There is some anxiety among those involved with sickle cell services that the complexity of the services needed effectively places them largely outside the scope of the clinical commissioning groups. Many are concerned about the type of policies that will be in place to ensure that a patient-centred, integrated approach to care engages primary care and community interests across health, social and community care. This is to help to reduce morbidity, needless hospital care and the health inequalities experienced by this seriously marginalised sector.

There are expectations that not only CCGs but local health and well-being boards should aim to reflect the make-up of their respective client communities. So, given that the steady establishment of CCGs and the view that community provision of sickle cell disorder management have a major role to play across the country, especially in high-risk areas within CCGs, can the Minister tell the House what priority is being given by CCGs to people in the sickle cell and thalassaemia community, who are feeling concerned, vulnerable and anxious about the situation and their future?

As yet, there is no cure for sickle cell and more research is needed both for a cure and for the treatment of current sufferers. The existing treatment involves a form of chemotherapy, which can have harmful side effects, such as damage to the immune system. Fortunately, Sparks, a charity which provides funding into research for childhood diseases—I declare an interest as a trustee—is funding a research project that aims to investigate the possibility of a safer, less toxic and more targeted therapy. However, in the mean time, there needs to be widespread education and awareness among those who assess the level of disability of sickle cell sufferers. They need to be made more aware and educated about the situation faced by people living with sickle cell and its associated conditions.

The Government also need to seriously improve the awareness of the wider population about the plight of people living with this inherited blood disorder and the disabilities that they may be facing, quite often invisibly so.

I know that the Sickle Cell Society, the UK Thalassaemia Society and the UK Forum on Haemoglobin Disorders would be more than willing to meet the appropriate government departments and agencies to discuss how they can work together to address the serious concerns that I have highlighted. I hope that this offer will be acted upon.

As the last US election showed, BME communities vote for people who they consider address their needs and concerns. This should be food for thought for us on this side of the Atlantic. I look forward to hearing my noble friend’s response, as I know that she is always sympathetic to inequality issues and, like me, strives towards a just and fair society.

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2.18 pm

Lord Patel: My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in this debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, for initiating it.

When I read the well-researched report produced by the charity Scope, and several others that I have looked up, and the many obstacles that disabled people in the black and minority ethnic communities have to face, it led me to reflect back to the days of discrimination based on colour, how long it took for us to address the issue and the legislation required to get rid of it.

Studies now show that people with disabilities—black, ethnic minority and white—face similar discrimination, but those from black and minority ethnic communities face further discrimination based on a lack of understanding by those who commission and provide services. Other noble Lords have already mentioned examples, such as the need for better and appropriate communication, the lack of understanding of the stigma attached to disability in some cultures, health services both for physical and mental health, and the failure to understand the differing needs of black and minority ethnic people with disabilities.

We have heard on several occasions in this Chamber how people with disabilities are discriminated against, particularly from the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, described how she becomes invisible when trying to get a taxi or catch a bus, despite being one of the most recognised faces in the land.

The Scope report findings confirm that there is discrimination against people with disabilities in black and minority ethnic groups. It says:

“We found little evidence of direct racism in service provision and encountered no reports of staff being explicitly discriminatory. We did find evidence of discrimination on the grounds of disability … Consistent low-level discrimination can have a serious impact on people’s wellbeing. Non-discriminatory practice is about more than accommodating cultural preferences”.

The Scope study also identifies several issues relating to health—issues that commissioners and providers of health services should be aware of, and I hope that the Government will make sure that the Department of Health notices this report. It goes on to state that,

“black and minority ethnic disabled people are … less likely to access healthcare services. Evidence shows that they suffer from poorer health, have a shorter life expectancy and yet are less able to access care than the majority white population. Despite large amounts of research, and a variety of local and national strategies for change—including the … Delivering Race Equality in Mental Health initiative introduced in 2005—these problems remain.

Research … indicates that only a minority of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi disabled people … interviewed had had any contact with hospitals, physiotherapists, and specialist care”.

The only people who fare well in the report are GPs, who,

“provide a notable exception to this trend, and numerous studies report that GP surgeries provide a key access point to services for BME people … Yet there is … evidence to suggest that … prejudices are alleviated by close contact with medical services. Indeed, western medical paradigms may provide some relief from stress for families burdened by feelings of shame or stigma”,

in some cultures. The report also notes several recommendations for commissioners and providers of health, and, as I said, I hope that the Government will take notice of them.

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I should now like to devote a few minutes to allude to the problems faced by black and minority ethnic families with a severely disabled child. Before I do so, I declare an interest as a trustee of the White Top Foundation, which over the years has given tens of millions of pounds to make life better for families with a severely disabled child, and to care for these children. I am pleased to say that this charity continues to carry out this work.

The study I will refer to was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and was carried out by the University of York and the University of Bradford. It used the same methodology that it had used to study white families with severely disabled children. The findings, which were quite salutary, were as follows:

“Families from ethnic minority groups experience even greater disadvantage and difficulties in caring for a severely disabled child than their white counterparts”.

The study was,

“based on interviews with 600 ethnic minority parents of severely disabled children”,

throughout England, and, as I said, it was carried out jointly by researchers at the two universities. They found that:

“Most families had net incomes below £200 a week. Those experiencing the greatest economic disadvantage were lone parent families—a group that included two out of three Black African/Caribbean families … Levels of employment were low, including three out of four mothers who had no work … Fewer parents were receiving Disability Living Allowance or Invalid Care Allowance compared with white families previously surveyed. Although all the ethnic minority parents interviewed were caring for a child with severe disabilities, they were less likely to have been awarded benefit at the higher rates. Parents who understood English well had much higher levels of benefit take-up than those with a limited understanding. Among one in three Asian parents who said they needed translation help when talking to health and social care professionals, a large minority had not been provided with an interpreter. There was little evidence to support stereotypes—

which often develop among social workers—

“suggesting that ethnic minority families generally benefit from extended family support”.

The study found that,

“Fewer mothers received practical and emotional support from partners than white counterparts … Ethnic minority parents reported that their disabled children had many more unmet needs than white families in the earlier survey. Half identified seven or more areas where they needed more support than currently provided. This included help with their child’s learning, communication and physical abilities, access to leisure opportunities and learning about culture and religion”.

As Professor Waqar Ahmad, who was co-author of the report, said:

“We know from the previous national survey that financial difficulties, unmet needs and inadequate support networks are common problems among families who care for severely disabled children.

But this research reveals that there is an added depth and intensity to the problems faced by ethnic minority families which policy makers must take on board as a matter of urgency. Poor communication with professional care services, lack of recognition of parents’ needs, as well as lack of support and high levels of economic disadvantage, have left too many of these families living ‘on the edge’”.

My question to the Minister is: will the Government’s disability strategy include implementation plans involving all the various government departments, and how will the implementation be monitored?

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As noble Baronesses speaking in this debate outnumber noble Lords by three to one, I dare say that women in all communities are more likely to be carers of disabled children. However, for BME women, the experience of social isolation is disproportionately high. Reducing social isolation can be achieved through greater community involvement in the design, commissioning and delivery of services. What steps will the Government take to enable greater community involvement, particularly of BME groups, in the co-design, commissioning and delivery of services?

2.27 pm

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I declare my interest as vice-president of the RNIB, and I hold a number of other roles in the disability sector that are declared in the register. I am particularly glad to have this opportunity to make a brief contribution in the gap, because the Minister will recall that only yesterday, with the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, we debated the Government’s efforts to strip measures and resources that support the equality agenda out of the Equality Act and the EHRC. I cast doubt on the Government’s commitment to the equality agenda. I therefore congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, particularly warmly on securing this debate today, for nothing could demonstrate more cogently that I was on the right track than this excellent report.

It is worrying that the Government seek to review the use of both the public sector equality duty and equality impact assessments, potentially undermining the framework for making progress in addressing the needs of black and minority ethnic disabled people. It is of great concern that the review has been announced as an outcome of the Government’s exercise to cut red tape.

In response to a letter from Doreen Lawrence, the mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister stress the need to make the promotion of race equality central to the way that public authorities work. The public sector equalities duty should be seen as a powerful tool for achieving this. The review should happen, as originally planned, in 2015, when there will be sufficient evidence of whether the duty is working as intended. The Prime Minister’s recent statement that it was time to call time on the equality impact assessments reinforces my concern that equalities issues are slipping down the Government’s agenda.

Given the evident need to give more priority to the needs of black and minority ethnic disabled people, it is worrying that the Government are looking to reduce the ability to determine the impact of public policy on protected groups. Although the Prime Minister may consider them bureaucratic nonsense, equality impact assessments are in fact an essential means of ensuring that policies do not adversely affect those groups that were already disadvantaged. This is not about tick-box stuff, as the Prime Minister calls it; rather, it is a means of ensuring that policymakers have the right information to make informed decisions.

The Scope report highlights the fact that the BME disabled population is growing rapidly. In September 2011, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial

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Discrimination criticised the Government’s failure to address racial equality and introduce a national race equality strategy. The refreshed disability strategy to be published in May, linked to a race equality strategy and underpinned by a joint implementation plan and bringing together the Office for Disability Issues, the Government Equalities Office and the DCLG, presents an excellent opportunity to address the issues facing BME disabled people that have been rehearsed in this debate.

2.30 pm

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend Lord Boateng for bringing forward this debate. I asked a Question about this report in the House when it was first published, so I am very pleased that we have been able to have this debate today. I congratulate Scope on an excellently researched report.

Almost everything that can be said about the importance and urgency of this issue has been eloquently said by most noble Lords; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Low, has pretty much stolen my thunder. I intend to ask three questions about the report, and I am putting them in the context of what the Government are doing to their equality strategy at present, which was also alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece. The Government’s review of the public sector equality duties and equality impact assessments has the potential to undermine the framework for making progress in this area, and we need to be quite clear about that. Indeed, that might answer some of the questions that the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, had when she was wondering why this might have become a party political issue. While it ought not to have become a party political issue, this is possibly the crux of why it has become one.

Scope has been very concerned about the potential shift within government to a more watered-down commitment to assessing equality implications as a crucial part of decision-making. The noble Lord, Lord Low, referred to the fact that the Prime Minister said to the CBI that the Government were calling time on equality impact assessments, and indeed a statement from the Minister at the DCLG just this week has said that that department is informing local councils that equality impact assessments are not mandatory. That is the unhelpful context in which this discussion is taking place.

If we see a diminution in the commitment to monitoring, consulting and impact measurement, that also needs to be seen in the context of the impact of the welfare reforms that the Government are pursuing with regard to disabled people. Here is just one fact: disabled people have seen a drop in income of £500 million since the emergency Budget of 2010, and recent reports have shown that cuts have ranged from £200 to £2,065 in a typical disabled household over the past year.

Despite widespread criticism, the Government have refused to monitor the impact of their welfare reforms as they are implemented in order to understand how they affect disabled people and their families and mitigate any adverse impacts where possible. Impact assessments should consider not just aggregated impacts from one specific policy but the cumulative impact of

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several policies on individuals and their families. It is in that context that I pose my three questions.

First, the Government’s Fulfilling Potential—Next Steps White Paper, on their approach to the forthcoming disability strategy, emphasises the need to build better linkages between government departments and agencies to work together to achieve shared objectives for disabled people facing multiple disadvantages. Will the Minister confirm that this will include the development of a joint implementation plan between the Office for Disability Issues and the Government Equalities Office as well as other government departments, as recommended by Scope?

Secondly, following criticism from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, what plans do the Government have to implement a national race equality strategy? What plans do they have to ensure that the overlaps between different equality characteristics in future equality impact assessments are recognised, given that the needs of BME disabled people are not easily captured in a system designed to assess only one single equality characteristic? Can the Minister clarify the means by which the Government will assess the equality implications of their proposed policies on protected groups, including disabled people, in the light of the Prime Minister calling time on equality impact assessments?

Thirdly, does the Minister agree that in the light of this debate, the public sector equality duty, which is currently under review and includes the race equality duty, is as vital now as it has ever been and should not be equated with bureaucracy and red tape, as the Government are so often seen to do?

2.35 pm

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, for securing this debate and the opportunity that he has provided for us to discuss the important issue of how to ensure that all members of society, from all backgrounds, are able to access the services and support that they need.

I am grateful, too, to Scope and the Equalities National Council for the central report that we are debating today. It brings to the issue a great deal of detail and much needed information about the black and minority ethnic communities in particular, and the difficulties that they face in receiving the support that they require.

A wide range of topics has been raised in today’s debate, but what underpins much of what noble Lords have said is that we must provide policies and services developed and delivered based on the individual.

In responding to the debate, I shall provide some context and talk first about the Government’s equality strategy. As a country, we have come a very long way over the past 50 years, but too many people’s life chances still depend on who they are or where they come from. Our equality strategy set out our vision for a strong, modern, fair Britain built on two key principles: equal treatment and equal opportunity for all. We are moving away from the identity politics and categorisation of the past and instead focusing on equal opportunity for everyone—most importantly, recognising individual needs.

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I believe that this approach is very much in line with the recommendations in the report that we have been debating today that services delivered locally should follow person-centred principles, delivered in ways that take into account the needs of individuals, utilise community resources and are responsive to the local community.

