I entirely agree that bees and other pollinators play an essential role in our food production and are vital to the diversity of our environment. I welcome the work the Government has done over the last few years to understand and protect them. There is concern, however, over gaps in our understanding of these issues, so Ministers launched a comprehensive review of current policy as the basis for the National Pollinator Strategy.
The Strategy lays out plans to improve our understanding of the abundance, diversity and role of pollinators over the next three to five years, and identify any additional actions needed to protect them. It also describes actions that can be implemented now, building on initiatives already under way.
These include significant advances over the draft Strategy, such as measures to raise the profile of existing initiatives to conserve and create good quality wild flower meadows, and minimising risks from pesticides. Organisations such as Network Rail, Highways Agency and the National Trust have agreed that railway embankments, motorway embankments and forests will be used to create bee and insect friendly habitats.
It also includes the first ever wild pollinator and farm wildlife package, which will see more funding made available to farmers and landowners that take steps to protect pollinators through the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
Decisions on the approval of substances that can act as pesticides are made at the European level. Since December 2013, three of the five currently approved neonicotinoids are not permitted for use on a wide range of crops considered "attractive to bees". A number of other uses remain permitted. These restrictions are not time-limited, and will remain in place until and unless the European Commission decides to change them.
The Commission has begun a review of the science relating to neonicotinoids and bees. This will include looking at the effects on bees caused by seed treatments and uses of the restricted neonicotinoids in the form of granules on any crop. The Government will contribute fully to this review, and will base its view on future regulation of neonicotinoids on all the available scientific evidence.
The decision to grant an emergency authorisation for two neonicotinoids to treat oil seed rape crops was not taken lightly. The Expert Committee on Pesticides recommended that an application for these treatments should be approved, covering no more than 5 per cent of the national crop and only on seeds to be sown this summer and autumn.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has applied the EU's precautionary ban on the use of neonicotinoids in full, and makes decisions on pesticides only once the regulators are satisfied they are safe to people and the environment. Based on the evidence, it has followed the advice of the Expert Committee and the Defra Chief Scientist that this limited authorisation should be granted to cover areas where crops are at the greatest risk of damage by pests.
The facility to allow strictly controlled, targeted uses of pesticides under an emergency authorisation is an integral feature of precautionary bans. The Committee had recommended rejecting an earlier application because the proposed use was not targeted closely enough at areas in the greatest need, but concluded that this revised application was sufficiently controlled and limited to warrant approval. The UK's approach stands in contrast to other EU countries such as Denmark, which has issued unrestricted emergency authorisations for the same use of neonicotinoids.