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Badger Cull

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 11 December 2013

[Mr Mike Weir in the Chair]

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir.

I make it clear for the record that I am a long-standing trustee of the League Against Cruel Sports. I want the cull to be abandoned because I do not believe there is any justification for its continuation. Indeed, prior to the recent cull, there was a debate in the main Chamber in which we implored the Government not to proceed. We made it clear that there is no evidence to support a cull. I said that the cull was likely, according to the scientific evidence, to make matters worse.

The hon. Gentleman says that there is no justification for the cull, so why is it that the Republic of Ireland only got control of tuberculosis once it started culling badgers? This is about badgers infecting cattle with TB, and we need to react strongly. I entirely reject what the hon. Gentleman says.

I will develop my argument, but the hon. Gentleman is misquoting the statistics relating to Ireland. If we dig a little deeper into the situation in Ireland, it is pretty clear that north of the border, where I believe culling has not taken place, the situation improved considerably more than it did in the south of Ireland.

Order. Quiet in the Chamber. A lot of people want to speak in this debate, so I ask for quiet and for short interventions.

Does not the evidence show that, even with the cull, the targets cannot be achieved? More importantly, would it not be better to use the Scottish system?

Does my hon. Friend agree that this debate is on so-called control of mainland badgers? Will he please address the intervention by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish)? This is about scientific evidence; the scientific evidence from Lord May and the breadth of scientific opinion in this country are against the cull.

May I develop my argument a little further, because I have only just started? I have read only the first couple of lines of my speech, and I have already had five people seeking to interject. Please let me develop my argument before making further interventions.

As I was saying before I was intervened on, the Government disregarded the scientific evidence and my and other hon. Members’ assertions that the cull would make matters worse. They disregarded public opinion. The scientific views of a range of eminent individuals have been completely disregarded by Ministers; we have been confronted by Ministers who from day one have simply been gung ho for the cull and determined to proceed, irrespective of the evidence. It seems to me that Ministers are impervious to reason. Disregarding scientific evidence and public opinion so cavalierly is no way for a Government to make policy.

May I carry on a little longer?

As we know, the cull has been a dismal failure. The policy is an absolute shambles. Instead of accepting the Government’s mistake, we have seen the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs indulging in shameless propaganda to try to justify the unjustifiable. The Independent reports him as saying:

“These lovely black and white creatures you see on the telly and you put in your newspaper. They don’t relate to these miserable, emaciated sick animals spewing out disease.”

There is no evidence for that.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) on 10 October, the Secretary of State said that

“some of the animals we have shot have been desperately sick—in the final stages of disease”.—[Official Report, 10 October 2013; Vol. 568, c. 281.]

In a written answer to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), the Minister said:

“The Secretary of State’s comments about sick badgers relate to the comments made to him by contractors and farmers during the culls.”—[Official Report, 18 November 2013; Vol. 570, c. 714W.]

So there is no evidence at all. We are simply getting scaremongering nonsense from the Government. The cull has been a very costly failure.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate.

Scotland is virtually clear of TB in cattle. Is there not an awful lot to be said for the argument that the Government down here, whose experiment has been a folly, should look at the Scottish situation instead of continuing a cull that nobody recognises as being of any use?

My hon. Friend is right that the Government should look at evidence from elsewhere in the United Kingdom—and, indeed, listen to the expert scientific evidence.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He mentioned my parliamentary question, but does he also share my concern that the Government appear to have done so few post-mortems on badgers that we do not know what the results are? Does he further agree that, in light of the shambles around the current culling policy, there is a real danger that the Government will go down the route of gassing? Gassing is incredibly inhumane. The real answer, which is also cheaper and more effective, is to vaccinate badgers. That is what we should do.

I will carry on before taking a few more interventions.

What I find so scandalous about the whole process, apart from the fact that the Government have disregarded scientific and public opinion, is that the Government have withheld information about the humaneness of the cull. We were assured by Ministers that of course the cull would be humane. We had crocodile tears from Government Members in the debate earlier this year, when they said how concerned they were about animal welfare and that of course the procedure would be humane.

I will give way in a moment.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is withholding information about the criteria on which the humaneness of the cull has been based. Surely if the Government have nothing to fear, they will release that information—but of course they have been singularly unwilling to do so.

Public safety has been compromised by the cull. Monitors who are there to watch over the cull have been intimidated by some of the people employed to do the culling. Shots have been fired over the heads of monitors—shots have been fired in the United Kingdom over the heads of people going about their lawful business of monitoring the activities of a cull set up by the Government. They have had shots fired over their heads! That is appalling and disgraceful, and it should be condemned by Ministers, but we have not heard any condemnation from the Government. On at least one occasion, people monitoring the culls have had their vehicle rammed by people who favour the cull.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there is some scientific evidence in favour of a cull, as well as strong arguments against a cull? Is it not the case that the Labour party in Wales, which is now in government, was in favour of a cull when it was in coalition with Plaid Cymru? It was only when they won an overall majority that they changed their mind and ceased their battle in the High Court. Why is the hon. Gentleman trying to politicise the matter when his colleagues in Wales were determined to fight in the High Court for the right to go ahead with a cull? What has changed since then?

The fact is that the Welsh Government rejected any suggestion of a cull and are going ahead with a vaccination programme, which I hope this Government will accept for England. It seems a more appropriate way forward, rather than proceeding in the current manner. I am about to come on to some of the scientific evidence, which clearly refutes the assertion just made by the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies).

Public safety has been compromised and costs have spiralled out of control, but the Government say that the policy is based on the previous randomised badger cull from, I think, 1998 to 2006. The conclusions of that cull showed that, far from actually making things better, it actually resulted in a 29% increase in the incidence of TB outside the cull area. I will quote from paragraph 9 of the independent scientific group on cattle TB’s final report, which is a weighty tome that runs to some 200 pages:

“After careful consideration of all the RBCT”—

randomised badger cull trials—

“and other data presented in this report, including an economic assessment, we conclude that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the…control of cattle TB in Britain.”

There we have it. The scientific evidence from the randomised trials could not be clearer. It is there in black and white. I invite the Minister to read it. It was actually produced for the Government, and I simply do not understand why they have been so unwilling to take account of the evidence before them.

The cull has been utterly unsuccessful. It was supposed to kill 70% of badgers, but it has managed only 39% even though it was extended from six to 11 weeks. Cattle have been put at greater risk. Ministers say they are standing up for the farming community and that they want to eradicate this terrible disease, but they are embarking on a programme that is making matters worse. They knew it would make matters worse, because the evidence from the scientific report told them so.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He mentioned the science and scientific assessment, and he will be aware that Lord Krebs, in the Grand Committee debate on Monday, described the trials as a “complete fiasco.” There is a critical question that the Minister needs to be asked today. Without prejudging the findings of the independent panel, which was charged with assessing the cull’s effectiveness and humaneness, if it finds that the cull was neither effective nor humane, would the Government stop the cull?

One would certainly hope that the Government would. I am going to refer to Lord Krebs in a moment, and I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.

Professor Woodroffe, who is a leading expert in such matters, said:

“It’s very likely that so far this cull will have increased the TB risk for cattle inside the Gloucestershire cull zone rather than reducing it.”

