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Bees Bill

Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

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Order for Second Reading read.

4.27 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Jerry Wiggin)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am quite clear that the subject matter of this Bill may give rise to much merriment, and no doubt will, but it is extremely important to those who keep bees and for the maintenance of a healthy bee population.

The bee population is important not only for the production of honey but for the efficient pollination of agricultural and horticultural crops in Great Britain. The keeping of bees provides a livelihood or a hobby to many thousands of people. The threat to the health of British bees by imported diseases, and particularly infestation with the mite varroa Jacobsoni, has in recent years been of concern to many hon. Members. Bee-keeping trade associations and the National Farmers Union have expressed great anxiety about the possibility of the disease being introduced here. They have represented to us that the present legislation controlling imports of bees into Great Britain no longer gives adequate protection. The powers we are now seeking will give much greater flexibility in operating the controls and consequently much better protection.

The bee disease which has brought about the concern is termed varroasis. This occurs when a bee colony becomes infested by the parasitic mite varroa Jacobsoni which preys both on adult bees and on the brood. Mites attach themselves to the bodies of bees and feed on their blood. This weakens, cripples or causes early death of the bees. The initial infestation involves few bees and few mites. Two of these tiny crab-like creatures would fit on the head of a pin, so early detection is somewhat difficult. However, an infestation can completely destroy a colony in up to five years.

What makes this disease so serious is that at present there is no known cure. In countries where it has become established varroa has caused great losses in the bee population. It has spread to many countries of the world, so far all countries from which we do not normally import bees. However, it is now spreading into Western Europe. West Germany is infested, and it is feared that the mite may spread into France and Italy, both major suppliers of bees to Great Britain. We have the good fortune to have the natural protection of the English Channel, and the only way that varroa is likely to spread into Great Britain is through imports of bees.

Hon. Members may wonder why it is necessary for us to import bees at all. I should perhaps explain that imports usually take the form of queen bees attended by a few—six to 12—worker bees who look after her on the journey. Imported queen bees are needed in order to maintain stocks and to introduce desirable genetic material. For this purpose we look to countries with a more favourable climate than ours to breed bees. The import trade in bees is small—a tiny fraction of the British bee population annually. The total number of colonies of honey bees in Britain in 1978 is estimated at about 240,000, whereas imports numbered 6,000 queen bees, or 2·5 per cent, of queen bees. The fundamental deficiency of the existing legislation is that our frontiers are either open or shut to bees from particular countries. There is no means of adapting the rules so as to regulate imports according to the disease situation prevailing at any particular time. Nor do the present measures allow for the necessary very quick reaction to changes in the disease situation in exporting countries.

It may assist the House if I explain in slightly greater detail how the present controls operate, how they are deficient in dealing with the new situation and how the proposed import licensing system embodied in the Bill would overcome the disadvantages. The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1954 allows provision to be made by order to control imports in the following way. First, imports from particular countries or parts of countries may be prohibited. Second, imports not accompanied by a specified health certificate may be prohibited. Third, imports which in some other way do not comply with the provisions of an order—in particular as regards the containers used for importation—may be prohibited. These are the basic safeguards now available.

A major deficiency is the necessity to specify by order each and every country from which we wish to prohibit imports on account of a disease there. The Importation of Bees (Prohibition) Order 1979, made last May, prohibited imports from specified countries known to have varroa at that time. However, each time a disease is confirmed in an additional country it would be necessary to make a fresh order. There would inevitably be delay between confirmation of the disease and the coming into force of the order. Furthermore, it is the opinion of my legal advisers that the existing legislation would not support a complete ban on imports which might in future become necessary or desirable.

