Badger cull debate

To get a flavour of the type of debate that our e-petition on banning driven grouse shooting might receive, have a look at the transcript of the Westminster Hall debate on badger culling. I sat in the debate last week, on Wednesday afternoon, as a member of the public.

By Andrew Gray (local userpage) (p1140372) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Andrew Gray (local userpage) (p1140372) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
This debate on badger culling had a format which is similar to that which our debate will have; an introduction to the subject from the MP who secured the debate (or in our case, from a member of the Petitions Committee), short speeches making points from interested MPs (perhaps your own MP), interjections from other MPs (perhaps your own MP), a 5-minute speech from the SNP, a 5-minute speech from a Shadow Defra minister (who knows – they all might have changed after the Labour Leadership result) and then 10 minutes from a Defra minister.

These debates are chaired by MPs from the Speaker’s Panel – in this case it was Conservative MP Anne Main.  There is a large digital display which shows how much time remains for the debate and how much time for the person on their feet at that moment.  The Chair (in this case and always) is pretty strict with time keeping. The debate ends precisely on time. No vote is cast; no decision flows from such debates (at least not directly) – they are an opportunity to raise issues.

The public can attend, as I did. The public gallery (two benches at the end of the room) can only sit c25 people (it was packed for the badger debate). Another room can be used for public viewing with a feed into a screen in that room. The debate can be seen live over the internet. The debate is transcribed verbatim and appears in Hansard within a couple of days of occurring. Those words then sit there, on the record, for ever.

410CEl0qsHL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_My best guess is that our debate, or the debate on our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting, will take place at the very end of October or in early November.

And so on to the badger debate (where Dominic Dyer was sitting near me, taking lots of notes – read his excellent book on the badger cull).  You can read the transcript so here are a few thoughts from me:

  • Steve Double (Con, St Austell and Newquay) thinks the badger is a rodent! There are few scientifically-trained MPs and he does not appear to be one of them. But actually I was struck by the fact that whereas in the public gallery we sniffed, guffawed and tutted with derision (all very quietly since the public must remain silent) there was no such response from our MPs and none leapt to their feet to make the intervention ‘May I correct my Hon Friend that the badger is a mustelid and not a rodent and perhaps the rest of his remarks might benefit from similar checking of facts’.
  • several SNP MPs spoke, despite the fact that the cull is an English (and Welsh) issue and despite Scotland being a bovine tb-free country – there is clearly much more reason for SNP MPs to speak about driven grouse shooting in (about) six weeks’ time.
  • there was an awful lot of ‘a farmer told me’ or ‘farmers tell me’ and less reliance on the science than I would have liked,  and which I think is necessary in order to find a proper way forward.
  • Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (chair of the APPG on Shooting (and Conservation ho! ho!)) wasn’t listening at the beginning of the debate, it seems, and wrongly criticised Paul Monaghan for not mentioning hardship to farmers in his remarks but didn’t have the sense, let alone the good grace and politeness, to apologise but instead sneered at the MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross for bringing this debate forward from a Scottish constituency. No class at all Mr Clinton-Brown, no class at all.
  • The minister’s speech (George Eustice) was very good and is worth reading – particularly if you feel inclined to oppose the badger cull (as I do, even after hearing his speech).

The e-petition opposing the badger cull has reached and passed 40,000 signatures, with support so far being concentrated very much in the southwest of England.


24 Replies to “Badger cull debate”

  1. At your recommendation I paid particular attention to the the Minister George Eustice’s comments naively expecting them to be at least factual, then again is politics about truth?

    “It is an evidence-based policy, which is why we continue to roll out the cull”.​

    As factual as that offered by Steve Double, & these folk run the country ….

    I am yet again reminded of the words of Professor John Bourne (Chair of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on bTB):

    ‘I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician
    who said, “fine John we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a
    carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers”.’

  2. Signed.
    British farming needs to change to a wildlife-friendly industry.
    People need to be less greedy so that farming can become less intensive.
    The massive stone has been rolling for too long now, it needs to slow down and start to gather moss.
    And that goes for life in general, otherwise we will not have a natural heritage to enjoy in the future.

  3. The arguments for the cull have been so systematically debunked with solid science, facts, logic and reason from scientists who are far more capable than you or I (or any farmer for that matter) that one has to wonder why the Government, or should I say the NFU (as they are the driving force behind this) are proceeding with a head in the sand approach and repeating the same old justifications over and over again.

    We can only assume that there is a much wider issue at stake here and I believe the debate over driven grouse shooting will follow a similar path (albeit with different arguments).

    It is, I believe, not about disease control (or the number of grouse reared to be shot) but the control of the countryside and the right of land owners to do what they want with the land as well as the wildlife that lives there. They see their land as a large playground or business in which to maximise profits and don’t want pesky wildlife getting in the way. All this is driven by the NFU (owns 80% of the land but only represents 18% of farmers) and the Countryside Alliance who are far from being the voice of the countryside (Tim Bonner can’t tell the difference between a Linnet and a Sparrowhawk).

