“Badger culling is a necessary part of a comprehensive bovine TB eradication strategy”.

I really hope that the Labour party will think carefully about what one of our foremost experts in the country said about that. Vets are the very people who want to see a humane strategy for tackling this disease, because they of all people know what suffering the disease causes to badgers.

Nobody wants to see animals culled. I am an animal lover. Farmers are animal lovers. This is not an enjoyable solution, but it is a necessary one. Clear evidence tells us that no country in the world has got its TB problem under control without removing it in the reservoir of the wildlife. We have seen that in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand, all of which are now virtually BTB-free.

On top of that, evidence also tells us that every time there has been a culling programme in this country—any of the six previous trials, including the Krebs trials— there has been a reduction in bovine TB. I accept that in some of the Krebs trials the reduction was relatively small, but that was related to the number of badgers that were taken out. The higher the number of badgers in an area that are taken out, the higher the reduction in BTB, and that, I think, has been fairly well scientifically proven.

In conclusion—because I think I have exceeded your patience and my allotted time, Mr Caton—it is too early to tell whether the culls have been successful. Anecdotal evidence tells us that they are beginning to have some success. Let us hope, for the sake of the farmers who are affected by this dreadful disease and the cattle that will have to be culled, that they are having some effect. The culls will be rolled out only in the very worst areas of BTB. I am all in favour of ring vaccination around those really bad areas, but let us see it as part of a comprehensive strategy. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister and the Government for being steadfast in their desire to eliminate this dreadful disease.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 190WH

3.9 pm

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): I am delighted to contribute to this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing it.

There is a lot of common ground among Members here this afternoon, in that we recognise that TB is a huge problem—both bovine TB and potentially, the spread of TB in wildlife. We are talking about assessing a pilot scheme in one particular reservoir of wildlife, but heaven forfend that it enter into deer or other aspects of wildlife as well. It is not that long since people suffered from TB, and it is only due to the medical science developed in the last century that that has been controlled. The dangers of TB are, therefore, very real.

On animal welfare, there has to be some balance in the argument. We surely have to accept that, if 314,000 cattle are slaughtered, that in itself is something of a potential animal welfare crisis. What we are all trying to achieve is a healthy badger population living alongside a healthy cattle population.

I would like to know about the science. We are the only country in the European Union, and I believe in the world, that has protected badgers. Has that led to the increase that we have seen in the badger population? Has that, in itself, contributed to the spread of TB in the badger population?

I would now like to raise one or two questions for the Minister to respond to. In the previous Session, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee looked at what the cull’s parameters should be, and I applaud the fact that the Government’s pilot scheme seems, to all intents and purposes, to be following those that we laid down. I should add that I welcome the Minister to his place, and I look forward to his summing up the debate.

If we are to tackle the vaccine situation, we need to deal with a number of remaining issues, and I would welcome the Minister bringing us up to date on them. I applaud the work of the Food and Environment Research Agency, which operates in my constituency and other parts of the country. In Wales, the cost of an injectable vaccine for badgers was estimated at about £662 per badger in 2012. An injectable BCG vaccine has been available for use since March 2012, but there are obviously challenges in using it. To be cost-effective, deployment would have to focus on areas where the vaccine would have the biggest impact. The cost of injecting badgers with vaccine is huge. An oral baited vaccine for badgers, which can be laid at setts, is likely to be cheaper and more practical. I would be interested to know whether the definition of such a vaccine has moved on and whether we are closer to that taking place. Furthermore, from the evidence it received, the Select Committee understood that the current skin test to detect TB in cattle would miss one in four infected cows. Liver fluke, Johne’s disease and even pregnancy may have an impact on the result of a skin test.

How much progress has been made, since the Committee adopted its report, on allowing the vaccination of cattle under European law? That is a vexatious issue. How welcome is vaccination among our friends and allies among other European countries? I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) that the treatment and control of TB has not

4 Nov 2014 : Column 191WH

been achieved anywhere unless TB has been tackled in the wildlife population. In the long term, vaccination—particularly of cattle, but also of badgers—would be a good way forward, but will the Minister let us know where we are on the vaccination of cattle under European law and how close we are to rolling out field trials in this country, as required under EU law?

3.14 pm

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing the debate. However, I must start by saying that, as a Conservative who voted against the badger cull and who has been consistent in my opposition to it, I thought it was rather unfortunate how politicised he made his comments on the NFU. Those of us who oppose the badger cull have enormous sympathy for farmers who find they have bovine TB in their cattle stock and who have to have their stock completely removed, with the suffering they face as a consequence.

I have spoken to the NFU in my region about my opposition to the cull, and it asked me specifically why I opposed it, to which my answer was, “To stop you guys getting it.” My fear about the cull and the science behind it is that they are wrong and it will lead to perturbation, which will spread the disease wider. When I talk to Kent farmers, who, I can tell Members, are not a wing of the local Conservative party, I am therefore opposing the cull as much in their interests as for my own personal reasons.

The hon. Gentleman’s comments distracted us from the real issue, which is that the science does not stack up. The perturbation effect is real. Last year’s culls failed many of the tests that had been set out. They failed on effectiveness, and the pilot came nowhere close to reducing the badger population by 70%. It also failed on humaneness. That is what happened in the first year, but we are having a debate about assessing the second year, without any of first year’s outcomes having been properly considered.

Bill Wiggin: I am enjoying my hon. Friend’s speech very much. Does she agree that if the first year had failed comprehensively because of perturbation, we should see a huge increase in the number of TB reactors in the area around the pilot schemes? I am surprised she has not mentioned that if that is what is going on.

Tracey Crouch: Three tests were set out for the first pilot culls: humaneness, effectiveness and cost. As we know, the costs were extraordinary, effectiveness was not achieved, because the cull did not reduce the badger population in the way that was set out, and humaneness was not adhered to. Those are tests the Government set out. I fear, therefore, that progressing with the second year was a mistake. I voted against it. The Government might think they have a legal mandate to continue with the culls, but they have no political mandate whatever, and I fear they do not have the widespread support of the population.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend, but I am bound to point out that, in some countries where culling has taken place in wildlife, it has been successful in controlling TB in wildlife and in cattle. The obvious example is New Zealand.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 192WH

Tracey Crouch: We keep on hearing about the New Zealand experiment, but it had other aspects, such as improved movement and better biosecurity measures. We need to ensure that we have such things as part of a whole package.

I am personally opposed to the badger cull, and I think we should look at other ways, as my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main) said, of dealing with the issue, such as vaccination, which is what is happening in Wales. We are seeing a reduction in bovine TB; indeed, I read somewhere, although I cannot find the precise source, that there has been a reduction of 48%. We have to look at these issues. However, the cull was not the right way forward, and it is not the right method now.

Simon Hart: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Tracey Crouch: If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not, because other people want to speak.

One concern I have with assessing the effectiveness of the culls is that we keep changing the methodology. For example, we had one estimate of the badger population in the first year; now we have another estimate of its size, and that will interfere with a proper independent audit. The large downgrade in the population estimates for last year’s cull has been followed by estimates suggesting that this year’s cull numbers are set to be met in Somerset, but not in Gloucestershire, due to the different methodologies used to estimate badger numbers in the two areas. In Somerset the method involved multiplying the number of setts by a fixed number and taking the lowest figure from the estimated range, a method described by the ecologist Professor Rosie Woodroffe as “very crude”. She said that

“the targets are all rubbish because they are based on rubbish data...with the data that is being collected, it will be impossible to know how effective this year’s culls have been”.

I would argue strongly that that is making it nearly impossible to compare or measure success. How, then, can we measure the key levels of success by the Government’s own indicator, if we cannot agree on the population size in the first place?

