|AN INTERVIEW WITH JEAN DIXON|
|CAMPAIGNER AGAINST THE ANIMAL DEATH BILL
On Tuesday 26 March 2002 the House of Lords blocked government legislation which would give ministers greater powers to cull animals in the event of another foot and mouth outbreak. Peers voted by the close margin of 130-124 to delay detailed consideration of the new Animal Health Bill until the completion of two independent inquiries into last year's outbreak. Peers were led by Lord Moran, 77, a cross-bencher. Lord Whitty the junior environment minister spoke for the government.
The new Bill is intended to give the authorities the entry and slaughter powers, which legally speaking - rather than physically speaking - they probably did not possess last year. It gives them full legal authority, bordering on the totalitarian, to enter, slaughter, and punish dissent, against urban and rural dwellers alike. In the event it will destroy trust and criminalise many people.
One of the consistent voices against this "Animal Death Bill" has been Jean Dixon from North Yorkshire. She spent Tuesday outside, and inside, Parliament demonstrating against this outrageous assault against basic civil rights and animal welfare. She also placed the poem (left) in The House Magazine, the Parliamentary weekly journal, on 18 March 2002.
Astrid Goddard interviewed her for Sovereignty, to find out how she became involved in campaigning against the slaughter policy, and how her demonstration went.
Astrid: Jean, tell us please how you became involved in campaigning against the government's slaughter policy last year.
Jean: I went to a meeting about foot and mouth in Skipton, at the Town Hall, where Nick Green and Elli Logan (from Cumbria) were speaking. This was in June last year. That was about when it started near Yorkshire. A pig farmer from Wales also spoke. It was a very emotional meeting. They spoke about FMD and vaccination. David Curry, Conservative MP for the area, was there and they got him to agree that vaccination was a good thing - which he later rescinded within a few days. It was such an emotional meeting. I just thought: what can I do?
It was so horrific. At that time I couldn't talk about it without getting emotional. I thought: help! We have a government that doesn't know what it's doing, not only destroying animal's lives, but people's lives as well.
I am not a farming person, my father was a poultry breeder, and as a family we still retain family land, tenanted by a sheep farmer. He came within a hair's breadth of losing his stock last year.
The day after the meeting being a Saturday, I got some sheets of paper and started a petition.
My sister Irene helped with the petition. The following day I had a phone call from the lady who owns the flower shop in Skipton. Various shops took the petition. On the 4th July, Lord Greaves escorted me to DEFRA headquarters, where the petition was presented to Lucien Hudson, Mrs Beckett's aide. He came down and accepted it. We had a little chat. He was very nice actually, and seemed very interested in what I had to say.
The petition was in the foyer at Skipton Town Hall, and we went to various towns and stood in the street with it: Thirsk, Ripon, Northallerton, and Kendal, also at a Sunday market near York. I was on Radio York often. Jean the Petition, they called me!
It just kept going. The idea behind it was to keep taking the signatures to let Tony Blair know how the people were feeling - like a rolling petition. We went down to London every fortnight and then it eventually became monthly. We met opposite the Houses of Parliament at the George V memorial, where we laid a wreath and said a prayer. We walked to Downing Street, stood opposite Downing St. from about 1-4pm. At 2.00pm we presented our petition at the door of No.10 (we made an arrangement with the London Met, and they organised the presentation for us). Hilary Peters got involved at the beginning of August, and joined in.
When I go to the market with my partner, I put a copy on the stall. People ask me for copies, it has gone to Liz Lowther in Cumbria, Hilary Peters in Gloucester and Tom Griffiths-Jones took some to Devon.
Like everything else after September 11, people weren't as interested in Foot and Mouth. Our Problems with FMD were slowing down, and there was this overwhelming problem in America. We took the petition out of the Town Hall because the Book of Remembrances was placed in the foyer. No one asked me to move it, but it seemed appropriate. We then developed a postal version. Then the Animal Health Bill came along, and made FMD still a bigger problem to me, as well as to other people. Unless people knew about it, they weren't aware of the publicity and the implications of the Bill.
Astrid: It was very low-key, wasn't it? The publicity of the Bill.
Jean: Yes, very! The petition now became a campaign of information, and I distributed it on car windscreens, through letterboxes and notices where I live. And when collecting signatures I had the Animal Health Bill information on view. I have sent info packs to all of the Lords and all of the MP's who have spoken against the Bill."
Astrid: All your campaigning work must have cost you a great deal of money...
Jean: I put my redundancy money from Lancashire County Council into it. It was an enhanced Redundancy payment, and I thought; what better way to spend the enhancement. It was a gift!
Astrid: Did anyone else in particular help you?
