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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 3:12 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 3:12 pm, 13th March 2014

I apologise for not being here at the start of the debate.

Along with a number of colleagues on both sides of the House, I am not an expert on this subject, but I was Minister of State at DEFRA between 2009 and 2010.

Some might say that that disqualifies me as an expert, but, as everybody in the House knows, having no skill, qualifications or even talent has never been an obstacle to being a Minister—I am sure we all have our own favourites. However, I did have the experience of being at DEFRA the last time the Labour Government looked at another cull—we did cull between 1997 and 2010—and, as many colleagues on both sides of the House have said, the Krebs report demonstrated that the science was brought into question.

When I was appointed as Minister the Daily Mail attacked me. It said, “He’s a veggie and he’s a townie; what does he know about farming?”, which was a very fair observation, but I thought just a little bit too critical, because, as I have said, lack of qualifications has never been an obstacle before. The National Farmers Union was very generous, however. It said, “We don’t care where he comes from or what he eats; we will judge him on what he does for farming”, and I think I established a good relationship with the NFU. In its defence, in response to a point made by my hon. Friend Paul Flynn about subsidies, if there were not subsidies for agriculture across Europe there would be a lot more people visiting food banks. Those subsidies are not going to line farmers’ pockets exclusively, which I think is the interpretation of what was said that people outside the Chamber might have drawn.

Bill Wiggin, who is not in his place at present, was very critical of the previous Labour Government. His comments might have been fair if he had said the Labour Government were inconsistent, but that inconsistency arose because we tried to do everything we could: we tried culling; we tried restrictions; we tried extra biosecurity; and we tried vaccination—with all the problems the Government have in getting the vaccination validated by Europe and so forth. Progress was made, however.

I attended the NFU conference in Birmingham only two weeks ago, as did other members of the EFRA Select Committee. The Minister was also there, representing the Government on behalf of the Secretary of State. I have the highest regard for the outgoing NFU president, Peter Kendall, and I wish his successor, Meurig Raymond, every success during his tenure as president. I heard Peter Kendall say to the Minister that the NFU was grateful for the Government’s efforts to deal with TB.

When I was a Minister, from 2009 to 2010, we were presented with evidence to secure a cull. Some Labour colleagues have suggested today that the evidence is overwhelming, but it was not overwhelming in 2009. At that time, I took the view, on a balance of 55:45, not to recommend culling to the then Secretary of State. He looked at the evidence, and my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies, who was also in the Department at the time, was privy to some of our discussions. The Secretary of State listened to the experts, read the briefings, looked at my recommendations and talked to the NFU. He also concluded that culling was not the way forward.