Geoffrey Clifton-Brown backs Government strategy on bovine TB

7th September 2016
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown backs the Government’s 25-year strategy to eliminate bovine TB using a combination of all options available including ring vaccination, culls, vaccination research and tightened biosecurity. 
 
Mrs Main, I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests that states I am a farmer. I represent one of the country’s greatest agricultural constituencies; sadly, it is also one of the constituencies that is most badly affected by bovine tuberculosis, so I speak with some experience on this issue.

The choices we face are stark. TB is an indiscriminate and profoundly unpleasant disease. In 2015 alone, 28,000 once perfectly content and otherwise healthy cattle were slaughtered as a result of contracting this horrible disease. The Government have stated that the cost to the taxpayer was £100 million; on current trends that will be £1 billion cumulatively over the next decade.

As my hon. Friend the Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) said, Opposition Members never mention the human stress caused to the farmers involved. Add to that the cost—

 

If the hon. Gentleman checks Hansard, I think he will find that I did make the point about the stress and hardship that farmers face as a result of the UK Government’s programme on badger culling.

 
I am intrigued that an hon. Member from Scotland has secured this debate, because I did not realise that it was a problem in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman must have few problems with his own constituents to have time to bring forward this debate.

As well as the emotional stress for the farmers involved, the cost to them is tens of millions of pounds. Add that to the costs to the taxpayer and this is a really serious problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, the only legal vaccine for badgers is the injectable BCG vaccine. It is in such short supply that it is needed for human use and therefore the vaccination trial in a quarter of the area of Wales has had to be curtailed. I hasten to add that I believe DEFRA is right to budget tens of millions of pounds to try and achieve an oral vaccine for badgers. That is the nirvana and when we get that, we will really make progress.

My constituents in the new badger cull area in Gloucestershire, with whom I have worked very closely and to whom I pay tribute, have had to go through an incredibly rigorous process to get the licence from Natural England. They are responsible for all the training and recruiting of firearms experts—forgetting all the equipment. I say to Opposition Members that they would not go to that huge amount of trouble and expense unless they really believed that a badger cull was the answer, so I think the Government are exactly correct in their 25-year vaccination strategy. We have to use all the tools in our box.

 
I met people from Natural England a few months ago and they very much gave me the impression that the process was little more than a rubber-stamping exercise and they took their steer from DEFRA as to whether they would go ahead. It came across to me as a political decision rather than, in any way, an academic exercise.
 

I invited the hon. Lady, when she was the shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minister, to come to my constituency and meet some of these farmers, and I invite her to come and meet some of the people who have been involved in this licensing programme. She will find out the hours, days and weeks they have had to spend on this to get a licence. She will be amazed.

 

The hon. Gentleman is kind to give way. Does he believe that free shooting is acceptable?

 
I believe that the best way to cull badgers is with traps. Unfortunately in Gloucestershire, protesters have removed and damaged traps, which has made it essential to have free shooting in our armoury, as well as shooting badgers in traps. If there were no interference with the traps, I believe we could—as they have done in Somerset—operate culls on a much greater basis by caging badgers.

I repeat that the 25-year elimination strategy that the Government have announced is exactly right. We must use all the tools in our armoury, including ring vaccination, culls, vaccinations and, indeed, as the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, tightening biosecurity. On farms, we legally have to do so. Every year DEFRA has tightened biosecurity, the regulations on pre and post-movement of cattle and the regulations on skin testing. Those are the directions in which we need to go, but we need to eliminate this terrible disease.

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