The transcript of yesterday afternoon’s Westminster Hall debate on lead ammunition is available here. I’m always impressed by how quickly these things appear.
I attended the debate, even though you can watch it on TV – it’s like live sport, it’s much more fun to be there to see the tackles going in.
As a new MP, Gerald Jones should be thanked and praised for taking on this task, and Alex Cunningham gave a very good performance too.
The public benches, the crowd, was considerably more numerous than the players on the pitch. There were representatives of the GWCT, BASC, WWT and also the chair of the Lead Ammunition Group himself, John Swift. Almost all MPs who attended did indeed speak – as is often the way in these debates.
The most interesting part of the debate was what the minister said – so I’ll come to that at the end.
The least interesting part of the debate was what the MPs who were questioning the need for a ban said.
Least interesting of all, to me, was the contribution of the DUP MP for Strangford, Jim Shannon. He always says the same thing it seems to me. I thought it particularly woeful that Mr Shannon states that ‘vast majority of the evidence … in support of further restrictions on lead ammunition has failed to pass rigorous academic scrutiny.’ without going into any details of why Prof Lord Krebs FRS, Prof Newton FRS, Prof Perrins FRS, the Lead Ammunition Group, the Oxford Lead Symposium and the consensus statement are all flawed. But, wittily, Mr Shannon follows that unsupported sentence with a completely unsupportable one, ‘The Countryside Alliance believes that those attempts are unjust and unfair, and highlight the way in which science can be used and manipulated to suit a political agenda. I declare an interest: I have been a member of the Countryside Alliance for a great many years.‘.
Mr Shannon quotes the discredited £2bn pa figure for the value of all shooting (indoors and outdoors in the UK) but fails to explain how a switch to steel shot – competitively priced with respect to lead shot but without the toxicity to humans or wildlife – would affect this. As I’ve pointed out before, if you want the value of shooting to rise then paying more for shot is one way to do it in crude monetary terms.
Mr Shannon misrepresents what Norway did, as do many people from the shooting side of this argument, it seems to me. Norway did not do away with a ban on lead ammunition, it reversed a small part of it – against the advice of Norwegian health experts.
Mr Shannon claims that eating lots of lead has not done him any harm although he has not provided a blood test, the contents of his speech do not reassure me in that regard and he was voted the least sexy MP in the House of Commons once, although that may not be a lead impact.
Charles Walker (Con, Broxbourne (I had to look up Broxbourne – it’s in Herts)) is quite a smooth operator. He seems to have a pretty distinguished parliamentary record as best I can tell. He is much exercised by ricochets of steel ammunition but has failed to notice that a bunch of shooters – yes shooters! (in the Oxford Lead Symposium) deal with this issue as follows ‘The issue of richochet of lead-free bullets or gunshot has not arisen as a serious concern among US hunters, and has not been raised to prevent a transition to their use.’ and they also point out that shooters ought not to be shooting where there is a risk of ricochet anyway. I quite liked Mr Walker but he clearly hadn’t done his homework well enough and seemed to have fallen in with a slightly bad lot! He said that he talked to clay pigeon shooters as his preparation – where do people shoot clays with a large risk of ricochet?
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Con, The Cotswolds) is the chair of the all party shooting and conservation group which receives funding by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation. Isn’t it strange that shooters (inc TCWG of course) give themselves the title of ‘Conservation’ whereas the RSPB has no need or desire to change its name to the Royal Society for the Protection and Killing of Birds? Funny that.
Anyway, I notice that Mr Clifton-Brown’s constituents have been very active in signing the e-petition to keep toxic lead ammunition so he does have some standing in this debate. He doesn’t believe the Oxford Lead Ammunition report and points out that not many people eat game meat but that some do in large quantities – we knew that.
I’m not sure whether Mr Clifton-Brown is good with figures. He says, in a rather triumphal way, that only 0.1% of the population eat more game than the Food Standards Agency recommends – that’s one in a thousand people – that’s 60,000 people Mr Clifton-Brown, of which we might expect 100 of them (on average – but it’s likely to be more given its rural nature) to be in your constituency. Around 100 of your constituents are being harmed by toxic lead ammunition and you argue that is OK and should not be avoided by the simple switch to non-toxic shot. Let’s hear it for our representatives in parliament! Did BASC give you that line? And did you realise how uncaring it is?
Mr Clifton-Brown and Simon Hart (see below) almost seemed to require a death certificate to be shown to them with the words ‘lead poisoning’ on it before they would accept any health impact. Do Conservative shooting MPs only care about their constituents if we might die of something? If we are made ill or it reduces our quality of life then does that not count? How ill would we have to be for it to register with Mr Clifton-Brown and Mr Hart I wonder? No wonder that nice George Osborne is such a hit with the Tory party! You can do anything you like to the people provided it doesn’t end up on their death certificates? They can’t really have meant to appear that callous, can they?
