In our post of last week, we described a media feeding frenzy, but saying totally the opposite of the previous week's press. The Sunday Times on June 10th had Defra all geared up, apparently with Cabinet approval, to sanction a cull of badgers. But one week later, a further flurry of weekend paperwork lobbed in the direction of the Telegraph and the Observer, said 'No way, no time, no cull'.
Both media leaks were attributed to the ISG report, and a Parliamentary question answered by the Right Honorable Barry Gardiner, may shed light on this extraordinary process of 'briefing the press'.
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Notwithstanding the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), Professor Bourne has said that the Government ruled out a widespread badger cull from the outset of the study by the Independent Scientific Group. Does that
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not prove that the consultation that took place more than a year ago was a complete waste of time? We know that the final report was on the Minister of State’s desk a month ago—
Barry Gardiner: That is not true.
Mr. Paice: The Minister should read the ISG report, which clearly identifies the date on which the Minister of State received the final report. Ministers had a month in which to come up with conclusions, yet all that they have announced is further deliberation and delay. Moreover, it is four years since the Conservative party advocated the polymerase chain reaction test. It has taken four years—until next month—for research to begin on that.
Is not the record of the last 10 years one of constant delay and prevarication in dealing with TB, while taxpayers, farmers and cattle have had to suffer? When will the Department make some real decisions, and get a grip on this dreadful disease?
Barry Gardiner: I find it difficult to respond to that, because it was not really a question. It was a rant, and uncharacteristically ill-judged on the part of the hon. Gentleman—in stark contrast to the contribution of the Chairman of the Select Committee, the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack).
I am well aware, as is the whole House, of the cost of bovine TB to farmers and, indeed, the taxpayer. It is absolutely right that we should look at the ISG report. The hon. Gentleman made some remarks about the timing of the report. He will know that draft chapters are very different from a final report complete with recommendations and conclusions. That certainly did not arrive at the time that he suggested.
We will consider the report carefully, and will give it due importance in policy making. We will listen to the industry and take account of the Select Committee report, and we will make our policy decisions in due course.
So what is Mr. Gardiner saying to the less than unruffled Jim Paice?
We read his reply, that government received certain draft parts of the 280 page ISG tome, and this before bits were added or subtracted. The addition (or subtraction) which appeared in the final analysis was not available to Ministers before June 10th, but it was, in all its glory afterwards. And it contradicted the draft.
The intriguing question is who passed those drafts to government, which clearly indicated that a cull would be effective? And what was added / subtracted after June 10th to turn that completely on its head?