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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 1:28 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee 1:28 pm, 13th March 2014

I will come on to vaccines.

I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans and the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge said. The House is very short of alternatives. If we are to have a mature, intelligent debate, the House and the public need to consider what the realistic alternatives are. The badger population was in decline and was given protection in the 1970s, for very good reason, but when we see the extent to which the population has grown and the implications for the spread of bovine TB, the position is very serious. I have two auction marts in my constituency, one in Thirsk and one in Malton, and the implications of the cattle restrictions generally are difficult for them.

I want to make a general point about the six-day rule. I understand the position with regard to the cattle restrictions relating to bovine TB that are in place in the south-west, and the need for a swift response to any potential animal disease. But, particularly at red cattle marts such as Thirsk, the operation of the six-day rule, as intensive and as regulated as it is, is having a negative impact. Many livestock producers will not take their cattle or sheep to mart—it is true that there are fewer pigs now—on the basis that they may not be able to obtain the price that they need and they will have to go to slaughter anyway. I hope that the Minister will look favourably at reviewing the six-day rule. It could be brought back swiftly if need be.

The sad fact, which has been demonstrated in today’s debate, is that not many of us living in Britain today have close rural roots. When a pilot cull was introduced in Ireland, it proceeded smoothly, effectively, clinically, and virtually without disruption. Do the Government have anything to learn from the conduct of the Irish cull? The fact that many of us now live metropolitan lifestyles leads, regrettably, to an increasing misunderstanding of animal husbandry and welfare issues.

In the few moments that I have left I want to commend to the House the work of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on vaccination against bovine TB and the Government’s response. I am delighted to record that both Front-Bench teams were well represented on the Committee when it took evidence. We looked carefully at injectable vaccine for badgers, oral vaccine for badgers and oral vaccine for cattle. There are difficulties with each that we can rehearse this afternoon, but will the Minister update the House today on where we are, particularly with regard to reaching agreement in Brussels with our European partners and at home on each of those matters?

I pay tribute to the work of the Food and Environment Research Agency in Sand Hutton in Thirsk and Malton—