I shall focus on the disabled strategy. Part of our commitment to removing barriers is about enabling disabled people to fulfil their individual potential and, by right, play a full role in society. As a country, we have a strong record of provision for disabled people. Here I am talking not just about this Government but about this country in the past. We are a world leader for both disability rights and independent living. The recent OECD statistics have shown that UK spending on disability as a proportion of GDP is nearly twice the OECD average—more than the US, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan. This Government are proud of that and will ensure that the money that we dedicate to disabled services supports those in the greatest need, as well as in ways that are important to all disabled people: providing them their right to live independently, and to have greater opportunities to work. On that point in particular, in the spending review we have protected the annual budget of £320 million for specialist disability employment programmes. These programmes focus on removing barriers to work and supporting those with extra needs to work. In saying that, I recognise the point made by my noble friend Lady Browning about the challenge that this presents for some people.

Our aim is to open up more opportunities for all disabled people, and although government should provide the strategic leadership needed to achieve this aim, we cannot do it alone. In answer to a point made most recently by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, but also by many other noble Lords, we are working across government and with disability organisations to develop plans for action and mechanisms for monitoring progress which we will publish in the spring. As part of that, we are working and consulting with the widest range of disability groups, such as Include Me Too, the Afiya Trust and the Equalities National Council. We are making sure that the voices of BME disabled people are heard and have input to our disability strategy and, importantly, to the action plan that will flow from it. As part of this, we are setting up a new partnership—a disability action alliance— to bring disabled people and their organisations together with public, private and voluntary and community organisations to help shape and deliver what disabled people want.

I have already referred to the Equalities National Council, as have other noble Lords, and it is the joint authors of the report that we are discussing today. It and others are working with us to establish the alliance and have already identified some potential actions for us to take forward. These include, for example, building on the work they are doing to mentor BME prisoners with mental health conditions. If I may, I shall use the particular point about mental health conditions because I think that it helps illustrate our approach to quite a wide range of different areas. I am sure that noble Lords will understand that I am not able to respond on those areas in great detail.

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The ENC is working with the Office for Disability Issues on the Disabled People’s User-Led Organisations programme and has been awarded £25,000 to create an ambassador programme. As part of that programme it will raise the profile of good mental health experiences and positive outcomes and help reduce the stigma attached to mental health conditions. The plan is also to give disabled people the confidence to approach mental health services earlier and be treated by GPs and community health teams before they reach crisis point, where interventions are more traumatic and punitive.

The noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, spoke at some length about the issue of mental health and BME people. He raised a number of issues, but on his specific point about excessive detention of BME people under Section 136, we are developing a programme of work with the police to improve the experience of people who are removed from a public place to a place of safety by police using Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. We will make sure that this takes account of BME people and that the solutions suggested are evaluated for any differential impact on BME groups. From the briefing that I have had in preparation for today’s debate, I am aware that there is quite a lot going on in this area. So, if I may, I will send the noble Lord a follow-up, because I think that I can provide him with some more information which I hope will serve to address some of his concerns.

The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and indeed many other noble Lords, raised the point about language barriers in a wide range of contexts. We recognise that English language skills are fundamental to people’s ability to participate in our society, to break down barriers and to do the everyday things that we all take for granted—and just basically to get on. It is important that we are clear about the distinction drawn between the automatic translation of public authority documents and the training that is available and the services that might be provided to people with specific translation needs. People refer to comments by my right honourable Friend Eric Pickles, but he was talking about automatic translation of public authority documents and the fact that they can be expensive and entrench segregation. That is separate from the specific issue of translation and cases in which someone has an individual need.

The Government have provided more than £8 million to 35 English for speakers of other languages providers, mainly in FE colleges in areas of England where there is the highest demand. The Government fully fund this provision for those on jobseeker’s allowance and employment support allowance in the work-related activity group. Under this general heading of translation, my noble friend Lady Berridge raised the issue of language barriers in the provision of PIP—the replacement for DLA—and what guidance was being given to the service providers. As she was kind enough to give me advice warning of that, I am able to respond to her in a bit more detail. I hope that my answer to her question will help give an indication of our approach to other noble Lords who raised the same point but in a different context.

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We have committed to making the assessment process as accessible as possible to those with communication barriers. We have built this into our contractual arrangements with both assessment providers. They will make letters and other materials available in other languages on request, and will meet any reasonable request to accommodate claimants with additional requirements, such as provision of interpreters. If an additional requirement is identified on the day of the consultation then the provider will rearrange the appointment.

My noble friend also asked whether residential care homes will adapt to reflect the ageing demographic of BME disabled people and of those who cannot speak English or who have English as a second language. I will write to her specifically on that point. However, it is worth emphasising—and again, I hope that this point will give noble Lords wider comfort—that through the Health and Social Care Act 2012, for the first time ever, there are specific legal duties on NHS commissioners and on the Secretary of State for Health concerning health inequalities. That is something that exists now that did not exist before.

Many noble Lords raised a point which is in the Scope report regarding whether the Government should develop a race equality strategy. We know that particular issues can be exacerbated by race and noble Lords have pointed to some of them, including educational attainment, unemployment and ageing, as we have just been discussing. We do not think that dealing with these problems is easy, but we believe that the best way to make progress is to tackle the root cause and not the symptoms. That requires a new approach and a single equality strategy—one that is based on underlying principles and that moves away from treating people as groups or “equality strands” and instead recognises that we are a nation of 62 million individuals. In saying that I am reinforcing what I said at the beginning and what underpins most of what has been said today—that what we are looking for in our approach to all these issues is individual attention and being able to treat people in that way.

This approach not only requires but forces joined-up work across government and requires us to focus on the problems that an individual is facing. Perhaps I can give noble Lords just one example under the heading of employment. We have done a lot in south London where our Jobcentre Plus provision is working with a group in Brixton to support work experience candidates. In Birmingham, where more than 83% of the population is from a minority ethnic community, Jobcentre Plus and the city council have formed a co-designed project with a range of BME community groups to support local people.

It is worth me putting on record that the number of ethnic minority people in employment is more than 3 million for the first time ever, which is 380,000 higher than the figure in spring 2010. Claims for JSA have fallen faster among young black men than for any other ethnic group over the past year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, the noble Lord, Lord Low, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece all referred to equality impact assessments. Let me be absolutely

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clear on this. The Equality Act was designed to ensure that the needs of people are taken into account when we change or develop and implement a new policy or service. Impact assessments cannot and must not be a tick-box exercise. Completing these forms has never been a legal requirement. Having due regard to equality when forming policy and services is the legal responsibility on all public bodies; and that is not changing. Neither is the requirement to be able to demonstrate that it has happened.

What we are reviewing, because I believe that we owe it to everyone to keep strengthening our approach in this area, is how the public sector duty operates. We want to ensure that it is delivering, as effectively as it can, what all of us believe in and want: equality, fairness and the elimination of discrimination as policy is made and services designed.

Several points were raised by noble Lords which I will do my best to get through quickly now, although I know that I will have to follow up several of them in writing. If I fail to address them now, I will of course ensure that I follow them up afterwards.

I start by referring to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, about a meeting between Ministers, the EMC and Scope. To be honest, I am somewhat confused here, because I have been advised that the Minister for Disabled People met both organisations last autumn. I will find out what has happened there and, obviously, follow up in writing on that point.

My noble friend Lady Browning talked about local commissioning and suggested that I provide some explanation about what is happening in that area for the benefit of all noble Lords. That I will do. In doing that, I hope that I can address the specific points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, about dystonia.

My noble friend Lady Benjamin referred to sickle cell. Again, I will certainly look into that after the debate and follow that up in writing to her. My noble friend Lady Tyler and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, in particular, among other noble Lords, talked about disabled children and the impact on those from the BME community. They referred to the Children and Families Bill. As that comes from the Department of Education, which is not a department that I work with, let me look at what is expected in that area and I will of course follow up.

I draw to a close. Another point made in the course of today’s debate was about role models and how we inspire people. Reference was made to young people. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, and others referred to the Paralympics and the whole atmosphere and culture created out of that fantastic event back in September. I remember clearly, just as we led into the Paralympics, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, saying that she was concerned that because there would be fantastically successful, brilliant and able Paralympians who would win medals, we should not give the impression that all disabled people could do so. For me, what was so important was that the Paralympians were role models not only to disabled people and people who have a great interest in sport; they were fantastic role models to all of us. We, the able-bodied, those of us who do not face barriers that

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other people face, should reflect on what we could achieve if we approached life in the way that many of them do.

We are working as a united Government to break down barriers of disability, race, religion, gender, age and social background. We are taking a personalised approach to enable people to reach their potential, rather than assuming that one size fits all. We believe that that mechanism best responds to individual needs, local circumstances and, in our view, is what works best to achieve the equal society that we are all striving for.

We have had a good day. I have listened and learnt a lot. I am grateful for this opportunity to share some information about what the Government are doing. I look forward to your Lordships holding me and my colleagues in government to account for delivering on that vision regularly over the rest of the Parliament.

2.56 pm

Lord Boateng: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right: there are many role models in the disabled and black and minority ethnic communities. Our concern is that they should be role models for what they are, not for their success in overcoming the barriers that they have had to face because they are black or minority ethnic or because they are disabled. This has been an important debate. Members who have spoken on all sides of the House have demonstrated a depth of experience, knowledge of the subject and passion that is truly inspiring to us all. I am grateful to the Minister for her willingness to write to us to address the detailed questions that many Members of the House have raised with her, and I urge her to adopt the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, of lodging all of those in the Library, so that we have a comprehensive response of the Government to the debate and the report.

Motion agreed.

Northern Ireland


2.57 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Wales Office (Baroness Randerson): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat the Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on events in Northern Ireland.

“Before updating the House on the recent protests and disorder, I wish to report on an attempted terrorist attack. On 30 December, an officer of the Police Service of Northern Ireland discovered an improvised explosive device attached to the underneath of his car shortly before he was due to drive his wife and family to Sunday lunch.

The IED was viable and, were it not for the alertness of the officer in checking his car, it is highly likely that he and his family would all have lost their lives. This despicable attack bears the hallmarks of the so-called dissident republicans and looks to be the latest example of the relentless efforts these groupings make to try to murder police officers. It underlines the need for continued

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vigilance. The Government will continue to do everything that they can to help the PSNI combat the terrorist threat in Northern Ireland. The House should also be aware that two individuals have been charged in relation to the murder of prison officer David Black.

Turning to the disturbances in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland, since I reported to the House on 11 December, protests over the flying of the union flag at Belfast City Hall have continued, with only sporadic respite over Christmas. While many of these have been peaceful, even these peaceful protests have seen roads blocked and daily life disrupted. A significant number of protests have led to serious disorder, mainly concentrated in east Belfast. While, thankfully, there were no significant public order incidents last night, the violence during the preceding six days saw masonry, bricks, fireworks and petrol bombs being thrown at police, and in one instance shots were fired. Police vehicles have been attacked with sledgehammers. On 5 and 7 January, water cannon and AEP rounds were deployed. In total, 66 police officers have been injured since these protests first began. Threats and intimidation against elected representatives continue, with the office of the honourable Member for Belfast East still the subject of daily intimidation.

The intimidation and violence are unacceptable and intolerable. The Government condemn those responsible in the strongest possible terms. We reiterate our full support for the chief constable and his officers in their efforts to maintain law and order, and we pay tribute to the bravery and professionalism of PSNI officers, who put their safety on the line every day to keep people in Northern Ireland safe and secure. According to the chief constable, senior individual members of the Ulster Volunteer Force are involved in orchestrating the violence, although the chief constable’s view is that it is not being sanctioned by the leadership of that group.

Since 3 December, 107 people have been arrested and 82 have been charged with various offences. So the perpetrators of this violence should be in no doubt that, as the chief constable made clear on Monday, they will face the full rigour of the law. Those who continue to organise these protests and engage in violence really need to ask themselves what they think they are achieving. The idea that hurling bricks at police officers is somehow defending the union flag or protecting Britishness is incomprehensible. These people are not defending our national flag; they are dishonouring our national flag and our country. What is more, they are being reckless with the peace settlement and all that it has delivered.

The damage that they are inflicting on Northern Ireland’s economy must be considerable. Huge efforts have been made in recent years to project a modern, confident and outward-looking Northern Ireland that is a great place to do business. But the pictures beaming round the world of riots and disorder make it far harder to compete in the global race for inward investment. Jobs and livelihoods are under threat. So it is essential that these protests and this violence stop now.

Since these disturbances began, I have been in regular contact with the chief constable, the First and Deputy First Ministers, the Justice Minister and other

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political leaders. The Northern Ireland political parties need to work together to find a way forward. It should not be impossible to find a way which sees decisions on flags made in a way that respects different views and takes into account the different traditions and identities present in today’s Northern Ireland. For that to happen, the issue needs to come off the streets to allow local politicians and community leaders the space to sit around a table and engage in constructive dialogue.

I have used recent weeks to highlight the urgent need to make progress on addressing the underlying divisions within the community in Northern Ireland, which can make decisions on issues such as flags so fraught with tension. On many occasions, Northern Ireland’s political leaders have expressed their firm commitment to building a shared society free from sectarian division. It is a theme to which I and my predecessor, along with the Prime Minister, have returned many times.

So much has been achieved in the 20 years since the peace process really got under way. The overwhelming majority of people in Northern Ireland can lead their lives with a normality and a freedom from fear that would have been impossible back in the dark days of the Troubles. However, we all need to acknowledge that the process is not finished, and the stability delivered by the Belfast agreement should never be taken for granted.

