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22 July 2008 : Column 194WH—continued

I am convinced that the all-party group will have to find a part-time assistant to lobby the media and the Government. Although we have 170 members, I decided after the Secretary of State’s announcement that we needed someone to work for us, to ramp up our activities
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and to get more articles in the media, such as the one in the Shropshire Star under the headline “Goodbye to UK cattle industry”. An assistant would help the group to lobby the Government.

The NFU will need to step up its legal challenges to the Government. The union does a good job, but I am frustrated because it is sometimes too polite and deferential to the Government. It does not want to rock the boat, in case the Government make life even more difficult. Those days are now over. In the dying days of the Labour Administration and in the run-up to the next Conservative Government, the NFU has to be extremely forceful. It must demand that action is taken, and not be too deferential.

We need to appeal to the European Union over Government action. I have written to Mr. Barroso, even though it was galling to me as an arch-Eurosceptic. I asked his opinion of Government action over bovine TB. It was a difficult thing to do, but the only thing left in our armoury was to check the EU’s stance on the Government’s handling of bovine TB. In an era when human rights are so important to the European Union and the European Court of Justice, I wanted to ask Mr. Barroso and legal experts what the human rights implications are of not dealing with the disease in the UK. What about the human rights of Shropshire dairy farmers who are on their knees and going out of business?

This week, I have also written to the ambassadors of Belgium and Holland. I hope that the Minister will share my concern about the current unofficial boycott of British cattle imports by Belgium and the Netherlands because some imports have tested positive for bovine TB. The two countries account for more than 40 per cent. of all British cattle exports, and I am concerned that they are acting against the spirit of the EU. I would be grateful if the Minister could give some assurances that pressure is being brought to bear on those two countries to ensure that they stop the unofficial boycott of British meat imports.

I have some brief comments about Shropshire Wildlife Trust. It is the largest organisation in my constituency, with more than 5,000 members throughout Shropshire. Of course, its symbol is a badger. I have attended many meetings at which I have been grilled on my views on badgers, which I shall come to. My wife and I were invited by the trust to watch a badger sett. We went to Whitchurch in Shropshire and spent four hours with the trust watching the sett. The badgers were indeed cute and cuddly, and I thought they were very sweet. We were even given a cuddly toy badger for my baby daughter. Perhaps the trust wanted to convince me just how sweet the animals are and not to call for them to be culled. I appreciate that badgers need to be protected, but we need to engage with the trust and show its members the devastation that wildlife is facing as a result of the spread of bovine TB. We need to explain that many badgers die a slow, lingering death as a result of the disease.

I have addressed the Shropshire Wildlife Trust in the past and I have been challenged on my views by members of the organisation. I will be writing to all 5,000 of them during the recess to say why I think it is important
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to have a limited cull of badgers. That is a way to communicate with them, engage them, and start the debate.

I have had private discussions with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I have spoken to all his predecessors on the matter. I made most progress with the right hon. Member for South Shields, the current Foreign Secretary, because he was more prepared than any of the others to meet me and to listen to my views on the issue. I am worried that the Administration have realised the strength of feeling among members of wildlife trusts against the culling of badgers, and in turn the importance of people who live in key marginal seats and in city areas. The Government do not want to offend such people in the run-up to a general election and have therefore taken the easier option of making announcements about extra investment in vaccination and other things. They did not want to grasp the nettle and adopt the most controversial in a plethora of proposals—the one that the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recommended, as the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire said. They are not prepared to grapple with the issue because of the ferocity with which any such measure would be met by members of the wildlife trusts.

I appeal to the Minister to give us greater authority and responsibility in our regions to make some of those decisions, because not all areas are the same. Will he please give me a commitment that the victory in the High Court over high-value cattle will not be challenged? Will he please give me some crumbs of comfort to take back to Shropshire farmers, many of whom are on their knees, facing oblivion as a result of this appalling disease?

