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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 2:55 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Chris Williamson Chris Williamson Labour, Derby North 2:55 pm, 13th March 2014

I congratulate Mrs Main on securing this debate and the Backbench Business Committee on allowing it to proceed.

It is important that we acknowledge that the badger cull has been a catastrophic failure. It has failed farmers, it has failed taxpayers and it has failed the wildlife in our countryside. It failed to reach the 70% target that it needed to reach to be effective. As Members have said, the experts say that for a randomised badger cull to be successful, it should take about two weeks. The Government set a timescale of six weeks, but they did not even manage it in that period and had to extend it. It certainly failed on that score.

The cull failed DEFRA’s own perverse humaneness test. The test says that it is humane if it takes an animal only five minutes to die. I do not think that that is humane, but the Government failed that test as well. As other Members have pointed out, according to leaked reports, one in five badgers took considerably longer than five minutes to die. Of the 1,861 badgers that were killed in the cull, 335 took considerably longer than five minutes to die. The Government therefore failed the humaneness test.

The Government failed to stop the spread of the disease because of perturbation. All the expert evidence says that. As my hon. Friend Susan Elan Jones said in her intervention, the Secretary of State himself acknowledged that the 70% target must be met, otherwise the cull would be a failure because of the problem of perturbation. The Government did not manage that, so on that basis, they have made the situation worse and spread TB even wider.

The Government have failed the value-for-money test as well. The Conservative think-tank, the Bow Group, has said that it cost £4,121 to kill each badger.

The Government have failed to acknowledge that vaccination works. They have failed to acknowledge what has happened in Wales. They have failed to accept that in Northern Ireland, where there has been no badger cull, the level of bovine TB has been reduced. We know that it is cattle movements and biosecurity measures, alongside vaccination, that will make the biggest contribution.

The Government have also failed to meet their commitments. Government Members have talked today about seeking cross-party consensus. The Government have failed to seek that consensus. The Opposition have offered an open hand to find a consensus. Hopefully, after today, we will find one, but the Government have so far failed to deliver on that.

The Government have certainly failed to listen to the public. Some 304,202 people signed the e-petition against the badger cull. The Government have failed to listen to scientific opinion, as I have pointed out. Bill Wiggin, who is not in his place, spoke about the importance of proceeding on the basis of scientific evidence and said that we needed to wait for the report to be available. The overwhelming scientific consensus before the cull was that it would not work, but the Government felt that it was satisfactory to ignore scientific opinion. When it suits them they ignore scientific opinion, and when it does not they call for more scientific evidence to be made available.

Ministers cannot say that they were not made aware that the badger cull would be a disaster: hon. Members lined up to point out the folly of proceeding with it; the scientific world told them not to cull and that there was no scientific basis for proceeding with it; and the public were overwhelmingly opposed to it. The Government’s own former scientific adviser said it was a fiasco, and many other choice words have been used by scientists to describe it.

It is important that from today we move forward with some sort of unity and consensus. I am delighted that some Members who previously voted for the cull have now changed their minds in the light of the catastrophe that has befallen us in the randomised badger culling areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and

Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) talked about the importance of reaching a consensus, which is what the overwhelming majority of the British public want. We know that the current situation is putting the police in an impossible position. I have heard numerous reports—even while I have been sitting here listening to the debate, people have been e-mailing me—of those monitoring badger culls being harassed and even having shots fired at them. We cannot allow that to happen. We have to find an alternative way forward.