All 5 Nadia Whittome contributions to the Agriculture Act 2020

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Mon 3rd Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & 2nd reading & Programme motion & Money resolution
Tue 11th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Thu 13th Feb 2020
Agriculture Bill (Fourth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 3rd Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Ninth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 9th sitting & Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 5th Mar 2020
Agriculture Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 12th sitting & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons

Agriculture Bill

Nadia Whittome Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Money resolution: House of Commons & Programme motion: House of Commons & Money resolution & Programme motion
Monday 3rd February 2020

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
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Apart from Stonebridge City Farm, there are no farms in my constituency. However, like all the other Members in the Chamber, I represent people who need food to eat and a healthy planet on which to live, and a deregulated, race-to-the-bottom Brexit will put both at risk.

We have less than a decade in which to save the planet from climate breakdown. To do that we need post-war scale investment in infrastructure, and we need to decarbonise our economy by 20% every year in every industry, yet there are no targets in the Bill for the agriculture sector to reach net zero. Will the Minister explain why, despite the clear will of organisations such as the National Farmers Union, the Bill contains no targets for net-zero emissions in farming? In fact, while providing many powers, it provides very few duties for the Secretary of State to do anything.

I welcome the principle of a farming payments system that provides public money for public goods, but why are environmental public goods only possibilities for the Secretary of State, rather than requirements? Why does a Bill about agriculture not recognise sustainable food production as a public good? This Bill is a huge missed opportunity for the UK to take a lead on agroecology. It fails to prioritise sustainable food production, despite experts’ warnings about our future food security. It could have given us a chance to enshrine in law the “right to food” that Labour has promised, promoting the local growing and distribution of food to bring people closer to food production.

I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Government have chosen to ignore the crisis in food poverty. More than a million people are being forced to use food banks as a result of their calamitous work and pensions policies. How can we rely on the Secretary of State’s good will to end that crisis when her own colleague, the Foreign Secretary, has dismissed people who are forced to turn to food banks as merely having a temporary cashflow problem? In Nottingham, more than 26,000 people, including nearly 11,000 children, have used food banks for emergency supplies in the last year, and, shamefully, there are more food banks than branches of McDonald’s in this country. While we subsidise food in Westminster, outside this building there are children going to school and to bed hungry. In the sixth richest country in the world, this is a political choice. It is also a political choice to remain silent on this issue in the Bill before us today. We know that many Conservative Members—like the one sniggering over there—fantasise about a deregulated post-Brexit world where laws and regulations on food and the environment are weakened, but the fact is that my constituents and those in constituencies up and down the country do not want chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef.

Steve Baker Portrait Mr Steve Baker
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Will the hon. Lady give way?

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome
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No, I will not.

Why has the Secretary of State ignored the sincere requests from Labour Members, from the NFU and from the DEFRA Committee to enshrine in law a guarantee that British farmers will not be undercut through the importing of substandard produce as part of new trade deals?

The Bill needs to say much more about access to healthy, sustainable food. It needs to say more about cutting emissions, and it needs a guarantee that British farming and food standards will not be undercut. I support the reasoned amendment today because the Bill fails on food standards, it fails on food production and, most of all, it fails to tackle food poverty.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Agriculture Bill (First sitting)

Nadia Whittome Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 11th February 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Theo Clarke Portrait Theo Clarke (Stafford) (Con)
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Q I represent a rural constituency with a lot of dairy and arable, and some of the biggest fruit producers in the west midlands. Quite a lot of farmers have said to me that they are currently enrolled in things like countryside stewardship schemes, and they are going to transition over. Caroline, you mentioned the ELMS scheme. Does this Bill do enough to help them transition over to the new schemes? Are we doing enough to support farmers in the longer term? For example, I have people signing county farm tenancy agreements, which are for 10 years, but we have guaranteed payment for only five years over this parliamentary term. Are we doing enough to support them in the longer term?

