Today I am setting out the next stage in the bovine tuberculosis eradication programme for England.
Bovine TB continues to be a major problem in England. In 2010, nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England and the cost to the taxpayer is set to top £1 billion over the next 10 years. The problem is particularly bad in the west and south-west of England, where 23% of cattle farms were unable to move stock off their premises at some point in 2010 due to their being affected by the disease, causing much distress and hardship.
As I explained in my statement in July, cattle measures, including routine testing and surveillance, pre-movement testing, movement restrictions, and the removal and slaughter of infected animals, remain the foundation of our TB eradication programme. We have already strengthened cattle controls and will continue to do so. The Government are working in partnership with the farming industry and the veterinary profession to further promote good biosecurity and to provide advice and support to farmers. We also intend to invest a further £20 million over the next five years to develop effective cattle and oral badger vaccines as quickly as possible.
We know that to tackle this disease we need to look at each and every transmission route, and that includes transmission from badgers to cattle. Ultimately, we want to be able to vaccinate cattle and badgers, but there are practical difficulties with the injectable badger vaccine, which is currently the only available option. Badgers have to be trapped and caged in order to administer it. As I told the House in July, we are working hard to develop a cattle vaccine and an oral badger vaccine, but usable and approved vaccines are still years away and we cannot say with any certainty when they will be ready. In the meantime, we cannot just do nothing.
This terrible disease is getting worse and we have to deal with the devastating impact it has on farmers and rural communities. It is difficult to quantify or put a monetary value on that, but a report by the Farm Crisis Network describes the feelings of panic, stress and emotional devastation for farming families as they repeatedly have to send their cows to be slaughtered.
I think that we would all agree that we need to stop the disease spreading further, bring it under control and ultimately eradicate it. Evidence tells us that unless we tackle the disease in badgers, we will never eradicate it in cattle. No country in the world that has TB in its wildlife has been able to eradicate it in cattle without addressing it in the wildlife population. In July, I set out revised proposals for controlling the disease in the badger population. In order to reduce TB in cattle in the worst affected areas we proposed to allow a controlled reduction carried out by groups of farmers and landowners, as part of a science-led and carefully managed policy of badger control. The policy would be piloted in two areas in the first year.
Following the responses to the consultation that we launched in July on draft guidance to Natural England, the policy has been further refined. I am now in a position to announce that we will go ahead with a pilot of the policy in two areas next year, to confirm our assumptions about the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of controlled shooting. An independent panel of experts will oversee and evaluate the pilots and report back to the Government, and we will then decide whether the policy should be rolled out more widely.
This has not been an easy decision to make, and it is not one that I have taken lightly. I have personally considered all the options and evidence, and at present there is no satisfactory alternative. Today, I am publishing a detailed policy document, copies of which will be available in the Vote Office after the statement. We need to strike a balance between taking the actions needed to control and eradicate the disease, maintaining a viable cattle industry and using our resources in the most effective and efficient way possible.
Badger control licences will be issued by Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, to enable groups of farmers and landowners in the worst-affected areas to reduce badger populations at their own expense. Guidance to Natural England sets out strict criteria that applicants for a licence will have to meet to ensure that the pilots are carried out safely, effectively and humanely.
Scientists agree that if culling is conducted in line with the strict criteria identified through the randomised badger culling trial, we can expect it to reduce TB in cattle over a 150 sq km area, plus a 2 km surrounding ring, by an average of 16% over nine years relative to a similar unculled area.
Licences granted by Natural England will be subject to strict conditions based on evidence from the randomised badger culling trial, which are designed to ensure that the result is an overall decrease in the disease in the areas where culling takes place. Applications for licences will be considered only for an area of at least 150 sq km over a minimum of four years, and with the pilots to be conducted by trained and proficient operators. Groups of farmers will have to take reasonable measures to identify barriers and buffers at the edge of culling areas such as rivers, coastlines and motorways, or areas where there are no cattle or where vaccination of badgers occurs, to minimise the perturbation effect in places where disturbing the badger population could cause an increase in TB in cattle in the surrounding area.
The Department has assessed the known and estimated effects of badger culling and vaccination, and its veterinary and scientific advice is that culling in high TB incidence areas, carried out in line with the licence criteria, will reduce the number of infected badgers, and thus the weight of TB infection in badger populations in the treatment area, more quickly than vaccination. It will therefore have a greater and more immediate beneficial impact on the spread of TB to cattle and the incidence of infection in cattle.
