9 Jonathan Djanogly debates involving the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Precision breeding technologies mimic traditional breeding processes, but more precisely and efficiently, which means that products from precision bred plants or animals contain only genetic changes that would occur through traditional breeding or natural transformation.
Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
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There is concern among the cultured meat industry, which is unsure about the impact of the Bill on its research and trade. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to show our support for this important new technology, which the UK is currently at the forefront of developing?

Mark Spencer Portrait Mark Spencer
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. There are many new technologies out there that we want to embrace and give the opportunity to come forward, albeit in a regulated format so that we can have confidence in our food systems, and that is the exact process that the Bill seeks to correct.

We do not label food products that have been produced through traditional techniques such as chemical mutagenesis, and we do not label foods as “novel” because precision bred products are indistinguishable from their traditionally bred counterparts. It would not be appropriate to require labelling to indicate the use of precision breeding in the production of food or feed. That view is shared internationally; many of our partners across the world, such as Canada, the US and Japan, do not require labelling for precision bred products.

The Food Standards Agency is developing a new authorisation process to ensure that any food or feed product will only go on sale if it is judged to present no risk to health, does not mislead consumers, and does not have lower nutritional value than its traditionally bred counterparts. In order to ensure transparency, the Bill enables regulations to make a public register through which information about precision bred food and feed products can be assessed by consumers.

I do not know whether it is appropriate to speak to other amendments now, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords]

Jonathan Djanogly Excerpts
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Portrait Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
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I thank my hon. Friend for her careful consideration of my amendment. I think it is a sensible, proportionate amendment that will allow a committee with limited resources to focus on those really egregious areas where animal sentience is being abused, and not run into some of the less important areas. I thank her for accepting the amendment, and I thank all my hon. Friends who supported and signed it.

Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill
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I will give way briefly.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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I thank the Minister for giving way, and I take this opportunity to thank her and the Secretary of State for having met colleagues on multiple occasions and listened. Many communities are fearful of the implications of this and, while I have not fallen in love with the Bill, the fact that amendment 2 will be made to it means that there will be a balance that was otherwise lacking. I congratulate her on listening.

Jo Churchill Portrait Jo Churchill
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I thank my hon. Friend. As many people who contributed to this debate have said, what we are seeking here is that balance.

Turning lastly to amendment 1 in the name of the hon. Member for Newport West (Ruth Jones), we do not want to clog up parliamentary time with automatic debates on committee reports. We went over that in the Bill Committee. Hon. Members have parliamentary questions, Westminster Hall debates and the Backbench Business Committee, should they wish to use them.

In short, the Bill has been carefully drafted to create a targeted, proportionate and timely accountability mechanism on animal welfare. It is designed to support the House’s scrutiny of Government, and I look forward to all those in the House making good use of it.

Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill [Lords]

Jonathan Djanogly Excerpts
George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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The Bill does include birds, since they are vertebrates, and it includes fish, since they are vertebrates. I point out that those particular animals have been recognised in our law as sentient since at least 1911.

I want to be clear about what the Bill does and does not do. While its aim is to improve the policy and decision-making processes of Government, the committee’s reports will not bind Ministers to any particular course of action. Ministers will remain free to determine the right balance between animal welfare and other important considerations.

Devolved matters are also excluded from the Bill’s provisions. The Scottish Government have their own counterpart to the Animal Sentience Committee already, while Wales and Northern Ireland have the powers to establish equivalent bodies, should they wish to do so.

It is also important to understand that the Bill tasks the Animal Sentience Committee with scrutinising the process by which Ministers arrive at policy decisions. It is not there to tell Ministers what decisions they should make or to critique those decisions. Instead, it is there to provide technical assessments of how well a given Department obtained and assessed relevant evidence on the animal welfare effects of the policy in question.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
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On that point, can my right hon. Friend say whether he has assessed the possibility of judicial review arising as a result of that assessment process?

George Eustice Portrait George Eustice
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As I said, we do not believe that the Bill creates a cause of action for judicial review, for the simple reason that the obligation on a Minister is to respond to the report within three months, and that response can deal with any recommendation or observation put forward by the committee.

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Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
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When I looked at the Bill, I tried first, as I do with any Bill, to work out its purpose and who or what it is trying to assist. I must say that I am still far from having the answer to either question. Actually, the more I look at the Bill, listen to experts and read the record of proceedings in the other place, the more confused I am about what we are trying to do.

While everyone knows what animal welfare is and values what the Bill is intended to do, nothing in it, and no one, can either define animal sentience or say how it is measured. As a result, the phrase becomes a kind of forerunner of what science may, but does not yet, tell us. The Bill is effectively a statement of direction, but does not quite know where to start or where it will finish. It does not define animal sentience, so Ministers will have no gauge to work against. As a result, we legislators are in effect being asked to vote blind on it. The new committee will accordingly have to make things up as it goes along.

