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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 not an expert on Wales, and I am sure that others who are situated in Wales will wish to speak in this debate and to refute that point. I simply note that there have been only three expressions of interests to extend the injectable trial in Wales. I suggest that that is because it is proving more difficult to carry out than the Welsh Government expected.

I wish to address my final few remarks to the culls and the lessons that are available to us. Although peaceful demonstration is perfectly acceptable, deliberate obstruction is not. Even less acceptable is the destruction of several hundred traps, which are private property and expensive items. That is what happened in Gloucestershire, and it was unacceptable. On learning the lessons, I concede—this is contrary to my former opinion—that the free-shooting of badgers is proving more difficult than was originally intended. In future trials, I expect that we will move towards the cage trapping of badgers and humane despatch, which seems to be a more satisfactory method than free-shooting. None the less, we will always need free-shooting to back up that system, because some badgers will never go into a trap; they are trap shy.

Much has been said about the one leaked sentence from the report that stated that a number of badgers took five minutes to die. I understand that that was now long it took the person who shot the badger to reach the badger and verify that it was dead. If there are a lot of obstructions in their way, it could well take more than five minutes to get from the place where the shot has been fired to retrieving the badger and proving that it is dead. However, those are all matters of speculation. We simply do not know, because we have not seen the report. When we get the report, we will be much better informed.

Many people seem to be concerned about the number of badgers that are being culled—roughly a few thousand in both trials. They should contrast that with the 30,000 cattle that have to be slaughtered each year under the TB regulations. I understand that many Members in this House are deeply concerned about animal welfare, as indeed am I having had a parent who owned stock all their life, but they should think of this. When a cow is slaughtered under the unacceptable halal regime, it routinely takes more than five minutes for them to die. If the anti-cull brigade would focus its attention on that, it really would be doing some good.

Much has been said in this debate about vaccination. I understand that the Secretary of State, in a recent conversation with the EU Commissioner, was told that it is likely to be at least 10 years before a licensed cattle vaccine is available. We simply cannot leave our farmers in limbo for that long. Even when a licensed cattle vaccine becomes available, we need an acceptable skin test—a DIVA test—that will distinguish between vaccinated cattle and cattle that have the disease. Under the current BCG—Bacille de Calmette et Guérin—test, if an animal is vaccinated it will show up as having the disease. Members seems to think that a cattle vaccine is an easy thing to achieve, but the real question we must ask ourselves is whether countries around the world, let alone in the EU, will take our cattle exports if they have been vaccinated. That is a really big matter.

I am clear that culling on its own is not the answer, but neither is vaccination on its own. It would be if we had an oral vaccine that we could deliver to badgers, just as we did to foxes when we got rid of rabies on the continent. An oral vaccine has been just around the corner for the entire 22 years I have been a Member of Parliament, yet we still do not know when it is likely to appear.

As my hon. Friend Mel Stride said, all around the world it has not been possible to eliminate a disease in cattle where there is a large wildlife vector. Whether it is white-tailed deer in Michigan, badgers in the Republic of Ireland or possums in New Zealand, in order to eradicate the disease in cattle we have to eradicate it in wildlife. I want to see a cold, sober debate in which the scientific evidence is fully evaluated, and I want the Government, hopefully on a cross-party basis if the Opposition will agree, to introduce a policy that will work. Let us ensure that we eliminate this dreadful disease once and for all.