Others have mentioned the independent expert panel. I was going to say that it is disappointing that it has been disbanded, but I do not think that it has been disbanded, technically; it has just not been reinstated, so it will not meet again. It is incredibly disappointing; the panel was important for close monitoring of the culls. It is also disappointing that not all the data have been published, and an independent audit is now taking place. I would like the Minister to outline who is undertaking that audit. I do not think that any of us fully understands precisely what is being done. Will the audit involve monitoring of the culls? I understand that the British Ecological Society has offered to take on the role but has not been taken up on that. We need another, proper, debate in the House of Commons. If there is to be widespread culling a full-scale discussion in the Chamber is needed, and the Minister needs the political will of the House to go forward. I do not think that he has that. A number of my hon. Friends who originally voted for the culls are now sceptical, following the pilot culls. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans

4 Nov 2014 : Column 193WH

that if the policy is not working we must address the issue again, and not continue absent-mindedly through fear of looking weak.

I am a strong supporter of the Government, but we have not seen the results from the culls that the Minister may have wanted, in the initial tests. We need to consider what happens in Wales and not to be so sceptical about the different approach being taken there. We also need to re-examine the issues of cattle movement and rigorous biosecurity on farms. Farmers from high-incidence areas have contacted my office—so I assume they have contacted the Department—to say that they are willing to be trial farms and be involved in vaccination tests as opposed to pilot culls; so I think there are farmers out there who want to consider other methods of tackling bovine TB. I remain absolutely opposed to the badger cull and I hope that the Minister will explain how he will properly assess the results of the second year of badger culls and publish that assessment.

3.23 pm

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I declare an interest as a member of the National Farmers Union, the Farmers Union of Wales, and the Country Land and Business Association. Indeed, I still own and keep some cattle. A couple of weeks ago we had a clear TB test, but we have only seven cattle on the farm, now. We used to have well over 200, but because of the difficulty of managing them, as a result of TB, it was decided to get rid of them. We are not the only farm that has taken that decision.

Bovine TB is a very dangerous disease, for cattle and for badgers. It is a zoonotic disease, and it affects humans as well as animals. That, indeed, is why in the 1950s and 1960s there was a great move to rid the country’s cattle herd of bovine TB. Many human beings were infected by drinking raw milk. If the Government did not believe that TB was still a matter of public health, they would presumably wash their hands of it and let farmers get on with things on their own. However, it is still a very serious disease not only for animals but for human beings.

In about 1971 the infection link between badgers and cattle was established and in 2007 the report of the randomised badger culling trials—I am not quite sure whether Professor Krebs or Professor Bourne was in charge at the time—said that between 40% and 50% of cattle infections resulted from transmission by badgers. That was established in an entirely independent assessment. Little mention has been made of DEFRA’s 25-year TB eradication strategy and what it entails—[Interruption.]—I am sorry if I have not paid attention. It is being rolled out at the moment and includes more frequent—yearly—testing in areas where there is bovine TB, more movement restrictions, increased biosecurity, and vaccination at the edge of areas of spread of the disease.

The disease is out of control, spreading northward and eastward at an increasing rate. We must try to hold it back, to protect areas that are still free of bovine TB. The Government have decided to do that through a vaccination strategy, because they realise that culling in an edge area could lead to perturbation and increase the

4 Nov 2014 : Column 194WH

incidence of the disease. However, in areas where it is well established, and where other ways of controlling it have proved ineffective, they have introduced a pilot culling scheme. That approach is based on the randomised badger culling trials, which said that if culling were to be effective it would have to be on a bigger area with, if possible, hard boundaries to prevent perturbation. Perturbation in those areas, however, will not have much effect, because the disease is already well established. Probably up to 40% of the badgers are infected, so the movement of badgers will not make much difference there.

We cannot really assess the success of the culls at the moment, because we need at least four years’ information to find out. That is another thing that the randomised badger cull trial showed: results would not be obtained for about four years. However, it showed that even when those culls had stopped there were improvements in the cull areas and those surrounding them.

We must do more work on oral vaccines for badgers, vaccination for cattle, and the polymerase chain reaction that provides a possible test for infection in badgers. With that, we could trap and test badgers; the healthy ones could be vaccinated and released, and the infected ones disposed of, as vaccination could do them no good. There is a huge amount of work to be done, but I still believe that the pilot cull trials that the Government have instigated are an important part of that work in the heavily infected areas.

3.29 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is great to follow the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams). I concur with many of his remarks, if not all of them. It will come as no surprise to hon. Members to learn that I completely oppose the whole idea of stopping the badger cull: I will explain exactly why.

Between 1999 and 2010, the number of cattle with TB in this country rose from 6,000 to 33,000. That was the period when Labour Members were in control of government in this country. Let us look at the same period in the Republic of Ireland. There were 40,000 reactors to TB in 2000, but by 2012 the number had dropped to 18,500 and it is dropping further now, so the number of cases in the Republic of Ireland more than halved in that period, whereas ours went up by four times.

In the Republic of Ireland, there are badgers and there is virtually the same cattle testing regime as we have, so of all the countries in the world that we look at, the Republic of Ireland is the best one to take an example from. In that case, what was different about the Republic of Ireland in the period to which I am referring? It took the difficult decision—it is a difficult decision; we all respect that and I respect hon. Members in this Chamber who have different views on badger culling—to cull badgers and it is reducing the disease dramatically. If we are to eradicate TB from our cattle, we must tackle the reservoir of disease within badgers.

More than 6,000 reactors a year are taken out of the county of Devon alone. There, we have a real hot spot of TB, and where we have a hot spot of TB in cattle, we also have TB in the badgers. There is a higher percentage of TB in the badgers because they catch it from the

4 Nov 2014 : Column 195WH

cattle, and then the badgers reinfect the cattle. I have made this point many times before. If we are going to test our cattle and test them more vigorously, as the hon. Gentleman said, and take out the infected animals, it is absolutely pointless then putting the cattle back into a field where there are badgers with the disease, because they will just reinfect the cattle all the time.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me on this point? Certainly in my part of Somerset, a number of the farmers have declared that they have cattle with TB, but the cattle are not removed from their farms with any level of speed whatever, so it both causes a great deal of distress to the farmers and has the potential to keep the infection level going.

Neil Parish: Yes. The hon. Lady raises a point that my hon. Friend the Minister might well like to deal with. The quicker we can get a reactor off a farm the better, because it is infectious while it is there.

While there is a reservoir of disease in the wildlife and particularly in badgers, we have to cull, and we have to cull in the areas where the badgers have TB and the cattle do. That is why the hot spots are where we target the culling. That is why we targeted Gloucester and west Somerset. That is absolutely right. We will be able to use vaccine in other areas, because in other areas, where there is little TB in the cattle, there is likely to be little TB in the badgers also. Therefore, vaccinating badgers in those areas could well be very successful. The point has been made many times that if a badger is infected with a disease, we will not cure it by vaccinating it. That is why we have to take the very difficult decision of culling infected badgers.

I congratulate very much the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who may have been lambasted by many, but who actually stuck his neck above the parapet and said, “Yes, we will do the thing that is necessary, which is to cull badgers in infected areas.”

The hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) opposed the policy from the beginning, so he would oppose it whether or not it was successful. That was never an issue with him, because he has opposed the whole thing, but what do we say to my constituent, David, who is at Ennerleigh farm in Washfield? He has been farming there for generations. Over the last 10 years, he has lost 350 cattle that have had TB. It has been a slow decline all the time—more and more reactors. He needs the pool of wildlife that has that infection to be dealt with, as do farmers across Devon, across the west country and in Wales, because, as has been said, the disease is spreading. If we do not deal with it in those hot spots, we will, in the end, have to cull more badgers, for the simple reason that the disease will have spread, the badgers will get it, they will then disease the cattle and the whole thing will get worse and worse. We cannot go on like the last Labour Government did—prevaricating and prevaricating and doing absolutely nothing.

The current Government have taken the difficult position. We have looked at the cull areas. We have looked at hard boundaries to ensure, as far as possible, that we use major roads, rivers and so on to try to prevent as much perturbation as possible. The system is not perfect. We would accept that and we have learned

4 Nov 2014 : Column 196WH

lessons from last year as far as the humaneness is concerned. As for traps, it is absolutely within the rules for traps to be used, and as for those activists who go out and trash the traps so that we cannot catch the badgers, that is absolute madness, because if we want to cull a badger in the most humane way possible, getting it in a trap so that we can dispatch it at point-blank range will always be the best method of culling.