Nevertheless, we still see a useful role for vaccination, particularly in the future, and I have listened carefully to the views of groups that would like to help develop a vaccination programme. To support and encourage vaccination, DEFRA will make available up to £250,000 in each of the next three years to help meet the costs of badger vaccination in accordance with a badger control plan, with priority given to areas where culling is licensed. We will also support staff or volunteers of voluntary sector organisations wishing to train to carry out vaccination.
I look to the farming industry to show that it takes its responsibility very seriously and that it is committed to delivering the programme effectively, safely and humanely. That will be carefully monitored in the pilots, and on an ongoing basis if the policy is rolled out more widely.
To select the pilot areas, I will invite the farming industry to bring forward a shortlist of areas, from which DEFRA will select two. Those two areas will then be invited to apply for a culling licence. Natural England will assess the applications against the licence criteria and decide whether to grant them a licence.
After the conclusion of the six-week pilots, from what we observe and learn, and taking into account the evaluation by the independent panel, we will take a decision on whether to roll out the policy more widely. Following the pilots, if we decide to proceed with a wider roll-out, a maximum of 10 licences will be granted to start each year.
Ensuring public safety is a key concern. In finalising the policy, we have worked closely with the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers to scope out the role of the police in supporting those licensed operations.
I know that there is great strength of feeling on the issue, but I also know that we need to take action now before the TB situation deteriorates even further. We need to tackle TB from all angles, using all the available tools. I am acutely aware that many people oppose badger culling and I wish that there was a current satisfactory alternative. However, we cannot escape the fact that the evidence supports the case for a controlled reduction of the badger population in the areas worst affected by bovine TB. The impact of that terrible disease shows us that we need to act now. We cannot keep delaying.
In making the decision, I have considered all the evidence and have listened to the full range of views. Having listened to all sides of the debate, I believe that this is the right approach.
We recognise that bovine TB is a devastating disease—that is why the Labour Government spent £50 million on randomised badger culling trials. Any decision on a badger cull must answer four key questions. Is it science-led? Is it cost effective? Is it humane? Crucially, will it work?
The independent scientific group on cattle TB, which reported on Labour’s trial culls, stated:
“After careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report… we conclude that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain.”
The Secretary of State quotes scientists who told the Government that TB in cattle will be cut by 16% over nine years if the cull is carried out by trapping and then shooting the animals. However, her culls will not be carried out in that way. They will depend on farmers hiring people to free-shoot badgers at night—a method that has never been scientifically assessed as a way of controlling bovine TB.
Perturbation occurred in the first three years of Labour’s trial culls when badgers were humanely captured. What scientific advice has the Secretary of State sought or received on the likelihood of free shooting increasing the perturbation effect, which will reduce that 16% net figure still further?
Is the cull cost-effective? The right hon. Lady’s statement was curiously silent on the costs to farmers, yet DEFRA estimates that it will cost farmers £1.4 million per cull area. Farmers will need to prove they have the funds to complete the cull in the event that one pulls out or sells up. How will she access those funds in the event of a default? Who will access those funds, and on what basis? How will the money be held—in an escrow account or in joint names? How will liability be shared between farmers?
What guarantees can the Secretary of State offer taxpayers that the costs of completing a four-year cull will not fall on them in the event of those indemnities disappearing or becoming the subject of protracted legal wrangling? How many staff will the right hon. Lady need to issue those cull licences? What is the cost to the taxpayer of hiring those extra staff at Natural England, a body that has shed nearly 500 staff since her disastrous settlement in the comprehensive spending review?
We know that the Home Secretary has warned the Secretary of State against proceeding with the cull. Will she confirm that the culls will not start until the Olympic games are over? Will she confirm today that trained firearms police will be needed to police any public protests against the culls?
In the Secretary of State’s 2010 consultation, she estimated the costs to the police at £200,000, yet today’s report has revised those costs up to £2 million per cull area. If 10 cull areas are licensed every year, that is a compound cost of £20 million a year to the police. Will she confirm that DEFRA will meet those costs in full? If so, from which budget, given that the Department has had a 30% cut? How will local police forces access those funds?
In written answers to me, the right hon. Lady estimates that the cull will save the taxpayer £2.9 million in each cull area over 10 years. With 10 cull areas set to go ahead from 2013, that is a saving of £2.9 million a year, which is just 3% of the £85 million cost of testing and compensation to farmers. Will she therefore confirm that the costs of bovine TB will continue to be borne by the taxpayer?
