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I wholeheartedly agree that that should be our aim, but, of course, actions speak louder than words. Despite the Government’s claims that they aim to strengthen partnerships between themselves and other stakeholders, the “Healthy Bees” document, which was drastically reduced in size from 45 pages to just 12, was only released for the consideration of stakeholders on the Friday before its Monday launch. That is not a great start. I ask the Minister to take those points on board.

The National Bee Unit will play a key role in the Government’s “Healthy Bees” strategy and will receive a significant chunk of the new funding. The unit has been criticised for its failure to share information with stakeholders, and the National Audit Office report on “The Health of Livestock and Honey Bees in England” states that the NBU had

The report further recommends that the NBU

A lack of consultation with such key people as our beekeepers at that level does not bode well.

As we have heard in the debate, a large proportion of the funding going to the NBU will be spent on BeeBase, which is a database of beekeepers in the UK. According to the NBU, that database is currently seriously undersubscribed. Knowing where our beekeepers and therefore our honey bee colonies are is, of course, important, particularly for the purposes of disease identification. However, ploughing money into a database seems a somewhat abstract way of tackling honey bee health, particularly when the BBKA already has an impressive database of members with whom they are in regular contact. It is important that the NBU takes steps to try to work with the BBKA and that it pools its resources. According to the BBKA, that has not been happening so far.

If there are beekeepers who have not joined the BBKA as members, what would make them join a central database? It needs to be made clear how the NBU plan to incentivise BeeBase to encourage the remaining few beekeepers to join. I would like to tackle the point about compulsion. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare: compulsion would not be a good move forward. Surely, a far more effective method of making a real difference to honey bee health is to work in partnership with organisations such as the BBKA to reach more beekeepers, harness their knowledge and expertise, and provide better education and training at a local level. Although the Government and the NBU claim that that is their aim, we need to see more action to establish exactly how that will work.

What is next for our bees? Increased standards of bee husbandry are key to tackling the decline in the honey bee population. Research absolutely must be fed down to beekeepers quickly and efficiently for it to make a real difference to honey bee health. Through improving access to education and training on issues such as hive health, feeding and management, we can ensure that bees are given the optimum nutrients and environment that they need to survive.


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In the last few minutes of my speech, I shall make an important point about habitat loss. In my part of southern England, agriculture practices have changed in a way that means the Berkshire downs are almost entirely arable. When I was a child, they were almost entirely mixed farming enterprises, which meant that bee colonies did not have to travel as far to find pollen. Periods of pollination are extremely short, so that could well be contributing to the stress from which bee colonies are suffering, and hon. Members have already talked about that.

We need to consider how we support and incentivise farmers in terms of biodiversity. The loss of set aside will have had a major effect. We should encourage farmers to plant crops such as phacelia—I plant it at home—which is a popular plant for bees and other pollinators. Those are the sort of things that can help to reduce stress, increase the amount of pollinators available and help bee colonies in a major way. We also want better summers—I know that that is not in the gift of the Minister, but I am sure that she can have a word with someone about it.

I finish by paying tribute to Martha Kearney, who produced a very good documentary on the subject for the BBC. She made one vital point, which is a good one on which to finish: honey bees are the environment’s canary in the mine, and their decline should be regarded as a potential warning that massive change is taking place within our environment, change that will affect us all.

10.50 am

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Jane Kennedy): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr. Benton. Every time I speak in Westminster Hall, I come with a well prepared, thoroughly thought through and balanced response, and on every occasion—I do not know why I continue to be taken aback—I have to depart from it because of the well argued and elegant contributions of other Members, such as those we have heard this morning on this important subject.

I want to mention the contributions made by Members who have since left this Chamber: my hon. Friends the Members for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew). Although not all the Members who have taken part in the debate are beekeepers—I certainly am not—it seems that there are many more beekeepers in the House of Commons than I would have thought was likely. I hope that I am not breaking a confidence, but I know that the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Sir Michael Lord) used to be a beekeeper.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) on securing the debate. I will not be able, in the short time I have to respond, to cover all the points raised, or to give the kind of detail I would like to share with Members on our thinking for the next steps of our programme to understand the issue, work out a plan for tackling problems in bee health and take it forward.

I will respond quickly to some of the key points that have been made. To all those who have expressed concern about whether we should have a voluntary or compulsory
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registration scheme for beekeepers, I say that my instinct is always, wherever possible, to encourage co-operation through a voluntary method. If we look at the experience of other countries wrestling with the problem, we will see that there are mixed views on, and experience of, compulsory schemes. Although we may need to keep it under review, I prefer to proceed with a voluntary scheme.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare was worried about whether BeeBase will be a development or extension of Big Brother and how we will use the inspectors. I want to respond to the debate and to discuss the increased funding for the National Bee Unit. If he is successful in establishing an all-party group on bees, which I encourage him to do, I will be the first to invite it to visit the NBU at the Food and Environment Research Agency’s base in York. I am sure that the unit would be delighted to be visited by interested MPs and that the House would benefit from Members having the opportunity to meet the unit’s staff and our inspectors to understand more about their comprehensive programme of work.

I enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink). I did not agree with everything he said, but I was interested to hear some of the comments on how beekeeping used to be taught. Those are all issues we will want to consider carefully, but the increased funding for the NBU is only one part of our programme. I must pay tribute to my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Rooker for laying the foundations of the work, which I was then able to accelerate, in response to what was clearly developing into a pressing problem. We give him full credit and are grateful for that work.

The healthy bee plan has been published. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare quite rightly advised us not to use puns in this debate, and we debated vigorously and humorously what to call our healthy bee plan. The Co-operative beat us to the name, “Plan Bee”, so we decided to go for the much more prosaic and downbeat, “Healthy Bees”. None the less, it is a serious programme of work, and we are absolutely committed to seeing it taken forward.

Another part of our plan relates to research. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) is a hard man to argue with on the matter, as he knows so much more than I do about it, and I agree in large part with what he said. The research programme will be robust and carefully evaluated. I wish to reassure the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey), whom I congratulate on his entertaining speech, that we certainly hope to see the first project starting before the end of 2009. The call for proposals is already being made, and
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we are now in the spring, so I reassure him and encourage those who might be considering putting in bids for research that we are inviting people to make to do so now.

It is important that I join others in paying tribute to the British Beekeepers Association for its role in raising the profile of the issue. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that its research paper will be considered not only by me and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but by those who will determine the shape of the research as it proceeds, so it will inform decisions on the research.

I have been asked several detailed questions, but if I do not manage to answer them all, I will write as fully as possible to every Member who has participated in the debate. I have been asked how much will be spent on honey bees from the research programme. I want to share with Members the carefully crafted advice that I have received on that:

The fact that we refer to our plan as the honey bee plan indicates how important we accept honey bees to be. They are, as the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare rightly noted, the first pollinators out in spring.

In the short time I have left I wish to pay tribute to Martha Kearney. Watching her documentary was one of the few occasions recently when I have been able to say that the BBC did a really good job. It was an excellent programme. Those who missed it should watch it, because it was balanced and explained carefully the full range of challenges facing bees. [Hon. Members: “The Bee Bee Cee.”] I will not be drawn down that route.

Those responsible for the research funding will seek to ensure a balanced programme. The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Willie Rennie) made a good speech in which he congratulated the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government on their contribution, and I agree with him on that. One of the reasons why we made the announcement on funding after the announcements on the healthy bees plan and on our commitment to the NBU, was that we were working hard to bring together all the partners. As I have said, I will write to Members in greater detail. I am grateful to those who have acknowledged the Government’s commitment to the issue. We have a lot of work to do on it, but I can promise all those interested that the Government take the issue extraordinarily seriously. I think that any half-way educated person can appreciate the importance of bees to our environment, our food chain and, therefore, our country.


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Libya

11 am

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Benton, for calling me to introduce this important, timely debate on Anglo-Libyan relations. I have been chairman of the all-party group on Libya for the past two years and I feel that a country that is so close to us—just three hours away by plane—presents us with huge opportunities for trade and investment. I want Britain to benefit from trade with Libya, particularly as our relations with that country are improving rapidly.

In Tripoli, which I have visited, meeting people in the streets and so on, there are many products from Europe in the supermarkets and shops but few British goods on offer, which is a great shame. I want to do everything possible to encourage and promote British trade with Libya. I ask the Minister to say what her Department is doing to increase our share of exports to Libya.

I took a delegation to Tripoli in 2007 to mark the 38th anniversary of Colonel Gaddafi’s coming to power. It is good that we go there and talk about political matters, but politicians should also be focused on increasing trade as well. So many delegations that we send out to such countries talk pleasantries and discuss politics, but they do not really do anything to help directly British interests in these places. Although such high-level contacts take place, including between Heads of State and parliamentarians, there is not the opportunity to take our own businesses and introduce them as well.

I approached the Inter-Parliamentary Union to fund a visit of mine to Riyadh, because I am also chairman of the all-party group on Saudi Arabia. The IPU said, “No, we will not fund your visit if you take industrialists, because we are only interested in politicians going out to Saudi Arabia and interacting with politicians and talking about political issues.” Frankly, when we are going into a recession and one of the ways that we are going to get out of it is through increased exports and getting foreign currency into our country, there should be an onus on parliamentarians to do everything that they can to help businesses as well. I urge the Minister to try to give some thought to how we can devise a formula or an exchange here in Parliament whereby parliamentarians can take out businesses to such countries, introduce them to high-level contacts and help them secure the business that is so vital.

When I took a delegation out to Riyadh last year, we had three hours with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Many organisations that I know of would love to be able to have such high-level discussions. Interestingly, Arab leaders are highly critical of the lack of interaction between Britain and them in terms of commercial opportunities. They are always saying to me, “We need you to do more to bring British companies out here so that we can do business with them.”