Scientific evidence from a few years ago and contemporary scientific opinion both say that the cull is making matters worse. Yet the Government still want to proceed with more culls.

The hon. Gentleman is making a most impassioned speech, albeit one with which I do not entirely agree. Leaving aside the substance of his arguments, perhaps he could address one particular question. One criticism of the trials in Somerset and Gloucestershire is that, according to his argument, insufficient badgers were killed. Had a larger number been killed, would he be congratulating the Government on their success?

I have fundamental objections to the cull. All the evidence demonstrates that it is likely to make matters worse. Even if the 70% target had been reached, scientific opinion suggests that a cull is not the way to proceed. I urge the Government to follow the route taken by the Welsh Government and to embark on a programme of vaccination.

The Secretary of State seems deluded. Even though the scientific evidence stated that the cull would make matters worse and even though only 39% of badgers, rather than the 70% that was claimed necessary to have the required impact, were killed, the Secretary of State said in a written statement:

“The extension in Gloucestershire has therefore been successful in meeting its aim in preparing the ground for a fully effective four year cull.”—[Official Report, 2 December 2013; Vol. 571, c. 34WS.]

It is unbelievable. The Secretary of State is absolutely gung-ho. The evidence does not matter; he will simply argue that the cull has been a success when, even by the Government’s own terms, it has been a catastrophic failure. The target was culling 70% of badgers, but only 39% was achieved. That is barely half.

The culls are making matters worse, and yet Members are straining at the leash to intervene to support the badger cull. I will give way to the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), whom I know is an inveterate supporter of killing badgers.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. The hon. Gentleman gives the impression that the evidence is completely one-sided. Does he accept to some extent the evidence of the British Veterinary Association? We have accepted its evidence in other debates, such as on circus animals. It is concise and focused on this. Does he accept that there are at least some scientists out there who take a contrary view and that the matter is not as one-sided as he maintains?

I of course concede that some small percentage of individuals—pseudo-scientists, some might call them—[Interruption.]

On a point of order, Mr Weir. The British Veterinary Association has just been referred to as a group of “pseudo-scientists”. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman may like to withdraw that statement.

That is not a point of order. Interventions as points of order are not going to help matters. Many people want to speak in this debate, so I urge hon. Members to control themselves.

I actually said that some might say that they are—[Interruption.] I urge hon. Members to check Hansard, where they will find that I said that some might refer to it as pseudo-scientific evidence. Irrespective of the fact that some veterinary surgeons argue that the badger cull is justified, many other vets actually take a different and contrary view.

I will not give way at the moment.

I wonder what on earth the Secretary of State is doing. I am reminded of Einstein’s definition of madness, which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Lord Krebs, to whom the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) referred earlier, seems to agree with me. He oversaw the randomised badger culling trials in the 1990s and has labelled this cull a “complete fiasco”, saying that it has been “even crazier” than anticipated. After the schemes in Somerset and Gloucester missed their targets, he said that

“there is no point in doing something if it is the wrong thing.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 9 December 2013; Vol. 750, c. GC144.]

It could not be clearer. I am not saying that the Secretary of State is mad, but he is deluded if he thinks he can pull the wool over the British people’s eyes. The cull in Gloucestershire failed to meet the Government’s target of a 70% kill rate—it only managed 39%, as we know.

I wish to take up the hon. Gentleman’s point about doing the same thing over and over again. My guess is that there are about 365,000 badgers in this country, and they would need to be vaccinated annually. I would like to support vaccination, but how on earth will we vaccinate 1,000 badgers a day just to keep the population healthy?

The hon. Gentleman is exaggerating slightly. That will be necessary only in the hot spot areas. However, I will explain in a moment why vaccination is a far better and less costly route.

The Secretary of State’s attitude to the badger cull is deluded. We know that the Government’s cull has failed, we know that it makes matters worse, we know that it is cruel and inhumane and we know that vaccinating badgers is cheaper and more effective. The vaccination of badgers in Wales seems to be working. How it will work in the future remains to be seen, but we think it will work better than the cull.

The magazine Farming Monthly National said:

“Out of nearly 1200 badgers caught in Wales for vaccination, none showed any signs of illness.”

That is revealing, given that the Secretary of State said that badgers are “spewing out disease”. When he was probed on that claim, it turned out to be anecdotal hearsay from the National Farmers Union, which represents only 18% of farmers, and the people who were employed to do the culling. There is no evidence for his claim.

In a written answer to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, the Government said:

“TB testing in culled badgers is not being undertaken as a routine procedure”.

They went on to say that

“the numbers of badgers found to be carrying TB is not known at present.”—[Official Report, 18 November 2013; Vol. 570, c. 714W.]

They do not even know whether any of the badgers that they have killed so far were carrying TB. They are ignoring all the evidence. It seems that the Government are blind to this matter.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is a moot point whether badgers are responsible for infecting cattle with TB. Vaccination is a far better route, with biosecurity measures and restrictions on movement.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

I am about to conclude my remarks. I simply say that I hope that the Government listen to the debate.

The hon. Gentleman has been generous in taking interventions. I want to make one quick point. During his opening remarks, he presented the issue as a red versus blue one, but it really is not. It is a black and white issue, not a red versus blue one, as many Government Members feel as strongly about it as he does.

The case against vaccination has always been based on its cost as much as anything else, but the cost of policing the cull has spiralled to four times the original prediction. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the cost of not vaccinating looks increasingly serious?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I am delighted that Government Members are as passionate as I am about wanting to—

I will not take any more interventions, as I know other people want to speak. I know that some Members on both sides are passionate about this issue. It is important that we have cross-party support, and I hope the Minister will listen to Government Members.

On the cost, there is considerable evidence making it clear that vaccination is a less expensive way of dealing with this problem. When we take into account the cost not only of culling, but of policing the cull, which would obviously not be necessary in a vaccination programme, we see not only that the cull is useless and failing, given the context in which it was introduced, but that it is an expensive failure and much more costly than vaccination.

I hope the Minister will give us an assurance today that, having listened to the scientific evidence, public opinion, parliamentary opinion and Government Members, the Government will abandon the cull. If he will not give that commitment, I hope he will, at a bare minimum, give a commitment to do what I am about to set out. Given the controversy over the cull, I call on the Government—

If the hon. Gentleman will let me finish on this point, he will, I hope, be able to come in before the end of the debate.

I hope the Minister will support an independent and systematic review by the likes of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons or the Royal Society. Such a review could evaluate all the scientific, social, economic, ecological and ethical aspects of the Government’s policy. If Ministers are so sure—

I am about to conclude.

If Ministers are so sure of their position, they should have nothing to fear from a thorough appraisal of this controversial policy. Such an appraisal would provide the evidence base on which policy decisions could subsequently be based, and it would certainly command public confidence. That is something the Government should consider seriously, and I hope that, when the Minister responds to the debate, he will at least give an assurance on supporting such a review, if he will not give the assurance that the overwhelming majority of the British people want and abandon the cull altogether, as the overwhelming majority of scientific opinion urges.

Order. A very large number of Members are seeking to speak in the debate. I do not know whether we will manage to get everybody in, but in an attempt to do so, I am imposing a four-minute time limit from now on.

