Monday’s debate by MP in Westminster on the petition: “Ban Driven Grouse Shooting Wilful blindness is no longer an option” was notable for the preparedness of speakers against the motion and the lack of economic alternatives brought by the supporters of the movement.
The petition was launched by Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery of Wild Justice and a similar petition was debated by MPs in October 2016.
Kerry McCarthy, Shadow Minister for Green Transport, opened the debate speaking on behalf of Wild Justice. She said: “Just as I do not accept the conservation argument, I do not accept the economic argument either. As Chris Packham says, the Government have never quantified this matter. The lack of data and the lack of transparency mean that we cannot say with any degree of accuracy how much money is going where, who is benefiting and who is not benefiting.”
In answer Robert Good, MP for Scarborough and Whitby, said: “As my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) said at the start, grouse shooting is very important for the rural economy—not just for the gamekeepers and those involved in it, but for the hospitality that supports people when they come and the money that they put into the rural economy. Furthermore, were it not for the mixture of tall and short heather and succulent young heather, sheep farming would become increasingly difficult on the uplands.”
Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford gave figures: “There are 2,592 full-time jobs in England, Scotland and Wales on the moorlands, with 1,772 actively managing the moors. The economic value per year is worth £67 million. Then there are those who come for tourism—those from the EU and America who come to shoot on the moors and take advantage of that. There are very successful grouse shooting moors across England, Wales and Scotland.”Olivia Blake, Shadow Minister for Nature, Water and Flooding suggested that jobs in conservation would replace jobs lost in the area by gamekeepers and land managers but failed to come up with any specifics. She said: ” There is a huge amount of work to be done, and there is therefore a huge opportunity for jobs in conservation in our uplands. The majority of our peatlands are in poor condition, even in sites of special scientific interest, and as the CCC says, the effort required to restore them all will be huge.”
Briefing documents with soundly researched scientific facts and figures had been circulated to MPs before the debate by fieldsports bodies, including the Countryside Alliance and Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust. By contrast, the supporters of the motion seemed to have little in the way of solid facts to support their arguments.
Summing up in his role as member of the Petitions Committee, MP Tom Hunt said: “Well, there we have it: with respect to the petitioners, there is clearly not support in this House for the petition. In fact, there is probably less support than there was four years ago. What is not clear is that banning driven grouse shooting would be good for the environment: in fact, I think that, on balance, it would be harmful.
“What is very clear is that banning it would seem to provide very little gain for a great deal of pain, and from what I can see the pain would be in those isolated rural communities. The people paying the greatest cost would not be the richest; they would be the very people who, right now, we should be thinking about helping. After quite a balanced opening, and having listened to everything, I would like to say that as an individual Member of Parliament, I oppose this petition.”
Reaction from Wild Justice
The Wild Justice blog commented on yesterday’s proceedings on its blog:
“The Wild Justice petition, signed by many readers of this blog and many, many others across the UK, including in grouse shooting areas (see map below) had a debate in Westminster Hall yesterday. Labour MPs were woefully thin on the ground and LibDems totally absent. The SNP spoke and made some good points about how they do things differently in Scotland and the Labour Shadow Minister, Olivia Blake, was good.”