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Trophy Hunting Imports — [Stewart Hosie in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:39 pm on 2nd October 2019.

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Photo of Zac Goldsmith Zac Goldsmith The Minister of State, Department for International Development, The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:39 pm, 2nd October 2019

My hon. Friend pre-empts the point I was about to make. We have to separate the ethical arguments from the scientific ones. If the scientific evidence can show that trophy hunting contributes to conservation, we will be having a different debate. Although I cannot pre-empt the consultation, we will be flooded with evidence that will tell us one way or the other. I acknowledge that some conservation groups make the case for trophy hunting. I have seen the documents and been bombarded with letters, as we will no doubt be throughout the consultation. Some of the arguments that I have heard are—I think this term entered the English dictionary only recently—whataboutery. A number of different organisations tell us that trophy hunting is an issue but that it is not as bad as habitat loss or illegal poaching. Obviously, habitat loss is the big problem facing species across the world, and we have heard about the illegal wildlife trade decimating communities and bringing species to the brink of extinction, but whether or not that is true, it is not an argument for or against trophy hunting. It is an entirely separate issue.

The central argument that has been put forward in favour of trophy hunting is that these magnificent animals, through being hunted, generate money that is then ploughed into conservation. I have not seen much evidence of the funds being used to support local communities or to invest in conservation. It is much use if the main argument of the conservation groups is based on generalising the best of the best practice—no doubt there are some best practice examples—throughout the world; if so, their argument is flimsy at best. We will see during the consultation whether there are more examples of best practice than perhaps I have implied.

There are other issues to examine. Unlike wildlife tourism, trophy hunting contributes a tiny proportion of revenue for African countries. There is a question whether we should instead focus our efforts on promoting the former. I will come to that point in answer to another question, which was raised by Dr Cameron. There is also the issue of cruelty, with reports that half the animals killed in the course of trophy hunting are not killed instantaneously but are wounded. Cecil the lion lived for another 19 hours, I believe—no doubt in hideous pain—after first being shot.

We must find out the impact of trophy hunting on the gene pool. If hunters prize the biggest and the best of the rarest, the most endangered and the most valuable species, does that not logically mean that the gene pool is inevitably going to be weakened over time? These are issues that, again, we are going to have to address.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned the issue of canned hunting. I forget which hon. Member described it as an obscenity, but it is. As far as I can see, these lions are bred for one purpose only and they are shot in such a manner that anyone would be able to finish them off, no matter how talented they are with a gun. It is no different from putting goldfish in a bowl and just shooting them. It is an extraordinarily grim practice. In answer to my hon. Friend’s question about whether the consultation will include measures to tackle canned hunting, I would say that it is one and the same. That will be explored in the consultation, and I hope the outcome will fully take into account the points she made.

The UK cannot ban trophy hunting overseas. We are not at liberty to do so, but we can ban the import of hunting trophies. Over the five years from 2013 to 2017, we estimate that up to 1,500 trophies were imported into the UK, with up to one third of those from the most endangered species. Perversely, elephant parts are the favourite import for British trophy hunters. I say that is perverse because we are the world leader now in stepping up our efforts to protect elephants around the world, not least through the ivory legislation that has already been commended today and much more besides. This consultation is critical, and it is going to have to provide answers to those very difficult questions.

I want to talk briefly about animal welfare and conservation more broadly. People in this country do care—very much—about the issue. As the animal welfare Minister, I clearly do too. I am proud of the progress this Government have already made. We introduced the ivory legislation I just mentioned. We introduced legislation to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. We have legislated to ensure that CCTV is required in every slaughterhouse. Along with this consultation on the importance of hunting trophies, we are also consulting on mandatory cat microchipping, we are issuing a call for evidence on banning the keeping of pet primates and we are bringing forward proposals for consideration on ending the live export of animals.

I was proud that the UK played a defining role at the recent CITES COP, working under the radar, barely noticed by the rest of the country, to bring an end to the appalling practice of capturing wild elephants to be sold for captivity around the world. Without our negotiating team from DEFRA taking part in that debate, the motion would not have passed and it would still be possible for countries to capture wild elephants and pack them off to grim zoos in China and elsewhere. If they were here, I would pay tribute to them. In their absence, I will do so, all the same.

