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International Wildlife Crime

Volume 575: debated on Thursday 6 February 2014

[Relevant documents: Third Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2012-13, Wildlife Crime, HC 140, and the Government response, HC 1061.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered international wildlife crime.

Four years ago, I visited the Kaziranga national park in Assam, north-east India with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The park is home to two thirds of the world’s population of one-horned rhinoceroses. Extinct in some parts of the sub-continent, there are now fewer than 3,000 of these animals left on the planet. But in the short space of time since I visited Kaziranga, more than 75 rhinos have been killed by poachers, a rate that has risen such that last year saw the highest number of killings in more than two decades.

The park is a UN world heritage site and an area where those animals are protected. The poaching is undoubtedly driven by the illegal trade in wild animal parts, which has never been more serious. The effects are not just catastrophic for wild animal populations, some of which are now at real risk. This hideous trade impacts on communities and fuels serious crime. The UN estimates that it is now the third most lucrative criminal activity after narcotics and human trafficking, worth a staggering $19 billion a year.

Next week, the Government will host the London conference on the illegal wildlife trade. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for working hard to get these issues on the international agenda and securing the attendance of high-level delegates from so many Governments, including that of China. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has also taken a strong interest in these issues.

The conference will focus on protecting three of the most iconic species on our planet—elephants, tigers and rhinos—all of which have seen a disastrous decline in numbers in recent years. Three of the nine known sub-species of tiger became extinct during the 1980s and there may be just 3,200 left in the world. At least 10,000 are needed to secure the tiger’s long-term future, but that is impossible while they are killed for their organs and hides and their habitats continue to be damaged. Some 1,000 rhinos were killed illegally last year in South Africa alone, up from just 13 in 2007. Rhinos had been a big conservation success story in recent years, but poaching on that scale is putting their future in jeopardy. In 1979, there were estimated to be 1.3 million wild elephants in Africa: now, there are fewer than 400,000. In the last three years, elephant poaching levels in Africa have exceeded 5% of the total population, and that is horribly significant because it is a tipping point: killings are now outpacing the animals’ birth rate.

Other species are being heavily exploited by the illegal trade for traditional medicine, with turtles and seahorses harvested for food, medicine and decorative purposes, despite being protected, and 100 million sharks killed every year for their fins to be used in soup, despite an international agreement to curb that just last year. How have we got here? How have we come from an international focus on the importance of species conservation in the late 1980s and early ’90s, which saw the abolition of the ivory trade and an escalation in the number of states joining the convention on international trade in endangered species, to a situation where iconic species literally face extinction?

The international community failed to respond swiftly enough when these precipitous declines began. When we did respond, it was sometimes in the wrong way, such as when sales of ivory stockpiles were authorised in a misguided attempt to provide resources for conservation and satisfy demand for the product—an issue to which I will return in my speech.

The killing of endangered species and the sale of their parts is not just bad news for the animals themselves: it also has a devastating impact on communities. It breaks down sustainable development opportunities such as animal-related tourism, and it leaves communities at the mercy of criminal gangs. The impact of poaching can be as damaging to fragile communities as disease. New evidence has shown that countries with the highest incidences of child mortality also have the highest incidence of elephant poaching. Poverty and poor governance are the enabling factors for poaching. As MIKE— Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants—the United Nations-backed programme for monitoring the illegal killing of elephants, has observed, if local communities can derive little value from animals such as elephants, but bear the costs in terms of crop damage, injury or death, incentives for conservation are lost.

Successful programmes to protect animals must find a way to realise their value, including to local communities, for instance through eco-tourism. For some, the idea of placing an economic value on wildlife is anathema. When I spoke to the Wildlife Trust of India, one member of the audience responded that their tigers were beyond value. In one sense, of course, we all see magnificent wildlife as priceless, but actually poachers put a very precise monetary value on these animals, and so long as we value them less, the poaching will continue.

The tables can be turned, however. In India I met representatives of an eco-tourism society who are literally funding poachers to become gamekeepers. Some 80 former poachers in the Manas national park now see greater value in being employed as conservation guards than in being poachers.

In recognition of the links between the availability of natural resources and economic development, part of the Government’s welcome commitment of £10 million of funding to tackle the illegal wildlife trade announced last December has been provided by the Department for International Development, but this is not aid for animals; it is aid for people.

The right principle must be to enable and support local action to conserve wildlife. Next week’s summit must consider whether the resources directed at programmes like the African elephant action plan will be sufficient. There must be a combination of resources, international leadership—as has been shown by the UK and by President Obama in the US, who last year issued an Executive order to combat wildlife trafficking—and effective monitoring of action. All three of these components matter.

The illegal trade in wildlife has another impact: crime—and serious crime, too. In 2009 I was invited to address the Wildlife Trust of India in Delhi where I drew attention to the risk that blood ivory would replace blood diamonds as a source of revenue for criminal gangs and militias. As the Foreign Secretary warned this week, there is evidence to suggest that the trade in ivory is funding terrorism. Al-Shabaab, whose attack on the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi led to the death of 62 people, may have funded that operation with illegally obtained ivory sold on the black market to buy arms, and with the price of rhino horn on the black market now estimated at $100,000 a kilo, which is more than the price of gold or platinum, it is no surprise that the most serious criminal organisations are turning to poaching to finance their activities.

I have been listening to my right hon. Friend’s speech, and it seems to me that the losses from poaching have got so immense now that Governments must have some involvement in this, and they may well be talking with forked tongue: on the one hand condemning it, while on the other hand allowing it to occur. Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on that?

That is an interesting intervention, but I will let the Minister reply to it, if I may.

Tackling this illegal trade can no longer be seen as a low priority. That is why I was proud that the Conservative party’s manifesto promised action through border policing, and this important commitment fed through to the Government’s new serious organised crime strategy, which explicitly mentions wildlife crime. This prioritisation of organised crime is new and it has been welcomed by WWF, and it is essential that it is turned into effective action.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight these connections, but he must also agree that we must put our own house in order. Is he aware that hundreds of thousands of songbirds are being killed on British sovereign territory in Cyprus, with the Ministry of Defence apparently turning a blind eye to the industrial-scale planting of acacia bushes to facilitate this, and will he join me in demanding that the MOD put a stop to this as soon as possible since it is organised crime on British sovereign territory?

My hon. Friend has made his point forcefully.

Enforcement and conservation measures, however well resourced, will never be sufficient while there is a demand for animal parts. In both the medicine and the ivory trade, seeking a reduction is not enough. As Will Travers of the Born Free Foundation has said, we need to be calling not for a reduction, but for the eradication of the trade.

We must refuse to allow cultural sensitivities to prevent us tackling so-called traditional “medicine” that does so much to fuel the illegal wildlife trade. Spurious health claims about the efficacy of rhino horn as a cure for everything from hangovers to cancer led directly to the extinction of the Javan rhino two years ago and the huge spike in killings of the African rhino. Education programmes to challenge the myth of traditional remedies are vital, and so is leadership by Governments.

