My Lords, one of the great privileges of being in your Lordships' House is that when one speaks late in the list, one gets the feeling of being an outpatient at some form of university college hospital where you are bound to learn. You also get a dry feeling in your throat while you are waiting to speak. The answer to that is very simple: you should wiggle your toes
, and just before you come into the Chamber you should have a small spoonful of liquid honey. Then you will not have that problem.
I am probably the least qualified person to speak today, and I do so mainly because I have a great regard for my noble friend Lord Moynihan. We had two great mentors: Lord Jellicoe was one, and for me the other was Lord Shackleton.
My involvement in beekeeping is rather strange. All I can do is to explain what happened to me rather accidentally in my life. At the start of the war I was exported, to be kept out of the way so I would not be knocked off. I came back as a five year-old to be put on my grandfather's farm, and I had no coupons or sweets. I was told that my job was bees, and that I should move the beehive at night to put it near the chickens so that no one stole the eggs.
I was introduced to the bees as a small boy by someone who today we would call a beekeeper but was actually a German prisoner of war, who had great knowledge of such things. We had a whole range of people on the farm. I got quite interested in honey but I had been brought up in Canada with maple syrup. I was not quite sure how you got honey, and I thought it was probably illegal to try to do so because I did not have any coupons. When I was introduced to the bees, they became my friends. It was one of those strange relationships that you have as a child; I could not quite understand why, but I had a feeling that they got to know me
I move on to many years later, during which I went into various activities. When I was in the banking world, one of the jobs that I had was to help to advise the Government of Jamaica—I suppose because I was conceived on the beach
there during my father's honeymoon, which is as good a reason as any. I was asked by Eddie Seaga if I could help with bees. I said, "I don't know anything about bees", but then I remembered Winnie-the-Pooh's line,
"Isn't it funny how a bear likes honey?"
When I first met the bees on my grandfather's farm, I had a small teddy bear called Marmaduke, and I thought that by using that teddy bear I might possibly get a larger allowance of honey. That stuck in my mind when I was in Jamaica, and I was officially asked to help to reinstitute Jamaica's logwood honey business.
I have to say that I had not heard of logwood honey but I knew that it was quite important. I did not realise that Her Majesty had been given a patch of it, as well as a patch of Blue Mountain coffee. Together with the high commissioner, John Drinkall, I thought, "What do we do? They need some honey equipment", but I had no idea where to get it. We formed the Wild Flower Honey Company of Jamaica and I managed to arrange export credit from Her Majesty's Government, with the guarantee of the Wild Flower Honey Company of Jamaica, which had 10,000 Jamaican dollars. I did not know that I had put in half of that sum; indeed, at the time I had not, but I was soon asked to make the payment.
So you arrive back here, and then Mr Seaga arrives here on a visit and you get invited to go to Downing Street for the first time for lunch because you are an important investor in Jamaica. The Prime Minister gets up and says, "We are very happy to have some big investors in Jamaica here, particularly Lord Selsdon, who has a substantial investment in the honey business of 5,000 Jamaican dollars".
Those are the sorts of things that stick in the back of your mind and suddenly come to the fore on occasions such as just before Christmas, when the wax chandlers brigade invited me to go and speak at their annual dinner where they would introduce a new master. Although I introduced the Powers of Entry Bill and the Bees Act was within that, I knew only roughly what I was talking about—but they gave me some help.
Your Lordships will know that under the powers of entry in the Bees Act, if you happen to see a bee on your property supping nectar, you may follow it wherever it goes to take a share of what is in the hive. The Home Office confirmed that that provision is still extant, which is an interesting point for noble Lords who are beekeepers and feel that their bees may be roaming.
As I roam around, I come back to perhaps the more serious issue here. By various accidents, I happen to be a peasant farmer in Provence. We have an ancient vineyard; my neighbours have all been there since the Templiers or even before and, of course, you have the normal combination of honey, olive, wine and fig. If one goes back into the mists of time, it is not all about eating locusts and wild honey, but you realise the importance of the history of honey throughout the whole of the Mediterranean. It was more than just a product-it was a culture. We do not have bees, but we have commuting bees. I look after about 15 hectares of vines for other people, and I have a fairly rough team down there, who will be longing to get the full translated text of this debate today. I will try to arrange this, perhaps through the Information Office here, because it is an important cult
In general, what we deal in is mono-floral honeys. That means that you want the bees to sup off the chestnut trees or the lavender, so they commute. They come in on a lorry in hives painted in different colours, because I am told they can recognise colours and know where to go. These are placed in strategic positions and then later they are moved on up to the Haut Var when the lavender harvest starts. It was suggested that I should have a whole range of hives and become a beekeeper myself. However, the instructors there—as I call them, because they are pretty switched on—said that I would have to spend at least half the year there for the bees to trust me. I said, "Even if they are commuting bees?" They said, "Yes, because they do get to know you".
Normally, every year I bring back a bit of olive oil in small bottles to the important people who make decisions—who are not Members of this House—either olive oil or lavender bags or honey, but this year we had no honey. The problems were partly on account of the weather because we go from plus 40 degrees to minus 20, but the bees survive. There is very little varroa disease, and I cannot quite work out how it all fits together.
One of the projects I was involved with previously was with Lord Shackleton. He said to me, "Ah, you know a bit about bees and honey, can you help with the Noah's Ark?" The Noah's Ark was the project to reinstitute agriculture and other things in the Falklands. What they wanted were some more bees that could effectively increase pollination. I always used to be given these strange tasks in your Lordships' House when no one knew anything; they thought that neither did I, but I had to find out. The idea was that we should get a bee that would take off into the wind, rather than flying downwind to take off, and would go short distances, load up and be blown back down.
Now, often when there are many things to deal with, I go to the church and I go to the monasteries. In the end, I got Brother Peter from a monastery—or "monkery", as I call it—up in Cyprus, who said, "No problem, you want the Braemar bee. Ask the Queen Mother". We got hold of the Queen Mother's office and found that the Braemar bee had come from there, so we got a whole lot of bees put in a basket and off they went. But effectively we had to produce some queens as well, because queens can cost quite a lot of money. I did not know what the monks did, but you just make a bigger hole in the comb and the worker bees feed it and you get a bigger bee and therefore a queen bee, but that is beyond my competence. They went out there and, needless to say, it worked.
Over time, I have found that I have gained such affection for this particular subject and topic, but I did not realise that there are certain things that are helpful because of where I am in France. You need a jolly good fire every so often, and we have them in abundance. They clear everything up and, within months, the spring flowers are back as never before. You are not able to clear the sorts of forest that we have otherwise. One trick is to watch the tortoises because, when a fire is coming, the tortoise knows and goes to the side of the tree away from the fire and slowly digs down. He survives, whereas all the small birds fly around. The bees know the fire is coming long before anyone else; they move off and out and then come back.
I have found this an interesting subject. I think it is important and I would like to know more about it. The Bees Act will give you an introduction to it, but above all we should promote the bee and we should promote honey. Honey has medical abilities, for bruises and everything else. At the moment we are all talking every day about health. Every single problem in the health world is being announced on television, and scare ads are put in, but the medical contents and abilities of honey are considerable.
I support my noble friend and I believe that we should advance upon a major bee promotion business: have yourself named after a bee