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Of course, one comes across a lot of emotional issues with constituents, but in the nine years for which I have been the Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury, one of the most emotional experiences I have faced was meeting a dairy farmer in the village of Snailbeach in the southernmost part of my constituency. I went to see him and spent the day on his farm, where I saw at first hand the terrible suffering that he had been through with all his cattle being taken away for slaughter. We sat at his kitchen table afterwards, and over tea he started to cry, and I joined in. It was such an emotional experience seeing a grown man cry and seeing the constant emotional, psychological impact that this was having on him—as on many children. Let us not forget that on many of our Shropshire farms there is not just the farmer but his family, and when the children see these cows being taken away for slaughter, it has a terrible emotional impact on them.
That is why in the previous Parliament I set up the all-party group for dairy farmers. Over 170 Members of Parliament from all political parties joined that campaigning group, and we had an excellent secretariat in the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers. We did not have many resources at our disposal, but we met many organisations from around the country that came to speak to us at the House of Commons—not just from this country but from France and Ireland, as well as other parts of the United Kingdom. After taking evidence for a year, we came to two conclusions: first, that there needed to be a limited cull of badgers; and secondly, that there ought to be a grocery adjudicator to support farmers and deal with some of the more pernicious ways in which the supermarkets were treating them. I am very pleased that there has been movement on those two important suggestions, because when I brought them to the attention of the then Secretary of State for DEFRA, David Miliband, he was completely derisory about both of them.
In Shropshire last year, 2,125 cows were killed as a result of bovine tuberculosis. Although the figures have come down in certain parts of the United Kingdom, as we have heard, that is an increase on the previous year’s figure of 1,976. The problem is continuing to increase for all our farmers. At the end of last year, 401 herds in the county were subject to Government movement restrictions. I would like to read to the Minister in the strongest possible way a statement from the vice-chairman of Shropshire NFU, Mr Richard Yates, as reported in today’s Shropshire Star:
“A vet said to me that there’s two types of farmer in Shropshire—those that have TB and those that are going to get it, and that was like a knife in the back to me.”
He went on to say that he goes to market a lot, where he speaks to many Shropshire farmers and is staggered by just how many of them are affected by this terrible disease. He has identified correctly that we are spending more than £100 million a year in compensation to farmers. That is a staggering amount of money and I do not think that anybody present would want £100 million to be spent needlessly. Clearly, there are much greater priorities for funding to be spent in the health service, education and all the other things that we want to provide for our constituents.
That is why it is so important that we reach a consensus. Let us try to get it. I am encouraged that there has been talk about some sort of compromise or consensus, because we have been discussing this issue for many years and we do not appear to be any closer today than we have been in years gone by to finally grappling with this terrible disease.
Mr Yates says that he wants the preservation order to be taken off badgers and for farmers and gamekeepers to be allowed to deal with the problem. He says:
“I have a sett in nearly every field. Badgers are out of control. You never see hedgehogs any more, or ground nesting birds, because the badgers are killing them.”
I have met the Shropshire Wildlife Trust on many occasions. It is the largest organisation in Shropshire, with more than 6,000 members, and, of course, its symbol is a badger. It has taken me on several occasions to see badgers and wildlife and to look at setts. I understand the passion on both sides of the argument, but I say to the Minister that if he and his officials believe that badger culls are necessary in order to grapple with this appalling disease, he must show the courage to continue with that policy. All I care about is stopping this ghastly disease destroying Shropshire’s very important cattle and dairy industries, on which we are so dependent and which I will do everything I can to protect.