I thank my hon. Friend Alex Chalk for securing the debate. The health of Britain’s bee population is of great concern to a number of my constituents, including members of Havering Friends of the Earth.
I must declare a personal interest in the debate. It is particularly close to the heart of my father, who 10 years ago fulfilled a boyhood dream to become a beekeeper. The two hives at our family home now produce award-winning local honey, and dad has become an active member of his local beekeeping association and a minor bee celebrity with his beekeeping advice column in the local paper. On seeing the debate on the Order Paper, I fired off an email demanding that dad produce me a briefing. In the interests of transparency, I confirm that he acted as an unpaid intern in thatassignment.
The threats to UK bees have been eloquently outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham, so I shall not repeat them. However, it is worth noting that, if our national cow herd or chicken flock were declining at as astonishing a rate as the bee population, there would likely have been emergency Government action many years ago. I very much welcome the work that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and his team are now doing to back further restrictions on the use of neonicotinoids and to continue the national pollinator strategy. However, I have a number of questions about that work that I should be grateful if the Minister answered.
First, we are now three years into that pollinator strategy. Will the Minister advise whether he believes it is working and is adequately funded? Beekeepers want to ensure that the strategy truly deals with the major threats to bees, such as varroa mite. Local beekeeping associations do what they can to fund research into the mite, such as sponsoring PhD students.