We have worked so hard to get this going, and the farmers of this country, who keep the cattle, deserve to have the disease brought under control, because this is not only about the meat that we eat and the milk that we drink. It is about the countryside that we see out there and the cattle out in those fields. If we do not get rid of the disease in the wildlife, those cattle will have to stay indoors because it is too dangerous for them to go out, and I do not exaggerate. That is why this Government are making the right decision. I look forward to these pilot culls being successful. We are, again anecdotally, seeing the disease reducing, reactors reducing and outbreaks of TB in Somerset in particular—

Chris Williamson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Neil Parish: No. You want me to finish by 20 to four, Mr Caton, so I will keep going.

We have seen, anecdotally, a reduction. If we can hold our nerve and ensure that we carry out the culls in a humane way, we will reduce the number of infected badgers in the countryside, in those areas with a high number of TB cases. If we use traps wherever necessary, carry out controlled shooting and ensure that we carry out the cull properly, we will see TB, first, reduce in this country and, eventually, we will eradicate it. If we do not take this action, we will never eradicate the disease. Farmers need to see a good future not only for them, but for their families. Farming is about generations of farmers, generations of cattle and generations of breeding of cattle. That is all being destroyed by this disease, and unless we take this firm action, we will not eradicate the disease.

3.38 pm

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) on securing the debate. It has been an excellent and passionate one on both sides of the argument. I would like to be clear about the Labour party view of the pilots. It is appalling that the badger culls have gone ahead for a second year when year one was described by David Macdonald, the chief scientific adviser to Natural England, as an “epic failure”. The Government should today commit to abandoning any attempt to continue these unscientific, inhumane and ineffective badger culls. They must instead work with scientists, wildlife groups and farmers to develop an alternative strategy to get the problem of TB under control. That is what Labour would do in office.

I accept that bovine TB is a scourge on our countryside. I have spoken to farmers whose herds have been affected and I have seen at first hand how it can destroy livelihoods as well as the communities that depend on them. I do not think that there is an argument about that. There is no doubt about the fact that the spread of bovine TB is a serious problem in need of a solution.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 197WH

Bill Wiggin: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Maria Eagle: No. We hear, and we have heard today, that the last Labour Government did nothing to address the problem. That is simply not true. We spent 10 years and £50 million on a large-scale trial in the areas worst affected by TB to develop a credible plan to tackle the issue based on the best available science. That work included testing the case for badger culling. The conclusion was that culls make no meaningful contribution to eradicating TB, and that small-scale, localised culling, which had been the policy of the previous Conservative Government, actually worsened the problem. It may be worth noting that the real rise in the spread of bovine TB began in 1979. Far from doing nothing, the previous Labour Government put in place the evidence base that was needed effectively to tackle that scourge.

In a manner so typical of the Government, they have decided that to pursue prejudice-based policy, with no regard to the scientific evidence, is the way forward. The badger cull pilots are one more example of that disregard for evidence. The culling has nothing to do with piloting or learning anything. Indeed, the Government have just fought two legal battles to preserve their right not to learn anything, and I am not the only person who thinks so. Professor Lord May of Oxford, the former Government chief scientific adviser, has said that the approach to the badger culls has shown that the Government

“are transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.”

In other words, the Government have selectively used evidence to give the illusion of a scientific underpinning for the policy.

The guidance provided to Natural England ahead of licensing the original culls made it clear that the target for culling must lead to the removal of at least 70% of the badgers in the total land area in the application over a period of not more than six consecutive weeks. The two areas where culling took place, Gloucestershire and Somerset, were each granted two extensions in the first year. On timing alone, therefore, both culls failed. In 2013, an independent expert panel was appointed to monitor the culls to assess the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of the pilots. The panel came up with a scientifically robust method for assessing the effectiveness of the culls, which included hair traps and sample testing to provide the best estimate of the local badger population. The results of the IEP monitoring could not have been clearer. The badger culls were ineffective and inhumane. The culls failed.

Simon Hart: If there was a methodology improvement that enabled the contractors to hit that target of 70%, would the hon. Lady support it?

Maria Eagle: I would support a policy that worked. The evidence demonstrates that a cull has to take 70% of the local badger population out in six weeks, otherwise it will be ineffective. In Somerset, only 48% of badgers were removed, and in Gloucestershire that figure was 39%. That is far too few to make those culls effective.

The IEP was only allowed to cover the first six weeks of the culls. The equivalent figures at the end of the extended time were 50.9% in Somerset and 55.7% in Gloucestershire. The extra time taken is likely to have

4 Nov 2014 : Column 198WH

increased the perturbation effect and hence made the spread of BTB more likely. On humaneness, the IEP reported:

“It is extremely likely that between 7% and 22% of badgers that were shot at were still alive after 5 minutes and therefore at risk of experiencing marked pain.”

Not only were the culls ineffective, but they caused unnecessary suffering for badgers. What was the Government’s response to that unwelcome advice from the experts? It was simple: cut out the experts and carry on with the culls. That sums up the Government’s approach. Instead of listening to the science, they decided to do away with it. That, I believe, is why there is not widespread support in the general population for the policy the Government are pursuing. The new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in last week’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions that she believes in science and evidence, but in her first week in the job, she announced her intention to press on with the culls in defiance of the scientific evidence. She missed a clear opportunity to leave prejudice-based policy behind and to place science firmly at the head and centre of her Department’s policy, and I believe that her decision speaks volumes.

The Government also changed the methodology that was used for the second year of the culls. Tim Coulson, a member of the IEP, which the Government have not used this year, in a recent article for the Journal of Animal Ecologycommented:

“A change of protocol half way through an experiment reveals such a limited understanding of the scientific method that I am tempted to speculate that the government no longer wants to know whether the pilots are effective or humane. They just want to cull badgers, regardless of whether the population or humaneness consequences can be assessed.”

That, I am afraid, is my view as well.

We know that the badger culls are not being conducted in the name of science. We can only assume that to go ahead with them is the easiest way for the Government to claim that they have a solution to the problem of bovine TB, despite the conclusion of badger ecologists and scientific evidence that culling makes the problem worse. The Government’s decision to ignore scientific evidence and best practice has not been justified by the Secretary of State. The existing evidence makes it clear that culling is not the solution.

The 2013 targets were based on estimates of badger population size derived from capture-mark-recapture using genetic signatures from badger hair snagged in barbed wire. For 2014, there was no such field estimation of badger numbers. In the second year of the culls, the Government have not only departed from the original methodology but used two different methods to set cull targets for Gloucestershire and for Somerset. Why? For Gloucestershire, the Government relied on last year’s estimate, minus the number of badgers killed last year, plus a fudge factor to account for breeding and immigration. For Somerset, they threw out last year’s estimate and multiplied an estimate of the number of active badger setts by another fudge factor that was meant to indicate badgers per sett. Badgers per sett is a meaningless concept, however, because most badgers use more than one sett, and sett use is likely to change as culling disrupts the badgers’ social system.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 199WH

The cull targets for the second year of the pilots are apparently derived from numbers that have been plucked out of thin air or worked out on the back of an envelope. Those crude methods for estimating badger populations provided a range for the cull target in Somerset of between 300 and 1,700 badgers, which is rather a wide range. DEFRA chose the lowest figure. Analysis by Professor Rosie Woodroffe, which has been referred to during the debate, has shown that there is a 97.5% chance that the cull will fall short of the 70% mark that the evidence shows would give it a chance of being effective.

Will the Minister tell us what assessment he has made of the comparability of the methods used to assess the effectiveness from year one and year two of the badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset? Will he also clarify the reason why different methods of estimating badger population were used in Gloucestershire and Somerset to determine the numbers of badgers to be removed in year two of the pilot culls? Why did the methodology used to calculate the number of badgers to be culled change from year one to year two?