    I hope the drive grouse shooting debate achieves more than the badger cull one but I very much doubt it. With such financial wealth and MP’s in the pockets of the killing brigade there would seem to be little hope of change until we get a change of Government and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

  4. George Eustices’s remarks were typically misinformed and avoided the key issues that have been raised in recent years. It is clear that under-testing for bTB undermines any good work to remove the disease and that the government policy is to avoid greater movement control and herd depopulation – the only way to remove the disease according to the EU vets.

    The deer ranching in a London park analogy is nonsense.

    Most of all he continues to ignore the science.

    So what part of it was good?

    1. Well Tom, at least he said that he’s not the type of person who kills wildlife for fun.
      That’s good to know, not a shooter then. Maybe he will speak in favour of a driven grouse ban then.
      On the other hand….

    2. Are you sure he ignores the science? He perhaps ignores the science that you and I favour but there’s evidence that as individuals we favour experts with whom we agree and their findings. That’s what he is doing, and I don’t think I can see how he is ‘typically misinformed’. There are quite a few numbers in his speech. I would be interested to hear from an expert (my kind of expert of course – you are probably one – rather than one of his) not so much why they are wrong (I feel sure they are correct) but why they either don’t support his clearly (and I imagine honestly) held position or are outweighed by the better numbers I am inclined to favour.

      1. Alan, you are right about the need for more detailed lengthy explanations but this blog is not the best place. In the bloody cruel 40-year war against badgers, truth was always an early casualty. The badger culling issue is a huge complex international one and the problem is that the information is widely scattered and there are large vested interests. The science of badger culling is a dark art, poorly explained, embedded in statistical modelling and mired in controversy – happy to talk with anyone about it in detail. There is some general info on the Badger Trust website.

        See also the Ecologist online campaigns section for this year.

        The Minister is typically misinformed because the DEFRA briefing is based upon old rhetoric and falsehoods that have been pointed out four times by a very wide range of ngo’s over as many years, as Natural England have given repeated badger killing permissions. The approach to bTB control is inadequate in England, unlike Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the role of badgers in bTB spread is minimal or possibly nil. The people who want to shoot badgers, eagles, buzzards, beavers have a similar mindset but the real issue is with administrators, principally DEFRA taking political positions from the giant stakeholders – why wouldn’t they? Hence while a Westminster Debate is a useful tool, it is a ‘short and sweet’ microcosm of day to day lobbying and positioning. It requires arguments to be very sharply tuned in briefing documents and on the day, as the big risk is that distractions, bluster and anecdotes, if well presented, can eat up the time available and fool the public over any clear argument. It may also be possible to get dozens of MP’s at the Grouse debate and the subject may not be so ‘press-weary’ as bovine tuberculosis. But beware bland and reasonable sounding words that Grouse shooting is OK, is important to the economy and a good British tradition – because that is what you are up against. Don’t let people be fooled and you will need to counter and convince any ill-informed commentators as they appear – hard as that may be.

        1. Tom, I understand that, and I am not fooled by rhetoric. But most neutrals reading Hansard will surely conclude that it was a score draw. One set of opinions against another, different world views even, but the Minister had his own ‘facts’ and, within the context of the debate, they weighed. As I said, I suppose the Minister’s ‘facts’ are good as far as they go but need to be set in context, a broader context in which (I suppose) they fail to show that culls work. The trouble is I don’t know what that context is. You may say that I should do my own research, and that would be fair, but I am not an expert and so even if I did the research I would not necessarily how to make a judgement between two apparently conflicting sets of data. Truth may have been an early casualty but if we cannot easily and quickly rebut the Minister’s numbers have we not got a problem? By the way I could not make the link you gave work, and so far as I can see there is nothing yet on the Badger trust website about the debate, nor can I see any rebuttal of the Minister’s numbers. I don’t mean to be difficult about this but if we seek the moral high ground of being scientific, surely that needs to be more than just a ritualistic chant and we should be able quickly and easily to say why the Minister’s numbers do not support his case?

          1. OK, I like your 1-1 analogy – you are right. There is a problem with good clear info and it is dotted around. The Badger Trust website has material under the (What We Do) Eurobadger section. Team Badger website also has some background. See also;




            There is the science of badger vaccination, of cattle vaccination, the science of bTB testing, of bTB control, badger science, and bTB epidemiology science, culling science – seven areas, many with different experts and a huge history. in five countries. That is before you get onto the industries and political background – oh for a simple Grouse moor!

            There are also some reports that are yet to get online that will bring clarity over the next week or so. If Mark can give me a guest blog or 2 we can provide a good face on the issue going forward, there is a lot going on behind the scenes. Also from a Westminster perspective there are the EFRA committtee’s – you might want one!

          1. Oh yes, nearly forgot the birds! There is a whole world of carnivore release science around badgers too. This is one area of the RBCT which was slightly useful and beyond the observation that cattle trample birds nests a lot, there was a major finding, of significance to any bird vulnerable to fox predation…. The research showed that culling badgers can double the number of foxes in an area probably because foxes may move into and use their setts and food and increase in density.