It is a delight to be able to speak in this Chamber again, having emerged from my sett. I congratulate the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on introducing the debate. The last time I spoke in this Chamber, I rather thought it was designed to encourage rational debates and to take some of the heat out of our arguments. Speaking as someone who might even be veering slightly towards the hon. Gentleman’s point of view, I have to say that we sometimes have to try to take the passion out of these things, although I know it is difficult.

The hon. Gentleman declared that he is a member of the League Against Cruel Sports. We are not talking about sports, and if we were talking about blood sports, my voting record would show where I stand. I am a member of four wildlife trusts, and I have been a keen wildlife conservationist all my life. I watched badgers from an early age, and I read the seminal work on badgers in the New Naturalist series by Ernest Neal. Generally speaking, therefore, I am a badger fan. However, the debate is not about whether badgers are great creatures; it is about a terrible disease that is causing misery for many farmers and that is affecting their livelihoods and communities.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the issue is not only the misery of farmers and the impact on their livelihoods and families? There is also the misery of other sentient beings—cattle. Some 35,000 cattle are destroyed every year, more than half of which are dairy cows. I do not know whether the solution should be culling badgers, but we do need a solution.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I did not oppose the cull when it was first proposed, simply because the arguments on both sides are very strong, and the reason for setting up the trials was to find out whether culling works. From what I have seen, the trials have not gone according to plan, for a variety of reasons, which other colleagues will go into in more depth.

I am not sure about the issue—I disagree slightly with the hon. Gentleman, who initiated the debate, on this—because I think there is scientific argument on both sides. That is why it is difficult for lay people such as me and for the public to get to grips with this issue.

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Lay people do not necessarily get the information, because the Government do not give the facts out. Is that not the case?

I could not possibly comment, and the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to. I have not looked into that issue. I trust the Government to give out all information properly. Occasionally, if they do not, they need a bit of a nudge. If there are nudges to be given, perhaps they are listening. However, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need all the facts, but it is difficult to give us all the facts, because everybody’s opinion seems so polarised.

Reluctantly, I did not oppose the cull. I say “reluctantly” because, although I represent a suburban seat—there are badgers there, and a lot of other wildlife—the cull is not something I particularly wanted to happen. However, despite the beard, I am not a bunny hugger just for the sake of it, and there are times when we have to control wildlife.

I want to find out how the culls have gone. I want to be sure that they are assessed properly and that we have all the facts. If they have not been successful, I would propose that no further culls take place. However, if it is proved that the culls have been effective, I may, reluctantly, have to let them proceed again. On balance, I do not think there is necessarily a need for further culls, but I am waiting to be convinced.

None of us in this room or outside must ever forget what this issue really means for individual farmers, their families and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) said, cattle. This is an incredibly difficult subject, and we cannot just rush into things on the basis of sentiment.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing the debate.

There is agreement in the Chamber that bovine TB is a major issue, especially for farmers. I acknowledge that TB in badgers is part of the problem, and no one has ever denied that it is—it is the Government’s response to that problem that is in dispute.

As we all know, the previous Government spent a significant sum on scientific research, and the overall conclusion from the randomised badger culling trials was that the culling of badgers could have no meaningful impact on the incidence of bovine TB. The pilot culls recently completed were not, therefore, supported by scientific evidence.

I thank the hon. Lady for generously giving way. On the point about scientific evidence, the debate is, in a sense, slightly premature, because we await the outcome of the independent expert panel report, which will assess whether the culls were safe, humane and effective. In the event that the panel concludes that they met all three of those tests, will the hon. Lady accept, as I do, that the culls should proceed?

The scientific evidence I was referring to was the 10-year, £50-million project, which is the fundamental basis for any science relating to the cull.

The pilot culls recently completed were not supported by scientific evidence. The justification for them was that they were to

“test the assumption that controlled shooting is an effective method of badger removal, in terms of being able to remove at least 70% of the starting population in the area, over the course of a six week cull.”—[Official Report, 15 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 70W.]

Thus, the pilots were designed to test not the science, but whether controlled shooting could achieve the crucial target of removing 70% of the badger population in the cull zone, that figure being key to achieving even a modest reduction in bovine TB.

Therefore, my first question to the Minister is, what percentage of badgers was culled in the two pilot zones? Furthermore, will he confirm the scientific advice, which indicates that if there is an underachievement of the 70% target, culling is liable to make the incidence of bovine TB worse because of the impact of perturbation? Given that the current performance in the pilot zones could only be improved by the use of cage trapping, surely the Minister will agree that the pilot has failed in its testing of the assumptions I referred to. That is the key point: the pilots were testing controlled shooting against cage trapping.

It is generally accepted that vaccination presents an effective method of disease control; yet we are often told that the cost of badger vaccination is too high. However, as has been mentioned, according to a written answer from the Minister for Policing, the cost of policing the two pilot culls was around £1.6 million. Does the Minister acknowledge that if an effective cull requires cage trapping, it is more cost-effective to tackle TB in badgers by vaccinating than by killing? I should have said earlier that a greater problem is the incidence of TB in cattle. Will the Minister acknowledge that the Government need to focus more on securing an approved cattle vaccine?

The previous Government’s response to the trials was to authorize six badger vaccine trials, which, combined with the vaccination programme in Wales, offered the opportunity to measure the effectiveness of the approach scientifically over time. The coalition, however, announced in June 2010 that

“it would be reducing the number…from six to one in view of its intention of reviewing policy on badger control, and the need to reduce spending.”

Will the Minister now agree that it was short-sighted to destroy the opportunity of making a rigorous scientific assessment of the effectiveness of vaccination in the field? Will he review that decision?

It is clear from scientific briefing that in Britain, badger behaviour is tightly defined territorially, which means that TB in badgers is to some extent contained by the animals’ social structures; so it is hard to fathom why the incidence of bovine TB has climbed so rapidly in recent years. One can only conclude that there is a need to focus on cattle movement and biosecurity to work out long-term solutions with a view to eradicating the disease.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North in calling for a review.

I shall be brief, and stick to practical concerns including one or two claims that have been made about practical matters, rather than talking about the science, which I shall leave to the Minister.

There are four myths that I want to discuss. The first is the ineffectiveness or otherwise of shooting. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) said, we need to be careful about leaping to conclusions before the independent expert panel reports, but it is worth factoring into the investigations how much of a bearing the quite high level of animal rights activity had on the effectiveness of the shooting exercise. If it emerges that protest activity—whether those involved were innocently exercising their right to protest, which is fine, or were more strident, active and militant—had a negative impact on the exercise, that should be reported in full. The report should cover the question of what the result would have been without that activity.

As I mentioned in the debate that we had in the main Chamber, I detect a little hypocrisy in arguments about the effectiveness of shooting. The same organisations that now claim that shooting is an ineffective method of controlling or destroying a mammal of the size in question said something else on the subject of foxes, in a different debate only a few years ago. The RSPCA said:

“Shooting is widely held to be a humane method of control in skilled hands”.

The League Against Cruel Sports, the organisation that the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) is associated with, said:

“Culling should be carried out by the most efficient and humane methods 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”.