Jean: Yes, Dot Boag has been a terrific supporter, she attended every presentation of the petition at No.10.
People like the Lords can say that the public won't stand for any more culling, but we have 38,000 signatures to date, which we hope to double, and that is a tangible proof that shows that people still care.
Astrid: Tell us about your demonstration on Tuesday 26th March, outside the House of Lords...
Jean: Last Tuesday was a wonderful victory for democracy. All those who have worked so hard writing, and e-mailing must feel that their efforts have been worthwhile, as without them the narrow margin of votes may have been the other way round.
I was directly opposite St. Stephen's entrance with the signs and my petition and with suitable organ music from my ghetto-blaster. Starting at 9am, I had a lot of interest from the public, many of whom took my leaflet.
I was particularly pleased when the Bishop of Hereford came to speak to me, as I had heard his excellent speech at the second reading. He told that he was speaking again and supporting the amendment, and that he had better things to do on Maundy Thursday so was hoping that he would not still be discussing the AHB.
I was given a lot of support, and advice on protesting, by the London pensioners who were protesting about their meagre pension rates and they kindly looked after things whilst I took a comfort break and then returned to the van to change for proceedings at 3pm.
Lord Moran was supported by the following Peers,
most of whom who had already spoken at the second reading:
Two of the Lords made comments which may be of particular interest although much of what was said was interesting and very relevant and echoed those of the second reading. This was the third reading, or what they call "The Committee Stage".
Baroness Byford raised the killing of Kirstin's goat and the saving of Phoenix (a calf) to highlight the illogicality of different practices adopted by the Government.
Lord Willoughby de Broke spoke of the evidence from the lessons learned inquiries and the Royal Society saying, "That evidence is available on a excellent Internet site, which I recommend to noble Lords who may not be aquainted with it. It is www.warmwell.com."
Lord Whitty, of course, came out with all the usual arguments about the alleged successfulness of the contiguous cull and the need for more powers for more rapid slaughter to stop the spread of FMD.
When at approximately 5.30pm the House divided to vote I was not hopeful that Lord Moran's amendment would be passed as there had already been a movement by Baroness Miller at the second reading on similar lines. But good sense prevailed and the amendment was upheld, although Lord Irvine caused some confusion by first announcing the result the wrong way round.
However, an usher was consulted and he told me the amendment had been passed!
WOW! Thank goodness. Tom Griffiths-Jones materialised from elsewhere in the Upper House so that we could celebrate, even if it was only for a coffee. Tom has been following the Bill since Committee in The Commons and up to now we have only spoken in passing. Each of us being busy with our own agenda.
I learnt that Tom is from Cullompton and was attacked during the epidemic in Devon. He is sending me information on his activities which I will report on later, and he has now taken my petition sheets to Devon. Thanks Tom.
The picture of Big Ben is one I took as we said goodnight on Westminster Bridge. Tom said that the picture should be a symbol and that The Lords should be thanked for their efforts.
I launched my demo trailer at Greenwhich the following day and cycled up to London, round Parliament Square and up Parliament street to stand with my friends at the Free Tibet Vigil opposite Downing street before cycling back past Westminster, where traffic levels caused me to take a considerable time to progress.
I hope someone from The Lords saw the rear view, which said "Thanks to the Lords for their democracy". I had then to amend the poem that I had sent for inclusion in The Monitor to take account of the Lords decision.
Despite The Lords finishing on Tuesday night, I was not able to leave London until Thursday, but in much better spirits than I had anticipated. It does not do to be complacent however, and on my return I found a e-mail from Lord Greaves who had been ill and unable to attend. He told me that although the amendment has given us a breathing space, he thinks the Government will try to get the Bill back to Committee sooner rather than later; but at this stage no-one really knows when or how. This obviously has spurred me on and I hope to be out and about on my demo cycle to inform the public about the Bill and add to my signatures as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, family business stops me this week and bad weather is always a problem so if there is anyone out there who would like to help I shall be very grateful. I would anticipate that the next presentation of my People's Petition will be at No.10 on the day that the Bill is next debated, but consideration will have to be given to circumstances so as to get the greatest impact.
The idea now is to use this postal petition as support for those Lords who are speaking out against the Bill as a indication of the public's horror at the continuation and extension of the culling policy. If they can print it out and return it to the address, then I would be very grateful.
Astrid: Tell us about your new campaigning bike... What are you going to be doing with it?
Jean: I can transport it inside my campaign van. I plan to use it to cycle around city areas. For example, Manchester, Leeds, London, and basically use it to tell people about the Animal Health Bill. The van is OK, but it can be a problem with parking, and the bike is a lot more visible and different.
Astrid: Jean, you're unstoppable! Thanks for your time, and best of luck in your campaigning!