A further deficiency of the existing legislation is that, under the 1954 Act, imports may be allowed subject only to being accompanied by a health certificate. Since 1955, orders under the Act have required imported bees to be certified free from major bee diseases—brood diseases, acarine, nosema, amoeba and apimyasis. These diseases are relatively easy to detect through microscopic examination. Even so, examination of samples of imported bees sent voluntarily to the Ministry have sometimes revealed disease. In 1978 varroasis was added to the list of diseases against which certification was required. In the case of this disease little faith can be placed in such certification because the mite can be present at a very low level—a few bees in many thousands—and can be exceedingly difficult if not impossible to detect. It needs only one gravid female to start an infestation. For the benefit of hon. Members who are not qualified in zoology, "gravid" means pregnant. The powers that we are seeking would not be so entirely dependent on health certification.

The further main provisions of the 1954 Act on bees include examination of bees on importation and destruction without compensation for diseased bees or illegal imports. These provisions are incorporated in the Bill. We are considering carefully representations only recently received about compensation where unaffected bees might possibly have to be destroyed to create a cordon sanitaire round an outbreak of the disease.

Finally, the maximum penalty for an illegal importation of bees under the 1954 Act is a mere £20. This very small sum is out of all proportion when we consider the serious damage that could be done to the bee population by one diseased importation. We are therefore proposing to raise the amount to a maximum of £1,000, which is now the standard maximum amount for summary offences.

I do not want to mislead the House about our disease situation. We are not entirely free of bee diseases in this country. The most serious are American foul brood and European foul brood. The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1941, section 11, provides for the control, by means of orders, of bee diseases within England and Wales. Such controls are exercised by the Foul Brood Disease of Bees Order 1967.

In Scotland, control of disease is at present on a voluntary basis. Examination of bees is carried out by the colleges of agriculture at the request of beekeepers. Should varroa ever enter Great Britain, despite the improved frontier controls in the Bill, similar controls to those for existing endemic diseases would be needed for all parts of the country. It is therefore proposed that the provisions of the 1941 Act should be extended to Scotland against such an eventuality.

The penalty for contravening an order under the 1941 Act is as out of date as that under the 1954 Act. We propose to increase the existing sum from £50 to £1,000. We are taking the opportunity of incorporating all the previous provisions of the 1941 Act in the present Bill so that all the legislation on control of bee diseases will be in one Act in future.

I come now to the main provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 grants to Ministers the power to make orders, subject to negative resolution procedure, for the purpose of preventing the introduction into or spreading within Great Britain of pests and diseases affecting bees. The regulatory controls relate not only to bees but to combs, bee products, hives, containers, appliances and other things associated with the bees. These miscellaneous items are covered because they might be potential disease risks as well as bees themselves.

Orders may make provision with respect to any of the matters specified in the schedule to the Bill. The schedule is therefore an important part of the Bill. It lists types of control that have been found indispensable in the past both in combating bee diseases within this country and in dealing with imported bees. It allows for the securing of information about bees and bee diseases, for the marking of hives or containers for identification, for treatment of bees and for cleansing and disinfection. It provides for definition of time of importation, for recovery of costs and for incidental and supplementary matters. Most importantly, it provides for an import licensing system to be set up.

We intend to have a general prohibition on the import of bees except when they have been granted an import licence. Such licences could be general or specific, conditional or unconditional. They would be issued by the appropriate Minister or a specially authorised person. It is envisaged that general licences—the contents of which would be widely publicised—might be granted for imports from countries which we believe to be free from varroa and which are unlikely to become infested because of their geographical situation and their own stringent import laws. Specific licences might be issued for other importations on individual application, based on the prevailing health condition—which could be investigated at the time if necessary—in the country of origin. If a country were infested with varroa, no such import licence would be issued. Import licences could be modified or revoked at short notice whenever changes in health status demanded it. The vast majority of imports would come in under the general licences, and we do not see these measures as placing heavy additional burdens on bee importers. Consultations are taking place with the bee keepers' associations and the NFU on the detailed measures for inclusion in the importation order and the licences to be issued under it.

