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Backbench Business — Badger Cull

Part of Royal Assent – in the House of Commons at 3:02 pm on 13th March 2014.

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Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Liberal Democrat, Brecon and Radnorshire 3:02 pm, 13th March 2014

For the avoidance of doubt, I declare an interest. I am responsible for some cattle in Wales and although this debate refers to England it is appropriate that I declare that interest.

In a few months I will no longer have an interest to declare because we have decided not to keep cattle any more, partly as a result of the problems we face with TB in cattle. More grassland will be therefore ploughed up and the countryside will be less attractive. With the loss of biodiversity, the countryside will be able to support fewer species. That is a shame, and is just one effect of this country not being able to get a grip and reduce, then eliminate, this disease.

I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on allowing this debate and Mrs Main on securing it. It is vital that, in our shared determination to beat this terrible disease, we constantly scrutinise the work of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the development of policy. I am sure the House shares my determination to bring down the incidence of TB in our national beef and dairy herds. It is a great burden on our cattle farmers, and an avoidable expense to the Government and the taxpayer. It is also a possible risk to human health, but I do no think I will have time to go into that this afternoon.

The tragedy is that bovine TB was virtually eliminated in the United Kingdom during the 1950s and 1960s, although there were persistent outbreaks in the south-west. That success was due to the tuberculin skin test. When the disease began to increase and spread from the south-west, it was reasonably believed that it could again be controlled by means of the skin test, perhaps used more frequently. Unfortunately, that was not the case. There is now a wildlife reservoir that did not exist in the 1950s and 1960s. The scenario is different, and therefore different policies are needed to prevent the ever-increasing spread of the disease.

Although the epidemiology of TB, whether in cattle or in human beings, is not readily understandable—for instance, infected cattle kept in sheds throughout the winter have not passed on the infection to other cattle with which they have been in close contact—it is sometimes useful to draw parallels between different species. Bronllys hospital, in my constituency, is now a community hospital that is much valued by the people whom it serves, but originally it was the TB sanatorium for the people of south Wales. It was built in my constituency because we have a sunny and healthy climate. The treatment in the hospital of TB before antibiotics consisted of radical surgery, fresh air, sunshine and good food. The success of the eradication, or near-eradication, of TB in humans has been due to the use of antibiotics, the use of a vaccine, the pasteurisation of milk—which often carried the organism—improvements in housing and diet, and, nowadays, health checks for people entering the country,