Is government incompetent or simply acting in bad faith? – Mark Avery

Dear Mr Pursglove, since this is my first communication with you for quite a while, may I wish you a belated Happy New Year!?

It’s likely to be an interesting year politically, not least with the byelection in adjacent Wellingborough coming next month.  It seems a bit odd to me that the Conservative candidate is said to be the outgoing MP’s, Peter Bone’s, girlfriend and we’ll have to see how that goes down with the electorate but it’s not for me to intrude into Conservative Party grief.

Before I come to my requests for your help, may I just touch on the fact that it is just possible that this might be my last correspondence with you.  I know that the current Prime Minister says that there won’t be a May general election but on past performance that is a strong signal that there might be. And I notice that your hold on the very marginal seat of Corby is a bit tenuous if the polls are to be believed. But I have to say that you have been (and still are) a hardworking and efficient constituency MP even though your political beliefs do not accord with my own. It is a strength of our political system that an MP represents all of their constituents and not just those who voted for that MP, and long may that remain.

And so, please could you ask Defra, and in one case DLUHC, about the following matters? These are all issues about which I feel strongly, and in which I have been concerned and involved as a director of Wild Justice, a not-for-profit company based here, in your own constituency.


  • Hedgerow regulations – the protections which were linked to cross-compliance and the Common Agricultural Policy have lapsed as of 1 January. Defra consulted on how to replace these regulations in September 2023 – I was one of many who responded to the consultation. The consultation was specifically about what new measures would be introduced – no new measures have been introduced. This is highly unsatisfactory in a crisis of wildlife decline in which farmland is the land use which has seen arguably the highest losses. You, I seem to recall Mr Pursglove, were one of many Tory Brexiteers who told the public that leaving the EU would allow us to bring in even stronger domestic measures for environmental protection. At the moment, on this issue, the protection has been removed and not replaced with anything. Hedgerows are important to the general public and are very easily observable features of the countryside. Whether the general election happens in May or the autumn I wouldn’t have thought that the current government would want another issue that the public can spot and be able to blame directly on indolence the Conservative Party in power. Please ask Defra, on my behalf, what are their plans to bring in new regulations – what and when?
  • Lead ammunition consultation – lead is a poison and we shouldn’t be shooting it into food we eat or the environment in which we and other creatures live. I was involved, as an RSPB member of staff, in securing a partial ban on lead ammunition use in the time when Michael Meacher was an environment minister – the current ban (in simplified terms) applies to wetlands and shooting ducks etc. The Health and Safety Executive has consulted on the matter of extending a ban on lead ammunition to all shot used for killing animals in the wild (eg Pheasants, Woodpigeon, Red Grouse, Rabbits etc) and potentially to bullets used to kill wild animals such as deer, Red Foxes etc. I would support both these extensions of the existing restrictions. The consultation took place a month ago. I would like to know when information on the scale of responses will be published and an analysis of those views and when the HSE will update its restriction dossier please. As I understand it, the HSE is a non-departmental public body which sits under the DWP but in this case it has been asked to carry out the consultation and recommend measures by Defra.
  • Peat sales to gardeners – in December 2021 the government announced that peat sales to gardeners would be banned ‘by 2024’ – they weren’t and they aren’t. Please ask Defra whether it has plans to keep its word.
  • Westminster parliamentary petition on the shooting season of Woodcock – this Westminster parliamentary petition calling for a reduction in the length of the shooting season for the beautiful wading bird called a Woodcock reached 100,000 signatures in January 2023 and was debated in Westminster Hall in February 2023. Defra, in a response to the petition in October 2022, committed to reviewing the relevant Schedule (Schedule 2) of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act with a view to making changes but this followed an earlier letter to Wild Justice from the outgoing Secretary of State, George Eustice, making a similar commitment. A similar statement was made by Trudy Harrison, a Defra minister, in the Westminster Hall debate. Over 16 months on from Mr Eustice’s letter, 15 months from the Defra response to the petition and 11 months since the debate, there is nothing to show for these promises. This is a very simple, no-cost, easy measure which is widely supported (even by many in the shooting industry). Please ask Defra when it plans to implement new dates for the Woodcock shooting season and (and this ‘and’ is important to me) why making progress is so slow.
  • Westminster parliamentary petition on making Swift bricks  compulsory in new housing – this Westminster parliamentary petition calling for a very simple inclusion of a nest brick to be included in new-build housing was debated in Westminster Hall in July 2023 and received strong cross-party support. It asks for a very small change to building practices which will help a range of threatened or declining bird species such as the Swift. This matter falls within the ambit of the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – please ask them what progress they have made and when they expect to make an announcement on this matter.

I’d be grateful for your help, please. There is a thread, maybe several, that runs through these matters. One is competence – we have government departments that fail to do the very simple and easy things well, quickly or even at all. Public administration under your party looks a shambles – I’ve never known it to be so poor. If Michael Gove’s department can’t decide quickly on Swift bricks and tell us, either way, what is happening then I really wonder how the difficult things are going to be done. The same applies to a minor, largely non-contentious, change to the shooting season of a bird based on much better scientific information. What is the problem here? In my mind, the only alternative to incompetence as an explanation for lack of action (and these really, really, really are simply examples, not the full list) is bad faith. Might it be that this government says one thing and does something completely different? I’m not asking you to choose between the two alternative explanations – incompetence or bad faith – but I would be very grateful if you could use your best endeavours to provide some answers on these matters,

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