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Backbench Business

International Development Committee Report (Afghanistan)

Mr Speaker: We now come to the main business. I would like to remind the House that the first piece of business under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee relates to the publication of a Select Committee report. This is not a debate; it takes the form of a statement by the right hon. Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce), who chairs the Select Committee. There will an opportunity to intervene on him, but we also have a very heavily subscribed debate to follow. I know that Members, including the right hon. Gentleman, will wish to take account of that important fact in tailoring their contributions.

11.23 am

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of the publication of the Sixth Report from the International Development Committee, on Afghanistan: Development progress and prospects after 2014, HC 403.

I am happy to accept interventions, while taking Mr Speaker’s restrictions into account.

It is worth recording that, since 2001, approximately $30 billion has been spent on development and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and $243 billion on security. Our own Department for International Development has spent over £1 billion since 2001 and currently spends £178 million a year in Afghanistan.

Sadly, the report has been published on a day on which two more British service personnel have been killed. A total of 435 men and women from our forces have lost their lives in Afghanistan—along with thousands of Afghan people—to enable the country to reach its current position, and the main thrust of our report is that we must not abandon it now.

The Committee visited Afghanistan in June. We thank our adviser, Ashley Jackson—who is a research fellow at the Overseas Development Institute—and we commend the dedication of DFID’s staff, including those recruited locally, on their commitment in difficult and challenging circumstances.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): My right hon. Friend will recall our visit to the hospital of the International Committee of the Red Cross, which was doing incredible, innovative work with amputees who had been injured in land mine and other accidents. He will also recall the workshop next to the hospital, where false limbs were being manufactured. All the people working there were amputees, demonstrating very effectively the possibility of returning to work. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that was a really good example of part-funding by DFID and that we should encourage the Department to increase its funding to ensure that more people are helped?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I agree with my hon. Friend. Contrary to what Members might think, our visit was truly inspirational in terms of what it told us about amputees’ recovery and recuperation. The Red Cross

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runs seven such centres throughout Afghanistan, and its valuable work is supported very effectively by DFID, but it could indeed benefit from further support.

Our main concern is that we cannot predetermine where Afghanistan will go after 2014. There will be elections, but we do not know who will be elected. There will also be security challenges. Threats to security and development potential will vary and may fluctuate across the country. We recommend that DFID’s engagement should be flexible according to the prevailing circumstances at any given time. That may mean acknowledging that delivering development assistance may be more achievable in some provinces than in others. There are provinces in which virtually no violence has occurred, but not all of them are receiving the aid and support that they need.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Given the current security situation, especially in Helmand province, it is much harder for DFID officials to get out and about and supervise and quality-control DFID projects than it was during the Committee’s earlier visits. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is important for us to maintain the ability to carry out development work in that province—particularly given the loss of so many British lives in Helmand—and that it might be sensible to appoint more Afghan staff to manage DFID projects in the more conflicted areas of the country, given that they have less difficulty in getting out and about for security reasons?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a very important point. We acknowledge that Helmand will present difficulties, and we accept that DFID has decided that it will not be able to maintain an office there once the troops have been withdrawn. However, I agree with him that, given that the British forces’ engagement in Afghanistan has focused on Helmand, it would be a total negation of that if we could not deliver projects in that province. As he says, we need to find local partners who can probably operate much more effectively than armed foreigners.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the Committee’s report. What role does he see for non-governmental organisations in the delivery of DFID’s aid in Afghanistan?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: NGOs will have a substantial role. We recognise that a limited number of very effective NGOs—some international and some local—can operate in circumstances in which foreign Government agencies cannot. The fundamental reason for that is their ability to reach an accommodation with local leaders and to defuse situations that international organisations would sometimes appear to provoke. We argue that we need to develop links of that kind much more effectively in the future.

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): The British public are owed honesty, and the media have rightly reported today on whether the development efforts in Afghanistan are worth the sacrifices that are being made. Does the Select Committee Chairman agree that when Committee members visited Afghanistan we witnessed the problems that our aid efforts were having with full military support, so logic dictates that when that military support is drawn down

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the current problems will, at best, remain the same, and at worst there is the potential for the situation to deteriorate further?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but the point is that we do not know what the situation will be. Our argument is that we need to be flexible. We should make a fundamental commitment to continue to provide support where we can, although we might have to find different ways and mechanisms.

The Minister of State, Department for International Development (Mr Alan Duncan): May I begin by joining in the expressions of sadness about the deaths of the two British service personnel? We value enormously the role played by our military in Afghanistan. We simply would not be able to operate without the support that they provide.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we welcome his Committee’s valuable report, to which we will reply formally in due course. No one is suggesting that Afghanistan is a fully viable state yet, but, as his report says, DFID’s efforts have made a big difference to a lot of people by helping to improve basic services and support economic growth. We completely agree that our focus should be on the position of women and girls, and that will remain a key focus of our development work in Afghanistan, so the report’s recommendations in this critical area are very welcome. I assure the House that our commitment to that desperately poor country will continue for many years to come.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I thank my right hon. Friend for that very constructive intervention. Although we are suggesting changes in priorities, our main point is that the UK Government and DFID need to be flexible in what is a very challenging situation.

Of course the Committee would wish to see Afghanistan functioning as a normal state in due course—we certainly do not want it to be a rogue state—but we are a little sceptical about whether a British Government fund of £178 million a year can itself achieve a viable state. The danger is that if that aim becomes the overriding focus, it might be at the expense of delivering material, practical progress in terms of livelihoods, the rights of women and health and education. We are asking the Department to balance those aspects in a way that does not compromise what has been achieved.

We have articulated the view that the post-2014 litmus test on the extent of the changes in Afghanistan and whether improvements have been secured and are progressing will be the status of women. It is about the worst country in the world in which to be a woman, but progress has been made. If that progress is reversed, we will be able to assume that the condition of all Afghans is deteriorating—and if that progress is continued, we can assume that the situation of all Afghans has improved further. The status of women will be the best indicator of whether everyone’s quality of life is improving.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): The entire House is grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee for adding a dose of reality to the myths that have surrounded this topic. Our efforts have been well-intentioned but ludicrously over-ambitious in that we have tried to change a 13th century society into a modern state. Is

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not the message of the report that we cannot win hearts and minds with bombs and bullets and that we must do our best not to raise hopes—particularly for women—that will be sadly and cruelly dashed in the future? We should see what we can do not as soldiers and a military force, but as people offering aid, to rescue what we can from the wreckage of the past 11 years of failed policies.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I accept part of what the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not entirely accept his apocalyptic version of events. Real progress has been made; we should not underestimate that. Although Committee members’ opportunities to travel and engage were limited, we were impressed that people, especially women, told us, “Please be in no doubt that what you’ve done has dramatically improved the quality of our lives, and please don’t abandon us when your troops withdraw.” That is a crucial point.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): As co-chair of the all-party group on Afghanistan, may I welcome the report and the Minister’s comments? I have been visiting the country regularly since 2005 and am worried that the improvements to security that we have seen have not been matched by advances in sustainable economic development and governance. Afghan fatigue seems to be setting in. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, once the US elections are over, the international community must redouble its efforts to assist Afghanistan in preparing for the situation post-2014, when the international security assistance force finally withdraws?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I absolutely agree. It is important that we say to our taxpayers and to the people of Afghanistan that we have no intention of seeing a curtain come down in 2014, which means that we have withdrawn. There will be a transition, a change and something different.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and the International Development Committee on this excellent report. I wish to pick up on his point about the UK Government talking a great deal about women’s rights in Afghanistan but not following up with substantial action. Does he agree that the UK Government need to place a much greater emphasis on women’s empowerment and human rights? Those things need to be at the heart of the development agenda. There are concerns that the idea of development and poverty eradication is too narrow in the Minister’s mind and that rights and women’s empowerment are not fully understood.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: We argue that there is not enough evidence in DFID’s programme that the rights of women are central to its objective, and we suggest that DFID should prioritise those. I am sure that Ministers will say that a lot of what they are doing is beneficial to women, but it is not clearly focused in that direction. ActionAid, which I cite merely because it is an evidence base that we had, said that only one out of 92 listed DFID projects had

“an explicit commitment to gender or women’s issues.”

Of course we do have a female Secretary of State for International Development, whom we met yesterday, and a female Under-Secretary—I say that with no disrespect

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to the Minister of State, who I am sure will share their commitment. I think that we can be assured that women’s rights will be central to the future commitment.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend’s Committee on making the central point that, unless a significant part of our aid budget is devoted to projects designed to empower women, women will lag behind and the whole development effort will suffer. What assessment did the Committee make on its visit of the capacity of the NGOs that represent women, such as Humanitarian Assistance for the Women and Children of Afghanistan? How strong is the women’s NGO sector’s capability to deliver on some of the DFID programmes in the future?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: A number of NGOs have a strong commitment, and there are some powerful female voices in Afghan society that speak out for women. However, there is real fear that they will be pushed back after 2014, and they need continued support. There is also a recognition that international NGOs are sometimes compromised because they are seen to be interfering in a traditional culture. So it is important that we develop civil society in Afghanistan, and support those women in Afghanistan who can fight for themselves and ensure that they know that they have extra support outside. I take the view that not only in Afghanistan but across the world the key to development—the single most important thing—is the development of women’s rights. That is the most transformational thing that we can do.

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): There is no question but that corruption is a real problem in relation to the international community’s efforts in Afghanistan and other places. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the UK has put in place enough safeguards to ensure that UK taxpayers’ money is being used for the purposes for which it was intended?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: The answer is no, it has not. There is no evidence that money has been misspent, but the Independent Commission for Aid Impact has said that the proactive mechanisms are not strong enough. The Department is taking strong action to deal with that, and rightly so. Afghanistan is an extremely difficult place in which to operate. As David Loyn of the BBC said in evidence, it is a rentier society, and where a lot of foreign money is swilling around, all kinds of people try to get in on the action, by whatever means they can. We have to be aware of that and be rigorous, but we also have to recognise that we can spend the money effectively. We can make a change, and the job of the Committee, the independent commission and the Department is to ensure that that is precisely what we do.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): I welcome this valuable report, which comes at a crucial time in the run-up to 2014. On maximising the

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effort as regards the money going into Afghanistan, what role is DFID taking in ensuring that the other donor nations recognise the need to work beyond 2014?

Sir Malcolm Bruce: DFID has played an active part in the Chicago and Tokyo conferences, and we have of course made our own commitments beyond that period, so we set an example. Ironically, DFID’s ability to provide leadership might be strengthened post-2014, when we are freed from engagement in military activity, as it will become apparent that the UK Government’s overwhelming priority is to provide development support. That will help the leadership provided by DFID across the world.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that because the Committee tries to be realistic and pretty sober about the situation in Afghanistan, we sometimes receive the response that we are suggesting that nothing has been achieved? After our last visit, the front cover of our report featured a picture of some girls who would not have been in school were it not, in part, for the efforts that have been made. It is important that we focus our activity where we can have an impact. That does not mean that we should focus on areas that are easy; empowering women is not easy in Afghanistan. It is important that we do not oversell or over-claim and that we target our efforts on crucial areas where we can make an impact.

