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infect the TB-free farms and simply spread bovine TB. The spread of TB slowly across the country has been caused by cattle movements and not by badgers, as they do not migrate. Cattle movements can be the only factor in the spread. Poor and sloppy biosecurity and lapsed testing has led to cattle spreading the disease in many cases.
The cull would be industry-led and would not be carried out by specialists and scientists in the area of population and disease control. Level II hunters will have had only one day of training, which will make them neither an expert at shooting an animal they have never encountered before nor a specialist in population control. Those people might well never have shot a badger and are unlikely to understand how it moves.
The test and cull regime would take decades to achieve official TB-free status. We can kill all the badgers in England and we would still have bovine TB, so what would we do then—remove all the deer, all the boar and all other wildlife? The cull must be halted and the only alternative is the vaccination of both badgers and cattle, as we heard earlier. Vaccination is the only alternative to culling that does not risk making TB worse. An injectable badger vaccine has been available and in use since early 2010 and trials have shown that it is effective in reducing the severity and progression of TB in badgers. It reduced the incidence of positive tests in badgers by 74%.
One of the reasons cited for not pursuing a wider vaccination programme is that modelling suggests it will take slightly longer to have an impact on bovine TB than culling. However, given the length of time that it has taken to implement a cull, a wider vaccination programme from 2010 could already be bringing benefits for both badgers and cattle. Although one solution is to vaccinate badgers, the permanent solution must be to vaccinate cattle. The preoccupation with badgers has prevented successive Governments from tackling the real issue but the cattle need protecting and we cannot continue to slaughter wildlife that we deem to be infected. We need to address the real issue—the source—and vaccinate our cattle. We will never address bovine TB if we do not stop it at source.
The cost of a cull exercise is increasing and policing will cost millions. The policy will be deeply unpopular and will not solve the problem of bovine TB. The only long-term sustainable and sensible way forward is to vaccinate. A European vaccine is months away, not years as we heard earlier, and needs to be pursued by a committed Government and the farming community. Vaccination is the only sustainable solution that is cost-effective and ethical. Most importantly, it works.
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), who made a very thoughtful speech and showed that just as there is no one opinion on this question in farming there is no one opinion on the Government Benches.
I speak as a former Minister of State at DEFRA who tried to address the issue in 2009-10. I saw at first hand the emotional and financial effect on farmers and their families and the pain inflicted by bovine TB. For most people in the country, except to those who watch the
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BBC’s excellent “Countryfile”, that is invisible. In the Adam’s farm section of the programme, viewers will have heard Adam Henson’s vet confirm that his prize beasts were infected with TB. They will have seen the pain that he felt and how that announcement affected his family. I am sure that that brought the issue home to millions more people than would otherwise have been the case.
Miss McIntosh: Does the hon. Gentleman remember that he had the opportunity to respond to the Select Committee’s 2008 report on the incentives and financing that the Government of whom he was a member were giving to farmers for biosecurity measures? We received no answer. Does he regret that now?
Jim Fitzpatrick: I will come on to what the previous Government did at DEFRA when I was Minister of State. The hon. Lady will forgive me, but I do not have the record for 2008. I know that her Committee did sterling work on the subject and I respect the activity in which it was involved.
“Some of the facts are agreed. Bovine TB is a terrible disease. It has a huge impact on the farmers affected and they are understandably desperate to find their way out of this nightmare.”
“But we all have a responsibility to take action that will work.”
The forced delay to Government plans announced this week shows how difficult the subject is. There is no easy answer and that is why I want to refer to comments made by the Secretary of State on Tuesday. He said in his statement:
“The previous Government took forward the RBCT in a whole series of trials and then stopped and decided to do nothing.”
“after the trials, the Labour Government stopped dead.”—[Official Report, 23 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 839-44.]
With the greatest of respect to the Secretary of State, that is entirely wrong. Yes, we decided against a further or widespread cull, but our decisions were based on the evidence of the science presented to the Department and to Ministers at the time. Moreover, my right hon. Friend, who is in the Chamber, implemented the findings of the independent scientific group after the Krebs trials of the 10-year randomised badger cull. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) mentioned, John Bourne’s recommendation was not to cull but to tighten cattle controls. That is the answer to the question asked by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), the Chair of the Select Committee, and that is what was done.
We went further. We set up the TB eradication group, which comprised members of the British Veterinary Association, the NFU, Government scientists, individual farmers, DEFRA officials and others. For the Secretary of State to say on Tuesday that we stopped dead is
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insulting to the dedicated work done by those people on the issue of bovine TB and that was grossly unfair of him.
We also lobbied the Treasury for every penny we could get for compensation for farmers afflicted by the disease and, critically, we kept up support for the search for vaccines for badgers and cattle. In contrast, one of the first things the coalition did at DEFRA, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn), was cancel five of the six vaccine pilot trials. That looks like an even poorer decision today than it did then, and it looked pretty awful when it was announced.
For the Secretary of State to say that we stopped dead was plain wrong. If badger culling was proven scientifically to have worked, I am convinced that the Labour Government, having supported the trials with appropriate controls, would have pulled that trigger to protect cattle, to protect badgers and to protect other wildlife. It did not work then, however, and despite the coalition’s changes, such as harder boundaries and so on, we do not think that it will work now.
“we might expect a 12 to 16% reduction in bovine TB…after nine years”.—[Official Report, 23 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 839.]
That is hardly a vote of confidence. Those figures have been put in perspective in a number of speeches, as well as during DEFRA questions earlier today. I can understand that farmers, some Government Members and others want to be seen to be doing something—anything—and to be doing it now. As we heard in the statement, however, nothing will happen until next year, if then.
As the new Secretary of State has found out, there is no easy solution, no quick fix and no silver bullet. Vaccines and vaccination for badgers and cattle are the way forward. If there is a vote tonight, I will support the motion and I hope that the majority of Members will do the same.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I want to concentrate on the effect of TB-infected herds on farmers, especially in the west country, particularly in Devon. For nearly 20 years, and certainly for the past 15 years, cases have been increasing. In Devon, we started off in 1998 with some 1,700 infected cattle, and now there are 5,000-plus. We should not forget that those farmers who have herds with TB have been restricted throughout that period, when they have been testing their cattle every 60 days. Under restriction, dairy farmers can sell their milk and beef farmers their finished animals, provided that they do not have TB, but they cannot sell any young stock. They are restricted throughout the period, so one can imagine the effect on family farms and their finances.
I declare an interest: I am a farmer. Most hon. Members will not have heard me say anything else but that. Farmers whose cattle are restricted and who cannot sell their young stock see only an ever-rising overdraft. Not to put too fine a point on it, every time the bank statement arrives, farmers feel suicidal. They are trapped because nothing can be done; they cannot rid their cattle of the disease. There is not only the emotional impact, but the impact on all the cattle of being for ever
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tested. Cattle do not like being put through a crush every 60 days and injected. Would any of us? Those are the sorts of things that we have to face up to.
We have talked a lot today about vaccines, which are always a year away. For 20 years, farmers have been told that. The last Labour Government spent virtually all the time saying that to farmers. I have much respect for the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), but the last Labour Government got very close to having a cull and they chickened out, which the Secretary of State has no intention of doing.
I object to Opposition Members’ comments that farmers have not restricted cattle movement. There have been a few such cases, but the vast majority of farmers have had ever-stricter regulations imposed on them. They clean those cattle; every summer and winter, they come in and are tested and the TB reactors are taken out. In the spring, those cattle are put back out to grass. I might be being simplistic, but they then graze on grass infected with badger urine. Do not forget that whatever the percentage of badgers with TB, we can be certain that the biggest percentage of infected badgers are where the most TB is in cattle, so they are giving it to one another. However, we are taking out cattle with TB, but we are not taking out and controlling badgers.
We know that the vaccine will not work on infected badgers. Government Members are not bloodthirsty. We do not love the idea of a cull, but we must take out badgers in those areas with the highest concentration of infected badgers. We must not forget that these are pilot culls in areas that have been chosen because they are TB hot spots with harder boundaries. Yes, badgers will cross roads, but with a large motorway, a river or the sea, there will be much less perturbation. We all accept that there will be some, but if it can be restricted, that is right.
This is mainly an Opposition Back-Bench debate—[Interruption.] I did say “mainly”. If one looks at the list of speakers, I would not be far wrong. But it is the Government Benches rather than the Opposition Benches that are packed out. We have real concern about prevaricating and doing nothing, as the previous Labour Government did, and the Government are making a real effort to control the disease.
Badger numbers are interesting. Let us not forget that the Badger Trust has argued for years that there are not such numbers of badgers in the country, but the badger population has continually increased and become more diseased. As that population grows, badgers become more adventurous and are much more likely to enter cattle sheds and infect cattle. Increased numbers of badgers and diseased badgers create a problem not only for cattle, but for wildlife and wildlife management.
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Duncan Hames: I am very grateful. On perturbation, what happens to the setts of badgers that are culled in the trials? Are they then occupied by healthy badgers or by diseased badgers? Are they destroyed to prevent them from being occupied, or do natural processes mean that they are not occupied by badgers after the trial?
Neil Parish: My point, in answer to both interventions, is that the whole idea of the trial is to carry out a cull of at least 70% of badgers in the given area over a four or five-year period. That is key to ensuring that we cull the diseased badgers. I cannot say which badger will go back to which sett, but I am certain that if we reduce those numbers, we will reduce their movement, and if they cannot spread beyond the cull area, we will see a reduction of much more than 16% in TB in cattle in those areas. It has been found throughout the world that where infected wildlife are culled there is a much greater effect.
The Government are right to carry on with the culls. I respect what the NFU has had to do. Because of the Olympics, it was late in the day before the culls could be started. We are getting towards much darker nights and we have had probably one of the wettest summers and autumns that I have ever known, so now is the wrong time to go forward with the cull. But I dispute the idea that we can do nothing about the situation and that culling badgers in the infected areas is wrong.
Until we tackle those concerns, farmers in my constituency and across the country, especially in the west, will be unable to rest, because they know that more and more cattle will become diseased and more and more restrictions will be imposed on them, and in the end many of them will decide, because of the weather, the price of feed and the disease, to give up cattle farming. Do we not want to see those farmed cattle healthy and grazing in the fields? Of course we do, which is why we need to take action. I very much respect the Secretary of State for sticking to the plan to have a cull.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab):
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) has just given us a wonderful example of how politics can stray down paths that are unwise. Babies cry, dogs bark and politicians legislate. When we have a problem, sometimes even one that is beyond solution on heaven or earth, we feel that we have to so something. It is often better to do nothing,
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as history proves. Under the previous Labour Government, 75 Bills were passed that have never been implemented; they went through the House but nothing happened afterwards. It is the futile urge of the political class—that is what we are—to feel that we must always do something, usually by legislating, but often that multiplies the problem that we are trying to address.
