicated without eradicating it in badgers?
Were we to eradicate every single badger, we would certainly eradicate bovine TB, but we would also eradicate a very important species.
The ISG concluded that
“badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”
That is the conclusion of what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs itself says is the most scientifically robust trial that has ever taken place in the UK. We want policy to be based on the science, which is why we should be looking at what the ISG says.
If we are to talk about eradicating bovine TB, it is important that we go back to the science and try to put emotions aside, as my right hon. Friend Sir James Paice mentioned a moment ago. The trials clearly showed that the best possible outcome would be a 16% reduction, but that is a reduction in the context of an increasing incidence of TB. Indeed, the Secretary of State has talked about the incidence of bovine TB doubling in 10 years. In those circumstances, all a cull would do is reduce the increase. It will not result in a reduction in bovine TB.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think that it is worth reading what Lord Krebs said in the House of Lords, because it is exactly the point the hon. Gentleman identifies. He said that
“the long-term, large-scale culling of badgers is estimated to reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16% after nine years. In other words, 84% of the problem is still there. To reflect on what that means, this is not a reduction in absolute terms”,
as the hon. Gentleman rightly said,
“but actually a 16% reduction from the trend increase. So after nine years there is still more TB around than there was at the beginning”.—[Hansard, House of Lords, 23 October 2012; Vol. 740, c. 148.]
That is the key point that Government Members are not taking on board.
I will make a little more progress before giving way again—as you have pointed out, Mr Speaker, this is a heavily oversubscribed debate.
A number of eminent individuals have also spoken out in opposition to the Government’s proposed course of action. Significantly, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, has refused to back the cull. In a letter to The Observer on
“the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it… culling badgers as planned is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication.”
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I rather suspect that in Brighton Pavilion there are few dairy famers, if any, so will she agree to come to Shropshire and spend the day meeting my dairy farmers and the local NFU to hear their perspective on the crisis and how they believe it should be tackled?
Even coming from Brighton Pavilion does not stop someone reading the science. I would like the debate to be based on the science, not on emotional calls from the Government Benches. Professor Lord Krebs, who devised the randomised badger cull and is firmly opposed to the cull, has said:
“I have not found any scientists who are experts in population biology in the distribution of infectious diseases in wildlife who think that culling is a good idea… People have cherry-picked certain results to try to get the argument that they want.”
The hon. Lady is being extremely generous with her time, for which I am most grateful. The arguments about which scientists said what should surely be answered by a paper that was produced by DEFRA following a meeting, held by the Department on
“The science base generated from the RBCT shows that proactive badger culling as conducted in the trial resulted in an overall beneficial effect compared with ‘survey only’ (no cull) areas”.
Scientists at DEFRA were in agreement and came to that conclusion. That is a Government paper. Surely we should move on from going backwards and forwards on which scientists said what. There is some benefit to be had from a cull. It is not the only answer.
Order. Before the hon. Lady responds, I remind Members that she is due to speak for 15 minutes or thereabouts and has already taken several interventions. I gently encourage Members to be economical with interventions. Many Members wish to speak in the debate. The more interventions, the longer we will take, and you can bet your bottom dollar that people will be queuing up to complain and ask, “Why didn’t I get called to speak in the debate?” Answer: the time was taken up earlier. Let us get on with the debate.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. In order to do so, I go back to what I said just before the hon. Gentleman intervened, which is that Lord Krebs himself is saying that people are cherry-picking certain aspects to try to get the result they want. If the hon. Gentleman looked at the full set of recommendations from the document instead of those that he cherry-picked, he would see that in fact the vast majority of the evidence is that culling does not make a significant contribution.
The case against culling on the grounds of efficiency and effectiveness is overwhelming. That approach is also potentially entirely counterproductive. The independent scientific group initially found a decrease in the disease of approximately 23% in the centre of the culled area but an increase of approximately 29% on neighbouring land outside the culled area. Those results can be explained partly by what has been termed the perturbation effect. That has been studied by Professor Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London, who has also found that repeated badger culling in the same area is associated with increasing prevalence of the BTB infection in badgers.
The objective of the Government and the NFU is healthy cattle and healthy badgers. I agree with that, but how does culling improve badger health? Professor Woodroffe states unequivocally that it does exactly the opposite and that
“all the evidence shows that culling badgers increases the proportion of badgers that have TB”.
Yet the Government’s approach ignores that evidence. As with the ISG trials, conditions have been imposed to try to limit the effects of perturbation, such as identifying natural barriers to badger movement, but these have generally been less rigorous than those recommended, with farmers essentially being encouraged to develop a “not in my back yard” approach to cattle TB without any real thought for the long-term impact on rates of the disease elsewhere.
Earlier this week, the Secretary of State warned that the cost to the taxpayer of tackling bovine TB will rise to £1 billion over the next decade if the disease is left unchecked. I agree that that is a very alarming prospect. That is why it is crucial that on this, as well as on the scientific evidence, he listen to the experts who, let me remind him, have concluded:
“The financial costs of culling an idealized 150 km(2) area would exceed the savings achieved through reduced cattle TB, by factors of 2 to 3.5.”
DEFRA has tried to keep the costs down by allowing licensed farmers to do the culling in its planned pilots and allowing for the licences to permit shooting, but by cutting corners in that way it undermines the very effectiveness that it claims for a culling strategy.
I appreciate the hon. Lady’s giving way on this important and passionately felt issue. I speak as a member of the British Veterinary Association, which states in its most recent report, first, that culling is necessary, and secondly, that there is no available vaccination that can address the reservoir of the disease within the wildlife population of badgers. Is she aware that this year 30,000 cattle will have to be slaughtered because of bovine TB? What are we going to do about that problem?
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. In fact, a vaccine is a lot closer to being developed than he and others suggest, so there are alternatives to culling. Earlier in the week, the Secretary of State made much of saying that there no alternatives. The tragedy is that there are alternatives but this Government seem extremely reluctant to bring them forward.
On tackling cattle-to-cattle transmission of the disease, the ISG report states:
“Movement of cattle from infected herds in the periods between routine herd tests has long been recognised as a cause of new herd breakdowns, and it is generally accepted that most of the sporadic herd breakdowns in relatively disease-free areas of the country result from movement of infected animals.”
The evidence suggests that focusing on the role of badgers in the spread of bovine TB is a distraction and that priority should instead be given to preventing the spread of the disease between cattle. That is why the motion calls on the Government to introduce a programme of vaccination, which eminent scientist and former Government scientific adviser Lord Robert May points to as an important tool in tackling TB. He says:
“What is particularly irritating is that we have the vaccines in the pipeline, but the commitment to really go in and test them is…not there”.
DEFRA confirms that. A statement on its own website reads:
“BCG…is the most suitable cattle TB vaccine candidate in the short term. Experimental studies show that BCG vaccination reduces the progression, severity and excretion of TB in cattle…and field studies show that it can reduce transmission of disease between animals.”
Does the hon. Lady agree that farmers’ voices are not unanimous on this issue? I have been contacted by Gloucestershire dairy farmers who support the vaccination model being developed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and, in the short term, the model of meticulous biosecurity that has been advanced successfully by Gloucestershire farmer Steve Jones, who has managed to contain bovine TB despite the fact that his farm is in the very centre of the bovine TB area.
Let me make some further progress. DEFRA cites the EU prohibition on the vaccination of cattle against TB as the reason why studies to date
“cannot provide a definite figure for vaccine efficacy when administered to cattle under field conditions in the UK”.
Vaccinated cows can test positive for TB when using the current tuberculin skin test and the gamma interferon blood test, making it impossible to differentiate between an animal that has been vaccinated and one that has the disease. However, a complementary test called the DIVA—differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals—test has been developed, which confirms whether a skin test positive result is caused by vaccination or by TB infection. That is what should be validated and certified by the end of the year, according to the DEFRA website. It has the potential to open the door to a change in EU regulation. This Government should go to Europe now—they should have done so years ago—and prepare the policy framework to allow us to use the DIVA test; yet there are precious few signs that DEFRA or, indeed, the Government are pressing aggressively for the legal framework in which a cattle vaccine could be widely deployed. I echo the sentiments of those many Members who earlier this week urged DEFRA to stop hiding behind the excuse of EU law and to step up its efforts to change it.
A 2008 DEFRA paper on options for vaccinating cattle against bovine TB was endorsed by the NFU and concludes that
“BCG based vaccines will need to be used in conjunction with a DIVA test and that such a programme of vaccination could be cost-effective.”
It identifies the most significant barriers to use as legal and resultant trade implications. That was three years ago and we really should have made more progress than we have to date.
“Despite some improvements, the government is still going nowhere near far enough with biosecurity”.
He went on to say:
“It is not badgers that spread the disease throughout the country; it is cattle”.
The most recent European Commission inspection of England’s biosecurity in September 2011 uncovered a catalogue of failures, including missed targets in the rapid removal of cattle infected with TB and
“weaknesses in disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels”.
A belated crackdown has resulted in a slight improvement, but we need to go much further.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Steve Jones, a farmer who is deeply concerned about biosecurity. He says:
“Water troughs are a reservoir for TB because they are rarely cleaned out. It’s not uncommon for trough water to be left stagnating through the winter, collecting dead birds, rodents and various bacteria, only to be drunk by cattle in the spring. Badgers also use these troughs but it’s unfair to isolate badgers when the culprit is the bacteria soup itself. Making troughs badger-proof is not rocket science, but more fundamental is the adoption of better hygiene standards by the agricultural industry.”
Recent DEFRA data indicate that improving biosecurity would cost famers an average of £4,000, compared with £27,000 to deal with the TB herd breakdown. That is why the motion has a very strong focus, alongside its other measures, on comprehensive national biosecurity policy.
It is important to recognise the wider context in Gloucestershire. One of the trials was going to take place in my constituency and farmers are very disappointed that it cannot go ahead for the moment. One of the first ministerial meetings that I had in this House 15 years ago was with the then Agriculture Minister, Jeff Rooker, and nothing has happened since. Does the hon. Lady not understand the frustration of farmers, including those in Gloucestershire? Does she not accept that, as Ian Paisley has said, the British Veterinary Association says that the disease is being spread by badgers and that a trial cull is necessary?
Order. A lot of Members want to get in and interventions will slow us down. I am sure that Caroline Lucas will want to get to the end of her speech very quickly.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman reminding us that farmers are deeply concerned about the matter and feel frustration, but that frustration is because we have had years and years of inaction. Suddenly pulling a badger cull down from the shelf is the wrong way to respond to that frustration. The Government should have gone to the EU and made the case for the DIVA test so that we could get on with vaccination. All the evidence suggests that vaccination, combined with biosecurity, better hygiene and better husbandry, is a much better way of eradicating this horrible disease. No Member is complacent about the seriousness of the disease, but what we differ about is the most effective way of addressing it. The science is on the side of those who oppose the cull, because it shows that it is not the most effective way forward.
As I said, modern husbandry practices place chronic stress on intensively farmed animals, and a number of scientists are also pointing to the way in which cattle have been inbred for many years as a significant contributor to why cattle do not have the resistance to cope with such a disease.
I want to say a few words about vaccinating badgers. I agree that vaccinating wildlife should be given proper consideration, alongside the vaccination of cattle, yet the coalition Government have slashed funding for the badger vaccine deployment project. Only one of the six original five-year trials to learn how best to address some of the practical difficulties of vaccination is still under way. If those projects had gone ahead as planned, we would have been much further along the road towards finding a solution by now. That is exactly why farmers are frustrated. Instead, two years on, nothing more has been done.
I agree with much of what the hon. Lady is saying. Will she explain for a layperson such as myself why, although a third of the land mass of the United Kingdom is in Scotland, Scotland has not taken the decision to do what is being done in England? Wales has also withdrawn from the cull, so we are arguing about an English thing, not a British thing.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which brings me neatly to the situation in Wales, about which I know something. The Government there have used the same scientific evidence as DEFRA and have begun a five-year badger vaccination programme, starting in parts of Pembrokeshire. More than 700 badgers have been vaccinated since the start of that programme, which is about halfway through the land that it needs to cover. That part of the programme is on track to be finished towards the end of October. I hope that England will be able to learn from Wales and elsewhere to see how the problem can be tackled most effectively.
Does the hon. Lady not accept that until there is an oral vaccine, it is totally impractical to try to vaccinate the badger population? First, they have to be caught. Secondly, the person doing the catching has to be licensed by Natural England at huge cost, and thirdly, the cost is estimated at £2,250 per square kilometre.
Trying to kill badgers is also extremely difficult. The original randomised badger culling trial was about killing badgers by capturing them in cages first, but the Government have dismissed that as too expensive. In doing so, they have reduced the likely effectiveness of the policy. It will lead to people trying to shoot badgers, which are difficult to kill outright because of their shape and size. That is extremely costly, and crucially it also spreads the disease even more widely. Vaccinating badgers is not easy, but it is a lot easier than shooting them in the way that the Government propose. It is also an awful lot more effective in stopping the spread of TB. That seems to me a good argument for not going ahead with shooting.
No, I have given way to the hon. Gentleman.
Rather than pursuing an approach that is widely discredited, should not the Government invest in studies to determine exactly how and whether badger vaccination can work on a larger scale, in co-operation with organisations such as the National Trust and the Wildlife Trusts, which are already taking a lead in carrying out vaccine trials?
I am coming to the end of my speech, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I can see that you are looking a little perturbed. Even were all that I have said about the science, the alternatives to a cull and its lack of effectiveness to be discounted, the Government’s proposals remain deeply flawed. Although the pilot culls in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset have been postponed, I am sure that other Members will want to raise concerns that the specific licensing criteria that were set out would not have been met. They will also want to raise concerns about the degree to which the Government’s current policy deviates from the conditions of the RBCT, despite advice from experts that the more a future culling policy deviates from the conditions of the RBCT, the more likely it is that their effects will differ and that there will be variability in outcomes between areas. Professor Bourne, chairman of the independent scientific group, claims that the key differences between his team’s methodology and the Government’s pilot culls—including a very different killing method and much longer killing period—are “significant”. Although he has been mentioned by those on the other side of the argument, he stated that the cull,
“could make TB a damn sight worse.”
The news that badger numbers are higher than anticipated suggests that methods used by Natural England to set the minimum and maximum number of badgers that can be killed across licensed zones are inaccurate.
I will not.
That inaccuracy makes it impossible to guarantee that local extinctions will not occur. I welcome the fact that the Government and the NFU have concluded that the pilot culls cannot take place this year. They must now look again at other problems that have been identified, and abandon their culling policy altogether.
Order. An eight-minute limit on speeches has been imposed, but we want to try and get everybody in. Fewer interventions will ensure that everybody will be able to speak.
I congratulate Caroline Lucas on initiating this debate so eloquently, and it is an honour to follow her. Although I note that the petition has 150,000 signatures, I firmly and passionately believe that a silent majority in the countryside care strongly about controlling bovine TB and believe in the need for an eventual cull, as well as in other measures such as those called for by the hon. Lady. I am not convinced of the need for Team Badger or a team cattle; I believe there should be one team, one nation and one countryside. I hope that the House will send a message this afternoon that we are convinced there can be both a healthy badger population and healthy livestock.
I will restrict my remarks to the positive role that I believe the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee can play. Only two hon. Members who served on that Committee during the previous Parliament remain—my hon. Friend Dan Rogerson and myself—[ Interruption. ] And, indeed, another survivor, my hon. Friend Mr Gray. The Committee stated:
“We also recognised that under certain well-defined circumstances it was possible that badger culling could make a contribution towards the reduction in incidence of the disease in hot spot areas. However, we acknowledged that badger culling alone would never provide a universal solution to the problem of cattle TB.”
The point is this: we will never eradicate or control the spread of TB by vaccination alone; we need a controlled cull.
Does the hon. Lady accept that if the vaccine was available, there would be no need for a cull? I think some Government Members House want the cull regardless.
The hon. Gentleman will hear what my right hon. and hon. Friends say when they speak on this issue with some passion.
May I commend the work of the Food and Environment Research Agency, based in Ryedale in my constituency of Thirsk and Malton and, in particular, its work on progressing vaccinations for badgers? I note that it is already undertaking badger vaccines. My hon. Friend Mel Stride asked about the cost of those individual vaccines, and it would be helpful if the Minister would confirm that.
In the pause before an eventual cull, I believe that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee can make a major contribution precisely on the vexed issue of vaccination, which was raised by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion. Not only do we have the cost and difficulty of vaccinating badgers, but there is currently no effective test to tell the difference between vaccinated and infected cattle—the wider issue raised by the hon. Lady. It is, therefore, impossible to identify clean animals from infected animals for the purpose of export.
I am sorry to intervene so soon, but that is not correct. The test to differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals—the DIVA test—exists and is ready to be used once we get permission from the EU. The obstacle to the problem is getting that permission—there has not been much effort on that—not that the test does not exist.
I am afraid that is a point of disagreement, which is why I believe there is a role for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to examine the state of the science. Members of that Committee can use their role to encourage the Government to use good relations with the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, and colleagues in the European Parliament who have co-decision, to make plans to lift the ban on exports. That raises the wider issue of how we can encourage FERA to develop the badger vaccine, and encourage the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency to look fully at developing the efficiency of a cattle vaccination.
There is one issue that I regret the hon. Lady and Team Badger do not accept. Government Members recognise the issue of badger welfare, but I would like to see the whole House rise up and agree that it is unacceptable that almost 60,000 cows in calf—they were carrying an unborn calf—were slaughtered in 2010 and 2011. My hon. Friends have already alluded to the human grief suffered by farmers, and this year everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. We have seen a rise in fuel costs for transporting animals, and in the cost of feed. There has been bad weather; the potato crop is going wrong and pig farming is going wrong—everything is going wrong and farmers are battling with the elements.
We are talking about herds of cattle that have been raised by generations of farmers, and when a herd is slaughtered, that lifeline can never be regained. The contribution of such herds to the rural economy should not be underestimated, and they will be lost and gone for ever. I would like the House to unite to show that we care for the loss suffered by farmers, and that we recognise that this broader wildlife and countryside issue goes to the heart of the rural economy and farming in this country.
I have the honour of representing two livestock marts—that in Thirsk is the largest, or joint-largest, fatstock mart in the country. Farmers who produce those animals live in fear of one rogue beast coming into the herd.
My hon. Friend is right to stress the human effects of the difficulties in which farmers now find themselves. Robert Davies, a farmer in my constituency, is an owner-occupier who has a closed herd on one farm. Over the past few years it has been shut for months on the trot, and nearly 400 animals have been tested every 60 days. Just imagine the pain, suffering and difficulty experienced by him and his family, and the welfare of those animals.
I could not have put that better myself, and I hope the House will unite and recognise the contributions that farmers make to the economy. In terms of health and diet, nothing could be more nutritious than milk, dairy produce, beef and other meat products that are the lifeline of hill farmers in the north, and lowland farmers across the country.
No other country in the world has been able to control the spread of and incidence of TB in cattle without a controlled, limited cull. I bitterly regret the circumstances in which the NFU, Natural England, FERA and particularly the Government, have found themselves by postponing the cull. Farmers in my area and across the country will look for a controlled cull, and we should examine the results of that. Let us use this pause to examine the science—including the vaccination of badgers—and establish the cost and efficacy of that. Most importantly, we should look for a vaccination that will not only control levels of infection in cattle, but allow our meat and dairy products to be accepted across the EU and the world. Let us rise as one nation, one team, and one countryside.
I challenge Government Members’ attempts to portray this subject as an urban against rural issue, as they did with fox hunting. I am a west country MP. Admittedly, I represent an urban constituency, but I occasionally venture outside Bristol. I know from representations made to me from people in south Gloucestershire and the Forest of Dean area, Somerset and around the west country that there is widespread opposition to the badger cull, including opposition from people in rural areas, from farmers who do not want the cull on their land, and from people across the board. It is totally wrong to say, “Only townies who don’t understand the country or farming are opposed to the cull.” It is incredibly patronising to say that the many people who have written to me and MPs who represent rural areas do not understand the science. I have looked at the science.
The Chair of the Select Committee, a Conservative, spoke of one nation and one countryside. Does my hon. Friend agree that the device of dividing the country between town and country is unhelpful?
That device is completely unhelpful. I have taken an interest in food policy in my time in Parliament—I introduced a Food Waste Bill. Food policy is about farming only to an extent, but people eat food, including in urban areas. Food policy is also about food distribution networks and supermarkets. It is completely ludicrous to portray the issue as one that is just for farmers.
Order. If we are to have interventions, they must be short, but those Members who intervene and wish to speak should recognise that they will go to the bottom of the list. That is just a warning for all.
The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong, as we have heard in the debate and in the statement on Tuesday.
Many hon. Members will want to discuss vaccination. I am pleased that, in the west country, there have been efforts to roll out badger vaccination programmes. They seem to have been successful, although it is the very early stages. Many hon. Members will discuss the scientific evidence, which seems to me to be overwhelmingly in support of the notion that badger culling would have a limited impact if any—I believe it says there would be a 16% reduction in bovine TB over nine years.
However, in the time available, I want to focus on cattle-to-cattle transmission. Caroline Lucas probably misspoke when she said that if every single badger were eradicated, we could eradicate bovine TB—she went on to say that we could not eradicate all badgers and mentioned cattle-to-cattle transmission. In response to a question from the shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in September this year, the Government accepted that about 50% of cases of bovine TB in areas where the randomised badger culling trial took place were attributed to badgers. The other 50% were attributed to cattle-to-cattle transmission. In areas where there is lower incidence, there is a much higher rate of cattle-to-cattle transmission.
It is important to address that point. I was concerned that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did not seem to be willing to acknowledge in Tuesday’s statement the very significant role that cattle-to-cattle transmission plays in spreading the disease. Indeed, when he was asked a question about cattle husbandry, he said that the problem was that badgers can get into sheds. He also said that famers grazing cattle in fields cannot prevent badgers from getting to them. That is not what the cattle husbandry issue is about—the Secretary of State was focused totally on badgers, rather than on what happens when cattle spread disease. The fact is that many of the badgers that carry TB are not particularly infectious—[ Interruption. ] I can cite evidence on that.
I do not want to give way again in the time I have left.
I was concerned that the new Secretary of State seems not to have got to grips with cattle-to-cattle transmission, but I accept that tighter controls will be introduced from next year, which I welcome. When his predecessor as Secretary of State, Mrs Spelman, made a statement on the cull just before the Christmas recess, she failed to mention cattle-to-cattle transmission, as I pointed out to her at the time, although she did mention it in her statement in July. There is a degree of complacency in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on cattle-to-cattle transmission, which needs to be addressed.
