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Bovine TB

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 21 November 2013

In the 10 years to 31 December 2012, 305,268 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts in Great Britain. Since 1 January to the end of August, a further 22,512 otherwise perfectly healthy cattle have been slaughtered solely because of bovine TB.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that any political party or animal welfare group that accepts the massive cost in the wholesale slaughter of cattle, silent suffering among wildlife and huge disruption and worry to the farming community, is acting without care or responsibility by not combating this terrible disease?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I wish we could go back to the bipartisan approach of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, when we got this disease beaten—we got it down to 0.01%. [Interruption.] The chuntering goes on, but we are following the science from Australia, which is TB-free; we are following the science from New Zealand, which is down from 1,763 infected herds to 66; and we are following the science from the Republic of Ireland, where reactors are down from 40,000 to 18,500, and the average Irish badger is 1 kg heavier because they are healthy. We will end up with healthy badgers and healthy cattle.

Recent figures from Natural England show that only 60% of farms in the west Somerset cull zone and only 43% of farms in the west Gloucestershire cull zone contained cattle. Why are the Government culling badgers on farms without cattle?

The hon. Lady must understand that badgers move around. When they are “super-excreters” and they move on to cattle farms, they are sadly very effective transmitters of this disease. That is why we are addressing the disease not just in cattle, but in wildlife.

13. It was announced this week that a record 220 farms in Wiltshire have been closed down because of bovine TB. One of my farmers has lost his entire herd on three separate occasions. He is reported to be driving a bus at the moment and going through terrible stress. Does the Secretary of State agree that tests in both Somerset and Gloucestershire are showing encouraging results? Will he announce when he intends to roll out the programme for culling badgers across the west country and, in particular, in my constituency of North Wiltshire? (901181)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Sadly, the disease continues to increase in his constituency. It is absolutely our intention to continue the policy of bearing down on the disease in wildlife, as well as continuing our severe policy of bearing down on the disease in cattle. We will be announcing further measures in the new year.

The inconvenient truth for the Secretary of State is that there has been a fall in TB in new herds and in TB-infected herds since 2008, before the badger culls began. Now that we know that nearly half the board of Natural England, including its leading scientific officer Professor McDonald, challenge the badger cull extensions, is it not clear that the Secretary of State is a complete stranger to evidence-based policy, but a master of moving the goalposts?

Sadly, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. The number of cattle slaughtered has gone up by 22,512. These herds are closed up, which means that they are already in a TB area, and the shadow Minister has to understand that. We are following a clear policy that has worked in every other country where there has been a problem of disease in cattle and in wildlife. I have cited Australia, New Zealand, Michigan, with the white-tailed deer, and badgers in the Republic of Ireland. I just wish that those on the Opposition Front Bench would join us, as they did back in the 1970s, in getting this disease under control.

Does the Secretary of State accept that there would be no sense in pursuing this course further if we did not see progress towards our objective of a significant reduction in TB among cattle in the trial areas?

My hon. Friend is right that there is no point in doing this unless we see a reduction in the disease in cattle—that is our intention—but I am happy to report that I was in Somerset last week talking to those conducting the cull, and they were doing so with great professionalism, skill and restraint, in the face of some opposition, and they were delighted with the results, were convinced there had been a significant reduction in the number of diseased badgers and were looking with great confidence to that part of Somerset being rid of the disease.