Thursday, 1 May 2008

Best when we are at our baldest

Rather a strange set of issues at Defra Qs today, but then they often are. Ministers were asked about the plight of pigeon fanciers, the collapse of bee colonies (we're giving them £1.3 million), the rights of canoeists to access shorelines, and the amount spent to protect 4 great crested newts, which rendered Sir Nicholas Winterton apoplectic with rage. Best answer came to John Grogan's canoe question. He reminded the Chamber of Gordon Brown's phrase that Labour was "at its best when it was at its boldest". Junior minister, Jonathan Shaw, replied that he could certainly be bald, if not bold. (Well, it was funny at the time. Sadly Jonathan didn't get to answer the question about poultry farmers, so he couldn't repeat his "this is not a paltry issue" line, which was probably just as well).

It's always good when Tories conform to type and confirm all one's prejudices. Not only did we have Sir Nicholas doing his "stuff and nonsense" act about protecting endangered species, but they also reacted with outrage when I asked my first question about rising food prices. I asked the Secretary of State if he accepted that increased meat and dairy consumption was a factor, which was greeted with howls of "No! No!" from the benches opposite. I then asked if he agreed that more industrialised and intensive farming methods were not the solution, to cries of "Yes they are" and "So what's your solution?" (The answer to which, in all honesty, would be - go vegan - but I thought their blood pressure had been raised enough for one day.)

Later on we got to my question about a ban on seal products, which was also met by Tory groans. Admittedly the bunch of Tories who attend Defra questions are probably not the most enlightened representatives of their breed; they include the country squires, and MPs who represent pig, beef and dairy farmers, as well as the fox-hunting brigade. But it shows that Cameron still has a long way to go before he can claim to lead a cuddly Conservative party.

Of course, Cameron himself still supports fox-hunting, as the House was reminded at PMQs yesterday when Gordon Brown was asked what was being done to ensure that the hunting ban is properly enforced. Ann Widdecombe - who is pretty sound on animal welfare issues - is holding a meeting on this in Parliament the week after next, probably much to the disgust of many of her colleagues.


Chris Gale said...

Thanks Kerry

yes,Cameron must be stopped and I will be calling upon everyone within animal welfare and who supports decency to ensure he does not get his hands on the keys to Downing St. It would set back the cause of compassionate progress many decades.

I am looking forward to the Protect Our Wild Animals/ Ann Widdecombe meeting on the Hunting Act on 13 May. I was at the last one with colleagues from POWA when reps from police forces around the country attended, the film shown is very very powerful.
I hope as many MPs as possible can make it along.

Best regards


Kerry said...

Have now realised what the exchange in the Commons between Jonathan Shaw and John Grogan was all about, having received this email from the Fisheries & Angling Conservation Trust Ltd:

Dear Member of Parliament,

Anglers express their disappointment that the British Canoe Union is continuing to campaign for unregulated access to rivers when appropriate local agreements are being shown to work. Following an Early Day Motion that went nowhere in 2006, the BCU has again secured the support of John Grogan, MP for Selby, for yet another EDM (No. 1331). Fisheries & Angling Conservation Trust (FACT) is opposed to this EDM as originally drafted but supports the amendment put forward by Martin Salter MP on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Angling Group.

Ministers have repeatedly made it very clear that the Government does not and will not support unfettered access to rivers and canals.

For example, the Environment Minister Jonathan Shaw made a statement in the House of Commons on 6 February 2008: “The Government share canoeists', and other user groups', aspirations for more and better access to inland water and have been working, through our agencies, to deliver this over a number of years. The Government's view is that a statutory right of access to inland waterways is not appropriate. The evidence indicates that the demand for access would more effectively be met by a targeted approach, which involves identifying where access is needed, and then creating access agreements with the landowner and other interested parties.”

While the BCU continues to maintain a dogmatic position demanding access to all areas, at all times, free of charge, the reality on the river bank is that local joint access agreements are working and proliferating. New agreements have recently been signed on the Dee, Wye and Usk, and webcams installed to make it clear when canoeing is allowed. Anglers and riparian owners are very keen to work with local canoe clubs to draw up these agreements, but this positive work is being damaged by the BCU’s stance, which is generating misunderstanding and ill feeling.

Unregulated canoe access could be very damaging to local economies reliant on income from angling, which is worth £3bn each year to the UK economy. It would also impact on the riparian rights of angling clubs and landowners and could damage delicate ecosystems which need to be protected at particular times. Each river has a unique flow regime, array of sensitive habitats and faces particular local issues. To legislate nationally for such a local issue would be quite wrong.

Anglers spend hundreds of millions of pounds each year maintaining and improving rivers to protect fish and other wildlife. They pay £21m in rod licences to contribute to the Environment Agency’s work protecting fisheries. Angling clubs and riparian owners have spent billions buying the angling and access rights to rivers.

The BCU’s demand for unregulated, free access, without making any contribution to the maintenance or improvement of the resource is unrealistic. It is an organisation that seems to be increasingly out of touch with its membership and we urge them to focus instead on supporting locally-agreed joint access agreements.

FACT respectfully requests that you support Mr Martin Salter's amendment to EDM 1331.

Chris Gale said...

At least canoeists don't leave fishing line, hooks and other perils which cause the lingering death of countless birds and mammals.
I find it disturbing that anyone wants to tear a fish by a barbed hook from its environment all for 'sport'.
They then often proceed to hold the poor creature for a photo as it desperately gasps for breath.
Only when as a society have we put aside such cruelty and shameful treatment of the sentient creatures we share the planet with, can we really say we are the road to true progression.