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Bovine Tuberculosis

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 22 June 2006

14. What compensation was paid to farmers in England for cattle slaughtered because of bovine tuberculosis in 2005. (79356)

The Krebs report concluded that badgers are a significant source of infection in cattle. That was nine years ago, since when all we have had is endless consultation by the Department, and no action. Is the Minister happy that hundreds of thousands of cattle have been slaughtered and countless badgers have suffered this form of TB? All we get is endless drift and inertia from a Department whose very hallmark is inaction. What we need is to grip this long-running, tragic situation.

Of course we are not happy about the situation, but the right hon. Gentleman is wrong to say nothing has happened since the Krebs trials. He may have missed it, but we have been conducting the first—the only; no trials were conducted by previous Governments—scientific trials into badger culling. We are culling more badgers than were culled when the Conservative party was last in office. We are considering the results of our consultation on that and shall make an announcement in due course.

I may also say that, in the past six months, there has been a fairly significant reduction in bovine TB, and it is very important that we should understand the reasons for that before we reach any decisions.

The Conservatives, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) said, have been calling for a very long time for action on bovine tuberculosis. Yesterday, on the news, we were informed that major trials were taking place on the immunisation of badgers. Why did we have to find out about the new trials from the BBC? Why did the Minister not inform the House first?

The hon. Gentleman has not been a Member of the House for all that long; in fact, we announced that we would be trialling vaccines on badgers a long time ago, before he was a Member.

What did the Minister mean when he said “due course”? When will we find out what he is doing about the consultation? I believe there are 47,000 respondents—he must be reading each response individually. When did the Minister decide to abandon the concept of replacement value for cattle? I have a copy of the June compensation tables. You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that there is a big difference between a four-year-old cow and one of 14 years old, yet the Government have made no attempt to allow proper compensation for the culling of those poor beasts.

That is rather a lot of questions. I have nothing further to add to what I said about timing. The hon. Gentleman acknowledged in his question that there had been 47,000 responses to the consultation, which may be a record for any Government consultation. Of course, it is important that the Government take those representations seriously, and that we study the science. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about compensation, he is aware that a number of independent reports have criticised the Government and the Welsh Assembly for seriously over-compensating farmers for TB reactors and that we have a new system based on table valuations, with 47 categories. That was consulted on twice. We are always looking at ways to improve the system, but it is already proving extremely effective in addressing the serious issue of over-compensation that occurred previously.