§ 4.10 p.m.
The MINISTER of STATE, MINISTRY of AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES and FOOD (Earl Ferrers)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Although this Bill, like the last one, is a Government Bill, I cannot pretend that it forms one of the fundamental cornerstones of the policy of the present Administration; although not of earth-shattering effect it will nevertheless have an important part to play in the limited area with which it is concerned, namely, the health of bees. This little Bill has a number of virtues. One of them is that its Short Title must be one of the shortest ever given to any Bill, and that is, of course, in keeping with the Government's general views on economy wherever necessary and appropriate.
My Lords, the Bill is aimed at promoting the maintenance of a healthy population of bees, with two important purposes in mind: first, honey production; secondly, 631 and perhaps more important, the pollination of agricultural and horticultural crops. Many thousands of people keep bees in this country, including, I believe, a number of your Lordships. Bees are kept mostly, but not entirely, as a hobby. There are some commercial beekeepers. The Bill has been introduced following demands from beekeepers' associations and the National Farmers' Union that there should be more stringent controls over the import of bees. The reason for this is their alarm at the spread throughout the world, and lately into Western Europe, of a parasitic mite called Varroa Jacobsoni, which causes an incurable disease in honey bees. The disease is called "Varroasis" and it is spread by mites. The mites attach themselves to the bodies of the bees and proceed to suck their blood—a most disagreeable experience, I should imagine—and this cripples the bees and eventually kills them. The mites resemble tiny crabs; two of them would just about fit on the head of a pin, so they are not very big. The infestation builds up slowly, making detection difficult in the early stages. But a colony of bees can be completely wiped out in up to five years. Although research is proceeding on this, in fact as yet there is no known cure.
Bees are imported into Great Britain for two main reasons, to maintain stocks and to introduce desirable genetic material. Supplies come from countries with a better climate for breeding bees than has ours. The import trade is small compared with present stocks of bees, and it consists of queen bees accompanied by a few worker bees who look after her very courteously on her journey. The trade in colonies—I am bound to say I am referring to bees and not to any sort of post-colonial nostalgia—is prohibited at the moment. The Varroa mite has reached as far as West Germany and it is feared that it might spread to France and Italy, two of our major suppliers of bees. So far it has not yet been found in any country which traditionally exports to the United Kingdom. The fundamental deficiency in existing legislation as a control measure is that our frontiers are either open or shut to particular countries and there is no way of regulating imports according to changing disease patterns. We cannot react as quickly as is desirable to the occurrence of disease in exporting counties.
632 The control at present is by the Agriculture(Miscellaneous Provisions)Act 1954 and this allows provision to be made by order to control imports. Imports from particular countries or from parts of countries may be prohibited. Imports which are not accompanied by a specified health certificate may be prohibited. And imports which in some other way do not comply with the provisions of an order, in particular as regards containers used for importation, may be prohibited.
These are the basic safeguards which are at present available. But there are in fact severe drawbacks to them. First, it is necessary to specify by order each and every country from which we wish to prohibit imports because of the disease. Under this provision we made the Importation of Bees (Prohibition) Order 1979, which prohibits imports from countries which are known to be infested with Varroa. But each time a disease such as Varroa is confirmed in another country it is necessary to make a new order, with the consequent delay between the disease confirmation and the order coming into force. Secondly, imports may be permitted subject only to being accompanied by a health certificate. These certificates although giving some protection cannot be relied upon entirely. Examination of imported bees sent voluntarily to the Ministry has sometimes revealed disease. In the case of Varroa certification is highly unreliable because when an infestation is in its early stages with very few mites it is very difficult, if not impossible, to detect. The powers which we are seeking in this Bill do not rely so heavily on certification.
I should also point out that there are, of course, other bee diseases, some of which, unlike Varroa, are already endemic in the United Kingdom. The control of disease within England and Wales is by order under the Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1941. In Scotland control of endemic diseases is at present on a voluntary basis. Should Varroa enter Great Britain it would be necessary to have statutory controls throughout England, Wales and Scotland, and this Bill provides for that. The Bill updates both the 1954 Act and the 1941 Act. The maximum penalty for an offence under the 1954 Act is £20, and under the 1941 Act it is £50. The Bill increases 633 both penalties to £1,000. The revised penalty would be more in proportion to the serious damage which could be caused by an offence.
