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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Orders [28 June 2001 and 6 November 2003],

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Question agreed to.


Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a) (Money resolutions and ways and means resolutions in connection with bills),


Question agreed to.


Joint Committee


6.13 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I gave notice of my point of order to Mr. Speaker earlier and I understand that you may have a response to help the House on this matter.

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On Tuesday, I participated in a debate in Westminster Hall on a subject that was described on the Order Paper as "Voting rights of honourable Members for Scottish seats". However, while the debate was taking place, I noticed that the Annunciator had transposed this to the simpler title of "West Lothian Question". The debate was then entitled "West Lothian Question" in the Official Report.

As you will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if such a change occurs and what appears on the Order Paper and what happens in this Chamber or, indeed, Westminster Hall is reported quite differently in Hansard, that could be very misleading. I wish to know on whose authority and by what means the change was made.

I attempted to table a question to find out who could take that decision only to find, on the advice of the Table Office, that there was no one to whom I could pose it. The Father of the House, who also participated in the debate and has a special proprietary interest in the phrase "The West Lothian Question", was taken by surprise, and I suspect that the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray), who instigated the debate, was taken by surprise too. I understand that the Chairman of the Westminster Hall sitting at the time was also taken by surprise.

Can you tell us, Mr. Deputy Speaker, who was responsible for the change, on whose authority it was made, and whether there may be important lessons for the future, especially on establishing a precedent about the way in which hon. Members might be misled? I have taken this early opportunity to seek clarification.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the instigator, if that is the right expression, of the debate, I have to admit that I had a brief discussion before it with the Hansard Reporter, who asked me whether I thought it more appropriate to use the full title of the debate—"Voting rights of honourable Members for Scottish seats"—or to abbreviate it in one way or another. I made the point to him that I thought that "West Lothian Question" was not exactly identical to the subject that we were debating and that it might be clearer simply to use the full title. I suspect that for the sake of brevity Hansard decided to abbreviate the title to something that approximated very much to the subject that we were discussing, but which was definitely not an accurate representation of it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I am grateful to the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) for giving notice of his point of order. When a debate title is quite long, it is the responsibility of the duty editor of the Official Report to decide on an appropriate abbreviation to use at the head of the columns in the printed volume. I agree that it would have been better to stick much more closely with the words on the Order Paper. The Editor of Hansard has instructed his staff accordingly. In the case of this debate, the heading will be changed in the bound volume.

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Bovine Tuberculosis

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Charlotte Atkins.]

6.16 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): I have a minor emendation, but in this case it cannot be laid at the Hansardistas in any way. When applying for the Adjournment debate, I should have added the words "in West Dorset" to its title because I wish to pose several questions about the situation in West Dorset rather than the wider issue of tuberculosis in cattle. I witness—somewhat to my embarrassment—a vast array of my Front-Bench colleagues in the Chamber whose interest is in the national scene, and no doubt they will interrogate the Minister on that in due course. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson) has interrogated the Minister on hundreds of occasions and no doubt further discussions will occur.

I have initiated one or two Adjournment debates a year for the past five or six years about various aspects of farming in West Dorset—alas, I think that you have been forced to sit through one or two of them, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that it was three or four years ago when I first mentioned in one of the debates that my farmers were becoming increasingly concerned by TB in cattle. The Minister will be well aware that West Dorset is a dairying area, so it is not surprising that my farmers raised that issue.

In my experience, my farmers conform closely to what Sir Alan Walters described as the "taxi test". I recall working in No. 10 when the Treasury produced enormous reams of computer printouts to prove that there was no problem with the economy. Sir Alan Walters, the distinguished economist who worked for the then Prime Minister, contradicted that information. When the Chancellor of the day asked how that could be, Sir Alan said that he had recently been in a taxi and had inquired of the driver whether he had much custom. He discovered that the driver had not had much custom and decided that that was a better telltale sign of a recession than all the Treasury's complicated computer programmes.

