I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the badger cull.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, in a debate on this very important issue, because I know that you take a close interest in it.
However, I am amazed that five years after the badger cull started we are still debating it. If you will bear with me, Sir David, I remember speaking on this issue on
“The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle.”
I have found no scientists who are experts in population biology or in the distribution of infectious diseases in wildlife who think that culling is a good idea. People seem to have cherry-picked certain results to try to support their argument.
I also quoted Lord Robert May, a former Government chief scientist and President of the Royal Society, who said:
“It is very clear to me that the government’s policy does not make sense…I have no sympathy with the decision. They are transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.”
Another former Government chief scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington, also refused to back the cull. More than 30 scientists signed a letter that was published in The Observer on
“the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it”.
The letter ends by saying,
“culling badgers as planned is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication.”
It may have been in that letter that the experts concluded that the badger cull was unscientific, ineffective and inhumane. I have seen no evidence since the experts reached that conclusion that it is anything but unscientific, ineffective and inhumane.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, because the last five years have clearly demonstrated the predictions that the scientists made all those years ago, but the Government have proceeded in the teeth of the evidence. One would think that, as legislators, we should seek to embark on evidence-based policy and legislation, rather than taking a punt in the dark, as the Government seem to have done.
The cost of the cull has already exceeded £50 million and is rising, but there has been no breakdown of it since 2015. The irony is that there is a humane, less expensive alternative. It costs about £200 to vaccinate a badger compared with £1,000 to shoot a badger. The Zoological Society of London says that badger vaccination is a viable alternative. The Government initially ruled it out, but I believe they earmarked about £130,000 for the badger edge vaccination scheme. When we compare that with the tens of millions of pounds that they have wasted on this cruel policy in the teeth of scientific evidence, one wonders why they took that line of action.
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. When will the Department carry out a full cost-benefit analysis that compares badger vaccination with badger culling? When will Sir Charles Godfray’s review of the Government’s TB policy be published? Will it consider the use of vaccination as an alternative to shooting?
Some horrific video footage has been obtained from the badger cull area in Cumbria. A caged badger was shot and took almost a minute to die, writhing in agony. The shooter then flagrantly disregarded the biosecurity guidelines, took the badger out of the cage and failed to bag it up—little wonder that the Government’s policy has not been particularly successful in reducing the spread of TB. That is just one small example—I will come on to others in a moment.
The contractors are paid about £30 to £50 for each badger they kill, but of course the shooters have access to thousands of trapped, caged badgers, and a live badger can fetch about £500 on the black market. We know that there are badger baiting and dog fighting gangs, so ruthless individuals would be quite happy to purchase a live badger for their perverted pastime. Given that there is no effective monitoring—the horrific video footage clearly demonstrates that—who is to say that that is not happening? The Government’s policy therefore potentially creates more wildlife crime in our country. They need to step up and take a different approach.
We know that the badger population is under threat. Between June and August, we had the highest temperatures on record—we will all remember it, won’t we? Experts tell me that it is therefore likely that large numbers of badger cubs and sows died during that very hot weather due to heat exhaustion and lack of food and water. Natural England has not undertaken any detailed or accurate population survey of badgers for more than a decade. It is important that we know what the state of the badger population is at this point in time.
About 50,000 badgers are killed every year on the road, and many die as a result of building development. The combination of the cull and other pressures is leading to the potential collapse of the badger population in certain parts of the country. Let us remember that badgers have inhabited our country since the ice age, so it would be a tragedy if they were eliminated in certain parts of it. I hope the Minister will respond to that point.
The Government claim that the badger cull reduces bovine TB in cattle, but the Zoological Society of London begs to differ. It says that there is no robust evidence at all that the policy is working. Indeed, the proportion of infected herds is about the same as it was in 2013, so the policy has been a spectacular failure. Will the Minister commit to releasing all the cull data held by DEFRA for independent verification? I would be interested to hear his response to that point.
