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There is a great deal of uncertainty in the farming world. Will the Minister now tell the House what timetable is to be followed, and what criteria his Department will deploy to assess the ISG’s findings and to come to a conclusion on this matter, once and for all?

Mr. Bradshaw: The right hon. Gentleman will know, because he chairs the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and because he has followed this issue closely, that we have not yet received the final report from the Independent Scientific Group that carried out the badger culling trials, although we expect it some time this summer. He will also know, because he has studied the matter closely, that this is a complex issue. There are no simple solutions, as some people claim, not least because the science shows that piecemeal localised badger culling could actually make the disease considerably worse. There would be considerable organisational challenges involved in any potential badger cull, but we have been discussing those with the farming industry over the past few months and trialling various culling methods. A decision will be made based on the science and on what is practicable and deliverable.

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands) (Lab): What conclusions has my hon. Friend come to about the levels of compensation to farmers hit by bovine TB? How do they compare with the overall economic impact on farmers hit by a bovine TB breakdown?

Mr. Bradshaw: I would refer my hon. Friend to a number of independent reports, including one from the National Audit Office that concluded that serious overpayment was going on under the previous individual valuation system. As I said in my answer to the original question, it is important when dealing with animal diseases such as these that it is not only the taxpayer who has to foot the bill, and that the agriculture industry itself should have a responsibility to maintain good biosecurity and disease control measures. We are obliged to pay compensation for cattle that are culled as a result of TB, but we think that the new table valuations provide a fairer balance between the costs that are expected to be carried by the taxpayer and those that are expected to be carried by the farmers.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Some time ago, I asked the Minister what the total cost
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to his Department of bovine TB had been over the past 10 years. He was unable to give me the total cost at that stage. Will he do so now, and, if not, will he put the information in the Library?

Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I will certainly do that. I can also tell the right hon. Gentleman that the costs have reduced significantly over the past year, partly because of the fall in the number of cases last year, but also because of the change in the compensation system that I have just outlined to my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Charlotte Atkins).

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I hear what my hon. Friend has said. This is a devilishly difficult disease. Would he accept, however, that no country in the world will use a culling policy as the primary way of controlling bovine TB? Most scientists now recognise that there has to be a solution involving vaccination, yet that solution always seems to be 10 years away. Experiments are being carried out in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) to determine whether a BCG vaccine can be used on badgers. Is it not about time that we put proper resources into such research and, along with our friends in Ireland and New Zealand, tried to eradicate this disease in the way that we have done with human TB, namely through vaccination?

Mr. Bradshaw: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that, wherever this disease occurs around the world, wildlife controls alone are not the answer. In fact, every other country that has bovine TB concentrates on cattle controls as the most effective and useful way of controlling it. We are investing a considerable amount of money in vaccine research—we have invested £10.5 million over the past seven years—and we have started to test candidate vaccines in naturally affected cattle and badgers. So we are making progress, but, as my hon. Friend will understand, we cannot always hurry science.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): Last night, I had a long conversation with a constituent from Hengoed who was desperate because bovine TB had now spread to that area, where it had not been seen before. The Minister’s answers are complacent and unacceptable. I visited Michigan 18 months ago, and countries such as America are bearing down on the disease—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should be putting a question.

Mr. Paterson: Will the Minister take lessons from countries such as America where, by bearing down on the disease in both cattle and wildlife, the disease has been eradicated?

Mr. Bradshaw: Of course we will learn lessons where we can from other countries that have had similar disease experiences. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman will know from all his globetrotting, this is a complex disease. We are not the only country in the world to face the challenge of it. Across the Irish sea, the Republic of Ireland has had an even more serious problem than we have. We have implemented a package
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of measures. Opposition Members always concentrate on badger culling, but they have little to say about the very important cattle control measures, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) referred to, which are far more important in terms of controlling the disease.

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Ten years ago, the then Minister responsible, the noble Lord Rooker, said that bovine TB was the most serious animal health issue facing this country apart from the tail-end of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which affected us then. Yet here we are, with the number of incidents going up again, returning to the trend after last year’s reduction, and still we do not have a decision on culling and have made no progress on many other areas—for example, the use of gamma interferon testing is at 1 per cent. of total tests.

