10. What consultation she undertook before her recent announcement on extending the badger cull. (901279)
We are committed to implementing our 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB. The strategy has been the subject of extensive consultation. The issuing of a licence to Dorset is a measured approach to extending this policy, building on experience from previous years. There was a local consultation and an opportunity-to-comment procedure at the beginning of the licensing process.
This folly has now cost the taxpayer £17 million, and it is so far not proving as effective as the approach taken by the Assembly in Wales. Will the Minister give a commitment not to extend the cull beyond Dorset until there has been a proper evaluation of what is happening in Wales and of the folly of spending £17 million to date on something that is totally ineffective?
If we were to do nothing to tackle this disease, it would cost us about £1 billion over the next decade. The reality is that no country in the world has successfully eradicated TB without also dealing with the issue in the wildlife population. That is why a cull will continue to be part of our balanced strategy, alongside tighter cattle-movement controls and other measures, such as vaccination.
The hard-pressed dairy farmers of south Devon, which is a bovine TB hotspot, are keen for the cull to be extended into our part of the world. Can the Minister give any hope in respect of when such a cull might come our way?
We decided this year to have a cautious roll-out by adding one cull area in Dorset. In the light of that cull, we will review things again. There were applications and expressions of interest from north Devon and Herefordshire this year, and there are many other interested parties that I am sure will be considered in future years.
Has the Minister taken cognisance of the ongoing trials in a specific area of Northern Ireland? Has he had any discussions with the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland about those trials?
I regularly discuss this issue with Northern Ireland. It is trialling an alternative approach called “test and vaccinate or remove”, whereby badgers that are not believed to have the disease are vaccinated and those that are believed to have it are culled. There are limitations on that because of the limitations of the diagnostic tests. However, we liaise closely with all the relevant devolved Administrations.
In a written parliamentary answer that was published on Monday, the Minister stated:
“Natural England has authorised badger culling in Dorset this year in addition to Somerset and Gloucestershire.”
Will he explain to the House whether the new Dorset culling area is part of a roll-out of culling or another pilot area? If Dorset constitutes the start of a national roll-out, how can that be justified on the performance of the pilot culls? If it is another pilot area, what monitoring and evaluation will be put in place by his Department?
The extension to Dorset, as I explained earlier, is part of a cautious roll-out of the policy. We piloted the culls in the first year in Somerset and Gloucestershire. Our experience last year demonstrated that a cull along the lines that we are pursuing could be successful. It was successful and that is why we are continuing.