Ban still must clear the House of Lords and gain Royal Assent, but these formalities are more likely to delay than prevent enforcement
LONDON, U.K.––The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill cleared the House of Commons on March 17, 2023 by unanimous voice vote.
The silence of pro-trophy hunting opponents, however, scarcely means that the bill to ban the importation of hunting trophies into the United Kingdom had no opposition or will easily clear the remaining obstacles to the bill becoming law.
What the unanimous support of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill does mean, though, is that the opponents are now on the defensive.
Who are the House of Lords?
Upon passage by the House of Commons, the bill moved on March 20, 2023 to the House of Lords, re-numbered HL Bill 119.
The House of Lords consists of 665 “Peers,” including more than 400 hereditary peers, who hold their appointments for life. Currently 240 peers are elected, serving a single 15-year term apiece.
The Lords do not have the authority to block the passage of legislation that has already been approved by the House of Commons, but can indefinitely delay a bill by raising amendments and repeatedly referring questions back to the House of Commons.
Lords may have mixed feelings
As the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill has the support of the governing Conservative Party, which also appears to have a solid majority in the House of Lords, it is believed likely to survive anticipated filibustering from Lords who favor trophy hunting.
However, hereditary peers are not required to disclose a party affiliation. Many are themselves owners of hunting estates, some of whom may see the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill as a threat to the legality of their own pastimes and businesses, while others may believe it might reduce foreign competition for shooting clientele.
Once the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill clears the House of Lords, a somewhat stickier wicket may be obtaining Royal Assent.
Queen Anne, in 1708, was the last reigning monarch to refuse Royal Assent to a bill approved by Parliament.
The current king, however, Charles III, was earlier in life arguably the most prominent U.K. trophy hunter, behind only his late father, Prince Philip (1921-2021), and is known to favor the hunting lobby contention––rejected by Parliament––that trophy hunting provides essential funding for wildlife conservation in the developing world, especially Africa.
Could Charles III withhold Royal Assent?
Counter-arguments include that trophy hunting chiefly supports raising animals such as lions and rhinos in captivity to be shot by hunters upon reaching maturity, contributing nothing to wildlife abundance, and that the trophy hunting practice of shooting the largest possible animals amounts to removing the largest, healthiest animals from the gene pools of targeted species.
The reigning monarch may hold a bill indefinitely before granting royal assent, as Charles III could do.
On the other hand, his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, despite being herself a fox hunter, gave Royal Assent to the Hunting Act 2004, which nominally banned fox hunting, only hours after the Hunting Act 2004 cleared Parliament.
House of Commons librarians Elena Ares and Georgina Sturge offered a research briefing to Commons members one day before the vote on the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill.
“The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill is a Private Member’s bill introduced by Henry Smith, Member of Parliament,” Ares and Sturge explained.
“The Bill has Government support and would ban the import of hunting trophies from species of conservation concern. The Government previously proposed introducing a ban on the import of hunting trophies in December 2021, following consultation,” Ares and Sturge recounted. “This was expected as part of an Animals Abroad Bill which has not been presented to Parliament to date.”
Six reasons supporting a trophy import ban
“In July 2022,” Ares and Sturge summarized, “a joint position statement from 166 civil society groups [nonprofit organizations] across the world called for a ban on trophy hunting imports. It set out its reasons with supporting evidence for calling for a ban, which include:
- Trophy hunting threatens the survival of species;
- Trophy hunting undermines wildlife conservation;
- Trophy hunting fails to deliver meaningful economic benefits to communities;
- Trophy hunting raises considerable ethical concerns;
- Trophy hunting disregards animal welfare;
- Trophy hunting is opposed by the public.
How many hunting trophies did the U.K. import?
“Globally,” Ares and Sturge observed, “the U.K. is not one of the largest importers of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species-listed trophy hunting products.”
Indeed, Ares and Sturge found, the U.K. ranked 24th in the world in hunting trophies imported between 2000 and 2020, far behind the U.S., China, and South Africa, which receives many trophies from animals shot elsewhere in Africa, in transit to the trophy hunters’ home nations.
“In 2012, when U.K. imports were at their peak,” Ares and Sturge noted, “the U.K. ranked 16th highest in the world.”
Among the 5,915 trophies imported into the U.K. between 2000 and 2020 were the remains of 2,194 elephants, 747 big cats, 649 bears, 608 hippopotamuses, 515 nonhuman primates, 483 bovines, 296 equines, 161 crocodilians, 124 wolves, foxes, and other canids, and 32 giraffes.
What the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill does
What exactly would the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill do?
“Clause 1 of the Bill,” Ares and Sturge summarized, “prohibits the import of hunting trophies into Great Britain as part of the process of taking them from where the specified animals were hunted to where the hunter resides. Trophy hunting is defined as whole animals, parts of animals, or derivatives processed in any way.
“Clause 2 sets out the animals the import ban will be applied to.
