The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Rebecca Pow)
It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mrs Cummins, and it is a pleasure to be back. What a wonderful first Bill to be back for; it is always great to be part of a Bill Committee where there is a general consensus—even with our Scottish friends—because we all agree that it is a good thing to do. It is exactly the sort of thing that we should be leading the way on.
I must thank the hon. Member for Neath for bringing forward the Bill and for all her work on this. Indeed, I thank the whole Committee, because I believe that its members all have some reason for being on it. Possibly they have had their arms twisted, but, individually, each of us has some feeling, experience or knowledge on the issue, and I genuinely think that that is very helpful. It just goes to show that we mean business.
Nobody disagrees that shark finning is a gross practice. It is cruel and unsustainable. In fact, listening to some of the comments this morning makes my stomach turn; it is pretty grim. In the UK, shark finning has been banned for nearly 20 years, but this Bill goes an extra step to ban the import and export of the detached shark fins and shark-fin products. It is the only way that we can be sure that we are not inadvertently fuelling unsustainable practices abroad. The Bill is fully supported by Government, and we will do all we can to support its swift passage.
I am proud of our strong marine track record internationally. I went to the UN ocean conference in Portugal just a few months ago, and it was clear that the UK is considered a world leader on a lot of this conservation action. I do not think that we talk about that enough at home—how we are really seen as leaders. I think that this Bill will be another example; people will be watching us and what we have done.
We have committed to the protection and management of shark species, and the Bill is another step towards that. To reiterate, when we say sharks, that also includes rays and skates. I went to the Birmingham National Sea Life Centre not long ago; I do not know if anybody here has been there but it is a wonderful place to see those creatures. The skates and rays were enormous creatures; they were sort of like underwater flying machines, really. To think that we cause them such damage really brings home why we need this Bill to protect them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay so ably described to us, pulling off a creature’s fins inflicts a gross, cruel, painful and slow death. Sharks produce very few young compared with other fish, making them even more vulnerable if people carry out such practices on the scale mentioned by the hon. Member for Bootle. It affects their whole life cycle.
As we heard on Second Reading, the International Union for Conservation of Nature states that over 25% of sharks, rays and skates are threatened with extinction. Removing these top predators would have a catastrophic impact right the way down the food chain. This what my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford was really referring to. She has a great deal of knowledge in this area, particularly on dolphins. This is impacting the whole food chain.
We have heard some statistics. Something like 73 million sharks are caught I think annually—the exact sum is up for debate. A huge proportion of those—not all of them—would be affected by this, but a great proportion of them would have had their fins ripped off, so this is a really important step on our global journey on shark conservation. It will help us to consolidate our position as world leaders.
I want to touch on the point that was raised ably by the hon. Member for Leeds North West. CITES is holding its 19th meeting of the conference of the parties right now. I spoke to our team out there—it is in South America—and we are co-proponents of a proposal to list a further 54 shark species in the requiem shark family. The hon. Member named some previous species to be listed, and that group of sharks accounts for 85% of the global shark fin trade. I will name a few of them—I do not want to keep us here for hours—because includes sharks most of us never even think about, such as the tiger shark, the bull shark, the lemon shark, the spinner shark, the blacknose shark, the blacktip shark, the grey reef shark, the silky shark, the dusky shark, the blue shark, the copper shark. There are loads of them, and 54 species will now be on the list. That means they have to be controlled much more closely, and people will be given a permit to catch them only if that would not be detrimental to the survival of the species, so that is a really good move that our own Government are involved in right now.