HL Deb 04 April 1989 vol 505 cc1010-2

2.57 p.m.

Lord Dulverton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are considering the representations from the Veterinary Deer Society, the British Veterinary Association and others about measures for the compulsory testing of farmed deer and those in enclosed deer parks for tuberculosis and for the compulsory slaughter of diseased deer, with compensation, and when they intend to introduce appropriate measures.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, it is intended to lay regulations within the next few weeks that will make tuberculosis in deer a notifiable disease, require deer to be individually marked, and require movement records to be kept. The question of herd testing and a slaughter with compensation scheme is being urgently considered in the light of the response to the recent consultation letter seeking views on the possibility of an industry-funded arrangement.

Lord Dulverton

My Lords, I thank my noble friend very much for that Answer. I am sure that she is aware that there have already been cases—I am not sure how many—of the contraction of tuberculosis by people working on deer farms where TB exists. Perhaps there have not been very many cases. Is my noble friend also aware of the gravest concern of our Red Deer Commission that if the infection ever reaches the hundreds of thousands of wild, red and roe deer in Scotland alone, it would be totally uncontrollable?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, TB can be transmitted from deer to humans. However, the Health and Safety Executive has received only one report of that actually happening so it is not in a position to offer guidance. Handlers should seek advice from their doctor if they suspect that they might have caught the disease. With regard to the spread of TB to wild deer, under existing legislation movement restrictions are imposed on infected or suspected animals or contacts. New legislation will relate specifically to deer.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I am sure we are delighted with the noble Baroness's reply, or the gist of it anyway. Perhaps I may ask her what she meant by "industry-funded". Does that relate to the whole agricultural industry or purely to the deer industry?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I meant what I said. The industry is pressing for a compulsory slaughter scheme but is not willing to finance the cost of paying compensation on slaughtered animals. The Government have no powers to compel the industry to finance compensation and are considering the industry's proposal for compulsory slaughter with the compensation funded by the Exchequer.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, if sheep and cattle were grazed in the same park as deer, would they be at risk from tuberculosis?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as things stand, the infection in five out of eight known infected herds is associated with imported stock. There is no evidence, for instance, that deer have caught TB from badgers.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I have drawn attention to the question I am about to ask before. Does my noble friend realise that if this infection ever got into wild deer it would not only destroy our largest mammal, the red deer, which has been here since the Ice Age, but it would also destroy an industry—which of course would take some time—that is extremely important to the Highlands of Scotland?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I thought I had answered an earlier supplementary question on wild deer. However, I should say that to date TB has been found in only eight wild deer. Culled wild deer from selected areas in South-West England are being surveyed so as to estimate the extent of its presence, and wildlife samples in general are tested if TB is suspected. As I understand it, no TB has been found in wild deer in Scotland.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, would not the proposed regulations involve an increase in veterinary surgeons? Therefore, would it not be unwise to close either the Edinburgh or the Glasgow veterinary schools or to amalgamate them?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I admire the noble Lady. The education of veterinary surgeons is the responsibility of the Department of Education and Science. However, my department naturally has an interest in the future of vets.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, will my noble friend enlarge on her original Answer? I was not quite sure whether she was referring to farmed deer or all deer which live in an enclosure. I am sure that she knows that there is a world of difference between the two kinds. Is she aware that farmed deer are used to being handled, are easily caught and therefore can be marked, but there are many park deer that have been living wild in parks, often for centuries, which are totally wild animals and it would be almost impossible to catch them and mark them as she suggested in the original Answer?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I do not have an official answer to that point. However, park deer are culled in the same way as all herds of deer, as I understand it. In the culling process the meat could be examined to see whether it showed any signs of the disease. I must say that I am speaking entirely for myself here.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the Minister said she was relying on restrictions on movement to control disease. How are these restrictions supposed to apply to wild deer?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, as I said, only eight wild deer have been discovered in Scotland to have the disease. There are no restrictions. Let us keep this whole matter in perspective. There are 250 herds of farmed deer in Great Britain. While the Government take this issue very seriously, it is important to keep it in perspective, given that eight herds are known to be infected and that the infection is associated with imported stock.

Lord Hughes

My Lords, would it be in order to tell the Minister that when she says she is speaking only for herself her answers are better than those from her department which she reads out?

Noble Lords


Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, was the answer to the last serious question correct when the Minister said that eight cases of wild deer with the disease had been discovered in Scotland, although previously she said that no wild deer had been discovered to have tuberculosis?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I believe I said that eight cases of wild deer with tuberculosis had been discovered. I do not think I mentioned Scotland.

Noble Lords


Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, we may all have to wait while I find the right page. I am now reading from what I originally said. To date, TB has been found in only eight wild deer. As noble Lords will read in Hansard, I then continued by saying that, as I understood it, no TB had been found in wild deer in Scotland.

Lord Dulverton

My Lords, perhaps I can help my noble friend by suggesting that the eight cases referred to occurred in the very South-West of England and not in Scotland.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for any help.