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Bovine TB

Volume 578: debated on Thursday 3 April 2014

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on bovine tuberculosis.

Today I am publishing the Government’s strategy for achieving officially TB-free status for England. This disease is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK, and the crisis facing our cattle farmers, their families and communities cannot be overstated. It is a devastating zoonosis that threatens our cattle industry and presents risks to other livestock and wildlife species such as badgers, domestic pets and humans.

In 1979 only 0.01% of British cattle tested as infected. The disease has now spread extensively from infected pockets in the south-west, and the number of new herd breakdowns has doubled every nine years. In the last decade we have slaughtered 314,000 otherwise healthy cattle across Great Britain in our attempt to control the disease. In 2013 more than 6.2 million TB tests were performed in England leading to the slaughter of 26,603 cattle. One quarter of herds in the south-west and the west midlands were placed under movement restrictions at some point, and in the last decade the issue has cost the taxpayer £500 million.

If we do not control TB, the bill will rise to £1 billion over the next decade. It is vital that farmers, vets, non-governmental organisations and politicians work together to free England of TB. The value of this industry is £6.6 billion, and we want to ensure a thriving cattle sector that maintains our countryside, trades internationally and delivers economic growth.

The current surveillance and control scheme is based on the traditional approach applied across Europe: routine skin testing of cattle, removal and slaughter of test reactors combined with post-mortem surveillance at slaughter, and movement controls placed on infected herds. In the absence of a major wildlife reservoir, that approach has been successful in allowing many EU countries and regions to achieve officially TB-free status. The same approach has reduced the spread of the disease in areas where TB is established, but on its own that is not enough.

Where there is a reservoir of disease in wildlife, tackling TB will require long-term solutions and considerable national resolve. We are clear that culling needs to be part of the answer as there is no other satisfactory solution available at the moment. I intend to pursue policies that will reverse the trend well before the end of this decade, so we need a control and eradication strategy with these clear aims at its heart. It must be dynamic, tailored to the sources of disease and the potential for eliminating it. It must adapt as new tools become available.

We must learn the lessons from countries that have succeeded in tackling TB where there has been a reservoir of the disease in wildlife. I have visited Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the USA. The vital lesson I have taken from these countries is the importance of stringent cattle control measures in combination with tackling the primary wildlife reservoir. Their programmes are either led by industry, or delivered by industry and Government working in partnership, with both parties contributing to the cost. We will need to adapt and apply the key elements of others’ eradication strategies to our countryside. However, the common thread is the sustained application of a control programme that addresses infection in cattle and wildlife.

We already have a robust package of cattle measures, which we have steadily strengthened since 2011. Herds in high-risk areas, and on the edges of those areas, must be tested annually; herds in low-risk areas must be tested every four years. We also have slaughterhouse surveillance. Cattle moving from annual testing herds must be tested before they are moved. Where we find TB, we shut down the herd, slaughter the reactor cattle and carry out intensive testing in the herd and the surrounding herds. We continue to tighten our cattle measures. This year, we have reduced subsidy payments for farmers with overdue TB tests, enhanced measures for dealing with persistent breakdowns, and we recently announced a further tightening of pre-movement testing rules as well as new powers to slaughter cattle that cannot be tested.

For the first time our strategy brings together all the tools we need to tackle the disease, including those currently available and those in development, such as a cattle vaccine. It sets targets by which we can measure progress towards achieving officially TB-free status. The strategy will simply not work without addressing the reservoir of TB infection in badgers. The option of using injectable badger vaccine has been available since 2010. However, the evidence shows that about a third of badgers in TB hot-spot areas are infected. The vaccine does not cure them and they continue to spread the disease. We have some evidence that the vaccine provides protection to a proportion of uninfected badgers, but the vaccination needs to be repeated annually, and this presents many practical problems. However, while the injectable vaccine is far from perfect, it may help protect uninfected badgers away from the TB hot spots. That is why I am proposing a scheme for vaccination projects around the edge of the most badly affected parts of the country, in an attempt to create a buffer zone of TB immunity to stop the disease spreading further.