I should also mention that clause 1 allows for different provision to be made for different areas. The control of endemic diseases within the country is dealt with differently in Scotland at present. It is not proposed to change this unless a serious disease situation, such as varroa invasion, demands it. Subsections (3) to (6), which largely repeat the provisions of the present legislation, give an authorised person power to examine and take samples of bees and other things subject to an order and to destroy them or cause them to be destroyed if they are infected or have been exposed to infection. He may also destroy or cause to be destroyed any illegally imported bees. These are all necessary measures for preventing the spread of disease. As in the present legislation, no compensation is to be paid for bees thus destroyed.

Subsection (7) provides for penalties for offences. As I have explained, these are now to be set at a level more appropriate for today.

Subsection (8) provides for Ministers' expenses to be defrayed out of money provided by Parliament.

Clause 2 gives an authorised person power to enter, on production of his authority, if required, anywhere where he has reasonable grounds for supposing there are or have been bees subject to control under an order. This power of entry is not a new one except in so far as it applies to imports. Bee keepers generally recognise the importance of keeping clear of disease and are very willing to co-operate by allowing inspection of their bees.

Customs and Excise is our first line of defence against illegal imports, but the powers may be needed to follow up imports which have passed through Customs and which are considered a disease risk. A penalty of £200 is provided for obstructing an authorised person.

The only further explanation that I need to give the House concerns the definition of bees. Hon. Members will have noticed that there is no definition given in the Bill. In the legislation in force at present, bees are defined as honey bees—apis mellifera—which are the type of bee kept commercially in this country and in many others. However, bee diseases, including varroa, can be carried by other types of bee, so although imports of other types may be a very rare occurrence, we thought it prudent not to restrict the scope of the Bill to honey bees but to allow it to cover all types of bee.

Finally, clause 5 gives the title—the Bees Act 1979. If this it not quite the shortest Bill of the season, at least we claim it has the shortest title.

British bees have so far escaped the threat from varroa. It is our job to see that they continue to do so and I believe that this Bill will provide the necessary controls, with the necessary flexibility, to enable this to be done. If varroa spreads to France, one of our main suppliers of bees, we still have the English Channel to protect us.

I should like to ask the Minister, who has already spoken about the English Channel as a boundary difficult for bees accidentally to cross, whether he has considered the Republic of Ireland, and whether the same sort of control exists in the Republic. If not, is there not a danger of bees imported into the Republic of Ireland flying across the boundary into Northern Ireland and then being imported into this country?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to learn that my ever vigilant Department has already thought of that. If he studies the Bill in detail, he will find that the provisions relating to Northern Ireland are slightly different and are dealt with separately. The truth is that bees have no respect for boundaries. If the disease spreads to Southern Ireland and steps are not taken, however many laws we pass, there is a great danger of infestation in Ulster. But let us hope that our Irish partners in the Community will take note of what we have done and adopt similar measures.

I was on the point of saying that if varroa were to spread we would still have the English Channel to protect us, whereas France, of course, would be unprotected from the disease if it were to come from West Germany. We do not believe that we should rely entirely on our natural advantage in this matter; we think that we should reinforce control by ensuring that our import legislation is as effective as possible in protecting our bee population. I know that that view is shared by our bee keepers, farmers and growers who rely on bees to pollinate their crops and orchards. Indeed, bee keepers' associations have demanded that the strongest possible protective measures are taken at the frontiers to safeguard their bees. The strength of feeling is such that some have even demanded a complete import ban. I do not think that such stringent measures are justified in the present situation, but we shall continue to be vigilant.

I commend the Bill to the House in the confidence that the provisions will meet bee keepers' wishes for considerably strengthened controls against new bee disease being introduced here and against adding to the stock of endemic disease.

4.45 p.m.

As the Parliamentary Secretary has indicated, the Bill is of immense importance to bee keepers throughout the United Kingdom—but the House will agree that it is not one that should take up a great deal of time. It would be more appropriate and effective for us to probe some of the contents of the Bill in Committee.

