Opposition Day — 16th Allotted Day
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham, Conservative)
I read the motion as focusing on our own food security here in the UK, although many others have spoken about problems in other parts of the world. I view the motion as relevant to our own country, and the Secretary of State has tried to pour a soothing balm over the whole crisis that we face. He tried to appear both very positive and as the friend of the farmers, but I have to tell him—I want to take this opportunity to explain it to the House—that this country faces a crisis in its agricultural sector. He knows how passionately I feel about dairy farming, and speaking as chairman of the all-party dairy farmers group, I have to tell him and the House that more than 170 MPs across the parties are involved in the group and they all feel passionately about the future of our dairy sector.
In 1997, 47 cattle were slaughtered in Shropshire. Last year, the figure had risen to more than 1,200. I keep repeating those figures: how can we go from 47 cattle slaughtered in one year to more than 1,200? To me, that seems just phenomenal. It goes over and over in my mind, and it reflects the state of the crisis that we have with bovine TB in Shropshire. This year, if current trends continue, more than 1,600 cattle will be slaughtered in Shropshire.
As the House knows, I like talking about Shropshire, but nationally, as my hon. Friend Mr. Paice stated—the National Farmers Union confirmed these figures to me today—28,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2007 and it is likely that 40,500 will be slaughtered in 2008. That is going to cost the British taxpayer more than £100 million in compensation to the affected farmers—money that I believe the Government can ill afford in current circumstances.
One farmer in my constituency is Mr. Chris Balmer—I want that name to be indelibly etched in the mind of the Secretary of State—from the village of Snailbeach. He had bovine TB on his farm and I had to intervene on 16 occasions concerning the fiasco over his rural payments during the last year. This is a man who has been literally brought to his knees by the incompetence of DEFRA in respect of tackling bovine TB and getting the payments to him. If I could ask one thing of the Secretary of State, it would be to please ensure that that one constituent is treated in a much better way in future. If the right hon. Gentleman is interested to know more about the serious problems that my constituent has faced, I would be happy to talk to him about them.
It does not have to be like this. France has eradicated bovine TB. Less than 0.004 per cent. of herds in France are infected— [Interruption.] I hear some socialist MP saying no, that is wrong. Well, I have spent hours translating Ministry of Agriculture statements from France where those involved are lauding their achievements in this sphere. France has tackled bovine TB through a huge investment in extra testing, vaccines and a limited cull of badgers. If the French can do it, why can the Government not do it? They will not do it because, in their growing unpopularity, they are desperately worried about those marginal seats where there are many members of the Wildlife Trusts.
The Government do not want to offend members of the Wildlife Trusts. I understand that. There are 5,000 Shropshire Wildlife Trust members and it is the biggest organisation in my county. So concerned are those people about my desire for a limited cull of badgers that they insisted that on Friday night my wife and I spend four hours watching a badger sett and looking at all the badgers. They even gave my baby daughter Alexis a little cuddly badger to play with. They desperately want us to stop talking about badgers and a potential limited cull, but my priority has to be my Shropshire farmers, although I think badgers are sweet. I have seen all the evidence that there is a definite link between badgers and the spread of bovine TB.
I must also tell the Secretary of State that I entirely agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Cambridgeshire when he raised the issue of illegal meat imports and said that 12,000 tonnes of illegal meat come through our ports. Why is that being tolerated? We need extra security guards in our ports to deal with that illegal meat. Australia and New Zealand have specific border guards who deal with the problem to ensure that illegal meat and substances are not trafficked. Will the Secretary of State give me an assurance that some investment will be made to ensure that there are more officers and sniffer dogs at our ports to try to deal with the huge increase in illegal meat imports?
Food security starts with encouraging people to grow their own vegetables. That may be a funny thing to say, but one Briton in three is thinking of starting up an allotment and growing their own vegetables. I have 16 raised beds at home and I grow all my own vegetables for my family, as well as having planted an orchard. I take great pride in looking after my orchard, and nothing gives me more pleasure than looking after my fruit trees and vegetables and providing my family with organic foods grown locally.
The Government should do more to encourage councils to have more allotments. Today, I went to Greenfields, which is part of Shrewsbury, and spoke to the gentleman who runs the Greenfields allotments. There is a huge waiting list of people trying to get allotments and we should do more to encourage councils to give people the chance to grow their own food.
I am conscious of the time, so I shall end my remarks. I have spoken in private with the Secretary of State on this issue, and today I spoke with the National Farmers Union. We all await the Government's decision on bovine TB, which is one of the worst things affecting my constituency. I hope to hear from the Secretary of State some assurances that the Government will finally tackle the disease and save many Shropshire farmers from going out of business.