The first year of two four-year culls took place in Gloucestershire and Somerset last autumn. These were pilots designed to test whether the controlled shooting of free-ranging badgers is safe, humane and effective. An independent panel of experts was appointed to assess the pilots. I am extremely grateful for their work. I have today placed the panel’s report, our response to it and our broader strategy in the Library of the House. We have always been clear that there would be lessons to be learned from the first year of these four-year culls. Having read and considered the report, we shall now work to implement the panel’s recommendations.

The panel is confident that controlled shooting, when carried out in accordance with best practice guidance, poses no threat to public safety, even in the presence of local protest. This is an appropriate point to put on record my thanks to the cull companies and contractors who put so much effort into the culls. They went out night after night to battle TB, often in dreadful conditions, and often facing disgraceful intimidation from some of the more extreme protesters.

The pilots showed that, in the majority of cases, shooting was accurate and can be a humane control method with minimal times to death. The panel made a number of key recommendations for improving the overall standards of accuracy and field craft of contractors, including training and assessment. I accept these recommendations and we are working to implement them with Natural England and the cull companies.

On effectiveness, we already know from the figures we made public last year that the culls did not make as much progress as we hoped. This is confirmed by the independent expert panel, which has given its views on why this might have happened. Three of the 10 areas in the badger culling trials between 1998 and 2005 also got off to a slow start, but by the end of the trial they had contributed to a reduction in TB. That is what we expect to happen here, especially after the panel’s recommendations for improving the effectiveness of culling are put into action.

The second year of culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset will start with the panel’s recommended improvements in place. We will work with Natural England and the industry to implement the changes. The cull companies will adapt their operational plans to ensure better consistency of coverage in the cull areas. They will incorporate more extensive training and real-time monitoring of cull effectiveness and humaneness by Natural England. We know that there are many farming communities in other parts of England that want badger culls to help combat TB. I hope they will understand that we need to put these changes into practice before we roll out the culling programme to other areas. I am also announcing a trial of a comprehensive farm-level risk management programme throughout the cull areas over the next three years. This will be available to all farmers, providing bespoke assessments and advice on how to protect their cattle.

I am keen to develop new techniques to support the strategy. Over this Parliament, we are investing £24.6 million in the development of effective TB vaccines for cattle and badgers. Our scientists are leading the world in the development of a deployable cattle vaccine. In 2013, I agreed with the European Commissioner the work that was needed to develop a viable cattle vaccine. We are designing the large-scale field trials necessary to take this forward. I am committed to meeting the earliest deadline for its implementation, but the need for the field trials and required legislative changes means that a usable cattle vaccine is still many years away. In the future, an oral badger vaccine might address some of the problems of injectable vaccine deployment and serve as a targeted control measure. Some progress has been made, but we do not yet have an oral badger vaccine that is effective. We are also stepping up investment in the development of improved diagnostic tests such as DNA-based technologies, so that we can deploy a targeted approach to identify and remove TB-infected badgers only.

The strategy recognises that achieving officially TB-free status for England will be a long haul. I am confident, however, that it is not beyond industry and Government working in partnership to achieve it for England in the time scales we envisage. My aim is for England to be free of TB by 2038, with healthy cattle living alongside healthy badgers.

The four-year culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset are pilots, and we always said we would learn lessons from them. It is crucial we get this right. That is why we are taking a responsible approach, accepting recommendations from experts to make the pilots better. Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease that is devastating our cattle and dairy industries, and causing misery for many people in rural communities. We need to do everything we can, as set out in our strategy, to make England TB-free. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for early sight of his statement.

I agree with the Secretary of State on one thing: there is no doubt that bovine TB is one of the most important issues facing farmers today. It is a scourge and a threat to their livelihoods, and to those of the communities they serve. The ultimate solution to the problem will take time, a carefully considered use of the resources available and an understanding of the best scientific advice. Sadly, none of these things featured prominently in the announcement the Secretary of State has just made. Consistent with his inept handling of this shambles, he has put prejudice before science, secrecy before transparency, conflict before consensus and posturing before good policy.

Furthermore, he has completely ignored the will of the House, which only three weeks ago voted overwhelmingly to oppose his plans, to cancel the culls, and to seek alternative ways of dealing with the problem. Let me remind him that the result of the vote was 219 to 1, which by anyone’s estimate constituted a huge rejection of his policy and of the way in which he has handled the issue. He talks of a strategy, but there is no strategy here. This is an unscientific fudge with which he is trying to save his face.