We should not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of the people who keep bees do so for recreational reasons, if I may use that phrase. Taking 40 hives as the break point, there are only about 500 commercial bee keepers, as opposed to the total of 45,000 bee keepers for Great Britain.

The Parliamentary Secretary has explained the severity of the disease known as varroasis. It is lethal, and in the course of about three years it can wipe out a hive completely. I commend to the House an excellent little booklet produced by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, outlining the nature of varroasis.

I hope that, whatever cuts the Parliamentary Secretary and his colleagues are to make in the Ministry's support for the industry, they will not cut the efficacy of the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service or the research work carried out in this country. The right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), when he was Minister of Agriculture, did enormous damage to the National Agricultural Advisory Service, as it was at that time. I hope that that mistake will not be repeated by the Ministry, because it took the advisory services about five years to recover from that terrible survey of the last Conservative Government.

The Parliamentary Secretary has adequately explained the reason for the Bill—that we have import controls but that they are not satisfactory and that it is necessary to have a new system. It may be necessary to have a complete ban on the import of bees. Certainly it will be necessary to specify the countries from which we import them, as opposed to the countries from which we do not import them. I understand that we have power at present only in the latter respect.

There is an important Community aspect, as there always is when we are talking of restricting imports into the United Kingdom. I am advised that bees are animals classified under article 36 of the Treaty of Rome. Since there is no regime for bees, there is, of course, no need to be concerned about any EEC edicts—if I may use the somewhat unfortunate phrase of the Prime Minister. There is no need, therefore, for any consultation. We can simply go ahead and enact the measure.

Without wanting to be too presumptuous, I should like to give a piece of advice to the Parliamentary Secretary. Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome is the article that enables us to introduce measures, within the Community, to restrict the importation of animals—bees in this case—for disease reasons. All sorts of livestock are involved. Indeed, we are able to make similar restrictions for plants. My experience is that there are times when we are under pressure from the Community to have somewhat less stringent import controls in these matters than we would be inclined to have ourselves.

I am not suggesting that successive British Governments have been totally blameless, but our record is better than that of the other Governments, and certainly better than that of a close neighbour. Some of these Governments have on occasion used measures of import control apparently for disease when really they have been commercially motivated. We must not allow ourselves to be bullied. The last Government were very firm on this, and we always won at the end of the day. We must never allow ourselves to be moved from our judgment of what is the right decision in relation to these import controls.

The reason for that, and the reason why we win these arguments, is that it is an asset to the Community, and not just to us in Britain, to have a zone which is disease-free. Therefore, even in the context of bees, we shall be doing the Community a service if we can maintain our bees free from disease. As the Parliamentary Secretary has explained, it is largely because of the situation in West Germany that the Government—the last Government supported this—are bringing forward this measure.

In that context I think that the question put by my neighbour, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), was well judged. The Government should go somewhat further than the Parliamentary Secretary indicated and have discussions with the Irish Republic. Let us make Great Britain and Ireland, North and South, disease-free zones to ensure that we can keep them disease-free for the benefit of the Community as a whole. One does not know, but it may well be that one day France and Italy may have occasion to import queen bees from the United Kingdom.

In conclusion, the Opposition support the Bill and wish the Government good speed. We shall facilitate the Bill's implementation at the earliest opportunity.

4.50 p.m.

I declare an interest as I am the proud owner of one fairly inadequate and idle hive which produced about 20 lbs. of honey this year.

I believe that all bee keepers will welcome this Bill. It is excellent and necessary. As Tories, however, we are frightened because of the introduction of more and more "nanny" legislation of various kinds. I do not believe that this is exactly the sort of legislation that would have gladdened the heart of my predecessor, Mr. Disraeli. At a time when we see swingeing cuts up and down the country in matters that are dear to the hearts to many of us, it seems unfortunate that the expenses incurred by any of the Ministers will be defrayed by Parliament—that is, any that the Ministers do not pay themselves. Indeed, they might have flowers in their offices at their own expense.