My Lords, it might be helpful if I were to outline the main provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 grants Ministers the power to make orders, subject to the Negative Resolution procedure, in order to prevent the introduction into or spreading within Great Britain of pests and diseases affecting bees. The controls relate not only to bees but also to combs, bee products, hives, containers, appliances and other things associated with the bees. These items are covered because they might be potential disease risks as well as the bees themselves.
Our intention is to make an order which will prohibit the importation of bees except under licence. The licences would be general or specific according to the health status of the exporting country. A country's health status could be investigated at the time, if necessary. No licences would be issued for countries which are infested with Varroa. Import licences could be modified or revoked at short notice whenever changes in health status demanded it. We have consulted with the national beekeepers associations and the National Farmers' Union on the details of the import rules to operate from the time the Bill comes into force, and our officials will be keeping in close touch with the bee trade on this matter.
Clause 1 also allows for different provisions to be made for different areas. The control of endemic diseases is dealt with differently in Scotland at present. It is not proposed to change this unless a serious problem with Varroa arises. 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 very necessary measures for preventing the spread of disease. As in the present legislation, no compensation is to be paid for bees which are destroyed. This 634 Bill differs from the present legislation only in so far as it makes explicit, as Bills of this kind are required to do nowadays, that no compensation is to be paid.
Following representations made by beekeepers' associations shortly before the Bill received its Second Reading in another place, we very seriously considered whether to alter the policy of successive Governments of not paying compensation for bees which are compulsorily destroyed because of disease control. We have decided that that policy should not be changed. In introducing the Bill and providing the means for stricter controls on imports, we have already gone a very long way indeed towards meeting the demands of beekeepers' associations and the National Farmers' Union for better protection against importing bee diseases, especially Varroa. There has never been any Government compensation for the compulsory destruction of bees and we do not think it appropriate to start it now. Subsection (7) provides for penalties for offences which, as I have said, are now to be set at a level more appropriate to present day costs and the seriousness of the offence. Subsection (8) provides for the 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 that there are or have been bees subject to control under an order. This is not a new power except in so far as it applies to imports. Beekeepers generally are very willing to co-operate by allowing inspection of their bees, because they recognise the importance of keeping the disease at bay. But it would need only one unco-operative beekeeper—whose bees might be diseased without him recognising the fact—for a pocket of disease to build up. So the powers are there if needed. We do not envisage the powers being used for imports on a regular basis—Customs and Excise are our first line of defence against illegal imports—but they may be needed to follow up imports which have passed through Customs and which are considered a disease risk. The penalty of £200 is provided for obstructing an authorised person. Clause 3 is 635 an interpretation clause. Clause 4 enables the Bill to relate to Northern Ireland. Clause 5 is the Short Title.
The Bill will provide much improved powers of control of imports which are likely to introduce bee disease. It is a Bill which has been demanded and requested strongly by the trade and it has been welcomed by them. I am bound to say that I feel obliged to relay an opinion which was expressed to me earlier by a noble Lord, if only, indeed, to contradict it. It was put to me that your Lordships would be unable to amend the Bill because it was a "honey Bill"! In fact, that is not so. I hope that with that modest explanation of the purposes of the Bill your Lordships will be kind enough to give it a Second Reading. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be read 2a.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ 4.23 p.m.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill which will give the Government extra powers to help prevent the threat of pests and diseases in this country in respect of beekeeping. I understand that it has the support, in general, of those involved in the industry.
I welcome the provisions stated in the Bill for increasing the penalties for contravening the disease regulations. In my view £50 is not enough to discourage anyone from taking such a dangerous risk which can have such far-reaching effects. We have an excellent record in preventing diseases entering this country. This is due partly to the fact that we have a natural geological barrier. But the beekeeping industry is not completely free from disease. I believe that the extra powers in the Bill will go a long way to solve the problems.