11.15 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jonathan Shaw): I congratulate the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate. Following the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on 7 July, it provides a useful opportunity to discuss where we go from here, for which I am grateful.

I have listened carefully to the points that have been made and to the hon. Gentleman. They echo many of the points raised by stakeholders during our discussions in the run-up to the decision on badger culling. The decision not to issue licences to cull badgers for bovine TB control was not easy to make, and I know that many farmers are disappointed, as the hon. Gentleman has articulated. However, based on the available evidence, including the science, we truly believe that it was the right decision. The hon. Gentleman called for a cull of badgers in his area. I can only reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about the decision. All the evidence was carefully considered and all views were heard, but in the end we could not be certain that a cull of badgers would improve the disease situation in cattle. Delivering an effective large area cull in practice would be a difficult and costly operation that would need to be sustained for a number of years, and public opposition to culling would increase the challenge of effective delivery. In fact, we believe that there is a risk that culling badgers could make the disease situation in cattle worse. Clearly, such a policy would not be in anyone’s interest.

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Although we have ruled out badger culling, we have made it clear that we remain open to the possibility of revisiting the policy under exceptional circumstances, or if new scientific evidence becomes available. As part of the TB announcement, my right hon. Friend made it clear that vaccination has been made a priority, as recommended by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. We are strengthening our programme of research to develop cattle and badger vaccines, and are planning for their deployment by investing £20 million over the next three years. Also, funding will be provided to set up and run a deployment project using injectable badger vaccine, to build confidence in the long-term contribution that badger vaccination could make to tackling bovine TB, and to provide valuable information that could help to bring us closer to the long-term goal of an oral badger vaccine. We need to decide in partnership with industry how best to meet that goal, and therefore the exact nature of the project.

However, vaccination is a long-term policy option and a successful outcome cannot be guaranteed. The earliest projected dates for widespread use of vaccines are early 2014 for the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin oral badger vaccination, and mid to late 2015 for BCG cattle vaccines with a differential diagnostic test. Injectable BCG badger vaccines may be available in 2010 but are not expected to be used widely owing to the cost and acceptability of trapping badgers for injection.

We should not lose sight of the fact that, even if successful, vaccination alone will not provide a solution to bovine TB; it can only form part of a programme of measures. There are a number of ways in which vaccination may be used to tackle TB in cattle or badgers, each with associated benefits and problems. At the core of those is the need to balance the costs versus the benefits of disease control, but wider matters need to be taken into account and balanced, including acceptability, practicality, trade, and legal constraints. Work has begun on those considerations to enable the use of a vaccine once it is available.

In his statement, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned the partnership group. A decision on badger culling has been made. Our overriding priority is now to build a strong partnership with the farming industry so that we can consider the priorities for tackling this difficult disease. It is not for the Government to dictate the form and composition of the TB partnership group. The form of those arrangements is just as much a matter for industry as for Government. We hope to begin discussions with industry partners soon.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham raised the issue of TB compensation that has arisen following the recent ruling that the Cattle Compensation (England) Order 2006 breaches the principle of equality for high-value animals. He will not be surprised to hear that we are disappointed by that judgment and are considering whether to appeal. Cattle compensation is a major cost for the taxpayer and the Government have a responsibility to ensure that the systems are, as far as possible, fair to cattle farmers and taxpayers.

We will not return to the previous system, which resulted in significant and widespread over-compensation with all cattle being valued on an individual basis. There is nothing in the judgment to suggest that we should do that. Indeed, it recognises that the previous compensation arrangements for bovine TB affected cattle
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resulted in a significant over-compensation problem. We will continue to operate the current table valuation system while we review it in the light of the judgment.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the case that is currently in the news of bovine TB in veal calves exported from the UK to the Netherlands. I cannot comment on what he said about Belgium. However, I confirm that my officials have been in close contact with the European Commission and the Dutch authorities in recent days, and have provided a full description of the circumstances of the relevant calf exports. All the TB testing and export certification requirements had been correctly implemented. Discussions with the Commission are continuing.