Martin Lines: We need guaranteed long-term funding or the ambition to deliver it. On a five-year rolling plan, I am planning eight or 10-year rotations in farm planning. If you are taking on tenancies for longer than that, the business risk is huge. It is about that long-term development. In the transition that we are going to have from one system to the other, we need to be clear and transparent about how that will fit and how we can move. It has become clearer that if we can enter into a stewardship agreement now, we will be able to move into the ELMS when it becomes available, before the end of the period. It is about how we are flexible within those schemes. The current system has been delayed payments, with a nightmare bureaucracy. It has over-measured and over-regulated, and there has been no trust in the farmer to deliver. We need to build that into the new scheme, and build trust with farmers to work to that system.

ffinlo Costain: Countryside stewardship has been very input-focused. Often farmers have done something because there is a box to tick—because they are getting paid for x, rather than because it necessarily delivers the outcome. I think that is what Martin was alluding to. It is not the most successful scheme. There is this five-year transition, where the basic payments are going out. In that time, it is for farmers to step up and understand how to deliver these outcomes, and to develop, either individually or across landscapes, proposals that deliver those public goods. So long as we are focused on outcomes rather than inputs, we will make progress. Farmers should be absolutely at the forefront of that.

Caroline Drummond: A little bit more security and clarity in the timescale is really important. Obviously, farmers do not make decisions today for tomorrow; many decisions are made three or four years in advance. Many crops are grown for nine or 10 months—for livestock, it is a longer time span—before you get any level of return. That timescale is at the moment not 100% clear, because decisions could be made at the very last minute. That is a big concern.

We must not forget that although a lot of the stewardship has not been ideal, for every pound that farmers get from support mechanisms they are delivering so much more from an environmental perspective, because it is good for their business and because, obviously, they fundamentally believe it. We do need to build confidence that the system will work, and that farmers really want to adopt it. We are involved in some of the trials for the ELMS project, and it is really encouraging to see farmers very much embracing it and saying, “Yeah, we want to be involved.”

ffinlo Costain: I said earlier that land use—the way we farm—is the golden ticket for getting us out of the challenges we face and continuing to support food production. I want to give you a couple of statistics. Funding for agriculture is £3.1 billion, but that is tiny in terms of Government expenditure. For every citizen in Britain, we are paying less than £1 per week to farmers for all the good work they do, which we have been talking about. Compare that with £42 per citizen per week for the NHS. Just administrating central Government is £3.57 a week per citizen, so farming is getting very little.

In terms of managing the transition and making sure that farmers can deliver, somebody has to say it: farmers should be getting more because they are doing such a good job. In the future we will be expecting so much more, and I would like the budget to increase.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
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Q I want to come back to the point about bringing sustainable food production closer to people’s lives. What measures could be added to the Bill to encourage local community schemes to reduce food poverty and improve good nutrition?

Jack Ward: I think the two are largely unrelated. One is an income issue, and there is a separate farming issue. Conflating the two is a problem because the food we produce is often not leaving the farm at a sustainable price, and the opportunity to drive that price down is very limited.

Martin Lines: We need clear transparency within the supply chains, and parts of the Bill address that. Who is getting the benefit out of the produce? Farmers are selling at a gate price that is way lower than the retail price, so who benefits? How can we join up the supply chains to shorten them and give farmers the opportunity to market more directly? There will be lots of exciting technologies and systems that may be able to do that, but it is about incentivising that opportunity.

ffinlo Costain: I think you have highlighted a real challenge, and I am not quite sure how we address it within the Bill. We do not want to see farmers in Britain uniformly producing high-quality produce that just fuels middle-class meals and those of affluent people. We need to recognise that an awful lot of people live in poverty or relatively close to poverty, and we need to be able to feed those people as well. But I do not think that we do that just by continuing with the model that we currently have, which involves ever more intensive volume production and low-nutrition food. We need good food. That is about the supply chain. As Martin said, it is about how we connect people who are living in more disadvantaged areas, with food. Often, if you are buying directly—if you are buying food and making meals yourself—it is a hell of a lot cheaper than living on Pot Noodle or whatever else.

Caroline Drummond: One of the scary facts is that 50.8% of the food we eat in this country is ultra-processed; in France, it is 14%. We do not know about the sustainability of highly processed food, and we often do not know its country of origin. This is where the national food strategy is such a core part of trying to understand what our ambition is for the health and the connection of what we grow. It is out of kilter at the moment and in a very difficult place.