The third question the Secretary of State must answer is this: is her cull humane? In 2010, 48 people were prosecuted for offences against badgers and 29 were found guilty. The police wildlife crime unit is concerned that illegal badger persecution will be carried out under the pretext of culling. Who will monitor cull licences and how will the conditions of the licence be monitored? She mentioned a six-week cull period, but how can she ensure that farmers will not go beyond that?
Between 60,000 and 120,000 badgers will be killed over a four-year period depending on the number and size of cull areas, yet in the Secretary of State’s statement, she curiously failed to mention the new national badger count announced this week, which will cost £871,000. Surely she should have commissioned that survey before announcing her pilot culls. How can we measure the impact of a cull on the badger population when we have no scientific baseline? What measures is she taking to prevent the extinction of badger populations in cull areas, and how will she ensure we remain in compliance of our international obligations under the Bern convention?
Finally, will it work? The scientific group warned that
“several culling approaches may make matters worse”.
Is not the Secretary of State in danger of sleepwalking into a disaster by licensing badger culls, the method of which is unproven and untested, and which could make things worse? The Government have constructed the ultimate game theory test for farmers in TB-hit areas: join in the cull or face increased TB in the herd from badger perturbation. How will the views of farmers and landowners in areas affected by perturbation be collected and considered? What happens to farmers who do not wish a cull to proceed on their land? How will the Secretary of State ensure the health and safety of the people carrying out the cull and disposing of infected carcases, the police firearms officers policing the cull and the protesters who will undoubtedly turn up at cull sites?
Today’s announcement is bad news for wildlife, bad news for farmers and bad news for the taxpayer. The cull will not be cost-effective or humane and it will not work. In “Yes, Minister”, Jim Hacker said: “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it.” Today the Secretary of State has turned her back on the scientific advice. Page 11 of her own document states:
“It is a matter of judgement, not science, whether the farming industry can deliver an effective, coordinated and sustained cull.”
I hope she has got everything crossed.
The hon. Lady asked a lot of questions so I will answer them as quickly as I can. First, I should point out that this is a science-led approach to the pilots and that when in office the previous Labour Government spent £50 million on trials. The science is important and this Government have responded to what was learned from those trials. We learned that culling could be more effective if the boundaries of the control area were firm ones, to reduce the perturbation effect. In addition, the ground she cited—she said that the cost would be prohibitive—overlooks that fact that the farmers have agreed to pay. I encourage the shadow Secretary of State to look at the long tail from that trial. Five and a half years after the analysis, the trial continues to provide a benefit in reduced TB incidence in those areas.
The method to which the hon. Lady referred—controlled shooting—is commonly used to control other wildlife populations, such as deer, foxes and rabbits. We therefore have reasonable confidence in our assumption that the method will be both effective and humane in relation to badgers, but, to be absolutely clear, those who undertake the culling will be required to have deer-stalking level 1 proficiency or equivalent, and they will be required to undertake an additional course to ensure that they understand badger physiognomy.
On cost-effectiveness, in the end, it is up to farmers to choose whether or not to be part of a controlled reduction of badgers in their area, but the Government make a requirement that groups of farmers form a limited company that puts aside in a bank account the four-year cost of the culling programme plus a 25% contingency, which deals with the hon. Lady’s point about the contingency cost.
Natural England’s existing staff will contribute to the programme. The overall cost to the Government of £6.22 million over 10 years must be seen in comparison with the overall cost of the unchecked progress of the disease, which will be £1 billion a year or more to the taxpayer over the next 10 years. The costs need to be seen in the context of the overall burden on the taxpayer.
I have had helpful and constructive conversations with the Association of Chief Police Officers, but it is up to the police to deal with the precise operational details of ensuring public safety throughout the pilot process. We should not simply extrapolate an estimated cost from the pilots, as, I am afraid, the hon. Lady just did. Part of the point of the pilots is to establish more precisely what the exact cost will be. I have agreed with the Home Office to share those policing costs in so far as additional and reasonable costs are incurred.
On humaneness, we can be assured that Natural England will monitor the cull licences very carefully. If any farmers should be so minded to exceed the six-week period, they would obviously lose their licence. I do not believe, therefore, that that will happen.
It is important to remember that the species is protected but not endangered. The last time the population was surveyed—in the 1990s—there were between 250,000 and 300,000 badgers in Great Britain. Of course, the previous Labour Government had ample opportunity to launch a survey if they had wanted to, but this Government have seen fit to do so. That is important in ascertaining the population in the controlled areas. We have satisfied ourselves that the Bern convention would not be breached by the policy that I have proposed.
