“Twelve public schoolboys, nine of them Old Etonians, walked into the House of Lords.” It sounds like the start of a joke, yet there was nothing to laugh at in this event. For these dozen men, as unrepresentative a group as you could assemble, killed a modest little bill, backed by all parties in the House, overwhelmingly by the House of Commons, and by the public. The trophy hunting bill would have stopped the import of what can only be described as obscenities, the stuffed, mounted remains of magnificent elephants, lions, rhinos and polar bears, killed for the pleasure of individuals who pay handsomely to get their kicks this way.
Using amendments as a blocking device
It was not presented as a government bill, but following a display of cowardice from the government, who feared amendments to a broader animal welfare bill, a private members’ bill led by the respected veteran Conservative Baroness Fookes. The usual pattern would be for no amendments to be tabled to a bill already through all its stages in the Commons, and for it to be swept through on the nod.
But this small group of peers, all male, all Conservative, decided to put down amendments. And more than that, these peers demanded that they be each considered individually. (When the standard, almost invariable, practice of the House is to consider a number – sometimes a lot – of amendments on related subjects together.)
It was a blatant plan for a filibuster, which was duly delivered, plus a couple of highly unusual votes at this committee stage to further delay matters. And given the conference recess, and the planned King’s Speech in November, before which existing bills will fall, this is – apparently – a dead end for the bill.
The 19th century strikes back
Champions of tradition – which many of those involved are on other occasions – say that we are the unelected House and that we should not stand in the way of the will of the House of Commons. Yet the Commons passed the hunting trophies (importation prohibition) bill with only minor amendments in March 2023. And action on the issue was promised in the Conservative manifesto of 2019.
I commented at the time on the unrepresentativeness of the peers arrayed against the united rest of the House. Of the twelve, Lords Swire, Howard, Hamilton, Mancroft, Lucas, Roborough and Bellingham, Viscount Trenchard and the Earl of Leicester went to Eton College. The – not very – odd three out of the group are Lord Robathan, who went to the fee-paying Merchant Taylor’s school in London, the Earl of Caithness (Marlborough College – fee-paying) and Lord Reay (Westminster – fee-paying).
Yet despite – or indeed because of this background – we saw the will of the House of Commons (and the people) being thwarted by them in the House of Lords, in a way that would have been embarrassing in the 19th century, let alone the 21st.
Widespread support for the trophy hunting bill in most quarters
The Green Party position on the trophy hunting import bill is not hard to predict. Certainly not if you read Paragraph AR424 in our Policies for a Sustainable Society (setting out our principles and long-term goals) which states we are “fundamentally opposed to all blood-sports. We oppose the killing of, or infliction of pain or suffering upon, animals in the name of sport or leisure, and will work to end all such practices”.
But support for the bill came from right across the political spectrum. Really, who could defend the practice of transporting a rich person from the North into the depths of Africa so he could slaughter a magnificent wild animal and then hang its head on his wall to boast of his prowess?
Making arguments for trophy hunting …
There were a tiny group of people and organisations opposed to the bill. They tried to claim – and boy have I seen a lot of such claims on social media, clearly a well-funded campaign – that management of land for hunting in Africa is a way of funding animal conservation and that benefits flow to local communities.
… and the reality
But these claims have long been exposed as fallacies. There is no evidence that a vicious, violent system of exploitation of the continent by a few with money – can be justified in this way.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has long pointed out that benefits are nowhere near as widespread as is often claimed. As Dr Bernard Charonnet told the All Party Parliamentary Group on Trophy Hunting in 2022:
“The income local communities [in Namibia] are receiving from trophy hunting is virtually nothing … it does not even equate to 10 cents per hectare per year.” Dr Mucha Mkono, a lecturer in sustainable tourism at the University of Queensland, said: “It contributes no more than 3% to local people … and that is in the best-case scenario.”
Kicking biodiversity when it’s down
And then there’s the damage not just to the animals themselves, but also to habitat stability and biodiversity. Trophy hunters often remove individuals with the highest breeding value from wildlife populations. Those managing trophy hunting may try to augment the numbers of certain species (thereby unbalancing the ecosystem and causing the depletion of other animal or plant species) to increase trophy hunting profits. The territorial range and social structures of animal groups, notably African elephants, lions and leopards, are very likely to be disrupted.
As for some of the other so-called defences offered, well it certainly doesn’t stop poaching. South Africa is the largest exporter of hunting trophies in Africa, and it lost 394 rhinos to poaching in 2020 and 451 in 2021. And as for claims that trophy hunting supports long-term conservation efforts, in Zambia 40% of the territory used for trophy hunting was abandoned once the target species had been depleted. In Tanzania the figure was 72%.
There are other ways of managing wildlife and delivering funds for local communities – opportunities for photo-shoots being the obvious alternative. It has been estimated that while an elephant trophy fee is typically US$20,000 to $40,000, an elephant can generate $1.6mn over its lifetime from tourism revenues.
But, of course, the bill says nothing about what happens in Africa. It is about what kind of country the UK is. A country that accepts the importation of these grisly ‘trophies’, or one which protects the world’s disappearing charismatic megafauna?
Well, these twelve noble Lords, like a throwback to an earlier era, have given their answer: animal abuse and slaughter are just fine as far as they are concerned. And they have gone to a good deal of trouble to get their way on the issue.