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Lord Rotherwick: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's Answer. He is aware of the University of Dublin's five-year tuberculosis trials in Donegal, but is he aware that those trials have conclusively reduced the incidence of TB in cattle by 96 per cent? As the Government are going to spend £2 billion on this over the next 10 years, should they wait any longer to implement such trials in this country? If so, why?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, trials are going on in this country. Although the noble Lord is correct to say that there was a success rate of over 90 per cent in one of the four areas in Ireland, there were varying rates of success in different topography and with different densities of cattle and badger populations. The full implications of the Irish studies have to be taken into account, and they will be taken into account by our independent scientists. It is instructive to note that the Irish Minister has said that the conclusions from those studies have not led her to change the overall balance of the policy they have adopted in the Irish Republic.
Is he also aware that last year out of 397 new TB breakdowns in dairy and beef herds in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire, 85 per cent have been attributed by Defra officials to wildlife origin, which means badgers?
In view of these reports, is it not time the Minister and his colleagues grasped the nettle, as I have said before, and dealt with the problem? Over and over again, research has shown that if you reduce the number of badgers in an area, TB breakdowns in cattle will fall; if you reduce the number of cattle with TB, the TB incidence will remain the same or increase.
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have said before, and I repeat, that no one is disputing that bovine TB can be carried by badgers and can cause its spread in cattle. The question is whether that is always the main cause of the spread of TB. It is clear that cattle movements and the lack of bio-security also play a part. It is not clear that a simple culling of badgers will have the effect that the noble Countess suggests. It had a differential effect even in the Irish trialsand there are trials in the UK where the effect of a full cull has led simply to more diseased
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badgers moving into the area and had a negative effect on the incidence of TB. The full implications of that also have to be taken into account. I repeat that we have to take into account all the scientific evidence, including evidence on the effectiveness of a cull.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, has the Minister considered the pressure on dairy cows? In my areaI have lived there for almost 40 yearsmore pressure has been put on cattle. Does that reduce their resistance to disease? What does research indicate on that?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, if the noble Lord means that increasing production pressure in relation to dairy cattle has of itself led to greater susceptibility to disease, it is, of course, true that the more densely packed cattle are, the greater the possibility that they will contract the disease from a single source, whether that is cattle or badgers. However, I do not think that the increased productivity of dairy herds has any effect.
Baroness Mallalieu: My Lords, how long is it anticipated that these latest independent studies which have been commissioned will take? Will the Minister give some reassurance to farmers in the hotspots, particularly those in the south-west, who weekly send off reactor cattle but are told that they cannot touch a hair on the heads of badgers on their farms which they know to be infected, that the refusal so far of Defra to make a decision on this is not the result of fear of confronting badger protection groups as farmers believe?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I recognise that there is a bigger problem in the south-west than elsewhere. Those are the areas where cattle are most heavily affected and where the disease has not been contained. However, in total the number of herds affected went down last year and the amount of time during which herds are subject to restriction has also gone down. Therefore, there is some rolling back of the disease. As regards why we are not prepared to accept the simplistic view that simply culling badgers would resolve the problem, we have put in place a number of trials which will last until 2006. The results of those trials will inform policy beyond that date. It will take at most a few months for the independent scientific group to assess the relevance of the Irish trials to the British situation. That will occur well before the completion of our own trials.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, will the Minister publish the results by area of the analysis of badgers killed on the roads and the percentage and number of those badgers that tested positive for bovine TB?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, the results in those counties where that testing is carried out are passed to the independent scientific group as additional information to be considered with information relating to the culling that is being carried out within those areas. The group will take that information into account in
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reaching its conclusions. However, simply to publish the road accident dimension could give a misleading impression.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, at present around 73 per cent of UK households can access digital terrestrial television services. This figure cannot be increased before switchover.
The Government are committed to ensuring that at digital switchover everyone who can currently get the main public service broadcasting channels in analogue form (that is, BBC1 and 2, ITV, Channel 4/S4C and Five) can receive them on digital systems. The BBC and Ofcom estimate that completion of switchover can be achieved by 2012.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, but that means that 27 per cent of the country and, indeed, the whole population of the county of Cumbria cannot receive digital Freeview television until switchover. Has my noble friend any information that he can give us on when we can expect to receive that full range of digital services in the county of Cumbria?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my arithmetic is the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. No, I cannot make an announcement about the roll-out of digital switchover, although we shall be consulting on that very shortly and Ofcom will be consulting on it next month. However, my noble friend may have noticed that the draft digital replacement licences which were published by Ofcom in December include not only the final date but also the first transmitter regions to be addressed. The first one happens to be Border.
Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, will the Government give assurance that when digital switchover occurs, it will not lead to domination by Sky and other such services, but that the freed-up spectrum will be used to enhance the range of free-to-air programmes?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we have always given an undertaking that when digital switchover takes place it will be affordable and accessible. You have to read those two together to draw the conclusion that we are relying fundamentally on digital terrestrial television to achieve the conditions for switchover.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I am sure the Minister will agree that Freeview is a real success story.
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However, will he inform the House what the Government are doing to encourage or, indeed, put pressure upon manufacturers and retailers of television sets to ensure that we can now purchase, and are encouraged to purchase, digital televisions? If we walk into a retailer most of us will buy analogue sets. Surely it is time that people are informed and encouraged to purchase digital or analogue sets with integrated tuners.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I entirely agree that Freeview is a huge success. The relevant figure has reached almost 4 million from nothing in something like two years, which is quite an achievement. I also agree that it is very important that everyone, including manufacturers and retailers, should be making customers aware of the availability of integrated digital television sets and, of course, of set-top boxes. That is why, with the co-operation of the major retailers and manufacturers, we have launched the digital tick logo which is available in retailers with explanatory material and a stick-on for approved materials. We are also carrying out a major public relations campaign. When we make the announcement about all the details of the roll-out towards digital switchover in the course of this year, we will, of course, intensify those efforts.
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