Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree that not only Croatia is in the waiting room, but I also draw the noble Lord's attention to the fact that the Question is specifically about Croatia.

Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis

Lord Livsey of Talgarth asked Her Majesty's Government:

10 Jun 2004 : Column 380
 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, no such scheme is envisaged. Indeed, we would not advise the public to touch wildlife carcasses by the roadside. In Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Dorset, Defra's wildlife unit will collect from the roadside any badger carcasses deemed suitable for TB testing. Defra is also undertaking a survey of badger carcasses and suspect deer in the Furness peninsula in Cumbria.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that very encouraging reply. I am sure he would agree that there is a huge anachronism in that legislation is in place for dead farm animals to be collected but not wildlife. Given the statement that he has just made, is there a prospect of ensuring to some extent that the carcasses are collected, if not through a bounty scheme or by private individuals, at least effectively by the units of which he has just spoken? Clearly, dead badgers which remain on the roadside for weeks are a health hazard not only to cattle but also to humans.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, two different issues arise here. One is whether we should simply clear the carcasses from the roadside. That, ultimately, is the responsibility of the highways authorities, and we are certainly not encouraging members of the public to remove the carcasses themselves as that would create a health hazard and potentially a road safety hazard. There is also the issue of testing. In the counties to which I referred, a specialised wildlife unit picks up the carcasses for testing. But that does not take away from the responsibility of the highways authorities for any wildlife carcasses which present a hazard on the roadway.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the bovine TB outbreak is out of control and spreading rapidly? Some 22,000 cattle were killed last year and that state of affairs is likely to continue. Does he recognise the severity of the outbreak and that farmers are frustrated? On the collection of badger carcasses found on roads, can the Minister give the House the figures for, say, the past five years, of how many badgers were collected and the degree of infectivity established in those badgers?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, on the last point, the study is continuing and I cannot give the precise figures because we are working on different samples. The aim is to compare the samples from the random receipt of badger carcasses from the roadside with the information that is coming out of the Krebs trials, which I am not in a position to put into the public arena because they are not yet complete.

On the general situation with regard to TB, I accept that the situation is very severe and that TB is still spreading. I do not accept that it is out of control. The number of new cases last year was marginally fewer than the previous year and the backlog in testing has
 
10 Jun 2004 : Column 381
 
largely been made up. Nevertheless, it is the most significant animal disease problem facing British farming at the moment and very substantial testing and slaughter efforts are being made by the Government and our agencies. This has involved significant public expenditure and a severe cost to dairy and other livestock farmers. The importance of getting to grips with the matter cannot be overestimated.

Lord Carter: My Lords, can the Minister update the House on the latest situation regarding vaccination?

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords. Theoretically, vaccination could be part of the answer, but developing a vaccine is a long-term effort. In the past two years, we have spent £1.5 million on developing a bovine vaccine and we expect to spend about another £1 million this year. The research programme is in line with the timetable on the Krebs trials. We have also agreed to support the process of looking for a vaccine that could be used for badgers. Recommendations are coming to us from the Independent Scientific Group which proposes to complete within a faster timetable. Work is being undertaken on a vaccine for cattle and badgers.

Lord Jopling: My Lords, with regard to the testing of deer carcasses in the Furness peninsula in Cumbria, which he mentioned, can the Minister tell the House how many carcasses have been tested and how many of them have been shown to be positive for tuberculosis?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, for the same reason, I cannot give precise figures for the situation in Cumbria. The reason for testing in Cumbria is slightly different from that in the southern and western counties. Cumbria has been relatively clear of TB but there have been a number of recent outbreaks, most of which have been ascribable to movements of infected stock post FMD into Cumbria. There are some unexplained questions. We are trying to use the badger tests to discover whether the problem is caused by the local badgers, which hitherto have not been as infected with TB as badgers further south.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, when does my noble friend expect the Krebs trials to be completed? Are the Government considering evidence from other countries to help to develop the case; for example, from the Republic of Ireland?

Lord Whitty: Yes, my Lords, we shall consider evidence from anywhere. There has been a certain amount of press coverage in relation to a particular Irish experiment. That has not been finalised and, therefore, I am not in a position fully to assess the implications of the Irish trials. It has not yet reached full peer review within Ireland, so some of the coverage has been premature. On the first part of the
 
10 Jun 2004 : Column 382
 
question, clearly we are putting much effort into establishing the patterns of the spread of the disease from all sources.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I can confirm the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, that in some cases such carcasses are allowed to remain at the roadside for weeks. Is it not time that the highways authorities were reminded of their duty?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I think the highways authorities are aware of their duties. In many cases we are talking about badgers on country roads which are the responsibility of a particular local authority. In regard to the Highways Agency roads, I am sure that the agency is well aware of its responsibilities in that regard and that it tends to clear roads relatively rapidly.

Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, can the Minister give the House an idea of when the figures may be available? We are talking about 15,000 cows being culled a year. We can identify when and where they are culled. Does the Minister agree that most farmers who read the answer that the Minister cannot give the number of badgers and deer picked up from the roadside and tested will consider that Defra was in a total and utter shambles over the TB débâcle?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord may conclude that. Anyone who has followed this story will recognise that we are trying to take a very systematic approach. The testing of roadside casualties is part of that and feeds into the general assessment of the spread of the disease. I did not reply to the part of the question of my noble friend Lord Dubs to which the noble Lord refers, which is when we expect the results of the trials. Previously we have said that we would expect the trials to be completed by 2006, although the report from Professor Godfray suggests that it may be a little later. But that has not been accepted by the group of scientists who are carrying out the trials so there is a slight dubiety about which date is the most appropriate end point. We believe that we shall have a fairly clear indication in 2006.

Business of the House

Lord Grocott: My Lords, before we start the Second Reading of the Pensions Bill and for the avoidance of doubt, I point out that we have an Unstarred Question scheduled today for lunch-time business. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that it is common sense that that is taken at the conclusion of the first Second Reading debate and before the start of the next Second Reading debate. It is not clear when that will be, but I shall assume it will be around 2.30 p.m. I can be slightly more precise if everyone is able to abide by my second suggestion, which is that, if Back-Bench contributions on the two Second Reading debates are restricted to 10 minutes, we should still meet the target rising time of 7 p.m.
 
10 Jun 2004 : Column 383
 


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page