Much was mentioned during the Second Reading of the Bill in another place, and it has also been mentioned this afternoon, of compensation to beekeepers if their stocks have to be destroyed. Compensation is not made available in the Bill because the Government feel that if bees are suffering from a serious disease they would die anyway, and are considered valueless. To anyone whose main livelihood is in this industry, that aspect of the Bill does not give comfort.
636 There are, I believe, out of an estimated 45,000 beekeepers only 500 who are fully commercial. Surely the cost of compensation would not be such a large amount? Beekeeping is part of agriculture, and the benefits derived from it, not only from the production of honey, but as regards other aspects such as pollination, are of serious importance. I do not consider that the sole remedy for compensation should be insurance, as suggested by the Minister in another place. If cattle are suffering from serious diseases they are considered valueless, and would also die anyway, but the farmer receives compensation. Why not the professional beekeeper whose main income is derived from producing honey? I would ask the Minister to consider seriously this genuine and worrying concern in the industry.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ The Earl of MALMESBURY
My Lords, I am one of those noble Lords who has kept bees. In fact, many years ago I imported two French colonies of bees. I have many bee-keeping friends and, because of the disease Varroa, I have been approached by the Bee Farmers' Association and the Hampshire Beekeepers' Association. However, I say very quickly that we all give the Bees Bill a very warm welcome and know that there is a great need and urgency for it, because as has, been said, the disease Varroa has already reached West Germany. I believe that it has also reached France. The way in which the disease travels is frightening: it is in South America and it reached there from Japan; it reached West Germany from India; it is now in Africa; and it travelled from Romania to Tunisia. However, we have certain reservations as regards the Bill, and I support the noble Earl, Lord Grey, in what he said concerning lack of compensation—a matter with which I should like to deal later in my remarks.
There is a provision in the Bill for banning imports of bees, queens and so on. The majority of beekeepers—certainly the members of the Bee Farmers' Association—would like to see the banning of all imports at the earliest possible moment; and that, I think, is the intention of the Bill. However, there is also criticism of the penalties, as shown in Clause 1 (7). To me, as someone who kept bees many 637 years ago, the words "not exceeding £1,000" sounds a large sum. But, when one thinks of the dangers from this disease and the damage that it could do, one realises that £1,000 is not a very large sum. It has been suggested to me that that should be the minimum fine. Then in Clause 2(3), there is reference to a fine of £200 as regards the obstruction of "the power of entry". Again, it has been suggested to me that that sum is not nearly severe enough.
The criticism of the smallness of the proposed fines is based on the fact that it is only on imported bees, queens, drones and broods that the live Varroa Jacobsoni mites are likely to be introduced. As has been said, it is a visible mite. It is not very large, but it is visible. I believe that I am the only Englishman who has actually seen the live mite in Korea where the disease has been devastating.
As regards the request for severe fines, I should like to point out that it is the beekeeper who can spread the Varroa disease by his current beekeeping practices. As has been emphasised, there need be only one unco-operative beekeeper to do many other beekeepers down. The practices are well known—namely, the uniting and the division of colonies; the buying and selling of queens; bee drift; swarming and also migratory beekeeping. Incidentally, there is a temptation in this respect, for I believe that the Kent beekeepers are offering about £20 for a colony, and they still cannot get enough.
Earlier in my speech I referred to the lack of compensation in the Bill. In the past we have had controlling legislation, to which the noble Earl referred. American foul brood was dealt with because they dealt, one might say, with themselves, and the colonies could be destroyed. With European foul brood there was a choice. The beekeeper had a choice of destroying his own colony or using an antibiotic treatment, terramycin, which had the help of the Minister of Agriculture's field officers. I think I am right in saying that nearly always they preferred to destroy their own diseased colonies.
