Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 10:42 am ar 22 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Ceidwadwyr, Christchurch 10:42, 22 Mawrth 2024

That is what unites us. The disagreements across the House are on the means to the end. Everybody wants to have better conservation of endangered species and wildlife in Africa. Like the hon. Member for Eltham, I have had the privilege of going on safari in Africa—indeed, in South Africa—on two separate occasions. One was in about 1984, when it was pretty hard to find the wild animals we were looking for in the game reserves. When I went again, about 18 months ago, there was an abundance of rhinos, giraffes, elephants, lions, leopards and so on. We had the most amazing experience. People used their cameras, and they relied on the protection provided by the excellent team that looks after and conserves that safari park or game reserve.

We could see with our own eyes that people were trying to poach the animals that were being looked after, and the cost of anti-poaching measures is incredibly high. How will that cost be funded unless it is paid for by the people who are engaged in the conservation? One small means by which they raise funds is by allowing the collection of trophies, and almost all the trophies that are not kept in Africa are imported into the United States, Spain or Germany. Very few are brought into this country.

Whatever happens to this Bill, trophy hunting will continue—but it may not include the import of a small number of trophies into this country under a licensing and regulatory regime that has stood the test of time. Instead of regulation, we will have an outright ban. Why are we doing that? The 2021 impact assessment in respect of an earlier Bill said:

“Why is government intervention necessary? Government intervention will address public concerns about imports of hunting trophies from endangered animals.”

Essentially, the Government’s impact assessment admits that this is about presentation, virtue signalling and pandering to public opinion, whether or not that public opinion is sound.

Let us take ourselves back to when the Government and Parliament took the view that we should abolish capital punishment. At that time, a vast majority of the population took the view that we should keep capital punishment. If we had applied the principle that is being applied to this Bill, we would still have capital punishment because it would “address public concerns” about people being murdered. We, in this House, need to rely on science and fact, rather than allowing prejudice and ignorance to prevail, which is one of the reasons why I hope the Bill will be improved, if it receives Second Reading today.

Section 4 of the impact assessment, from paragraph 98 onwards, refers to the costs of this proposed legislation, which is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire and I are seeking to get across to the Government.

The impact assessment says:

“A 2019 letter from 130 researchers described how in African countries that practice trophy hunting, more land has been conserved under trophy hunting than under National Parks, with hunting areas contributing to landscape connectivity. Some argue that restricting the import/export of trophies from hunting risks land conversion and biodiversity loss, and other alternative area management strategies must be in place to promote conservation, protect endangered species, and support livelihoods. Furthermore, many questions remain on whether alternatives such as wildlife tourism can effectively replace trophy hunting, especially in areas with poor political and economic stability, and areas with less aesthetic appeal.”

That is not what I am saying; it is what the Government said about the costs of this legislation when they did their impact assessment, which goes on to say:

“Wildlife conflict with local people can impose serious costs including causing physical harm and death, damaging crops, predating livestock and competing with livestock for food. Where wildlife provides few benefits to local people and/or imposes substantial costs, animals are often killed for food, trade, or to remove problem animals.”

That is a welcome recognition by the Government of some of the realities surrounding this subject, rather than the prejudices of people who have been ill informed by certain organisations.

In paragraph 100 of the impact assessment, the Government also concede that:

“Evidence suggests that trophy hunting can provide a value for animals which incentivises their protection for the purposes of hunting rather than indiscriminate removal, e.g. land use change to agriculture. Without trophy hunting, an income stream linked to positive conservation outcomes could be lost and other options need to be in place to address this conflict.”

That is what the Government said in their impact assessment, so I hope we are going to hear from the Minister how they will address the concerns that they recognised, if indeed they are still hell-bent on pushing this legislation through to try to get it on to the statute book.

The Government also conceded in their impact assessment—perhaps this is a point that my hon. Friend the Minister could refer to—that:

“A ban in the legal movement of animal trophies could have the unintended consequences, including increasing the illegal trade in wildlife parts which is unregulated. It could also reduce the amount of protein available to local communities as meat is often a by-product of trophy hunts. After a hunting ban in 2014 in Botswana one village lost the provision of 154 tonnes of meat, so less protein was available to the community. This resulted in an increase in illegal poaching and documented declines in wildlife.”

Those are facts. What is the Government’s response to the facts to which they referred in their own impact assessment in 2021?

The issue of costs is discussed in paragraph 102:

“One of the major arguments for hunting for trophies is that it provides financial benefits to local communities, and without trophy hunting these benefits could be lost. However, the extent to which local communities truly benefit is widely debated.”

Of course, that is the debate we are having today. Let us not take a view that all the people who support this Bill are lovers of animals and all the people who are against it despise animals. Nobody could be a stronger supporter of animals than I am. Indeed, my wife and I are proud that we have produced a daughter who is now a veterinary surgeon. Can one adduce any more evidence of the importance of inculcating into one’s children a love of animals that their parents share? Let us have none of this nonsense suggesting that this is not a vile activity and that those who are against this Bill should be subject to some sort of vilification. That is completely ridiculous.

Let me also refer to the letter to which my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire referred from the Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management Support Organisations. The letter was sent to all British MPs, and I am disappointed that more of my parliamentary colleagues who will have seen that letter are not present. One asks rhetorically, what have they done as a result of the points made in it? Mr Louis says:

“Please do not regard Africans as being incapable of deciding our domestic policies. The reason we have legal hunting is that it pays for protected land for our big animals. As our human population grows, it is crucial for our lions and elephants to have such space.

