- By Kate Whannel
- Political journalist, BBC News
A Conservative MP has accused a group of his peers in the House of Lords of trying to prevent his hunting trophy bill from becoming law.
Henry Smith’s bill would ban hunters from bringing body parts of endangered species, such as tusks, into Britain.
It was passed by the House of Commons with the support of MPs from all parties.
However, Mr Smith claims a “very small minority” of his peers are now using “parliamentary devices” to prevent the bill from passing through the House of Lords.
To become law, the bill would need to be approved by both the House of Commons and the Lords before the end of the parliamentary session on November 7.
If the bill does not pass both chambers, it will be abandoned and the process will have to start again in the new session.
With Parliament closing between September 20 and October 15 during the party conference season, there is little time to pass the bill before the deadline.
In March this year, MPs backed the bill, but it is now facing difficulties in the House of Lords at the committee stage. This is the stage where peers debate the bill in detail.
On Tuesday evening, peers took more than three hours to debate just five of the 62 proposed amendments.
Usually, these amendments would be grouped together, which would speed up the process. However, they were debated separately and, contrary to tradition in committee, certain amendments were put to the vote.
During the debate, Lord Weir, the DUP member for Ballyholme, said most of the amendments had been tabled by people opposed to the bill.
“Let’s not pretend that the intent of these amendments is to particularly improve this bill. I think their impact would be to create death by a thousand cuts to the bill.”
Liberal Democrat Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville said some of her peers “from the country’s landed gentry, mostly hereditary” were “doing everything possible to obstruct and get the bill passed”.
However, former Conservative minister Lord Swire said those proposing the amendments were not trying to “destroy” the bill, but rather improve it.
He expressed concern that the current bill could harm the livelihoods of people in African countries.
Fellow Conservative Lord Caithness echoed his concerns, saying: “For most hunters, bringing home a trophy is important.
“If this is prevented, either the hunt will not take place, or, if it does take place, the hunter will not have to pay a fee for the trophy.
“In many places, trophy fees represent a significant portion of revenue and losing them would weaken that region’s economic model.”
Earlier this year, the high commissioners of South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania and Zambia wrote to the British government to express concern that the bill would “seriously undermine tourism, wildlife management and local communities.
In a letter to Downing Street, they said Britons were “likely to have a very different perspective on trophy hunting compared to communities who live close to wildlife and whose lives are directly and daily affected by animals which often constitute a danger for them.
British hunters travel abroad, often to southern Africa, where they pay thousands of pounds to legally shoot animals such as lions or elephants.
Under current rules, they are allowed to bring back trophies from their travels, such as stuffed heads or horns, provided they have the required documents.
If passed, the bill would fulfill a promise made by the Conservatives during the 2019 general election.
The slow progress of the proposed bill sparked protests outside Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.
Campaigning alongside Mr Smith, Labor shadow animal welfare minister Ruth Jones said public support for the bill was “strong”.
“Why would anyone want tusks in their living room?” she asked.
Edith Kebesiime of World Animal Protection Africa said the organization was “bitterly disappointed” that the bill had not progressed to parliamentary committee.
She also rejected arguments that the bill could harm local economies in Africa, saying: “Most of the money does not reach local communities and there is very little evidence that it is reinvested.” in conservation. »
Biodiversity Minister Trudy Harrison said: “I am disappointed that despite overwhelming support from MPs and the public, the Hunting Trophies Bill has failed to progress through the House of Lords. .
“We will continue to work to deliver on this important commitment made.”
The Hunting Trophies Bill is a private member’s bill and the rules surrounding it are designed such that there must be broad consensus behind the proposals, and if there is does not, they allow a small number of MPs or peers to block them.
The usual method is simply to prolong debate until the time is up, without the bill ever being voted on.
In the Commons, around 100 MPs can circumvent such tactics if they support a “cloture motion” which allows a vote on the bill to be forced.
In the House of Lords, where the House is self-regulating and peers jealously guard their privileges, it is much more difficult to attempt to end debate in this way, particularly when it comes to a bill. private member’s bill rather than government legislation.