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Bovine TB

8. Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): How many cattle were slaughtered in the last recorded month as result of bovine TB. [10113]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Latest provisional TB statistics for Great Britain indicate that 1,964 cattle were slaughtered as bovine tuberculosis reactors or direct contacts in May 2005.

Daniel Kawczynski: I thank the Minister for that reply. I met a farmer recently in my constituency, in the village of Cruckton, near Shrewsbury. He was so desperate about TB that he allegedly shot a badger. He got into terrible trouble with the local police. There is an effective moratorium on the granting of licences for the killing of badgers. This is putting farmers such as my constituent in a terrible position. I ask the Government to look at the matter again and to relax the granting of licences for killing badgers.

Mr. Bradshaw: I have every sympathy for the farmer to whom the hon. Gentleman refers. If he proposes relaxing licensing conditions to allow individual farmers at a local level to obtain licences, I must point him to the evidence of our badger culling trials, which show that the localised limited culling of badgers makes the bovine TB situation worse. The hon. Gentleman is wrong to imply that there is no badger culling going on at present. More culling is taking place under our own trials than took place when the Conservative party was last in office.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): Given that badgers, as the Minister knows, caused more cattle tuberculosis in Devon last year than the number of cattle that were destroyed during the foot and mouth outbreak, will the hon. Gentleman please consider lifting the protected status of the badger?

Mr. Bradshaw: The hon. Gentleman seems to be advocating lifting the protected status, which would allow a sort of free-for-all, not proper strategic control, which we are considering. We certainly have not ruled that out. This week, the National Farmers Union published its paper outlining how it would like the Government to proceed. We welcome that as a
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contribution to the debate and we are considering the paper carefully. We are conducting our own cost-benefit analysis on badger culling, based on the recent Irish trials, and we hope to be able to say more on this by the autumn.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): During the NFU conference in February, the Secretary of State responded to a question on this issue. The people in the hall were rather underwhelmed by what she said. This matter has been going on for so many years. Every vet will say that there is a definite connection between bovine tuberculosis and badgers. When will we see a properly structured selective cull? It is all very well talking about receiving evidence from here, there and everywhere, but we are five or six years down the road and nothing has happened. Money is being wasted on destroying cattle and it is a matter of the Government sitting on their hands. It may be unpopular to kill off some badgers, but at some point the Government will have to grasp the nettle, and a proper selective cull will have to be introduced, which in effect will assist the species.

Mr. Bradshaw: As I have said on many occasions, the Government are not shying away from difficult decisions on this matter. The hon. Gentleman uses the term "selective cull". What does he mean by that term? There is currently no live test for bovine TB in badgers. So any cull, by implication, would not be selective. As I have said repeatedly before the House, we are not ruling out badger culling. However, any decision on badger culling must be based on sound science. We must be satisfied that it would be cost effective, would work and would be practicable.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): Does not the Minister recognise that bovine TB has become an extremely serious issue for farmers, particularly in the south-west and Sussex? It is a big animal welfare problem as well, for both livestock and badgers. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that farmers believe that the Government are kicking this issue into the long grass and not taking early decisions when they could do so? Is it not time that funding was made available for pre-movement tests for cattle movements and a proper test to ensure that we control the badger population where there is an identified link with bovine TB and that population in particular areas?

Mr. Bradshaw: I note the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that more taxpayers' money should be spent on paying for the costs of pre-movement testing. I do not agree with that. It goes against the way that this country and all other countries are moving towards more cost-sharing on animal disease in agriculture.

I do not accept the suggestion that the Government are kicking the matter into the long grass. We must move forward on the basis of sound science. It was only early this year that the Irish trials were peer reviewed. As soon at that review took place, I set in motion a cost-benefit analysis to analyse those trials. As I have said, the NFU only this week presented its own document
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setting out its suggestions. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman would expect the Government to respond to that document within two days.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Since the Department was set up in 2001, what has been the total cost to the taxpayer of TB?

Mr. Bradshaw: I cannot give the right hon. Gentleman the cumulative cost off the top of my head, but I can tell him the cost for the last financial year for which figures were available. The overall cost for TB in the year 2003–04 was £88 million.