It seems odd to me that the method that was deemed to be the answer to all the queries a few years ago is now deemed inappropriate.

I know that the hon. Gentleman said he would leave the science to the Minister, but it would be good if he knew a little of it. There is a vast difference between culling badgers and culling foxes, and if he had availed himself of yesterday’s briefing by a scientist who works in this field, he would have seen that those animals act differently, so such a correlation cannot be made.

I am grateful for the lesson on countryside management. Actually the method of control is similar and the activity of the animals is very similar. If the hon. Lady had, as I have, spent many hours studying how they behave at night, in the lights of a vehicle or the lights used by an expert, she might reach another conclusion. Perhaps that is a debate for another day.

Surely it would have been most sensible to mark the ammunition used in the pilot, so that the public could be assured about whether the bullets that were fired reached their target. There has been no such marking of ammunition, so it is not possible to be certain that it did not damage and wound badgers. I have mentioned the issue time and again, and I do not understand why the Department is so loth to do it, so that we know exactly what happens.

The Natural England licensing conditions are clear about the sort of ammunition and weaponry that should be used, and the degree of expertise to be deployed. We all need to wait to see if there was any wounding—let alone what the rate of that was—so I shall not answer the question and I do not suppose the Minister can either.

Opponents of the cull have quite reasonably pointed out that cage trapping can be more effective; but they have also said that it is ineffective, or less effective than it could be. I find that odd. If it is ineffective for the purpose of removal, why should it be effective for the purpose of vaccination? If we can learn anything from what has been said, it is that it is very difficult to trap wild animals, whether to dispose of them with a weapon or to inject them with a vaccine. I do not say that it is not possible. I live almost next door to the vaccination operation that is going on in Wales, and am well aware of the practical difficulties that are being encountered; but we cannot say that trapping badgers to shoot them is ineffective, but trapping them to vaccinate them is effective. That does not wash.

The third myth is that public safety has been compromised. There does not seem to be any evidence. Perhaps the hon. Member for Derby North can come up with hard and fast evidence. Before we bandy scare stories around we need examples. I mentioned the endorsement given by animal welfare organisations in the past few years to the use of high-velocity weapons for the control of other mammals in Britain. It is odd: if it does not pose a public safety issue to put fox control into the hands of someone with a high-powered weapon who knows what they are doing, why should it pose a safety issue when someone engages in precisely the same activity to control badgers, with the same weapon, ammunition and training, in the same place? If someone can answer that question I should be grateful.

The fourth myth is that the cull has increased police costs. The history of the hon. Gentleman in the animal welfare movement is perfectly reasonable, but I venture to suggest that had it not been for animal rights activity—violence, intimidation and damage—carried out in or around the cull areas, there would have been no need for any policing costs. The only policing costs are to do with policing animal rights activity. They have nothing to do with the cost of the cull itself.

It is nice of the hon. Gentleman to take pity on me; don’t cull me.

The only body that has been sanctioned for its activities in connection with the issue is the RSPCA, which has today been accused by the Advertising Standards Authority of being alarmist because of what it has said.

My hon. Friend makes a good point.

I have 21 seconds left, so I shall say that farmers do a fantastic job. They have been through hell in the past 20 or 30 years, and animal welfare organisations have been involved only in the past few years. To my mind, for my family, in my area and for my constituents, farmers are the celebrities we should listen to.

I add my congratulations to those given to the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing the debate. It is critical that MPs should be properly involved in future decisions about the control of TB, and that those decisions should be voted on by the House.

The pilot badger cull can be judged only a spectacular failure, including against the Government’s own terms of reference. No one is leaping to premature conclusions because some of the figures speak for themselves. The policy specified that a minimum of 70% of the badger population should be removed within a single six-week period but, as colleagues have said, contractors are estimated to have removed 65% of the population in the Somerset zone after nine weeks of culling, and less than 40% of the Gloucestershire population after 11 weeks and two days.

We know that killing too few badgers over an extended time frame not only risks further reducing the already modest long-term reduction of new herd TB incidence in cattle that the Government were predicting, but crucially is likely to make things even worse for farmers because of perturbation of the remaining badger populations leading to increased prevalence of bovine TB infection among badgers.

The pilots were also supposed to determine the humaneness of controlled shooting as a method of culling badgers, but only 155 badgers have been subject to post mortem examination during the pilot culls—almost 100 fewer than the low number that DEFRA originally said would be examined. There are no guarantees that all the badgers will have died as a result of shooting. Like me, hon. Members will have heard reports of contractors picking up badger carcasses from roadsides, for example, to meet their quotas.

I have asked the Minister how many of the badgers submitted for post mortem examination were killed as a result of free shooting. He assures me that any cause of death other than shooting would have been identified, but he has so far been unable—perhaps unwilling—to give me the numbers. The issue is important because it impacts on whether we have sufficient evidence to judge the humaneness of controlled shooting. I hope the Minister will provide the information today.

I am anxious that any assessment of humaneness should take account of badgers shot and wounded but not immediately killed. DEFRA has not released details of the exact criteria that the independent expert panel will use to determine humaneness. Having observed the shambles in the pilots to date, I have no confidence that the remainder of the process will be scientifically robust.

The pilots have proved conclusively that shooting is ineffective in removing the number of badgers required if there is to be any chance of reducing the incidence of bovine TB. We know that contractors resorted to cage trapping, which has been more effective than shooting and which any badger expert could have told DEFRA about before the start, but it is more expensive and ineffective overall compared with the alternatives to culling.

I want to make two key points. First, vaccination is a far better way forward.

Does the hon. Lady agree that newer approaches to vaccination are emerging and could reduce the cost significantly? Is she aware of the work of the Sussex badger vaccination project, which has a team of volunteers who want to vaccinate? Such organisations should be given a chance to demonstrate their work.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. I agree with him absolutely, and I am familiar with the Sussex badger vaccination project. As he rightly said, it is a service run by volunteers to offer landowners and farmers in East Sussex the chance to vaccinate badgers at very low cost, thereby providing a humane and less controversial method of tackling the disease. It has said that there is strong evidence that a programme of badger vaccination, combined with a robust cattle control programme, will produce better medium and long-term results than culling in eradicating bovine TB. It has many volunteers on hand to do that. It is just one example of how we could, with the right political commitment, take action that would make real gains in reducing bovine TB and its terrible consequences for our farmers.

The cost of the culls has spiralled out of control when the increased cost of cage trapping and expenditure on policing is taken into account. Based on analysis of DEFRA’s estimates, badger vaccination would cost the equivalent of £2,250 per sq km per year compared with the estimated £2,400 price tag per sq km for the pilot culls. Vaccination is the cheaper option and many other figures show that culling is even more expensive than the DEFRA figure that I cited.

My second reason, and the last point I want to make, is that vaccination works. It reduces the probability of infection by 70 to 75%, even allowing for the fact that not all badgers will be reached and that vaccination needs repeating year on year to include new cubs. It is still more effective and more cost effective than shooting, not least because vaccination allows the badger population structure to remain in place, granting considerable benefits for disease limitation.