Sir Malcolm Bruce: I absolutely agree, although I would add a word of caution. We visited the same school in June as we did five years ago and we were unable to visit a girls’ class, because that was thought to be inappropriate. That shows the negative changes, but at least the girls were still being taught, which is important. We also visited Bamyan, where we were told that there was a rising number of undergraduate women at the university and that fathers were actively pushing their daughters to take university education. That demonstrates that the situation is patchy, with progress in some areas and push-back in others. The job of DFID and the international community is to support the progress and to help resist the push-back, in co-operation with Afghans themselves.

In conclusion, it is important that people understand that the evidence that we have received shows that most Afghans do not want the Taliban back. They want a better Afghanistan that they have some ability to determine, and people need livelihoods and to be free from violence and extortion. Our report says that now that we have gone so far, walking away prematurely, as some people suggest, would be a betrayal of the sacrifice of our armed forces, as well as of the Afghan people. Having intervened, we have a moral and practical obligation to walk beside the ordinary people of Afghanistan, as long as we can improve their quality of life on their terms.

Question put and agreed to.

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Badger Cull

Mr Speaker: Apart from the hon. Member who will move the motion, 36 hon. and right hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. As a consequence, I have imposed an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches. That limit will take effect after the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) has made her speech to move the motion, and she knows that she should not exceed 15 minutes.

11.43 am

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I beg to move,

That this House notes the e-petition on the planned badger cull, which has gathered more than 150,000 signatures; and calls on the Government to stop the cull and implement the more sustainable and humane solution of both a vaccination programme for badgers and cattle, along with improved testing and biosecurity.

The motion is supported by a wide-ranging cross-party group of MPs and let me make it clear that I and, I am sure, all those who support the motion do not in any way underestimate the hardship and distress that bovine TB causes to farmers. Indeed, it is because we recognise the urgent need to address the problem that we are anxious to ensure that we have a scientifically robust and cost-effective strategy that actually works.

Although Tuesday’s announcement that the pilot cull will be postponed until next summer was very welcome, it does not amount to a change of policy. Today’s motion calls on the Government to stop their ill-judged, unscientific and deeply unpopular culling policy for good, not just for a few months. The motion is about an abandonment of the cull, not just a postponement, and that is why it is so important that today’s debate goes ahead. That is what the majority of the public want and it is what the science demands. Public opinion overwhelmingly opposes a badger cull, including in those regions where the pilots were to take place. More than 163,000 members of the public have signed the e-petition launched by animal campaigner and Queen guitarist Brian May. I pay tribute to all of them, to Brian himself, to Team Badger and to all those individuals who played a role in mobilising public opposition to the cull.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Might the hon. Lady accept my paying tribute to the late Peter Hardy, a great Rotherham MP, who introduced the first Badgers Act in 1973, which is why I am proud to stand here in his memory, and honour his dedication to the cause, by voting with her and other hon. Members on this important issue, so that we say no to badgercide?

Caroline Lucas: I very much welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention. He rightly reminds me of the precedence in this House of previous battles that have tried to ensure that we do not have a misguided badger cull as a response to the serious problem of bovine TB.

The Government say that they support an evidence-based approach, so let us look at the evidence. Bovine TB cost the taxpayer £91 million in 2010-11 in testing, in the slaughter of animals and in compensation to farmers. The scale of the problem is such that it is deeply

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irresponsible and unfair to gamble, as the Government are doing, with farmers’ livelihoods and with the future of one of our best loved wildlife species.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): The hon. Lady mentions farmers’ livelihoods, but has she seen the NFU briefing, which makes it clear that it regrets the need for culling and says that other methods, such as cattle controls and vaccination, are being deployed? But it says that culling is a vital component and misleading and emotive campaigns that play on sentimental affection for badgers and unfair depictions of farmers threaten to undermine the chance that we now have of getting on top of this horrendous disease once and for all.

Caroline Lucas: I have seen that briefing, but I would say that the emotion is coming from those on the Government Benches. The science is with the Opposition, and I refer the hon. Gentleman to what Lord Krebs said in the House of Lords just a few days ago, which makes it absolutely clear that quite a lot of misinformation is unfortunately being spread by the NFU and others about the seriousness of the issue in terms of how effective a cull can be. It is clear that the best that a cull can achieve, under strict conditions—not the conditions of these pilots—is a 16% improvement.

Several hon. Members rose

Caroline Lucas: I will take interventions in a moment.

The planned pilots would not have got anywhere near to that 16%, because they did not follow the rigour of the randomised badger culling trial and other Krebs reports.

Several hon. Members rose

Caroline Lucas: I will give way when I have made a little more progress.

The independent scientific group on cattle TB conducted the most thorough and rigorous study of bovine TB in the UK to date—the randomised badger culling trial. That trial took place over nine years, cost the taxpayer £50 million and destroyed 10,000 badgers. The report on the trial is described by Professor Denis Mollison, the independent statistical adviser to the RBCT, as “painstaking, expert and balanced”, and I commend it to Ministers as an exemplar of how to bring high-quality science into public decision making. The consultation from the coalition Government said of this RBC trial that it was the only one that was conducted as a rigorous scientific trial. The conclusions of that ISG report for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, published in 2007, are well rehearsed, but they are worth repeating. It states:

“Detailed evaluation of RBCT and other scientific data highlights the limitations of badger culling as a control measure for cattle TB.”

It goes on to recommend

“that TB control efforts focus on measures other than badger culling”


“In contrast with the situation regarding badger culling, our data and modelling suggest that substantial reductions in cattle TB incidence could be achieved by improving cattle-based control measures.”

That is precisely the approach that today’s motion advocates.

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Sir James Paice (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): The hon. Lady easily reads out what the report says, and she is right that it says “substantial reductions”. But is she not interested in more than substantial reduction, which is elimination of this awful disease? If so, does she agree that even Professor Bourne, who headed the study, has said that it quite clearly cannot be eradicated without eradicating it in badgers?

Caroline Lucas: Were we to eradicate every single badger, we would certainly eradicate bovine TB, but we would also eradicate a very important species.

The ISG concluded that

“badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”

That is the conclusion of what the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs itself says is the most scientifically robust trial that has ever taken place in the UK. We want policy to be based on the science, which is why we should be looking at what the ISG says.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): If we are to talk about eradicating bovine TB, it is important that we go back to the science and try to put emotions aside, as my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) mentioned a moment ago. The trials clearly showed that the best possible outcome would be a 16% reduction, but that is a reduction in the context of an increasing incidence of TB. Indeed, the Secretary of State has talked about the incidence of bovine TB doubling in 10 years. In those circumstances, all a cull would do is reduce the increase. It will not result in a reduction in bovine TB.

Caroline Lucas: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I think that it is worth reading what Lord Krebs said in the House of Lords, because it is exactly the point the hon. Gentleman identifies. He said that

“the long-term, large-scale culling of badgers is estimated to reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16% after nine years. In other words, 84% of the problem is still there. To reflect on what that means, this is not a reduction in absolute terms”,

as the hon. Gentleman rightly said,

“but actually a 16% reduction from the trend increase. So after nine years there is still more TB around than there was at the beginning”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 October 2012; Vol. 740, c. 148.]

That is the key point that Government Members are not taking on board.

Several hon. Members rose

Caroline Lucas: I will make a little more progress before giving way again—as you have pointed out, Mr Speaker, this is a heavily oversubscribed debate.

A number of eminent individuals have also spoken out in opposition to the Government’s proposed course of action. Significantly, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, has refused to back the cull. In a letter to The Observer on 14 October, more than 30 scientists wrote that

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“the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it… culling badgers as planned is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication.”

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I rather suspect that in Brighton Pavilion there are few dairy famers, if any, so will she agree to come to Shropshire and spend the day meeting my dairy farmers and the local NFU to hear their perspective on the crisis and how they believe it should be tackled?

Caroline Lucas: Even coming from Brighton Pavilion does not stop someone reading the science. I would like the debate to be based on the science, not on emotional calls from the Government Benches. Professor Lord Krebs, who devised the randomised badger cull and is firmly opposed to the cull, has said:

“I have not found any scientists who are experts in population biology in the distribution of infectious diseases in wildlife who think that culling is a good idea… People have cherry-picked certain results to try to get the argument that they want.”

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): The hon. Lady is being extremely generous with her time, for which I am most grateful. The arguments about which scientists said what should surely be answered by a paper that was produced by DEFRA following a meeting, held by the Department on 4 April 2011, of the key scientific experts, including Lord Krebs and many other eminent scientists. Its No. 1 conclusion was:

“The science base generated from the RBCT shows that proactive badger culling as conducted in the trial resulted in an overall beneficial effect compared with ‘survey only’ (no cull) areas”.

Scientists at DEFRA were in agreement and came to that conclusion. That is a Government paper. Surely we should move on from going backwards and forwards on which scientists said what. There is some benefit to be had from a cull. It is not the only answer.

Caroline Lucas rose

Mr Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Lady responds, I remind Members that she is due to speak for 15 minutes or thereabouts and has already taken several interventions. I gently encourage Members to be economical with interventions. Many Members wish to speak in the debate. The more interventions, the longer we will take, and you can bet your bottom dollar that people will be queuing up to complain and ask, “Why didn’t I get called to speak in the debate?” Answer: the time was taken up earlier. Let us get on with the debate.

Caroline Lucas: Thank you, Mr Speaker. In order to do so, I go back to what I said just before the hon. Gentleman intervened, which is that Lord Krebs himself is saying that people are cherry-picking certain aspects to try to get the result they want. If the hon. Gentleman looked at the full set of recommendations from the document instead of those that he cherry-picked, he would see that in fact the vast majority of the evidence is that culling does not make a significant contribution.

Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con) rose

Caroline Lucas: I will not give way; I want to follow what Mr Speaker said and make some progress.

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The case against culling on the grounds of efficiency and effectiveness is overwhelming. That approach is also potentially entirely counter-productive. The independent scientific group initially found a decrease in the disease of approximately 23% in the centre of the culled area but an increase of approximately 29% on neighbouring land outside the culled area. Those results can be explained partly by what has been termed the perturbation effect. That has been studied by Professor Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London, who has also found that repeated badger culling in the same area is associated with increasing prevalence of the BTB infection in badgers.

The objective of the Government and the NFU is healthy cattle and healthy badgers. I agree with that, but how does culling improve badger health? Professor Woodroffe states unequivocally that it does exactly the opposite and that

“all the evidence shows that culling badgers increases the proportion of badgers that have TB”.

Yet the Government’s approach ignores that evidence. As with the ISG trials, conditions have been imposed to try to limit the effects of perturbation, such as identifying natural barriers to badger movement, but these have generally been less rigorous than those recommended, with farmers essentially being encouraged to develop a “not in my back yard” approach to cattle TB without any real thought for the long-term impact on rates of the disease elsewhere.

