This is a letter sent to my MP today. This instalment brings the letter up to date with the highlighted paragraphs.
Dear Mr Pursglove
PROTECTION OF HEN HARRIERS
You are always kind enough to respond to me and you were particularly informative and helpful in our recent exchange. Thank you.
You have now posted your response to the e-action, which was taken by 123,678 participants (including myself) and of which I was one of the instigators, on your website.
I have two questions about your response and a further related one.
- You write ‘After speaking to the minister about your concerns…’ and I’d be very grateful if you could tell me to which minister (presumably at DEFRA) you spoke and on which date. It’s not that I doubt you – well, actually, it is! I do doubt the veracity of this remark since the same words have been used by scores of Conservative MPs and I just find it difficult to believe that all those conversations took place. I wonder whether it has been used by other MPs, not you, to put off their constituents from reminding their MPs that they had asked for their concerns to be forwarded to DEFRA for a response, but since you did tell me that you had done that already no such motive can be ascribed to you (well, not in my case). So which minister and when please? And you should know that I have asked DEFRA via a freedom of information request for the same details for all those conversations claimed by Conservative MPs. To make it more fun, I’ll be happy to pay £50 to a charity related to human health (mental or physical) if you and DEFRA give me accounts that coincide.
- You also write that ministers have always been clear of the need to end rotational burning (well, my involvement in this issue is both longer and deeper than yours) and I can assure you that is untrue, but never mind, since you go on to say that you are pleased to hear that legislation is being looked at to bring this about. I might be wrong but I think that a mere signing of a statutory instrument is needed to make this change. However, given your response and that of so many of your parliamentary colleagues (using the very same words) I was slightly alarmed to see in The Times yesterday a report that such a policy had been dropped. That can’t be the case surely? Surely not after the assurance by Zac Goldsmith that such measures would be taken and the call by the Committee on Climate Change in January this year that such burning should be banned this year. You’ll recall that the Chair of the CCC is a former Environment Secretary, and one of the best in my experience, John Gummer, now Lord Deben. I know that breaking its word seems to be part of this government’s modus operandi (Brexit deals, Track and Trace, PEP for example) but surely there is something that we can believe from your ministerial colleagues? Maybe the response that you have requested from DEFRA will enlighten me. I hope so or else this correspondence may have to be prolonged.
- My last point is on a parliamentary written question by one of your colleagues, Greg Smith MP, who asked what appears to be a planted question (I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, really) about Hen Harriers and the RSPB (see here). An RSPB statement on the Friday of last week tactfully put another point of view across. So either the RSPB was lying/mistaken or the minister, Rebecca Pow, had been given incorrect information by Natural England. Can you please ask Ms Pow whether she is sure that her statement was correct and if not (as I suspect) what steps she will swiftly take to correct the record and what steps she will take to discover how Natural England, a government agency, gave her incorrect information. Personally, I’d be very interested to hear from Mr Smith from where he got the question, but I’m not asking you to ask him.
Those are my three questions; the first is about whether you inadvertently misled your constituents (and I have £50 riding on the answer), the second is about whether DEFRA ministers and the response given by you and many of your colleagues is still true and the third is how a minister came, in my judgement, to have given an incorrect answer to a written parliamentary question. You see, they are all about politicians telling the truth.
Dr Mark Avery