Finally, I agree with the hon. Lady on this point. She said that a matter of judgment and not the science alone drives this decision. If the previous Government had exercised their judgment and acted when they had the chance, the disease, and the cost of dealing with it, would not have escalated to the point it has reached today.
Farmers and wildlife conservation groups will welcome the statement. The badger population must be controlled. Any constituency that produces so many cattle, including mine, lives in fear of one rogue animal entering the chain.
Will the Secretary of State address what the position will be when we have a vaccine in place, given that the meat of vaccinated cattle will not be allowed into the food chain? We have the time to address that. Will she bear in mind the conclusions of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report adopted in the previous Parliament, by which current members of the Committee stand?
My hon. Friend is singularly well qualified with her experience in the European Parliament to know how difficult it is to get the law changed there. It is currently illegal to vaccinate cattle and to sell or export that meat. We would have to get the 26 other member states to agree to a change in the law. We must accept that that would take many years.
Will the Secretary of State be clear with the House about what level of mortality she expects shooting to achieve, because the very clear advice that we received over many years as Ministers was that shooting would not achieve a level of mortality high enough to make any difference to the disease at all? She is allowing only a very short six-week period for the pilots, which cannot be credible.
The science determines the level of mortality that must be achieved for the controlled reduction to be effective, and a 70% reduction in the badger population is what the RBCT trial showed had to be achieved. One key point of the six-week pilot is to confirm our assumption that controlled shooting will achieve that level of reduction in the badger population.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that this is a devastating disease. We must hope that this policy will help and not make the situation worse. In the implementation of the culling policy, how will she ensure that there is a proper and rigorous estimate of the badger population and also that there is a proper count of those badgers that are culled within the area and not outside it?
I commiserate with my hon. Friend because his part of the country has been the most badly affected by this terrible disease. Natural England will carry out a survey of the badger population before any culling takes place and will also check that the percentage of badgers culled fits the criteria set out in the pilot.
Should not the clarion call go out from this House today to all the right-thinking, compassionate people in this country to frustrate this cruel and unnecessary slaughter of animals? Is it not right that this has been founded on greed and bad science by the nasty party?
The compassionate people in my constituency will very much welcome the great thought, care, attention and bravery of the Secretary of State and her team in tackling this issue. I particularly welcome the investment by the Government in the voluntary trials for vaccination. Perhaps the Secretary of State could give us a bit more information about them, because, ultimately, those trials are what we all want to see.
As I have said, this is a difficult decision and it is not one that I have found easy to make. Having spoken and listened to all the stakeholders involved, I understand that the cost of training someone to take part in the vaccination programme is significant, so I hope that with the money that I have announced today, we will be able at least to halve the cost of that training.
Rather than pursuing this cruel and counter-productive cull, what consideration did the Secretary of State give to reducing the trend towards increasing intensive dairy farming? Around 80% of bovine TB transmission is thought to be caused cattle to cattle and that happens far more easily in crowded conditions.
Farmers across North Wiltshire, many of whom have been devastated by TB and have lost their herd some two or three times, will very much welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today and will hope to be a part of the first 10, or even first two, trials. However, is she not concerned about the talk from Opposition Members about the security surrounding the cull? Is there not a risk that people will be enjoined by them and others to break the law in a way that was suggested by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn)? Will she take steps to ensure that the precise location of the cull is not in the public domain so that such actions can be avoided?
I have had very careful conversations with the Home Secretary and with the Association of Chief Police Officers regarding security. Like members of the public, people who are licensed to undertake a cull have every right to expect their safety to be protected. Careful analysis has been undertaken by the police and I respect their expertise and thank them for their assistance.
Let me follow on from the question of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). There is nothing in this statement about dealing with the problem of cattle-to-cattle transmission. All the evidence shows that that is a significant factor in spreading bovine TB. What does the Secretary of State plan to do about that? It seems that the only solution on offer is shooting badgers.
I refer the hon. Lady to the statement that I made in July, setting out the other important elements of the bovine TB package, of which controlled reduction of the badger population is just one part. We have strengthened measures on controlling the movement of cattle and expanded the areas for the testing of cattle. I know that that was very much wanted by the industry. As a west midlands MP, my farmers came to me and said that they would prefer to be part of the annual testing because they want to know more frequently whether their cattle are clear. In my July statement, all those strict measures were cited.
