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Licences to cull badgers for control of tuberculosis: repeal

Agriculture Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 5th March 2020.

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‘(1) No licence may be granted to kill or take badgers, or to interfere with a badger sett, for the purpose of preventing the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

(2) Sub-paragraph (1)(g) of section 10 of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 is accordingly amended by omitting “disease” and substituting “any disease other than bovine tuberculosis.”’—(

This new clause would end the provision under which a licence can be granted to kill badgers for the purpose of preventing the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Thank you, Sir David—[Interruption.] There is some confusion on this side; I apologise. I blame the late publication of the 109-page document.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

Why does it take the Government so long—since 2018—to respond, and why do they finally respond on the day that we discuss this issue in Committee? We probably all know the politics behind these things, but it is disappointing when it involves such an important subject, discussion of which has been so eagerly awaited by so many people, because it is a highly controversial subject. The science involved is complicated.

In the spirit of sharing the responsibilities across the shadow team, I will pass over to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East in a moment—I hope that she will be called to speak. However, the Labour Front Bench welcomes the Government’s belated response. We also find some things in the response helpful, and we think the Government are changing direction, but not quickly enough. We will make a more considered and detailed response when we have had time to consider it in detail, but our belief is that far too many badgers have been unnecessarily killed. The science is not clear and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that there is as much transmission from cattle to cattle. It is not a simple issue. We fully recognise the huge damage, economic cost and distress that bovine TB causes in many areas. As I say, we welcome the direction of travel, but we believe that it should be much swifter.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East 3:30 pm, 5th March 2020

The Government’s much-delayed response to the Godfray report, published this morning, finally concedes to implement more effective methods of containing bovine TB, such as cattle and badger vaccinations. Of course, scientists, activists and politicians have been saying that for years. Can the Minister explain why it has taken the culling of an estimated 130,000 badgers for the Government to come to the same conclusion that most of us came to years ago? Will she provide an estimate of the number of badgers that will be killed before the switch to vaccinations and other non-lethal preventive measures?

The Government’s U-turn on the badger cull is welcome. I would like to think that it is because the Prime Minister knew that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and I were going to speak to the issue, but I suspect there is someone else he listens to more. It is simply inexcusable, however, that further inhumane killing of this iconic species will continue for several years, especially as the Government have conceded that that is not the most effective strategy for containing bovine TB.

The former Government adviser Professor Ranald Munro recently said that a large number of badgers are likely to have suffered “immense pain” during culls. It is evident that the correct thing for the Government to do would be to bring forward the ban and start implementing non-lethal alternatives without delay.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Is the hon. Lady not aware that we do not yet have a vaccine that allows us to identify the difference between a vaccinated animal and an infected animal? Until we have that type of vaccine, it will not be possible to make the switch.

Photo of Nadia Whittome Nadia Whittome Labour, Nottingham East

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but the state of the science does not prevent the new clause from being made. New clause 21 provides the Government with an opportunity, on the day that they released their long-awaited response to the Godfray review, to urgently put an end to the inhumane and ineffective badger cull, rather than allowing it to continue for another five years.

Photo of Victoria Prentis Victoria Prentis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Bovine TB is one of our most difficult animal health challenges. It costs the Government about £100 million a year and industry around £50 million a year. Tackling it is important. It imposes a tremendous pressure on the wellbeing of our cattle farmers and their families. Many Committee members, including me, represent constituencies that are exposed to the misery of bovine TB on a daily basis. Left unchecked, bovine TB also poses a threat to public health although that is, to a large extent, mitigated today by milk pasteurisation. My grandfather died of tuberculosis, so I have always taken a close personal interest in the subject. It is a peculiar and complicated disease that it is important for us to take seriously.

No single measure will achieve eradication by our target date of 2038, which is why we are committed to pursuing a wide range of interventions, including culling and vaccination, to deal with the risk from wildlife. Of course culling is a controversial policy, but we have scientific evidence to show that, to a certain extent, it is working. The new review is clear that the evidence indicates that the presence of infected badgers poses a threat to local cattle herds. The review considers that moving from lethal to non-lethal control of disease in badgers is desirable. Of course, we would all go along with that. We have reached a point where intensive culling will soon have been enabled in most of the areas where it has served the greatest impact. As announced in the Government response today, we will be able to develop measures to make badger vaccination, combined with biosecurity, the focus of addressing risks from wildlife as an exit strategy from intensive culling. Our aim is to allow future badger culls only where the epidemiological evidence points to a reservoir of disease in badgers.

Nobody wants to cull badgers inappropriately, but nor can we allow our farmers, their families and our wider dairy and beef industries to continue to suffer the misery and costs caused by the disease. That is why it is right that we take strong and decisive action to tackle the problem effectively, while always looking to evolve towards non-lethal options in future. I therefore do not think the new clause is appropriate.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Labour, Cambridge

I listened closely to the Minister’s comments. I suspect we will come back to this issue. We have been discussing it for the past 10 or 20 years. I fully appreciate what a serious issue it is and how it directly affects both her family and many others. However, at the general election we stood on a clear pledge to end the badger cull. We stand by that and the new clause would put it into law. The direction of travel of the Godfray report today reflects that the Government, on the basis of scientific evidence, are beginning to move in that direction. I suspect it is still partly about costs, because culling is more expensive. The vaccination question that the right hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby mentioned is important, but it is important that we follow the science as it develops. We want to eradicate and defend and protect. The issue is of considerable public interest, so I will press the new clause to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 41 Agriculture Bill — Licences to cull badgers for control of tuberculosis: repeal

Aye: 5 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.