[Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the anti-corruption strategy and the illegal wildlife trade.
It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairship—not chairmanship—Mrs Moon. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber know that we are all lobbied on animal issues: bees, foxhunting, which thankfully is not making a comeback, puppy smuggling and so on. Those issues are close to my heart, and as I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption—I see that my trusty co-chair, the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), is in his place—combating illegal rackets is never far from my mind, either. I see that the anti-corruption chair is also with us—sorry, champion, or is it tsar?
I would have liked to see a tsarina, but we have a tsar and he is in his place.
In this debate, we are considering both the illegal wildlife trade and anti-corruption. The two are not as decoupled as one might think; the phenomena overlap more than one might imagine. We all remember the heart breaking case of Cecil the lion. He was lured out of a protected reserve to be killed and dismembered as a trophy—that is vile and revolting—as was his son. That highlights how trading in wildlife occurs worldwide. That is the case in fact, and in fiction recently. We have had the Panama papers, the Paradise papers, and “McMafia” on television on Sunday nights. That has reminded us of anti-corruption, corrupt practices—all those sorts of thing. This debate brings the two together; there is a nexus between anti-corruption strategy and the illegal wildlife trade. Drugs, human trafficking and the illegal arms trade might be the more obvious associations with the word “corruption”, and they hit the headlines more, but the illegal wildlife trade is ranked fourth globally, in terms of transnational crime networks, after those three things. It is worth more than £17 billion a year. That is the Government’s estimate. We do not know, because the trade is illegal, but it could be worth more.
This debate therefore goes further than conservation matters. One often thinks that animal issues are for the big-hearted people who are concerned about furry and cute species. That is important, but issues of sustainability, endangered species, the damage to our ecosystems and biodiversity are all implicated in animal issues. Another issue is trafficked animals. As I said, the debate goes further. For a start, the trafficked animals that we are talking about include lizards such as chameleons, rhinos for their horns, elephants for their tusks, and pangolins, which were celebrated recently on World Pangolin Day—the Foreign Secretary feted that day of the year. Pangolins are hunted for their scales. None of those animals are furry at all; they are desired for their high-value body parts. All this stuff raises questions of transnational crime and corruption.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on initiating this crucial debate. Given what she has said about the scale of the illegal wildlife trade and its connection to corruption, will she join me in supporting the Environmental Investigation Agency’s campaign for the UN convention against corruption to be amended to include the illegal wildlife trade? It currently does not, and no cases have been pursued by that agency. That ought to change.
The hon. Gentleman, who is well known for his love of animals and has fought for many years on these issues and other environmental matters, makes a very valid point. I do not know in detail the document to which he refers, but it sounds as if a horrible loophole needs to be closed immediately, so I am grateful to him for drawing that to my attention.
I want to address the Government’s slightly lacklustre, “could do better” efforts to date at combating the illegal wildlife trade’s contribution to money laundering and organised crime. I have tabled written questions, as many hon. Members have—a lot of them are here today—and quite often the answer given is that the Government will be hosting a summit in London in October to address these matters, or they state sums of money that have been spent on this issue. To the layperson, a sum of money is a bit intangible. It is a figure; they cannot see what is actually happening. The October summit seems to be the answer to all our ills, but I have a series of questions for the end of my speech about specific things that I would like to happen.
As my co-chair of the APPG will know, the elephant in the room—ha-ha—on all this and on the anti-corruption strategy, which thankfully has now been published, is the slowness of the UK not just to encourage but to ensure that all our overseas territories adopt public registers of beneficial interest as soon as possible. I know that that issue is not quite within the Minister’s remit, but if she could pass it on to her colleagues, that would be great.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for securing this most important debate. Does she agree that as well as wildlife trafficking, which covers our fauna, there is also the question of flora? Illegal logging is going on. That causes huge economic and environmental damage to an area and, consequently, the flow of that illegal wood into the system causes disparities in economic value.
I completely agree. Both flora and fauna are handled by the EU body that deals with these things, and there is a worry about whether, when we leave the EU, we will still be covered. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that the issue is not just cute, furry animals, scaly animals or whatever. Both fauna and flora are implicated in this vile trade.
The supply chains are complex. There are both poachers and traffickers. The ivory trade alone is estimated by the UN to be worth $62 million in east Asia, with approximately 75 tonnes of elephant ivory exported. It is not just, as one might imagine, one or two elephants being killed by rogue poachers. There is an industrial element to this organised crime—huge-scale shipments to foreign buyers at the other end. People get away with it because, in the words of Tom Cardamone in written testimony to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, this is “Low Risks, High Profits”.