The year after Labour came to power, fewer than 600 cattle were slaughtered in Devon. This year, we are well on course for more than 6,000 to be slaughtered. Bovine TB is spreading remorselessly across the UK and many areas of the country will no longer be disease free unless we take action, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement today. However, does she not share the concerns of farmers in my constituency who feel that they could be targeted by violent activists? Will she assure them that those who carry out this very difficult task will have their anonymity protected?
The whole House respects my hon. Friend’s medical expertise, and she is right to point out that the disease has spread—it has spread from the south-west to the midlands. That fact demonstrates that doing nothing is not an option. As for her important point about personal information, I can assure her that, in the interests of personal security, personal information will be kept confidential.
I should declare that I am a member of the British Veterinary Association, which I know will welcome the right decision at the right time under the right circumstances following the right evidence to get the right conclusions. I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the fact that her Department has stuck to its guns on this issue. It is important that we reach a solution. I welcome the conclusion of the report that the reduction of the incidence of TB in cattle will be achieved if we follow this licensing procedure. I hope that the Secretary of State will ring the Ministers in the devolved regions and encourage them to follow these actions. We need to put in place a scheme such as this in Northern Ireland.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are in close contact with other devolved Ministers. We should of course remember that Scotland is TB-free and would like to remain so. I hope that our policy will give it some comfort in that matter. I have taken the veterinary advice very seriously. It is the vets who point out that no programme of eradicating TB anywhere in the world has been successful without tackling the reservoir infection in the wildlife.
When a programme of badger control was part of the original randomised badger culling trial, the science showed a clear reduction within the controlled area, and an impact on the edge of the area. We have proposed to build on that science base and grant licences to areas with more firmly controlled boundaries to reduce the perturbation effect. It is indisputable that the original trial saw, on average, a 16% reduction in the incidence of TB in cattle herds.
The Secretary of State has quite rightly set out the sad decision that has had to be taken on this issue. She has also made it clear that the decision is based on the scientific evidence that was provided by the trials. Ongoing monitoring has shown there to be a lasting effect and that perturbation is only temporary. None the less, there will be those who, understandably, will have an emotional response to this issue. They may be inflamed by people in this House and elsewhere who are somewhat removed from the problem. Will she undertake to carry out as much publicity as she can and to work with organisations such as the British Veterinary Association to make the case for those who have an instinctive response and have not had the opportunity to consider the issues?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I understand that this issue excites strong emotions, but for those who feel strongly about it I point to the Farm Crisis Network report, which shows the devastating emotional cost to the farmers who lose their cattle. It is probably right at this point to pay tribute to the work done by Adam Henson and “Countryfile” to make members of the public more aware of the cost to farmers of the slaughter of their animals as well as of the impact on wildlife.
The Secretary of State will know that the previous Welsh Government had intended a cull but the current Welsh Government appear to have had a change of mind. Has she discussed the reasons behind that change of mind with the Welsh Government? Furthermore, will she discuss the contents of her statement with the Welsh Government, given the substantial trade in cattle between England and Wales?
Yes, I can give that assurance to the hon. Gentleman. The Minister of State is in regular contact with the Agriculture Minister. We meet regularly at Agriculture and Fisheries Council meetings that I invite the devolved Ministers to attend and at which we have ample opportunity regularly to share our approach to the control of TB. I shall have that opportunity at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council tomorrow.
May I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, which is absolutely right for the farmers in my constituency whose cattle have suffered from this disease for many years? You have made the right decisions. If you tackle the disease in the wildlife, you stop it reinfecting the cattle every year, which is what has been happening for years. I thank you very much for acting on that. The only way they tackled the disease in New Zealand and Australia was by tackling it in wildlife.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. In New Zealand, the incidence of the disease in possums had to be tackled; in Australia, it had to be tackled among wild buffalo; and in Ireland, it was tackled in the badger population. No part of the world has successfully tackled TB in its cattle population without addressing the reservoir of disease in wildlife.
The wildlife trusts have said that the scientific evidence does not support the culling of badgers and could even make matters worse by disturbing the remaining badgers, spreading the disease further. How will the Secretary of State ensure that these short six-week pilots get the evidence base to demonstrate whether the wildlife trusts are right or wrong in their suppositions?
I really must nail this point about the science. The science shows that if the badger population is reduced by 70%, TB incidence is reduced by 16%. That is what the original trial shows and we cannot get away from those facts. The judgment is whether the proposed method of controlled shooting will achieve that and that is the point of piloting it.
The farmers of south Wiltshire and around Salisbury will warmly welcome today’s announcements. Will the Secretary of State confirm that these new provisions will be kept under review to ensure that they are successful in tackling this terrible disease? If they are seen to be successful, will moves be made to extend them as soon as possible so that everyone can have the benefit of the trials?
