I beg to move,
That this House believes the badger cull should not go ahead.
We begin with a question: is culling badgers the most effective way to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis? Labour Members believe that it is not. The consensus among scientists who are not on the Government payroll is also that it is not. They call it a “costly distraction” and a “crazy scheme”, and they urge the Government to change course. Labour Members will be led by those scientists; we were in government and are now in opposition. This is a cull based on hope, not on science. We have warned the Government for two years that the cull will be bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife. In government, we were open to the idea. Having asked the question, “Will culling work?” we conducted a 10-year-long, £50 million randomised badger culling trial, which concluded that it will not work. If it will not work, the alternatives, however difficult, must be explored.
I want to begin by explaining why this cull is bad for farmers affected by bovine TB—the biggest animal disease challenge that this country faces. It is bad for farmers because the cull would cost them more than it saves them; bad for farmers because the science does not stack up; and bad for farmers as tourists holiday somewhere else having decided that the sound of gunfire and protest is not conducive to vacation relaxation. I know the toll that this terrible disease takes on farmers and their families personally, emotionally and financially. Controlling it is imperative to protecting farmers’ livelihoods. The European Union requires us to have a national strategy for eradication.
Badgers carry TB. They transmit it to cattle, but the infection also passes among cattle, from cattle to badgers, and among badgers. We know this because during the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic, when no testing was carried out on cattle, TB in badgers increased by 70%. The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB and four scientists from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency say that that was due to a substantial transmission of TB from cattle to badgers. The roots of infection and transmission of the disease are still poorly understood.
This cull is bad for farmers because of the large costs and the small benefits.
The hon. Lady has said twice that the cull is bad for farmers. If that is the case, why have they gone to such considerable trouble, expense and risk of adverse publicity in carrying out these culls?
I understand the desperation that farmers are in. However, the Government have presented culling as the silver bullet—the thing that will stop this disease—and it is not. I will explain why it presents further risks later in my speech. This is not just about the cull; it is about what happens when the cull stops.
I hope the whole House would agree that in an ideal world we would want healthy badgers, a healthy countryside and healthy cattle. The hon. Lady and I have got on very well over many years on animal welfare issues, but I have to say that there is a sense of political opportunism in the Labour party’s position. If the previous Government had invested more in trying to find a vaccine, the difficult decision that is having to be taken in the House, and, more importantly, by those outside the House, would not need to be taken. Vaccination should have been the route, but it should have been undertaken years ago.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is hoping to catch the eye of the Chair later in the debate to make his speech or whether he feels that he has just delivered it.
In government we spent £20 million on delivering a vaccine. That contrasts rather unhappily with this Government’s investment. In 2009-10, under Labour, investment in a cattle vaccine was £3.7 million and investment in a badger vaccine was £3.2 million. By 2014-15, that will fall to £2 million for a cattle vaccine and £1.6 million for a badger vaccine. I am not going to take any lessons from the hon. Gentleman about the investment needed in vaccines given that we spent that money. We have delivered the badger vaccine; his Government have cancelled five of our six badger vaccine trials. If they had not been cancelled, we would now be a lot further down the road of understanding how that badger vaccine works in the field.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I want to make some progress.
The cull method—free shooting—is untested. The number of badgers removed may be lower than that in Labour’s RBCT. Nobody has shot a badger legally in the UK since 1973, so it is an untested method. If it happens, it risks making TB worse.
We do not know how much this cull is actually costing the farmers involved, so we rely on the Government’s cost-benefit analysis. Culling makes TB worse by spreading the disease in the first two years. The benefits across the whole culling area appear only after year 3, but in the ring area—the edge of where the cull is carried out—there are never any benefits. Do the farmers whose land lies alongside the cull zones realise that? I think not.
Labour’s culls showed that culling badgers is estimated to reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16% after nine years—84% of the problem is still there. Sixteen per cent. is the best-case scenario based on the TB rate being twice as high in the cull area as it is in the land outside. However, if background TB rates are constant across the whole area, that benefit reduces to just 12%. Moreover, this is not an absolute reduction; it is a 16% reduction from the trend increase. Therefore, after nine years there will still be more TB around than at the beginning. There is 16% less than there would have been without a cull.
I want to look at how that 16% reduction is achieved. The cull depends on killing at least 70% of badgers in the cull area, yet last year the Secretary of State was about to start the culls without knowing how many badgers needed to be shot. His officials started counting the badgers only in September, just weeks before the cull was due to start. They relied on farmers to count the setts, and that did not work.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I remind her that, as a result of the destruction that the disease is causing in Shropshire, I set up the all-party group on dairy farmers during the previous Parliament. It became one of the largest all-party groups, with a membership of more than 250 MPs, 70 of whom were Labour Members. We all worked constructively on a report that stated the need for a cull. It will be very interesting to see how many of those Labour MPs change their minds this afternoon, but there was a consensus among them at that time that a cull was the only viable option.
I have not read that report, but today’s report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on a badger vaccination to control TB does not mention culling. [Interruption.] It is extraordinary that a report on bovine TB does not mention—
It is about vaccines.
I know it is about vaccines, but it is extraordinary that it does not mention the Government’s main control strategy.
I want to return to the badger numbers. Last year, the farm industry estimated that there were 1,800 badgers in west Gloucestershire and 2,700 in west Somerset. The Government’s figures then rose: they estimated that there were between 3,000 and 4,000 badgers in west Gloucestershire and between 3,000 and 5,000 in west Somerset, and that is why the culls stopped.
This year we have a different set of figures: it is estimated that there are between 2,500 and 4,000 badgers in west Gloucestershire and roughly between 2,000 and 3,000 in west Somerset. If we are dealing with ranges of figures, that causes a problem. We are licensing people to kill 70% of the badgers, but if the numbers are at the lower end of the range, the licensed marksmen could kill 100% of the badger population and still not meet their licensing criteria. That is a really difficult position to put farmers in.
Is it not the case that free shooting is being adopted because it is simply the cheapest way to kill? If the Government are committed to a culling strategy, there are more effective alternatives. Free shooting is cheap—we are getting killing on the cheap.
That is right. The free shooting method is being adopted because cage trapping and shooting is much more expensive—it is 10 times more expensive. Of course, there is a risk to the taxpayer if anything goes wrong in the cull areas. A bond has been laid, but we do not know how much it is. We are completely in the dark about the risk to the taxpayer should the Government have to step in to conclude the culls.
Will my hon. Friend comment on the impact of the partial genocide of badgers in England while vaccination is being carried out in Wales? Will English badgers be running across the border to seek refuge in Wales?
I commend the approach of the Welsh Assembly Government and I am glad that the preliminary results look very positive.
I want to return to the 16% or 12% reduction. The cull depends on killing 70% of badgers in the cull area. When I asked about badger numbers in July 2011, I received the answer that
“there is no precise knowledge of the size of the badger population”.—[Official Report, 17 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 815.]
That was a year before the culls were stopped last year. Why did Ministers not ask that question? Will they say in their speeches how confident they are of the current numbers, given the risks of localised extinction in the cull areas?
Ministers state that reductions in TB will result from following the RBCT method, yet that method was totally different because it used caged trapping and shooting, not free shooting, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) mentioned. The Secretary of State used the 28% reduction figure in October last year when he announced that the culls would be delayed. That is another example of him cherry-picking the data and it ignores the perturbation effect.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am going to explain perturbation, so I will get that over with if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
Perturbation is where badgers are displaced by the shooting and leave their setts, spreading TB to neighbouring areas. Labour’s trial culls revealed that culling increases TB in badgers by a factor of 1.9 because of perturbation—that is 90%. Ministers affirm that the cull will have hard boundaries to avoid perturbation, but they ignore the fact that the RBCT also had hard boundaries where possible.
The hon. Lady has skated over the reason why farmers, contrary to her assertion, are strongly in support of the policy: the number of reactors has increased by a factor of eight in 10 years. That is driving some farmers in my constituency close to suicide. Does she not understand those central, crucial human issues?
I understand the human issues very well, but the farming community is divided on this matter. I have received a letter from cattle farmers in Gloucestershire who say that they are
“opposed to the badger cull”.
I do not know whether there is just one. I am assuming that there are more than one.
The farmers have given me permission to read out the letter. It states that the consultation by DEFRA’s Animal Health and Welfare Board and
“the published reports from these events show no consensus for a badger cull. They also show that farmers are concerned about the indiscriminate shooting of large numbers of badgers”.
There is also a letter from the British Veterinary Association in The Independent today that criticises the support for the cull. I think that it is fair to say that the veterinary community is also divided on the issue. That is problematic, because it is never good to have a policy that divides the country so bitterly.
Several hon. Members
I will make progress, then I will take some interventions.
There is huge concern among scientists over the lack of rigour in the design, implementation, monitoring and efficacy of the culls. The proportion of badgers that are infected with bovine TB is not, as the Secretary of State claims, significant. In the RBCT, it was one in nine or about 12%.
I come now to another significant difference between the pilot culls and Labour’s RBCT.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way and apologise for missing her opening remarks. She is right that perturbation is a key issue, but she is not right to say that the Independent Scientific Group trials were based on hard boundaries. The fact is that the areas had to be exactly 100 sq km, otherwise they would not have been comparable. The boundaries therefore had to be accepted largely as they were. The difference with the current culls is that they do not have a maximum size, so the zone can be chosen to meet whatever good hard boundaries can be found and steps can be taken to minimise perturbation. The net benefit should therefore be much higher than was achieved in the ISG trials.
Order. More than 20 right hon. and hon. Members want to contribute to the debate, so some self-discipline about the length of interventions from all Members, including knights of the realm, would be greatly appreciated. I call Mary Creagh.
I give way to my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend knows that I am a great campaigner for the countryside, but following the points made by Conservative Members, let me say that there are many people in this country, as well as farmers, who love our countryside and care about our farm stock, but who care about the animals that have lived in the countryside for thousands of years. We do not have the evidence for this cull, and that is what those people resent. As Chair of a Select Committee, one’s watchword is, “If possible, build policies on the evidence.” This policy is not based on any evidence.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.
Let me come back to the perturbation side of things. My understanding from the scientists who conducted the cull is that hard boundaries were used where it was possible. We all know that badgers can swim through rivers and cross roads, and we know that the biggest impact on the badger population is being run over on roads. Again, the efficacy of the hard boundaries has yet to be proven.
Labour’s culls took place over eight to 12 days; the proposed culls will take place over six weeks. That matters, because when Labour’s culls took place over more than 12 days, the level of TB in badgers increased by a factor of 1.7, showing that slow culls, which this Government are licensing, increase TB in badgers. If the methodology changes, so too do the predicted results. These culls risk making TB worse. Slow culling makes TB worse in badgers, and perturbation makes TB worse in cattle on neighbouring farms.
The Government say that the cull will work, but they have downplayed the risks of making things worse, and I think they have downplayed the risks to neighbouring farmers, too. If the culls are marred by protests, culling is likely to be driven under ground and become more localised, which will make bovine TB in cattle worse, as the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) mentioned. If it is driven underground and happens on a localised basis, the one thing we know is that it will drive the badgers away and increase the problem for the neighbouring farm. That is why illegal killing of badgers is so incredibly selfish of farmers, because it is effectively spreading the infection around the neighbourhood. Farmers are frustrated; I understand that. They believe that this cull is the solution, but they also want a science-led solution. This is not that solution. That is why the badger cull will be bad for farmers.
Let me deal now with why the badger cull will be bad for the taxpayer. What has been the cost to the taxpayer so far? It has been over £300,000 for licensing activities carried out by Natural England, while sett monitoring has cost £750,000. An independent expert panel to monitor the cull has cost £17,000, and surveying the reserve site in Dorset will add to the total. Since April 2012, six DEFRA staff have been working on the cull. This cull has already cost the taxpayer well over £1 million—before it has even started.
What will be the costs to the taxpayer if the cull proceeds? The estimated cost of humaneness monitoring is £700,000, and badger post-mortems another £250,000. The policing costs for each cull area are put at £500,000 a year. There is a strong steer from the police that they will need to send armed officers to police any night-time demonstrations, taking up scarce police resources.
Does the hon. Lady agree with me that the true cost to the taxpayer has nothing to do with these small costs that she mentions, but relates to the fact that 189,500 cows have been killed unnecessarily which costs the taxpayer up to £1 billion a year in compensation to farmers?
The Secretary of State said at the weekend that he wants to roll out a further 10 areas a year for the next two years. He, for one, has already made up his mind on the efficacy and humaneness of these so-called pilots. Assuming he gets his way, that is £5 million a year for the police alone. I think that the police costs are material—
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No. Police costs are material, because at a time when the police face 20% cuts, asking armed response vehicles to go out into the countryside will take further resources away from the cities, where there tends to be more gun crime, for example, than there is in the countryside. Monitoring all this is very problematic for police forces. When I spoke to someone from the Devon and Cornwall police, I was told that they had only a tiny number of response vehicles to monitor the area from the end of Cornwall all the way up to Exeter, yet they are already facing a huge challenge.
Several hon. Members
I am going to make some progress.
If farmers pull out of the cull and the bond does not cover the cost of completing it for four years, the taxpayer will pay once more. The Government talk about the costs of TB, as did the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray), but in a parliamentary answer to me in September 2011 the then farming Minister, the right hon. Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice), who is in his place, said that the cull would lead to five fewer herd breakdowns a year in each cull area. In 2010, there were more than 2,000 confirmed herd breakdowns in England. If the cull were rolled out with 10 cull areas a year, it would prevent just 50 herd breakdowns a year. The taxpayer costs of culling will not be recouped by a reduction in the costs of bovine TB, so this cull will go on being bad for taxpayers until Ministers cancel it.
On the issue of police security, will the hon. Lady unhesitatingly condemn any illegal harassment of farmers who take part in any cull?
Absolutely; there is no place for illegal activity. It is interesting that the Government are ignoring the advice of the scientists—not animal rights extremists—who went out, faced down those animal rights extremists and stood in isolated fields across the country to deliver this cull. The scientists did that in the name and the cause of science—and they have said that this cull will not work. They are not in any way soft about this issue, and it is worth re-emphasising that point.
I understand that the Government are rightly insisting on vaccination on land adjoining the culling areas, but the hon. Lady has not mentioned the costs of that. To do that job properly, this will have to be rolled out over at least four years.
That is right. Vaccination has to take place every year because of the life cycle of the badger. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise that point. I know that a fund was made available for vaccination, but it is not clear how much of it has been spent. I think it was supposed to be match funded by farmers. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten us on that.
Several hon. Members
I want to make some more progress before giving way again.
Let me move on to deal with the effect on badgers. The so-called pilots were supposed simply to test the humaneness, safety and effectiveness of the free shooting of badgers. No information has been made public about how wounded animals that retreat underground to die can be included in the humaneness assessment. We do not know what proportion of badger carcases will be collected for post-mortems to see whether they were killed quickly. Observers will measure the animals’ vocalisations and the time between shooting and death to measure that humaneness. As we know, however, the Secretary of State has already made up his mind that culling is the way forward, so that is a purely academic exercise.
If, as the hon. Lady suggests, culling is an inhumane approach to badgers, why does she believe that the British Veterinary Association and the British Cattle Veterinary Association are four-square behind the Government’s policy?
I have mentioned the letter in today’s edition of The Independent, and I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has seen it. I am not sure that those bodies are four-square behind the policy. The Government themselves do not know whether culling is humane. That is why the pilots are allegedly about humaneness. The hon. Gentleman’s Government do not know whether culling is humane.
If the Government’s numbers are wrong or marksmen kill more badgers than they are licensed for, badgers could be wiped out locally. If too few are killed—under 70%—TB will increase. I have talked about the range of badger population numbers; localised extinction could happen. The police’s national wildlife crime unit raised concerns back in 2010, as I know from freedom of information requests, that the publication of maps detailing badger setts could be used for “badger persecution”—their phrase, not mine—and that pesticides for poisoning badgers could be misused. There has already been one report of alleged pesticide misuse in Gloucestershire, which I understand the police are investigating. Will Ministers confirm whether the cull will proceed in Gloucestershire if wildlife crime is found to have been committed?
I have the highest regard for the hon. Lady and we have worked well together in Yorkshire on a number of issues, but I am concerned about the Opposition’s negative argument. If the badger cull does not go ahead, we would like to know the alternatives. Our Select Committee report, published today, speaks for itself.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am coming on to that point in my speech. Her report certainly talks about the need for a proper strategy and a coherent policy, and I am not sure that that is what we have got from this Government.