On the history of bovine TB, it is clear is that, in the 1960s, when strict quarantine rules and the rigorous testing of cattle were in place, bovine TB was almost eliminated from the UK. However, farmers were not happy with the regime and complained, and, to quote George Monbiot:
“TB returned with a vengeance”.
Professor Graham Medley of the university of Warwick has said that the only way to eradicate TB in cattle would be a return to the stricter and more effective controls that were in place 40 years ago. Professor John Bourne, who led the randomised badger culling trial—which, as we know, concluded that badger culling could make “no meaningful contribution” to controlling bovine TB—agrees with Professor Medley. Professor Bourne has said that only stricter biosecurity can control bovine TB. The RBCT report states:
“Weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone”.
A European Commission report of September 2011 revealed significant evidence of bad practice in English farms. It found that failure to abide by cattle TB prevention measures was widespread. The Commission gave the UK €23 million in 2011 for bovine TB control measures. Its inspectors found that the removal of cattle with TB was below the target of 90% in 10 days, and that, in the first half of 2011, more than 1,000 cattle had not been removed after 30 days. It found that there were 3,300 overdue TB tests as of May 2011 and that many calf passports, which are used to track movements, were incomplete. It also found that only 56% disease report forms had been completed on time. Funding cuts were cited as the reason for the failure of local authorities to update their databases.
The Commission report concluded that local authority surveys provided evidence that
“some cattle farmers may have been illegally swapping cattle ear tags, ie retaining TB-positive animals in their herds and sending less productive animals to slaughter in their place.”
A couple of Government Members are shaking their heads, but farmers have been prosecuted for that in the west country.
I am not going to give way.
The Commission found that there were missed targets on rapidly removing cattle with TB, and on the follow-up of missed tests. It found numerous shortcomings and
“weaknesses in cleaning and disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels, exacerbated by lack of adequate supervision”.
All those problems increase the risk of TB spreading between cattle.
“It is an open secret that isolation of [TB] reactors and inconclusive reactors is rare.”
He has said that DEFRA’s database showed that, in 2009, there was 20.8% non-compliance on bovine TB issues. There was only one instance that year of a dairy farm being checked for compliance with an isolation notice.
I welcome the fact that DEFRA has indicated that new rules and a crackdown on cattle movement, and increased TB testing, will take place from
“There is some evidence…that TB in cattle is coming down. There needs to be time to see if there has been an impact, before going ahead with a massacre of badgers…It is cattle, not badgers, that are the main transmitters of bovine TB so it is utterly outrageous for badgers to pay the price for farmers’ failure to abide by proper biosecurity measures.”
I could not end on a better note than that.
In Shropshire in 1997, 47 cows were slaughtered as a result of bovine TB. Last year, more than 2,000 were slaughtered. There has been a huge increase in the disease in my constituency and throughout Shropshire.
I have spent a lot of time with many of my Shropshire dairy farmers and sometimes, having gone around their farms with them, I have found myself sitting at their kitchen tables, having coffee and talking about the impact of that slaughter on them and their families. I do not mind saying that sometimes we—grown men—have sat around the table and cried, such is the emotion. The impact—not just on them but on their families and, in particular, young children—of whole herds being taken away for slaughter is devastating.
I hope that hon. Members who oppose this action will take the time—I invited Caroline Lucas in good spirit—to come to Shropshire and areas of the country facing this extraordinary crisis, and to meet our constituents and hear the emotion in their pleas for action. Hon. Members would then begin to understand why so many Government Members feel strongly that action must be taken now.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. I stood beside a dairy farmer in my constituency as their herd was loaded for slaughter, and it is an extremely distressing experience, but that is all the more reason why we should listen to the science and not make the situation worse. It is simply wrong to suggest that that is not what people on both side of the debate are trying to achieve.
Of course, we will be arguing about the science, and both sides feel strongly that their scientific arguments are correct and that they have the correct scientists’ feedback on their side. That will continue throughout the debate.
I echo the comments by Martin Horwood about how much sympathy we all have for farmers and the dairy industry. We have to deal with this disease. However, the years that Daniel Kawczynski mentioned—1997 and, more recently, 2007-12—were marked by one event that changed the picture of disease in cattle, and that was foot and mouth. Will he comment on the contribution that foot and mouth made to increased cattle movement and the decrease in testing for bovine TB in cattle?
In the few minutes I have, I would like to focus on my constituents. I am sure that others will take up the hon. Lady’s point.
One of the first things I did when I became a Member of Parliament in 2005 was to form an all-party group on dairy farmers. I did so because of the direct lobbying I received from Mr Stuart Jones of Pontesbury and many of my other dairy farmers, who wanted me to campaign on this issue. More than 190 Members of Parliament joined the all-party group, making it one of the largest in the House of Commons. To my great pleasure, the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, joined it—it was the only one he joined in the last Parliament.
We used this caucus of more than 190 Members repeatedly to try to engage with Labour Ministers, and we took the National Farmers Union—many of our farmers came—to meet various DEFRA Ministers and Secretaries of State. I shall not mention all of them, but I am happy to list all the meetings we had; and yet, month after month, year after year, no action was taken, and this disease continued to spread and decimate the industry in our constituencies. A delegation also went to Brussels to meet the European Commission and to Ireland and France to find out what they were doing and how they were coping with bovine TB. We wanted to find out at first hand how the French had managed to eradicate it almost completely, and part of the solution there, as in Ireland and many other EU countries, was a badger cull.
Shropshire MPs have met the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, whose symbol is a badger. It has more than 8,000 members, making it the largest organisation in our county. The Secretary of State, my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Mr Dunne and I met the trust just last week, and we are having very effective discussions with it as we argue and debate in a professional and peaceful fashion the best way forward. It is extremely important to keep the dialogue going. I highlighted to the trust the triangle in my constituency between Pontesbury, Westbury and Minsterley, where this disease is getting completely out of control. Very kindly, the trust has agreed to come with me to meet my dairy farmers in that part of Shropshire to hear at first hand the problems they are facing.
I am extremely grateful that we have a Secretary of State from Shropshire who understands the problem and who is also a man of great courage, integrity and honour. My dairy farmers and I can trust him to fulfil the commitment he gave the other day that, despite this pause, next summer we will finally start to tackle this problem and take action for our hard-pressed, long-suffering dairy farmers.
I speak in an effort to unite the House, because the Opposition share the concern for farmers. I have a dairy farmer in my constituency, and my constituency contains a mix of urban and rural areas. I have spoken to that dairy farmer, and we both understand the impact of bovine TB on farmers and their business.
Having said that, most organisations in the UK have united in opposition to the badger cull, while the e-petition against it has been signed by 142,000 people. Even some who live and work in the countryside are not convinced that it will do what it is meant to do. Quite simply, free shooting badgers in the dark is just that—a shot in the dark to control bovine TB. Independent scientific studies have shown that culling would be of little help and probably make the situation worse in some areas.
I would like to think that farmers in my area would not be convinced.
There is no accurate way of knowing how many badgers there are in an area, so how would we know when a cull had reached its quota of 70%? The culls are non-selective and would equally destroy healthy local badger populations. It is not possible to take out diseased badgers only. The research that the Government cherry-pick to try to justify their onslaught on badgers shows that even in TB hot spots most badgers are not infected. Licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it. Imminent pilot culls are too slight to measure impacts before wider roll-outs of culling, and badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control. Vaccination is now possible for both cattle and badgers, and should be implemented as soon as possible, as it has been in Wales.
What is equally not a solution is going out in the middle of the night and shooting badgers indiscriminately.
Vaccination is the most humane way forward, and, if it can happen, we should pursue it. I understand that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee will be considering it. How can this be a science-based badger cull, as claimed by the Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when the Government’s chief scientist is among those who dispute the evidence used to justify killings? The Government should be asking whether the culling of badgers produces a significant effect in eliminating bovine TB. We believe the answer is no, it will not. Is culling badgers cost-effective? The answer is no. Is it morally and ethically appropriate? Again, we feel that the answer is no. The public costs alone of licensing and policing a cull will exceed £1 million in each pilot area. Shooting badgers in the pitch black is not a good idea. There are serious doubts about whether controlled shooting of free roaming badgers would actually achieve any worthwhile reduction in bovine TB at all.
We know how dreadful bovine TB is—I mentioned that our sympathies are with the farmers whose cattle are struck down by this terrible disease. We need to focus on other measures—those that will protect both cattle and badgers. We believe that vaccination is the way forward. Progress should be made on cattle vaccinations and DEFRA should secure change in the EU to permit commercial use of a cattle vaccine. There are far better ways to deal with bovine TB than the mass slaughter of badgers. We do not support a cull this year, next year or any year. We say: stop the cull and move to vaccinations.
In some ways it is disappointing that we have got to this point without finding a proper solution to TB. Successive Governments prevaricated over policy, and we are left in a tragic situation, where cattle and badgers continue to suffer and where farmers continue to have their livelihoods threatened by this disease. No one should be under any illusions whatever about what a nasty disease TB is, for both cattle and badgers, or how devastating it is to farmers and farming communities.
I thought that governmental prevarication had ended in 2008, with the recognition that culling was not the solution and that vaccination would provide a much surer way forward in the long term. The coalition agreement originally provided some comfort that TB control would be based on science-led policy. The apparent willingness of Ministers to take a rather curious interpretation of the scientific evidence is far more worrying. The independent scientific group, the bovine TB eradication group and the majority of scientific opinion conclude that culling is not the way forward. Lord Krebs has described the Government’s policy as “mindless”, so it is even more curious that the Secretary of State maintains that his decisions wholly conform to the science. They might conform to someone’s science; they do not conform to the majority of scientific opinion.
There is scientific opinion on both sides; the nub of the debate is that the majority of scientific opinion is against the cull.
Although Ministers and the National Farmers Union are clear that what has been announced is a postponement and not a U-turn on policy, the delay gives us an opportunity to scrutinise the evidence properly and to hold a wider public debate. I hope that that is beginning today. It is important to highlight the fact that opponents of the cull are not opposed to bearing down on TB. The ultimate goal for us all is to have better animal welfare—both of cattle and badgers—so it is essential that we find the most effective policy that eradicates the disease. I want to discuss the three main issues that demonstrate why the cull of badgers is the wrong way to deal with the spread of bovine TB: the scientific evidence, value for money and, of course, the overwhelming public opinion that a cull is an inhumane and unnecessary option.
It has a lot to do with it, frankly. Killing animals that do not carry the disease is simply wrong.
There is a significant body of scientific evidence on the efficacy of culling, both supporting and rejecting the idea. The majority conclusion, however, is that a cull could be not only ineffective, but potentially counter-productive in controlling the disease, by increasing the number of infected badgers and cattle through the perturbation effect. That was highlighted by the research carried out by the independent scientific group in the randomised badger culling trial, which published its results in 2007 and warned against the results of badger culls. Dr Rosie Woodroffe, who was referred to earlier, is a former member of the ISG on cattle TB. She said earlier this month that
“all… evidence shows that culling badgers increases the proportion of badgers that have TB”.
As the Government have now admitted, there is also great unpredictability surrounding the logistical element of the cull. Using so-called shooting, it is unknown how many badgers will be destroyed or whether the shooters will have managed to fulfil their quota. The longer-term consequences on local ecosystems—such as an increase in fox populations, for example—are not entirely foreseeable. The cost of the cull seems to be increasingly complex, but there is a general consensus that it is a bad deal for taxpayers.
As Professor McInerney, emeritus professor of agricultural policy at the university of Exeter—right in the heart of the worst bovine TB-affected area—said,
“You pay about £1.5 million to get the disease avoidance worth about £900,000.”
It seems that not enough research has been done into the most cost-effective way to carry out a cull, but also that spending money on an ineffective cull would be a disastrous step in the battle to control TB. If the Government were to redirect those resources into further research and the development of alternative options, such as a vaccination, they would get far better value for taxpayers.
Let me turn to public opinion. It is obvious to most that the vast majority of the public are against the cull, as is evident from the e-petition. The Government seem to have lost sight of public interest and have developed the cull, which seems to be attractive only to understandably desperate farmers. It seems unfair to present those farmers with a quick fix that has no hope of a sustainable or successful future and to entice them with it. The responsible thing to do would be to back down from the cull altogether and explore the alternatives, to which I will now turn.
Of course, vaccinating cattle is the obvious solution to the problem. However, until we can develop a test that can distinguish between vaccinated and infected cattle, there is no hope of getting EU law changed, although some people contend that there has been a major breakthrough even in this area—an argument that others will no doubt pick up. In the meantime, we could start a badger vaccination programme. We have been vaccinating badgers since 2010, and there have been positive results. Research published by Dr Mark Chambers in 2010, using evidence gained a field trial, showed a 73.8% reduction in positive serological test results in badgers. Just as in humans, when enough of the population is vaccinated, prevalence of the disease reduces.
According to the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, vaccinating badgers costs £51 per hectare, but that cost could be lowered. Getting groups to combine their operations with nearby areas and to share fridges, traps and other costly items drastically cuts the costs, making vaccination not only a more ethical option, but cheaper than culling. The money saved from not carrying out the cull should be used to fund the development of an oral vaccine for badgers. We know that oral vaccination is a much more practical solution, and the sooner one is developed, the better.
The Welsh Government’s TB eradication programme is something that we should monitor closely and consider adopting for England. The programme has combined badger vaccination with stricter cattle controls and improved biosecurity and has had some success.
On top of the efforts that my hon. Friend is talking about and the science, which should taken into consideration, the recent results of research commissioned by DEFRA and headed by Dr Andrew Conlan at Cambridge university showed that one in five of the herds that had been given the all-clear on bovine TB were actually still harbouring the disease. We should be concentrating a great deal of effort in that area as well.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the House’s attention to that research, of which I was not aware.
The Welsh Assembly Government have been offering biosecurity advice to farmers within the intensive action area, and the Government should be doing the same in Devon and other heavily affected areas. It is an easy and relatively cheap way to ensure that farmers have the knowledge and guidance that they need to limit the spread of bovine TB. That of course will not solve the problem overnight, but better farming practices and a general build-up of immunity in the badger population will slowly lead to a much lower rate of TB infection.
As someone lucky enough to have been born and grown up in the county of Devonshire, it is now my privilege and honour to represent a constituency in the county. No one from the west country is unaware of the issue, and what unites us across the south-west, as I hope it does in the House, is a desire to find a workable solution to this appalling plague on our cattle, our wildlife and the lives of our wonderful farmers and the communities in which they live. But a cull is not it.
I want to start by commenting on the use of language in the debate. In his statement to the House a couple of days ago, the Secretary of State, who is not in his place, used the words “evidence” 15 times, “scientific” nine times and “science” 16 times. It is interesting to read his qualifications. On his website, he describes himself as having
“read History at Cambridge University” and that as
“Agriculture spokesman he became an expert on bovine TB and campaigned for the dairy industry.”
We must use language carefully, because it is pushing the boundaries to say one is an expert on a subject. My good friend Lord Krebs, who chairs the sister Committee of mine in the other place, has considerably more expertise on this subject than I have, but I doubt whether he would call himself an expert. It is bold of the Secretary of State to describe himself as an expert.
This subject is hugely complicated. Humans and animals, especially food animals, are far more mobile than they were, so we must take very seriously the risk of zoonotic diseases. If the Government want to do something positive during the so-called closed season, I strongly advise them to invest in research into zoonotic diseases. I am pleased to say that one of this country’s major veterinary schools at Leahurst, which is in my constituency and which the former farming Minister visited, leads the way in zoonotic research.
Does the hon. Gentleman, who is not an expert, think that there will be sufficient time before the cull recommences to get a vaccination that works? Most people suggest that we are several years away from that.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is fascinated with firearms, but shooting badgers will not work either. I do not say that a cull will have no effect; of course it will have an effect. Killing any of the species that carry TB—not just badgers but including cattle—will have an effect, but it will not solve the problem. Indeed, killing every badger will not eradicate bovine TB. I hope that the step proposed by the hon. Gentleman will not prove necessary in years to come, given the work that is being done on the biology, because I believe we can move closer to eradication by investing the huge sums that we are discussing in research programmes aimed at establishing a vaccination regime.
I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Science and Technology Committee. Evidence given to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament suggested that this is a question not of money but of time, because we need generations of badgers and cattle, to develop the vaccine.
There is a chicken and egg argument and a serious challenge facing us. My concern is that the House is not taking the issue of zoonotic conditions seriously enough. We must take a much more mature view on the inevitable consequences of the greater mobility of people and of animals in the food chain while they are alive; otherwise, we shall be dealing with not only bovine TB but other conditions. I hope that when Ministers press the Treasury on the comprehensive spending view they will pass on the message that, without sensible investment, we will have this debate time and again and that, even if all badgers were culled, farmers would still be disadvantaged by this dreadful disease.
It is easy to criticise one side or the other of the argument, but even DEFRA’s nine-point summary states:
“If culling is undertaken, it should be in addition to, not instead of, existing bTB control measures in cattle, which should be maintained and strengthened.”
I have yet to hear a single word from a Minister on the strengthening of the regime.
Notwithstanding Mr. Speaker’s earlier injunction, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that if he had been paying attention on Tuesday or had read any farming magazines in the past two or three weeks he would know that on
The hon. Gentleman speaks of a big tranche, but I have not seen research and the necessary investment, without which we shall be making a dreadful mistake.
I shall use the time remaining to me to refer to the situation in my constituency. The Cheshire Wildlife Trust, which Andrew Stunell mentioned when the statement was made on Tuesday, is funding its own vaccination campaign and calling for investment, which is a good move. I have a note from my constituent, Mr Huw Rowlands, a farmer, in which he says:
“Nobody can have missed the controversy raging about culling badgers. Quite how the proposed operations can be described as a cull is beyond me; my dictionary defines a cull as being ‘to take out inferior or surplus animals from a flock.’ We have badgers on the farm which to date have not caused problems”.
He opposes culling but supports the Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s campaign. By the way, his farm is part of the higher level stewardship scheme, which is supported by DEFRA, and I recommend using Rowlands’s farm to buy red poll meat, if I may advertise on its behalf.
The opinions of local people, including farmers, suggest that there are other ways to address this problem. It is a very challenging one and nobody can stand here and honestly say that they have the 100% correct solution, as the thoughtful speech preceding mine well illustrated. Unless we see serious investment in scientific research into zoonotic conditions, we will not see the eradication of the problem. Without such actions, we will simply delay having a debate that will have to take place in years to come.
This debate is, I suppose, about what happens during the interregnum. I urge the Government to think seriously about making that kind of investment during the interregnum; if we do not make it, we would be quite right to criticise the Government for failing in their duty to care not just for the animals on our land but for human beings, too.
I start by reminding the House of my declared interests in this matter. I would like to comment briefly on this week’s announcement and statement, but I want to spend most of my time trying to explain how the policy that we are debating was devised. I think I am the only person in the Chamber who was involved right through that development work. I am delighted that it has been taken on by the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend Mr Heath, who is in his place on the Front Bench.
I think, in the circumstances, the Government were right this week to make the decision to postpone the cull. I regret that those circumstances arose. The main reason is that it is far too late in the year to start a cull. Badgers are going into semi-hibernation, slowing down and are not as active, so fulfilling a cull of any size would have been made much more difficult. In my view, it should have happened in the summer, notwithstanding the Olympics, and it should certainly have started by
I was pleased to hear Kerry McCarthy refer to the European context. She is absolutely right: the European auditors came here over a year ago to investigate how we go about this matter. She is right, too, to make the point that we get considerable sums of money from Europe. What she was unaware of, understandably, is the fact that this time last year, the European Commission threatened to withdraw our funding because it was not satisfied that we were taking sufficient actions, including dealing with badgers. I had to go to Brussels to make a personal plea to the then commissioner to sustain Europe’s support of our programme.
It is interesting that several Members have referred to the situation in Wales. More recently, the Commission has said that the Welsh decision to stop the proposed cull damages the likely fulfilment of its eradication plan. There should be no doubt about the European position. I was as angry as the hon. Member for Bristol East about some of the reports of what was happening on the ground. That is why we toughened up right across the board, as she was kind enough to say, and it is partly why we agreed to this latest tranche of further restrictions, including a significant extension of annual testing into new parts of the country where the problem did not exist. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister has endorsed the position that I had taken.
I happen to represent one of the areas worst affected by TB. I want to commend my right hon. Friend as one of the most outstanding Agriculture Ministers, who knows a great deal about this subject. Does he acknowledge that there is not only a human misery in every case where a farmer loses cattle, but a huge economic cost in all these biosecurity measures, such as pre-movement testing, reactor testing and all the additional measures now announced? Those come at a huge economic cost for farmers.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Several Members, including Caroline Lucas who introduced the debate, referred to cattle-to-cattle transmission, which is of course a major factor—nobody denies it—that has to be properly addressed. The tranche of new measures to which I referred a minute ago is the third tranche; it started under my watch, but I had already introduced two tranches of much tougher measures. To be honest, the previous Government had done the pre-movement testing as well. The suggestion that cattle-to-cattle movement is not being addressed is nonsense. The other measures are hugely important, but we come down to the fact that no country in the world has got rid of bovine TB—I mean get rid of, not just reduce—without addressing the reservoir of relevant wildlife. In this country, as in Ireland and France, this means badgers.
The right hon. Gentleman’s point has been made repeatedly over the last few days, but does he not agree that we are not comparing like with like here, in that the methodology used in other countries to deal with the problem has been quite different?
I accept that, not least because the reservoir involves different species of animals. Clearly, we do not deal with badgers in the same way as we deal with wild buffalo in the Northern Territory of Australia. That is blatantly clear, but if we are to address the issue of the reservoir of badgers, there are only two ways of proceeding. Either we vaccinate them—I shall come back to that—or we have to cull them.
I hope that the whole House accepts that no Minister from any political party wants to court the unpopularity or, indeed, face the security challenge caused by this. Let us be frank: I, the Minister, other Ministers and officials are all under special security arrangements because of the threats from a small minority of opponents. None of us wants any of that. If there were a better way, we would adopt it. To pretend that we are somehow not interested in vaccines is, I have to say, absurd. The fact is that we have a licensed injectable badger vaccine; no one has mentioned that the Government are making some money available to pay for it where people want to use it. If wildlife trusts want to continue to roll it out, that is fine, but the costs of rolling it out on a national scale are so incredible that I think it is wrong to suggest it is a panacea.
Mr Sanders referred to an oral vaccine for badgers. We believed this would be likely for many years, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that, for two reasons, it is now further away than ever. First, the intellectual property will be difficult to get hold of; it is owned by a New Zealand institution. More importantly, the promising first tests have never been repeated. All the tests carried out showed much worse problems. That is because the vaccine is being destroyed in badgers’ acidic stomachs.