In my opinion, we need better biosecurity, more reliable testing and movement controls. That is the real issue. We know that the TB skin test, which is the primary method of detecting TB in cattle, is not 100% successful. In fact, on average, one in four of the tests failed to detect TB. There are more accurate tests available, but the problem is that farmers are expected to meet the cost. Will the Minister commit the Government to funding the more accurate tests, rather than relying on the pretty inaccurate testing system that is currently being used, which contributes to the problem? I have already mentioned biosecurity. Slurry, which can contain TB bacteria, continues to be spread widely on farms, with few, if any, biosecurity controls. Millions of cattle continue to be moved across England with insufficient movement controls. New outbreaks of bovine TB were therefore pretty inevitable, and that is what happened in Cumbria and the Isle of Skye relatively recently.
TB fraud is also a major problem. Cattle are moved illegally, ear tags are taken out and cattle passports are altered. The enforcement controls are completely inadequate, so will the Minister explain what the Government are doing to address the inadequate biosecurity? Will he also outline what steps he is taking to address illegal cattle movements?
I was absolutely amazed to see reports in the media that infected carcases are being sold for human consumption. Several supermarkets have banned such purchases, as have several burger chains. However, The Daily Telegraph reported that a spokesperson for DEFRA, which makes £10 million a year from selling infected carcases, said:
“All meat from cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB must undergo rigorous food safety checks before it can be passed fit for consumption.”
I do not think that many people will find that particularly reassuring. I am sure that many people, if they were aware of that, would be incredibly alarmed. Is the Minister happy to continue selling carcases infected with TB for human consumption?
The Sunday Times recently reported on growing concerns about the sale of raw meat products as pet food, claiming that it could lead to an increase in TB in cats, which, in turn, could infect their owners. DEFRA does not monitor TB in domestic animals. Do the Government have any plans to investigate the scale of TB in domestic pets?
Before this cruel cull started, experts said that the policy does not make sense, that the cull is not the answer to TB in cattle and that culling risks increasing cattle TB. It seems to me that the last five years have proved that the Government’s policy is completely wrong-headed. Cicero reputedly said:
“Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.”
I just hope that, when the Minister gets to his feet, he will prove that he is not an idiot.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I am surprised to be speaking so early in the debate. I congratulate Chris Williamson on securing the debate. He said that he is amazed that we are still debating this issue after five years. I must admit that, as I was preparing my notes, the phrase that sprung to my mind—it is a moot point whether Einstein actually said it—was:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
That seems to be what is happening with badger culling. We do not have the scientific evidence to support it, as the hon. Gentleman set out.
The hon. Gentleman correctly highlighted the cost of the cull to date, and the fact that there are cheaper alternatives, such as vaccinations. He also correctly highlighted that the Government have now committed to carrying out some vaccinations in edge areas. However, I would like the Minister to explain how there will be proper controls on that, how the effectiveness of the vaccinations in each area will be compared with the effectiveness of culling, and how the Government will make sure that there is no cross-contamination so that the different methodologies can actually be compared.
It was quite disturbing to hear about the poor practice in Cumbria. My research has highlighted real concerns about the shooting and inhumane treatment of badgers and the suffering that they undergo as a consequence. We need to hear what the Minister has to say about the monitoring of the rules and compliance with them. I also agree with the call from the hon. Member for Derby North for the Minister to say how we will deal with the possible terminal decline of the badger in certain areas because of the level of culling deemed necessary to allegedly eradicate bovine TB.
The UK Government’s initial 10-year randomised badger culling trial was actually terminated, with the independent scientific group that monitored it concluding that it was not effective. There was then a change of Government and the new Government pounced on some of the figures that showed that bovine TB could be reduced and decided to permit the cull. However, the quoted possible reduction of 12% to 16% was over several years, demonstrating that the cull is not effective when measured against the effort required. It seems to me that it was a strange policy choice by the UK Government. It is stranger still that the cull is now a shooting exercise, rather than using a more humane method.
As we heard from the hon. Gentleman, as the years have gone on, the costs have accumulated and cull areas have become more extensive across England and Wales, but the disease still exists. However, proper scientific evidence of the effectiveness of culling does not exist. Culling is being rolled out further, but the evidence, if it exists at all, has not got any stronger. As the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has observed, the fact that culls are being operated so differently from the original trials means there is no way to assess their effectiveness. We do not really have any baseline figures against which to properly gauge them, so they seem a futile exercise.
