Questions on grouse shooting for Tony Juniper but not on hen harrier persecution

Tony Juniper, the nominated candidate for taking on the role of Chair of Natural England, faced a pre-appointment hearing yesterday in front of members of the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee and the Environmental Audit Committee.

If you weren’t able to watch it, the proceedings have been archived and can be viewed here.

And was that Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association) arriving late to join the public gallery, along with grouse moor-owning Richard Benyon MP?

They wouldn’t have been disappointed. The subject of grouse shooting and moorland management was raised a couple of times by two Conservative MPs (Julian Sturdy MP at 15.16 mins and Robert Goodwill MP at 15.43 mins) who were looking for assurances from Tony Juniper that he wouldn’t be looking to rewild grouse moors and he wouldn’t be campaigning to prevent rotational heather burning.

Disappointingly, Angela Smith MP (hen harrier species champion) failed to use this opportunity to ask Tony for his view on the illegal persecution of hen harriers on driven grouse moors, a long-standing issue that is yet again about to be confirmed by the imminent publication of a new research paper based on Natural England’s hen harrier satellite tag data.

Perhaps the most amusing ‘hardcore questioning’ came from Sheryll Murray MP (Conservative) at 15.09 mins who spoke as if she was reading from a script and it was the first time she’d seen it. In painfully slow speech, she questioned Tony’s integrity about his claim that he hadn’t been politically active for several years. She accused him of making a £50 donation in 2017 to support the election of a Green Party candidate and then, horror of horrors, accused him of attending a vegan breakfast at a Green Party fringe event in 2018. She wanted assurance that Tony was capable of managing these political ‘conflicts of interest’ should he be appointed Chair of Natural England. Good grief.

Her fellow Conservative, Zac Goldsmith MP, put the £50 donation accusation in to context at 15.57 mins: “I have to put on the record if it hasn’t already been put on the record that Andrew Sells, the previous [Natural England] Chairman gave £111,000 to the Conservative Party before he was appointed“. Sniggers all round.

The entire hearing was a masterclass on retaining one’s composure when confronted by some idiotic questions (although to be fair there were some decent questions, too) and a bullish, arrogant Chair – Neil Parish MP. What is it with these Westminster committee chairs? Are they always so rude? Mr Parish kept interrupting Tony Juniper and insisting on having a ‘Yes/No’ answer to some questions, despite Tony explaining that his responses needed to be more nuanced, and Parish went on and on and on (at 15.25 mins) about wanting assurances that Tony wouldn’t ‘interfere’ with the Government’s badger cull (presumably Tony knew that Neil Parish has a family farm in Somerset and has been a vociferous supporter of the badger cull).

It turns out that the Committee’s decision on whether to approve Tony’s appointment or not is not a binding decision – Ministers can take the Committee’s comments in to consideration but they don’t have to listen to them – which made yesterday’s hearing a bit of a pointless exercise, although it was useful to have some transparency for the public and no doubt useful for Tony Juniper to find out which issues are likely to be raised with him in the future, if he didn’t already know.

UPDATE 28 Feb 2019: Full transcript of the pre-appointment hearing now available here

 

9 thoughts on “Questions on grouse shooting for Tony Juniper but not on hen harrier persecution”

  1. A thoroughly professional and composed performance from Tony Juniper. I suspect that some of the interviewing panel were niggled because he had clearly done his homework before the meeting. I don’t recollect him being caught out once. Some serious questions will need to be asked if he is not eventually appointed.

  2. I remain amazed that blatant self interest seems to be so acceptable if you are a right wing property owner. Well done Zac Goldsmith for shining a light on the murky world of Conservative party donations ! I’m sure Tony would have loved to give the Greens £100,000 but he is one of the increasingly rare people in public life who are working for all of us, not just themselves. And before anyone criticises his ‘huge’ salary stop first and think about the grief and toughness this job will entail, second the CAP subsidies some of members the committee themselves are no doubt picking up.

    Maybe somebody mentioned the decline in biodiversity ? But clearly it wasn’t ‘news’.

  3. When previous chairs have been appointed with close links to farming and/or rural businesses were they asked whether their former role(s) were in conflict with their new one and if they could work with conservation organisations? Perhaps so but I suspect not or if so not so forcefully. That there seems to be an element of shock/dismay in some (predictable) quarters at the appointment of a dedicated conservationist to the chair of a body tasked with protecting the environment really tells us everything we need to know about the genuineness of their voiced support for conservation.

  4. Oh poo to the Countryside Alliance. What interests me is who is Gove going to choose as NE’s CEO? This could be radical.

  5. They don’t want a conservationist or a person who disagrees with what they want, no they want a puppet who will do as they are told, I believe sooty isn’t up to much lately. They make you sick.

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