We are now threatened, as the noble Earl emphasised, and obviously the need for this enabling Bill is to strengthen the Minister's hands in dealing with possible 638 outbreaks. Written into the Bill is that no compensation shall be payable for the compulsory destruction of bees. So whatever statutory instrument results it does not therefore allow for compensation. I understand that it is virtually impossible to insure against Varroa, and that there is at the moment no known antidote. Earlier in my speech I mentioned how easily the live Varroa Jacobsoni mite can be spread. This new pest has the unpleasant distinction of being readily transmissible by drones; that is, the male bees in the hive. Drones can and do travel up to four miles from their parent hive, and are freely admitted into any colony of bees at which they choose to alight at dusk.
Hence, should the Varroa pest ever reach this country it would seem that any hive within a radius of four miles of an infected colony could rightly be considered to have been exposed to infection and subject to compulsory destruction without compensation, even though these hives were quite free of infection, and perfectly healthy. Hobbyist beekeepers could have their stocks completely wiped out. Commercial beekeepers—and the noble Earl says there are not many, but if there are not many they are even more valuable—could be ruined without this compensation merely because their neighbour suffered an attack.
Incidentally, bees pollinating the same flower can be infected. It has long been recognised as a basic principle of justice that the destruction of healthy livestock as a preventive measure, such as cattle for foot and mouth, pigs for swine fever, and poultry for fowl pest, is accompanied by compensation at an appropriate scale to prevent the collapse of businesses and to obviate the avoidance of the provisions. It would, I believe, be against all tenets of justice, or indeed of economic wisdom, to except beekeepers from this dispensation.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Lord CLIFFORD of CHUDLEIGH
My Lords, of course, not only is the question of money and honey being mixed up in this Bill, but other sorts of things get thrown at one if one mentions to one's friends that one is coming to your Lordships' House to talk on the Bees Bill. Such phrases as: "What are you going to buzz about?" and "Bees in your bonnet", are fairly frequent.
639 I should like to join in the general welcome to this Bill. As anyone who is a farmer knows, the importance of bees cannot be overestimated. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Grey, and the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, that there should be compensation. But I maintain that compensation should be limited to those who have suffered the loss through no fault of their own. There should be no compensation but heavy fines for anyone who can be accused of importing bees without proper permission, or breaking the other rules in the Bill.
In my neck of the woods we are fairly famous for bees and beekeepers. Brother Adam, who has run the Buckfast Abbey Honey Enterprise for so many years, is internationally known for his work. The heather honey from his hives on Dartmoor is well known to connoisseurs of good honey. We have a large number of beekeepers. On my little patch alone there are five, and that is only about one-eighth of the parish. I hope the noble Earl bears those figures in mind in view of what I am going to ask him in a minute. On that basis, in the parish there could be over 40 or 50 beekeepers, even though they are not all commercial.
Before passing on to what I am going to ask the Government to do, I should like to mention that when I was a young boy there was an old man in a cottage on the edge of the estate who used to get his bees and collect the bee-stings. He then used to sell the bee-stings as a cure for arthritis, lumbago, rheumatism, or what have you, and I was wondering whether the Government would like to add that to the Clause 3 definitions.
What I would ask the Government to do is to make it compulsory for the Ministry man, whoever he is, to see that the name of the beekeeper who has had a disease should be made known. As I understand it, at present the rule is that they just let the general beekeepers know that it is in such-and-such a parish. I and the Devon Beekeepers' Association consider that as rather unfair. What we would ask the Government to do is to divulge the name of the beekeeper who has had a disease. This may be hard on him but not if, as suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Grey, he gets compensation if it is not his fault. But it is fair to other beekeepers who, 640 if his name is not published, are liable to buy his secondhand equipment, not knowing it to be infected. If they knew what they were doing and what they were buying, and what the disease was, they could take precautions. In some cases you can disinfect; in other cases you can do other things. In some cases you have to burn the whole equipment.
Therefore, I should like the Government to agree to amend the Bill to make it compulsory, in fairness to the great majority of beekeepers, that the name of the beekeeper concerned is known, otherwise the situation is going to be unfair to other beekeepers. I would ask the Government to compare it with, say, foot and mouth disease or various pig diseases in agriculture, where we all know what happens: big notices are stuck up, nothing is allowed to go in and there are footbaths and all that sort of thing. Everybody knows that that chap has had whatever the disease is.