For some, sectarian divisions remain deeply entrenched, and it is time for bold moves by Northern Ireland’s political leadership to address them. We need to build a genuinely shared future for everyone in Northern Ireland. It will not be easy, but Northern Ireland’s political leaders have already shown themselves capable of taking difficult decisions in order to make progress on many matters. They have fixed tougher problems than the ones that we are discussing today. I believe that they can rise to this challenge, as they have to so many others in the past two decades. The UK Government stand ready to work with them and support them in their efforts to deliver a better and more cohesive future for Northern Ireland. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.05 pm

Lord McAvoy: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made by the Secretary of State in the other place. With the leave of the House, I will now repeat the response to the Statement made by my honourable friend Vernon Coaker.

“Mr Speaker, I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for her statement and for advance sight of it. I join with her in condemning the disgraceful violence we have seen over the last number of weeks. The serious rioting, the attacks on the police and the threats against elected representatives have been appalling, including that against the honourable Member for Belfast East, who has behaved throughout with real dignity and courage. This violence would not be acceptable in London; it would not be acceptable in Cardiff; it would not be acceptable in Edinburgh; and it is not acceptable in Belfast. People in Northern Ireland need

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to know that the UK Government are giving this the highest priority and that Northern Ireland matters. So can I ask the Secretary of State what discussions she has had with the Prime Minister about the recent violence and what discussions he has had, or intends to have, with Northern Ireland Ministers about what might be done to support them?

The dissident republican terrorist attempt to murder a police officer and his family over Christmas was sickening. It reminds us, as the Secretary of State has said, of the ongoing threat from those who wish to destroy the peace and progress. It is good that the police have made arrests in relation to David Black’s murder, and it sends out a clear message that the perpetrators of those crimes will be brought to justice.

The public disorder and violence we have seen on the streets began, as we know, when the decision was taken by Belfast City Council that the union flag should be flown only on designated days. In a democracy, you cannot try and change decisions by the use of force. Will the Secretary of State join with me in saying that those who break the law can expect to be dealt with by the full force of the law? Violence cannot be allowed to win.

Once again, the Police Service of Northern Ireland has shown exceptional bravery and courage even at great personal cost, with more than 60 officers already injured. Let us once again commend them for their professionalism and dedication to duty. The chief constable has clearly stated that senior figures from the Ulster Volunteer Force are involved in much of the violence. What assessment has she made of loyalist paramilitary involvement? Does she agree that attacks by paramilitaries on the police and elected politicians are matters of national security, and is she confident that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has the resources to continue this level of commitment without impacting on its other policing duties?

Today, I was due to be visiting a project in Belfast to help young people back to work. I have seen in communities across Northern Ireland, both nationalist and unionist, initiatives to try and ensure that every young person has hope, every community looks to the future, jobs are created and everything possible is done to overcome sectarianism and the divisions of the past. Much of this is devolved but will the Secretary of State ensure that the consequences of any of her Government’s economic and social policies are fully considered with respect to Northern Ireland? Deprivation, disengagement and alienation in any community are a challenge, but one that if not met in Northern Ireland can have particular and dangerous consequences.

I want to close today by saying clearly that although this violence is serious, worrying and wrong, and that it must stop, we will not and cannot let it undo all of the good work being done in Northern Ireland. We have continuing work to do to reassure people outside of Northern Ireland that it is a fantastic place, open for business and tourism. We must do all we can to highlight all that is good—and there is so much that is good.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the scenes we have witnessed in recent weeks on our TV screens do not represent the real face of Northern Ireland? We

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need to work together to find answers to the difficult questions about how to overcome sectarianism, deal with contentious issues and confront the past. That will not happen through violence but only by dialogue based on mutual respect—a respect of both Britishness and Irishness. There are many people engaged in ongoing work on these issues that is being done quietly and effectively. We must extend and develop that. The majority of people I speak to, especially the young, offer real hope for the future. Let us encourage them and not allow the actions of a few to damn them all.

There has been real progress in the last number of years in Northern Ireland. It is not easy and sometimes there will be setbacks, but these setbacks cannot and must not be allowed to define Northern Ireland and its people, or derail the progress that has been made”.

I commend this response to the Statement by Vernon Coaker to the House.

3.11 pm

Baroness Randerson: My Lords, I appreciate the spirit of the response that the noble Lord has made to the Statement, the tributes that he has made to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and indeed the ongoing support of his party and its commitment to the peace process. In answer to the various questions, the Prime Minister has been briefed every day on events in Northern Ireland. He takes a very keen interest in Northern Ireland and has a very strong commitment to the country, as evidenced by the fact that he selected Northern Ireland as the venue for the G8 later this year—a matter of considerable importance to the Northern Ireland economy.

I also want to say how much the Government appreciate the tributes being made to the honourable Member for Belfast East. She has dealt with the attacks on her office, on her and on her reputation by behaving with great dignity and courage throughout. It is important to bear in mind that her staff are also having to bear with these attacks, as indeed are a large number of other elected politicians from across political parties. It is important that we bear in mind that they, their families and their staff are very much under pressure at this time. I would respond to the noble Lord’s comments by saying that the history of Northern Ireland shows that only discussion will work; only by getting round the table and discussing the problems and the differences of view will any solution come. Violence has not been effective in the last 50 years and it will not be effective now.

In relation to the question on the UVF, the Chief Constable has stated that he believed that the leadership of the UVF was not directly involved and has not sanctioned the action that has been taking place. Violence on the streets is not acceptable; it is not acceptable wherever it is in the UK and it is certainly not acceptable in Belfast.

In relation to the issue of whether this is a matter of national security, the response has to be that, whatever label you put on this and whatever category you put these events into, the services involved are working together very closely to deal with the problems. Of course, that leads me on to another question from the noble Lord. This takes resources from community

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policing and from other aspects of Northern Ireland’s budget. Community policing is so important to progress in the most disadvantaged communities in Northern Ireland, from which many of the protesters are coming. Rioting on the street makes it more difficult for the Northern Ireland Executive to deliver on education, the health service and the development of the economy.

Respect for both Britishness and Irishness in Northern Ireland has been a symbol of the last 20 years and it must continue. I appreciate the points made by the noble Lord on a modern Northern Ireland. It is a country of tremendous opportunities and 2013 will host some exciting and very important events.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I remind the House of the benefit of short questions to the Minister in order that she may answer as many questions as possible.

3.16 pm

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for repeating the Statement and for the recognition in the Statement of the great courage of the Police Service of Northern Ireland: the police officer whom the dissident Republicans attempted to murder—actually, just around the corner from my own home—and the dozens of police officers who have been injured in the riots and disturbances created by loyalists.

However, despite what is said in the Statement about flags, do Her Majesty’s Government understand that this is not fundamentally about flags or flying the flag on designated days? Since the time when I was Speaker, starting in 1998, we had an understanding and agreement among all the political parties. The union flag would be flown only on designated days over Parliament Buildings. It was not an issue of contention at that time, or in the decade and a half since that time. This is about other issues. It is about a context being created by some political leaders for their own political interests. That is why I would like to pay particular tribute to the courage of Naomi Long, the honourable Member for Belfast East, and many other Alliance representatives and representatives of other parties who have been standing up for democracy and have been personally attacked and had their lives threatened for that courageous stand. I also pay tribute to the many ordinary people who have been terrified: cancer patients trying to go for treatment; business people trying to keep their businesses open; and ordinary people going about their business and trade who have been frightened and intimidated by what has been going on.

During the time when I was a member of the IMC, we were able regularly to brief the community in some detail about what was going on and who was doing it. That has not been the case. Despite the undertakings of the previous Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, that there would be six-monthly analyses of what has been going on, we are really not getting much detail—for example, of the activities of loyalist paramilitaries like the UVF. The noble Baroness has repeated that “the leadership” did not sanction this. That may be so, but is it the case that the leadership of the UVF in East

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Belfast has actually been involved in this? This is the kind of detailed question that some of us would like to explore and I fully recognise that the Floor of the House may not be the appropriate place for questions and answers. I ask my noble friend to encourage the Secretary of State to meet those Members of your Lordships’ House who are interested and concerned about Northern Ireland and who feel it is urgently important that we have a meeting with her in the near future to explore these things.

Finally, I ask the Government to recognise that the British and Irish Governments were the drivers of the peace process and without them there would not have been an agreement. Can they understand that they are also the guarantors of the settlement and therefore cannot back off and suppose that those who are there and sometimes have their own games to play will be trusted to deliver the peace that needs to be maintained?

Baroness Randerson: I thank the noble Lord for his comments, particularly those on the courage of the PSNI. The Government fully appreciate that there are complex issues behind these protests and that it is about more than just flags in many cases, not least about issues of deprivation. Ironically, the more unrest there is in Northern Ireland, the less likelihood there will be of further economic investment, so it becomes a real problem.

The noble Lord referred to the Assembly agreement, with which he was intimately involved, on the flying of flags. I believe that Lisburn city hall uses a similar method. There are a variety of agreements on the flying of flags. However, these decisions must be made in Northern Ireland. They are devolved, democratic decisions to be made in Northern Ireland and cannot be made by the UK Government.

We have to keep repeating the importance of democracy in relation to Northern Ireland. Democracy must be our watchword. I will of course take the noble Lord’s words to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. It is important that your Lordships are fully involved and fully briefed where possible on issues relating to Northern Ireland. I will ensure that those comments are repeated to my right honourable friend.

Finally, the roles of the British Government and the Irish Government remain crucial in supporting and encouraging the Northern Ireland Executive but it would be counterproductive on many issues for the British Government to intervene on matters which are devolved and must remain devolved.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I and my party condemn utterly the rioting and the violence and the threats and attacks against elected representatives. I again plead that these stop immediately. Rioting is wrong. It destroys the very position and arguments being put forward by the protestors. Furthermore, some 60-plus police officers who nightly are standing on the streets of Northern Ireland holding the line against violence have been injured. I join the Minister in praising and paying tribute to the bravery and the professionalism of the PSNI officers on the ground in these difficult days. If these riots should continue and escalate, as I fear they

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might, and the PSNI chief constable asks for further resources, be they financial or police personnel from the mainland, will these resources be readily available?

Baroness Randerson: I thank the noble Lord for his question. I wholeheartedly agree with his thoughts in terms of the fact that rioting destroys the arguments that the protestors purport to be making. The danger of escalation is very real and the situation is very serious. As far as I know, the chief constable has not asked for additional resources but the UK Government have always stood ready to provide what Northern Ireland needs for its security. I am aware that the chief constable will be assessing the impact of these nights of violence on his resources as the year progresses.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the most depressing aspects of this very sad situation is, as the chief constable of Northern Ireland said, the number of young people who are involved in these disturbances? Our difficulty, of course, as the Minister said, is that because the powers to deal with these things are mainly devolved, there is very little that we can urge the Government to do. If I were a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, I would ask the Executive whether it was time that they dealt with the tremendous disadvantage facing young people in Belfast. It has been there for years and I hope that it is not too late to deal with it. What they ought to do is bring together urgently the teachers, voluntary organisations, the police, the health service, local government and the churches to see what can be done to give the young people of the disadvantaged parts of Belfast some sense that they have a future too.

Baroness Randerson: I appreciate the noble Lord’s comments and I agree with him that the outstanding tragedy of recent weeks has been the incredibly young ages at which some of these people are becoming involved. One feels that they cannot fully understand what they are participating in. I agree entirely with the noble Lord that we must all redouble our efforts to deal with youth unemployment, which remains too high in Northern Ireland; to deal with low levels of educational achievement in many of the areas affected among the loyalist community; and to deal with attempts to improve the prosperity of Northern Ireland in general. That is why it is so very sad, when 2013 is a year of opportunity for investment, that this has occurred.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: My Lords, I understand that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, at the opening press conference of the year on Monday morning, were not asked even one question on this topic by the assembled media. That tells us perhaps two things about the situation. First, there is an acceptance of violence in Belfast that simply would not exist in Aberdeen, Newcastle, Cardiff or anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Secondly, following devolution—we experienced this in Scotland and it has been experienced in Wales sometimes as well—there is almost a disinclination at the centre of UK government here in London to become involved in the issues that have become devolved.

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My question is therefore whether the Government will assure us here today that they will retain a close interest in this. While the Police Service of Northern Ireland may well be devolved to the Assembly, and the issue of flags above Belfast City Hall may well be devolved to the City Council in Belfast, rioting on the streets of any UK city is a matter in which the UK Government must have an interest. The UK media must be interested too.

Baroness Randerson: I thank the noble Lord for his question. I agree wholeheartedly that it is absolutely essential that the UK Government maintain an interest in what is happening in Northern Ireland and that there are very close links between the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Executive. I know that those links exist and that they are very active. The Secretary of State has been in daily contact with the Northern Ireland Executive and Ministers in the last few weeks. We must not accept violence on the streets of any of our cities. What is perhaps most poignant about the recent weeks is that we had almost come to believe that Belfast was entirely stable and secure from the outside. I think it has come as rather a shock to many people how difficult it has been to control this violence.

Lord Bew: My Lords, I thank the Minister for presenting this debate and for both its tone and its detail. I would like to focus just on one point: the mode of address of government in these circumstances.

One of the reasons for what has happened and for the many disgraceful scenes that we have seen on our television screens—I come from east Belfast and I have seen them happening right in front of me—is a sense among a wide section of the unionist community that some kind of erasure of their British culture is going on. I do not want to comment on the validity or otherwise of that perception. However, there is no doubt that part of the reason why respectable sections of unionism initially showed some sympathy for these protests is dependent on that feeling. It seems to me that there might be a case for the Government attempting to address it. This Government in particular have made a point of saying that they are not tepidly neutral on the union. This is a complicated question that has to be addressed with balance.