In 1991, my friend and colleague Roy Hughes, who was a Member of the House for 30 years, first for Newport and then for Newport East, managed to bring through the Bill that designated badgers as a protected species. It was part of a movement that has been going on for a long time to ensure that we, as the superior species, treat all other living beings with respect and protect them from gratuitous suffering.
One of the issues that I have with the House is the need to make it more representative of the population as a whole. We have certainly made great progress in that regard by increasing the number of women Members, of whom you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are a splendid example, as are the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). What a splendid debate we have had. I have been tempted to go and have my lunch, for which I have been waiting for some time, because I feel a sense of redundancy as a result of the brilliant way that they put their case in their speeches and in their interventions, some of which were not answered. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) intervened on the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) to ask a very pertinent question: why has there been an increase in bovine TB?
One of my jobs in ensuring that the House is more representative relates to a group—there are millions of them in the population—that is grossly under-represented: we have a desperate shortage of octogenarians. I am looking forward to the people of Newport West putting that right in 2015. One of the joys that come with old age is a long memory. I can recall the fuss about bovine TB in 1946, when I was 11 years old. There were then 47,476 cases of bovine TB in 1946, but the figure had fallen to 628 in 1979. It would be simplistic to suggest that that was because of the arrival of Clement Attlee and the glorious dawn of socialism between 1945 and 1951, before the beginning of the dark age of Thatcherism in 1979. It was not Thatcher. We know that we went for 20 years with fewer than 1,000 cases of bovine TB a year.
Paul Flynn: The hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that we went for 20 years without doing anything, as has been suggested. We did not interfere. I do not believe that the cull will do any good, because the evidence suggesting that is overwhelming. The hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) complained about “The Geek Manifesto”, which asks for science-based policies in the House, which are rare. He went on to say, “I have absolutely no evidence for this, but…” before putting forward a preposterous claim.
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The trouble with the House is that so often we have no evidence for what we do. We are rich in prejudice in what we do. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the way that we treat farmers. As far as the Conservatives are concerned, we know that what the NFU wants, the NFU gets. I suggest that those Members should start to do a little more thinking for themselves, stand up to farmers—I and many other Members have many farmers in our constituencies—and tell them when they are wrong. They are certainly wrong on this.
We went through a long period during which bovine TB was not a special problem. Why is the concern always about bovine TB, because 10 times as many animals die on the farm as a result of other diseases and no compensation is paid? Why are the farmers not desperate about that? Why do we concentrate on this one disease?
The turning point when the disease became out of control and a major problem was the epidemic of foot and mouth disease. The controls were laid off because the focus was on eliminating the foot and mouth disease and the other problem was restocking. Cattle were moved to different areas, and we suddenly had a massive problem with bovine TB, which was mostly the result of cattle-to-cattle or soil-to-cattle infection. Some people want to seek a simple solution, but the solution is a false one. We should look at the geek manifesto and have policies that are rich in science and in the truth. Otherwise, we will do nothing now to solve a problem that will evolve. In the near future, vaccination will become a practical solution. I believe that the decision taken by the Welsh Government is the right one.
Let us look at what is going on. I believe that last week the coalition Government grabbed the statement by the NFU as manna from heaven because they knew that they were politically embarrassed. They are redefining themselves as a new party that is nastier than ever before. The public do not see the justification for a mass slaughter of a beloved animal as reasonable or practical. In a year’s time, when the coalition Government have done everything they can, having enthusiastically blamed the previous Government, the European Union and civil servants for everything that goes on, and if they get another year and a half to build the incredible ineptocracy that they are creating, where will their courage be then? Will they tell the public, “We need a badger cull now”? Will they get deeper into unpopularity? Will they advertise themselves again as the even nastier party, by attacking defenceless living creatures?
A group of people in my constituency have been caught indulging in badger culling. I think that many of us would agree that there is an element of sport which, sadly, many people enjoy. They enjoy killing wild animals. It is not part of the growing civilisation of this country, as we go from decade to decade and treat other living species with greater respect, not contempt.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. A large number of Members still wish to participate in the debate. To ensure that all of them can do so, I am reducing the time limit to seven minutes. Members can sit down, which is normal when the Speaker or a Deputy Speaker is on his or her feet.
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Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): I do not know what it is about debates in this House involving animals, but the speech by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) reminded me that we generate much more heat than light during such important debates, which bring out almost the worst of all our characteristics. However many years we try, we will never quite manage to have a coherent, sensible and measured debate involving animals; goodness knows why. Perhaps we can at least try to do so now.
TB is a dreadful human tragedy just as much as it is a dreadful animal tragedy. It is made worse, as we have all admitted today, by political inaction going back over decades. During the course of this debate, at least eight farm animals—probably 10, perhaps 15—have been slaughtered, some of them needlessly. Herds will have been devastated, businesses will have been damaged, families will have been upset—all sorts of consequences will have occurred only in the time that we have been here lobbing the occasional insult across the Chamber at each other. Many of those animals will have been perfectly healthy. Some of them will have been in calf, and some of those, because they were so much in calf, will probably have had to be slaughtered on the yard, in many cases in front of young children. This is the policy that we have now. It behoves all of us, whether we are in favour of or against the cull, to recognise that not doing anything has some very serious consequences.
To echo my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), I wish that some people who are opposed to the cull—they have every right to be so and to make their case—would come and examine at close quarters its real human consequences. I was going to make an offer to Dr Brian May, had he still been in the Public Gallery, to come to Pembrokeshire. He has been there before, of course; he came at the last election to campaign for the Labour party. Let us not think that there is not some politics in this, because there is. I invite Dr May and some of his colleagues to come and not just speak to a farmer over a cup of coffee at a table but to be there when the farmer has to prepare for a 60-day TB test. They will see the moving of the cattle, the stress that that causes to the family and the cattle, the preparation of the machinery and the buildings—all the things that go with that and have to be fitted in around an already busy lifestyle. These things cause stress to those animals, yet people are apparently disregarding that for the purposes of their arguments, which seemingly relate only to badgers.
Then I would like those who oppose the badger cull to sit with us while the farmer waits for the results of the test and these thoughts go through his mind: “Will we be tested positive again? Will more of our animals have to go to slaughter? Will our business be further damaged? Will our family be further upset?” That is a dreadful experience for farmers who have been through it all before, or in some cases have never been through it before, as they wonder whether this is the beginning of the end for their farming business. Several of my constituents—some of them are sitting in the Public Gallery now having come all the way from west Wales to listen, I hope, to some sense in this debate—are
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seriously wondering whether it is worth continuing in the dairy industry because of the decades of inaction to which I referred.
May I ask the shadow Minister to agree with our policy on this? I hope that we can persuade her to condemn what I consider to be a pretty vindictive attack by the RSPCA on our dairy farmers. I have here a letter from Freedom Food, which says:
“Freedom Food members are required to apply all reasonable non-lethal and humane methods of wild animal exclusion/control—the RSPCA believes it is unacceptable to use lethal methods of wild animal control as routine practice.”
Well, for a start, what is being proposed is not routine practice. To threaten a financial penalty for taking part in this is a breach of the RSPCA’s charitable conditions. It would be helpful if the Opposition would join us in that view. I cannot believe that many Freedom farmers do not at some stage control rats, mice, rabbits, deer, or some other farm pest, and they should not be blackmailed by a charity in this regard.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): May I sound a note of caution? While my hon. Friend may have a difference with the RSPCA, it is the leading animal welfare charity in this nation, established by a former colleague in this House—William Wilberforce. What we can agree on, I hope, is that we all want to see healthy cattle and healthy badgers. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government need to do more—far more than the previous Government, I hasten to add—on getting a vaccine as soon as possible? That would satisfy everybody—farmers and those who care for animal welfare.
Simon Hart: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I concur with what he says about the RSPCA, which is why I am so annoyed and disgusted by its behaviour in this particular context. I will turn later to his comments about the need for a vaccine.
What we are trying to do is discover the truth, and it is frustrating that others are always trying to avoid the truth. Of course we want to discover what improved cattle movements will do for the control of this disease, of course we want to clamp down on biosecurity and see what impact that has, of course we want to investigate the legal, effective and affordable vaccines that might be out there imminently or some way down the line, and of course—this is completely consistent—we want to ascertain once and for all whether a cull can play an important part in this. I stress what my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) said: this not a definitive policy but a pilot to ascertain once and for all whether this particular part of the mix is effective or otherwise.
I am frustrated, as I think are fellow Members, that while we are attempting to examine the benefits or otherwise of a pilot cull that might cull 4,000 badgers—slightly fewer than 1% of the UK total—thousands of farm animals, many of which will be healthy, are dying needlessly. Millions of pounds will be lost, more businesses will be damaged, and more families will be upset. The frustration lies in the fact that opponents cannot get over the hump of believing that if something involves the death of a single animal in any circumstances they will construct an argument around it that will prevent it from happening. We have to be more open-minded.
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Culling might have a positive effect. We cannot make progress until we accept that there is a case for at least exploring what the implications may be.
As we heard from the hon. Member for Newport West, we in this House can get in a terrible muddle about the difference between cruelty and suffering. It seems that most people look at cruelty as an attribute of human activity, whereas we should be looking at suffering, which is, to some extent, a more measurable scientific judgment. We constantly confuse the two. I ask opponents of the cull this simple question: why is it apparently perfectly satisfactory to continue killing many thousands of farm animals needlessly—one every 15 minutes—whereas culling a relatively small number of wild animals as part of an important experiment is somehow completely unacceptable? We have not got anywhere near to that answer.
Let me finish with a tribute to the British Veterinary Association, with reference to a comment by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—she is not in her place now, but I hope she might read this. In her speech in our debate on circus animals she described the BVA as one of the most respected scientific organisations for animal welfare in this country. I agree. The BVA has assessed the evidence just as we have. It has looked at all the pros and cons and concluded that the proposals before the House are important and should be pursued. I might not be a scientist or understand the science, but I do trust the vets. There is an old saying: “You never trust something which has been doctored, but you can always trust something which has been vetted.” I agree with that. The BVA is a shining example of an organisation that has taken a measured view.
The Secretary of State has taken a brave decision. Let us not think for one minute that he would not have gone down the vaccination route if he could have possibly managed to do so. We owe it to our farmers, our cattle and our badgers to give him the support that he deserves.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I want to take the opportunity to remind the House and the hon. Gentleman that it is not in order to refer either to a person or to the Public Gallery. That is quite clear in “Erskine May”. I did not want to interrupt his flow, given the time limits, and I will be loth to interrupt any other Member, unless, after my having reminded them not to refer to the Public Gallery, they proceed to do so.
Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): In following the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart), let me say that I was disappointed at an attempted politicisation of this debate, which has so far been incredibly cross-Bench and non-partisan. What Members are doing today is putting the issue first. This is not about party politics; it is about animal welfare. More than anything else, it is about the future of farming in our country and the attempts that we need to make effectively to tackle bovine TB.