As one of the chairs of the anti-corruption APPG, the hon. Lady is doing an excellent job in raising the very important nexus between illegal wildlife trading and the fight against corruption. Does she agree that perhaps the simplest way to look at the question of animal trafficking and poaching is to think of it rather like an extractive industry? Many of the risks that apply to mining or illegal logging and those sorts of thing also apply to the illegal traffic in both flora and fauna. If we think about it in that way, many of the same public policy responses, both in this country and in the countries of origin, will be effective if we can put them in place.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Criminal intelligence gets more and more complex as criminals find different ways to convert their ill-gotten gains. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the risks are the same, as are the effects of this crime on communities at the other end, which are often in the developed world, so he makes an excellent point.
This trade, if we can call it such, is popular with terrorist groups and militias. That relates to what the Government’s anti-corruption champion just said. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army in South Sudan, which was a rebel group but has now overthrown the person who was in power, has been partial to elephant poaching by grenade; and ivory poaching is a means by which the Janjaweed militia funds its activities in the same region.
The illegal wildlife trade goes much wider than being simply a peripheral concern of well-meaning people concerned with the world that we will leave to the next generation. The damage done is manifold, as the anti-corruption champion just told us. The corruption that supports illegal trading in wildlife poses threats to national security, as we have seen from the terror threat. It is seen by those who deal in it, like guns and drugs, as just another commodity and part and parcel of these organised crime networks. Bribery and corruption obscure the enforcement of existing laws—if there are bendable officials, that also mucks things up—and diminish efforts to strengthen them. Not everyone has an anti-corruption champion in the same way as we do, although the post was vacant for a while; I am very glad that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) is occupying it now.
Credit where credit is due: the UK has not completely sat on its hands when it comes to anti-corruption efforts. We all remember David Cameron’s anti-corruption summit in May 2016—the whole world came to London. The strategy he promised at the time finally saw the light of day at the end of last year, as did the long awaited champion. It was almost smuggled out in the dead of night and not everyone seems to have noticed. Ultimately, we must do more.
One of my main concerns with the anti-corruption strategy is the lack of strong action on open registers of beneficial ownership in our overseas territories. We have said that before. The criminal gangs do not simply traffic in animal parts, but in drugs and arms. They launder their money through shell corporations. Again, we are dealing with these secrecy jurisdictions and mysterious properties with questionable ownership. I think there are whole streets in London where we do not know who owns them and dirty money is parked there.
I strongly support what the hon. Lady is saying about the need for transparency. I agree with her about the transparency of companies, the registers of beneficial ownership in overseas territories and the need for more enforcement. Does she agree that it is vital that we choke off demand for ivory? In the end, as with all crime, if we do not tackle demand, but only focus on enforcement, we will not be successful. It is just as important that we address the demand for ivory, as well as the vital enforcement measures, which I agree are important.
I will come on to speak about demand. I agree that we need to stop these ivory products being desirable, especially in south-east Asia. The right hon. Gentleman made a very good speech the other day in the debate on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, with which I agreed wholeheartedly. He has also noticed that the Government seem to have downgraded their ambition. In 2016, we were told that all countries needed to reach a gold standard of public registers of beneficial interest. David Cameron painted himself as a world leader in this and promised action. Now, the Foreign Office says that it expects UK tax havens only to adopt the public register when it becomes a global standard, so I think there has been a bit of slippage, but I know that the right hon. Gentleman has done excellent work on this. He is absolutely right that these products should not be desirable at all and people should not be clamouring for them.
The conservation community should be encouraged to work alongside anti-corruption organisations in bringing together anti-corruption strategy and environmental policy. We have an environment Minister responding today, but in a way this covers more than one Department. It is a multifarious issue.
It was good that a much-trailed document recently saw the light of day: the 25-year environment plan. That came out earlier this year and it includes a pledge to bring forward an anti-poaching taskforce. I hope that the Minister will tell us that that will happen well before 2043. We do not need 25 years to do this. We know what the issue is. That plan also includes a taskforce. Sometimes I feel that people can get consultation fatigue. I hope the taskforce has a better appointment procedure than the Office for Students. Perhaps that is something for my constituent, Toby Young, given that he is not serving on the OFS any more. I do not know how transparent the application process is.
A tiger never changes his stripes.
Right, let us stick to the point. To stamp out poaching would cut off the source, which we need to do so that animal carcases are not exported at all, let alone the body parts. We have spoken about the products at the other end. I think there are some studies that show that only 3% to 5% of income from commercial hunting goes to local communities. The rest goes into central Government, agencies, international corporations, terrorists and all sorts of other destinations.
