In his letter of 14 January 2013 to the Secretary of State, Commissioner Tonio Borg said that in order to provide answers to the still open scientific questions on TB vaccination, substantial experimental research and large-scale, long-lasting field trials were needed. That experimental research is under way and we will commission the detailed design of the necessary field trials in the coming months.
In 2017, I hope that the Secretary of State and I will be campaigning to leave the European Union. When we succeed, the excuse that it is the EU that is preventing us from vaccinating our cattle will no longer be valid. Will he ensure that his Department is ready to vaccinate cattle when we leave?
I hope that we will be able to reform the European Union and make it fit for purpose in the 21st century and campaign to stay in. On the point my hon. Friend makes, the European Commission set out the steps that would be needed to be taken in order for it to make proposals for new EU rules allowing trade in vaccinated cattle. Its tentative time line suggests that that would not be before 2023. We may be in a position to commence field trials next year. The trials will take between two to five years, and there will be a further two to three years to agree for trade in cattle to take place in the European Union. In reality, it will most likely be 2023, which underlines the importance in the meantime of our using every tool open to us to bear down on this terrible disease.
With so many developments on this issue, an increasing number of us are of the view that the problem is not so much to do with the badgers as with the Government who are moving the goalposts. In a not very heavy parliamentary schedule, will the Government commit to time for debates on the vaccination and the badger cull on the Floor of the House?
I regularly debate the issue—a debate was held in Westminster Hall before the Christmas recess—and we are now waiting for the independent expert panel to produce its report. When that report is concluded, we will make further proposals and announcements about the next step.
Even if the independent expert panel concludes that the Government’s cull policy is effective, which is highly unlikely, does the Minister not accept that the Government must consider a plan B that includes the vaccination of badgers, which they must get behind, as well as moving forward as quickly as they can with cattle vaccination?
We published a draft TB eradication strategy at the end of last summer and we will shortly publish a final version of that strategy. It accepts that there is a range of measures we should pursue, including developing vaccines, and we are doing some work to develop an oral vaccine for badgers as well as on cattle vaccines. We are considering other measures such as contraception for badgers and increased cattle movement controls, so we are covering a range of issues as we try to solve this difficult problem.