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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I have certainly seen pictures, films and
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post-mortems of badgers with TB, which is clearly not very nice for them. It is difficult to tell whether or not a live badger has TB, although some people claim to be able to do so. I have seen badgers near my constituency in Devon wandering around during the day, which was not at all usual in my childhood but has become commonplace. As for the cost of TB, as I said earlier, last year, it cost the taxpayer more than £90 million, a good proportion of which was compensation for slaughtered cattle.
Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): When the Minister considers the question of costs and the lack of an appeal, will he bear in mind the fact that farmersusually, small farmersperhaps with closed herds, have lost all their spirit for farming as a result of what has happened to their herds in recent years? He should not forget that we are talking about some of the poorest farmers in the country, who will now be exposed to the full cost of veterinary charges. I beg him to think of the consequences for poor, small farmers.
Mr. Bradshaw: I shall certainly do so, but the hon. Gentleman will recognise that Governments have a responsibility to the taxpayer. Three independent reports have been produced, all of which show that serious overpayment has been made in a significant number of cases. In addition, a higher payment was made for bovine TB than for other cattle diseases, which is why we are introducing the change to the compensation payments.
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): While it is true that bovine TB is falling in Northern Ireland in contrast with the significant rise in other parts and regions of the United Kingdom, a wildlife cull in hot-spot areas is essential. It is not welfare-friendly to protect TB-infected wildlife, so a cull would surely be good not only for farmers but for wildlife suffering from the disease.
Mr. Bradshaw: It is important to remember that this is a devolved issue, and I am sure that my colleagues responsible for agricultural issues in Northern Ireland will study the consultation documentation as closely as everyone else in the House.
Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): It really is incredible, having spent £2 billion not curing TB with current methods, that we should have yet another consultation. To secure agreement on a method of culling, the Government must seek a derogation from the 1979 Berne convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats. Article 9 allows for derogations, but appendix IV lists a number of prohibited culling methods. How long will it take to secure a derogation, and which methods of culling will the Minister seek?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. This is not yet another consultationit is the first ever consultation. He is also wrong about the need for a derogation from the Berne convention.
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Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The Minister has already pointed out that if a badger cull is to be effective, it must be intensive and cover a sufficiently large area. May I draw a comparison with the contiguous cull policy on foot and mouth which, although distressing at the time, led to an early elimination of the disease? Will the Minister's attempts to eliminate TB be as strong as his attempts to eliminate foot and mouth?
Mr. Bradshaw: I was not at the Department during the foot and mouth outbreak, but whatever we decide to do on bovine TB, it will require considerable resolve. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that the scientific evidence appears to suggest that fiddling around with small-scale localised culling is at best ineffective and at worst probably makes things considerably worse. The stark choice that we may well face after the consultation is to do nothing or to do something quite serious.
Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): I regret that there will not be an appeal system, so will the Minister ensure that valuations of cattle are published and updated on his website so that people know where they stand? I think that he said that the Government will not compel a farmer to cull, so may I have a reply to my letter to the Secretary of State about the appalling bullying of my constituents in Pensax? Finally, he asked for clarification of a question that I asked earlier. If the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is paying a certain price to vets for the test, will he ensure that vets cannot charge farmers more for the same work?
Mr. Bradshaw: That will be a matter between farmers and their vets, as it is a private transaction, but we hope that in time there will be more lay testers, which will reduce the cost of testing for farmers. As for compelling farmers to participate, I do not recall the connection with the constituency case that he raised, but I shall check and write to him. In the event of a badger cull going ahead, it is not realistic to expect any Government to compel landowners or farmers to cull badgers on their land. However, in some of the worst affected areas, the level of compliance will be high, and we would do what we could to encourage compliance, and I believe that farmers and farm industry representatives would try to do that as well. There should be encouragement and exhortation, but I would stop short of compulsion. Valuations will be updated regularly, and both the valuation regime and the pre-movement testing arrangements will be constantly reviewed.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I welcome the statement. Unlike many of my colleagues, I do not think that it is unreasonable to conduct a 12-week consultation after six years. Compliance, however, is a major issue, and it is linked to the financial help that the Government can give small farmers on pre-movement testing. Will he address that issue?
No, not at this stage. We would very much like a proper system of farm insurance in this country, as most countries have, whereby farmers pay into a fund which can cover such costs. In the UK we
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still have a system that is based almost entirely on the taxpayer. We are trying to move away from that, so what the hon. Gentleman is recommending would be a retrograde step. I hope our announcement today shows farmers that the Government are serious about tackling TB, and I welcome the hon. Gentleman's welcome for the 12-week consultation.
Mr. Bradshaw: I am not sure. The road-kill testing has not been incredibly helpful to us in identifying areas of high TB, or even the relationship between areas of high TB in badgers and areas of high TB in cattle. It is quite expensive and in all these matters decisions must be made about what is the most effective way of spending taxpayers' money to tackle the disease. Given the announcement that I made today, I am not sure that spending a lot more money on testing road-kill badgers for TB is the most effective way forward.
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