My hon. Friend has correctly identified an issue about which hundreds of my constituents have written to me, namely animal cruelty. Given the lack of evidence and the absence of consensus on the matter, and in the light of the huge public concern, the cull surely cannot go ahead. It is extraordinary that Government Members have not reflected the concern felt by their own constituents.
I know that there is a great deal of public concern. Any policy must be socially, environmentally and politically deliverable, and the Minister’s decision to pursue the cull will test the limits of those requirements.
In Gloucestershire, the police and crime commissioner is against the cull and the county council has said that culling will not take place on its land. Serious practical difficulties are posed by free shooting near footpaths and camp sites with bullets that can travel up to two miles. If the cull goes ahead, it will not end well. It will be bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife.
Several hon. Members
Twenty Members wish to speak, so I want to make some progress.
If it is not the most effective way of stopping TB, why is the cull going ahead? There is a very simple answer: it is a simple solution to a complex problem. The alternatives—stricter controls on cattle, faster and more TB testing, and more restrictions on cattle movements—promise yet more hardship and expense for hard-pressed farmers, and for the Government. The Government believe that vaccinating badgers—the approach taken by my colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government—is too expensive, but owing to the high cost of policing the expected protests against the shoots, the expense of the cull now exceeds that of vaccination.
The UK’s top badger expert. Professor Rosie Woodroffe, has analysed the numbers. The Government estimate that badger vaccination would cost £2,250 and that the cull will cost £1,000 per square kilometre per year, so at first sight the cull is cheaper than vaccinating. However, when the Government’s estimate of the cost of policing the cull—£1,429 per square kilometre per year—is added, vaccination becomes the cheaper option. What a pity for farmers that DEFRA Ministers cancelled five of Labour’s six badger vaccination trials. Early results from the remaining site near Stroud show a 79% reduction in TB transmission to unvaccinated badger cubs, which means that they are almost certainly less infectious to cattle and to other badgers. Two or three years of vaccination would give badgers full immunity as the old badgers died off.
The hon. Lady has given us a tremendous number of statistics, for which I am grateful. Will she now tell us how many farmers she has consulted, and will she give us a few statistics relating to the number of cattle that have already been destroyed?
I am in touch with farmers all the time, and I have had a meeting with the National Farmers Union. I have met farmers in Derbyshire and, indeed, all over the country.
The wildlife trusts, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the National Trust are all vaccinating badgers on their land. The Zoological Society of London and the wildlife trusts are pushing for volunteer involvement in badger vaccination, which would greatly reduce the costs. According to a report published today by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, for which I pay tribute to the Committee and its Chair, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh):
“The vaccine has been available for 3 years but the government should now produce a clear strategy for using it.”
That is a pretty damning indictment of what the Government have been doing for the past three years. As a result of Labour’s investment, we now have a cattle TB vaccine and a DIVA test to differentiate infected and vaccinated cows.
The Select Committee report is critical of the Government’s approach to cattle vaccination. It says that the debate on cattle vaccination is unclear, and that
“the government must accept a great deal of the blame for this”.
“The quality and accuracy of the information that Defra has put into the public domain has been insufficient and inadequate.”
The Government have delayed field trials of the cattle vaccine after misinterpreting EU rules, and they must now undertake those trials as soon as possible.
I must make it clear, however, that neither a vaccine for badgers nor a vaccine for cattle will work on its own. We need a coherent policy framework to tackle all aspects of this complex disease. The Independent Scientific Group has suggested several key principles that could form the basis of such a framework. Page 175 of its report states that
“the movement of TB infected cattle...poses the greatest threat to the disease security of uninfected farms and particularly so in the case of farms in low disease risk areas”.
According to the report, cattle movements
“are also likely to make a significant contribution to the local spread of infection in high risk areas.”
Page after page of the report lists different control strategies for low-risk and high-risk areas, some of which were implemented by the last Government and some of which are now being adopted by the present Government.
We welcome, for instance, the risk-based trading strategy on which the Government have embarked. There must be transparency in the marketplace to prevent farmers from unknowingly importing infected cows into their herds. However, the Government have not investigated, for example, the 40% of farms in high-risk areas in the south-west that have consistently avoided bovine TB. What are those farmers doing to protect their farms? How are they trading, what is their biosecurity, and what are their husbandry practices? Can they be replicated? What can we learn? Until we get to the bottom of that, we will not find a solution.
As I think the hon. Lady is beginning to make clearer, it is not a case of either vaccinating or culling. The Government have introduced a package of measures, including security measures. At the heart of the vaccination question, however, is the challenge of how to persuade 26 other European Union member states to import the meat from vaccinated cattle when there are questions to be answered about the efficacy of the BCG vaccine and the efficacy of the skin test.
We now have the DIVA test, which enables us to differentiate vaccinated and infected cattle, and we know from the Select Committee’s report that its efficacy rate is 65%. Our priority must be to stop the spread of infected cattle into low-risk areas, and the spreading of the disease. The Government are about to embark on a risky and untested cull which, as I have said, will be bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife.
My hon. Friend has made the important point that even in infected areas there are farms that manage to remain disease-free. We need to learn lessons from that, but some Government Members have clearly made up their minds already. They are not interested in the facts; they just want a cull.
I agree with my hon. Friend. There is nothing more dangerous than an idea if it is the only idea you have.
This so-called science-led cull has been disowned by the scientists who faced down animal rights protesters to bring us the randomised badger culling trial and a world-class scientific result. The cull will cost more than doing nothing. If it works at all, its effect will be marginal. It carries a real risk of making TB worse in both cattle and badgers. The original Independent Scientific Group said:
“Concentrating solely on the badger dimension in what is clearly a multidimensional and dynamic system of disease spread would be to fail to learn the lessons of previous experience .”
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No, I will not. I am about to end my speech.
Any solution will require us to work closely with farmers. It will need to be technically, environmentally, socially and economically acceptable, and it will require the consent of taxpayers. Complex problems require complex solutions, and this cull is not the solution.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“notes that bovine tuberculosis (TB) has, as a consequence of the lack of effective counter-measures, spread from a few isolated incidents to affect large parts of England and Wales, resulting in the slaughter of 28,000 cattle in England alone in 2012 at a cost of £100 million to the taxpayer; is concerned that 305,000 cattle have been slaughtered in Great Britain as a result of bovine TB in the last decade and that the cost is expected to rise to over £1 billion over the next 10 years; recognises that to deal effectively with the disease every available tool should be employed; accordingly welcomes the strengthening of bio-security measures and stringent controls on cattle movements; further welcomes the research and investment into both cattle and badger vaccines, and better diagnostic testing, but recognises that despite positive work with the European Commission the use of a viable and legal cattle vaccine has been confirmed to be still at least 10 years away; further notes that no country has successfully borne down on bovine TB without dealing with infection in the wildlife population, and that the Randomised Badger Control Trials demonstrated both the link between infection in badgers and in cattle and that culling significantly reduces incidence; looks forward to the successful conclusion of the current pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset; and welcomes the Government’s development of a comprehensive strategy to reverse the spread of bovine TB and officially eradicate this disease.”.
Today’s debate is about getting to grips with Mycobacterium bovis, a bacterium that can affect all mammals including humans and has proved to be extremely resistant to all manner of attempts at eradication. It is a subject on which, over many years, there has been a great deal of agreement between the political parties. That was certainly the case in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, when a combination of political consensus and concerted action meant that we had the disease effectively beaten. In 1972, tests revealed only 0.1% of cattle in the country to be infected. I very much regret that as the issue has become politicised our grip on the disease has weakened, with the result that more than 60% of herds in high-risk areas such as Gloucestershire have been infected. The number of new cases is doubling every 10 years. I hope we can all agree that bovine TB is the most pressing animal health problem facing this country. The significance of the epidemic for our cattle farmers, their families and their communities cannot be overstated.
The statistics show that the spread and increase in the United Kingdom is almost unique. Does my right hon. Friend attribute anything to the fact that we were, for very good reasons, the only country to have given the badger protected status in the 1970s—no other EU member state did so—so its natural predator has not been able to control the increase in numbers and the potential spread of disease through the badger population?
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for her question, and I thank her for her report published this morning. We are the only country that I know of with a significant problem with TB in cattle and a significant problem of TB in wildlife that does not bear down on the disease in wildlife. Section 10(2)(a) of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 allows the removal of diseased badgers for protection and to prevent disease.
This disease was once isolated in small pockets of the country, but it has now spread extensively through the west of England and Wales. Last year TB led to the slaughter of more than 28,000 cattle in England, at a cost to the taxpayer of almost £100 million. In the last 10 years bovine TB has seen 305,000 cattle slaughtered across Great Britain, costing the taxpayer £500 million. It is estimated that that sum will rise to £1 billion over the next decade if the disease is left unchecked. We cannot afford to let that happen.
If we do not take tough, and sometimes unpopular, decisions, we will put at risk the success story that is the UK cattle industry. The UK’s beef and dairy exporters have worked hard to develop markets, which were valued at £1.7 billion in 2011. Our dairy exports alone grew by almost 20% in 2011. We cannot afford to put such important and impressive industry performance at risk.
The NFU in north Yorkshire supports my right hon. Friend’s policy. It is desperate that this disease should not come north to Yorkshire, and it gives the policy its full support.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know that he is in close touch with the farming community, and we appreciate that it is under great pressure, which is why we are determined to introduce measures that will, we hope, reduce the disease in high-risk areas and, crucially, stop it going into low-risk areas.
The Secretary of State has highlighted the costs to the individual farmer and the taxpayer, but does he recognise that having disease-free cattle is important to the agri-food industry—a multi-billion pound industry in the United Kingdom that is especially important to economies such as Northern Ireland’s?
The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the potentially very serious impact on the agri-food industry if we do not get a grip on this disease. We are determined to work on this policy, and to learn the lessons from the experience of the neighbouring state of the Republic of Ireland and other countries.
The task of managing bovine TB and bringing it under control is difficult and complex, but that is no excuse for further inaction. This Government are committed to using all the tools at our disposal and continuing to develop new ones, because we need a comprehensive package of measures to tackle the disease. International experience clearly shows that controlling wildlife species that harbour the disease and can pass it on to cattle must be part of that package.
I have written to the Secretary of State on this matter. I asked about the impact of a cull in the context of the whole package of measures. I received a reply from one of his ministerial colleagues, which referred to the fall in badger TB rates in New Zealand, saying that was
“a result of rigorous biosecurity, strict cattle movement controls and proactive wildlife management.”
I have asked for clarification, however. How much of that success was attributed to the cull? The other two steps taken may well have contributed significantly. I hope the Secretary of State will expand on such details for the benefit of those of us who are torn over this matter.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question, in which she raises one of the most pertinent points: there is no single solution. Removing wildlife alone is not the solution. There has to be parallel, and equally rigorous, work on cattle. There must be a mixture of both measures. That is the lesson to be learned from the countries I have recently visited, as I was just about to go on to explain.
In recent months, I have been to Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland, and when I was in Opposition I went to the United States of America. All those countries have made great progress in dealing with very similar problems to ours by dealing with the wildlife reservoir and bearing down on the disease in cattle.
In Australia, a national eradication programme spanning almost three decades enabled official freedom from bovine TB—an infection rate of less than 0.2% under OIE rules—be achieved in 1997. Its comprehensive package of measures to tackle the disease in domestic cattle and wildlife included rigorous culling of feral water buffalo. Australia’s achievement is even more impressive when one considers the difficulty of the terrain and the size of the area over which such an extensive programme of testing and culling took place.
After my visit to Australia, I went to New Zealand. Its comprehensive and successful package of measures to eradicate the disease has focused on the primary wildlife reservoir of brush-tailed possums. As a result of its efforts, New Zealand is on the verge of achieving BTB-free status. The number of infected cattle and deer herds has reduced from more than 1,700 in the mid-1990s to just 66 in 2012.
The Republic of Ireland, too, has a comprehensive eradication programme, which includes the targeted culling of badgers in areas where the disease is attributed to wildlife. From massive problems in the 1960s—160,000 cattle were slaughtered in 1962 alone—the Irish authorities have turned things around to the extent that the number of reactor cattle has reduced to just 18,000 in 2012, a fall of 10,000 in the last 10 years. On their own figures, herd incidence has fallen to just 4.26%—a statistic we would dearly love to have here.
My right hon. Friend is explaining the Government’s policy very well indeed. Does he have any idea what proportion of badgers culled in the Republic of Ireland were carriers of TB? No one wants to see badgers culled unless there is no alternative, but many of them are diseased and will in due course die and suffer great pain.
That is a very helpful question. On first analysis, the estimate was about 16%, but the Irish have done a huge amount of work on this, and I admire the scientific manner in which they have gone about it, and on detailed analysis and after careful autopsy the proportion can be seen to be three or four times higher than that. That shows why this disease is so difficult to deal with: it is difficult to identify in both wildlife and cattle.
Section 4.5 of the Krebs report had some important things to say about the Department—then called the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—and mathematical modelling, which is a hugely important tool that is not used as widely as it could be. What is the Secretary of State going to do to help drive forward that part of the work, which is clearly needed, so we get a better understanding of what is happening, with or without the cull?
That is an interesting question. We are following on from the Krebs trials—the RBCTs or randomised badger culling trials—and going to the next logical step, by learning the lessons from them and improving on them. One of the lessons was that 100 km is not a big enough area. We will extend it to nearly 300 km, so we have clear, definitive geographical boundaries. We will also be doing more analysis of the impact. These are two pilots, but the broad lesson to be learned from the countries I have mentioned is that we have to bear down both on disease in cattle in a very rigorous manner, as we are doing, and on disease in wildlife.
When I was in opposition, I went to Michigan and saw its stringent cattle and wildlife controls, which have enabled significant progress to be made, with a lowering of the prevalence of the disease in white-tailed deer in the endemic area by more than 60% and breakdowns in livestock averaging just three or four a year from 2005 to 2011. I could go on at great length, but I know we are short of time.
The Secretary of State is giving a lot of international examples, but I would like to know what lessons he is learning from the vaccination project in Wales, which shows that there clearly is an alternative. I have read the results of the project closely, and I would like to know what lessons he has learned.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but I ask him to wait a few minutes because I am coming on to deal with it. Let me first finish off the international comparisons.
The Secretary of State has talked about how he has been around the world to look at all these approaches, but the science we are looking at is the science in the UK. Clearly, as even those in favour of a cull would agree, the actual progress it will make is very small, even if progress is taken as a fact. We need a combination of measures. As some Government Members have said, culling will make only a small difference and it will not eradicate the disease.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman quite listened to what I said. If he makes comparisons with the countries I have mentioned, he will see that where there are strict cattle controls, movement controls and biosecurity, and countries bear down on the disease, the disease is reduced. The experience of the Republic of Ireland is spectacular and we should be humble enough to learn from it.
Let us consider other European countries. Badger culling is undertaken in France; there have been reports in just the past week or so of problems in the Ardennes, with infected badgers being culled. Deer and wild boar are culled in the Baltic countries, Germany, Poland and Spain. So we cannot ignore the lessons from such countries, which are so clearly presented to us.
Several hon. Members
I will take one more intervention, but I do want to give other hon. Members the chance to speak.
The Secretary of State is drawing on these European comparisons, so why does his own amendment talk about “stringent” movement controls, given that we have the loosest movement controls in the European Union, with about 40% of our cattle being moved annually? Surely he should start by doing something about that. Is that not a comparison he should recognise?
I do not think that is a very accurate statement. We have very strict movement controls and our farmers find them difficult to adhere to; they put real pressure on farmers.
If we are to tackle bovine TB, we must not only maintain rigorous biosecurity and strict cattle movement controls, but bear down on the disease in wildlife.
This really will be the last intervention I take for a while.
My right hon. Friend will recollect that the randomised badger control trials studied not only the effects of culling on the badger population and the prevalence of TB, but the actions of homo sapiens, and their capacity to intervene and to disrupt trials. Such actions were a factor in the trials and are a factor particularly prevalent in the UK but not prevalent in many of the countries he has named.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I know that you are an assiduous reader of Hansard, Mr Speaker, and you probably remember every one of my 600 parliamentary questions on this issue, one of which revealed that, as my hon. Friend suggested, 56% of the traps were tampered with during the Krebs trials and 14% were actually stolen. That is one of the lessons we are learning from the trials—there might be a more efficient and humane manner of removing badgers.
