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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Badger cull ruling: the aftermath

Within hours of the court verdict squashing the Welsh Government's badger cull order I raised in business questions the need for an immediate statement by the Rural Affairs Minister. This is the text of the exchange:

Peter Black: Could you arrange for a written statement on the plans for the Swansea to Ilfracombe ferry? You will know that the service was due to launch this year, but was cancelled due to the failure to secure a proper pontoon. Now the company has effectively advertised the boats for sale. I would be grateful if we could have a statement by the relevant Minister, outlining what interest and engagement the Welsh Government has had with the company and what work is being done to try to secure this service for next year.

I also repeat Nick Bourne’s request for a statement on the court case on the badger cull. You will be aware that the judgment went against the Government on all three counts. It was not only the fact that the Order was badly drawn up and not consulted on properly, but also that the whole scheme was based on a dubious premise. Given that statement and the apparent incompetence of the Government in approaching this, could we have an oral statement as soon as possible by both the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Counsel General so that we can be told what legal advice was being given and question those Ministers on their future approach?

Jane Hutt: The First Minister has dealt fully with your second question.

On the concerns that you raised about the south Wales to north Devon fast ferry, you will be pleased to know that ongoing discussions are taking place between Assembly Government officials and Severn Link and the latest proposal makes use of the promontory at SA1, although other landing options are still being considered.

What the First Minister had said earlier was this:

The Leader of the Opposition (Nick Bourne): First Minister, in response to a point made by Nerys Evans, you mentioned the situation regarding the badger cull and the intention of the Minister for Rural Affairs to make a written statement on the situation before the end of this term—in other words, within the next three days. Unfortunately, that will not give us an opportunity to scrutinise the statement or to discuss it as an Assembly until 20 September. I urge you to reconsider that point. I think that an oral statement should be made, although I understand that it cannot be done today. Given how important this is for the people of Wales, the agriculture industry and north Pembrokeshire—regardless of one’s opinion of whether there should be a cull or not, this is something that affects everybody in Wales, and affects those in rural Wales massively—a written statement does not nearly answer the need to have proper, effective scrutiny in this place and the opportunity for Members across the piece to ask questions.

The First Minister: The difficulty is that full consideration needs to be given to the implications of the judgment, particularly with regard to what happens next. We need to consider, for example, whether it would be possible to produce a new Order that is different in its terminology and coverage. That will take some time. It will not be possible to give a definitive view before tomorrow on what the Government’s position will be. It will take longer than 24 hours to absorb the judgment and, indeed, to consider the next steps. That is why the timing is not in our favour. However, as I said, the Minister will make a full written statement before the end of the week.

Nick Bourne: I have to say that I do not find that totally convincing. Once we knew that this case was in court, we knew that there were two potential outcomes in respect of the judicial decision. It was anticipated that it might go either way. There has therefore been ample opportunity to consider what the response could be. I come back to my original point: if a statement can be made on Thursday or Friday in writing, it needs to be made tomorrow, orally, so that we have an effective opportunity to scrutinise it and place on record our concerns. We will not otherwise be able to do that until the end of September. That is not satisfactory for the people whom we represent, whatever views we hold on the cull.

The First Minister: You have practised law, so you know that it is not possible to predict the decision that any court will make, particularly the Court of Appeal, because of the detailed reasoning that the Court of Appeal employs when it comes to a judgment. Until we are able to see a judgment and take a view on it, it is impossible to predict what view the Court of Appeal might take. It is possible to say that the Court of Appeal might dismiss the appeal, but we can never predict the logic for upholding the appeal and whether part of the appeal will be upheld and part of it not. The judgment takes some time to digest, and it takes some time to consider the next steps. That cannot be done within 24 hours.

Twenty four hours later the Rural Affairs Minister rose in the chamber to answer an urgent question on this matter, during which she appears to have ruled out an appeal. These proceedings can be viewed here:

It's unfortunate, or fortunate for the Jones and Jones partnership, that the summer recess is upon the Assembly; it was good to hear the opposition at work during the FM's question time, every point raised was important to Wales, it is a shame the WAG dismiss peoples concerns.
the farming community wont forget this, Peter. I hope you get a thrashing in the polls.
The farming community have to understand that this cull would not have solved their problem. Indeed even the Minister only predicted an at-best 9% reduction in TB and the science says it would increase back to previous levels. There are other more acceptable methods such as vaccination, combined with more effective cattle controls that need to be looked at and implemented.
I reluctantly supported the plan for a cull of badgers because I believed the scientific evidence was stronger for this than Vaccination. Though I acknowledge that it is strongly divided. But what is your solution? You have made great play over this but you have offered nothing in return. A cynic would argue that if the Assembly had supported vaccination you would have called for a cull.
My alternative is very clear, it is a proper vaccination pilot combined with the same cattle movement controls proposed by the Minister. In fact I said that above. Over a five year period it is likely that this will succeed in reducing TB more than a cull. There is also cattle vaccination. All of this is now doable.
Peter can I ask that you are consistent and therfore call on your own party leader to stand down given she backed the cull fully
Except she was not the Minister who pushed through an unsound strategy and through whose incompetence in not getting the legal provisions right wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money
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