Why not, in fairness to all the other beekeepers, make it known who the infortunate chap is who has suffered the disease? I have a friend who bought some secondhand bee equipment and later got the disease. After making inquiries, he found out that the chap had had the disease and as a result sold his equipment. If it had been compulsory for the man's name to be made known, my friend would have been saved from getting the disease. The one thing I would therefore ask the Government to do is to incorporate in the Bill a provision by which, when a disease is found, the beekeeper is named for the protection of the others.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the Bill and for the humour with which he was able to introduce it. However, the subject is not terribly humorous and I come straight to the point I wish to make, which is probably a re-emphasis of the point made by my noble friend Lord Malmesbury and the noble Earl, Lord Grey—namely, the question of compensation.
I understand that a 50-hive colony would cost about £2,000 to replace and that possible the income from a colony of that kind—from pollination fees, the sale 641 of honey and other activities—would not be likely to exceed that amount. It seems grossly unfair that there may be the compulsory destruction of an entire colony on the grounds that it has been exposed to infection through no fault of the beekeeper. I do not believe it is good enough for the Government to say, "We have never given compensation before. We have always regarded beekeepers as maintaining their own discipline in looking after their own losses and we see no reason to change that now."
That is not quite true. Beekeepers registered with either the Bee Farmers' Association or the Beekeepers' Association have, I understand, a compulsory insurance levy built into their subscriptions. So although the industry may be paying for compensation, it is backed by insurance companies and insurance company money and, very likely, by you and I who pay our insurances in other directions. Further, I understand that that insurance is essentially in relation to the brood diseases which are well known and which are generated in this country.
It appears to me from what I have learned in the last few days from interested people who have come to me that essentially we are protecting ourselves against the importation of a disease with which we cannot cope in any other way, because, according to our treaty obligations under the EEC, we cannot ban that importation, so we have to take this route. What I am suggesting, in other words, is that because of other actions in other areas, a disease may come into this country which certainly no beekeeper wants to have and in connection with which importation would not have been accepted. The relevant provision is in Clause 1(4):Where any bees or other things subject to control under any such order are found to be infected, or to have been exposed to infection [with] any pest or disease",they may be destroyed; and it describes how and by whom. What does "or to have been exposed to infection" mean? Does it mean, for example, that if there is an outbreak in Scotland, Hampshire beekeepers with perfectly healthy stocks are to have those stocks destroyed? The noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, suggested that because a drone can and normally does travel up to four miles—I do not know whether he means two miles out 642 and two back, or four out and four back—is that the area which is to be considered to be "an exposed area"? If healthy stocks are to be destroyed because of an exposure or possible exposure, that could, according to figures with which I have been furnished, have a disastrous effect not only because of the value of those stocks to the beekeeping industry but also, for the reasons explained by my noble friend, because of the value to other crop farmers.
If the majority of beekeepers are comparatively small and there is a widespread outbreak of this disease, and if it is this particular pest or disease which the Bill seeks to control—because in the 1941 and 1954 legislation there were controls for other types of disease—it is not unreasonable to consider what the damage caused by the destruction of an area of hives, however big that area might be, could have on other industries. In the event, the hobbyist—possibly the amateur but certainly the smaller professional—might decide not to replace his hive or colony; in any event, it takes a couple of years at least to do so. Thus, the disadvantage to other areas of farming, agriculture and horticulture could be felt in some years' time.
While the previous legislation excluded compensation, I suggest that we are now dealing with a totally different type of disease against which there is no known cure, brought about under totally different circumstances and involving totally different costs, and it is not unreasonable, therefore, to discard the precedents so far as compensation is concerned and look to present-day practice. I hope my noble friend will give a sympathetic answer so that we may be able to discuss this in detail and hear a little more—certainly as to why the Government do not feel like changing their minds on this matter—at a later stage.
I wish to make only one other point and that is the desire of beekeepers—certainly those who have been in touch with me—to support the Bill. I do not believe their claim for compensation is necessarily based on a wish to take pecuniary advantage of a disease; rather, it is to ensure that their job continues with the advantages that have been described to us by noble Lords who have spoken before me. I hope therefore that 643 my noble friend on the Front Bench can give us some sympathetic answer, perhaps so saving us the necessity of discussing this in much greater detail at the later stages.
