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Trophy Hunting Imports Ban: Endangered Species

Volume 702: debated on Wednesday 3 November 2021

Before we begin, I remind Members that they are expected to wear face coverings. This is in line with current Government guidance and that of the House of Commons Commission. I remind Members that they are asked by the House to have a covid lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. That can be done either at the testing centre in the House or at home. Please also give each other and members of staff space when seated and when entering and leaving the room.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered banning trophy hunting imports and the protection of endangered species.

It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma, as I do not believe I have had the pleasure before. I also welcome the Minister to her place. Before I properly begin this important debate, I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to a dear friend and colleague, Sir David Amess. Sir David was incredibly passionate about the problem of trophy hunting imports, and inspired colleagues across the House with his enthusiasm and leadership on the issue.

This debate takes place in the context of COP26, a conference on protecting the future of our planet and showing British leadership on global issues. Unfortunately, the Government’s lack of action on their commitment to ban trophy hunting demonstrates a failure to show global leadership in protecting our planet, which is not just about carbon emissions but about protecting and preserving biodiversity and endangered species.

I would like to make three key points. First, trophy hunting damages conservation efforts around the world; therefore, the Government’s commitment to ban trophy hunting is extremely important and welcome. Secondly, it is a policy with overwhelming public and parliamentary support; there is no reason to delay its implementation. Thirdly, this is not just a domestic issue. It is about Britain showing leadership in conservation on a global stage.

Action is needed urgently to show that, as well as convening world leaders in Glasgow this week to talk about protecting the planet for future generations to come, we are also giving those generations the chance to live alongside magnificent animals such as African lions, polar bears and many others that are being hunted to extinction. I will conclude by asking the Minister to assure the House that legislation is imminent and that this practice, which nobody doubts is wrong, will be banned immediately, demonstrating global leadership and significantly impacting on the practice of trophy hunting by UK citizens.

Taking each of those points in turn, the impact of trophy hunting is enormous. It threatens the already tiny populations of endangered species such African lions. Even putting aside the morality of killing animals for fun, it is not a sustainable industry. Zimbabwe was forced to impose a moratorium on hunting lions in 2013 because numbers were so low. During that moratorium, the survival rate of lions in the Hwange national park, the home of Cecil the lion, almost doubled. A similar moratorium in Zambia saw lion numbers double, showing the damaging effects of hunting on endangered populations.

It is not just about extinction. Trophy hunting is damaging evolution and rendering these magnificent animals less fit for their environments. Hunters seek to kill the biggest and most magnificent animals, which in turn means that only the smaller and weaker animals breed and reproduce. Humans are interfering with Darwin’s principle of the survival of the fittest because the fittest are not surviving. This puts these animals at serious risk of changes, such as climate change, or of predators. The gene pool of the African lion has shrunk by 15% in the last century. Heads and bodies of lions today are significantly smaller than they were just 30 years ago.

In the Addo elephant national park in South Africa, 98% of adult female elephants have been reported as tuskless—without the tusks they use to find food and water as well as to defend themselves. In the nearby Kruger national park, where hunting is prohibited, just 3% of elephants are tuskless. Many of those elephants will now have died, and as climate change accelerates, the same fate may befall many others.

It is a long-held argument of hunters and hunting lobby groups that shooting animals actually preserves animal populations through the fees that the hunters pay to kill these majestic animals. This is far from the truth. A report co-authored by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and international hunting group CIC—the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation—has found that hunting companies contribute only 3% of their revenue to local communities.

The fees paid by hunters for killing an animal do not even cover the cost of keeping that single animal alive up to that point. To take the example of Cecil the lion, about which we have all heard—he was killed in 2015 in the Hwange reserve in Zimbabwe—the cost to the park authorities of protection to keep Cecil alive until he was 12 years old was about $1.5 million, but the dentist who killed him paid just $50,000.

Furthermore, it is not true that allowing trophy hunting deters poaching. A US congressional study has found that rhino poaching in the last decade has soared even as the South African Government have encouraged trophy hunting. Nature tourism is much more effective as a tool to support conservation. It not only generates much greater revenues than trophy hunting, but creates more and better-paid jobs for local people. Since Kenya stopped trophy hunting and prioritised nature tourism, tourism in Kenya is generating nearly $1 billion per year. Kenya has benefited financially from stopping hunting.

Trophy hunting is a reprehensible practice that goes against nature. By killing the biggest and best of the race, it is leaving entire species doomed to suffer the evolutionary consequences. It does not bring economic benefit to the area or support conservation in anything like the way that nature tourism does. Does the Minister agree with me that trophy hunting is abhorrent and that we should do everything we can to stop it?

Turning to my second point, I know this is only a 30-minute debate, but I hope the Minister will appreciate that a great many colleagues would have wished to participate if we had had longer. This is an issue of great cross-party significance. Polls consistently show that over 80% of the British public wish to ban trophy hunting imports, and a March 2021 poll noted that 85% were in favour of this happening as soon as possible.

It was heartening to see the commitment to bring forward a ban on trophy hunting imports in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year under the animals abroad Bill, but I and other parliamentarians are dismayed at the progress—or lack of progress—it is making. Every month that passes is another month during which British hunters are killing majestic animals such as lions, leopards and polar bears, and bringing their gruesome trophies back to the UK. Over 170 Members, on a cross-party basis, have signed the early-day motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) calling for action on trophy hunting imports as soon as possible. Many people such as me do not sign EDMs, and there would be many more signatures if we did.

Will the Minister explain why we are yet to see the animals abroad Bill, despite the fact that the consultation on trophy hunting imports closed in February 2020, nearly two years ago? Covid is no excuse: people do not need to be together to consider the consultation document. It is rumoured that the animals abroad Bill has been indefinitely. Will the Minister please explain exactly what the reservations are? After all, the Bill commands overwhelming public and parliamentary support, which leads to my third point.

As mentioned previously, this week our Government are hosting the COP26 conference in Glasgow, where world leaders and others have gathered to discuss how we can protect the planet for generations to come. That is not just about protecting the planet for humans; we have a responsibility not to eliminate magnificent and powerful species and to conserve the work with nature. We cannot make the laws of other countries, but we can in this Parliament reduce the number of British people taking part in trophy hunting. If we ban the import of trophies, we will have a significant impact on the number of British trophy hunters killing endangered species around the world.

Furthermore, our Government talk about the importance of being a global leader in the conservation and protection of endangered species, yet it remains legal in this country to import the body parts of animals killed for entertainment. Sadly, we are not a world leader in this sphere. France and Australia have already implemented bans on trophy hunting imports of endangered species and have seen no negative consequences on their conservation efforts as a result. The Netherlands has gone further, as we would like the UK to, and has banned virtually all imports of trophies from hunting abroad. Making a commitment such as the Netherlands has will enable us to push other countries for stronger commitments on animal welfare and conservation.

I want to see Ministers pushing other Governments to end trophy hunting imports too. It is a global problem. Will the Minister confirm whether the Prime Minister or any other Government Members at COP26 this week have raised the issue of banning trophy hunting imports with the United States Government? The US is by far the largest importer of hunting trophies in the world, but we will not be able to put pressure on it to stop until we ban the practice ourselves.

I urge the Government to act now to ban in full the import of trophies from the hunting of all animals abroad. That is necessary because it is a barbaric practice. I recognise and welcome the Government’s intention to ban it, but that needs to happen now. There is no reason not to legislate. Legislation has broad and widespread support, and the Government have had plenty of time to consider the consultation.

Finally, we are at a crucial juncture and we must show global leadership on conservation and biodiversity. We cannot convince other countries to end the hunting of endangered animals if it is legal here in the UK. If at the end of this debate the Minister has only one thing to say on this matter, I would like her to tell me when the legislation will come into force. If she cannot say when, why not?

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) on securing this timely debate. I also associate myself with her comments about our colleague, Sir David. She is right: he was passionate about animal welfare, and he would have taken part in this debate.

My hon. Friend is also right to say how timely this debate is, because nature and land use is a core theme of the COP26 presidency. It is essential in adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change and in supporting lives and livelihoods. We seek to lead a global transition towards the sustainable use of land, ocean and natural resources to tackle biodiversity and climate issues together, which as she so eloquently put it affect both humans and animals. I commend her on her success over the past few years in bringing this issue to the fore and in maintaining the spotlight on this important agenda, which has rightly attracted considerable interest and attention.

I agree with my hon. Friend’s remarks at the start of her speech and I hope to talk to one or two of them directly in my response. She knows as well as I do that there are strong views on both sides of the debate. On one side, there are those who consider that well-managed trophy hunting can benefit conservation and support livelihoods. On the other, there are those who find the hunting of endangered species for trophies completely unacceptable.

We received 44,000 responses to our consultation and call for evidence. My hon. Friend is right that the consultation closed in February 2020 and I do not dispute that. As she mentioned, she and the British public want us to get on with delivering the Government’s manifesto commitment to ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered species. The outcry that often accompanies the reports and photos of trophy hunting of threatened animals is clear. To see that, we need only think back to the huge response to the cruel killing of Cecil the lion in 2015 or to last weekend’s reports of trophy hunting of threatened species—this time the polar bear.

That strength of feeling came through loud and clear in our consultation and I look forward to hearing the comments of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in due course. The Committee is running an inquiry into the animals abroad Bill and is in the middle of its evidence gathering, before the Bill goes through the usual parliamentary process. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s push for urgency around this matter.

As I say, the strength of feeling came through loud and clear, so we will get on and deliver the change we promised in our manifesto. We will introduce a ban that is comprehensive, robust and effective and that protects many thousands of animals. We will set out our detailed plans and our rationale for action. On timeliness, the only comment I can give my hon. Friend is that we will set those things out soon, including our response to the consultation.

Arguably, this is just the tip of the iceberg because biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate. Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction—many within decades—which is more than ever before in our history. Across Government, we are committed to playing our role in protecting the environment, including animals, both at home and abroad.

Internationally, we are investing over £46 million to counter the illegal wildlife trade over the timespan of 2014 to 2022. That includes our well-respected illegal wildlife trade challenge fund, which is a competitive grant scheme established to tackle the illegal trade in wildlife and, in doing so, to contribute to poverty reduction in developing countries. My hon. Friend has a wealth of experience in overseas development and poverty, and her speech intertwined the arguments about the importance of us playing our part internationally to sustain communities. In Malawi, for example, our support from the challenge fund in developing law enforcement capabilities has helped increase protection for endangered species such as elephants and rhinos. The £100 million biodiverse landscapes fund will also tackle the direct drivers of species loss, protecting habitats and supporting local communities as well.

At home, in the Environment Bill, we will set a new and ambitious domestic framework for environmental governance. This Bill will ensure that we leave the environment in a better state than we found it in. It requires a new and historic legally binding target to be set to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030. We are driving forward our ambitious agenda of animal welfare and conservation reforms during the current parliamentary Session and beyond. Further legislation will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows—my hon. Friend knows as well as I do that it is not always in her gift or mine to say when that will be, and I am afraid I cannot give her more information than that—to strengthen and secure our position as a global leader in championing the welfare and protection of animals abroad.

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing attention to this topic. I know that she also regularly talks to Lord Goldsmith in the other place. I am sure she will be resolute in continuing to focus on making sure we adhere to that commitment.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.