HC Deb 08 May 2002 vol 385 cc135-7
1. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

What recent discussions he has had on the risk of the further spread of tuberculosis in cattle to England.[53143]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I regularly meet the Assembly Rural Affairs Minister to discuss a wide range of issues. Policy responsibility for bovine TB in Wales is a matter for my colleagues in the National Assembly, while in England it is the responsibility of Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Ministers and officials in the Assembly and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs maintain close contact on the issue.

Mr. O'Brien

With more than 6,000 cattle slaughtered in Britain in 2001, 2,000 of which were in Wales, this is a desperately serious issue for the dairy and cattle farmers of my Cheshire constituency, who are in the front line of the battle against the spread of bovine TB from across the border in Wales and the west midlands. Even the Labour—dominated Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has called for Government action. Should not the Minister now stop dithering and put in the resources necessary to combat the massive backlog of TB testing in Wales and England, following the suspension of the badger culling trials because of the disastrous foot and mouth epidemic? Why are the Government weak—kneed and complacent about the issue? They should resume the badger culling trials, vaccination research and the transmission tests.

Mr. Touhig

The hon. Gentleman uses 20 words when he could manage with one. Bovine TB is just as likely to spread into Wales from England. Indeed, in Montgomeryshire, the type of TB commonly associated with Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and west Gloucestershire is prevalent. Bovine TB is a problem and it has been spreading. My colleagues in the Assembly and in DEFRA are taking the issue seriously, but it is important to stress that it does not pose the same contagious problem as foot and mouth disease. Resources are being put in to catch up with the backlog that the hon. Gentleman mentions, because the veterinary service had to be used to cope with the more immediate problem of foot and mouth. Measures have been put in place to restrict cattle movements and cattle on farms that are being restocked following foot and mouth culling are being tested. Key measures are in place to speed up matters, but it will take time. I admit to the hon. Gentleman that the problem will not be put right overnight.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)

There has been a serious outbreak of bovine TB in the Raglan and Llantrisant areas of my constituency and certain farmers have had their stock culled, while others are unable to trade or face serious movement restrictions on their livestock. Will my hon. Friend work with his colleagues in DEFRA and the National Assembly to do everything possible to halt the spread of bovine TB?

Mr. Touhig

Yes, I will certainly do that, and I am aware of the problem in Raglan. Indeed, we have seen recent outbreaks in south Ceredigion, central Carmarthenshire, Montgomery and Denbigh. As I said earlier, resources are being made available to speed up the testing of cattle and I can assure my hon. Friend that colleagues in the Assembly and in DEFRA are wasting no time in doing everything that they can—including providing the resources—to tackle the problem.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire)

The problem of bovine TB is a worrying issue for which the Minister has some responsibility. Is not it the case that Ministers have kicked farmers in the teeth by refusing to claim money from the European Union that would be a great help in addressing the problem? Why have the Government rejected the EU agrimoney package, which amounts to some £72 million? Does the Minister realise that farmers are under siege from all directions, including lower prices, bovine TB and the after—effects of foot and mouth? Now, thanks to his actions, they will be denied European help. The real reason the Government have refused the money is that the Treasury would have to part—finance it. Will the Minister see the Chancellor of the Exchequer and tell him to get out of his office in Whitehall, go to Wales, meet some Welsh farmers and apologise to them?

Mr. Touhig

The right hon. Gentleman is right to underline the concern that we all feel about bovine TB and the impact that foot and mouth disease and other problems have had on the farming industry in the past 12 months. However, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the European Commission has yet to confirm how much agrimonetary compensation will be made available for the livestock sector. When the amounts have been confirmed, we will consider appropriate cases for payment. Spending on tackling the problem in Wales is now running at about £1.6 million. That shows that the Government are putting in resources to cope with the problem. As soon as we get information from the European Commission, we will consider where it might be appropriate to add further compensation.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told me today that a number of instances of TB have been traced to increased movements of animals around the country as a result of restocking and the reopening of animal marts? Is not it likely that badgers are not responsible for the new increase in cases as they stay in single, small habitats, whereas animals are being moved the length and breadth of the country? Should not we return to the position of a few months ago, when the numbers of animal movements were restricted? At that time, farmers were successfully and cheaply selling animals over the internet and by other means. Such methods did not cause suffering to animals, and avoided the extra risk of infection involved in going to animal markets.

Mr. Touhig

I can tell my hon. Friend that I am given to understand that the most recent outbreak in Denbigh has been among cattle that have just been moved into the area. The Krebs badger culling trials started in 1998, and have been continuing. We expect the results in about 2004. It will then be up to the Government to consider whether those results prove that badgers have been a cause of bovine TB. There is a strong view in the farming community that badgers are responsible, but there are those in animal welfare groups who insist that they are not. Until we have substantive evidence, I cannot comment further.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House is getting very noisy. It is only fair to the Minister and those asking the questions that they be heard.

Back to