Does the Minister agree that putting the issue into the too difficult file is not good enough for a disease that is affecting countless herds and, more seriously, countless families and households up and down the western side of the country? Will he introduce a comprehensive package of measures? Yes, we must develop vaccines; yes, we must use pre-movement testing, on which we support him, much to the disgust of some of people in the industry; but we must also test other systems, such as polymerase chain reaction, which we have constantly pressed on him, and actually make a decision. Rumours abound that the Government are about to announce licences on badger culling. Will he tell us: yes or no?

Mr. Bradshaw: The issue has not been put in the too difficult file. As the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) implied when he asked about how much it is costing, the Government—the taxpayer—are paying considerable sums, both in trying to control and reduce the disease and on research. As the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), who chairs the EFRA Committee, was gracious enough to acknowledge, it is a difficult and complex problem.

The hon. Gentleman will be interested to learn that we have rolled out a threefold increase in gamma interferon tests in the past few months. We think that we have managed to catch a significant number of animals and therefore avoid further spread of the disease in a number of areas.

Packaging Waste

9. Sandra Gidley (Romsey) (LD): What steps the Government are taking to reduce packaging waste; and if he will make a statement. [132371]

The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): Packaging recycling has doubled since 1997 and statutory binding targets will ensure further improvements in the years to come. All the major retailers and several major brands have also agreed to a Government request to reduce the amount of packaging in the first place, designing out packaging growth by 2008 and delivering absolute reductions in packaging by March 2010.

Sandra Gidley: Will the Minister consider implementing the principles set out in the Retail Packaging (Recycling)
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Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), which would impose on larger retailers a duty to take back excess packaging from customers, a system that works well in Switzerland and Germany?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am afraid that I have not seen full details of that Bill. It would, of course, be subject to discussions with Government colleagues, but it sounds like a very good idea and I would like to have a look at it.

Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): As we have just left the season that has some of the most wasteful packaging—the Easter period with Easter eggs—will the Government consider coupling the measures the Minister mentioned with a mandatory requirement or a strong recommendation for local authorities to consider recycling not only tin and glass when they offer such a facility to residents? They do that because those products are quite heavy and they reach their targets quicker, whereas the packaging on an Easter egg, for instance, is plastic and cardboard.

Mr. Bradshaw: A growing number of local authorities are recycling plastic and cardboard, but my hon. Friend is right to draw attention both to the excess packaging around Easter eggs and to the difficulties involved in our weight-based system for recycling targets. That is one of the issues that we are examining as part of the review of our waste strategy, and we intend to publish a new strategy shortly, which I hope will deal with the problem identified by my hon. Friend.

Marine Environment

10. Anne Moffat (East Lothian) (Lab): What his objectives are for new measures to protect the marine environment (a) around the UK and (b) in the EU. [132372]

The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): The measures in our Marine Bill White Paper published last month will, when enacted, make the UK an international leader in marine environmental policy. We are also continuing to play a leading role in Europe to improve the operation of the common fisheries policy, and to persuade the Commission and other member states to pay more heed to protection of our seas.

Anne Moffat: Does my hon. Friend share my concern about proposals for ship-to-ship oil transfers in the Firth of Forth, which runs up my constituency? Fin whales have been sighted in those waters very recently. Any catastrophe involving oil in that beautiful stretch of water would be devastating.

Mr. Bradshaw: I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concern, and I will look into the matter, although as she knows it may well be devolved.

We have been working with the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly in recent months on our Marine Bill White Paper, which will address some of my hon. Friend’s concerns. I hope that that co-operation and commitment to the marine environment will remain after the Scottish elections in May.

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Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Belgium and the Netherlands have placed restrictions on marine aggregate dredging in their waters. We now export 30 per cent. of the sand and gravel that is dredged from our waters to those countries and to France. Does the Minister intend to take measures to restrict the damage caused to our marine environment as a result of measures taken by other countries to protect theirs?

Mr. Bradshaw: Marine aggregate dredging is regulated in this country. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is calling for more regulation, in contrast to what his hon. Friends were saying earlier.

This is one of the important issues that we are considering in the round as part of our Marine Bill White Paper proposals. For far too long we have viewed the oceans in a piecemeal way, approaching the issue with different sectoral interests rather than bringing everything together in a strategic and holistic way as we hope to do when the Bill has been passed.

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Bill and the White Paper, which some of us will debate later today. Within what time scale—subject to legislation—does my hon. Friend expect the marine management organisation to be established, and will he ensure that the long-term data sets to which it will need access are protected in the forthcoming funding from the research council?