To be serious about this important Bill, the Parliamentary Secretary said that the English Channel was our natural safeguard and protection against this new disease. However, we in Kent are in the premier fruit-growing area. To us, bees are of particular importance for pollination. If this disease spreads down through Germany into Belgium and the French coast, will we in Kent be at risk from these bees coming in on the wing, as opposed to coming in a package? What will happen then?

Although I made a caustic remark about "nanny" legislation, I am perturbed about clause 1(2), which says that these authorised people "may prohibit"—I extract certain words—
"movement within Great Britain of bees"
that "may have been exposed". Who is to say what may have happened? It is very imponderable and imprecise.

I am a bee keeper in West Kent. There are many people around me with large orchards who have hives moved in and around their orchards. Indeed, bee keepers are often paid by fruit growers to bring their hives to the orchards. If there are to be vague prohibitions about movements because the bees may have been affected, that is too imprecise by half.

In welcoming the Bill I have two anxieties. The first is the vagueness of clause 1(2), and the second concerns the statement that there is to be no compensation. I believe that that is unfortunate. Although the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) pointed out that there were perhaps only 40 serious commercial bee keepers in the country, the fact remains that if one of them has a large number of hives compulsorily destroyed, he would get no compensation. A man who sees a great herd destroyed because of foot and mouth disease gets compensation. Why should a person who has a great colony of bees destroyed not have compensation if it is his sole livelihood?

4.54 p.m.

Members on both sides of the House should support the Bill this afternoon. I honestly believe that bee keepers throughout Great Britain are in favour of the Bill. It is a step in the right direction.

The increasing popularity of bee keeping as a hobby—I am not one of them—or as a part-time or full-time occupation, is evident from the letters that I have received in support of the Bill from various parts of Wales. I understand—it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells)—that the association of bee farmers has protested about the element in the Bill which provides for the destruction of bees without the provision of compensation to the bee keeper. I have been told by the Department that this aspect of the Bill is simply a continuation of the status quo. I hope that when the Minister winds up he will clarify the position.

Many bee keepers are particularly afraid at the moment that the pest varroa Jacobsoni may reach the United Kingdom and that a large number of bees may have to be destroyed. They hold the view that they should receive compensation in the same way as do farmers whose herds are compulsorily destroyed because of foot and mouth and any other disease that may come into this country. As I understand it, the Government's position is that the bees would eventually be destroyed by the pest in any case. I think it would help if the Minister clarified the position.

It would help bee keepers to know whether in the future there is any way in which the bees can be saved, or whether they will be destroyed in any case. I hope that the Minister will clarify the position and put the minds of bee keepers at ease. As I said earlier, I believe that we should give our wholehearted support to the Second Reading of the Bill, and give it a free passage through the House.

4.57 p.m.

Following on from what my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) said—one may now describe him as the "Kent bee keeper"—I am anxious about the fact that this is a fairly hefty piece of legislation for a relatively simple purpose. My impression is that by enacting this Bill, even if we do it with the assistance of the Opposition today, we would change nothing. Could the Minister confirm that that would be the position, and that nothing would happen unless he laid an order to implement one or other of the powers which the Bill gives him?

In that connection, I am concerned that there does not appear, even now, to be any powers in the hands of the Minister to prevent the importation of bees if he felt that it were necessary. I should like to believe that there were at least plans afoot for taking the earliest opportunity provided by the Bill to give the Minister those powers, and that we will not simply be asked to put the Bill through and then have nothing at all happen Finally, in this brief intervention, I welcome the intention of the Bill and, in all fairness, the recognition by the Opposition of its value. We want to get the Bill through as quickly as possible.

5 p.m.