Going back to Jack’s comment, the Bill is about trying to drive the ambition for a highly productive, responsible and sustainable farming system. We need to be very careful. There is often confusion. Poverty is a social issue, rather than necessarily an issue that farmers can respond to, and we need to be very careful that, as an industry, we are not subsidising the social challenge of poverty.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome
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Q Perhaps I was being confusing by mentioning two things in my question. What can the Bill do to encourage local community food schemes to tackle food poverty and improve good nutrition?

ffinlo Costain: Funding of infrastructure, which is partly in the Bill. It is perhaps about broadening the definition of “infrastructure”. In the same way that people ought to be able to apply for funding to put up the local abattoir that will make a big difference to the farmers, the land that they are presenting, the prices that they are getting and their ability to sell directly to the public locally, you are perhaps right to say that there needs to be support for those sorts of schemes as well.

Caroline Drummond: Interestingly, food productivity is mentioned in here. One would hope that that is going to be the link in terms of trying to define what the national food strategy looks like, because—

None Portrait The Chair
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Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of this session, but on behalf of the Committee, many thanks to our witnesses. You gave us invaluable information. Thank you very much indeed.

Examination of Witnesses

Thomas Lancaster, John Cross, Simon Hall, Christopher Price and David Bowles gave evidence.

Agriculture Bill (Fourth sitting)

Nadia Whittome Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 13th February 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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Q I apologise, perhaps Mr Zeichner planned to ask this, as he is an east of England MP, but I found your description of the east of England as an arable desert slightly confusing, having grown up there. It is better known as Britain’s breadbasket, so I wonder how you came to that conclusion.

George Monbiot: It can be both. It can be highly productive in producing a handful of crop species and deserted in terms of wildlife. There are large areas of arable land, particularly in East Anglia, where there is little wildlife. We see a lot of nitrate pollution, soil erosion and water pollution. It is not in a good ecological state, even though, thanks to lashings of NPK and lots of pesticides, we are producing a lot of food there.

We must recognise that what is great on one metric is not so great on another. The attempt to pretend that they are one and the same—that agriculture is good for ecosystems and that the more we have, the better it will be for ecosystems—clouds this whole debate. There is an inherent conflict between an extractive economy, which simplifies ecosystems, and the complex, rich ecosystems, with food webs that are both wide and deep, which an ecologist like me wants to see.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
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Q George, Parliament has declared a climate emergency since the last agriculture Bill. What changes can you see in this Bill that deliver the urgent action needed?

George Monbiot: I am afraid I have not seen changes commensurate with the declaration of a climate emergency. This should be front and centre. An emergency is an emergency. We should be maximising mitigation and absorption of carbon from the atmosphere. The Paris agreement asks us for the greatest possible ambition; we do not see that in the Agriculture Bill.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome
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Q I have a quick supplementary question. How far does this Bill go in doing that?

George Monbiot: The public goods agenda is something useful that we can build on. It is a massive improvement on the common agricultural policy, but it must be much more explicit about what public goods are. Carbon storage, as a metric, must run throughout it like a stick of rock, but also ecological restoration—we do not want to make it just about carbon. We want to maximise the recovery of wildlife and ecosystems, which are in such a dire state in this country.

It must be recognised that the ecological difference between farming and not farming, particularly in the uplands, is far greater than the ecological difference between, say, BPS sheep farming and HLS sheep farming, which is very small in ecological terms. Having a cessation of farming in those areas, bringing back many of the missing species and having an ecosystem dominated by trees and other thick vegetation would be massively better, in terms of both carbon and ecology, than a modification of farming in those places.

None Portrait The Chair
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A very brief question from Theo Clarke.

Agriculture Bill (Ninth sitting)

Nadia Whittome Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 3rd March 2020

(4 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Agriculture Act 2020 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 3 March 2020 - (3 Mar 2020)
This amendment would not only mean that we have the data and a clearer understanding of the problem, but enable the Government, when they make the report to Parliament, to set out the actions they would take to relieve food insecurity in the areas where it is highest. It is the whole package of measures. I will conclude by saying that the amendment is supported by Feeding Britain, the Food Foundation—established by a former Conservative MP, Laura Sandys, who has done great work there—Sustain, the Independent Food Aid Network and the Food Ethics Council.
Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
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I would like to speak in favour of amendment 62, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields . I commend her tireless work on food poverty and insecurity, and her considerable knowledge and expertise in the area.

