Yesterday one of the talking points of conservation this year took place, the debate on the petition to ban driven grouse shooting; and it was a debate that I was determined to be at, to see and hear the thoughts and opinions of the people running our country. Something I have not experienced before. There were lots of issues raised, and I will cover some of them in this post, but others I will come back to in future blogs.
123,077 angry citizens from a broad range of communities had signed Mark Avery's petition for a full ban on driven grouse shooting, so it is obvious that people believe that there are serious issues with driven grouse shooting. The petition reached the target 100,000 signatures well before the closing date, which was a huge achievement and a sign to DEFRA that people want a change.
Governments forget that the people who signed the petition are actually an NGO, a group of people with a common cause, in this case a group with over 100,000 members.
Now I know I am only 14, and yes I still have so much to learn, and yes I do get ridiculed sometimes for my ideas from other people, including some from the shooting industry, for daring to have an opinion, but I want to address a serious concern I had throughout the debate, before I go in to more details about the points covered in the debate.
Yesterday I tweeted this:
"As a young person trying to engage in politics, I feel that yesterday's disrespect for a "people's" petition was shameful."
The shooting community were very to quick to pick up on this and all assumed (incorrectly) that this was tweeted because grouse shooting is not going to be banned "yet". Here is an example of one of the tweets back:
@WildeAboutBirds disrespectful? Petition called for evidence & debate & it got it, but you lost the argument. Harsh reality of life, boy.
So let me make something very clear. I never expected the outcome to be a ban at this stage and this is not what my tweet was about. My tweet referred to the number of pro-shooting MPs who suggested that people who signed the petition were just ticking a box and not really fully understanding what it was all about. This lack of respect for the people who were concerned enough to sign up truly disgusted me. Was this public bullying? I spent hours, days, weeks speaking to people about the issues at various events across the country. I explained about the decline in hen harriers, even though other ground nesting birds have done well on grouse moors, and asked people to look in to it for themselves. No-one was asked to sign up to anything there and then. So people went away from these events and then chose to find the e-petition and chose to sign it, days, even weeks after meeting them. They were certainly not just ticking a box. That dis-respect from the pro-shooters was disgusting and that was the point being made in my tweet, regardless of the outcome of the debate.
So now that I have cleared that up, these were the other observations I made throughout the debate:
A comment often stated throughout the debate was "we are here to debate 2 petitions". Well no, actually we were there to debate just one successful petition. The one that reached 123,077 signatures to ban driven grouse shooting (you only get a debate in parliament if the petition achieves 100,000). Some of you may be aware, shortly after Mark Avery created his petition, a second was set up by the shooting industry to keep driven grouse shooting. I think it's worth pointing out that this petition only got about 20,000 signatures, yet somehow this petition was also included in the debate. The inclusion of this second, weaker petition turned the debate in the favour of those wanting to keep it, as most presentations were focused on why it should remain rather than why it should be banned.
In this case I am going to name a name. Steve Double MP was chosen by the petitions committee to introduce the debate. Does anyone know why he was chosen to open the debate or who makes the decision on this? In my head, I thought that someone who opens a debate would have to explain about why the petition had been raised and explain fairly both sides of the argument. I was quite shocked by what I heard. I think he was speaking for himself rather than fairly opening a debate as a representative of the petitions committee. It was the most one-sided thing I have heard, so much so that MP Kerry McCarthy stood up and intervened, making the point that he was being very one sided and shouldn't have been expressing his own views at that point.
The majority of the MP's attending were conservatives, and the many of these were shooters or had shooting interests and had turned up in force making the debate very one sided. I felt utter disappointment realising that there were hardly any opposition to support and challenge the issues within driven grouse shooting. Like I said earlier, I don't understand all the processes so I have been in contact with several MPs including Kerry McCarthy and Angela Smith to ask why they thought it was such a poor show from the opposition (so that I can learn more about the debating process).
So that left the conservative MPs all delivering their 7 minute talks on the same points with the words just changed round a bit. You can imagine how painful and frustrating this must have been sitting in the gallery not being able to challenge any of the things they said and having so few people representing us.
Mark Avery encouraged people, after the petition reached 100,000, to write to their local MPs, and ask them to attend the debate and give reasons why a ban on driven grouse shooting should be debated. I did that, and was pleased to see my MP attend, until I heard her start to speak. I then realised we were at totally opposite ends of the debate.
However, I have to say a thank you to her for inviting me and my family up to the Westminster Terrace for a drink after the debate so we could discuss things in more detail. I know that we aren't going to agree on driven grouse shooting, but it was good to be able to talk openly and honestly, and listen to each other's points of view.
The final summary from Therese Coffey (DEFRA minister) was basically all of the above, however making it clear that there was not going to be any change in driven grouse shooting. In fact there was very little that was going to be looked at.
Minor Observation No.6
This is just a minor point, but if over 100,000 people feel strongly enough to sign a petition, then many of them will want to see and hear first hand the debate itself. Yet there was only 25 guaranteed seats available in the debate room! Having been there though, I accept that the committee room would not have held many more than that.
The above were some of the observations I picked up throughout the debate and have done my best to explain from my point of view. I am not saying that I am right, but it is how I feel.
So what is there to take out of the debate? Well we can all admit we knew there wasn't going to be a ban on driven grouse shooting from this debate, however we didn't expect it was to be as bad and shocking as it was. However, from when this petition was first started, we have only made progress. Every year we are creating much more awareness, and therefore we are getting more and more momentum. Under the current government it may never be banned, but we may see ways and opportunities to change things for the better.
I will make sure that every hen harrier or other upland raptor that goes missing in suspicious circumstances is shouted from the roof tops and I will call for answers. And I know others will do the same. And we will be heard; again and again and again! I don't know about any of you, but this debate has made me even more determined to fight for what I believe in.