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Badger Cull

Volume 609: debated on Thursday 5 May 2016

2. If she will reconsider her Department’s plans to extend the badger cull; and if she will make a statement. (904818)

The Government are taking action to deliver a long-term strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England and protect the future of the dairy and beef industries. That strategy includes strengthening cattle testing and movement controls, improving biosecurity on farm, and badger control in areas where TB is rife. The veterinary advice is clear that there is no example in the world of a country that has successfully eradicated TB without also tackling the reservoir of the disease in the wildlife population.

Badger culling in England costs around £7,000 per badger killed; in Wales, the badger vaccination programme costs around £700 per badger vaccinated. Lord Krebs, the renowned scientific adviser on the subject, has continually said that

“rolling out culling as a national policy to control TB in cattle is not really credible.”

Why, then, do the Government persist with a policy that is stupid, costly and ineffective?

The cost of doing nothing would be £1 billion in 10 years’ time. As for the cost of running the culls, there were one-off costs initially, but those were halved in the most recent culls last year. The right hon. Lady will also be aware that Wales has had to suspend the vaccination programme because of a lack of availability of vaccine and on the advice of the World Health Organisation. The vaccination programme was also in a tiny pilot area of about 1.5% of Wales. Wales has had success with cattle movement controls just as we have done, and that is the reason it has been able to bear down on the disease in the same way we have.

My hon. Friend the Minister has already pointed out issues with bovine TB. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile)—who is not in his place—and I share a love of hedgehogs. Years ago I brought a hedgehog into the Chamber, which was completely out of order—[Interruption.] Not in your time, Mr Speaker: it was under Baroness Boothroyd, who did not approve. It did something terrible in my hand, I dropped it and it scurried off. That is off the point, sorry.

The hedgehog population is falling, and it is partly because they are part of the food chain of badgers. Badgers may be cuddly, while hedgehogs have spikes but they are cuddly too, and we need to remember that they are being attacked by all the badgers where there is no cull.

My hon. Friend is a real advocate for hedgehogs, and many other hon. Members have supported their cause, including my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile). Some research suggests that badgers compete with hedgehogs for some foods and in their environment, but there are many other pressures on the hedgehog, including gardens that are not particularly hedgehog friendly. Everybody can play a role in helping hedgehog populations to recover.

It is, of course, national hedgehog week, and we need to do all that we can to protect their habitats rather than blaming badgers.

Usually when experts tell us that something is not working the sensible thing to do is to stop. So why, when the Government’s experts said that last year’s efforts were ineffective and inhumane, and when bovine TB increased by 34% in Somerset, is the Department so determined to push ahead with yet more culling? May we have a moratorium on the granting of any more licences this year until we have had a full public debate, with all the information in the public domain, so that we can decide whether it is worth proceeding with culling?

The country’s leading experts on tackling bovine TB are in DEFRA, including the chief vet and his veterinary team. Their advice is clear: we will not eradicate this disease unless we also tackle the reservoir of disease in the wildlife population. That is why we are committed to a roll-out of the cull in areas where the disease is rife.

The Minister was characteristically generous to the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd). Can he give us the figures for the increase in outbreaks of bovine TB in Wales and in England? For those of us who have constituents on the Welsh border, will he continue to roll out the cull and do as much as he can, rather than punishing beef and dairy farmers with post-movement testing?

My hon. Friend will be aware that in England we slaughter some 28,000 cattle a year. Last year, both England and Wales saw a slight increase in the prevalence of the disease, but that tends to move in cycles. In the previous year, we saw a slight reduction in the disease. I understand that the cattle movement controls we have put in place are frustrating for some farmers, but they are also a necessary part of eradicating this disease. We have to do all of these things—deal with the reservoir of disease in the wildlife population, improve biosecurity on farms and, yes, improve cattle movement controls so that we can reduce transmission of the disease.

When will the Minister be able to give the scientific figures for the badger cull areas to show the reduction in the amount of disease in cattle?

As my hon. Friend knows, the randomised badger culling trials a decade or more ago found that the benefits of the culling of badgers were only seen some four years after the conclusion of the culls. The reality is that the programme is a long-term commitment and it will be several years before we can see the impact of the culls. From figures from last year, however, we know that perturbation, which several hon. Members have previously highlighted to me, was actually far less of an issue in years one and two of the culls in Gloucester and Somerset than people predicted.