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Bee Population - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:11 pm on 19th June 2018.

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Photo of Viscount Falkland Viscount Falkland Crossbench 7:11 pm, 19th June 2018

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, for the opportunity to speak on the wonderful subject of bees. I came across her by chance in the Tea Room and she said she was going to speak on this subject. I was particularly upset that day by some acerbic remarks in a Brexit debate and I thought this would be a gentle outing. I then suddenly realised that I did not know much about bees. I am afraid I have been rather a bore to my friends, and people who are not necessarily my friends, by stopping everybody and asking, “What do you know about bees?” I went to one or two authoritative sources. My former noble friend Lord Taverne introduced me to the head of the staff who look after insects at the Natural History Museum. He started our conversation off with the rather alarmist term—I think it is American—“colony collapse disorder”, which made me rather nervous.

I was also nervous about, but looking forward to hearing, the speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. I was rather fearing it. I do not know why—perhaps I had been listening to the wrong people. Yet I was vastly reassured by it; it dispelled a lot of my fears. I was in my club today and sat next to a young man whose father I know. He has recently come from Nottingham University, from where he has a very good degree in biology. I asked him, like I ask everybody: “What do you know about bees”? He said that he had learned, either at university or not, the alarming fact that the human race could survive a kind of Armageddon of bees for 50 years—the noble Baroness mentioned that. He added that there had been an article on this subject in Science Today some time ago which said that the world would then be a better place for non-humans, because we are the biggest polluters. That is an interesting thought.

I am a great honey eater. I eat it in the morning with a bit of turmeric. For those who have not heard of that fine spice, it is excellent with honey and porridge. The noble Lord, Lord Marland, alluded to the health properties of honey, particularly that grown in one’s vicinity. I understand that there is a reason why that is better for health—if you can get it—than relying on honey bought in a shop. I was convinced by an article written some years ago by Rose Prince, the excellent food writer in the Daily Telegraph. She wrote very informatively about honey and bees. I wish somebody else would do something similar now, so that people can have some of their fears allayed, like I have today, and learn about the health effects of honey.

I am told that the throat in particular is an area of the body which, if you have problems, is improved with honey. However, it should be crystallised honey. I understand that in crystallised honey the water content is reduced, but that is something you can do yourself—you can also buy it, but it will be more expensive because it has been done for you. Then, all that you do, rather than put it into your cocoa at night, is take a lump of the crystallised honey and put it in your throat and swill it around a bit, and your throat discomfort is gone, I am told. So I have learnt a great deal—I do not suppose many people will learn a great deal from my speech—and I am very glad to be able to speak in the debate today.

Initially, my major interest in the bee was from having been an arts spokesman in the House who is still rather keen on the arts. The bee is an astonishing creature, in that over centuries it has caught the imagination of rulers and others. One thinks of Napoleon, who chose the bee as his emblem because he thought that Charlemagne, who was his great guide before he became the emperor that he did, had a great fixation with the bee. Napoleon did not understand the image; it was in fact the cicada that Charlemagne had.

Actually, if you look up bees on your computer or iPad, you can get the most wonderful definitions in works of art and so forth. One of the most remarkable escutcheons is that of the Barberini family, one of whom became Pope Urban VIII. Although he was always at war with Galileo, he was nevertheless a force for good. The Barberini family, who were Tuscan by origin, became part of baroque Rome, and there were many reproductions, in carvings and so on, of the honey bee. The honey bee lends itself to gilding, particularly in the baroque world, because it has a remarkable shape, with remarkable eyes. It was also taken up by many others—in ancient Greece, and also in ancient Egypt I understand, there was the same fascination with the shape and the nature of the bee in terms of creating images.

Having said that, I do not think that I have anything very informative to say, other than to thank the noble Baroness for allowing me to spout on like this, which I rarely do these days—I think I am too old but, since I can ride a motorbike, surely I can get up in the House and talk about something from time to time.