My next point will have no effect on the young people who are rioting, but if the Government remind the people of Northern Ireland that their place within the union, based on the principle of consent, is secure and that the Government are in no sense tepid about this prospect, that would help to draw away support for this protest from respectable sections of unionism. By the way, I believe that that drawing away of support is already happening.

Baroness Randerson: My right honourable friend the Secretary of State made it absolutely clear in her response in the other place this morning—I repeat it here this afternoon—that the union is secure and that this Government are committed to it in every respect, but that does not mean that there can be a lack of respect for people who come from different backgrounds. It is absolutely essential that the future of Northern

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Ireland is based on respect for those who see themselves from the perspective of Britishness and those who emphasise their Irishness. The two have lived together for the past 20 years as the peace process has developed, and that must continue. There must be mutual respect and respect for democratic decisions. I think that anyone who thought that supporting, or giving tacit approval to, protests on the streets of Belfast now realises that they have dealt with a very dangerous situation.

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, the Question refers to the trouble in Northern Ireland and not Belfast. Can the Minister confirm that there have been hundreds of demonstrations right across Northern Ireland opposing the decision by Belfast City Council to lower the union flag, and that the vast majority of those demonstrations have been peaceful? Will she dissociate herself from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who said that peaceful protests should not be allowed? That was an outrageous statement for a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make.

Does the Minister realise that the real cause of this problem was in fact the decision of Belfast City Council to lower the union flag from the city hall, that violence was anticipated by the honourable Member for Belfast East, Naomi Long, and that the Alliance Party, in coalition with its colleagues in Sinn Fein and the SDLP, recognised that there was going to be violence? Would it not therefore have been better for the city council to have delayed its decision until January rather than rush it through before Christmas, thereby damaging the retail trade in the city centre of Belfast?

Finally, since the noble Baroness mentioned democracy, does she recall that when we negotiated the Belfast agreement, it was agreed that democracy varied from one country to another? Democracy in Northern Ireland is not simply majority rule. The lowering of the flag at Belfast City Hall has certainly upset the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland, but majority rule does not apply in Northern Ireland. The Belfast agreement made sure that democracy in Northern Ireland meant shared rule in the Assembly at Stormont: in other words, decisions being taken with the consent of the minority. Does the noble Baroness accept that the decision of Belfast City Council was not democratic and did not have the consent of the 45% minority in Belfast?

Baroness Randerson: The noble Lord is correct in saying that there have been protests across Northern Ireland. There has been a small number of violent protests in other places, but there has been concentration in the media on Belfast because that is where the vast majority of problems have occurred. The Secretary of State has emphasised the importance of peaceful discussion in a democracy where we are able to protest and gather on the streets, but it is through discussion that we will get change. It is always very important to bear that in mind.

The noble Lord makes a point about the timing of the decision of Belfast City Council. It made the decision according to its own standing orders and established democratic procedures. I agree with the

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noble Lord that the retail trade is bearing the brunt of these protests and the disruption caused. That was particularly acute in the pre-Christmas period.



3.16 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The Statement is as follows.

“Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a Statement to update the House on the crisis in Syria—a crisis which is still intensifying. Sixty thousand Syrians are now believed to have died, 600,000 people have become refugees, 2 million people are internally displaced and 4 million people are in desperate need.

To illustrate the true horror of the conflict, 1,000 civilians were reportedly killed in one six-day period over Christmas. On Christmas Day opposition activists reported that 17 people were executed at a checkpoint in the Damascus suburbs, nine of whom were from one family. The regime has used SCUD missiles to target populated areas, and deployed cluster munitions. Entire urban districts have been reduced to rubble in cities like Homs and Aleppo.

The House will join me in expressing our solidarity with millions of courageous Syrian people in the face of this appalling brutality. We continue to believe that the best way to end this bloodshed and to protect all Syria’s communities is through a political transition. Our country has a moral obligation to help save lives in Syria, and a national interest in ensuring that the country provides no haven for terrorist activity. We know that to achieve lasting stability we must work with the Syrian opposition and countries of the region and not try to impose a political settlement from the outside. We are determined that all our actions will uphold UK and international law, and support justice and accountability for the Syrian people themselves.

In the coming weeks we will focus on six principal areas. First, we will intensify our diplomatic efforts to reach a political transition. We are actively supporting the efforts of UN-Arab League special representative Lakhdar Brahimi who has travelled to Damascus and to Moscow for talks with the Russian Government, and who is due to hold trilateral talks with Russian and US representatives this week. My ministerial colleagues and I are in regular contact with him and expect to hold further talks with him in London later this month. Our goal remains to persuade Russia and China to join us in putting the full weight of the UN Security Council behind a political transition plan for Syria.

Secondly, we will continue our work to help the Syrian national coalition to develop its plans for the future of Syria. Since I last updated the House I attended the Friends of Syria meeting in Marrakech, where the US and many other countries followed us in recognising the national coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people, and where $150 million

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was pledged to support the humanitarian effort. The coalition is enlarging its membership to include Christian, Kurdish and other minority communities. At a meeting in Istanbul this week we saw encouraging signs of the coalition making every effort to broaden its support further and build on its legitimacy, although much work remains to be done.

We are working to strengthen moderate political forces in Syria committed to a democratic future for the country. We have provided £7.4 million of non-lethal support to the Syrian opposition, to civil society and to human rights defenders, and I can announce that we will provide an additional £2 million of support, bringing the total to £9.4 million. Our assistance is designed to help to save lives, to mitigate the impact of the conflict, or to support the people trying to achieve a free and democratic Syria. It includes solar-powered lighting, generators, communication equipment and water-purification kits to help opposition groups, and satellite communication devices for activists to document human rights violations and abuses so that one day the perpetrators of these appalling crimes can be brought to justice.

This involves support for local-level administration councils providing services to Syrian people during the conflict. We have given training to more than 300 Syrian journalists, who are striving to develop alternative sources of media and freedom of the press in Syria, and we are training activists working to create a network of peace-building committees across five Syrian cities. We are also helping the national coalition to co-ordinate the international humanitarian response and have provided a humanitarian adviser to work with them. At all times we urge the coalition to ensure that all opposition groups meet their commitments on human rights.

Thirdly, we will continue to increase the pressure on the regime to stop the violence. In December we argued that the EU sanctions regime on Syria, including the arms embargo, should be rolled over for three months until 1 March rather than 12 months, so that there would be an earlier review of it. We believed that it was important not to freeze EU policy for a whole year just as a new opposition coalition was being launched and the conflict on the ground was intensifying.

No decisions have yet been made to change the support that we provide to the Syrian national coalition or the Syrian people but European countries now have the flexibility to consider taking additional steps to try to save lives if there is no progress in the near future. Clearly the best outcome for the Syrian people would be a diplomatic breakthrough, bringing an end to the bloodshed and establishing a new Syrian Government able to restore stability. However, we must keep open options to help save lives in Syria and to assist opposition groups who are opposed to extremism if the violence continues. We should send a strong signal to Assad that all options are on the table. We will therefore seek to amend the EU sanctions so that the possibility of additional assistance is not closed off.

No one can be sure how the situation in Syria will develop in the coming months. There is no guarantee that Mr Brahimi’s efforts to mediate a political agreement will be successful. President Assad’s speech last week

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urged the Syrian people to unite in a war against his opponents. Given the regime’s intransigence and brutality there is a serious risk that the violence will worsen in the coming months. If that happens the international community’s response will have to be stepped up. We will not rule out any options to save lives and protect civilians in the absence of a political transition in Syria. We will ensure that our efforts are legal, that they are aimed at saving lives, and that they support at all times the objective of a political transition and encouraging moderate political forces in Syria, and we will keep the House properly informed.

Fourthly, we continue to increase our life-saving humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people. The United Kingdom is the second largest bilateral donor to UN relief efforts, supporting more than 100,000 people across the region with food parcels, blankets and warm clothing. On 21 December my right honourable friend the International Development Secretary announced a further £15 million in humanitarian aid, bringing our total support to £68.5 million so far. Honourable Members will have seen images of Syrian refugees struggling with rain and cold in refugee camps across the region. The latest £15 million of funding will be used to provide food, clean water, blankets and shelter to help Syrians cope with the misery of these winter months. There will be medical supplies to treat the sick and wounded, since so many Syrian medical facilities have been destroyed, and armoured vehicles to enable humanitarian agencies to deliver aid safely inside the country.

The UN has appealed for $1.5 billion for the first six months of 2013. This is the largest ever short-term UN appeal but it remains seriously underfunded. At the donor conference hosted by Kuwait and the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later this month we will again call on other countries to pledge the additional humanitarian aid that is so desperately needed.

I pay tribute to the 26 humanitarian workers who have been killed in Syria since the fighting began and deplore the rise in attacks on medical facilities in Syria, which are contrary to international law and an affront to basic humanity. We urge all parties to stop the violence and allow humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance safely and without interference, in accordance with international law.

Fifthly, we are continuing detailed planning for how we can help a future Syrian Government deal with the many challenges that Syria will face during a political transition. This process must be led by the Syrian people, but they will need help from the international community as they repair roads and hospitals destroyed during the conflict, and restart their ravaged economy. Today we are hosting leading members of the Syrian opposition, and representatives of 14 countries and international organisations, at a Wilton Park conference designed to advance detailed planning of that support, including in the areas of political reform, security, institution-building and the economy.

Sixthly, we are supporting UN efforts to document and deter human rights abuses in Syria. The UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria published its latest report on 20 December. It

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showed that the international human rights violations highlighted in its previous reports were continuing. We will continue to do all we can to support its work. We are providing specific leadership in efforts to confront rape and sexual violence in Syria. We have deployed experts to the region to provide training in how to respond to reports of sexual violence, and how to improve the prospect of future investigation and prosecutions. We will intensify this work as a matter of urgency. We are also urging the Syrian national coalition to commit itself to ensuring justice and accountability for the Syrian people, and are drawing its attention to the right of a future Government of Syria to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court—even though some members of the UN Security Council are blocking that option at present.

This is our approach: intensifying our efforts to forge agreement at the UN Security Council; pursuing a political transition on the ground while ruling out no option to save lives if the situation deteriorates; supporting the opposition and the Syrian people; increasing the pressure on the regime and being prepared to do so in new ways if necessary; working to deter human rights violations and abuses; and planning to help Syria get back on its feet once the conflict comes to an end. The Syrian people are enduring unimaginable suffering. They are at the heart of this crisis, their future is at stake, and our country and the world must not abandon them”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.46 pm

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for repeating a Statement on the situation in Syria given in the other place earlier today by the Foreign Secretary.

It is a matter of profound regret that the biggest single change that we in this House have seen since we last considered Syria is the numbers of casualties. On 2 January 2013, the United Nations estimated that the war’s death toll had now exceeded 60,000, of which about half were thought to be civilians. It predicted that the death toll would increase at a rate of 5,000 a month. Tens of thousands of Syrians have been imprisoned, nearly 30,000 have been reported missing, about 2.5 million are currently thought to be internally displaced, and hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries. UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi recently warned that as many as 100,000 people could die in the next year if a way cannot be found quickly to end the country’s civil war. He described the situation as nothing less than the descent of a country into hell. I join the noble Baroness in expressing solidarity with the millions of courageous Syrians in the face of this appalling brutality.

I turn to the four central points addressed in the Statement. First, on diplomatic efforts to reach a political transition, the continued stalemate at the UN Security Council is beyond regrettable—it is utterly deplorable. The position of the Russians remains central to this impasse. Recent statements by the Russian Foreign Minister have suggested a possible shift of attitude in Moscow. It is now the responsibility of countries such as the UK and its partners to capitalise

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on this. I note the trilateral talks with the Russian and US representatives this week. Will the Minister tell the House when the Foreign Secretary personally last spoke to Foreign Minister Lavrov, and when he will next discuss the issue of Syria with him?

Secondly, I turn to support for the Syrian national coalition. Any diplomatic support that the Government can offer the SNC to encourage it to draw up a credible transitional plan for Syria is indeed to be welcomed. In this spirit, the opposition welcome the conference being held at Wilton Park aimed at doing just that. Will the noble Baroness set out what she believes are the principal barriers to unity that have so far prevented the Syrian opposition from uniting around a transitional plan for government? I note the announcement today of additional funds to support the SNC, but will the Minister provide further details on how this non-lethal support will be spent? We welcomed the Geneva plan agreed last summer, but do the Government agree that, notwithstanding the support of the international community for the SNC, currently neither side within Syria appears committed to helping to implement it? In light of this, are the Government still in fact encouraging the SNC to accept the Geneva plan?

Thirdly, let me turn to the central issue of EU sanctions on Syria. I note, with some concerns, what the Statement mentioned, but I urge the Minister to provide more detail to the House on the following matters. Will the Minister set out, as much as possible, the latest assessments of the role that al-Qaeda and other extremist groups are now playing in Syria? Does the Minister fully recognise the grave difficulties of guaranteeing the end-use of weapons supplied into Syria, given the uncertainty around the present identity, intent and tactics of some of the rebel forces? Does she accept that if Europe were to decide to arm the rebel forces, it is perfectly possible that that Russians would simply increase their own supply of weapons to Assad? I also ask the noble Baroness—not least given the recent warnings of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the other place—what would encourage the Government to believe that intensifying the conflict at this stage will reduce the present appalling level of suffering of the Syrian people?

