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I do not intend to use up all the time available to me, as I have contributed to the previous two debates on these pilot culls and I fear that I would just be repeating some of the points I raised before the pilots started and while they were taking place.
I know the Minister to be an honourable gentleman, and I have served with him on the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I hope and expect that he is listening intently, and that he will take to his colleagues in government the consensus of the House that these culls have to stop permanently, and that we must look in another direction to solve the problem, particularly as the badger cull is now recognised as a pretty shambolic failure by the public and everyone concerned with it.
We have heard from colleagues about the pilots’ failings as regards humaneness and effectiveness. Two thousand badgers have been killed and millions of pounds have been spent. We have heard of the division in communities and the public over the issue. I welcomed the announcement that badger culls had been stopped after it was evidenced that marksmen had failed to meet the 70% kill mark, but unbelievably the Government are still considering rolling out the policy of culling badgers in 10 new areas of England next year. The Government need to cancel these killing plans once and for all, and to focus on improving cattle welfare, controlling cattle movements, increasing biosecurity, and developing, as hon. Members have said, a badger and cattle vaccine.
It has been rumoured that the Government are considering even cheaper methods of dealing with badgers, such as gassing them. I hope that the Minister can confirm that that is just a rumour and is not being considered. We need a science-led policy to manage cattle movements better, and a vaccine to tackle TB in cattle. Opposition Members have warned the Government for two years that the badger cull was bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife. We recognise that bovine TB is a terrible disease and, hopefully, those of us who do not come from a farming community understand the frustration of famers in those communities that feel the devastating impacts of bovine TB. However, the cull has not helped to resolve this problem. Farmers and the public have been falsely presented with the impression that without the large-scale killing of badgers, bovine tuberculosis in cattle cannot be effectively controlled. As we have heard, that is not the case, if we accept evidence from Wales: in 2013, a programme involving badger vaccination, stricter cattle testing and movement restrictions showed that we can get a very significant reduction in bovine TB incidence in cattle without the need for a cull.
Culling just does not work. It risks spreading the disease further and costs far more than it saves. The Government claim that any badger culling policy will be proceeded with only if it can be demonstrated that it is humane. However, as I have said, it has been well and truly evidenced that the culling has not been humane. It did not even meet the target that the Government set. Unfortunately, DEFRA has hidden behind the Environmental Information Regulations 2004, claiming that the disclosure of information would risk the safety of personnel involved in the pilots and compromise its ability to protect the environment. It continues to do that in spite of the Information Commissioner’s ruling that there should be disclosure, and the fact that the pilot culls have been completed.
If the Minister truly wishes to pursue a cross-party approach to this issue, why has he not agreed to any of Labour’s key asks, put forward in the Westminster Hall debate of
Badger vaccination represents a less risky and potentially more successful method of reducing the prevalence of bovine TB among badger populations. Labour is committed to implementing a science-led strategy in the fight to reduce bovine TB; that includes the use of vaccination. DEFRA is working with the EU to change legislation so as to allow TB vaccination of cattle, and the use of a trade test to differentiate infected from vaccinated animals.
The Government have continually said that a vaccine is not ready. Could that be the result of one of the Government’s first acts in 2010—cancelling five of the six vaccine field trials commissioned by Labour? DEFRA is cutting funding for the research and development of a badger vaccine from £3 million to just over £300,000 by next year. It has also cut funding for developing a cattle vaccine by over £1.5 million. We have had a cut in vaccine development and a farce of a cull, both of which have been bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife.