§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Elliot Morley)
The high rate of farmers committing suicide is of particular concern to the Government, and we are adopting policies to reduce the rate. MAFF is represented on the rural stress information network, the purpose of which is to alleviate rural stress.
§ Mr. Gill
I thank the Minister for that reply. Is there sufficient realisation in his Department of the severe stress and strain that is placed on farmers by all the bureaucracy that has been implemented as a result of the BSE scare and other happenings in the industry? Given that his Ministry has decided to impose a ban on the sale of bone-in beef, which will cost the industry this year £77 million in recurring costs and £20 million in non-recurring costs, what price does he put on the life of a farmer?
§ Mr. Morley
Rural stress and suicide rates among farmers are very serious issues. They are connected with many factors—not least isolation. When visiting farmers in Weardale recently, I discussed the support networks that farmers are organising. As I said, the Ministry has been supporting them. I would need to examine the hon. Gentleman's figures on the bone-in beef ban before I could support them, but I should tell him that that ban affects 3 per cent. of the beef market.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is in order doing only one thing—which he is not doing at the moment.
§ Mr. Edwards
I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that every suicide in the farming community is a great tragedy. He will understand that there is a crisis in British 1167 farming. I know of farmers in my constituency who feel some despair. What measures are being taken to introduce an early retirement scheme to help farmers?
§ Mr. Tyler
Is the Minister aware of the very considerable number of suicides that appear to be linked to organophosphate poisoning? Is he aware of the work of Dr. Robert Davies, consultant psychiatrist at the Taunton clinic, which demonstrates that the proportion of suicides is completely inexplicable except in terms of the effects of OP poisoning? Is he in a position to give any more information about the Ministry's work in that regard?
§ Mr. Morley
We are aware of all the research in that area, and of course take the issues seriously. The Ministry has committed £500,000 to a research programme. It is too early for it to have reached conclusions.
§ Dr. Ladyman
One of the things that farmers in my constituency tell me leads them to despair is the fact that they are told by supermarkets that they must produce goods to very high standards, but find that those same supermarkets stock cheap imports which are not produced to the same high standards. Does the Minister get as cheesed off as I do with the Opposition's hypocrisy, since one of their number, the vice-chairman of the Conservative party, through his day job with the Asda supermarket chain, is in a position to do something practical?
§ Mr. Morley
There is no doubt that the supermarkets insist on high standards from British producers, and British producers match those high standards. It is therefore not unreasonable to expect big retailers to recognise that there is a responsibility for their meat and food supply.