Mark supporting local bee keepers

June 17, 2008 12:00 PM
By Mark Hunter

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor, and have the opportunity to make a modest contribution to the debate on this important subject. I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) on securing the debate.

I do not claim to be an expert in this matter, but I know what colour bees are. I am afraid that I need to correct the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) because there was an important factual inaccuracy in his comments. He referred to bees wearing the colours of his favourite football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers. The last time that I checked, their official colours were old gold and black, but the last time I saw a bee in close proximity, its colour was yellow and black, which more accurately reflects the colours of Hull City or, dare I suggest, the Liberal Democrats, with whom they may share an allegiance.

More seriously-because this is an important debate-may I say that my participation in this matter today has largely been fired by two things. One was an article I read some weeks ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) in the Daily Mail. That article has been helpfully included in the briefing pack. To anyone who has not seen this article and does not understand the general issues that are being raised today, I would say that it is a helpful introduction to the subject. Secondly, I have been contacted by the secretary of the Cheshire Beekeepers Association, who, I am proud to say, is a constituent of mine. He too has briefed me on the importance of the issue, and that is why I have come here today to support what the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) has had to say and to press the Government for some indication that they accept the need to give a little more assistance to the research that is needed.

[John Cummings in the Chair]

I think that we all agree that there has been, beyond any reasonable doubt, a dramatic decline in the bee population, which, as we have heard, is important to the natural environment, agriculture and horticulture. What we do not know, however, are the precise reasons behind that dramatic decline. That is why research is crucial. It is fair to say that the Government have a role to play-whether through DEFRA or another body. I hope that the Government will not turn their back on this important and growing problem.

We have already heard that the British Beekeepers Association has been seeking a research grant of some £8 million over eight years. As I understand it, the Government's response to date has been to cut the research budget by some 20 per cent. There are now fewer inspectors and researchers involved in this very important area. Last November, Lord Rooker said that unless effective action is taken, bees would disappear within 10 years. That is a frightening prospect, for the reasons that we have already heard. To be frank, the solution to the problem is not the occasional very modest contribution from the lottery fund. I know that reference was made to the £5,000 that Pembrokeshire beekeepers have been awarded, and I am sure that the money will be put to extremely good use. None the less, we are looking for a lead from the Government and we want reassurance that the investment in research will be made. I press the Minister to accept that if that is not forthcoming and if we are seen to ignore the plight of the honey bee, future generations may not be quite so forgiving.

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