The justification for the Government’s badger cull was based on “dodgy statistics” which unintentionally misled MPs, Labour has said.
Shadow environment minister Huw Irranca-Davies said MPs had been inadvertently misled after it emerged that official figures overstated the number of cattle herds with tuberculosis in the past two years.
Badgers spread bovine TB among cattle and tackling it was the Government’s main justification for controversially culling the animals. The disclosure that the statistics on bovine TB were wrong is the latest problem to beset the culls which have failed to kill enough badgers in two pilot areas while policing costs spiralled.
Mr Irranca-Davies demanded an oral statement from Environment Secretary Owen Paterson on the statistics next week.
Commons Leader Andrew Lansley said urgent work was continuing to fix the computer error which has led to incorrect statistics being published since September 2011.
During business questions in the Commons, Mr Irranca-Davies said: “Yesterday tucked away in the routine monthly publication of statistics from the Animal, Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, we learn that statistics for bovine TB have been suspended because of what could be reported by the Government agency as significant over-reporting of the incidence of bovine TB since September 2011.
“This means that the House has been inadvertently misled on a prime justification for the badger culls.
“Will you demand that the Environment Secretary makes an oral statement to the House early next week?”
Mr Lansley replied: “You correctly note that a system error in the GB bovine TB statistics has been discovered by the Animal, Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency which affected some of the monthly statistics published.
“It affects the reporting of TB statistics. Of course TB surveillance and disease control regimes have continued to be operated normally so no livestock businesses should have been directly impacted.
“The publication scheduled happened but some of the figures that would normally have been included have been excluded for now. Urgent work to put right the error is ongoing and a full set of statistics will be published as soon as possible.”
Labour’s Pat Glass (North West Durham) called for a debate on the issue on Government time as the “dodgy statistics” were the latest in a line of concerns around the cull.
Ms Glass said: “MPs on both sides of this House have long had concerns about the badger cull, about the Government’s case in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and the very morality of the case.
“We now find out that the Government’s case is based on largely dodgy statistics. Can we have a debate on Government time on this issue which is so important to our constituents?”
Mr Lansley replied: “As a Government we have been I think assiduous in bringing back the issues relating to the badger cull for the House to consider and I know Mr Paterson will continue to do so.”