On cattle vaccine, I can tell the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion that, yes, it has been developed and we know, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said the other day, that it is not very effective, although it has an element of effectiveness—about 60%. Yes, too, the DIVA test—differentiation of infected from vaccinated animals—is well on the way to being perfected. The hon. Lady is right about all that, but neither of them are licensed or officially proved and they still have to go through all the processes, which takes time, however much effort is put into it. What the hon. Lady seriously underplayed, however, is the European context when it comes to the cattle vaccine. I can assure her that, almost from day one of taking office, or within a matter of weeks, I pressed the Commission on this issue. I remember talking to the then Commissioner John Dalli, from D G SANCO, who said, “When you have your licensed vaccine and your licensed DIVA test, then we will start thinking about it, but don’t forget that it is only you, Ireland and possibly France that want this. All the other member states will be against it. Lifting the ban will take many years, so the question is what can be done in the meantime.”
The case that the right hon. Gentleman describes is not the same as the discussions that I know have taken place at the European Commission, with very different messages coming back. Of course Britain is the only one that wants this vaccine at the moment, because we are the only ones who have had to face cattle TB this badly, but the suggestion that it is years away is simply not the case. I have in front of me text from DEFRA’s own website, which talks about things happening by the end of the year. [ Interruption .]
Order, Sir James. I will make the decisions, although it is good of you to offer advice. I am sure that the hon. Lady recognises that she has had a good run already; we ought to make sure that everybody else has a chance to express their views.
In the limited amount of time that is now available, let me deal with the issue of science. Everyone, including the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, recognises that Lord Krebs and countless others accept that the randomised badger culling trials showed a 16% reduction. There is a great deal of debate about whether that is sufficient justification, but let us start there.
As has already been said, the study group concluded that culling badgers could “play no meaningful part”, but we thought it necessary to delve deeper into the research and to establish what was behind its conclusions. First, that 16% is a net figure. In the culling zone the gain was more like 30%, but it was offset by the problem of an increase in incidence in the perturbation area outside the zone. Some effort was made to reduce perturbation in the original trials, but it was nothing like the effort that is being imposed on the groups as a condition of their licence applications. If perturbation can be minimised, the net effect will be radically increased, although we do not know by how much because that has not yet been done. Let me stress again, however, that the 16% is a net figure which includes a problem outside the zone, and that that problem can be addressed.
As for the “meaningfulness” conclusion, it relates to the costs incurred by the RBCT. We all know that the trials were hugely expensive, but those are the only figures that we have to work on. We wanted to find a way of carrying out a cull more cheaply. We opted for controlled shooting as the predominant method, although cages would have to be used as well. I remind the House that controlled shooting of foxes, rabbits and, more recently, some species of deer takes place almost daily—or nightly—out in the countryside. To suggest that it is brand new is nonsense.
We addressed those two conclusions, and tried to find ways of achieving the same result through slightly different methods. Let me finally remind the House that these are pilots—
There should be no doubt in the minds of Members on both sides of the House that bovine tuberculosis has serious economic and emotional implications for a number of farmers in the United Kingdom. We need to find a sustainable and human solution to this scourge.
According to the scientific evidence, to achieve a significant reduction in bovine TB, badger culling would need to be take place over a huge geographical area—as large as 500 sq km. It would also need to be very intensive, virtually wiping out the badger population in the area.
The Government must make clear what they intend to do following the initial trials. Will their policy be to allow culling over a much larger area, with much larger numbers of dead badgers? That could pose a risk to the badger population as a whole. As Members are well aware, the problem is that a cull of less than 70% means ineffective disease control, while a cull of more than 70% means a risk of eradication of the badger population across the country. The Government claim to have devised much more effective culling methods, but how can we know when those methods have not been tried yet? Given that shooting badgers has never been used in the UK before as a means of control, it must be doubtful whether it would lead to the same results in bovine TB eradication as the badger trials conducted by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB.
A follow-up report on the randomised badger culling trial, published in February 2010, warned of the need for any cull to be well planned and co-ordinated, and of the potential for small-scale or irregular culls to result in increases rather than decreases in bovine TB incidence. The Government have so far failed to co-ordinate the figures for the number of badgers in the cull areas for the purpose of meeting their 70% target. The latest survey data show the number of badgers in each cull area to be double the figure used by DEFRA to calculate the costs of the cull. DEFRA used a figure of 1,300 badgers in each 300 sq km cull area, but on
It is clearly difficult to monitor the badger population accurately. This week, Lord Krebs referred to a variation of between 1,000 and 5,000 in the space of just a few days. However, Natural England needs to know the actual number of badgers in each area in order to know how many must be killed. Without such accurate population data, it is hard to assess whether the 70% target can be met, or how the results of the trial can be compared with those of previous trials that were conducted on independent scientific basis.
One of the problems with the Krebs trials was that they were interrupted by the foot and mouth outbreak. Instead of five annual culls in five years, there were four culls spread over a period of between five and six years.
I am not sure exactly how that relates to what I have been saying, but the hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record.
Protecting wildlife is something about which I feel strongly, and I know that many Members in all parts of the House feel the same. The Council of Europe’s convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats, also known as the Berne convention, is a legally binding convention that aims
“to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats”.
There are currently 50 signatories, including all the members of the European Union and the Union itself, as well as several other European and north African countries. The United Kingdom Government have been a signatory since the 1970s. Badgers are listed in appendix III of the convention, and contracting parties are committed to prohibiting
“the use of all indiscriminate means of capture and killing and the use of all means capable of causing local disappearance of, or serious disturbance to, populations”.
Article 9 provides contracting parties with the conditions under which exceptions can be made to the rules protecting appendix Ill-listed species. They include the prevention of “serious damage” to livestock, but only in circumstances in which there is “no other satisfactory solution”, and only when the action taken
“will not be detrimental to the survival of the population concerned”.
Because of the controversial nature of this badger cull, secrecy is required in its planning and start; but we know, farmers know, and the local populations know what is happening, and that must place a question mark over the effectiveness of the operation. The safety of the public in the two areas involved poses a potential problem. If the public are to be 100% safe, the boundaries will have to be revealed, but that would prevent the identity of participating farmers and landowners from remaining secret. Moreover, the taking of precautions to avoid any criminal activity by protesters—not only to avoid damage, but to ensure the effectiveness of the cull—would become harder to achieve. It should be borne in mind that, according to the 2011 consultation, more than 50% of public opinion is against the cull.
The Government’s impact assessment has already shown that the cull will cost farmers more than it saves them. In a follow-up to DEFRA’s document containing the estimated costs of various culling methods, a report on the randomised badger culling trial pointed out that those estimates did not include any capital cost to farmers or costs of training and co-ordinating efforts, and concluded that the costs of this culling method could exceed the long-term financial benefits. Following Natural England’s updated figures for the badger population, the National Farmers Union has admitted that the cost to farmers would be too high. If the ultimate objective is to prevent the slaughter of cattle and therefore a loss of farmers’ livelihoods, why do the Government believe that the appropriate solution is to put a greater financial strain on farmers and on the public purse?
The Government recognise that vaccination is the real strategy for the long term, but they are downplaying the current possibilities. As other Members have pointed out, although the oral badger vaccine would have greater potential for more widespread use, we must accept that its development is some years away. However, developing and using the injectable vaccine would be a step in the right direction.
In 2007, the previous Government decided not to licence farmers to cull badgers, but to make vaccination a priority, and increased spending on vaccines. Over the last 10 years, DEFRA has spent more than £7 million on research into badger vaccines, and in March 2010 the first TB badger vaccine was authorised. The plan had been to deploy it in six areas in England, but that was reduced to one area in June 2010. Mr Sanders has discussed the 2010 study, which showed that positive TB tests among badgers were reduced by almost 74%.
Vaccinating cattle to give the herd a level of combined immunity, which slows the spread of the disease until it reaches zero, should be developed. I will not discuss that point in detail as it has already been addressed. We know, however, that vaccinating cattle and having a DIVA test are the right things to do.
This debate is titled, “Badger Cull”, but it is not just about saving the lives of badgers; it is also about saving the lives of cattle. The key point is that we must do what is effective not only for the short term, but for the long term. I believe that the Government have got this seriously wrong. There is an alternative, and they should take it.
I have great pride in declaring that I breed Hereford cattle, and even more pride in saying they all passed their TB test in September.
One of my constituents sent me a book called “The Geek Manifesto” about why we need more scientists in politics. That was very kind of him, and it was a very interesting book. It has served to show me, however, that our current debate highlights one of the problems with science and political discussion. Scientists are constrained in how they write their reports, which makes it too easy for people to quote from them to confirm their prejudices.
I had the privilege of meeting Professor Bourne and asking him how he would deal with TB if he were in charge. The gist of his answer was that he would not do it in the way he did it when worked for DEFRA because the constraints put on him made for poorer science. I agreed with him, and he was good enough to point out the cost-benefit and animal welfare considerations and other barriers to pure research.
From 1992 to 2011, the number of cattle slaughtered annually as a result of TB has risen from 2,000 to 38,000. Therefore, the status quo is not working, so we can safely rule out the “do nothing” option.
Caroline Lucas, who moved the motion, has just left her place, but—[Interruption.] I am very sorry; she is still present. In her speech, she barely referred to the current situation. Some 26,000 cattle had to be slaughtered last year. As my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin suggests, if the status quo continues, cattle will continue to be slaughtered, and that—
Order. Mr Herbert, you should know better. A lot of Members wish to speak. We have asked for short interventions. Please do not make a speech. If you want to speak, you should put your name on the list.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right: it is a tragedy not only for the cattle, but for the farmer, and it is also a great tragedy for badgers.
The figure that is hardest to ascertain is how many badgers catch this disease every year. I am not aware of any evidence, but what I do know is that badgers are tough and they can cope with this infection for some time. Some badgers first display lesions in their bladders and then, as the disease progresses, they develop in other organs. The badger will become increasingly sick and eventually be driven out of its social group. When that happens, the badger will leave the sett territory and wander into other badgers’ territories where it may have to fight, and fighting is bad, because the risk of passing the infection, through scratches and bites, increases greatly. That, too, is beyond dispute.
I remember tabling a written question some years ago asking what would be the right thing to do if someone were to find an injured badger by the side of the road. The answer that came back was: “Consult your lawyer before doing anything.” This situation cannot be allowed to continue. There needs to be a humane way of ending suffering—for badgers, not lawyers, of course!
I have real concerns about the skin test we currently use to identify the disease. Here is a challenge for the armchair scientists. If we carry on testing and culling cattle, we will succeed in breeding cattle that do not show a reaction to the skin test. That is happening already. A constituent of mine tested her cattle, then took one for slaughter, only to find two lesions in different organs of that cow. That meant that the cow was unfit for human consumption and she lost her beef—which was probably worth about £2,000. She was very angry as her cow had been tested and passed and then been condemned. She wanted compensation from the Government for having such a rotten test. She is right. This is another example of what happens if we carry on with the “do nothing” policy we have inherited.
As well as breeding test-proof cows, we are also allowing the disease to spread in the badger population. Not one of the letters I got from supposed friends of the badger pointed out that, by doing nothing, more badgers would become infected. In fact, many said that diseases in wild animals were no concern of theirs—and they call themselves animal lovers. I have nothing but contempt for people who allow badgers to suffer, which is why I pushed for longer prison sentences for genuinely evil people who bait badgers. Sadly, Opposition parties voted down an amendment I tabled on that.
The Dutch vaccinated “to die” during the foot and mouth outbreak, and that is based on the principle that a vaccinated animal must be traceable throughout its life. Perhaps we should be seeking permission to trial vaccination in areas that have not been selected for a trial cull, despite EU directive 78/52/EEC, article 13.
Beef suckler cows could be considered as “not for export”. By that, I mean a farmer may decide to keep a beef heifer calf for the rest of her life. She will never be sold for export, nor would her beef go into the export market. This would shift the decision on the risk of TB from DEFRA to the farmer. The risk would be the farmer’s. After a cow has passed a TB test, she would be vaccinated. Her passport would be stamped “TB vaccinated, not for export.” She would stay in the UK for the rest of her life. At the end of her days when she went for slaughter, if lesions were found in her body, the meat would be condemned and the farmer would lose the £900 or so she was worth as beef. That decision and risk would belong to the farmer. Any calf born could be tested, and bulls or cattle that would be worth exporting could be left unvaccinated. If the cow were to develop the disease, it would be picked up every time she had a calf, which is annually, and which is when we test for the disease.
Mathematically, every animal that is protected from the disease makes it harder for the disease to spread. Dairy cattle that are to be milked would not qualify for vaccination. Even if bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccination is not much better than 50% or 60% effective, ways of reducing the costs, reducing the chances, reducing the possible vectors, and reducing the bill to taxpayers are all worth exploring. I urge the Government to look into this as one of the tools in the box.
Data from the randomised badger culling trial led to the conclusion that
“in the absence of transmission from infected badgers, only 3.4% of herds per annum would be expected to have a TB breakdown” and that
“TB in cattle herds could be substantially reduced, possibly even eliminated, in the absence of transmission from badgers to cattle.”
I believe that vaccinating badgers could contribute to that, but there are constraints. We do not vaccinate infected cattle; we cull them, and we should do the same for infected badgers. One of the ideals would be a test for badgers. I urge the Government to look at having more research done into the PCR—polymerase chain reaction—test at Warwick university. Accordingly, the British Veterinary Association announced its relief that there has been no U-turn on the badger cull. It reiterated that scientists think culling badgers does reduce levels of infection in cattle herds.
As I said, I am in favour of vaccinating cattle and badgers, but we are all aware that we cannot wait. I am aware of the hundreds of e-mails that colleagues have received, as I have, but they largely cite the alternative of vaccination as the answer to the TB problem. That sounds better in theory than it is in practice: the badger vaccine is injected and is therefore difficult to administer, as badgers need to be trapped; and it is difficult to record which badgers have been vaccinated, and some may be trapped again and again. Furthermore, EU legislation currently bans the cattle vaccine, as it can interfere with the tuberculin skin test. The Government are right to develop the DIVA test.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the ideal in terms of getting rid of this problem is a cattle vaccine as well as a badger vaccine, but the problem is that we are a long way from both of those and a badger vaccine has no effect on badgers already infected with TB?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do need a suitable vaccination to be developed and to be legal in the UK. No one wants to cull healthy badgers. So an experimental pilot cull in the highest-risk areas, with all the barriers to spreading the disease, such as coastlines or rivers, and with the local farmers in support, would prove whether culling was worth rolling out in other high-risk areas. People should be clear that the whole badger population is not at risk from culling, just those badgers that are highly at risk themselves of being infected.
Professor Bourne told me that a cull would not work the way he did it, so the Government have rightly changed the parameters. Culling will not be done in the way it was done before; it will not be done by the same people and it must be done to a level that commands scientific respect, within hard boundaries and in a specifically large area. Without vectors I believe the chance of infection drops dramatically, although M. bovis does live in soil for up to two years. If the chance of infection remains high and the pilot culls do not work, we would be glad it was only a pilot and we could then spend all our time and money on vaccinating alone—that is why we should vote down today’s motion. But vaccination is illegal under article 13 of EU directive 78/52/EEC, so that approach may not work either. That is why I think we should seek a derogation so that we can pilot vaccination in this country as well.
May I begin by saying how much I regret that the Secretary of State is not in his place? I regret even more the fact that he left the Chamber chuntering into the microphone that he had had enough of this debate.
I should declare some interests at the outset: I am the proud Member of Parliament for England’s most remotely accessible constituency from Westminster; I am married into a dairy farming family; and I am proud to represent scores of farmers. I have not seen for a long time as big a mailbag as has come in against this proposed cull. Today’s debate will take many forms and touch on many issues. In many ways, the Government are to blame for that, because this should have always been and should always be a scientific debate. There is no doubt that it should be an environmental debate and a debate about animal welfare, but those debates should always be based on science if they are to carry the weight and meaning that we want them to.
Before I go through the scientific evidence, I wish to pay tribute to all the organisations that have argued against what is clearly a scientifically flawed set of proposals used to support a cull. I also pay tribute to those figures with a high public profile who have used that to forward the aims of this cause. We live in an era characterised by a rampant, feckless celebrity culture that has begun to disfigure our society, where infamy, rather than fame found through any positively worthwhile achievements, leads to instant riches and celebrity status. This has led to the creation of a wealthy, C-list zombie class who do not believe they are subject to the laws of this country. So I applaud those who have used their profile for a cause that is not self-serving, lucrative or glamorous. They deserve our respect; they have rocked this Government.
The science is clear, and Lord Krebs has left no doubt on the efficacy of the proposed cull and its ability to address the problem of bovine TB. He has rightly said that
“'bovine TB is a serious problem, and it deserves serious science to underpin policy.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 23 October 2012; Vol. 740, c. 148.]
He has also pointed out that the proposed cull will result, after nine years, in 84% of the problem still remaining in place. That means that there will be a 16% reduction in the trend increase of bovine TB, and so, after nine years, there will still be more bovine TB around than there was at the beginning. It could not be clearer that this proposed cull simply will not work.
DEFRA’s own figures show that fewer cattle have been slaughtered because of bovine TB each year from 2008 to 2011, so it is clear that the Government are cherry-picking data in an attempt to support a flawed case. The question must be asked: why? The answer is really hard to fathom. In one respect, I think it is a genuinely confused attempt to help. One myth I would like to dispel is that this is being done at the behest of the National Farmers Union. We have all noticed the Government’s nudges and winks over recent weeks in an attempt to blame the NFU for the proposal, but that simply will not wash. The NFU is an important, effective organisation that is duty-bound to represent the many disparate interests of farms and farmers of very different sorts. Clearly, there is more than one voice of farmers on the issue of bovine TB and the cull.
Farmers want solutions to bovine TB, as we all do. My constituency will never forget the devastating consequences of foot and mouth disease. It was not just an animal welfare disaster and an economic catastrophe; it was a very real human tragedy, as lives were ruined and generations of work were destroyed. Nothing like that must ever be allowed to happen again, so on the issue of bovine TB farmers are well within their rights to look at the Government and wonder why they have been led down the garden path and sold a false prospectus. There can be no doubt that they have been, and they are sick to death of the goalposts for ever moving as the Government continue to drop the ball. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the proposed cull was a sop from a shambolic Government—the political equivalent of magic beans. This shambles is not the fault of farmers and it is not the fault of the NFU.
I am sick and tired of redundant notions of rurality running riot across this House and within all political parties. In some parts of this House, rural areas are seen in the mind’s eye as consisting of corpulent farmers chewing a blade of grass and resting on a gate post; they are seen as simply a playground for those who have wealth and have left urban areas to gentrify rural areas with large homes and Range Rovers. Those who think that never see the young farmer struggling to stay afloat, and rarely consider what it means for people to have literally no access to public transport and, as a result, to schools, hospitals and other services, which their taxes pay for just as much as anyone else’s. Those who think that never see the struggling villages, which are fighting every day to stay alive and have never known affluence, or the pensioners, parents and children who occupy this forgotten country—that must change. As the economic squeeze worsens, as the public sector and the state retreat further, and as areas of market failure become ever more prominent, all of us need to pay urgent attention to the plight of ordinary people in this forgotten England, because they need our help and they have little or no interest in the colour of our respective rosettes. So I commend those Government Members who will support today’s motion.
This Government have done little or nothing for the people I am talking about, and show no signs of doing so. The cull was also a sop based on a redundant and clichéd misconception of farmers and rural life, which can now be seen through. That, in part, has led to farmers receiving anonymous threats about what will happen to them and their property if a cull takes place. That is a despicable state of affairs, and I hope that the Minister, the Secretary of State and the Government in general will join me in urging that the full weight of the law be brought against the people who have made those threats.
For the sake of bovine welfare, for the sake of badger conservation, for the sake of rural businesses and the rural economy, which, in so many ways, relies upon dairy farming, and for the sake of everyone in this House, on either side, who cares about rural England, the Government should urgently begin bringing forward sensible proposals to tackle bovine TB, not pointless, scientifically disproven, dog-whistle policies.
I am sure my hon. Friends are aware that bovine tuberculosis is the most infectious type of TB. It is able to infect most mammals, although, thankfully, the threat of humans contracting TB from animals today is very remote. The disease originated in cattle, it is a farming problem and it has had an impact on wildlife throughout the world, with devastating effects. Culls and mass slaughters have been carried out in an attempt to combat TB, but they have never been successful; no country has eradicated bovine TB by removing a wildlife population. The recent UK randomised badger culling trial—RBCT—is at the centre of this dispute and it is the basis of the Government’s policy, which has cherry-picked data to the detriment of our domestic animal populations. “Perturbation” is the scientific term for the effect of spreading an infection to an area outside the cull zone. This occurs when infected populations within the zone migrate out to new areas, and it is highlighted as a concern in the Krebs report.
Hard boundaries were recommended, but DEFRA offered roads and rivers. Badgers cross roads each night and 99% of them survive. They also swim extremely well and in many areas cross rivers and canals nightly to feed. They are sensitive and highly intelligent animals that will flee the culling zone if shooting is prolonged. The entire wildlife population will migrate out of the location in those circumstances, and we know that deer and boar are vectors for bovine TB, along with rats and many other mammals. It is irresponsible at best and dire at worst to displace any of the wildlife population that is suspected of carrying disease.
The recommended period for culling to keep a population within the cull zone is five days of intense culling. That ensures that in most cases the wildlife population stays in place and does not migrate out, spreading bovine TB as it moves. The RBCT took 12 days and saw perturbation have a negative effect on culling. The Government have ignored the recommended cull period and allowed six weeks. That cull period will see the entire wildlife population within the cull zone permanently move out, spreading infection from the cull zone.
It is true that many farms continually suffer from bovine TB, but 40% of all farms in the hot spot areas have been TB free over 10 years. Such migration will infect the TB-free farms and simply spread bovine TB. The spread of TB slowly across the country has been caused by cattle movements and not by badgers, as they do not migrate. Cattle movements can be the only factor in the spread. Poor and sloppy biosecurity and lapsed testing has led to cattle spreading the disease in many cases.
The cull would be industry-led and would not be carried out by specialists and scientists in the area of population and disease control. Level two hunters will have had only one day of training, which will make them neither an expert at shooting an animal they have never encountered before nor a specialist in population control. Those people might well never have shot a badger and are unlikely to understand how it moves.
The test and cull regime would take decades to achieve official TB-free status. We can kill all the badgers in England and we would still have bovine TB, so what would we do then? Remove all the deer, all the boar and all other wildlife? The cull must be halted and the only alternative is the vaccination of both badgers and cattle, as we heard earlier. Vaccination is the only alternative to culling that does not risk making TB worse. An injectable badger vaccine has been available and in use since early 2010 and trials have shown that it is effective in reducing the severity and progression of TB in badgers. It reduced the incidence of positive tests in badgers by 74%.