Earlier this week, the Secretary of State warned that the cost to the taxpayer of tackling bovine TB will rise to £1 billion over the next decade if the disease is left unchecked. I agree that that is a very alarming prospect. That is why it is crucial that on this, as well as on the scientific evidence, he listens to the experts who, let me remind him, have concluded:

“The financial costs of culling an idealized 150 km(2) area would exceed the savings achieved through reduced cattle TB, by factors of 2 to 3.5.”

DEFRA has tried to keep the costs down by allowing licensed farmers to do the culling in its planned pilots and allowing for the licences to permit shooting, but by cutting corners in that way it undermines the very effectiveness that it claims for a culling strategy.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I appreciate the hon. Lady’s giving way on this important and passionately felt issue. I speak as a member of the British Veterinary Association, which states in its most recent report, first, that culling is necessary, and secondly, that there is no available vaccination that can address the reservoir of the disease within the wildlife population of badgers. Is she aware that this year 30,000 cattle will have to be slaughtered because of bovine TB? What are we going to do about that problem?

Caroline Lucas: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. In fact, a vaccine is a lot closer to being developed than he and others suggest, so there are alternatives to culling. Earlier in the week, the Secretary of State made much of saying that there no alternatives. The tragedy is that there are alternatives but this Government seem extremely reluctant to bring them forward.

On tackling cattle-to-cattle transmission of the disease, the ISG report states:

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“Movement of cattle from infected herds in the periods between routine herd tests has long been recognised as a cause of new herd breakdowns, and it is generally accepted that most of the sporadic herd breakdowns in relatively disease-free areas of the country result from movement of infected animals.”

The evidence suggests that focusing on the role of badgers in the spread of bovine TB is a distraction and that priority should instead be given to preventing the spread of the disease between cattle. That is why the motion calls on the Government to introduce a programme of vaccination, which eminent scientist and former Government scientific adviser Lord Robert May points to as an important tool in tackling TB. He says:

“What is particularly irritating is that we have the vaccines in the pipeline, but the commitment to really go in and test them is…not there”.

DEFRA confirms that. A statement on its own website reads:

“BCG…is the most suitable cattle TB vaccine candidate in the short term. Experimental studies show that BCG vaccination reduces the progression, severity and excretion of TB in cattle…and field studies show that it can reduce transmission of disease between animals.”

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Does the hon. Lady agree that farmers’ voices are not unanimous on this issue? I have been contacted by Gloucestershire dairy farmers who support the vaccination model being developed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and, in the short term, the model of meticulous biosecurity that has been advanced successfully by Gloucestershire farmer Steve Jones, who has managed to contain bovine TB despite the fact that his farm is in the very centre of the bovine TB area.

Caroline Lucas: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. He is absolutely right that farmers are not speaking with one voice on this issue. Many of them recognise that we need an effective strategy but that culling is a costly distraction from achieving that.

Several hon. Members rose

Caroline Lucas: Let me make some further progress.

DEFRA cites the EU prohibition on the vaccination of cattle against TB as the reason why studies to date

“cannot provide a definite figure for vaccine efficacy when administered to cattle under field conditions in the UK”.

Vaccinated cows can test positive for TB when using the current tuberculin skin test and the gamma interferon blood test, making it impossible to differentiate an animal that has been vaccinated from one that has the disease. However, a complementary test called the DIVA—differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals— has been developed, which confirms whether a skin test positive result is caused by vaccination or by TB infection. That is what should be validated and certified by the end of the year, according to the DEFRA website. It has the potential to open the door to a change in EU regulation. This Government should go to Europe now—they should have done so years ago—and prepare the policy framework to allow us to use the DIVA test; yet there are precious few signs that DEFRA or, indeed, the Government are pressing aggressively for the legal framework in which a cattle vaccine could be widely deployed. I echo the sentiments of those many Members

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who earlier this week urged DEFRA to stop hiding behind the excuse of EU law and to step up its efforts to change it.

A 2008 DEFRA paper on options for vaccinating cattle against bovine TB was endorsed by the NFU and concludes that

“BCG based vaccines will need to be used in conjunction with a DIVA test and that such a programme of vaccination could be cost-effective.”

It identifies the most significant barriers to use as legal and resultant trade implications. That was three years ago and we really should have made more progress than we have to date.

As the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has said, biosecurity is a very important issue. Vaccination needs to go hand in hand with excellent biosecurity. According to Professor John Bourne, former chairman of the ISG:

“Despite some improvements, the government is still going nowhere near far enough with biosecurity”.

He went on to say:

“It is not badgers that spread the disease throughout the country; it is cattle”.

The most recent European Commission inspection of England’s biosecurity in September 2011 uncovered a catalogue of failures, including missed targets in the rapid removal of cattle infected with TB and

“weaknesses in disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels”.

A belated crackdown has resulted in a slight improvement, but we need to go much further.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned Steve Jones, a farmer who is deeply concerned about biosecurity. He says:

“Water troughs are a reservoir for TB because they are rarely cleaned out. It’s not uncommon for trough water to be left stagnating through the winter, collecting dead birds, rodents and various bacteria, only to be drunk by cattle in the spring. Badgers also use these troughs but it’s unfair to isolate badgers when the culprit is the bacteria soup itself. Making troughs badger-proof is not rocket science, but more fundamental is the adoption of better hygiene standards by the agricultural industry.”

Recent DEFRA data indicate that improving biosecurity would cost famers an average of £4,000, compared with £27,000 to deal with the TB herd breakdown. That is why the motion has a very strong focus, alongside its other measures, on comprehensive national biosecurity policy.

Mr Laurence Robertson: It is important to recognise the wider context in Gloucestershire. One of the trials was going to take place in my constituency and farmers are very disappointed that it cannot go ahead for the moment. One of the first ministerial meetings that I had in this House 15 years ago was with the then Agriculture Minister, Jeff Rooker, and nothing has happened since. Does the hon. Lady not understand the frustration of farmers, including those in Gloucestershire? Does she not accept that, as the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) has said, the British Veterinary Association says that the disease is being spread by badgers and that a trial cull is necessary?

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. A lot of Members want to get in and interventions will slow us down. I am sure that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) will want to get to the end of her speech very quickly.

Caroline Lucas: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s reminding us that farmers are deeply concerned about the matter and feel frustration, but that frustration is because we have had years and years of inaction. Suddenly pulling a badger cull down from the shelf is the wrong way to respond to that frustration. The Government should have gone to the EU and made the case for the DIVA test so that we could get on with vaccination. All the evidence suggests that vaccination, combined with biosecurity, better hygiene and better husbandry, is a much better way of eradicating this horrible disease. No Member is complacent about the seriousness of the disease, but we differ on the most effective way of addressing it. The science is on the side of those who oppose the cull, because it shows that it is not the most effective way forward.

As I said, modern husbandry practices place chronic stress on intensively farmed animals, and a number of scientists are also pointing to the way in which cattle have been inbred for many years as a significant contributor to why cattle do not have the resistance to cope with such a disease.

I want to say a few words about vaccinating badgers. I agree that vaccinating wildlife should be given proper consideration, alongside the vaccination of cattle, yet the coalition Government have slashed funding for the badger vaccine deployment project. Only one of the six original five-year trials to learn how best to address some of the practical difficulties of vaccination is still under way. If those projects had gone ahead as planned, we would have been much further along the road towards finding a solution by now. That is exactly why farmers are frustrated. Instead, two years on, nothing more has been done.

Mr David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): I agree with much of what the hon. Lady is saying. Will she explain for a layperson such as myself why, although a third of the land mass of the United Kingdom is in Scotland, Scotland has not taken the decision to do what is being done in England? Wales has also withdrawn from the cull, so we are arguing about an English thing, not a British thing.

Caroline Lucas: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which brings me neatly to the situation in Wales, about which I know something. The Government there have used the same scientific evidence as DEFRA and have begun a five-year badger vaccination programme, starting in parts of Pembrokeshire. More than 700 badgers have been vaccinated since the start of that programme, which is about halfway through the land that it needs to cover. That part of the programme is on track to be finished towards the end of October. I hope that England will be able to learn from Wales and elsewhere to see how the problem can be tackled most effectively.

Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): Does the hon. Lady not accept that until there is an oral vaccine, it is totally impractical to try to vaccinate the badger population? First, they have to be caught. Secondly, the person

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doing the catching has to be licensed by Natural England at huge cost, and thirdly, the cost is estimated at £2,250 per square kilometre.

Caroline Lucas: Trying to kill badgers is also extremely difficult. The original randomised badger culling trial was about killing badgers by capturing them in cages first, but the Government have dismissed that as too expensive. In doing so, they have reduced the likely effectiveness of the policy. It will lead to people trying to shoot badgers, which are difficult to kill outright because of their shape and size. That is extremely costly, and crucially it also spreads the disease even more widely. Vaccinating badgers is not easy, but it is a lot easier than shooting them in the way that the Government propose. It is also an awful lot more effective in stopping the spread of TB. That seems to me a good argument for not going ahead with shooting.

Ian Paisley: Will the hon. Lady give way again on that point?

Caroline Lucas: No, I have given way to the hon. Gentleman.

Rather than pursuing an approach that is widely discredited, should not the Government invest in studies to determine exactly how and whether badger vaccination can work on a larger scale, in co-operation with organisations such as the National Trust and the wildlife trusts, which are already taking a lead in carrying out vaccine trials?

I am coming to the end of my speech, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I can see that you are looking a little perturbed. Even were all that I have said about the science, the alternatives to a cull and its lack of effectiveness to be discounted, the Government’s proposals remain deeply flawed. Although the pilot culls in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset have been postponed, I am sure that other Members will want to raise concerns that the specific licensing criteria that were set out would not have been met. They will also want to raise concerns about the degree to which the Government’s current policy deviates from the conditions of the RBCT, despite advice from experts that the more a future culling policy deviates from the conditions of the RBCT, the more likely it is that their effects will differ and that there will be variability in outcomes between areas. Professor Bourne, chairman of the independent scientific group, claims that the key differences between his team’s methodology and the Government’s pilot culls—including a very different killing method and much longer killing period—are “significant”. Although he has been mentioned by those on the other side of the argument, he stated that the cull,

“could make TB a damn sight worse.”

The news that badger numbers are higher than anticipated suggests that methods used by Natural England to set the minimum and maximum number of badgers that can be killed across licensed zones are inaccurate.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Caroline Lucas: I will not.

That inaccuracy makes it impossible to guarantee that local extinctions will not occur. I welcome the fact that the Government and the NFU have concluded that

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the pilot culls cannot take place this year. They must now look again at other problems that have been identified, and abandon their culling policy altogether.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. An eight-minute limit on speeches has been imposed, but we want to try and get everybody in. Fewer interventions will ensure that everybody will be able to speak.

12.10 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on initiating this debate so eloquently, and it is an honour to follow her. Although I note that the petition has 150,000 signatures, I firmly and passionately believe that a silent majority in the countryside care strongly about controlling bovine TB and believe in the need for an eventual cull, as well as in other measures such as those called for by the hon. Lady. I am not convinced of the need for Team Badger or a team cattle; I believe there should be one team, one nation and one countryside. I hope that the House will send a message this afternoon that we are convinced there can be both a healthy badger population and healthy livestock.