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and I, along with many others, want to see this madness stopped and will not rest until the Secretary of State sees sense and stops the cull permanently. That is what the motion is about.
Let me be clear: there is no doubt that bovine TB is a major problem. If there is one thing on which I agree with the Government it is that bovine TB presents a serious threat to both cattle and wildlife. Where we differ, however, is on the actions needed to tackle this awful disease. In order to answer that question, one has to ask why, after the successful reductions of the disease in the 1950s and ’60s, it has become more prevalent, particularly during and after the 1990s. I do not believe that the rise was due to an increase in the number of badgers, which is an equation often made by the myth makers.
What is clear is that changes to farming practices are not helping matters. The intensification of farming means that we have ever bigger herds, and all the evidence says that the bigger the herd, the faster the disease will spread within it once it takes root.
Husbandry is another issue that we cannot dismiss. Yesterday in the Lobby we had a visit from Steve Jones, who is a dairy farmer in the Forest of Dean. He described eloquently the often less than ideal conditions in which cows were—and still are in some instances—kept, along with the increasingly intensive regimes to which the animals are subjected. For example, water troughs are often said to rarely be cleaned out. Over time, they can become reservoirs of the disease as the stagnating water collects various bacteria, typically over the winter months. He also talked about the practice of some farmers—not all of them by any means—who, even now, collect the slurry deposited during the course of a farming day, spread it over the land and immediately let some of their cattle feed off those fields.
Neil Parish: I cannot believe that the hon. Lady believes that farmers who have had the disease and who have been testing their cattle every 60 days do not clean their water troughs. If she had suffered the same pain as a farmer, she would not make such a comment.
Angela Smith: I will not comment on particular instances of the husbandry practices of farmers and how they keep their herds. All I can say is that there is some evidence that water troughs, particularly those kept at ground level, can be a source of the disease and that some farmers do not keep them as clear as they ought to of disease.
It is also argued that cows infected are often not quarantined quickly enough and that animal stress levels caused by pain and suffering can reduce immunity and make cattle more susceptible to diseases such as bovine TB.
As the instances of bovine TB started to climb in the 1990s, the then Secretary of State, Jack Cunningham, asked Professor Krebs to report on the matter and then to conduct the randomised badger culling trials, which have been referred to so often today. The important point is that they still stand as the most extensive study ever completed into the relationship between bovine TB and badgers. A two-page paper produced two or three years later does not stand in the context of the extensive trials carried out as the legitimate view of the scientists.
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Although it is true that the independent science group concluded that in the cull areas the incidence of bovine TB fell by 23%, it also found that in neighbouring land outside the culled area the incidence of the disease rose by approximately 29%, thanks to perturbation, whereby surviving badgers move to new areas as a consequence of disturbance.
Overall, the study concluded that the benefits of culling were, at best, modest, with an average reduction of just 12% to 16% in the incidence of infection over a period of seven years. The ISG concluded that
“badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”
“there is still more TB around than there was at the beginning; it is just that there is 16% less than there would have been without a cull. The number is not the 30% that the NFU quoted; that is misleading—a dishonest filleting of the data.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 October 2012; Vol. 740, c. 148.]
Another problem is that the test used to check whether cattle are infected with bovine TB—the so called SICCT, or single intradermal comparative cervical tuberculin test—is not accurate. A recent scientific paper has suggested that as many as two in 10 infected cattle might be missed by the test. That is a staggering 20%, meaning that a significant proportion of cattle-to-cattle transmission of bovine TB may be going undetected and that the role of badgers in the spread of bovine TB to cattle may be overestimated.
Culling, therefore, is not the way forward. Its impact, the science tells us, would be marginal, and if we get it wrong, the results could be disastrous. It is demanded that 70% of badgers in the pilot culling areas must be culled; otherwise, the incidence of bovine TB could get worse—hence this week’s U-turn. Given the lack of credible assessment of the number of badgers in the pilot areas, it is difficult to get the 70% figure right. Equally, it is also difficult to avoid breaching the law by killing too many and taking the species to the brink of extinction in the specified areas.
When I started my contribution, I said that bovine TB is a major issue for farmers and I stand by that. I want the Government to take the opportunity over the next few months to work more intensively on developing the badger vaccination programme, which all experts believe is a better way forward in diminishing the instances of bovine TB in that species. We also have to do more to develop a vaccine for cattle, which is the long-term answer to this problem. I am told that there is now a suitable DIVA test to identify and separate cattle with bovine TB from those that have been vaccinated, and that it is in the process of being licensed.
Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con):
I rise to speak against the motion. It strikes me that many who have spoken in its favour have done so having assumed for themselves the mantle of majority support and that the country is behind them, but I can tell hon. Members that my constituents are not behind the motion. I can
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say that with some authority, because I surveyed some 30,000 households over the summer and one of the questions I asked was whether they were in favour of the Government’s approach to pilot culls to tackle bovine TB, and the results were that 59% were in favour of pilot culls, 27% were against and the others did not voice an opinion.
The reasons why a majority of almost 2:1 of my constituents are in favour of the Government’s courageous policy are simple and have been rehearsed many times during this debate: the huge loss of our cattle—some 26,000 last year; the huge expense to the taxpayer of almost £100 million last year and £1 billion over the next decade, if this is left unchecked; and a cost for every farm where there is an outbreak of £30,000, of which £10,000 is borne by the farmer. This is unsustainable; it cannot be allowed to continue.
As many hon. Members have said, there is a human cost to farmers, their families and the communities in which they live. That cannot be underestimated. One of my most special constituents is Mr Brian Warren, who runs a voluntary organisation called Farm Crisis Network, which provides pastoral support to farmers in distress. I invite any Opposition Member who supports the motion to come to Central Devon, sit down with Brian and listen to some of the stories about the misery that our farmers are going through as a consequence of this scourge. On most occasions, it is nothing short of harrowing.
I wish to deal with a couple of arguments that have been made by those on the other side of the debate. The first is that we somehow claim that our approach will be 100% successful. We do not. The culls will be pilots, from which we will learn. We accept that we will not eradicate bovine TB in the cull areas, but we have to accept that no other approach will lead to quick and certain 100% eradication either. We therefore have to use the proposed approach, along with increased biosecurity. The Government announced as recently as last week that biosecurity would be tightened up. We also have to look to the ongoing use of vaccination and the development of vaccines in future.
The second argument that has been deployed is that our approach will have no effect whatever on TB, or indeed will make it worse. Many Opposition Members have mentioned the independent scientific group and the Krebs trials as evidence, but time has moved on and so has the assessment of those trials. New analysis and new research has challenged some of their conclusions. I refer specifically to the report of one member of the ISG, Professor Donnelly. As recently as last September, she wrote:
“In the time period from one year after the last proactive cull”—
“to 28 August 2011, the incidence of confirmed breakdowns in the proactive culling trial areas was 28.0% lower…than in survey-only areas”—
“and on lands up to 2km outside proactive trial areas was 4.1% lower…than outside survey-only areas”.
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would have been the case had the cull not gone ahead. That reduction is at the nub of the justification of the Government’s policy, but it was not an absolute reduction.
Mel Stride: In the absence of any other factors, that is correct. However, the pilot culls that are now envisaged for next year will be held on a different basis. The area over which they will be held will be substantially larger than for the Krebs trials, which is an important factor. We have talked much about the effects of perturbation, which will be reduced by having hard boundaries such as coastlines, rivers and motorways.
I turn to the issue of vaccination. It is simply impractical, as things stand, to consider the vaccination of badgers as a sensible way forward. Until we achieve a reliable oral vaccine we simply do not have the resources to go out and trap badgers individually, on an annualised basis, and have trained, registered and licensed personnel to go out and inject them with vaccine. That is simply not going to happen. I laud the Government for spending a considerable sum—some £16 million a year recently—to help develop the vaccines that we need.
It must be reiterated that even if we vaccinate cattle, we still do not have a reliable, licensed and usable test to differentiate cattle that have been vaccinated from those that are carrying TB. The DIVA test is not yet licensed and usable.
I have one or two quick points to make to Ministers. First, one reason why the NFU decided to ask the Government to postpone the pilots was that there was a fairly significant under-estimate of the number of badgers in the pilot areas. I press the Government to ensure that the same mistake is not made next time around, and to ensure that the badger survey that is being conducted, which I believe will be concluded next year, is carried out with great rigour and examined extremely carefully. We need to know what the numbers are.
Secondly, I ask that the Government press hard to ensure that the DIVA test is made available, fully licensed and put in place, so that we can use it if we can move forward on the efficacy of vaccinations and our position with the EU.
Thirdly, I ask Ministers to consider the fact that we need the consent of landowners who own 70% of the land in the pilot areas. In fact, it is important that we achieve well in excess of that, because it is quite conceivable that landowners will be leant upon at various points during the pilot, and that some may drop out of the scheme. We need to get well above that threshold.
Finally, we need to press on. We should recognise the courage and decency of the current Secretary of State and the Ministers who came before him, including my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice). They have a done a sterling job of standing up for our farmers, their families, our communities and those who believe in the rural way of life.
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dreadful disease on cattle, badgers and our farming community, and about the economic cost to the Government and the taxpayer.
I welcome the Government’s decision not to go ahead with the pilot cull at this time. The pause is welcome and allows this time to be used not only for debate in the House but for a proper examination of how to make sensible progress on dealing with this terrible disease in future.
Bovine TB is a truly dreadful disease, endemic in cattle in the UK. As we know, there are hot spots in the south-west and the west midlands. About 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2011 as part of the control of the disease, costing the taxpayer about £87 million in compensation for farmers. It is a dreadful disease in every respect. As I have listened to the debate, I have heard huge consensus about that. The question is what to do about it. We all fully understand the frustration in communities where bovine TB is endemic, and the desire to do something. As several of my hon. Friends have pointed out, however, it is not right to do something that will be unhelpful and make matters worse.
Bovine TB has consistently been a problem for decades in some parts of the UK. When the disease was found in badgers, it was easy to jump to the conclusion that a solution had been found—kill the badgers, eradicate the disease. Simple. Unfortunately, it has not worked like that. Right from the beginning, there were problems with that theory. There were cases of cattle herds testing positive for TB while local badgers were disease-free, and other cases of cattle being free of TB when local badgers were carrying it. There were also cases in which both badgers and cattle were carrying it. Nobody disputes that badgers can carry the disease, but it is not fully understood whether they infect cattle and how the pathway of the disease’s spread works.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): Professor Donnelly has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride), and it is worth noting that she also observed that up to 50% of cases of TB in cattle could be attributed to infectious badgers.
Nic Dakin: As we have heard, the weight of scientific evidence goes in a certain direction, but some scientific voices fall outside that. The assumption about proximity and the fact that badger populations in some parts of the country are infected, is based on the balance of fact, rather than on scientific evidence. The history of badger culling to control TB in the UK has, in reality, been one of abject failure. Culling has gone on since 1971 although gassing was abandoned in 1980 as it was considered inhumane. The culling policy was not considered effective and was replaced by the so-called interim strategy in 1986. That followed the Zuckerman and Dunnet reviews which, while supporting badger culling at the time, acknowledged that there were insufficient data on the whole approach to badgers.