One of the reasons cited for not pursuing a wider vaccination programme is that modelling suggests it will take slightly longer to have an impact on bovine TB than culling. However, given the length of time that it has taken to implement a cull, a wider vaccination programme from 2010 could already be bringing benefits for both badgers and cattle. Although one solution is to vaccinate badgers, the permanent solution must be to vaccinate cattle. The preoccupation with badgers has prevented successive Governments from tackling the real issue but the cattle need protecting and we cannot continue to slaughter wildlife that we deem to be infected. We need to address the real issue—the source—and vaccinate our cattle. We will never address bovine TB if we do not stop it at source.
The cost of a cull exercise is increasing and policing will cost millions. The policy will be deeply unpopular and will not solve the problem of bovine TB. The only long-term sustainable and sensible way forward is to vaccinate. A European vaccine is months away, not years as we heard earlier, and needs to be pursued by a committed Government and the farming community. Vaccination is the only sustainable solution that is cost-effective and ethical. Most importantly, it works.
It is a pleasure to follow Mike Weatherley, who made a very thoughtful speech and showed that just as there is no one opinion on this question in farming there is no one opinion on the Government Benches.
I speak as a former Minister of State at DEFRA who tried to address the issue in 2009-10. I saw at first hand the emotional and financial effect on farmers and their families and the pain inflicted by bovine TB. For most people in the country, except to those who watch the
BBC’s excellent “Countryfile”, that is invisible. In the Adam’s farm section of the programme, viewers will have heard Adam Henson’s vet confirm that his prize beasts were infected with TB. They will have seen the pain that he felt and how that announcement affected his family. I am sure that that brought the issue home to millions more people than would otherwise have been the case.
Does the hon. Gentleman remember that he had the opportunity to respond to the Select Committee’s 2008 report on the incentives and financing that the Government of whom he was a member were giving to farmers for biosecurity measures? We received no answer. Does he regret that now?
I will come on to what the previous Government did at DEFRA when I was Minister of State. The hon. Lady will forgive me, but I do not have the record for 2008. I know that her Committee did sterling work on the subject and respect the activity in which it was involved.
My former boss at DEFRA, my right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, states in an article to be published today:
“Some of the facts are agreed. Bovine TB is a terrible disease. It has a huge impact on the farmers affected and they are understandably desperate to find their way out of this nightmare.”
He goes on to say:
“But we all have a responsibility to take action that will work.”
That is the starting point for our disagreement with the Government.
The forced delay to Government plans announced this week shows how difficult the subject is. There is no easy answer and that is why I want to refer to comments made by the Secretary of State on Tuesday. He said in his statement:
“The previous Government took forward the RBCT in a whole series of trials and then stopped and decided to do nothing.”
He went on to say that
With the greatest of respect to the Secretary of State, that is entirely wrong. Yes, we decided against a further or widespread cull, but our decisions were based on the evidence of the science presented to the Department and to Ministers at the time. Moreover, my right hon. Friend, who is in the Chamber, implemented the findings of the independent scientific group after the Krebs trials of the 10-year randomised badger cull. As Caroline Lucas mentioned, John Bourne’s recommendation was not to cull but to tighten cattle controls. That is the answer to the question asked by Miss McIntosh, the Chair of the Select Committee, and that is what was done.
We went further. We set up the TB eradication group, which comprised members of the British Veterinary Association, the NFU, Government scientists, individual farmers, DEFRA officials and others. For the Secretary of State to say on Tuesday that we stopped dead is insulting to the dedicated work done by those people on the issue of bovine TB and that was grossly unfair of him.
We also lobbied the Treasury for every penny we could get for compensation for farmers afflicted by the disease and, critically, we kept up support for the search for vaccines for badgers and cattle. In contrast, one of the first things the coalition did at DEFRA, as mentioned by my hon. Friend Meg Munn, was cancel five of the six vaccine pilot trials. That looks like an even poorer decision today than it did then, and it looked pretty awful when it was announced.
For the Secretary of State to say that we stopped dead was plain wrong. If badger culling was proven scientifically to have worked, I am convinced that the Labour Government, having supported the trials with appropriate controls, would have pulled that trigger to protect cattle, to protect badgers and to protect other wildlife. It did not work then, however, and despite the coalition’s changes, such as harder boundaries and so on, we do not think that it will work now.
Sir John Beddington was quoted by the Secretary of State on Tuesday. He was reported as having said that
“we might expect a 12 to 16% reduction in bovine TB…after nine years”.—[Hansard, 23 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 839.]
That is hardly a vote of confidence. Those figures have been put in perspective in a number of speeches, as well as during DEFRA questions earlier today. I can understand that farmers, some Government Members and others want to be seen to be doing something—anything—and to be doing it now. As we heard in the statement, however, nothing will happen until next year, if then.
As the new Secretary of State has found out, there is no easy solution, no quick fix and no silver bullet. Vaccines and vaccination for badgers and cattle are the way forward. If there is a vote tonight, I will support the motion and I hope that the majority of Members will do the same.
I want to concentrate on the effect of TB-infected herds on farmers, especially in the west country, particularly in Devon. For nearly 20 years, and certainly for the past 15 years, cases have been increasing. In Devon, we started off in 1998 with some 1,700 infected cattle, and now there are 5,000-plus. Do not forget that those farmers who have herds with TB have been restricted throughout that period, when they have been testing their cattle every 60 days. Under restriction, dairy farmers can sell their milk and beef farmers their finished animals, provided that they do not have TB, but they cannot sell any young stock. They are restricted throughout the period, so one can imagine the effect on family farms and their finances.
I declare an interest: I am a farmer. Most hon. Members will not have heard me say anything else but that. Farmers whose cattle are restricted and who cannot sell their young stock see only an ever-rising overdraft. Not to put too fine a point on it, every time the bank statement arrives, farmers feel suicidal. They are trapped because nothing can be done; they cannot rid their cattle of the disease. There is not only the emotional impact, but the impact on all the cattle of being for ever tested. Cattle do not like being put through a crush every 60 days and injected. Would any of us? Those are the sorts of things that we have to face up to.
We have talked a lot today about vaccines, which are always a year away. For 20 years, farmers have been told that. The last Labour Government spent virtually all the time saying that to farmers. I have much respect for Jim Fitzpatrick, but the last Labour Government got very close to having a cull and they chickened out, which the Secretary of State has no intention of doing.
No, I think not. I want to carry on in this vein.
I object to Opposition Members’ comments that farmers have not restricted cattle movement. There have been a few such cases, but the vast majority of farmers have had ever-stricter regulations imposed on them. They clean those cattle; every summer and winter, they come in and are tested and the TB reactors are taken out. In the spring, those cattle are put back out to grass. I might be being simplistic, but they then graze on grass infected with badger urine. Do not forget that whatever the percentage of badgers with TB, we can be certain that the biggest percentage of infected badgers are where the most TB is in cattle, so they are giving it to one another. However, we are taking out cattle with TB, but we are not taking out and controlling badgers.
We know that the vaccine will not work on infected badgers. Government Members are not bloodthirsty. We do not love the idea of a cull, but we must take out badgers in those areas with the highest concentration of infected badgers. We must not forget that these are pilot culls in areas that have been chosen because they are TB hot spots with harder boundaries. Yes, badgers will cross roads, but with a large motorway, a river or the sea, there will be much less perturbation. We all accept that there will be some, but if it can be restricted, that is right.
No, I will not, because I did give way earlier. I will carry on.
This is mainly an Opposition Back-Bench debate—[ Interruption. ] I did say “mainly”. If one looks at the list of speakers, I would not be far wrong. But it is the Government Benches rather than the Opposition Benches that are packed out. We have real concern about prevaricating and doing nothing, as the previous Labour Government did, and the Government are making a real effort to control the disease.
Badger numbers are interesting. Let us not forget that the Badger Trust has argued for years that there are not such numbers of badgers in the country, but the badger population has continually increased and become more diseased. As that population grows, badgers become more adventurous and are much more likely to enter cattle sheds and infect cattle. Increased numbers of badgers and diseased badgers create a problem not only for cattle, but for wildlife and wildlife management.
I am very grateful. On perturbation, what happens to the setts of badgers that are culled in the trials? Are they then occupied by healthy badgers or by diseased badgers? Are they destroyed to prevent them from being occupied, or do natural processes mean that they are not occupied by badgers after the trial?
The evidence is that the setts are left untouched. That has already been demonstrated. They are often repopulated by healthy badgers, which then pick up the disease.
My point, in answer to both interventions, is that the whole idea of the trial is to carry out a cull of at least 70% of badgers in the given area over a four or five-year period. That is key to ensuring that we cull the diseased badgers. I cannot say which badger will go back to which sett, but I am certain that if we reduce those numbers, we will reduce their movement, and if they cannot spread beyond the cull area, we will see a reduction of much more than 16% in TB in cattle in those areas. It has been found throughout the world that where infected wildlife are culled there is a much greater effect.
The Government are right to carry on with the culls. I respect what the NFU has had to do. Because of the Olympics, it was late in the day before the culls could be started. We are getting towards much darker nights and we have had probably one of the wettest summers and autumns that I have ever known, so now is the wrong time to go forward with the cull. But I dispute the idea that we can do nothing about the situation and that culling badgers in the infected areas is wrong.
Until we tackle those concerns, farmers in my constituency and across the country, especially in the west, will be unable to rest, because they know that more and more cattle will become diseased and more and more restrictions will be imposed on them, and in the end many of them will decide, because of the weather, the price of feed and the disease, to give up cattle farming. Do we not want to see those farmed cattle healthy and grazing in the fields? Of course we do, which is why we need to take action. I very much respect the Secretary of State for sticking to the plan to have a cull.
Neil Parish has just given us a wonderful example of how politics can stray down paths that are unwise. Babies cry, dogs bark and politicians legislate. When we have a problem, sometimes even one that is beyond solution on heaven or earth, we feel that we have to so something. It is often better to do nothing, as history proves. Under the previous Labour Government, 75 Bills were passed that have never been implemented; they went through the House but nothing happened afterwards. It is the futile urge of the political class—that is what we are—to feel that we must always do something, usually by legislating, but often that multiplies the problem that we are trying to address.
In 1991, my friend and colleague Roy Hughes, who was a Member of the House for 30 years, first for Newport and then for Newport East, managed to bring through the Bill that designated badgers as a protected species. It was part of a movement that has been going on for a long time to ensure that we, as the superior species, treat all other living beings with respect and protect them from gratuitous suffering.
One of the issues that I have with the House is the need to make it more representative of the population as a whole. We have certainly made great progress in that regard by increasing the number of women Members, of which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are a splendid example, as are Caroline Lucas and my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy. What a splendid debate we have had. I have been tempted to go and have my lunch, for which I have been waiting for some time, because I feel a sense of redundancy as a result of the brilliant way that they put their case in their speeches and in their interventions, some of which were not answered. My hon. Friend Angela Smith intervened on Daniel Kawczynski to ask a very pertinent question: why has there been an increase in bovine TB?
One of my jobs in ensuring that the House is more representative relates to a group—there are millions of them in the population—that is grossly under-represented: we have a desperate shortage of octogenarians. I am looking forward to the people of Newport West putting that right in 2015. One of the joys that come with old age is a long memory. I can recall the fuss about bovine TB in 1946, when I was 11 years old. There were then 47,476 cases of bovine TB in 1946, but the figure had fallen to 628 in 1979. It would be simplistic to suggest that that was because of the arrival of Clement Attlee and the glorious dawn of socialism between 1945 and 1951, before the beginning of the dark age of Thatcherism in 1979. It was not Thatcher. We know that we went for 20 years with fewer than 1,000 cases of bovine TB a year.
Almost eradicating bovine TB in the 1950s and ’60s was a truly remarkable achievement, but the difference between then and now is that there was no wildlife reservoir back then.
The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that we went for 20 years without doing anything, as has been suggested. We did not interfere. I do not believe that the cull will do any good, because the evidence suggesting that is overwhelming. Jesse Norman complained about the geek manifesto, which asks for science-based policies in the House, which are rare. He went on to say, “I have absolutely no evidence for this, but…” before putting forward a preposterous claim.
The trouble with the House is that so often we have no evidence for what we do. We are rich in prejudice in what we do. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the way that we treat farmers. As far as the Conservatives are concerned, we know that what the NFU wants, the NFU gets. I suggest that those Members should start to do a little more thinking for themselves, stand up to farmers—I and many other Members have many farmers in our constituencies—and tell them when they are wrong. They are certainly wrong on this.
We went through a long period during which bovine TB being was not a special problem. Why is the concern always about bovine TB, because 10 times as many animals die on the farm as a result of other diseases and no compensation is paid? Why are the farmers no desperate about that? Why do we concentrate on this one disease?
The turning point when the disease became out of control and a major problem was the epidemic of foot and mouth disease. The controls were laid off because the focus was on eliminating the foot and mouth disease and the other problem was restocking. Cattle were moved to different areas, and we suddenly had a massive problem with bovine TB, which was mostly the result of cattle-to-cattle or soil-to-cattle infection. Some people want to seek a simple solution, but the solution is a false one. We should look at the geek manifesto and have policies that are rich in science and in the truth. Otherwise, we will do nothing now to solve a problem that will evolve. In the near future, vaccination will become a practical solution. I believe that the decision taken by the Welsh Government is the right one.
Let us look at what is going on. I believe that last week the coalition Government grabbed the statement by the NFU as manna from heaven because they knew that they were politically embarrassed. They are redefining themselves as a new party that is nastier than ever before. The public do not see the justification for a mass slaughter of a beloved animal as being reasonable or practical. In a year’s time, when the coalition Government have done everything they can, having enthusiastically blamed the previous Government, the European Union and civil servants for everything that goes on, and if they get another year and a half to build the incredible ineptocracy that they are creating, where will their courage be then? Will they tell the public, “We need a badger cull now”? Will they get deeper into unpopularity? Will they advertise themselves again as the even nastier party, by attacking defenceless living creatures?
A group of people in my constituency have been caught indulging in badger culling. I think that many of us would agree that there is an element of sport in this that, sadly, many people enjoy. They enjoy killing wild animals. It is not part of the growing civilisation of this country, as we go from decade to decade and treat other living species with greater respect, not contempt.
I do not know what it is about debates in this House involving animals, but the speech by Paul Flynn reminded me that we generate much more heat than light during such important debates, which bring out almost the worst of all our characteristics. However many years we try, we will never quite manage to have a coherent, sensible and measured debate involving animals; goodness knows why. Perhaps we can at least try to do so now.
TB is a dreadful human tragedy just as much as it is a dreadful animal tragedy. It is made worse, as we have all admitted today, by political inaction going back over decades. During the course of this debate, at least eight farm animals—probably 10, perhaps 15—have been slaughtered, some of them needlessly. Herds will have been devastated, businesses will have been damaged, families will have been upset—all sorts of consequences will have occurred only in the time that we have been here lobbing the occasional insult across the Chamber at each other. Many of those animals will have been perfectly healthy. Some of them will have been in calf, and some of those, because they were so much in calf, will probably have had to be slaughtered on the yard, in many cases in front of young children. This is the policy that we have now. It behoves all of us, whether we are in favour of or against the cull, to recognise that not doing anything has some very serious consequences.
To echo my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski, I wish that some people who are opposed to the cull—they have every right to be so and to make their case—would come and examine at close quarters the real human consequences of this. I was going to make an offer to Dr Brian May, had he still been in the Public Gallery, to come to Pembrokeshire. He has been there before, of course; he came at the last election to campaign for the Labour party. Let us not think that there is not some politics in this, because there is. I invite Dr May and some of his colleagues to come and not just speak to a farmer over a cup of coffee at a table but to be there when the farmer has to prepare for a 60-day TB test. They will see the moving of the cattle, the stress that that causes to the family and the cattle, the preparation of the machinery and the buildings—all the things that go with that and have to be fitted in around an already busy lifestyle. These things cause stress to those animals, yet people are apparently disregarding that for the purposes of their arguments, which seemingly relate only to badgers.
Then I would like those who oppose the badger cull to sit with us while the farmer waits for the results of the test and these thoughts go through his mind: “Will we be tested positive again? Will more of our animals have to go to slaughter? Will our business be further damaged? Will our family be further upset?” That is a dreadful experience for farmers who have been through it all before, or in some cases have never been through it before, as they wonder whether this is the beginning of the end for their farming business. Several of my constituents—some of them are sitting in the Public Gallery now having come all the way from west Wales to listen, I hope, to some sense in this debate—are seriously wondering whether it is worth continuing in the dairy industry because of the decades of inaction to which I referred.
May I ask the shadow Minister to agree with our policy on this? I hope that we can persuade her to condemn what I consider to be a pretty vindictive attack by the RSPCA on our dairy farmers. I have here a letter from Freedom Food, which says:
“Freedom Food members are required to apply all reasonable non-lethal and humane methods of wild animal exclusion/control—the RSPCA believes it is unacceptable to use lethal methods of wild animal control as routine practice.”
Well, for a start, what is being proposed is not routine practice. To threaten a financial penalty for taking part in this is a breach of the RSPCA’s charitable conditions. It would be helpful if the Opposition would join us in that view. I cannot believe that many Freedom farmers do not at some stage control rats, mice, rabbits, deer, or some other farm pest, and they should not be blackmailed by a charity in this regard.
May I sound a note of caution? While my hon. Friend may have a difference with the RSPCA, it is the leading animal welfare charity in this nation, established by a former colleague in this House—William Wilberforce. What we can agree on, I hope, is that we all want to see healthy cattle and healthy badgers. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to do more—far more than the previous Government, I hasten to add—on getting a vaccine as soon as possible? That would satisfy everybody—farmers and those who care for animal welfare.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I concur with what he says about the RSPCA, which is why I am so annoyed and disgusted by its behaviour in this particular context. I will turn later to his comments about the need for a vaccine.
What we are trying to do is discover the truth, and it is frustrating that others are always trying to avoid the truth. Of course we want to discover what improved cattle movements will do for the control of this disease, of course we want to clamp down on biosecurity and see what impact that has, of course we want to investigate the legal, effective and affordable vaccines that might be out there imminently or some way down the line, and of course—this is completely consistent—we want to ascertain once and for all whether a cull can play an important part in this. I stress what my right hon. Friend Sir James Paice said: this not a definitive policy but a pilot to ascertain once and for all whether this particular part of the mix is effective or otherwise.
I am frustrated, as I think are fellow Members, that while we are attempting to examine the benefits or otherwise of a pilot cull that might cull 4,000 badgers—slightly fewer than 1% of the UK total—thousands of farm animals, many of which will be healthy, are dying needlessly. Millions of pounds will be lost, more businesses will be damaged, and more families will be upset. The frustration lies in the fact that opponents cannot get over the hump of believing that if something involves the death of a single animal in any circumstances they will construct an argument around it that will prevent it from happening. We have to be more open-minded.
Culling might have a positive effect. We cannot make progress until we accept that there is a case for at least exploring what the implications may be.
As we heard from the hon. Member for Newport West, we in this House can get in a terrible muddle about the difference between cruelty and suffering. It seems that most people look at cruelty as an attribute of human activity, whereas we should be looking at suffering, which is, to some extent, a more measurable scientific judgment. We constantly confuse the two. I ask opponents of the cull this simple question: why is it apparently perfectly satisfactory to continue killing many thousands of farm animals needlessly—one every 15 minutes—whereas culling a relatively small number of wild animals as part of an important experiment is somehow completely unacceptable? We have not got anywhere near to that answer.
Let me finish with a tribute to the British Veterinary Association, with reference to a comment by Caroline Lucas—she is not in her place now, but I hope she might read this. In her speech in our debate on circus animals she described the BVA as one of the most respected scientific organisations for animal welfare in this country. I agree. The BVA has assessed the evidence just as we have. It has looked at all the pros and cons and concluded that the proposals before the House are important and should be pursued. I might not be a scientist or understand the science, but I do trust the vets. There is an old saying: “You never trust something which has been doctored, but you can always trust something which has been vetted.” I agree with that. The BVA is a shining example of an organisation that has taken a measured view.
The Secretary of State has taken a brave decision. Let us not think for one minute that he would not have gone down the vaccination route if he could have possibly managed to do so. We owe it to our farmers, our cattle and our badgers to give him the support that he deserves.
Order. I want to take the opportunity to remind the House and the hon. Gentleman that it is not in order to refer either to a person or to the Public Gallery. That is quite clear in “Erskine May”. I did not want to interrupt his flow, given the time limits, and I will be loth to interrupt any other Member, unless, after my having reminded them not to refer to the Public Gallery, they proceed to do so.
In following Simon Hart, let me say that I was disappointed at an attempted politicisation of this debate, which has so far been incredibly cross-Bench and non-partisan. What Members are doing today is putting the issue first. This is not about party politics; it is about animal welfare. More than anything else, it is about the future of farming in our country and the attempts that we need to make effectively to tackle bovine TB.
Tuesday of this week was a day on which a degree of common sense prevailed in DEFRA. Although I welcome Tuesday’s announcement, it was only for a postponement and I, along with many others, want to see this madness stopped and will not rest until the Secretary of State sees sense and stops the cull permanently. That is what the motion is about.
Let me be clear: there is no doubt that bovine TB is a major problem. If there is one thing on which I agree with the Government it is that bovine TB presents a serious threat to both cattle and wildlife. Where we differ, however, is on the actions needed to tackle this awful disease. In order to answer that question, one has to ask why, after the successful reductions of the disease in the 1950s and ’60s, it has become more prevalent, particularly during and after the 1990s. I do not believe that the rise was due to an increase in the number of badgers, which is an equation often made by the myth makers.
What is clear is that changes to farming practices are not helping matters. The intensification of farming means that we have ever bigger herds, and all the evidence says that the bigger the herd, the faster the disease will spread within it once it takes root.
Husbandry is another issue that we cannot dismiss. Yesterday in the Lobby we had a visit from Steve Jones, who is a dairy farmer in the Forest of Dean. He described eloquently the often less than ideal conditions in which cows were—and still are in some instances—kept, along with the increasingly intensive regimes to which the animals are subjected. For example, water troughs are often said to rarely be cleaned out. Over time, they can become reservoirs of the disease as the stagnating water collects various bacteria, typically over the winter months. He also talked about the practice of some farmers—not all of them by any means—who, even now, collect the slurry deposited during the course of a farming day, spread it over the land and immediately let some of their cattle to feed off those fields.