I will restrict my remarks to the positive role that I believe the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee can play. Only two hon. Members who served on that Committee during the previous Parliament remain—my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) and myself—[Interruption.] And, indeed, another survivor, my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr Gray). The Committee stated:

“We also recognised that under certain well-defined circumstances it was possible that badger culling could make a contribution towards the reduction in incidence of the disease in hot spot areas. However, we acknowledged that badger culling alone would never provide a universal solution to the problem of cattle TB.”

The point is this: we will never eradicate or control the spread of TB by vaccination alone; we need a controlled cull.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): Does the hon. Lady accept that if the vaccine were available, there would be no need for a cull? I think some Government Members want the cull regardless.

Miss McIntosh: The hon. Gentleman will hear what my right hon. and hon. Friends say when they speak on this issue with some passion.

May I commend the work of the Food and Environment Research Agency, based in Ryedale in my constituency of Thirsk and Malton and, in particular, its work on progressing vaccinations for badgers? I note that it is already undertaking badger vaccines. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) asked about the cost of those individual vaccines, and it would be helpful if the Minister would confirm that.

In the pause before an eventual cull, I believe that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee can make a major contribution precisely on the vexed issue of vaccination, which was raised by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion. Not only do we have the cost and difficulty of vaccinating badgers, but there is currently no effective test to tell the difference between vaccinated

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and infected cattle—the wider issue raised by the hon. Lady. It is, therefore, impossible to identify clean animals from infected animals for the purpose of export.

Caroline Lucas: I am sorry to intervene so soon, but that is not correct. The test to differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals—the DIVA test—exists and is ready to be used once we get permission from the EU. The obstacle to the problem is getting that permission—there has not been much effort on that—not that the test does not exist.

Miss McIntosh: I am afraid that is a point of disagreement, which is why I believe there is a role for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to examine the state of the science. Members of that Committee can use their role to encourage the Government to use good relations with the European Commission and the Council of Ministers, and colleagues in the European Parliament who have co-decision, to make plans to lift the ban on exports. That raises the wider issue of how we can encourage FERA to develop the badger vaccine, and encourage the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency to look fully at developing the efficiency of a cattle vaccination.

There is one issue that I regret the hon. Lady and Team Badger do not accept. Government Members recognise the issue of badger welfare, but I would like to see the whole House rise up and agree that it is unacceptable that almost 60,000 cows in calf—they were carrying an unborn calf—were slaughtered in 2010 and 2011. My hon. Friends have already alluded to the human grief suffered by farmers, and this year everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong. We have seen a rise in fuel costs for transporting animals, and in the cost of feed. There has been bad weather; the potato crop is going wrong and pig farming is going wrong—everything is going wrong and farmers are battling with the elements.

We are talking about herds of cattle that have been raised by generations of farmers, and when a herd is slaughtered, that lifeline can never be regained. The contribution of such herds to the rural economy should not be underestimated, and they will be lost and gone for ever. I would like the House to unite to show that we care for the loss suffered by farmers, and that we recognise that this broader wildlife and countryside issue goes to the heart of the rural economy and farming in this country.

I have the honour of representing two livestock marts—that in Thirsk is the largest, or joint-largest, fatstock mart in the country. Farmers who produce those animals live in fear of one rogue beast coming into the herd.

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): My hon. Friend is right to stress the human effects of the difficulties in which farmers now find themselves. Robert Davies, a farmer in my constituency, is an owner-occupier who has a closed herd on one farm. Over the past few years it has been shut for months on the trot, and nearly 400 animals have been tested every 60 days. Let us imagine the pain, suffering and difficulty experienced by him and his family, and the welfare of those animals.

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Miss McIntosh: I could not have put that better myself, and I hope the House will unite and recognise the contributions that farmers make to the economy. In terms of health and diet, nothing could be more nutritious than milk, dairy produce, beef and other meat products that are the lifeline of hill farmers in the north, and lowland farmers across the country.

No other country in the world has been able to control the spread of and incidence of TB in cattle without a controlled, limited cull. I bitterly regret the circumstances in which the NFU, Natural England, FERA and particularly the Government, have found themselves by postponing the cull. Farmers in my area and across the country will look for a controlled cull, and we should examine the results of that. Let us use this pause to examine the science—including the vaccination of badgers—and establish the cost and efficacy of that. Most importantly, we should look for a vaccination that will not only control levels of infection in cattle, but allow our meat and dairy products to be accepted across the EU and the world. Let us rise as one nation, one team, and one countryside.

12.19 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I challenge Government Members’ attempts to portray this subject as an urban against rural issue, as they did with fox hunting. I am a west country MP. Admittedly, I represent an urban constituency, but I occasionally venture outside Bristol. I know from representations made to me from people in south Gloucestershire and the Forest of Dean area, Somerset and around the west country that there is widespread opposition to the badger cull, including opposition from people in rural areas, from farmers who do not want the cull on their land, and from people across the board. It is totally wrong to say, “Only townies who don’t understand the country or farming are opposed to the cull.” It is incredibly patronising to say that the many people who have written to me and MPs who represent rural areas do not understand the science. I have looked at the science.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): The Chair of the Select Committee, a Conservative, spoke of one nation and one countryside. Does my hon. Friend agree that the device of dividing the country between town and country is unhelpful?

Kerry McCarthy: That device is completely unhelpful. I have taken an interest in food policy in my time in Parliament—I introduced a Food Waste Bill. Food policy is about farming only to an extent, but people eat food, including in urban areas. Food policy is also about food distribution networks and supermarkets. It is completely ludicrous to portray the issue as one that is just for farmers.

Richard Drax rose

Kerry McCarthy: I will take one more intervention.

Richard Drax: There has never been a view among Government or Opposition Members that this is townies versus country folk. That has never been said or suggested. The hon. Lady—dare I say it?—is stoking up a political animosity that does not otherwise exist.

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. If we are to have interventions, they must be short, but those Members who intervene and wish to speak should recognise that they will go to the bottom of the list. That is just a warning for all.

Kerry McCarthy: The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong, as we have heard in the debate and in the statement on Tuesday.

Many hon. Members will want to discuss vaccination. I am pleased that, in the west country, there have been efforts to roll out badger vaccination programmes. They seem to have been successful, although it is the very early stages. Many hon. Members will discuss the scientific evidence, which seems to me to be overwhelmingly in support of the notion that badger culling would have a limited impact if any—I believe it says there would be a 16% reduction in bovine TB over nine years.

However, in the time available, I want to focus on cattle-to-cattle transmission. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) probably misspoke when she said that if every single badger were eradicated, we could eradicate bovine TB—she went on to say that we could not eradicate all badgers and mentioned cattle-to-cattle transmission. In response to a question from the shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in September this year, the Government accepted that about 50% of cases of bovine TB in areas where the randomised badger culling trial took place were attributed to badgers. The other 50% were attributed to cattle-to-cattle transmission. In areas where there is lower incidence, there is a much higher rate of cattle-to-cattle transmission.

It is important to address that point. I was concerned that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did not seem to be willing to acknowledge in Tuesday’s statement the very significant role that cattle-to-cattle transmission plays in spreading the disease. Indeed, when he was asked a question about cattle husbandry, he said that the problem was that badgers can get into sheds. He also said that famers grazing cattle in fields cannot prevent badgers from getting to them. That is not what the cattle husbandry issue is about—the Secretary of State was focused totally on badgers, rather than on what happens when cattle spread disease. The fact is that many of the badgers that carry TB are not particularly infectious—[Interruption.] I can cite evidence on that.

Andrew George: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Kerry McCarthy: I do not want to give way again in the time I have left.

I was concerned that the new Secretary of State seems not to have got to grips with cattle-to-cattle transmission, but I accept that tighter controls will be introduced from next year, which I welcome. When his predecessor as Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman), made a statement on the cull just before the Christmas recess, she failed to mention cattle-to-cattle transmission, as I pointed out to her at the time, although she did mention it in her statement in July. There is a degree of complacency in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on cattle-to-cattle transmission, which needs to be addressed.

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On the history of bovine TB, it is clear is that, in the 1960s, when strict quarantine rules and the rigorous testing of cattle were in place, bovine TB was almost eliminated from the UK. However, farmers were not happy with the regime and complained, and, to quote George Monbiot:

“TB returned with a vengeance”.

Professor Graham Medley of the university of Warwick has said that the only way to eradicate TB in cattle would be a return to the stricter and more effective controls that were in place 40 years ago. Professor John Bourne, who led the randomised badger culling trial—which, as we know, concluded that badger culling could make “no meaningful contribution” to controlling bovine TB—agrees with Professor Medley. Professor Bourne has said that only stricter biosecurity can control bovine TB. The RBCT report states:

“Weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone”.

A European Commission report of September 2011 revealed significant evidence of bad practice in English farms. It found that failure to abide by cattle TB prevention measures was widespread. The Commission gave the UK €23 million in 2011 for bovine TB control measures. Its inspectors found that the removal of cattle with TB was below the target of 90% in 10 days, and that, in the first half of 2011, more than 1,000 cattle had not been removed after 30 days. It found that there were 3,300 overdue TB tests as of May 2011 and that many calf passports, which are used to track movements, were incomplete. It also found that only 56% of disease report forms had been completed on time. Funding cuts were cited as the reason for the failure of local authorities to update their databases.

The Commission report concluded that local authority surveys provided evidence that

“some cattle farmers may have been illegally swapping cattle ear tags, ie retaining TB-positive animals in their herds and sending less productive animals to slaughter in their place.”

A couple of Government Members are shaking their heads, but farmers have been prosecuted for that in the west country.

Mr Gray: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Kerry McCarthy: I am not going to give way.

The Commission found that there were missed targets on rapidly removing cattle with TB, and on the follow-up of missed tests. It found numerous shortcomings and

“weaknesses in cleaning and disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels, exacerbated by lack of adequate supervision”.

All those problems increase the risk of TB spreading between cattle.

David Fisher, who was a DEFRA-funded TB inspector in Wales until 2011, has said:

“It is an open secret that isolation of [TB] reactors and inconclusive reactors is rare.”

He has said that DEFRA’s database showed that, in 2009, there was 20.8% non-compliance on bovine TB

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issues. There was only one instance that year of a dairy farm being checked for compliance with an isolation notice.

I welcome the fact that DEFRA has indicated that new rules and a crackdown on cattle movement, and increased TB testing, will take place from 1 January 2013, with restrictions on farms where a TB case is identified, but I support Mark Jones, a vet and executive director of the Humane Society International UK, who has said that Ministers should wait and assess the impact of tighter biosecurity measures. As has been said, in Wales, bovine TB has fallen since the badger cull was stopped in Wales and tighter measures were introduced. He says:

“There is some evidence…that TB in cattle is coming down. There needs to be time to see if there has been an impact, before going ahead with a massacre of badgers…It is cattle, not badgers, that are the main transmitters of bovine TB so it is utterly outrageous for badgers to pay the price for farmers’ failure to abide by proper biosecurity measures.”