I must first declare an interest as a bee keeper. One of the difficulties facing us is that it is easy to mock a Bill of this sort coming to the Floor of the House on a Thursday. When I listened to the intervention of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) earlier, I was moved irreverently to consider the problems of hot pursuit of a swarm of bees across the Irish border. Equally irreverently, I was moved to consider the problem of what we now call the B Specials, should that organisaton be recreated. Opportunities for such thoughts on the Bill are limitless. For instance, one could say that it is a "hiving off" Bill, or that the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the freedom of movement of capital must be balanced by the introduction of the first phase of the alternate economic strategy, much beloved by the Tribune group, for selective import controls.

However, it would ill become the House if we allowed the Bill to go through on that sort of frivolous level. At the basis of the Bill lies one of the problems that has been discussed by the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament for the last four years, and it has been a constant difficulty. It is that those measures of animal health control and veterinary inspection that are wholly appropriate and proper to continental Europe are equally inappropriate and improper given our island situation.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) raised the Community dimension, because it is quite clear that in this Bill the Government propose something that is wholly within the terms of our current Community obligations. We are not trying to stretch the Treaty of Rome or anything like that. It is essential that we retain this power over animal and bee health, whatever our Continental colleagues may wish to do. It would be wholly wrong for us not to be given that right in the pursuit of animal health just because it is inappropriate to do something between France and Germany or Italy and France.

I differ from the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) in that I believe that there is a difficulty in respect of destruction of associated hives. If, over the winter, one has 10, 15 or 20 hives in close proximity, with the risk of inter-infestation, and one moves four or five hives into an orchard to assist with pollination, unless one gives to the inspectors the power to follow the hives from their original long-term site one may reduce their powers unnecessarily. The same occurs in respect of the heather flow later in the summer.

This is clearly a Committee point, but it is necessary to grant the original power and to make certain in Committee that the wording is not so obstructive as to destroy the original purpose. Equally, I give warning to the Minister that in Committee I shall closely probe the position of such products as propolis and how far the accidental presence of propolis in imported bee products is covered by the schedule. My understanding is that it may not be covered adequately, but I may be wrong.

Secondly, where one has comb honey in a jar with other honey, how far is that a manufactured product and how far is it a pure product? I may have read the schedule defectively, but I am not certain that we have the wording right. I should be grateful if that matter could be dealt with.

When the Minister replies, perhaps he will inform the House whether "authorised persons" are the same persons who are already overworked and who investigate the possibility of American foul brood in existing hives. Will a different group of persons be authorised? How does one qualify them? If they suspect, what is the time scale between the suspicion of this particular condition and the decision to destroy both the particular hive and associated hive? With foul brood it is fairly simple, one put's one's nose over the hive and one can smell the darned thing. But with varroasis it is not that easy. Perhaps the Minister can give his attention to the time scale between suspecting the disease, analysing its detailed presence and authorising destruction and compensation. We wholeheartedly welcome the Bill, but this is the sort of thing that if we get wrong we do a mischief.

5.6 p.m.

I am particularly concerned, because this matter affects my constituency. Although there are few commercial bee farms as such, one of the largest in the country happens to be in East Perthshire. The Bill is important, because we are concerned not only with the bees but also with employment prospects in an area where employment is difficult to find.

I think of the situation that could occur, because if this particular bee farm was instructed to destroy all the bees in the many hives that are located throughout the Highlands and elsewhere it could have an enormous effect on the economy north of Blairgowrie. The effect would be fairly dramatic and in that part of the country we are concerned that we look carefully and in detail at the numbers involved and the kind of compensation that would be required if such an order were carried out. I hope that the Minister will bear this in mind, because although bee keeping tends to be very much a part-time hobby, when it is carried on a commercial basis, as it is in East Perth-shire, it becomes important to the area in employment terms.

That is a matter that I would like looked at carefully. We in Perthshire welcome the principle in the Bill. We think that it is a step in the right direction, because there is great concern at the effect that this disease could have in that part of East Perthshire. Therefore, we welcome the Bill and trust that the matters to which I have referred will be borne in mind.

