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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 2:31 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Simon Hart Simon Hart Conservative, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire 2:31 pm, 13th March 2014

Not at the moment, but I will in a short while.

This is a matter of great sensitivity. Although I have a long and well-known track record on this particular issue, I fully accept that not everybody shares my view and that there are some passionate contrary views. I respect them as much as I possibly can and I will—as I always have—study the alternative view.

We are talking not about a percentage reduction in bovine TB, but about how we best deal with eradication. I want to touch on two subjects: humaneness and the comparisons with the policy in Wales, which is being used as a nice, easy solution whereby people say, “Why don’t we just do what the Welsh are doing, because it seems to be working there?”

On humaneness, we have to take a view on whether culling is necessary. I accept entirely that not everybody takes that view, but if we accept that culling will play not the sole part, but a part in eradicating bovine TB, we have to look at the comparative measures available and the comparative suffering associated with each of them. There is no method of control or culling—none—that is without its welfare consequences. If anybody can highlight one, I will take an intervention. Even cage trapping comes with a welfare consequence—about which there is very little research—because animals may be trapped in those devices for a significant time before anybody deals with them. We have to make comparisons and reach a view. We have not done so and we are avoiding that particular aspect of the argument.

Only when we have looked at the comparative measures will we be able to address the whole subject in context. It is important to consider the suffering of cattle and badgers with TB, bearing in mind that a lot of cubs get infected while in the sett and are already carrying the disease by the time they emerge from it. Any vaccination after that is pointless, because they have already contracted the disease. We have to look at this practically. We also need to consider the suffering of farmers and the impact on their livelihood, which has been mentioned by pretty much every speaker. We also need to consider the suffering—I use that word carefully—of taxpayers who are, year in, year out, forking out substantial sums of money while we continue to dither over this subject.

On the comparison with Wales, I want to read out two quotes. The first is from the veterinary advice to the Welsh Government in 2011:

“A proactive, non-selective badger cull is expected to reduce the level of confirmed herd breakdowns within the culling area for year 1.”

The second is from the veterinary advice to the Welsh Government in 2012:

“In so far as the results of RBCT can be extrapolated to the IAA”— the intensive action area—

“it is possible to conclude that the outcome of an effectively managed cull of badgers (in the IAA) should be an overall reduction in the number of breakdowns.”

It is important to bear in mind that the only thing that has changed in Wales is the colour of the Government—the veterinary advice has not changed. It is essential that the House and others realise that the idea that some magic cure is being applied to the badger population in Wales is a myth. Anybody who suggests—as Albert Owen, who is not in his place, did—that there is a substantial decline in the number of herd breakdowns in Wales as a result of vaccination needs to take a wee bit of care, because in fact the statistics demonstrate that the reduction is exactly the same across the whole of Wales: there is no material difference between the reduction outside the vaccination area and that inside the vaccination area. The advice from the Welsh Government Minister, whom I spoke to personally, is that it would be dangerous to reach conclusions about the impact of vaccination based on the results so far. I just want to put that on the record.

As the Minister himself said:

“I am delighted that overall the figures have come down, however we cannot be certain that this is a long term trend and there may still be more fluctuation in the figures.”

Those who think that the answer lies in Wales should look again. We are a long way off being able to bring to the House news of a silver bullet having been invented and deployed in our part of the country.

It is important to allow other speakers to have their say. I mentioned at the beginning of my speech that the objective is eradication, not reduction. All the experts to whom I have spoken, including those in Cardiff representing Government and agricultural interests, recognise that a floor will be reached as a result of all the other measures that will be put in place, such as the measures on cattle movements and more rigorous annual testing. If we are to break through that floor and reach eradication rather than reduction, culling will be back on the agenda. Nobody of any political colour or persuasion when it comes to culling has not confirmed the fact that, if we are going to deal with the matter once and for all, we are going to have to address the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population.

If one encouraging thing has come from today’s debate—I share the view of those Members who say that it is somewhat premature—it is the fact that at last one or two people are talking about a collaborative approach between parties, rather than simply using the issue as a means of political point scoring. If we can take an intelligent view and look at the best practice of the policy in Cardiff as well as some of the measures in England, I think we will make some progress. However, the idea that we can simply dismiss one important part of the strategy of reducing TB simply because we find it distasteful does not do badgers, cattle, farmers or taxpayers any favours.