At the same time, various lobbyists will push the committee towards reviewing everything that they see as being important to their various causes. If the committee does not produce many—or enough—reports, it will be attacked for inaction. However, if it produces too many reports, it will be attacked for exercising power without democratic oversight or care for costs or whatever. If the Government fail to act on the committee’s views, they will be attacked for inaction, or possibly judicially reviewed. If they do act on them, people could claim that such proposals should come from those who are democratically elected, rather than from an unanswerable committee, or they could say that the Government are using the committee as a stalking horse to avoid taking the blame for proposals that they might think look a bit unpopular. In effect, whichever way one looks at the proposals, they are fraught with problems on every side. One has to wonder why we are doing this. What is there to gain from the Bill other than some short-term, soft publicity because it is somehow about being nice to animals?

Of course, as was mentioned in the other place, in reality, the Bill is not just about public relations, because those involved in minority areas of activity in our national life are realising that it could easily be used against them. Yes, I did see the assurances that the Government gave in the other place that the Bill would not attack the Jewish and Muslim religious animal slaughter practices of shechita and halal, and blatantly yes, the Bill makes no direct attack on those practices, but it does open up indirect lines of attack that could easily be used to prejudice or damage those minority religious practices. Importantly, as was explained clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), the Bill has no exemptions on the grounds of religious rights, cultural traditions and regional heritage, although those exemptions were included in the equivalent EU legislation. That should be corrected; I will be with him on that.

If the new committee were, for instance, to come up with regular reports against non-stunning slaughter practices, the pressure for change would quickly switch to Ministers. I would defend those religious practices, although that is not today’s debate. However, it is relevant to argue that any such changes should be formulated and debated by Ministers and then Parliament, not the new committee. If science does eventually tell us what sentience means and how it can be measured, and if all animal welfare will need to be improved as a result, why farm that out to a committee rather than deal with it directly? The committee will be appointed by the Ministers of the day, and let us acknowledge that the Ministers whom we politically support today will not be there on a change of Government. For that matter, if there is to be a committee, why does it have to be set up by statute if it will have no executive powers?

I was very surprised by the unwillingness of Ministers to engage on this issue or accept amendments in the other place, despite the Bill being hugely contentious. I hope that attitude will now change. There seems to be a lack of focus on what the committee will do, and the possible implications. It seems that it will have a full roving remit across Whitehall, although how it would interact with Departments is vague, as is how it would interact with the existing animal welfare machinery, specifically the animal welfare committee. We do not know. Why not make this new committee part of the animal welfare committee?

As chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council and a Member with a rural constituency, I have been approached by many to voice their concerns that the Bill is being used as a smokescreen to enable attacks on farming practices and wildlife management processes, as well as field sports. In the last few years, for instance, the lobby against game shooting has become increasingly litigious and now regularly uses judicial review to query a wide range of shooting issues, such as where game shooting can take place and what can be shot using general licences. The idea that such people will not attempt judicial review of decisions taken by Ministers on the back of the new committee’s findings is, frankly, unrealistic.

I predict that the Bill will: complicate many rural activities; add complexity and require legal opinions and court appearances; and add cost and bureaucracy. Despite the Bill being welcomed by the Opposition, it is, to my mind, a poor piece of legislation.

Grouse Shooting

Jonathan Djanogly Excerpts
Monday 21st June 2021

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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The hon. Member says that the numbers are going up, but they are going up from a very small base. As I say, the figures are nowhere near where they should be.

However, the fact is that raptor persecution is illegal and should not be happening, but it is happening on the grouse moors. Regardless of what the numbers are, the death of even one hen harrier is illegal and it should not be part of grouse moor management. That is the point that we should not lose sight of. It is not just a conservation measure to protect these birds; it is illegal to kill them.

Protecting this habitat could allow it to act as a valuable carbon sinks, offer flood protection and so on. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake) might have something more to say about its role in flood protection. When I went to those areas after the floods of 2015-16, and when I have spoken to people after the more recent floods in those areas, I found real concern about the impact that the management of the moorlands is having.

As Chris Packham says, a healthy upland habitat should be covered with trees, blanket bog and deep layers of sphagnum moss that act like a great sponge, with deep peat storing all the water. However, the management of grouse moors directly militates against this, with the burning of the heather, the illegal raptor persecution that I have mentioned and the extermination of mountain hares. Chris Packham also spoke about weasels and stoats being caught up in spring traps, crows caught in cage traps, foxes caught in snares and endangered protected species also accidentally being caught up, and about the use of medicated grit and the leeching of toxins from lead shot into the groundwater. The bottom line is that all these measures to protect the grouse are not in the interests of conservation; it is just so that the grouse can then be shot.

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.

Chris Packham says that in Scotland a bit more information has been released. Nevertheless, if Scotland was thought to be the size of Ben Nevis, the economic benefit from grouse shooting there would be the size of a small banjo. That seems to be the official interpretation. I do not know why banjos have been brought into it; I do not know the difference between a small banjo and a large banjo. He is saying that, given that the area of land given over to grouse shooting in Scotland is between 12% and 18% of the total land, something far more worthwhile than the equivalent of a small banjo, in terms of economic benefits from that area, could be produced.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
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Will the hon. Lady give way?

