asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his policy towards the gassing of badgers.
My Department will continue to deal with the difficult task of controlling bovine tuberculosis in badgers and the transmission of the disease to cattle by all means at its disposal. In certain circumstances, this will require the gassing of setts. We shall continue to operate in full consultation with the Nature Conservancy Council and the other leading bodies in the field of conservation, animal welfare, veterinary science and agriculture. To abandon the policy would be an act of total irresponsibility.Superficial and misleading accounts of that policy have appeared in the press and on television. I deplore their inaccuracies. The attacks on the integrity of Lord Zuckerman and Ministry officials were gravely irresponsible.
I thank the Minister for that reply. How frequently has the advisory committee met in the last two years? Has it put forward any specific recommendations? If so, have those recommendations been carried out? What research has been carried out to try to stop the gassing of badgers?
The previous Labour Government set up an advisory body, whose composition includes representatives of all the main conservation and animal welfare groups. That body has reported annually on its views and attitudes and, of course, its advice has been fully taken into account. I appointed Lord Zuckerman, who is distinguished in this sphere, and he consulted whoever he wished and produced a report which the majority of those of distinction and scientific knowledge have accepted as a very fine report. I object to so-called television experts suggesting that such a man has been appointed for a whitewashing exercise.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that laymen, including politicians, are not qualified to know whether such action is right or wrong? We need proper scientific evidence, which exists. Will my right hon. Friend point out to those who take the opposite view, that it is in the interests of badgers and of their continuation—I declare an interest, as I have a badger sett opposite my front door—that badgers with tuberculosis should be destroyed?
One of the important factors in Lord Zuckerman's report is that if no action were taken in the South-West, the badger population throughout the country would be placed in jeopardy. I congratulate the previous Government on setting up a consultative panel. However, as it includes not only the British Veterinary Association, but the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, the University Federation for Animal Welfare and the Royal Society for Nature Conservation, it is absurd to suggest that any Ministry would desire to gas badgers for the love of it.
During the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill we discovered that this subject was complex and that the scientific evidence was difficult to evaluate. Nevertheless, is not the Minister persuaded that there is at least some unnecessary and, perhaps, panic-stricken gassing of badgers, which is not called for?
On taking office I discovered that there was considerable public anxiety about this subject. I was aware of the consultative panel that the previous Labour Government had set up and of its distinguished members. Given the atmosphere and criticism at that time, I thought it important to appoint as distinguished a person as possible to have the freedom to look into and publicly report on the issue. Anyone who reads that report will be satisfied that the work of both the previous Government and this Government is responsible. The idea that anyone in my Ministry delights in unnecessarily gassing badgers is absurd.