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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 2:01 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Chair, Committee of Selection 2:01 pm, 13th March 2014

I am delighted, Madam Deputy Speaker, to catch your eye in this debate. I draw Members’ attention to my declaration of interests. However, although I am a farmer, I do not have any cattle and therefore do not have any financially beneficial interests to declare.

I take no pleasure in talking about this dreadful disease. I am sure that everyone here today can at least agree that we have a serious problem. Given that the UK has the third largest dairy production and the fourth largest beef production in the EU in an industry worth about £8.4 billion, I want to ensure that that industry is not in any way jeopardised. We should all agree that badgers are at least part of the problem. Professor Donnelly has stated that nearly 50% of bovine TB incidents can be attributed to infectious badgers.

I think that this should be a cross-party issue. I hope that Members on both Front Benches can agree on a TB eradication policy, because whoever wins the next election will want to continue with it. I think that this debate is premature, and that it is impossible to come to some of the conclusions mentioned in the motion until the full copy of the report is available. I gather that the Government are about to publish a TB strategy, and until it is available and the Secretary of State has had a realistic chance to consider the report and the way the Government will go forward, we should not have this debate. Indeed, the timing now is unfortunate.

On 2 April, the Royal Society is to hold a high-powered seminar on the subject, to which I intend to go to learn the very latest scientific opinion. I agree with Mr Sheerman that we should proceed on the basis of sound science—that obviously makes sense—and of cross-party agreement.

I stress to the House that we are talking about only trials. Let us try to learn the lesson from the trials. The lesson may be that we do not continue with them, that we do continue with them or that we continue with them in a different way. Let us at least try to learn it, and do it sensibly and maturely and in a low-key manner.