My Lords, I was going to say what a privilege it was to follow such a brilliant speech from my noble friend, but I am sure we all know how brilliant it would have been.
I will try to be brief; I find the idea of shooting a noble animal and displaying its head, tusks or hooves on the wall in one’s home somewhat repugnant. But if I did wish to ban this practice—and the fact that it is repugnant does not necessarily mean it should be banned—I would begin by banning it at home, and stopping the export of trophies from this country, thousands of which are exported every year to other countries. This Bill does not do that; it leaves us free to do these things within our own country and export these things to other countries but simply bans the importation of trophy animals from abroad, in practice from developing countries.
I respect the passionate animal lovers in this place, not least my noble friend Lady Fookes, who automatically supports any measure to protect animals. But it is another aspect of this Bill that I take issue with. I have been struck time and again, since I have been in this place, by the residual imperialism of the attitudes that prevail. Now, one might expect that there might be a certain nostalgia for empire to linger on in the right but, although we hear incessantly from our liberal intelligentsia about the need to decolonise our minds, institutions and history, and lay down and check our white privilege, it is above all on the progressive left—who I confidently predict will support this Bill unanimously—that these neo-colonialist attitudes linger on and who most need to check their own white privilege and decolonise their minds. This Bill absolutely epitomises that; it assumes that Africans do not know what is in their own interests and cannot run their own countries, and that we have a right to tell them how to do so.
In Bleak House, Dickens ridicules this sort of thing as “telescopic philanthropy”, a misguided and patronising obsession with far-off problems about which his anti-heroine, Mrs Jellyby, knew little. Indeed, in some ways this Bill is worse than Mrs Jellyby’s telescopic philanthropy; she may have ignored poverty at home, but at least she wanted to relieve it abroad. But some of this Bill’s advocates are guilty of telescopic misanthropy; they are solely interested in signalling their virtue to their friends, even though the result of their actions can only be to impoverish people far away and put at risk the survival of the creatures they claim to want to protect. They accept that it will deprive some poor people of their income. One very thoughtful letter I have had from an advocate of this Bill said “Oh, it’s only £200 million that will be lost”, but £200 million goes a long way in a poor country. But that is tough—if they lose their income, it makes liberal white people feel good, and they patronisingly tell Africans who lose their jobs that they can still rely on our aid programmes, which makes white liberals feel better still.
The Bill’s advocates also ignore the fact that it will remove the incentive to protect and conserve these animals from the two great threats they face—poaching and habitat loss—and that therefore some species will be made at greater risk of extinction as a result of this Bill than would otherwise be the case. It is time we recognise that our former colonies are sovereign independent countries; they are the best judges of their own interests, and they have every interest in preserving endangered species. It really is time we help the intelligentsia in this country rid themselves of their liberal imperialism, lay down their white man’s burden, and focus on problems which are our own responsibility.