Anyone who has looked closely at this issue will see that a comprehensive cattle testing programme, combined with restrictions on cattle movements, remains the foundation of our policy. Restrictions have been further strengthened over the past year to reduce the chance of disease spreading from cattle. In January, we introduced a new surveillance testing regime and stricter cattle movement controls, which means that we will be testing more cattle annually and working hard to get in front of the disease, to protect those parts of the country where bovine TB is not a major problem. We will continue to maintain the significant effort we have put into enhancing cattle controls and combating cattle-to-cattle transmission.
Other Members want to get speak, so, if I may, I will push on a bit further.
Vaccination is another tool that we will continue to invest in—we are spending £15.5 million on research and development in this Parliament—one that I know many hon. Members would like to see deployed. Some £43 million has been invested since 1994 in this vital work, to which the shadow Secretary of State alluded. We, too, would like to deploy it more widely, but I am afraid that we are just not there yet in terms of either development or practicality, as has been clearly described in this morning’s Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report.
Oral cattle and badger vaccines will, I hope, prove viable, but they will not be ready to deploy for years, and we cannot wait while the disease puts more livestock farms out of business and threatens the sustainability of the industry. In January, the Minister of State and I met the EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner, Tonio Borg, to discuss our progress towards a cattle vaccine. He acknowledged that we have done more than any other country to take this work forward, but confirmed that the implementation of a legal and validated cattle vaccine is still at least 10 years away.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will generously give way to the shadow Minister.
Will the Secretary of State clarify the comments he made a moment ago? If a viable badger vaccination, be it oral or injectable, were developed within the next few years, would he then have no intention to proceed with any cull? Would it be his preference to move forward with the vaccination of badgers instead?
I was going to come on to deal with that question but I will touch on it now. Clearly, an effective badger vaccine has a valuable role to play, once the disease is under control. I have discussed this at length in the Republic of Ireland, where they have got the disease well on the way down. Once it can be got to those really low levels—this answers the question from the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty)—there is a definitely a role for a badger vaccine. There is no question about that, but the vaccine has to work.
My worry—I am jumping ahead a bit in respect of Wales here—is that at the moment there is nothing to be gained by vaccinating a diseased animal. Such an animal can continue to be a super-excreter and can continue to spread disease. That is the problem I have with the Welsh experiment. We are very interested in it and we will watch it carefully, but from my travels—I was particularly struck by the Irish experience, and they have done a lot of work on this—I know that the lesson is, “You have to get the disease down to a certain level to get healthy badgers, and then you protect them.” We all want to see healthy badgers living alongside healthy cattle, and the real lesson from Ireland is that the average badger there is now 1 kg heavier than before the cull was begun there. So the Irish have achieved where we want to go; they are getting a healthy badger population, which is exactly what we want, but that is the point at which vaccinations can be deployed. I am not entirely convinced that the Welsh Government are on the right track—I think they are going in too early, because they have not got a grip on the disease—but we wish them well.
Sadly, vaccination is incredibly expensive. The cost of vaccination in Wales stands at £662 per badger or £3,900 per square kilometre per year. Even if the practical difficulties could be addressed, we know that a large-scale programme of badger vaccination would take longer to achieve disease control benefits compared with a programme of culling on a similar scale.
May I draw the Secretary of State’s attention to one area of healthy badgers, just to draw on his point about vaccination? Cheshire is on the frontier in terms of the disease spreading north. I am working closely with Cheshire Wildlife Trust and the National Farmers Union to see whether there is the possibility of having a vaccinated band of badgers across Cheshire to prevent that northern spread. Will he work with those two organisations and me to see what can be practically achieved?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that useful question. I know that he is already talking to my hon. Friend the Minister of State about it. It is certainly worth examining the approach of creating rings, but the lesson from other countries is that we have really got to get the disease reservoir down first and then we can create a band. The problem is that with the level of disease we are talking about we cannot gain an advantage by vaccinating a diseased animal that is already a super-excreter—it can go on excreting disease in huge volumes. Another of my questions revealed that 1 ml of badger urine produces 300,000 colony forming units of disease, and it takes very few—a single number of those—to infect a cattle by aspiration. Such an approach will not have the effect, so what my right hon. Friend is talking about is well worth looking at, but in parallel with that we have to get the disease down.
The hon. Lady has tried hard, so I will give way.
I thank the Secretary of State for so generously giving way. Does he recall comparing the search by scientists for a TB vaccine to Sisyphus—or Tantalus, as he later clarified it—because it was always out of reach? Does he understand how insulting many scientists found that comparison and how it undermines his scientific credibility? If he does not understand how science works, how we can trust his analysis of the evidence?
I think the hon. Lady is being a little hard. We have given credit to the previous Government, whom she supported, for their significant investment in vaccines. We will continue that investment, we had Commissioner Borg over and we had an incredibly constructive discussion. Sisyphus is trying to shove the rock uphill and Tantalus is reaching in the pool—it is incredibly frustrating for us all that a result is still 10 years away.
Let me get back to the badger vaccine and the important point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell). Early small trials on calves in Ethiopia show that it is only 56% to 68% effective. There is a lot of work to be done to get a vaccine that really works and then a vaccine that can be identified. To pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), one cannot have international trade under OIE rules if one cannot identify a diseased animal and a vaccinated animal. The last thing I would do is cast aspersions on any scientists working on this question, as we all have a massive interest in arriving at a solution, but every time we look, it is at least 10 years away. According to the timetable Commissioner Borg has set us, we will do well if we stick to that 10 years.
I am going to push on.
That is another reason we plan to consult on a new draft TB eradication strategy for England over the coming months, which is mentioned in the amendment and will set out in some detail how we plan to reach our long-term goal of achieving officially bovine TB-free status for England. That will involve better diagnostic tests such as PCR—polymerase chain reaction—and targeted controls to bear down on the disease where it is at its worst, stop the spread across new areas and protect the relative disease freedom that large parts of the country already enjoy.
All those who take the problem seriously now accept that research in this country over the past 15 years has demonstrated that cattle and badgers transmit the disease to each other. There are few now who choose to argue that culling badgers, done carefully and correctly, cannot lead to a reduction of the disease in cattle.
In 1997, Lord Krebs and the independent scientific review group concluded that:
“The sum of evidence strongly supports the view that, in Britain, badgers are a significant source of infection in cattle. Most of this evidence is indirect, consisting of correlations rather than demonstrations of cause and effect; but in total the available evidence, including the effects of completely removing badgers from certain areas, is compelling.”
Since then, ongoing analysis of the results of the randomised badger culling trial has shown beyond reasonable doubt the important role that culling can play in checking the progress of bovine TB, despite any initial disruption to badger populations on the edge of the culled area. Professor Christl Donnelly, a former member of the ISG, wrote:
“In the time period from one year after the last proactive cull to 28 August 2011, the incidence of confirmed breakdowns in the proactive culling trial areas was 28 per cent lower than in ‘survey only’ areas and on lands up to 2 km outside proactive trial areas was 4.1 per cent lower than outside ‘survey only’ areas.”
I firmly believe, based on the best available evidence, that culling badgers to control TB can make a significant contribution to getting on top of this terrible disease. I have no doubt that the benefits from badger control will prove worth while to the businesses, farmers and communities that have suffered for too long. That is why it is crucial that the pilots go ahead.
The National Farmers Union has taken the lead on behalf of the farming industry and has planned and organised the pilot culls. It has been working tirelessly over the last few months to make them a success, ensuring all involved carry out their functions to a very high, professional standard and in ways that take full account of the need to protect public safety. I have been immensely impressed by the effort, commitment and determination that have been demonstrated by farmers in the two pilot areas, despite the unacceptable intimidation and hostility that some have endured.
The professionalism of the police, with whom we continue to work, also deserves praise. It is possible that some additional policing will be needed to enable peaceful protest during the pilots, and that may add to their costs. I hope it is not necessary for the police to deal with people who are intent on unlawful and threatening behaviour towards law-abiding and hard-working people. Such obstructive action cannot be allowed to prevent us from tackling the disease.
Opponents of the policy will say that it is possible to rid the country of bovine TB without tackling the problem in wildlife. There is no evidence for that in any other country where there is or has been a significant reservoir of the disease in species of wildlife that can pass it to cattle, as is unfortunately the case here. My experiences in Australia, Michigan, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland have absolutely reinforced that essential point.
Members might be told that we will fail because we do not have enough reliable estimates of badger numbers in the pilot areas. On the contrary, we have invested considerable time and effort in monitoring work to establish a reliable estimate of the number of badgers in the areas. Those figures were used by Natural England as part of the licensing process to set the minimum and maximum number of badgers to be culled. Members might also hear from some quarters that we are putting the badger population in those areas at risk of extinction. That too is untrue, as confirmed in the opinion of the Bern convention.
The two pilots will see the removal of about 5,000 badgers—a minimum of 2,081 in west Somerset and 2,856 in west Gloucestershire. That is about 10% of the 50,000 badgers killed on our roads each year or just over 1% of the estimated national population. The number of badgers culled and the culling method used in each case will be recorded by the operators and be part of the licence returns to Natural England. During the pilots, there will also be independent monitoring of the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of badger control.
I hope it is evident why the Government are committed to the policy. It is just one element of a comprehensive approach to the eradication of bovine TB, as our amendment to the motion makes clear, but it is an essential element and one that can help us start to win the war against a bacterium that has proved so damaging and resilient to other interventions.
We will not shy from tough decisions that we believe to be fully evidence-based and fundamentally the right thing to do. We will continue to work with all those who wish to see healthy cattle living alongside healthy badgers. I therefore hope that Opposition Members will reconsider their position and support our amendment, which sets out the broad, balanced and evidence-based approach we are taking to tackle this horrible disease.
Several hon. Members
Order. I remind hon. Members that there is a six-minute limit on speeches—[Interruption.] It is not a shame; we just want to get everybody in.
As a west country MP, I can tell the House that there is widespread opposition in the west country, in Gloucestershire and in Somerset to this badger cull going ahead. I have had a huge number of e-mails and I also know that there is a diverse, vocal and determined coalition of groups, ranging from non-governmental organisations and environmental charities to people involved in farming and ordinary members of the public.
I will not give way, because I only have six minutes and the hon. Gentleman will get his chance to speak.
There has been very vocal opposition and public meetings, and a lot of lobbying. I am sure that the Minister of State, who is the Farming Minister and is also a west country MP, is well aware of that. I invite the Secretary of State to come down to those areas and meet some of the people who have been involved in the campaign so far.
I want to focus on a few issues, the first of which concerns estimating badger populations. As has already been mentioned, the persistent difficulty of knowing how many badgers are in the cull areas has not been satisfactorily resolved and could still make the culls unworkable. We know from the randomised badger culling trial that the only circumstances in which the spread of the disease can be slowed slightly—and even that reduction was only by 16% over nine years—would be if more than 70% of the badgers in an area were eradicated. If the reduction were any less than that, the spread of TB to cattle could increase.
The difficulty of knowing how many badgers there are in an area has been raised many times, including by Lord Krebs and others. Last year, the Government delayed plans to cull badgers as they could not work out how many badgers there were in the cull areas. I understand that according to the Government’s own figures, farmers in Gloucestershire must kill between 2,856 and 2,932 badgers, but according to Professor Rosie Woodroffe at the Zoological Society of London, the estimate of the population ranges much more widely, from 2,657 to 4,079, and there is a 40% chance that the figure for the real population lies outside that range. Professor Woodroffe has concluded that if the real population is below the minimum cull target of 2,856, farmers could kill every badger in the area, breaking the strict condition of the licence that forbids local extinctions while simultaneously failing to kill enough badgers to satisfy the terms of the same licence. The situation is similar in Somerset.
I would be interested to know from the Minister whether the estimates of the number of badgers in the area factor in the number of badgers killed illegally by farmers. A study from the universities of Bangor, Kent and Kingston this year found that approximately one in 10 livestock farmers in Wales had illegally killed a badger within the previous 12 months. In Gloucestershire, there have been press reports of allegations that at the Forthampton estate, an area of 3,000 acres near Tewkesbury that will be one of the main staging points for the cull, badger setts have been illegally filled in. If those allegations prove to be true, the estate may have to withdraw from the cull, which would affect the number of badgers killed and therefore the effectiveness of the cull, as I have explained.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) mentioned the humaneness of the killing. The Humane Society International UK recently obtained from a freedom of information request the heavily redacted document that will be used to monitor the humaneness of the badger cull. I would like to take up the concerns voiced by the society. Will the Minister make public how wounded animals that retreat underground will be included in the humaneness assessment? That is not mentioned in the document. The document admits that no shooter will have prior experience of shooting badgers. My office spoke to Pauline Kidner from the Secret World wildlife rescue, which is based in Somerset and has worked with badgers for many years. She said that badgers are not an easy animal to shoot, and when injured will always go back to their sett. So free shooting is likely to result in a slower death as a result of secondary infections and starvation from reduced mobility, and that will prolong the pain and distress suffered by badgers.
As the Secretary of State will be well aware, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has been involved in looking at the bovine TB issue for over 30 years, and in 2011 was the first non-governmental organisation in England to launch a badger vaccination programme on seven of its nature reserves. I would be interested to know what assessment the Government have made of that vaccination programme so far.
The chief executive of the trust says:
“Bovine TB has had a devastating impact on farmers in Gloucestershire and unfortunately there is no single, cheap or effective fix.”
He goes on to say that the Government have “overlooked” the benefits of a sustained programme of vaccination, and that:
“Vaccinating badgers could play a much larger role in controlling bovine TB while a cattle vaccine is developed and licensed.”
Scientific research done by Chambers et al in 2010 showed that adequate vaccination could reduce incidence by up to 73%, whereas a cull would only reduce incidence by between 12% and 16%. So I am not sure that the Government have got the balance right on this.
Yes. It is a huge difference, and there is a debate to be had about the cost of vaccination, which I think is the Government’s main objection to it. I do not think it is about effectiveness; I think they are cost-driven. In the vaccination programme that is operated in Somerset by Secret World wildlife rescue, the cost of vaccination is much lower because the programme is volunteer-led. I do not know whether the Minister has factored that into his calculations.
The chief executive of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust says:
“We’re not taking part in the cull on any of our 60 nature reserves in Gloucestershire because we believe the science demonstrates it won’t be very effective in controlling the disease and could even make things worse.”
The Minister does not seem to be listening to what I am saying now, but I—[Interruption.] Well, the Farming Minister is listening; I thank him for his politeness. The Secretary of State does not seem to be paying much attention to me. He needs to come down to Somerset. He needs to come down to Gloucestershire. I would urge him to do it now that the cull has started—not the Farming Minister, the Secretary of State. [Interruption.] Well, I would urge him to come again, and talk to people about their concern that people will be roaming their areas with shotguns at night. They are not being told where those people are. They do not know whether they can go camping in areas where they used to go camping. There is real public concern, and real public opposition to the cull. I do not think that the Minister is taking that seriously.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). I congratulate the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) on calling this debate on behalf of the Opposition, but I think there will be genuine disappointment in the countryside that the terms of the motion before the House are:
“That this House believes the badger cull should not go ahead”,
and yet the Opposition did not suggest any alternatives. Those who genuinely believe that a badger cull should not go ahead must provide alternative ways to control the spread of TB in cattle. So I am very persuaded by what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in setting out his proposals for a package of measures to limit the movement of cattle and increase rigorous testing.
I shall focus my limited remarks on vaccination. I thank all those witnesses, including Ministers, who, in an incredibly short period, gave so generously of their time to respond to our Select Committee inquiry, and to colleagues for accommodating the very tight timetable. We concluded that vaccination is no magic bullet in the search for a solution to bovine TB. As the Secretary of State said, this is a bacterium that affects humans, and I have had family members just one generation ago who suffered from TB with lifelong consequences. In the report, we warn that vaccination is expensive, offers no guarantee of protection and will provide little benefit in the immediate future.
I shall cover some of the points linked to cattle vaccination. We commend the investment by successive Governments—the hon. Member for Wakefield referred to her own, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to current investment—but there are many hurdles to overcome. The European Commission evidence before the Committee, both in writing and orally, clearly set out that there is an indicative timetable of a 10-year period before vaccination will be operational.