Seeking an eradication is entirely incompatible with farming wild animals such as rhinos, as some have suggested, so that their parts can be sold. We must choke demand; not stoke it. That is why there should be a total ban on further ivory sales. As shadow Environment Secretary, I strongly opposed the sale of stockpiles, proposed by Tanzania and Zambia, in 2010. We took that decision because the 2008 sales were a complete failure. Far from reducing poaching, as some thought that they might, the sales led to a huge spike in killings. A report the next year showed that 38,000 elephants were then being poached a year, almost three time the level before the sales. In Sierra Leone, for example, the entire elephant herd was destroyed by poachers in the country’s only national park.

The 2008 sales were also significant in that they allowed China to participate for the first time. It purchased more than 105 tonnes of ivory, flooding the market with cheap “legitimate” ivory and stoking a demand that is now being met with poached illegal ivory. The Chinese Government’s destruction of six tonnes last month was a welcome change of emphasis, but that still leaves 99 tonnes unaccounted for. It must be a goal of next week’s conference and international agreement that there are no sales of ivory, and all stockpiles are destroyed.

In conclusion, action to oppose the illegal trade in wild animal parts is vital to conserve endangered species, to develop communities in Asia and Africa and to cut off an important source of funding to criminal and terrorist groups. I will never forget, in Kaziranga, hearing the electrifying roar of a tiger in the wild, yet seeing the sorry fate of a captive tiger orphaned by poachers. It would be a tragedy if magnificent animals such as those were lost from the wild. Next week’s conference offers a real chance to prevent that from happening.

Order. Regrettably, we do not have a lot of time for this important debate. Rather than have a time limit, I will ask Members to do their level best—sit down, Mr Amess, I will not forget you—to take five minutes. If each Member takes approximately five minutes, I think that we will get everyone in, including the wind-ups, by 5 o’clock. The clock is against us.

I will do my best to keep within your five-minute time limit, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for nominating this important debate, particularly as it takes place the week before this most important high-level conference. It is clear that we need to send out a powerful message from this Chamber that we have to take action on illegal wildlife trade, and the conference at Lancaster House next week will be a key part in getting that action. Debating the matter today is just so important.

Today, we have seen the Paris ivory crush, which has sent out a powerful message, and we need to do something equivalent to that. In France, 3.5 tonnes of ivory has been crushed. We need to get it across to everyone involved in decision making that work must be done in this area and that political leadership is needed. We must send Government Ministers to that conference next week with everything at their disposal to ensure that we make progress.

I also want to refer to the Environmental Audit Committee report “Wildlife Crime”. It is the third report of session 2012-13. As many Members will know, we had a debate on that report in the Chamber. Our recommendations were to the Home Office, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as the detailed evidence we received show that we need a cost-cutting response from Government. I hope that they will be the basis on which some of the work will be taken forward.

If all today’s debate does is solicit the response we have received at long last from DEFRA and the Home Office on the future of the national wildlife crime unit, at least that is a little step forward in the long journey of protecting endangered species and other wildlife. That is welcome, but the funding is still being protected only up until 2016. We need a permanent post with permanent funding that goes well beyond 2016 if we are to take the action that we need.

I desperately want the UK Government to take up the issues of protecting the environment, nature and biodiversity. I want them to do what they say and say what they do about the concerns in Parliament. Parliament has a role in showing how important that leadership will be.

First things first. As we have heard from the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), who helped to secure the debate, and as we have seen from the support for early-day motion 773, tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith)—as I have said in previous debates, if elephants ever need a friend he is the right person to provide protection for them—there is a sad truth here. Although the population of elephants in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, was once more than 100,000 it might now be as low as 2,500. Every 15 minutes, only three times the time we have in which to speak today, an elephant is brutally killed and butchered for its ivory tusks. In 2013 alone, 40,000 died. The global population of tigers numbers between 3,000 and 4,000.

When we deal with wildlife crime, we are dealing not just with endangered species but with international security and an illegal trade worth £19 billion annually that feeds highly organised criminal networks. For all those reasons, urgent action is needed.

The high-level conference will take place at Lancaster House next week is important. His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has shown leadership in putting his weight behind the conference. He has shown that he cares, as he did about the flooding down in the south-west, and has been particularly active and involved in ensuring that all possible support is given to next week’s conference. That is why we must ensure that we do not let anybody down and why I feel that the other recommendations of our report must be taken forward.

I am thinking in particular about the new regulations that the Government need to introduce to update the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997, and perhaps the Minister can refer to them when he winds up. Our report highlighted the lack of progress in that regard and I was interested to see that one reason given for not introducing the regulations—at a time when we have a Deregulation Bill, I must add—was the work for and the focus on the conference next week. We should not just have a conference; it should be matched by the work of all Government Departments. We want to hear about the review of the COTES regulations and how the new regulations will be introduced, and it is regrettable that the review has been delayed.

The conference is next week, so let me turn very briefly to the agenda—

Order. I hope that the reference will be brief. I am avoiding setting a time limit, but I asked Members to speak for only five minutes and the clock is very clear.

I shall be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker.

When I asked the Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee whether he supported the African elephant action plan he said yes. That has eight objectives, and a clear commitment to funding is needed. DFID has contributed £10 million, which will be really important, but the Born Free Foundation says that that amount is required every year for the next 10 years.

We have a clear opportunity next week to make real progress on many of the issues highlighted in the report. The clock, as you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, is ticking, not just for us here, but for these endangered species. I urge the Minister to take on board the many contributions that hon. Members have made today.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on saying much of what needs to be said, making our lives and yours, I suspect, Madam Deputy Speaker, easier.

I applaud the fact that the Duke of Cambridge has joined his father, the Prince of Wales, and his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, as the third generation of royals who have chosen to participate in and throw their weight behind the London conference at Lancaster House. I hope that United for Wildlife will prove to be exactly that: an alliance of worldwide organisations and Government agencies with one clear aim in mind, which is to protect the wildlife of the world.

It is important that we seek to identify the scale of international criminality involved in this trade, as my right hon. Friend sought to do. For six years in the 1990s, I served as chairman of the all party group on animal welfare and was privileged to work closely at that time with the Environmental Investigation Agency, an incredibly brave organisation whose staff went undercover and did a huge amount at that time to seek effectively to terminate the trade in ivory, with huge success. Therefore, it is a great sadness that that trade has picked up again, largely as a result of the action of international Governments, who, as my right hon. Friend said, mistakenly chose to reintroduce the trade in ivory stocks, which led to further demand.

Points have been made about the manner in which even in the Kruger national park, for God’s sake, rhinos that were hunted in their tens five or 10 years ago are now hunted in their thousands, which is appalling. We have put so much effort into the preservation of habitat that it would be a fine irony, would it not, Madam Deputy Speaker, if we preserved the habitat but not the animals that want and need to live in it. The lions, rhinos and elephants of Africa are important magnificent beasts, as are the tigers of Asia.