My plea is that the Minister should focus on vaccination and rule out gassing, which is inhumane and ineffective. I have asked questions about that, and I am concerned about the responses. Investigation of a cattle vaccine should be a priority to provide some chance of getting rid of the disease.

I am grateful to you, Mr Weir, for allowing me to catch your eye. I grew up on a dairy and pig farm where my father lost his entire pig herd to swine vesicular disease and my mother was frightened that she would lose her entire dairy herd to foot and mouth disease. I can therefore empathise with my farmers in Gloucestershire whose cattle have had to be slaughtered because of this dreadful disease, which causes a painful death for badgers and other wildlife. Last year, 28,000 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered because of their susceptibility to TB. The cost to taxpayers has been £500 million over the last five years and it will be £1 billion if nothing is done over the next five years.

My constituency is fairly close to the cull and the preliminary results are that it has been successful on two counts: humaneness and effectiveness. If the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), who proposed the debate—he is laughing—has a serious accusation about shots being fired above people’s heads, he should report that to the police. They will investigate and if anyone did that, they will have committed a criminal act and should be prosecuted. Let him produce the evidence before he makes such statements.

The real answer is an oral vaccine. The trouble is that it has been around the corner for the 21 years that I have been a Member of Parliament. It solved the rabies problem. An oral vaccine fed to foxes on the continent now renders it sufficiently rabies-free for us to take our pets there.

Much nonsense has been uttered in this debate about the cost of trapping and a licensed injectable vaccine. The realistic figures from the Welsh trial show that that costs about £3,900 per sq km. If that is extrapolated to the Gloucestershire trial alone, the figure each year would be a staggering £1.170 million; I expect that the policing costs of the cull would be less than £1 million. Those who are against the trial cull—I emphasise that it is only a trial cull—should bear that in mind.

Nowhere in the world has a significant reduction taken place without elimination of a significant TB reservoir in wildlife. We saw that in relation to possums in New Zealand, to deer in Australia, and in America.

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the social structure of the badger population in Britain is completely different from the social structure and behavioural habits of possums in Australia and New Zealand?

Having watched badgers, I know that when a badger gets TB it goes into the bottom of the sett, dies slowly over a long time and infects other badgers. That is a fact. The disease is painful and must be eliminated one way or another. Surely we can unite around that. It is not something we want in our wildlife or our cattle.

In closing, I want to make one or two points. A lot of nonsense has been talked about the safety of shooting. If it were not safe, we would have seen more incidents in Gloucestershire. My information is that there has not been unsafe shooting and that there has been humaneness. I do not know of any cases of a badger going away to die. Again, if the hon. Member for Derby North, who represents the League Against Cruel Sports, can produce evidence, I would be interested in seeing it. He made many exaggerated claims in his speech.

We must do something about this dreadful disease. Our farmers have to use one of the strictest biosecurity devices in the world to ensure that their cattle are free of TB, and it costs them a great deal of money.

I will give way to the hon. Lady in a moment.

If we keep imposing those costs on our farmers, vast areas of the south-west—the hon. Lady’s constituency area—will have no beef cattle. We will then import more and more beef into this country and we will lose jobs. That has happened in the pig industry, and it will happen in the beef industry.

Many farmers in my constituency have an enormous problem with DEFRA and its agencies in respect of taking cattle off farms when they have been proved to be infected according to the criteria. If cattle are waiting on a farm, not isolated, for 21, 22 or 23 days before they are removed, how on earth can we say that biosecurity is at a high level? That is not the case.

Nobody would condone any farmer or anybody breaking the biosecurity regime. In fact, the Government, as no doubt the Minister will tell us this afternoon, have tightened regulations still further so that they are some of the toughest in the world. They are imposing a great deal of economic strain on the farmers who have to implement them.

In closing, I simply say that if we want to import more and more of our food, let us get rid of our cattle industry in the south-west by not doing something about TB. For goodness’ sake, let us do everything that we can with the armoury in our box to see if we can at least reduce it, if not eliminate it.

I, too, would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing the debate. I, for one, think that he can be very proud of his many years of activism on the animal welfare front.

My hon. Friend quoted Lord Krebs as saying that the “crazy scheme” of badger culling had got “even crazier”. As we have heard, the two pilots carried out in the west country have been a complete shambles, and the worst thing is that that was utterly predictable. The aim of the pilots was to kill 70% of the badger population in the chosen areas, but in Somerset, only 58% had been killed at the end of six weeks, while 64% had been killed at the end of the extended cull period. In Gloucestershire, it was even less successful: 30% had been killed at the end of the six-week period, and 39% had been killed at the end of the 11 weeks and two days after it was extended.

Those figures are based on the figures that the Government came up with after the pilots had already started, when they dramatically revised down the estimates of the number of badgers in the cull areas. Somewhat mysteriously, the number of badgers estimated to be in the Somerset area had fallen from 2,490 to 1,450, and in Gloucestershire, from 3,400 to 2,350. That simply looks like pure guesswork, yet back in October 2012 when the pilots were postponed due to uncertainty over badger numbers, the Secretary of State said:

“It would have been quite wrong to go ahead when it was not confident of reaching the 70% target and could have made the position worse.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 847.]

Why was DEFRA so convinced that it had got the figures right this year, and why did it get them so wrong?

That was not the only time that the Government moved the goalposts. We saw an extension of the time limits to which I have already referred, and we saw a move to cage trapping when shooting proved to be a shambles. As we have heard, extending the culls beyond the original six-week time frame could be very dangerous for farmers. We have heard about perturbation and the fact that if less than 70% of the population is killed, traumatised badgers will be moving out of cull areas. The longer the pilot culls and the shooting are going on, the more likely badgers are to do so, and potentially they could spread TB to surrounding farms that were previously TB-free.

As David Macdonald, chair of Natural England’s science advisory committee and one of the UK’s most eminent wildlife biologists, said at the time of reviewing an extension of the pilots for Gloucestershire:

“Perturbation has undoubtedly been caused in Gloucestershire already and an extension by six to eight weeks is likely to worsen the perturbation even more.”

I also want to talk briefly about the comparative costs of culling versus vaccination. The Somerset badger group’s volunteer-led vaccination programme works with farmers who would prefer to vaccinate badgers on their land. They have vaccinated 140 badgers, which works out at £83 per badger, of which the group charges £25 per badger to the farmer. The group said that if DEFRA is prepared to cage-trap the badgers, it will cover the cost of vaccinating the badgers at a cost to the group of £14.50 each for the vaccine. Is the Minister prepared to consider that offer?

Finally, I pay tribute to the many activists who have protested against the culls and maintained vigils. I met many of them at a demonstration in Bristol a couple of weeks ago. It is quite shocking that people such as the hon. Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) described the protesters as “malingerers and scroungers”. I was contacted by a constituent who said that she was deeply upset by that description. She had cared for her husband for five years when he was suffering from dementia. I would also like the Minister to confirm that not one protester has been arrested, and that the Secretary of State’s referring to a small minority who resorted to widespread criminality in their determination to stop this was wrong.

