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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 4:02 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Nicholas Dakin Nicholas Dakin Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:02 pm, 13th March 2014

I agree with Daniel Kawczynski that we need to stop this ghastly disease. That is the theme of this debate. One of the benefits of speaking this late in a debate is that everything has already been said. I hope I will not repeat much of it.

As an aside, one thing that has not been mentioned is the number of cows killed as a result of the devastating floods in the west country and whether or not their impact on biodiversity has been beneficial to this problem. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that.

The briefing distributed by the National Farmers Union is very helpful. It reminds us:

“213,799 cattle have been slaughtered due to Bovine Tuberculosis since 2008. The disease imposes a significant burden on taxpayers, with control and testing measures costing the taxpayer around £100m per year, which will rise if TB spread continues unchecked.”

It is a massive problem in every way and it provokes strong emotional responses. The hon. Gentleman described the farmer whose livelihood has been destroyed and with whom one sympathises hugely. I understand why people in the farming industry feel desperate. Likewise, one empathises with those who have been e-mailing us in their hundreds of thousands to voice their concern about the unnecessary, as they see it, destruction of badgers. We as policy makers need to navigate a way through those emotional responses and arrive at the right answer to make things better. If we come up with the wrong answer and make things worse, we will have difficulties.

There is no doubt whatsoever that TB is a huge problem and we need to tackle it. From listening to this debate and the information provided outside as well as inside this Chamber, the weight of evidence seems to show that badger culling is making things wore rather than better. We would therefore be very unwise to continue an approach that worsens the situation, rather than seeking one that will improve it.

Caroline Lucas has already covered the fact that it is not terribly helpful to use possums in New Zealand and badgers in Ireland as reference points for dealing with badgers in England. The best evidence for dealing with badgers in England is the huge trial in England over many years—the randomised badger culling trial from 1998 to 2006—which has given us massive evidence about what works and what does not work.

To be fair to the pilot culls, they set out to work to that evidence base in trying to reach the 70% target within six weeks. The shame appears to be that, as Tracey Crouch clearly pointed out, the pilots failed to meet two out of the three tests that were set. All the evidence is that culling to less than 70% or certainly for more than six weeks causes more problems than it solves. Despite the chorus of voices expressing concern, there is no doubt that the Government set out with the best of intentions, but with those best of intentions, they have produced the worst of outcomes. We therefore need to think very carefully about what we do now.

Badger vaccination works. The evidence demonstrates that it is an alternative that works: once infected badgers are vaccinated, the hosts are prevented from being transmitted to other badgers and the disease is not passed on. There is an evidence base on the impact of the vaccination of red foxes against rabies, indeed, of human beings against measles. Vaccination works and, on the basis of figures presented to us from the evidence, seems to be more cost-effective and better value for money.

The problem with vaccination is that it takes a bit longer and we have to be a bit more patient. I fully understand the frustration and impatience about the need to do something about this dreadful disease, but if we made matters worse through our impatience, hurry and urgency, that would be the height of foolishness. Sadly, despite everything that has been said, it appears that continuing down this route will create more difficulties not only for badgers, but for cattle and the people whose livelihoods depend on them, as well as for the taxpayer, whose best interests we are all here to represent.