Will the Minister, in recognition of the importance of having a credible and agreed evidence base, agree to an independent scientific peer review of the methodologies used for determining the humaneness and effectiveness of the second year of the culls? Today, in an open letter from the senior editors, the Journal of Animal Ecology has offered its services

“critically to appraise the methods used and their power to determine the success of this year’s cull”,

and to provide

“a transparent and independent review of the available evidence using our extensive international network of reviewers, comprising scientists with acknowledged expertise in wildlife population monitoring and management, as well as expert statisticians and modellers.”

What possible reason could the Minister have for turning down such an offer? Will he, therefore, accept it? In DEFRA’s calculations of badgers per sett as a means of estimating badger populations, what account was taken of the movement by badgers between setts and the effects of perturbation? Can he confirm that Natural England’s audit addresses only adherence to DEFRA’s chosen methods? As we have seen, those methods are crude, vague, different in Somerset and Gloucestershire and different in years one and two of the culls? Are there any plans to extend badger culling beyond the pilots in Gloucestershire and Somerset ahead of next year’s general election?

What is the Government’s view of evidence from Wales, where there has been no badger culling but where there has been a crackdown on cattle-to-cattle transmission, improved farm biosecurity and a reduction of 18% in new incidents of bovine TB? As hon. Members have mentioned, the Government have continually pointed to international examples of controlling bovine TB in Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland to defend their decision to cull badgers. Do they not appreciate that comparing totally different situations will not yield the insights required for proper evidence-based policy making? Why should data from New Zealand or Ireland be more relevant to England than data from England? Not only are the culls an epic failure, but they are estimated to have cost more than £4,000 per badger killed, according to research undertaken by the Conservative

4 Nov 2014 : Column 200WH

Bow Group. Labour has consistently pledged to put evidence at the heart of policy making, working with scientists, wildlife groups and farmers to develop an alternative strategy to get the problem of bovine TB under control. We need to introduce stricter cattle measures and prioritise badger and cattle vaccinations, but the culls are not the answer.

In March 2014 I wrote to the previous Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), offering to work with him on the development of an evidence-based, cross-party programme. Rather than engaging meaningfully in the search for a proper long-term solution, he ignored scientific evidence, made a decision based on his own prejudice and then offered retrospectively to tell me and other hon. Members what the policy was, expecting us to agree. That is no way to address a disease that will take many years to eradicate. These disastrous culls should be abandoned now, and we should work together across parties to develop an alternative that works.

3.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): I welcome the opportunity to respond to today’s debate and thank all hon. Members for their contributions, which have covered a wide range of issues.

This year’s culls finished as planned after six weeks, and we are now analysing the data collected over that period. The data are being independently audited in the same way as last year’s. When the analysis is complete, the outcomes of this year’s cull will be published, so I will focus on our approach to collecting the data and assessing populations this year—issues to which many hon. Members have alluded. That is directly relevant to this debate.

We published our approach to monitoring before the culls started, and I confirm that we carried out the planned number of field observations and far more than the planned number of post-mortem examinations—figures that were both set last year. A lot of information has been collected. The processes used for collecting data are also currently subject to independent audit. We are taking the same approach as last year to ensure that our data are robust.

In August 2014 we published a detailed document setting out our precise methodology, “Setting the minimum and maximum numbers for Year 2 of the badger cull”, and before the cull started we published that guidance to help Natural England set this year’s minimum and maximum numbers. We set out clearly how this year’s numbers were derived for each area, and the paper describes in great detail—it runs to 34 pages—the basis of the estimates and any assumptions made. The approach was agreed by the chief scientific adviser. Estimating wildlife populations is subject to uncertainty, as the independent expert panel acknowledged in its report last year. It is important that we use all valid sources of information, giving particular weight to up-to-date evidence about numbers of active setts, based on repeated observations across the whole cull area.

A number of hon. Members have mentioned the somewhat unscientific outburst by Professor Rosie Woodroffe. I like Rosie Woodroffe—she hails from Cornwall and

4 Nov 2014 : Column 201WH

even went to the same school as my sister—but she needs to compare the approach taken in the randomised badger culling trials with the methodology we have used this year. The reality is that there was no hair-trapping at all in the RBCTs, on which all our assumptions in the fight against this disease are based. In fact, no assessment of the badger population was made at the start of the culls. Instead, once four years of culling were finished, there was a retrospective attempt to estimate what the population might have been at the start—to back-calculate what the populations were. People have talked about the methodology that we adopted being crude, but how is that for crude? The RBCTs did not even assess the population before they started, and then they retrospectively tried to estimate what the population was.

Compare that with the approach we took this year, which is set out in great detail on pages 10 and 11 of the guidance. We took the end point of the population last year as this year’s starting point. We followed the IEP’s advice and used the cull sample matching method to try to predict the end population after last year’s culls. We then used a number of models, which are set out in detail, to take account of population growth. Those models are largely rooted in long-standing population measurements in places such as Woodchester park over many years—there are 20 years of data—to establish how populations change over a given winter. At the end of that process, as with the RBCT, which is all the IEP had to go on, we finally submitted the population to method 4, which is where one looks at the real activity on the ground. There were sett surveys and sett sticking. We have looked at the latrines and measured actual activity in badger setts. That is a kind of reality check, to check whether our data models are giving the right information.

The shadow Secretary of State highlighted the fact that different approaches were taken in Somerset and Gloucester, and asked why. We set that out in great detail on pages 12 and 13 of the guidance. In Gloucester, there was greater consistency in what the models were telling us about the population, so it was easier to meet that condition. In Somerset there was a conflict between some of the models, so it went with the most reliable model, which used real data in real time on real activity in setts.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): What progress has the Minister made with farmers on trying to find ways to improve biosecurity so that there is less contact between badgers and cattle?

George Eustice: We are making progress. In fact, we have been talking to an accreditation organisation about whether we could get farmers to sign up to a package of measures to improve biosecurity, including keeping badgers away from their farmyards, for example, to try to reduce the spread of the disease.

There is a misunderstanding about the IEP. Last year, the IEP was not out in the field in the middle of the night with binoculars to observe the culls. That was done by Natural England staff last year, and they did it again this year in the same way. The IEP did not carry out the post-mortems on badger carcasses last year.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 202WH

It was done by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, both last year and this year. The IEP had a one-off role last year in informing us of how we should treat the raw data that came from AHVLA and Natural England. The IEP was not in the field; it was a desktop exercise. The IEP completed its work, and we do not need to repeat it this year. Do we need the British Ecological Society to repeat what the IEP did last year? No, we do not, because that job was done and completed last year, and this year we have a process that will be audited. If the British Ecological Society has an opinion, it can express a view on this very detailed, 34-page report. People like Professor Woodroffe say that they do not agree with the report, but they have yet to explain why.

Mrs Main: Will the Minister give way?

George Eustice: I will not give way, because I want to get through as many other points as I can. My hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) and others highlighted the situation in Wales and the limitations of vaccination. He is right that it is wrong to read too many conclusions into the fall in incidences of the disease in Wales. The vaccination trials in Wales cover only about 1% of the land area. We are running our own vaccination trials in the edge area. I have met a number of wildlife groups to discuss taking that project forward to check the spread of bovine TB, so vaccination has a role in fighting this disease. Vaccination is part of the Government’s strategy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) mentioned the inaccuracy of the skin tests. We know that the test is only about 80% effective, but where we have a serious breakdown, we often use it in conjunction with the gamma interferon test, which has fewer false negatives but a few more false positives. We can use that where we deem it necessary. The shadow Secretary of State mentioned that the RBCT proves that culling does not work, but that is not the case. The RBCT actually proves that, at the end of the four-year cull period, there was an improvement in the number of breakdowns.

I finish by reminding hon. Members that we have the worst bovine TB situation in the developed world. We cannot let that continue if we want competitive, productive and profitable beef and dairy sectors. Other countries that have faced similar problems, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) pointed out, have demonstrated the route to long-term disease freedom. They show us that addressing the risks posed by wildlife must be part of any coherent and comprehensive approach to tackling this disease.

