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Bovine Tuberculosis

Volume 449: debated on Thursday 20 July 2006

We launched our 10-year strategy in March last year. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the latest figures show a 34 per cent. reduction in cattle TB in Gloucestershire, his county, in the first five months of this year.

I thank my hon. Friend for his optimistic approach. It is fair to say that the problem will not go away. We have taken farmers up the hill in the expectation that there will be a new strategy, and there has been a massive consultation, which resulted in overwhelming opposition to a large-scale cull. We cannot leave it at that, but it is pleasing to hear that there are changes afoot. Perhaps that is to do with the nature of the testing, or perhaps it is to do with cattle-to-cattle transfer. The Government must say something about what their strategy will be, and I hope that will be not long delayed.

I did not mean to sound optimistic. I was simply stating a fact to my hon. Friend, and I am well aware of the potential for the figures to go back up again. Until we get a better understanding of what has caused the sudden and dramatic fall in new bovine TB cases, it would not be reasonable for him to expect the Government to make a decision one way or another on badger culling.

May I inform the Minister that in the part of my constituency near the Welsh border—Minsterley and Pontesbury—there has been a huge rise in the number of bovine TB cases among the cattle of my local farmers, who are extremely concerned about it? Will he meet a delegation of Shrewsbury farmers to give them an opportunity to express their concerns to him?

Yes, I would be happy to meet a delegation of his constituents, although I would be extremely surprised if his area was unique in not having experienced a significant fall in bovine TB in the first five months of this year. I will check the figures, which I do not have to hand, and let him have them. There has been a 20 per cent. fall nationally, and the fall has been even more dramatic in some of the worst hot spots.

May I ask my hon. Friend not to rush into a decision on this very important issue? I do not think that there is any support in this House or among the general public for a mass cull. Where are we as regards developing a vaccine for this terrible disease?

We are already conducting field trials of a badger vaccine, and we are working out the best way of conducting similar trials on cattle. I do not think that my hon. Friend is right when he says that there is no support in this House for a cull of badgers. That is the official policy of the Conservatives and of the Liberal Democrats, but they have not quite explained how they would do it in an effective and sustainable way.