The Secretary of State announced that the failed culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset would continue, although the IEP report said that they were ineffective and inhumane. He had planned to extend the cull to 10 further areas this year, and to 40 in due course. Does he still plan to do that, and if so, when? He said that

“culling needs to be part of the answer as there is no other satisfactory solution available at the moment.”

That is nonsense. Will he acknowledge that in Wales, where there has been no culling but there has been a vaccination programme, there has been a 48% decrease in the number of cattle slaughtered because of TB since 2009?

The Secretary of State said that

“the pilots showed that, in the majority of cases, shooting was accurate and can be a humane control method with minimal times to death.”

The fact is that the IEP report said that it was not accurate in up to 22.8% of cases, enough for the panel to conclude that it was inhumane. How can the Secretary of State possibly justify the continuing use of a method of killing—free shooting—which has been found to be inhumane by independent scientific advisers?

There seems to me to be no plan for independent oversight of the culls. If that is so—and perhaps the Secretary of State will clarify his intentions—I believe it to be a grave mistake. How can he justify it, given that the culls are very likely to increase TB risks to cattle unless they can kill more badgers more rapidly than in the pilots? What confidence can there be that that is being achieved if there is no independent oversight?

When I wrote to the Secretary of State on 17 March offering to work with him on the development of an evidence-based cross-party programme, he wrote back that he would publish his TB strategy shortly, and would then ensure that his officials briefed me on its contents. I should be grateful for such a briefing, but I am afraid that that attitude is symptomatic of the approach taken by the Secretary of State throughout this sorry episode. Rather than engaging meaningfully in a search for a proper, long-term solution, he ignores scientific evidence, makes a decision based on his own prejudice, and then offers retrospectively to tell me and other Members what the policy is, and expects us to agree with him.

These are the facts. The IEP report shows that the Secretary of State’s disastrous culls are neither effective nor humane. It says that his plans will make the problem worse, not better. The two pilot culls failed to achieve their own success criterion of culling 70% of badgers in the six weeks. Against sound scientific evidence, they were extended, and then spectacularly failed again to cull the target number of badgers. The culls should be ended, not extended. They have not worked.

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a scientific consensus that the risk posed by ending these failed culls is lower than the risk that continuing them will spread the disease through perturbation? Given that consensus, why is he proceeding with them? What assessment has he made of the total cost to the taxpayer, and to hard-pressed farmers, of continuing the culls with any semblance of humaneness? If he proceeds as described, his culls can no longer be called evidence-based policy, if they ever were. What he has announced today is simply an open season on badgers in the culling areas. Will he confirm that the Government will agree to hold a full debate on the Floor of the House and a binding vote, in Government time, on the future of the cull programme and the report of the independent expert panel?

I believe that today’s statement falls far short of what farmers and the broader community deserve. Labour has made a series of reasonable, rational cross-party requests of the Government, none of which has been met so far, although the Government continually state that they want to deal with the issue on a cross-party basis. Labour will continue to work with farmers, wildlife groups and leading scientists to develop an alternative strategy to eradicate bovine TB. It would include tackling TB in badgers, focusing on vaccination; enhanced cattle measures, including compulsory pre and post-movement testing; a comprehensive risk-based trading system; and more robust biosecurity. We have said consistently that the culls are bad for farmers, bad for the taxpayer, and bad for our wildlife. The Secretary of State’s humiliating climbdown on the roll-out of his disastrous badger cull programme means that Labour’s proposals are the only way out of this mess.

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments, and congratulate her on her use of alliteration.

I remind the hon. Lady that between 1998 and 2010, under the Government she supported, the total number of herd breakdowns tripled from 1,226 to 3,634 and the number of cattle slaughtered rose sixfold, from 4,102 to 24,000. I also remind her that when we adopted a bipartisan approach back in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, we all but had this disease beat, with a prevalence of 0.01%. All that I ask is for her to work with us and follow the example of other nations with a severe reservoir of—[Interruption.]

Order. We do not need this constant shouting from Members on both sides of the House, including Opposition Front Benchers. I do not want to hear it from the Government Whips, and I do not want to hear it from the Opposition Front Bench.