In the same way, I have discovered over the past few years that if my West Dorset farmers register an issue as moving up their agenda, it is a good leading indicator—better, I suspect, than the information available to the Minister from his hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of officials and experts. That is what has happened. Whereas three or four years ago, in my regular meetings with West Dorset farmers, TB in cattle would be raised low down the agenda as we were about to adjourn for tea, it is now raised first or second. The salience of the issue has risen dramatically, and the reason for that is pretty clear: the prevalence of TB in cattle on West Dorset dairy farms has risen dramatically.

I know that the Minister knows the background to this, but it seems to me important to sketch it out briefly. My dairy farmers are in an extraordinary business, if I can call it that. They have recently achieved the remarkable feat of reaching roughly a zero per cent. return, which is a vast improvement on the past few years. No other business in Britain would survive on a zero per cent. return. It is really for love rather than

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money that West Dorset dairy farmers remain West Dorset dairy farmers. They have also been through BSE and foot and mouth disease.

If we hit what I insist on calling a serious problem of TB in cattle—a variant that leads to a full-blown crisis—I judge that it will be the last to affect my dairy farmers because I do not think that there would be any West Dorset dairy farmers after such a crisis. The Minister may think that that is somewhat overblown language, but I said some years ago that I thought that what was happening in the pig industry was likely to mean that there would not be much pig production in West Dorset by now, and there is not now much pig production in West Dorset; indeed, there is almost none at all. That is because people did not heed the warnings given then about what was happening to the pig industry as a result of differential regulation and effective dumping from Denmark, Holland and Poland.

Now we face the prospect, if something is not done, of the destruction of the dairy industry in West Dorset. I have to admit that, economically, that will not be terribly important. Britain's economy will not be destroyed by the absence of dairy farming in West Dorset. I have to admit also that other uses will be found for the land. I suppose that is nostalgia on my part, but I will be sad—distraught, in fact, as I suspect others in the country will be—if a land that has had cattle on it for hundreds of years turns into a land destitute of cattle. West Dorset society will change if dairy farming stops.

I accept that if that were the ineluctable result of forces of rationality, we would have to put up with it, but it is not. If it occurs because of a crisis of TB in cattle, it will be an avoidable result of an avoidable calamity, and I do not think that we ought to put up with calamities that are avoidable. Moreover, it is a calamity that we can see coming, and when calamities are both avoidable and foreseeable they really ought to be avoided.

The purpose of our Ministry of Defence is to lay down plans for things that may not happen, and the Ministry has good plans, I believe, for a wide range of contingencies that may not occur. However, this Minister's Department has a long and sorry history of not having plans for things that are almost inevitable. It is only once they occur that the Department realises that the crisis with which it is ineptly dealing is one that, if it had dealt with it some years before, might have been only a problem and possible to tackle with a great deal less public expense and discomfort. We are in exactly that position now.

The national figures are clear, and West Dorset reflects them. We have seen something like a 500 per cent. increase in the prevalence of TB in cattle over the past five or six years. There was a period last year when that was being disguised by the fact that a backlog was being cleared. It has now been cleared, and yet this year we see a vast increase compared with the position some years ago. For my West Dorset farmers, the same bumbling approach to testing that was perfectly tolerable five or 10 years ago still applies. There is a not very effective test and a large number of inclusive results, and farms are then closed for 60 days, with huge, consequential losses for the farmers.

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From what my West Dorset farmers have said, there is no sense of urgency or crisis in the Department. I do not mean that people are not working hard, or that they are not coming into the office and leaving late. I do not mean to imply that there are not any experts—there are many experts. I do not mean that business is not continuing as usual—there is nothing that the National Audit Office would declare to be a gross inefficiency. However, it is as if people were sitting around just before the second world war and producing a Spitfire every few weeks. That would not have provided a sufficient defence in the battle of Britain. People have to change gear and produce Spitfires at the rate that Lord Beaverbrook managed to achieve. At the moment, the Department is not in war mode on TB in cattle in West Dorset. It is in peacetime mode, but my farmers are fighting a war. It is poor that there should be such a discrepancy.