Fourthly, I turn to the humanitarian consequences of the violence. For some time, aid workers have been warning of the onset of winter and the worsening conditions on the ground. Their worst nightmares have been realised. Only this week, aid workers in the Zaatari camp were attacked by frustrated refugees with sticks and stones after fierce desert winds and torrential rains swept away their tents. Warnings of a major snowstorm later this week will bring even deeper misery to those already desperate. Latest figures from the UN state that $622 million in aid is now needed to help Syrian refugees in countries around the Middle East, while $312 million alone was required to help refugees in Jordan. The latest figures from the UN Refugee Agency show that 597,240 people have registered or are awaiting registration with the agency in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. Given that by the Government’s own admission the UN appeal “remains seriously underfunded”, what steps will the Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister take to help secure those

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addition funds ahead of the vital donor conference in Kuwait later this month? Will the Minister set out for your Lordships’ House how much of this additional money she expects will be committed and how much of it has been delivered?

To conclude, the principal responsibility for the appalling suffering being endured by the Syrian people rests with the Assad regime. Assad’s latest speech last week once again demonstrated a callous disregard for human life by showing no real intention of helping to bring the conflict to an end or take responsibility for its beginning. However, the burden of responsibility on the international community is also a heavy one. In the view of the Opposition, rather than now directing their efforts towards intensifying the conflict, the British Government must remain focused on building international agreement around an inclusive post-Assad Syria, in which all communities of Syria have a stake.

3.52 pm

Baroness Warsi: I thank the noble Baroness for her response to the Statement. As always, I thank the Benches opposite for their strong support in this matter. There is clear unity across the Dispatch Box on what is clearly a continuing and worsening crisis. The noble Baroness raises some specific points. Unfortunately I cannot give her the specific date when the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Russian Foreign Minister, but I do know that both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have been in constant contact with their Russian counterparts. My own discussions took place towards the end of last year, when I spoke to the Russian ambassador. I can assure the noble Baroness and the House that we use all opportunities, both private and public. Indeed, at the United Nations General Assembly the Prime Minister commented very clearly about our belief that Russia needs to play a more constructive role in achieving progress.

In relation to the opposition and the meeting today at Wilton Park, one of its main purposes is to build further consensus and an action plan relating to political, economic and institutional reforms. It is, of course, planning for a future where it will have a say; where the views of the Syrian people will be expressed through a legitimately elected Government. The further funding and support for the opposition is to ensure that they can continue in that.

A specific addition is the UK humanitarian adviser who has been seconded into the assistance co-ordination unit, which is based in Turkey and is run by the national coalition. It effectively co-ordinates aid going both into Syria and into the refugee camps outside Syria.

The noble Baroness asked for some detail in relation to AQ and other extremist groups, an issue which concerns us. The number of fighters currently in the opposition runs into six figures. It is not, of course, an organised army—people come and people leave—and at this stage it is anticipated that the numbers who belong to an extremist ideology or are fighting on the basis of religious fundamentalism are limited. However, we are keeping a close eye on the matter.

As to the noble Baroness’s question about weapons, at this stage there is no change in the UK’s policy on

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their supply. We are mindful of our obligations under the EU embargo and sanctions—which we, of course, led—and of our obligations both internationally and domestically. We feel that an escalation of the supply of arms into the region would not help but, of course, we must remain flexible as to what is required to save lives in the future.

The noble Baroness also raised the issue of aid efforts to increase funds. The Foreign Secretary has been in discussions with Nabil al-Arabi. He is building on those discussions, as he is with his opposite numbers, in the lead-up to the conference. I cannot give precise details of the amount of funds that have been collected or pledged but we are urging all nations to play their part.

3.57 pm

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, the Government’s actions are welcome in so far as they go. They will have an effect but, I fear, it will be far less than we might wish. Does my noble friend accept that one of the reasons for that is because many people, especially in the Arab world and the Middle East, do not see this as a conflict within Syria between an oppressed citizenry and an oppressive dictatorship but rather as the front line in a widening war between the Sunnis and the Shia? Does she agree that such an event would be extremely damaging for the Middle East and have grave consequences for stability world wide? Does she understand and know that many rich Saudi businessmen—just as they did in Afghanistan—are now actively funding Salafi and Wahabi tendencies in Syria and throughout the Middle East? They are supported in large measure, with great unwisdom, by the Qatari Government, who are playing with fire. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to advise both the Saudi and Qatari Governments of the hazardous policies that they are following and the very dangerous consequences that they could have?

Baroness Warsi: My noble friend speaks with great experience in relation to these matters. I can assure him that we are extremely mindful of the consequences of where this may go. It is for that reason that this crisis—which has now been on-going for 22 months—has left us in a situation where we feel consistently frustrated by the fact that we need to do more to save lives. However, we are not at this stage managing to achieve a consensus within the international community on the direction in which we need to travel to achieve that. We are acutely mindful of the role that other countries from the region could play in Syria.

The noble Lord will be aware of the work that we have been doing bilaterally with Saudi Arabia and other countries to tackle extremist ideologies. I am familiar with the work that has been done in relation to extremist ideologies and deradicalisation programmes; for example, within Saudi Arabia. We always build upon those discussions, not just for people who are radicalised within Saudi Arabia but those who may use that as a basis for fighting in other countries.

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Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating this Statement, which raises a large number of very serious issues. I will limit myself to three brief questions.

First, I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s assurance that we are activiely supporting the efforts of Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi. However, will the Minister accept that our recognition of the Syrian national coalition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people not only amounts to a virtual declaration of war against President Assad’s Government but seriously undermines the already difficult mission which Lakhdar Brahimi is trying to carry out at the request of the United Nations and the Arab League?

Secondly, I am glad to learn that we are the second largest bilateral donor to United Nations relief efforts in Syria. However, does the Minister accept that giving massive assistance—the Statement mentions over £7 million—to a Syrian opposition, of which one of the most effective and murderous elements is the terrorist organisation, al-Nusra, contradicts our alleged efforts to get all parties to stop the violence?

Thirdly, I note that we have given training to more than 300 Syrian journalists. Does the Minister accept that a more balanced and objective assessment of the current civil war in Syria is needed, both of the extent to which President Assad still has the support of a significant part of the Syrian population, and of the extent to which terrorist activities by al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, and other extremist movements have contributed to the distressingly high casualty figures? We may, as the Statement says, have a moral obligation to save lives in Syria, but direct intervention in a Sunni-Shia war, and even the threat of providing military assistance in the future, can only precipitate a further deterioration of this tragic conflict.

Baroness Warsi: The noble Lord raises a number of important issues. I understand his concerns in relation to what could be perceived by our recognition of the Syrian national coalition as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people, or the consequences that could flow from that. However, when a regime has inflicted such brutality upon its own people, it is right that we engage with a coalition of those in opposition. I can assure him that al-Nusra is not part of that coalition, and that it is therefore not in receipt of any funding that is being given to the recognised opposition coalition.

With regard to the balance of reporting that is coming out of Syria, it is right that we fund human rights defenders and journalists to take records and keep material for potential future prosecutions. The noble Lord will be aware, as will other noble Lords, that we must not allow a culture of impunity to exist at the end of such crises, and that there must, therefore, be accountability for the actions that took place during that crisis. The noble Lord will also be aware that for access and security reasons, it is very difficult for independent observers to be on the ground in Syria. It is therefore right and appropriate that we fund and support those who are there on the ground to take records.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, the Minister painted a very bleak picture of this appalling civil war, in which there will be no winners and only losers—those

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being the people of Syria themselves. She described the frustration at the United Nations Security Council, and an underfunded aid effort. Will she answer three questions?

First, the Minister spoke of working with the Syrian opposition and the countries of the region. Presumably those countries include Iran and Russia. Certainly, President Assad’s speech was very intransigent, but is there any evidence of any softening of the position of Russia, and to what extent do we believe that Iran should be brought into the discussions?

Secondly, we know of the Russian naval presence in that area. How do we interpret that—simple sabre-rattling, or worse? Thirdly, quite properly, the Minister spoke of seeking to ensure that the perpetrators of these appalling crimes are brought to justice. What efforts are we making to ensure that those who are guilty of such violations of human rights are aware that we are monitoring their actions and indeed that we intend that ultimately they will face justice? What are the means of communication to such people directly?

Baroness Warsi: With regard to working with the opposition and other important allies in the region, we have of course been working closely with Turkey, which unfortunately has had to bear the brunt of taking on the majority of refugees who have come out of Syria. Other partners in the region are playing a constructive role.

With regard to Russia, I think that I made clear when I repeated the Statement that we are using all opportunities to impress upon the Russians, using discussions with our opposite numbers and counterparts in all fora, that there has to be some progress in this matter. Is there a softening of their position? Are we facing a brick wall? At this stage I could describe what we are seeing as a potential crack in the brick wall, but we must continue to ensure that we keep pushing.

With regards to perpetrators of crimes, there is always the possibility—provided that the United Nations Security Council can pass a resolution, which of course would have to be supported by China and Russia—that those crimes could be referred to the International Criminal Court. There is also the alternative option that, at the end of this crisis, these matters could be tried within Syria by a democratically elected Government.

Lord Alderdice: My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that the aid given to our allies like Turkey—particularly Jordan, which has almost 250,000 refugees, and Lebanon—is not merely a humanitarian issue? Let us recall the destabilisation of Jordan in 1970 by the Black September movement. There is a real danger of countries—not so much Turkey but certainly Lebanon and Jordan—being destabilised by the number of refugees coming in. Do Her Majesty’s Government understand that this is not just a humanitarian question but one of stabilisation?

In discussions with the opposition, are we trying to ensure that we get an undertaking from them that, should they find themselves in a position of governance at a later stage, they will hand over all stockpiles of chemical weapons and nuclear materiel to an appropriate international organisation? Can we get that agreement

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at this point, rather than waiting until we are bemoaning their being abused, should these folk find themselves in government at a later stage?

Baroness Warsi: I agree with my noble friend’s first point; of course our support in the region has both a humanitarian element and a stabilisation element. Countries can find themselves with a large number of refugees and that can lead to internal challenges for those nations. We are therefore supporting countries in the region in dealing with those issues.

My noble friend makes an important point with regard to chemical and biological weapons. We have had these discussions with the opposition coalition. We have asked them to appoint an individual who will be specifically responsible for co-ordinating the discussion of these matters with a view to ensuring, if at all possible during the crisis, that these weapons are safeguarded, and we have urged them, at the end of this, to sign up to the chemical weapons convention and the biological and toxic weapons convention. The opposition coalition is in agreement with us on that.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth: My Lords, I am glad to hear from the Statement that the coalition is enlarging its membership to include Christian, Kurdish and other minority communities. With regard to those Christian minorities, as the Minister knows, Christians are particularly vulnerable at the moment because they have been relatively protected under the Assad regime, they are disproportionately represented among refugees and people who are internally displaced and of course they are particularly at risk with the wholesale outbreak of sectarian violence. What are the Government thinking with regard to the particular protection of those minorities?

The second question concerns the Kurds. As we know, since the First World War the Kurdish people have been seeking their own country, which they feel they have been denied. There are reports that they will look for an opportunity to bring this into being now. In what way are the Government bearing this possibility in mind?

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, as I said in the Statement, the inclusion of minorities in the national coalition has formed a large part of our discussions. The president of the national coalition is Sheikh al-Khatib; below him are four vice-presidents, one of whom is from the Christian community. A further two have been appointed from the Muslim community and a fourth position has been reserved for the Kurdish minority. However, that appointment has not yet been made because there are discussions within the Kurdish minority as to who would be the most appropriate person. The rights of all minorities, including the Christians and Kurds, have formed part of the discussions in relation both to the way in which the national coalition has been set up and to how those reforms are to be taken forward.

On the wider question about the Kurds, I hope that, in the discussions that we are having with the national coalition, those are matters that we can move towards resolving, certainly as far as Syria is concerned.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I welcome this detailed Statement. In the light of yesterday’s discussion in this

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House on rape being used as a weapon of war and the Minister’s reference to a specialist team being sent to monitor violence against women, what assessment have her Government made of the number of women who may have reported rape and who the perpetrators may be? With regards to the discussions both here and in Turkey, what proportion of women are taking part in these so that a post-conflict Syria is truly representative and equal?

Baroness Warsi: The noble Baroness asks a very important question. She will be familiar with the initiative to prevent sexual violence, to which the Foreign Secretary has given a huge amount of time and energy. Too often, as in the case of Syria and, as we saw, across the Arab world during the Arab uprising, sexual violence is used as a tool of war—sadly not just against women but against men as well. I do not have specific numbers for reports of sexual violence during the Syria conflict. If the office has those numbers, I will write to the noble Baroness and send her those details.

She also asks an important question about the participation of women. Again, the answer is not immediately obvious from the brief that I have here but I will make those inquiries for my own information as well as to ensure that I can send the noble Baroness a detailed response.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, there is widespread concern at what might appear to be unconditional support for the so-called opposition forces, not least because of the treatment of minorities that has been referred to already. Did the Minister see the report in the Sunday Timesrecently about how a group of Jihadists beheaded a Syrian Christian and literally fed him to the dogs? Did she also see reports concerning links with family members of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda? Therefore, as my noble friend Lord Wright and the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said earlier, should we not be prudent and cautious before feeding a situation where we could simply make bad matters worse? Would the Minister not agree that, in the list of priorities that she mentioned earlier, the treatment of minorities and the upholding of their human rights should be an unconditional issue as far as our support for any opposition group is concerned?

