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.