The interim strategy, which was based on identifying diseased badgers where there had been a cattle outbreak and then killing the whole sett, was seen largely as a placebo for farmers, rather than to tackle the real issue. It was a complete failure and disease outbreaks continued to rise and spread to other areas of the country throughout the period. I fear that the current Government strategy appears to be repeating that error, albeit confined to smaller areas.
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As we have heard, in 1997 the incoming Labour Government stopped randomised culling and oversaw the establishment of a detailed scientific trial introduced by Professor John Krebs and overseen by the independent scientific group, chaired by Professor John Bourne. The trial demonstrated the complexities of the link between badgers and disease in cattle, and, importantly, showed that culling could actually make the disease worse by increasing spread and incidence of TB on the perimeter of trial areas. We have heard from hon. Members on both sides of the debate a recognition that those scientific facts are true.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) spelled out clearly that the Labour Government would have gone ahead with culls had the scientific evidence supported it. Since it did not, however, the process did not go ahead. These matters involve closely balanced determinations.
“although badgers contribute significantly to the cattle disease in some parts of the country, no practicable method of badger culling can reduce the incidence of cattle TB to any meaningful extent, and several culling approaches may make matters worse… rigidly applied control measures targeted at cattle can reverse the rising incidence of disease, and halt its geographical spread.”
“As scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, we believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it.”
“We are concerned that badger culling risks becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control.”
Sir James Paice: Is this not the crucial point? Yes, those scientists have quoted their expertise, but the fact is that nobody actually knows. There is no science to demonstrate whether controlled shooting will effectively reduce the population by 70%, or whether it is humane. There are differing views, but there is no science because—I readily grant this—it has never been done. I believe, however, that it is right to carry out a pilot test to find out whether it will work. Is that not a sensible way forward? Those scientists, however esteemed they are, know no more than the hon. Gentleman or I about whether the cull will actually work. Why can we not find out? It might work.
Nic Dakin: The right hon. Gentleman did some good work as Minister of State, and I welcomed his contribution when he drew attention to measures that will be introduced in January on husbandry and biodiversity. Those measures were driven forward under his watch, which must be applauded.
The right hon. Gentleman puts his finger on the nub of the matter, but there is a danger that these trials will create more TB in those areas, which is what evidence from previous trials appears to suggest. There is therefore a risk in proceeding with them, as well as in not doing so. The opportunity created by this pause allows a vigorous examination of those risks, so that we can
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come to the appropriate answer. I think both the right hon. Gentleman and I would agree that that is the right way to proceed.
We have heard about the things to which the Government should be applying their effort and mind. I have mentioned the biodiversity and husbandry measures that have been introduced, and we should apply further pressure in those areas, working with the farming community and others. We must try to proceed with the DIVA test, and ensure that work on a cattle vaccination, as well as a badger vaccination, progresses as fast as possible. DEFRA should be working urgently with the European Union to permit commercial use of the vaccine. We need the Government to apply their energy. The pause provides them with the opportunity to put their shoulder to the wheel and work harder in that direction, and therefore get an outcome that does not risk further increases in TB but tackles the problem in a way that everybody can support. Not only is the science against going ahead with the cull; public opinion is also against it. We need to ensure that we take this opportunity to drive things forward in the best possible way.
Mr Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): Devon is the county worst affected by bovine TB in the entire country. Six thousand cattle were slaughtered in 2010, and there were 800 herd breakdowns. My constituency is arguably the most densely infected. The toll is taken not only on thousands of animals representing generations of toil and long family traditions of rearing and breeding, which are destroyed by the fatal hand and the stroke of the pen of the inspector who finds a reactor in the herd. There is also the human toll on the families, which has been well described and I will not dwell on it.
I sat on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the last Parliament and participated in the production of its report. It was authored not only by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, some of whom are in the Chamber, but by some very distinguished Labour Members, for whom I came to have considerable respect for the neutral, impartial and thoroughly disinterested way in which they grappled with the problem. It was not necessarily in their interests to subscribe to the political solution that we subsequently recommended, but the report was clear in its recommendation that culling needed to play a role in a package of measures, no one of which would be successful in either dramatically reducing or eliminating the disease.
We had to grapple with the science in making our recommendations. The summary of the report draws attention to the problem that we found as we interviewed the various witnesses who appeared before us. It was apparent that the independent scientific group, which had overseen the random trials, concluded that, in principle
“modest reductions in the overall incidence of cattle TB would result from simultaneous, coordinated and repeated culls of badgers over extremely large areas of the countryside”,
“using skilled staff and ideally within geographical barriers to badger movement”.
“trying and failing to achieve this”
“make matters worse”.
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Thus, it was not practically or economically feasible to carry out culling on that scale. It was for that reason, and not for any principled reason that culling might not have a reductive effect, that the ISG rejected culling as contributing meaningfully to the elimination or reduction of the disease.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice), in his tenure as Minister of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, have looked at the conclusions of the Krebs trials and the ISG and drawn the inevitable logical inferences. Professor Bourne, Professor Krebs and the ISG concluded that modest reductions were possible provided the culling was carried out in a sustained way, efficiently and over a significant terrain.
All that those who currently have stewardship of policy are doing is taking that in-principle conclusion, which nobody can doubt is contained in the ISG’s report, and applying it and saying, “Let us try. Let us have this controlled experiment in these two areas.” They are adding one more dimension that was not included in the Krebs trials, and that is hard boundaries. The sea, large rivers and motorways all have an inhibiting effect on the movement of badgers, and if we place that dimension into the mix, we can help to reduce the effects of perturbation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire said, it was not that there was no reduction inside the core area. There was in fact a 23% reduction. That figure, however, was obtained by counting done in the first 12 months, but many scientists believe that the first 12 months of the Krebs trials should be disregarded because of the time lag before the measures took effect. Many scientists believe that the correct figure is 27%.
The problem was not that the trials did not have a dramatic reductive effect within the culling area but that it spread disease on the outer boundaries. As my hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) said, two things have happened. First, continuing analysis has demonstrated that those perturbation effects diminish with time, and, secondly, we are able to put in place hard boundaries that should reduce that effect. I contend, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is drawing the logical inference and conclusion from the scientific evidence. That is why he said that he was applying the science and that that was a common-sense and logical thing to do, and it is why his decision deserves the support of every Member and why it commanded the support of the Labour-dominated Select Committee in 2008, when precisely that recommendation and prescription was suggested.
I urge the House to understand that we do this not out of some bloodthirsty desire to kill, as was shamefully and disgracefully suggested by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), but because it is a serious reaction to a pressing problem. It is sincerely intended to tackle a disease that badly needs tackling for the sake of the country.
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year after year by having to destroy herds that they have nurtured for years and sometimes generations. I do not wish to engage in an either/or dispute, but to speak about what can be done between now, when the cull has been stopped, and next year, when, if the Secretary of State is correct, a cull will go ahead.
Before that, I want to respond to the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), who said that the Labour party was close to a cull but chickened out. That was not a fair remark. I was a Minister when the ISG report came in, and I remember the hours and weeks of deliberation on it. We never saw this as a virility test, and it should not be seen as such by any Government. It is a tremendously serious issue. It was the Labour Government who authorised the trials in the first place. We did so because we wanted to see if they would work, and the decision that was ultimately taken was an honest one based on what we understood of the science of the trials.
The ISG report concluded that substantial reductions in cattle TB could be achieved by improving cattle-based controls, and I welcome the measures that the Government will be putting in place from next January to increase those controls. I simply ask that the Secretary of State provides financial support to farmers carrying out their duty to put in place those increased controls, including on cattle movement through zoning and herd attestation, the pre-movement testing of herds before new cattle are allowed to join them, the quarantining of purchased cattle and the shorter testing intervals. All those things were set out in the ISG report as ways to improve the situation—not as solutions, but as improvements. I am glad that the Government are taking renewed efforts to put them in place, but I hope that when the Secretary of State winds up the debate he will recognise that they will be burdensome and costly for farmers, who should therefore be recompensed and incentivised appropriately to ensure the success of those measures. Those controls should be supported by measures to improve biosecurity on farms, particularly around feeding and water troughs, which hon. Members from both sides of the House have mentioned.
Let me be clear: I will vote against a cull, but I recognise that the Government may get their way. Therefore, when and if the Government go ahead with the cull next year—and in the following three years, because it will take place over a four-year period up to 2016—I would ask the Secretary of State to do one further thing in the next nine months: change the licence condition to allow only cage trapping and shooting, rather than what is referred to as the “controlled shooting” of badgers. He has said that he wants to proceed only on the basis of sound science. I welcome that commitment, and I trust that he will therefore recall that the independent scientific group pointed out that culling required “co-ordinated and sustained effort” and that what it called the “modest overall benefits” came only from a clinically executed trap-and-shoot exercise. Free shooting of badgers was no part of the scientific trials that form the only basis for a sound policy. Indeed, the Game Conservancy Trust stated:
“A…problem with shooting at or near the sett”—
“is that a wounded badger will almost certainly attempt to bolt underground, preventing a second shot (and preventing safe disposal of the carcass).”
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I desperately want to see a solution to the scourge of bovine TB. Sometimes we find it difficult to accept that we do not have a solution to a problem. Ultimately, I believe that oral vaccination of both cattle and badgers will bring us that solution, but any frustration at the lack of a current solution should not lead us to adopt a false solution. The proposed cull is a false solution, and I shall vote against it.
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD): The debate has unfortunately become perhaps a little polarised, but we have had a determination to focus on the science. The interesting thing is that the same scientists are being used—if I might use that expression—by both sides.
The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox), my near neighbour, has highlighted the issue as it was set out to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. I am still a member of the Select Committee, and I have served on it since 2005. As the Chair of the Committee, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh), said earlier, we hope to look again at some of the vaccination issues in the near future. However, the main piece of work that the Select Committee carried out during that period was the one to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred.
I will come back to the science, but I want briefly to re-emphasise something that many hon. Members on both sides of the debate have pointed out. This is a very pressing issue in terms of cost to the rural economy and to the Treasury—indeed, to all of us as taxpayers—because of the amount of money having to be spent dealing with the effects of the problem, even if we are not dealing with the causes. Those costs will continue to rise, as has been freely admitted on both sides.
There is a human effect, too. We have heard about the disease’s effect on farmers—not just the distress caused, but the fact that ultimately it will push some people out of farming. I wrote to a court where a company was trying to repossess a farmer’s property, on the basis partly of the farm being under TB restrictions and therefore not being able to trade efficiently. The farmer and his family and others employed by the business constantly live with that worry.
Roger Williams: Some people who keep cattle are saying, “I can’t put up with this any more,” so they sell their cows and buy a plough, with the result that more wheat is being grown, which is not what we want for the landscape.
