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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 1:54 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour, Huddersfield 1:54 pm, 13th March 2014

I shall be brief as I am the least expert person trying to catch Madam Deputy Speaker’s eye and I am lucky to have done so so early in the debate. As a sponsor of the debate, my credentials are possibly the fact that I have a history of taking up relatively unpopular views. I do not win over many friends, certainly not on the Opposition Benches.

Members who have been in the House for some time remember that I was passionately against the hunting with dogs Bill—one of the few Labour Members to take that view. I remember trying to make that case. As someone who once had a smallholding and lost chickens and ducks to a fox, I never saw a more effective way of getting a fox than when some people turned up with hounds and on horse. I made myself very unpopular because I did not believe in gassing, lamping and so on; I wanted an evaluation of the best possible method. I made many enemies on the Labour Benches, but I do not mind taking an unpopular view on occasion.

This should be a cross-party debate conducted in harmony. For 10 years I chaired a Select Committee, and my watchword was always that we should be guided by evidence-based policy, where we can get it. I have read as much as I can from the House of Commons Library and every document that I have found as the badger culling debate goes on, and I have come to the conclusion that the evidence shows that bovine TB is a calamity. I have many farming friends who are desperate because friends of theirs have had it on their farms. It drives farmers to desperation and in some tragic cases to suicide when they get bovine TB and lose a cherished herd that they have bred.

My heart goes out to the farming community when they do not understand why DEFRA and the Government cannot grapple with the problem and get it sorted. This debate should be about how we get it sorted. I did not agree with all the characteristically robust remarks of Bill Wiggin.

He is toeing the party line a bit today, but I agreed with him about the science. All the science shows that the cull has not worked. The pilot has not worked and has probably made the situation much worse.

There are some amusing aspects to the process. At the time of the flooding I found myself ringing round the House of Commons Library and all sorts of technical friends to find out whether badgers can swim. I found out, to my surprise, that when they have to, badgers can swim. That made quite a hole in some of the boundaries that DEFRA was drawing, thinking that badgers would not cross water. I believe in evidence. I believe that the issue must be sorted. I cannot see any way forward, apart from vaccination. I believe that we must vaccinate both cows and badgers in order to sort the problem out. Let us do it.

There has been some argy-bargy today about whether we have seen the final report. We are all grown up men and women and we know there is a reason why the report has only reached the desk of the Secretary of State today and we do not have it for this debate, which everyone knew was coming up because we applied for it weeks ago. We know that games are being played.

I am chair of the John Clare Trust. If anybody wants to see the finest poem about badgers ever written by a human being, they should look up John Clare’s poem “The Badger”. For hundreds of years human beings have treated badgers appallingly, baiting them for pleasure, and I do not want to be associated with that in the modern form of culling them. They are a form of animal life that we should respect and love, and I do, as I love and respect the fox and cattle. Indeed, as some Members of the House will know, I have been involved in another long-running campaign, which is related to the distaste for veal. Due to some bad publicity 30 years ago, almost every little boy calf born in this country is shot at birth and incinerated. That is dreadfully wrong. Now, at long last, we are getting rose veal coming back. I have respect for all sorts of animals.

Today is the chance to stop the silly disagreements over this matter. Every one in this House and in this country wants an end to them. We do not want the politics of “let’s have a cull to keep the farmers happy”. There is a bit of Government policy—I am talking about this Government and the previous one—that smacks of that. Let us today agree that there are scientific answers. We need a serious discussion with the European Union, and among ourselves, on how we evaluate the evidence and get this dreadful disease sorted. That is what farmers and lovers of wildlife want and what every Member of this House should want.