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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I hope the hon. Gentleman is going to explain why the banjo comes into it.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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I am not sure about banjos, but the premise that the hon. Lady gave before was that grouse management is there for shooting birds. I would say that that is not the case. Shooting is part of the environmental process that is going on. People who engage in grouse shooting involve themselves in environmental management. Just to kill all the grouse would mean, very simply, that there would be no grouse next year. The process has to be managed for the environment.

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy
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I do not accept that. If we look at the way the moors are managed, we see that it is to create the largest possible number of grouse, it is to avoid anything that might be a threat to the grouse, including natural predators, and it is destroying a lot of other wildlife at the same time. All that is not so that people can stalk through the undergrowth with their gun, in the way that we might think of the country sport of shooting. It is so that busloads of people can come in, stand there and just shoot, shoot, shoot—it is very much a numbers game. I would not say that has anything to do with conservation.

The birds would not be there in those numbers if they were not being artificially managed, in the same way that we get the imported pheasants and partridges when it comes to that form of shooting; they are there to be shot. As I have said, the way that is managed is related to that intensity and the sheer number of birds that people want to produce, rather than it being about any concern for conserving the natural habitat. As I said, we just do not have the numbers. I do not know whether the Minister will come up with numbers to tell us who is benefiting from this and what contribution it makes.

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Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
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Thank you, Ms McDonagh. I declare my interests as they appear in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, as a game shooter and as a member of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

This has been a good-tempered and interesting debate, but it is unfortunate that the premise of the petition lacks the understanding—or perhaps the willingness to acknowledge—that grouse shooting is all about working with the environment. Specifically and directly on the moors, where the game birds live and breed, grouse are not imported. They are natural to their moors, and great respect must be given to maintaining that environment. That is why they are magnificent parts of the country to visit. The environmental care of grouse shooting is very strong, and it seems that to argue otherwise is more about being anti-shooting than pro-environment.

The problem with the premise of the argument of the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) is that I think she said something about rich people maximising the number of birds to be killed for profit. Actually, very few grouse shoots are run at a profit. They are run by people who are passionate about their sport and about managing the environment. It is about peat, other species, local jobs and preparing the ground for walkers and tourists. It is simply untrue to say that this is just about shooting game. It is about preserving for future generations some of the finest environments in the UK by effectively managing them.

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (in the Chair)
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Thank you for making this a bit easier to chair, Mr Djanogly. I think I am right in suggesting that the next speakers can have nine minutes each, leaving one minute for the summing up. I call Dave Doogan of the Scottish National party.

Hare Coursing

Jonathan Djanogly Excerpts
Tuesday 1st December 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Gordon Henderson Portrait Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of hare coursing.

I am very fortunate to represent a constituency that has both urban and rural communities. In Sittingbourne and Sheppey, we are privileged to have access to lots of green space where we can enjoy our wonderful rural natural environment. We are also privileged to be surrounded by many acres of good quality agricultural land, where our local farmers produce fruit, vegetables and cereals that are as good as any found in any other part of the garden of England.

I am conscious that those privileges come with the great responsibility of ensuring that we properly protect our land, its wild animals and the habitats that they call home. That protection extends to our population of native hares, which is why I applied for this debate. I want to highlight the damage caused by the barbaric practice of hare coursing. That, for those who do not know, is defined as the sport of hunting hares using sight rather than scent.

I beg to differ. Hare coursing is as far removed from sport as you can possibly get. It is nothing more or less than the cruel use of live hares to train dogs to hunt them down and kill them just to make money. Increasingly, the so-called training events are organised on a competitive basis and used as an opportunity for hare coursing supporters to take part in illegal betting.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
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I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s bringing to the House this important subject, which is of extreme concern to my constituents in Huntingdon and to people in wider Cambridgeshire. On the point that he raises, is he aware that those events are being streamed not just locally but nationally for gambling purposes, and that therefore this problem goes beyond all our constituencies and is a national problem that must be dealt with as such by the Government?

Gordon Henderson Portrait Gordon Henderson
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I fully agree with my hon. Friend. The betting generates thousands of pounds for the greedy and unscrupulous organisers of the events, who truly have the blood of hares on their hands.

Hare coursing is having an adverse effect on our native hare population, which in turn has an effect on biodiversity. That is why hares are included in the UK biodiversity action plan.

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Rebecca Pow Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
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It is a pleasure to be here with you this morning, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson). I think he said he started raising this issue six and a half years ago, which was just before I arrived here. I did look up whether he had raised it before. It is an issue that has grown and expanded and I applaud him for returning today to raise it again.

Given what a short time we have for the debate, a surprising number of colleagues have come along to intervene, which demonstrates the strength of feeling, including my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger), my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) and the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). Quite a number of hon. Friends and hon. Members have also written to me on this subject.

Hare coursing is a vile and despicable activity. When I was a news reporter years ago back at HTV in Bristol, when I first started as a young girl, badger baiting was rife. Hare coursing is not unlike that terrible activity, which certain people thought was an acceptable thing to take part in. It is vile and it is ghastly.

I point out, unequivocally, that hare coursing is illegal. The brown hare—the Lepus europaeus—is a naturalised species listed as a conservation priority in the UK’s biodiversity action plan. It is a much-loved creature and its core habitat is arable farmland, with some improved grassland. As I was discussing with a colleague earlier, people tend to like pursuing this activity in the open fields, where there is lots of space to get around.