The independent scientific group set out key parameters that should be followed—having boundaries that are impermeable to badgers to ensure a controlled area, and areas of between 150 and 500 sq km, for example—but those are not being adhered to in the current exercise. Again, independent guidance has not been followed, so we really do not know how effective culling is.
Scientific evidence from Ireland suggests that direct contact between badgers and cattle may not be the mechanism for bovine TB transfer, and that badgers actually tend to avoid areas where cattle are present. That means more work is required on the thesis that it is contaminated environments that allow a lot of the transfer of bovine TB. Clearly, the environment remains contaminated even if badgers are culled. We need to do much more research on that aspects rather than continue the culling exercise.
The UK should be able to assess the cost and success of culling against the cost and success of vaccinations. I appreciate that in recent debates—there have been a number on this issue—Members have highlighted that there has been a shortage of vaccinations at times, but that does not seem to be the case at the moment. There have also been new developments, such as oral bait for badgers, which seems to be more cost-effective. All that ties in with the hon. Gentleman’s call for the Government to conduct transparent cost-benefit assessments and release the data so that we can have confidence and scrutinise what goes on.
Fortunately, the risk of bovine TB in Scotland has historically been very low, and there is no evidence of a wildlife reservoir of bovine TB. In October 2009, Scotland was added to the list of European Union member states and regions that have been declared free of bovine TB. The European Commission attributed that to the success of Scotland’s livestock industry working in conjunction with the Government. The Scottish Government recognise the need for confidence on the issue and have introduced a stringent package of measures, including tissue sampling during farm visits, an epidemiological risk assessment, the tracing of cattle, contiguous herd assessments and the need for two consecutive tests with negative results to retain bovine TB-free status.
That aligns with the RSCPA’s call for better cattle husbandry, high biosecurity and improved testing to mitigate cattle to cattle transmission. Its point on cattle husbandry ties in with what the hon. Gentleman said about the need for strict enforcement of controls on the movement of cattle to ensure that they are not moved illegally, that proper source to source tracing is carried out and that people cannot change cattle tags or falsify records. That is clearly important for stopping cattle to cattle transfer.
I hope the Minister will explain how scientific information will be collated, co-ordinated, assessed and interpreted in a completely neutral manner—neutrality is important—and how relevant expert opinion will be taken where required. I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Williamson on securing the debate and making such a powerful case.
Last year, almost 20,000 badgers were killed across England as part of the largest destruction of a protected British species in living memory. That policy is cruel and inhumane, as my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy said. We need more action and a more ambitious animal welfare agenda to stop this senseless suffering.
Hon. Members will be aware that Labour is the party of animal welfare. We legislated with the landmark Hunting Act 2004 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Animal welfare has been placed highly on our party’s agenda, and that is still true today. We want to ensure that animal cruelty is consigned to the past. If animals suffer, we all suffer.
The Opposition’s position is clear: we are opposed to the culling of badgers to control bovine TB and would immediately end the ineffective and cruel badger cull. A Labour Government would instead focus on an evidence-based approach driven by science, not ideology. Every badger matters, but badgers do not have a voice. They do not have a say in politics unless we give them one. The Government are pursuing a cruel and uncaring policy towards badgers, and worst of all, it does not work.
While Ministers seek the headlines, the real hard work often goes undone. Why are Ministers not strengthening the foxhunting ban or bringing forward a Bill to increase sentences for animal welfare cruelty? We need action, not just words. Tackling bovine TB is important, especially to those in our rural communities, so we need something that actually works, unlike the badger cull. As long as Ministers cling to the ideological slaughter of British badgers, actions that genuinely tackle the spread of bovine TB are being overlooked. The badger cull is spreading, as we have heard. In Devon, the county I come from, we now have 12 culling sites—more than any other county. Thankfully, there is no badger culling yet in Plymouth, the city I represent, but I would not predict that it will not happen in the future.
