Skip to main content


Volume 741: debated on Tuesday 11 December 2012


Asked By

My Lords, badger culling is part of a package of measures to tackle bovine TB. The policy will be piloted, initially in two areas, during the summer of 2013 to confirm our assumptions about the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of controlled shooting. An independent panel of experts will oversee and evaluate the monitoring of the pilots and report back to government; only then will Ministers decide whether the policy should be rolled out more widely.

I thank the Minister for his reply. However, scientific evidence conducted over 10 years says that the killing of badgers makes hardly any difference—indeed, no difference—and in fact eminent scientists say that it makes it worse. In view of that, will he now follow the Welsh Assembly and decide on a policy of vaccination rather than elimination?

My Lords, the noble Lord and I will disagree on the science. Ultimately, of course, we want to be able to use vaccination both for cattle and for badgers, and we are investing in this option through extensive research and development. However, there are practical difficulties with the injectable badger vaccine, which the noble Lord refers to as being used in Wales and which right now is the only available option. The difficulties involved include the need for each badger to be trapped and the fact that vaccination does not appear to cure already infected badgers, along with the cost and the fact that it has to be repeated every year.

My Lords, I have spoken in your Lordships’ House before about the scientific evidence for the efficacy of culling as a way to control TB in badgers, and I do not wish to repeat myself. However, I should like to ask the Minister two questions. First, how will the success or failure of these two pilots be judged? The independent panel will make the judgment, but what will success look like? Secondly, is it not right that the Government should take the opportunity between now and next summer, when the cull is proposed to resume, to review all the options for controlling TB in badgers, bearing in mind that not even the most optimistic proponent of culling would consider it a credible strategy for the eradication of this dreadful disease?

My Lords, as always, I respect the noble Lord’s position. An independent panel of experts will oversee the monitoring and evaluation of the two pilots for the badger control policy to test our assumptions, as I said, about the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of controlled shooting. The expert panel will play an important role in overseeing the design of the data collection and their analysis, and in providing additional advice on interpretation of the data. It will be on the basis of both the pilots and the panel’s report that Ministers will take a decision on whether the granting of culling licences should be authorised in areas besides the pilot areas, and whether the badger control policy should continue to include controlled shooting as a culling method. On the noble Lord’s second point, we are constantly reviewing the options. As I said earlier, we are working hard on a vaccination, and there are a number of other measures in progress. In a general sense, we are doing as the noble Lord suggests.

My Lords, how much have this year’s aborted culls already cost the police in those two areas? What is the estimate for the cost to the police if the two culls go ahead in the summer and who is going to pay this money?

My Lords, to put things in context, we should bear in mind that in 2011-12 the total cost to the Government of controlling the disease in England will be about £90 million but that, without further action, the disease will cost the taxpayer approaching £1 billion over the next decade. In terms of the costs, a large proportion of which are borne by farmers, £750,000 was spent on surveying costs, which gave us the more accurate estimate of badger populations, £300,000 on Natural England’s costs and approximately £95,000 as part of humaneness monitoring.

My Lords, given that 92% of the people of this country are against the proposed cull, what conversations has the Minister had with his partners in the European Union who have successfully introduced vaccination?

The noble Lord raises an important point. I can only repeat an extract from the report following the visit to the UK in March 2012 of the EU Commission’s bovine tuberculosis sub-group of the task force for monitoring animal disease eradication:

“It is however of utmost importance that there is a political consensus and commitment to long-term strategies to combat TB in badgers as well as in cattle … There is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that badger vaccination will reduce the incidence of TB in cattle. However there is considerable evidence to support the removal of badgers in order to improve the TB status of both badgers and cattle”.

My Lords, I do not believe that the Minister mentioned which areas were going to be part of this experiment. During the six years that I was at MAFF, people in Devon begged me to have a culling operation. Is Devon part of the experiment?

My Lords, it is for the National Farmers’ Union to decide where it wants to conduct pilots. Natural England issued west Somerset and Gloucestershire with licences for the two badger cull pilots and these licences remain valid for the duration of the cull next summer. We are working with the farming industry so that badger control in two pilot areas can be implemented effectively in 2013 in the best possible conditions and with the right resources.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a resident of the Forest of Dean, a cull area, and as a member of Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting. My party still believes that there is no scientific, economic or moral basis for culling. What is the estimated additional cost to farmers or others of a more intensive cull, and are the Government confident of recruiting enough marksmen to do the work?

My Lords, I have referred to costs already. I can only repeat that the cost of not bearing down on TB in cattle through, among other things, controlling the badger population is currently about £90 million a year and is increasing.

I thank the noble Lord. My Lords, in view of the vast compensation paid for the slaughter of cattle that react to the tuberculin test, and in view of Britain’s vast experience of vaccination of wildlife—not only of badgers but all over the world—what attention is being paid to the vaccination of badgers in this situation by using techniques that are commonly used elsewhere in the world in very difficult circumstances?

My Lords, I mentioned earlier the injectable badger vaccine, with which, as I explained, there are complications. The other alternative is the oral vaccine. An oral badger vaccine is in development but is still several years away. It is therefore not possible to say with any certainty if and when such a vaccine might be available for use in the field.