There are two markets. The first is the moronic tourists who with telescopic rifles slaughter wild animals from a safe distance and then go home and brag about how brave they have been and how close they got to the kill. Those people need to be ostracised totally, and it is up to the international community to seek to control the tourist trade—I use the word “tourist” loosely—in what is revoltingly, but accurately known as “canned” hunting. These are cowardly acts and they should be condemned as such.

There is a second and much more sinister side to this, and that is the Chinese and far east mafia, who trade in rhino horn and tiger bone as traditional remedies that are no more effective or useful than your or my toenail clippings. This is criminality piggybacking on primitive culture to service a serious demand for medicine that has no medicinal value whatever. There has to be a need for concerted international effort at the highest level to stamp out this strand of crime. We fight the trade in drugs and blood diamonds, we fight money laundering and people trafficking, but while claiming that we care about the environment, the international community has paid far too little attention to our diminishing wildlife heritage and those who prey upon it.

The London conference has to deliver not a plan for talk but a plan for action, backed by hard cash and by absolutely ruthless enforcement.

There is nothing sadder in this House than an ex-Minister who cannot shake off his former brief. It had been my intention to widen my horizons now that I have the freedom of the Back Benches, but I could not resist joining my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee in their attempt to secure this debate, and I am delighted that we were successful.

I am particularly delighted that there is now a cross-Government approach to dealing with this problem and that it is no longer viewed simply as an environmental one. It is fundamentally an economic, social and security issue. I am very pleased that the Minister for Government Policy will respond to the debate, which demonstrates the cross-Government value of our deliberations in the context of next week’s conference. It mirrors what is happening in other countries. For example, the leadership shown by Secretary Clinton and now Secretary Kerry is drawing together what is happening not only across the United States Government, but internationally. There is also the leadership shown by Bob Zoellick, who cares about this passionately, when he chaired the World Bank.

Last year I attended a United Nations Environment Programme conference in Nairobi on behalf of the Government. I took some time to go and see some of the partnership working that will tackle the problem. I visited a wonderful project run by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service, at Amboseli. I saw how a really well thought through partnership process between a non-governmental organisation and a Government body can deliver protection on the ground.

I also visited the Northern Rangelands Trust and saw how it is working with local people across a vast area of northern Kenya, providing them with a better price for their cattle, better grazing for their cattle, water supplies for their village and building schools, all under the umbrella of protecting wildlife. That was being delivered on the ground among people who live on less than a dollar a day. It is about joining up all the factors behind the problems we face in the illegal wildlife trade.

I will never forget the image of President Moi setting fire to Kenya’s stockpile of ivory in 1989. That sent a message around the world that the trade in ivory is wrong, that it is illegal and that it must stop. I applaud the Government of Kenya, the Government of Zambia and, in particular, the Government of Gabon, who have shown great leadership in this matter. I applaud other Governments beyond range states, such as those of the Philippines, the Indian state of Maharashtra and the United States for destroying theirs. China is stepping up to the mark by coming to the conference and talking meaningfully about ending the trade and destroying some of its stockpiles. As we have heard, France is doing the same.

The underlying point about the conference is that we must support the African elephant action plan. We must see it as an African initiative supported by countries around the world that have stockpiles. We must recognise the cost and impact of those stockpiles, because they give the promise of a market in countries where ivory is still used for aesthetic purposes. We all know that it has a devastating effect. I have been sent some terrible statistics. In 1976 there were 120,000 elephants in Tanzania’s Selous national park. In 2007 that number was down to 55,000. Last year it was 13,000. It is at a tipping point. We risk seeing wholesale extinctions on our watch in certain African countries.

We should not be thinking only about Africa, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs reminded us. A wonderful organisation called Elephant Family reminds us that Asian elephants are also poached for ivory. Many of our constituents visit countries, such as Thailand, and take part in tourist opportunities involving tame elephants that might have been brutally captured in countries such as Burma. That is having a devastating effect on those countries as well.

The Government should be congratulated on a number of initiatives. My right hon. Friend talked about MIKE. Operation Wisdom is an international policing operation tracking down the perpetrators of this crime. The British Army is supporting Governments, such as that of Kenya, in their efforts. There are many other initiatives. The conference is the zenith of some of those initiatives, drawing them together and trying to ensure that we work collectively to bring an end to the trade.

Seizures in the UK of ivory and other products from endangered species are also a factor. They are still seized at our borders, and we have to raise awareness of that. I have already spoken about ivory poaching in Asia.

We are short of time, so I will end by quoting the words of Will Travers, who said on the 30th anniversary of “Born Free”:

“No more one-off sales. No more concessions to trade. No more ivory tusks being sold at…$700 a pound. Only then will the message be clear”.

The message is that we have to bring an end to this trade. I cannot put it better than that. We must not miss the opportunity given by the conference in London. We support the Government in their endeavours to bring together this international effort that can lead to real progress being made.

I congratulate right hon. and hon. Members on initiating this very important debate and on their excellent speeches. The appalling reality is that even if this House were full today, each of the 650 or so Members of Parliament could deliver a bespoke speech on wildlife crime without once repeating anyone else’s words. The natural world is under siege. Countless iconic species—we have heard endless examples today—are teetering on the edge of extinction.

The tragedy is that the worse the problem becomes, the harder it is to address, because the closer an endangered animal moves towards extinction, the greater its market value. People used to buy rhino horns mainly for medicine, and many still do, but increasingly people now buy them as an investment. During the second half of 2011, rhino horn auction lots surged by 67% on mainland China. In effect, people are betting their money on the extinction of species and hoping for such an extinction in order to boost their investments. I cannot imagine anything more revolting, but it happens.

I will focus on one aspect of this horror story which has already been covered in some detail—the illegal trade in ivory. Africa has lost an astonishing 90% of its elephants in the past half century. In the 1970s, Chad alone had 400,000 elephants; today, that is the entire population of elephants in the wild in all 38 range states in Africa. Chad’s elephant population is now in the low hundreds. We will remember that in March, 88 elephants were butchered in the space of one week—33 of them, we are told, pregnant females. We have heard the figures: 40,000 elephants killed a year, or one every 15 minutes. Members can do the rest of the maths for themselves. The situation is just as dire in Asia. According to the Elephant Family charity, there are only 1,200 breeding males left in India. It is an unspeakable catastrophe.

Elephants are among the most thoughtful, intelligent and fascinating creatures. If anyone doubts that, I recommend that they look up a story I became aware of only a few days ago about two crippled old circus elephants, Jenny and Shirley. It is worth looking it up on the internet; it has been written about all over the place. The elephants met 30 years ago in a circus. Jenny was a little baby, and the older elephant became something of a surrogate mother for her. Jenny was eventually sent off to a different circus, but 20 years later they were reunited—old and damaged from the activities in which they had engaged in the circus—in a lovely sanctuary in Tennessee. There are simply no words to describe the obvious intensity of the love they had for each other for their remaining 10 years. I am not even going to try to describe it, but I encourage anyone watching this debate please to look it up. Watch it yourself, Madam Deputy Speaker, and weep.