            This is extremely important as a negative badger culling impact and we started checking European sites and species and SSSIs etc within and next to the Pilot areas in 2013 and ended up taking the gvt to the High Court (£13 K) and to the Bern Convention. NE refused to provide details other than a few emails and redacted tables and as usual the UK courts weren’t that interested and nether were Bern because no or very little evidence had been gathered – it should have been, under a proper process, but toughness in enforcement these days in post-crash, economy-first Europe is only the very tip of the tip of the iceberg.

            In Wales the Welsh Assembly did a proper report and determined potential impact on chough from fox increases – this added to the pressure and decision not to cull there. The more likely species to be impacted in SW England in the short term are ground nesting birds but in fact a wide range of bird species. In Rep of Ireland grey partridge recovery may have been hampered by such side-effects of badger culling. Perhaps in England RSPB are onto this (ho ho) – there are some IBAs around north Devon I think and I have had to FOI to ask for this years impacts assessments before getting stuck in – still waiting. They should by law (EIAD /SEAD) be open to public consultation but hey who cares about the law when its just a few birds. So bTB and badger culling was a potential major bird conservation issue in 2013 and still is.

  5. I’ve read the transcript and was wondering – what happens now? Is the debate looked at by whoever makes the decisions, weighed up and then either thrown out or agreed with? Just wondering what happens next…?

    1. Steve – not much, but in the case of our petition it is the next step in raising much greater (massively greater) awareness of the issue with the people who need to solve it.

  6. Mark – thanks for sharing the APPG list and drawing attention to the Hansard transcript, very very interesting – not only for the DGS and other environmental issues, but also you’ve shone a light on the workings on our Parliament. This blog might become a set text for govt. and politics students and a must read for citizens whatever policy they are trying to influence! Who was it said earlier in the summer “politely and reasonably requesting change through peaceful, democratic means.”

  7. The NFU pressured Nick Brown & Tony Blair to get the farming industry up and running back in 2001 (post Foot & Mouth) and incredulously animals were not subject to any testing!

    Poor biosecurity (or rather failure to safeguard their own industry) kick started infections in other areas where it might not have been present, sensible or what?

    At least they’ve been consistent, they’re not testing culled animals – evidence based policies again?

    Sadly, much as I love Somerset Brie I shall be abstaining and that can’t be good for farmers who need the public on side? This hurts because I know many good farmers and I want to support them.

    The NFU does seem to do many farmers a dis-service by championing the agri-industry promoting chemicals, GM etc.

    We need to lobby for a full, open and transparent review and revision of support payments to the agri-industry, including the upland moor land owners? Public funds need to be directed to environmental safeguards, working with rather than trying to control nature and for the benefit of the many not the few and deliver tangible public benefit?

  8. Bill Wiggin made the comment that

    ‘we will potentially be allowed to vaccinate our cattle, which is illegal in the EU at the moment’

    Is this the badgers best hope?

    1. No not really. There is no gusto in cattle vaccination partly because most countries would not accept vaccinated cattle imports and the export industries (dairy and beef) from England to China and elsewhere are why the NFU want to grow cattle numbers rather than stand still or shrink a bit, which is what happens when you tackle bTB successfully. There is something called the DIVA test, to tell between infected and vaccinated cattle which is pretty good but not perfect. Main issue is that cattle vaccination is no way illegal and EU vets have said that UK is perfectly able to use one of the cattle vaccine types used commonly elsewhere, so the EU legality thing is a total red-herring and has been since 2013. The only way bTB has ever been tackled is via heavy testing and cattle movement controls and the industry seems just not prepared to do that while it pockets large amounts of public money as per-animal compensation. There is low financial necessity for disease control. Tackling bTB properly now could save £2 Billion of public money over the next 20 years. Vets need to use the correct application of the gamma interferon test, that has seen success in Wales (bTB down 14% on year-to-May 2016 with no badger culling) as opposed to the increase in the English Edge Area (up 26% on year-to-May 2016). Technology has other methods to locate bTB ‘sleepers’ in herds but gvt and industry don’t seem to really want to get bTB down in England, just to try to hold it steady. One of the biggest problem is the vested veterinary interests, who earn sums doing the ineffective ‘Skin test’ testing, for whom bTB has been a lot of things but always a nice little earner. Telling a farmer ‘it is the badgers’ is a lot easier than saying ‘clean up your overcrowded unhygienic livestock and stop sending them to your neighbours’. Hence the British Veterinary Association is against the cheap and cruel free-shooting of badgers yet thinks culling badgers in principle is OK, looking rather pathetic in not contesting and blocking, as they could have done the ill-designed 2016 cull extensions. Ultimately the badgers best hope is that the public will get fed up of sponsoring the industries and require the determined cattle-based measures that were needed ten yeas ago, when bTB had been distributed around England by restocking after Foot and Mouth encouraged by the NFU.

  9. “It is an evidence-based policy, which is why we continue to roll out the cull”.​

    What evidence?….that badgers culled have Bovine tb? How is this assessed when, as per the cull last year no badgers were actually tested for said disease!

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