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The position is very simple. The pilots were set up last year. The hon. Lady asked about the roll-out of our programme. We made clear that we would learn lessons: the IEP report contained some very helpful advice, and we will adopt it. We are acting responsibly by maintaining the two existing cull areas. The hon. Lady mentioned the risk of increasing disease. My chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, has stated emphatically that ending culling in the two existing areas would greatly increase the risk of the disease, and his very strong scientific advice is that it should continue.

As for Wales, I am delighted that there has been a reduction in the disease there. According to the farmers in Wales to whom I have spoken, it may be due to the spike that occurred when annual testing was introduced recently. Given that the vaccination trial has only been taking place for two years in 1.5% of the land in Wales, to attribute it to vaccination is laughable.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of humaneness. The IEP report shows that 68 out of 69 badgers died virtually instantly. However, there are clear lessons to be learned on how we can improve humaneness, which we are happy to adopt.

The hon. Lady mentioned the number culled last year. I remind her that during the first year of the randomised badger culling trial that took place under the Government she supported, only 32%, 37% and 39% respectively were culled in three of the trial areas, but in those areas the culls did contribute to disease reduction later on.

The hon. Lady also mentioned cost. We are heading for a bill of £1 billion. We simply must address the disease in cattle and in wildlife, as has happened in every other country to which I referred in my statement. [Interruption.] I have already touched on the subject of Wales and vaccination, but I repeat for the benefit of Opposition Front Benchers who are chuntering from a sedentary position that it is not credible to attribute the reduction in Wales to a two-year vaccination programme that took place in 1.5% of the geographical area of Wales.

The hon. Lady came up with a few ideas, and I am delighted to say that we are in agreement on all of them. On badger vaccination, I have announced that we want to establish a buffer zone at the edges of the worst affected areas, because treating healthy badgers with the current badger vaccine—however difficult it is to deploy, given that a third of badgers are trap-shy—may help to build up a buffer zone, and that is worth doing. Sadly, injecting diseased badgers in the hot-spot areas with cattle vaccine will not reduce the incidence of the disease. I think that we agree on that.

The hon. Lady mentioned risk-based trading in connection with for cattle measures. We have already introduced that. I was very clear about this in my statement. If she looks at the strategy, she will see there are considerable new measures there, which are much stricter on cattle risk-based trading. It would be good if the hon. Lady went through our response to the independent panel so she sees that we are adopting its proposals, and went through our strategy, which shows that we are looking to bring in a whole range of tools. She should not just focus on culling of diseased badgers, although that is an important part, as we are bringing in a whole range of other measures, and down the road, as I made clear in the statement, I really do want to get to the position where we are leading the world on developing a cattle vaccine and where, above all, we can get better diagnostic techniques—possibly DNA systems—which can diagnose disease in cattle and in badgers.

I welcome the strategy and the fact that the Government are going to implement the panel recommendations. The public will be very alarmed that TB is now spreading through pets, and I hope the Secretary of State can address that. I urge him to give the House an assurance on the date when the field trials will take place and the timetable for the legislative changes, and will he also look favourably on the sterilisation programme which is being developed in my constituency?

I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for her questions. On the development of cattle vaccine, which I think she was asking about, we do not have an immediate timetable when we can start. These are complex, difficult trials and we need to work out, working closely with the European Commission, how we bring them in in practical terms. A major issue is what we do with the animals that may have been treated, because we have to decide whether they can go for human consumption or not.

Like the Secretary of State, I think it is important that the House tries to work together, because whatever happens next spring I suspect the coalition will not exist. [Interruption.] I am certain about it. Will he agree, in keeping with the code of practice for scientific advisory committees, to publish all the scientific advice he has received? I remind him that the code of practice says that only in the exceptional circumstances of matters of national security should it be withheld. It needs to be published, including, for example, the advice the Secretary of State has received on the tiny risks related to pets.

We are very clear in the document. The hon. Gentleman should read the strategy, as there is a significant amount of information in it, including references to where we have got advice from.

I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the register of interests. Ever since I have been a Member of Parliament, I have been following the development of vaccines for badgers and cattle and I commend the Secretary of State on continuing that work, but he knows that a test that could identify diseased badgers so we could eliminate them and vaccinate the healthy badgers would really take us forward. Can he tell the House what progress is being made on those matters?

