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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 12:56 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Anne Main Anne Main Conservative, St Albans 12:56 pm, 13th March 2014

I am sorry, but I have indicated that I will not be taking interventions.

The public might be surprised to learn that the Minister can instigate a cull without having to get the consent of the House. Consequently, there has been no substantive vote in Parliament proactively to adopt a culling strategy. Instead, we have merely had two votes not to adopt one. The two votes on the subject took place in Opposition day debates on 25 October 2012 and 5 June 2013. The most recent vote in the House of Commons, on 5 June, was 299 to 250 against the motion:

“That this House believes the badger cull should not go ahead.”

As the House can see, even in an Opposition day debate, the vote was a close one—and that was before we had gleaned all the information about the underperformance of the culls.

We all accept that the House has had an uneasy relationship with this topic, but we should not be here today to score political points or to try to rehash history. We should be here to examine our current position in a cross-party fashion and to give a strong steer to the Minister as to the next steps we believe he should take. I believe, as I am sure many other hon. Members do, that we should halt the culls and not issue any more licences until a full examination of the failings has been taken into account. That is what the debate is for; it is not a blame game. It is a recognition that hon. Members might wish to change their minds based on the change in facts.

There is great sympathy with farmers who have experienced heartache and hardship over losing cattle and precious stock to bovine TB. There is also regard for how we as a society treat all animals, but in particular a protected species. This tension has divided the House. I believe that many lent their support to the concept of tackling bovine TB with this strategy, but they did not give their Government permission to carry on regardless—regardless of humaneness, effectiveness or cost.

Performance criteria for the pilot culls were set by the Government, and they were not arbitrary, but intended to reassure hon. Members and the public that what was being done was an effective way of tackling bovine TB infections and was, crucially, humane. The reason for the 70% kill target within a six-week period was specifically drawn so that sufficient badgers would be killed to ensure that the badgers did not simply go elsewhere, thus spreading the TB more widely.

This approach reflected extensive research carried out by Professor Woodroffe in trials in the 1990s, which showed that a failure to kill this percentage in a narrow window of time could worsen matters as disturbed diseased animals took TB to new areas. Analysis commissioned by the Government found that the number of badgers killed according to the criteria fell well short of the target deemed necessary, despite the cull being extended and cage shooting being used. We must face up to the fact that this House, if we persist and simply roll out more free-shooting culls, may be contributing to an increase in TB in cattle.

The humaneness test set by Ministers was to ensure that no animal suffered needlessly a protracted, agonising death. Badgers were supposed to be free-shot quickly, efficiently and, importantly, cost-effectively. It is now understood, however, that between 6.4% and 18% of shot animals took more than five minutes to die, and sometimes even as long as 10 minutes or longer. In order to avoid suffering, the standard to be met was that no more than 5% of shot badgers should take more than five minutes to die. An independent expert panel was appointed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help Ministers to evaluate, against the Government’s own criteria, the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of pilots, and its conclusions are damning.