Then we should remember that these animals are being butchered for trinkets such as toothpicks and chopsticks—nothing more noble, special or important than that. We should remember, too, that between the wilds of Africa and the mantelpiece, where these things often end up, there is a vortex of violent organised crime, with much of the proceeds funding terrorism. The truth is that when a consumer buys a piece of ivory, they might as well be putting money in a collection tin for al-Qaeda, or buying guns for Joseph Kony’s slave children or for Sudan’s vicious Janjaweed. We have already heard about al-Shabaab, which was responsible for the atrocities in Nairobi—a massacre funded by blood ivory. If anyone is tempted to imagine that this is not an issue for us, let them at least make those links and recognise that the ivory trade makes our world a lot less safe.

Next week we can take a giant step towards resolving this issue, or at least beginning to resolve it. We know that it is possible. As we have heard, the world nearly put an end to the international ivory trade when it was banned in 1989. Poaching did not end, but it dropped off dramatically and the black market ivory prices slumped. Then, of course, we had the one-off sales and the black market roared back into action. It was stimulated by the existence of the legitimate market and was able to flourish under the disguise of the legal trade. According to the formidable Will Travers, who has already been cited three times today and is sitting up in the Gallery with his daughter, more elephant tusks were seized in 2011 than in any year since the ban.

As world leaders convene in London next week, we know what needs to be done: an international ban on all forms of ivory trade, and that cannot be achieved without China. The good news is that things are beginning to happen. The country’s largest online marketplace, Taobao—the equivalent of eBay—has banned a very wide range of wildlife products, including ivory. That suggests a change in the culture of Chinese consumers, with a bit of help from the magnificent International Fund for Animal Welfare, which has been campaigning there. The Chinese Government also destroyed 33 tonnes of ivory, but the state itself still owns 30 ivory carving factories. The simple fact remains that unless they turn their attention to the legal trade, the extinction of elephants will be assured. That has to be a prime focus at the summit.

My final point relates to the African elephant action plan, which has already been discussed at some length, so I will be brief. It is supported by all 38 African elephant range states, which I think is a first. I am pleased to see that the Minister for Government Policy will be responding to the debate, and I ask him to note that 126 Members have signed an early-day motion calling on the Government to use Department for International Development funds to ramp up support for the plan. It requires £200 million over 10 years— £20 million per year—and, in the context of our aid budget and that of other countries, that is a reasonable price to pay, given the benefits it would bring to people and, as we have heard, to nature. I am not suggesting that we go it alone, but we can take the lead, as we are already doing. The condition would be unanimous support for at least a 10-year moratorium.

The Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Foreign Secretary have shown extraordinary leadership in recent months and I am really grateful for that, as I am sure is everyone else present, but next week’s summit is only the beginning and we must follow it through to the end.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and others, including the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), on securing this very important debate. It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). If only I had his oratorical skills to get my passion across: the passion is in there, burning, but I just cannot always get it out.

I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy. That shows just how seriously this Government are taking this important issue, which matters to so many thousands of people in this country.

I am delighted that the Government will host this important conference and I hope that a really good declaration will come out of it—perhaps something along the lines of the Marrakesh declaration, which was a 10-step action plan launched by the African Development Bank in May 2013.

Yesterday, the Government published a document on their commitment to action on the illegal wildlife trade. I echo the sentiments of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North on the funding for the national wildlife crime unit. That is a good step, but in order to achieve some continuity the funding has to have a bit more longevity.

Members have spoken passionately about the ivory trade—it is a real issue—but I want to highlight briefly some lesser known, but equally important, areas of wildlife crime. Vultures in southern Africa are on the brink of extinction because of the use of carbofuran, a poison that poachers use when they have slaughtered an elephant or rhino in order to expressly kill vultures whose presence gives away their crime.

Most birds around the world are threatened by the use of illegal poisons, as well as by shooting, and we should remember that this country also has a problem with wildlife crime against raptors. In particular, I make no apology for reminding the House about the fate of the hen harrier in our own uplands. Last year, the Law Commission recognised that the liability for bird of prey persecution needs to be extended, through a legal concept known as vicarious liability, to landowners who allow their gamekeepers to use illegal techniques. I hope our Government are at least looking carefully at that recommendation. Bird of prey persecution is a serious organised crime and I think that the responsibility for leading the enforcement responses should lie with the National Crime Agency, with the national wildlife crime unit providing intelligence support.

I want to draw the House’s attention to the poaching of saiga antelopes for their horns. Saiga antelopes are unusual and rather enigmatic creatures. For those who do not know what they are, they look like antelopes with huge swollen snouts, and only the males grow horns. After the ban on rhino horn in 1993, saiga horn became a substitute in traditional Chinese medicine, and their numbers in their native central Asian steppes declined alarmingly—down by 95% by 2000. There has since been a slight increase in their numbers, but they need protection as they again face pressure from poaching. We all know about the threat to the tiger population, and that iconic species is pretty near the top of my priorities, but we have to remember the less glamorous but no less important species throughout the world.

I look forward to hearing from the conference not just warm words, but real action worldwide, so that wildlife crime—as we have heard, it is linked to terrorism and organised crime, so it is an important and serious area of crime—can be thwarted and future generations can enjoy sharing the planet with rhinos, elephants, tigers, hen harriers and even my old friends the saiga antelopes.

One of the things I wanted to do when I entered the House was to speak up for wildlife. I have been lucky enough to go round Britain and the world to see such animals, and I want to make sure that other people and future generations can enjoy also them.

I am delighted to speak in this very important debate. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) and other hon. Members for securing it.

It is our duty, as it was that of previous generations, to preserve the natural world and all its wonders for our children and grandchildren who will follow us, but given how disastrous a year 2013 was for rhino populations—the number of animals poached in South Africa was the highest for some years—it has become clear that such a legacy is under threat. Like other hon. Members, I have been very lucky in seeing these animals in the wild. I have always found rhinos particularly majestic, but unassuming—they just get on with their lives. According to reports from the Wildlife Conservation Society, more than 1,600 rhinos have been poached for their horns during the past two years, and it is estimated that only 5,000 black rhinos are alive in the wild.

Although the toll taken by poaching on animal populations and biodiversity is undoubtedly its worst effect, many other aspects of the crime affect the human population, both internationally and locally. As my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) mentioned, the terrible assault in the Nairobi mall last year, in which 67 people were killed, was carried out by the militant terrorist group al-Shabaab. The charity the Elephant Action League estimates that 40% of al-Shabaab’s funds come directly from the ivory trade. It therefore follows that the illegal trade in rhino horn contributes to some of its revenue. The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, has recently highlighted the link between poaching and terrorism, alleging that even al-Qaeda benefits from the trade.

More generally, the increase in poaching is of concern from the perspective of international development. It is well documented that guerrilla organisations, such as the Lord’s Resistance Army, have supported themselves financially by poaching. We are all aware of the horrendous practices that Joseph Kony and his army have wreaked on the people of central African states, taking children from their families and abducting, raping and disfiguring countless women. It is therefore reasonable to assume that if there was better wildlife policing in such areas, poaching could be reduced and such atrocities might become less frequent.