I am delighted that the Prime Minister announced at the United Nations that we are going to radically step up our contribution to tackling the wider environmental and climate crisis—and it is a crisis, no matter how you choose to interpret it. We know from scientists that a 1.5˚ C rise in temperatures is going to be utterly devastating to humanity and nature. We heard just a few months ago, in what is the most comprehensive ever assessment of the state of the natural world, the report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, that 1 million species face extinction, many of them within decades. We have heard that, since 1970, the populations of the world’s wild animals have declined by 60%—a staggering figure. We learned from the World Resources Institute that, last year, we lost the equivalent of 27 football pitches’ worth of forest every single minute. Incidentally, we also learned from the World Economic Forum that, by 2050, our oceans will have more plastic in them than fish, if measured by weight.

We recognise the scale of the challenge. We are determined as a Government to provide the leadership that is needed globally and to do our bit at home. I was at the General Assembly of the United Nations when the Prime Minister made his announcement that we are going to double our climate funding. I was there when he made the important point about the crucial role of biodiversity in nature in tackling climate change. That directly addresses the point raised by a number of hon. Members, including Alex Chalk, Dr Cameron and no doubt others as well. The Prime Minister emphasised that much of that uplift in climate funding will be spent on nature-based solutions to climate change. We know that if we invest in protecting, saving and restoring forests, we protect the livelihoods of those hundreds of millions of people who depend on them for their livelihoods. We protect the harbour for 80% of the world’s biodiversity, and we also tackle climate change, given that deforestation is the second biggest cause of emissions.

The same is true of our oceans. About 1 billion people depend on oceans for their main source of protein. Some 200 million depend on oceans for their livelihoods and on there being fish for them to catch. However, oceans are also a gigantic carbon sink, so the case for investing in nature-based solutions as a means of tackling climate change and helping to stop the extinction crisis, and also as a means of alleviating and preventing base poverty, is absolute and unarguable. I am thrilled that we are moving in that direction, and I do not sense any opposition from any party in this place to that shift. So that is where we need to go, and that is where I am thrilled to say we are going.

As a start to that package—these are just the things that have been announced in the past few weeks in relation to biodiversity—the Prime Minister announced a new £220 million fund. That includes a dramatic uplift to the Darwin initiative, which I am sure Members are aware of. That world-renowned programme has brought individual species back from the brink of extinction. We will see a major uplift in the illegal wildlife trade challenge fund, which is relatively new, but it is already yielding incredible results, particularly on the continent of Africa, but elsewhere as well. It helps train local people to tackle poaching and create alternative livelihoods in areas most at risk, and it is having a significant and measurable impact.

We are creating a new fund. It does not have a proper name yet, but we are calling it the biodiverse landscape fund. It is a £100 million fund—a world first. It will tackle the drivers of biodiversity loss in large biodiversity hotspots around the world, focusing particularly on trans-frontier initiatives such as KAZA in southern Africa, which is a programme that five countries have signed up to create wildlife corridors connecting their countries, their national parks and more. It is all based on helping local communities to create alternative livelihoods so that the viability of local economies is based and dependent on the health of the local environment and on flourishing biodiversity.

That is just a start. We are doing a lot, and I am thrilled that the UK has been given an opportunity to host the COP in 2020. We keep hearing about 2020 as a superyear for nature. It is absolutely the Government’s ambition to play a part so that 2020 will be the superyear for nature. We will host COP, and by the end of the year, in December, we aim to have aligned as many big countries in the world as possible with our ambition to step up our contribution to tackling climate change, to focus much more on nature-based solutions and to help turn the tide on this catastrophic extinction crisis, which is now beyond any doubt at all—it is happening right now on our watch.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire for bringing attention to this hugely important issue and for all the work she does as a parliamentary nature champion. I thank other hon. Members for their contributions too. We will crack on. We will get this done. We are not looking for the long grass. We will nail this issue as quickly as we possibly can.