I could not end on a better note than that.

12.28 pm

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): In Shropshire in 1997, 47 cows were slaughtered as a result of bovine TB. Last year, more than 2,000 were slaughtered. There has been a huge increase in the disease in my constituency and throughout Shropshire.

I have spent a lot of time with many of my Shropshire dairy farmers and sometimes, having gone around their farms with them, I have found myself sitting at their kitchen tables, having coffee and talking about the impact of that slaughter on them and their families. I do not mind saying that sometimes we—grown men—have sat around the table and cried, such is the emotion. The impact—not just on them but on their families and, in particular, young children—of whole herds being taken away for slaughter is devastating.

I hope that hon. Members who oppose this action will take the time—I invited the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) in good spirit—to come to Shropshire and areas of the country facing this extraordinary crisis, and to meet our constituents and hear the emotion in their pleas for action. Hon. Members would then begin to understand why so many Government Members feel strongly that action must be taken now.

Martin Horwood: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. I stood beside a dairy farmer in my constituency as their herd was loaded for slaughter, and it is an extremely distressing experience, but that is all the more reason to listen to the science and not make the situation worse. It is simply wrong to suggest that that is not what people on both side of the debate are trying to achieve.

Daniel Kawczynski: Of course, we will be arguing about the science, and both sides feel strongly that their scientific arguments are correct and that they have the correct scientists’ feedback on their side. That will continue throughout the debate.

Angela Smith: I echo the comments by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) about how much sympathy we all have for farmers and the dairy

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industry. We have to deal with this disease. However, the years that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) mentioned—1997 and, more recently, 2007 to 2012 were marked by one event that changed the picture of disease in cattle, and that was foot and mouth. Will he comment on the contribution that foot and mouth made to increased cattle movement and the decrease in testing for bovine TB in cattle?

Daniel Kawczynski: In the few minutes I have, I would like to focus on my constituents. I am sure that others will take up the hon. Lady’s point.

One of the first things I did when I became a Member of Parliament in 2005 was to form an all-party group on dairy farmers. I did so because of the direct lobbying I received from Mr Stuart Jones of Pontesbury and many of my other dairy farmers, who wanted me to campaign on this issue. More than 190 Members of Parliament joined the all-party group, making it one of the largest in the House of Commons. To my great pleasure, the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, joined it—it was the only one he joined in the last Parliament.

We used this caucus of more than 190 Members repeatedly to try to engage with Labour Ministers, and we took the National Farmers Union—many of our farmers came—to meet various DEFRA Ministers and Secretaries of State. I shall not mention all of them, but I am happy to list all the meetings we had; and yet, month after month, year after year, no action was taken, and this disease continued to spread and decimate the industry in our constituencies. A delegation also went to Brussels to meet the European Commission and to Ireland and France to find out what they were doing and how they were coping with bovine TB. We wanted to find out at first hand how the French had managed to eradicate it almost completely, and part of the solution there, as in Ireland and many other EU countries, was a badger cull.

Shropshire MPs have met the Shropshire wildlife trust, whose symbol is a badger. It has more than 8,000 members, making it the largest organisation in our county. The Secretary of State, my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne) and I met the trust just last week, and we are having very effective discussions with it as we argue and debate in a professional and peaceful fashion the best way forward. It is extremely important to keep the dialogue going. I highlighted to the trust the triangle in my constituency between Pontesbury, Westbury and Minsterley, where this disease is getting completely out of control. Very kindly, the trust has agreed to come with me to meet my dairy farmers in that part of Shropshire to hear at first hand the problems they are facing.

I am extremely grateful that we have a Secretary of State from Shropshire who understands the problem and who is also a man of great courage, integrity and honour. My dairy farmers and I can trust him to fulfil the commitment he gave the other day that, despite this pause, next summer we will finally start to tackle this problem and take action for our hard-pressed, long-suffering dairy farmers.

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12.36 pm

Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): I speak in an effort to unite the House, because the Opposition share the concern for farmers. I have a dairy farmer in my constituency, and my constituency contains a mix of urban and rural areas. I have spoken to that dairy farmer, and we both understand the impact of bovine TB on farmers and their business.

Having said that, most organisations in the UK have united in opposition to the badger cull, while the e-petition against it has been signed by 142,000 people. Even some who live and work in the countryside are not convinced that it will do what it is meant to do. Quite simply, free shooting of badgers in the dark is just that—a shot in the dark to control bovine TB. Independent scientific studies have shown that culling would be of little help and probably make the situation worse in some areas.

Mr Gray: I was brought up in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Does he think that the attitude of his farmer or, indeed, his own attitude would be different if there was bovine TB in Scotland, which there is not? There are precious few badgers, too?

Mr McKenzie: I would like to think that farmers in my area would not be convinced.

There is no accurate way of knowing how many badgers there are in an area, so how would we know when a cull had reached its quota of 70%? The culls are non-selective and would equally destroy healthy local badger populations. It is not possible to take out diseased badgers only. The research that the Government cherry-pick to try to justify their onslaught on badgers shows that even in TB hot spots most badgers are not infected. Licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it. Imminent pilot culls are too slight to measure impacts before wider roll-outs of culling, and badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control. Vaccination is now possible for both cattle and badgers, and should be implemented as soon as possible, as it has been in Wales.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the criticism of vaccination, which many feel is not a solution?

Mr McKenzie: What is equally not a solution is going out in the middle of the night and shooting badgers indiscriminately.

Vaccination is the most humane way forward, and, if it can happen, we should pursue it. I understand that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee will be considering it. How can this be a science-based badger cull, as claimed by the Government and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, when the Government’s chief scientist is among those who dispute the evidence used to justify killings? The Government should be asking whether the culling of badgers produces a significant effect in eliminating bovine TB. We believe the answer is no, it will not. Is culling badgers cost-effective? The answer is no. Is it morally and ethically appropriate? Again, we feel that the answer is no. The public costs alone of licensing and policing a cull will exceed £1 million in each pilot area. Shooting badgers in the pitch black is not a good idea. There are

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serious doubts about whether controlled shooting of free roaming badgers would actually achieve any worthwhile reduction in bovine TB at all.

We know how dreadful bovine TB is—I mentioned that our sympathies are with the farmers whose cattle are struck down by this terrible disease. We need to focus on other measures—those that will protect both cattle and badgers. We believe that vaccination is the way forward. Progress should be made on cattle vaccinations and DEFRA should secure change in the EU to permit commercial use of a cattle vaccine. There are far better ways to deal with bovine TB than the mass slaughter of badgers. We do not support a cull this year, next year or any year. We say: stop the cull and move to vaccinations.

12.41 pm

Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): In some ways it is disappointing that we have got to this point without finding a proper solution to TB. Successive Governments prevaricated over policy, and we are left in a tragic situation, where cattle and badgers continue to suffer and where farmers continue to have their livelihoods threatened by this disease. No one should be under any illusions whatever about what a nasty disease TB is, for both cattle and badgers, or how devastating it is to farmers and farming communities.

I thought that governmental prevarication had ended in 2008, with the recognition that culling was not the solution and that vaccination would provide a much surer way forward in the long term. The coalition agreement originally provided some comfort that TB control would be based on science-led policy. The apparent willingness of Ministers to take a rather curious interpretation of the scientific evidence is far more worrying. The independent scientific group, the bovine TB eradication group and the majority of scientific opinion conclude that culling is not the way forward. Lord Krebs has described the Government’s policy as “mindless”, so it is even more curious that the Secretary of State maintains that his decisions wholly conform to the science. They might conform to someone’s science; they do not conform to the majority of scientific opinion.

Mr Laurence Robertson: Would the hon. Gentleman like to refer to the British Veterinary Association’s opinion as well?

Mr Sanders: There is scientific opinion on both sides; the nub of the debate is that the majority of scientific opinion is against the cull.

Although Ministers and the National Farmers Union are clear that what has been announced is a postponement and not a U-turn on policy, the delay gives us an opportunity to scrutinise the evidence properly and to hold a wider public debate. I hope that that is beginning today. It is important to highlight the fact that opponents of the cull are not opposed to bearing down on TB. The ultimate goal for us all is to have better animal welfare—both of cattle and badgers—so it is essential that we find the most effective policy that eradicates the disease. I want to discuss the three main issues that demonstrate why the cull of badgers is the wrong way to deal with the spread of bovine TB: the scientific evidence, value for money and, of course, the overwhelming public opinion that a cull is an inhumane and unnecessary option.

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Mr Gray: What’s that got to do with it?

Mr Sanders: It has a lot to do with it, frankly. Killing animals that do not carry the disease is simply wrong.

There is a significant body of scientific evidence on the efficacy of culling, both supporting and rejecting the idea. The majority conclusion, however, is that a cull could be not only ineffective, but potentially counter-productive in controlling the disease, by increasing the number of infected badgers and cattle through the perturbation effect. That was highlighted by the research carried out by the independent scientific group in the randomised badger culling trial, which published its results in 2007 and warned against the results of badger culls. Dr Rosie Woodroffe, who was referred to earlier, is a former member of the ISG on cattle TB. She said earlier this month that

“all… evidence shows that culling badgers increases the proportion of badgers that have TB”.

As the Government have now admitted, there is also great unpredictability surrounding the logistical element of the cull. Using so-called shooting, it is unknown how many badgers will be destroyed or whether the shooters will have managed to fulfil their quota. The longer-term consequences on local ecosystems—such as an increase in fox populations—are not entirely foreseeable. The cost of the cull seems to be increasingly complex, but there is a general consensus that it is a bad deal for taxpayers.

As Professor McInerney, emeritus professor of agricultural policy at the university of Exeter—right in the heart of the worst bovine TB-affected area—said,

“You pay about £1.5 million to get the disease avoidance worth about £900,000.”

It seems that not enough research has been done into the most cost-effective way to carry out a cull, but also that spending money on an ineffective cull would be a disastrous step in the battle to control TB. If the Government were to redirect those resources into further research and the development of alternative options, such as a vaccination, they would get far better value for taxpayers.

Let me turn to public opinion. It is obvious to most that the vast majority of the public are against the cull, as is evident from the e-petition. The Government seem to have lost sight of public interest and have developed the cull, which seems to be attractive only to understandably desperate farmers. It seems unfair to present those farmers with a quick fix that has no hope of a sustainable or successful future and to entice them with it. The responsible thing to do would be to back down from the cull altogether and explore the alternatives, to which I will now turn.

Of course, vaccinating cattle is the obvious solution to the problem. However, until we can develop a test that can distinguish between vaccinated and infected cattle, there is no hope of getting EU law changed, although some people contend that there has been a major breakthrough even in this area—an argument that others will no doubt pick up. In the meantime, we could start a badger vaccination programme. We have been vaccinating badgers since 2010, and there have been positive results. Research published by Dr Mark Chambers in 2010, using evidence gained in a field trial, showed a 73.8% reduction in positive serological test

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results in badgers. Just as in humans, when enough of the population is vaccinated, prevalence of the disease reduces.