In February last year, the Government agreed to measure household food insecurity and to report on it by March 2021. I welcome the fact that the Department for Work and Pensions has included food insecurity measurement questions in the family resources survey, but this breakthrough, and the duty to report on the survey results, must be enshrined in law. We have an opportunity to do just that, so that the measurement happens routinely.

As it stands, the Government’s commitment fails to ensure that the measurement will continue for future years, or that the results of the survey will be laid before Parliament for scrutiny. Amendment 62 would also serve to make the Government’s pledge more comprehensive, by expanding the definition of food insecurity to consider whether everyone in the UK can get access to or afford the food available.

The definition of food security in the Bill currently covers only global food availability, where food comes from, the resilience of the supply chain and data on household food expenditure, food safety and consumer confidence. It does not include any measure of food poverty or household food insecurity, contrary to an internationally agreed definition of food security. Year after year, charitable food banks have provided evidence of the gigantic increase in the number of our constituents running out of money for food. Teachers tell us of children in their classes struggling because they are going hungry. Local authorities are cancelling meals on wheels services due to unprecedented cuts in their budgets.

For too long, the problem of food insecurity, which affects children and adults in all corners of the UK, has been overlooked. It leaves lifelong scars on health and wellbeing. Food banks and other food aid providers cannot be left to continue to pick up the pieces and distribute increasing numbers of emergency food supplies. We need the Government to commit to regular food insecurity measurements and to the resulting data being scrutinised.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Lady, and I welcome her to her place. I thank the hon. Member for Bristol East for the amendment, and I recognise the commitment of the hon. Member for South Shields in her important work around food insecurity and in ensuring engagement with the devolved Administrations on the amendment.

We are planning to include a theme on household food security, which is clearly set out in subsection (2)(d). As part of that theme, we will be considering the key indicators that help us take a view on food insecurity and why it happens. I hope that the hon. Member for Bristol East will understand that we do not intend to list in the Bill all the data sources we will use in the report, as it would make the Bill unhelpfully unwieldy.

As I said on a previous amendment, our purpose in producing the report is to set out our analysis of the widest relevant sets of statistics relating to food security in the UK, ranging from global UN data to UK national statistics. Many of those data sets are only published at UK level, so breakdown to the devolved Administration area or regional level will not be available in all instances. We will not commit at this stage to the precise data we will use, but all available relevant data will be considered, including breakdown by devolved Administration area if appropriate.

It is our intention that the report will inform discussion and debate about UK food security, both across Government and with wider stakeholders—that is why we are doing it. I assure the hon. Lady that we will of course consider the themes covered in the report, and the analysis, evidence and trends within it, with all sorts of stakeholders, including the devolved Administrations. We have well-established forums for discussion of that nature. Introducing a more formal requirement for a consultation for Ministers with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland before the report is even laid is therefore unnecessary.

I hope that clarifies the intention of the clause and provides the hon. Lady with sufficient assurance. I ask her to withdraw the amendment.

Agriculture Bill (Twelfth sitting)

Nadia Whittome Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Thursday 5th March 2020

(3 years, 12 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome (Nottingham East) (Lab)
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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause would ban the import of foie gras in the UK. As I am sure many here will be aware, foie gras is a product made from the livers of ducks or geese that have been repeatedly force-fed, by having a metal tube inserted down their throats several times a day, when they are just 12 weeks old. It is effectively produced by rendering the animal diseased.

While the production of this so-called delicacy has been banned in Britain since 2000, the fact that imports to the UK are allowed is an effective green light to the continued suffering and mistreatment of these animals. Shockingly, the UK imports around 200 tonnes of foie gras each year from mainland Europe. Today we have an opportunity to put a stop to that once and for all.

Some members of this Bill Committee may recall that the Labour DEFRA team tabled an amendment banning foie gras imports during the Committee stage of the Agriculture Bill in 2018. It was extremely disappointing and embarrassing that the then Government chose not to accept that reasonable and common-sense amendment. I sincerely hope that they will not choose to repeat the mistake today in voting against new clause 10.

We know that the Secretary of State has spoken favourably of a ban. He is on record saying:

“When we leave the European Union, we do indeed have an opportunity to look at restrictions on sales”.—[Official Report, 13 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 1052.]