Dan Rogerson: That is absolutely true, although in parts of my hon. Friend’s constituency and of mine that choice is not available, so land will go out of production, with the loss of all the environmental “goods” such as stewardship and protection of the landscape.
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ISG submitted to the Government based on the randomised culling trials. The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon was right that its conclusions are crucial to the debate, but the question is whether one stops just before the end of the report, where the group said that culling has an effect and can help, or goes on to the coda, where it outlines its ultimate position and states that it does not think culling is practical. I argue that that is for the Government, politicians and those who will implement the policy on the ground to resolve. That I why the Select Committee felt that we needed to give the Government a chance to respond.
The hon. and learned Member spoke of the Select Committee’s membership in the previous Parliament: the late David Taylor, an active Member on many issues and on culling; the former Member for Stroud, David Drew; and Dr Lynne Jones. They were of such independent minds that it was a great comfort to Lord McAvoy when the Committee visited rural North Yorkshire or the south-west to look into the issue, because if instead they had been here, they might have been a little more challenging of the then Government’s position on whatever matter was being debated. They freely admitted that they were not convinced that culling was the answer to the problem, whereas others wanted to give those in the farming community the opportunity to show that it could work. The collective view that we reached appears in black and white.
The scientists—Professor John Bourne, Christl Donnelly, Rosie Woodroffe and Sir David King—gave evidence before us. The atmosphere between them was interesting; it was probably more of an atmosphere than we sometimes have in here for Prime Minister’s Question Time, such was their commitment to the work they had done. None the less, the Select Committee reached the view that it did.
I should like to look at the alternatives to the culling trials. I emphasise that we are discussing pilots, not country-wide implementation overnight, and moving forward carefully, sensitively and in line with the science in two areas to demonstrate that culling is effective.
Andrew George: Of course, after these two pilots merely assess the effectiveness and humaneness of the culling method, the intention is then to roll it out throughout the country at a very much accelerated pace.
Dan Rogerson: We will see what happens during the pilots. Looking at the methodology is one of the key issues, as my hon. Friend rightly points out. It might be that other problems are pointed out, which would make it impossible to continue, but we have to give the people involved the chance to carry out and test what happens. As Opposition Members have said, we will not have the data that we need to move on unless we try to do what the ISG findings point towards: using the hard boundaries, using the wider area and getting on and doing it.
I have heard some hon. Members say that the coalition Government have cut spending on vaccination. Actually, since 1994, just over £40 million has been invested; over the next four years, the Government are planning to invest over £15 million. That means an acceleration of the effort towards vaccination. We still have problems with the tests. It is possible that the DIVA test will get us where we want to be, but we are still not there yet. The
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practicality of vaccination is another issue. We have talked about the practicality of a cull, but there are huge problems around vaccination.
We would all like to get to a state where it is not necessary to carry out intervention of this sort in wildlife. We would all like farmers and others concerned about animal welfare issues to unite around something—but we are not yet there. Effectively, we are saying, “Let’s do nothing.”
On biosecurity measures, the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who, as she said, has looked a great deal at food policy, painted a bit of a picture of farmers who were completely lackadaisical and not at all interested in biosecurity. It is in their interests to be interested in biosecurity, as they are the ones who suffer in their businesses from restrictions and all the other problems that we have now. Of course they are taking the issue seriously. The one or two of them who are not will be rejected by the rest of the industry, which is absolutely committed to delivering on the further restrictions that the Government are introducing.
To say that the cull is an easy option and that farmers are going to hang up on biosecurity, forget all about it and just get on with killing badgers is absolute nonsense. I do not want to over-characterise what the hon. Lady said, but the gist was that farmers do not care. Of course, the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) was quite scathing in what he had to say.
I am running out of time. To Members who think that those of us with rural constituencies are doing this because we are after votes, I should like to say that we are not. Huge numbers of people even in my own constituency where bovine TB is a problem have told me that they are worried about a cull of badgers. We are doing this and supporting it because it is the only game in town at the moment—it is the only thing that we can possibly do to bear down on this problem. If we fail, we will deserve to be roundly criticised.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on the generous way in which she introduced this debate. It is a difficult debate, but the hon. Lady should be recognised for allowing people to intervene and ensuring that a proper debate took place. She knows that I come from a different perspective, but I congratulate her again on introducing the debate so well.
Bovine TB is a complex, infectious, zoonotic disease in animals and in man. It is caused by a bacterium that presents itself as a serious and significant risk to animal health, and it is especially prevalent among the UK cattle herd and among wildlife—mainly badgers. It is one of the UK’s most significant animal health issues. We discussed earlier in the week the significant cost posed by this disease to the economy—effectively 100 million smackaroos a year. We are talking about 100 million quid every year; that is what this disease costs, and we need to accept that it is a major problem or a crisis.
Frankly, some of the debate has been tainted by misinformation and by some emotion—emotion that is misplaced in this argument, because this nation deserves the House debating this matter properly and with some
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authority. No one takes the decision to cull wildlife or to cull our national milk herd lightly. For people to suggest otherwise is criminal, and we should recognise that and state it clearly.
We should also recognise some of the myths that have been put about. It is said that this is about town versus country, which is utter piffle. This is about animal health; it is about animal welfare and good animal husbandry; it is about our milking herd and our cattle; and—most importantly—it is about the food that we eat and are prepared to tell our consumers to eat. We should not lose sight of that.
People say that this cull is a shot in the dark, which will lead to the indiscriminate killing of wildlife. That is misinformation, which has the potential to “felon set” those who are asked to carry out the cull. We should consider the consequences of careless talk about indiscriminate shooting. There is also the nonsense about a readily available vaccine that will solve the problem. There is no vaccine that will have an impact on wild badgers that are already infected. The reservoir of badgers that carry the disease cannot be controlled by a vaccine.
“All badgers will die” is another piece of misinformation. It is said that this is about the mass slaughter of animals. As many Members have pointed out—as, indeed, the Government have pointed out—it is not about mass slaughter, but about a targeted pilot in a limited area of the United Kingdom that will be cordoned off. That cordon sanitaire will allow target shooting.
Caroline Lucas: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his gracious remarks. However, in condemning misinformation, he is also spreading it. He says that vaccination has no effect on infected badgers, but in fact it slows the progress and the severity of the disease. It reduces the risk that the animal will become infectious, and therefore reduces the chance that one badger will pass it to another or, indeed, to cattle.
“Whilst the slaughter of cattle found to be infected with TB…has been an essential part of the strategy to control the disease in cattle for many years, the BVA believes that targeted, managed and humane badger culling is also necessary in carefully selected areas where badgers are regarded as a significant contributor to the persistent presence of bTB. In addition, the BVA believes that risk-based biosecurity, surveillance and Farm Health Planning at a national, regional and farm level is essential for the control”
“We do not know how successful the proposed methods will be.”
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I commend the Republic of Ireland—shock, horror, stop the presses: Paisley commends Republic of Ireland!—which has already carried out a cull. I should make it clear that this has nothing to do with jealousy on the part of those of us north of the border who do not get to shoot. The cull in the south of Ireland has led to a significant reduction in confirmed new infection rates among cattle herds. I believe that if this scheme is tried and proved to be effective, especially in countries where a land border is shared with another nation, we should adopt it. I believe that we should be learning—yes indeed, learning—from the Irish Republic on this important matter. I am happy to concede that point.
The BVA made a strong and significant point about vaccination. Although the badger BCG vaccine is currently available and undoubtedly plays a role in managing the disease, it is not proven to protect fully against infection. It merely reduces the progression and severity of the disease in animals that become infected later, and it has no impact on those infected prior to vaccination. We in Northern Ireland are currently carrying out a trapping test; we are trying to get animals trapped. As has been suggested, perhaps we should only use trapping to cull badgers.
Andrew George: The hon. Gentleman must accept that as badgers die at a very rapid rate—25% attrition each year—vaccination would result in a significant decrease of infection in badgers, whereas culling increases the preponderance of infection in badgers.
Ian Paisley: We have to accept that culling is not a silver bullet—it is not the magic answer—but vaccination is not the magic answer either. We have to try to tackle this problem, however. We have to continue searching for a vaccine that will work and will not destroy our herds and prevent us from selling our product.
We have to try this cull to see whether it can succeed. The costs are £100 million a year. We have to do something. This is robbing money from our hospitals, schools and roads. We are wasting taxpayers’ money; we are pouring it down the drain. We have got to address this problem.
The BVA has made it clear that there is no existing data to prove that badger vaccination has an impact on the incidence of BTB in cattle. Even if it does, it will have a much slower impact than the removal of badgers by culling.
I want to say a few words on the impact of TB in Northern Ireland. We have spent £200 million in the last six years trying to eradicate the disease, but we have failed. We want to spend £20 million this year trying to do it, and we are going to fail—and we are going to wipe out a number of our best milking herds. We also have criminals in Northern Ireland who deliberately try to infect herds so that they can get compensation. This problem has got to be addressed now. I hope the Government have got the guts to get on and do it. It will not be nice—it is not going to be pleasant—but we have to solve this problem.
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Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): It is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak in this important debate, and to follow the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), whom I admire immensely, but disagree with entirely on this issue.
It is an incredibly emotive issue, and one that has caused me to rethink my position. I had originally been in favour of the cull. I had—and still have—enormous sympathy for the farmers who are affected by bovine TB. There is not just the monetary cost to the farm, but the immense strain on farmers. That should not be underestimated. So when the culling of badgers was announced as a means of eradicating bovine TB, it seemed to be a sensible solution. However, it became clear that the science did not stack up. As someone who is rather proud of their track record on animal welfare issues, I began to feel uncomfortable with my original position. Having looked into the issue in more detail—which I am glad I did—I am convinced that the badger cull is absolutely the wrong way to tackle bovine TB.
The issue is very sensitive. It affects farmers’ lives and livelihoods, and often their mental health, but it is an issue that has been tainted by misinformation. For example, it is often stated that the eradication of TB in badgers would lead to the eradication of the disease in cattle, but that is simply not the case. Cattle-to-cattle transmission would continue, as demonstrated in low incidence areas such as Kent, where there is evidence that cattle-to-cattle transmission accounts for 80% or more of cases.
While there is an indisputable link between badgers and bovine TB, many other animals also carry TB: deer, wild boar, foxes, alpacas and even cats and dogs. We need to be clear, therefore: instead of saying “No other country in the world has eradicated TB in cattle without tackling it in wildlife”, the Government should state, “No other country in the world has eradicated TB in cattle.” Therefore, we need to be realistic about what precisely a badger cull would achieve.
