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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West 2:45 pm, 13th March 2014

I am trying to keep within my eight or nine minutes, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is like when I expressed my views on the city of culture and had offers to visit constituencies all over the country. If I can, I may at some time visit my hon. Friend’s constituency. When I represented Basildon, which had 32 farms, I gained some understanding of the pressures that farmers are under.

All hon. Members probably have the same briefings—depending on which side of the debate we are on—and many of the arguments have already been made. There have been two culls, and we now face a decision about the way forward. I will not get into the argument about the expert panel’s report, but it has apparently found that pilot culls have failed in the two tests set by the Government, namely effectiveness and humaneness. Many hon. Members have made points about that, so I will not repeat them.

Different parts of the world have been mentioned, so I will say that badgers are a unique species. When comparisons are made with possum culls in New Zealand, or with culls in north America, they do not take into account the unique culture of the species. It is like comparing a dog with a whale. I just do not think that those comparisons are real.

The pilot culls, as well as seemingly being ineffective, were very costly. The costs of conducting and monitoring the target culls soared, especially when the policing costs are taken into account. That was big expense. The preliminary calculations put the cost of the pilot cull at more than £4,000 per badger killed. That is absolutely crazy. It has been estimated that £10 million has been spent on the cull so far. We live in challenging economic times and that is a lot of money.

The evidence suggests that the adoption of free-shooting as a means of culling badgers did not meet the necessary guidelines on humaneness. DEFRA set the standard of 95% of badgers dying within five minutes. However, as we have heard, the independent experts found that up to 18% of the badgers exceeded that limit. According to Natural England, badgers were often shot in the wrong area of the body, necessitating a second shot to kill them. The monitoring of the culls has been deemed “woefully inadequate”. On the 41 visits made by Natural England’s monitors, they witnessed only nine badgers being killed by controlled shooting.

It would be wrong to highlight the concerns without putting forward a solution, which is what all hon. Members want. I think that badger vaccination should be treated seriously. Using an already licensed injectable vaccine represents a more cost-effective, compassionate and less divisive way of managing infection in badger populations. The House is saying that it would be good if we could agree on this matter. That solution could be implemented by using the data that have been provided by Natural England, which has recorded accurate information on the location of badger setts. I argue that badger setts could be successfully inoculated by using that information.

The speed of vaccination is an important consideration. It would be disingenuous to suggest that vaccination is a quick process. Admittedly, the process would be gradual. However, vaccinating badgers is a long-term and sustainable way of reducing the prevalence of bovine TB. That is what the House is coming together to say. It wants to see the prevalence of bovine TB reduced.

Obviously, inoculation will not eradicate badgers that carry the disease. It will just prevent the disease from spreading to other badgers. Therefore, those who are in favour of the badger cull may well argue that, on the face of it, the cull brings a quicker resolution to the problem. However, the evidence suggests that if we want a long-term, sustainable resolution to the problem, culling is not the answer. There is no doubt that badgers contribute to the problem of TB in cattle. My hon. Friends who have represented the concerns of their constituents have been right to do so. However, the only way to manage the problem is to vaccinate badgers. I will not comment on matters in Wales.

I want to make one or two remarks to the Minister. I commend the Government’s investment of £250,000 a year to support and encourage badger vaccination using the existing injectable BCG vaccine. I also commend the Department for continuing to invest in further research into cattle vaccination and for pressing our European partners to reform EU legislation, which will be a tough task.

Finally, it is important to note that the fact that they oppose the method that was adopted in the recent culls does not mean that those who champion vaccination as an alternative are not on the side of farmers or that they do not empathise with the emotional and financial implications of losing cattle to TB. The evidence is that we can make a serious attempt to reduce the levels of TB in farmers’ livestock, while upholding the welfare of these unique animals. I urge the Minister to seriously review the evidence from the IEP and to consider a more effective, compassionate and less costly alternative that serves the interests of farmers, as well as meeting ethical standards. Today, hon. Members have clearly demonstrated their general concern about animal welfare.