There are other issues. We need to change the legislation. We need to negotiate with both the European Union and the World Organisation for Animal Health, which is known as the OIE, so that those cattle that have been injected, and their products, will be admitted in free circulation in other member states. That is the dilemma that many farmers will face. The hon. Member for Wakefield did not address the fact that when a vaccine becomes readily available, we will need to persuade farmers—cost issues aside—that it is in their interests to vaccinate. We need a cross-party approach to ensure that we use all lines of communication in those negotiations with the Commission.
It is important to factor in a cattle vaccine cost of £5 to £6 a dose. The DIVA test will cost an additional £25, which at least will show whether an animal is reacting to the vaccine or is infected. As regards badger vaccination, it is regrettable that there is no evidence to date to show that it reduces the incidence of TB in cattle. We are uncertain as yet of the implications for herd immunity. One of the Select Committee’s key recommendations, which I hope the Secretary of State will pursue, is that an advisory service be set up to help NGOs and charities plan and deploy vaccination. We also hope he will respond to our plea to allow farmers to become trained vaccinators and inject the vaccine. We worked out that only 25% of badgers would face a reduced risk of infection if vaccinated, so we emphasise that Government research is urgently needed to provide confidence in the level of efficacy to enable such a vaccine to be used strategically.
The development of an effective oral vaccine for badgers seems fraught with challenges. The cost is £6 million of research since 2005-06, with another £7.5 million allocated in the next five years, but we must be aware that no vaccine is ready for use yet. We urge the public to be aware that there is a mismatch between the public expectation of having a vaccine available and the current state of scientific evidence. A vaccine must be cost-effective and easy to deploy.
I should also refer to the importance and costs of testing—of the skin test, which costs £3, and the diagnostic blood test, which is £30—and some of the difficulties that we highlighted in our report. It is very difficult sometimes to ascertain, from the skin test alone, whether an animal is infected.
All of us are badger-lovers, but we want a healthy badger population. I repeat that we are the only country to have given the badger protected status, and we must now live with the consequences, mindful of the fact that a badger who suffers TB will be evicted from the sett and die a particularly grisly death.
I rise to speak about a serious problem that I know causes great consternation in the farming community. We know how serious it is to be faced with having to slaughter cattle, so Labour Members are determined to continue to make progress toward eradicating bovine TB. We commissioned the randomised badger culling trial, the largest scientific project on the effects of culling, which reported in 2007. That trial, which provided the most extensive scientific evidence on the impacts of culling badgers and which lasted 10 years and cost £50 million, examined the effects of culling at 10 high-risk sites across England. The report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB stated:
“After careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report, including an economic assessment, we conclude that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain.”
Lord Krebs, the foremost expert on bovine TB in badgers has called for a twin-track approach of developing an effective vaccine in the long term and improving biosecurity and cattle management to prevent herds from coming into contact with badgers and passing on the disease. He was one of 30 scientists who stated in a letter to the press:
“As scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, we believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it.”
“We are concerned that badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control.”
The Government use evidence from other countries’ culling other animals, such as possums and deer. Does my hon. Friend agree they are wrong to say that the situation would be exactly the same here, when those animals do not leave the area of perturbation in the same way as badgers do?
It is indeed difficult to make comparisons with other countries, where ecological patterns are very different. Perturbation has been mentioned by other speakers, so I will not go into great detail on that; instead, I want to talk about cattle vaccination, because that is what will put the farmer in control, and we should put a lot of effort into it. I am therefore saddened that whereas we spent £3.5 million on this in 2009-10, this Government have cut the funding for that sort of research to £2 million for the next financial year—
That is because there is no money, because you messed up the economy. [Interruption.]
Order. We do not need enticement from the Front Bench. The Secretary of State does not need to get angry, as he will be coming back later, no doubt. Mr Wiggin, we do not need any extra help from you.
The European Commission has set out an indicative 10-year timetable for the cattle BCG vaccine and DIVA test to be available for use, but as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said, the timetable is precisely that: indicative. I ask the Government to put every effort into further research into the steps necessary to make the vaccine and the test both effective and usable in the international context. That is the way to make sure the farmer is in control, which is the real way to deal with the problem.
I know the hon. Lady is completely genuine in her views, but does she not agree that the vaccine will be effective only in 60% of a cattle herd, with 40% remaining susceptible to TB if infected badgers are present in their grazing area?
That highlights the need for further scientific research and development. Clearly there is still work to do if we are to produce a more effective vaccine.
The Welsh Government have taken a different approach from England: rather than cull badgers, Welsh Ministers have started a vaccination programme, which has successfully trapped and vaccinated 1,400 badgers in its first year of operation. In March 2012, the then Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, John Griffiths, announced a new strategic framework for bovine TB eradication covering the next four years. The programme builds on existing cattle surveillance and control measures, biosecurity best practice—all those are of great importance—and input received from stakeholder engagement; it also includes vaccination of badgers within the intensive action area.
The vaccination project was undertaken in the TB intensive action area in west Wales, which is primarily in north Pembrokeshire and covers approximately 288 sq km. It is the first time that a project to trap, cage and vaccinate badgers on such a large scale has been carried out. Field operations began in March 2012, and last season the programme trapped and vaccinated 1,424 badgers. A further round of field work started this year, in May. A welfare assessment of every badger is undertaken at the time of capture: none was found to be seriously injured and no badger showed any sign of adverse reaction to the vaccination. Participation in the project is voluntary and the Welsh Government are grateful for the co-operation and assistance received from farmers and landowners, with a total of 472 landowners having allowed access to their land.
The Welsh Government have met the three regional TB eradication delivery boards and representatives of animal welfare and conservation organisations to take their views on expanding the use of badger vaccination to cover the rest of Wales. Government-led and cost-sharing options are being explored, including the possibility of a grant to attract new partners and funding. The Welsh Government have also focused on incorporating new technological developments as they become available. In December 2012, the chief veterinary officer, Christianne Glossop, organised a pioneering two-day cattle vaccination workshop to consider the contribution that might make. It was attended by some of the world’s leading experts in vaccination and disease eradication programmes and among the key observations that emerged was that there is a need to gain field experience with cattle BCG vaccine here in the UK.
On that note, I repeat to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Farming that the real way forward is vaccination for cattle. We need to get the best scientific evidence and the best collaboration with our partners in Europe to make that an effective approach.
Continuing on the same note as the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), in my speech I will encourage the Government to do as they say they will do, which is consider and keep available to them all the tools in the box, including vaccination. I, like the hon. Lady, believe that vaccination offers the most effective means of getting on top of this disease.
It is worth reminding ourselves of the impact that bovine tuberculosis has on farming communities. To see how it has affected farmers in west Cornwall over the past 30 years, people need to talk to farmers and understand the impact of getting TB reactors in their herds. The impact is not only financial, but emotional: there is an effect on confidence in the farming community, because many farmers live in fear whenever vets come round to undertake the tests. It is vital that people fully appreciate that.
We would all claim that we support a process of evidence-based policy making, but today’s debate demonstrates the constant risk among politicians of using policy-based evidence making, whatever one’s perspective. Having looked at the balance of evidence provided by the best-informed scientific expertise on this question, especially from those involved in the RBCT and others, it is clear to me that the Government are running a high risk of making the situation worse in those areas where they proceed with the cull. I simply point that out.
I strongly supported, as did all parties at the time, the previous Government’s approach and the randomised badger culling trial. In my area, I faced down strong opposition from animal rights activists and others to the proactive cull in particular, so I have been there, done that and run the gauntlet of strong and extremely vociferous protests. As I say, there is a high risk that we could end up making the situation worse.
The Ireland study has been referred to on several occasions. It is worth saying that the four areas selected were among the most isolated in the country, and had badger populations that were extremely small and disparate. The nature of those populations is quite different from the nature of the badger population in Great Britain; the likelihood of migration and perturbation was bound to be significantly lower in the Ireland populations. We cannot say that the situation in Ireland is representative of what we have in the UK.
On vaccination, Professor Rosie Woodroffe and I are working on a proposal. We have been to see the Minister with responsibility for farming, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), who has been supportive of us developing our proposal to roll out, using volunteers, a five-year vaccination programme across the whole Penwith peninsula—200 sq km—which clearly has the hard edges of the Atlantic around it. The Government’s estimated cost of about £2,200 per square kilometre would be significantly reduced by about 50% through the use of volunteers. We already have a large team of 50 or more volunteers who have come forward. We suspect that we can offer vaccination and wildlife holidays in the area for people who get involved in the programme. Clearly, only a very few people who are trained and licensed to undertake the actual injection of the vaccine are needed.
Does the hon. Gentleman have any idea of the complexities of dealing with the physical act of vaccinating a wild animal?
Absolutely; that is fully understood. Indeed, many people working on our wider advisory group are already doing this work. We have consulted the Killerton estate in Devon, which has been doing this for a couple of years. Professor Rosie Woodroffe is trapping badgers in that area at this very moment; she is working with farmers on her own programme, which is funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. There is a great deal of experience and knowledge going into this, as well as understanding of the challenges of rolling out such a programme. I have a great deal of experience of this, too. We believe that we can proceed with a very effective programme, with the proper support of landowners in the area, though taking on 200 sq km is a significant challenge.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his proactive stance, but we have heard how difficult it is to estimate the number of badgers in an area. How will his group be confident that it has vaccinated a percentage, if not 100%, of badgers in the area?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. We have the involvement of a scientist who was very much involved in the randomised badger control trial, Rosie Woodroffe; she is supported by a team of scientists from other academic institutions and scientists who were involved in the RBCT. She is already undertaking a survey in the area, because there is field work going on there. Those scientists understand the science of undertaking a rigorous survey of the badger population in the area. Costed into the project’s overall business plan is not only the surveying, but scientific monitoring, because we need to get rigorous information on the scientific outcomes, so that lessons can be learned and the project can be rolled out further.
We have consulted widely; we have spoken to many of those who have experience of undertaking such work in the countryside, as well as farmers in the area, the major landowner—the National Trust, which is of course already on board—the wildlife trusts and others, and we are confident that the programme could be very effective. We are talking about an area where, in the RBCT, there was only 50% compliance with the trial, so a licence would never have been given, even if one were applied for. This programme could be rolled out very effectively, and could be very successful. It would also be less costly than a cull. We are hoping to introduce cattle measures as well. For that reason, and because we want to keep an open mind on the issue, although I believe that the pilot should not go ahead, I will abstain in the vote on the issue tonight, because I want to make sure that I get Government support for my vaccination programme.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), who made a balanced speech. I will vote for the motion, as I think that the balance of science is clear, but I appreciated the way in which he approached the issue.
As the MP who last year proposed a Back-Bench motion, which won cross-party support, to stop the proposed badger culls and that favoured more sustainable and humane solutions, I am deeply disappointed that the Government remain so intransigent and determined to ignore public opinion, including the almost 250,000 people who have signed an e-petition calling for no badgers to be culled. The Government are essentially cherry-picking the scientific evidence and failing to heed the opinions of many experts.
I do not in any way underestimate the hardship and distress that bovine TB causes farmers. This really is not a debate between those who somehow understand farmers and those who do not. I think that all of us are united in wanting to get rid of this horrible disease. The question is what is the most effective way to do it. Other hon. Members have made a compelling case that the proposed cull is not based on science, and that the proposals—not least the free shooting measures—are hugely flawed. Also, as has come to light more recently, the proposals are likely to be extremely costly.
I want to look at the alternatives because, again, this is not a debate between those who want a cull and those who want to do nothing. There are plenty of things that those of us who do not want a cull would like done instead, and we would like them done much more quickly and with much greater political will. First, I shall deal with cattle control measures, which the Independent Scientific Group recommended:
“In contrast with the situation regarding badger culling, our data and modelling suggest that substantial reductions in cattle TB incidence could be achieved by improving cattle-based control measures.”
It makes specific reference to zoning or herd attestation, shorter testing intervals and whole-herd slaughter for chronically affected herds. Although the Government have introduced some new restrictions, the evidence suggests that much more priority should be given to restricting the movement of cattle.
It is highly likely that a significant proportion of cattle-to-cattle transmission of bovine TB may be going undetected, and that the role of badgers in the spread of the disease may have been overestimated. A recent scientific paper suggested that as many as two in 10 infected cattle might be missed by the test used to check whether cattle are infected with TB. Other research suggests that up to 21% of herds may still be harbouring infection after being cleared from movement restrictions, and that larger herds suffer not just a high incidence of the disease but a faster rate of spread between cattle. In EU evidence to the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs earlier this year, reduced cattle movement was flagged as the single biggest difference between the UK and the rest of Europe.
Improving biosecurity must also take priority, and it would cost farmers an average of £4,000, compared with £27,000 to deal with a TB herd breakdown. When applied correctly, barriers, gates, fencing and so forth can be 100% efficient, so perhaps some of the money being thrown at culling should instead be directed towards helping farmers to keep badgers out of their farm buildings. Steve Jones, a farmer deeply concerned about biosecurity, urges that something be done about water troughs, which act as a reservoir for TB, because they are rarely cleaned out. As he says:
“Making troughs badger-proof is not rocket science”,
and that needs to be part of a concerted effort to adopt better hygiene standards across the agricultural industry. Of course farmers already know the importance of immediately quarantining cows infected with TB, of isolation areas to separate those animals and prevent cross-infection, and of limiting contact between cattle and local wildlife. In all those respects, we need to help farmers to be proactive and follow the advice of, say, Natural England about on-farm biosecurity and badger exclusion zones. I fear that farmers are being given the impression that culling is the answer to all these problems, when that simply is not the case. The Government’s strategy has been reactive to the spread of bovine TB; it needs to be proactive, with increased biosecurity and rigorous cattle movement controls.
A former Government adviser, Lord Robert May, points to cattle vaccination as an important tool. He says:
“What is particularly irritating is that we have the vaccines in the pipeline, but the commitment to really go in and test them is really not there”.
DEFRA’s website acknowledges that experimental studies show that BCG vaccination reduces the progression, severity and excretion of TB in cattle, and field trials show that it can reduce the transmission of disease between animals. We need to press ahead with the DIVA test, which confirms whether a positive skin test result is caused by vaccination or TB infection. There is no evidence that DEFRA is doing nearly enough on the test, or on discussions with the European Commission. Commissioner Tonio Borg has set out a plan for a usable cattle vaccine in a letter to the Secretary of State, suggesting, for example, that substantial experimental research and large-scale, long-lasting—perhaps two to five years—field trials should begin this year. He also makes it clear that cattle vaccination need not be a barrier to EU trade in the longer term.
The report by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which was published this morning, makes it clear that the Government have misinterpreted EU rules. The Committee recommends that details of field trials are published as soon as possible, and I could not agree more. I also agree that vaccination alone is not the solution but can play a part in an effective strategy, alongside other evidence-based measures. We should not go down the line of a cull, which is a costly distraction from a wide range of other measures, including cattle controls, biosecurity, and promoting vaccination of both badgers and cattle. That package is most likely to be effective from a scientific point of view and to secure public acceptance, and it is certainly a far more cost-effective way forward. I very much hope that the Government will step back from the position that they have taken, as they will face massive protests in all the proposed cull areas. People will not simply sit back and watch this happen. There is massive public concern, so I hope that the Government are listening.
An effective Opposition would debate early-day motion 189.
I must draw to the attention of the House the fact that I keep pedigree Hereford cows. I test them annually and I have 13 of them. Without getting misty-eyed, they all have names and I am as fond of them as any person is of their pets. I want to protect them from disease, so I vaccinate them against every illness that I am allowed to vaccinate against, and would vaccinate against TB if it were legal. I follow the movement restrictions and I try to do all I can to prevent my cattle from being exposed to TB. I do not believe that that makes me any different from any of my constituents who farm.
I also care about other animals, and I remember the excitement I felt the first time I saw a wild badger. These are magical creatures of the dusk and I want to make it clear that I want the highest standard of care for the badger, just as I do for my own animals. Many of my kind-hearted, caring constituents have written to me asking me to vote against the cull, but I fear that that would cover only half of this enormous and unpleasant decision, the other half being the need to put diseased badgers out of their misery.
When Labour was in office, I was asked by a constituent to table a parliamentary question on advice on how to put down humanely an injured badger found on the side of the road. I was told that people should consult a solicitor before taking any action to put the badger out of pain. I do not believe that we should stand by when badgers are dying in agony.
Has my hon. Friend heard that bovine TB has spread to domestic animals such as cats and dogs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: TB is found in hedgehogs, cats and dogs, and even sheep. It affects people, usually only those who drink unpasteurised milk. The disease can reach any species, because M. bovis is a species-jumping illness.