I believe that poaching is a surmountable social evil. Nevertheless, given that the number of rhinos killed by poachers is 1,000% higher than it was at the start of the century, it seems that measures other than policing strategies and surveillance are needed to prevent poaching. The high value of rhino horns, elephant tusks and other animal parts means that poachers now use helicopters to get in and out very quickly, before gamekeepers can find them. The fact that they can get in and out so easily is a major problem, because the money they make from poaching represents what they might earn in six years in a normal job, if indeed they have one. The value of the horn is a huge problem. We will not stop the demand for it, but we must tackle the root of the problem, which is poverty. We could mitigate the impact of rhino poaching not only on the species itself, but on the human population in the areas that are affected. Misinformation about the medicinal properties of rhino horn does not help. I think that it was the President of Sri Lanka who said that the powder from the horn had cured his cancer. That is not only wrong, but it perpetrates the myth.

We must not be complacent and think that poaching is confined to far-away countries. I was shocked to learn that rhinos in British zoos have been threatened by poaching when I met Damian Aspinall, the chairman of the Aspinall Foundation and the owner of Port Lympne wild animal park. The Aspinall Foundation does wonderful conservation work. In 2012, it collaborated with DHL, the logistics company, to introduce three of Lympne park’s black rhinos into the protected environment on the reserve of Tony Fitzjohn in Tanzania. Eventually, they will be released into the wild.

I was shocked to learn that in March last year, staff at Lympne park were notified that an attempt would be made on the rhinos in the park. Although it may seem perplexing and even slightly ridiculous that such an attempt would be made in this country, it is sadly not as unlikely or rare as it sounds. In 2012, the national wildlife crime unit issued a warning to all British zoos, encouraging them to increase security measures to prevent such crimes.

Mr Aspinall discussed with me the extreme lengths to which some game reserves are going to protect their rhinos. In 2013, the Sabi Sand game reserve in South Africa began injecting its rhinos’ horns with parasites. That has no effect on the rhinos, but when the rhino horn is ingested in medicine, it can cause serious illness to the consumer. Mr Aspinall rightly thinks that there must be a better way to tackle the problem, because the consumer buys the product in good faith—stupidly, perhaps, but in good faith—and the poison might unintentionally have a more serious effect.

It is important that pressure is brought to bear on countries that import rhino horn to stop the trade and for Governments to assist zoos in their countries to keep the animals safe. I am delighted that Prince William is helping to raise awareness of the plight of rhinos by joining a charity. His interest will make even more people aware of the issue. There is an urgent need to deal with poaching because of the risk that it poses to international security and anti-terrorism efforts, and because of the effects that this awful trade has on communities in the affected countries.

Next week’s conference is timely. I am sure that the Minister will take all the issues that hon. Members have raised to that conference and stress how important they are to the future of wildlife.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on securing this debate and the Backbench Business Committee, of which I am a member, on its good sense in scheduling it. I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) said.

I want to do everything that I can to protect wildlife in this country. Through the good offices of Mr Attenborough, a whole new generation of people have been introduced to the joy of wildlife. The message that that one individual has managed to convey to so many people is very important indeed.

In 2002, I modestly introduced a ten-minute rule Bill called the Endangered Species (Illegal Trade) Bill. It was sponsored by none other than Miss Ann Widdecombe. We went to Heathrow airport to examine the ill-gotten gains of the trade. I am very disappointed that international wildlife crime has developed as it has in the 12 years since. In particular, I am very disappointed in my lack of influence in this regard, but never mind.

Unfortunately, as the Foreign Secretary said in his speech on this issue in September, the trade is “booming”. It is impossible accurately to assess the figures, but the trade was estimated to be worth £5 billion in 2002 and it is now estimated to have grown to £12 billion. It is the world’s fourth largest criminal market after drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking. It is absolutely appalling.

An example of the sheer scale of the problem is shown in the recent announcement by the convention on the international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora—CITES—which last year had the highest level of ivory seizures for 25 years: 41.6 tonnes. As other Members have said, it is estimated that 22,000 elephants were killed in Africa two years ago out of a population 500,000. Yesterday, I saw on the front of the Daily Mirror a Kenyan poacher who boasted that he had personally slaughtered more than 70 elephants. He commented that the elephants screamed as they died but said:

“To me, this was just business.”

Such stories are truly shocking, and the figures are mindboggling. If we do not take action soon, wild species and their communities face irreversible damage. Once they are gone, we will never get those species back.

It is encouraging that the level of commitment to this issue by Governments, enforcement bodies and NGOs has increased hugely over the past 10 years, and I commend the UK Border Force for its work on the seizure of illegal ivory, particularly last year when 80.7 kg of illegal ivory was seized at British airports. The UK Government are truly leading the way in tackling international wildlife crime, and we should be proud of that. The report released today by the Government entitled “The UK commitment to action on the illegal wildlife trade”, and the upcoming summit, are a testament to the Government’s commitment.

I hope that the conference acts as a monitor of current progress on the implementation of commitments, and ensures that sufficient action is taken to improve enforcement, reduce demand for illegal products, and support sustainable economic development. To ensure that, however, we must invest for the long term and I encourage the Government to do even more. They have already pledged £10 million to end illegal wildlife trading, but I hope they are prepared to do even more.

I was happy to see today that the Government have announced continued support and funding for the work of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, as well as a commitment to fund the national wildlife crime unit until 2016—splendid news. However, it is important to guarantee long-term sustainable funding for the NWCU, to ensure real stability and certainty post-2016. Will the Minister comment on that?

To be more effective in tackling international wildlife crime, collaboration is vital within and between Governments, as it is with NGOs and enforcement bodies. Because so many related issues are involved with international wildlife crime, many different Departments are required to collaborate The establishment of a cross-departmental taskforce on wildlife trafficking is very much a step in the right direction. I hope that the group encourages and co-ordinates activities to tackle the issue both nationally and internationally, leading to an eventual cross-governmental action plan for which it would then be held accountable.

On prosecution, it is important that illicit wildlife trafficking is treated with the same level of consideration as other transnational crimes, and that targets are set. I hope that the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service can commit to that. Will the Minister assure the House that tough maximum penalties are available to tackle wildlife crime? For prosecutions for such crimes to be conducted more effectively, the judiciary must be strengthened through greater awareness. Therefore, the Sentencing Council should introduce sentencing guidelines for the judiciary on wildlife crime, and the Magistrates’ Association, which is very important on this issue, should implement training for magistrates.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many of the recommendations in the Environmental Audit Committee’s report touch on the points he is making and, if implemented, could take us even further down the road? There are recommendations that the Government still have not taken on board, and they still need to be taken on board.

I absolutely acknowledge the work of the hon. Lady’s Committee and I am aware of the point she makes. I am sure my right hon. Friend has heard what she has said.

The review and update of the control of trade in endangered species regulations announced today is a positive step and has been a long time coming. However, from the document the time scale is not clear, so I wonder whether my right hon. Friend might say something on that.