A little over a month ago, The Observer published secret film taken in Cumbria, which showed a badger that took almost a minute to die after being shot in a cage, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North mentioned. In fact, recent reports say that up to 22% of badgers can take more than five minutes to die in the cull, which is needless animal suffering. Over the summer the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Sue Hayman, brought to the Government’s attention the horrific way in which badgers were being left to die in the extreme heat. Caged badgers spent hours on end trapped in the sun with no water, suffering from heat stress and eventually dying of dehydration. Despite that coming to light, little action was taken. That cruelty serves no purpose, and is another example of why the Opposition believe the badger cull to be cruel.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North mentioned, there is no scientific basis for the policy. The science does not support a badger cull, the evidence does not support a badger cull, and the Opposition do not support a badger cull. Why are the Government pursuing a policy that does not work? Why do they want to look like they are doing something? They need to look busy because if they U-turned, it would make them look weaker than they already do. We need something that works, not just a policy that is stuck to. We need animal welfare policies that are based on science, not ideology.
The Environment Secretary may be tired of experts, but this is what the experts are telling us about the cull: a study commissioned by the Government into bovine TB transmission from badgers to cattle, which took place from 1996 to 2006, concluded that
“badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”
According to the Badger Trust, an excellent organisation that does superb work, only 5.7% of all bovine TB outbreaks involve possible transmission from badgers to cattle. That means that 94% of all bovine TB outbreaks must come from other sources. The Zoological Society of London says that most herds acquire the disease from other cattle. Ministers need to consider ensuring high levels of biosecurity, tracking movements between herds, and looking at the movement of other animals, such as foxhounds, across agricultural land.
The Minister must not sit on the report that we know his Department has received. When did the Department receive the Godfray review on the Government’s bovine TB strategy? When will it be published? Will he commit to publishing it in its original form? Can he confirm whether he has asked for any edits to the report’s recommendations or alterations to its findings? I would be grateful if he could answer those questions and address the concerns expressed by farmers, especially to my hon. Friend Dr Drew, that the Department is telling them that their herds are TB-free when they know they are not. That is a serious issue that undermines the essential confidence between farmers and the Department.
Bovine TB is a cattle problem that needs a cattle-focused solution. A start would be to improve the current skin tests, which expose an infection in the herd but not the individual cow, which makes it very difficult to narrow down.
The badger cull is a phenomenal waste of money that could be better spent, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North mentioned. The Badger Trust estimates that when everything has been added up, killing a badger costs about £1,000 per animal. The trust considers that more than £100 million could be spent on killing badgers by 2020. Just think how much better that money could be spent in rural communities. That £100 million could go an enormous way in dealing with rural poverty and the actual concerns of rural communities. Does the Minister not agree that the best way to save money in the fight against bovine TB would be to stop spending Government resources on an ideological policy that has no scientific evidence of reducing bovine TB?
Research shows that vaccinating badgers is not only a better and more humane way to eradicate TB, but is much cheaper. I recently had the opportunity to meet Dr Brian May with my hon. Friends the Members for Workington and for Stroud. I was a little star-struck. As well as being the legendary guitarist from Queen, he has been pioneering badger vaccinations on his farm and has demonstrated their effectiveness and suitability as an alternative to the cruel badger cull. The Badger Trust estimates that vaccinating badgers costs less than £200 an animal, as compared with £1,000 for killing it—what a saving.
When the hon. Gentleman mentions a cost of £200 a badger, is that a lifetime sum or an annual sum? Vaccinations are an annual requirement, rather than a once-in-a-lifetime event.
That is a good point, and I am glad the hon. Gentleman has raised it. When compared with the cost of killing a badger, vaccinating a badger is cheaper.
If it is £200 for a vaccination and that has to be done annually, it soon gets to £1,000. We should also bear in mind that the vaccination will be completely pointless if the badger already has TB, as it is not a cure, and therefore the money is being wasted whatever the cost.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for pursuing me on that point, which he has rightly spotted. However, I point him to the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North raised about the cost-benefit analysis of culling versus vaccination. Clearly decent testing needs to be part of the mix. It is about the combination.
I am interested in the point that Simon Hart made about vaccination. I am not an expert, but my understanding is that when someone is vaccinated, they are vaccinated once and that protects them. I do not know whether badger physiology is different in some way, but as my hon. Friend the shadow Minister has pointed out, it would be useful to get that cost-benefit analysis. If the Government would come clean, we would all be in the picture as to the reality of the situation.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I agree with his points.
