UK Bee Population

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:12 pm on 14th November 2017.

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Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 5:12 pm, 14th November 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate Alex Chalk on initiating the debate, in which we have heard excellent contributions. I thank my hon. Friend Tony Lloyd for bringing his serious expertise to the debate; it is much appreciated.

We have heard that scientific evidence about the harmful impact on pollinators and the persistence of the pesticide in habitats has been growing for some time. In 2012, DEFRA said that England had seen the greatest decline in the diversity of wild bees anywhere in Europe. We have also heard that, in June, the results of the field study on the impact of neonicotinoids were published and that that has provided the most conclusive evidence yet of the impact of neonicotinoids on pollinators. We know that farmers had concerns that decisions were being based on lab tests rather than field tests, so it is good that the recent studies were field tests and have put that argument and those concerns to rest.

We also know that when neonicotinoids are used on one crop, residues of the pesticide can be found right across the wider habitat. That contaminates pollinators’ food sources and not only the specific crops where the neonicotinoids are used. Wider investigations have shown that neonicotinoids can persist in soil for many years. The pesticide is taken up by flowering weeds or flowering crops, which can cause even more damaging exposure for the pollinators.

I therefore welcome the Secretary of State’s support, now, for a total ban on the use of neonicotinoids. A ban was in the Labour party’s 2017 manifesto, and we are proud to have led the way on this critical issue. Earlier this year, I wrote to the Secretary of State requesting clarification as to why Conservative MEPs were frustrating votes at EU level on a ban on neonicotinoids. Can the Minister provide a guarantee that the position announced by the Secretary of State is confirmed and that Conservative representatives at EU level will now hold that position and not undermine any further votes on neonicotinoids?

It is clear from this debate that we are all in no doubt about the importance of pollinators to our food supply, biodiversity and economy. We need to do more to encourage people to take up beekeeping and to have more interest in that. We have bees on our land. They are not ours; we do not look after them, but because we have the land and the right conditions, we have encouraged others, who have the time and the interest, to come and look after hives on our land. We could all encourage more of that.

We could also encourage local authorities to do more work. In Plymouth, the then Labour council introduced city-wide bee corridors. That simple act has helped bee numbers to increase in the city. It involved sowing grass verges with wild flower seeds. The different British wild flowers produce fabulous roadside views for people who go down there, but also the habitat that bees need. That is an example of the creative interventions that local authorities can make.

Over the weekend, the Secretary of State highlighted the economic contribution of pollinators, citing estimates of £400 million to £680 million being added every year to agricultural productivity. However, we need to take into full consideration the importance of pesticides for farmers. Farmers have to protect their crops and livelihoods from threats throughout the growing season. How do the Government propose to work with farmers to develop and invest in alternatives to neonicotinoids? We know that it is not just pesticides that pose a risk to pollinator populations, but temperature changes and increased extreme weather incidents caused by climate change. I am therefore delighted that the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer has today announced Labour’s intention to factor climate change into financial forecasts and policy making. That should enhance the future sustainability of farming and safeguard future pollinator populations.

I would like to finish with a quote from Professor David Goulson of the University of Sussex:

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth”,


“there has been some kind of horrific decline. We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects…everything is going to collapse.”

The case for a permanent ban is now unassailable, and I welcome the developing political consensus on the matter.