Other cattle-farming countries have learned lessons from attempted culls. In Australia, Asian buffalo—an introduced alien species thought to be spreading TB—were culled by shooting from helicopters. However, TB in cattle was reduced only by draconian testing and the culling of cattle, with whole herds slaughtered—that effectively kept TB under control for many decades. In New Zealand, brush-tailed possums, another introduced species, were poisoned for decades—that went alongside draconian cattle-testing regimes. However, it has since been realised that poisoning is unsustainable, and scientists have recommended the vaccination of possums instead. In the USA, white-tailed deer in Michigan were found to be sharing feeding stations with cattle, thus allowing TB transmission. The simple solution was to separate the deer from the feeding stations.
The proposed badger cull will not eradicate bovine TB from our cattle. Our leading scientists note that it will reduce the incidence by, at best, 16%, so a long-term, large-scale cull of badgers would leave 84% of the problem remaining. I heard what my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) said about that figure being 16% net, with a more likely figure of 30%, but that still means that 70% of the problem remains. In addition, the Government are not
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proposing a long-term, large-scale cull; they are proposing two pilots in areas where they do not know how many badgers there are. The original estimates were that it would be necessary to cull only between 500 and 800 badgers in each of the two areas, thus achieving the 70% culling target. However, in the space of a weekend that number was increased to more than 5,000 in the two areas—that represents a massive increase in the badger population in just a few days, and if badgers are breeding like rabbits, we are facing an entirely different problem.
“What this underlines is that if the policy is to cull at least 70% of the badgers, we have to know what the starting number is. This variation from just over 1,000 to more than 5,000 in the space of a few days underlines how difficult it is for us to have confidence that the Government will be able to instruct the farmers to cull 70% if they do not know the starting numbers.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 October 2012; Vol. 740, c. 148.]
That is why our scientists and animal welfare activists, and many, many of my constituents, believe the proposals to cull badgers when an accurate figure cannot be circulated—leaving aside the welfare issue of indiscriminately shooting badgers, 75% of which will be TB-free—are simply mindless.
Other nations have not simply resorted to culling, but have looked at alternative options. Wales, where most of the UK incidences occur, has decided to vaccinate, not cull. The Minister will have heard, and will continue to hear, calls for a stronger focus on vaccination, and he needs to go back to the Department and reinstate the five—out of six—vaccination trials cancelled when we took office.
Sir James Paice: As it was me who cancelled those “trials”, I feel that I need to respond. May I make it absolutely clear to my hon. Friend and to the House that they were not “trials”, as she has just described them, but vaccine deployment projects? They were nothing to do with testing vaccines; they simply sought to work out how to trap, inject and so on. They were about the mechanics. I decided, rightly or wrongly, that we did not need six of these things, costing £7 million or £8 million, and that everything could be learned from one. That is why we did what we did.
Reactive culling does not work. It will spread the disease—evidence suggests that it may even increase the incidence of the disease. So it is clear that the Government need to listen to the scientists and rethink their strategy.
Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con):
There are three principal reasons I support today’s motion. First, I believe that a badger cull would be damaging to wildlife. Secondly, the science suggests that a cull is unnecessary and that there are more effective solutions. Thirdly, and most importantly, evidence suggests that a cull would not significantly reduce the incidence of bovine TB and would therefore not benefit cattle herds and the agricultural
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industry across the country. As we have heard this afternoon, bovine TB is a real and devastating issue for many farmers. I think we all agree that it is vital that we find an effective long-term measure to eradicate the disease.
I welcome the Government’s announcements on improving cattle testing, movement controls and biosecurity. However, the most reliable scientific evidence suggests that badger culling is a short-term, unsustainable and ultimately ineffective approach. Allowing the shooting of free-ranging badgers in TB-affected areas is an untested and dangerous move that has no place in a science-led policy. Indeed, rather than solving the problem, it risks making matters worse by disrupting the social structures and allowing the spread of badgers to new areas.
Licensing the shooting of one of our best loved native species has also, unsurprisingly, generated considerable public opposition. A more sustainable approach to the problem should involve pushing forward with the injectable vaccination of badgers in areas in the south-west and other parts of England along with increasing efforts to develop a vaccine for cattle. The vaccination of both badgers and cattle, together with enhanced cattle testing and improved biosecurity measures, is the publicly acceptable and ultimately effective long-term solution.
If badgers are to be trapped before being shot, as DEFRA suggests, why not simply vaccinate rather than kill the badger while it is caged? The DEFRA announcement comes despite scientific studies that have shown that culling would be of little help in reducing bovine TB and could actually make matters worse in many areas. Indeed, the cull could see badger populations decline by more than 70% and in some areas none might survive.
“badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”
Subsequent monitoring of cull areas showed a very modest drop in cattle TB levels, averaging just 16% after nine and half years. Indeed, DEFRA’s wildlife advisory body, Natural England, which will have to implement the Government’s proposals, has said that it has little confidence that such an approach can deliver the predicted benefits.
At least a fifth of cattle herds, and possibly up to half of them, might be harbouring bovine TB even after they are thought clear of infection according to a recent Cambridge university research article. Worse still, there is greater potential for TB to spread within the larger herds that are now becoming more prevalent. Those conclusions further justify an urgent introduction of both cattle and badger vaccination. Those conclusions emphasise that the effect of cattle-to-cattle contact is even greater than previously thought and so wildlife culling is even less significant.
A second problem has been the massive increase in liver fluke, which affects the accuracy of the standard test for bovine TB. This parasite is carried by snails and both thrive in warm, wet summers. Up to a third of cattle with bovine TB could be missed by the standard
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test for the disease if they are also carrying the parasite, hampering the eradication programme according to research by Liverpool university. The research carried forward work published in May last year by the veterinary sciences division of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute of Northern Ireland.
The significant scientific doubt over the effectiveness of a badger cull and the strong evidence that it might make the incidence of bovine TB worse means that DEFRA must urgently reconsider the killing of badgers, if it wishes to proceed next summer, until the comparatively enormous reservoir of disease in herds is cleared. It should introduce compulsory annual testing of all cattle with the more sophisticated techniques that are now available.
The killing of a protected wildlife species such as the badger is even less relevant. The Cambridge research estimates that there is a high rate of reintroduction, particularly in high-incidence areas. The authors add that the high rate of external infection, both through cattle movements and environmental sources, must be addressed if recurrence is to be reduced. Its results are in line with the main conclusions of the £50 million randomised badger culling trial of 1998 to 2007, that while badgers are implicated in bovine TB, killing them will make no meaningful contribution to its control, and that weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of the disease in areas where bovine TB occurs. It added that in some parts of Great Britain, cattle are likely to remain the main source of infection, and called for the rigid application of cattle-based control measures.
Bovine tuberculosis is a serious problem for UK farmers, deserving the highest standard of evidence-based management. Increasingly, that is why many farmers are against the cull, including, I might add, my brother, who has been farming for over a quarter of a century. New figures issued by DEFRA show a marked drop in bovine TB levels, and that is mostly down to increased testing. There has been a notable decrease in the incidence rates over the past six months, mainly as a result of the increased number of tests on unrestricted herds compared with last year. The provisional June 2012 incidence rate is 4.2%, compared with 6% in June 2011.
By increasing biosecurity, which the British agricultural industry needs properly to address, we can reduce bovine TB. By increasing vaccination in badgers and cattle we can prevent the unnecessary killing of this much loved British species, and by increased testing we can ensure that our agricultural industry recovers from this most damaging disease.
Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): It is always a privilege to be called to speak in the Chamber, certainly in such an important debate, but let us be clear: the issues being debated today are not pleasant ones. The problems facing the farming industry, and by extension the Government, are neither easy nor straightforward. Likewise, it is important to state early on in my contribution that I am a keen supporter of animal welfare, and I take no pleasure whatsoever in advocating a pilot cull. However, as I shall set out, I believe, sadly, that we have no choice.
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Caroline Lucas: The myth that the disease is out of control needs to be nailed. Fewer cattle have been slaughtered because of BTB each year from 2008 to 2011. Those are the figures. It is not to underestimate how serious it is, but the idea that it is out of control is simply wrong.
Julian Sturdy: I do not agree. I talk to many farmers and when one looks across the country, and in certain key areas in the west, one can see that it is out of control and that it is causing huge impact on our farming community and the families, on which a number of hon. Members have already touched.
I appreciate that Members on both sides of the debate have already quoted a number of figures, but the striking one for me is that more than 30,000 cattle will be culled this year due to TB—one every 15 minutes. That is five times the number in 1998. Therefore, when we discuss animal welfare, we should consider the welfare of those affected cattle as well as the welfare of badgers.
First, I want to join a number of Members in clarifying a few key points about today’s high-profile debate. Increasingly, this choice is being presented as cull versus vaccination. Such an interpretation is deeply flawed. Yes, vaccination must be part of a wider TB crackdown, and Members will look at the Government’s policy and see why the badger vaccination is to play a vital role over the coming years, as will, and rightly so, stronger cattle control obligations. However, we must be honest about vaccinations. First, they will not cure infected badgers. Thus, those badgers that have already contracted TB will not be cured by any vaccination currently available. Yes, it might slow the disease, but ultimately they will not be cured. Secondly, the development of an oral vaccine, which ultimately is the only way we will vaccinate the badger population against this destructive disease, is sadly some way off.
Several Members touched on the problems with a cattle vaccine in the short term, no one more thoroughly than my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice). Sadly, the reality is that, alongside cattle control and future vaccinations, a pilot cull is essential in the short term. The Government’s wider long-term plans to control TB will prove successful only if they are supported by a pilot cull. Put simply, we must break the cycle of infection if we are serious about tackling TB.
The second point I wish to discuss is compensation for farmers who have to slaughter infected cattle. As Members might know, I was a farmer before entering Parliament in 2010, although not a livestock farmer—I have no personal interests in that regard. It is often argued that livestock farmers receive compensation for slaughtered animals, but it is not adequately explained that the compensation does not cover any consequential losses to the farmers. Losing cattle has huge knock-on effects for a herd because of the progeny it loses, with breeding lines that have been built up over many years being wiped out in an instant by the disease.
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and the strain put on their families, which several Members have touched on, can be enormous. The economic factors can have a direct impact on local communities and the rural economy. Of course, there is also an increasing cost to the general taxpayer, as has been mentioned. More than £500 million has already been spent on compensation for farmers, and the figure is estimated to rise to over £1 billion within the next decade unless we act decisively.
Finally, I come back to the idea of animal welfare, which is ultimately the key element of the debate. In a situation in which TB has become so terribly out of control, taking proper action to secure the future of both badgers and cattle is genuinely the responsible thing to do. By doing so, we will be safeguarding the welfare of badgers and cattle in the years ahead. The suggestion that farmers should simply keep their cattle locked up, hidden away from fresh pastures and natural conditions, completely flies in the face of animal welfare, yet some farmers are now doing just that because allowing their herds outside would be akin to a death sentence, given the prevalence of TB in certain areas.