I will conclude, as the Minister has an awful lot to respond to and I would like him to get to his feet in a moment. As my hon. Friend said, there is no logical reason for the badger cull to continue, or even exist, other than an ideological one: to make the Government look busy when they are failing farmers and rural communities on bovine TB. There are less cruel ways to eradicate bovine TB than killing badgers on a massive scale. Whether it is more accurate and frequent testing of cattle, badger and cattle vaccinations or more rigid control on cattle movements, the solution should be focused on cattle, not innocent badgers. DEFRA’s priority should be to look at the other ways in which bovine TB is transmitted, rather than scapegoating badgers and perpetuating unnecessary animal cruelty. I would be grateful if the Minister could answer the points about the Godfray review in particular. An awful lot of people are waiting for the evidence base. DEFRA sitting on the report for as long as it has creates the impression that there is something in it that it wishes to hide.
It is a pleasure to respond to this debate, Sir David. I congratulate Chris Williamson on securing it. I am aware that this issue is contentious. The badger is an iconic species. It is a protected species in our countryside. I completely understand that many people have strong feelings about the policy and the approach we are taking. As I and the Secretary of State have said before, none of us wants to cull badgers for any longer than is necessary. However, to answer his question, the reason why we still have these debates is that the Government are of the clear view that it is necessary to have a badger cull as part of a coherent strategy to eradicate TB. We believe that that is firmly underpinned by the evidence—I will return to that because the hon. Gentleman and others raised questions about the science.
The badger cull is just one part of our wider strategy to eradicate TB. The absolute heart of our strategy has always been regular cattle testing and removal. In the high-risk area, we currently have annual testing; we have four-yearly testing in the low-risk area; we have pre-movement testing; we introduced compulsory post-movement testing; we have radial testing in the low-risk area, where we get a breakdown; and we have contiguous testing in the high-risk area on the farms surrounding a breakdown. All of these measures mean that we are regularly testing our herds and regularly removing reactors to that testing.
Diagnostics, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, are important. We recognise that TB is a difficult disease to fight. It is difficult to detect because it is a slow-moving, insidious disease, and none of the diagnostic tests are perfect. However, one thing we have done is make greater use of the interferon gamma test—the blood test—to remove infection from herds when it is picked up. We are also deploying that test more proactively in areas where the cull has taken place so that we can bear down on infection in cattle. We have also introduced a more severe interpretation on inconclusive reactors to the skin test. Diagnostics are important and part of our strategy is to improve testing. We are supporting a number of initiatives to improve testing, but at the moment we are using the more sensitive blood test in conjunction with the skin test to improve our detection rates.
A number of hon. Members mentioned biosecurity, which is important—biosecurity is a key part of our strategy to eradicate TB. A few years ago, I introduced a new accreditation scheme—the cattle health certification standards scheme, or CHEcS. We encouraged farmers to sign up and to take steps to manage risk to their herd, both in terms of risk-based trading for the cattle that they bring on to their holding and in terms of protecting the herd and their farmyard from badger incursion, for instance using fencing. We recently changed the compensation regime to incentivise farmers to sign up to the biosecurity scheme, meaning that if they do not sign up to it they face receiving lower compensation for cattle reactors that they bring into their herd.
We have always been clear that vaccination, which a number of hon. Members mentioned, could have a role, particularly in the edge area, and possibly as a way of getting an exit strategy from the cull once we have borne down on the population. We have been supporting vaccination pilots in the edge area—the so-called badger edge vaccination scheme, or BEVS, which we restarted this year once vaccines became available again.
The difficulty with vaccination, as my hon. Friend Simon Hart pointed out, is that we have to catch badgers regularly to top up the vaccination. It is not the case that we can inject them just once. Vaccination does not cure badgers that have the disease, so the scheme has limitations, but we have always maintained that it could have a role to assist in an exit strategy. That is why we continue, for instance, to fund work to try and get an oral bait vaccine that we could deploy in the badger population.
How do we measure the vaccination in the edge areas as opposed to culling, which has already been happening? The Government must ensure that they correctly compare two different methodologies and that there is not cross-contamination, as it were, given the movement of badgers.
That is a very good point and precisely why we have focused our vaccination efforts in the edge area, where we are not culling badgers. The culls are being rolled out predominantly in the high-risk area where we know the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population is a persistent problem, and are using vaccination in the edge area to ensure that we are not vaccinating badgers only to cull them.