The consultation on the ivory ban last autumn was very welcome, but it has all gone a bit quiet since it closed last year. We are already in March, so when will the results surface? The ban needs to be more than just virtue signalling. There need to be proper measures for combating the ivory trade at source.
I just want to make one point and follow it up with a question. Since the summit initiated by David Cameron, there has been huge progress. Only a few weeks ago, China closed down every one of its ivory carving factories, which will have a huge impact in reducing demand in China. There have been all kinds of ripple effects across the world as a consequence of that early summit. Demand is being tackled at a very high level. As a country, we can take a lot of credit for that. Everyone expects that the consultation will result in a pretty clear position by this Government—the position that most people want the Government to take. The one concern I have is that it will not go far enough in terms of species. It is not just about elephant ivory. If the elephant ivory market is closed down, there will be a move—we are already seeing signs of this—towards other ivory bearing species, such as the walrus, the narwhal, what other species?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. China has introduced a total ban. That is what we would like from our Government. It is not often that we are following China. Usually we are leadership and not followership. He is absolutely right that this concerns other species as well. I think the famous chess set that people talk about came from walrus tusks, so it is not only elephants. I feel there has been a slowing in some of those laudable aims, perhaps because the bandwidth of the Government is being reduced by other issues—nobody foresaw Brexit at the time of that first anti-corruption summit. We can go further and faster.
I thought of the third species: the hippo. There are only 100,000 hippos in the world, which is extraordinary. If there is any increase in demand for hippo ivory as a replacement for elephant ivory, they are finished. I wanted to put the lovely, noble hippo on the record as well.
Is the song about hippos “Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud”, or am I misremembering that from my long-ago youth? Yes, the hippos are a valiant species.
We are one of the largest countries to export ivory to south-east Asia. As the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) said, this can create desire and demand for people to own these products as things with a luxury status. We need to work with China and other south-east Asian Governments to ensure that demand is dampened and even destroyed, and that ivory’s cultural cachet—that it is a cool thing to have—falls.
In this post-referendum situation, as we head towards Brexit, there is a potential opportunity to promote other British luxury goods as alternatives to ivory in this brave new world we are heading to, which not all of us wanted to go to. I want to put on record the work done by my constituent Duncan McNair of Save the Asian Elephants—he deserves praise. Perhaps the Minister would like to meet him because he has some good ideas. Although in 1975 the Asian elephant in theory became a protected species, abuses continue to this day—he can talk ad infinitum about those.
The black rhinoceros—yes, the rhino was there—is in danger of being hunted to extinction in the wild, as an hon. Member mentioned. The organised poaching gangs associated with it promote corruption and organised crime. The rhino horn shipped to Asia from Africa is often sold for more than gold and platinum on the black market. The UN figures put the annual trade in Asia at £8 million. Lion numbers declined by 43% between 1993 and 2014. As of July 2017, the continental population of African lions was estimated to be 20,000. All these wonderful species are disappearing from our planet. Across their range, lions are in decline. They face threats from loss of habitat and prey, as well as illegal poaching and hunting. Lion bones, as well as those of leopards and other big cats, are used in some east Asian medicine—there is a myth that they have medicinal properties.
There have been success stories in the fight against the organised illegal wildlife trade. Lion hunting trophies are no longer permitted in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Somalia. It is not all doom and gloom. The Kenya Wildlife Service has been praised by the UN and the coalition Government because it introduced a £10 million grant to combat the trade in ivory and rhino horn. This debate was not meant to be about simply knocking the Government, but I do want to outline some areas where we could do better.
Some other good news is that, in 2017, a Chinese trader in Nanjing was arrested for what he believed to be tiger bone, but was in fact a lion bone. That illustrates how criminal gangs can use lion bones to skirt restrictions on tiger bones—there is slippage. There is a sense that the commercial farming of lions and tigers in South Africa could be fuelling rather than satiating demand for big cat bones in traditional medicines.
Clearly, aspects of the illegal wildlife trade exist in tandem with elements of legalised trade in wildlife parks. Again, the case of Cecil the lion was in a wildlife park. The Environmental Investigation Agency found that legal loopholes allowing the hunting of rhinos for live export and for trophies were being used to facilitate poaching. There is an argument in some circles for the promotion of farming certain animals to combat the illegal trade in their body parts, but some evidence shows that far from combatting the trade, it fuels demand. Again, there is that question of supply and demand.
