Badgers and Bovine TB debate

Neil Parish welcomes Government moves to address the issue of bovine TB and the proposed limited badger cull.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I will try to be reasonably brief. I thank the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) for securing this debate. She pointed out that she comes from the city and is a townie, and although we work well together on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, I feel that she may be wrong on this issue. I welcome the chance to participate in the debate, however, and I welcome the Minister being here. Along with the Secretary of State, he has been brave in moving this issue forward. We have had problems with TB for 60 years or more. We began to get to grips with it in the late ‘60s, but as the badger population increased, so did TB, and we have had a huge problem ever since.We are talking about disease control because we have got to stamp out TB, which exists not only in cattle and badgers but in a lot of other wildlife. Over 100 cats have suffered from it, and there is much to do to control the disease. In an ideal world we would vaccinate the badgers, but we are without an oral vaccine and we know the practicalities of such a vaccination programme—we simply would not catch them.A vaccine for cattle is not too far away, but we must ask how long it could take and whether we will get Europe to agree to it. There was a huge debate over foot and mouth disease and whether vaccinating cattle should be allowed, and we would have the same problem with a vaccine for TB. We do not yet have an effective vaccination, and throughout Devon, Cornwall and the whole of the west country, farmers have suffered year after year from the presence of this disease. Many of the herds involved have been restricted for two, three, four, five or more years, and during that time farmers have lost a lot of their highly bred—and irreplaceable—pedigree cattle. All the while, we have done nothing to get rid of the reservoir of disease in the fields.We test our cattle regularly, and bring them in for the winter although they are tested throughout the year. We take out the infected cattle, but then we put them back into the fields—quite rightly; the public would be horrified if we kept our cattle penned in all year round—where they get reinfected by infected badgers and other wildlife. The disease then affects more healthy cattle, and yet more are taken out. Such a situation cannot go on. The previous Government prevaricated and did nothing about it, but this Government have bitten the bullet.We must be convinced about the cull that we suggest. It is proposed in limited areas and is likely to take place in certain hot spots. One need only look at a map such as the one I am holding to see where those hot spots exist: mainly in the west country and Wales. It was asked how many farmers will sign up to the policy, but I assure hon. Members that in TB hot spots where farmers have been suffering with the disease for years, there will be no problem in signing up to a proper cull. We are talking about controlled shooting, not free shooting, and that must be carried out by people who are properly licensed and who use proper weapons. I am hugely keen on animal welfare.Andrew Miller: Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that in an article from 17 September 2010, the Minister said,“my view is that free shooting would, in most cases, be by far the most effective option.”Neil Parish: The hon. Gentleman will find that the issue has been looked at again, and that controlled shooting is the idea being proposed. We will train people to take part in that, so that it can be done humanely. That is absolutely vital. The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the comments of Lord Krebs after his trials, but many people dispute whether those trials were accurate. I believe that reducing the infected badger population will reduce the incidence of TB in cattle. There are no two ways about that; we must tackle the issue.I will not repeat what has already been said, but I have a final point about cattle valuation. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart) spoke earlier of the problem of pedigree cattle being taken out of England that are under tabular valuation. Those over 36 months old receive less compensation than non-pedigree cattle, and many farmers in Devon have to go to markets in Somerset and compete with Welsh farmers who have received huge amounts of compensation. It is necessary to get the valuations right.I very much support what Ministers are doing. For too long, we have wrung our hands on this issue. We must take action, and take action now.| Hansard