Ruth Cadbury (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Sir Christopher.
It is also a pleasure to welcome the Minister to his seat. I think he is three days in—well, one parliamentary day in. Wikipedia says that he was appointed on Friday, but this is his first full day as a Trade Minister and I welcome him. Doing so makes me feel like an old-timer.
I am pleased to speak for the Opposition in this important and timely debate on the cruel and abhorrent treatment of whales and dolphins in the Faroe Islands, and to follow the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson), my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and the SNP spokesperson, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). There have been useful interventions as well.
As has been pointed out, over 100,000 people have signed the petition, which shows that people across our country are rightfully concerned about these awful practices. Equally, they want the Government to do much more. Over 150 of my constituents have signed the petition; they are concerned about the UK’s ongoing failure to do more on animal rights, whether that is on whaling, the imports from trophy hunting, or the sale of fur or foie gras. I note that 92 people in Uxbridge and South Ruislip have signed the petition as well, so I am sure they are looking forward to the Prime Minister leaving No.10 and becoming a doughty and dogged constituency MP on this issue.
We have heard from hon. Members about the horrific ongoing hunting of whales and dolphins around the Faroe Islands. The hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire described what has happened very graphically and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East said, the pictures we have seen of the sea turning red are truly horrific. The events of last September, when over 1,400 white-sided dolphins were killed and butchered, as well as a number of whales, represented the single largest slaughter of dolphins recorded in modern history. As the charity the Born Free Foundation said, the “ferocity and scale” rightly caused outrage around the world, including in the Faroe Islands.
The conservation charity Sea Shepherd reported that the dolphins were driven into shallow waters by speed boats and jet skis, and every single one of the 1,428 dolphins was killed. As we have heard, they died slowly because of the time it took to kill such a large number of dolphins. New technology, such as jet skis, can do things that more old-fashioned boats cannot. I have seen the pictures, and anyone who, like me, has had the honour to be on a boat with dolphins swimming alongside will be particularly moved by what they have seen and heard.
Turning to the role of this Parliament and this Government, we cannot merely be bystanders to this slaughter and throw up our arms in horror. We can do something; this Government can do something. We have the UK free trade agreement with the Faroe Islands. Faroese exports to the UK are valued at £864 million, while UK exports to the Faroe Islands are a mere £17 million. That sets the context for the influence that Ministers at the Department for International Trade have—the power of the pen and of diplomacy.
What have UK Government Ministers done to tackle this shocking practice? I fear that Ministers at the Department for International Trade have tended to follow the same old playbook—the same one we see when trade unionists are killed in Colombia and when women’s rights are trampled on in the Gulf states. The Government say, “By nature of our trading arrangement, we are able to have influence over the actions of other countries and to raise these issues directly with so-and-so Government.” Indeed, the Government will boast that the animal welfare Minister, Lord Goldsmith, wrote to the Faroe Islands Minister for Fishing and that the Faroe Islands Government have launched a review, but we are still waiting for the results and changes from the review, so what has happened since then?
In February this year, the Government signed the annual agreement on fish quotas with the Government of the Faroe Islands. The Labour party supports the UK’s fishing industry, yet we also believe that the Government must not sign these agreements in a vacuum—certainly not a vacuum of values. I looked at the Government press release of 8 February announcing the fish quota update; the Government did not mention animal or whale hunting, whether the UK had raised this issue before signing the new agreement, or what further steps the UK Government would be taking. Once again, it seems the Government are using the same old playbook of sweeping important issues under the carpet and pretending that they do not exist.
One issue that is raised is the cultural history of whale and dolphin hunting in the Faroe Islands and how, historically, people needed dolphin meat and, in particular, whale meat to stay alive. However, I have just looked it up, and the Faroe Islanders are not poor. In fact, they are better off than we are. The GDP per capita in 2017 was $54,800, whereas the figure for the UK was $40,200, so the Faroe Islanders are better off per capita than UK residents. As we have heard, there is strong evidence that Faroe Islanders themselves, especially young people, increasingly oppose this slaughter, particularly since the September 2021 slaughter.
This brings me to the wider problem and the failure of our approach to trade. The only significant discernible trade policy the UK Government have is to secure free trade agreements with countries covering 80% of UK trade by the end of this year. That policy leads the Government to rush to sign any deal they can, without thinking about the influence the UK could have in the trade negotiations. We are—when I last looked—the sixth largest economy in the world. Whether it is on animal welfare, climate change, women’s rights, workers’ rights or environmental considerations, the UK can and should be using trade as a way of ensuring that our basic and fundamental values are protected around the world and as a lever to improve them. Trade cannot and does not happen in a vacuum.
I would like to ask the Minister a couple of questions. Since the letter that Lord Goldsmith sent, what further steps have the UK Government taken to raise this issue directly with the Faroe Islands Government? What assessment did the UK Government make of the protections in place for dolphins and whales when they signed the recent fishing quota agreement? What plans do the UK Government have if the Faroe Islands Government do not implement any of the required changes?
I thank the tireless campaigners who have worked so hard to raise awareness of dolphin and whale slaughter, particularly Dominic Dyer of Sea Shepherd, and the need for the UK Government to act. Whether it is the charities that have lobbied, the individual campaigners or even those who took the step of signing the petition, they have made a difference, so I thank them. Now we will see whether the UK Government are prepared to play their part to make that difference.