According to the Gloucestershire wildlife trust, vaccinating badgers costs £51 per hectare, but that cost could be lowered. Getting groups to combine their operations with nearby areas and to share fridges, traps and other costly items drastically cuts the costs, making vaccination not only a more ethical option, but cheaper than culling. The money saved from not carrying out the cull should be used to fund the development of an oral vaccine for badgers. We know that oral vaccination is a much more practical solution, and the sooner one is developed, the better.

The Welsh Government’s TB eradication programme is something that we should monitor closely and consider adopting for England. The programme has combined badger vaccination with stricter cattle controls and improved biosecurity and has had some success.

Andrew George: On top of the efforts that my hon. Friend is talking about and the science, which should be taken into consideration, the recent results of research commissioned by DEFRA and headed by Dr Andrew Conlan at Cambridge university showed that one in five of the herds that had been given the all-clear on bovine TB were actually still harbouring the disease. We should be concentrating a great deal of effort in that area as well.

Mr Sanders: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the House’s attention to that research, of which I was not aware.

The Welsh Assembly Government have been offering biosecurity advice to farmers within the intensive action area, and the Government should be doing the same in Devon and other heavily affected areas. It is an easy and relatively cheap way to ensure that farmers have the knowledge and guidance that they need to limit the spread of bovine TB. That of course will not solve the problem overnight, but better farming practices and a general build-up of immunity in the badger population will slowly lead to a much lower rate of TB infection.

As someone lucky enough to have been born and grown up in the county of Devonshire, it is now my privilege and honour to represent a constituency in the county. No one from the west country is unaware of the issue, and what unites us across the south-west, as I hope it does in the House, is a desire to find a workable solution to this appalling plague on our cattle, our wildlife and the lives of our wonderful farmers and the communities in which they live. But a cull is not it.

12.50 pm

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): I want to start by commenting on the use of language in the debate. In his statement to the House a couple of days ago, the Secretary of State, who is not in his place, used the words “evidence” 15 times, “scientific” nine times and “science” 16 times. It is interesting to read his qualifications. On his website, he describes himself as having

“read History at Cambridge University”

and that as

25 Oct 2012 : Column 1115

“Agriculture spokesman he became an expert on bovine TB and campaigned for the dairy industry.”

We must use language carefully, because it is pushing the boundaries to say one is an expert on a subject. My good friend Lord Krebs, who chairs the sister Committee of mine in the other place, has considerably more expertise on this subject than I have, but I doubt whether he would call himself an expert. It is bold of the Secretary of State to describe himself as an expert.

This subject is hugely complicated. Humans and animals, especially food animals, are far more mobile than they were, so we must take very seriously the risk of zoonotic diseases. If the Government want to do something positive during the so-called closed season, I strongly advise them to invest in research into zoonotic diseases. I am pleased to say that one of this country’s major veterinary schools at Leahurst, which is in my constituency and which the former farming Minister visited, leads the way in zoonotic research.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman, who is not an expert, think that there will be sufficient time before the cull recommences to get a vaccination that works? Most people suggest that we are several years away from that.

Andrew Miller: I know that the hon. Gentleman is fascinated with firearms, but shooting badgers will not work either. I do not say that a cull will have no effect; of course it will have an effect. Killing any of the species that carry TB—not just badgers but including cattle—will have an effect, but it will not solve the problem. Indeed, killing every badger will not eradicate bovine TB. I hope that the step proposed by the hon. Gentleman will not prove necessary in years to come, given the work that is being done on the biology, because I believe we can move closer to eradication by investing the huge sums that we are discussing in research programmes aimed at establishing a vaccination regime.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Science and Technology Committee. Evidence given to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament suggested that this is a question not of money but of time, because to develop the vaccine we need generations of badgers and cattle.

Andrew Miller: There is a chicken and egg argument and a serious challenge facing us. My concern is that the House is not taking the issue of zoonotic conditions seriously enough. We must take a much more mature view on the inevitable consequences of the greater mobility of people and of animals in the food chain while they are alive; otherwise, we shall be dealing with not only bovine TB but other conditions. I hope that when Ministers press the Treasury on the comprehensive spending view they will pass on the message that, without sensible investment, we will have this debate time and again and that, even if all badgers were culled, farmers would still be disadvantaged by this dreadful disease.

It is easy to criticise one side or the other of the argument, but even DEFRA’s nine-point summary states:

“If culling is undertaken, it should be in addition to, not instead of, existing bTB control measures in cattle, which should be maintained and strengthened.”

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I have yet to hear a single word from a Minister on the strengthening of the regime.

Sir James Paice: Notwithstanding Mr Speaker’s earlier injunction, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that if he had been paying attention on Tuesday or had read any farming magazines in the past two or three weeks he would know that on 1 January another big tranche of measures will be introduced to which farmers object because they are so tough.

Andrew Miller: The hon. Gentleman speaks of a big tranche, but I have not seen research and the necessary investment, without which we shall be making a dreadful mistake.

I shall use the time remaining to me to refer to the situation in my constituency. The Cheshire wildlife trust, which the right hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) mentioned when the statement was made on Tuesday, is funding its own vaccination campaign and calling for investment, which is a good move. I have a note from my constituent, Mr Huw Rowlands, a farmer, in which he says:

“Nobody can have missed the controversy raging about culling badgers. Quite how the proposed operations can be described as a cull is beyond me; my dictionary defines a cull as being ‘to take out inferior or surplus animals from a flock.’ We have badgers on the farm which to date have not caused problems”.

He opposes culling but supports the Cheshire wildlife trust’s campaign. By the way, his farm is part of the higher level stewardship scheme, which is supported by DEFRA, and I recommend using Rowlands’s farm to buy red poll meat, if I may advertise on its behalf.

The opinions of local people, including farmers, suggest that there are other ways to address this problem. It is a very challenging one and nobody can stand here and honestly say that they have the 100% correct solution, as the thoughtful speech preceding mine well illustrated. Unless we see serious investment in scientific research into zoonotic conditions, we will not see the eradication of the problem. Without such actions, we will simply delay a debate that will have to take place in years to come.

This debate is, I suppose, about what happens during the interregnum. I urge the Government to think seriously about making that kind of investment during the interregnum; if we do not make it, we would be quite right to criticise the Government for failing in their duty to care not just for the animals on our land but for human beings, too.

1.1 pm

Sir James Paice (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I start by reminding the House of my declared interests in this matter. I would like to comment briefly on this week’s announcement and statement, but I want to spend most of my time trying to explain how the policy that we are debating was devised. I think I am the only person in the Chamber who was involved right through that development work. I am delighted that it has been taken on by the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), who is in his place on the Front Bench.

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I think, in the circumstances, the Government were right this week to make the decision to postpone the cull. I regret that those circumstances arose. The main reason is that it is far too late in the year to start a cull. Badgers are going into semi-hibernation, slowing down and are not as active, so fulfilling a cull of any size would have been made much more difficult. In my view, it should have happened in the summer, notwithstanding the Olympics, and it should certainly have started by 1 October. I am concerned that the groups of farmers and their contractors were not ready to go when the first licence was issued in September.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) refer to the European context. She is absolutely right: the European auditors came here over a year ago to investigate how we go about this matter. She is right, too, to make the point that we get considerable sums of money from Europe. What she was unaware of, understandably, is the fact that this time last year, the European Commission threatened to withdraw our funding because it was not satisfied that we were taking sufficient actions, including dealing with badgers. I had to go to Brussels to make a personal plea to the then commissioner to sustain Europe’s support of our programme.

It is interesting that several Members have referred to the situation in Wales. More recently, the Commission has said that the Welsh decision to stop the proposed cull damages the likely fulfilment of its eradication plan. There should be no doubt about the European position. I was as angry as the hon. Member for Bristol East about some of the reports of what was happening on the ground. That is why we toughened up right across the board, as she was kind enough to say, and it is partly why we agreed to this latest tranche of further restrictions, including a significant extension of annual testing into new parts of the country where the problem did not exist. I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Minister has endorsed the position that I took.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): I happen to represent one of the areas worst affected by TB. I want to commend my right hon. Friend as one of the most outstanding Agriculture Ministers, who knows a great deal about this subject. Does he acknowledge that there is not only human misery in every case where a farmer loses cattle, but a huge economic cost to all these biosecurity measures, such as pre-movement testing, reactor testing and all the additional measures now announced? Those come at a huge economic cost for farmers.

Sir James Paice: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Several Members, including the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) who introduced the debate, referred to cattle-to-cattle transmission, which is of course a major factor—nobody denies it—that has to be properly addressed. The tranche of new measures to which I referred a minute ago is the third tranche; it started under my watch, but I had already introduced two tranches of much tougher measures. To be honest, the previous Government had done the pre-movement testing as well. The suggestion that cattle-to-cattle movement is not being addressed is nonsense. The other measures

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are hugely important, but we come down to the fact that no country in the world has got rid of bovine TB—I mean get rid of, not just reduce—without addressing the reservoir of relevant wildlife. In this country, as in Ireland and France, this means badgers.

Angela Smith: The right hon. Gentleman’s point has been made repeatedly over the last few days, but does he not agree that we are not comparing like with like here, in that the methodology used in other countries to deal with the problem has been quite different?

Sir James Paice: I accept that, not least because the reservoir involves different species of animals. Clearly, we do not deal with badgers in the same way as we deal with wild buffalo in the Northern Territory of Australia. That is blatantly clear, but if we are to address the issue of the reservoir of badgers, there are only two ways of proceeding. Either we vaccinate them—I shall come back to that—or we have to cull them.

I hope that the whole House accepts that no Minister from any political party wants to court the unpopularity or, indeed, face the security challenge caused by this issue. Let us be frank: I, the Minister, other Ministers and officials are all under special security arrangements because of the threats from a small minority of opponents. None of us wants any of that. If there were a better way, we would adopt it. To pretend that we are somehow not interested in vaccines is, I have to say, absurd. The fact is that we have a licensed injectable badger vaccine; no one has mentioned that the Government are making some money available to pay for it where people want to use it. If wildlife trusts want to continue to roll it out, that is fine, but the costs of rolling it out on a national scale are so incredible that I think it is wrong to suggest it is a panacea.

The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) referred to an oral vaccine for badgers. We believed this would be likely for many years, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that, for two reasons, it is now further away than ever. First, the intellectual property will be difficult to get hold of; it is owned by a New Zealand institution. More importantly, the promising first tests have never been repeated. All the tests carried out showed much worse problems. That is because the vaccine is being destroyed in badgers’ acidic stomachs.

