HC Deb 15 March 1979 vol 964 cc687-8
10. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a further statement on the problems of bovine tuberculosis and the slaughter of badgers in the South-West.

Mr. Strang

During 1978 bovine tuberculosis was found in the South-West region in 65 herds of cattle and in 55 badger carcases. Both figures represent a welcome reduction on previous years.

Mr. Watkinson

Does my hon. Friend accept that thousands of badgers are being gassed in the South-West region? Does he agree that, while cattle can thus be protected, we should not indulge in widespread gassing of badgers when we are not sure of the scientific link? Is he prepared to accept the view that we should adopt a trapping policy, so that we could gain more scientific knowledge about the cause of this disease rather than a policy of gassing, which presents no long-term solution?

Mr. Strang

I do not think that I can go all the way with my hon. Friend's comments. The trouble is that although there is a test for tuberculosis in live cattle, there is no such test for live badgers. I do not think that trapping is a practical solution. However, if there is any satisfactory alternative to gassing, we shall always be happy to look at it.

Mr. Kershaw

Is the Minister aware that many people outside the Ministry still do not accept that there is a real nexus between TB in cattle and TB in badgers? Can he unequivocally assure the House that he is satisfied that this nexus exists?

Mr. Strang

I am not sure to which people the hon. Gentleman is referring. The consultative panel which advises the Government on these matters met only a fortnight ago. It includes representatives of the main welfare organisations, including the RSPCA. and they are happy with the Government's progress.