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Minister’s Question Time

Shooting in Somerset

Shellards Shoot, Somerset

Jim Paice was born in Felixstowe, Suffolk. He has had a lifelong involvement with farming, graduating from Writtle Agricultural College in 1970 and working as a farmer, contractor and farm manager between 1970 and 1987. He has been the Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire since 1987.

He was twice the Opposition spokesman for agriculture and rural affairs and has been spokesperson for home affairs. He was appointed as minister of state for agriculture and food on 13 May 2010 and his current portfolio includes shooting, hunting, farming, food, animal health, forestry and the welfare of farm animals.

Fieldsports and shooting law

Q: You are the first DEFRA minister to include shooting in your ministerial portfolio. What kind of support and promotion does this Government intend to give to shooting sports?

A: I recognise the contribution that shooting sports make to rural communities and economies and to the management of our wildlife areas. The DEFRA ministerial team knows the particular issues that these communities want to see addressed and I want to make it clear that we have an open door policy to all rural interest groups, and that includes shooting. We will ask your opinions and listen to any suggestions you may have on proposals that affect the sport and base our decisions on good science and sound advice.

Q: Many in the shooting world are deeply concerned that the Lead Ammunition Group (LAG) will result in a restriction on lead shot. Are shooters justified in having those concerns and, if not, what would you say to allay their fears?

A: LAG was established both by conservationists and those involved in the industry to make recommendations to Government on the impacts of lead ammunition on wildlife and human health. I’ll wait to see what comes out of the group. There may be things I agree with and other recommendations I will not accept. I can assure Shooting Times’s readers that I’ll make any decisions based on the sound evidence provided to me.

Q: Do you think firearms legislation should be changed in response to the recent shootings in Cumbria?

A: First, we must remember all those innocent people who lost their lives while going about their normal business. It’s right that the killings in Cumbria prompt a debate about our country’s gun laws, but it would be wrong to react before we know the full facts. We should give the police time to complete their investigations and report back. That will be the time for us to enter and lead a debate on gun legislation, with all interested parties and considering all the options.

Q: Do you believe that the revised form of the Gamebird Code will resolve the concerns that led to its withdrawal?

A: I withdrew the previous code as I thought that not all of the code was based on sound evidence, particularly in relation to the housing of breeding birds. I support the idea of a statutory code of practice for gamebirds but I shared the concerns of the working group that drafted the earlier version and we are about to submit an amended version to Parliament again for approval.

Q: Is the Government still planning to amend firearms legislation to ensure that UK target pistol shooters can train and compete in this country? What financial support can our Olympic shooters expect?

A: Though pistols are banned, we have allowed the British Olympic squad to train here in the run-up to the 2012 Games. Safety will always be our top priority and, with public safety in mind, the training will be confined to specified military ranges and secure civilian sites. Fourteen squad members have been authorised and the Government has agreed to the use of shooting ranges at Bisley and Bedford. The Government has provided £4.5million for funding the London Olympic and Paralympic Games shooting teams. I wish them every success and hope they win us some gold medals.

Wildlife management

Q: What in your view does shooting contribute to the countryside in general, in terms of the rural economy, community and conservation?

A: With nearly 500,000 people taking part in shooting and 70,000 jobs associated with the industry, it’s obvious to me that shooting makes a valuable contribution to rural life and the economy, in fact around £1.6billion. That’s quite a contribution. And, of course, shooting plays an important and, if done correctly, humane role in managing wildlife such as deer, rabbits and pigeon. But what is often overlooked is the role that those involved in shooting play in managing our land and helping to improve biodiversity. This land is home to many species of insects and plants. There’s a considerable amount of time and effort spent in creating and managing habitats and we need to recognise this, and perhaps the sector needs to speak about it more, too. The work that the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has done shows clearly that many species gain from the work of gamekeepers in both lowland and upland environments.

Q: If Natural England is to be reduced due to budget cuts, will DEFRA increasingly look to nongovernmental organisations for advice on wildlife management?

A: All our arm’s-length bodies are under review and we’ll be making an announcement in due course, once decisions have been made. As for what role outside interest groups can play in delivering policy objectives, I already work closely with many voluntary groups and I want this involvement to develop. If we are to improve our biodiversity and manage our land properly, then all parts of our society should have a role in helping us to achieve a healthy and diverse environment.

Q: The two million hectares managed for conservation as a result of shooting dwarf the amount of land managed by the RSPB, and yet under the previous Government the RSPB appeared to have greater influence on Natural England’s policy. Is it not time to redress that balance and ensure that organisations such as the GWCT, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and BASC have a greater influence over Government policy?

A: The RSPB is a well-respected organisation with some bright people working for it, so it’s right that Natural England should seek its views, but this should not be at the expense of other opinions that are equally valuable. Natural England’s role is to provide independent advice and it must not be swayed by just one group. We want to make our decision based on sound advice and science, and we welcome any contributions to how we can achieve our aims of a healthy and vibrant environment. It’s my role to weigh up the evidence presented to me and I can only do this if I know all sides of a debate.

Q: Should the Government make greater efforts to inform the public of the benefits to the British countryside and its wildlife brought by shooting sports?

A: I know shooting sports make a great contribution in managing our land and providing healthy habitats for wildlife, but it’s not just the role of Government to promote this. The sport itself should also take responsibility to promote this aspect. I am a supporter of the sport and I will do my best to promote the good work that I know happens.