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17 Jun 2008 : Column 192WH—continued

To assist with integration and joined-up decision making, the provincial reconstruction team is located with the military headquarters of Task Force Helmand. Of course, success depends not only on an increasingly
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effective civil-military effect, but on the involvement of the Afghan Government and the Helmand governor. We must always remember that our aim is to help the Afghans to secure and govern Helmand and the wider country themselves, not to do that for them.

Over the life of the PRT, the scale and influence of civilian effort has increased significantly. It has evolved from the relatively narrow concept of backfilling military operations with reconstruction efforts to one of influencing the shape and conduct of military operations. Joined-up civilian-military planning has enabled the UK to shape and extend the reach of stabilisation activities beyond Lashkar Gah to Gereshk, Sangin and Musa Qala. Recent stabilisation efforts in Musa Qala demonstrate the progress in the UK’s civil-military stabilisation operations and may provide a future model.

We do not have figures on education in Helmand, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that DFID funding in Helmand has helped with the construction of 44 km of road, the completion of 851 bore wells and contracts for another 974. It has also helped with the 496 community development councils that have been elected in six districts, which have received more than £5 million in grants for local development projects. In addition, 332 microfinance clients have received small loans to start new businesses in Helmand.

There have been positive moves forward with education in Helmand, including the recent opening of the main school, with 500 pupils and 30 teachers, and the establishment of basic municipal services. With our military operations setting the necessary security conditions, our civilians are promoting stabilisation, reconstruction and development. Since our engagement began in 2006, DFID has spent £23.7 million in Helmand out of a commitment of £30 million from 2006-07 to 2008-09, which has delivered many development gains such as those that I mentioned.

I shall cut out most of what I had intended to say so that I can get to the core of the questions that have been asked. We know that we have a long way to go before Afghanistan can become a safe, peaceful and prosperous nation. The international community and the UK have not got everything right, and there is always room for improvement.

I shall respond to some of the questions that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie) asked. Some of his points were also made by the hon. Members for Gravesham and for North-East Milton Keynes. He was absolutely right about the battle for hearts and minds, and I think that we would all agree that that is where victory—if we can call it that—will be achieved. He was also correct that a simplistic approach, such as thinking of the groups involved as a homogenous mass, will not deliver results. There needs to be a more sophisticated approach, and we would like to think that that is exactly what we are moving towards through local empowerment and by moving down to local level.

I am pleased that DFID’s £50 million funding for the national solidarity programme has helped to establish more than 20,000 local community development councils, which build on the model of the local shuras and ensure that local people receive funding.

Mr. Holloway: Will the Minister give way?

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Mr. Malik: For the last time.

Mr. Holloway: I am dismayed; we have heard all this before. This is the “good news only” stuff. When will the Government start answering the key questions: are we winning? What more do we need to do? How will we stop the rapid glide path in the consent for our being there? We have heard everything that the Minister is saying before.

Mr. Malik: I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has heard it before, but that was not clear from his contribution, so for his sake perhaps I should repeat it.

There are 496 such councils in Helmand. DFID funding also goes to non-governmental organisations across the country, including in Helmand, through the Afghan Government. For example, the Bangladeshi NGO BRAC runs a microfinance programme in Helmand with DFID funding.

On the UK’s commitments and pledges, I say to the hon. Gentleman that we have met our obligations. Our challenge is to ensure that others do likewise, and our mind is focused on that. The UK has spent all that it pledged at the London conference, in the time scale set out. Other donors have yet to honour their commitments, and that is where much of the challenge lies.

At the Paris conference last week, the Afghan Government repeatedly asked the international community to put donor funds through central Governments and not spend off budget. DFID leads on that, providing 80 per cent. of its funding through the ARTF. Many other donors do not, and we encourage them to do as the Afghans ask. That is part of our belief in a country-led approach.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife asked whether the price of wheat was having an impact on the poppy crop. There is certainly anecdotal evidence of farms in the south destroying some of their poppy crop to grow wheat, and land under poppy cultivation may have decreased. It is too early to give a definitive answer.

The hon. Gentleman was right to mention magic bullets, but he is wrong if he believes that there is one in the case of policing. We all wish that there were. On winning hearts and minds, it is interesting that President Karzai said in October 2007, during his visit to the UK, that there was a need for talks with elements of the insurgency, but only those that renounce violence against Afghanistan and the west, and that accept the Afghan constitution and are willing to live in peace. In December 2007, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that insurgencies were ultimately solved at political level, not by military means alone. I think that the hon. Gentleman would concur with that.