The hare is not endangered, but we are a nation of animal lovers, are we not? I, for one, think this is a dreadful activity.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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Is the Minister aware that for some farmers, one of the answers to this is to go out—quite legally—and shoot all the hares on their land, to stop people coming in to course them?

Rebecca Pow Portrait Rebecca Pow
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am actually fairly horrified by that. I hope that is hearsay; I hope it is not true. I was raised and brought up on a farm, and to see a hare out in its natural habitat is a great thing. Certainly, my brother has hares on his farm, and I do not think they have had any incidents of this, but that is not anything that one wants to hear.

This is not just about the harm to the creature, of course. This activity causes real harm to rural communities, which is why we are determined to continue our efforts to prevent it, and my Department is working very closely with the Home Office on this. We have heard some very compelling accounts this morning from my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey about the serious harm in his constituency; harm to farming families and to others in the community. We have also heard stories of property theft—the joint is cased while the activity is happening, and often the stealing happens later—dangerous driving, and even arson, assaults and intimidation. Only recently in Cambridgeshire, for example, a man engaged in hare coursing was convicted of dangerous driving and criminal damage and jailed for two months, having driven at speeds of nearly 100 mph across the farmer’s field to try to evade the police. It is also fairly horrifying to hear that these events are now being streamed, which is further expanding the audience.

However, I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that a lot of progress has been made, certainly over these past six and a half years. I commend the work of the police, because they are doing a great deal in many areas to deter hare coursing. The Government support the police’s efforts to tackle this through the National Police Chiefs’ Council rural and wildlife crime policing strategy—that is a big mouthful, but it is definitely there to help, and it aims to target the problem through better preventative action, improved intelligence and enforcement activity. We are now seeing a much more co-ordinated approach across many police forces.

I particularly pay tribute to Chief Inspector Phil Vickers of Lincolnshire Police, who is the national lead for colleagues and other forces on something called Operation Galileo. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has heard of that, but it focuses on the prevention of hare coursing, and it now joins together 21 police forces, sharing information and intelligence from across the whole of the UK to target offenders. It is supported by other, more sophisticated prosecution capabilities, bringing them to justice; it has also invested in drones, which I believe will be very helpful in something like this, and other technologies so that they can track and monitor hare coursers, as well as gather evidence, which of course is one of the key things. It is bearing fruit: for example, the last two seasons have seen the smallest number of incidents on record in Lincolnshire. What they have learned there is something that others can also learn from and share.

Poaching, which includes hare coursing, is one of the UK’s six wildlife crime priorities. Those priorities are set by the UK Wildlife Crime Tasking and Co-ordination Group and the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which I am very pleased is working well and remains in existence; it has just had its next year’s funding confirmed by DEFRA. It is a joint operation between the Home Office and DEFRA; lots of other interested bodies take part in it, and it also gets funding from the Scottish Government, the Northern Ireland Executive and the National Police Chiefs’ Council. They all put money into the pot, and hare coursing is definitely on their radar.

I must just say that this Government are committed to providing more police officers, and recruitment is well under way, with 4,000 already in place and more on their way. That should also make a difference, particularly in our rural areas.

Driven Grouse Shooting

Jonathan Djanogly Excerpts
Monday 31st October 2016

(7 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
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My right hon. Friend makes a very good point, which I will develop later in my speech, and I agree with him completely.

The management of the moorland for grouse provides the manpower to tackle invasive plants such as bracken and ragwort, along with saplings and shrubs of other species, and keeps the heather moorland clear. That level of intervention would not be viable without the grouse shooting industry. In England, grouse moor owners spend approximately £50 million every year on moorland management; in Scotland, the figure is more than £30 million. If grouse shooting were banned, where would the funds to manage the land come from?

Another concern expressed by those who wish to ban grouse shooting is that it causes flooding. I understand the logic of their argument: grouse moor management can increase the risk of flooding, because burning reduces the ability of the moor to absorb rainfall and run-off must therefore increase, leading to flooding further downstream. I suggest, however, that that is too simple a conclusion and that the issue is far more complex. Indeed, peatland restoration is known to help to slow the rate of water run-off. Ending moorland management as a result of banning grouse shooting might actually make flooding worse and more likely to happen. I am particularly interested in hearing the Minister’s views on that when she responds to the debate, because the issue is of great concern to those who live near such moors.

Another point worth making is that many areas of heather moorland are protected in their current state by their status as SSSIs—sites of special scientific interest. If the tens of millions of pounds of income from grouse shooting were to be lost, how would those protected landscapes be maintained in their current state without the cost falling on the taxpayer, something I simply could not support?

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
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My hon. Friend is making a very powerful case. It seems to me that the opponents of shooting grouse want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because if we destroy grouse shooting, the raptors would lose their food source, local jobs would be lost and, as my hon. Friend is saying, the environment would be the poorer. The argument is not about conservation, but about destruction of the countryside.

Steve Double Portrait Steve Double
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Again, I agree with the points he makes.