The hon. Gentleman presented his case in a reasonable way and made his points forcefully, as he has previously in Westminster Hall and the main Chamber. However, I disagree with the assertion that the Government have done little to tackle TB over recent years. While the randomised badger culling trial was in progress, we introduced measures to supplement the routine cattle testing and surveillance programme. For instance, we implemented zero tolerance of overdue TB herd tests and introduced pre-movement and gamma interferon testing.

Those policies are having an effect. The pre-movement testing of cattle that are over 42 days old and are moving out of high-risk herds detected 756 reactor animals in 416 herds in England between March 2006 and April 2008. Those reactors might otherwise have spread disease within buyers’ herds. The gamma interferon test identified 5,419 reactor animals from the 47,215 sampled between October 2006 and May 2008. The number of reactors identified by pre-movement and gamma interferon tests shows the worth of those policies. We are grateful to the farming community for its co-operation and commitment.

In addition, we have worked with the industry and with vets to produce husbandry guidance and have funded a wide-ranging research programme to look into matters such as how the disease is spread, how we can improve diagnosis and how we can vaccinate against it. We have spent over £110 million on TB research in the last 10 years and about £8.5 million in 2007-08.

The Government have been asked whether the eradication of bovine TB is still our aim. Owing to the current level of the disease, that is not realistic in the immediate future. Our immediate priority is to work with the new TB partnership group to focus on approaches in the TB strategic framework to control disease and prevent its further spread. Once the disease is under control, the next stage will be eradication.

The hon. Gentleman has a proud and distinguished record. He has been a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee and set up the all-party group on dairy farmers. He spoke of bringing together Members from all parts of the House. Indeed, Members from all parts of the House have rural areas in their constituencies. It is not right to characterise this debate as rural versus urban. I say to him honestly and genuinely that we did not come to our policy decision by taking an urban perspective. It was difficult to grasp these nettles, but a decision had to be taken. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he would take that decision on his watch.

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Daniel Kawczynski: I represent a constituency close to a national boundary and speak about cross-border issues a lot. Many farmers in Shropshire have livestock and agricultural land on both sides of the border. Will the Minister give an assurance that he will liaise with the Welsh Assembly Government and find out about their experiences of dealing with bovine TB so that there is a more co-ordinated approach? I am cognisant that the Welsh Assembly Government have their own responsibilities and powers, but does he agree that there should be greater co-operation between England and Wales on problems such as this?

Jonathan Shaw: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will co-operate with colleagues in the Welsh Assembly Government. I said in my opening remarks that if new scientific information becomes available, we will reconsider our policy. It will be important to have co-ordination between England and Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government’s decision is in the initial stages. It will take time to decide when and where the cull will go ahead.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) raised the issue of post-movement testing. He is no longer in his seat, but I think that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham was interested in the Government’s position. We encourage post-movement testing as a voluntary measure, but we have not imposed it. Farmers obviously take action to protect their herds. I return to my point about setting up the partnership group between industry and Government. That will enable us to look at measures with regard to movement and testing.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate and for the way that he has presented his view. His view is shared by many in the farming community. He said that he wanted the NFU to give us a harder time. From the receiving end, I can tell him that that organisation is robust and effective. The Government value the way that it goes about its business, but there are times when we disagree. In life, it is normal to have different relationships with the same people. That is the case on this issue with the NFU. Everybody is pleased with the arrangements that we have come to on the bluetongue vaccine. I have spoken to farmers in my county of Kent who have been pleased and that is felt across the board.

The Government want to work in partnership with the farming community on this important issue. I am grateful for the opportunity to set out our position this morning.

11.29 am

Sitting suspended.

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Housing (Disabled Children)

2.30 pm

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I am pleased to have the chance to hold this debate on the housing needs of families with children with disabilities. The issue is important, and we all see it in our constituencies. Given that this is the last day of debates in Westminster Hall before the summer recess, the fact that there are more Members in the Chamber than there often are for hour-and-a-half afternoon debates is a tribute to how strongly people feel about the matter.

