It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hosie, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Mrs Latham) on securing this debate. Over the past years we have stood side by side in so many debates on issues relevant to this one that I have lost track of how many we have shared. She has been a nature champion for all the time I have known her—indeed, this room is full of nature champions, and I wish there were a few more. It has been a joy to hear the contributions, including interventions, from all Members present.
My hon. Friend will know that this subject is close to my heart. Indeed, the last time I took part in a debate on this issue in Parliament—I believe she also took part—was on a motion tabled in my name, some time earlier this year. Last Saturday I was pleased to announce that the Government are launching a consultation on restricting, or banning, the import and export of hunting trophies.
Many questions have been raised, some of which I will struggle to answer because they relate to the details of the consultation. Hon. Members will understand that I must be slightly guarded and cannot go into too many details about a Government consultation, because I could end up jeopardising or compromising the process. Broadly speaking, however, we are not looking for any long grass. This is a serious consultation, and we intend to resolve the issue once and for all and not to waste any time. I will drive it through as fast as I possibly can, but in a proper manner.
I cannot answer the question about the threshold, were we to end up with the ban that we are talking about. My early-day motion broadly reflects the position laid out by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard), which relates to not just CITES I and II, but the list from the International Union for Conservation of Nature. However, those details will have to come out in the consultation, and it would be wrong for me to pre-empt it.
I am grateful for and flattered by the remarks made about my appointment. I am an animal welfare and conservation advocate, and I was worried, before being asked to be a Minister, that I might have to go through a lobotomy and cast aside all my passions for such issues. That does not seem to have been the case—yet—so I am able to pursue issues that matter to me and to Members across the House. Over the next few weeks, I look forward to reading the feedback on this debate from people across the spectrum, but I know from correspondence I have already seen that some people will push back heavily against the proposal for a possible ban.
On a personal level, hon. Members know I believe that shooting a beautiful and endangered animal for fun is, to quote the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), obscene, and it is something I could never understand. Most people with whom I have discussed the issue are similarly sickened when they see images of so-called celebrity hunters smirking over the corpse of a lion, giraffe, rhino or elephant. It is something that most people regard as grotesque, and poll after poll shows that to be the view of the British people. There have been a range of polls, but they have consistently shown that between 75% and 90% of people are in favour of a ban on imports of hunting trophies.
To demonstrate quite how non-partisan this issue is, I was shocked and amazed last Saturday to read an editorial in the Daily Mirror—I have appeared in it a few times as a politician, and I have always put on my tin hat and hidden away for a few hours afterwards. This recent editorial, however, praised both me and the
Conservative Government for initiating this process, because the issue goes way beyond the left or right of politics today. I thank the Daily Mirror for having pushed the issue up the agenda. It has run an incredibly impressive campaign, as have The Daily Telegraph and a number of key campaigners, such as Eduardo Gonçalves, who runs the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting.
Trophy hunting is not just a niche issue or a symbolic part of the conservation story. A 2016 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates that around 1.7 million hunting trophies crossed borders globally between 2004 and 2014, and at least 200,000 of those came from species that are threatened. Some of those species face a horribly uncertain future, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire in relation to lion numbers. There could be only 15,000 lions, 415,000 African elephants—there were 3 million elephants a century ago—and 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild.
As I said from the Back Benches a few months ago, we must nevertheless separate the moral arguments from the scientific ones. The moral arguments do matter, and for many people the idea of shooting a giraffe for fun or with the idea that it might help protect the giraffe seems utterly perverse, but the issue is subject to a live debate between experts and even some conservation organisations.
2 October 2019