“Clause 3 sets out the territorial extent of the Bill and how it applies to imports and exports between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, to take account of the Northern Ireland Protocol,” Ares and Sturge explained of the most controversial detail of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill, a loophole that may allow hunting trophies to be imported into Great Britain if they pass through Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland exemption
Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland remains within the European Union trade agreement.
According to Ares and Sturge, “The Bill will prohibit the import of hunting trophies into Great Britain, including via Northern Ireland. However, there will be an exception for qualifying Northern Ireland goods under the EU Withdrawal Act 2018, which will be allowed to be imported into Great Britain.
“These are defined as goods that are ‘lawfully present in Northern Ireland and are not subject to customs control’ other than for export; or goods that are ‘Northern Ireland processed,’” wrote Ares and Sturge.
“Clause 4 sets out the territorial extent as England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as international trade is a reserved matter,” Ares and Sturge said.
“The Bill is about U.K. import policy”
Ares and Sturge quoted Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill author Henry Smith, who stated in the House of Commons that “photo safaris generate many more jobs for African people in rural communities, and generate significantly greater revenues for conservation” than trophy hunting.
Added Smith, “The Bill is about U.K. import policy. It is about what we, as a sovereign nation, choose to allow through our borders.
“It is a Bill about Britain making a concrete contribution to tackling the global conservation crisis. A British ban on imports of hunting trophies would help to save thousands of animals that are threatened with extinction. It would make a strong statement to the international community that we must act decisively to conserve our living planet.”
Ares and Sturge also quoted Margaret Ferrier, a Member of Parliament representing the Scottish National Party, who expressed concern about Botswana having reversed in 2019 an elephant hunting ban, not because of an increased abundance of elephants, but simply because a political party favoring trophy hunting had gained ascendance.
“Ulster would become a back door”
The Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill “quickly descended into farce as it emerged the rules will not apply to Northern Ireland,” assessed Daily Mail chief political correspondent David Churchill.
“Ulster would become a back door for big game hunters to bring souvenirs into Britain,” Fumed Churchill. “It means they could fly into Belfast with a hoard of body parts before simply crossing the Irish Sea. The loophole is made possible because Northern Ireland was left behind in the European Union’s single market after Brexit.
Said Member of Parliament Sammy Wilson, who represents the Northern Ireland-based Democratic Unionist Party said, “To find a law which is supported by over 86% of the U.K. population cannot apply in one part of the U.K. is offensive.”
Reported BBC News political reporter Becky Morton, “Campaigners backing the bill had feared it could be blocked after more than 30 amendments were tabled by two Conservative Members of Parliament, Sir Christopher Chope and Sir Bill Wiggin,” who broke with the majority of their party to try to stop passage of Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill by amending it in various ways to preclude enforcement.
“However,” Morton said, “after the government accepted two of their proposals––to establish an advisory board on hunting trophies and to limit the power of the secretary of state to add new species to the list the ban would apply to––the pair dropped their other demands for further changes to the bill.”
“Hippos, leopards, & polar bears”
As the bill stands, noted Guardian reporter Patrick Greenfield, the trophy import ban “will cover about 6,000 species and include some of the most endangered and charismatic animals, including hippos, leopards, and polar bears.”
Political momentum leading to passage of the Hunting Trophies (Import Prohibition) Bill built steadily after U.S. trophy hunter Walter James Palmer, 55, a U.S. dentist, shot a lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe in early July 2015.
Cecil had been perhaps the most photographed lion in the world, and was a particular favorite of British tourists.
“We are not alone”
Conservation journalist Eduardo Gonçalves in 2018 he founded the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting. His 2019 book Undercover Trophy Hunter: Britain’s Top 20 Hunters, published on the first anniversary of Cecil’s death, influenced the Conservative Party to add the promise of banning hunting trophy imports to their party platform.
“Introducing the Bill,” wrote Ares and Sturge in their research briefing to the House of Commons, “Henry Spencer [a Member of Parliament from Scotland] highlighted similar legislation that exists in other countries.”
Said Spencer, “I am pleased to say that we are not alone. The Australians, the French and even some American states have all brought in varying degrees of trophy hunting bans. The Dutch have introduced sweeping prohibitions, the Belgian Parliament has voted unanimously to implement identical restrictions, and, in the last few weeks, the Government of Finland have announced plans for a ban on hunting trophies from outside the European Union.”
An ban on the import of hunting trophies was introduced in the Italian parliament in early 2022, with 88% public support, according to a poll commissioned by the Humane Society International subsidiary of the Humane Society of the United States.
While the Italian bill has not advanced, Amy Buxton of Plant Based News reported on October 21, 2022 that “The Italian Exhibition Group, which organizes trade fairs and congresses across Italy,” had dropped promotion of an annual trade show that formerly attracted 500 exhibitors and 40,000 visitors to the city of Vicenza, apparently in deference to public opinion.