For the benefit of Mr Clifton-Brown and Mr Hart ‘cigarette smoking’ hardly ever appears on death certificates so we can be pretty confident, can we, that smoking doesn’t kill you or make you ill or reduce your quality of life?
Mr Clifton-Brown was also keen to say that shooters do a lot for the countryside – maybe they do, and they can continue to do so whilst using non-toxic shot. This is about what to shoot with, not whether to shoot at all. Remember?
Rishi Sunak (Con, Richmond) is the new William Hague and spoke with the assurance of a young Old Wykehamist but unfortunately not much sense. Although lead is a poison, ‘because not many people eat lead-shot game, we can ignore it’ appeared to be the gist of his argument (yet again). No point dealing with murder or drug-trafficking then, is there? Hardly anybody is involved so let’s just ignore it? Schoolboy error of logic Mr Sunak.
And what, pray, Mr Sunak, does this mean ‘No one in this country is more passionate about preserving rural Britain than the people who live there. It is rural communities who, day in, day out, balance the welfare of our animals, the beauty of our landscape and the security of our food supply. It is clear to me that any changes to the use of lead shot ammunition would damage that balance.’? I think it means very little.
How might Mr Sunak back up his assertion that ‘all studies carried out to date show that eating game meat in moderate quantities has no effect on blood lead levels‘ I wonder?
But I was interested that Mr Sunak said that Austria has decided not to go ahead with a lead ban – I’d like to find a reference to that but have, so far, failed, but Mr Sunak must have noticed Figure 2 (here) which documents the progress towards lead bans across the world and he must be aware of the UK government signing up through the EU delegation to phasing out lead ammunition by 2017. The trajectory of change is all for phasing out lead ammunition use across the world – a few shooting dinosaurs from BASC and the Countryside Alliance should not hold us back.
Mr Sunak has seen a ‘scampering vole’ on a grouse moor but I bet he hasn’t seen a nesting pair of Hen Harriers in his constituency and is unlikely to do so until grouse shooting is made a thing of the past.
And, before we move to the minister, let us address the comments of Simon Hart MP (Con, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire). Mr Hart is an ex-CEO of the Countryside Alliance and still works for them for six hours a week, apparently, for a consideration of £20,000 pa. His point simply appeared to be that since some members, shooting members, of the Lead Ammunition Group had walked out a little before the final report was submitted (but having had opportunity all along to input to it) then its findings are in dispute. Since when, except in regards to shooting, is having a hissy fit equivalent to having an argument? Which toddler tantrum is regarded by parents as a carefully constructed case? Mr Hart’s argument, such as it is, is that if one side doesn’t like something then they can wreck the process by abstaining from it. That would be a shoddy way to behave and is a shoddy argument to advance.
The minister on parade was George Eustice. He didn’t seem that keen but his boss, Liz Truss, and the minister with responsibility for this issue, Rory Stewart., were both in soggy, drenched and flooded Cumbria. Under these circumstances you don’t get much from a minister because he (in this case) doesn’t really consider it his job.
What the minister said was that they were thinking hard about it and that it was an important and difficult issue. In fact it is an important and easy issue. The minister did say that ‘lead is a noxious subject with potentially fatal impacts’ which I think was a toxicological statement rather than a play on words.
Mr Eustice said that the department was considering the LAG report, ‘a substantial document that represents several years’ worth of work’, carefully. What he didn’t say was when this careful consideration might come to an end. Ministers must know that delay is equivalent to prolonging harm in this particular case so they should not linger long – they have lingered too long already.
The last sentence of the Minister’s statement was depressing and unrealistic ‘The key point made by a number of hon. Members was that the starting point should be to enforce the regulations that we have, rather than jumping to introduce new regulations.‘.
Once ministers have thought carefully about this subject they will realise that allowing lead to enter the food chain in venison, rabbits, Wood Pigeons (Mr Shannon’s favourite), Red Grouse, Pheasants and partridges (and more) will not be tackled by better enforcement of existing regulations. They will also remind themselves that the level of non-compliance with the existing laws is very high and has got worse rather than better in recent years. They will ponder how to enforce regulations better and decide that our police and MI5 are better employed looking out for terrorists than checking the ammunition of shooting parties across rural England. They will recall that they are committed to phase out toxic ammunition by 2017 and that despite the shooting MPs turning out on a Tuesday afternoon in Westminster the science cannot be ignored and that the cost to shooting of ceasing to pump poisonous ammunition into our food and our environment is a small one and they should be made to do it. That’s what government of the people, by the people and for the people requires of them and they should not shirk that duty.
Please sign the Rob Sheldon’s e-petition to ban lead ammunition which took a big leap forward this afternoon adding several hundred signatures.
PS If you are a constituent of Mr Hart, Mr Clifton-Brown, Mr Shannon, Mr Sunak, Mr Walker or even Mr Eustice and would like to contact them on this issue then if I can be of help I’d be very happy to oblige with some suggestions.