Parliament in Perspective 23/05/2014

It’s been a thin fortnight for Parliament, now back in recess until 3rd June for its Whitsun break. Bovine TB prevailed again, and there was an update on broadband rollout, Catherine Paice reports.

Suspicion and distrust have settled like damp blankets over the pilot badger culls, exacerbated this month by the revelation under freedom of information rules that the Government has been conducting secret trials on the gassing of badger setts for much of the past year. Although the trials do not involve animals or live badger setts, it’s done little to improve the credibility of the campaign to find ways to reduce the impact of badger disease. Maria Eagle (Lab, Garston and Halewood and Shadow Secretary of State at DEFRA) was back on the bovine TB trail in the House of Commons, pressing for all monitoring data collected throughout the second year of the pilot badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset to be published in full.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State George Eustice replied that “the outcome” of the monitoring will be published “after culling has concluded and the analysis is completed” – a response that will almost inevitably be taken as evasive. Ms Eagle pressed further, asking what steps will be taken to ensure “independent scientific advice on the safety, effectiveness and humaneness” of the pilots? Mr Eustice lobbed this responsibility to Natural England, as the independent licensing authority, and the “most appropriate organisation” to continue carrying out the field monitoring of cage trapping and shooting, and to make sure that licence conditions and best practice guidance requirements were complied with.

“The outcome of this monitoring, together with the outcome of post-mortem examinations carried out by trained vets will be made publicly available after the culls are completed, and will inform the decisions made about next steps,” he replied. What about making that monitoring data available for independent scientific evaluation and analysis, Ms Eagle asked? But Mr Eustice would go no further.

DEFRA Shadow Minister Huw Irranca-Davies (Lab, Ogmore) raised the thorny broadband roll-out issue, one fraught with delays and frustration. What are the latest figures, he asked, in relation to funding for projects both pending and granted? His reply came from Dan Rogerson (Lib Dem, North Cornwall, Under Secretary of State). Projects granted (contracted and in delivery) total £0.459 million; projects with pre-contract approval total a slightly better £0.634m; and outstanding projects still under consideration add up to a whopping £14m.

There’s always time for the odd offbeat written question, this time from Sir Peter Luff (Con, Mid Worcestershire). He wanted to know whether the Secretary of State would look into any potential value in advertising the merits of the EU Common Agricultural Policy in British cinemas. The question was not as random as it might first appear – an advert apparently ran for four weeks across the EU, including the UK, on this very subject, funded by the Commission. But the answer is probably self-evident: no.

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