On page 62 of the strategy, there is an eye-catching box with a border, which features discussion of the UK’s efforts to tackle the international wildlife trade. It includes references to the international meeting in October, which we are all looking forward to, sharing expertise with Vietnamese customs authorities, co-operation between Chinese and African forces and supporting follow-ups in Botswana. The message is that progress is being made, but it does not offer any concrete examples of policies or initiatives.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. Does she at least recognise that the strategy, perhaps as a surprise to many, made such a prominent link between corruption and illegal wildlife sales, which reinforces the need to build capacity in countries around the world so that people cannot pay a bribe to find out where an animal is, get the body out of the country or move money around, which is an important part of tackling the problem?
The hon. Gentleman, my trusty co-chair, is absolutely right. There needs to be expertise to enforce all those things—having policies is not enough. We hear about bent policemen. I do not know whether other Members were there, but just now the International Fund for Animal Welfare was in the building with a photo opportunity about ivory. The policy adviser, David, told me about a recent case in which eight policemen were heavily implicated. The hon. Gentleman is right that we need the crime-fighting mechanics as well as policies.
The charity was demonstrating a fingerprinting kit, because ivory is one of the few things that fingerprints do not leave any trace on. That cutting-edge technology can now be used 28 days after the prints were left. This is a cross-border trade where an animal is killed in one place, and the parts are exported and moved between places, but the technology will allow a month for prints to be taken. I am very encouraged by the IFAW’s work, but we need to encourage more counties to take up that fingerprinting technology and introduce it in other police forces—it was developed by University College London and the standard is used by our police.
The first question on my list for the Minister is easy and I have already said it: will she meet with Duncan McNair, the CEO of STAE, to discuss its work and how it can have an input into Government policy? He has some very good ideas. I have also mentioned last autumn’s ivory ban. We have not seen the results yet, and there are suspicions that they could be held back for a wonderful photo opportunity in October at the international conference here in London. I hope that she will tell me that is not case and we will see the consultation results sooner. Could she tell us when the consultation results will be released?
The strategy mentions
“tangible outcomes for implementation and delivery”
by October, but delivery of what? In fact, will the ivory ban be in place by then? That would be a great opportunity for that announcement, although it would be even better if the ban has long been in place.
Of the exemptions announced by the Government to a total ivory ban, I completely accept, as does the Musicians’ Union, the exemption for musical instruments —violins and cellos. I am not going to burst into Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney’s “Ebony and Ivory” at this point.
The hon. Gentleman’s skills never fail to impress me—they are increasing by the minute. Perhaps he can play the bagpipes for us at a function at some point—he could do it at the unveiling of the total ivory ban and the delivery of these promises well before 25 years’ time. Yes, bagpipes use ivory. Other songs have occurred to me: “Karma Chameleon”, which is from a similar era—I think that there is about a year or two between the two songs—and “I Am the Walrus”, which is a perennial favourite of many. I accept the musical exemption.
I accept the exemption for anything that is under 5% ivory or 200 grams because those are such tiny amounts, and the exemption for museums. Slightly more troubling is the ill-defined, woolly term “culturally artistic and historic” pieces. That could open up a legal loophole for carved, solid, luxury ivory items such as Japanese fans or cigar boxes. We need to ensure that they are not covered. What is the exact test of “culturally artistic and historic”? The Lewis chess set of 1100 AD is often mentioned, although it is actually walrus ivory, not elephant ivory. It is often said that is the kind of thing the term will cover, but what about injecting certainty with the proviso that, if it can be sold to a museum, it is allowable? It may not necessarily be in a museum, but if it is a museum-able piece, we can allow it. If it is a cigar box, it will not be covered—no thanks.
Another area where we could go further regarding the illegal wildlife trade is the lack of funding for mapping trade routes used by criminal gangs to transport animal products and carcases across continents. A glance at the UK aid development tracker shows that various Departments and agencies are involved in combating the trade: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. On top of that we have the new Joint Anti-Corruption Unit that will operate out of the Home Office. Surely they should take a joined-up look at mapping trade routes.
I have a couple more questions, and then I will end. Will the Minister confirm what “stringent tests” have been met by the lion countries? That was in a 2015 written answer from the then Minister responsible, the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart). There is a worry that things might fall through the cracks if they are not well defined. Could the UK Government send a strong message by enacting the total ban on the import of lion trophies? The numbers are not large, so hopefully this is not on an industrial scale, but the Government could seize the initiative and show leadership.
I have a couple more questions. Given that the academic literature identifies mapping transnational crimes, why does the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund fund only one proposal that maps transnational networks? That relates to my earlier question. I have already raised another obvious question: when will the Government ensure that public registers of beneficial interests are in place for the overseas territories, so that they can better fight this type of crime?
