Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate.
It is far too early to draw conclusions from the report. The House has not yet seen the report properly, and all we are acting on are leaks from it. I have full confidence in the Secretary of State and the other DEFRA Ministers to analyse the report properly and to come to this House with their conclusions. Where we need to cull badgers and it can be done humanely, we must carry on doing so.
Many Members have referred to their own constituencies. It is very likely that vaccinating badgers in a rural constituency with very little TB in cattle, and hardly any TB in the badger population, will be effective—badgers must be vaccinated annually, but that will do a very good job. However, in a constituency such as mine, where some 25% of herds are restricted and are testing positive for TB, and there is a huge amount of TB in the badger population, any amount of vaccination will not cure the infected badger.
The British Veterinary Association has said:
“Scientific evidence proves that badgers and cattle spread bTB to cattle and that the targeted culling of badgers does reduce the levels of infection in cattle herds. Cattle vaccination will be an essential part of the long term strategy to eradicate bTB but will not be available in the UK until at least 2023.”
Will we really be able to wait until 2023, and continue to destroy some 35,000 cattle a year—some 5,600 a year in Devon alone? We cannot go on doing that.
This mythical vaccine was offered to farmers throughout the 13 years of the last Labour Government. Is it any wonder that those poor farmers are pulling their hair out and are almost suicidal because they cannot cure their herds of TB? They are testing their cattle every six weeks. Anyone who tries to organise such tests time and time again, running all those cattle through cattle crushes, will find that it is a huge effort, not just physical but emotional.
When the farmers have tested the cattle and established that they no longer have TB, and when the reactors have been taken away, what do the farmers do? In the spring and summer they turn their cattle out on to the edges of Exmoor and the Blackdown hills, where there are huge grasslands that are very good for the production of dairy and beef. When the cattle are out in those fields, it is almost impossible to prevent them from mixing with an infected badger population.
We need cross-party support in this place for action in those areas in particular. It will not be possible to eradicate TB by means of vaccination alone; it will be necessary to remove the infected badgers. The point of carrying out pilots rather than randomised badger culling trials was to establish hard boundaries in order to ensure that there had been no perturbation that would spread the disease to surrounding areas. I hope that the report will provide evidence of that. What the randomised cull did do was reduce the amount of TB in those areas by some 28% or 29%, which shows that the controlling and culling of badgers does work.
I agree with my hon. Friend Geoffrey Clifton-Brown that we need to look at the report. I would be the first to say, as many other Members have, that if we are going to cull, we must be certain that we can cull humanely. If we have to trap more badgers in order to cull them, let us do so.