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Mr. Norman: Is my hon. Friend aware that licence applications have been in existence for several years, but the VMD and other Government Departments have made it difficult for companies to obtain licences--for example, for Apistan, which I mentioned?

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend is right. The VMD seems to go out of its way to make it difficult for medicines to be licensed, and have not made it clear whether home-grown products that have traditionally been used are appropriate.

The Government are aware of the paucity of solutions to the problem. The Minister of State wrote to me recently:


Indeed. Why does not the VMD move forward and allow such substances to be licensed in a cost-effective way?

Mr. Norman: Is my hon. Friend aware that although there are other solutions such as talc or caster sugar, they are extremely time-consuming and labour-intensive to use, and therefore not practical for many beekeepers, who face a declining income anyway and do not have the time--because for them time is money--to devote tothe laborious process of constantly administering the treatment, sweeping out the hive and so on?

Mr. Gray: My hon. Friend is correct to a degree, although he may be speaking more from the point of view

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of the commercial beekeeper, for whom speed is all and who has a large number of bees to look after, whereas I am speaking more from the point of view of the private, leisure beekeeper, for whom time spent around the hives is part of the pleasure.

The private beekeeper is concerned about the cost. Bayvarol costs about £5 per application to each hive and must be applied twice a season, so that is £10 per hive. There are about 200,000 hives in the UK, so if they were all treated equally with Bayvarol, the total cost per annum would be £2 million. The total income from honey in the UK is £13 million. About one fifth of the total income from honey would therefore be spent not on buying the bees or producing the hives, but on purchasing Bayvarol from the monopolistic supplier, Bayer. The Minister should take steps to encourage other producers to enter the market and sell products that would be useful to private beekeepers in my case, and to my hon. Friend's professionals.

The Government should research what lies behind the varroa mite and what can usefully and sensibly be done to overcome it. Like my hon. Friend, I am disappointed that the Government received extra cash from the European Union and have apparently pocketed it. A research programme costs £113,000 a year--not a huge sum in Government terms. It is extraordinary that such a small research budget should not be increased, when the Government are receiving the money from the EU. That is a mean-minded and unnecessary restraint on research into an important matter.

I call on the Government, as did my hon. Friend, to correct the pocketing--the trousering, as he correctly called it--of the EU funding that should be used to support the beekeeping industry, which is under threat. The consequence of not doing so is too horrible to contemplate.

The beekeeper, and the farmers who depend on him, are under threat from three pernicious enemies--first, the varroa mite; secondly, the European Union official who seemed not to have too much else to do with his time and who has interfered in a particularly unfortunate way; and thirdly, the officials of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate and of MAFF, who have chosen not to step back from an over-zealous European official. Officials, as is so often the case, and especially those at the Ministry, have chosen to go the final mile and to put in place everything to the last line that is set out in the regulations laid down by their European counterparts.

It is important that the officials concerned should correct their approach. It is important that they should consider redefining the honey-bee, and not as a food-producing animal, so that it is not subject to European directive 1729, or whatever else it may be.

British beekeepers have kept bees for generations. They have produced honey and, as far as I am aware, no one has come to any harm through eating honey produced by British bees, which are untainted by being observed by EU and MAFF officials. Beekeeping has been an entirely unregulated industry for many centuries. I am not able to point to one case of so much as an upset tummy that has come about as a result of lack of regulation.

The rash of interference in the beekeeping industry is only one example of the excessive care that the Government and officials are tending to show on behalf

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of consumers. It was interesting to read in the newspapers this morning that the only salesman of beef on the bone was found not guilty yesterday at the conclusion of a court case on the borders. The judge went to some lengths to say that he thought that the legislation under which the case had been brought was badly drafted and had not been thought through. As a result, he dismissed the case. Two or three other such cases are pending. I do not want to second guess what the judges will do in those cases, but they may well come to conclusions similar to those which were reached yesterday in the borders case.

We have another example of officials sitting around with not much else to do but think up yet more regulations to control what perfectly reasonable industries do, in this case the beekeeping and bee farming industries. They put regulations in place, bring people to court, fine them or send them to prison. They interfere entirely unnecessarily with people's everyday way of life.

The ban on beef on the bone is unnecessary. The ban on feeding bees with traditional medication is entirely unnecessary. I was struck by an article that I read in a newspaper last week, which stated that more people had died through catching fish bones in their throat than through Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. I hope that the Minister will urgently consider banning the use of fish on the bone, which obviously is entirely detrimental to human health.

Mr. Morley: The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech on an important issue, but, as for CJD and fish bones, he must understand that there is a great deal that we do not know about CJD. In particular, there is much that we do not know about incubation periods. I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make a light-hearted point, and, in doing so, is dismissing a serious issue of public health. It is an issue which we take seriously and we intend to be protective.

Mr. Gray: I am grateful for the Minister's intervention. He is wrong in saying that I am making a light-hearted point. Indeed, I am making an extremely serious point. I believe that one person in 1 billion may be at risk through eating beef on the bone. By banning beef on the bone, the Government are taking an unnecessary step to safeguard the consumer. The step has been taken because the Labour party wrongly believed that the consumer was on its side and would value the protection that it offered. It is--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. We have taken flight from the honey-bee and we must come back to it.

Mr. Gray: You are quite right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The honey-bee has buzzed off and I must return to the drone. I hope that my speech was not a drone. I am grateful to the Minister for his flattering remarks about the excellence of my contribution. That being so, drone is not the right expression. The expression that comes to mind is worker-bee.

There are a number of things that the Government need to do if they are to put right an appalling situation. First, they must find ways of encouraging more people to register sensible medicines. If that involves cutting the cost of making applications through the VMD, so be it.

Earlier, in a seated interjection, the Minister indicated that he thought that it cost about £10,000 to register medicines because we, the Conservatives, had introduced

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the directorate when we were in government. I am happy to accept that criticism. If we were still in government and I was speaking from the Back Benches to a Conservative Minister who was responsible for introducing such charges, I would happily attack him, and just as readily as I have attacked the Minister for continuing with such charges. I am asking the Minister to find a way of reducing VMD charges so that more medicines can be registered through it.

Secondly, I ask the Minister to find a way of reassuring traditional bee farmers who use traditional methods such as talc and icing sugar that they will not be in any danger of prosecution in future. A short while ago, the Minister made the point that there has not been enough research into the consequences of CJD. That applies just as much in this instance as it does in others.

Mr. Morley: We do not know.

Mr. Gray: The Minister says from a sedentary position that we do not know. Beekeepers are saying precisely that. They do not know that talc and icing sugar are entirely safe. They would like to know from the Government that talc and icing sugar are entirely safe. They do not want words such as those used in the letter that we have received from the Government, to the effect that talc and icing sugar are entirely safe unless it can be proved otherwise. We would like the Government to undertake the necessary research and to reassure bee farmers that if they use traditional methods of dealing with the mite they will be allowed to continue to do so.

European statutory instrument 1729 goes one step too far. It is an SI to which we would do well to pay no attention whatsoever. Energetic UK civil servants with double firsts from Oxbridge should be spending their time using their excellent brains to consider ways in which they can look after traditional industries that have looked after themselves so well throughout the centuries. They should not be thinking how better to apply European directives such as SI 1729.

Beekeeping is nothing to do with Europe. Indeed, it has precious little to do with this place. For centuries, beekeeping has been an entirely self-regulated industry. Let it stay that way. Leave our beekeepers in peace.


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