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Bovine TB

Volume 603: debated on Thursday 17 December 2015

1. What progress her Department is making on implementing its strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England. (902773)

Our strategy to eradicate bovine TB is working. I am pleased to report that all three badger control areas—Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset—hit their targets this year. The Chief Veterinary Officer has made it clear that the strategy is delivering disease control benefits, and that it will help us to eradicate this terrible disease.

I thank the Secretary of State for acknowledging that bovine TB is a serious issue, but it is a particularly serious issue for farmers in my constituency. Will she agree to meet me to discuss rolling out a badger vaccination programme in the high-risk areas of Sussex, which would enable us to control the disease while also avoiding a badger cull?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s efforts to promote the vaccination of badgers, but unfortunately there is a worldwide shortage of the BCG vaccine, and I have therefore decided to suspend the sourcing of the vaccine for badgers in England in order to prioritise human health. The Welsh Government recently announced the same decision. However, I shall continue to listen to what my hon. Friend and her local farmers say about this important issue.

I wish both you and the Secretary of State a very merry Christmas, Mr Speaker.

Not only are badgers responsible—as I understand it—for the spread of bovine TB, but they are no friend of the hedgehog. On Monday, our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government rejected my call, and that of The Times, for a hedgehog superhighway through back gardens. Would my right hon. Friend be willing to meet me, and members of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, for a hedgehog summit?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his fantastic campaign, and I congratulate The Times on raising this vital issue. I, too, want hedgehogs to have a very happy Christmas, and I am very willing to meet my hon. Friend and members of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to discuss what we can do to ensure that we have a good population of hedgehogs in the future.

I am afraid I cannot follow that, Mr Speaker.

Given that £20 million has been spent on the badger cull so far, and that hundreds, possibly thousands, of badgers have been killed, will the Secretary of State tell the House how many of those that have been killed had been tested for bovine TB?

If we do not get a grip on this terrible disease, we shall end up spending £1 billion on dealing with it over the next 10 years. The fact is that it was the Labour party, in 2010, that left us with the worst levels of the disease in Europe. That is why we are having to deal with it now, and I am following the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer, who says that culling is an important part of dealing with it. Why do Labour Members not congratulate the hard-working farmers in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset who have delivered this year, and who are helping us to deal with this terrible disease?

It is very important for us in Northern Ireland to learn from what the Department has done on the mainland, and to benefit from the information, the experience and the lessons of that action. In Northern Ireland, 6% of cattle herds have been affected by bovine TB, and it is on the rise. It has cost the taxpayer £30 million a year, and 17% of the badgers that have been tested have TB. What can the Department do to help us in Northern Ireland to take on the disease, and defeat it?

We will continue to work closely with Northern Ireland to tackle the disease throughout the United Kingdom.

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile), and wish the Secretary of State and everyone else a happy Christmas.

In Gloucestershire and Somerset, there has been a very beneficial reduction in the number of cattle suffering from TB in the badger culling areas. When will the Secretary of State be able to release the figures that will show what is happening?

My hon. Friend is right, and I am pleased to say that, thanks to our strategy, more than half the country is on track to be officially free of the disease by the end of the current Parliament. The Chief Veterinary Officer has made it clear that licensing of future areas is needed to realise the disease control benefits, and I am determined to pursue that recommendation.