May I also ask her to revisit a reply that her noble friend Lady Northover gave me on 18 December when I asked about support for Hand in Hand for Syria, a British medical charity? She replied that there were no current plans to fund its work. In view of the massive humanitarian needs in Syria at present, will she undertake to look again at that reply?

Baroness Warsi: I will look again that reply and I will certainly make inquiries of the Department for International Development. I know that we are currently using international NGOs for the specific work within Syria but if this is an option that could be looked at, and one that DfID feels is appropriate, I will certainly feed that information back to the noble Lord.

I can assure the noble Lord that our support for the opposition is not unconditional. It is very clearly conditional upon the fact that we require reform, we

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require a plan and we require them to sign up to basic requirements such as the need for equality and non-discrimination towards minorities. We must also be careful since when we make this argument, which has been made before on a number of occasions, it surely cannot be right that we sit here in Britain and feel that the only way that the rights of minorities, including Christians, across the Arab world can be protected is if they are being ruled by a dictator. There surely has to be another way in which Christians and other minorities are protected as part of a democratically elected Government under which all communities feel part of that nation.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale: Given the horrors endured by the people of Syria and the impotence of the international community in 2011 and 2012, does this not reinforce the need for reform of the UN Security Council? In their discussions with the newly re-elected President of the United States of America, now starting his second term in office and therefore not facing re-election in four years’ time, do the Government plan to make taking forward reform of the UN Security Council a priority?

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I also have the privilege of being the Minister responsible for the United Nations. Indeed, on Sunday I will be travelling to the United Nations for a full day of talks focusing specifically on the reform of the UN.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, many noble Lords have raised the question of recognition. When Her Majesty’s Government recognised the national coalition some weeks ago, was that on a de jure or de facto basis? Presumably it was the latter because there has been no ambassadorial representation—nor is there any intention of it, as I understand it. Indeed, can the Minister confirm that, if any de jure recognition is contemplated, many considerable and complicated problems of public international law arise from the nature and composition of the opposition that we are talking about.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, it is at moments like this that I realise why the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was such an institution—I will continue to strive to fill his large shoes. This is the kind of question he would be able to answer immediately. What I can say is that, interestingly, some of the questions around the recognition of the national coalition and the implications of that for us—of course we continue to have a diplomatic relationship with the state of Syria—were questions that I asked in my briefing about an hour ago. When I get those answers, I will write to the noble Lord and give them to him.

Bee Population

Motion to Take Note

4.17 pm

Moved By Lord Moynihan

That this House takes note of the decline in honey bees in 2012 and of measures to combat the prevalence of disease in bee colonies.

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Lord Moynihan: My Lords, in preparing for this debate, I would like to place on record my thanks to Phil McAnespie, president of the Scottish Beekeepers Association; Dr Stephen Palmer, a master beekeeper with over 30 years’ experience; Professor Ratnieks from the University of Sussex; Professor Poppy and Dr Newman from the University of Southampton; the British Beekeepers Association; Dr Peter Neumann from the Swiss Bee Research Centre; David Wootton, whose Bee Keeping: ANovices Guide is invaluable to the beginner and expert alike; and Richard Carlile, Bob Bridle and Robert Stovell, who assist me with the hives we manage for the love of beekeeping and no commercial gain at our home in East Sussex.

First, I have some positive news. Since I had the good fortune of securing a debate on this subject in 2009, in which my noble friend Lord Patten made a memorable and impressive speech, beekeeping has undergone a dramatic increase in popularity. The number of beekeepers has doubled in the past 10 years, with impressive developments in urban areas. There has been a corresponding growth in awareness and public concern regarding honey bees. However, I have tabled this Motion for debate because there is real and serious cause for concern about the plight of bees in recent years, as well as wider concerns about pollinators and pollution.

Before focusing on the situation in the United Kingdom, it is timely to remind ourselves of what is happening elsewhere in the world, summarised best in the findings of the United Nations Environment Programme Report, published as we headed into 2012, and well covered by Michael McCarthy, the environment editor of the Independent. That report demonstrated the decline in managed bee colonies, seen increasingly in Europe and the US in the past decade and now also being observed in China and Japan, with the first signs of African collapses.

The authors, who include some of the world’s leading honey bee experts, issued a stark warning about the disappearance of bees, which are increasingly important as crop pollinators around the globe. Without profound changes to the way human beings manage the planet, declines in pollinators needed to feed a growing global population are likely to continue. The scientists warn that a number of factors may now be coming together to damage bee colonies around the world, ranging from declines in flowering plants and the use of damaging insecticides to the worldwide spread of pests and air pollution. They call for farmers and landowners to be offered incentives to restore pollinator-friendly habitats, including key flowering plants near crop-producing fields, and stress that more care needs to be taken in the choice, timing and application of insecticides and other chemicals. Although managed hives can be moved out of harm’s way, wild populations of pollinators are completely vulnerable, the report states.

The way that humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century. The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of the world’s food, more than 70 are pollinated by bees. Some human beings fabricate the illusion that, in the 21st century, they have the technological prowess to be

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independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services in a world of 7 billion people.

Declines in bee colonies date back to the mid-1960s in Europe, but have accelerated since 1998. In North America, losses of colonies since 2004 have left the continent with fewer managed pollinators than at any time in the past 50 years. Chinese beekeepers have recently faced several inexplicable and complex symptoms of colony losses in both species. It has been reported elsewhere that some Chinese farmers have had to resort to pollinating fruit trees by hand because of the lack of insects.

The report lists a number of factors which may be coming together to cause the decline. They include: habitat degradation, including the loss of flowering plant species that provide food for bees; some insecticides, including the so-called systematic insecticides, which can migrate to the entire plant as it grows and can be taken in by bees in nectar and pollen; parasites and pests, such as the well-known varroa mite; and air pollution, which may be interfering with the ability of bees to find flowering plants, and thus food. Scents that could travel more than 800 metres in the 1800s now reach less than 200 metres from a plant.

“The transformation of the countryside and rural areas in the past half-century or so has triggered a decline in wild living bees and other pollinators”,

said one of the lead authors, Dr Peter Neumann of the Swiss Bee Research Centre. He continued:

“Society is increasingly investing in ‘industrial-scale’ hives and managed colonies to make up the shortfall and going so far as to truck bees around to farms and fields in order to maintain our food supplies. A variety of factors are making these man-made colonies vulnerable to decline and collapse. We need to get smarter about how we manage these hives, but perhaps more importantly, we need to better manage the landscape beyond, in order to recover wild bee populations”.

Moving from the international scene to the United Kingdom, the awful weather of 2012 has compounded the problems. The honey crop of 2012 was dramatically reduced, and there are concerns about how bees are currently over-wintering because of poor queen-mating during last season, leaving some hives queenless or with the real risk of becoming drone laying queens. The incidence of beekeepers resorting to regular feeding is known to have increased to record levels. As the BBKA honey survey found, the productivity of the average hive has dropped by 70% to eight pounds of honey compared to the more typical average of 30 pounds in the past. Losses have also occurred through starvation.

Of course, one bad year can ultimately be reversed, but the trend is disturbing, with a reduction in the British honey bee number of 75% in the past 100 years. Honey bees are in serious decline and that should be a matter of concern to all of us. For with their decline come wider issues around the importance of pollination for food production. It is incumbent on government, working with the beekeepers, to reverse this trend and to maintain high levels of pollination.

Diseases are important, but in my opinion the biggest challenge facing honey bees and much of British wildlife is agricultural intensification. Agricultural land makes up 75% of the United Kingdom. Despite the growth of beekeeping in urban areas and a welcome

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variety of flora in back gardens, it is on and around agricultural land where bees mostly forage and live. Even if we could cure all bee diseases, bees still have to eat. Of course, food production, at a time of rising demand, meteorological unpredictability and change, is vital, but in the coming decades we have to look for win-win situations in which we can make farming more wildlife-friendly, yet still satisfy growing consumption. One way we can do this for bees is to have more flowers in grazing land.

The use of pesticides has long been recognised as a serious problem. The neonicotinoid group of chemicals is widely used and may be having a serious and deleterious effect on honey bees, as was highlighted in the report provided for your Lordships before this debate. There will be those contributing to this debate who have far more expertise on this subject than I, but I would proffer one observation. My reading of the situation is that the use of insecticides in the UK is probably not the principal cause of the decline in honey bees or bumblebees. The increasing loss of biodiversity also affects the state and health of the insect population. Despite the greater awareness among the farming population, farming practices remain which are highly damaging to the welfare of honey bees. Widespread monoculture is a vector for disease and decline.

The diseases and pests of bees are also on the increase and the use of medicaments may be becoming less effective as the result of resistance. In addition, the British beekeepers have much to learn from a new generation of pests and parasites, previously unknown to these shores, which are making their way here. In the past few decades some additional pests and diseases of honey bees have been transferred from an Asian honey bee species, Apis cerana, which is very similar to the western honey bee, Apis mellifera. The best known of these is the varroa mite, but, even with varroa, existing diseases are not fully understood, and problems such as CCD—colony collapse disorder—are as yet not fully explained or resolved.

The solution to these challenges comes through research and education, and that is my key point today. In this context, the report of the Public Accounts Committee, published soon after our debate in 2009, is telling. It states:

“Despite their importance to the agricultural economy the Department has given little priority to bee health”.

In 2007-08, research expenditure in this field was just £200,000. In 2009, the department announced that this sum was to be supplemented by an extra £2.5 million over the following five years. However, this additional work to support the department's new bee health strategy will be diluted by including research into other pollinator insects as well as honey bees.

Regular inspections of colonies are also very important and enable the department to monitor the health of colonies and the incidence of disease and parasites. Nearly 80% of cases of notifiable disease in England are identified through such inspections, but the effectiveness of these inspections is hampered because around half of the estimated 37,000 active beekeepers in England have not joined the department's voluntary register, BeeBase. In marked contrast to registered beekeepers, very few reports of notifiable disease are made by previously unregistered beekeepers.

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I ask my noble friend the Minister to provide an update on the current position and to confirm that the Government attach priority to ensuring that UK research councils and government-funded initiatives continue to support research into the health and welfare of both honey bees and other classes of pollinators. For example Professor Ratnieks, who has been undertaking considerable research on the Sussex Plan for Honey Bee Heath and Well-Being at the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex, and who inspired me to keep bees as a hobby, is looking at ways to control or reduce honey bee diseases. In particular, he is working on hygienic honey-bees.

The word “hygiene” in this context requires a brief explanation. Hygiene is a natural disease resistance mechanism in which the bees themselves remove dead or sick brood, thereby reducing the incidence of brood diseases in a colony, including varroa. Hygiene occurs in British bees but is rare, so we have to look for hygienic colonies and breed from them. Hygiene is inherited and, as at least 92 noble Lords therefore understand, it is in the genes. Bees do not learn to do it; they do it instinctively if they have the genes. Only 10% or less of British bees are hygienic, so with focused research there is substantial potential to increase their contribution to healthy hives.

I hope the Government will look favourably on supporting research of this type, for such research is not a cost on the Exchequer. It is an investment in the future—an investment which will see returns well in excess of the sums under consideration. Healthy pollinators are the building blocks for high-quality food production. The seasonal bee inspectors do a great job and this is not the time to cut back their numbers or their workload.

As Tim Lovett of the British Beekeepers Association wrote in preparation for this debate, in general the BBKA and its member associations are cautiously optimistic about the future of the honey bee here in the UK. It believes there remains much practical applied research to be done to give beekeepers better tools to improve their bee husbandry skills and funds should be provided to fill these data gaps. It is hoped that the planned Defra public consultation on honeybee disease legislation and control will emphasise the need for effective measures to help the beekeeper to manage the health of their colonies and provide the necessary resources. Education and training are high priorities in the work of the BBKA and its member associations and it is hoped that the current modest contribution of funding from the public purse will improve the skill of bee-keepers and will continue.

However, poorly maintained hives can compound the problems we are considering today and well informed beekeepers are critical to the future welfare of honey bees. Relatively inexperienced beekeepers may also be a factor as diseased colonies, if not dealt with effectively, may act as reservoirs of infection. Current evidence is that, rather than there being a single smoking gun underlying bee declines, the cause is multifactorial. Factors include availability and a lack of diversity of forage crops. There is evidence that the immune systems of honey bees are impaired if they do not forage on a sufficiently broad range of flowers. This in turn may

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contribute to the prevalence and impact of particular pests and pathogens, such as the varroa mite and deformed wing virus.

While no single factor is, in my view, the cause of decline or poorer honey bee health, steps to control and understand the impact of the individual factors will contribute to improved hive and colony health. I urge my noble friend the Minister and the Government to redouble their efforts to support research in this sector and reverse the trends which are decimating populations of honey bees in this country and abroad.

4.33 pm

Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, the House is extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for such a well informed and expert speech. A honey bee beekeeper is prized indeed in this kind of debate. My interest in bees goes back to the long, hot summer of 1976, when the Liberal candidate for Winchester told me that his bees had collected four times more nectar than usual in May, as if they knew what was coming. Honey from the wild flowers of the Hampshire chalk downland is second to none, and I hoped there would be a limitless supply. However, we now know that things are very different today in the bee world, with fewer flower-rich meadows, unpredictable weather, the stranglehold of the varroa mite, and the possible weakening effects of even small amounts of the widely used systemic insecticides known as neonicotinoids.