We are also looking at cattle vaccination. We have been developing work to do a so-called DIVA test, which can differentiate TB-infected from vaccinated animals so that it would not affect our trade. Cattle vaccination deployed in the hot spots could help to give immunity to our herds, and clearly cattle vaccination is easier to deploy than badger vaccination, because a herd of cattle can be run through a crush and vaccinated—we do not have to capture wildlife to do it.
Our strategy is incredibly broad. No one single intervention will give us the magic solution to tackling this terrible disease. It is a difficult disease to fight, so we need to use a range of interventions. The badger cull is just one part of our strategy, but there are no examples anywhere in the world of a country that has successfully eradicated TB without also addressing the reservoir, the disease and the wildlife population.
TB was first isolated in badgers as long ago as 1971. In 1974, a trial was conducted to remove badgers from a severely infected farm, with the result that there was no breakdown on that farm for five years afterwards. Between 1975 and 1978, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food funded extensive work that demonstrated conclusively transmission between badgers and cattle in both directions. Subsequent work in Ireland reaffirmed that finding. In the Krebs review, which hon. Members cited, it was observed that between 1975 and 1979 TB incidence in the south-west fell from 1.65% to 0.4% after the cull—a 75% reduction.
Subsequently, therefore, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, more extensive work was done in three exercises. One was in Thornbury, where the TB incidence fell from 5.6% in the 10 years before culling to 0.45% in the 15 years after culling, which was a reduction of 90%. In Steeple Lees, there were no breakdowns for seven years after badgers had been cleared. In Hartland, the incidence dropped from 15% in 1984 to just 4% in 1985, which was a reduction of more than two thirds.
I am interested in the Minister’s comments. Will he comment on why the weight of scientific evidence before the Government embarked on the latest cull, including from people involved in the randomised badger culling exercise, suggested that it would not work? No credible scientific evidence supported the Government, yet they ploughed on regardless. Indeed, the number of herds infected with TB has not diminished either. If anything, the situation has got worse, because we now have TB in Cumbria and the Isle of Skye. Surely controls on movements and better biosecurity would be far better than continuing with this cruel cull.
I do not agree, for reasons I will come to.
There were claims that those trials in the ’70s lacked a control or a comparison, which was a fair point. That is why the randomised badger culling trial took place. Despite the challenge of a foot and mouth crisis right in the middle of it, the RBCT concluded that, in the four years after culling, there was a significant reduction in the incidence of TB. The RBCT supported what the previous trials had shown. In fact, 18 months after the culling ended in the RBCT, there was a 54% reduction in the incidence of the disease. People say that there is no scientific evidence, but I can give them all the evidence they want.
On the current trials, we now have some peer-reviewed evidence conducted on the first two cull areas. It compares the cull areas with control areas where there was no cull. That detailed analysis of the first two cull areas, over the first two years only, was published by Dr Brunton and her colleagues in 2017. It showed a 58% reduction in the disease in cattle in the Gloucestershire badger control area, and a 21% reduction in Somerset after two years of badger control, compared with the unculled areas. As I said, that is a peer-reviewed piece of work. The Animal and Plant Health Agency published raw data, as we do every year, in September 2018, showing that there has been a drop in TB incidence in the first two cull areas, where the number of new confirmed breakdowns has decreased by about 50% in both areas. In Gloucestershire, the incidence rate has dropped from 10.4% before culling began to 5.6% in the 12 months following the fourth cull. In Somerset, it has dropped from 24% to 12%. Dr Brunton and her colleagues carried out further detailed analysis into the third year of the cull in the first two areas, and it will be published shortly.
A wealth of consistent evidence, from the 1970s onwards, shows that badgers are a reservoir for the disease, that there is transmission of the disease between badgers and cattle, and that a cull of badgers in infected areas where the presence of the disease in the wildlife is known to contribute to that can lead to substantial reductions of between 20% and 50% in incidence. That picture has been consistent for at least 40 years.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again, but he did not really answer my question. The body of scientific opinion before the Government embarked on the cull was opposed to it and said that it would not work or, if anything, would make matters worse. I do not think that he has addressed that point.