Given the devastation caused by the disease in our region and the area neighbouring our county, will my hon. Friend work with me and other neighbouring MPs to convince the Secretary of State that when the trials are successful they should be brought to our region—Herefordshire and Shropshire—as soon as possible?
I would make the point that these are pilots. The Opposition have made it clear that they believe they are untested. Well, pilots are by definition untested. Once we have evidence that the proposal is effective, of course we can take informed decisions. There are 300,000 to 500,000 badgers in the UK, and they do well in areas such as our counties, where cattle thrive in some of the most beautiful countryside in the country. Herefordshire is one of those counties. The number of badgers exceeds the number of foxes, and they are most likely to be killed by disease or in road traffic accidents—some 50,000 a year are killed on our roads.
There are valid and worrying arguments about perturbation. The perturbation effect was confirmed by trials that used cage trapping. It is not clear whether it was the trapping or the killing of the trapped badger which caused the perturbation effect. That is a worrying challenge to the argument on vaccination. If perturbation is caused by trapping, vaccinating badgers that may already be infected is likely to be as risky as culling. How can we prove that that is right or wrong without electronic tagging? Badgers have little ears, and would lose an ear tag. I do not think that trimming their fur, which is being done at the moment, will provide the sort of robust scientific evidence that we need.
Despite that concern, I still favour badger vaccination for populations confirmed as healthy, and I would draw the attention of the House to the success of the Dutch in using vaccination to combat foot and mouth disease. We must use vaccination to protect healthy badger populations, particularly those that border infected populations. We know where the disease is not present, as we use cattle as an indicator species. Perhaps that is something the Government can address when they look at the efficacy of culling.
Vaccination costs money, and we spent £90 million on TB control measures in 2010-11, including testing and compensation. Every time a farm breaks down, it costs £34,000. Over the past 10 years, bovine TB has cost the British taxpayer £500 million—the equivalent of Birmingham’s 1,200-bed Queen Elizabeth hospital. If we do nothing and maintain the status quo, allowing the disease to spread once again, over the next 10 years the cost will be £1 billion, which is two 1,200-bed hospitals. Given the financial situation, I think all Members would agree that spending £1 billion on the effects of bovine TB without even trying to cull sick animals would be hard to justify even in the most urban constituencies.
The extremely charming and erudite badger cull opponent, Dr Brian May, asked:
“What would we do if this were our children? We would vaccinate…them.”
EU Council Directive 78/52/EEC explicitly prohibits vaccination against bovine TB in cattle. I therefore urge the Secretary of State not to make us wait until after the referendum in 2017. Surely this is a good reason for leaving the EU, if nothing else. What would be the cost of defying the directive? How much money would be put at risk? What would be lost if the EU banned our cattle exports? What would the French do about our dairy products? [Interruption.] I heard the Minister say, “Quite a lot”—he should tell us how much. Only the Government can tell us so we can have an informed debate. In the meantime, we should go ahead with planning for cattle vaccination.
The Commissioner wrote to the Secretary of State saying that a new vaccine was 10 years away. Ten years would mean £1 billion, or another 1,200-bed hospital. The Secretary of State needs to use every weapon that he can to fight the disease. All cattle have passports, so if we chose to vaccinate we could stamp the passport, “Vaccinated— not for export”. We could use the DIVA test when DEFRA was satisfied that it was proven.
I favour better tests. I received two letters from constituents whose cattle were slaughtered. Those cattle passed the skin test, but they were found to have lesions in more than one organ and were condemned. If they had failed the test, the owners would have received compensation, but because lesions were found they were condemned, and my constituents lost the total value of those cattle. We therefore need better tests. Let us introduce the PCR test that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State championed in opposition, and let us make sure that farmers can choose gamma interferon tests if they want them.
I do not want to see badgers suffer. The Secretary of State used to keep them as pets, and he does not want to see them suffer either. The badger is a much-loved animal, including in Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows”, but unfortunately badgers are a reservoir for TB. Reducing the infected population is the principle that we use for cattle, but which we ignore in wildlife. An experimental pilot cull in the highest-risk areas, with barriers, will prove or disprove whether culling is worth rolling out in other high-risk areas. People should realise that it is a scare tactic even to suggest that the whole badger population is at risk from culling. It is not. Only badgers in the highest-risk areas, where it is thought that one in three badgers has TB, would be culled. The total number at risk would be 5,000—less than 10% of the number of badgers hit by cars every year.
Mr Badger in “The Wind in the Willows” said:
“People come—they stay for a while…they build—and they go. It is their way. But we remain.”
Let us do all that we can to ensure that healthy badgers do.
I spent the weekend talking to farmers to find out their position on the issue and I was shocked by the stress, the trauma and the cost that this illness is causing. I am hugely supportive of farmers and I want us to do everything we can to fight and destroy the disease.
I want to say a few words about the implications of testing for farmers. They have to pay for a vet to come, normally on a yearly basis. They have to bring all their stock in to be tested. If there is a reactor, within a couple of days when the vet comes back that animal will be slaughtered. That locks down all movement on that farm for 60 days. Yes, farmers get compensation for slaughtered animals, but not for the lock-down. If they were taking animals to be covered or if they were taking animals to market, all that would stop. Some 28,000 cattle are slaughtered, costing the taxpayer £100 million in compensation and costs. From last January to this January the number of reactors has gone up by 24.2%. Bovine TB is a dreadful disease and we need to stamp it out. However, I am against the cull.
I am against the cull for all the reasons set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) so I will not rehash the same argument. I want to make three quick points. First, badgers are a protected species under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. That is an important and powerful fact to remember. Secondly, for the cull to be effective, 70% of all badgers need to be culled. We do not know how many badgers there are. DEFRA estimated the population in the pilot area to be 1,300 in every 300 km area, but the randomised badger culling trials estimated the figure to be 3,000, so will the licence to kill be to shoot 910 or 2,100 badgers? The difference will be dramatic. I do not understand how a 70% target can be set without knowing what the total figure is.
Thirdly, and most important to me, are the logistics of a cull. If there is a badger sett in my back garden, does that mean that people can come and shoot the badgers in it? I do not understand the logic of that. If a farmer does not want a cull on his land, does he have the right to stop the cull, or will the animals be culled if he is in a TB hot spot? As was mentioned earlier, the public will be incredibly anxious if they see people at night in balaclavas going round with shotguns. The thought of that freaks me out.
The hon. Lady is summarising what is driving the enormous frustration in the countryside with some of the ignorant comments that she is making. No one is allowed to shoot a badger with a shotgun. It must be done by a trained person with a rifle. Badger setts very rarely appear in people’s gardens. Badgers like to live away from people. Some of these comments are so ignorant that they cause enormous frustration.
I find the hon. Gentleman’s use of language offensive and patronising. I do not like to be called ignorant. He has no basis for saying that.
Another thing that concerns me is that there is a budget of £500,000 for policing. Police often spend £500,000 to secure the safety of just one march, so that seems a tiny amount for the three culling areas. I believe the figure will be much higher. The Secretary of State mentioned that culls had been effective in other countries, but it is a lot easier to shoot a water buffalo with whatever gun it is than to shoot a badger. Badgers are by nature private, they are nocturnal and it is hard even to see them, let alone shoot them. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) asked whether a clean shot could be guaranteed. I do not believe that it is possible in all cases. There is a risk, as was mentioned, of badgers going back into their sett and dying.
All these issues could be resolved, but even if they were and a cull went ahead, the estimate is that the reduction would be only 16% after nine years. That is a tiny amount, if all the objections could be overcome. Surely a better long-term solution is to put all our money and resources into a bovine vaccine. The Government cut the funding for research into and development of such a vaccine and the funding needs to be restored. The British Veterinary Association says that £1 billion will be wasted on TB over the next decade. Surely if a small percentage of that could be invested in research and getting the vaccine closer—[Interruption.] If so, that is brilliant, but let us chuck more money at research because in the long term it will save us.
The main argument against the vaccine is that the EU forbids it because it is not yet possible to distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals and the EU would ban all live exports. All the farmers I spoke to said that they were against live exports, so I do not think there is much strength in the argument. In the short term, I believe we should use a combination of vaccinating badgers, good husbandry and the existing controls, but we need to drive forward a bovine vaccine.
I begin by drawing attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in that I am a farmer—an arable farmer. I have no stock, so I have no pecuniary interest in the problem of bovine TB, although I grew up on a pig and dairy farm and therefore have a great deal of knowledge of how those farmers operate.
The number of badgers has doubled in the past 10 years, as the Secretary of State said. The number of cattle slaughtered in the past 10 years is a staggering 190,000. The cost so far has been £500 million, to which another £500 million could be added in the next 10 years if we carry on as we are. The Secretary of State has already drawn attention to the fact that he had a meeting with the EU Commissioner. The simple fact is that if we do nothing, the TB-free status of this country could be put at risk. As we heard, whether we are members of the EU or not would make not a jot of difference if the European Union declared that we had TB and our meat could therefore not be exported to any countries that were members of the EU. That would cause catastrophic loss to our farmers.
In Gloucestershire, which is one of the hot spots and which I have the privilege to represent, one quarter of the farms are under movement restrictions. This causes a huge financial loss to the farmers. Each TB breakdown costs on average £34,000, of which the farmer picks up £12,000 because of all the consequential losses of replacing those cattle, the testing and so on. Currently, all the measures to prevent the spread of TB have been focused on cattle. As soon as a TB reactor is found in a herd, restrictions are placed on the entire herd and the reactor animal is isolated pending valuation and compulsory slaughter. The movement restrictions then remain in place until at least two clear tests have been completed. When one thinks that a quarter of my farmers in Gloucestershire are subjected to this number of tests, one realises just how many tests are involved and the cost and inconvenience of those tests.
As it is clear that badgers spread the disease, it would be foolish not to take action against this vector of the disease. There has been a pretty good-tempered debate today and Members have generally recognised that every tool in the box must be used to combat this dreadful and economically devastating disease. Surely one part of that must be the cull, but the other part must be vaccination. The problem with vaccination is that the only sensible way to vaccinate badgers is with an oral vaccine. In my 21 years as a Member of Parliament, I have always been told that an oral vaccine is just around the corner. Today we are still being told that an oral vaccine is just around the corner.
I commend the Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his investment of another £15.5 million on top of the huge investment that has already been made in vaccines, but contrary to what the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has just said, there is no guarantee that we would necessarily come up with an oral vaccine if we spent a huge amount of money. An oral vaccine would be a huge advantage. It was used on the continent to combat rabies in foxes, and rabies has now been eliminated from large areas of the continent, to the extent that we can now take our dogs to the continent with a pet passport, which was unthinkable 20 years ago.
Many of the arguments against the badger cull revolve around the use of vaccines, but vaccines alone will not eradicate the disease; nor will culling alone eradicate the disease. We must have strong action on the widespread control of TB, and these two pilot culls are the most effective way of achieving that. Effective vaccinations have been just around the corner for 21 years.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there is a huge cost. Some Members today have underestimated not only the cost but the physical difficulty of giving a vaccine to a badger. I have witnessed at close hand how these creatures react once they are caged in a trap. They are vicious and people need to be carefully trained and have proper protective equipment when they administer the vaccine. I doubt whether the proposition of the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) to allow volunteers to carry out vaccination in such a large area is realistic.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has referred to the huge expense. The Welsh Assembly has estimated that the vaccine costs £662 per badger, or £3,900 per square kilometre. The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) was worried about the cost of policing in Gloucestershire, but that is minuscule compared with the compensation, which as I have said has been £500 million for the past five years, with another £500 million to come. It is also minuscule compared with the costs to the Welsh Assembly of vaccinating a relatively small area. The idea of vaccinating large areas in the hot spots throughout the country with an injectable vaccine is simply not a starter. The only way a vaccine will work is if it is an oral vaccine.
There has also been talk of a whole herd cull. That would not work either; it would take out large numbers of animals in the south-west and would leave large areas with no cattle at all.
I want briefly and finally to mention David Barton, a farmer in my constituency, who lost 34 cattle in one day.
Several hon. Members
Order. I will have to drop the time limit on speeches to five minutes. [Interruption.] It is no use tutting. It is either that or I will have to knock someone off the list. With fewer interventions everyone might just have a chance to speak, so it is up to everybody to show some self-restraint.
I come to the debate as a trustee of the League Against Cruel Sports. Only this morning, I helped to launch the report by Team Badger, which has effectively exploded all of the myths that are being put forward by the Government to justify this unjustifiable cull of badgers in our country. Ministers seem to have come to this decision with a sense of predetermination. Since the election in 2010, the Government have been determined to institute a cull of badgers, and were not interested in alternatives.
The problem is that the scientific evidence does not back the Government’s stance on this matter. The hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) stole my thunder a little bit. The Secretary of State referred to a number of international comparisons in his contribution at the beginning of the debate, and I was going to refer to the rabies situation on the continent of Europe. It is clear that continual culling of the fox population was singularly unsuccessful, and it was only when vaccination was tried that rabies was all but eliminated there. We have had a licensed vaccine for badgers since 2010 in this country, and I simply do not understand why the Government are so reluctant to use it.
One reason for the spread of bovine TB is bad and lazy husbandry in certain circumstances. It is important to say that, because farmers need to step up to the plate. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) made the point that some farms in infected areas are TB-free. How do they manage to achieve that? Better standards of husbandry, improved biosecurity and reduced cattle movements would have a significant impact in reducing this scourge.
The hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) nearly had me in tears when he made the case that he was all worried about badgers dying in agony. One wonders whether he is a member of the ministry of truth. What does he think will happen to badgers who are shot by marksmen? We know from veterinary expert opinion that they will die in agony. I think that DEFRA itself has acknowledged that badgers will be dying in agony as a result of the cull. We will not take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman—who I do not think is in his place at the moment—who claimed that he was concerned about badger welfare. DEFRA has made the argument that, somehow, killing badgers is good for their welfare. What a ridiculous and ludicrous argument. It must think that the British public are absolutely bonkers.
The Opposition have called Members to the House for this debate, and the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Front-Bench team have proposed the motion:
“That this House believes the badger cull should not go ahead.”
This is the biggest animal health crisis is Britain and it is costing £1 billion, with 28,000 cattle slaughtered last year—and the Opposition have no policy, no alternative. Do they have a feasible alternative that they would like to put forward?
Order. I have suggested short interventions, and if Members want to pass judgment on others, it would be better if they had been here at the beginning.
If the hon. Gentleman had been in his place and listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, he would have heard her set out the alternatives. There are alternatives, and that is the point that we are making. The Government are taking the wrong course of action. It is not just me saying that as a trustee of the League Against Cruel Sports; this is the scientific evidence. Let me quote some of the scientific evidence for the record.
Lord Krebs, who chaired a review team that originated the idea of the RBCT, said on 12 October 2012 on the “Today” programme:
“The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. I have not found any scientists who are experts in population biology or the distribution of infectious disease in wildlife who think that culling is a good idea. People seem to have cherry-picked certain results to try and get the argument they want.”
Lord Robert May, a former Government chief scientist and president of the Royal Society, said:
“It’s very clear to me that the government’s policy does not make sense.”
“I have no sympathy with the decision. They are transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.”
The recently retired Government chief scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington, has also refused to back the cull.
A letter published in The Observer on 14 October 2012 and signed by more than 30 scientists, including Professor John Bourne, former chairman of the ISG, Professor Sir Patrick Bateson, president of the Zoological Society of London, Professor Sir John Lawton, former chief executive of the Natural Environment Research Council, Dr Chris Cheeseman, formerly of the Food and Environment Research Agency, Professor Denis Mollison, former independent scientific auditor to the RBCT, and Professor Richard Kock of the Royal Veterinary College, states:
“the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it”.
The letter ends:
“culling badgers as planned is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication.”
The Government are taking the wrong course of action. Government Members have spoken as though they were somehow the friends of the farmer, but they will make matters worse and cause incredible suffering to the badger population. They are enraging the vast majority of the British public and they are wasting police money. They have cut the police service to the bone and yet they want the police to waste resources policing the culls—estimated at about £2 million per cull. This is absolutely bonkers. It is criminal and it should stop.
I urge the Secretary of State, having heard the cogent argument put forward by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State, to pause for a moment, to think what he is doing, to consider her words, to consider the scientific evidence, to think again and to take a different course of action.
This debate has shown that the Secretary of State and the Minister have taken a brave decision to go for the cull, which is absolutely necessary. Farmers in my constituency and elsewhere in Devon feel that during 13 years of Labour Governments they were told that a vaccination was just over the hill. When Labour came to power, 6,000 cattle had TB, but when it left there were 30,000 with the disease. It is the duty of this Government to take action.
