Local MP Tessa Munt arranged a meeting last week between the Shepton Mallet Autism Support Group and Sarah Teather, Minister of State (Children and Families) in Parliament to discuss the special Educational Needs (SEN) Green Paper.
Tessa Munt MP was delighted to welcome Shirley Williams on her return to the Wells area. Shirley spoke to local people about women’s issues and the NHS Bill currently going through the House of Lords, where she has a seat as a Liberal Democrat Peer.
Were those particular gentlemen not extraordinary in their courage and bravery? As the Minister wrote in his letter to me, Mr Pam had received the 1939 to 1945 star, the France and Germany star, the defence medal and the war medal for 1939 to 1945. The peculiar situation in which Bomber Command found itself should surely be a prerequisite for handing out some sort of medal in recognition.
I wrote to the Minister on 13 August last year on this very point, and included a copy of a letter from Mr Henry Pam, who served in Bomber Command. He made the point that:
“The Air Crew medal was not presented to those of us operating after the invasion of France etc. in 1944. Why?”
Many of those gentleman—and ladies perhaps, but mostly gentlemen—who served in Bomber Command are no longer alive. It seems mean-spirited not to consider what is happening to those who remain and to the families. We should grant some recognition by way of a medal.
Some of the points that I wanted to make have been made already and I shall not repeat them. I come from Somerset, which is a hot spot for bovine TB in the west country. Bovine TB is an appalling problem for farmers in both economic and social terms. I deal quite a lot with the Farm Crisis Network, which tries to relieve the stresses on the families concerned.
The Liberal Democrats are committed in the coalition agreement to pursuing a
“carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine tuberculosis”.
I am concerned that, if successful, the badger control policy is expected to reduce incidences of bovine TB by only 16%. People have cited anything between 16% and 27%. We must ensure that robust measures are put in place to tackle the other 84% to 73%, depending on which figure is taken. Cattle controls, testing regimes and biosecurity measures, which are a crucial part of preventing the spread of the disease, are addressed in the proposals. I welcome the fact that £20 million has been set aside for continued development of a cattle vaccine and an oral badger vaccine. However, I am concerned that the approach to culling outlined in the guidance to Natural England varies significantly from the approach taken in the RBCT and is not, therefore, supported by scientific evidence. I am further concerned that it is proven that an ineffective cull increases incidences of bovine TB.
I take issue with the suggestion made in relation to the Government’s proposed area for culling, which is a 7½ mile by 7½ mile patch of land—150 sq km. The hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon), who started the debate, suggested that there could be 30 badgers per square kilometre. I scaled those figures up. That suggests that in the culling area that the Government propose, there would be 4,500 badgers, which I somewhat doubt. Those who are not informed and who do not live in areas where this problem is fairly severe may take a different view. The suggestion is that a 70% clearance of the badgers might therefore lead to 3,150 badgers being killed in a six-week period. I do not think that that is correct, and I am sure the Minister will have a view on it.
I live very close to the location of Secret World, which is an organisation that protects badgers. It often collects the young badgers that have been left orphaned. It might be helpful if people understood that Pauline Kidner, the lady who runs that organisation, takes care to ensure that euthanasia is carried out when badgers that she collects from around the country are found to have TB, and that she does not just automatically release all badgers back on to whatever piece of land she chooses. Fairly stringent measures are taken against diseased badgers, even by those organisations that exist to help them.
Finally, I call on the Minister and ultimately the Secretary of State to ensure that the cattle testing regime is more stringently enforced. What are the Minister’s thoughts about including the removal of compensation payments for cattle where testing is overdue without just cause? Could compensation payments be tied to good biosecurity measures, with full payments being made to farmers who practise good biosecurity, and lower payments or the removal of payments being implemented for farmers who do not? Could the money saved from reduced compensation payments be used to set up a fund to make grants for capital works to farmers who wish further to improve their biosecurity measures? Could we ensure that each of the pilot schemes is carefully monitored by independent experts for their humaneness and effectiveness in achieving the required
70% reduction in the local badger population? Could any perturbation effects also be monitored? Could they be compared with those experienced in the RBCT? Finally, what are the implications of such an approach from a public safety perspective? The Secretary of State should hold—
Will the Minister consider supporting the Second Reading of my Electricity Transmission (Protection of Landscape) Bill, which covers land that is of value to the community but not strictly green belt land, particularly in view of the fact that parish councils will be putting together their plans and local people can be heard in that way?
I will indeed, Sir. Will the Minister please update me on progress on reclassifying lip-reading as an essential skill?
I thank the Minister for that answer. As he knows, I have very strong feelings about British sign language, which offers an opportunity for people of all ages to develop their vocabulary and to expand their communication skills, and particularly for young people to develop speech and language skills, including their comprehension. It breaks down barriers for everybody, including those with significant learning disabilities. Action on Hearing Loss runs a campaign called “Read my lips”, which seeks recognition for lip-reading as an essential skill, not a leisure skill, as it is classified at the moment, and proposes that classes should be free for those with hearing loss and those who have family members—
What his policy is on the inclusion of British sign language as a modern foreign language option at GCSE.
Living as I do in the west country, I know that the Minister will be aware of our concerns not only about bovine TB, but about several other things. I gather that the Secretary of State has put together a proposal to close the vet labs in various places throughout the country, and I wondered what the rationale was for that, particularly in an area where bovine TB is such a problem.