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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

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps it was a badger ringing me up and willing me on.

If the House notes the comments, it will hear talk not of culls being stopped but of their being improved. The Government do not have carte blanche to carry on regardless. Hon. Members may dispute the report and whether it has been leaked, but the Government do not have unconditional support to continue with a failed approach, in particular one that causes suffering to a protected species. As Robin Hargreaves, President of the British Veterinary Association said:

“We have always stated that if the pilots were to fail on humaneness then BVA could not support the wider roll out of the method of controlled shooting”.

There are colleagues who share those views.

The pilot culls were supposed to demonstrate a minimum of 70% of badgers killed within six weeks. Despite the badger population estimates being sharply cut and the culls being extended, both pilots failed to meet the minimum 70%. When both trials duly failed to kill sufficient badgers within the specified period, they were extended on the advice of the chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens. The panel’s widely leaked report, although still disputed today, concerns itself with the initial six weeks. This extended the misery, the cost and, if we accept the time scales based on the original pilot criteria, the range of TB spread due to perturbation.

Do we continue with cruel practices licensed by the Government in order to be seen to be doing something? DEFRA agreed with an expert group the criteria for how the trials could be deemed humane. It was DEFRA’s rules, not some arbitrary figures plucked out of the air. Mark Jones, vet and executive director of the Humane Society International of the UK, said:

“The government’s boast that all badgers were killed cleanly and killed instantly is clearly not true. We fear many badgers may have suffered significant pain and distress.”

Andrew Guest, from the National Farmers Union, said of the revelations: “It doesn't sound good”, but added that it was important that a significant number of badgers had been removed.

Simply getting rid of lots of badgers, regardless of cost, pain or effectiveness, was not the criterion set down by the Government. That is not a good enough reason for this House to support ongoing culls. This House wishes to tackle bovine TB efficiently, effectively and humanely. That is why we need to stop the failed cull policy, not grant any further licences and come up with a better method to tackle TB without inflicting pain and misery on an endangered species. The badger culls were condemned as “mindless” in 2012 by Lord Krebs, who commissioned the 10-year study. The extensions to the culls were criticised by Natural England’s lead scientific director, Sir David Attenborough, and the National Trust.

We acknowledge the devastation inflicted on farmers and cattle by the scourge of bovine TB. This should not be about the House abandoning their plight, but neither can we ignore the plight of the badgers. Monitoring reports from England’s wildlife watchdog, Natural England, apparently seen by The Guardian and perhaps hotly disputed by some hon. Members, show that a third of the badgers were shot in the wrong part of the body. Apparently, badgers are very hard to shoot, although I would not know as I am not a marksman. Two out of nine badgers had to be shot twice, having not died instantly.

Professor Woodroffe, who worked on a landmark 10-year study of badger culling, said the conclusion to be drawn was simple:

“The pilot culls have not been effective.”

She questioned the multi-million pound cost of the culls and argued that badger vaccination would be cheaper and more effective. So our argument today is probably leading us towards vaccination of badgers and/or cattle. The current available vaccine for badgers, which is injectable, has been shown to reduce the burden of disease in badger populations. An oral badger vaccine is not expected until 2015. I know there is some concern that vaccines may not be as effective as we would hope, or be licensed and come on line quickly enough, but if the current shoot-to-kill approach is also deeply flawed we should endeavour to strengthen and prioritise all the non-lethal methods in order to find a humane solution.

Many hon. Members and wildlife lovers believe that is the only way forward, unless we are to decide to keep slaughtering badgers in perpetuity to eliminate a reservoir of TB in badgers, many of which will have been infected by other species or cattle. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrew George in DEFRA questions that the Government

“'accepts that there is a range of measures we should pursue, including developing vaccines, and we are doing some work to develop an oral vaccine for badgers as well as on cattle vaccines. We are considering other measures such as contraception for badgers and increased cattle movement controls, so we are covering a range of issues as we try to solve this difficult problem.”—[Hansard, 13 February 2014; Vol. 575, c. 998.]

That answer shows that the Minister recognises the value of these other strands of TB control, and I hope that he will commit today to redoubling his efforts on those fronts. Today, we need to urge the Government not only to speed up their work on vaccines, particularly of the oral kind, and redouble their efforts on enforcing biosecurity and cattle movements, but, most importantly, to stop this inhumane slaughter of badgers.