In conclusion, if a practical and effective alternative existed, I would back it. Sadly, no such choice exists at the moment. Therefore, this debate should not be framed as one that is about either vaccination or culling. Rather, it should be a question of a rampant disease that causes widespread damage to our countryside, to sustainable farming and to long-term animal welfare. We must choose action, not inaction, to preserve sustainability and health in our countryside, for both the wildlife and the livestock industry.
Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): I ask colleagues to imagine a bowl of fresh green salad, but rather than sprinkling it with the salad dressing of their choice, I would like them to imagine sprinkling it with some diseased badger urine—urine from a badger that has lesions in its kidneys, which sadly is commonly the case. Before pasteurisation made milk absolutely safe to drink, countless thousands of people died from bovine TB, because the disease can be spread through ingestion. It is very important to understand that for several reasons, particularly those related to biosecurity.
I absolutely support the comments that have been made about the importance of biosecurity and preventing cattle-to-cattle spread. However, a farmer can take all the effort he or she wants to keep badgers out of cowsheds, but those cattle are still grazing on infected pastures and will still be at risk. We are talking about closed herds with no concerns about TB being imported from outside, which is an important route for transmission.
Reference has been made to super-dairies and huge herds of cows, thousands strong, being kept inside. We do not want that. We all saw last year’s campaign, “Cows need grass, not concrete”, and I absolutely support that. However, in parts of South Hams in my constituency, putting cattle out on to infected pastures is tantamount to a death sentence—a form of culinary Russian roulette. We have to take this very seriously.
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zoonosis that is spreading inexorably year on year; we can look at the geographical maps and see the edge spreading. As other Members have said, sporadic cases are arising elsewhere which are undoubtedly due to the movement of cattle, but the inexorable spread that we see on the charts is due, in part, to the reservoir in badgers. Let us imagine how a dangerous zoonosis like this might spread out to other mammals; we are seeing it increasingly in deer, alpacas and pigs, and now in domestic pets as well. This is a real threat, so why have we not got a grip of the situation?
I should like to say something quite uncomfortable—that we are seeing the rise of the celebrity mammal. Indeed, we have a celebrity mammal here with us today, and very welcome he is too. We are beginning to focus on a single species, and that is unhelpful. I would challenge anybody to come down to south Devon and lay their hand on the side of one of the beautiful south Devon cattle and tell me that that animal is less important than the badger. All these animals are important, but there is a balance to be struck. When I step outside my door of an evening in south Devon, I frequently see badgers; they are a wonderful sight. The last time I saw a hedgehog was over five years ago. That element of balance is sometimes missing from this debate.
The rise of the celebrity mammal has been a barrier to science. Those on both sides of the debate rightly quote scientists, who will disagree about the issue; that is what scientists do. We want a robust debate, and I welcome it. The problem is that there were some flaws in the randomised badger culling trial, particularly regarding the size of the triplets and the edge effect. In that circumstance, the right thing to do is to take matters further and consider pilots that explore the edge effect, but we are prevented from doing so because of the effect on politicians and the public of a focus on the needs of a specific animal, lovely as it may be. We need to tackle that issue head on.
Will the Minister say whether we are exploring the PCR—polymerase chain reaction—test further? We want to have a test of greater sensitivity and specificity that will allow us to test badger droppings, and then perhaps look to a further trial, even on whole-sett humane underground culling. There are also issues to do with perturbation, such as the effect of picking off one animal at a time. I suggest that we would be perturbed in an entirely different way if someone picked off members of our families one by one.
Let us see more focus on the science. Let us tackle this as a dangerous zoonosis. Let us also look at vaccination. The important point is that if any Member in this House developed any sort of TB, they would be looking at weeks and weeks of a complex antibiotic regime. Any doctor who treated them with vaccination would be struck off. It is not possible to cure an infected badger with a vaccination. Of course I want to see vaccination and prevention in disease-free animals. However, we should not pretend that we can extrapolate the results from an injectable vaccine, which may indeed show a slight reduction in the amount of TB excreted in urine by infected badgers, to oral vaccines. Oral vaccines and injectable vaccines are entirely different, and so we must be very careful.
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school because I think that people matter more. I was rewarded for that—I was never bitten by a patient in 24 years.
The point is, yes, let us see investment, but we want to see an oral bait vaccine. I want to leave a question in the air: is there something obscene about the amount of money we are going to spend on trapping and vaccinating every single wild badger in this country, year on year, when there are other things that that money could be spent on? I want to see an oral bait vaccine and an improved test, but we have to be honest and tackle a dangerous zoonosis. We have to be honest about the need for further scientific pilots and I am afraid that we have to do it now, because farmers in my constituency are suffering. These are the people who feed the nation—they put food on our plates and care for our countryside.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Unfortunately, I am going to have to introduce a five-minute limit to get everybody in. Everybody will get in if we can be disciplined and not take interventions. I call Glyn Davies.
Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): This is a complex and controversial issue, which is hugely important in my constituency of Montgomeryshire. I declare an interest in that I have been a livestock farmer all my life and have been very much involved in the impact that this disease has on the farming industry.
I want to begin by stating unambiguously that I am in favour of a targeted pilot cull of badgers and deeply disappointed that the proposed cull has been deferred until next summer. I start with that unequivocal statement because I hold other attitudes towards wildlife and farming that sometimes lead my friends to accuse me of inconsistency, although I disagree with them.
I have a great love of wildlife. Before entering this place, I was a trustee of the Montgomeryshire wildlife trust for three years—I still would be if I was not an MP—which does hugely valuable work. I have been involved in campaigns to promote the interests of the otter, the brown hare and red kites in particular where I live, and of red squirrels, whose protection, ironically, involves the cull of another much-loved mammal. There seems to be very little objection to that, but the issue is exactly the same.
I concede that, although I am very much in favour of a targeted pilot cull, I have never felt absolutely certain that it will have the effect that we want. Ironically, that uncertainty makes me even more sure that a cull is the right way to go. We have to identify ways in which we can deal with this terrible disease, which is having such a devastating effect on the countryside. We need to know whether a cull is the right thing to do. The cull in Ireland was general, as it is in other countries. We need a targeted pilot cull in an area to see how much difference
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it makes. If it makes a difference, it will become a general cull, but if it does not work, I would not be in favour of extending it.
Several references have been made to Wales. I was a Member of the National Assembly for Wales for eight years, and for five of those years I was Chairman of the Rural Affairs Committee and this issue was hugely important throughout that time. We spent three days in Ireland, looking at what they were doing there, and almost everything pointed to the need for a targeted pilot cull of badgers in Wales. In fact, three or four years ago the Welsh Government decided to hold a targeted cull and legislated for it under their then system of law-making powers under the Government of Wales Act 2006, but there was an error in the law and the measure fell—it could not happen. The new Labour Government have decided not to go down that road and to introduce instead a system of vaccinating badgers in south-east Wales, but most people I talk to think that it is a complete and total waste of money and that it will be hopelessly ineffective.
I do not have time to go into the scientific arguments for and against a vaccine, which has been discussed a lot. All I will say is that if this Chamber or I were to receive genuine advice saying that a vaccine would deliver the sort of control that we want, I would not be in favour of a cull. I have heard the arguments today, and also the rebuttals. It is highly technical stuff, but as several Members have said, the reality is that we do not have a viable, legal vaccine that the Government are in a position to use. It is only on that basis that we need a targeted pilot cull, and I desperately hope that there will be one.
Bovine TB is a devastating disease for cattle, for wildlife and for people. I would love to spend a lot more time talking about my experiences of foot and mouth disease. For 12 months people were telephoning me to talk about the impact on their families. Usually it was parents and grandparents saying that they had real concerns about their children’s mental health. Bovine TB is even worse, because it has lasted longer and spread out over a wider area. The impact is devastating, and we simply have to deal with it. To leave it not dealt with would be completely irresponsible.
Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I am delighted to be called to speak, but of course disappointed that we are under such time restriction. I suppose it is a symptom of how engaged Members are with the subject that they want to get on their feet and speak about it.
I draw Members’ attention to my declaration of interest. As a Nottinghamshire farmer I am very much interested in the subject, because we have a healthy badger population and I am keen to ensure that it stays that way. We have talked about how TB is spreading across the south-west, and it is now in Derbyshire and certainly spreading towards me, which makes me fearful.
As a farmer operating in that part of the east midlands, it is difficult not to take offence at some of the things that have been said today. It has been implied that farmers do not care about animals and do not have animal welfare at the top of their agenda. I put it to individuals who make those accusations that someone simply does not get out of bed at 5 am every day of the
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week, every week of the year to look after animals if they do not care passionately about their welfare. The implication that people want a cull for the sake of a cull causes great offence in some rural areas, and that needs to be addressed vigorously.
For me, this is not about badgers. It is about TB. It is ironic and pretty disappointing that TB is not mentioned at all in the motion. Members on the opposite side of the argument have attempted to skew it away from tuberculosis control and solely on to badgers. We all have the same aim, which is to prevent the culling of cattle and the spread of bovine TB, and we have to use the tools that are available to us. It would be wrong to rule out one of those tools at this early stage.
I do not want to cull a single badger or a single cow, but this disease is out of control. We are not controlling it. One Opposition Member actually said that we should do nothing, but that seems to me like the Tinker Bell approach of standing still, closing our eyes and hoping it gets better. That does not seem like the answer to me. We have to take action and do something to control the spread of the disease.
We all welcome the fact that a vaccine is coming very soon, but it has been coming very soon for the past 15 years. In fact, we heard earlier that it is months away. I am delighted if that is the case, because then the vaccine will be here by next summer. However, if we get to next summer and no oral vaccine for badgers is available, we will be in the same position as we are in today. We have to take action to prevent the disease from spreading.
We have heard Members say that we should vaccinate badgers, but the practicality of that seems to have escaped them. Individual badgers would have to be physically caught and tagged to ensure that we could identify which had been vaccinated and which had not, so that we did not waste our time revaccinating the same badgers. We would have to go through the whole process again every 12 months, which is simply impractical.
We must somehow break the cycle of infection from cow to badger, badger to cow, badger to badger and cow to cow. We are doing one part of that, and by taking out infected cattle we are breaking the spread of the disease between cows, but we are not tackling the infected badger population, and we must find a way to do that. A vaccine is not available, and unfortunately the only other tool is a cull. We must make use of all the tools available if we are to be effective.
We are short of time so, in conclusion, we must remember the impact that bovine TB is having on UK food prices and milk production. We all get out of bed in the morning and enjoy milk on our cornflakes, but if we do not tackle this issue, the supply of fresh milk from our dairy farmers will be under severe pressure—and I, for one, want my cornflakes in the morning.
Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I declare an interest as I am a cattle keeper; indeed, over the past five years I have had a herd that went down with TB. My comments will not be made on a personal or anecdotal basis, and certainly not on an emotional basis, but rather they shall be based on sound science.