Order. There are still a lot of Members trying to speak. I want to call the Front-Bench Members at five minutes to 4 to give them time for a reasonable summing up, so I am going to reduce the time limit from now on to three minutes to try and get everybody in.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) for securing the debate; he managed to achieve what an early-day motion signed by about 170 Members from across the House could not. I want to ask the Minister today why the matter has not been brought back before the House. Several other Members who seem to be in favour of the cull have said, “This is only a trial. It is only a pilot.” Yes, it is. It is what the House voted for. I abstained from the vote because I had not had badger incidents in my constituency, and I knew that there was a great strength of feeling about farmers.

I have had my eyes opened since then—I have moved from being neutral to being opposed. I thank my constituent, Mr Cotton, who brought to my attention the dodginess of some of the science that was being referred to, but I will not explore that now, because we do not have the time. Why is the issue not coming back before the House? I am sure that many hon. Members at the time lent their support to the Bill out of sympathy and a real feeling that something needed to be done, but only if it was science-based, and only if it was a trial. This has all the makings of something that will roll on, regardless of the outcomes of these particular trials. I am very concerned that it seems we can move from controlled shooting, which is what the pilots were supposed to be looking at, to caging, which would be achieved if we were going to be using vaccines, and yet we do not say, “Hang on a sec, let’s stop what we are doing. Bring it back before the House and see if the House would rather explore those options.”

Some people have said today that shooting a fox is not particularly different from shooting a badger. Well, one is a protected species and the other is vermin, but also, as I have been reliably informed by people who are very knowledgeable about such things, a badger has a particularly strong head structure. It is very difficult to shoot a badger. It has to be shot in a particular way—potentially down its side or under its arms—and that makes the controlled shooting of badgers difficult. I do not know why it is being said one minute that the pilots are a success, and the next minute, that we are going to evaluate them.

The Secretary of State seems to judge them as a success. I had a letter from him today, which I asked for in October. He said that he believes that there has been a success:

“The extension…has therefore been successful in meeting its aim in preparing the ground.”

Success keeps being referred to. That does not speak to me of an open mind. It sounds to me like a Minister who may consider just rolling it out.

Bring the issue back before the House. It is what Members want. They have made their views clear, and I think the public will understand the concerns of people such as myself, who have moved from neutral to negative. I am sure that if the matter came back before the House now, there would be a very different vote unless the proposals were very different. Please will the Minister listen to the views of Members and the public? It is not all about hugging cuddly creatures; it is all about deciding whether a protected animal should be treated in this way or in another way that may deliver the same result that we all want, which is protecting farmers but ensuring that we are dealing with the problem in the most humane way possible.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing what is evidently a very popular debate.

The Government’s badger cull policy has been described as nothing more than a fiasco from the start to the finish, which this will hopefully be. Truly, it can be described as a shot in the dark at trying to eliminate the disease. We have clearly seen what has come out of the cull: nearly 2,000 badgers have been killed, millions of pounds have been spent and communities have been divided. Unbelievably, the Government are still considering rolling out the policy of slaughtering badgers in 10 new areas next year.

We call on the Government to cancel their killing plans once and for all, and to focus instead on improving cattle welfare, controlling cattle movements, increasing biosecurity and developing badger and cattle vaccination. I welcome the announcement that the badger cull pilot trial has been stopped after marksmen failed to meet the Government’s target of a 70% kill. Remember that that trial was extended by some weeks after DEFRA confirmed that marksmen had only killed 39% of badgers.

Still, DEFRA Ministers pressed ahead with the cull, despite scientists warning against that untested and risky approach. Instead, what we need is a science-led policy to manage cattle movements better and a vaccine to tackle TB in cattle. The Government have now been warned for more than two years that the badger cull was bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife. However, the cull has not helped to resolve the issue at all. Based on recent evidence, culling clearly does not work. Culling risks spreading the disease further, it costs more than it saves and it increases the risk of wildlife crime and of wiping out local badger populations.

It is clear to me that the Government’s policy does not make sense. Instead, they should be implementing a science-led strategy in the fight to reduce bovine TB, including the use of vaccination. In contrast, the Government, I believe, are still proposing to shoot free-moving badgers as the main method of culling. The Government say that the vaccine is not ready. Why is that? It could be because one of the first acts of the Government in 2010 was to cancel five of the six vaccine field trials commissioned by Labour. Also, DEFRA has cut funding for the research and development of a badger vaccine and a cattle vaccine. It seems that the Government still believe that bullets cost less.

I will finish now, because many other hon. Members still wish to speak, by asking the Minister to pause, cancel the culls for good and initiate a robust and genuinely independent scientific review of what went so badly wrong with these pilot culls.

My primary concern as I approach this subject is for the lives and livelihoods of livestock farmers in my constituency that are affected by bovine tuberculosis. Until people see the impact that it has, they do not fully understand why it is such a significant issue for livestock farmers, particularly in my part of the world, where the number of reactors has been very high.

I am extremely passionate about evidence-based policy making and in 1998 I strongly backed the randomised badger culling trials, which have been mentioned, and that was the right approach at the time. In my view, the evidence has been used rather selectively to advise on the way in which policy should be rolled out by the Government. The worry that I had when the Government came up with their proposal was that it ran the risk of making the situation significantly worse.

In view of the fact that in the Penwith area, where there was a proactive cull, there was only 50% co-operation among farmers and there was a large element of activist intervention as well, it was clear that we would never get a licence there. It was on that basis that I went to the Zoological Society of London, and Professor Rosie Woodroffe and I came up with a proposal to establish a vaccination programme that was community-led, volunteer-led, using the big society approach, across the Penwith area. I am pleased that DEFRA is supporting us—it is doing so in a rather minuscule way, I am sorry to say, but at least it is a start—in providing the vaccine ampoules during the whole programme, up to 2019. This is across 200 sq km of Penwith. We have strong buy-in by the local community. The farmers are coming on board. We have undertaken a pilot in the area. Indeed, I have been out to oversee that and I can confirm, as a result of having been in the field and seen the badgers moving the goalposts and doing various other things in the countryside, that even slimy politicians do not seem to have a perturbation effect on badgers when they are being vaccinated.

I raised one of my questions for the Minister earlier. It relates to what the independent expert panel will conclude. Of course, there has been the “what if” question. What if it finds that, on all three counts, the trials are effective, humane and safe? But what if it finds that they are not effective? It is not even there in terms of judging whether the cull is effective in controlling bovine TB, because it would take years to undertake that. Also, I understand that the independent expert panel has been given only a six-week window; it is looking only at the six weeks. I hope—I have asked the Minister this already—that it will be given an extension to the full 11 weeks or more to review the effectiveness, safety and humaneness of the cull, but I cannot see that there is any sense in allowing the cull to continue.

I appreciate your stewardship of the debate, Mr Weir. I want to make three brief points and try to give other hon. Members an opportunity to speak as well.

I am a member of the British Veterinary Association and I think that the aspersions cast on the British Veterinary Association today—the character assassination that was attempted—were wrong and shameful. The many Labour party-supporting vets up and down this country will, I am sure, be very concerned at the way in which they were character-assassinated today by the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson). I think that he should consider what he said, because his passion in the debate does not give him a right to character-assassinate members of the British Veterinary Association, who have the interests and welfare of all animals in this country at heart.

