Dear Mr Pursglove
Thank you for your response to my earlier letters, and I have just received the response from Chris Skidmore MP, Cabinet Office, on the Lobbying Act.
But before I comment briefly on those responses, and return to another issue, may I congratulate you on your appointment as PPS to Dr Liam Fox MP in the Department for International Trade. This must be a role which feels as though it is near the heart of major events, and while I regard Dr Fox as one of the least admirable of Westminster politicians I’m sure this will be a useful experience for you.
Your responses – brief comments:
Fox hunting: you didn’t say how you would vote in a free vote – I’m assuming you would vote for a return to hunting with hounds unless you tell me otherwise.
Lobbying Act: your response seems to be designed to assure me that all is well and there is nothing to worry about here. That doesn’t fit very well with the fact that 53 charities wrote to all parties just before the general election this year expressing their concern. The Hodgson review’s recommendations have not been implemented, and weren’t mentioned in the Queen’s Speech, and will require legislation to be enacted. The major recommendations are probably removing the ‘purpose’ test and reducing the regulated period from a year.
I was interested to see in Chris Skidmore’s response ‘The government is currently considering Lord Hodgson’s report on third party campaigning. We are considering the report alongside a number of other reports which have made recommendations about the framework of electoral law, such as the report of the Law Commission. The Government will respond to the issues raised in due course‘. Thank you for getting this response for me.
Brexit and the environment: well, Mr Gove is putting himself about in an interesting way. I was favourably impressed by Mr Gove’s first major speech in his new role, at WWF the other week, and wrote favourably about it on my blog. I was also quite impressed by Mr Gove’s recent appearance on the Today programme. However, words are relatively cheap and I will be looking for some more tangible signs of good environmental performance, but I am prepared to be impressed.
Lead ammunition: this is a subject I have raised with you before but a new, dynamic Secretary of State for the Environment opens up the possibility of progress on this issue particularly one who states ‘environmental policy also needs to be rooted, always and everywhere, in science. There will, of course, always be a need to make judgements about the best method of achieving environmental goals, in ways which improve rather than upend people’s lives. But it is only by adherence to scientific method, through recognising the vital importance of testing and re-testing hypotheses in the face of new evidence, through scrupulous adherence to empirical reasoning, that we can be certain our policies are the best contemporary answer to the eternal questions of how we live well and honour the world we have inherited and must pass on to our children‘.
Government, actually the last Labour government (and actually partly at my behest when I was working for the RSPB) commissioned a group of experts (health and environmental experts) to look into the use of a poisonous element, lead, as a default ammunition in may forms of sports shooting when non-toxic alternatives are readily available and widely used elsewhere in the world (and by some shooters in the UK, of course).
The report of these experts was submitted to Liz Truss in 2015 but she sat on it until the day, nay, the very moment, that David Cameron was resigning as Prime Minister and making his speech in Downing St. Ms Truss rejected the report’s recommendation to phase out the use of lead ammunition on two grounds. The first was that the advice of the Food Standards Agency did not need updating. I’m sure that you, Mr Pursglove, have no idea what that advice is and nor do 99.9% of your constituents (I’ll bet) and so the advice is pretty worthless – but if you track it down it might well put you off eating lead-shot game when it is only industry intransigence that fills food with lead when it could be killed with non-toxic ammunition.
Ms Truss’s second point was that there is no evidence of a population-level impact of lead ammunition, as an accidently-ingested poison, on wildfowl numbers. This was not true at the time and so was either a lie by the Secretary of State or a gross error by her department in allowing her to say so. Defra had known of the evidence for a population level impact of lead for several months.
The Times reported on this matter under a headline ‘Lead ammunition to stay despite poisoning danger‘.
I would be grateful if you could ask Mr Gove to get the Defra Chief Scientist to publish a short evaluation of the Lead Ammunition Group scientific report by Christmas 2017 and then act on its recommendations.