Neil Parish welcomes Government commitment to badger cull to reduce bovine TB

Neil Parish accepts the delay in the badger cull but welcomes the Government’s commitment to carrying out the cull next year.Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I want to concentrate on the effect of TB-infected herds on farmers, especially in the west country, particularly in Devon. For nearly 20 years, and certainly for the past 15 years, cases have been increasing. In Devon, we started off in 1998 with some 1,700 infected cattle, and now there are 5,000-plus. Do not forget that those farmers who have herds with TB have been restricted throughout that period, when they have been testing their cattle every 60 days. Under restriction, dairy farmers can sell their milk and beef farmers their finished animals, provided that they do not have TB, but they cannot sell any young stock. They are restricted throughout the period, so one can imagine the effect on family farms and their finances.I declare an interest: I am a farmer. Most hon. Members will not have heard me say anything else but that. Farmers whose cattle are restricted and who cannot sell their young stock see only an ever-rising overdraft. Not to put too fine a point on it, every time the bank statement arrives, farmers feel suicidal. They are trapped because nothing can be done; they cannot rid their cattle of the disease. There is not only the emotional impact, but the impact on all the cattle of being for ever tested. Cattle do not like being put through a crush every 60 days and injected. Would any of us? Those are the sorts of things that we have to face up to.We have talked a lot today about vaccines, which are always a year away. For 20 years, farmers have been told that. The last Labour Government spent virtually all the time saying that to farmers. I have much respect for the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), but the last Labour Government got very close to having a cull and they chickened out, which the Secretary of State has no intention of doing.Angela Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?Neil Parish: No, I think not. I want to carry on in this vein.I object to Opposition Members’ comments that farmers have not restricted cattle movement. There have been a few such cases, but the vast majority of farmers have had ever-stricter regulations imposed on them. They clean those cattle; every summer and winter, they come in and are tested and the TB reactors are taken out. In the spring, those cattle are put back out to grass. I might be being simplistic, but they then graze on grass infected with badger urine. Do not forget that whatever the percentage of badgers with TB, we can be certain that the biggest percentage of infected badgers are where the most TB is in cattle, so they are giving it to one another. However, we are taking out cattle with TB, but we are not taking out and controlling badgers.We know that the vaccine will not work on infected badgers. Government Members are not bloodthirsty. We do not love the idea of a cull, but we must take out badgers in those areas with the highest concentration of infected badgers. We must not forget that these are pilot culls in areas that have been chosen because they are TB hot spots with harder boundaries. Yes, badgers will cross roads, but with a large motorway, a river or the sea, there will be much less perturbation. We all accept that there will be some, but if it can be restricted, that is right.Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Will my hon. Friend give way?Neil Parish: No, I will not, because I did give way earlier. I will carry on.This is mainly an Opposition Back-Bench debate—[ Interruption. ] I did say “mainly”. If one looks at the list of speakers, I would not be far wrong. But it is the Government Benches rather than the Opposition Benches that are packed out. We have real concern about prevaricating and doing nothing, as the previous Labour Government did, and the Government are making a real effort to control the disease.Badger numbers are interesting. Let us not forget that the Badger Trust has argued for years that there are not such numbers of badgers in the country, but the badger population has continually increased and become more diseased. As that population grows, badgers become more adventurous and are much more likely to enter cattle sheds and infect cattle. Increased numbers of badgers and diseased badgers create a problem not only for cattle, but for wildlife and wildlife management.Duncan Hames: Will my hon. Friend give way?Neil Parish: As the hon. Gentleman is so persistent, yes.Duncan Hames: I am very grateful. On perturbation, what happens to the setts of badgers that are culled in the trials? Are they then occupied by healthy badgers or by diseased badgers? Are they destroyed to prevent them from being occupied, or do natural processes mean that they are not occupied by badgers after the trial?Neil Parish: The whole idea of the trial is to get a 70% reduction in the number of badgers—Angela Smith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?Neil Parish: I have not really answered the previous intervention, but I will give way.Angela Smith: The evidence is that the setts are left untouched. That has already been demonstrated. They are often repopulated by healthy badgers, which then pick up the disease.Neil Parish: My point, in answer to both interventions, is that the whole idea of the trial is to carry out a cull of at least 70% of badgers in the given area over a four or five-year period. That is key to ensuring that we cull the diseased badgers. I cannot say which badger will go back to which sett, but I am certain that if we reduce those numbers, we will reduce their movement, and if they cannot spread beyond the cull area, we will see a reduction of much more than 16% in TB in cattle in those areas. It has been found throughout the world that where infected wildlife are culled there is a much greater effect.The Government are right to carry on with the culls. I respect what the NFU has had to do. Because of the Olympics, it was late in the day before the culls could be started. We are getting towards much darker nights and we have had probably one of the wettest summers and autumns that I have ever known, so now is the wrong time to go forward with the cull. But I dispute the idea that we can do nothing about the situation and that culling badgers in the infected areas is wrong.Until we tackle those concerns, farmers in my constituency and across the country, especially in the west, will be unable to rest, because they know that more and more cattle will become diseased and more and more restrictions will be imposed on them, and in the end many of them will decide, because of the weather, the price of feed and the disease, to give up cattle farming. Do we not want to see those farmed cattle healthy and grazing in the fields? Of course we do, which is why we need to take action. I very much respect the Secretary of State for sticking to the plan to have a cull.| Hansard Later interventions in the same debateNeil Parish: I cannot believe that the hon. Lady believes that farmers who have had the disease and who have been testing their cattle every 60 days do not clean their water troughs. If she had suffered the same pain as a farmer, she would not make such a comment.Angela Smith: I will not comment on particular instances of the husbandry practices of farmers and how they keep their herds. All I can say is that there is some evidence that water troughs, particularly those kept at ground level, can be a source of the disease and that some farmers do not keep them as clear as they ought to of disease.| Hansard