I cannot believe that the hon. Lady believes that farmers who have had the disease and who have been testing their cattle every 60 days do not clean their water troughs. If she had suffered the same pain as a farmer, she would not make such a comment.
I will not comment on particular instances of the husbandry practices of farmers and how they keep their herds. All I can say is that there is some evidence that water troughs, particularly those kept at ground level, can be a source of the disease and that some farmers do not keep them as clear as they ought to of disease.
It is also argued that cows infected are often not quarantined quickly enough and that animal stress levels caused by pain and suffering can reduce immunity and make cattle more susceptible to diseases such as bovine TB.
As the instances of bovine TB started to climb in the 1990s, the then Secretary of State, Jack Cunningham, asked Professor Krebs to report on the matter and to then conduct the randomised badger culling trials, which have been referred to so often today. The important point is that they still stand as the most extensive study ever completed into the relationship between bovine TB and badgers. A two-page paper produced two or three years later does not stand in the context of the extensive trials carried out as the legitimate view of the scientists.
Although it is true that the independent science group concluded that in the cull areas the incidence of bovine TB fell by 23%, it also found that in neighbouring land outside the culled area the incidence of the disease rose by approximately 29%, thanks to perturbation, whereby surviving badgers move to new areas as a consequence of disturbance.
Overall, the study concluded that the benefits of culling were, at best, modest, with an average reduction of just 12% to 16% in the incidence of infection over a period of seven years. The ISG concluded that
“badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”
“there is still more TB around than there was at the beginning; it is just that there is 16% less than there would have been without a cull. The number is not the 30% that the NFU quoted; that is misleading—a dishonest filleting of the data.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 23 October 2012; Vol. 740, c. 148.]
Another problem is that the test used to check whether cattle are infected with bovine TB—the so called SICCT, or single intradermal comparative cervical tuberculin, test—is not accurate. A recent scientific paper has suggested that as many as two in 10 infected cattle might be missed by the test. That is a staggering 20%, meaning that a significant proportion of cattle-to-cattle transmission of bovine TB may be going undetected and that the role of badgers in the spread of bovine TB to cattle may be overestimated.
Culling, therefore, is not the way forward. Its impact, the science tells us, would be marginal, and if we get it wrong, the results could be disastrous. It is demanded that 70% of badgers in the pilot culling areas must be culled; otherwise, the incidence of bovine TB could get worse—hence this week’s U-turn. Given the lack of credible assessment of the number of badgers in the pilot areas, it is difficult to get the 70% figure right. Equally, it is also difficult to avoid breaching the law by killing too many and taking the species to the brink of extinction in the specified areas.
When I started my contribution, I said that bovine TB is a major issue for farmers and I stand by that. I want the Government to take the opportunity over the next few months to work more intensively on developing the badger vaccination programme, which all experts believe is a better way forward in diminishing the instances of bovine TB in that species. We also have to do more to develop a vaccine for cattle, which is the long-term answer to this problem. I am told that there is now a suitable DIVA test to identify and separate cattle with bovine TB from those that have been vaccinated, and that it is in the process of being licensed.
I appeal to the Minister to take seriously the points that have been made, to invest in getting the cattle vaccine licensed and on the table, and to talk to the EU to get it sorted.
I rise to speak against the motion. It strikes me that many who have spoken in its favour have done so having assumed for themselves the mantle of majority support and that the country is behind them, but I can tell hon. Members that my constituents are not behind the motion. I can say that with some authority, because I surveyed some 30,000 households over the summer and one of the questions I asked was whether they were in favour of the Government’s approach to pilot culls to tackle bovine TB, and the results were that 59% were in favour of pilot culls, 27% were against and the others did not voice an opinion.
The reasons why a majority of almost 2:1 of my constituents are in favour of the Government’s courageous policy are simple and have been rehearsed many times during this debate: the huge loss of our cattle—some 26,000 last year; the huge expense to the taxpayer of almost £100 million last year and £1 billion over the next decade, if this is left unchecked; and a cost for every farm where there is an outbreak of £30,000, of which £10,000 is borne by the farmer. This is unsustainable; it cannot be allowed to continue.
As many hon. Members have said, there is a human cost to farmers, their families and the communities in which they live. That cannot be underestimated. One of my most special constituents is Mr Brian Warren, who runs a voluntary organisation called Farm Crisis Network, which provides pastoral support to farmers in distress. I invite any Opposition Member who supports the motion to come to Central Devon, sit down with Brian and listen to some of the stories about the misery that our farmers are going through as a consequence of this scourge. On most occasions, it is nothing short of harrowing.
I wish to deal with a couple of arguments that have been made by those on the other side of the debate. The first is that we somehow claim that our approach will be 100% successful. We do not. The culls will be pilots, from which we will learn. We accept that we will not eradicate bovine TB in the cull areas, but we have to accept that no other approach will lead to quick and certain 100% eradication either. We therefore have to use the proposed approach, along with increased biosecurity. The Government announced as recently as last week that biosecurity would be tightened up. We also have to look to the ongoing use of vaccination and the development of vaccines in future.
The second argument that has been deployed is that our approach will have no effect whatever on TB, or indeed will make it worse. Many Opposition Members have mentioned the independent scientific group and the Krebs trials as evidence, but time has moved on and so has the assessment of those trials. New analysis and new research has challenged some of their conclusions. I refer specifically to the report of one member of the ISG, Professor Donnelly. As recently as last September, she wrote:
“In the time period from one year after the last proactive cull”— the Krebs trials—
“and on lands up to 2km outside proactive trial areas was 4.1% lower…than outside survey-only areas”.
As time has gone on, the evidence in favour of the effectiveness of culling has hardened.
Professor Donnelly has also shown that that reduction still represented an increase in the incidence of herd breakdowns, but at a lower level than would have been the case had the cull not gone ahead. That reduction is at the nub of the justification of the Government’s policy, but it was not an absolute reduction.
In the absence of any other factors, that is correct. However, the pilot culls that are now envisaged for next year will be held on a different basis. The area over which they will be held will be substantially larger than for the Krebs trials, which is an important factor. We have talked much about the effects of perturbation, which will be reduced by having hard boundaries such as coastlines, rivers and motorways.
I turn to the issue of vaccination. It is simply impractical, as things stand, to consider the vaccination of badgers as a sensible way forward. Until we achieve a reliable oral vaccine we simply do not have the resources to go out and trap badgers individually, on an annualised basis, and have trained, registered and licensed personnel to go out and inject them with vaccine. That is simply not going to happen. I laud the Government for spending a considerable sum—some £16 million a year recently—to help develop the vaccines that we need.
It must be reiterated that even if we vaccinate cattle, we still do not have a reliable, licensed and usable test to differentiate cattle that have been vaccinated from those that are carrying TB. The DIVA test is not yet licensed and usable.
I have one or two quick points to make to Ministers. First, one reason why the NFU decided to ask the Government to postpone the pilots was that there was a fairly significant under-estimate of the number of badgers in the pilot areas. I press the Government to ensure that the same mistake is not made next time around, and to ensure that the badger survey that is being conducted, which I believe will be concluded next year, is carried out with great rigour and examined extremely carefully. We need to know what the numbers are.
Secondly, I ask that the Government press hard to ensure that the DIVA test is made available, fully licensed and put in place, so that we can use it if we can move forward on the efficacy of vaccinations and our position with the EU.
Thirdly, I ask Ministers to consider the fact that we need the consent of landowners who own 70% of the land in the pilot areas. In fact, it is important that we achieve well in excess of that, because it is quite conceivable that landowners will be leant upon at various points during the pilot, and that some may drop out of the scheme. We need to get well above that threshold.
Finally, we need to press on. We should recognise the courage and decency of the current Secretary of State and the Ministers who came before him, including my right hon. Friend Sir James Paice. They have a done a sterling job of standing up for our farmers, their families, our communities and those who believe in the rural way of life.
It is a pleasure to follow Mel Stride, who spoke with great authority about the impact of this dreadful disease on cattle, badgers and our farming community, and about the economic cost to the Government and the taxpayer.
I welcome the Government’s decision not to go ahead with the pilot cull at this time. The pause is welcome and allows this time to be used not only for debate in the House but for a proper examination of how to make sensible progress on dealing with this terrible disease in future.
Bovine TB is a truly dreadful disease, endemic in cattle in the UK. As we know, there are hot spots in the south-west and the west midlands. About 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2011 as part of the control of the disease, costing the taxpayer about £87 million in compensation for farmers. It is a dreadful disease in every respect. As I have listened to the debate, I have heard huge consensus about that. The question is what to do about it. We all fully understand the frustration in communities where bovine TB is endemic, and the desire to do something. As several of my hon. Friends have pointed out, however, it is not right to do something that will be unhelpful and make matters worse.
Bovine TB has consistently been a problem for decades in some parts of the UK. When the disease was found in badgers, it was easy to jump to the conclusion that a solution had been found—kill the badgers, eradicate the disease. Simple. Unfortunately, it has not worked like that. Right from the beginning, there were problems with that theory. There were cases of cattle herds testing positive for TB while local badgers were disease-free, and other cases of cattle being free of TB when local badgers were carrying it. There were also cases in which both badgers and cattle were carrying it. Nobody disputes that badgers can carry the disease, but it is not fully understood whether they infect cattle and how the pathway of the disease’s spread works.
As we have heard, the weight of scientific evidence goes in a certain direction, but some scientific voices fall outside that. The assumption about proximity and the fact that badger populations in some parts of the country are infected, is based on the balance of fact, rather than on scientific evidence. The history of badger culling to control TB in the UK has, in reality, been one of abject failure. Culling has gone on since 1971 although gassing was abandoned in 1980 as it was considered inhumane. The culling policy was not considered effective and was replaced by the so-called interim strategy in 1986. That followed the Zuckerman and Dunnet reviews which, while supporting badger culling at the time, acknowledged that there were insufficient data on the whole approach to badgers.
The interim strategy, which was based on identifying diseased badgers where there had been a cattle outbreak and then killing the whole sett, was seen largely as a placebo for farmers, rather than to tackle the real issue. It was a complete failure and disease outbreaks continued to rise and spread to other areas of the country throughout the period. I fear that the current Government strategy appears to be repeating that error, albeit confined to smaller areas.
As we have heard, in 1997 the incoming Labour Government stopped randomised culling and oversaw the establishment of a detailed scientific trial introduced by Professor John Krebs and overseen by the independent scientific group, chaired by Professor John Bourne. The trial demonstrated the complexities of the link between badgers and disease in cattle, and, importantly, showed that culling could actually make the disease worse by increasing spread and incidence of TB on the perimeter of trial areas. We have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the debate a recognition that those scientific facts are true.
My hon. Friend Jim Fitzpatrick spelled out clearly that the Labour Government would have gone ahead with culls had the scientific evidence supported it. Since it did not, however, the process did not go ahead. These matters involve closely balanced determinations.
In the summary of his report, Professor John Bourne states that
“although badgers contribute significantly to the cattle disease in some parts of the country, no practicable method of badger culling can reduce the incidence of cattle TB to any meaningful extent, and several culling approaches may make matters worse… rigidly applied control measures targeted at cattle can reverse the rising incidence of disease, and halt its geographical spread.”
“As scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, we believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it.”
As we have heard, that is the last thing we all want. They continued:
“We are concerned that badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control.”
Is this not the crucial point? Yes, those scientists have quoted their expertise, but the fact is that nobody actually knows. There is no science to demonstrate whether controlled shooting will effectively reduce the population by 70%, or whether it is humane. There are differing views, but there is no science because—I readily grant this—it has never been done. I believe, however, that it is right to carry out a pilot test to find out whether it will work. Is that not a sensible way forward? Those scientists, however esteemed they are, know no more than the hon. Gentleman or I about whether the cull will actually work. Why can we not find out? It might work.
The right hon. Gentleman did some good work as Minister of State, and I welcomed his contribution when he drew attention to measures that will be introduced in January on husbandry and biodiversity. Those measures were driven forward under his watch, which must be applauded.
The right hon. Gentleman puts his finger on the nub of the matter, but there is a danger that these trials will create more TB in those areas, which is what evidence from previous trials appears to suggest. There is therefore a risk in proceeding with them, as well as in not doing so. The opportunity created by this pause allows a vigorous examination of those risks, so that we can come to the appropriate answer. I think both the right hon. Gentleman and I would agree that that is the right way to proceed.
We have heard about the things to which the Government should be applying their effort and mind. I have mentioned the biodiversity and husbandry measures that have been introduced, and we should apply further pressure in those areas, working with the farming community and others. We must try to proceed with the DIVA test, and ensure that work on a cattle vaccination, as well as a badger vaccination, progresses as fast as possible. DEFRA should be working urgently with the European Union to permit commercial use of the vaccine. We need the Government to apply their energy. The pause provides them with the opportunity to put their shoulder to the wheel and work harder in that direction, and therefore get an outcome that does not risk further increases in TB but tackles the problem in a way that everybody can support. Not only is the science against going ahead with the cull; public opinion is also against it. We need to ensure that we take this opportunity to drive things forward in the best possible way.
Devon is the county worst affected by bovine TB in the entire country. Six thousand cattle were slaughtered in 2010, and there were 800 herd breakdowns. My constituency is arguably the most densely infected. The toll is taken not only on thousands of animals representing generations of toil and long family traditions of rearing and breading, which are destroyed by the fatal hand and the stroke of the pen of the inspector who finds a reactor in the herd. There is also the human toll on the families, which has been well described and I will not dwell on it.
I sat on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the last Parliament and participated in the production of its report. It was authored not only by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, some of whom are in the Chamber, but by some very distinguished Labour Members, for whom I came to have considerable respect for the neutral, impartial and thoroughly disinterested way in which they grappled with the problem. It was not necessarily in their interests to subscribe to the political solution that we subsequently recommended, but the report was clear in its recommendation that culling needed to play a role in a package of measures, no one of which would be successful in either dramatically reducing or eliminating the disease.
We had to grapple with the science in making our recommendations. The summary of the report draws attention to the problem that we found as we interviewed the various witnesses who appeared before us. It was apparent that the independent scientific group, which had overseen the random trials, concluded that, in principle
“modest reductions in the overall incidence of cattle TB would result from simultaneous, coordinated and repeated culls of badgers over extremely large areas of the countryside”,
which it defined as around 300 sq km,
“using skilled staff and ideally within geographical barriers to badger movement”.
However, the ISG concluded that
“trying and failing to achieve this” would
“make matters worse”.
Thus, it was not practically or economically feasible to carry out culling on that scale. It was for that reason, and not for any principled reason that culling might not have a reductive effect, that the ISG rejected culling as contributing meaningfully to the elimination or reduction of the disease.
My right hon. Friend Sir James Paice, in his tenure as Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, have looked at the conclusions of the Krebs trials and the ISG and drawn the inevitable logical inferences. Professor Bourne, Professor Krebs and the ISG concluded that modest reductions were possible provided the culling was carried out in a sustained way, efficiently and over a significant terrain.
All that those who currently have stewardship of policy are doing is taking that in-principle conclusion, which nobody can doubt is contained in the ISG’s report, and applying it and saying, “Let us try. Let us have this controlled experiment in these two areas.” They are adding one more dimension that was not included in the Krebs trials, and that is hard boundaries. The sea, large rivers and motorways all have an inhibiting effect on the movement of badgers, and if we place that dimension into the mix, we can help to reduce the effects of perturbation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire said, it was not that there was no reduction inside the core area. There was in fact a 23% reduction. That figure, however, was obtained by counting done in the first 12 months, but many scientists believe that the first 12 months of the Krebs trials should be disregarded because of the time lag before the measures took effect. Many scientists believe that the correct figure is 27%.
The problem was not that the trials did not have a dramatic reductive effect within the culling area but that it spread disease on the outer boundaries. As my hon. Friend Mel Stride said, two things have happened. First, continuing analysis has demonstrated that those perturbation effects diminish with time, and, secondly, we are able to put in place hard boundaries that should reduce that effect. I contend, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is drawing the logical inference and conclusion from the scientific evidence. That is why he said that he was applying the science and that that was a common-sense and logical thing to do, and it is why his decision deserves the support of every Member and why it commanded the support of the Labour-dominated Select Committee in 2008, when precisely that recommendation and prescription was suggested.
I urge the House to understand that we do this not out of some bloodthirsty desire to kill, as was shamefully and disgracefully suggested by Paul Flynn, but because it is a serious reaction to a pressing problem. It is sincerely intended to tackle a disease that badly needs tackling for the sake of the country.
Bovine TB is a £100 million problem in cash terms but a much larger human problem for dairy farmers, who are devastated year after year by having to destroy herds that they have nurtured for years and sometimes generations. I do not wish to engage in an either/or dispute, but to speak about what can be done between now, when the cull has been stopped, and next year, when, if the Secretary of State is correct, a cull will go ahead.
Before that, I want to respond to Neil Parish, who said that the Labour party was close to a cull but chickened out. That was not a fair remark. I was a Minister when the ISG report came in, and I remember the hours and weeks of deliberation on it. We never saw this as a virility test, and it should not be seen as such by any Government. It is a tremendously serious issue. It was the Labour Government who authorised the trials in the first place. We did so because we wanted to see if they would work, and the decision that was ultimately taken was an honest one based on what we understood of the science of the trials.
The ISG report concluded that substantial reductions in cattle TB could be achieved by improving cattle-based controls, and I welcome the measures that the Government will be putting in place from next January to increase those controls. I simply ask that the Secretary of State provides financial support to farmers carrying out their duty to put in place those increased controls, including on cattle movement through zoning and herd attestation, the pre-movement testing of herds before new cattle are allowed to join them, the quarantining of purchased cattle and the shorter testing intervals. All those things were set out in the ISG report as ways to improve the situation—not as solutions, but as improvements. I am glad that the Government are taking renewed efforts to put them in place, but I hope that when the Secretary of State winds up the debate he will recognise that they will be burdensome and costly for farmers, who should therefore be recompensed and incentivised appropriately to ensure the success of those measures. Those controls should be supported by measures to improve biosecurity on farms, particularly around feeding and water troughs, which hon. Members from both sides of the House have mentioned.
Let me be clear: I will vote against a cull, but I recognise that the Government may get their way. Therefore, when and if the Government go ahead with the cull next year—and in the following three years, because it will take place over a four-year period up to 2016—I would ask the Secretary of State to do one further thing in the next nine months: change the licence condition to allow only cage trapping and shooting, rather than what is referred to as the “controlled shooting” of badgers. He has said that he wants to proceed only on the basis of sound science. I welcome that commitment, and I trust that he will therefore recall that the independent scientific group pointed out that culling required “co-ordinated and sustained effort” and that what it called the “modest overall benefits” came only from a clinically executed trap-and-shoot exercise. Free shooting of badgers was no part of the scientific trials that form the only basis for a sound policy. Indeed, the Game Conservancy Trust stated:
“A…problem with shooting at or near the sett”— that is, free shooting—
“is that a wounded badger will almost certainly attempt to bolt underground, preventing a second shot (and preventing safe disposal of the carcass).”
If the Secretary of State persists with the cull next year, I would urge him to use the next nine months to change the licence conditions and stop the free shooting of badgers.
I desperately want to see a solution to the scourge of bovine TB. Sometimes we find it difficult to accept that we do not have a solution to a problem. Ultimately, I believe that oral vaccination of both cattle and badgers will bring us that solution, but any frustration at the lack of a current solution should not lead us to adopt a false solution. The proposed cull is a false solution, and I shall vote against it.
The debate has unfortunately become perhaps a little polarised, but we have had a determination to focus on the science. The interesting thing is that the same scientists are being used—if I might use that expression—by both sides.
Mr Cox, my near neighbour, has highlighted the issue as it was set out to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. I am still a member of the Select Committee, and I have served on it since 2005. As the Chair of the Committee, Miss McIntosh, said earlier, we hope to look again at some of the vaccination issues in the near future. However, the main piece of work that the Select Committee carried out during that period was the one to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred.
I will come back to the science, but I want briefly to re-emphasise something that many hon. Members on both sides of the debate have pointed out. This is a very pressing issue in terms of cost to the rural economy and to the Treasury—indeed, to all of us as taxpayers—because of the amount of money having to be spent dealing with the effects of the problem, even if we are not dealing with the causes. Those costs will continue to rise, as has been freely admitted on both sides.
There is a human effect, too. We have heard about the disease’s effect on farmers—not just the distress caused, but the fact that ultimately it will push some people out of farming. I wrote to a court where a company was trying to repossess a farmer’s property, on the basis partly of the farm being under TB restrictions and therefore not being able to trade efficiently. The farmer and his family and others employed by the business constantly live with that worry.
The disease has an animal welfare cost for livestock and the wildlife population.
Some people who keep cattle are saying, “I can’t put up with this any more,” so they sell their cows and buy a plough, with the result that more wheat is being grown, which is not what we want for the landscape.
That is absolutely true, although in parts of my hon. Friend’s constituency and of mine that choice is not available, so land will go out of production, with the loss of all the environmental “goods” such as stewardship and protection of the landscape.
The only piece of work that we have on which we can base an understanding of the science is, as hon. Members on both sides of the debate have said, the report that the
ISG submitted to the Government based on the randomised culling trials. The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon was right that its conclusions are crucial to the debate, but the question is whether one stops just before the end of the report, where the group said that culling has an effect and can help, or goes on to the coda, where it outlines its ultimate position and states that it does not think culling is practical. I argue that that is for the Government, politicians and those who will implement the policy on the ground to resolve. That I why the Select Committee felt that we needed to give the Government a chance to respond.
The hon. and learned Member spoke of the Select Committee’s membership in the previous Parliament: the late David Taylor, an active Member on many issues and on culling; the former Member for Stroud, David Drew; and Dr Lynne Jones. They were of such independent minds that it was a great comfort to Lord McAvoy when the Committee visited rural North Yorkshire or the south-west to look into the issue, because if instead they had been here, they might have been a little more challenging of the then Government’s position on whatever matter was being debated. They freely admitted that they were not convinced that culling was the answer to the problem, whereas others wanted to give those in the farming community the opportunity to show that it could work. The collective view that we reached appears in black and white.
The scientists—Professor John Bourne, Christl Donnelly, Rosie Woodruff and Sir David King—gave evidence before us. The atmosphere between them was interesting; it was probably more of an atmosphere than we sometimes have in here for Prime Minister’s Question Time, such was their commitment to the work they had done. None the less, the Select Committee reached the view that it did.
I should like to look at the alternatives to the culling trials. I emphasise that we are discussing pilots, not country-wide implementation overnight, and moving forward carefully, sensitively and in line with the science in two areas to demonstrate that culling is effective.