The Minister is about to conduct a long-term review, which I applaud. Vaccines are expected in due course, but I am told that it may be about 10 years before they are produced. When I first heard about the vaccines, however, I was told that they were expected in 10 years time. People whose experience is greater than mine tell me that, 20 or 30 years ago, effective vaccines were expected in 10 years time. I do not know whether there will be an effective vaccine in 10 years time. In some respects, I hope that there will not be, because there will nothing to vaccinate in West Dorset, as there will not be any dairy farming in 10 years time if things carry on as they are at present. There may not be many badgers to vaccinate either, as they are dying in large numbers in West Dorset. I regularly come across dying badgers on the road as I drive down to my house. They are not dying a pleasant death, and neither, I suspect, are the cattle. This is a very unpleasant business.

The Krebs experiment is under way. I should be aware of that fact as I was an early proponent of that experiment. I had meetings with the people concerned, including Professor Krebs, and argued vociferously with some of my farmers five or six years ago that they should sponsor the Krebs experiment. In my naivety, I said that it would produce conclusive results. Without such results, Ministers would not have the backing for the action that they wanted to take. Just as I supported field trials for genetically modified crops, so I supported the Krebs experiment because I believe that the power of science is considerable. I was gulled into supposing that a simple set of controlled experiments emerging from the original Krebs report—it is not terribly complicated to have assign three different areas of the United Kingdom and treat badgers in three different ways—would expedite a set of concrete results. I do not know exactly what has gone wrong or why the selective cull has been halted. I do not know what the difficulties have been, but as the Department is not on a war footing, any difficulty is likely to have deterred it from proceeding. In any event, the Krebs experiment was meant to be complete by 2003, but it is not.

I know that the Minister was not in post when the experiment began, and has not been in post for most of the period during which it was conducted. He is not personally responsible, but the fact is that this is a shambles. I very much doubt that he will want to give us

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a cast iron guarantee that the Krebs results will be available next year, the year after, or the year after that. Krebs is an interesting commodity—the experiment, I mean; we must not blame Professor Krebs—but when it has been completed and the Department has eventually considered it in its long-term review and come up with a solution, there will be nothing to solve as there will be no cattle in West Dorset, which is an absurd result.

I am not a world expert on these matters. If I were, I would seek employment in the Department. However, it employs enormous numbers of experts who, presumably, know what to do about the problem. I hope they know what to do about it. The National Farmers Union has made 16 recommendations, so it appears to have an idea of what to do. The National Federation of Badger Groups has made a large range of recommendations, some of which, interestingly, overlap with the recommendations made by the NFU.

As in each of the crises that we have faced, which we have not dealt with nationally with distinction, the Department has set up an advisory group. There always seems to be an advisory group, and the advisory group always has a chairman. At this stage in the development of the crisis, before the shambles is fully revealed and the nation mourns the results, the chairman of the advisory group always complains that nothing is being done. True to form, that is what we find in the present case.

Professor John Bourne, the chairman of the relevant advisory group, appeared on "Farming Today" on 20 December and his remarks were illuminating. He was asked what he thought about DEFRA and he said:

that is, the independent scientific group—

When the interviewer asked:

that is, DEFRA—

Professor Bourne said:

So the chairman of the advisory group in DEFRA is in accord with my West Dorset farmers in his view of the speed with which the Department is not moving on an issue that is currently a problem and will shortly be a full-blown crisis. That is not satisfactory.

I hope that the effect of this tiny debate focused on the tiny part of the United Kingdom that I have the good fortune, in all respects except its current state of dairy farming, to represent will enter into the Minister's mind the idea that I wish to plant there—that long-term reviews are of no use. Waiting for Krebs is of no use. Waiting to see whether, at a later time, the Department should move on to a war footing is of no use. We are facing something that is operating as an epidemic operates—on the basis of geometric progressions, but arithmetic activity will not resolve the problem. What is needed is a change of gear to match what nature is doing to us.

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I do not know what the solutions are, but they need to be rapid and effective, otherwise the Minister will face what, if we inherit Government, I as the then Chancellor will face—a mighty great bill for dealing with a ghastly crisis that need not have happened, and which could be prevented from happening now.

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