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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Liberal Democrat, Sutton and Cheam 4:08 pm, 13th March 2014

I very much welcome this debate. I congratulate Mrs Main on taking the initiative in calling it, and the Backbench Business Committee on selecting it and providing time for it. Now is the right time for this debate.

The hon. Lady is certainly not responsible for ensuring that we have all the facts from a report at the Government’s disposal. By the end of the debate, I hope that it will be clear to the Minister that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see the report, and that he should at least indicate the timetable for its publication. However, several hon. Members have shared much of the material from the leaked report, and we should be cognisant of what it tells us about culling’s lack of effectiveness and its inhumane nature, which is why I certainly support the motion.

From listening to this debate, which has been a great education, it is clear that there is no silver bullet—no one single thing that we or the Government can do to bring easily within our grasp our shared goal of eradicating bovine TB. It is a complex, multi-faceted problem and, as such, it requires a comprehensive strategy. I therefore welcome the comments of the former Minister, my hon. Friend Mr Heath, in which he said that there is a comprehensive strategy. Unfortunately, the strategy is all too often obscured by the need to be concerned about and to debate the inadequate evidence base. Indeed, the evidence demonstrates that culling is not the right strategy. We need to get that debate out of the way so that we can have the necessary focus on delivering all the welcome aspects of the strategy.

Tracey Crouch made an excellent speech and an excellent demand of the Government. It is great that the Backbench Business Committee has provided us with time to debate this issue. However, given that it does not divide us along party lines, but is of serious concern to Members across the House, I think that the Government should test the opinion of the House on a motion if they are minded to make the case for further culling.

We have heard some compelling evidence in this debate, not least from the leaks of the report. I cannot ignore the evidence that the Government’s own test for the humaneness of killing has been breached in so many cases. The guidelines say that it is sufficiently humane if a creature dies within five minutes, but 18% of the badgers did not do so. That raises questions about whether we are travelling in the right direction by maintaining support for the cull. Several colleagues have also mentioned the flight risk that exists with such operations, which can make matters worse, not better.

Several hon. Members have referred to what Wales is doing. If we are to have an informed debate, we need to have all the evidence of the successes and failures in Wales, and to know what lessons can be learned. As my hon. Friend Mr Sanders said, we know that trapping and vaccinating is cheaper than culling, and that it has led to a 33% reduction in the number of cattle that have been slaughtered. He also said that having tighter biosecurity is a way of securing what we all want at a lower cost.

I have a question for the Minister about the vaccination of cattle. Every 10 years, we are told that it will be another 10 years before we get a vaccine. One of the issues is that the tests are not sufficiently refined to distinguish between those that have the infection and those that have had the vaccine. Will the Minister indicate when we might see progress on the testing, so that the vaccine can be used more effectively?

This is a serious matter to which the House keeps returning. I hope that the Government realise that Members across parties and across the House do not believe that the evidence is compelling and clear enough to support the use of culling.