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It is interesting to reflect a little on the history of this issue. Until 1950, bovine tuberculosis was endemic in British cattle herds. As a zoonotic disease that can be transmitted from animals to humans, that was obviously a danger, so the Government decided to eradicate it. They were spectacularly successful, and by about 1960 there were few instances of bovine TB in cattle herds. That situation was maintained for about 20 years, but in 1971 a dead badger was found to be infected with bovine tuberculosis on a farm where cattle had gone down with the disease, and from then on it became ever more apparent that badgers were involved in the spread of the disease.
“may also be caught through contamination of feeding and watering sites and from infected wildlife, including badgers”.
When that work was concluded, Sir David King, chief scientific adviser at the time, was asked to prepare a report. I do not have time to go through that report, but I recommend it to hon. Members. It is an extraordinarily balanced and insightful piece of work that needs looking at. Sir David King came to the conclusion that by building on trials by Lord Krebs, and by identifying their weaknesses, pilot schemes could be introduced that would lead to the minimisation of bovine TB in this country.
Sadly, in 2007 the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) rejected that report and we have had five wasted years. Although the Government introduced extra measures for farmers, nothing was done to address the wildlife reservoir, and five years on, we must deal with a much more difficult situation than in 2007. Sir David King’s report is a wonderful piece of work, and I commend it to Members.
Let me say a little about vaccination. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) said that the most appropriate vaccine to use at the moment is the BCG vaccine. That is true because it is the only vaccine. It was developed in about 1910, first used in 1921, and whenever and however it is tested, its effectiveness ranges from about 60% to 80%. In some circumstances, it is not effective at all, and it was withdrawn from human use in this country in 2005. We are told that a wonderful new vaccine is on the horizon—new technology—but no, we will still be using the vaccine that I was given 50 years ago, as, I am sure, were many other hon. Members.
“in January 2012 an application for marketing authorisation…was submitted to the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate…for assessment”
in relation to the BCG vaccine. It was submitted almost a year ago, and the website states that it will come to fruition in a year. The DIVA test is also ready to go. The idea that we are going back to 1910 is simply misleading.
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I am sticking my neck out a bit, but I cannot think of any farmers, and certainly not in my constituency, who, given the choice between culling badgers or having an effective programme based on vaccines for eliminating bovine TB in the cattle herd, would not choose the vaccination route. They would be very strange if they did not in those circumstances. Farmers regularly vaccinate their stock for various diseases, but only because those vaccines have proved to be efficient and effective.
We have reached the stage at which we cannot wait any longer for the promise of an effective vaccine. I support the Government in going ahead with their pilot trial culls of badgers, to take forward the work done by Lord Krebs and to tease out how we can better eliminate the disease in both badgers and cattle. That would benefit farmers throughout the country, and wildlife.
Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): I apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for not being present throughout the debate. I was chairing proceedings in Westminster Hall, and before then I was with you at the Westminster dog show. The House will wish to congratulate you on your rottweiler coming third; my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on owning the runner-up; and my two rescued pugs, Lily and Botox, on winning best pugs in the show. They were presented with a bottle of champagne by the worshipful mayor of Southend and are now both sloshed.
I hope that my record on animal welfare is well established—it is there in the green bound copies of Hansard. Indeed, the Protection against Cruel Tethering Act 1988 is in my name. In 1991, I spoke in the Third Reading debate on the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which was introduced by my noble Friend Lord Waldegrave. I thank Professor Brian May and Lorraine Platt from the Blue Badger campaign for all the advice and assistance that they have given to me and others.
I welcome the Government’s decision to delay the cull. Key alternatives, such as vaccinations and biosecurity, must be considered. They could be a viable alternative to the cull. I now represent an urban area, but I had 32 farms in my constituency when I was MP for Basildon, so I have some insight on the difficult situation that farmers face. However, I have a number of concerns about the cull and the number of badgers that might be injured.
Given that badgers are nocturnal creatures, how will the shooting be supervised at night? I am also concerned about the balancing act required for the cull to be effective. It has been reported that at least 70% of badgers need to be culled to reduce bovine TB effectively, but culling much more than 70% could entirely eradicate local badger populations. Balancing that is very important.
I have listened carefully to what hon. Members have said about vaccinations, but we should take the issue further. DEFRA has wisely invested in research into badger vaccination, which I support, and I welcome measures already taken on biosecurity.
When I spoke in the 1991 debate, I showed some naivety. I said then that I would be joining the badgers at the bottom of my garden in celebrating the passage of the Bill. Little did I think that, over 20 years later, the badgers must have got together and decided to try to
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tunnel under my own house. Whether this is a socialist conspiracy to collapse the house on top of me I do not know.
I represent an urban constituency. When my constituents get badgers in their back gardens, it is a nightmare. I do not know whether they have all got together in Southend West and said, “Right, the door’s open tonight. Let’s get into the back garden.” I have three cases in my constituency where it has taken two years to deal with Natural England, English Heritage and DEFRA to get the badgers moved. It is very difficult in urban constituencies to get badgers moved.
In conclusion, this has been an excellent debate, and I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee, of which I am a member, on selecting it. The Government have got a good deal right: they have a policy of action rather than inaction; they are investing £15.5 million over the next four years in the crucial oral vaccine; and biosecurity has been promoted and will continue to be promoted. I urge the House, though, to consider the way forward carefully and how effective the proposed cull would be. I strongly encourage vaccination, including the development of a better oral vaccination.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I have been a livestock farmer for two decades, so I am familiar with the difficulties that cattle farmers in particular face: the eradication of brucellosis, the threat of BSE, the arrival of foot and mouth and now, of course, TB. I am familiar with the challenges both financial and emotional.
The best farmers look after their livestock and have a healthy respect for wildlife. It is important that the House understands that point in this excellent debate. I represent a Gloucestershire constituency, so I know that farmers are suffering from the effects of TB and am fully aware of the devastation that it has caused to many businesses. It has been disastrous for many families. That is something that we have to bear in mind.
It is with huge reluctance that I support the pilot culling scheme. I emphasise that it is a pilot aimed at finding out whether the scheme works. It will be a properly controlled and managed scheme, as ironically the postponement largely demonstrates. The consideration behind the pilot scheme has been intense. I accept that information on the numbers of badgers has not always been completely accurate. It must be a properly managed scheme, however, and enable us to make judgments on the matter in the future.
It is important to emphasise the value of controlling movement and how animals are looked after. I welcome the fact that the Government have further strengthened movement controls. All farmers will welcome that step, because it is part of a package that must be introduced to deal with this threat. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) was right when she reminded us that there is little point vaccinating something that already has the disease. It just does not help. Instead, we must find a vaccination that works but that is used as part of the process to deal with the problem.
I have mentioned movement, which is one part, and I have mentioned vaccination, which is another. I salute the Government’s decision to increase expenditure on developing the vaccination. I hope that it yields results. However, we cannot simply wait and wait, so the two
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strands of the strategy to deal with TB must also include culling. Some 26,000 cattle have been culled this last year alone. That is a significant figure, and it represents the scale of the problem. It is reasonable for Members to recognise that that amounts to huge difficulties for farmers, as well as huge difficulties for the cows. We talk a lot about badgers, but let us give the cows a boost, because they are animals and deserve fair treatment, too. I love badgers, but I also love cows. That must be how we look at this issue.
There are three things to do: control movements, look at vaccination and run a pilot scheme for culling. That amounts to a reasonable way to proceed, and I certainly hope that people give the cull that opportunity. I have one last question, however. It would be quite interesting to analyse the movements of TB after the slaughtering during the foot and mouth crisis. If there is evidence that there was latent TB, we must explore that issue; it ought to be analysed and discussed. I conclude with this quotation by Professor David King:
“In our view a programme for the removal of badgers could make a significant contribution to the control of cattle TB in those areas of England where there is a high and persistent incidence of TB in cattle, provided removal takes places alongside an effective programme of cattle controls.”
It is very good news that we are having this debate on St Crispin’s day, because what we want from the Government is the sort of leadership that we had on St Crispin’s day 597 years ago. I see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State as Henry V in this particular act.
We have talked a great deal today about the science involved and the views that scientists take. I would like also to look at the extraordinary coincidence of the growth in the badger population and the re-emergence of TB among cattle. We heard an excellent speech from the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who showed the advantages of age and approaching the status of being an octogenarian. That is much to be admired, but one of the things he missed out in his speech was the fact that the fall in TB in cattle was coincident with a programme of exterminating badgers through gassing. Oddly enough, when that stopped in the 1980s, so the incidence of tuberculosis in cattle started to rise again. It is also worth noting that where there is the largest badger population, so there is the most bovine TB. Can it be purely coincidence that Scotland, which has a relatively low badger population, has very little bovine TB, but the west of England—including, of course, God’s own county Somerset—has a high incidence of bovine TB? As the badger population has increased—the figures drawn up in 1997 showed a 77% increase in the badger population—so that has coincided with an increase in bovine TB.
So yes, we have listened to all the science about what the effects of a cull may be, but we know what happened in Ireland. We heard from the hon. Member—my hon. Friend in many respects—for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) about what happened in southern Ireland and how that saw a 30% reduction. We have also seen what has happened from our own history, yet we are to put all
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that aside and just say, “Well, there may’ve been some problems with the last pilot.” That cannot be right, and the Government must be right to pursue the strategy that they are following.
We have also talked at great length about the vaccine and the benefit or otherwise of the vaccine in curing the problem. I am glad you are sitting down, Mr Deputy Speaker, because I am going to quote with approbation an official of the European Union, who yesterday said the following in response to articles in the newspapers:
“Vaccination of cattle against TB is forbidden under current EU rules—agreed by all Member States, including the UK.”
“This is because there is no effective test to tell the difference between vaccinated and infected animals making it possible to protect the food chain and identify which animals could be exported.”
That was the European Union saying yesterday that there is no satisfactory test. We have heard much talk that there might be tests and that at some future date there will be tests. We have now had years and years of inaction awaiting the tests, yet the livelihoods of farmers in my constituency are being ruined and their lives possibly being put at risk.
The lives of farmers in my constituency might be at risk. A constituent who lives near me keeps bulls. Bulls are not the softest and easiest of animals and they do not like being pricked in the neck on a regular basis before being moved to perform the duties that they carry out. When this is done to them they become uncomfortable and restless and place the health and safety of that farmer at risk.
Are we really saying that we shall continue to do nothing when we know what we ought to be doing, we know from experience that it has worked, we know that if we act we will have a viable dairy industry and make farmers’ lives better, and, perhaps most importantly, as Members have said, we will save more cattle, even if we kill a few badgers?
Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), but I would like to return to a point that the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) made at the start of our discussion: that the debate can easily become polarised between “team badger” and “team farmer”, when what we need is “team science” and “team TB” and to address the issue much more calmly and rationally, because outside the Chamber there has been much light as well as a certain amount of heat.
I should like to emphasise from a constituency point of view and from my farming background the need fully to understand what is driving the issue and the disease’s emotional and financial impact over decades on very committed people in west Cornwall. Many Members have this afternoon conveyed the emotions that are felt from the impact of this devastating disease.