I think my hon. Friend and I will be in total agreement that it would be a huge change in the whole debate if we could establish some form of polymerase chain reaction technology using DNA where we could identify and differentiate diseased and healthy cattle and, above all, diseased and healthy badgers. We are pressing on with that—we have done a lot of work with Warwick university—because I do think this would change the whole debate, and if we could target culling, it would be so much better and so much quicker and make it more effective.

For the sake of the record of the House, can the Secretary of State be clear about the decision relating to the roll-out of the culls? Is the roll-out cancelled or is it scheduled for a further date, and if so, when will the culls be rolled out?

I am very happy to clarify that, but I thought I made it clear in the statement. What we are saying is that there are clear lessons to be learned from the panel report, and clear lessons in practical terms that we learned from the cull companies, so sensibly we are continuing with the existing two pilots so we can perfect this system of removing diseased wildlife. Once we are happy we have got that system perfected, we will look to a further roll-out. The original intention was to have 10 areas, and we have over 30 expressions of interest from around the country. [Interruption.] Those chuntering on the Opposition Front Bench should not underestimate the desperation in cattle areas and the frustration that we cannot go faster. It is clear from the panel report that we need to perfect this particular method of removing diseased badgers before rolling out further. However, it is emphatically our decision to roll out further once the technique is perfected.

I welcome the vaccination programme around infection hot spots, but the skin test is clearly failing as the number of carcases rejected post-slaughter more than doubled between 2012 and 2013 and is increasing again this year. My constituents, such as Simon Cotton, are having cattle which have passed the skin test condemned without compensation at slaughter. The Government are consulting on a risk-based trading strategy which is completely flawed because it is based on the skin test, and the electronic device that Nottingham Trent university is working on is supposed to be three years away. What can the Secretary of State do to save my constituents from the total loss of condemned carcases and having their time wasted on futile consultations and their cats infected, all because we do not have a proper skin test?

Our proposal is for badger vaccination on the edge of the hot-spot areas. There is no point in vaccinating in the hot spots as, sadly, the animals are already diseased and infected. The idea is to get a buffer zone around the edge.

I do not entirely agree with all my hon. Friend’s comments on what we are doing elsewhere. We are all, sadly, very aware of the ineffectiveness of some of our technology. We know that BCG is not a perfect vaccine, and we are fully aware that the skin test is not a perfect individual animal test, but it is currently the method used in every other country with a major problem of TB in cattle and it does give a broad result, within which other countries have managed to bring this disease down.

Order. May I remind the House that we have a Select Committee report and two Back-Bench debates this afternoon? The convention for statements is that Members ask one question of the Secretary of State—not make statements, but ask one question. We will get everybody in if that convention is followed by Members, so I hope from now on we can move at a slightly faster pace.

I think people around the country will be really shocked by this statement, not just because it represents a complete disregard of the science and the evidence, but because it is also likely to make bovine TB worse, not better. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that he will bring this issue back to the House so we can have a vote before it goes any further?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady reacts in such a way. I would stress very clearly that this strategy has been prepared over recent months, after exhaustive consultation.

The hon. Lady shakes her head. I am sorry, but I have to repeat this: we have consulted very widely across the country, and a very wide number of senior scientists have been involved, and this is endorsed by our chief veterinary officer. We had a vote back last year which endorsed our strategy with a majority of 61 on a substantive motion. This is a broad strategy that was endorsed then, and we are delivering what we promised to the House then.

On behalf of farmers in Burton and Uttoxeter who have seen decades of work destroyed by this disease, may I thank the Secretary of State for his commitment to tackling and eradicating TB? I have had a number of e-mails from worried constituents recently, who are concerned about the reports in the newspapers of TB spreading to cats and domestic animals. Can the Secretary of State tell us what analysis he has done of that and the risks incurred from it?

I thank my hon. Friend for his supportive comments. As we have seen graphically from the experience in Newbury, this is a disease that does transfer to other species; it is a zoonosis that can be caught by human beings. The Newbury example, where it looks as if the cats had the same spoligotype as cattle—there is not yet a direct link with badgers but it may be that the badgers in that area also have the same type of TB—is a real wake-up call to us all, as it shows this is a deadly serious disease and, as in every other country where they have addressed it, we have to address it not just in cattle but also in wildlife, because we want to have healthy cattle, healthy wildlife and healthy humans.

In responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), the Secretary of State said he thought that the independent expert panel’s report contained some “helpful advice”. How does he respond to the panel’s finding that

“culling badgers over a 6-week period by shooting, or by shooting and cage trapping, fails to meet the criteria of effectiveness set out by Defra”?

We agree with the IEP report that there are lessons to be learned. These were pilots, and we are looking to perfect the techniques for removing diseased animals by controlled shooting and by trapping. There is some very helpful advice in the IEP report, which we intend to take on so that the pilots can be proved to be effective, safe and humane and so that we can roll them out to other parts of the country that are desperate to get on top of TB.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right to emphasise the comprehensive eradication strategy, of which the removal of infection in the wildlife in a highly infected area is but a part, albeit a vital one. Will he continue to consider alternatives to free shooting, which has been shown to be vulnerable to disruption? Will he also extend the competition to find a successful diagnostic tool to identify infected setts?

I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend says, just as I endorsed the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams). It would be a huge help if we could develop a polymerase chain reaction testing system that could instantly diagnose the disease in cattle and in badgers. It would be tremendous if we could run such tests on milk samples daily, for example, rather than having to use the skin tests, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) has pointed out, are inadequate and not all that accurate. It would be a huge help if PCR tests could determine which setts had diseased badgers, so that we could focus on them. We are really pressing on with this; it is a top priority for me.

If the Secretary of State is so confident that his strategy will be successful—with respect, he knows that many of us have great doubts about that—why are the Government not paying for it? Why do they expect farmers to contribute towards the £100 million a year costs? The Secretary of State wants the strategy to be successful, and there is more than enough money to pay for it, as well as money for the Treasury to pocket afterwards. Why are farmers being expected to contribute?

I am looking at examples from across the world. I was in New Zealand last year, where there is a huge cost to the Government from TB, as there is here. Here, we are looking at a bill of £1 billion for the taxpayer. It is clear from examples such as New Zealand that the state working in partnership with farmers has delivered results. It is perfectly obvious that farmers and farmers’ organisations have a huge personal vested interest in getting on top of this disease, and our working with them is the sensible way forward.

I thank the Secretary of State for his commitment to eradicating TB. In Devon, a quarter of the herds are affected by TB, and a third of the badgers are infected with the disease. It has been scientifically proven that half the cases of TB in the endemic areas have been transferred by badgers to cattle. When will more culls take place? Can we put the relevant areas together so that when the lessons have been learned from the two pilot culls, we will be ready to roll out the culls across Devon? Our farmers in Devon are absolutely desperate.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. He has been stalwart in defending his constituents and bringing to my personal attention the horrific problem of bovine tuberculosis, particularly in Devon. When I was at the North Devon show, I asked the farming organisations there to start organising. There are 30 areas that have shown an interest in having culls, once we have got the pilots behind us, so my advice to those in Devon is: start organising. Once we have perfected the technique in Somerset and Gloucestershire, I am keen to roll it out because I understand the desperation in areas such as that of my hon. Friend that have such an intensity of disease.

I, too, refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am a member of the British Veterinary Association. I commend the Secretary of State’s statement and look forward to his rolling out the exercise across the rest of the United Kingdom, and especially in Northern Ireland. We have seen an increase in bovine TB in my constituency and in County Armagh, which represents a worrying change in the trend. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the scheme involving catching and testing, followed by either culling or injecting, is very expensive? Will he tell us how much money has been set aside for it?

The hon. Gentleman will know that this is a devolved issue, so it is up to him to discuss elsewhere whether the catch, trap, test and eliminate policy is introduced in Northern Ireland. We are not proposing to do that in England. He makes the valid point, however, that trapping badgers is not easy. We estimate that about a third of badgers are trap-shy, which presents real practical problems for those who are enthusiastic about vaccination.

In my area, we also have TB in dairy goats, but the farmers involved are not covered by the compensation scheme. Will the Secretary of State consider changing that rule, because it is causing desperation among those farmers?

