Lead by example
The Countryside Alliance gives us the inside scoop on the Westminster Hall lead debate. Just one topic prompted unity amongst attendees – the importance of adhering to the existing restrictions
In December, Gerald Jones, the Labour MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, secured a one-hour Westminster Hall debate on ‘usage of lead shot in ammunition’. Even the title of this discussion was odd in that it seemed to exclude discussion of lead bullets, but given that Mr Jones had never previously shown any interest in shooting, it may just have been a misunderstanding.
He read out his opening statement from a script which sounded remarkably similar to the public statements made by the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). Indeed, it was noticeable that there were more staff from those two organisations in attendance than the three MPs (including Mr Jones) who were willing to argue for further restrictions on lead ammunition. It is increasingly sad to witness two organisations that do so much brilliant conservation work give such priority to a campaign which is, at least in part, clearly motivated by an antipathy to shooting as a whole.
A number of MPs, led by the Countryside Alliance’s Chairman Simon Hart, argued forcibly that there was no justification for a ban on lead ammunition. Simon declared an unusual interest in the debate by stating the fact that he was “probably the only Member who has been shot by a lead cartridge… It was about 35 years ago and I still carry 20 lead pellets in my left knee,” adding that “colleagues will judge whether that has affected my physical or mental state.”
Charles Walker MP stated that “Tungsten, bismuth and hevi-shot cost five to seven times as much as lead. A significant part of most people’s shooting budget.” Jim Shannon MP brought his experience of shooting and wildfowling in Northern Ireland to the debate, arguing that attempts to ban lead ammunition are “unjust and unfair, and highlight the way in which science can be used and manipulated to suit a political agenda.”
Rishi Sunak MP and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP argued that evidence on the impact of lead ammunition in the UK has failed to pass rigorous academic scrutiny, and that the risks have been exaggerated. They also stated that a ban on lead would have serious and unquantified implications for the gun trade, the rural economy and the natural environment. Alex Cunningham MP, a shadow Defra Minister, was forced to concede that there was no evidence in the UK of any premature death caused by lead ammunition, which prompted Simon Hart to suggest that “unless he [Cunningham] can come up with that evidence, he is doing nothing more than mischief-making.”
George Eustice MP responded for the government and stated that since half of the Lead Ammunition Group members had resigned, “we are therefore in a position in which we have no expert consensus about the impact of lead ammunition on wildlife or human health.” He did, however, acknowledge that current compliance levels with existing legislation were disappointing. This is not a matter of debate and is something that all speakers agreed on. Adherence with the current restrictions for shooting wildfowl and shooting over wetlands is non-negotiable. Using lead shot in contravention of the regulations is not only environmentally damaging, but also risks the future use of lead ammunition for all shooting. None of us should think that it is acceptable, either personally or from those who we shoot with.
The debate showed very clearly that the MPs arguing for the continued status quo on lead shot have personal experience in the field of shooting; on the other hand, the opposing speakers have limited experience and, it seems, have been persuaded to join in on this science-heavy debate. It is also obvious that the lead ammunition debate is highly convoluted, and is by no means able to be discussed fully in a one-hour slot. The result of the continued debate is not as easy as ‘ban lead ammunition’ or ‘keep lead ammunition’, as two recent e-petitions made it out to be. There are issues with lead ammunition; these issues have been seen in the UK in swans, and in other countries, for example Californian condors in America, and hunters’ consumption in Scandinavian countries.
For the Countryside Alliance it is only once these known issues have been scientifically shown that the conversation should move towards mitigation measures and, potentially, further regulations (as is being currently shown in California). There is no need for a call to ban all lead ammunition, and that is why the RSPB and the WWT’s call to do so can only be described as an anti-shooting issue, not anti-lead.
‘The result of the debate is not as easy as ‘ban lead ammunition’ or ‘keep lead ammunition’, as two recent e-petitions
made it out to be’
Issues with lead ammunition have been seen in swans in the UK