Of course, after these two pilots merely assess the effectiveness and humaneness of the culling method, the intention is then to roll it out throughout the country at a very much accelerated pace.
We will see what happens during the pilots. Looking at the methodology is one of the key issues, as my hon. Friend rightly points out. It might be that other problems are pointed out, which would make it impossible to continue, but we have to give the people involved the chance to carry out and test what happens. As Opposition Members have said, we will not have the data that we need to move on unless we try to do what the ISG findings point towards: using the hard boundaries, using the wider area and getting on and doing it.
I have heard some hon. Members say that the coalition Government have cut spending on vaccination. Actually, since 1994, just over £40 million has been invested; over the next four years, the Government are planning to invest over £15 million. That means an acceleration of the effort towards vaccination. We still have problems with the tests. It is possible that the DIVA test will get us where we want to be, but we are still not there yet. The practicality of vaccination is another issue. We have talked about the practicality of a cull, but there are huge problems around vaccination.
We would all like to get to a state where it is not necessary to carry out intervention of this sort in wildlife. We would all like farmers and others concerned about animal welfare issues to unite around something—but we are not yet there. Effectively, we are saying, “Let’s do nothing.”
On biosecurity measures, Kerry McCarthy, who, as she said, has looked a great deal at food policy, painted a bit of a picture of farmers who were completely lackadaisical and not at all interested in biosecurity. It is in their interests to be interested in biosecurity, as they are the ones who suffer in their businesses from restrictions and all the other problems that we have now. Of course they are taking the issue seriously. The one or two of them who are not will be rejected by the rest of the industry, which is absolutely committed to delivering on the further restrictions that the Government are introducing.
To say that the cull is an easy option and that farmers are going to hang up on biosecurity, forget all about it and just get on with killing badgers is absolute nonsense. I do not want to over-characterise what the hon. Lady said, but the gist was that farmers do not care. Of course, Paul Flynn was quite scathing in what he had to say.
I am running out of time. To Members who think that those of us with rural constituencies are doing this because we are after votes, I should like to say that we are not. Huge numbers of people even in my own constituency where bovine TB is a problem have told me that they are worried about a cull of badgers. We are doing this and supporting it because it is the only game in town at the moment—it is the only thing that we can possibly do to bear down on this problem. If we fail, we will deserve to be roundly criticised.
I congratulate Caroline Lucas on the generous way in which she introduced this debate. It is a difficult debate, but the hon. Lady should be recognised for allowing people to intervene and ensuring that a proper debate took place. She knows that I come from a different perspective, but I congratulate her again on introducing the debate so well.
Bovine TB is a complex, infectious, zoonotic disease in animals and in man. It is caused by a bacterium that presents itself as a serious and significant risk to animal health, and it is especially prevalent among the UK cattle herd and among wildlife—mainly badgers. It is one of the UK’s most significant animal health issues. We discussed earlier in the week the significant cost posed by this disease to the economy—effectively 100 million smackaroos a year. We are talking about 100 million quid every year; that is what this disease costs, and we need to accept that it is a major problem or a crisis.
Frankly, some of the debate has been tainted by misinformation and by some emotion—emotion that is misplaced in this argument, because this nation deserves the House debating this matter properly and with some authority. I think that that should be put on the record. No one takes the decision to cull wildlife or to cull our national milk herd lightly. For people to suggest otherwise is criminal, and we should recognise that and state it clearly.
We should also recognise some of the myths that have been put about. It is said that this is about town versus country, which is utter piffle. This is about animal health; it is about animal welfare and good animal husbandry; it is about our milking herd and our cattle; and—most importantly—it is about the food that we eat and are prepared to tell our consumers to eat. We should not lose sight of that.
People say that this is a shot in the dark, which will lead to the indiscriminate killing of wildlife. That is misinformation, which has the potential to “felon set” those who are asked to carry out the cull. We should consider the consequences of careless talk about indiscriminate shooting. There is also the nonsense about a readily available vaccine that will solve the problem. There is no vaccine that will have an impact on wild badgers that are already infected. The reservoir of badgers that carry the disease cannot be controlled by a vaccine.
“All badgers will die” is another piece of misinformation. It is said that this is about the mass slaughter of animals. As many Members have pointed out—as, indeed, the Government have pointed out—it is not about mass slaughter, but about a targeted pilot in a limited area of the United Kingdom that will be cordoned off. That cordon sanitaire will allow target shooting.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his gracious remarks. However, in condemning misinformation, he is also spreading it. He says that vaccination has no effect on infected badgers, but in fact it slows the progress and the severity of the disease. It reduces the risk that the animal will become infectious, and therefore reduces the chance that one badger will pass it to another or, indeed, to cattle.
That is a relevant point. I shall say more about the vaccine issue in a moment.
The hon. Lady commended the work of the British Veterinary Association, of which I am a long-term member. Let us hear the expert views of that association. Its most recent report on bovine TB states:
“Whilst the slaughter of cattle found to be infected with TB…has been an essential part of the strategy to control the disease in cattle for many years, the BVA believes that targeted, managed and humane badger culling is also necessary in carefully selected areas where badgers are regarded as a significant contributor to the persistent presence of bTB. In addition, the BVA believes that risk-based biosecurity, surveillance and Farm Health Planning at a national, regional and farm level is essential for the control” of the spread of the disease. In other words, we need a cocktail of measures that includes culling on a limited basis.
“We do not know how successful the proposed methods will be.”
Does he agree that what we really need is significant investment in research on zoonotic diseases?
It goes without saying that the research must be carried out, that it must be ongoing and that it must not be prevented as a result of what we are trying to do here.
I commend the Republic of Ireland—shock, horror, stop the presses: Paisley commends Republic of Ireland!—which has already carried out a cull. I should make it clear that this has nothing to do with jealousy on the part of those of us north of the border who do not get to shoot. The cull in the south of Ireland has led to a significant reduction in confirmed new infection rates among cattle herds. I believe that if this scheme is tried and proved to be effective, especially in countries where a land border is shared with another nation, we should adopt it. I believe that we should be learning—yes indeed, learning—from the Irish Republic on this important matter. I am happy to concede that point.
The BVA made a strong and significant point about vaccination. Although the badger BCG vaccine is currently available and undoubtedly plays a role in managing the disease, it is not proven to protect fully against infection. It merely reduces the progression and severity of the disease in animals that become infected later, and it has no impact on those infected prior to vaccination. We in Northern Ireland are currently carrying out a trapping test; we are trying to get animals trapped. As has been suggested, perhaps we should only use trapping to cull badgers.
The hon. Gentleman must accept that as badgers die at a very rapid rate—25% attrition each year—vaccination would result in a significant decrease of infection in badgers, whereas culling increases the preponderance of infection in badgers.
We have to accept that culling is not a silver bullet—it is not the magic answer—but vaccination is not the magic answer either. We have to try to tackle this problem, however. We have to continue searching for a vaccine that will work and will not destroy our herds and prevent us from selling our product.
We have to try this cull to see whether it can succeed. The costs are £100 million a year. We have to do something. This is robbing money from our hospitals, schools and roads. We are wasting taxpayers’ money; we are pouring it down the drain. We have got to address this problem.
The BVA has made it clear that there is no existing data to prove that badger vaccination has an impact on the incidence of BTB in cattle. Even if it does, it will have a much slower impact than the removal of badgers by culling.
I want to say a few words on the impact of TB in Northern Ireland. We have spent £200 million in the last six years trying to eradicate the disease, but we have failed. We want to spend £20 million this year trying to do it, and we are going to fail—and we are going to wipe out a number of our best milking herds. We also have criminals in Northern Ireland who deliberately try to infect herds so that they can get compensation. This problem has got to be addressed now. I hope the Government have got the guts to get on and do it. It will not be nice—it is not going to be pleasant—but we have to solve this problem.
It is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak in this important debate, and to follow Ian Paisley, whom I admire immensely, but disagree with entirely on this issue.
It is an incredibly emotive issue, and one that has caused me to rethink my position. I had originally been in favour of the cull. I had—and still have—enormous sympathy for the farmers who are affected by bovine TB. There is not just the monetary cost to the farm, but the immense strain on farmers. That should not be underestimated. So when the culling of badgers was announced as a means of eradicating bovine TB, it seemed to be a sensible solution. However, it became clear that the science did not stack up. As someone who is rather proud of their track record on animal welfare issues, I began to feel uncomfortable with my original position. Having looked into the issue in more detail—which I am glad I did—I am convinced that the badger cull is absolutely the wrong way to tackle bovine TB.
The issue is very sensitive. It affects farmers’ lives and livelihoods, and often their mental health, but it is an issue that has been tainted by misinformation. For example, it is often stated that the eradication of TB in badgers would lead to the eradication of the disease in cattle, but that is simply not the case. Cattle-to-cattle transmission would continue, as demonstrated in low incidence areas such as Kent, where there is evidence that cattle-to-cattle transmission accounts for 80% or more of cases.
While there is an indisputable link between badgers and bovine TB, many other animals also carry TB: deer, wild boar, foxes, alpacas and even cats and dogs. We need to be clear, therefore: instead of saying “No other country in the world has eradicated TB in cattle without tackling it in wildlife”, the Government should state, “No other country in the world has eradicated TB in cattle.” Therefore, we need to be realistic about what precisely a badger cull would achieve.
Other cattle-farming countries have learned lessons from attempted culls. In Australia, Asian buffalo—an introduced alien species thought to be spreading TB—were culled by shooting from helicopters. However, TB in cattle was reduced only by draconian testing and the culling of cattle, with whole herds slaughtered—that effectively kept TB under control for many decades. In New Zealand, brush-tailed possums, another introduced species, were poisoned for decades—that went alongside draconian cattle-testing regimes. However, it has since been realised that poisoning is unsustainable, and scientists have recommended the vaccination of possums instead. In the USA, white-tailed deer in Michigan were found to be sharing feeding stations with cattle, thus allowing TB transmission. The simple solution was to separate the deer from the feeding stations.
The proposed badger cull will not eradicate bovine TB from our cattle. Our leading scientists note that it will reduce the incidence by, at best, 16%, so a long-term, large-scale cull of badgers would leave 84% of the problem remaining. I heard what my right hon. Friend Sir James Paice said about this being 16% net, with a more likely figure of 30%, but that still means that 70% of the problem remains. In addition, the Government are not proposing a long-term, large-scale cull; they are proposing two pilots in areas where they do not know how many badgers there are. The original estimates were that it would be necessary to cull only between 500 and 800 badgers in each of the two areas, thus achieving the 70% culling target. However, in the space of a weekend that number was increased to more than 5,000 in the two areas—that represents a massive increase in the badger population in just a few days, and if badgers are breeding like rabbits, we are facing an entirely different problem.
As Lord Krebs eloquently told the upper House:
“What this underlines is that if the policy is to cull at least 70% of the badgers, we have to know what the starting number is. This variation from just over 1,000 to more than 5,000 in the space of a few days underlines how difficult it is for us to have confidence that the Government will be able to instruct the farmers to cull 70% if they do not know the starting numbers.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 23 October 2012; Vol. 740, c. 148.]
That is why our scientists and animal welfare activists, and many, many of my constituents, believe the proposals to cull badgers when an accurate figure cannot be circulated—leaving aside the welfare issue of indiscriminately shooting badgers, 75% of which will be TB free—are simply mindless.
Other nations have not simply resorted to culling, but have looked at alternative options. Wales, where most of the UK incidences occur, has decided to vaccinate, not cull. The Minister will have heard, and will continue to hear, calls for a stronger focus on vaccination, and he needs to go back to the Department and reinstate the five—out of six—vaccination trials cancelled when we took office.
As it was me who cancelled those “trials”, I feel that I need to respond. May I make it absolutely clear to my hon. Friend and to the House that they were not “trials”, as she has just described them, but vaccine deployment projects? They were nothing to do with testing vaccines; they simply sought to work out how to trap, inject and so on. They were about the mechanics. I decided, rightly or wrongly, that we did not need six of these things, costing £7 million or £8 million, and that everything could be learned from one. That is why we did what we did.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s intervention, but I still think that we need to put more investment into our trials programme, in order to learn more.
Reactive culling does not work. It will spread the disease—evidence suggests that it may even increase the incidence of the disease. So it is clear that the Government need to listen to the scientists and rethink their strategy.
There are three principal reasons why I support today’s motion. First, I believe that a badger cull would be damaging to wildlife. Secondly, the science suggests that a cull is unnecessary and that there are more effective solutions. Thirdly, and most importantly, evidence suggests that a cull would not significantly reduce the incidence of bovine TB and would therefore not benefit cattle herds and the agricultural industry across the country. As we have heard this afternoon, bovine TB is a real and devastating issue for many farmers. I think we all agree that it is vital that we find an effective long-term measure to eradicate the disease.
I welcome the Government’s announcements on improving cattle testing, movement controls and biosecurity. However, the most reliable scientific evidence suggests that badger culling is a short-term, unsustainable and ultimately ineffective approach. Allowing the shooting of free-ranging badgers in TB-affected areas is an untested and dangerous move that has no place in a science-led policy. Indeed, rather than solving the problem, it risks making matters worse by disrupting the social structures and allowing the spread of badgers to new areas.
Licensing the shooting of one of our best loved native species has also, unsurprisingly, generated considerable public opposition. A more sustainable approach to the problem should involve pushing forward with the injectable vaccination of badgers in areas in the south-west and other parts of England along with increasing efforts to develop a vaccine for cattle. The vaccination of both badgers and cattle, together with enhanced cattle testing and improved biosecurity measures, is the publicly acceptable and ultimately effective long-term solution.
If badgers are to be trapped before being shot, as DEFRA suggests, why not simply vaccinate rather than kill the badger while it is caged? The DEFRA announcement comes despite scientific studies that have shown that culling would be of little help in reducing bovine TB and could actually make matters worse in many areas. Indeed, the cull could see badger populations decline by more than 70% and in some areas none might survive.
Culling cannot be selective, so many perfectly healthy badgers will be slaughtered as some awful collateral damage. After 10 years’ work, the independent scientific group concluded in 2007 that
“badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”
Subsequent monitoring of cull areas showed a very modest drop in cattle TB levels, averaging just 16% after nine and half years. Indeed, DEFRA’s wildlife advisory body, Natural England, which will have to implement the Government’s proposals, has said that it has little confidence that such an approach can deliver the predicted benefits.
At least a fifth of cattle herds, and possibly up to half of them, might be harbouring bovine TB even after they are thought clear of infection according to a recent Cambridge university research article. Worse still, there is greater potential for TB to spread within the larger herds that are now becoming more prevalent. Those conclusions further justify an urgent introduction of both cattle and badger vaccination. Those conclusions emphasise that the effect of cattle-to-cattle contact is even greater than previously thought and so wildlife culling is even less significant.
A second problem has been the massive increase in liver fluke, which affects the accuracy of the standard test for bovine TB. This parasite is carried by snails and both thrive in warm, wet summers. Up to a third of cattle with bovine TB could be missed by the standard test for the disease if they are also carrying the parasite, hampering the eradication programme according to research by Liverpool university. The research carried forward work published in May last year by the veterinary sciences division of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute of Northern Ireland.
The significant scientific doubt over the effectiveness of a badger cull and the strong evidence that it might make the incidence of bovine TB worse means that DEFRA must urgently reconsider the killing of badgers, if it wishes to proceed next summer, until the comparatively enormous reservoir of disease in herds is cleared. It should introduce compulsory annual testing of all cattle with the more sophisticated techniques that are now available.
The killing of a protected wildlife species such as the badger is even less relevant. The Cambridge research estimates that there is a high rate of reintroduction, particularly in high incidence areas. The authors add that the high rate of external infection, both through cattle movements and environmental sources, must be addressed if recurrence is to be reduced. Its results are in line with the main conclusions of the £50 million randomised badger culling trial of 1998 to 2007, that while badgers are implicated in bovine TB, killing them will make no meaningful contribution to its control, and that weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of the disease in areas where bovine TB occurs. It added that in some parts of Great Britain, cattle are likely to remain the main source of infection, and called for the rigid application of cattle-based control measures.
Bovine tuberculosis is a serious problem for UK farmers, deserving the highest standard of evidence-based management. Increasingly, that is why many farmers are against the cull, including, I might add, my brother, who has been farming for over a quarter of a century. New figures issued by DEFRA show a marked drop in bovine TB levels, and that is mostly down to increased testing. There has been a notable decrease in the incidence rates over the past six months, mainly as a result of the increased number of tests on unrestricted herds compared with last year. The provisional June 2012 incidence rate is 4.2%, compared with 6% in June 2011.
By increasing biosecurity, something that the British agricultural industry needs properly to address, we can reduce bovine TB. By increasing vaccination in badgers and cattle we can prevent the unnecessary killing of this much loved British species, and by increased testing we can ensure that our agricultural industry recovers from this most damaging disease.
It is always a privilege to be called to speak in the Chamber, certainly in such an important debate as we have today. But let us be clear, the issues being debated today are not pleasant ones. The problems facing the farming industry, and by extension the Government, are neither easy nor straightforward. Likewise, it is important to state early on in my contribution that I am a keen supporter of animal welfare, and I take no pleasure whatsoever in advocating a pilot cull. However, as I shall set out, I believe, sadly, that we have no choice.
To be absolutely blunt, bovine TB is out of control, akin to wildfires raging across our countryside, causing widespread damage.
The myth that the disease is out of control needs to be nailed. Fewer cattle have been slaughtered because of BTB each year from 2008 to 2011. Those are the figures. It is not to underestimate how serious it is, but the idea that it is out of control is simply wrong.
I do not agree. I talk to many farmers and when one looks across the country, and in certain key areas in the west, one can see that it is out of control and that it is causing huge impact on our farming community and the families, on which a number of hon. Members have already touched.
I appreciate that Members on both sides of the debate have already quoted a number of figures, but the striking one for me is that more than 30,000 cattle will be culled this year due to TB—one every 15 minutes. That is five times the number in 1998. Therefore, when we discuss animal welfare, we should consider the welfare of those affected cattle as well as the welfare of badgers.
First, I want to join a number of Members in clarifying a few key points about today’s high-profile debate. Increasingly, this choice is being presented as cull versus vaccination. Such an interpretation is deeply flawed. Yes, vaccination must be part of a wider TB crackdown, and Members will look at the Government’s policy and see why the badger vaccination is to play a vital role over the coming years, as will, and rightly so, stronger cattle control obligations. However, we must be honest about vaccinations. First, they will not cure infected badgers. Thus, those badgers that have already contracted TB will not be cured by any vaccination currently available. Yes, it might slow the disease, but ultimately they will not be cured. Secondly, the development of an oral vaccine, which ultimately is the only way we will vaccinate the badger population against this destructive disease, is sadly some way off.
Several Members touched on the problems with a cattle vaccine in the short term, no one more thoroughly than my right hon. Friend Sir James Paice. Sadly, the reality is that, alongside cattle control and future vaccinations, a pilot cull is essential in the short term. The Government’s wider long-term plans to control TB will prove successful only if they are supported by a pilot cull. Put simply, we must break the cycle of infection if we are serious about tackling TB.
The second point I wish to discuss is compensation for farmers who have to slaughter infected cattle. As Members might know, I was a farmer before entering Parliament in 2010, although not a livestock farmer—I have no personal interests in that regard. It is often argued that livestock farmers receive compensation for slaughtered animals, but it is not adequately explained that the compensation does not cover any consequential losses to the farmers. Losing cattle has huge knock-on effects for a herd because of the progeny it looses, with breeding lines that have been built up over many years being wiped out in an instant by the disease.
Farmers also have to meet the costs of additional cattle control measures and frequent testing for the disease. The economic consequences for small farmers and the strain put on their families, which several Members have touched on, can be enormous. The economic factors can have a direct impact on local communities and the rural economy. Of course, there is also an increasing cost to the general taxpayer, as has been mentioned. More than £500 million has already been spent on compensation for farmers, and the figure is estimated to rise to over £1 billion within the next decade unless we act decisively.
Finally, I come back to the idea of animal welfare, which is ultimately the key element of the debate. In a situation in which TB has become so terribly out of control, taking proper action to secure the future of both badgers and cattle is genuinely the responsible thing to do. By doing so, we will be safeguarding the welfare of badgers and cattle in the years ahead. The suggestion that farmers should simply keep their cattle locked up, hidden away from fresh pastures and natural conditions, completely flies in the face of animal welfare, yet some farmers are now doing just that because allowing their herds outside would be akin to a death sentence, given the prevalence of TB in certain areas.
In conclusion, if a practical and effective alternative existed, I would back it. Sadly, no such choice exists at the moment. Therefore, this debate should not be framed as one that is about either vaccination or culling. Rather, it should be a question of a rampant disease that causes widespread damage to our countryside, to sustainable farming and to long-term animal welfare. We must choose action, not inaction, to preserve sustainability and health in our countryside, for both the wildlife and the livestock industry.
I ask colleagues to imagine a bowl of fresh green salad, but rather than sprinkling it with the salad dressing of their choice, I would like them to imagine sprinkling it with some diseased badger urine—urine from a badger that has lesions in its kidneys, which sadly is commonly the case. Before pasteurisation made milk absolutely safe to drink, countless thousands of people died from bovine TB, because the disease can be spread through ingestion. It is very important to understand that for several reasons, particularly those related to biosecurity.
I absolutely support the comments that have been made about the importance of biosecurity and preventing cattle-to-cattle spread. However, a farmer can take all the effort he or she wants to keep badgers out of cowsheds, but those cattle are still grazing on infected pastures and will still be at risk. We are talking about closed herds with no concerns about TB being imported from outside, which is an important route for transmission.
Reference has been made to super-dairies and huge herds of cows, thousands strong, being kept inside. We do not want that. We all saw last year’s campaign, “Cows need grass, not concrete”, and I absolutely support that. However, in parts of South Hams in my constituency, putting cattle out on to infected pastures is tantamount to a death sentence—a form of culinary Russian roulette. We have to take this very seriously.
Let us look at the figures. In 1998 in my constituency, fewer than 600 cattle were culled; in 2010, that figure had risen to just short of 6,000. This is a dangerous zoonosis that is spreading inexorably year on year; we can look at the geographical maps and see the edge spreading. As other Members have said, sporadic cases are arising elsewhere which are undoubtedly due to the movement of cattle, but the inexorable spread that we see on the charts is due, in part, to the reservoir in badgers. Let us imagine how a dangerous zoonosis like this might spread out to other mammals; we are seeing it increasingly in deer, alpacas and pigs, and now in domestic pets as well. This is a real threat, so why have we not got a grip of the situation?