§ The Earl of MALMESBURY
My Lords, may I mention again the question of the drone which flies four miles? He flies four miles to a new colony which will take him in that evening.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, may I apologise for intervening in the debate without having put down my name on the list of speakers, but I have been very interested in this very important discussion, and I should like to ask the Minister to consider two points. First, can he tell us whether any research is taking place at present, or rather whether research is being actively pursued, into a test which would reveal the pest at an earlier date? It appears to me that early diagnosis of the disease, or of the presence of a mite must be extremely important.
I should like to add my arguments for compensation to those which have already been put forward from all parts of the House. I think it more important to compensate the hobby beekeeper than the man who keeps bees as a commercial undertaking, because the man who keeps bees as a commercial undertaking is fully conscious of the harm that can be done to his whole living, whereas the hobby beekeeper, if he thought that he was going to lose his hives, might well delay reporting the disease, or indeed might not report it at all. In this case I think it may be more important to compensate him, and thereby enable his neighbours in the beekeeping clubs to bring him to a sense of his duty, than to compensate the commercial beekeeper who has a much better idea of what it is all about. I should be very grateful if the Minister could answer these two questions.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, I must be the first person to speak in this debate who knows nothing at all about beekeeping. I have listened with fascination to those who do know about it, and I shall go away a little instructed, but I 644 would not claim that I am sufficiently instructed to take apis mellifera and to be able to set about producing honey. I was very interested in a number of remarks that were made. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, told us that in his opinion the Bill had a great advantage in that it was the Bill with the shortest Short Title ever printed. He is probably right. It just beats Lord Paget's Furskins Bill by one syllable, and that perhaps enables it to go into the Guiness Book of Records.
I was also interested to learn from the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, about the use of the bee sting. I think that for a long time it has been used in the treatment of rheumatic diseases. Perhaps it gave rise to the little verse which went:There was a young man of St. Bees,Who was stung on the arm by a wasp.When asked does it hurt,He said, ' Not at all,I am glad that it wasn't a hornet'.I think that every one of us must welcome the Bill. We are concerned here with a disease that can spread from one country to another; and we know that there are diseases which affect different animals. There is rabies, there is foot and mouth disease, and there are a number of other diseases that can be spread. It is absolutely essential for the Government to take proper precautions, and I congratulate them upon doing so.
There are just two points that I should like to raise. First, in view of the fact that a disease such as this is spread, what is the risk of it being spread from Ireland? I ask this because unless the Irish Republic has the same legislation, it will surely be extremely easy for the disease to cross the border into the Northern counties; and I see that in its present form the Bill does not apply directly to Northern Ireland. I wonder whether this does not raise a certain risk, because if the disease got into Northern Ireland presumably the various implements used in beekeeping would become infected and the disease might he transmitted. I am sure that the Government have thought all about this matter, but we should like to be reassured by the acting Leader of the House that appropriate steps can be taken.
The other point is one which has been raised by every speaker; it is the question of compensation. On looking at the Bill 645 I was surprised to find that compensation is explicitly ruled out. Surely when a Bill with the purpose of keeping down a certain disease is introduced it is wrong that a beekeeper who is told that his hives are to be destroyed should get no compensation. If he had a herd of cows he would receive compensation, and why therefore does he not receive compensation for his bees? Presumably it is because the bee is small and can be regarded as relatively unimportant. But the principle is an important one, and I should have thought that the Government ought to pay attention to it. I admit that this is a matter which can be taken up in committee and I do not want to press it now, other than to support what all the other speakers have said; namely, that there should be compensation.