We now have a very clear strategy for achieving our goal of official TB-free status in England. The approach includes deploying tighter cattle measures, strengthening biosecurity, and vaccinating badgers to prevent the disease from spreading from the TB high-risk area to the edge area. Unlike the Opposition, we are clear that any coherent strategy to eradicate TB must include measures to address the disease in wildlife in TB hot spots. We will continue to use all options available to us today to fight this dreadful disease, which has been out of control for 20 years. Doing nothing is no longer an option, which is why we intend to stick with this strategy.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 203WH

Ovarian Cancer (Gene Testing)

4 pm

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton, and I am grateful to have secured this vital debate on ovarian cancer, and more specifically on the implementation of genetic testing techniques for every woman diagnosed with the illness. Ovarian cancer affects more than 6,500 women in the UK each year, making it the fifth most common cancer among women. In fact, more than 150 women a year are diagnosed with the disease in Northern Ireland alone. It is most common in women—

4.1 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

4.22 pm

On resuming

Ms Ritchie: Again, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. I am pleased that the Minister is here to respond on this delicate, critical and vital issue for women.

Ovarian cancer is most common in women who have had the menopause, but it can affect women of any age. Notably, the symptoms can be difficult to diagnose, as they are common to many other less serious ailments. Sadly, that leads to many women not getting the treatment they need quickly enough. It is the most aggressive gynaecological cancer. Only about 40% of women are still alive five years after being diagnosed, according to research in the British Medical Journal.

David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. As she knows, I do a lot of work in my constituency with the Mandeville cancer unit. When I visit it, I see a lot of younger women who have the disease. Hospital staff tell me that early intervention is one of the ways that it can be resolved, so I fully support the hon. Lady in her bid today.

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman his intervention. I agree that it is all about early diagnosis. Women who are diagnosed in the early stages of ovarian cancer have a 90% chance of surviving the next five years, but if the cancer is found at a later stage the five-year survival rate is reduced to 22%—quite a startling statistic. Clearly, early diagnosis and treatment is vital.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this important issue to the House’s consideration. Some 39% of women carry the harmful BRCA1 gene and up to 70% carry the BRCA2 gene. Does the hon. Lady think that those with a family history of the disease should be tested earlier to ensure they have regular check-ups and screenings? Does she also think that those outside that 39% should have checks?

Ms Ritchie: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I agree that early diagnosis of ovarian cancer is the key for women.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 204WH

UK survival rates for ovarian cancer are among the lowest in western Europe, with one woman dying every two hours from the disease. Sadly, according to the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, survival rates for the cancer have not improved significantly since the early 1990s. Dr Miriam McCarthy of the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland pointed out at a recent hearing in Stormont that the northern European and Scandinavian countries have five-year survival rates above 40%, so we could clearly do more to combat the cancer.

Anybody who has personal or familial experience of this dreadful illness knows the devastating impact it has. In Northern Ireland, a lady called Una Crudden courageously documented her fight with the disease and inspired many others to do the same. I know of a young lady, a teacher in my constituency called Oonagh Carson, who died last year shortly after diagnosis, which took her a long time to get.

Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. My aunt died of ovarian cancer some years ago.

One of the areas that I am sure the hon. Lady wants to highlight is the role of genetic testing for ovarian cancer and the BRCA gene. Is she aware of the work that is being led by the Institute of Cancer Research in conjunction with the Royal Marsden on mainstreaming genetic testing in this area? That programme has already produced a free-to-access pathway that has already enabled 200 women to be tested and could be rolled out to other hospitals. It has been shown not to cost any more, but it can save many lives.

Ms Ritchie: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his useful intervention, which highlights the need for genetic testing and the good pilot work that is being done at the Royal Marsden. It is a pity that that work cannot be rolled out in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. We must not forget that such work has already been executed in Scotland.

By better informing the public and GPs and implementing modern genetic testing techniques we can prevent many more women and their families having to live through the trauma of ovarian cancer. I want to focus on genetic testing techniques that have become available and will have a key role in the battle against this dreadful disease. Genetic techniques have rapidly moved out of the realms of science fiction and are having a significant impact on the way we approach and treat illnesses. Without overstating scientific advances and promising miracle cures, we have a responsibility to utilise those groundbreaking new techniques in everyday medicine. As we learn more about the genetic basis for diseases and certain cancers, this becomes not only a medical issue but an issue for society as whole.

There is an onus to manage and develop new information in a responsible, morally sound way that informs people, rather than distressing or panicking them. The public have been made more aware of those techniques by high-profile figures telling their stories. For example, Angelina Jolie has spoken about the tragic death of her mother from ovarian cancer and her decision to have preventive surgery. Mainstream awareness can only be a good thing, but we must harness it positively to empower women to make informed choices about their treatment.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 205WH

Speaking about her experience of genetic testing and of dealing with the illness, Angelina Jolie said:

“Wherever I go, usually I run into women and we talk about health issues, women’s issues, breast cancer, ovarian cancer. I’ve talked to men about their daughters’ and wives’ health. It makes me feel closer to other people who deal with the same things and have either lost their parents or are considering surgeries or wondering about their children.”

In the same way, women in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK who have or are at risk of the disease are desperate to have access to the information that advanced genetic testing can reveal. The genetic testing normally involves having a sample of blood or tissue taken. The sample will contain cells containing DNA, which can be tested to find out whether someone is carrying a particular mutation and is at risk of developing a particular condition or illness.

Specifically, BRCA1/2 gene testing, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), has emerged as the leading genetic test related to ovarian cancer. We all have these genes, but a mutation on them can increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer from one in 54 to approximately one in two. Evidence shows that one in five women with non-mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer, which accounts for 70% of all cases, carries the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, which dramatically increases their risk of developing the disease. The BRCA gene test at a time of diagnosis offers patients the best guidance for their treatment and should be a matter of priority to ensure that the optimal treatment pathway is selected, whether that is drugs or preventive surgery.

Critically, a BRCA test at a time of diagnosis can change the management of their treatment and save the lives of relatives, who can also be guided toward taking the test. Women in possession of this knowledge are able to make better decisions on their own treatment, as can their close relatives. They can make better informed decisions on surgical and drug treatment options. Indeed, the presence of the mutation points to a form of the disease that responds better to PARP inhibitor drugs, such as the new drug Olaparib, on which the European Commission is considering a recommendation for approval. Dr Sadaf Ghaem-Maghami, senior lecturer and honorary consultant in gynaecological oncology at Hammersmith hospital in London, has stated:

“PARP inhibitors are more effective at killing cancer cells and shrinking tumours in patients with BRCA 1/2 than those without. They are particularly important for BRCA1/2 patients who have a recurrence of ovarian cancer, and for whom there might not be many options.”

In short, I contend that it is clear that we need to implement a system across the UK and Northern Ireland where women diagnosed with ovarian cancer automatically receive a BRCA gene test and have the option for close relatives to take that test as well. I have no doubt that that would save lives and put women in a position where they can make decisions based on all the available scientific evidence. What is the Minister’s position on that?

On cost and commissioning, such techniques have unfortunately not received the attention or funding they deserve from NHS commissioners or the Department of Health in England and Wales or the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety in Northern Ireland. Despite qualifying under National Institute for

4 Nov 2014 : Column 206WH

Health and Care Excellence guidelines and despite the introduction of mandatory testing in Scotland, the tests are not uniformly available across the UK. It is also evident that clinicians and practitioners in Northern Ireland and England are unclear who is responsible for commissioning BRCA testing. Can the Minster provide clarification on those arrangements and confirm that testing qualifies under NICE guidelines?

BRCA testing has been highly selective and based largely on family history, which risks missing out on three out of four people with the gene, according to the charity Ovarian Cancer Action, which I commend on its work. It published a report some time ago and has been at the forefront of this campaign. It argues that all women with non-mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer should be considered for the test on diagnosis. It should be clarified and reiterated that the procedure is already in place in Scotland. Trials at the Royal Marsden hospital, which were referred to by the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), show that such testing could be extended in a cost-effective manner to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Paul Burstow: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to emphasise that point. The research evidence shows that productivity is increased by doing the testing as part of an oncology appointment, rather than as something separate. The trials are delivering that in a way that is not costing the NHS more, and it is having huge benefits.

