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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 1:12 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 1:12 pm, 13th March 2014

The hon. Gentleman has anticipated much of what I am going to say about the constructive way forward.

The first and most important point to make about the pilot culls relates to the meeting of the scientific experts convened by DEFRA in April 2011, which drew two key conclusions about the pilot culls. The first was that the culls needed to be

“conducted in a co-ordinated, sustained and simultaneous manner” over a short time period in order to minimise potential impacts of perturbation. The second key point was that

“the more that a future culling policy deviates from the conditions of the RBCT…the more likely it is that the effects of that policy will differ”.

Those two important points are at the heart of today’s debate. They explain why a target was set of a 70% reduction in badger density in the cull areas in six weeks, but we find—this is not because of the independent expert panel report—that Natural England withdrew licences after 11 weeks of culling in both zones because it was evident that there was no hope of reaching the target number of badgers.

I wish briefly to address why the targets of 70% and six weeks were chosen. The six-week target was set by DEFRA in the context of the lessons learned by the RBCT, which found that the proactive culls that were completed across entire areas in eight to 11 nights had a much higher likelihood of delivering a positive impact than the prolonged culls—the reactive culls that took place—over more than 12 nights. The risk of the latter is that TB in badgers is further elevated and thus it is expected that any benefits in relation to reducing cattle TB are undermined.