As I have said, it has been fascinating for me to listen and to be instructed, and I should like to congratulate all your Lordships who have helped in my instruction. I should also like to congratulate the Government upon the Bill, which I hope they can improve.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I put a question to him, or perhaps to the Minister? I really pose the question to my noble friend because he has been very much involved in science and research. I was at a meeting of the Medical Research Council the other day and I believe that there is concern—I do not know for what reason—within the Medical Research Council in regard to this Bill. I wonder whether, through my noble friend or through the Minister, we can have an assurance as to whether there has been consultation with the Medical Research Council? If there has not been consultation, can the noble Earl see whether contact can be made, because I believe that there is some concern in this respect?
§ Lord WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl will agree that the point that my noble friend raises is an important one
§ 4.59 p.m.
My Lords, I am very grateful to your Lordships for the general welcome that you have given to the Bill, and I have certainly noted the comments that have been made about it. As always, 646 one finds that there are in your Lordships' House a number of experts who know all about whatever subject may be under discussion. My noble friend Lord Malmesbury admitted that he was a beekeeper, and indeed, I was a beekeeper once upon a time, but I was never very good because the bees always got under my veil, and that was a most unattractive form of occupation. So my beekeeping did not last very long! My noble friend Lord Malmesbury must be the only person whose words, if taken out of context, would sound quite impressive, for he says that he has imported two French colonies—and I wish him the best of luck with them! I certainly take the point which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has just made. I cannot tell him the exact details of the approaches that have been made to the Medical Research Council, but I will find out and let him know.
The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, commended this Bill because it has a Short Title, and said that although it is possibly the shortest Title it is only shorter than the Furskins Bill by one syllable. In fact, it is shorter by 50 per cent. if you take the number of letters used to comprise the Title of the Bill, so it wins on that score. Clearly the problem which has worried most of your Lordships is compensation, and I shall come to that in a minute. The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, apart from referring to compensation, also referred to Ireland, and, obviously, bees getting over from Ireland to England would be a very serious matter. This Bill enables an order to be laid which refers to Northern Ireland, but, of course, it cannot refer to Southern Ireland. There is obviously a risk from the Republic, and we are in touch with our Embassy in Dublin and the Irish authorities, who are actively considering legislation in this respect.
My noble friend Lord Malmesbury said that the penalties are too low at £1,000. Of course the level at which to put the penalty is always a problem in the case of any disease, or, indeed, of any part of legislation. We tried to harmonise with what is provided in other Acts of Parliament, and we found that in fact the suggested figure of £1,000 is the standard penalty in magistrates' courts for this type of offence; and that is why that figure has 647 been included in this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, said that it ought to be compulsory that the names of beekeepers whose bees have this disease should be made public. This is an understandable reaction; and I think he said that in the case of foot and mouth, of swine fever and so forth, everybody knew what had happened and who had got it. In fact, it is not the form for the Ministry of Agriculture or a Government Department to issue the names of people who have this infection, or any infection. What is done is to state the place where the infection occurs, and in the locality the person is known. But it really would be an undesirable practice, I think, for Ministry officials to disclose the names of individuals. It is much better for this kind of thing to be done on a local basis, where those who are on the spot in fact know who is the person who has it, when what is given out in the Ministry handout is the location of the outbreak of the disease.
My noble friend Lord Lucas referred to the problems which you could have over the part of the Bill which allows for those bees which are exposed to infection. I think I should make it clear that, although a bee can fly four miles, it should not be interpreted that the order will result in the destruction of all hives within a radius of four miles. The Bill gives permission to the Government to lay an order, and the Government will be in very close touch with the beekeeping associations and the National Farmers' Union to discuss with them exactly what would be the right and appropriate thing to put in the order. As this is very much a Bill which has emanated from the beekeepers, it is our intention to be in as close touch with them as possible, to put into any order that which is mutually acceptable. I do not think my noble friend should imagine that all bees within a radius of four miles would necessarily feature in such an order; this would be a matter for negotiation. Of course, the order will be laid before your Lordships for consideration, if necessary.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie asked what research is being done, and, indeed, whether any research is being done. There is some research being undertaken, and it takes the form of tests to determine the presence of mites, and how they involve the destruction of the bees. Research is 648 going on in that field and also into the possibility of discovering what attracts the mites to the bees in the first instance.