On cattle vaccine, I can tell the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion that, yes, it has been developed and we know, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said the other day, that it is not very effective, although it has an element of effectiveness—about 60%. Yes, too, the DIVA test—differentiation of infected from vaccinated animals—is well on the way to being perfected. The hon. Lady is right about all that, but neither of them is licensed or officially proved and they still have to go through all the processes, which takes time, however much effort is put into it. What the hon. Lady seriously underplayed, however, is the European context when it comes to the cattle vaccine. I can assure her that, almost from day one of taking office, or within a matter of weeks, I pressed the Commission on this issue. I remember talking to the then Commissioner John Dalli, from D G SANCO, who said, “When you have your licensed vaccine and your licensed DIVA test, then we will start thinking about it, but don’t forget that it is only you, Ireland and possibly France that want this. All the other

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member states will be against it. Lifting the ban will take many years, so the question is what can be done in the meantime.”

Caroline Lucas: The case that the right hon. Gentleman describes is not the same as the discussions that I know have taken place at the European Commission, with very different messages coming back. Of course Britain is the only one that wants this vaccine at the moment, because we are the only ones who have had to face cattle TB this badly, but the suggestion that it is years away is simply not the case. I have in front of me a text from DEFRA’s own website, which talks about things happening by the end of the year. [Interruption.]

Sir James Paice rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order, Sir James. I will make the decisions, although it is good of you to offer advice. I am sure that the hon. Lady recognises that she has had a good run already; we ought to make sure that everybody else has a chance to express their views.

Sir James Paice: In the limited amount of time that is now available, let me deal with the issue of science. Everyone, including the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion, recognises that Lord Krebs and countless others accept that the randomised badger culling trials showed a 16% reduction. There is a great deal of debate about whether that is sufficient justification, but let us start there.

As has already been said, the study group concluded that culling badgers could “play no meaningful part”, but we thought it necessary to delve deeper into the research and to establish what was behind its conclusions. First, that 16% is a net figure. In the culling zone the gain was more like 30%, but it was offset by the problem of an increase in incidence in the perturbation area outside the zone. Some effort was made to reduce perturbation in the original trials, but it was nothing like the effort that is being imposed on the groups as a condition of their licence applications. If perturbation can be minimised, the net effect will be radically increased, although we do not know by how much because that has not yet been done. Let me stress again, however, that the 16% is a net figure which includes a problem outside the zone, and that that problem can be addressed.

As for the “meaningfulness” conclusion, it relates to the costs incurred by the RBCT. We all know that the trials were hugely expensive, but those are the only figures that we have to work on. We wanted to find a way of carrying out a cull more cheaply. We opted for controlled shooting as the predominant method, although cages would have to be used as well. I remind the House that controlled shooting of foxes, rabbits and, more recently, some species of deer takes place almost daily—or nightly—out in the countryside. To suggest that it is brand new is nonsense.

We addressed those two conclusions, and tried to find ways of achieving the same result through slightly different methods. Let me finally remind the House that these are pilots—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The right hon. Gentleman’s time is up.

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1.11 pm

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): There should be no doubt in the minds of Members on both sides of the House that bovine tuberculosis has serious economic and emotional implications for a number of farmers in the United Kingdom. We need to find a sustainable and human solution to this scourge.

According to the scientific evidence, to achieve a significant reduction in bovine TB, badger culling would need to be take place over a huge geographical area—as large as 500 sq km. It would also need to be very intensive, virtually wiping out the badger population in the area.

The Government must make clear what they intend to do following the initial trials. Will their policy be to allow culling over a much larger area, with much larger numbers of dead badgers? That could pose a risk to the badger population as a whole. As Members are well aware, the problem is that a cull of less than 70% means ineffective disease control, while a cull of more than 70% means a risk of eradication of the badger population across the country. The Government claim to have devised much more effective culling methods, but how can we know when those methods have not been tried yet? Given that shooting badgers has never been used in the UK before as a means of control, it must be doubtful whether it would lead to the same results in bovine TB eradication as the badger trials conducted by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB.

A follow-up report on the randomised badger culling trial, published in February 2010, warned of the need for any cull to be well planned and co-ordinated, and of the potential for small-scale or irregular culls to result in increases rather than decreases in bovine TB incidence. The Government have so far failed to co-ordinate the figures for the number of badgers in the cull areas for the purpose of meeting their 70% target. The latest survey data show the number of badgers in each cull area to be double the figure used by DEFRA to calculate the costs of the cull. DEFRA used a figure of 1,300 badgers in each 300 sq km cull area, but on 17 October it revealed in a written answer that the figures were actually 3,600 in west Gloucestershire and 4,300 in west Somerset. The Minister’s response to my question about the figures this week was also confused.

It is clearly difficult to monitor the badger population accurately. This week, Lord Krebs referred to a variation of between 1,000 and 5,000 in the space of just a few days. However, Natural England needs to know the actual number of badgers in each area in order to know how many must be killed. Without such accurate population data, it is hard to assess whether the 70% target can be met, or how the results of the trial can be compared with those of previous trials that were conducted on independent scientific basis.

Roger Williams: One of the problems with the Krebs trials was that they were interrupted by the foot and mouth outbreak. Instead of five annual culls in five years, there were four culls spread over a period of between five and six years.

Meg Munn: I am not sure exactly how that relates to what I have been saying, but the hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record.

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Protecting wildlife is something about which I feel strongly, and I know that many Members in all parts of the House feel the same. The Council of Europe’s convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats, also known as the Berne convention, is a legally binding convention that aims

“to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats”.

There are currently 50 signatories, including all the members of the European Union and the Union itself, as well as several other European and north African countries. The United Kingdom Government have been a signatory since the 1970s. Badgers are listed in appendix III of the convention, and contracting parties are committed to prohibiting

“the use of all indiscriminate means of capture and killing and the use of all means capable of causing local disappearance of, or serious disturbance to, populations”.

Article 9 provides contracting parties with the conditions under which exceptions can be made to the rules protecting appendix III-listed species. They include the prevention of “serious damage” to livestock, but only in circumstances in which there is “no other satisfactory solution”, and only when the action taken

“will not be detrimental to the survival of the population concerned”.

Owing to the controversial nature of this badger cull, secrecy is required in its planning and start; but we know, farmers know, and the local populations know what is happening, and that must place a question mark over the effectiveness of the operation. The safety of the public in the two areas involved poses a potential problem. If the public are to be 100% safe, the boundaries will have to be revealed, but that would prevent the identity of participating farmers and landowners from remaining secret. Moreover, the taking of precautions to avoid any criminal activity by protesters—not only to avoid damage, but to ensure the effectiveness of the cull—would become harder to achieve. It should be borne in mind that, according to the 2011 consultation, more than 50% of public opinion is against the cull.

The Government’s impact assessment has already shown that the cull will cost farmers more than it saves them. In a follow-up to DEFRA’s document containing the estimated costs of various culling methods, a report on the randomised badger culling trial pointed out that those estimates did not include any capital cost to farmers or costs of training and co-ordinating efforts, and concluded that the costs of this culling method could exceed the long-term financial benefits. Following Natural England’s updated figures for the badger population, the National Farmers Union has admitted that the cost to farmers would be too high. If the ultimate objective is to prevent the slaughter of cattle and therefore a loss of farmers’ livelihoods, why do the Government believe that the appropriate solution is to put a greater financial strain on farmers and on the public purse?

The Government recognise that vaccination is the real strategy for the long term, but they are downplaying the current possibilities. As other Members have pointed out, although the oral badger vaccine would have greater potential for more widespread use, we must accept that its development is some years away. However, developing and using the injectable vaccine would be a step in the right direction.

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In 2007, the previous Government decided not to license farmers to cull badgers, but to make vaccination a priority, and increased spending on vaccines. Over the last 10 years, DEFRA has spent more than £7 million on research into badger vaccines, and in March 2010 the first TB badger vaccine was authorised. The plan had been to deploy it in six areas in England, but that was reduced to one area in June 2010. The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders) has discussed the 2010 study, which showed that positive TB tests among badgers were reduced by almost 74%.

Vaccinating cattle to give the herd a level of combined immunity, which slows the spread of the disease until it reaches zero, should be developed. I will not discuss that point in detail as it has already been addressed. We know, however, that vaccinating cattle and having a DIVA test are the right things to do.

This debate is titled, “Badger Cull”, but it is not just about saving the lives of badgers; it is also about saving the lives of cattle. The key point is that we must do what is effective not only for the short term, but for the long term. I believe that the Government have got this seriously wrong. There is an alternative, and they should take it.

1.21 pm

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): I have great pride in declaring that I breed Hereford cattle, and even more pride in saying they all passed their TB test in September.

One of my constituents sent me a book called “The Geek Manifesto” about why we need more scientists in politics. That was very kind of him, and it was a very interesting book. It has served to show me, however, that our current debate highlights one of the problems with science and political discussion. Scientists are constrained in how they write their reports, which makes it too easy for people to quote from them to confirm their prejudices.

I had the privilege of meeting Professor Bourne and asking him how he would deal with TB if he were in charge. The gist of his answer was that he would not do as he did when he worked for DEFRA because the constraints put on him made for poorer science. I agreed with him, and he was good enough to point out the cost-benefit and animal welfare considerations and other barriers to pure research.

From 1992 to 2011, the number of cattle slaughtered annually as a result of TB has risen from 2,000 to 38,000. Therefore, the status quo is not working, so we can safely rule out the “do nothing” option.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who moved the motion, has just left her place, but—[Interruption.] I am very sorry; she is still present. In her speech, she barely referred to the current situation. Some 26,000 cattle had to be slaughtered last year. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) suggests, if the status quo continues, cattle will continue to be slaughtered, and that—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Mr Herbert, you should know better. A lot of Members wish to speak. We have asked for short interventions. Please do not make a speech. If you want to speak, you should put your name on the list.

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Bill Wiggin: I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right: it is a tragedy not only for the cattle, but for the farmer, and it is also a great tragedy for badgers.

The figure that is hardest to ascertain is how many badgers catch this disease every year. I am not aware of any evidence, but what I do know is that badgers are tough and they can cope with this infection for some time. Some badgers first display lesions in their bladders and then, as the disease progresses, they develop in other organs. The badger will become increasingly sick and eventually be driven out of its social group. When that happens, the badger will leave the sett territory and wander into other badgers’ territories where it may have to fight, and fighting is bad, because the risk of passing the infection, through scratches and bites, increases greatly. That, too, is beyond dispute.

I remember tabling a written question some years ago asking what would be the right thing to do if someone were to find an injured badger by the side of the road. The answer that came back was: “Consult your lawyer before doing anything.” This situation cannot be allowed to continue. There needs to be a humane way of ending suffering—for badgers, not lawyers, of course!

I have real concerns about the skin test we currently use to identify the disease. Here is a challenge for the armchair scientists. If we carry on testing and culling cattle, we will succeed in breeding cattle that do not show a reaction to the skin test. That is happening already. A constituent of mine tested her cattle, then took one for slaughter, only to find two lesions in different organs of that cow. That meant that the cow was unfit for human consumption and she lost her beef—which was probably worth about £2,000. She was very angry as her cow had been tested and passed and then been condemned. She wanted compensation from the Government for such a rotten test. She is right. This is another example of what happens if we carry on with the “do nothing” policy we have inherited.