In conclusion, it is clear that we are starting to make some progress in tackling international wildlife crime, and we have come a long way since the ten-minute rule Bill I tried to introduce 12 years ago. However, there is still more that we can do and we need to ensure long-term funding, and tough and effective prosecution. We need to continue to adopt an ever-greater collaborative and joined-up approach to tackle this issue. This conference provides a wonderful opportunity to do so.

Order. Before I call the Front Benchers to respond I feel that Members are entitled to an explanation. We have reached the winding-up speeches a little faster than I had anticipated because some Members indicated that they wanted to speak and then left the Chamber. That just shows the difficulty of the Chair trying to be fair to everybody. I am sure that both Front Benchers will be generous with interventions, should further points need to be made.

I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on securing this very important and timely debate. I also congratulate the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), on all the work that she and her Committee have done. I am mindful of the warning from the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) about ex-Ministers and their briefs, so I will try to confine my remarks in that respect.

We have heard some excellent speeches on how wildlife crime is a threat to important species and habitats both in the UK and around the world. The Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into wildlife crime, published in September 2012, welcomed the significant progress made since its predecessor Committee’s recommendations in 2004. It also made key recommendations on the steps that must be taken if the UK Government’s international leadership on wildlife crime is to be maintained and extended.

Unfortunately, I do not think we have seen enough progress in responding to that very clear and coherent set of recommendations. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, the Chair of the Committee, is on record as having described the Government’s response as “a missed opportunity'” that showed

“the Government have not considered the matter in the cross-cutting way that is now needed given the urgent threat to endangered species.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2013; Vol. 568, c. 148WH.]

At this point, I must welcome the Minister for Government Policy. He is from the Cabinet Office, which shows some of that cross-cutting responsibility. By my reckoning, however, eight of the 11 recommendations made by the Committee on enforcement have still not been accepted.

I can see a reaction among those on the Government Benches, but the important point is that the Committee’s inquiry showed that this is a cross-cutting issue. We cannot just have a response from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or the Home Office: there needs to be a joined-up response. When we made the application to the Backbench Business Committee, we requested that a member of the Cabinet be here to ensure an all-inclusive, coherent approach from the Government, and I welcome the fact that the Minister is here today.

I hope the debate provides the spur to action that is needed. I hope that in his closing speech the Minister will set out in more detail what further action the Government intend to take to address specifically the recommendations in the EAC’s report, and to ensure that the UK is playing its full part in the fight against international wildlife crime.

The task ahead of us remains significant. In the past two years alone, more than 1,600 rhinos have been slaughtered by poachers, according to reports from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and other organisations. Moreover, about 1,000 park rangers have died in the past decade defending these animals, and I pay tribute to the Daily Mirror’s campaign this week highlighting the sacrifices of rangers and their families.

Illegal wildlife trade continues to generate an estimated $20 billion each year for the criminal gangs and terrorist groups who perpetrate this evil, and that does not even include the products of the illegal timber trade or illegal fishing. Those figures should give a sense of urgency and timeliness, not just to this debate but to the Government’s response. I am proud that the previous Government made important progress in helping to shape the international effort to tackle wildlife crime. As a Minister, I had the privilege of releasing two white rhinos back into the wild in Kruger national park in 2006. It was a wonderful, if—I confess—a slightly scary moment. Close up, they are enormous.

The following year, I represented the UK at CITES CoP—conference of parties—14, in The Hague, where we resolved to strengthen national legislation and penalties to deter illegal wildlife trade; to strengthen public understanding of the benefits of sustainable international trade and of the negative impacts of illegal wildlife trade; and to increase the provision of financial resources for the operation and implementation of CITES. CITES trade regulations now apply to about 35,000 species, about 3% of which are prohibited, which is significant progress, but the fact remains that many species traded internationally play an important role in the provision of ecosystems services and in supporting local livelihoods, so ensuring that the use of, and trade in, these species is legal and sustainable has many and much wider benefits for the local communities and countries of which they are such icons.

I am proud that, alongside our international work, the previous Government set up the national wildlife crime unit in 2006, which is now responsible for assisting with the enforcement of wildlife law and the prevention of wildlife crimes. It is important to understand that its work does not stop at the UK’s borders, and that it has a vital role in reducing the demand for the products of wildlife crime and in targeting UK citizens involved in the international trade.

Despite these steps forward, however, as the Environmental Audit Committee has said, there is a risk that further progress will not be made without clear action from the Government. It is vital that there be no let up in our efforts. Wildlife crime in Africa poses a clear threat, not just to internationally important species but to the whole security of the region. Some of the comments from hon. Members about al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda and others reinforced that point. The UK must, therefore, continue to meet its obligations to clamp down on the trade in the products of wildlife crime, including elephant ivory and rhino horn. Poaching remains a serious problem in Africa. It has strong links to drug and human trafficking and terrorism, as hon. Members have said.

The London conference on illegal wildlife trade, hosted by the Prince of Wales, is, as everyone has acknowledged, a tremendous opportunity to gather together international experts to work together on this issue. I echo the remarks by the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee about how fortunate we are to have, in the Prince of Wales, someone showing the leadership that he continually does on these issues. The conference is a perfect opportunity for some key pledges to be made. It is time to build on the UK’s strong international reputation, achieved—I hope the Minister will agree—thanks to the diplomatic efforts of previous Governments.

My experience of the international negotiations on wildlife crime is that the countries with the credibility required to improve global law enforcement and to reduce global demand are those that walk the walk. It is the job of the Minister for Government Policy to ensure that our commitment to tackling international wildlife crime continues to have real substance. The substance will not come simply from hosting conferences, important as the London conference clearly is; it will come from delivering. I hope that the Minister will answer some specific questions about how that delivery will be achieved.

The Government’s decision to make the need to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products one of the main goals of the conference is very welcome. Will the Minister tell us what the Government aim to achieve in terms of the strengthening of CITES trade regulations? As has already been said today, the Government’s response to these challenges requires a co-ordinated approach across Whitehall. Does the Minister accept the Environmental Audit Committee’s finding that the Government are failing to work effectively because Departments are not co-operating? Can he describe the conversations that he has had with his colleagues in the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Home Office and the Foreign Office about improving the Government’s co-ordinated, joined-up response? What, specifically, does he intend to do to ensure better, outcome-focused joint work between DEFRA, the MOD, the Foreign Office and Home Office to ensure that that improvement takes place?

Does the hon. Gentleman, like me, welcome the fact that there is now a Cabinet Committee, chaired by the Foreign Secretary, which draws together DEFRA, the Department for International Development, and other Departments to deal with precisely the issue that he has identified? That has been a real game-changer in helping to develop the different approach of which I spoke earlier.

I do welcome that. It is vital that such sharing take place across Departments, but it must be focused on action and enforcement. That is why I mentioned the Select Committee’s 11 recommendations, only eight of which, I believe, have been accepted by the Government. There is more work to be done. I accept that cross-cutting work is now beginning to take place, but it must focus on action.

