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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 3:42 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 3:42 pm, 13th March 2014

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for the debate and Mrs Main for her work in securing it. Like others, I appreciate her courage in leading it this afternoon.

Let me start by echoing the words of Mr Amess, who is no longer in his place. The debate is not about people who love badgers versus people who love cattle. It is not about those who find a cull distasteful, to use the words of Simon Hart, versus those who do not. It is about how we can most effectively address the scourge of bovine TB.

The science points us towards the fact that culling badgers in England is not an effective policy. I wish that Bill Wiggin were still in his place, because I would say to him that it is him, not me, who has his science wrong. I might also be tempted to point out to him that although I know I am guilty of many sins, I am not aware that I have been guilty of spreading bovine TB myself. That was among the many things he accused me of earlier this afternoon.

Let me be serious. It is important that we address the clichés. Even though I represent an urban constituency, I have spent a lot of time with farmers. I was a member of a European Parliament special committee on foot and mouth disease and I visited many farms and sat with many farmers in their kitchens. I am under no illusion about the enormous distress they experience at the thought of the destruction of their animals. I have cried as they have cried facing the loss both of their livelihoods and of animals that they love. This is not a competition about who loves animals most; it is a debate about the evidence for what works. There is no monopoly on either side of the House on caring for animals. What there is, I think, is a determination among some of us to try to look at the evidence with a bit more rigour.

I welcome this debate, because it is important that MPs are properly involved in any future decisions about the control of bovine TB, and that those decisions are subject to a vote in this House. As other hon. Members have indicated, the pilot badger cull can only be judged a spectacular failure, including against the Government’s own terms of reference.

The leaked IEP report makes it clear that the pilot failed two of the Government’s tests. It failed on humaneness, as more than 5% of badgers took longer than five minutes to die, and it failed on effectiveness, as fewer than 50% of badgers have been killed in either pilot area. Yes, those are only leaks, but we know that they echo the empirical evidence of so many people who have been monitoring the culls. We know, for example, that one of those culls took more than 11 weeks and that people involved in those culls stopped free shooting quite early on because it was not effective. We know as well from the people who were following those culls that many of the animals were not shot in a clean way.

It is not the case that, because this report has not been published, we cannot make statements about it. I wish, as others do, that the Minister had brought it forward earlier. As one of the co-sponsors of the debate, I can say that, when we went to the Backbench Business Committee, we fully expected the report to be out. The reason we wanted it out fairly swiftly was that we know that this Government have a habit of moving fast without consulting Parliament. They did that when they extended the culls in the first place—the extended period did not come back to Parliament for a decision—so it was right to ensure that the Government heard the views of the constituents whom we represent.

The leaked IEP report makes it clear not only that the pilots failed some of the tests that the Government set, but that costs have soared, particularly when policing costs are taken into account. Preliminary estimates put the pilot costs at an eye-watering £4,000 per badger killed. Shockingly, despite that, the Government have refused to rule out the extension of culling in up to 40 additional large areas in the west and south-west of England in the coming years.

Much has been said about the importance of evidence-based policy making. Let us remind ourselves about what some of these scientific experts have said about culling. Others have already quoted Lord John Krebs, who called the cull policy “mindless”. He was one of the architects of the landmark 10-year culling trials that ended in 2007. He said:

“The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. The government is cherry-picking bits of data to support its case.”

Lord Robert May, a former Government chief scientist and president of the Royal Society, said:

“It is very clear to me that the Government's policy does not make sense.”

He added:

“I have no sympathy with the decision. They are transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.”

I want to highlight some of the myths associated with the culling strategy and to suggest some alternatives. Before I do that, let me state again that I absolutely accept that bovine TB is a serious problem that needs to be tackled. However, the evidence shows that badger culling makes the problem even worse for some farmers, and risks making it worse for all of them. Today’s debate is not about whether we want to protect cattle or badgers; it is about the most effective way to protect cattle, which, as the evidence shows, is not by killing badgers. That is not because badgers do not necessarily contribute to the cattle TB problem, but because badger culling tends to increase the proportion of badgers infected and to spread the disease to new areas. That is because of the perturbation effect, as fleeing badgers spread the disease further afield while the vacuum caused by culling attracts new badgers into newly vacated territory.