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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 2:26 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Jamie Reed Jamie Reed Shadow Minister (Health) 2:26 pm, 13th March 2014

While I have the Floor, I am sure that colleagues across the House would like to congratulate pupils from West Lakes academy in my constituency on sending a balloon into space this morning—quite an achievement. It is called Project Space Eye if anyone would like to look it up.

As the Member of Parliament for England’s most remotely accessible constituency from Westminster, I am proud to represent many dozens of farmers. As I have said previously when debating this issue, I married into a dairy farming family and, as such, I have some understanding of the wide impact that bovine tuberculosis can have. We have not seen much of this so far, but I hope that when the House discusses these issues we can prevent ourselves from descending into some of the crude, crass misunderstandings, clichés and characterisations about urban England and rural England that do nobody any good whatsoever.

Communities throughout my constituency were devastated by the outbreaks of foot and mouth over the past decade and, as a result, we are all acutely aware of the impact that losing a significant number of livestock can have, not only on the economic viability of farms, but also with regard to emotional distress caused by enforced slaughter. Bovine TB is extremely serious, and effective measures should be taken to minimise the spread of the disease. However, as more and more results of the badger cull are brought to light, the less and less effective it is shown to be. The badger cull has been a failure by whichever yardstick we choose to measure it, whether by its efficacy in reducing bovine TB, by the cost to the taxpayer, or by the humaneness of the implementation.

Before the pilot culls took place, the number of cattle slaughtered from January to November 2013 was 30,220. That means that more than 4,600 fewer cattle were slaughtered because of bovine TB compared with the same period in 2012. The widely disputed effectiveness of the cull notwithstanding, other measures such as restrictions on cattle movement, tighter biosecurity and rigorous testing regimes have clearly had a great impact on reducing the need for compulsory slaughter. The pilot schemes were conducted on the basis that over six weeks, 70% of badgers would be culled. The original two pilot schemes failed in this regard. A freedom of information request in January revealed that in west Somerset just 360 badgers were killed by controlled shooting out of a population of more than 1,450, and in west Gloucestershire, 543 of about 2,350 badgers were killed. These numbers fall significantly below the 70% threshold. This has led to extensions of the culls, flying in the face of all sound scientific advice.

Professor Rosie Woodroffe, who was involved in the original randomised badger culling trials between 1998 and 2005, has said:

“It is not unreasonable to expect that as you prolong the cull and you prolong increased badger movement, you increase the detrimental effects.”

Those detrimental effects were incredibly serious and the result was that TB infections in badgers increased as movement increased, and the increase was exacerbated in areas where culling was prolonged. The badger cull was designed specifically to lower instances of bovine TB, but I am afraid that it is only this Government who could press ahead with a cull that is infecting more badgers.

Not only is this cull ineffective; it is cruel. The independent expert panel set up by the Government to assess the culls has confirmed that those carried out in Somerset and Gloucestershire were ineffective and failed on humanness. To be judged humane, no more than 5% of badgers would take longer than five minutes to die, but instead of meeting that one in 20 target, as many as one in five took longer than five minutes to die. With all that in mind, it is clear that controlled shooting badger culls are simply ineffective and it is appalling that the Government seek to carry on regardless.

The Government said the cull was needed to prevent bovine TB, which fell dramatically before the cull had even started. They said the cull would reduce TB infection rates, but more badgers are being infected owing to the prolonging of an ineffective cull. They said the cull would be humane, but significant numbers of badgers are being put through slow and painful deaths.

The contents of my postbag are a clear demonstration of how strongly my constituents feel about this badly implemented cull. The sheer amount of correspondence I have received so far on this issue has surpassed that received on many other issues, with the exception of the national health service, and not one constituent has expressed support for the cull. I am afraid it is time for the Government to go back to the drawing board and reflect the will of Members on both sides of the House.