Examination of Witnesses (Questions 333
WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER 2007
BOURNE CBE, PROFESSOR
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
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 reportthis
is me surmising nowbut 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
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
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
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!