I was talking to farming representatives who had come over the border into my own patch last Friday, and I am aware that there is a bad case in Staffordshire involving goats. We need to look at this issue. We have made it clear that we are going to consult on bringing alpacas into the regime, and we should look at goats as well.

We fully agree on the range of measures needed, such as vaccination and pre-movement testing. However, given the failure of the culls to meet effective percentages, even after an extension, and given the risk of perturbation, which has not been addressed today, why will the Secretary of State not transfer the resources that are being wasted on a second round of culling into the vital research that needs to be done on finding the right kinds of testing and vaccination?

The hon. Lady might have misunderstood my earlier comments. The chief veterinary officer is absolutely clear that we have to carry on within the two pilots, because of perturbation. We have absolutely taken that on board. I am pleased that the hon. Lady is happy with our proposals to accelerate our diagnostic work, the work on DNA that we have talked about and the improvements to vaccinations, but she has to respect the fact that every other country that has a reservoir of TB in its wildlife has removed the diseased wildlife. She might regret that, but it is a fundamental part of those other countries’ success.

Will the Secretary of State and his Department be working in the immediate future with voluntary organisations such as the Dorset Wildlife Trust and the Dorset Badger Vaccination Project, to ensure that we do something about this now?

That is a helpful question. We are making major changes to create a buffer zone, injecting, we hope, healthy badgers. We will need volunteers, and I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend might have contacts in her constituency who would like to help us in the buffer zone. Sadly, however, I have to remind her that in the core zone, where there is intensity of disease, vaccination will not work. It is in the buffer zone that we will really need help.

That rather depends on what the protesters do. If the countryside were inhabited only by responsible country people, who are very concerned about TB, the policing costs would be very low. I totally respect democracy. We all have different views, and I totally respect people’s right to protest, but if we have an invasion of protesters who try to stop the democratic Government’s disease control policy by using measures that cross the border from legitimate democratic protest into active disruption, the policing costs will become significant.

When did the Secretary of State last discuss the timetable for establishing a legal, validated cattle vaccine with the European Commission?

The lesson is clear: without culling, Wales has reduced the number of bovine TB cases by 50%. It has done that not just by vaccination but by other methods. The Secretary of State’s experiment has failed in many, many respects: in its duration; in the number of animals killed; and, especially, in the suffering caused, as up to a quarter of the badgers took five minutes to die. Does he think that this example of gratuitous cruelty is likely to increase or decrease the number of protesters against this continuing tomfoolery?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, but he must look at the longer term in Wales. According to my sources in Wales, there was a spike because annual testing was introduced, and that accounts for the reduction. It is simply not possible to attribute this dramatic reduction, which is very welcome, to the 1.5% of Wales that has had a badger vaccination trial for two years. On humaneness, I repeat that 68 out of 69 badgers died almost instantly. The panel report contains clear recommendations on how we can improve our techniques. Seven badgers are completely unaccounted for—they may have been missed entirely. The panel decided to put them in the category of having taken more than five minutes to die, but if they were missed entirely—they may be out there now, hale and healthy—the figure comes down dramatically, and 95% of the badgers would have died within the five-minute limit.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is a bit disingenuous to imply that vaccination is the solution in Wales, given that the reduction in TB is the same outside the vaccination area as it is inside that area? Furthermore, it is a bit rich for opponents of the cull to condemn a method of controlling badgers that they promote for the control of foxes.

My hon. Friend makes two very pertinent comments. We wish the regime in Wales well, but it simply is not credible to attribute this reduction to the brief period of vaccination in 1.5% of the land area.

The IEP report said that the cull trial was ineffective, that it did not reach its target and that it was inhumane. What would the Secretary of State’s definition of failure be?

That is a pessimistic interpretation of the IEP report. We are perfectly aware of the difficulty of achieving the numbers in the cull last year, but it was the first year. I remind the hon. Gentleman again that in the RBCT three areas achieved figures of 32%, 37% and 39%. They also got off to a slow start, but in later years they contributed to disease reduction. He wants a definition of success—it is reducing TB, and getting healthy cattle and healthy badgers.