The challenge of international wildlife crime also requires a co-ordinated response across the European Union. Does the Minister recognise that, whatever we are dealing with—from illegal fishing off the coast of Africa to the effect of new consumer demand for illegal rhino poaching—the UK will have the greatest effect when it works as part of a European community through initiatives such as CITES?

The Select Committee has made a strong case for bringing together existing disparate pieces of law governing the protection of wildlife. What progress does the Government expect to make, before the election next year, on the Law Commission’s review of wildlife law?

The hon. Gentleman has just mentioned illegal fishing in Africa. Does he acknowledge that, just as there are undeniable links between the ivory trade and terrorism, there are clear links between overfishing by illegal vessels in African coastal waters and the rise of piracy and terrorism? The rise of piracy in Somalia is linked almost exactly with the collapse of the country’s fish stocks, and the same now seems to be happening in Senegal, where 50,000 fishermen have warned their Government that if foreign vessels continue to deplete their oceans, they will adapt as the Somali fishermen have adapted, and become pirates. It is a security issue as well.

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I enjoyed his collection of all that information, and his presentation of it to the House. He is absolutely right: when we look at Somalian piracy, we see that the conflicts in the horn of Africa have been driven constantly by environmental degradation. If only a fraction of the money spent by our Navy, and the navies of the world, on policing vessels that pass through the straits there—the costs of increased insurance for ships, for instance—were invested in resolving the environmental problems, we should be in a much better position.

May I ask whether the hon. Gentleman also welcomes one of the steps taken at last year’s CITES meeting? A number of maritime species were listed for the first time, including several shark species, in particular the hammerhead shark. I hope that that process will continue at future CITES meetings.

The hon. Gentleman speaks with great knowledge of and authority on these matters. He has thrown his own cautionary tale to the winds by continuing to intervene, but he is very welcome to do so. He has made a very good point, and I absolutely agree with him. I know that if my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), the shadow Foreign Office Minister, were here now, she would have made some comments about that. She was speaking to me only last night about how the practice of illegal shark-finning needs to be addressed. I wholeheartedly endorse what the hon. Member for Newbury has said.

The Environmental Audit Committee has made a strong case for bringing together existing disparate pieces of law governing the protection of wildlife. What progress do the Government expect to make on the Law Commission review of wildlife law before the election? What is the Government’s view of the specific recommendations in the Law Commission’s interim statement on wildlife crime? There are specific issues involved, including the updating of species listing and the substitution of “deliberate” for “intentionally”. The Law Commission intends to produce draft legislation alongside its final report this summer. Will the Government enable pre-legislative scrutiny of that draft legislation? It would be really helpful if the Minister could answer those questions this afternoon.

There are real concerns that the national wildlife crime unit, set up by the last Government, has been undermined by decisions taken by Ministers. The Environmental Audit Committee specifically warned that the lack of a long-term funding agreement was making it hard for the unit to recruit, retain and develop the specialist staff required to detect and prevent wildlife crime. The Minister should be aware of the claims that the unit has found it difficult to appoint a wildlife crime internet researcher precisely for that reason.

I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), in his place on the Front Bench today. In a Westminster Hall debate in October last year, he agreed that the Government needed to

“reach a decision on the future of the unit as soon as possible.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2013; Vol. 568, c. 145WH.]

I welcome the fact that the Government managed to reach a decision before this debate. I also welcome the fact that they managed to publish the decision before the debate, albeit at 5.30 yesterday evening. Given the Government’s record, a gap of five months between a Minister calling for a decision and a decision being published might be the best we can expect. The decision is welcome, none the less.

This shows the value of Back-Bench debates and the power that the Backbench Business Committee has to get the Government to address an issue. I see the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), who sits on that Committee, nodding in agreement. Without the deadline of this debate—

I am concluding my remarks, Madam Deputy Speaker. You had indicated that the time available had expanded—

Order. I was not indicating that the hon. Gentleman’s time had expanded. I was explaining to Back Benchers, in this Back-Bench debate, that they might have had a little more time if some of their colleagues were courteous and said that they were not going to participate in the debate. The time constraints might then have been different. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could conclude so that we can hear the Minister.

I will indeed. I was simply about to afford the hon. Member for Southend West the opportunity to intervene, as you had suggested.

This important debate follows an excellent report by the Environmental Audit Committee. The Government’s formal response to that report did not provide clear answers to the issues raised, but I hope that the Minister for Government Policy will do that today, as well as answering the clear questions I have asked and addressing the many excellent points made in contributions from both sides of the House during the debate. I again congratulate the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs on initiating the debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

It is a pleasure to participate in a debate in which there is considerable consensus. I am enormously grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), my hon. Friends the Members for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Sir John Randall) and my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) and for Southend West (Mr Amess) for illustrating extraordinarily well the issues before us. In every case, they did so with personal commitment and passion, and also with some charm. It is notable that so many Members wished to participate in a debate of this kind.

I also very much welcome the contribution of the Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley). She and others pointed out that is was an auspicious day on which to hold this debate, given that it is the day on which France has joined China and the United States—in anticipation, we think, of Hong Kong—in destroying stocks. We should be very glad that is happening, but we still face considerable danger. Many points were illustrated beautifully in the speeches made, but one did not emerge and everyone in the Chamber is conscious of it: the appendix II countries are prohibited from further sale only up to 2017 and, as we saw from the one-off sale in 2008, that presents a significant risk. I understand that there are some 300,000 elephants in appendix II countries, so this is a serious issue.

Everyone who spoke in the debate is aware, as I suspect are many hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens, of the extent of the impoverishment of our world that occurs as biodiversity reduces. We are not just talking about some striking animals; we are in serious peril of major extinctions. Rhino extinctions may happen very soon, but even elephant extinctions may not be too far off if we do not act properly. So it is right that the Government, the European Union and the world should take action, and those are the three levels at which we are trying to act.

As for cross-government participation in trying to solve this problem, an issue that has come up repeatedly, the first point to make is that this Government have, for the first time, established the right kind of machinery, with the inter-ministerial group, to which attention has been drawn. This is not just any old ministerial group; it is chaired by the Foreign Secretary, and relevant Secretaries of State serve on it. We are systematically going through all the issues that emerge, and it is out of that group that the idea of the international conference was carried forward by the Government. Many hon. Members have rightly paid tribute to His Royal Highness and to the royal family as a whole. They are, of course, an inspiration on this, but it is through the inter-ministerial group that the Government have taken the idea in hand and organised what will be a major conference.