That opportunity is today, and the time is now.

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Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
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While allowed under EU law, the Government have made clear that the production of foie gras from ducks or geese using force-feeding raises serious welfare concerns, as the hon. Member for Nottingham East outlined. The production of foie gras by force-feeding is banned in the UK, as it is incompatible with our domestic legislation. After the transition period, there will be an opportunity to consider whether the UK can adopt a different approach to foie gras imports and sales in this country. I am afraid the time is not quite now; the time is after the transition period.

I understand the strength of feeling on the issue, but this Bill is not about making provisions prohibiting imports. I reassure hon. Members that the Government will use the opportunities provided through future free trade agreements and, of course, our wider international engagements to promote high animal welfare standards among our international trading partners. I am afraid the time is not yet, and I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome
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I must say I am disappointed in the Minister’s response. What she says on animal welfare is at odds with what is in the Bill. Therefore, I will move this new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

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Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome
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The Government’s much-delayed response to the Godfray report, published this morning, finally concedes to implement more effective methods of containing bovine TB, such as cattle and badger vaccinations. Of course, scientists, activists and politicians have been saying that for years. Can the Minister explain why it has taken the culling of an estimated 130,000 badgers for the Government to come to the same conclusion that most of us came to years ago? Will she provide an estimate of the number of badgers that will be killed before the switch to vaccinations and other non-lethal preventive measures?

The Government’s U-turn on the badger cull is welcome. I would like to think that it is because the Prime Minister knew that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge and I were going to speak to the issue, but I suspect there is someone else he listens to more. It is simply inexcusable, however, that further inhumane killing of this iconic species will continue for several years, especially as the Government have conceded that that is not the most effective strategy for containing bovine TB.

The former Government adviser Professor Ranald Munro recently said that a large number of badgers are likely to have suffered “immense pain” during culls. It is evident that the correct thing for the Government to do would be to bring forward the ban and start implementing non-lethal alternatives without delay.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Mr Goodwill
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Is the hon. Lady not aware that we do not yet have a vaccine that allows us to identify the difference between a vaccinated animal and an infected animal? Until we have that type of vaccine, it will not be possible to make the switch.

Nadia Whittome Portrait Nadia Whittome
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but the state of the science does not prevent the new clause from being made. New clause 21 provides the Government with an opportunity, on the day that they released their long-awaited response to the Godfray review, to urgently put an end to the inhumane and ineffective badger cull, rather than allowing it to continue for another five years.

Victoria Prentis Portrait Victoria Prentis
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Bovine TB is one of our most difficult animal health challenges. It costs the Government about £100 million a year and industry around £50 million a year. Tackling it is important. It imposes a tremendous pressure on the wellbeing of our cattle farmers and their families. Many Committee members, including me, represent constituencies that are exposed to the misery of bovine TB on a daily basis. Left unchecked, bovine TB also poses a threat to public health although that is, to a large extent, mitigated today by milk pasteurisation. My grandfather died of tuberculosis, so I have always taken a close personal interest in the subject. It is a peculiar and complicated disease that it is important for us to take seriously.

No single measure will achieve eradication by our target date of 2038, which is why we are committed to pursuing a wide range of interventions, including culling and vaccination, to deal with the risk from wildlife. Of course culling is a controversial policy, but we have scientific evidence to show that, to a certain extent, it is working. The new review is clear that the evidence indicates that the presence of infected badgers poses a threat to local cattle herds. The review considers that moving from lethal to non-lethal control of disease in badgers is desirable. Of course, we would all go along with that. We have reached a point where intensive culling will soon have been enabled in most of the areas where it has served the greatest impact. As announced in the Government response today, we will be able to develop measures to make badger vaccination, combined with biosecurity, the focus of addressing risks from wildlife as an exit strategy from intensive culling. Our aim is to allow future badger culls only where the epidemiological evidence points to a reservoir of disease in badgers.

Nobody wants to cull badgers inappropriately, but nor can we allow our farmers, their families and our wider dairy and beef industries to continue to suffer the misery and costs caused by the disease. That is why it is right that we take strong and decisive action to tackle the problem effectively, while always looking to evolve towards non-lethal options in future. I therefore do not think the new clause is appropriate.