Since 2001, we have pledged or spent some £1.65 billion in Afghanistan, and I have described part of the impact of that. The hon. Member for Gravesham mentioned the issue of women, which is incredibly important. It was one of the factors that allowed many people to support military intervention in Afghanistan. Some 60 per cent. of women voted in the 2004 elections, and 27 per cent. of primary school-age girls are enrolled in schools in rural areas and 51 per cent. in urban areas. Some 2 million girls are now in primary schools in Afghanistan.

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The hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes was well informed in many parts of his contribution. He is right that there are joint military and civilian planning arrangements in Helmand, which was true from the outset. I would add that civilians and the military are working much closer in Helmand. The provincial reconstruction team is led by a Foreign and Commonwealth Office civilian, who works closely with the military commander, and military engineers work where it is too dangerous for UK civilians or Afghan contractors to go.

Mr. Lancaster: I am listening to the Minister’s argument that we are all working together closely in Helmand, but does he not understand that the fact that he was unable to tell us how many schools are open in Helmand is not encouraging? It does not give the impression that we have a grip on what is going on in Helmand.

Mr. Malik: It would be foolish to suggest that anybody has chapter and verse knowledge of everything in Afghanistan. The hon. Gentleman’s point indicates some of the challenges that exist, particularly in Helmand. Nobody is underestimating those challenges.

Hon. Members mentioned the Afghan police. It is true that there is widespread evidence of corruption, poor leadership and a lack of capability in Afghanistan’s police, which undoubtedly undermines the Afghan Government’s credibility. That, in turn, leads to further decline in respect for the rule of law. However, there has been some progress on providing basic training to large numbers of police officers and on the close mentoring of specialist forces. Some 80,000 Afghan police have been trained and equipped. The UK is committed to improving the quality of policing in Afghanistan and has been active in lobbying partners to increase the training and mentoring of Afghan police. Along with Germany, we were instrumental in setting up the EU police mission to Afghanistan. In 2007-08, we contributed about £10 million, and 35 personnel have been deployed to assist with police development.

Mr. Holloway: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Malik: I do not think that I will, because time is against us.

As I have said, we know that we have a long way to go before Afghanistan can become a safe, peaceful and prosperous nation. The international community and the UK have not got everything right, and there is always room for improvement. For example, we accept that we have not been as successful as we could have been at persuading other donors—

David Taylor (in the Chair): Order. We must move on to the next debate.

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Bee Industry

11 am

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North) (Lab): Mr. Taylor, I am quite sure that, as the passions rise, you will contain us and keep us within the realm of behaviour that is becoming to this place. I thank my colleagues from all parts of the House for coming to this debate, because the future of the bee industry is one of the major issues in the country today as far as I am concerned.

I want to say something very quickly about the honey bee and why we are very interested in it. In 1973, Karl von Frisch won a Nobel prize in physiology and medicine for his pioneering work on comparative behavioural psychology and communication between bees. He was the first scientist really to discover how species of bees utilise sensory perception and he established the importance of their waggle dance for communication. I do not intend to demonstrate waggle dancing to everyone here today, but there are nine species of bees and nine varieties of the waggle dance.

Interestingly, as people will know there is a queen bee that looks after the hive while the worker bees waggle. However, the queen bee, like yourself Mr. Taylor, maintains a social order through the emission of pheromones. I guess, Mr. Taylor, that you never knew before how you maintained your dignity and command over this House. Foraging honey bees use the waggle dance, of course, to tell other honey bees at the back of the nest how far away and in which direction they will find the next source of nectar. As every schoolboy and schoolgirl knows, the bees go to collect the nectar and in so doing perform major functions, which I shall come on to shortly.

Researchers are now looking at how different bees communicate with each other. It has got to the stage that European bees can communicate with Asian bees, even though they are from different species. Asian bees learn the waggle rhythm that the European bees have manifested for many years, and they can communicate information about distances and so on. They also recalibrate the way that they fly by their waggle.

Bees can also sense chemicals. They can be trained to detect explosives, drugs and even chemical weapons. That is not generally known, but I know that the Pentagon has been working on this use of bees for some years now and the sight of bees swarming around white powder is quite a classic thing that happens in this country too. So there is hope that, in that area of detection, we may find another use for bees as research progresses.

Beekeeping and research into bees has been going on for some time. The bee is a fascinating creature and this week I shall go to see the Norfolk beekeepers at Easton college; I look forward to getting up close and personal with the beehives that they look after. Of course, right across the world people go out and see bees. Bees have this image about them that they only sting; I want to dispel that image completely. Of course, they sting and if one asks a classroom of young people what they know about bees, they will say, “Ooh, they sting you”. However, when one asks the young people why they sting, they will reply, “Because we annoy them”. Well, that is youth today, I suppose; annoying bees seems to
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be a habit. It might be worth an antisocial behaviour order in a certain repressive kind of regime, although not here, of course.