Quite clearly the point which has exercised most of your Lordships is the question of compensation, and, frankly, I have a lot of sympathy with noble Lords who feel that here is a case which ought to attract compensation. Let me first of all deal with the fact (and I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, who said it) that it is explicitly ruled out. The inference of this, of course, is that there was compensation previously. I must make it clear that there was not compensation previously. There never has been compensation in respect of beekeeping; and it is only the fact that nowadays, in this type of Bill, there is a requirement to specify the fact that there is no compensation which has caused this wording to be inserted into this Bill. I think it is that which, understandably, has exercised beekeepers. The situation is no different from that which pertains at the moment.
The noble Lord is quite right, and others of your Lordships are entirely right, in saying that cattle are slaughtered for foot and mouth and that compensation is payable, and that there are other diseases where compensation is payable; and the argument is that, therefore, if you are going to slaughter (as it were) bees, compensation should be payable there. Of course, the protection of health, whether it is of animals, plants or insects, is different in each case. In the case of plants, one can destroy them—an example is chrysanthemum white rust; where that is found the plants have to be destroyed—and there is no compensation there; and there never has been compensation, as I say, to beekeepers.
Having considered all the arguments, we do not think that it is right to introduce this new measure, and to change the status quo. One of the arguments which some of your Lordships have put forward is that it is unfair to slaughter disease-free stock. Of course, one of the problems with this particular disease is that it can take between three and five years to manifest itself. Therefore, although you may be destroying what appears to be a disease-free colony, it may in fact have disease within it. Therefore, to compensate for what is apparently disease-free 649 may involve compensating for something which is not disease-free, simply because the disease has not yet manifested itself; so these bees which are destroyed will in any event anyhow be at risk.
I think the point therefore is this—and it is an arguable one, and every single noble Lord has argued it most formidably: Whose responsibility should it be in the end? Should it be the responsibility of the Government or of the industry? This Bill has arisen specifically at the behest of the industry, because, understandably, they want their bees protected. We agreed, and we have acceded to that request. But we do not believe it is right that that should then become a Government responsibility. We think the responsibility should remain where it is at the moment, with the beekeepers. Having said that, I think it is right to point out that Bee Diseases Insurance Limited, which is an organisation which looks after bee insurance, is actively considering whether or not they can get some form of compensation arrangement for this. If that is so, then I think this is probably the best way to deal with this matter.
§ Lord WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me to make one comment on that? I take his point that this is a Bill which has been introduced because it was wanted by the beekeepers, but it is not a Private Member's Bill; it is a Bill which has been introduced by the Government. Therefore, I feel that the Government take full responsibility for the clauses in it.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, may I put one point to the Minister? How do the Ministry, the experts, regard this disease? Do they regard it as the most serious threat to beekeeping and honey production in this country that we have seen for some time? Is it more serious than the standard diseases which already affect the hives?
My Lords, I fear that if we are not careful we shall get into a Committee stage over this. But, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, he says that this is a Government Bill and the Government must be responsible. My immediate reaction to that is to say, with respect, "Watch it!", 650 because if introducing a Bill in Government time at the behest of beekeepers in order to encourage the beekeepers to have healthy stock is going to impose on the Government some kind of financial obligation which the bee industry has never had before, it might make the Government more reluctant to be so accommodating. I accept that this point is arguable. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that, in all the negotiations that took place over this, compensation was not requested by the beekeepers, and it has only come up because it happens to be explicitly included in the Bill for the reasons that I have given.
Regarding the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I would say that it is difficult to say what is the most dangerous disease. If you asked that in terms of human beings, it would be difficult to provide an answer. I would say that it is a very dangerous disease in so far as there is no known cure and it is increasing and is moving across Europe. We want to keep it out: in so far as there is no known cure for it, it is a horrible disease to have.
My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for the overall general welcome that you have given to this Bill. I accept entirely the apprehension expressed about compensation. I hope that I have been able to satisfy your Lordships that this matter has been considered and I hope that I have been able to explain why we rejected it, even if your Lordships do not feel disposed to agree with that conclusion.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ On Question, Bill read 2a and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.