Mr. Bradshaw: I am afraid that the research council is not part of my brief, but I will ensure that one of my colleagues writes to my hon. Friend about it. As for the time scale, we want to introduce the legislation as soon as possible. It was a manifesto commitment that we would deliver it during this Parliament, and I am confident that we will fulfil that commitment. But we must get it right rather than rushing it, because it deals with a very important issue.

I note that my hon. Friend has already made a spirited bid for the marine management organisation to be based in Plymouth, championing her city as she always does.

English Farming

11. Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): What assessment he has made of the effect of the transfer of funds from pillar I to pillar II on the future viability of English farming. [132373]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Barry Gardiner): As a result of the decision to co-finance voluntary modulation for environmental schemes in England at a rate of 40 per cent., more funding overall will go into
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pillar II rural development, from which both farmers and the environment will benefit.

Mr. Williams: In evidence to the Select Committee, the National Farmers Union estimated that of funds used to support agriculture under pillar II, only 40 per cent. would accrue to the profitability of the industry. Before rushing into ever more voluntary modulation, as opposed to what the Commission has made compulsory, will the Minister ensure that farming businesses still exist to deliver the pillar II programmes which everyone considers so important, particularly in the hill areas?

Barry Gardiner: Our position is clear: we believe in targeting public money for public good. That means phasing out subsidy dependency and paying farmers for the environmental benefits and the landscape management that only they can provide. We are trying to make that compulsory in the health check, as I believe the hon. Gentleman is aware.

Bovine Tuberculosis

12. Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): When he expects to announce the Government’s response to the public consultation on badger culling and bovine tuberculosis. [132375]

The Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare (Mr. Ben Bradshaw): As suggested in previous answers, we currently have no set date, but the final report of the independent scientific group that ran the badger culling trials is expected this summer.

Mr. Jackson: I listened with interest to the earlier debate and to the answers that the Minister gave to questions on this issue. He should bear in mind that the link between badger TB and bovine TB was established as long as 10 years ago in 1997 by Professor Krebs, and that up to May last year there were 859 new cases of bovine TB. When can we be given an exact date for when the consultation will be brought before the House and action will be taken to tackle this desperately important issue?

Mr. Bradshaw: We will have an exact date when we are ready to announce one. The hon. Gentleman is right that the link between badgers and bovine TB has been known for some time, but what was not known, because no previous Government—including previous Conservative Governments—had done the research, was the extent of the relationship between bovine TB and badgers and the infection rates in cattle. That is exactly why this Labour Government when we came into office in 1997 set up the badger culling trials. They took place over several years. They were delayed somewhat by the outbreak of foot and mouth but they have now finished, and the hon. Gentleman and other Members should read the final report before they reach their conclusions.

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Business of the House

11.31 am

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to tell us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): The business for next week—the week commencing 23 April—will be:

Monday 23 April—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 24 April—Opposition day; ninth allotted day. There will be a debate entitled “Modernising Medical Careers”, followed by a debate entitled “The Future of Local Government”. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.

Wednesday 25 April—A motion relating to the Crossrail Bill, followed by opposed private business that the Chairman of Ways and Means has named for consideration.

Thursday 26 April—A debate on defence in the United Kingdom on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 27 April—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 30 April will include:

Monday 30 April—Consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

Tuesday 1 May—Conclusion of consideration in Committee of the Finance Bill.

Wednesday 2 May—A motion to approve a European document relating to the protection of critical infrastructure, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, followed by a debate on a motion for the Adjournment of the House on a subject to be announced.

Thursday 3 May—A debate on policing in London on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 4 May—The House will not be sitting.

Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for telling us the future business. He has in the past announced his intention to improve the notice of oral statements to the House. Usually, advance notice of such statements is given in his response to business questions, but will he confirm to the House whether it is his intention in future to enable notice of such statements to be put on the Order Paper, regardless of whether they have been announced in business statements?

This morning, as referred to in Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions, the Government published their final epidemiology report on the outbreak of bird flu, but it is clear that we still do not know how bird flu came into Britain. Despite the Government finding serious failings at the Bernard Matthews farm, that company will receive more than £589,000 of taxpayers’ money in compensation. Can we have a debate on the bird flu outbreak?

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