Farmers in my constituency are at their wits’ end. There is hardly a cattle farmer in Devon who has not been touched by TB—either it is affecting them at the moment, or during several tests they have not been able to sell cattle because TB is in the herd. All the time, we are removing cattle from herds with TB. We are cleansing those herds of TB. We then turn those cattle into the fields where there are infected badgers. The Secretary of State said clearly how infectious those badgers are—they are giving the cattle TB, so we have to take action.
A badger vaccine will not cure the infected badgers. Furthermore, the current vaccine has to be injected every year. That is not practical. The Opposition know that, but they will not face it. It is great shame that we cannot have cross-party support on the issue, because in the end the farmers cannot go on as they have been. Many of the cattle taken are heifers in the dairy herds, which provide much-needed good food and dairy products. They are being slaughtered. The world has a population of 7 billion and rising—we need more food, but the Opposition did nothing to cure the disease during their period in office.
We have said clearly that not only the badger cull is needed; there are strict provisions on cattle movements, and we will introduce even stricter ones. That is not popular with farmers, but they know that it is necessary provided the Government take the action to take out the infected wildlife.
The hon. Gentleman is speaking with great knowledge. He mentioned the importance of cattle movement control. Does he accept that the shift of bovine TB to remote areas is a result of—
Order. It is up to Members speaking whether they give way or not, but those intervening, from whatever side of the House, should show self-restraint and make their interventions short. I call Neil Parish, who I presume has nearly ended.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will not take any more interventions. I think that the hon. Lady was asking whether cattle spread disease to areas that were uninfected. Yes, they did to a degree. We have to tackle the disease in the hot-spot areas—where we have to cull—to make sure that cattle are not infected and that there is no chance of their being moved. We have to use every weapon available.
The key thing is what happened in the Republic of Ireland. While the number of cases of TB in Northern Ireland doubled, the number in the Republic halved over the same period. What did the Irish do? They culled their badgers. We have to be sure that we do all the relevant things.
Many of us are countrymen and countrywomen who would love to have the badger around. However, we want them to be healthy. We cannot leave diseased badgers in the field, to infect cattle and each other. Once we have reduced the number of badgers in those red-hot areas of TB, we will see a much healthier badger population. I also believe that we will not see as many badgers trying to mix with the cattle; there will not be the pressure on feed, which is paramount. We are not talking about a national cull of badgers. Our aim is not to exterminate badgers, but to cure cattle and badgers of TB and make sure that we have healthy food and livestock for our future.
The farming community feels despair because of the years of inaction from the previous Government. The community is not divided as the shadow Secretary of State tried to claim earlier; it is very much united by the fact that the disease has to be eradicated. That can be done by using all the methods, including a cull.
Finally, I go back to the Republic of Ireland, where statistics show that herds are half as likely to be reinfected with TB in areas where badgers have been culled. The beauty of the system there is that it involves badgers to cattle and cattle to badgers. Farming practices in the Republic are very much the same as those in Northern Ireland, which shows that a controlled cull of infected badgers will work. The farming community is behind the cull and I believe that, when it is explained, the public will also understand that the issue is about disease control and healthy cattle and wildlife.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who is a respected and knowledgeable fellow member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, although in this debate we will differ.
I speak as a member of the Select Committee and on behalf of the many constituents who have contacted me, having considered all the facts, and want the cull to stop. Some 28,000 cattle were slaughtered for TB control last year, so none of us can underestimate the effect of bovine TB on the farming community. I cannot begin to understand the emotional and financial devastation that losing a herd to that disease can bring to a farmer and his family. That is why I believe that the Government must find a permanent solution.
Like other hon. Members, I commend the last Government for their work in tackling the problem. However, it is lamentable that the badger vaccine deployment project that they set up in six trial areas has been reduced to one area by this Government.
Vaccination has to be a key to getting rid of bovine TB. The report published today by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on vaccination against bovine TB concentrated on how vaccination can contribute to the control and eradication of the disease. The report highlights the fact that the injectable vaccine for badgers has been available for three years now and that the Government should produce a strategy for using that as soon as possible.
The report goes on to say that for too long the strategy for dealing with bovine TB has been reactive and that it should now be a strategy to get ahead of infection. A good vaccination programme also depends on increasing biosecurity and rigorous movement control. Furthermore, with a better testing regime, farmers could be assured that the livestock they bring on to their farms are TB-free.
The report makes a number of recommendations, many of which are mirrored and strengthened by the conclusions of the “Backing Badgers” report launched today by Team Badger. That report also supports improvement in biosecurity measures in cattle and the use of vaccination in both cattle and badgers as solutions to bovine TB.
The Government have ordered two initial culls, with more in the offing. Science has shown that the large-scale culling of badgers is estimated to reduce the increase of TB among cattle by only 16% after nine years and only if undertaken under the strict approach of a randomised badger culling trial. That is not what the Government are doing. They are not moving quickly enough with the science. The report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and the “Backing Badgers” report, both state that the Government need to condense the 10-year time scale for developing a cattle vaccine, and work with the European Commission on that.
Everyone wants our cattle to be protected and TB free. Our badgers have been a protected wildlife species in this country since the ‘70s and must remain so. The Government must work harder on vaccine programmes, biosecurity, movement control and improved testing regimes, and that is where their resources must be concentrated, rather than on a cull that cannot guarantee to be humane or prove to be scientific, and which is simply a veil to cover the lack of progress that the Government have made on bovine TB.
When I spoke in a previous debate on this issue, I was one of the few Conservative Members who stood up, spoke, and then voted against the culling of badgers. I was surrounded by colleagues who profoundly disagreed with me, some of whom have barely spoken to me since. It was one of the most daunting experiences in my short time here. Today feels like groundhog day, although this time it has come with added pressure for me to change my mind or abstain on the matter. I have been accused—rather patronisingly—of not understanding the science and, worse, of condemning farmers in individual constituencies to further incidences of disease. I have been told that I do not understand the horrific impact of bovine TB in cattle, or indeed in badgers, and that culling badgers is actually a way to be kind to them, rather than being cruel, and thus my fears about animal welfare should be allayed.
Let me be clear: I have enormous sympathy for farmers affected by bovine TB, not simply because of the clear financial cost to farms, but because of the way the disease impacts on farmers’ lives and livelihoods, and often, as colleagues have stated, their mental health. I have listened to colleagues recounting stories from their own constituencies, and it is dreadful—truly horrible. However, I do understand the science, and the indiscriminate culling of badgers will not, in my mind, stop bovine TB occurring in the future.
The eradication of bovine TB in badgers will not lead to the eradication of the disease in cattle, especially in a country with extremely high cattle movement. Cattle-to cattle transmission would continue, as already demonstrated in low-incidence areas such as Kent where evidence shows that that type of transmission accounts for 80% or more of cases. No other country in the world has yet eradicated bovine TB in cattle, and they certainly have not reduced it with culling alone. The Secretary of State was right earlier to refer to a package of measures, but he did not answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) about the balance of success between those methods.
We must be realistic about what the badger cull, and these pilots in particular, will achieve. Our leading scientists note that a cull will reduce incidence of the disease by 16% at best, but even that figure is based on a long-term, large-scale cull. Therefore, the extensive, indiscriminate culling of badgers, three quarters of which will not have TB, will leave 84% of the problem. More worryingly, although bovine TB is relatively confined at the moment to certain areas of the country, a cull could lead to the problem spreading rather than being contained. To the colleague who told me yesterday that his farmers want a cull because they neighbour areas with the disease, let me say that I am against such a cull in order to protect those farmers, not condemn them. Badgers do not adhere to county borders and they disperse under the threat of extinction. The cull will not make any significant impact in the pilot areas, but it could in those areas close by. It is welcome to hear from the Secretary of State that DEFRA is using other preventive measures to control the spread of the disease in those areas, but will that be enough?
I had a quick opportunity to read the report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published today, and I congratulate the Committee Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), on it. Severe criticism of departmental delays and publication of misleading information aside, it is clear that all sides wish to see a vast improvement in developing and providing a vaccine solution to the problem. As Kent Wildlife Trust put it to me, instead of culling badgers, the Government should further improve cattle movement controls and testing, and support farmers to implement simple biosecurity measures. They should prioritise the development of a cattle vaccine, and divert the estimated £6 million cost of licensing, monitoring and policing the pilot culls into a major programme of Government-funded badger vaccination. Only then will we get on top of this disease in an effective way.
I conclude by congratulating colleagues on this side of the House who will show their opposition to the cull by abstaining on the motion today. Within the Westminster village we know and understand why many feel uncomfortable about going into the Opposition Lobby on an Opposition motion that is, in effect, non-binding. It is a nuance often misunderstood outside Parliament, but I thank those colleagues for their support all the same. I, however, will not be abstaining, and although it will probably make little difference in the great scheme of things, I want my voting record to show that I am against this barbaric, indiscriminate and ill-thought-through cull. I would prefer a science-led, welfare-oriented response to the control and reduction of bovine TB that protects both cattle and badgers from this nasty disease.
It is a great privilege to follow the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), for whom I have the greatest respect. She has spelt out with huge clarity and authority the compelling arguments for supporting the succinct motion before the House today.
One advantage of speaking towards the end of the debate is that I have had the opportunity to listen it as it unfurled, and I feel that those who have contributed have engaged with the complex issues. I compliment the Secretary of State on a clear and thoughtful exposition of the Government’s position, and the shadow Secretary of State on having spelled out issues on the other side of the equation. Listening to both speeches—indeed, many speeches today—I thought that there is actually a huge area of consensus in this debate. The Secretary of State spoke cogently about the need to bear down on the disease in cattle as well as in the wild animal population, and I hear no disagreement about that. The disagreement is about the means used, not their aim and purpose, and there is genuine concern across the House about whether culling will improve the situation for famers, or make it worse.
One problem is that this issue has an emotional essence at its heart, and there is emotion on both sides. The excellent speeches from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), both captured in their own way the emotion on different sides of the equation, and that emotive response to this debate is what makes it difficult to resolve. I agree with the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton that we should seek a cross-party way forward on this issue because there is so much consensus and a need to progress in a sensible way.
In a crisp and clear contribution early in the debate, the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) weighed up the balance of the scientific evidence. One problem, however, is that the evidence is not always conclusive one way or another. After taking us through his weighing up and consideration, he said that in his opinion, the Government are, on balance, running a high risk of making matters worse. We must listen to those genuine, heartfelt concerns as we struggle with this difficult issue.
One certain thing is the distress that this disease causes, and the Secretary of State is right to remind us that it is paramount that we tackle this animal welfare disease in the UK. The distress that it causes, not only to animals—including those in the wild—but to farmers, their families and livelihoods, and the economy of those areas badly affected, is strong and heartfelt and must be addressed. We cannot shilly-shally about.
Although the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) argued for going ahead with the cull, he also, in a different strand of his argument, urged action on vaccination. Some people might feel a little uncomfortable with some of the actions that he was urging, but he was basically saying, “Look, we need to get on with this. We need to make sure we’ve got all the tools in the box to address the issue.”
This has been a good debate. I hope that we can somehow get out of it a collaborative way forward, recognising that there are different conclusions on the evidence, that the biggest-ever survey and scientific investigation into badger culling had an outcome that suggested that it is not a sensible way forward, and that we need to use all the tools in the box to address this terrible disease.
I think that we are at the stage of the afternoon when there is almost nothing left to say; anyway, that will not stop me.
This is, above all, a serious human tragedy. We have heard a lot about statistics and science. Some Members have not had the opportunity to do this, but for those who think that there is still time to reconsider their views on this whole saga, I urge them to talk, just for a few moments, to one or two of the people affected, and to look at the online videos that are available, to get a feel for what the impact really is. While we have been having this debate, five or six farm animals, in many cases perfectly healthy, will have been killed. That will have come at a cost to the taxpayer, but above all it will have come at a serious cost to the farms in question—not just a financial cost but a big emotional cost to people whose animals are their way of life. I urge all Members on both sides of the House who have not had that experience to find out about it before they finally make up their mind on the rights or wrongs of this proposal.
I want to stick to two matters—vaccination in Wales and animal welfare. Much has been made of the Welsh experiment in north Pembrokeshire, next door to where I live. In an area of 10 miles by 10 miles, 1,424 animals have been vaccinated at a cost of £662 each. Let us not forget that that cost comes not just once but every year. Forty per cent. of those animals will already be suffering from TB and will therefore be completely unaffected by the vaccination, so it will have been carried out at the taxpayer’s expense with no benefit whatsoever. Moreover, the population estimates are pretty inaccurate. The Welsh Assembly’s estimate of 1,200 to 2,500 has a pretty wide margin, and more animals than its minimum estimate have already been vaccinated. When the shadow Secretary of State talks about the benefits of the Welsh model, I urge her to bear in mind that it is a long way from being anything like definitive, and we will not have the results for some years yet.
On animal welfare, the contrast between cruelty and suffering has often been debated here. There is a claim, which I happen to disagree with, that aspects of the cull are cruel. They may be ethically questionable, and I respect anybody who takes that view, but badgers that are shot humanely—I am talking about instant death—do not suffer. Death is not a welfare issue but the means are a welfare issue.
I want to refer to comments that were made a few years ago by people who were opposed to these proposals, particularly those involved with the RSPCA, the League Against Cruel Sports, and the Burns inquiry into hunting with dogs. Their view on the method of shooting that is currently proposed is interesting. The RSPCA said:
“Shooting is widely held to be a humane method of control in skilled hands”.
The LACS said:
“Culling should be carried out by the most efficient and humane means available. In practice we believe this means the use of high-velocity rifles by users who have passed a competency test or by humane trapping.”
A few years later, we are suddenly told that those methods apparently do not apply to a badger cull. The RSPCA pre-empted this by suggesting that there is a huge difference between shooting a badger and shooting a fox. The guidelines given to the marksmen make it very clear that they must have the right weaponry and the right ammunition, and they must be at close range. These weapons are, by the RSPCA’s own admission, in the hands of very skilled people. One or two of the organisations that are now making a loud noise about the suffering element need to refer to their own files to see that these are the very methods they recommended for wildlife control not that many years ago. Apparently at that time they expressed no concerns about the possible danger that those methods of control might have caused to members of the public, farm animals or people in the areas where culling was, and still is, a perfectly routine activity.
We are looking at a pilot cull in two areas that will take out, at best, less than 1% of the UK badger population. It has been frustrating to hear Members say time and again that this is the only solution. Everybody who has been involved in this debate on either side of the House should recognise that it is part of a package of measures. It will not necessarily have an instant, or even very full, effect quite yet. I support the position of the British Veterinary Association and of the National Farmers Union. Above all, I support the bravery of the Government in eventually fulfilling their promise to the farming community to deal with this problem.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart). His comments were very much along the lines of those that I will make in opposing the motion tabled by the Opposition to stop the badger cull. I commend the Secretary of State for his introduction, which was very balanced and set the scene as regards the reasons why this has to go ahead. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and I agree on many things, but we have different views on this. However, he gave a balanced point of view that was very well put, and I commend him for that.
As Members will be aware, the proposal for a badger cull is not directly applicable to Northern Ireland. However, the Ulster Farmers Union, as an original part of the National Farmers Union, has asked me to put forward a viewpoint on its behalf in this Chamber. Some years ago, the research programme on badger culling and control was brought to Northern Ireland in two geographical areas of the Province. The Ulster Farmers Union supported that then, and it still does. It supports the pilot badger cull scheme here in England and wants to see it implemented in Northern Ireland as soon as possible.
My constituency, which takes in part of the mid-Down area, has the highest levels of TB in the whole of Northern Ireland, and it is transferred across other constituencies as well. Farmers come to me at least once a month with a TB-related problem, so it is clearly an issue for me on behalf of my constituents. There is a need for the cull and for the process that has been proposed. It is not about eradicating all the badgers, as some people have suggested, but about controlling them. I live on a family farm back home. I have two badger setts on my farm and the badgers are healthy, but farmers around me have all had experience of TB. We can therefore understand why farmers are concerned about the issue.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Government ultimately have a duty of care to the farmers and to their stock?
