HC Deb 22 April 2004 vol 420 cc433-4
11. Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con)

When he last met farmers' representatives to discuss the problem of tuberculosis in cattle. [167015]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw)

Ministers regularly meet farmers and their representatives and bovine TB often features in those discussions. I recently received a delegation of Gloucestershire farmers, as well as visiting a farm affected by TB in my home county, Devon. Farmers have also been represented at each of the regional TB strategy workshops, which we are holding as part of the consultation on the review of the TB strategy.

Mr. Osborne

If the Minister came to Cheshire, he would know that dairy farmers there want the Government to stop dragging their feet and get a grip on the bovine TB problem. Can he predict when a policy will be implemented, and whether it will take Professor Godfray's findings into account?

Mr. Bradshaw

The policy is being reviewed and we will take those findings into account. We are listening, not least to a delegation from Cheshire that advocated a number of extra measures, such as pre-movement and post-movement testing, to prevent the spread of TB to areas that currently have a relatively low level of infection, such as Cheshire. We are consulting on those measures and my officials would be pleased to receive ideas or representations from either the hon. Gentleman or representatives of the farming industry in his constituency.

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

Last week, I discussed that exact problem with Warwickshire farmers, who are concerned about the risks and the slow progress towards a solution. Is the Minister confident that adequate veterinary resources are in place to deliver pre-movement testing in a timely and cost-effective way?

Mr. Bradshaw

Yes. The level of testing increases all the time. We have overcome the post-foot and mouth backlog and the level of testing is higher than that before foot and mouth.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con)

Bovine TB is extremely serious—it is taken very seriously in dairy areas of the United Kingdom—and I fully support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne). A number of farmers in my constituency are becoming increasingly concerned about when the Government review will be concluded and when the Government will make recommendations for action. Will the Minister state the cost of bovine TB?

Mr. Bradshaw

In the past year, bovine TB cost the taxpayer £74 million. The cost includes not only compensation, which is about half that figure, but the substantial sums that the Government commit to research into vaccines and to the badger culling trials. We recognise that the problem is incredibly serious for the farming industry—the difficulty is that there are no magic wand solutions, as some in this House and the media seem to think.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con)

I think that the farmer whom the Minister mentioned is Mr. Tony Yewdall from Devon, who is in despair today as he awaits the results of Monday's tuberculin test. He has lost 48 of his pedigree Guernsey cattle. He effectively runs a closed herd, and has brought in only three animals in the past year. He has experienced a very large increase in his badger population and wrote to the Minister asking for a licence to remove or have badgers removed under section 10(2)(a) of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which was passed by the last Conservative Government to stop the disgusting practice of badger baiting. The Minister kindly replied to him, saying that he would not issue licences except in truly exceptional circumstances

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will not allow such a long supplementary. It is unfair to the House—there are other Members. Let the Minister try to answer.

Mr. Bradshaw

I did indeed spend about half a day with Mr. Yewdall and his family and we examined every possible way of avoiding culling his cattle before they calved. I recognised that it was a very distressing experience for him. I have to say, however, that the very strong, unanimous veterinary advice that I received said that it would set a dangerous precedent to make an exception in this case and that it would make further infection on his farm and on neighbouring farms worse.

If the hon. Gentleman has changed Conservative party policy, as he has been quoted in some of the media as having done, so that the Conservative party would now license individual farmers to cull badgers, he should come clean and say so.

Back to
Forward to