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Farmers (Suicides)

Volume 498: debated on Thursday 29 October 2009

4. What representations he has received on the number of suicides amongst farmers whose cattle herds are subject to bovine tuberculosis movement and testing restrictions; and if he will make a statement. (296303)

I have not received any particular representations about this, but earlier this year the Farming Crisis Network produced its sobering report on the impact of bovine TB on farming families. This showed, as we all know, that for those most seriously affected, the economic and particularly the human consequences of bovine TB are devastating. The TB eradication group for England has since met with the executive director of the FCN to discuss how TB-affected farm businesses could be better supported.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he consider the recommendations in the detail of the report, alongside the good work that the Department is doing on cattle movements and testing regimes? In particular, will he look at the impact on farmers whose herds are subject to testing every 60 days? That happens in some cases, and it is a devastating regime for the farm and the family.

I know that my right hon. Friend took a great deal of interest in the matter and I pay tribute to her work on it. The TB eradication group that we have now established is both looking at what can be done to help farmers to try to cope with the disease and getting on with doing effective things to try to tackle it. I have approved all the recommendations that the TB eradication group produced recently. The House will be aware that our TB eradication plan has now been approved by the European Union and funding has been given to us to help implement it.

When does the Secretary of State expect the TB eradication group to report back with its final recommendations, and will those recommendations be acted on?

It is a matter for the TB eradication group to report as it sees fit. Its first report, as I just indicated, has been received, and I accepted all its recommendations. The fact that we are working in partnership now to try to deal with this devastating disease is a big step forward compared with where we were before.

I thank the Secretary of State for that, but has he received any as yet unpublished reports that would help the TB eradication group develop better policies that would assist in reducing the levels of TB in cattle and in badgers? If there are any unpublished reports, can he make them available to the House?

I do not know to which unpublished reports the hon. Gentleman refers. If he is talking about scientific research, that has to go through a peer review process and be published. One of the things that the eradication group is doing is keeping a close eye on unfolding scientific information—that is part of its remit and it referred to that in the report that was recently put out.

I wish to pursue the same line of questioning. Has the Secretary of State yet seen and read the report, which I am told is now available, by vets on the continued studies of the incidence of TB after proactive culling has ended in the trial areas? Will he publish it soon, and then we will all know that the incidence has continued to decline since the culling of badgers stopped?

The publication of that research information is a matter for the journals who publish these things, and it has to be in a form suitable for publication. As soon as it is publicly available, I will ensure that it is placed in the Library so that we may all see what it has to say.