Another argument put forward by those who wish to ban grouse shooting is that it is damaging to wildlife. The petition to ban grouse shooting states that it causes the deaths of predators such as foxes, stoats and hen harriers. The lawful control of predators is essential to protect grouse, which are ground-nesting birds. That includes the black grouse, which is one of the most endangered species in the UK. Peer-reviewed research by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust shows that as the population of black grouse has declined, they have retreated to managed moorland areas, which now account for 96% of the black grouse population. Predator control also protects other valuable species, such as the lapwing, skylark, curlew, grey partridge and merlin, whose numbers have doubled on grouse moors in the last 20 years.

All wild bird species are protected under law, to varying degrees. The UK has some of the most robust wildlife and animal legislation in the world. It is a criminal offence to shoot, kill or tamper with birds of prey such as the hen harrier—and their nests—without a licence.

In 1999, the joint raptor study on Langholm moor measured the impact of hen harriers breeding on grouse moorland. When grouse management of that heather moorland stopped, there was a marked decline in red grouse, skylarks, curlews, golden plovers and hen harriers. The evidence is clear that birds of prey, including hen harriers, are better off on managed heather moorland. Hen harriers need gamekeepers as much as grouse do. However, gamekeepers on grouse moors are often accused of persecuting birds of prey. As one person who gave evidence to the Committee said, grouse shooting

“is underpinned by wildlife crime.”

There are clearly genuine concerns about the illegal killing of birds of prey on grouse moors. I want to make it clear that I believe that those who flout the law do the shooting community no favours whatever. There is no justification for illegal activity. However, I suggest that the illegal activity of a few is no justification for a complete ban—otherwise, we would have outlawed driving a long time ago—but instead a case for more effective enforcement of our current laws.

The key argument on this subject is the economic one. We must always keep in mind when addressing issues of this nature that although many of the key arguments are to do with the environment, landscapes and wildlife, they are also about people and the livelihoods and sustainability of our rural communities. The Moorland Association and Countryside Alliance note that in many cases grouse shooting not only supports but is a lifeline for rural areas of the UK that are cut off from employment streams that other parts of the country enjoy.

Animal Slaughter (Religious Methods)

Jonathan Djanogly Excerpts
Tuesday 4th November 2014

(9 years, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
- Hansard - -

On 16 January, the other place debated religious slaughter, showing a high level of scientific, practical and religious expertise. For example, Lord Winston and Lord Sacks gave scientific and religious justifications of shechita slaughter that I would recommend to anyone who is interested. I appreciate the non-emotive tone used by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) said, let us be under no illusions about how emotive the issue is for the Orthodox Jewish British community. In the event of a ban on non-stunned meat—I appreciate that that has not been recommended by my hon. Friend—they would either have to import their meat or move to a place where they could eat it and maintain their civil liberties.

The report of July 2014 by the all-party group on beef and lamb, chaired by my hon. Friend, set out areas for future debate and asked as many questions as it answered. In particular, it accepted that concerns over shechita slaughter are not supported by scientific evidence and called for more research. I note the report’s statement that it is worth debating

“whether the right to Freedom of Religious Expression outweighs animal welfare considerations”.

However, that is not the right starting point from a Jewish point of view, which is that a single knife cut stuns, kills and exsanguinates in a single act. Accordingly, the Jewish view is that shechita is the most humane and animal welfare friendly method of slaughter and is not to be weighed against or bargained with freedom of religious expression.

A conceptual problem is that modern slaughter practice, including stunning, is based on mechanised, mass market, cheap food requirements. That is not the starting point for shechita, where the quality of and respect to be given to each animal is key.

Another issue relates to whether or to what extent the animal feels pain during slaughter. The report acknowledges that there is a “knowledge deficit” about whether a neck cut is painful or not. That issue was raised by Lord Winston in the other place, who said:

“I emphasise that what has been said about pain is another assumption. Of course animals may move after the brain is severed but the brain itself does not perceive pain if it is damaged and, in fact, none of the organs below the skin has pain fibres. You have some pain fibres in your trachea but they are very small. The evidence that animals suffer severe pain after one cut with an extremely sharp knife is extremely arguable. The truth is that, once you are unconscious, nobody knows what the perception of death or pain is.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 January 2014; Vol. 751, c. GC200.]

I should point out that many other academics see shechita as just as humane as other slaughter methods. Moreover, it is certainly considered to be more humane than what happens to the chickens that are hung and electrocuted, the pigs that are gassed, and the cows that can be mis-stunned before the second, later act of slaughter takes place. All that avoids the issues surrounding the trapping of animals or the shooting of game from a distance, which is why many Jews and Muslims ask why shechita and halal should be looked at in isolation.

That question also attaches to the issue of labelling. Jewish rules were, of course, the first to initiate labelling, and all meat consumed as kosher needs to be labelled as such. However, it is then asked why kosher and halal meat in general—say, put in dog food—should have to be labelled, when meat slaughtered or stunned by other means need not be. Moreover, are we not missing the broader point? Namely, would the consumer not be as interested in knowing how the animal lived as in knowing how it died—for instance, what drugs it was given or what density of population and conditions it lived in? Should those issues not also be included in the labelling debate? Personally, I think that they should, and that the all-party group report should be looked at in that wider context.

