Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 333 - 339)



  Q333  Chairman: Good afternoon, may I welcome those who have come to what was going to be a session initially to give the Independent Scientific Group, who have done a lot of work on badgers, the opportunity to respond to observations passed on what was in their final report by the National Farmers' Union. However, the late entry on the scene of a report by the Government's Chief Scientist, Sir David King, has added yet another twist to the inquiry which the committee is making into this subject. We are going to be welcoming Sir David in a few moments to have an opportunity of questioning him about his findings. First, we want to welcome the former members of the Independent Scientific Group: Professor John Bourne, the former Chairman, Professor Christl Donnelly, the former Deputy Chairman, and Professor Rosie Woodroffe. We are grateful to you for coming. For the avoidance of doubt, we gather there is going to be a series of votes so we will concentrate in the few moments we have available on enabling the group to respond to the comments by the National Farmers' Union. Professor John Bourne and his colleagues are going to stay on afterwards so that they may give us the benefit of their observations on what Sir David King has to say. No doubt if he wants to comment in reverse, we could go on for quite a long time on this, but we will try to bring matters ultimately to a conclusion. We are also delighted to see that one of our most regular attenders, Lord Rooker, is with us once again. If he sits there long enough, he will find himself as a witness before the inquiry. We are delighted to see you, Jeff. I start, John, with a simple question: what are your reactions to what the National Farmers' Union said, particularly in the context of their observations about culling and your final report?

  Professor Bourne: They were obviously very confused about what they expected to be in the final report. Their implication was that we had rewritten the report at the last moment, which suggested that they had been given information which they expected to be consistent with our report—this is me surmising now—but it was not consistent with the report. There was clearly misunderstanding. The claim that we rewrote the report at the last minute under political pressure is absolutely absurd, utterly absurd. I have provided you with documentation throughout the period from September 2005 to May 2007 when we reported our findings to Ministers; we had meetings with Ministers and these were reported in minutes. I do have other papers to support those findings, which as Chairman of the ISG I was told I could not give to you.

  Q334  Chairman: Who told you that?

  Professor Bourne: Civil servants. As non-chairman of the ISG, I will give them to you. I will give them to your Clerk. I leave it to your discretion as to what you do with them. It shows very clearly that we are absolutely and utterly consistent in reporting the findings of the trial to Ministers throughout the period. We are absolutely consistent with what we reported in the final report. Apart from that, we had close deliberations throughout our work with Defra officials. It has been on a monthly, weekly, sometimes daily basis. There was no misunderstanding at all at the official level what the findings were, which way the ball was bouncing. Indeed, we published papers throughout, as you know. All these papers were considered by our Defra colleagues, many of whom were co-authors. Every paper as it was submitted to a journal was copied to the Minister. All I can say is that the NFU comments are totally and utterly unfounded. There were clear misunderstandings, but there was a total consistency in our reporting to Ministers throughout the period after which trial data entered into the public domain, when they passed it to Ministers, which was for an autumn report I believe that I do not think saw the light of day. From that time on, there was open discussion within Defra with respect to the trial data and publications.

  Q335  Chairman: Since the publication of your report, have you had any discussion on a personal basis with the National Farmers' Union or its representatives, or is this the first time you have had the opportunity in public to say what you have said?

  Professor Bourne: No. I was able to meet representatives of the NFU at the open meetings that we held in London and in Cardiff.

  Q336  Chairman: Were they able to mount any kind of objective alternative view to the conclusions that you put forward on those occasions, or did they say they were going to do that? Was it just a subjective assessment, a point of disagreement, in terms of the conclusions that you had reached?

  Professor Bourne: I do not think there was any objective assessment on their part that I am aware of, other than the material that they presented to your committee, and also material that they presented to a similar committee in the Welsh Assembly.

  Q337  Chairman: Let us move on to Lord Rooker. How do you react to his comments about the report when it came out?

  Professor Bourne: I did not know they were his comments. I saw them in the Farmers' Guardian but we all know that comments can be misrepresented very easily. I did write to Lord Rooker, as I was asked to comment by the press, asking if he could confirm what he had said. I am yet to get a reply.

  Q338  Chairman: Since the publication of the report, have you actually met with any Defra Ministers? The Secretary of State told us yesterday when he came before us that he was going to meet with you. Have you met with anybody in between times?

  Professor Bourne: I met Lord Rooker this morning. The last meeting I had with Ministers was with the Secretary of State and Mr Bradshaw. I have given you details of that. I think that was in February.

  Q339  Chairman: That is a long time ago. Do you feel you had a fair hearing with Lord Rooker today in getting across your message? I would not expect that he gave you an authoritative and opinionated response to your report, but did he accept what you had to say?

  Professor Bourne: He gave me a cup of tea!

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