Bovine tuberculosis is a terrible disease which threatens the future of our beef and dairy industries. We are pursuing a comprehensive strategy which includes improved cattle movement controls, vaccination in the edge areas, and culling badgers in areas where the disease is rife. We will publish all the data and the results of this year's culls once the quality assurance processes and the independent audit have been completed.
Let us remember the situation that we inherited in 2010, The last Government failed to take any action on this issue, and we ended up with the highest rates of bovine TB in Europe. Are Opposition Members proud of that record? Are they proud of the fact that the disease increased ninefold on their watch? As I have said, we are pursuing a comprehensive strategy which includes improved cattle movement controls, vaccination in the edge areas, and culling where the disease is rife.
If we are concerned about all God’s creation, we ought to be just as concerned about cattle as we are about badgers. Is it not the case that the Republic of Ireland, whose beef cattle and dairy herds are similar to ours and which has had similar problems with TB, has followed exactly the same policies as this Government, and as a consequence has seen a 25% reduction in cattle TB infection?
My right hon. Friend has made an excellent point about Ireland. A similar policy has been pursued in New Zealand, where numbers have also been reduced; and Australia, whose comprehensive strategy involved culling in the wildlife population as well as improved movement controls, has eradicated bovine TB. It is vital to the future of our dairy and beef industries that we eradicate this terrible disease. We are the Government who are prepared to make difficult decisions, rather than repeating the outrageous failures of the last Government. They left us with the highest rates of bovine TB in Europe: that is the disgrace.
Notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s bluster, it is a fact that, following the catastrophic failures in year one—last year’s failures were catastrophic—in year two the Secretary of State abolished the independent expert panel, which was too independent for the Government. The Government watered down the estimates of the badger populations, and threw out the Secretary of State’s own original guidance, which involved culling 70% of badgers within six weeks in year one. Why did the methodology used to calculate the number of badgers change from year one to year two, why does the methodology applying to Somerset differ from that applying to Gloucestershire, and why were the methodologies not subject to independent scientific review? Let us go on the evidence.
An independent audit of the culls is currently taking place. A review is also being undertaken by our chief veterinary officer, which is important. The British Veterinary Association fully supports our comprehensive strategy to deal with bovine TB, and it is about time the Opposition thought about how they would deal with this terrible disease rather than criticise our policy, which has been shown, using international evidence, to deliver.
Bearing down on this terrible disease in cattle must clearly involve evidence-based policy making rather than policy-based evidence selection. Further to the question on the scrapping of the independent expert panel, what will the Government do to ensure that the evidence collected from this year’s cull is presented to the whole of the scientific community that has expertise in this subject?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend; it is important that we base our policies on science and evidence, and I am determined to do that. That is why we are independently auditing the results of this year’s culls, and why we had our chief veterinary officer and our chief scientist sign off the numbers for those culls. It is important to understand that this is part of a comprehensive strategy to deal with this issue. The strategy involves vaccination in the edge zones and cattle movement controls, as well as culls where the disease is rife. It has worked in Australia, and it is working in Ireland and New Zealand. Why will the Opposition not look at the evidence?