I do accept that; it is a very key issue for us all. That is why I am speaking about the importance of looking after the farmers’ stock but also their families as well. The common key factor for all of us is the presence of badgers, which, if they carry TB, need to be controlled because the cost of farmers’ annual loss of cattle has topped £100 million. The loss of cattle has been tremendous on the UK mainland, but over in Northern Ireland as well. The right hon. Gentleman made an important point about the health of the animals, but there is also an impact on the families. Some farmers who have come to me over the years have had to have their whole herd destroyed because of TB. The impact on their financial, emotional and physical welfare is tremendous, and we cannot ignore that. Whenever we talk about the need to control badgers—not eradicate them—we must also put into the equation the impact on the farmers.
In a previous life, before I came here, I was a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and a member of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. About five years ago, we carried out an investigation and report into bovine TB in Northern Ireland. We spoke to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and representatives from the Republic of Ireland. We also spoke to bodies from across the world, including Australia and New Zealand, which the Secretary of State mentioned in his introductory comments. My hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), who cannot be here because he has constituency duties, chaired the Committee, on which we both served and which recommended controlling badgers. It is vital for that to be put on the record.
In the Republic of Ireland, badger control measures have resulted in a decrease of TB in cattle by almost a third, as has been mentioned. That is close to the Northern Ireland border. If the Republic can do it and it works, that is a prime example not far from the land mass of the British Isles.
In New Zealand, as the Secretary of State and others have mentioned, the most comprehensive control of badgers—not just through culling, but through other measures as well—has reduced the number of herds infected from 1,700 to 70, which is a dramatic decrease. Many methods can be used to achieve this.
Some raise the issue of scientific evidence, but such evidence exists in the Republic, New Zealand, Australia and many other countries across the world. It was clearly presented to the investigation undertaken by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development in my previous job before I was elected here.
There has to be proactive control of badgers in heavily infected areas. That can reduce the level of TB in cattle. My constituents are very concerned about TB. Although there are incidences of TB in England and Wales, we want to see it eradicated in Northern Ireland as well. We want Northern Ireland and the Republic to be disease free. It will help us all, given the multi-million-pound industry: agri-food is worth £4 billion to Northern Ireland’s economy. It is important to us.
I want to speak not only because this is an issue that I feel strongly about, but because it is a matter of great importance to the livelihoods of the vast number of farming communities in South East Cornwall. I will try to be brief. It is very disappointing to see the Opposition Benches so empty, given that this is an Opposition day debate.
Needless to say, my communities rely heavily on farming and tourism. It is not only cattle that have been affected by bovine TB. A constituent of mine, Senara Collings, has a herd of alpacas that she farms on her farm, which is also a tourism establishment. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) joined me at her farm, where we met many local alpaca owners. Senara suffers from the same restrictions that apply to dairy farmers and has suffered considerable distress. In particular, she saw her alpacas destroyed only to find at post mortem that they showed no signs of BTB.
Members who question the necessity of the pilots should speak to another constituent of mine, Dave Worley, who wrote to me saying that he has the unenviable task of dealing with the effects of TB on a daily basis; that, alongside the use of vaccines and trap and test cull methods of control, the numbers of badgers must be reduced; and that doing nothing is not an option. He said that if I was not convinced, I was free to accompany him on a mass reactor cull in order to understand why farmers want the pilot badger cull.
No farmer I have spoken to wants to eradicate badgers; they want the ability to manage then. When a farm goes down with TB, it seems sensible to trap and test the relevant setts and, if they are found to be infected, eradicate them. However, the numbers of badgers have grown so far and so fast that the cull is required to bring the numbers down to a sustainable level. Only then will a vaccine be effective.
Another of my constituents, Chris Wilton, who is also a farmer and local councillor, has told me about the situation in Ireland. He pointed out that, after the cull in southern Ireland, the incidence of BTB is dropping, while in Northern Ireland, where there has not been a cull, it is increasing. He told me that the badger population is out of control because the badger is a protected species.
Finally, Audrey Cole, another constituent of mine, has lived and worked for many years in the countryside among the farming community in South East Cornwall. She sums up why I will vote against the Opposition motion and support the Government:
“Cattle are a major food source for the ever growing population in this country and everything possible should be done to protect THEM! Farming skills have evolved down through 100s of years of experience and farmers know the countryside & how it works better than anyone. Ignore what the farmers are saying at your peril!”
I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will not ignore the farming community and will support the Government’s amendment.
I am very pleased that my Shropshire neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, is present. He will know that in 1997, 47 cows were slaughtered in Shropshire as a result of bovine tuberculosis, and that last year the figure was more than 2,000. That increase happened in Shropshire alone, and the misery and devastation it caused to the dairy and livestock industry of our county, which is so dependent on agriculture, cannot be overemphasised.
In 2006, I set up the all-party group on dairy farmers as a result of the crisis that the disease was causing in Shropshire. More than 250 Members of Parliament joined the group, and the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers did an excellent job as our secretariat. I pay tribute to it for all the work it did with farmers up and down the country to ensure that Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs joined the group. We worked together on the basis of cross-party consensus over 10 months. We interviewed experts not just from the United Kingdom but from all over Europe and overseas, and went on delegations to find out how bovine tuberculosis had been eradicated in France and other countries.
We made two recommendations after those 10 months of work. One was for a limited cull of badgers and the other was for a regulator for supermarkets. At the time, we were ridiculed for proposing two things that were deemed completely impossible to achieve. I remember going to see the relevant Labour Minister at the time and was very disappointed at the derision and incredulity with which the two proposals were greeted.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has acted with great courage. I am sure that a lot of civil servants and others will be saying, “This is a very courageous step, Minister.” Of course, there will be protests up and down the country—this is a highly controversial matter—but I pay tribute to him because he has been so courageous. I very much hope that those people who object passionately to this limited cull will conduct their protests in a peaceful way.
One of the most exciting things we have done in Shropshire this year is invite a delegation of cattle dealers, agronomists and farmers from the Bryansk region of Russia. I and my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) have worked together to help the Government make sure that Russia lifts the ban on cattle imports that it imposed after the BSE crisis. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has done more than any other Member of Parliament to ensure that that happens. There is such excitement that we can and should be exporting more of our superb agricultural produce overseas. No country produces better dairy products than the United Kingdom, and, of course, the best of those are from Shropshire.
I have to say, in the limited time that I have, that the Minsterley creamery in my constituency and the Müller dairy in north Shropshire employ huge numbers of local constituents in the dairy industry. We must do everything that we can to protect the livelihoods of those constituents and the security of their families and children, because they have worked in the industry for generations. This policy is just one of the tools that the Secretary of State is using to do that.
Finally, the Secretary of State recently received a letter from Mr Lovegrove-Fielden from my constituency, whom I met recently. I very much hope that he reads the letter. It says that if the trials are successful, he should quickly consider implementing the policy in Shropshire because we must do everything possible to protect our Salopian dairy farmers.
I declare an interest as a farmer who owns cattle, albeit in Wales, which is not covered by the Government’s proposals. However, we have certainly been affected by bovine TB. People who are more directly involved are deciding to go out of cattle as a result of that.
I am disappointed that we are having this debate although I fully support the Government’s proposals. I am disappointed because in the 1980s, bovine TB was practically eliminated from the United Kingdom. That was achieved by using many of the processes that we are now using to try to eliminate it. The disease is out of control in terms of the number of farms and cattle affected. It is progressing northwards and eastwards away from the hot spots in the south-west.
As has been emphasised today, bovine TB is a complicated disease. Its epidemiology and the way in which it is spread are not well understood. One thing that we are certain about is that badgers infected with TB can pass it on to cattle, but there are other methods of infection. When there are diseased badgers in fields where cattle are grazing, there is the opportunity for the disease to be transmitted. Although we are cleaning up the disease in cattle, as long as there are infected badgers where they are grazing, the disease can spread. We have heard a lot about increased biosecurity, but the same people advocate natural forms of cattle production—in other words, grazing. As far as I know, there are no biosecurity measures that can keep badgers and cattle apart when cattle are grazing.
All farmers would say that if an effective vaccine were available, they would opt for it. However, as has been said, we are continually told that the vaccine is coming, but it never arrives. The injectable vaccine for badgers is a step forward and I am sure that it can be used in a package of measures to tackle the disease.
I thank my hon. Friend and neighbour for allowing me to intervene. Does he share my disappointment that the Government in Wales are not going ahead with the cull that the Labour Government decided to carry out between 2007 and 2011? That cull would have taken place in Wales if they had not made a complete mess of the legalities.
There is disappointment in Wales about that, but I want to continue to talk about the role that vaccines can play.
If cattle could be vaccinated, it would be a step forward that farmers would welcome. It has been said that that might cost £5 a head. Given the amount of medication that cattle receive in a year, £5 is of little consequence. Farmers would certainly leap at the opportunity.
The vaccine that is available now is the BCG vaccine, which a number of us of a certain age have been injected with. The Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine was developed in Paris between 1910 and 1920. For all the work that has gone on to improve the TB vaccine for human beings, that is the only vaccine that is available. It is only about 60% effective in human beings and in animals.
I accept that a cull has a part to play because infection levels are so severe and all the other methods of control have proved to be ineffective. Farmers have co-operated with DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly Government to increase the number of tests that take place. In Wales, every farm is currently tested every year. If a reactor is detected, tests must be carried out every two months until there are two consecutive clear tests. That is an incredible commitment in terms of labour and expense. Other forms of control have taken place. Pre-testing before movement has proved to be effective, but it is not effective enough to get to grips with this disease that is affecting rural areas.
I believe that the Government have taken a tough decision. The randomised badger culling trials were scientific trials and were never thought to be a practical method of reducing TB. Professor King, who was the Government’s chief scientific adviser at the time, looked at the tests, identified the weaknesses and decided that there were ways to reduce the problem of badgers moving across the cull area. The Government have taken on board all those recommendations and come forward with proposals that I believe will have an impact in reducing and, eventually, eliminating the disease.
I wanted to speak in this debate because of the importance of balancing the well-being of our herd with public health concerns and the need to protect wildlife and our farming community. I will vote in favour of the amendment and, by extension, the trial cull, but I will do so through gritted teeth, because I strongly believe that it is circumstances that have put us in this position. I have faith in the Government to do the right thing.
Thankfully, TB is not a problem in my constituency, which is designated a TB-free zone. That means that the number of cases is very low. I hope that that continues. I am glad that the Government are taking the problem so seriously. It is a major problem across the country, so we must act.
Government vets say that there is no viable vaccine for cattle and talk about how seriously they take the problem, but what do they really mean? They mean that the European Commission has banned any meat that has been vaccinated from being sold in the EU. That is because it is hard accurately to test the difference between infected cattle and those that have been inoculated. Instead, the Commission favours mass culls of cattle as the solution and points to a number of countries that have cut TB in that way. It wants DEFRA to cull a whole herd when one case of TB is found within it. That would be a nightmare for farmers, as many of my colleagues have articulated much better than I ever could. It would risk ripping apart our rural community and its vital economic contribution to my Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency.
The Commission’s policy makes it impossible for DEFRA to consider vaccinating every cow and impossible for it to compensate farmers accurately—things that would protect our herds, assure human health and build confidence in the British meat market, which, incidentally, is the best in the world. The Commission has refused funding for the badger cull, and it is clear that it has a one-track mind on this subject, so we must force it to open up to new ideas. After all, the BCG vaccine has protected British people from TB for decades, and the idea that it is illegal even to consider a similar programme for cattle is a huge error.
Once again, then, we see the EU getting it badly wrong and causing problems for this country. As for the badgers themselves, we cannot ever cull enough to eradicate TB—because they are not the sole problem. DEFRA’s chief scientific officer says that this cull will cut cases of bovine TB by 16%, but that can never be anything more than a temporary fix in a crisis situation. As cases double every 10 years, I think we all must accept that this is a crisis.
We must work with groups such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Badger Trust and interested members of the public such as Brian May. I have been in contact with him and I know that he does not share my views; he does, however, share the view that something must be done. Those organisations have mounted an admirable campaign and they deserve credit. The answer we all seek is out there, and we can achieve it if we bring together environmental groups, animal welfare charities and farmers to tag and monitor healthy badgers in the future. This must be done by mutual, voluntary, agricultural and governmental bodies to vaccinate and eradicate badgers as a carrier of bovine TB. I recognise that it is a costly option, but the more that TB spreads, the more we risk spill-over hosts—TB spreading to other breeds of animals.
Reluctantly, then, we must accept this six-week cull of 5,000 badgers, along with the Government’s assurances that they will redouble efforts to use strategies such as testing and containment. After the cull, however, we must take the following clear steps. First, we must tell the European Commission that one size does not fit all; secondly, we should work to develop a quick, clear and accurate genetic test for TB; thirdly, we should look into a mass vaccination programme for both cattle and badgers; and, fourthly, DEFRA and the National Farmers Union should work with groups such as the RSPCA and the Badger Trust to find better solutions—tagging and monitoring healthy badger populations, for example. This might sound to Members like a wish list, but it is a workable concept.
If the cull goes ahead, let us all agree that it must be for the last time. We already test 5.5 million animals a year. We work in slaughterhouses and we are using biosecurity measures to ensure that infected animals never get to other areas of the country. Protecting our food supply must be our top priority, and I applaud the Secretary of State for making it a top priority against personal decisions, but we must save our wildlife, too.
I rise to speak against the motion and in support of the many farmers in my constituency who have suffered most grievously over many years from the scourge of bovine TB. I would like to make an important point at the outset. I was rather surprised that the shadow Secretary of State appeared to imply that the farming community was heavily, or to some significant degree, divided on its opinion of the advisability of having a cull. I would advise those who have the courage to stand up and support the Government not to get too carried away with the notion that farmers or any other community, or indeed the British population, are substantially against these measures. The most recent YouGov poll on this topic did indeed illustrate that by a small margin there were more people against a cull than were in favour of it. In fact, the figure against the Government’s actions was 34%. That means, however, that some 66% were not prepared to say that they were against what the Government were doing. Indeed, some 29% were in favour of what the Government were doing; 22% expressed no opinion; and 15% did not mind one way or the other.
An important additional question was asked in that survey: of those not prepared to support the Government, how many would change their minds if they became convinced that these actions would prevent the further spread of the disease into other parts of the country? The figure was 27%. All Members should bear in mind that critical point. The Government are proposing a series of trials. They will not in and of themselves solve the problem, but they will help us along the road to understanding the approach we should take in future.
The reasons why it is important to take action have been well documented in this debate. We have heard speaker after speaker referring to the 28,000 cattle that were slaughtered last year and to the £1 billion cost that we are likely to face if no action is taken over the next decade. As the Member of Parliament who has the farm crisis network organisation based in my constituency, I know that spending some time with members of that organisation and listening to the harrowing, heartfelt stories about farmers who are suffering might of itself change a few minds.
Many Opposition Members have said that we suggest that this approach is a silver or magic bullet that will solve the problem. Of course it will not. It is one of a number of measures that need to be taken, as is recognised by the British Veterinary Association in its support for the action that we are taking. The Opposition have also argued that the results of the Krebs trials show that our approach is likely to make the position worse, but I do not believe that. I believe that the scientific evidence that emerged following those trials, as more information became available and more was understood about the mechanisms involved in transmission, showed that a different approach could lead to a different result.
I am pleased that the Government’s trials will take place in large areas, measuring 150 square miles, that the cull will be pursued over a lengthy period, and that natural barriers provided by motorways, the sea and rivers, along with vaccination at the periphery, will ensure that perturbation is minimised. That, I believe, will have some effect. I suspect that those who are currently saying, in response to a YouGov poll, that they do not support the Government’s action will start to turn towards us when they see what I expect to be the results further down the line.
Some Opposition Members dangle before farmers the prospect of vaccination, saying that no action should be taken now because it will soon be possible to get it going. Let me make two points about that. First, there is currently no oral vaccine for badgers, and until there is such a vaccine and until it has been proved to be effective, vaccination cannot possibly be a viable route for them. Secondly, as we have heard from many Members, there is no 100% effective vaccine for cattle. Tests cannot differentiate effectively between cattle with the disease and those that have been vaccinated, and the European Union does not expect a legal or viable vaccine to be available for at least 10 years. So vaccination will not be the answer.
As the Secretary of State has observed during his travels around the world, there is no country in which the problem has been tackled effectively without its being tackled in the reservoir of disease that is out there in the wildlife population, and this country will be no exception. I commend the Government for the stand that they have taken, and I urge Members to vote against the motion.
Several hon. Members
Order. Mr Mark Spencer will be the last speaker, and he will have four minutes in which to speak. I ask him to resume his seat by 3.40 pm, when the winding-up speeches will begin.