5.8 p.m.

I rise to speak as an ex-bee keeper who had to give it up because I became allergic to the stings of the creatures. I also speak because, apparently, it is intended in due course to extend the provisions of the Bill to Northern Ireland, where legislation is in some respects different from what it is in Great Britain. It is different in that the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1941 in Great Britain gave the Minister power by order to write for information, whereas the 1944 Act covering Northern Ireland made bee diseases notifiable. I wonder whether powers will be taken to make this a notifiable disease in the United Kingdom in the future.

Of course, imports of bees are not covered in either of those earlier Acts, but the point was covered in the corresponding Acts of 1954 and 1955 relating to Great Britain and Northern Ireland respectively. The Bill appears to go further in a number of ways. For the first time it seems to give the Minister power to control the import of honey on the ground of bee diseases. This seems to be a very sweeping power and I wonder how it is intended that it will be exercised. The Bill says, in effect, that the Minister can do anything that he considers necessary, without paying compensation. I am not fully aware of the situation in England, Wales and Scotland in relation to compensation, but I know that at one time when there was a register of bee keepers in Northern Ireland, compensation was payable for the destruction of diseased bees and it was paid out in many cases.

If compensation is being totally discarded for this new disease, is the Minister saying that the onus is entirely on the owner of the bee to insure his stock so that if he loses a few colonies he will not suffer grave financial loss? In passing, I must add that it is a reflection upon the changed value of money that a fine of £20 was sufficient in the early 1940s and it now takes £1,000 to ram the point home.

I turn to the particular problems that will concern us in Northern Ireland in our relations with the Irish Republic. Over the years there has been a very happy relationship with the Republic in matters of animal health. Have any approaches been made to the Irish Government on these matters, particularly top try to resolve problems which might arise if similar legislation is not enacted in the Republic?

No doubt the Minister has had consultations with bee keepers, but if he is still having such consultations will he tell us who represents the bee keepers? Does he accept only the bee keeping associations as representing bee keepers or does he accept representations from individuals? I am particularly curious, because sometimes in the past money has come to bee keepers in the United Kingdom from EEC sources. It has been channelled to the various bee keeping associations and not all bee keepers belong to such associations. Therefore, they have not benefited. If such money should become available in the future will the Minister ensure that individuals can make applications for such funds rather than just the associations of bee keepers. The same might apply to funds made available, should this House think fit to pay compensation under this Bill.

I return to Northern Ireland's problems. Can the Minister tell the House how the Bill will fit into the existing provisions in Northern Ireland? How does it differ from the existing legislation there? I understand that the existing legislation in Northern Ireland is different and, indeed, much tighter than that for Great Britain. Can the Minister give us some information on the changes that will be needed in Northern Ireland law, and also tell us when the provisions of this Bill will be extended to Northern Ireland and whether any existing enactment will be repealed and replaced by its provisions?

5.14 p.m.

With the leave of the House, I shall deal with some of the points that have been raised in this debate. I am grateful to hon. Members for universally welcoming the Bill. As a cynic I shall look at it doubly carefully in order to make sure that we are doing the right thing because there seems to be such unanimous agreement on its merits.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) can be assured that the Government intend to maintain the very high health standards for which this country is world renowned. We have no plans whatsoever for making economies in this vital field.

On the question of the Irish Republic which he and one or two other hon. Members raised, we are in close touch with the Irish Government and we understand that the bee keepers of Southern Ireland are just as concerned about importation of diseases as the bee keepers of England, Scotland and Wales. Therefore, the Irish Government are under considerable pressure internally to carry out similar measures. In that way we hope that that problem will be resolved

My hon. Friend the Member for Maid-stone (Mr. Wells) referred to the Minister's expenses. I can assure him that the Public Accounts Committee will see that any expenses that I might be allowed to incur under this legislation are strictly confined to my activities in relation to the pursuit of the mite varroa Jacobsoni.