Ms Ritchie: I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is estimated that a BRCA1/2 gene test for someone already diagnosed with ovarian cancer costs the NHS between £600 and £850. Associated counselling can cost between £250 and £500. Together, that can amount to approximately £1,000 a patient. Some 15% to 20% of those tested are likely to receive a result that shows they have the gene mutation. There are likely to be additional costs for resulting tests on close family members, but the early diagnosis and treatment of those individuals will be especially beneficial. The evidence shows that BRCA gene testing is cost-effective in other countries. Modelling conducted in association with NICE guidelines on familial testing suggested that BRCA1/2 gene testing versus no gene testing was particularly cost-effective in women aged 35 to 55.

In conclusion, this disease is one of the most prominent threats to women’s health. It is particularly difficult to diagnose and treat early, and it is obviously devastating and very sad for sufferers and their families, but we are on the cusp of being able to treat it more effectively. Through the introduction and implementation of genetic testing on diagnosis, we can make a significant impact on survival rates and familial guidance. Will the Minister inform us what the Department’s position is on automatic BRCA gene testing for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer? What discussions has she had with NHS Scotland about its existing programme? What discussions does she plan to have with counterparts in Northern Ireland and Wales about such measures? It would be welcome if she could provide clarification on who is responsible for implementing BRCA testing, as there is a degree of confusion over the current arrangements.

In bringing forward modern genetic testing techniques, we can improve survival rates for this terrible and sad illness and put us, as women, in a more empowered

4 Nov 2014 : Column 207WH

position where we can make the best informed decisions on our treatment and the well-being of our close relatives. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the various issues I have outlined.

4.38 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison): I thank the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) for bringing this important issue to the House today. She has a long-standing interest in health issues and she has made the case very well for why we need to look closely at this important disease. I will come back to her after the debate on any point that I am not able to respond to now, particularly the technical aspects. I want to give the House a bit of the picture on what else is happening on ovarian cancer, as well as addressing the specific issues that she raised.

As the hon. Lady said, ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer for women in the UK. The current five-year survival rate is 44%, but we know that if we get the critical early-stage diagnosis, up to 90% of women survive for at least five years. We know that we could save 500 additional lives each year if we matched the best European survival rates. The debate comes at a poignant time for me, because I lost a very dear friend to ovarian cancer less than three weeks ago. I am well aware of the pressure that the disease brings to bear on the families of those affected. We are investing an additional £750 million over four years in England to improve early diagnosis, and I will discuss the details of that and of treatment later.

The hon. Lady’s speech focused on testing and the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. As she rightly said, a family history of cancer is one of the most important risk factors for ovarian cancer, with about one in 10 ovarian cancers being caused by an inherited faulty gene such as the two to which she referred. Incidentally, the genes also increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer. We know that women with a mother or sister diagnosed with ovarian cancer have three times the risk of ovarian cancer of women without such a family history.

NICE’s most recent guidelines recommend offering genetic testing to people with a 10% risk of carrying a BRCA mutation, which is lower than the 20% risk previously recommended. I remind hon. Members that NICE clinical guidelines represent best practice and that we expect NHS organisations in England to take them fully into account when designing services to meet the needs of the population. As a result of their complexity and the different states of readiness for implementation in the NHS, clinical guidelines are not subject to the same statutory funding regulation as technology appraisals. Clinical guidelines therefore have a slightly different status, but it is none the less important that NICE has revised them. NHS England is considering the new recommendation in developing and publishing a single national clinical commissioning policy to confirm the routinely funded NHS threshold for testing.

Like the hon. Lady, I thank Ovarian Cancer Action for all its work in this area. The recently released report on BRCA testing raises important issues, some of which were aired in the hon. Lady’s speech and in interventions. NHS England has said that moving to routine testing at a 10% risk would require a significant capacity and funding investment in genetic testing, diagnostics, counselling and treatment. NHS England is currently

4 Nov 2014 : Column 208WH

considering the potential for funding a revised 10% testing threshold in 2015-16 as part of its annual funding prioritisation process. I will draw NHS England’s attention to the strength of feeling in this debate and to the interesting points that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) and the hon. Member for South Down made about cost-effectiveness. I will also stress that Parliament continues to have considerable interest in the subject.

The hon. Lady touched on groundbreaking techniques, which provides me with an opportunity to refer to the 100,000 genomes project. We can see the potential of genomics to understanding cancers and rare illnesses and finding new treatments. In 2012, we launched the 100,000 genomes project, through which 100,000 whole genomes from NHS patients will be sequenced by 2017. The project will focus on patients with a rare disease and their families, as well as patients with cancer. Ovarian cancer is in the programme’s scope, and it will hopefully enable us to continue our record of groundbreaking cancer research here in the UK.

I will update hon. Members on the two major screening trials for ovarian cancer taking place in the UK. The first is looking at two possible techniques: trans-vaginal ultrasound and a blood test for cancer antigen CA125. Both of them are being tested as part of the UK collaborative trial of ovarian cancer screening. The study is being funded by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK, with the Government funding the NHS costs of the study. The first phase of results was promising for both techniques, and the final results are due in January 2015. The UK National Screening Committee, which advises the Governments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on screening matters, is preparing to assess the results of the trial against its internationally recognised criteria for a screening programme and to make a recommendation on that basis, which could be a significant move forward. A second study, the United Kingdom familial ovarian cancer screening study, which began in 2005, is also looking to develop an optimised screening procedure for ovarian cancer in high-risk women, such as those to whom the hon. Lady referred.

Returning to early diagnosis, there is cause for encouragement, but we must continue to consider early diagnosis at every possible moment. The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to the impact of early diagnosis on survival rates. The Government have committed £450 million to achieving earlier diagnosis and improving survival. The funding supports improved direct GP access to four key tests, including non-obstetric ultrasound, to help with speedier diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Those tests are being used; in June 2014, GPs requested more than a quarter of all tests that may have been used to diagnose cancer under the direct access arrangements. The test with the highest proportion of GP referral was ultrasounds that may have been used to diagnose ovarian cancer, 46% of which were requested by GPs.

I also want to update the House on the “Be Clear on Cancer” preventive work in England. We want to improve outcomes for women, which is what Public Health England is working towards. With the Department and NHS England, it ran a regional “Be Clear on Cancer” ovarian pilot campaign early this year to raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Like other cancers with poor survival rates, many of the early symptoms

4 Nov 2014 : Column 209WH

can be similar to those of benign conditions, making early diagnosis difficult. The next step is to assess thoroughly the data from the regional pilot, which will help us make informed decisions about which cancer and symptom-awareness campaigns to take forward in 2015-16.

On research, the National Institute for Health Research’s clinical research network is currently recruiting patients to more than 30 ovarian cancer clinical trials and studies. In partnership with Cancer Research UK, the NIHR is also funding 14 experimental cancer medicine centres across England, six of which have a focus on ovarian cancer. A good amount of research is ongoing.

In addition to giving some sense of where NHS England is on BRCA testing, I hope that I am also providing a rounder picture of what else is going on in the field, including screening, diagnostics and awareness campaigns. It is important that the matter gets this level of attention.

Ms Ritchie: Has the Minister had any discussions with the NHS in Wales and in Northern Ireland? Like her, I have personal experience from knowing people who have died. Perhaps their situation could have been made easier had they had much earlier diagnosis.

Jane Ellison: Although the decision is one for NHS England, the debate has highlighted the fact that interesting work is going on in Scotland. The scale of the challenge is smaller in numerical terms, but I am interested in finding out more about what is going on. I will certainly initiate a conversation to understand what is going on in the four countries of the United Kingdom. I have regular conversations with Health Ministers from other nations for other reasons, as the hon. Lady knows. It may not be possible to raise this specific issue in those conversations, but I will ask for more information to see whether lessons can be learned and to understand the points identified in studies about the cost-effectiveness of early testing, in order to ensure that we have bottomed that out.

