11. What recent assessment he has made of the potential risks of a badger cull. (124658)
The badger culling pilots, which we now plan for next year, will test the effectiveness, safety and humaneness of controlled shooting. Our plans for an independent expert panel to oversee the design and analysis of the data collection have not changed. Monitoring will include field observations and post-mortems. If monitoring indicates that controlled shooting is an acceptable technique, the policy will be rolled out more widely.
Obviously, I am aware that there will be a major debate on this subject later today, but may I ask the Secretary of State why DEFRA got the number of badgers living in each pilot cull area so wrong? Why did he undertake a survey only last month, weeks before the cull was due to start?
The answer is that we did not get the numbers wrong: we got them accurately and in a scientific manner, but the National Farmers Union, which had geared up for a lower number, requested that we postpone the culls. We and the NFU are following the science rigorously.
But if we do not proceed with the culls next year is not the risk that the impact on farmers’ livelihoods and mental health will continue? This is a dreadful disease and it is extremely distressing to farmers that they have to cope with it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is not just the trauma of the appalling loss—26,000 cattle last year—but every time a herd is tested it is difficult for farmers. Some animals become violent, and the disease, not just the culling, is causing regular stress. It is essential that we go ahead with the culls next summer and prove that they work, so that we bear down on disease in wildlife and in cattle.
I explained at some length in my statement the other day, in which I spoke for, I think, 90 minutes, that certain circumstances led to the NFU’s decision to request that we postpone. There will be time to prepare. There will be no hitches next year: we will deliver this policy.
The Minister might be aware that I made myself very unpopular among Labour Members when I voted against the ban on hunting with dogs. I therefore know what it is like to make an unpopular decision, but the badger cull is wrong: it is wrong because these wonderful creatures roamed this country before we did and it is wrong because it would destroy tens of thousands of living animals. There is no scientific evidence that it would do any good, so the Secretary of State should stop listening to farmers and listen to the great British public and Mr Brian May.
I respect the hon. Gentleman for his independence of judgment but—I am sorry—we disagree. The science is clear: after nine years there was a 28% reduction in the culled area. If we look at New Zealand, Australia or the Republic of Ireland—I talked to a farmer in France on Monday—we see that there is not a single country that is struggling with TB in its cattle industry that is not bearing down on wildlife and cattle, and we will do that.
The Secretary of State blames the NFU for stopping the cull and the media blame No.10, but either way we can all understand the Secretary of State’s reluctance to take responsibility for this setback. May I ask him, on a scale of one to 100—I know that is a risky prospect, as arithmetic is not his Department’s strongest suit—how likely it is that the cull will go ahead next June?
I am not blaming anybody. I have been working very closely with the NFU since I took office. I have been studying this issue since I was the shadow spokesman and put down 600 questions, taking a serious, detailed interest in it. This is the right policy. It is the policy pursued by every other country, as I have said. Unlike with the vapid pronouncements we have had from the Opposition, this Government will take on a deadly disease, which is a zoonosis, so if we do not get a grip on it, it will prove a risk to human beings.
In view of that and of my right hon. Friend’s answer, it is important to base things on sound science. If he has read the science and understands the answers he has received to the 600 questions, he will know that the 12% to 16% reduction has to be viewed against a rise elsewhere. It will not rise as much as it would have done otherwise, but it is still a rise in bovine TB. Does he not accept that?
No, I dislike disagreeing with the hon. Gentleman, with whom I used to work closely on the EFRA Committee and when I was the shadow spokesman. The evidence is absolutely clear: there was a 28% reduction in disease after nine years in the cull area. That is why we are going ahead next year.