asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether there has been a recent increase in the number of hornets coming into the south of England from Europe, either as a result of climate change or in imported wood; and whether the sting of such hornets is a significant risk to health and safety.
My Lords, information on hornets is not kept by the Government. I am advised by the Department of Health that anaphylaxis can occur after an insect sting. Most people do not experience an allergic reaction to insect stings. The incidence of anaphylaxis due to insect stings in the general population has been estimated at 0.3 to 3 per cent. The Anaphylaxis Campaign estimates that every year in the UK anaphylaxis from insect stings results in between two and nine deaths.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that the son-in-law of a very great friend of mine was killed this July in Sussex due to a single sting in his foot when he got out of his bath and stood on a hornet? The figures that I have had from the Library go only to 2005, when there was a huge rise in the number of people with stings going into hospital. Is the Minister aware that there is an increase in hornets in the south of England, as people have told me?
My Lords, I sympathise greatly because of the individual tragedy that the noble Baroness has brought to the attention of the House. I learnt more about hornets listening to the "Today" programme today than I did from Defra. Basically, they are not part of the food production chain. In my first sentence I said that no information on hornets is kept by the Government and I am in some difficulty. I understand from the expert on the "Today" programme that these are English hornets and not French hornets, so we must not be cruel to the French. It is a serious issue. I understand that the UK fatal anaphylaxis register has attempted to record every fatal acute allergic reaction in the UK since 1992. It has found 124: 55 of those were due to medical treatment, 37 related to food and 32 related to insect venom. Of course, it can be serious, but an incredibly small number of people is affected.
My Lords, can the Minister say which department or agency does record the rise in numbers in species such as hornets? As we have seen with bluetongue, which has been brought in by the midge population, the spread of different insect populations can cause massive economic hardship.
My Lords, I cannot fudge this; I am definitely the bluetongue and the foot-and-mouth Minister. There is no Minister for hornets. The Government simply do not have any information. I have asked the National Bee Unit—we have a bee unit, as bees are part of the food production chain—but there is no hornet unit and there is no Minister for the hornet; I have no idea. The noble Baroness has, of course, asked about a human health issue. Defra is responsible for the health of the planet and the health of animals, and others deal with human health.
My Lords, can the Minister inform the House, from his breadth of experience, how noble Lords might recognise a hornets' nest and what actions they should take when they come across one?
My Lords, I declare an interest, having chaired the Science and Technology Committee inquiry into allergy and want to follow up the points made. Do the Government recognise that the lack of specialist allergy centres in this country means that we do not have complete disease registers, so that estimates of anaphylaxis may vastly underestimate the size of the problem? Do they recognise that the hornet, being more vicious than the wasp, is associated with anaphylaxis and that the tragedy is that young people die? Those dying of anaphylaxis are not older people but those in their prime. Death is extremely rapid and without warning. The lack of specialist centres often means that people have not been adequately diagnosed and therefore do not know that they should be carrying an EpiPen.
My Lords, the Government pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee, which has recently reported under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness. I am very conscious of some of the statistics, particularly those in paragraph 4.48 of the report. I assure the noble Baroness that the Department of Health officials who have briefed me on this issue take the report extremely seriously.
There is a serious issue: knowing whether you are susceptible to such a reaction. If you find that you are, you can carry the necessary antidotes. Nevertheless, where it occurs, if it is sufficiently severe to be fatal, death can occur very soon. Collapse from shock is usually 10 to 15 minutes after an insect sting; with food reactions, after 30 to 35 minutes; with medicines, death can occur most commonly after five minutes. Knowing whether you are going to react to a sting, or constant stings, is important. This report is being considered very seriously by the Government.
My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness and the House that I shall be drawing this matter to the attention of the two Permanent Secretaries who could not come to an agreement about who would answer this Question in the first place.
My Lords, I appreciate the issue in France; it is a serious issue. I understand from listening to the experts on the "Today" programme that these were English hornets, not French ones. Nevertheless, I looked at the website myself: there was an article in the Telegraph on