I hope that this short debate has served to highlight the issue’s importance. I am always grateful for an opportunity to discuss such important issues and to ensure that the House expresses its interest in making better progress on cancers with the poorest survival rates. I hope I have also updated the hon. Lady and other interested Members on what else is going on to try to improve outcomes for family and friends and to achieve better results in future. I thank for bringing the debate to the House today.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 210WH

Dangerous Driving Offences (Sentencing)

Martin Caton (in the Chair): Order. We can now move on to the final debate of the afternoon, which is on sentencing for dangerous driving offences. The Member leading the debate has already indicated that many hon. Members would like to intervene, which is entirely in his gift. I will only say that we do want to hear the Minister as well, because the questions that are asked need to be answered. I ask everyone to bear that in mind during the debate.

4.49 pm

Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton, in this incredibly important debate on sentencing for dangerous driving. The fact that so many hon. Friends and colleagues have turned up for the debate demonstrates the strength of feeling across the House on the issue. I want to highlight the case of my constituents, John Morland and Kris Jarvis, who were killed by a dangerous driver. I also want to press for a change in the law to toughen sentences for dangerous driving.

The case of John and Kris is incredibly tragic. They were cycling in my constituency on 13 February and were hit from behind by a car driven by a man called Alexander Walter. He had stolen the car, was disqualified from driving, and was two and a half times over the alcohol limit. In the 24 hours before the accident, he had taken cocaine, and it emerged afterwards that he had already made 14 court appearances and had 67 convictions, one of which related to him phoning Heathrow airport to make a bomb hoax only days after the 9/11 tragedy. Walter walked away from the wreckage without a scratch. John and Kris did not; they died at the scene due to their appalling injuries.

John and Kris were family men, and as a result of the accident seven children lost their father; parents lost their sons; brothers and sisters lost their siblings; and the fiancées of John and Kris, who are present and are listening to the debate, Hayley Lindsay and Tracey Fidler, lost the love of their life. I was particularly touched by a point that Tracey made in the local paper: since the age of 17, they had never spent a day apart. I pay tribute to the courage, bravery and strength of character of Tracey and Hayley. They have spent months trying to rebuild their shattered lives and dreams. They are very grateful to their friends and families, who have helped them, but the reality is that those families started a life sentence on 13 February.

Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend most wholeheartedly on securing this vital debate. I pass on my condolences to the families he mentioned. I have enormous sympathy for their case. A year ago yesterday, two teenage girls from my constituency were mown down by a gentleman driving at more than twice the speed limit on a cocktail of drugs, for which crime he received a nine-year prison sentence, which amounts to less than 4.5 years per life. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is completely inadequate for the life sentence that that man inflicted on those families?

Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will make the case for changing the law, but she has set out clearly that at the end of the day we are talking about families and justice. That is what we are all fighting for in this House. As I said, the families started

4 Nov 2014 : Column 211WH

a life sentence—a life without their loved ones—on 13 February. By contrast, Walter got 10 years and three months for killing two innocent men. He committed what I understand from the Crown Prosecution Service guidance to be a level 1 offence. He was also responsible for just about every aggravating factor listed in the guidance that anyone could think of. Perhaps the Minister will comment, but why on earth was the maximum tariff of 14 years not levied against that man?

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend for taking up this serious issue. Will he join me in requesting that the Crown Prosecution Service considers charging with manslaughter far more often, rather than charging with death by dangerous driving? If a person causes someone’s death by behaving in a grossly negligent or reckless manner anywhere else in society, they are charged with manslaughter. If that happens on the road, however, they are not; they are charged with death by dangerous driving. There is no legal reason why that should be. If a person is convicted of manslaughter, that gives the sentencing court far more powers, and a maximum possible sentence of life, rather than 14 years.

Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend is an expert in the law, and he knows about these matters, so I hope that the Minister has listened to what he said. We will talk about the review being conducted by the Minister, but I hope that that point will form part of it.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on a timely debate. I started the campaigning group PACTS, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, many years ago, because I saw two people lying by the side of the road dying. My passion has always been to stop such needless deaths. Does he agree that we want evenness of justice in this country? Wherever in our land that ghastly offence of death by dangerous driving occurs, there should be the same penalty with the same severity.

Alok Sharma: The hon. Gentleman is right. I was about to say that even had the offender in the case I mentioned got 14 years, that would not have been enough. The reality is that that man, Walter, will probably be out of prison in a lot fewer than 10 years.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on raising again this most emotive issue. I draw the attention of the House to my constituent, 18-year-old Olivia Flanagan, who was killed last December by Luke Sykes. Mr Sykes was over the drink-drive limit and had hit a number of cars before ploughing into Olivia’s car. He was driving at a blind summit on the wrong side of the road, and Olivia happened to be coming the other way. The man had 15 previous driving convictions and had only recently got his driving licence back. He had also ticked a box on the licence stating that he did not suffer from mental illness, although he had a history of such illness.

Martin Caton (in the Chair): Order. I am afraid that is far too long for an intervention.

Alok Sharma: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He makes the important point that we must have a punishment that fits the crime. We have a justice system that sometimes has much more regard for

4 Nov 2014 : Column 212WH

the criminal than the victims—not only the victims who are killed, but their families and friends who are left behind to pick up the pieces.

Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the point that he is making is particularly relevant to motoring offences? Until the legal system—the courts and the police—treats people who get behind the wheel of a car as being in charge of a lethal weapon, and until those people realise that they are in charge of a lethal weapon, his constituents and the constituents of all of us who have experienced such terrible losses will never feel that justice has been done.

Alok Sharma: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. As we all agree, the law has to change in the case of dangerous driving.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate, and I agree with everything that he has said so far. Another element is that the CPS, when looking at such cases, sometimes chooses to go for the lesser charge of careless driving. That is what happened in the case of my constituent, James Still, who was killed on new year’s eve 2010, and whose family I am supporting. May I also bring my hon. Friend’s attention to the round-table meeting that I am setting up with MPs and victims’ families? All hon. Members are invited to meet with the families. I will ensure that anyone who has not already had an invitation gets one.

Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I was aware of the meeting and will of course attend, as I am sure everyone present will. Despite the grief that Tracey and Hayley have to live with every day, they want justice for John and Kris. They want to ensure that the lives of their loved ones were not lost in vain. They are asking for a change in the law. Despite all the problems that they face as a result of the loss of their fiancés, they have had the courage to put forward an e-petition, which was prepared with the help of a fantastic local campaigner in my constituency, Teresa Colliass, and is now on the Government website. The petition calls for drivers to receive a maximum sentence of 14 years per person who has been killed.

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for securing the debate. Tragically, there was a similar case in my constituency last year, when Ross and Clare Simons, riding a tandem bike, were mown down by a dangerous driver who was disqualified and had many previous convictions. Ross and Clare’s families, and the campaign, “Justice for Ross and Clare”, today back Tracey, Hayley and their families in a common cause: 14 years should be 14 years per person killed. We should not have concurrency—sentences being served together. My offer is that we and those families work together to get the law changed urgently.

Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: families want to make sure that we have not concurrent but consecutive sentences. If Walter had been given 14 years for each death, he would now be facing 28 years behind bars rather than being out in what will probably be a lot less than 10 years.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 213WH

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. We all agree on the importance of the review of sentences for driving offences. I am sure that like everyone else here, he would be grateful for clarity from the Minister on when that review will happen.

Alok Sharma: I am sure the Minister will address that point in detail.

I put on the record my thanks to the Reading Post and The Reading Chronicle for publicising the case and the petition. I also thank The Sun, which has done so nationally, and many others for helping to publicise the petition. So far, 25,000 people have signed. Both I and the families want to see a lot more signatures.

I do not believe that 10 years was a long enough sentence for what Walter did. The families affected do not believe that, and, so far, 25,000 people across our land do not, either. We have heard today that Members of Parliament representing many, many people across our country do not believe that that was right. I would like us all to sign the petition, which should influence the review, and to bring about a change in the law.