Flooding

Jonathan Djanogly Excerpts
Wednesday 26th February 2014

(10 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lord Pickles Portrait The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles)
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I thank the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) for sending her best wishes to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whom I spoke to a short time before the debate. He is making progress but, as Members will readily understand, is going through an extremely painful process. She has been extremely kind in sending him messages.

There were many things in the hon. Lady’s speech that were lacking in accuracy or were exaggerated, but let just one thing speak for everything: her criticism of our promise to open the railway line at Dawlish in six weeks. Let us be clear that the enormous gap in that line is being mended in the face of the most difficult storms. Containers filled with rocks were obtained to protect it, and without that, houses would have been lost, yet the storms continued. Despite that work, the gap increased by 70% over the weekend. The people repairing the line are working around the clock to deliver a railway. Frankly, being sneered at by the hon. Lady is not very helpful.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)
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Is not part of the problem with the Labour party’s argument that its Members talk in generalisations? In reality, a huge amount of good work has been going on across the country, not least in Godmanchester in my constituency, where tomorrow a £10 million new scheme will be opened to keep over 1,000 of my constituents safe from flooding.

Lord Pickles Portrait Mr Pickles
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My hon. Friend makes a very reasonable case. Indeed, we will be announcing a number of schemes that will help with that process. In fairness to the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood, she did pay tribute to the people who have done this work.

I welcome this debate. I think that despite the hon. Lady’s best endeavours, there is a lot of common ground between the Government and the Opposition on this motion. Unless the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who will put the case for the Labour party towards the end of the debate, is particularly aggressive and provocative, it is certainly not the Government’s intention to oppose the motion. [Interruption.] As he says, perish the thought.

As the hon. Lady said, Britain has faced some of the worst flooding in decades. The wettest winter in two and half centuries has caused significant damage to homes, businesses, transport and farmland. Areas across the country—

Public Bodies Bill [Lords]

Jonathan Djanogly Excerpts
Tuesday 25th October 2011

(12 years, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Michael Dugher Portrait Michael Dugher
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The hon. Gentleman is right and he makes a powerful case for our argument. It is the inconsistency of standards that we are concerned about. There are good coroners but, if we are honest, looking back at recent cases there are many examples of where the system has not worked, and that simply is not acceptable. That is why the Opposition will stand firm behind the armed forces and their families, behind the Royal British Legion and behind other bereaved families who have been let down time and again in the past by the coroner system.

Before this debate, I received a message from the Royal British Legion that said:

“Here’s hoping MPs of all parties will do the right thing by bereaved families, especially bereaved Armed Forces families, at this poignant time”—[Interruption.]

Those are the words of the Royal British Legion. We will do the right thing and the Government should too.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) for initiating this important debate and I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher) for his contribution. I thank also stakeholders, particularly the noble Baroness Finlay, the Royal British Legion, INQUEST and Cardiac Risk in the Young for their passion for and commitment to reform. I have met them all on numerous occasions and our discussions have helped to shape the Government’s thinking on our proposals for reform of the coroner system. I have to say that our discussions have not been just of the yes/no variety described by the hon. Gentleman.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones
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Does the Minister agree with the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), who has just said that what the Royal British Legion said was a disgrace?

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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We are all aware of the importance of the issue and the outcome of this debate has the potential to affect thousands of people who come into contact with the coroner system, often in exceptionally difficult circumstances. Honouring the memory of those who give their lives for their country is very close to the heart of this Government, as it is to all hon. Members I am sure, but I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole that our reforms go further, as they concern all coroners, not just military inquests.

Hon. Members will be well aware of the Government’s position on this. Urgent reform is needed to drive up standards across the piece and to learn lessons from the inquest process. This must be achieved through consistent training for coroners, by tackling the cause of delays in the inquest process, by setting a framework of standards that the bereaved have the right to expect from the coroner system and by removing barriers to hearing inquests at the most convenient location for bereaved families.

Robert Flello Portrait Robert Flello
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After the disgraceful comments of the Minister’s colleague, who said, “These people are a disgrace,” this Minister said that he had had many discussions with the Royal British Legion, INQUEST and the like. Will he comment on the observations of those organisations that following those meetings they discovered that what had been said to one group about one organisation differed from what that organisation had actually said? There has much sleight of hand.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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I would disagree with that. I had meetings with them together as well as separately. It is true that they opposed our proposals on one hand, but they were also in discussions with us in order to make our proposals work better. I was very grateful for their input and I can tell hon. Members that what has come about has been based partly on the changes they suggested.

The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 enables us to do all the things I have outlined. I accept that the Act, as originally drafted, envisaged that some functions would be carried out by a chief coroner, but that is not the only way of implementing the reforms. Indeed, the transfer of functions to the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor will ensure that they are taken forward quickly, effectively and without the cost associated with establishing the office of chief coroner. I assure hon. Members that the independence of the judiciary is every bit as secure in the hands of the Lord Chief Justice as it would have been in the hands of the chief coroner. Debates in this House and the other place, as well as my own stakeholder engagement, have clearly shown that there are widely held misconceptions about the extent of the chief coroner’s powers. In practice, the chief coroner’s powers to direct coroners would have been limited and any leadership would have been provided entirely through influence and persuasion.

