asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how many badgers he expects to be killed under the powers given by the Diseases of Animals (Badgers) (Control Areas) Order 1977; and what steps he is taking to ensure that the minimum number of badgers are killed, and that the maximum safety precautions are taken when hydrocyanic acid gas is used.
I am afraid that it is not possible to make such an estimate, but gassing is restricted to sets used by tuberculin-infected badgers and their contacts. It is carried out by specially-trained teams of Ministry staff operating under a code of practice containing detailed safety instructions.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Is he certain that no other methods of containing the spread of these diseases are possible, apart from the extermination of the badgers?
I recognise that my hon. Friend has raised an issue that is of considerable concern. I can assure him that we should not have embarked on this course if we were not convinced that it was the only way to reduce the level of tuberculosis infection in the local cattle population and also in the local badger population.
Will my right hon. Friend recognise that the county that I represent suffers especially from this problem? Will he please publish all the evidence that he has to suggest that it is the badgers which are carrying and transmitting this disease? There is a great deal of concern in Gloucestershire about the whole problem.
Yes, I am happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. Last November we published and placed in the House of Commons Library a report on all the evidence and work that had been done to date. Another report is in preparation and will be published very shortly. I assure my hon. Friend that every step that we have taken in this area has had the support of the consultative panel, which includes representatives of the Nature Conservancy and also leading animal welfare experts.