I pay tribute to the work of the Every Disabled Child Matters group, which has worked hard to put the needs of children with disabilities higher on the agenda, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), who is in the Chamber, for chairing the parliamentary hearings that have taken the matter forward and produced a step change in policy and in our thinking about services for children with disabilities.

The housing needs of children with disabilities are often overlooked, yet they are important both for the children and their families, including their brothers and sisters. If their housing provision is not right, one child’s disability can become the family’s disability. That can have a profound effect on the life chances of the other children and their ability to do their homework, get a good night’s sleep, play or have friends around.

My concerns are about children with all forms of disability, including physical disabilities and learning difficulties. I am also concerned about children with behavioural difficulties that might fall short of what is normally recognised as a disability but that none the less have profound consequences on their use of space and amenities and on the living standards of the family. I shall focus on three points: space and overcrowding, the provision of and need for aid and adaptations, and the assessment of housing need and design.

Every Disabled Child Matters did an excellent survey that set out the scale of the needs of families with disabled children. In total, 770,000 children in the UK have a disability, based on the definition used in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. In a survey of 3,000 affected families, the organisation found that they were often in the greatest housing need; for example, 56 per cent. were in rented properties, which is much higher than the national average. They also tended to be in the worst properties—those in the greatest need of repair. About 50 per cent. were in properties in a poor state of repair, and particular problems were reported with insulation and heating, which are especially important if children are at home for a long time and cannot move about much.

The position of those families is the most striking, and their needs the most acute in the housing pressures that result from the disability of the children. The EDCM survey found that 55 per cent. of the families had problems with family space—in other words, space to play and space apart from other family members. Some 42 per cent. had problems with their functional rooms, such as the kitchen, toilet and bathroom, being
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difficult to use, and 41 per cent. had only one toilet and/or bathroom. That can be a problem, especially if the only toilet or bathroom is upstairs.

Of the families surveyed, 38 per cent. lacked space for storage and equipment, which can be difficult for people with wheelchairs, pushchairs or other aids. About 38 per cent. had problems with location and 33 per cent. had problems with access around the home or with getting in and out of it. About 21 per cent. lacked the space needed to use the equipment and carry out the therapies that the children needed, and 21 per cent. had inadequate facilities to meet their caring needs such as lifting, toileting and bathing. In total, 86 per cent. of the families surveyed were in homes where there were difficulties with at least one of those matters, and a quarter were experiencing difficulties with six or more different problems.

It might help if I give a personal example of how that affects families I have met in my constituency. Mrs. A lives in my constituency with her daughter and her daughter’s five children, who are aged from about eight to their mid-teens. Two of them have special needs and one is severely affected by autism. They live in a little house with a garden and although they have four bedrooms, two are tiny—little more than box rooms—so one of the adults sleeps in each.

When I visited, I found that the oldest child, who is the autistic boy, was pacing up and down in the combined living and dining room all the time. He could not relate to anything else that was going on in the house; he just walked up and down. He shared a bedroom with one of his siblings, and the other three children, one of whom has a disability, shared the other room. A number of the doors and fittings in the house were broken, which was not surprising given the disability that the oldest boy suffered and the way he constantly moved around the house. He was quite a large, well built boy. The family were living in conditions that anybody would recognise as severe overcrowding, although they were not statutorily overcrowded.

The thought that struck me, and in many ways appalled me, was how on earth the other children could have friends around to play when their oldest brother was apt to pace up and down in the living area. Given the pressures in the house, how could they get their homework done and have the private space that they needed in their bedroom, let alone get a decent night’s sleep? The family were actually managing extraordinarily well, but at what cost and with what difficulties? Do we really think that such a situation is acceptable in 21st-century Britain, either for children with special needs or for their brothers and sisters? Any child has needs of their home—their living space and their bedroom—and I was ashamed that any family in my constituency should have to live in such circumstances.

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