Mark Durkan Portrait Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP)
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Is the Minister not aware from his meetings with the various groups that have been mentioned that the current Government’s engagement with them on the issue has given them absolutely no confidence in the idea that some of these responsibilities would rest with the Lord Chancellor and some of his Ministers in future?

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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I have not come away with that impression when I have met those organisations.

Let me set out plainly that the chief coroner would not have had any enforcement powers to ensure authorities comply with actions to prevent future deaths that coroners may have reported to them. The chief coroner would not have had the power to investigate complaints about the conduct of coroners or, indeed, to direct a coroner on how to conduct an investigation. Complaints, quite rightly, will continue to lie with the Office for Judicial Complaints. The chief coroner would not, as some have suggested, have been responsible for managing or appraising individual coroners. On administrative issues, the chief coroner would not have been answerable to Parliament, as the Minister will be under our proposed ministerial board.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) said that, without a chief coroner, inconsistencies in the reporting of suicide verdicts and the increasing use of narrative verdicts would continue. The chief coroner would have had no remit to direct coroners in how they use narrative verdicts. Coroners are independent judicial office holders. Only coroners can decide on the appropriate form of verdict.

Madeleine Moon Portrait Mrs Moon
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I served on the Committee that considered the Coroners and Justice Bill, and one of the things that I discussed throughout was the role of the chief coroner. One of my concerns was the totally fragmented nature of the system. I was given an absolute assurance in Committee that the chief coroner would have the capacity to oversee and call in verdicts and to ensure not only consistency but investigation, where there were suicide clusters in particular.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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The hon. Lady is very involved with coroners. We have had several meetings on coroners. She is dedicated to coronial reform—I respect her for that—but I am afraid that what she thought was the position arising from the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 is not right. Such inconsistencies and misconceptions are rife, which is why I feel that it is so important to address them now.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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Let me move on, otherwise I shall not get through.

Under the proposals announced to Parliament on 14 June, we can deliver a significant package of reform to the coroner system. Transferring the majority of the chief coroner’s functions to either the Lord Chief Justice or Lord Chancellor will allow us to implement the vast majority of the reforms envisaged under part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. Those powers include allowing the Lord Chancellor to make regulations about the way in which the coroner system is expected to operate in relation to bereaved relatives; allowing the Lord Chancellor to make regulations about the practice and procedure in coroner investigations, such as the disclosure of information to bereaved relatives and minimum standards for post mortem examinations; allowing the Lord Chief Justice to make rules to regulate practice and procedure at inquests; allowing the Lord Chief Justice to make rules in relation to the training of coroners, including specialist training, for instance, relating to military inquests; allowing the Lord Chancellor to amend coroner areas; and allowing the transfer of military cases to and from Scotland.

I found it somewhat sad to hear some hon. Members suggest that we are letting down service families. If we were leaving the office in the 2009 Act alone and not implementing the changes, I would agree with them. However, we are providing real and significant changes to the system that will directly improve the experience and treatment of service personnel families who come into contact with the coroner system.

Paul Goggins Portrait Paul Goggins
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The Government are making a huge mistake. The sooner the Minister realises that the better. He has been very evasive about the costings and has refused absolutely to interrogate the figures that he seems to have been given by his officials. Will he now explain what estimate he has made of the additional costs that will be incurred by transferring statutory functions from the chief coroner to the Lord Chief Justice?

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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I will come on to the costings and explain why the costings provided by the last Government were correct—we checked them—but let me finish what I was saying.

The powers will allow the Department of Health to proceed with its proposals to introduce a new system for examining the causes of death, thereby fulfilling one of the key recommendations of Dame Janet Smith’s report on the Shipman inquiry.

Concerns were expressed in Committee that I might not give this work the priority that it deserves. That could not be further from the truth. In particular, we have plans to establish a new ministerial board to drive these reforms, to provide oversight of the non-judicial aspects of the coroner system, and to provide a direct line of accountability on these matters to Parliament. We will also establish a bereaved organisations committee that will support the board and provide those who represent bereaved families with a direct line to Ministers.

Lord Beith Portrait Sir Alan Beith
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One of the concerns of the Justice Committee has been about the uncertain and widely differing arrangements for providing financial support for coroners and the widely differing arrangements for providing coroners officers, who are sometimes provided by the police and sometimes by the local authority, with no uniform standard of training. Will the system that the Minister is describing deal with this problem?

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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Yes, the board will be there to address policy issues such as those that my right hon. Friend mentioned. It is important to keep in mind that the position of chief coroner would have had power over none of those.

The ministerial board will meet quarterly, with the dates fixed and publicised well in advance so that meetings cannot be cancelled without good reason. The board will also have a strong independent feel to it, with coroners and other members sitting on it, together with representatives from the bereaved organisations committee.

The new committee will be independently chaired and I have given commitments that the chair cannot be appointed or removed without the approval of committee members. I would expect the chair to become a powerful advocate for the bereaved and be a champion of coroner reform. If the Government are not delivering on this package of reforms, I would expect the chair to hold us to account.

