You might remember that after very many years of efforts by a number of organizations (prominently LionAid with now nearly 612,000 signatures on a recent petition and three Adjournment Debates in UK Parliament), the UK Government finally decided to launch a public consultation and call for evidence on this issue in November 2019. Respondents were asked to fill in a two-tier questionnaire on a variety of pre-posed questions (guided by what we at Lion Aid thought were some very biased statements). Others were asked to send in much simpler communications – essentially saying they were either in favour of, or opposed to, a ban on trophy hunting product imports/exports.
The initial “public consultation” was supposed to end on January 25. But then, for a reason yet to be determined, the government extended the consultation to February 25. The government said it was to give people more time, especially as the consultation period had occurred over Christmas and a national election.
We were distrustful of that explanation, as we knew that a few days before the original expiration date of January 25, a UK trophy hunting organization suddenly realized what was happening (the trophy ban was going to be about EXPORTS as well as imports) and panicked – loss of rural income, loss of jobs they cried.
Ever accommodating when it suits, the UK government extended the submission period.
Therefore, we sent DEFRA a letter on 10 March 2020, requesting a diversity of information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. These were our questions:
1. Who/which agencies requested the extension, what were the reasons given, and who within DEFRA approved the extension to the consultation period?
2. Before the extension was granted,
a) how many responses had DEFRA received to the public consultation announcement in any variety;
b) how many responders had already filled in the two-tier more “demanding” official response form via the internet?
3. After the extension was granted, how many more responses were submitted to DEFRA?
4. As a comparison between the two consultation periods, the initial one until January 25 2020, and the subsequent extension until February 25 2020, how many responses were received in the following categories:
a) Overall positive submissions calling for restrictions and/or a total ban submitted before the original deadline of January 25,2020 versus submissions negative to restrictions/bans?
b) Overall positive submissions calling for restrictions and/or a total ban submitted after the original deadline of January 25,2020 versus submissions negative to restrictions/bans?
5. How many submissions were received from African nation governments now conducting trophy hunting versus how many African nation governments not conducting trophy hunting?
6. Given the vague announcement that a “decision” will be taken “later this year”, can we have a more precise estimate on when DEFRA will make a decision on trophy hunting imports/exports?
Thank you for your attention to these questions under FOI.
We are founders and trustees of the UK registered charity LionAid, and delivered a petition to 10 Downing St on the 25th January 2020 totalling over 598,000 signatures to ban the import of further lion trophies into the UK. This petition currently stands at 601,494 signatures.
DEFRA came back to us under reference FOI2020/06073.
(Reply to question 1): We can confirm that DEFRA holds this information. The decision to extend the consultation was taken by Ministers, in line with best practice guidelines. We are not aware of any requests for an extension and this took place to reduce the risk of individuals and organisations being unable to fully engage due to pre-election and Christmas periods. It is usual to consider an extension in circumstances such as these to make sure we hear from all sides of the debate.
Our interpretation of the reply: So now we know that the extension was granted by Ministers. Which ones remain obscure. But then we have statements like --- “We are not aware of any requests for an extension…” and “It is usual to consider an extension in circumstances such as these…”. This makes no sense. If there was no request for an extension there should have been no consideration of an extension. DEFRA just shot themselves in the foot with that reply. There surely was a request for an extension, but DEFRA, even under the regulations imposed by FOI, will not tell us who asked for that extension.
(Reply to questions 2,3,4): “The information requested is being withheld as it falls under the exemption in regulation 12(4)(d) of the EIR… It is DEFRA’s intention to publish a summary of responses within 12 weeks of the closing dates…
Our Interpretation of the reply: DEFRA should not feel free to withhold information under an FOI. We might find out this week why they were so reticent.
(Reply to question 5): “The information requested is being withheld as it falls under the exemptions in Regulation 12(5)(a) of the EIR which relates to International Relations.
Our Interpretation of the reply: Fobbed off.
(Reply to question 6): As per government guidance…we aim to publish a summary of responses within 12 weeks of the closing dates, a decision will be taken in due course at an appropriate time.
Our interpretation of the reply: Weasel clauses employed – “aim to”, “in due course”, “at an appropriate time”.
The “appropriate time” is 12 weeks after the close of the public input to the public consultation. That means the results should be released in the coming week. And shortly after that the decision should be made.
OK, COVID-19 happened right in the middle of this, but all DEFRA employees were likely paid full salaries – even when working from home. Compiling the consultation results is not difficult, presenting the overall summary not equivalent to the difficulties in coming up with a coronavirus vaccine. Also, the process started in November with an original closing date of January 25, so DEFRA should have been analysing results from the outset. Their unexplained reason to extend the deadline for a further month should mean that they only had to compile new results that might have come in over a period of four weeks.
We need the answers now and need them clearly. And a decision now, not just another excuse to delay. LionAid achieved the first Adjournment Debate in Parliament in November 2010 on this issue. Ten years and four Adjournment Debates later - still no progress.
It is now crunch time. No more excuses, delays, mentions of “regulation 12(4)(d)”. Do your duty DEFRA and come up with an import/export regulation on hunting trophies that reflects both the wishes of the British voting public and the clear scientific evidence that trophy hunting has no conservation value.
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