Neil Parish MP praises Government's Bovine TB eradication strategy

 

Neil Parish MP, who is a former farmer and Chairman of both the Dairy All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and the APPG for Beef and Lamb, defended the Government’s science led Bovine TB eradication strategy.

 

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is great to follow the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams). I concur with many of his remarks, if not all of them. It will come as no surprise to hon. Members to learn that I completely oppose the whole idea of stopping the badger cull: I will explain exactly why.

 

Between 1999 and 2010, the number of cattle with TB in this country rose from 6,000 to 33,000. That was the period when Labour Members were in control of government in this country. Let us look at the same period in the Republic of Ireland. There were 40,000 reactors to TB in 2000, but by 2012 the number had dropped to 18,500 and it is dropping further now, so the number of cases in the Republic of Ireland more than halved in that period, whereas ours went up by four times.

 

In the Republic of Ireland, there are badgers and there is virtually the same cattle testing regime as we have, so of all the countries in the world that we look at, the Republic of Ireland is the best one to take an example from. In that case, what was different about the Republic of Ireland in the period to which I am referring? It took the difficult decision—it is a difficult decision; we all respect that and I respect hon. Members in this Chamber who have different views on badger culling—to cull badgers and it is reducing the disease dramatically. If we are to eradicate TB from our cattle, we must tackle the reservoir of disease within badgers.

 

More than 6,000 reactors a year are taken out of the county of Devon alone. There, we have a real hot spot of TB, and where we have a hot spot of TB in cattle, we also have TB in the badgers. There is a higher percentage of TB in the badgers because they catch it from the cattle, and then the badgers reinfect the cattle. I have made this point many times before. If we are going to test our cattle and test them more vigorously, as the hon. Gentleman said, and take out the infected animals, it is absolutely pointless then putting the cattle back into a field where there are badgers with the disease, because they will just reinfect the cattle all the time.

 

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me on this point? Certainly in my part of Somerset, a number of the farmers have declared that they have cattle with TB, but the cattle are not removed from their farms with any level of speed whatever, so it both causes a great deal of distress to the farmers and has the potential to keep the infection level going.

 

Neil Parish: Yes. The hon. Lady raises a point that my hon. Friend the Minister might well like to deal with. The quicker we can get a reactor off a farm the better, because it is infectious while it is there.

While there is a reservoir of disease in the wildlife and particularly in badgers, we have to cull, and we have to cull in the areas where the badgers have TB and the cattle do. That is why the hot spots are where we target the culling. That is why we targeted Gloucester and west Somerset. That is absolutely right. We will be able to use vaccine in other areas, because in other areas, where there is little TB in the cattle, there is likely to be little TB in the badgers also. Therefore, vaccinating badgers in those areas could well be very successful. The point has been made many times that if a badger is infected with a disease, we will not cure it by vaccinating it. That is why we have to take the very difficult decision of culling infected badgers.

I congratulate very much the previous Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who may have been lambasted by many, but who actually stuck his neck above the parapet and said, “Yes, we will do the thing that is necessary, which is to cull badgers in infected areas.”

The hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) opposed the policy from the beginning, so he would oppose it whether or not it was successful. That was never an issue with him, because he has opposed the whole thing, but what do we say to my constituent, David, who is at Ennerleigh farm in Washfield? He has been farming there for generations. Over the last 10 years, he has lost 350 cattle that have had TB. It has been a slow decline all the time—more and more reactors. He needs the pool of wildlife that has that infection to be dealt with, as do farmers across Devon, across the west country and in Wales, because, as has been said, the disease is spreading. If we do not deal with it in those hot spots, we will, in the end, have to cull more badgers, for the simple reason that the disease will have spread, the badgers will get it, they will then disease the cattle and the whole thing will get worse and worse. We cannot go on like the last Labour Government did—prevaricating and prevaricating and doing absolutely nothing.

The current Government have taken the difficult position. We have looked at the cull areas. We have looked at hard boundaries to ensure, as far as possible, that we use major roads, rivers and so on to try to prevent as much perturbation as possible. The system is not perfect. We would accept that and we have learned lessons from last year as far as the humaneness is concerned. As for traps, it is absolutely within the rules for traps to be used, and as for those activists who go out and trash the traps so that we cannot catch the badgers, that is absolute madness, because if we want to cull a badger in the most humane way possible, getting it in a trap so that we can dispatch it at point-blank range will always be the best method of culling.

We have worked so hard to get this going, and the farmers of this country, who keep the cattle, deserve to have the disease brought under control, because this is not only about the meat that we eat and the milk that we drink. It is about the countryside that we see out there and the cattle out in those fields. If we do not get rid of the disease in the wildlife, those cattle will have to stay indoors because it is too dangerous for them to go out, and I do not exaggerate. That is why this Government are making the right decision. I look forward to these pilot culls being successful. We are, again anecdotally, seeing the disease reducing, reactors reducing and outbreaks of TB in Somerset in particular—

Chris Williamson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Neil Parish: No. You want me to finish by 20 to 4, Mr Caton, so I will keep going.

We have seen, anecdotally, a reduction. If we can hold our nerve and ensure that we carry out the culls in a humane way, we will reduce the number of infected badgers in the countryside, in those areas with a high number of TB cases. If we use traps wherever necessary, carry out controlled shooting and ensure that we carry out the cull properly, we will see TB, first, reduce in this country and, eventually, we will eradicate it. If we do not take this action, we will never eradicate the disease. Farmers need to see a good future not only for them, but for their families. Farming is about generations of farmers, generations of cattle and generations of breeding of cattle. That is all being destroyed by this disease, and unless we take this firm action, we will not eradicate the disease.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 4 November 2014, c194WH)