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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 2:38 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 2:38 pm, 13th March 2014

I think we should judge the contribution of Simon Hart by recalling his previous employment. He was employed by the

Countryside Alliance and has long been an advocate of the tormenting of small mammals for fun—for sport. He was known in Wales for many years before he entered the House as a main advocate of killing small animals for fun. We should bear that in mind and consider the point made by my hon. Friend Mr Sheerman about our historic relationship with animals, particularly badgers. I hope to be able to quote part of John Clare’s poem.

The figures in Wales, which the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire did not cite, are impressive. There were reductions in the incidence of bovine TB as measured both by the number of cattle slaughtered, which fell by 33%, and the number of herds affected, which fell by 23%, but does he understand that enormous decrease was without any culling and without shooting badgers?

A wholly dishonest picture has been presented about Ireland. The Secretary of State compared reductions, but he compared last year with 1998. That was a strange year to pick, but the reason for it was the sudden very big rise in the number of incidents of bovine TB. It had been about half that level a year earlier, and it was reduced in following years. The significant point about Ireland, as has been suggested by Tracey Crouch, is clear when we look at what has happened to the graph for Northern Ireland. The figures for reductions and increases in levels of bovine TB in the north and the south are virtually identical. There was a wholesale cull in the south—lots of animals were killed—but it made no difference in comparison with the figures for the north.

The report before us makes a very thin case. The Government and some Government Members say that we need another piece of paper or another report. We had 10 years of the Krebs study—it went on and on, with many millions of pounds spent and 10,000 animals slaughtered—which concluded that there was no advantage in culling in the United Kingdom. He said that as a result of the evidence. The Government praise themselves on believing in evidence-based policy, but when they do not have the evidence, they invent it, as they have today.

There is no evidence for a cull. When it was announced by the previous Secretary of State in 2011, Mrs Spelman, I made the point that it was a bad science policy, and that there would be a big badger killing spree because of the indifference shown by people in the countryside to some animal suffering. An hon. Member made a plea for our treating cattle the same, but we should not give a picture of cattle having a blissful life—born in fields, running around in lovely surroundings, growing old, turning grey and geriatric, and going off to some nice residential home for ancient cows somewhere. Farming is brutal and cruel, and cattle have a brief life.

We must say to the overwhelming majority of people in this country who oppose the cull that there is a sensible solution, which is vaccination. It will not work perfectly, and we will have to look at it again and see how it works in other areas for a number of years. Let us not delude ourselves that those who support culling have anything except a wish to please the farmers whom they represent. That is fine, but DEFRA has become known by the name Do Everything Farmers’ Representatives Ask, and I am afraid that there is a lot in that.

That is the reason why we have ended up paying £3 billion—someone has said, “Let’s leave the common market. Let’s leave the EU”—of welfare into farmers’ pockets. If there is any dependency culture in this country, it is in farming. When there are problems in other industries, such as steel or heavy industries, they are not supported with unlimited subsidies. However, when there is a problem in the farming industry, it is given compensation for its losses. As someone has said about the floods, when the effluent hit the affluent there was a great reaction, and I am sure that the compensation will be a great deal more generous in the fields of Somerset than in the working-class areas and terraced streets that have been flooded for years. That is what we are up against today.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will now finish. I believe that Opposition Members have compassion against cruelty, and we have practical alternatives to the Government’s instant solution, which does not work. John Clare’s great poem, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, described what was acceptable in Britain at that time, with a badger dragged out of its area, paraded through the town, and beaten and kicked to death. That was regarded as a great sport, and some people in the Chamber still regard animals as suitable targets for sport or entertainment, but that is not what the majority of people want. If there is action to get rid of this disease, it must be based on science as well as what is compassionate and acceptable to the nation, which culling is not.