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Bovine Tuberculosis

3. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): How much his Department has spent on measures to control bovine tuberculosis in each of the last three years. [315363]

5. Mr. Hugo Swire (East Devon) (Con): How much his Department has spent on measures to control bovine tuberculosis in each of the last three years. [315365]


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The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): The total amount the Department has spent on measures to control bovine tuberculosis in each of the last three years is 69.6 million in 2006-07, 65.3 million in 2007-08 and 84.2 million in 2008-09.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Does it make sense to cull infected cattle but to leave the infection in the wildlife in the relevant areas, so that reinfection happens? Is that not bad for wildlife, bad for farmers and bad for the taxpayer?

Hilary Benn: The right hon. Gentleman will know about the badger culling trials that were carried out-originally the Krebs trials-and the report of the independent scientific group. As I recall, 11,000 badgers were culled and hon. Members are well aware of the ISG's conclusion. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that we have to find the most effective means of dealing with the terrible disease, which is having a huge impact, including on farmers in his constituency. This summer, we can look forward, subject to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate's granting the final licensing, to the start of the six badger vaccination deployment projects. Many farmers will participate in those, and that offers a way forward. I am grateful for the support for that.

Mr. Swire: With the number of cattle being slaughtered at an alarming rate annually, not least in Devon, what lessons does the Secretary of State take from New Zealand, which has seen a reduction of something like 85 per cent. of TB in cattle resulting from the culling of wildlife hosts, and which is well on the way to becoming officially TB free?

Hilary Benn: We take a very close interest in what is happening in all countries that have been dealing with that problem, but each has its own circumstances. As I indicated in my answer to the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) a moment ago, we tried badger culling, but the ISG's recommendation was that it could not meaningfully contribute to the control of the disease.

We keep a very close eye on what is happening in other parts of the world, including the decision that the Welsh Assembly Government made. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we are putting a lot of money into vaccination. I hope that that will begin to offer a means of dealing with the problem in wildlife, which I am determined to tackle. As he will know, the debate has always been about the most effective way in which to deal with TB in badgers.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): Staffordshire, Moorlands is a hot spot for bovine TB. This week, a local farmer, Mrs. Heath, told me that 93 of her 300 cows have been slaughtered. Will the Secretary of State visit Staffordshire, Moorlands to meet my local farmers to discuss the progress that is being made towards the vaccine for both badgers and cattle, how we can stop the devastating spread of that disease, and how we can look again at compensation levels, so that farmers are compensated for the full cost of their loss?


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Mr. Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but there were really three questions there, to which we will have one reply.

Hilary Benn: I will do my best to find an opportunity to have those meetings. If my hon. Friend were able to bring her farmers to the House, we might be able to find an earlier date, but I am always happy to meet colleagues. I am sorry to hear about the problems that her constituent is experiencing. One of the badger vaccine deployment projects is going to be in Staffordshire. On compensation, we have changed the arrangements. The fact that expenditure on compensation has gone up in the past year reflects the higher values of cattle.

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): The Government have failed to take the tough action needed to tackle bovine TB. Instead, they have announced the setting up of a new animal health body, so that elected Ministers can pass the buck for such tough decisions to an unelected quango. Is it right that farmers have to pay 22 million a year to fund a new quango to clean up diseases that are not their fault?

Hilary Benn: First, I do not accept for a moment that the Government have failed in what they are seeking to do. Secondly, as I have told the House on many occasions, sharing the responsibility and the cost is reasonable. That is what we did in tackling bluetongue, which was a model in my experience. There was no complaint that the farmers had to share the cost, because we had shared the decision making on tackling the disease. The farming industry has long wanted the opportunity to share responsibility for how we tackle disease. Is it unreasonable, in the circumstances, that there should be some sharing of the costs? I do not think that it is.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Does the Secretary of State really consider it to be a success that over the past 12 years, 150,000 head of cattle in the south-west alone have been slaughtered, and that the number continues to rise? Does he really believe that his current policies have any prospect whatever of controlling the disease, let alone of reducing or eradicating it? As he well knows, until we have an oral vaccine in four years' time, any work with vaccine is bound to be on a trial basis only-no one envisages that an injectable vaccine, which is involved in the trials that he was talking about, has any real significant prospect of deployment, because for that to happen one must catch all the badgers. When is he going to get a grip of this matter? He quotes the ISG regularly, but its conclusions were never peer reviewed, even if the evidence it gathered was. Will he accept that he is drawing sustenance from conclusions that were not peer reviewed?

Hilary Benn: We set up the ISG, which did its work and came to its conclusions. It has responsibility for what it recommended, and I accepted its advice-I know that that was not popular and that not everybody agreed. The issue is not whether we need to tackle the reservoir in wildlife, but what the most effective way of doing that is. With the badger vaccine deployment project, once the vaccine is licensed-I take the hon. Gentleman's point about practicality, and the purpose of the deployment project is to see how it works-there will be nothing to stop others using the vaccine, in
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addition to the six projects that we will be running. Understandably, farmers are saying, "You say that culling does not work, but what other means do you have to help us?" We at least now have the beginning of hope, but I agree that an oral vaccine would be much more effective, and we are working very hard, and providing extra funding, to bring that about as soon as possible.