As we have just heard, the importance of bees is not just because of the honey they produce, but because of their vital role as pollinators. They are the most efficient pollinators in the insect kingdom and the crisis in the bee world, if it is not halted, could have devastating effects on crops worldwide. In this country, it is estimated that 39 commercial crops rely on insect pollination, although there are wildly different estimates of how much this is worth. The figure seems to vary between £400 million and £500 million per annum. Perhaps the Minister could give us the latest estimate.

Although pests and diseases, as we have heard, are still thought to be the main threat to honey bees, it is significant that the UK has lost a staggering 97% of its wildflower meadows since the 1930s. The evidence is mounting about the possible harmful effects of systemic insecticides. The many research findings now in existence simply cannot be ignored, particularly those that are field-realistic rather than just laboratory findings.

Last month I tabled a Written Question asking the Government what assessment they had made of the impact of these insecticides on bee colonies, at the request of another beekeeper I know in Hampshire. Reading between the lines of the Answer from my noble friend, I got the impression that although Defra is very cautious in its approach, it nevertheless is taking seriously some new studies published last year which suggest that even low doses of neonicotinoids could have sub-lethal effects on bees: that is to say, they do not kill the bee, but alter its physiology or behaviour. In particular, research from the University of Stirling concluded that there was a clear need to re-evaluate the safety of these chemicals. Professor Dave Goulson, who supervised the work, said:

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“Our work suggests that trace exposure of our wild bees to insecticides is having a major impact on their populations. Only queen bumblebees survive the winter to build new nests in the spring, so reducing the number produced by 85% means far fewer nests the following year. Repeated year on year, the long-term cumulative effects are likely to be profound”.

As we know, this is not just a British phenomenon. Last month, the European Environment Agency and MEPs issued a policy document, in which the first of the key findings was:

“Although bee declines can be attributed to multifarious causes, the use of neonicotinoids is increasingly held responsible for recent honeybee losses”.

The European Food Safety Authority, on behalf of the European Commission, is carrying out a review on bee health and insecticides which should provide new insights into the issue and may recommend a reassessment of EU regulatory guidelines. Some countries, most notably France and Italy, have taken action to mitigate the use of some of these insecticides, but I do not think any country has yet banned them altogether. However, some research carried out in France is, perhaps, significant. This is research by a team led by Professor Mickael Henry at INRA Research Centre in Avignon which analysed the effect on honey bees of a new generation of systemic insecticides called—I hope I have the pronunciation right—thiamethoxam. They fitted tiny electronic tags to over 650 bees and monitored their activity around the hive. Those exposed to commonly encountered levels of this insecticide suffered high mortality, with up to one-third of the bees failing to return. Professor Henry said:

“They disappeared in much higher numbers than expected...Under the effects we saw from the pesticides, the population size would decline disastrously and make them even more sensitive to parasites or lack of food”.

Therefore, what are we to make of the conflicting evidence of the chief causes of the decline in bee health? Is it the widespread use of these systemic insecticides, or is the picture more complicated than that? On the one hand, many beekeepers and concerned members of the public find some independent studies on the sub-lethal effects of these insecticides on bees very worrying. On the other hand, many farmers quite understandably say that if there were to be a ban on, for example, the planting of oilseed-rape-treated seeds, far less oilseed rape would be planted, which could mean that many bees would starve. Of course, fields planted with ordinary oilseed rape seeds would then have to be sprayed. What are we to make of the evidence from Australia where, apparently, these systemic insecticides are widely used but where there is no varroa mite to weaken the bees’ immune system? Australian bees are thought to be the healthiest on the planet.

We have to look for help to independent scientists whose job it is to carry out trials and publish the results in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The scientists at the Rothamsted Research station in Hertfordshire are old hands in this field. Yes, a small proportion of its work is funded by agrichemical companies—it is quite open about that—but most of it is publicly funded. It has always been committed to sustainable agriculture by improving and developing novel methods of pest and disease control while ensuring minimal harm to wildlife, including pollinators. It says that the

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management of pesticide use is not as simple as “use it” or “don’t use it”. If the concentrations used and the methods of application were strictly adhered to, the risk to insect pollinators would be minimal, which has to be balanced against the risk of not protecting farmers’ crops. It also acknowledges some of the evidence linking neonicotinoid use with sub-lethal effects on pollinators.

Therefore, the scientists, the public and beekeepers, including, I think, the British Beekeepers’ Association, want this research to be done as speedily and effectively as possible, otherwise the calls for neonicotinoids to be banned altogether will grow louder and louder. Perhaps my noble friend could help me with whether any of these pesticides are licensed for use domestically or by local authorities for use perhaps on roadside verges.

Turning to the role of Defra, I hope that it will continue to work closely with the farming community to encourage more bee-friendly measures, such as the planting of flower-rich field margins and wildflower meadows, particularly through agri-environment schemes. I believe that the funding of those schemes is due to end in a few months’ time. Will the Minister tell us what will happen then?

Perhaps the Government will also consider encouraging all those who have gardens, however small, to plant nectar-rich flowers, shrubs and even trees, to help bees obtain the nectar that they need for survival. This is especially true in big cities such as London, which is home to many beekeepers and whose bees need as much help as they can get from ordinary garden owners. We hear that bees in urban settings are often flourishing better than their rural neighbours, possibly because they are not so exposed to pesticides. However, before the expansion of beekeeping in big cities, we have to make sure that there are enough nectar-rich sources. I applaud the mayor of Runnymede who I have just heard is encouraging primary schools in the area to plant nectar-rich flowers.

Defra is to be congratulated on spending more money on research into insect pollinators in recent years, but I hope that it will continue to act vigorously in trying to get to the bottom of the very alarming decline in the health of honey bees, and will be fearless in pursuing the goal of a healthy and sustainable bee population.

4.44 pm

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Moynihan on returning to this important subject today and reminding us of the disease affecting our native honey bees, which is even more acute than it was when he had his debate in 2009. He spoke about the importance of biodiversity, which I totally support, and the seriousness of the honey bees’ decline. At the time of that debate, the Government pledged some £10 million to research projects. I hope that the Minister, in winding up, will be able to tell us more about the outcome of that and what the work has produced.

I pay tribute to the British Beekeepers Association, bee farmers and others who promote good beekeeping practice and are willing to share their knowledge. As we have heard, finance is limited and, therefore, the

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amount and quality of the help available for those starting up in beekeeping is rather patchy. It is better in some areas than others.

We do not keep bees at home but our lime trees attract wild bees, although there were noticeably fewer of them around this year. I know that they do not fare very well in cold, wet conditions and we all know what has happened this year. The Met Office has provided statistics to remind us of the preponderance of abnormal rainfall over the past decade. We also have flowers and a vegetable patch and we grow fruit at home. We have a few beehives on the farm in Suffolk, which we believe makes good sense. I think that it was estimated in 2009 that the bee contribution to commercial crops was worth between £150 million and £300 million. The last figure I had for this year was £500 million but, again, the Minister can clarify that for me. We grow oil seed rape and cereals on the farm. Indeed, I can tell the noble Baroness that we are members of the entry level scheme and that we try to have areas that allow for biodiversity. I think that more farmers are increasingly aware not just of their responsibilities in producing biodiversity areas but of its importance, particularly for bees.

In January, Natural England announced changes to the regulations affecting the importation of bumblebees for commercial pollination which are designed to safeguard the health of the native bee. Non-native bees are important and are used for pollination in commercial horticulture in England. I believe that some 10,000 colonies were imported last year. One of the questions raised is whether it is possible that long-distance transportation also affects their health. I do know the answer to that at all. The new licensing regime requires all growers wishing to use non-native bumblebees to register their premises with Natural England. I am not in favour of lots of regulation but I am sure that this is a very essential step. The rules include a requirement to follow improved disease-screening protocols, to restrict the use of these bees to polytunnels or greenhouses, taking all reasonable steps to prevent them escaping, and, finally, to destroy them to prevent them establishing in the wild.

We have heard that disease can wipe out colonies very quickly. The Food and Environment Research Agency has a bee unit, which is responsible for the enforcement of statutory disease and pest controls. It also runs programmes giving training and advice to beekeepers. I welcome the voluntary surveillance studies initiated by the European Commission and currently undertaken by 17 member states. The first results are due in the spring and we await their analysis with interest later this year.

For many years, it has been suggested that treatments applied to plants and the land to improve the quality and quantity of agricultural produce were the cause of deaths among birds, small animals and wildlife. We now know that many things that are recommended for the lessening or eradication of one problem may well worsen another. It is therefore surely right that the research continues. In September last year, a Defra report stated that the use of pesticides was not unequivocally linked to bee deaths. Continuous review of research is essential if we are to reduce this infection

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in the bee population. Looking at Parliamentary Written Answers over recent weeks tends to make one feel that climate change is not the sole or even the main cause of bee deaths. If it were, there would be a chance that nature might adapt and find a new balance.

On 29 November, the Minister referred to the publication on 18 September 2012 of a study on honey bees and bumblebees and a subsequent study on bumblebees that was discussed on 13 November by the Advisory Committee on Pesticides. He did not have any resulting recommendations. Is he able to update us on that? In December last year, the Minister stated that the Government are,

“currently considering a range of evidence on the state of bees and other pollinators in order to determine what action is required”.—[

Official Report

, 3/12/12; col.




I understand that this will be completed early in 2013. If the underlying research is successful, we should then know whether the actual levels are abnormal. I also understand that the Government have commissioned work into the exposure of wild bumblebees to sub-lethal insecticide doses, to which my noble friend referred earlier.

On 11 December last year, the Minister wrote about the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, which was published in 2012. It concluded that wild bee diversity had declined in most landscapes, as had many insect species with specialised feeding or habitat requirements. The Minister drew attention to a recently begun review by Natural England on the status of invertebrates in England. What is the timetable for that? Has the Minister any news on it?

I also wonder whether we are looking in all the right places. Over the past decade there has been an increase in the number, nature and variety of diseases affecting plants and trees. Has there been any research into the effect of such disease on the insects that visit them? Is there any evidence that insects can recognise when a plant or tree is affected and, if so, do they avoid it? Is there any possibility that diseased plants or trees are more attractive to insects? We continue to import huge numbers of trees and plants into this country. One has to pose the question whether that is bringing in disease as well.

I read with interest the POSTnote of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on insect pollination, which stated that there have been large-scale honey bee losses over the past 200 years, and that those had occurred some 30 times in 200 years. It would be interesting to know how many have occurred in, say, the past 50 years because, if a lot of them occurred prior to that, the use of herbicides might be questioned and the changes in the way that farming has been carried out in recent years might also be taken into account. I had not got my mind round that interesting issue and was very grateful for that document.

As other noble Lords have said, honey bees are hugely important to us as individuals but this issue is a global phenomenon. If we in this country could be part of research and development that managed to resolve this problem, we would do the world a great service.

The NFU briefing reminds us that our investigations need to be based on science rather than accepting the claims of people who say that this problem is all due to pesticides. I know that the Government are very focused

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in their approach to the whole question of the bumblebee and bumblebee research. I congratulate my noble friend on his past three years of work and on his work as a beekeeper. As I say, my family do not keep bees but we know how valuable they are on our farm.

4.54 pm

Lord Rea: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, very much for giving us the opportunity to debate this important issue again, and for the very clear way in which he presented the wide extent of the problem. He emphasised the importance of honey bees as pollinators, as will all speakers, but, of course, several other wild insect species are also pollinators, and there is evidence that some of these, such as bumblebees and butterflies, are also in decline. The topic has been raised on a number of occasions over the past few years in both Houses, most recently in a series of Questions for Written Answer by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and answered in fact by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, perhaps in a warm-up exchange for this debate.

I am no expert on apiculture but I have chosen to join this debate since I have had personal experience of keeping bees—admittedly in a very amateur and unregistered capacity—for a number of years. I confess that I have never been on a formal training course in bee husbandry and have learnt what I know from talking to other beekeepers and through reading around the subject. But most of all I have learnt from experience through trial and error. Over the years I have lost several colonies which failed to survive the lean winter months. This was due to various identifiable causes, such as raiding of the hive by mice and even by woodpeckers, harvesting honey too late in the season for the bees to collect winter stores, not feeding the colony with enough sugar, and other errors that could be attributed to incompetence or inexperience.

However, I have always managed to keep the hives free from varroa and, as far as I am aware, other infestations, although wax moths have sometimes been a nuisance. In good years I have collected, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, about 30 pounds of honey per hive, which is a good yield that is enough to keep family and friends in honey for a year or so. I keep only one or two hives. In the past three years, though, I have lost two colonies for no explicable reason. There were more than adequate winter stores of honey but the bees did not use them. In one case the colony simply died and in the other the surviving bees in March or April appeared disoriented and unable to forage. The old queen had died but the colony had not replaced her, as would normally be the case, and it soon dwindled in strength and numbers and perished. Perhaps an expert would have spotted this early enough to requeen the colony but it was too late in my case.

This unusual behaviour alerted me further to reports, which I was already aware of, describing how low-dose, sub-lethal amounts of certain pesticides—especially the systemic neonicotinoids—have been shown experimentally to result in damage to bees’ central nervous system, with subsequent aberrant behaviour. For instance, in one study affected bees appeared to become disoriented and a higher proportion than usual, as the noble Baroness said, failed to find their

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way back to the hive from foraging flights, due possibly to memory failure or loss of communication skills. It has also been shown recently in several studies that neonicotinoids can increase the severity of infections—for example, from the common fungal infection of bees, Nosema apis. A study of bumblebees given low doses of a neonicotinoid showed that the number of new queens produced fell markedly compared with control colonies. These findings seemed to me to be quite relevant to the fate of the two lost colonies that I described. The loss of bee colonies may not be due to the direct lethal effect of the high doses of pesticide on bees; rather, it may be due to the reduced resistance to other pathogens and maladaptive behaviour caused by quite small doses.