As I made clear, the two trials that will take place next year—probably at the start of the autumn—will cover a six-week period, after which we would expect the evaluation of those trials to take approximately another four weeks. The evaluation will be undertaken by an independent panel, the composition of which will be announced in the new year. Of course, we will keep that under very close review, as we will all the parts of our package of proposals to eradicate TB.
May I press the Secretary of State to say a little more about these trial areas of 150 sq km? Will all the landowners within that trial area have to sign up? If they do not, will the shooters be allowed to go on to their property to shoot?
What is required for the pilots is access to 70% of the land, in line with the evidence from the randomised badger culling trial. We need access to 70% of the land. There is no element of compulsion on all landowners in the area, but 70% is needed as part of the limited liability company that a group of farmers would set up.
I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Today—this very day—cattle will be taken from the farm for which I have responsibility to be shot, because they were found to be reactors last week. I welcome the Secretary of State’s courageous announcement following the incisive scientific analysis by David King, but will she also insist that farmers play their part in maximising biosecurity and following all the regulations on testing and movement, too, so that we can maximise the effect of the announcement?
I commiserate with the hon. Gentleman on the loss of those cattle. The front page of the Farm Crisis Network’s report brings home to anyone who has not experienced that what it feels like. One farmer said:
“I feel there is a constant dark cloud of uncertainty over me, causing stress, anxiety and fear.”
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman identifies with him. I assure him that all aspects of the bovine TB package, including strengthening biosecurity measures, will be available. It is a full toolkit to tackle this terrible disease.
The impact of bovine TB is as devastating to farmers, cattle and wildlife in Wales as it is in England, but the control of the disease in Wales is devolved to the Welsh Government. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that all the evidence, experience and information available to her will be shared with the Welsh Government so that the issue can be dealt with in Wales, too?
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be a requirement, particularly in the pilots, for a strict count of the number of badgers culled, that there will be a requirement for those badgers to be tested to substantiate that they are suffering from TB and that in the long term, there will be a requirement that those areas that are going through vaccination will not also have culling at the same time?
I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Very strict requirements have been set out, and tomorrow I will publish the guidance to Natural England and he might wish to read that to see precisely how this will be controlled and how we will test the infection of badgers. On the point about coterminous vaccination and controlled reduction, it is important to remember that this is a package and the option we have chosen to pursue combines controlled reduction of the badger population with vaccination. Some parts of the area might not be suitable for one method of controlled reduction and boundaries might be secured by a programme of vaccination, too.
Far from it: I think we can be reasonably confident that they will be subject to a legal challenge and that is one reason why we have taken the utmost care. We have taken our time and we have taken a precautionary approach, and every step of the way we have tried to ensure that we have a copper-bottomed reasoned analysis that is the basis of our judgment that we should proceed with this policy.
I am aware that more than 1,200 badgers have been vaccinated over the past 18 months in Gloucestershire in trials under separate projects from the Food and Environment Research Agency and the Gloucestershire wildlife trust to assess the practical use of a vaccine. I am pleased that the new vaccine plans have been announced today and they at least explain that we are trying different solutions to sort out this problem, which is a huge one in Somerset. When will the Secretary of State be in a position to assess the effectiveness and costs involved in that project in Gloucestershire and how will that inform the planned vaccination projects that are to come over the next three years?
It will take some time—many years—before we can finally assess the effectiveness of the vaccination trial in Gloucestershire, but I went and saw it for myself and, as much as anything, it was about the practicalities of trapping and caging the badgers prior to injecting with the only vaccine that is available. There are considerable practical difficulties with the procedure, but today I have tried to make available a fund to help those voluntary groups that want to participate in the vaccination programme.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s proportionate and measured approach to this very contentious issue, and it will be respected by farmers in the west country, many of whom have suffered tragic losses from their herd. I welcome also the long-term commitment to developing a vaccine, but does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with the current vaccine is that it will only inoculate healthy badgers against future infection and cannot cure badgers that already have the disease?
My hon. Friend, who is very knowledgeable, has hit on the problem that the vaccine is effective only in badgers that are clear of the disease. That is one reason why vaccination takes so much longer than the method of controlled reduction by controlled shooting, but I reiterate that the Government have committed £20 million to the ongoing quest to find an oral vaccine for badgers. It has been effective in treating other diseases such as rabies, and if only we could find one, we would all, I am sure, be delighted.
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