A number of hon. Members mentioned the question of compensation. I shall give this question a few moments' attention because it is clearly worrying hon. Members. Compensation is not made available under this legislation, because it is considered that bees with a serious disease are, of themselves, clearly valueless. If they are not destroyed under the legislation, they will almost certainly die, anyway. The point about not paying compensation for illegal imports is reasonable. Obviously it is up to the importer to see that he has proper licences. There must be a proper penalty in the form of a fine to deter importers from importing illegally. We do offer the possible option of re-export unless the diseases of the bees preclude that. Of course each case will be treated on its merits.

The destruction of diseased or illegally imported bees is unlikely to affect seriously the livelihood of the owner. Normally the disease only affects a small proportion of bees and an even smaller proportion is affected by the import provisions. Although small bee keepers may suffer a proportionately larger loss, the people concerned normally do not rely on bee keeping for their livelihood.

The question of whether we intend to destroy hives of bees that have been associated with infected hives is under investigation. Although this Bill was published in July, we have received these representations only within the last few days. We shall look at this matter, because we are not certain whether it is even necessary. But having established that, the question of compensation will be given some thought.

The point was made that there is a special organisation—Bee Diseases Insurance—which runs a scheme to insure bee keepers against their bees being compulsorily destroyed. That might be the best way of dealing with the problem.

The question of movement across the Channel was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone. I have been informed that bees cannot fly that distance, but there is always a possibility of them getting across accidentally on a ship. That is why we are taking these powers to deal with any problem that may arise in this respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) asked about the necessity for the legislation. Under present legislation every country concerned requires an order. This Bill requires orders to implement it and we hope to make one in time for the next bee-importing season next March.

Finally, the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) raised the question of frivolity in discussing these matters. It it astonishing to find the number of terms in the English language relating to bees and bee keeping. It occurred to me in an irrelevant moment that I, too, am a worker looking after a queen bee. Perhaps at that point we could have an armistice on such puns.

Has the Minister at any stage recommended the services of a commercial insurance company to the bee keepers of this country? If so, that is a dangerous course. I should be a little disturbed if the Minister specified a particular insurance company as having his ministerial blessing. I hone that I have misunderstood him, but I ask that he should check carefully what he said.

However proper the cover that that company may offer, we must be careful that a Minister should not recommend the services of a private commercial insurance company to those for whom he has ministerial responsibility. I hope that the Minister will check what he has said.

If my words could be interpreted as a recommendation, I accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures. I pointed out the existence of a specal private company to deal with insurance for bee diseases. I suspect that most hon. Members are not aware of the existence of that company. I hope that my remarks were not taken as a special recommendation. That would be wrong. I was speaking in the context of a solution to deal with the problem of compensation.

I am told that the company does not set out to make a profit. It has been set up specially as a co-operative insurance company for the bee keeping associations. I am not recommending the company, but merely stating its existence. I hope that the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hughes) is happy with that.

The hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) mentioned EEC aid, but that is outside the parameters of the Bill. My Department will keep an eye on the matter, but we shall not be discussing it in the context of the Bill.

When the Bill was being discussed, I urged upon the lawyers involved that we should include Northern Ireland in the measure, but apparently that is not the way that Northern Ireland legislation is dealt with. I understand that it is the intention of my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Department to ensure that the appropriate orders are enacted so that similar protection against the disease is given to the bee keepers of Ulster. However, I am not directly responsible for that aspect of the matter.

I hope that the Bill will achieve speedy progress. We have got off to a good start and I am grateful to the Opposition for their co-operation. I hope that we shall be able to implement the provisions of the Bill in time for the next bee importing season, beginning in the spring of 1980.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).

Bees Money

Queen's Recommendation having been signified

Resolved,

That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make new provision for the control of pests and diseases affecting bees, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred in consequence of that Act by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or by the Secretary of State—[Mr. Wiggin.]