When I intervened earlier, I mentioned the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and I was concerned that its advertising campaign is the only thing that publicly, by an independent body, has been described as “alarmist” in terms of how it has tried to suggest that the only thing to do is vaccinate or exterminate. I wish that we could vaccinate our wildlife in this country and protect it all, but we have to be realists and to make a judgment call about what is more important: sacrificing a few wild animals to ensure that our beef and milking herds up and down this country are protected from a pernicious and nasty disease that ruins lives and ruins many thousands of our cattle in this country, or not doing that. We have to face reality.

The rant from the hon. Gentleman today was very disappointing, because he failed at every opportunity—

No, not to take an intervention; I do not care if the hon. Member for Derby North does not want to hear an intervention from me. He failed to take the chance to support our bovine herd and our farmers and basically tried to portray a picture of it being either them or us. We are all in this one; we have to find a solution to it; and we have to recognise that if an animal is carrying a pernicious disease, it needs to be put down, not only for its own welfare, but for the welfare of the bovine herd.

This is a very difficult, complex, sensitive and not straightforward issue, but despite all that, I have always been in favour of a targeted pilot cull; I just need to explain why. Perhaps it will be helpful if I describe a bit of the context from which I come. Before I entered public life, I was a livestock farmer; that was my occupation. We lambed the sheep out on the hills, and nothing ever gave me more pleasure than seeing a badger. It was a rare sighting 30 or 40 years ago and a great thrill. I have always been very proud of the fact that we had badger setts on my farm and we protected them. I do not farm those animals any more, but I still insist that the badger setts and, indeed, all wildlife are protected.

Another aspect of the context in which I speak is that I have always had a huge interest in wildlife. I was a trustee of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust before coming here and retain an active interest in developing diversity and balance in our wildlife.

The aspect of the context in which I speak that is perhaps most relevant to today’s debate is that I was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales for eight years until 2007, and for most of that time I was the Chairman of the rural affairs Committee—it had one or two different names. During that period, bovine TB and the control of it was a huge issue for the Welsh Government. In fact, we went to Ireland on a fact-finding mission. We met the various bodies in Ireland, including the badger protection association. When we came back, it was interesting that one of the members became a Minister in the Labour-led Government in 2007 and introduced a piloted cull. It was complex at that stage to introduce a law in Wales, and they made a mistake in the legislation. The intention of that Government for four years was to introduce a targeted piloted cull in Pembrokeshire, and that is what would have happened, only they made a mistake in the legislation.

In 2011, a new Minister took over and decided to introduce a system of vaccination. There is now another new Minister. If I had been allowed to intervene on the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson), that would have been the question that I asked: what discussions have there been in terms of the view that he was taking and the Welsh Minister? To me, this is crucial. If vaccination would work, everybody would be in favour of it.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the advice of the chief vet in Wales to the former Government in Wales was exactly the same advice as she gives now to the current Government, which is that a cull is the best way forward?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, principally because it gives me another minute. I actually welcome the fact that there is a different process involving vaccination taking place in Wales, because a number of people are saying that it would be much preferable to move to a system of vaccination, and how could I not agree? But ever since I have been involved in this issue, which is probably about 40 years, I have always been told that an effective vaccination is probably about 10 years away, and the situation is not much different today. It is possible to vaccinate badgers; I am told that in Wales, it costs about £662 per vaccination. Every badger has to be caught every year. All the discussions I have had suggest that what is happening in Wales will not work, will not be cost-effective and probably will not be repeated.

One or two Members have referred to different types of vaccinations. I think they are great, and I hope that the Minister will tell us that he is open to all such suggestions. We want a way of dealing with a hugely complex issue that causes the death of huge numbers of perfectly healthy animals, which disrupts and causes massive distress to a huge number of farming families, and which disrupts and causes disease among our wildlife. We need a way of dealing with this. In the short term, I think we need a targeted pilot cull to make certain that we know that going down the cull route is the best way to deliver what we want.

It is great to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I will have to rattle through some of my points to try to deal at speed with many of the issues that have been raised. First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) for securing the debate. I would like to single out the contributions from my hon. Friends the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), and the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) and for St Ives (Andrew George).

I would also like to mention the contributions of others of various parties who made significant points in favour of vaccination. I pay particular tribute to the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), who made it clear that she had changed her mind based on the evidence. She made a passionate contribution, demanding that the matter should be brought back to the Floor of the House of Commons, debated in full in Government time and put to the vote. As she said, I think the outcome of such a vote would be very different from the previous one.

The Government’s badger culls have been an expensive failure for farmers, for taxpayers and for wildlife. For the Prime Minister and DEFRA Ministers to pretend otherwise is to ignore the evidence. In 2012, the culls had to be abandoned because the number of badgers had been counted wrongly, which is a pretty fundamental mistake. There were too many badgers. This year, the badgers have been miscounted again. This time there were too few, but with no satisfactory explanation, which conveniently allowed the Government to revise the targets downwards. That numbers problem should not have been a surprise to Ministers, because in November 2012, 30 leading scientists wrote to the Secretary of State objecting to the culls and noting:

“Setting such minimum and maximum numbers is technically problematic, especially when local estimates of badger numbers are very imprecise.”

The Minister’s estimates of badger population numbers for the first two culls have been repeatedly wide of the mark. For the Secretary of State to add insult to injury by talking nonsense about badgers moving the goal posts was ridiculous. That is not good enough, when there is a risk of spreading tuberculosis by culling too few badgers or eradicating an entire local population by killing too many. The first two pilots, failures as they have unarguably been, have at least taught us one important lesson. We can have no confidence whatsoever in the accuracy of badger population estimates. That knowledge reveals a risk of perturbation or of localised extermination. On that basis alone, until sound population baseline analysis is undertaken, we cannot proceed with these culls, let alone the further 40 that the Government desire.

After last year’s cull cancellations, the Secretary of State told us in October 2012:

“Evidence suggests that at least 70% of the badgers in the areas must be removed.”

That was one of his fleeting dalliances with the concept of evidence. He added:

“It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the populations.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 836.]

The postponed culls were rearranged for 2013. They spectacularly failed to meet the Secretary of State’s targets, which had also been transposed into the essential guidelines set by DEFRA for Natural England stipulating that 70% of badgers had to be culled in six weeks to avoid an increased risk of perturbation. At that point, the Government should have stopped, in accordance with their own guidance and the Secretary of State’s words. There was no grey area, but they turned their backs on the science. They extended one cull by 42 days and another by 93 days. Four of the nine members of the Natural England board expressed concerns, including the chair of Natural England’s science advisory committee, who went on public record in November with his concerns:

“I fear there will be two tragic losers, the farmers who are paying the crippling bill for extending this trial”—

that was the Gloucester trial—

“and the badgers whose lives may be lost for little purpose.”

Professor Rosie Woodroffe described the extension of the Gloucester pilot from six to 14 weeks as “uncharted territory” and added that the additional time risked increasing perturbation and the detrimental effects of the cull. The Minister’s cull policy may have increased the risk of TB in pilot areas and surrounding areas.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a bit of a cheek for the Government to say that the pilot culls have been a success, when those of us who are anti-cull have been told not to leap to conclusions until the independent panel has concluded?

That is absolutely right. I do not have time to cover everything, so I will write to the Minister on some issues.