I should like to say something quite uncomfortable—that we are seeing the rise of the celebrity mammal. Indeed, we have a celebrity mammal here with us today, and very welcome he is too. We are beginning to focus on a single species, and that is unhelpful. I would challenge anybody to come down to south Devon and lay their hand on the side of one of the beautiful south Devon cattle and tell me that that animal is less important than the badger. All these animals are important, but there is a balance to be struck. When I step outside my door of an evening in south Devon, I frequently see badgers; they are a wonderful sight. The last time I saw a hedgehog was over five years ago. That element of balance is sometimes missing from this debate.
The rise of the celebrity mammal has been a barrier to science. Those on both sides of the debate rightly quote scientists, who will disagree about the issue; that is what scientists do. We want a robust debate, and I welcome it. The problem is that there were some flaws in the randomised badger culling trial, particularly regarding the size of the triplets and the edge effect. In that circumstance, the right thing to do is to take matters further and consider pilots that explore the edge effect, but we are prevented from doing so because of the effect on politicians and the public of a focus on the needs of a specific animal, lovely as it may be. We need to tackle that issue head on.
Will the Minister say whether we are exploring the PCR—polymerase chain reaction—test further? We want to have a test of greater sensitivity and specificity that will allow us to test badger droppings, and then perhaps look to a further trial, even on whole-sett humane underground culling. There are also issues to do with perturbation, such as the effect of picking off one animal at a time. I suggest that we would be perturbed in an entirely different way if someone picked off members of our families one by one.
Let us see more focus on the science. Let us tackle this as a dangerous zoonosis. Let us also look at vaccination. The important point is that if any Member in this House developed any sort of TB, they would be looking at weeks and weeks of a complex antibiotic regime. Any doctor who treated them with vaccination would be struck off. It is not possible to cure an infected badger with a vaccination. Of course I want to see vaccination and prevention in disease-free animals. However, we should not pretend that we can extrapolate the results from an injectable vaccine, which may indeed show a slight reduction in the amount of TB excreted in urine by infected badgers, to oral vaccines. Oral vaccines and injectable vaccines are entirely different, and so we must be very careful.
I fully support a move towards greater investment in vaccination, but perhaps that is because I am a people person. I went into medicine rather than go to veterinary school because I think that people matter more. I was rewarded for that—I was never bitten by a patient in 24 years.
No, I am going to carry on, if I may.
The point is, yes, let us see investment, but we want to see an oral bait vaccine. I want to leave a question in the air: is there something obscene about the amount of money we are going to spend on trapping and vaccinating every single wild badger in this country, year on year, when there are other things that that money could be spent on? I want to see an oral bait vaccine and an improved test, but we have to be honest and tackle a dangerous zoonosis. We have to be honest about the need for further scientific pilots and I am afraid that we have to do it now, because farmers in my constituency are suffering. Theses are the people who feed the nation—they put food on our plates and care for our countryside.
Order. Unfortunately, I am going to have to introduce a five-minute limit to get everybody in. Everybody will get in if we can be disciplined and not take interventions. I call Glyn Davies.
This is a complex and controversial issue, which is hugely important in my constituency of Montgomeryshire. I declare an interest in that I have been a livestock farmer all my life and have been very much involved in the impact that this disease has on the farming industry.
I want to begin by stating unambiguously that I am in favour of a targeted pilot cull of badgers and deeply disappointed that the proposed cull has been deferred until next summer. I start with that unequivocal statement because I hold other attitudes towards wildlife and farming that sometimes lead my friends to accuse me of inconsistency, although I disagree with them.
I have a great love of wildlife. Before entering this place, I was a trustee of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust for three years—I still would be if I was not an MP—which does hugely valuable work. I have been involved in campaigns to promote the interests of the otter, the brown hare and red kites in particular where I live, and of red squirrels, whose protection, ironically, involves the cull of another much-loved mammal. There seems to be very little objection to that, but the issue is exactly the same.
I concede that, although I am very much in favour of a targeted pilot cull, I have never felt absolutely certain that it will have the effect that we want. Ironically, that uncertainty makes me even more sure that a cull is the right way to go. We have to identify ways in which we can deal with this terrible disease, which is having such a devastating effect on the countryside. We need to know whether a cull is the right thing to do. The cull in Ireland was general, as it is in other countries. We need a targeted pilot cull in an area to see how much difference it makes. If it makes a difference, it will become a general cull, but if it does not work, I would not be in favour of extending it.
Several references have been made to Wales. I was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales for eight years, and for five of those years I was Chairman of the Rural Affairs Committee and this issue was hugely important throughout that time. We spent three days in Ireland, looking at what they were doing there, and almost everything pointed to the need for a targeted pilot cull of badgers in Wales. In fact, three or four years ago the Welsh Government decided to hold a targeted cull and legislated for it under their then system of law-making powers under the Government of Wales Act 2006, but there was an error in the law and the measure fell—it could not happen. The new Labour Government have decided not to go down that road and to introduce instead a system of vaccinating badgers in south-east Wales, but most people I talk to think that it is a complete and total waste of money and that it will be hopelessly ineffective.
I do not have time to go into the scientific arguments for and against a vaccine, which has been discussed a lot. All I will say is that if this Chamber or I were to receive genuine advice saying that a vaccine would deliver the sort of control that we want, I would not be in favour of a cull. I have heard the arguments today, and also the rebuttals. It is highly technical stuff, but as several Members have said, the reality is that we do not have a viable, legal vaccine that the Government are in a position to use. It is only on that basis that we need a targeted pilot cull, and I desperately hope that there will be one.
Bovine TB is a devastating disease for cattle, for wildlife and for people. I would love to spend a lot more time talking about my experiences of foot and mouth disease. For 12 months people were telephoning me to talk about the impact on their families. Usually it was parents and grandparents saying that they had real concerns about their children’s mental health. Bovine TB is even worse, because it has lasted longer and spread out over a wider area. The impact is devastating, and we simply have to deal with it. To leave it not dealt with would be completely irresponsible.
I am delighted to be called to speak, but of course disappointed that we are under such time restriction. I suppose it is a symptom of how engaged Members are with the subject that they want to get on their feet and speak about it.
I draw Members’ attention to my declaration of interest. As a Nottinghamshire farmer I am very much interested in the subject, because we have a healthy badger population and I am keen to ensure that it stays that way. We have talked about how TB is spreading across the south-west, and it is now in Derbyshire and certainly spreading towards me, which makes me fearful.
As a farmer operating in that part of the east midlands, it is difficult not to take offence at some of the things that have been said today. It has been implied that farmers do not care about animals and do not have animal welfare at the top of their agenda. I put it to individuals who make those accusations that someone simply does not get out of bed at 5 am every day of the week, every week of the year to look after animals if they do not care passionately about their welfare. The implication that people want a cull for the sake of a cull causes great offence in some rural areas, and that needs to be addressed vigorously.
For me, this is not about badgers. It is about TB. It is ironic and pretty disappointing that TB is not mentioned at all in the motion. Members on the opposite side of the argument have attempted to skew it away from tuberculosis control and solely on to badgers. We all have the same aim, which is to prevent the culling of cattle and the spread of bovine TB, and we have to use the tools that are available to us. It would be wrong to rule out one of those tools at this early stage.
I do not want to cull a single badger or a single cow, but this disease is out of control. We are not controlling it. One Opposition Member actually said that we should do nothing, but that seems to me like the Tinker Bell approach of standing still, closing our eyes and hoping it gets better. That does not seem like the answer to me. We have to take action and do something to control the spread of the disease.
We all welcome the fact that a vaccine is coming very soon, but it has been coming very soon for the past 15 years. In fact, we heard earlier that it is months away. I am delighted if that is the case, because then the vaccine will be here by next summer. However, if we get to next summer and no oral vaccine for badgers is available, we will be in the same position as we are in today. We have to take action to prevent the disease from spreading.
We have heard Members say that we should vaccinate badgers, but the practicality of that seems to have escaped them. Individual badgers would have to be physically caught and tagged to ensure that we could identify which had been vaccinated and which had not, so that we did not waste our time revaccinating the same badgers. We would have to go through the whole process again every 12 months, which is simply impractical.
We must somehow break the cycle of infection from cow to badger, badger to cow, badger to badger and cow to cow. We are doing one part of that, and by taking out infected cattle we are breaking the spread of the disease between cows, but we are not tackling the infected badger population, and we must find a way to do that. A vaccine is not available, and unfortunately the only other tool is a cull. We must make use of all the tools available if we are to be effective.
We are short of time so, in conclusion, we must remember the impact that bovine TB is having on UK food prices and milk production. We all get out of bed in the morning and enjoy milk on our cornflakes, but if we do not tackle this issue, the supply of fresh milk from our dairy farmers will be under severe pressure—and I, for one, want my cornflakes in the morning.
I declare an interest as I am a cattle keeper; indeed, over the past five years I have had a herd that went down with TB. My comments will not be made on a personal or anecdotal basis, and certainly not on an emotional basis, but rather they shall be based on sound science.
It is interesting to reflect a little on the history of this issue. Until 1950, bovine tuberculosis was endemic in British cattle herds. As a zoonotic disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans, that was obviously a danger, so the Government decided to eradicate it. They were spectacularly successful, and by about 1960 there were few instances of bovine TB in cattle herds. That situation was maintained for about 20 years, but in 1971 a dead badger was found to be infected with bovine tuberculosis on a farm where cattle had gone down with the disease, and from then on it became ever more apparent that badgers were involved in the spread of the disease.
The Badger Trust website states that bovine TB
“may also be caught through contamination of feeding and watering sites and from infected wildlife, including badgers”.
That is what led to the trials by Lord Krebs, which I commend as a piece of scientific work, but only in as far as they went.
When that work was concluded, Sir David King, chief scientific adviser at the time, was asked to prepare a report. I do not have time to go through that report, but I recommend it to hon. Members. It is an extraordinarily balanced and insightful piece of work that needs looking at. Sir David King came to the conclusion that by building on trials by Lord Krebs, and by identifying their weaknesses, pilot schemes could be introduced that would lead to the minimisation of bovine TB in this country.
Sadly, in 2007 Hilary Benn rejected that report and we have had five wasted years. Although the Government introduced extra measures for farmers, nothing was done to address the wildlife reservoir, and five years on, we must deal with a much more difficult situation than in 2007. Sir David King’s report is a wonderful piece of work, and I commend it to Members.
Let me say a little about vaccination. Caroline Lucas said that the most appropriate vaccine to use at the moment is the BCG vaccine. That is true because it is the only vaccine. It was developed in about 1910, first used in 1921, and whenever and however it is tested, its effectiveness ranges from about 60% to 80%. In some circumstances, it is not effective at all, and it was withdrawn from human use in this country in 2005. We are told that a wonderful new vaccine is on the horizon—new technology—but no, we will still be using the vaccine that I was given 50 years ago, as, I am sure, were many other hon. Members.
The hon. Gentleman is being somewhat misleading. The DEFRA website states that
“in January 2012 an application for marketing authorisation…was submitted to the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate…for assessment” in relation to the BCG vaccine. It was submitted almost a year ago, and the website states that it will come to fruition in a year. The DIVA test is also ready to go. The idea that we are going back to 1910 is simply misleading.
My point is that it is the same old vaccine—we have not made progress and there is no magic bullet.
I am sticking my neck out a bit, but I cannot think of any farmers, and certainly not in my constituency, who, given the choice between culling badgers or having an effective programme based on vaccines for eliminating bovine TB in the cattle herd, would not choose the vaccination route. They would be very strange if they did not in those circumstances. Farmers regularly vaccinate their stock for various diseases, but only because those vaccines have proved to be efficient and effective.
We have reached the stage at which we cannot wait any longer for the promise of an effective vaccine. I support the Government in going ahead with their pilot trial culls of badgers, to take forward the work done by Lord Krebs and to tease out how we can better eliminate the disease in both badgers and cattle. That would benefit farmers throughout the country, and wildlife.
I apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for not being present throughout the debate. I was chairing proceedings in Westminster Hall, and before then I was with you at the Westminster dog show. The House will wish to congratulate you on your rottweiler coming third; my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes on owning the runner-up; and my two rescued pugs, Lily and Botox, on winning best pugs in the show. They were presented with a bottle of champagne by the worshipful mayor of Southend and are now both sloshed.
I hope that my record on animal welfare is well established—it is there in the green bound copies of Hansard. Indeed, the Protection against Cruel Tethering Act 1988 is in my name. In 1991, I spoke in the Third Reading debate on the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which was introduced by my noble Friend Lord Waldegrave. I thank Professor Brian May and Lorraine Platt from the Blue Badger campaign for all the advice and assistance that they have given to me and others.
I welcome the Government’s decision to delay the cull. Key alternatives, such as vaccinations and biosecurity, must be considered. They could be a viable alternative to the cull. I now represent an urban area, but I had 32 farms in my constituency when I was MP for Basildon, so I have some insight on the difficult situation that farmers face. However, I have a number of concerns about the cull and the number of badgers that might be injured.
Given that badgers are nocturnal creatures, how will the shooting be supervised at night? I am also concerned about the balancing act required for the cull to be effective. It has been reported that at least 70% of badgers need to be culled to reduce bovine TB effectively, but culling much more than 70% could entirely eradicate local badger populations. Balancing that is very important.
I have listened carefully to what hon. Members have said about vaccinations, but we should take the issue further. DEFRA has wisely invested in research into badger vaccination, which I support, and I welcome measures already taken on biosecurity.
When I spoke in the 1991 debate, I showed some naivety. I said then that I would be joining the badgers at the bottom of my garden in celebrating the passage of the Bill. Little did I think that, over 20 years later, the badgers must have got together and decided to try and tunnel under my own house. Whether this is a socialist conspiracy to collapse the house on top of me I do not know.
I represent an urban constituency. When my constituents get badgers in their back gardens, it is a nightmare. I do not know whether they have all got together in Southend West and said, “Right, the door’s open tonight. Let’s get into the back garden.” I have three cases in my constituency where it has taken two years to deal with Natural England, English Heritage and DEFRA to get the badgers moved. It is very difficult in urban constituencies to get badgers moved.
In conclusion, this has been an excellent debate, and I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee, of which I am a member, on selecting it. The Government have got a good deal right: they have a policy of action rather than inaction; they are investing £15.5 million over the next four years in the crucial oral vaccine; and biosecurity has been promoted and will continue to be promoted. I urge the House, though, to consider the way forward carefully and how effective the proposed cull would be. I strongly encourage vaccination, including the development of a better oral vaccination.
I have been a livestock farmer for two decades, so I am familiar with the difficulties that cattle farmers in particular face: the eradication of brucellosis, the threat of BSE, the arrival of foot and mouth and now, of course, TB. I am familiar with the challenges both financial and emotional.
The best farmers look after their livestock and have a healthy respect for wildlife. It is important that the House understands that point in this excellent debate. I represent a Gloucestershire constituency, so I know that farmers are suffering from the effects of TB and am fully aware of the devastation that it has caused to many businesses. It has been disastrous for many families. That is something that we have to bear in mind.
It is with huge reluctance that I support the pilot culling scheme. I emphasise that it is a pilot aimed at finding out whether the scheme works. It will be a properly controlled and managed scheme, as ironically the postponement largely demonstrates. The consideration behind the pilot scheme has been intense. I accept that information on the numbers of badgers has not always been completely accurate. It must be a properly managed scheme, however, and enable us to make judgments on the matter in the future.
It is important to emphasise the value of controlling movement and how animals are looked after. I welcome the fact that the Government have further strengthened movement controls. All farmers will welcome that step, because it is part of a package that must be introduced to deal with this threat. My hon. Friend Dr Wollaston was right when she reminded us that there is little point vaccinating something that already has the disease. It just does not help. Instead, we must find a vaccination that works but that is used as part of the process to deal with the problem.
I have mentioned movement, which is one part, and I have mentioned vaccination, which is another. I salute the Government’s decision to increase expenditure on developing the vaccination. I hope that it yields results. However, we cannot simply wait and wait, so the two strands of the strategy to deal with TB must also include culling. Some 26,000 cattle have been culled this last year alone. That is a significant figure, and it represents the scale of the problem. It is reasonable for Members to recognise that that amounts to huge difficulties for farmers, as well as huge difficulties for the cows. We talk a lot about badgers, but let us give the cows a boost, because they are animals and deserve fair treatment, too. I love badgers, but I also love cows. That must be how we look at this issue.
There are three things to do: control movements, look at vaccination and run a pilot scheme for culling. That amounts to a reasonable way to proceed, and I certainly hope that people give the cull that opportunity. I have one last question, however. It would be quite interesting to analyse the movements of TB after the slaughtering during the foot and mouth crisis. If there is evidence that there was latent TB, we must explore that issue; it ought to be analysed and discussed. I conclude with this quotation by Professor David King:
“In our view a programme for the removal of badgers could make a significant contribution to the control of cattle TB in those areas of England where there is a high and persistent incidence of TB in cattle, provided removal takes places alongside an effective programme of cattle controls.”
I remind Members of my declaration of interests.
It is very good news that we are having this debate on St Crispin’s day, because what we want from the Government is the sort of leadership that we had on St Crispin’s day 597 years ago. I see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as Henry V in this particular act.
We have talked a great deal today about the science involved and the views that scientists take. I would like also to look at the extraordinary coincidence of the growth in the badger population and the re-emergence of TB among cattle. We heard an excellent speech from Paul Flynn, who showed the advantages of age and approaching the status of being an octogenarian. That is much to be admired, but one of the things he missed out in his speech was the fact that the fall in TB in cattle was coincident with a programme of exterminating badgers through gassing. Oddly enough, when that stopped in the 1980s, so the incidence of tuberculosis in cattle started to rise again. It is also worth noting that where there is the largest badger population, so there is the most bovine TB. Can it be purely coincidence that Scotland, which has a relatively low badger population, has very little bovine TB, but the west of England—including, of course, God’s own county Somerset—has a high incidence of bovine TB? As the badger population has increased—the figures drawn up in 1997 showed a 77% increase in the badger population—so that has coincided with an increase in bovine TB.
So yes, we have listened to all the science about what the effects of a cull may be, but we know what happened in Ireland. We heard from the hon. Member—my hon. Friend in many respects—for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) about what happened in southern Ireland and how that saw a 30% reduction. We have also seen what has happened from our own history, yet we are to put all that aside and just say, “Well, there may’ve been some problems with the last pilot.” That cannot be right, and the Government must be right to pursue the strategy that they are following.
We have also talked at great length about the vaccine and the benefit or otherwise of the vaccine in curing the problem. I am glad you are sitting down, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I am going to quote with approbation an official of the European Union, who yesterday said the following in response to articles in the newspapers:
That is not such a strong point, because a lot of EU rules are nonsense, but the next bit is much more important:
“This is because there is no effective test to tell the difference between vaccinated and infected animals making it possible to protect the food chain and identify which animals could be exported.”
That was the European Union saying yesterday that there is no satisfactory test. We have heard much talk that there might be tests and that at some future date there will be tests. We have now had years and years of inaction awaiting the tests, yet the livelihoods of farmers in my constituency are being ruined and their lives possibly being put at risk.
I would love to, but I am under strict orders. It is the first time I have refused to give way, for which I apologise to the hon. Lady.
The lives of farmers in my constituency might be at risk. A constituent who lives near me keeps bulls. Bulls are not the softest and easiest of animals and they do not like being pricked in the neck on a regular basis before being moved to perform the duties that they carry out. When this is done to them they become uncomfortable and restless and place the health and safety of that farmer at risk.
Are we really saying that we shall continue to do nothing when we know what we ought to be doing, we know from experience that it has worked, we know that if we act we will have a viable dairy industry and make farmers’ lives better, and, perhaps most importantly, as Members have said, we will save more cattle, even if we kill a few badgers?
It is always a pleasure to follow Jacob Rees-Mogg, but I would like to return to a point that Miss McIntosh made at the start of our discussion: that the debate can easily become polarised between “team badger” and “team farmer”, when what we need is “team science” and “team TB” and to address the issue much more calmly and rationally, because outside the Chamber there has been much light as well as a certain amount of heat.
I should like to emphasise from a constituency point of view and from my farming background the need fully to understand what is driving the issue and the disease’s emotional and financial impact over decades on very committed people in west Cornwall. Many Members have this afternoon conveyed the emotions that are felt from the impact of this devastating disease.
I strongly supported the RBCT in my constituency, which involved a proactive cull on the Penrith moors, and faced down the very strong campaign against the line I was taking just over a decade ago in support of the trials because I believe in sound science being the basis by which we take forward policy to bear down on TB. In a climate where the science might encourage legislators to prevaricate, to recognise dilemmas and perhaps to see only the need for further research and not to take action, the Government should ensure that they do not make the situation worse. We say that policy making must be evidence based, but as the Government former chief scientist, Lord Robert May, said in The Observer just a couple of weeks ago, the Government risk transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.
There are a number of knowns in the science, one of which I put to the Secretary of State at DEFRA questions today—that some of the figures from the RBCT have been exaggerated or cherry picked to justify the policy. For example, there is the argument that TB in culling areas was reduced by 30%. The research itself showed a reduction of somewhere between 12% and 16% in the net impact. Overall, this resulted in reducing only the increase in TB infection.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that two of the other knowns are the recent breakthrough in the DIVA test, which could lead to it being put forward for licensing, and a 60% efficacious BCG vaccine for cattle, which could also lead to licensing, although it would require the Government to negotiate with the European Union for field trials within the UK?
There are certainly significant gathered knowns now that were not available 10 or 15 years ago. To go forward, we need to build a policy on a sound foundation—not simply on selective evidence.
In his summing up, I hope that the Minister will deal with the evidence in support of the Government’s policy. Will he recognise that the 12% to 16% reduction in incidence of infection for herds within culled areas in the randomised badger culling trial is not an absolute reduction, but a net reduction, which means only that the incidence is increasing at a lower level than it would have been without the cull. It would be helpful and reassuring if the Government were to acknowledge that.
Let us use the opportunity provided by the pause to go back and speak to the many scientists who are still saying that the Government have got this one wrong. Instead of having a war of words through the media, let us make sure that those scientists—the majority behind the ISG—are brought in. I believe that they should be involved.
Finally, I hope that the Government will accept that we should go to Europe, as was implied by the hon. Member for North East Somerset and, indeed, by Huw Irranca-Davies in his intervention. These matters are not, after all, pre-ordained by God; these are decisions taken by human beings in Europe. We need to take a strong case to Europe in order to sort out the regulations and advance the testing of the vaccine and the DIVA test. That should allow us to come to a solution that is generally workable and does not make the situation worse.
I rise to oppose the motion. Farming is an industry vital to the economy of Cheshire. It is an industry that has had difficult times over recent years. In 2001, it was ravaged by foot and mouth disease. More recently, we have seen dairy farmers struggling to sell milk at a price that covers the cost of production, let alone one that provides them with a modest profit.