As well as breeding test-proof cows, we are also allowing the disease to spread in the badger population. Not one of the letters I got from supposed friends of the badger pointed out that, by doing nothing, more badgers would become infected. In fact, many said that diseases in wild animals were no concern of theirs—and they call themselves animal lovers. I have nothing but contempt for people who allow badgers to suffer, which is why I pushed for longer prison sentences for genuinely evil people who bait badgers. Sadly, Opposition parties voted down an amendment I tabled on that.

The Dutch vaccinated “to die” during the foot and mouth outbreak, and that is based on the principle that a vaccinated animal must be traceable throughout its life. Perhaps we should be seeking permission to trial vaccination in areas that have not been selected for a trial cull, despite EU directive 78/52/EEC, article 13.

Beef suckler cows could be considered as “not for export”. By that, I mean a farmer may decide to keep a beef heifer calf for the rest of her life. She will never be sold for export, nor would her beef go into the export market. This would shift the decision on the risk of TB from DEFRA to the farmer. The risk would be the farmer’s. After a cow has passed a TB test, she would be vaccinated. Her passport would be stamped “TB vaccinated, not for export.” She would stay in the UK for the rest of her life. At the end of her days when she went for

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slaughter, if lesions were found in her body, the meat would be condemned and the farmer would lose the £900 or so she was worth as beef. That decision and risk would belong to the farmer. Any calf born could be tested, and bulls or cattle that would be worth exporting could be left unvaccinated. If the cow were to develop the disease, it would be picked up every time she had a calf, which is annually, and which is when we test for the disease.

Mathematically, every animal that is protected from the disease makes it harder for the disease to spread. Dairy cattle that are to be milked would not qualify for vaccination. Even if bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccination is not much better than 50% or 60% effective, ways of reducing the costs, reducing the chances, reducing the possible vectors, and reducing the bill to taxpayers are all worth exploring. I urge the Government to look into this as one of the tools in the box.

Data from the randomised badger culling trial led to the conclusion that

“in the absence of transmission from infected badgers, only 3.4% of herds per annum would be expected to have a TB breakdown”

and that

“TB in cattle herds could be substantially reduced, possibly even eliminated, in the absence of transmission from badgers to cattle.”

I believe that vaccinating badgers could contribute to that, but there are constraints. We do not vaccinate infected cattle; we cull them, and we should do the same for infected badgers. One of the ideals would be a test for badgers. I urge the Government to look at having more research done into the PCR—polymerase chain reaction—test at Warwick university. Accordingly, the British Veterinary Association announced its relief that there has been no U-turn on the badger cull. It reiterated that scientists think culling badgers does reduce levels of infection in cattle herds.

As I said, I am in favour of vaccinating cattle and badgers, but we are all aware that we cannot wait. I am aware of the hundreds of e-mails that colleagues have received, as I have, but they largely cite the alternative of vaccination as the answer to the TB problem. That sounds better in theory than it is in practice: the badger vaccine is injected and is therefore difficult to administer, as badgers need to be trapped; and it is difficult to record which badgers have been vaccinated, and some may be trapped again and again. Furthermore, EU legislation currently bans the cattle vaccine, as it can interfere with the tuberculin skin test. The Government are right to develop the DIVA test.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: Does my hon. Friend agree that the ideal in terms of getting rid of this problem is a cattle vaccine as well as a badger vaccine, but the problem is that we are a long way from both of those and a badger vaccine has no effect on badgers already infected with TB?

Bill Wiggin: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do need a suitable vaccination to be developed and to be legal in the UK. No one wants to cull healthy badgers. So an experimental pilot cull in the highest-risk areas, with all the barriers to spreading the disease, such as coastlines or rivers, and with the local farmers in support, would prove whether culling was worth rolling out in other high-risk areas. People should be clear that

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the whole badger population is not at risk from culling, just those badgers that are highly at risk themselves of being infected.

Professor Bourne told me that a cull would not work the way he did it, so the Government have rightly changed the parameters. Culling will not be done in the way it was done before; it will not be done by the same people and it must be done to a level that commands scientific respect, within hard boundaries and in a specifically large area. Without vectors I believe the chance of infection drops dramatically, although M. bovis does live in soil for up to two years. If the chance of infection remains high and the pilot culls do not work, we would be glad it was only a pilot and we could then spend all our time and money on vaccinating alone—that is why we should vote down today’s motion. But vaccination is illegal under article 13 of EU directive 78/52/EEC, so that approach may not work either. That is why I think we should seek a derogation so that we can pilot vaccination in this country as well.

1.31 pm

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): May I begin by saying how much I regret that the Secretary of State is not in his place? I regret even more the fact that he left the Chamber chuntering into the microphone that he had had enough of this debate.

I should declare some interests at the outset: I am the proud Member of Parliament for England’s most remotely accessible constituency from Westminster; I am married into a dairy farming family; and I am proud to represent scores of farmers. I have not seen for a long time as big a mailbag as has come in against this proposed cull. Today’s debate will take many forms and touch on many issues. In many ways, the Government are to blame for that, because this should have always been and should always be a scientific debate. There is no doubt that it should be an environmental debate and a debate about animal welfare, but those debates should always be based on science if they are to carry the weight and meaning that we want them to.

Before I go through the scientific evidence, I wish to pay tribute to all the organisations that have argued against what is clearly a scientifically flawed set of proposals used to support a cull. I also pay tribute to those figures with a high public profile who have used that to forward the aims of this cause. We live in an era characterised by a rampant, feckless celebrity culture that has begun to disfigure our society, where infamy, rather than fame found through any positively worthwhile achievements, leads to instant riches and celebrity status. This has led to the creation of a wealthy, C-list zombie class who do not believe they are subject to the laws of this country. So I applaud those who have used their profile for a cause that is not self-serving, lucrative or glamorous. They deserve our respect; they have rocked this Government.

The science is clear, and Lord Krebs has left no doubt on the efficacy of the proposed cull and its ability to address the problem of bovine TB. He has rightly said that

“'bovine TB is a serious problem, and it deserves serious science to underpin policy.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 October 2012; Vol. 740, c. 148.]

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He has also pointed out that the proposed cull will result, after nine years, in 84% of the problem still remaining in place. That means that there will be a 16% reduction in the trend increase of bovine TB, and so, after nine years, there will still be more bovine TB around than there was at the beginning. It could not be clearer that this proposed cull simply will not work.

DEFRA’s own figures show that fewer cattle have been slaughtered because of bovine TB each year from 2008 to 2011, so it is clear that the Government are cherry-picking data in an attempt to support a flawed case. The question must be asked: why? The answer is really hard to fathom. In one respect, I think it is a genuinely confused attempt to help. One myth I would like to dispel is that this is being done at the behest of the National Farmers Union. We have all noticed the Government’s nudges and winks over recent weeks in an attempt to blame the NFU for the proposal, but that simply will not wash. The NFU is an important, effective organisation that is duty-bound to represent the many disparate interests of farms and farmers of very different sorts. Clearly, there is more than one voice of farmers on the issue of bovine TB and the cull.

Farmers want solutions to bovine TB, as we all do. My constituency will never forget the devastating consequences of foot and mouth disease. It was not just an animal welfare disaster and an economic catastrophe; it was a very real human tragedy, as lives were ruined and generations of work were destroyed. Nothing like that must ever be allowed to happen again, so on the issue of bovine TB farmers are well within their rights to look at the Government and wonder why they have been led down the garden path and sold a false prospectus. There can be no doubt that they have been, and they are sick to death of the goalposts for ever moving as the Government continue to drop the ball. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the proposed cull was a sop from a shambolic Government—the political equivalent of magic beans. This shambles is not the fault of farmers and it is not the fault of the NFU.

I am sick and tired of redundant notions of rurality running riot across this House and within all political parties. In some parts of this House, rural areas are seen in the mind’s eye as consisting of corpulent farmers chewing a blade of grass and resting on a gate post; they are seen as simply a playground for those who have wealth and have left urban areas to gentrify rural areas with large homes and Range Rovers. Those who think that never see the young farmer struggling to stay afloat, and rarely consider what it means for people to have literally no access to public transport and, as a result, to schools, hospitals and other services, which their taxes pay for just as much as anyone else’s. Those who think that never see the struggling villages, which are fighting every day to stay alive and have never known affluence, or the pensioners, parents and children who occupy this forgotten country. That must change. As the economic squeeze worsens, as the public sector and the state retreat further, and as areas of market failure become ever more prominent, all of us need to pay urgent attention to the plight of ordinary people in this forgotten England, because they need our help and they have little or no interest in the colour of our respective rosettes. So I commend those Government Members who will support today’s motion.

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This Government have done little or nothing for the people I am talking about, and show no signs of doing so. The cull was also a sop based on a redundant and clichéd misconception of farmers and rural life, which can now be seen through. That, in part, has led to farmers receiving anonymous threats about what will happen to them and their property if a cull takes place. That is a despicable state of affairs, and I hope that the Minister, the Secretary of State and the Government in general will join me in urging that the full weight of the law be brought against the people who have made those threats.

For the sake of bovine welfare, for the sake of badger conservation, for the sake of rural businesses and the rural economy, which, in so many ways, relies upon dairy farming, and for the sake of everyone in this House, on either side, who cares about rural England, the Government should urgently begin bringing forward sensible proposals to tackle bovine TB, not pointless, scientifically disproven, dog-whistle policies.

1.38 pm

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): I am sure my hon. Friends are aware that bovine tuberculosis is the most infectious type of TB. It is able to infect most mammals, although, thankfully, the threat of humans contracting TB from animals today is very remote. The disease originated in cattle, it is a farming problem and it has had an impact on wildlife throughout the world, with devastating effects. Culls and mass slaughters have been carried out in an attempt to combat TB, but they have never been successful; no country has eradicated bovine TB by removing a wildlife population. The recent UK randomised badger culling trial—RBCT—is at the centre of this dispute and it is the basis of the Government’s policy, which has cherry-picked data to the detriment of our domestic animal populations. Perturbation is the scientific term for the effect of spreading an infection to an area outside the cull zone. This occurs when infected populations within the zone migrate out to new areas, and it is highlighted as a concern in the Krebs report.

Hard boundaries were recommended, but DEFRA offered roads and rivers. Badgers cross roads each night and 99% of them survive. They also swim extremely well and in many areas cross rivers and canals nightly to feed. They are sensitive and highly intelligent animals that will flee the culling zone if shooting is prolonged. The entire wildlife population will migrate out of the location in those circumstances, and we know that deer and boar are vectors for bovine TB, along with rats and many other mammals. It is irresponsible at best and dire at worst to displace any of the wildlife population that is suspected of carrying disease.

The recommended period for culling to keep a population within the cull zone is five days of intense culling. That ensures that in most cases the wildlife population stays in place and does not migrate out, spreading bovine TB as it moves. The RBCT took 12 days and saw perturbation have a negative effect on culling. The Government have ignored the recommended cull period and allowed six weeks. That cull period will see the entire wildlife population within the cull zone permanently move out, spreading infection from the cull zone.