It is also through that group that we are monitoring the activity of government in the domestic sphere. I will deal with that first and then return to the issue of the international conference towards the end of my remarks. The great bulk of the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendations have already been responded to positively. That is the case, above all, on the funding for the unit in the Home Office and, indeed, the recreation of an internet monitoring post within that unit. I take the point made by several of my hon. Friends, the Chairman of the Committee and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), that the unit needs to be a permanent feature of the scene. I am personally committed to that view, although I cannot commit the next Chancellor of the Exchequer to it. I do not know who that is going to be, although I very much hope it will be the current one, but I cannot commit whoever that is to what happens post-2016, nor can anybody else in this House yet. However, I can certainly say that wherever I am sitting in this House and whatever I am doing at that time, I shall be arguing for a continuation of that unit. I rather suspect, having listened to the remarks made by hon. Members from across the House, that that is a matter of some consensus, so I guess that whoever is in the next Government will continue that unit, and I certainly think they need to do so.

A great many questions have been asked about the consolidation of the various laws. That comes in two parts, the first of which is the Law Commission activity. That is the easy bit, for us here at least, because the Law Commission is in charge of that, not the Government. As everybody in the House will be aware, the Law Commission intends to complete its work by the summer, and it would be an impertinence for me to say anything further than that that is what we have been told. I can certainly give the Opposition spokesman the undertaking that once it has produced its recommendations, we will seek to find a means of those being subject to proper pre-legislative scrutiny. That is a sensible thing to do with a Law Commission product.

The second part falls to us, as the Government, to conduct, and I refer to the consolidation of regulations. The Select Committee rightly drew a good deal of attention to that, and it is part of the red tape challenge. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North and I were both involved in the debate on the Deregulation Bill just a few days ago. I have spent a good many hours of my life in the last few years pursuing the red tape challenge, and one part of that is the consolidation of these regulations. We intend to pursue that. I am applying some gentle pressure on my colleagues in DEFRA to proceed with that at pace and I hope that we will be able to issue a consultation paper in the spring. I fully intend that we should complete the process by Christmas. I can therefore give the undertaking that the Opposition spokesman seeks—that we will seek to complete the process by the end of this Parliament.

It is also strikingly important that we continue to work on these issues of domestic enforcement and regulation across all Departments. As my hon. Friends and Opposition Members have said, every Department of state has to participate in that effort in different ways. The point of the inter-ministerial group is to ensure that happens.

I turn now to the international conference, the international leadership that this country is demonstrating and the question of what we hope to achieve. My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, in a characteristically charming and vivid presentation, rightly said—echoed by others—that we should not assume that a conference is enough. Of course it is not, and nor would a series of conferences be, although incidentally I hope that the conference will become an institution and happen year after year, in parallel with the CITES conferences of parties. Nevertheless, the conference can, if we are both lucky and active, become a major watershed. We can achieve things by ending the conference with some clear statements of ambition and intention on the part of the very wide set of countries attending. It is not a conference of a few countries—many are coming and at very senior levels.

What are we seeking to achieve? As several hon. Members have said, there are three parts to this and I shall dwell briefly on each. The first is better enforcement, which has to be done on a global scale. We are contributing significantly to what I might call the war effort. My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet described the extraordinary courage of some of the people involved in enforcement. It is not an easy thing to do—I think someone mentioned that around 1,000 law enforcement officers in this area have been killed. It is not a pleasant kind of policing. It requires money, political will and activity on the ground. We very much hope that the conference will bring together all those elements and take us forward into a better, more permanent enforcement, which should also include the permanency of limitations or bans on trade. That is what we want to see.

To make that work, the two other elements have to be in place. I was gratified that I was unable to discern any disagreement between hon. Members on either side on this point. We have simultaneously to achieve some significant and lasting reduction on the pull side—demand—and a serious-minded, sustainable alternative for indigenous populations that rely at present on this trade, in one way or another, for a large part of their income, with all the ghastly consequences that have been so well sketched by many hon. Members today.

The question of demand reduction is extraordinarily sensitive, especially for us, because it is not in the UK that the demand exists. It is not for us to lecture other countries about how to conduct their affairs, as that would not be right or productive, but we do have to show some leadership. We hope to work with other countries that are demonstrating increasing concern in this field and come up with solutions acceptable to countries where the demands are greatest and that therefore can be sustainable. I certainly do not want to prejudge how that will look—we are not in a position to do so—and I am sure that this conference will not be the end, but will be the beginning of a process that leads us there. I am very hopeful that over the course of the next few years we will get to the point where, by one means or another, demand reduction is baked into the future.

That brings us to the most difficult and most important thing of all: the provision of sustainable alternatives. Many years ago my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park and I found ourselves in Brazil talking about the Amazon with the amazing Mr Unger, then Minister for the Amazon, who I think rejoices in being the only Minister for the Amazon who was also a leading Harvard political theorist—and, I may say, a leading Harvard political theorist who would be a delight to the father of the current Leader of the Opposition and who disagrees with me on just about every aspect of political philosophy I have ever come across. Nevertheless, the Brazilians were serious in this pursuit and my hon. Friend and I were there to work with them on that question, and to understand better what they were up to. The point Mr Unger made repeatedly and very effectively to us was that it is all very well telling the population in the Amazon that they cannot cut down so many trees, but the truth is that that is how they feed themselves and unless we offer an alternative route to their feeding themselves and leading a halfway decent life, we cannot expect them to stop. The same is true in other contexts.

There are two routes to the achievement of what we seek. One is the route of trying to find alternatives—other forms of activity which have nothing to do with animals. The second, which was beautifully illustrated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs, is to find a way of placing a value on the living animals and offering an economic prospect for those who help the living animals to live rather than causing them to die. We need to go through both those routes and we need to try to forge an international consensus about how to carry those goals forward, which also will involve money, which is why I so welcome the fact that this Government have upped the ante by giving a total of, I think, £18 million in this domain. It is part of the Darwin initiative, and because of our immense commitment through a very large and growing DFID budget we can participate and show leadership in raising money around the world to deal with this issue.

The elements are all in place, therefore, and the last comment I want to make is that it seems to me that we have an extraordinary opportunity as a country. We are leading the charge in having this conference. We are a country that has had a long tradition of involvement in this area. We have the greatest stars globally that we can offer, namely the royal family, up front. We have a clear vision of what we are trying to achieve and we have budgets that can support the activity as well as a co-ordinated approach from Government. It would therefore be a terrible shame if we were not over the next two, three, four or five years to make use of all of that and build on it to lead the world in solving a problem that if it is not solved will very much diminish our globe.

We have had a good debate, albeit a relatively short one, and although floods and the future of the United Kingdom are, of course, pressing issues that command a great deal of concern, so too is this one. That is evidenced by the fact that there were many excellent contributions from concerned Members of this House. I think all of us have recognised that this is not just a matter of animal welfare or concern for species conservation, but that it is also a matter that spills over into other areas—international development, protection of the livelihoods of the poorest in the world and security. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley), Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, for co-sponsoring it. I thank the seven Members on my side of the House who took part, evidencing continuing Conservative concern for environmental matters. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Government Policy for coming to this House and responding to the debate, thereby demonstrating the fact that the Government take this very seriously and the cross-cutting nature of the response that is necessary. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), who has been present throughout, demonstrating DEFRA’s concern.

Perhaps hon. Members should reflect that there may be an opportunity to take our collective concern on this issue forward, possibly even by creating an all-party group to pursue it.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).