Neil Parish MP supports Government efforts to combat Bovine TB

Neil Parish MP speaks out in favour of a scientifically led badger cull to combat Bovine TB in cattle.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate.

It is far too early to draw conclusions from the report. The House has not yet seen the report properly, and all we are acting on are leaks from it. I have full confidence in the Secretary of State and the other DEFRA Ministers to analyse the report properly and to come to this House with their conclusions. Where we need to cull badgers and it can be done humanely, we must carry on doing so.

Many Members have referred to their own constituencies. It is very likely that vaccinating badgers in a rural constituency with very little TB in cattle, and hardly any TB in the badger population, will be effective—badgers must be vaccinated annually, but that will do a very good job. However, in a constituency such as mine, where some 25% of herds are restricted and are testing positive for TB, and there is a huge amount of TB in the badger population, any amount of vaccination will not cure the infected badger.

The British Veterinary Association has said:

“Scientific evidence proves that badgers and cattle spread bTB to cattle and that the targeted culling of badgers does reduce the levels of infection in cattle herds. Cattle vaccination will be an essential part of the long term strategy to eradicate bTB but will not be available in the UK until at least 2023.”

Will we really be able to wait until 2023, and continue to destroy some 35,000 cattle a year—some 5,600 a year in Devon alone? We cannot go on doing that.

This mythical vaccine was offered to farmers throughout the 13 years of the last Labour Government. Is it any wonder that those poor farmers are pulling their hair out and are almost suicidal because they cannot cure their herds of TB? They are testing their cattle every six weeks. Anyone who tries to organise such tests time and time again, running all those cattle through cattle crushes, will find that it is a huge effort, not just physical but emotional.

When the farmers have tested the cattle and established that they no longer have TB, and when the reactors have been taken away, what do the farmers do? In the spring and summer they turn their cattle out on to the edges of Exmoor and the Blackdown hills, where there are huge grasslands that are very good for the production of dairy and beef. When the cattle are out in those fields, it is almost impossible to prevent them from mixing with an infected badger population.

We need cross-party support in this place for action in those areas in particular. It will not be possible to eradicate TB by means of vaccination alone; it will be necessary to remove the infected badgers. The point of carrying out pilots rather than randomised badger culling trials was to establish hard boundaries in order to ensure that there had been no perturbation that would spread the disease to surrounding areas. I hope that the report will provide evidence of that. What the randomised cull did do was reduce the amount of TB in those areas by some 28% or 29%, which shows that the controlling and culling of badgers does work.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) that we need to look at the report. I would be the first to say, as many other Members have, that if we are going to cull, we must be certain that we can cull humanely. If we have to trap more badgers in order to cull them, let us do so.

Caroline Lucas: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Neil Parish: I had to wait all afternoon to speak, so I do not think that I will give way.

We have tried for 30 years to control bovine TB In this country, and all that we have seen is increase after increase. We cannot go on doing this for ever, because in the end we will not have a viable cattle herd, and we will not have the food security that we all seek. We must get to grips with this disease.

Finally, let me deal with the myth about what is and is not supposed to be happening in the Republic of Ireland. This is the point on which I really disagree with other Members. It is possible to argue that opossums may be slightly different from badgers in Ireland, but the differences between badgers in Ireland and badgers in Devon are very few. [Interruption.] I have listened throughout the afternoon to speeches from the Members who are interrupting, and I have remained very quiet. Perhaps the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) will now listen to what I have to say.

Recent figures from Ireland show that TB infection levels have fallen by more than 45% since 2000. They are now slaughtering fewer than half the cattle they needed to some 10 years ago. This is a substantial reduction that the Irish Government believe their badger culling programme has significantly contributed to. The culling of badgers is the only significant difference between the current approaches taken in England and Ireland; the cattle restrictions and cattle movement orders are virtually the same. Last year 15,612 cattle tested positive in Ireland which represents a 15% reduction on the 2012 levels. The Irish Government have said TB eradication is now a practical proposition in Ireland after the latest figures show a substantial drop in reactor numbers in 2013.

I now quote from the Irish Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine:

“We believe that, while it is difficult to quantify the precise impact of badger culling on the reduction in the incidence of TB, much of the improvement in the TB situation is due to the badger removal programme.”

Therefore the Irish believe culling badgers has worked to reduce TB in the Republic of Ireland.

In a county such as the one I represent in Devon where over a quarter of the herds are restricted, where we are slaughtering 5,500 cattle a year and where probably about 40% of our badger population are infected with bovine TB, we have to take action not only in cleaning the cattle and having stricter cattle movements, but in making sure those badgers are clean so there is no TB in them If we do that, when we turn our cattle out, it will be safe to do so, and when we drink our milk it will be safe to do so. When our tourists come to Devon and Cornwall and the west country, they will come to see the beautiful herds of beef cattle, such as Devon reds grazing there, that are not infected by TB.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 13 March 2014, c509)