A number of scientists said that it was not logistically possible to sustain a cull over a large area and to remove the number of badgers necessary. We have demonstrated that that is possible. It is a difficult and contentious policy, but it is possible to do that. No credible scientist has said that badgers are not implicated in the spread of the disease. Sometimes scientists debate the extent to which badgers have a role, but no one doubts that—the evidence shows this clearly—a cull of badgers in infected areas leads to a reduction in the incidence of the disease. Arguments tend to be about the logistical possibilities of delivering such a policy but, as I said, we have been able to demonstrate that that can be done, difficult though it is.
Let me deal with some of the hon. Gentleman’s other points. One was about vaccination and, as I said, that is part of our plan, and we envisage doing more of it in future, potentially as an exit strategy once we have seen a reduction in the badger population. That brings me to his claim about the possibility of a collapse in that population. It will never happen because we have always had provision in the licensing for an absolute maximum that must never be exceeded in any given cull year. Everything we do is absolutely compliant with the Berne convention. Furthermore, we are doing this only in high-risk areas, so we never aim to remove the entire badger population or to cause a collapse in it; we simply aim to suppress numbers while we get to grips with that difficult disease.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned cull data. That is published each and every year. Usually in or around December, we give the House a written ministerial statement and an update on all the figures from the previous year’s cull. We shall do so again this year, in the normal way, as we have done in all previous years.
If my recollection is correct, it is common for the figures to be released on the very last day of the parliamentary term before we adjourn for Christmas. Will the Minister give us an assurance that they will be published a little earlier this year, so that we have time to reflect on them before we disappear for our Christmas holiday?
I cannot give any undertakings about when exactly that will take place but, typically, we do it in December, once we have collated all the data. The hon. Lady will have to be patient and wait for the data to come out. However, we publish that every year and we are absolutely transparent about it. Every year, we also publish details about incidence and prevalence of the disease—I know that there has been an argument about whether incidence or prevalence is the right figure to use, but incidence is the correct one for measuring the role of wildlife in the introduction of the disease to cattle herds.
On costs, again we publish the figures every year. The 2018 costs will be published shortly, but those for previous years have already been published. Last year, the total cost of the cull was about £4 million, which covers policing, licensing and all the monitoring work done by Natural England.[This section has been corrected on
Finally, I confirm that we received the Godfray review on
I should point out that Sir Charles Godfray’s review is of our strategy, so it looks at every component, including the role of badger culling, vaccination, diagnostics and whether they can be improved, biosecurity, compensation and behavioural change. It reviews every feature in our original strategy and gives some pointers about other areas that we could advance in future. I think it is a good report, and I am sure that hon. Members look forward to reading it.
All I can say is that I have explained why we think the badger cull is critical. I know that it is contentious, but it is the right thing to do, and sometimes Governments have to the right and responsible thing. We have this mess today because the last Labour Government put their heads in the sand, meaning that we had 15 years of total inaction during the early part of this century. The disease got out of hand, and we are now trying to get a grip of it and to roll it back.
I am disappointed that the Minister did not give way at the end. I think it is very unfair to characterise the situation as being the fault of the previous Labour Government. Let us remember that it was the previous Labour Government who—rather controversially—actually backed the randomised badger cull tests from which the conclusion was drawn that the way to tackle bovine TB was not through a badger cull.
I repeat that the body of evidence from the scientists involved in the randomised badger cull tests showed that carrying on with the badger cull could have made matters worse. We have seen over the last five years of this horrific cull, which continues, that, even putting the appalling cruelty to one side, it is simply not working. It is all very well for the Minister to get up and say that various peer-reviewed reports have implied that it has worked, but the evidence speaks for itself. How can the Minister stand there and say that it has worked when the proportion of TB in cattle herds is virtually the same as at the start of the cull, and when it has even spread to other areas?
The Government are looking in the wrong direction. I heard what the Minister said, but I implore him to go back and look again at pursuing a different route, at the cattle movements, at the fraud that takes place, at biosecurity and at doing proper testing and supporting farmers in doing so, rather than expecting them to stump up for the bill. This is an appalling state of affairs. I repeat that there is no scientific evidence to support the Government’s position. Public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to the badger cull, which does not serve the farming community in any way, shape or form and certainly does not serve the interests of wildlife in our country. I hope that the Minister will reflect on the comments made and adopt a more sensible and humane approach to the bovine TB situation in this country.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the badger cull.