I will be leading a delegation to Tripoli on 1 September to mark the 40th anniversary of Colonel Gaddafi’s coming to power, so I hope that the Minister may be able to do something in advance of that visit to help us to help British businesses to come out with us.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. There have been a number of Adjournment debates on Libya and its relations with the United Kingdom. Does he agree
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that, in terms of normalisation—it is important that Libya moves to normal diplomatic relations with other countries—it is important to address the fact that Libya has yet to pay compensation to the victims of the terrorism that it funded over the years, in Northern Ireland and the UK? The need to resolve that issue in terms of achieving closure for the victims has cross-party support in the House and elsewhere.

Daniel Kawczynski: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Later in my speech I will come to my discussions with the Libyan ambassador, and discussions in Libya itself, about the vital need to close that tragic chapter in our history. We will not flinch from raising those important, controversial issues with Libya.

I want people to know more about Libya, which is why I am now writing my first ever political biography on Colonel Gaddafi. I hope to have that book published for 1 September, to mark the 40th anniversary. I have to say that it is the most difficult project in which I have engaged in my life. I am not a natural author and I get a lot of writing block, as I think it is called. Nevertheless I am trying to write the book and, if I publish it, I will let the Minister have a signed copy.

I have regular meetings with the Libyan ambassador, Mr. Jelban, an excellent man who represents his country well. I have recently been asked to become chairman of the Conservative Arab Network. I hope to use my position in that organisation to try to enhance our country’s relations with Libya.

Before I go on, I should like the Minister to know that, were she ever to visit the British war cemetery in Tripoli, she would see an extraordinary sight. It is one of the best maintained war cemeteries that I have ever seen in my life. On going through the gates, one sees immaculately cut lawns and beautifully maintained headstones; the whole aura is extraordinary. I spent a morning walking up and down row upon row of headstones, many of which were erected for those who died in January 1943 when Tripoli was liberated. That brings home the extraordinary sacrifices that so many of our service personnel, including the desert rats, made in the second world war in North Africa to liberate Tripoli and the whole of Libya.

The next time I visit, I hope to visit the British war cemetery in Tobruk, which is another important cemetery. I pay tribute to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the tremendous work that it does. I also pay tribute to one desert rat that I know of in my constituency, Mr. Ted Sharpe, a dear, close friend of mine who has been quite poorly recently. I have spent many hours listening to him about the suffering that he endured during the war in the process of liberating Libya.

I now come to the bones of this debate. The hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) mentioned some of the outstanding issues, and I want to mention Police Constable Yvonne Fletcher. So many parliamentary questions have been asked about that case in the House of Commons over the years and many parliamentary debates have been called by Labour Members of Parliament, no less. Mr. Tam Dalyell was one of the most prodigious campaigners in this area, and I pay tribute to him.

The 25th anniversary of the killing of PC Yvonne Fletcher was on 19th April. This beautiful young woman was shot in the back at such a young age and her life
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was cut away from her. Her family is still grieving, 25 years on. I have been to the spot where she was killed and seen the plaque; a beautiful cherry tree has been planted there by her family. It amazes me that, 25 years on, we are no closer to finding out who the killer of PC Yvonne Fletcher is. As I have said, many questions have been asked, and the Metropolitan police have paid four visits to Tripoli over a number of years. What is going on? How can this be? How can we be in this position 25 years on? We still do not have in custody the killer of PC Yvonne Fletcher. The Met says that it has interviewed the suspect in Tripoli and that the Libyans must know who was the culprit in this brutal killing. During my discussions yesterday, Mr. Jelban, the Libyan ambassador, said that Libya was working on the matter and that he was confident of achieving a resolution. How confident is the Minister, and what is her time scale for finally securing the capture of that criminal?

The hon. Member for Belfast, North asked about Libya’s funding for terrorist organisations. When will that problem be resolved? What public statements do the Libyans intend to make and what compensation do they intend to pay to the families of the people in Northern Ireland who faced such appalling tragedies as a result of that funding for terrorist organisations?

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the problem was not just funding for terrorist organisations, but arming them by sending hundreds of tonnes of weaponry to Northern Ireland, which enabled the IRA to use car bombs and firearms, which then also affected the UK mainland? Does the hon. Gentleman find it odd that while the matter remains unresolved, export licences for arms supplied by the United Kingdom are being issued to send arms to the very state that sent illegal weaponry to the United Kingdom to kill citizens of this country?

Daniel Kawczynski: Yes, I totally concur with the hon. Gentleman. The problem was not just funding. I recall that boats were captured carrying arms for Northern Ireland in the 1980s. I would like the Minister to respond to that important point.

When PC Yvonne Fletcher was killed, the then leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, called for a public inquiry, as did Dr. David Owen, but Margaret Thatcher, in a letter, refused on the grounds of security to allow such a public inquiry. The shooting dead of a British serving police officer on the streets of London was a profoundly serious matter and I very much regret that the then Conservative Government did not allow a public inquiry.


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