Our rhinos also require armed guards to safeguard them from ruthless poaching gangs financed by Chinese criminals. When there are no guards, massive numbers of the animals get killed by these brutal gangs. Legal hunting pays for the guards and kills far fewer.”

When we as a family were in South Africa, we saw the consequences of what happens with rhinos. To try to disincentivise the illegal poaching of rhinos, the rhinos are de-horned, but such is the value of rhino horn now, even from dead animals, because of ill-conceived bans on its use, rhinos are now being poached just for that part of the horn that is no longer visible, which is part of an extension of the head. That is a consequence—an unintended consequence, obviously—of the restrictions on countries exporting the rhino horn from dead animals. That is why this is a very nuanced debate, and I am not sure we are getting as close to that today as their lordships were when they were debating the legislation on Report in their House.

This very important letter from Maxi Louis goes on to say:

“The evidence for this is in the peer-reviewed science which shows how successful Africa’s system is at defending our precious animals. People who have read this science—and back legal hunting—include the EU Commission”—

I am not sure that is his strongest argument—

“and George Monbiot”,

which is a stronger argument. He continues:

“So does the global regulator, the International Union for Conservation of Nature. We use legal hunting to manage our big animals because they are a mortal risk to us and our children. African lives are at stake.

You do not have any dangerous wild animals. Britain got rid of its last brown bears 1,000 years ago and its last wolves 264 years ago.”

In his conclusion, he says that

“wildlife in Africa is flourishing. Because of our management. We ask for no more virtue signalling. It is arrogant, ignorant and racist.”

I could not have put it better myself. That is why I am disappointed that the Government continue to pander to those who would fit into the description given by Maxi Louis.

I turn now to the amendment that was made to the Bill introduced in the last Session by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley. In introducing this Bill today, John Spellar did not refer to that, except to say that that amendment was in the proposed legislation, and that it showed how we had passed a Bill to the other place as a result of a consensus. That is one interpretation of what happened on that Friday when we were debating amendments on Report. Essentially what happened, as you may recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, was that there were a large number of amendments, and a deal was done whereby two of those amendments were accepted, and all the others were rejected. One new clause about setting up an advisory board on hunting trophies is now in the Bill, and I wish to speak briefly about the importance of that and the background to it.

Who will decide on issues relating to hunting trophies? I think we should have expertise, rather than people who are prejudiced. Clause 4 states:

“(1) The Secretary of State must appoint an Advisory Board on Hunting Trophies

(“the Advisory Board”).

(2) The Advisory Board appointed under subsection (1) may have up to three members.

(3) The role of the Advisory Board is to advise the Secretary of State

(a) on any question relating to this Act which the Secretary of State may refer to the Committee;

(b) on any matter relating to the import to Great Britain of hunting trophies derived from species of animal which appear to the Secretary of State to be, or to be likely to become, endangered.”

That is an improvement on the original Bill, because it would require the Secretary of State to take advice, instead of just listening to the mob, so to speak, and I am pleased that that measure is in the Bill. Clause 4(4) states:

“In appointing members of the Advisory Board, the Secretary of State must have regard to their expertise in matters relating to the import of hunting trophies.”

One thing we discussed previously, which I do not think we have discussed today, is the extent of the Bill. The Bill extends to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but the prohibition on imports applies only to imports into Great Britain. Why is that, and why does the right hon. Gentleman, in limiting the Bill to imports into Great Britain, think that that will help meet his objective? Does it not show that we are no longer one nation of the United Kingdom, but that there will be a different regime in Northern Ireland, compared with the one that prevails in the rest of our country? I hope the Minister will be able to explain why, if the Government are in favour of the Bill, and if they purport to be a Government for the whole United Kingdom, rather than just Great Britain, they are proposing to restrict the import of hunting trophies into Great Britain and not into Northern Ireland. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there is an open border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that Ireland is in the European Union, which has a much more benevolent approach to the import of hunting trophies than this Government seem to have. That important issue needs to be addressed in the Bill, and I hope that if it goes into Committee, we can ensure that its provisions apply equally to all parts of the United Kingdom.

There is no need to speak at great length on something like this when the arguments against the Bill are so strong, but we should not vilify those people who engage in conservation measures in the way that some have been seeking to do. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If we compare Kenya with other countries in southern Africa, we see that Kenya’s well-intended ban has been totally counterproductive, whereas in southern Africa there has been tremendous progress on the conservation of endangered species.

On a lateral point, is the collection of rare and endangered butterfly species illegal in this country? No, with very few exceptions. If we are free to pin butterflies to the wall or put them in display cabinets, does it suit us to preach to people in Africa about their conservation measures? I think not. We talk about the importance of culling, which is essential to control the numbers of a species in the restricted area of a wildlife park. We cull in this country, particularly deer. That culling can include the use of rifles to shoot the deer that people think have the finest antlers. Those antlers are kept as trophies. That is not my line of business at all, but I respect that other people might like to do that. It is all part of culling to ensure that we do not have too many deer to manage.

This complex Bill is worthy of further detailed consideration, but I am worried that the Government may have a secret agenda: they may try to use the Parliament Acts on this legislation. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister could assure me that under no circumstances will the Government seek to override the Parliament of this United Kingdom by seeking to use the Parliament Acts on a Bill that was rejected in the other House—not because it was voted down, but because not enough time was given for it. I am not sure that there is any precedent for the Parliament Acts being used when debate in the other place has been curtailed through lack of time, the Bill has been brought back in the next Session, and the Government’s failure to provide time is used as a justification for using the Parliament Acts. I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to that point when she winds up the debate.

Finally, let me put on record that I am against this Bill having a Second Reading in its present form. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to vote that way later.