A few short years ago, farmers told me of their concerns about bovine TB travelling towards Cheshire. Now, it is very much there, and it is causing massive problems across Cheshire East, impacting on dairy and beef farmers and infecting our wildlife. Let me quote some statistics. The National Farmers Union says that in 2006 there were 108 TB reactors slaughtered in Cheshire; in 2011, there were 641. Just last week, on
As if to highlight the level of concern about this problem in Cheshire, a motion was passed last week by Cheshire East full council. It states:
“That Cheshire East endorses measures to halt the current high incidence of Bovine TB with the ultimate aim of both healthy wildlife and cattle population, never mind vital protection of the economic, social, wealth, health and wellbeing of our rural community. In so doing Cheshire East supports early liaison with both EU and DEFRA to ensure infected areas within the Borough are tackled speedily.”
A proposer of the motion, while not promoting a cull locally—it is not one of the areas for which a cull has been proposed—made things very clear when she said:
“We cannot sit back and do nothing. This insidious disease is causing massive problems for the farming community.”
She also said:
“All options need to be reviewed.”
In my view, one of those options must be the targeted pilot culls proposed by the Government.
What are local farmers saying? Although I live in the farming community, I am not an expert, but those farmers certainly are. Councillor Rhoda Bailey, the wife of a Cheshire farmer, writes:
“the cull should be allowed…in order for it to provide…evidence of its effectiveness”.
Councillor Steve Wilkinson, one of the proposers of the motion, writes:
“It is a public health issue…Cheshire is on the edge of the disease spread as it progresses northwards and whilst any cull may assist with problems in the southwest, we need to take action here in Cheshire to halt the relentless movement further north.”
Another farmer, Stuart Yarwood, writes:
“Culling diseased badgers is the only option.”
In his view,
“If we dither, our livestock industry will disappear…Society has to accept that the only predator to badgers is man and disease and since government protected the species, disease is now doing its best to control its population and polluting the countryside in the process.”
The Cheshire county chairman of the National Farmers Union, Rob Ford, wrote to me this week saying:
“TB is spreading across the county… wildlife infection has been cited…as contributing to the spread of the disease in…Nantwich and Macclesfield…which is illustrated by infection being detected in herds where no cattle have been brought in…Cheshire and Greater Manchester are key to stopping the spread of TB as they are in the periphery of the area of infection…The Science is clear that a well-managed cull will reduce the levels of Bovine TB.”
He says that if the problem is not addressed, we will continue to see
“levels of the disease in the county grow and Cheshire will end up in the same situation” as other parts of the country.
A vet and farmer writes that misleading information must be corrected. According to him,
“no country in the world has ever successfully controlled TB in cattle without culling infected wildlife.”
He says that the suffering caused to badgers by TB will be prevented by culling, and that the public need to know that compensation for the animals that are slaughtered is far less than the replacement cost and the full losses of farmers.
Another farmer says that the “misery of TB” cannot be calculated, but
“However unpalatable it may be, there really seems no other option to culling.”
He says that
“from a wildlife point of view” other species will benefit.
“Badger numbers have increased dramatically in recent years, often at the expense of…hedgehogs and bumble bees.”
My hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy shares my concern for the welfare of farmers in our area, and my concern about the distress that the disease is causing to our farming community. I could give many other examples, but shortage of time prohibits me from doing so.
We have heard a range of passionate and fairly well-informed contributions to a debate on what is a very difficult subject. I was pleased to hear from the Chair of the Select Committee, Miss McIntosh, and I look forward to the Committee’s report.
Today’s debate certainly forced all of us to view the issue at a much deeper level. My hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) spoke of the weaknesses in on-farm biosecurity. We heard passionate speeches from the hon. Members for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and for Central Devon (Mel Stride), Mr Cox and the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), for Sherwood (Mr Spencer), for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce). They all spoke about the devastating impact of the disease on farmers.
We heard alternative views from my hon. Friends Mr McKenzie and my hon. Friend Nic Dakin, who spoke of the risk that bovine TB would spread in the short term as a result of a badger cull. Mr Sanders criticised the design of the Government’s cull. Tracey Crouch made a thoughtful speech from an international perspective, drawing attention to the costs of the cull. The hon. Members for Crawley (Henry Smith) and for Southend West (Mr Amess) suggested other options, as did Andrew George and my hon. Friend Andrew Miller, who gently punctured some of the Secretary of State’s claims to expertise in this matter.
We were privileged to hear from former agriculture Ministers, including Sir James Paice. My right hon. Friend Hilary Benn, who is in his place, also struggled with these issues when he was in Government, and my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) described what happened under the Labour Government. It is important to put on the record that so far only a Labour Government have actually carried out a badger cull and tested the science in the field. I strongly predict that we will remain the only Government to carry out a badger cull in the field. I will explain why I make that prediction shortly.
My hon. Friend Paul Flynn coined a new word: the ineptocracy. I think it will be put on the record in Hansard. Simon Hart described the heartache of farmers, and Mike Weatherley and my hon. Friend Mr Reed talked about the effect of perturbation.
I congratulate Caroline Lucas and the Backbench Business Committee on securing the debate and on making sure such a wide range of perspectives was expressed. The existence of this motion and debate—and vote—have certainly contributed to the Government’s decision to drop the badger cull. The Opposition have warned the Government for two years that the cull would be bad for farmers, taxpayers and wildlife. It would be bad for farmers who have to deal with this terrible disease. I also know the toll the disease takes on farmers and their families, both personally and financially, but the Government’s own cost-benefit assessment said the cull would cost farmers more than it would save them.
We saw in the last six weeks that farmers were moving away from the free shooting of badgers and moving towards the cage trapping of badgers, yet the Government’s statistics show free shooting is 10 times cheaper than cage trapping. Will the Minister tell us the true costs of this to the farmers? I would also like to hear from the Minister about the size of bond that the two farm companies had lodged with Natural England. So far we have heard no mention from Ministers about how much farmers are required to pay up front to cover the full four-year costs of this cull. If there is a move to cage trapping and shooting, what training has been given to those responsible for carrying that out, because that is a different skill from free shooting? We know that the people involved in free shooting had to go on a badger anatomy course so as to get a clean kill when shooting badgers. Pistols are used for cage trapping and shooting, so that is a totally different technique. Will the Minister tell us whether that training has been given, because it certainly seems from the evidence on the ground that that was what was planned?
There has been a lot of talk in this debate about the science, and we heard a good exposition from the hon. Member for St Ives. It is important that we go back to John Krebs. I do not advocate that we go back to 1997 as the Secretary of State does. I am disappointed that he is not in his place, and I am disappointed about his earlier remark in the House that he “couldn’t take any more.” He has only been in the job six weeks. I have been studying the issue of the badger cull for 18 months—as have other hon. Members, along with farmers out there in the community who are living with this problem—and I think the Secretary of State will have to show a little more backbone.
Professor Lord John Krebs instigated the randomised badger culling trial, and took part in the review of the evidence with Sir Bob Watson last year. Lord Krebs stressed the fact that culling badgers makes TB worse at the beginning by spreading the disease. He stated clearly in the Lords on Tuesday that the badger cull would reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16% after nine years, leaving 84% of the problem still there. He said that
“this is not a reduction in absolute terms but actually a 16% reduction from the trend increase.”
In other words, as the background trend is going up, BTB still increases but not by as much as it would have done had the cull not been conducted. This cull is not the silver bullet the Secretary of State makes it out to be. The eminent zoologist Lord John Krebs continues:
“The number is not the 30% that the NFU quoted; that is misleading—a dishonest filleting of the data.”—[Hansard, House of Lords, 23 October 2012; Vol. 740, c. 148.]
Disappointingly, it appears, judging by his response to the debate in this morning’s DEFRA questions, that the Secretary of State has not read the Hansard record of that Lords debate, where the scientists were sitting there. He persisted in misusing a snapshot figure—the 28%—instead of using the one figure that the scientists are agreed on, which is the 16% figure. The Minister is looking puzzled. I hope that he is still not confused, because he is going to get a lambasting from the scientists. The Government are cherry-picking the data. Perturbation increases bovine TB, in the perimeter areas, by 29%, but I have chosen not to use that figure in any of the rhetoric or debate on this matter because it represents a snapshot; those perturbation increases happen in the early stages and are not borne out by the reduction that occurs afterwards.
Well, that is a relief. I do not know why the Minister has not told the Secretary of State that, because he is reported in Hansard as saying that she is a he. [Interruption.] He appears not to have read his own Hansard record or corrected it. He obviously has not spoken to the scientists, who faced down the animal rights activists during Labour’s badger cull in order to carry out the Labour Government’s research into culling badgers. We are not talking about some animal rights activists; these are scientists in the field wanting to get the right outcome for farmers and for the nation.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State’s comparing the research on a vaccine to Sisyphus, who, as you doubtless know, Mr Speaker, rolled a rock up a hill only to watch it roll down again for all eternity, demonstrates not only a complete lack of understanding of the scientific method, but contempt for scientific research? We can have no confidence in the promotion of a vaccine under the Secretary of State’s leadership.
The Secretary of State got his Sisyphus mixed up with his Tantalus. I think he will find that he has undertaken the labours of Hercules in DEFRA—I will not go any further on that, but the Augean stables spring to mind. I agree with what my hon. Friend said, because I am concerned that the scientists are being ripped to pieces on this, and the situation is difficult. She rightly says that there is a scientific method: the scientists are paid to come up with solutions, and then we try to roll them out and test them in field conditions. That is what needs to be done.
I have asked a lot of parliamentary questions. The Secretary of State asked 600, but perhaps some of his data are less than fresh. My data are pretty fresh. Last year, I asked the Government how many cattle herds breakdowns would be prevented over nine years if the cull went ahead. The answer came back that using a 150 square km area, 47 cattle breakdowns would be prevented over nine years. So if we double the cull area and if it was to go ahead in a 300 sq km area, 94 herd breakdowns would be prevented. That, again, is not a fantastic result for the huge investment involved in this cull.
There has been huge concern from the scientists about the lack of Government rigour in the design, implementation, monitoring and efficacy of these culls. We know that there would be no post-mortem testing of whether the badgers had bovine TB, but there would be post-mortem testing to see whether they had been shot cleanly. So those who are interested in science, and who want to know how much of a vector in this disease the badgers are, will again have to go back to Labour’s cull, which showed that only 12% of the animals actually carried the disease.
I want to challenge the hon. Lady again on these figures. I did not dispute, in my speech, the 16% figure, and I do not believe anyone else has done. That is the figure agreed by all the scientists. I want her to confirm that that 16% is the net overall figure, and that if we could reduce or even eliminate perturbation, the net figure is bound to be much higher than that. That is part of the objective in the design of these pilots.
The scientists gave a range of between 12% and 16% if the cull was carried out under exactly the same conditions as Labour’s RBCT. The cull that the right hon. Gentleman proposed differed significantly, as it would have taken place over six weeks rather than two and would have involved free shooting rather than cage-trapping and shooting. As any GCSE science student knows, as soon as we depart from the methodology, we immediately increase the range of the differentials in the results. That is why the scientists were concerned.
The lack of rigour in the methodology was shown in Tuesday’s announcement. A cull that depends on killing at least 70% of the animals was about to begin with no reliable estimate of how many needed to be shot. On
“there is no precise knowledge of the size of the badger population”.—[Hansard, 19 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 815.]
That prompts the question of why Ministers did not ask that. Why did they not start the count then so that farmers could plan properly? Instead, they allowed the farmers to submit their own estimates of the numbers, thought, “Mm, that looks a bit low,” and left it until September to go out into the field and conduct the analysis that should have been done a year ago. I want Ministers to tell us whether those numbers were calibrated to test their accuracy. It seems clear to me that they were not.
We also warned that the cull would be bad for taxpayers. What are the taxpayer costs so far? A freedom of information request to the Badger Trust reveals the cost of the big society badger cull. To date, licensing activities by Natural England have cost £300,000. The sett monitoring that only took place right at the very end of the process in September has cost £750,000. The independent expert panel that is meeting to oversee the two pilots has cost £17,000. Since April 2012, there have been 6.5 full-time equivalent staff working on the cull. This cull, which I confidently predict will not take place, has already cost taxpayers well over £1 million. We can add on £500,000 per cull area per year for policing. Let us not forget that all leave has been cancelled for the police in Gloucestershire until Christmas. Although I am sure they will be relieved to have their leave uncancelled, how much has that cost the police? Again, the Secretary of State said on Tuesday that he would write to let us know
What about the future costs? Humaneness monitoring will cost £700,000. Badger post-mortems will cost £248,000. My parliamentary question to Ministers, however, about the net reduction in compensation and testing were the badger cull to go ahead received the answer that it would save just £2.9 million over 10 years in each cull area. That is just not good enough. It will carry on costing taxpayers until Ministers cancel it definitively.
The writing is on the wall for this badger cull. The costs to farmers and taxpayers will continue to stack up if Ministers continue to pretend that the cull will go ahead. We need to ensure that any solution works closely with farmers and I hope for their sake that the Minister will drop this charade that the cull will go ahead. Any solution will also require the consent of taxpayers and we must ensure that we get the best value for them, too.
In my previous ministerial role, I instituted the e-petition concept and also introduced the Backbench Business Committee. This is a perfect example of why that was a very good idea, because Back Benchers were given the opportunity to debate matters of real importance that ought to be discussed. I was the first person to say that this matter should be debated in the House. Of course, the Government have only legislative time, so this is the right mechanism to use.
There are some issues on which most of the House will agree. Bovine TB is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK and the importance of the epidemic for our cattle farmers and their families and communities cannot be overemphasised. I hope that we can also agree about the geographical spread, although I was slightly worried by what Caroline Lucas said at one point. This was once a disease isolated to small pockets of the country, but it has now spread extensively through the west of England and Wales, and the number of new cases is doubling every nine years. So I do think that it is spreading like wildfire, and one has only to look at the map to see that that is the case. Someone mentioned rather hyperbolically the prospect of a massacre. Well, there is a massacre going on: it is the slaughter of 26,000 cattle last year at the cost of nearly £100 million, and we cannot afford to shy away from tackling the rampant spread of bovine TB throughout our cattle herds. If we do not take the action needed now, this disease could cost us £1 billion over the next 10 years. That is the answer to Jim Fitzpatrick. I will accept that he, within the parameters that his Government set, took action to try to deal with it, but the fact is that it has not worked. The problem has carried on getting worse and worse, and that is why we are determined to do better.
I hope that we will also agree that bovine TB is transmitted from cattle to cattle, badger to badger, badger to cattle and cattle to badger. The task of managing bovine TB and bringing it under control is difficult and complex. I resent a little bit the caricature that we are blundering into an approach not based on evidence; that we are blind to obvious alternatives and guaranteed to make things worse; and that we have failed to understand the science. Ministers do not make decisions in this way, certainly this Minister and the previous Minister did not.
Plenty of people have told us that the cull will not work and what we should not be doing, but none of them—not the critics, the scientists or the politicians—has come up with a single workable alternative to the cull that would give us the positive impact that we need right now. Nobody wants to kill badgers, but no one can deny that they are a significant reservoir of the disease, which is contributing to the spread of TB. All the experts agree that we cannot hope to tackle the disease without addressing the problem in wildlife. That is why we are determined to use all the tools at our disposal, and continue to develop new ones, as a package of measures to tackle the disease. Some people say that this is not the silver bullet. No, it is not the silver bullet. This is not the only thing that we will do. This will not cure the problem, but it will contribute to curing the problem. People say that it will only be a 16% net reduction. Well, if I were to say that we were reducing cancer incidence in this country by 16%, people would say that it was a very good policy indeed. Let us be clear about that.
Cattle controls have been in place for many years and are vital. In high risk areas, herds are tested annually, any cattle that test positive are slaughtered and infected herds are placed under movement restrictions. Restrictions on cattle movements have been further strengthened to reduce the chance of disease spreading from cattle to cattle. Only last week, we announced plans for a new surveillance testing machine and stricter cattle movement controls. We also continue to look at ways of improving the testing of cattle for TB, and—a point raised by my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston—PCR testing to identify infection in wildlife is also important. However, despite the robust use of cattle measures over many years, TB has continued to spread. We need to accept that we are at the point where cattle measures alone are not enough to prevent the spread of disease in the worst affected areas. That is why the Government support a policy of badger control as part—I stress, as part—of a package of measures to tackle bovine TB.
We will of course listen to what Back Benchers have to say. As a member of the Government, I will not have a vote today because we do not believe that the Government should be taking over the views of Back-Bench Members. We will listen to Members of the House; that is the purpose of this debate.
The eradication of the badger was mentioned. That is utterly ridiculous. No one is talking about that. I think Meg Munn referred to the Bern convention. We have now had a categorical response that we are not in breach of the convention. Just like every other legal challenge, we have won categorically.
Let us go back to the science and consider what we can do. There has been much discussion about how evidence underpins the policy. Research in this country over the past 15 years has demonstrated conclusively that cattle and badgers transmit the disease to one another. That is what Professor Krebs found in the randomised badger control trials. It has also been demonstrated—there is no getting away from this—that culling badgers can lead to a reduction of the disease in cattle if it is carried out over a large enough area and for a sufficient length of time. That is why we designed the pilots in the way we did, with hard boundaries. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said that the hard boundaries are not rigorous enough. I do not know what she thinks would be more rigorous than the Bristol channel.
The Minister referred to Professor Krebs. What does he have to say about the fact that Professor Krebs described the work the Government are doing as a crazy scheme? Surely he also ought to listen to him on that and stop this crazy scheme.
I listen to a range of scientific opinion and take the evidence that was revealed by Krebs and Bourne in their trials. It shows that a cull would reduce the incidence of the disease by 16%, which the Government believe is a worthwhile objective. Through a range of measures that we can take, we can finally start to bear down on the disease, and not a single country has ever successfully borne down on the disease without dealing with the reservoir in wildlife. The decision to cull badgers has certainly not been easy and has not been made lightly, but we have to take action and get on top of this devastating disease.
The vaccines that we all hope will be part of the solution are still years away, despite what some people would have us believe. It is not as simple as jumping on a plane, going to talk to an official in the European Union and getting the vaccines ready for use. More research is needed. We are demonstrating our commitment to vaccines by investing a further £15.5 million in vaccine development over the next four years. Let us remember that £43.7 million has been spent since 1994.
So that Members understand the process, I will explain what is needed to get a vaccine into use. Six tests have to be passed before we have a usable cattle vaccine. We first need in-principle agreement from the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to a market authorisation for the vaccine. That is what the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion said had appeared on the DEFRA website: the use of the BCG—hardly a new development—which has been partially successful in dealing with cattle, with a 60% to 70% success rate. That is the stage we have reached.
We have to get international validation of the test to differentiate infected from vaccinated animals—the so-called DIVA test. That is quite difficult to substantiate because we must demonstrate that the vaccine is efficacious, which we cannot do in this country because vaccinating cattle here is illegal. Only after that is done can we discuss with the European Commission a joint application to the European Food Safety Authority for an opinion on cattle vaccination. We then need to secure the agreement of member states to remove the vaccination ban. Only then can the Commission remove the ban and will the Veterinary Medicines Directorate be able to grant marketing authorisation, which enables the vaccine to be manufactured and deployed.
If anyone thinks that will be done in a week or so, they are sadly deluded. I would like to have a vaccine that had been shown to be efficacious and that we could use legally in this country, but we do not have such a vaccine—[ Interruption. ] Mr Harris says that the cull will not start until June. The vaccine will take years, not months.
A reduction of between 60% and 70% sounds pretty good when compared with the 12% to 16% reduction that a cull would yield. The problems the Minister identifies are largely bureaucratic. Surely the Government could take a more robust approach with the European Union and just get on with it.
I wish it were that easy. I wish we could ignore all the regulations and precautionary measures that are taken for the licensing of vaccines and just go to the EU and say, “Sort this out. Do it tomorrow,” and then come back and start using the vaccine. However, it is not that easy. We cannot put at risk several billion pounds-worth of produce from this country by implementing something that is illegal. Last week we saw a lot of nonsense in the newspapers about people going over to the European Commission to sort it all out because we stupid Ministers could not quite bring ourselves to do it. We have had an announcement from the Commission; it was mentioned earlier. It said that the Commission was disappointed to see an article by Brian May in The Mail on Sunday on
I will happily arrange for those who are genuinely interested in this issue and who want us to develop a vaccine, as we do, to speak to Glyn Hewinson at the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency—our chief scientist who is working on this—and he will tell them directly, as he told me only two weeks ago, the exact state of play with vaccines. I want a vaccine to be in position at the earliest opportunity, but I have to face facts, and wishful thinking is not going to get rid of bovine tuberculosis in this country. We must have programmes and measures that work, and we must use all the tools in the box.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has set out the Government’s intention to persist, with determination, with vaccines but also to look at the testing regime, which is crucial in allowing the whole process to work in future. In the meantime, I am pleased that he is also continuing to pursue pilots to ensure that the science is further improved so that we are completely ready and have all the arguments at our fingertips.
Let me be absolutely clear: we will use every tool in the box to bear down on bovine TB. That is why we are not going to reject something that has been shown by experimental evidence to be efficacious as part of the answer, as some would have us do. That is why we will continue to put a lot more money into research and push ever further on the research into vaccines. That is why we will continue to do everything we can on controls for the movement of cattle and on biosecurity. If the question is, “Will you not do the cull and will you lock up every cow in the country in a shed to prevent them from having contact with badgers?”, the answer is no.
The Government are determined to tackle bovine tuberculosis by all the means available to us. Having looked at all the evidence over many years, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do. Indeed, the higher than expected badger numbers only serve to underline the need for urgent action. I remain fully committed to working with the farming industry to ensure that the pilot culls can be delivered effectively, safely and humanely next summer.
This has been a comprehensive debate, and I genuinely thank everybody who has taken part in it and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it.
There is much that we agree on. We agree that bovine TB is a terrible disease that is inflicting huge amounts of harm on people in our farming communities around the country. However, this is not about a split between city and rural or farmer and non-farmer, and it certainly is not about a split between those who want a cull and those who want to do nothing. Those of us who are against the cull are against it because we do not believe that it is the right way to protect cattle.
I will finish now, Mr Speaker, because I want to make sure that we get the chance to put the motion to the vote.
Question accordingly agreed to.
That this House notes the e-petition on the planned badger cull, which has gathered more than 150,000 signatures; and calls on the Government to stop the cull and implement the more sustainable and humane solution of both a vaccination programme for badgers and cattle, along with improved testing and biosecurity.