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Farmers (Suicides)

4. Jane Kennedy (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab): 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]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): 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.

Jane Kennedy: 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.

Hilary Benn: 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.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): 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?

Hilary Benn: 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.

Mr. Williams: I thank the Secretary of State for that, but can I ask whether he has 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?

Hilary Benn: 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.


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Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): 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?

Hilary Benn: 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.

Common Agricultural Policy

5. Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): What recent discussions his Department has had with the European Commission on reform of the common agricultural policy. [296304]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jim Fitzpatrick): The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has ongoing discussions on reform of the common agricultural policy with the Commission both formally and informally, including at regular meetings of the Agriculture Council, the last of which I attended on 19 October. The next phase of negotiations will begin informally next year with the new Agriculture Commissioner.

Mr. Moore: Previously the Secretary of State has acknowledged the difficulties facing hill farmers in my constituency and elsewhere in the UK, which have not been eased by the implementation of sheep identification tags. Those farmers are deeply alarmed by the DEFRA vision for the future of agriculture. In the context of the recent Calman commission recommendations that Scottish and other devolved Administrations should have a serious input into UK policy making, will he give a pledge that Scottish concerns will be heard before a final British position is taken on CAP reform?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I can certainly give that assurance. We would in no way move forward without consulting all the relevant authorities and organisations. We clearly have our own priorities and negotiating position, which will be mapped out in due course, and they would not ignore such an important sector as the hon. Gentleman mentions.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): Will the Minister continue to press for a switch in the CAP from a subsidy on production to measures that benefit the countryside, such as investment in jobs and industry, an enhanced environment and greater access? These are public goods and public money, and we ought to be pursuing them.

Jim Fitzpatrick: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We certainly wish to foster an internationally competitive industry without reliance on subsidy or protection. The Government believe that CAP expenditure under pillar two offers better value for money than pillar one because it rewards farmers for the delivery of public benefits, especially environmental outcomes, as he outlines.


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Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): The Commission's draft reformed CAP is reported to include a third pillar on climate change. Farming must play its part in reducing carbon emissions, but does the Minister agree that Lord Stern's call for people to give up eating meat was totally irresponsible and damaging to our livestock industry?

Jim Fitzpatrick: It is certainly my belief that that is not quite what Lord Stern said. He made a comment that was lifted out and exaggerated. We certainly believe in a balanced diet, and there are many ways in which emissions of greenhouse gases can be tackled. That is not the position of the Government or the Department, and we will negotiate with the Commission to ensure that its position is as close to ours as possible.

Nick Herbert: Lord Stern said - and I quote directly from his interview:

Britain's livestock producers are listening carefully to the Government's answer. Does the Minister agree with those comments or not?

Jim Fitzpatrick: It is for individual citizens and consumers to decide what they eat, and we support that. We also support the British agricultural industry and our meat producers. Sir Nicholas Stern's comments must be looked at from the perspective of the whole piece that he wrote, not just one quote or sentence.

Bovine Tuberculosis

6. Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What recent steps his Department has taken to reduce the incidence of bovine tuberculosis. [296305]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): Since November 2008, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has worked alongside the farming industry and veterinary profession as part of the bovine TB eradication group for England. On 8 October, the group published a progress report including a number of recommendations now being implemented. We are pursuing the future use of vaccination through vaccine research and development of a badger vaccine deployment project, alongside our current control measures.

Ann Winterton: Far too many good dairy cows have been put down in my constituency of Congleton in Cheshire and elsewhere. While I welcome the progress made by the bovine TB eradication group, will the Secretary of State accept that veterinary surgeons who are members of the British Veterinary Association and the British Cattle Veterinary Association believe that he should reassess his criteria for targeting and culling badgers in certain circumstances?

Hilary Benn: I am well aware that, as the hon. Lady points out, others take a view different from the judgment that I formed and reported to the House last year. For me, the overwhelming requirement has been to take action that will be effective in dealing with the disease. As I indicated earlier, I understand completely, having talked to many, many farmers, how devastating the disease is, but we have to do things that will work in the circumstances. I had to have regard to the scientific advice given to me on the basis of having tried culling.


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Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): Has the Secretary of State come to a conclusion about what he will do when the injectable vaccine is trialled and diseased animals are found? Will they be euthanased?

Hilary Benn: As I have indicated to the right hon. Gentleman previously, there is no simple cage-side test that can be used - [Interruption.] With respect, no test is reliable enough to indicate whether a badger is infected with tuberculosis. However, as I also said to him previously, if someone is of the view that an animal is in such distress that it would be a kindness to put it down, the law provides for that. However, that person would have to be satisfied that the animal was in such a condition.