There is a recent report from the policy department of the European Parliament, published last month. I am not sure whether this is the document circulated by the noble Lord, but I am afraid that I did not receive it anyhow. It is entitled Existing Scientific Evidence of the Effects of Neonicotinoid Pesticides on Beesand it gives a very up-to-date picture of current research. It has 48 references to scientific papers, mostly published between 2009 and 2012. These describe the evidence on which the descriptions of the effects on bees, including bumblebees, of low doses of what I am going to call “NNs” are based. I have described these effects. The case seems to be clear that the use of these chemicals should be reduced and/or further controlled. Those that are shown to be most damaging should be banned. There is enough evidence, I feel.

This is already the case in Italy, where bee health was seen to recover after the use of some NNs was forbidden, and also in certain German Länder, and in France and other countries. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, can fill us in on the whole international picture. In the UK, Defra has until very recently taken a very cautious position on the effect of NNs, as has the British Beekeepers Association. Many of us wonder how much influence the agrochemical and farming industries are having on the Government’s position. The use of pesticides can certainly increase crop yields, so I can understand that evidence of the damage that they also cause to pollinators needs to be robust. However, I hope that the Minister will now recognise that the scientific case for action is becoming stronger all the time.

As other speakers have pointed out, not only are beekeepers losing their livelihood but the health of our horticulture and natural environment are at stake through the loss of pollinators. There are reports that insectivorous bird numbers are diminishing in some areas because of the decreased numbers of insects due to agricultural pesticides. It is not yet Silent Spring in the UK but there is a strong case for tighter regulation of pesticides and increased research to develop new, less harmful ways of obtaining good crop yields. This could be done through plant breeding, for example, and—dare I mention it?—genetic modification, and the development of plant-pest predators so that harmful pesticides can be phased out. However, I am of course aware of the useful nostrum, “For every complex problem there is a simple solution and it is wrong”. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that many factors may be responsible.

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In conclusion, I ask the Minister whether he agrees with one of the recommendations of the report from the European Parliament which I mentioned that, as long as there are uncertainties concerning the effects of neonicotinoids on honey bees, the precautionary principle in accordance with the EC Regulation 1107/2009 should be applied when using neonicotinoids.

5.02 pm

Lord Patten: My Lords, it is not all bad news for bees. It is truly paradoxical that at a time when, as my noble friend pointed out in his introductory and wide-ranging speech, there are so many major threats to the health of our honey bees, the number of people taking up beekeeping is surging, with the numbers of those seeking membership of the British Beekeepers Association having doubled in the past three years. After listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rea, I do not know whether he may also be seeking membership of that great organisation.

It is, however, equally paradoxical that at a time of challenge to our honey bees the numbers of bee inspectors have plummeted. I have never seen one of these great public servants, a bee inspector. I have been looking out for them but I have never spotted one. I do not know whether perhaps they wear a uniform. I do know that in statute they have more or less unfettered and police-like powers of entry in the matter of hive-patrolling. So my noble friend Lord Moynihan and other noble friends—such as, in his beekeeping activities in Wiltshire, my noble friend Lord Marland, who is sad not to be taking part in this debate—should watch out for the thud on their drive of the boots of the bee inspector, if such a person still exists. I wonder whether they are in as much decline as our honey bees. I ask the Minister what their role now is. Are they of any help or are they in fact extinct? I look forward to hearing more about them later.

All that said, the problem that we face is Europe-wide, just like the ash tree issue. That is complex, but the threat to honey bees and bumblebees is even more complex. In the matter of bees, as in the matter of ash trees, I assure the Minister—a countryman himself—that I do not blame the Government for every lack of foresight or lack of action. That is too easy to do. It is a very complex problem and we are all—farmers, beekeepers, the agrochemical industry and others—up to our necks in the issue.

I know that up to one-third of our domestically produced diet is bee dependent; it needs pollination, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan pointed out. Of course, bees do not have a monopoly on this activity—there are other pollinators—but they are certainly the nation’s prime pollinators both for legumes such as peas and beans and for top fruit such as apples and pears, for which they are absolutely vital. Overall, the impact on our rural productive economy of substantial failure in the pollination cycle has been estimated—as my noble friend Lady Byford pointed out—at many hundreds of millions of pounds. That was pointed out also by my noble friend Lord Moynihan.

That the problem is not fully understood is self-evident. It cannot be explained, otherwise, with the expertise of

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your Lordships’ House, we would have had the explanation by now in the debate. Just as there are cyclical changes in climate, with the Met Office recently “fessing up” that there has been little global warming since 1998, so there are sometimes extraordinary population explosions in the animal world, mirrored by equally extraordinary population declines on other occasions, generally but not always self-regulating after a period of mutation. There is an unpredictable asymmetry to these swings of nature, in which mankind is sometimes potentially a damage-doing participant—as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, pointed out—but sometimes merely a puzzled spectator, as are many of us in your Lordships’ House today. We are unclear about the root cause or causes of the problem.

Good science will one day reveal whether what we are discussing today is simply one of those cyclical swings, willingly working itself out over time, or whether this time there is some terminal quality to what is going on in this country. I do not know the answer but I suspect that the trend is not down to a single cause. A consensus seems to be emerging from noble Lords on both sides of the House that there is probably not one single cause but a mixture, from the spread of the varroa mite, to which my noble friend Lord Moynihan first alerted me in 2009, to the currently fashionable suspicion that we may be having a Silent Spring for honey bees because of new “killer pesticides”. I simply do not know. That would be an easy explanation but, as I understand it, it is not clear scientifically. The only assurance that I seek today from the Minister, in addition to confirmation of the existence or non-existence of bee inspectors, is that the Government and our European partners are doing all they can, as quickly as they can, to deal with the issue through good science of the highest quality. In the end, that is what we who are not scientists must depend on.

In the mean time, I have two suggestions of a rather pragmatic sort. First, there is a need for ever-improving pest and hive management that not only strives to find ways of dealing with the mite but involves better treatment of gut diseases by antibiotics, ever-closer attention to hive hygiene and particularly to the introduction of new forms of hygienic bees—pinpointed by my noble friend Lord Moynihan—and very careful temperature control in winter. It is a matter of integrating all measures to sustain our colonies—easier said than done in your Lordships’ House but critical to their preservation.

Secondly, much can be done by farmers and landowners in the smallest of ways by sustaining wild plant species that provide nectar for bees. The cumulative effect of changes to relatively small patches of land over a number of years could well be one of the factors in the decline of pollinating insects such as bees. This has occurred not just because of monocultural clearances in the agricultural landscape but because of nectar-producing plants in patches here and there being effectively crowded out by the growth of more competitive plant species, encouraged by airborne nitrogenous compounds being deposited around them just like fertiliser. Undoubtedly we need food and good agriculture, but it is also a fact that intensive monocultural agriculture offers little forage to pollinators—QED. That is just a simple fact.

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So let us hope that with the Government having done all they can, the honey bee will bounce back like its relative the bumblebee, having drunk too freely of the flowers of that beautiful lime tree tilia petiolaris. It is a magnificent tree. It is highly floriferous and is wonderful for human beings to smell, but it is deeply narcotic to the bumblebee, as anyone who has stood underneath tilia petiolaris, as we do in our West Country home, has seen. After a short period of sniffing—or perhaps I should say snorting—by the bumblebees, they generally fall intoxicated to the ground, on their backs, legs twitching. There is a short recovery period, then they generally bounce back, although some, like humans, often return, recidivist-like, to the scene of their earlier intoxication. They are rather like the old habitués of the Bishops’ Bar in the old days of legend in this House—a long time before I came to join your Lordships and naturally much before the time of anyone represented in the Chamber today. One can only hope, as I do, that the honey bee turns out to have the same bounce-back resilience of the lime flower intoxicated bumblebee, recovering from the damage that, alas, both bumblebee and honey bee have had because of nature and self-indulgence.

5.12 pm

Lord Jones of Cheltenham: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on his wonderful introduction to this debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I must get a lime tree from somewhere. I first became aware of the serious nature of the decline in the population of honeybees and other pollinators when a campaign began in my former constituency of Cheltenham some years ago. It was started by some keen environmental campaigners who wanted to protect a meadow from development. I went to see the save the meadow campaigners to hear their case and was impressed by their knowledge—and somewhat alarmed by what they told me. As we have heard, there has been a massive loss of wild habitat for bees and other pollinators.

According to Buglife, 3 million hectares of flower-rich grassland has been lost since the end of the Second World War, leaving only 100,000 hectares remaining. Plantlife says that only 2% of wildlife meadows and grasslands that existed in the 1930s survive, with over 7 million acres lost. I commend to noble Lords Plantlife’s Saving Our Magnificent Meadows campaign, which aims to save 75,000 acres of the most vulnerable habitat. I would be interested to know from the Minister what assessment the Government have made of the effect of loss of habitat on bee populations. The Open Spaces Society has concerns about this too. It points out that open spaces in town and country are crucial to the nation’s health and well-being. Unfortunately, it says that the Growth and Infrastructure Bill threatens people’s ability to protect their rights to land which they have long used and loved. The Bill outlaws the registration of land as a town or village green once it is threatened with development. It hopes that the Bill will be amended to ensure that people can still protect their precious open spaces. Will the Government consider protecting meadows—and indeed village greens—in any future planning legislation?

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We have heard that honeybees are only part of pollination: wild pollinators are crucial, too. Hoverflies and other fly varieties, butterflies and moths, bumblebees and other wild bees all play their part in pollination. However, these species, too, as we have heard, are in decline. Buglife tells me that scientific evidence suggests that in the UK only between 5% and 10% of pollination is done by honeybees and 90% to 95% by other pollinators. Does the Minister agree with Buglife that, while important, honeybees form only a small part of the insects which pollinate crops?

Honeybees are generalists that do not and cannot pollinate many plants. For example, bumblebees and flowerbees use buzz pollination—their wings must vibrate to ensure pollination. Many wild flowers have very specific relationships with certain insects which have long tongues or corollas. Because solitary bees carry pollen loosely on their abdomens and not packed tightly in bags, they are 300 times as effective at pollinating apple flowers compared with honeybees.

There is some scientific evidence that increasing the number of honeybees reduces the fitness of bumblebees in the local area. The last thing we want to end up with is a monoculture pollination system relying on one species that has been, and will be, subject to cycles of devastating disease. Six of 25 species of UK bumblebees have declined by at least 80 per cent in the past 50 years; short-haired bumblebees have been extinct since the early 1990s; 72% of butterfly species are declining; and two-thirds of larger moth species have declined. In the past 35 years, 75 species have declined by more than 70% and more than 250 UK pollinators are in danger of extinction and are listed on the UK BAP priority list.

If these losses continue unabated, there could be the loss of up to 80% of plant species and 13% of agricultural production, which would limit future food production options and add considerable costs to the agricultural industry. In the context of a global population that is predicted to reach 9.5 billion by 2075, this is very serious.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust points out that 84% of European crops and 80% of wild flowers rely on insect pollination. Soft fruit pollination is carried out predominantly by bumblebees. The trust suggests that in the absence of bees, food prices would rise. For example, the farm gate price of strawberries would increase from a 2009 price of £2.21 per kilo to £4.06. There are many different estimates, as we have heard, of the costs to British agriculture. What assessment have the Government made of the cost of the decline in honeybees and other pollinators? Do they agree with the highest figure that I have seen, from Friends of the Earth, that the decline in pollinators could pose an annual cost to British agriculture of £1.8 billion to pollinate crops?

Let me turn to professional beekeepers and their most wonderful product—honey—for which I have a particular weakness. Noble Lords will know that honey products from around the world can be bought in British shops. Indeed, a visit to Fortnum & Mason’s will be rewarded with the opportunity to buy honey from Pitcairn Island, where the human population is around 50. The island must have the highest ratio of

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beekeepers in the world. My particular favourite is honey from Botswana—I refer noble Lords to my entry in the register. I believe that the beekeepers of Botswana have applied for approval to export their honey to the European Union and I hope that they are successful.

I asked Mr Chris Broad, the secretary of the Worcestershire Beekeepers, for his view on the decline in the population of honeybees. He currently manages around 350 hives and has some interesting views. His main concern is that the Government’s policy should be driven by a good understanding of the true state of affairs and he believes that in recent years there has been a lot of misinformation and spin on honeybee health. He paints what he believes to be a more accurate picture.

He says that honeybee decline has been badly misunderstood. Population has only ever been measured by estimating the number of beekeepers and the average colonies per beekeeper. Even when beekeepers lose colonies in winter they can easily double their hives in summer using the bees’ urge to reproduce.

The beekeeper population has approximately trebled in the last five or six years. This has resulted in a trebling of the measurable honeybee population. It also means the average beekeeper is inexperienced.

In 2005, for example, Worcestershire Beekeepers had 170 members. Now they have 524. The umbrella organisation, the British Beekeepers Association, has shown a similar percentage growth over the same period.

Mr Broad says that honeybee health is a different thing entirely. He is expecting poor survival statistics this winter as a knock-on effect of the atrocious summer, combined with the relatively low skill level of the average beekeeper. My noble friend Lady Walmsley told me yesterday that she had lost all her bees this summer, and I have been trying to imagine her in full beekeeper’s outfit, tending to her hive. I must also now add the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, to that picture.