On behalf of my local farmers in Devon, may I commend my right hon. Friend for pressing on with what is right? It is right for our farmers, for rural communities, for the taxpayer and for cattle, and although this is often overlooked, it is also distinctly right for those badgers that will otherwise die a long and lingering death from this dreadful disease. Will he confirm that there is not a single country in the world where TB has been effectively addressed in cattle without it first being addressed in the wildlife population?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He rightly draws attention to foreign comparisons, and the most obvious is the Republic of Ireland. In 1999, 44,903 cattle were culled there, but by following the same techniques that we have—strict cattle movement controls, slaughter of reactors, and by removing diseased badgers—the number decreased last year to 15,612. That is a dramatic reduction of two thirds, and I am happy to report that scientists tell me that the average Irish badger is 1 kg heavier than before the cull, because the badgers are healthier and they are eating better.

As my constituency contains one of the cull pilot areas, I know how difficult this process has been. May I congratulate the Secretary of State on the thoughtful way in which he has presented his statement about the comprehensive strategy, which will be welcomed by my local farmers? May I ask him to repeat for the benefit of my constituents who are perhaps not as supportive of the cull the important comments he made about accepting the IEP’s recommendations to deal with the concerns that people might have about the humaneness of the pilot cull as it is rolled out further in Gloucestershire?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s broad support for the policy and for sticking up for his constituents. We are absolutely clear that the panel report shows that 68 out of 69 badgers died almost instantly, but a number did not. The report makes some clear, practical recommendations on how we can improve humaneness. We emphatically want to do that, which is why we are not rolling things out further for the moment. We are holding to the existing two pilots to see whether we can perfect the techniques to make sure that they are humane, effective and safe.

I thank the Secretary of State for his determination to tackle bovine TB and, in particular, to stop its movement and create buffer zones. The shadow Minister spoke of inept handling, but when Labour was in power it was well known that bovine TB was moving towards Cheshire at a rate of 4 miles a year—tragically, it arrived. Does the Secretary of State agree that the inept handling of the former Labour Government in not tackling that movement put so many Cheshire farmers in the distressed position they are in today?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out the 13 wasted years that let this disease rip. Her local farmers are very close to mine, and they are getting desperate, as this disease costs such a lot. It is not just about the cattle; we must consider the human cost of farmers being devastated and of lifetimes’ of work being destroyed, while they know perfectly well that in Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland, where the disease is addressed in cattle and in wildlife, the disease can be got rid of.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s innovative idea of the vaccination buffer zones. How wide are they? How many cattle were slaughtered as a result of bovine TB last year? What is the total number of badgers killed in the pilot culls?

The idea is to establish a buffer zone on the edge, and I am delighted by the positive response from Members in the House. We will look to consult on how we bring in various groups. I am delighted that there might be volunteers, as the hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) mentioned. The extent of this will be the number of people we can actually get involved. The number of cattle slaughtered in Britain last year was 32,620 perfectly healthy cattle, which is more than 90 a day. The numbers for badgers killed in the culls was 955 in west Somerset and 924 in Gloucestershire.

I wish to challenge my right hon. Friend’s assertion in his statement that there is no point in undertaking any vaccination in the hot-spot areas, not least because the Department’s own trial in Stroud, a hot-spot area, has demonstrated significant improvement. In addition, we have a significant programme ready to roll with the Zoological Society of London in the Penwith area of my constituency. Will he and his scientists meet me and my scientists so that we can explore this issue?

I am perfectly happy for my experts to meet my hon. Friend’s, but the categorical advice I am getting is that, sadly, once a badger is infected with bovine TB, the current injectable vaccination does not make them healthy. The vaccine is difficult to deliver—as I have said, a third of badgers are trap-shy. So even if we catch the remaining two thirds and inject them with a vaccine, they will not become healthy, and that is sad.

I strongly welcome the Secretary of State’s emphasis on improving the system of diagnosis for this disease, because that is how we can effectively bring together the three components—vaccination, cattle movement restriction and culling—so that they can work. Does he agree?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support and for sticking up for his constituents. I have been there and seen the real problems we have in Gloucestershire. He rightly identifies the fact that the strategy encompasses a range of activities—there is no one golden key to this. The lesson is that we must use all the tools. If we decide arbitrarily on misguided grounds to miss out one tool, which has been used in other countries, we will not succeed. We must use all the tools as outlined in the strategy.