Let me first draw the House’s attention to my declaration of interest, not only as a former dairy farmer and a licensed holder of an exempt finishing unit, but as a landowner with badger setts on his farm—badger setts of which I am particularly proud. We in Nottinghamshire have the healthiest, smartest badgers that anyone could wish for, and I want to keep them that way. They are something of which I am very proud, a heritage of our country which should be protected and looked after. I want my badgers to remain healthy and TB-free for as long as possible.
As we heard from the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), this debate has prompted a fair amount of emotion. I have to say, as a former dairy farmer, that it is impossible to describe what it is like to be present at the birth of a calf, to be there when it takes its first breath, to be there when it drinks its first milk, and then to take it all the way through its life; to choose the animal with which it will breed, and to trace its family tree back through your father’s to your grandfather’s generation. It is impossible to quantify the importance of that experience, emotionally, to farmers, or to quantify the extent of their attachment to their animals.
To be told by Opposition Members that when our cattle are killed—when they are slaughtered—it is our fault, because we did not look after the biosecurity of our farms, is something very powerful which causes an enormous amount of emotion. I believe that farmers have the highest biosecurity that they could possibly have on their units, and it is physically impossible to keep a grass field where cattle are grazing badger-free. It is important for us to deal with the facts of the case rather than with alleged misdemeanours. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) talked of balaclava-clad gunmen with shotguns riding around the countryside, which is a complete fabrication. Some of what is said is quite shameful.
We must use every tool in the box to protect my badgers, to protect my cattle, and to protect people from a disease that is spreading across the countryside towards Nottinghamshire. We will use biosecurity measures, movement restrictions and vaccination when it is available, but we have to take out the infected badgers in other parts of the country, which will otherwise spread this terrible disease across the east midlands towards Nottinghamshire and destroy these cattle.
I urge Members to support the Government in this unfortunate but necessary act. I urge Members to support the cull and eradicate TB from this country.
This has been a good debate, and I commend all Members who have spoken today for their contributions, not least those who focused on the science, the evidence and the facts. On an issue as important as this, we must have evidence-based policy. The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) just made some remarks about our discussion of issues of animal husbandry, cattle movements and so forth. I say to him that he should look at DEFRA’s own pronouncements on that, which make the same points.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) raised the issue of chapter 4.5 of the original Independent Scientific Group report and the modelling of spatial patterns of transmission. He said this work is still to be done several years on. We need to get on with doing that. The Secretary of State describes himself on his own website as an expert on bovine TB. We should therefore agree to follow the science, and we need to do that modelling.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) talked about the opposition from farmers, the public and others in the west country and the pioneering work of her wildlife trust. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) talked about the approach in Wales and the ISG remark in respect of the original trials that the cull cannot meaningfully contribute to the eradication of TB. She rightly praised the Labour Welsh Government’s approach in TB-intensive vaccination areas, with 472 landowners taking part.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) talked eloquently about the impact of testing and cattle slaughter on her farmers, and the meetings she has had with farmers, but she strongly advocated a different way forward than a cull. She also talked of the practical difficulties of shooting badgers at night.
The hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) twice called me ignorant for using the term “shotguns” in respect of shooting badgers. I draw his attention to the DEFRA document of May this year, “Controlled shooting of badgers in the field under licence to prevent the spread of bovine TB in cattle”. It says on page 2 that the firearms that are authorised are rifles and shotguns.
Order. That is a point of clarification, not an intervention. The hon. Lady has made those remarks in the wrong place.
It is important to stick with the facts and what is said in the documents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) said the Government had come to their decision through a predetermined sense that a cull is the answer, and he made it clear that the scientific consensus is firmly against a cull as part of a BTB eradication programme. He made the point that a cull could be bad for farmers if it were to make the spread of BTB worse.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) put a coherent alternative strategy with great knowledge and insight, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who noted areas of commonality between the two Front-Bench teams, although we are divided on the issue of the cull.
The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) has expertise from her position as Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. She made a rational, cool-headed contribution, for which I thank her. I thank her, too, for the report, which we will study over the next few days.
The hon. Members for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) and for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) spoke passionately on behalf of farmers, as did the hon. Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) and for Sherwood, as, too, did the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) in speaking for the Ulster Farmers Union—and, as an aside, we note that the various farming unions around the UK are possibly the only unions not routinely denigrated by this Government.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) described the Government as intransigent on this matter, and advocated an alternative approach. The hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) spoke with great knowledge and in great detail of a different approach that he hopes to pursue in his area and said the balance of best-informed scientific opinion indicates the Government are taking a high risk by having this cull. He made the point that we cannot draw a direct analogy with possums and deer—and not even with Ireland, either. He talked about the wider effect on the rural economy and his work with Professor Rosie Woodroffe on badger vaccinations.
The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) spoke bravely and with an independent mind, showing again that this is not a party issue. There are differences of opinion within parties. This should be a science-led issue, and she set out why a cull is wrong-headed and why it could make things worse.
What we have from this Government is not evidence-based policy, but policy-based evidence. As leading scientists have observed, the Government have decided on the policy then sought to cherry-pick the evidence to back it up. Bad science is worse than no science at all, so I will try to confine my words to the science and the evidence, strip out the politics and the polemics, and see where the science leads us. Our argument, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) has said, is that this cull is bad for the farmers, bad for badgers and bad for the taxpayer. A cull could actually worsen TB in badger and cattle populations. Field trials showed that although a structured cull could reduce the increase—I repeat, reduce the increase; take the top off the rise—in bovine TB by 16% after nine years, in the short term it could spread the disease further afield as badgers move from the shooting. Hard boundaries or not, there is a risk that the disease will spread through culling, a risk heightened by this untried and untested approach of licensed shooting.
A cull could cost more than an alternative, such as badger vaccination, not least because of the policing costs—the costs the Government were reluctant to reveal, yet which were completely foreseeable. Dr Rosie Woodroffe’s analysis takes the Government’s own cost estimates of badger vaccination at £2,250 per square kilometre per year, compared with the proposed culling costs at £l,000 per square kilometre per year, but adds the policing costs for the cull, which are £l,429 per square kilometre per year. So vaccination becomes the cheaper option. That analysis does not include the additional costs incurred by culling as a result of performing expensive surveys and carrying out monitoring, both before and after. The Government have tried to promote this cull as a cheap solution, but we are finding out again that cheap solutions often turn out to be very expensive indeed. It is the old adage of, “You buy cheap, you pay twice.”
Badger vaccination could be an effective alternative to the cull. We acknowledge the need to do more work on vaccination, but we already know from tests that vaccination reduces the transmission of M. bovis to other badgers and, combined with typical badger mortality of three to five years, there is good reason to expect the impacts on reducing transmission to cattle to be comparable to those from culling. Moreover, because vaccination does not lead to perturbation and is shown to reduce the proportion of infected badgers, rather than increasing it, as culling does and is proven to do, vaccination should have greater long-term prospects for TB eradication. In addition, because vaccination does not prompt protest and does not incur policing costs, it is cheaper to implement than culling. So was it not a great and capital error for the Government to cancel five of the six vaccination trials, instead of using them to test alternative ways forward? We should be fast-tracking the development of oral vaccines now. It is a bad decision, Ministers, and it is bad science.
We need to improve bovine TB testing, improve farm biosecurity, and strengthen cattle movement restrictions. The Government are considering strengthening cattle movements and biosecurity further, a recognition, I hope, that there is much, much more to be done—I hope that the hon. Member for Sherwood will note that the Government are saying that themselves. Professor John Bourne, the vet who led the 10-year, £50 million trial of badger culling under controlled conditions and who has first-hand knowledge of the existing regime, has stated:
“The cattle controls in operation at the moment are totally ineffective”,
with the inaccuracy of bovine TB tests meaning that herds testing negative are actually harbouring the disease—Ministers will know that. He states:
“It’s an absolute nonsense that farmers can move cattle willy-nilly after only two tests. Why won’t politicians implement proper cattle movement controls?”
In short, truly robust risk-based cattle movement control in the UK is not in place, and it is an imperative.
Professor Bourne’s data analysis on the deep and lasting infection in our cattle herds is comprehensive, utterly compelling and utterly stark. So what does the wider informed scientific community say about the cull? Eminent zoologist at Oxford university, president-elect of the British Science Association and, it is fair to say, expert on this subject, Lord Krebs, has criticised the Government for a misleading use of science in support of the cull. He has described the cull by shooting as a “crazy” idea. Thirty of Britain’s finest animal disease scientists wrote in opposition to the cull, describing it as “mindless”. Former Government chief scientific adviser Lord Robert May has said:
“It is very clear that the government’s policy does not make sense.”
Well, at least last October the Government were able to turn to their own chief scientist for support, and I urge hon. Members to listen carefully to what Professor Sir John Beddington said:
“I continue to engage with Defra on the evidence base concerning the development of bovine TB policy. I am content that the evidence base, including uncertainties and evidence gaps, has been communicated effectively to ministers.”
Yes, Minister, “Gaps and uncertainties. Continue to engage. Communicated to ministers”—it is hardly a ringing endorsement.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield has said already, DEFRA Ministers are pressing ahead with a cull based on the unproven shooting of badgers despite leading scientists warning against that “untested and risky approach”. A cull would be bad for badgers, bad for farmers and bad for taxpayers.
We have called this vote to appeal to all parliamentarians who believe in science-led policy, not policy-led science, and who truly want to turn this disease around and eradicate bovine TB. We need improvements to the testing regime, more transparency about herds that have had TB breakdown, a more stringent evidence-led, risk-based policy to manage cattle movements better, urgency from Ministers to develop cost-effective badger vaccination to tackle the disease in wildlife and determined efforts to develop a vaccine to tackle TB in cattle.
It is not too late to halt the cull, and to work with farmers, wildlife groups and others to put in place a strategy that will truly seek to eradicate bovine TB. I urge Members to join us tonight in the Lobby.
This has been an extremely useful debate, not least because it has, I hope, reminded people that we are dealing with a disease with devastating consequences not just for animals, including cattle, and for wildlife, but for families and businesses across the country, and a disease that has an enormous impact on rural areas. All Government Members mentioned that and, creditably, some Opposition Members did, too, including the hon. Members for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) and for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon), as well as the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), who had clearly gone to the trouble of speaking to farmers in her constituency. I applaud that.
It is clear to me that we need a proper, comprehensive strategy to deal with this disease. If there is one marked contrast in the debate, it is that between the Opposition’s motion, which simply says no to one part of the strategy, and the Government’s amendment, which sets out a proper view of how we should be dealing with the problem.
Let me deal with some of the misconceptions and disinformation that sometimes make their way into such debates. The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), whom I cannot see in his place, talked about the “genocide” of badgers in an intervention, and I think the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) talked about “extermination”. Let us be absolutely clear that we are not talking about exterminating badgers. We are not talking about leaving this country without one of its iconic species across most of the countryside. In fact, in large parts of the countryside badgers and cattle are healthy; not a single thing will happen to badgers in those areas. We are talking about targeting areas where the badger has endemic disease and where we need to deal with it. It is right and proper that we should do so.
It has been suggested that other countries have managed to deal with TB effectively without dealing with the wildlife reservoir of infection. That is simply not true. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State very clearly provided those countries that have dealt with TB effectively and it is impossible to suggest a single country in which TB has been dealt with where there is a wildlife reservoir that has not been dealt with.
Let me scotch the myth about the research on vaccination, because several Members said that we had cut such research. It is simply not true. Let me give the figures. From 1994 to 2010, £43 million was spent on such research, or approximately £2.7 million a year. From 2010 to 2014, £15.5 million has been spent, or £3.8 million a year. That does not include the £1 million we have already spent on preparation for the field trials of the vaccine in this country for the purposes of the European Union and the many millions of pounds that would be spent on conducting those trials.
Then we have the nonsense about the Government cancelling six of the vaccination trials. Let me be clear that they were not vaccination trials but trials to see whether we could train lay people to vaccinate animals. We do not need six experiments to see whether it is possible to train a lay person to vaccinate animals; we need one successful trial of that technique. We need to engage with those people who want to use vaccination across the country, to see where we can deploy it properly. That is where we have put resource. That is why I have been talking to my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) about the proposals he has in Penwith. That is why we have worked with conservation groups in Gloucestershire and elsewhere—because we believe that vaccination is part of the answer, part of the comprehensive strategy, and we want to ensure that we use it effectively.
But there is one significant problem with using vaccine, which the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report clearly lays out. At the moment we do not have a viable, injectable vaccine that is cost-effective and sensible to use. We do not have an oral vaccine; we hope that we will in the near future, so we are directing research into that area, because that would make a big difference. The one problem that cannot be avoided is that a vaccine cannot cure a sick animal. A sick animal continues to excrete, continues to spread infection; so it is necessary to remove the centre of infection from the population and then protect the rest with badger vaccine. I hope that we shall be able to do so.
The hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) mentioned the trials in Wales with great approbation. I hope that those work, but they are an experiment. We talk about non- evidence-based work. She mentioned Dr Christianne Glossop, the chief vet in Wales. What did she say? She said:
“We don’t know whether vaccination will provide us with the appropriate way of dealing with the wildlife element of infection.”
“There is no trial data to show that vaccinating badgers will make a difference on cattle herd breakdowns”.
I really hope it works; I would love it to work, but I cannot say that I know it will work because nobody knows that.
The hon. Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) said that we do not know the badger numbers so the whole basis of the cull is nonsense. Let me be clear about the methodology. I had hoped that the hon. Member for Wakefield would look at the methodology before coming to the House to speak on the issue. We have the DNA hair test; that is a constant feedback loop on the proportion of the badger population in an area that is being caught by the cull. We will know definitively what proportion we are dealing with and we can make adjustments accordingly. So there is not the slightest question of all badgers in the area being killed, or of taking out far too few to be effective.
On humaneness, the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) made the point far better than I could that the organisations that were arguing for shooting as the most humane method of disposal are now saying it is the least humane; they cannot have it both ways. Humaneness will be looked at as part of the trials. Independent observers will be watching and reporting back. The point of the trials is to check on humaneness, effectiveness and safety.
We are told that scientists have reached no consensus. That is not true either. On the science there is consensus. We had a very valuable meeting at the Royal Society recently, where there was clear scientific consensus on the validity of the evidence. But there is no consensus on the political conclusions drawn from that evidence. Scientists are entitled to have a political view, but they are not entitled to mistake that for evidence; that is my simple contention.
We are told that the costs will be prohibitive because, the Opposition believe, people will behave illegally in those areas and will have to be policed. The same could be said about anything, but I can tell the House that there are people shooting safely every night of the week across rural Britain, and large amounts of policing with extra costs are not required. The only reason for extra policing costs will be if there are people who are determined to break the law and put themselves and others in danger.
Like the hon. Members for Scunthorpe and for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), I hope that we can reach consensus on a comprehensive strategy, but no country has ever successfully borne down on TB without doing something about the reservoir of infection in the wildlife population. I believe that what we are proposing will achieve healthy cattle and healthy badgers. Our objective is clear: to remove this devastating disease from this country. We want to get back to having official TB-free status for this country. That will be good for farmers, good for wildlife and good for the taxpayers of this country, and I believe that the policy should commend itself to the House.
Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.
5 June 2013
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.
5 June 2013
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).
That this House notes that bovine tuberculosis (TB) has, as a consequence of the lack of effective counter-measures, spread from a few isolated incidents to affect large parts of England and Wales, resulting in the slaughter of 28,000 cattle in England alone in 2012 at a cost of £100 million to the taxpayer; is concerned that 305,000 cattle have been slaughtered in Great Britain as a result of bovine TB in the last decade and that the cost is expected to rise to over £1 billion over the next 10 years; recognises that to deal effectively with the disease every available tool should be employed; accordingly welcomes the strengthening of biosecurity measures and stringent controls on cattle movements; further welcomes the research and investment into both cattle and badger vaccines, and better diagnostic testing, but recognises that despite positive work with the European Commission the use of a viable and legal cattle vaccine has been confirmed to be still at least 10 years away; further notes that no country has successfully borne down on bovine TB without dealing with infection in the wildlife population, and that the Randomised Badger Control Trials demonstrated both the link between infection in badgers and in cattle and that culling significantly reduces incidence; looks forward to the successful conclusion of the current pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset; and welcomes the Government’s development of a comprehensive strategy to reverse the spread of bovine TB and officially eradicate this disease.’.