I turn to the meat of the matter. Will the Minister agree to examine the evident problems with baseline badger population analysis and bring forward proposals for more accurate population counts? In the interests of good science and evidence-based policy, will he support a vaccination trial in the south-west of England and compare the results with the cull pilots to establish whether it will be more effective, and more cost-effective, to vaccinate instead of shooting or gassing?

In the interests of transparency, will the Minister agree to publish the full taxpayer and landowner costs of the extended culls, including the cost per badger culled—we anticipate that that will be at least £2,200 per badger—and place a report on the full costs in the Library of this House? Will he agree to strengthen the membership of the independent expert panel to provide additional scientific expertise, and will he be open to suggestions for the composition of that strengthened panel from Labour and others? Will he agree to strengthen and clarify the remit of that panel to ensure that its original task of monitoring humaneness, safety and effectiveness deals adequately and separately, as needed, with the original cull period, the extended cull period and, specifically, the later weeks in which humaneness and effectiveness may have been especially compromised?

Will the Minister publish in full and without delay the transcripts of the independent expert panel, together with any evidence presented, so that full and transparent scrutiny of the decision making by scientific and other peers can take place? Will he also publish in full a report by the independent expert panel? Will he halt any further culls and postpone any announcements on further culls until that report from the independent expert panel has been debated in Parliament with the Secretary of State answering questions? Will the Secretary of State, who has not come to Parliament to answer in full the debate on the extended culls, put any further culls to a vote in Parliament and test the democratic legitimacy of the culls in the country? There has been no vote whatsoever on the extended culls, which is an affront to parliamentary democracy on so controversial an issue.

The numbers attending the debate and the lack of time available for speakers demonstrate the need for the Secretary of State to come to Parliament in Government time to debate the issue, instead of hiding behind repeated written statements. We all accept that we have to eradicate TB for the good of our farmers, but we have to do so in a way that is based on evidence. That is where the Government have failed.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing what has been a lively debate. I welcome the opportunity to outline to hon. Members the Government’s strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis and the role that a targeted badger cull can play in that strategy. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) set out, we should first recognise the huge impact that the disease is having on the farming industry. Our farming communities continue to suffer as a result of the spread of bovine TB. In the 10 years to 31 December 2012, more than 305,000 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered as a result of the disease. Statistics published only today show that a further 24,600 cattle were slaughtered up until the end of September, solely as a result of bovine TB. Over the past 10 years, the disease has cost the Government more than £500 million, and it is estimated that it will cost taxpayers another £1 billion in the next decade if we do nothing.

Let me start by saying that no one, least of all me, wants to kill badgers. I recognise the sentiment that many people feel towards the animals. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) said, that feeling is shared by many people in the country, and we recognise and understand that. If there were an easy way to tackle bovine TB, we would have done it. There are no easy answers when it comes to reversing the spread of bovine TB, and there is no example in the world of a country that has successfully tackled TB without also dealing with the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population. In Australia, a national eradication programme spanning almost three decades enabled the achievement in 1997 of official freedom from bovine TB and an infection rate of less than 0.2%. The comprehensive package of measures included a cull of feral water buffalo. The comprehensive and successful package of measures to eradicate the disease in New Zealand focused on the primary wildlife reservoir of brushtail possums. As a result of those efforts, New Zealand is on the verge of achieving bovine TB-free status. Closer to home, the Irish Republic has also had a comprehensive eradication programme, which included the targeted culling of badgers in areas where the disease is attributed to wildlife. Since 2000, there has been a 45% reduction in TB breakdowns.

I will make some headway.

A number of European countries that have a known problem with TB in wildlife are tackling that reservoir of disease. Badger culling is undertaken in Switzerland and France, and deer and wild boar are culled in the Baltic countries, Germany, Poland and Spain. International experience clearly shows that one part of a coherent strategy to tackle the disease must include tackling it in the wildlife population.

The Minister makes the case with international comparisons, but he must acknowledge that the structure of badger populations in Britain is different from that in southern Ireland and across Europe, which makes the case for culling in Britain unsustainable.

I do not accept that, because the randomised badger culling trial, cited by many hon. Members today, showed that culling contributed to a significant reduction in disease in the areas where it ran. It also showed that, even in those areas that had a slow start, where less than 40% of the badgers were culled in year one, there was still a significant reduction in the incidence of the disease provided the cull was sustained in subsequent years.

The Government have developed an ambitious and comprehensive plan for containing the spread of the disease through our 25-year strategy. It has several components, but at its heart is a recognition of a simple and unavoidable fact: there is no magic solution and no one measure will eradicate the disease on its own. TB is an incredibly difficult disease to fight and we need a range of different measure to tackle it.

Some, such as the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), have suggested that vaccination is an easy answer. I wish it were that simple, but it is not. Members will remember that last year, there were concerns about the Schmallenberg virus, a disease that affects sheep. It was relatively straightforward to develop a vaccine that was virtually 100% effective, and the disease is now fully under control. TB is not a simple virus. It is a complex bacterial disease. The bacteria reside inside the cell walls of the host, which makes it incredibly difficult to develop an effective vaccine. As a result, the current BCG vaccine provides only limited protection in about 60% of cases, and even then, the level of protection given is variable. Notwithstanding those difficulties and limitations, we are nevertheless investing large amounts of money in developing methods of deploying vaccine to both badgers and cattle, because, although vaccination is not a solution on its own, it could have a role in creating buffer zones or containing the spread of the disease.

Since 1994, more than £43 million has been spent on developing the cattle vaccine and the oral badger vaccine. We have committed to investing a further £15.5 million in vaccine deployment over the spending review period.

I pay tribute to the Minister for the work I know he has been doing on this subject. Farmers know where the badgers are. Does he agree that if we could roll out the vaccine programme to the farming community, it would help all concerned and stop anguish in all parts of our communities?

We have a badger vaccine deployment fund of approximately £250,000 a year. Uptake has been slightly disappointing so far. We must also recognise that vaccination does not provide protection to all badgers, even once they are vaccinated. In Northern Ireland, a trial has been discussed, described as, “Test, Vaccinate and Remove”, meaning that the badgers are first trapped, then tested, and the ones that are not infected are vaccinated and released and the ones that are infected are culled. That test is only 50% effective, so for every infected badger that is culled, another is pointlessly vaccinated and released back into the wild to spread the disease further.

My constituents are deeply concerned about the issue, as everyone knows. We have to explain to farmers why someone is taking away the cattle, but doing nothing about the badgers at the end of the field. What progress is the Minister making on a DIVA test?

We are working on a DIVA test, but, as hon. Members pointed out, it will probably take eight to 10 years to get a licensed vaccine for cattle.

We are constantly refining cattle movement controls, which a number of Members have mentioned. In 2012, we introduced tough new controls on cattle movements and TB testing. In January this year, we significantly expanded the area of the country that is subject to annual testing and further tightened cattle movement controls, including the conditions that need to be met before TB breakdown herds can restock. Last month, we launched the risk-based trading scheme to encourage farmers to share details of the bovine-TB disease history of the cattle they sell, and to encourage buyers to act on that information. Less than two weeks ago, we went further.