Massive winter losses of bee colonies in the USA and Canada of more than 60 per cent. have been attributed to what we call colony collapse disorder, or CCD. Similar problems are now developing in countries in Europe, for example Greece, where losses are pretty high, which makes beekeeping rather unsustainable. The causes of such dramatic losses are not yet really understood and research suggests that there are a combination of factors: the parasitic varroa mite; the virus that the mite vectors or carries; and nosema, a fungal infection. All these factors, together with some kind of stress disorder, may be forming the lethal cocktail that is destroying bee colonies.

The UK is beginning to experience similar problems. Notwithstanding the ravages of varroa, normal winter losses are between 5 and 10 per cent. of bees. However, in 2006 beekeepers reported mysterious losses over the winter of between 10 and 15 per cent. of bees; rather large numbers of bees were dying. There were similarities to CCD, but it is still not clear that it is exactly the same problem, because there are some differences from CCD.

The British Beekeepers’ Association has done some sterling work in this area. Its study of the work of 10 per cent. of its 11,500 members revealed that the average loss of bees this winter was 30 per cent., which is three times the expected level. So, something is happening to honey bees across the world and it is now affecting bees in this country.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (UKIP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this subject before the House. It is an important subject and he is being characteristically charming and informative in proceeding with the debate. I cannot wait for the second half of his speech.

I wonder if the hon. Gentleman recalls that, on 15 May 2008, in another place Lord Rooker stated in answer to a question:

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that some sort of full cost estimate of the general impact on agriculture, food production and the economy of the demise of bees in this country would help to focus both the Government’s attention and public attention on what is not a marginal but a major developing issue in this country?

Dr. Gibson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention; the answer, of course, is yes, and he is trying to steal my thunder because I am about to refer in more detail to what Lord Rooker told the other place, and to the effects on the economy.

The prospect of losing our local honey supplies is bad enough, and also sad, but a deeply worrying threat is the loss of our principal army of pollinators; that is the real issue. The demise of the honey bee would have a devastating impact on the pollination of crops across the world, but particularly in this country. There would
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be a major impact on the environment and wildlife, which depend on bees to pollinate fruits and seeds for their survival.

As the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) alluded to, Lord Rooker stated in the House of Lords last November that if we did not deal with the current and potential threats we could lose our honey bees in this country within 10 years. In the same exchange, he confirmed the important economic role of honey bees. Work done by a large independent provider of environmental consultancy and rural services in 2002, which was updated last year, indicated that pollination by honey bees contributes £165 million per annum to the agricultural economy of this country. That is probably a low estimate, because it is based on farm-gate prices. A sample of just 10 crops, including top fruits such as apples and pears, which depend for up to 90 per cent. of their pollination on bees, and soft fruits, which depend on bees for about 30 per cent. of their pollination, and of course the ubiquitous and industrially important oilseed rape, which depends for almost 10 per cent. of its pollination on bees, shows the importance of bees.

John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con): As a beekeeper myself, may I say to the hon. Gentleman that clearly there are important economic impacts from the collapse of beekeeping, but surely there is also a much wider environmental impact? It is not just cash crops, important as those are, that are affected. A wide variety of wild species up and down this country, which we take for granted at the moment, would, if deprived of honey bee pollination, go into rapid decline. That would have a tremendously negative impact on British ecology and wildlife, and on the environment that we take for granted.

Dr. Gibson: Yes, the honey bee is central to that kind of interaction in the ecological life of plants and animals in this country. It would reflect badly on the way that we look at and revere our countryside if the honey bee disappeared from that kind of interaction.

As I have said, the honey bee is vital to the economy in all countries, not just to the UK economy. Of course, the problem of global food shortages and high transport costs has been highlighted by our Prime Minister. It is vital that every country maximises its potential to produce home-grown food, because that is becoming the big challenge, or at least one of the big challenges, for us in the agricultural movement in this country. Honey bees have never been more important for mankind than today.

Let us look at what the Government have done about the situation; of course, the Minister will elaborate on the Government’s work. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs invests £1.5 million per annum on honey bee health, of which about a third comes through support from the European Union. Of that total budget, £1.3 million is dedicated to running a statutory inspection service to monitor and control notifiable honey bee diseases, particularly foul brood disease. That leaves what I regard as the pathetic amount of about £200,000 for research. That figure has not increased but rather declined in real terms, as inflation and other factors have come to bear on the investment.

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