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): The Minister has explained how serious a financial problem this is. Many Members on the Opposition Benches have explained what a crisis this is for farmers. We all accept that he needs to operate deliberately and sensibly. Does he accept, however, that patience is wearing very thin and that as time moves on, farmers and those concerned with animal welfare will not tolerate endless studies? Will he give the House an undertaking that by the time we reach the autumn he will be taking the action that his study shows is necessary?

Mr. Bradshaw: As I have already said, we hope to complete the cost-benefit analysis by the autumn. I do not think that it would be right for me or any other Member to prejudge the outcome of that study.

Environmental Regulation

10. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What her estimate is of the cost of environmental regulation in the last year. [10115]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Mr. Elliot Morley): The Department is committed to reducing the administrative burden of regulation on businesses by at least 25 per cent. over the next five years. We will establish a baseline cost of administrative burdens by May 2006.

Mr. Turner: I notice that the Minister cannot answer the question. It will not surprise him that I refer to Sue Hemmings's pet crematorium and pet cemetery in my constituency, where five animals a year are buried. She faces licence application fees of £6,000 and £1,100 a year. Sir John Harman, chairman of the Environment Agency, has written to me, recognising that this all seems disproportionate in terms of the scale and risk of Mrs. Hemmings's operation. I thank him and his officials for looking for a way round those absurd fee levels—but he also tells me that the Secretary of State approved the ludicrous fees. What planet does she live on if she does not recognise the impact that those astronomical and unjustifiable fees will have on small businesses with tight margins?

Mr. Morley: There are two issues here. Regulation is important and has a sensible role, in relation to pet cemeteries as well as other things. The other issue is the cost. It is not unreasonable to examine the costs to see whether they are proportionate. Of course there has to be an element of inspection and management, and it is
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not unreasonable that people who are part of what is being inspected should contribute towards that. That is a fair distribution of burdens. However, I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), has been talking to the Environment Agency about whether the costs are proportionate to the size of the business and the risks involved.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): I want to ask about the regulatory regime for recycling plastics, because in my constituency one company, a significant employer, imports waste plastic from the Netherlands because that is cheaper than buying it in the UK, and another company exports waste plastic to China because that is more profitable. Does my hon. Friend accept that that is economic and environmental lunacy, and will he have another look at the regulatory system that leads to such anomalies?

Mr. Morley: In this case, the cause is not so much the regulatory system as the workings of the market. Like my hon. Friend, I would much prefer recycled plastics to be used in our own country, but I am glad to see that more and more plastics are being taken out of the waste stream; that is extremely desirable. The fact that there is strong demand in China that underpins the market has some benefits in terms of keeping the market going and developing it. Specific kinds of plastics may be available in other countries that fit the demands of some of the processes here. The waste and resources action programme is considering the whole issue of plastics and the market for them, and I am sure that it will address some of my hon. Friend's points.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): The Minister will be aware that in the continuing absence of devolution and the Assembly in Northern Ireland, matters such as environmental regulation and the costs thereof fall to be considered by this House. Will he therefore liaise with his counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office so that we can have as wide a debate as possible on the cost and effect of environmental regulation in Northern Ireland, where it needs to be brought much further up the agenda?

Mr. Morley: I assure the hon. Gentleman that as a ministerial team, we all talk to our counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office. Many of the concerns that have been raised in this House are concerns in all parts of the United Kingdom, but Northern Ireland has its specific issues. It has made good progress in certain areas of regulation and waste management. I very much hope that we will see devolved government reinstated in Northern Ireland, and it is incumbent on all of us, from all parties, to do all we can to ensure that that happens.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): The Minister said that regulation was important, so perhaps he will turn his attention to the implementation of the new hazardous waste regulations, which make the Environment Agency responsible for monitoring producers of hazardous waste who register through the bulk e-mail system. The system was supposed to be ready in May or June. Why is it still
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not available? That leaves companies unregistered and, potentially, hundreds of tonnes of hazardous waste uncollected.

Mr. Morley: I am not absolutely clear what point the hon. Gentleman is making, but I shall be happy to look into that situation. My understanding is that the regulations have been implemented and are being applied to operators of landfill sites and producers of hazardous waste. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), who has responsibility for such things, will be only too pleased to look into any specific details that the hon. Gentleman can give him.

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