There are a number of specific things I want to hear from the Minister. I understand that he cannot predetermine the review. But does he understand the strength of feeling there is in the country about this issue and that Members of Parliament, members of the public and families who are affected by such tragedies want to put victims first? Does he have sympathy for the petition’s aims? The hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) talked about the ongoing review on all driving offences. How can members of the public influence the review? Will there be a public consultation?

I want justice for John and Kris, as do their families. Hon. Members want justice for the families of constituents who have been affected by this crime. When it comes to dangerous driving, the punishment must fit the crime. It is high time we had a change in the law.

5.2 pm

The Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims (Mike Penning): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Caton. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West (Alok Sharma) on securing this debate, which I welcome. My thoughts and prayers are with his constituents’ families, and all those who have been mentioned today. The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), a former Road Safety Minister, is in his place to listen to the debate. I pay tribute to him, and will refer back to the work done on this issue over the years, not least the work that he and I both did in our former occupation.

Far be it from me to nudge my colleagues into going before any Committee, but given the absolutely understandable strength of feeling here today, the petition may well get 100,000 signatures, and no doubt should. It should go before the Backbench Business Committee, as we need a much longer debate on the matter. I do not mind whether I respond to that debate or the Road Safety Minister does, but the House should hear more about the effects on Members’ constituents, including my own—Ministers should never forget that we are still MPs, and I know my constituents will support many of the comments made today.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 214WH

Nothing I say today will bring back Kris and John. As an ex-fireman, ex-paramedic and ex-Road Minister—I have lots of ex-careers—one of the most poignant jobs I have ever had was going to what used to be called, inappropriately, road traffic accidents and are now quite rightly called road traffic collisions. I pay tribute to all our blue-light responders: our police, ambulance and fire crews, and representatives of local authorities, who are now often there. They do a fantastic job for us every day. Going to an incident is enormously difficult, as responders can see what has been done to an individual or individuals by someone who should never have been driving the car in the first place because they were disqualified—as in this case—who should not have been behind the wheel because they were drunk and who had no regard for another person’s life.

Far be it from any parliamentarian, including me, to tell a judge what they should do in their court—we do not have that system in this country, thank goodness—but it is absolutely right and proper that Parliament decides the punishment for a crime. It is then for the judges to interpret that. In this particular case the judge interpreted the law and decided that the sentence would be 10 years and three months. The offender and his legal team appealed against that sentence, but thank goodness we saw common sense.

For this offence it falls within the capabilities of the prosecuting team to appeal to the Attorney-General against an unduly lenient sentence. I do not know what the Attorney-General might have decided, but that option was certainly within the capability of the prosecution. As a Back-Bench MP, I appealed against lenient sentences on many occasions, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) touched on the issue of what the CPS looks at. I am not a lawyer—there are many in the House—but the problem with the law as it stands is the issue of intent. It is a question of whether the driver intended to go and do what they did. That is why the CPS tends to hold back from prosecuting for murder or manslaughter. It is entitled to do that, however; that is within the regulations.

I turn now to what we are going to do—and not only because of the debate, the petition and the ongoing review. There are a couple of matters I will touch upon.

Andrew Bridgen: Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: I will not. I know that sounds very rude, but I spoke to the Chair before the debate, and because so many people have intervened—that is why I would like a longer debate on the issue at some later point—I will not get through all the points I want to raise if I do. If I get through all the points that I promised my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West I would raise in my response, I will then give way.

The review is massively important, in that it will look not so much at the offences—those are within a different brief—but at what the penalties should be. I will not pre-empt the review but I agree that we need to look carefully at whether the punishment fits the crime. We should look at the difference between driving a car and killing somebody—when drunk, or without insurance, or a licence, or any of those things we know people should have—with the intent to do that and killing a person with intent in any other way. That will be part of the review.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 215WH

We will consult extensively. I know that families are listening to me—not only those who are here today because of the debate but families across the country—and I want everybody involved in that consultation. It is vital that not just judges, prosecutors and politicians, but the families of the victims themselves—I would say that as the Victims Minister—are involved.

We can make some changes while the review is going on. For instance, I find it completely perverse that the driving ban that that gentleman—I use that word in inverted commas—was given in court is running while he is serving his sentence in prison. I have never understood the legislation on that. That situation will change, outside of the review. The ban will start when they come out.

Mr Bradshaw: Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: If I give way to the right hon. Gentleman I will have to give way to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen). I will do that if I can, but in a moment. I know the exact time that I have, and if there is time left I will give way.

It is also important that when someone gets this type of sentence there is openness and honesty about why it was given. I have been talking extensively to judges about that recently. Although the courts, quite rightly, must be independent, guidance from Parliament tells them what the will of Parliament is—that is what judges are supposed to look at—when such abhorrent offences take place. One area where we can give the courts and certainly the police more help is in matters such as the terrible incident that occurred in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), which was drug-related. At the moment, it is difficult to prosecute someone for drug-driving for myriad reasons, not least that some drugs leave the system quickly. That is why we intend to introduce roadside drugalyser testing—I started the process when I was the Minister responsible for roads—and in-station drugalyser testing.

I have often attended RTCs, and I know from experience, as does the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who is another former Transport Minister, that someone who has been involved in an accident, often when someone has died, may have been under the influence of drugs. However, if they are breathalysed that may not show up enough to prosecute them, even though we all know that that person is under the influence of something. We must, morally, do something about that, and I have been working on it with other countries.

As I have made good progress, I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) and then to the right hon. Member for Exeter.

Andrew Bridgen: Does the Minister agree that we must tighten up when reissuing licences to people who have been disqualified? We need a multi-agency approach to ensure that repeat driving offenders get their licence back only if it is agreed they should.

Mike Penning: Yes, and that is important. We are tight on people who have been banned for drink-driving, and they are often required to get a medical report saying that they do not have a drink problem. Anyone who ticks the box to say that they do not have a mental illness or mental health issues when they have such problems breaks the law.

4 Nov 2014 : Column 216WH

The key is to work with the insurance companies. That may be a strange way of looking at the issue, but they are interested in what offences have taken place because they insure the risk. That was why, when I was at the Department for Transport, I gave insurers access to Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency data so that insurers knew whether someone had been banned and whether they had points on their licence when applying for insurance. Such people often lie about that, as the person that my hon. Friend mentioned did. That person was subsequently involved in an incident and was not insured.

Mr Bradshaw: Why should anyone who has committed such an offence ever be allowed to drive again? They should be banned for life.

Mike Penning: I have some sympathy with that, but if someone comes out of prison and lives in an area where they must rely on driving to work—[Interruption.]

Mr Bradshaw: Tough.

Mike Penning: Well, at the end of the day, when someone has served their sentence I want them not to be a burden on the state but to work. In rural parts of the country, such as that which the right hon. Gentleman represents, that might exclude someone from working. I am willing to look at the suggestion, but it is not as simple as just saying “tough”.

Caroline Dinenage: The Minister is being incredibly patient in giving way. I strongly welcome what he said about looking at changing the rules so that a driving ban runs from the end of a sentence. That has been the biggest slap in the face for the families of Olivia and Jasmine in my constituency—the gentleman concerned was given a seven-year driving ban despite getting a nine-year jail sentence. That was utterly disgusting.

Mike Penning: We talked earlier about the punishment fitting the crime. What is the logic of giving someone a driving ban when it will be over when the offender comes out of prison?

It is poignant for the families to know that their petition works, and that so may colleagues from throughout the House have come to this debate. It is important that there should be a much more open debate on the Floor of the House, and I am sure that the Backbench Business Committee would be amenable to that, because there has been cross-party support in the Chamber today.

As the review goes forward, nothing should be ruled out, which is what I think my hon. Friend the Member for Reading West was alluding to in his comments to me. There will be some natural concerns from the judiciary and colleagues, which is fine. Let them put that into the mix, but the most important people who need to be part of the consultation are the families of the victims. No one can replace their loved ones, but if they have the courage of those who have come here today saying this should not happen to anyone else, perhaps we can make this country a safer place.

Question put and agreed to.

5.14 pm

Sitting adjourned.