The bereaved organisations committee will have a particular remit to monitor the new charter for coroner services. The charter, which we intend to publish in early 2012 following the recent consultation exercise, will set out for the first time the standards of service that those coming into contact with the system can and should expect. This will play a vital role in driving up standards of service and helping people to understand their rights and responsibilities in relation to the coroner system.

Simon Hughes Portrait Simon Hughes
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I am listening carefully because I, like others, need some persuasion. Why would it not be possible, compatible with all the other arrangements that the Minister is setting out, for one coroner to be designated as the chief coroner, to have the same sort of responsibility for the coronial service as a presiding judge has in a circuit or over one of the divisions of the High Court, and to be the route of communication up and down at no or no significant additional cost?

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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We would expect that to be the situation because we would expect the Lord Chief Justice, who would be responsible for the judicial aspects, to appoint someone, but that would be within current costings. I should also say, because this was raised by the hon. Gentleman’s right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) in an earlier remark, that that cannot, under existing legislation, be an existing coroner. It can be only a High Court judge or a circuit judge. That would be at a cost of some £400,000 a year.

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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If the right hon. Gentleman does not mind, I do not have much time and I must proceed.

I want to reassure hon. Members that the Government have listened to concerns expressed here and in the other place and by a large number of organisations. We have responded to these concerns and we have compromised, so we no longer intend to abolish the office of the chief coroner. Moving the office from schedule 1 to schedule 5 means that we will retain the chief coroner in statute. We have listened to the views of stakeholders on the constitution and remit of the new ministerial board and bereaved organisations committee and we have amended our proposals accordingly. We are considering a requirement for the new board to produce an annual report to Parliament, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole wished, strengthening further the accountability for and transparency of our reform proposals.

The Government’s decision not to proceed with full implementation was not taken lightly. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole, I thought, made somewhat light of the costs of the chief coroner. The simple fact is that we cannot afford the establishment costs of £10.9 million and running costs of £6.6 million per year, especially when functions can be carried out from within existing resources.

Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy
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Can the Minister tell me how much his Department spent on consultants in the past year?

Jonathan Djanogly Portrait Mr Djanogly
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I can get back to my hon. Friend on that. I will write to him. I do not have the figures to hand.

I note the concerns that hon. Members have raised about the establishment and running costs, which are of course drawn from the original impact assessment prepared by the previous Administration which accompanied the Coroners and Justice Act. However, even if Opposition Members now dispute their own figures, we cannot escape the fact that new funding is required at a time when the Ministry of Justice is facing budget cuts of some 23%. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) knows very well, we placed a breakdown of our figures in the House of Commons Library months ago. The alternative package of reforms can, I firmly believe, deliver the policy intentions of part 1 of the 2009 Act, but without the expense of establishing and maintaining the office of the chief coroner.

I can confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole that I have considered the new Royal British Legion and INQUEST proposals for an elongated implementation timetable in order to spread the cost of the office of chief coroner, but their proposals would mean a delay to the urgently needed reforms of several years, and there is no guarantee that even then funding will be available to establish the office. At best there would be a delay to reform, and at worst there would be no reform at all.

I began by speaking of the urgent need for reform, and I would urge my hon. Friend to consider the ramifications of his amendment. If the office of chief coroner were to be removed from schedule 5, the office would be left in statute, but with no prospect of its powers being implemented. In turn, without the ability to transfer chief coroner functions elsewhere, we would be prevented from implementing all but a small handful of provisions in part 1 of the 2009 Act. That would leave us with the worst possible outcome: little or no meaningful reform. That would be unacceptable; not least to the families of the bereaved who deserve and expect urgent reform of the system.

I therefore urge my hon. Friend to withdraw his amendment so that we can proceed with the urgent and much needed reform of the coroner system.

Gordon Marsden Portrait Mr Gordon Marsden (Blackpool South) (Lab)
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I want to place on record, adding to what has been said already, my admiration for the speech of the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). I speak as one of the Members of Parliament for Blackpool, a town which has had a strong focus on service issues and which was involved in the launch of veterans week. I also declare an interest as chair of the all-party veterans group.

The argument for retaining the office of chief coroner cannot be divorced from the trauma and tragedy of the unexplained deaths and unanswered questions around Deepcut barracks over a seven-year period. Deepcut is not the only place from which the grief and trauma of the families who galvanised the urgency for the office came. I was first involved in this issue through the work of my colleague, the former Member of Parliament for Blackpool North and Fleetwood, Joan Humble, who took up the case of Lance Corporal Derek McGregor, who died at the Catterick barracks in July 2003. His father was one of Joan’s constituents. She chaired the all-party group on Army deaths, which focused on peacetime non-combat deaths. She has not forgotten the issue, and nor have the bereaved families of service personnel. This Saturday there will be a conference in Blackpool for bereaved service families organised by the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association. Those bereaved families hoped and believed that the office of the chief coroner would have a team to look systematically at the other reports from coroners on Army deaths and to make recommendations to the Ministry of Defence. It is in that context that the whole issue of narrative verdicts on how a son or daughter has died is important, not simply in giving some comfort to the bereaved relatives, but crucially in the process of assessing and for transparency.