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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I thank the Minister for giving way, and draw to the attention of the House my interest in livestock farming, which is recorded in the Register of Members' Interests. The implication of the abandonment of reactive culling is surely that there is evidence that badgers are implicated in the spread of the disease between themselves and cattle. That is an advance, and something that farmers have suspected for a long time.

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, there is a certain amount of truth in what the hon. Gentleman says. There has always been a reservoir of TB infectivity in wildlife, and in badgers in particular. What we have never had is hard scientific evidence relating to the nature of the spread, or the role that badgers play in it, compared with, for example, cattle-to-cattle spread. That is what has fuelled the argument between the industry and wildlife groups. The latter claim that this is all about biosecurity measures and that farmers should bear the main responsibility for ensuring that their cattle do not get infected, while some—although not all—farmers blame the badgers and advocate a badger eradication policy.

The hon. Gentleman is right. The abandonment of the reactive cull has finally shown that there is a connection, although we still do not know the extent. We also know that a reactive culling policy, which many people in the industry prematurely advocated that we adopt before the outcome of the trials, makes matters worse. Those events show that the trials were important, that following the science is important and that it is important not to bow to demands from either side to take premature action. Doing that may give the appearance that one is acting urgently, but it could make matters worse. We have to do the right thing.

We will not only continue to watch carefully the data coming from the proactive trials, but will examine carefully the results of the trials being conducted in Ireland, which we expect to be published fairly soon. They are slightly different in that the Irish have conducted something more like a badger eradication policy over a wider area and they have used snaring, which is a more effective way to cull badgers. We are keen to learn best practice from any other country, because we accept that this is such a serious issue.

In summing up, I hope that the right hon. Member for West Dorset is at least a little reassured that we take this situation extremely seriously. The issue was certainly top of my in-tray when I was appointed about six months ago and, apart from fisheries, I have spent the most time on it, supported by a good team who have

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been working hard to get the consultation out, to get a new long-term strategy adopted and to make changes in the short term, which we hope will help to prevent spread to further areas and begin to contain and reduce infection and herd breakdowns in those areas that are already affected.

I return to the candid way in which the right hon. Gentleman finished his speech: in the absence of a solution, this problem will be difficult for some time. There are no magic solutions. We are as keen as anyone

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else to solve the problem. We do not take the situation lightly as it is serious for farmers and for our Department, which is having to spend a considerable amount of money on TB that we would rather spend on—

The motion having been made after Six o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.



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