The recent international aid scandal in the charities sector has shown that some more extreme Conservative Members will argue against any international aid. I hope the Minister will restate that the 0.7% aid target is Government policy, and that it will not be watered down.
When we leave the EU, we will no longer be bound by its scientific review group, with its high standards on the exports of live animals and high-value body parts. There is a worry that, if we crash out, we will be beholden only to the convention on international trade in endangered species. It is a global standard, but is not as stringent as the EU one. Does the Minister know what our status will be in relation to the EU scientific review group? She is a scientist herself. If it is unclear and subject to negotiation, can we add it to the list of things, such as Euratom and Erasmus+, that we are fighting to keep beyond the transition period? Otherwise, there might be a WTO-type situation where we crash to the lowest-common denominator, or the situation that we heard about over the summer where, if we do not have sufficient protections in place, chlorinated chickens could be on the menu. Can we aspire to remain in, have a close relationship with or mirror that body?
The same applies to shared intelligence and joint operations to catch perpetrators, which would be a worry if we leave Europol. The fingerprinting kit that IFAW pioneered works for 28 days after the prints are planted on the ivory. We need to catch the cross-border shifting of ill-gotten gains over time.
As a sociologist, I am all too aware that globalisation has made the world smaller. It helps us to keep in touch across the globe through social networks and environmental trade but, sadly, that can spill over into organised crime and illegal trade in exotic species. Criminal and terrorist syndicates that buy with impunity and bribe corrupt officials on their way are the stuff of “McMafia”, but they are widening their revenue streams and decimating animal populations.
Corruption is at the heart of the illegal wildlife trade, which Prince William, no less, condemned at the 2016 Hanoi conference on illegal wildlife trade. Whenever I ask parliamentary questions on this, the response is “in due course”. That is unsatisfactory and not good enough anymore. The Government have gone some way with their strategy, but they must act now.
It is a pleasure to speak in the Chamber with you in the Chair, Mrs Moon. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) not only on securing the debate but on giving a comprehensive speech that sets a wonderful tone for our exchanges and lays before the Minister a range of questions, which we are all interested to hear the responses to.
I was glad to be able to add to her list of musical instruments and to disclose my hidden talent for playing the bagpipes. They are the most glorious instrument in my long-held opinion, as hon. Members can imagine. During the interventions on the hon. Lady’s speech, I was also grateful to hear references to the importance of the United Kingdom’s global aspirations post-Brexit. We should aspire to be the anti-corruption leader for the whole world and to do better than our current eighth position in the anti-corruption league table for clean societies.
The hon. Lady made the interesting point, with which I agree, that the Government have not exactly sat on their hands but that, ultimately, we must do more—and more than virtue signalling. As the new Member of Parliament for Stirling, one of the first places I was invited to visit was one of the top tourist attractions in my constituency, the Blair Drummond safari park. Jamie Muir and his team gave me a behind-the-scenes experience that, frankly, I would never have had if I had not been elected. I had up-close encounters with elephants, rhinos, hippos and giraffes, and it was glorious to come into such close contact with those beautiful animals. Appreciating the glory of nature makes us appreciate our own humanity. It is appropriate to talk about nature on a day when Scotland received its first ever red weather alert. We stand in awe of the power of nature, as well as its beauty.
I promise that I will make only a short contribution, but I should explain that I am speaking in this debate because of my constituents. Like me, they feel very strongly about the need for us to proactively preserve the wonders of the world we live in and to not stand idly by and, frankly, see them ruthlessly destroyed for ill-gotten gains—that does not even begin to describe the depth of cruelty that goes into this trade.
The Government have a strong record on improving animal welfare, and it is important that we not only protect animals in the United Kingdom, but work to promote animal welfare and good environmental stewardship worldwide. That involves tackling the illegal wildlife trade and the corruption that it propagates and relies on.
It is shocking that the illegal wildlife trade stands alongside human trafficking and the trafficking in drugs and arms as one of the major cross-border crimes of our time, and that it draws in as much as £17 billion per year. That only underlines the need for global action and global co-operation.
It is a trade that brutalises animals. Those criminals routinely mistreat them, transport them from country to country in absolute squalor and kill them in massive numbers—that is great cruelty. The amount of ivory being caught in large shipments alone indicates that perhaps thousands of elephants are being killed each year for their ivory. African elephants are, of course, endangered, and the trade helps to drive them towards extinction by hindering global conservation efforts. Those criminals have no regard for the environment and will destroy entire ecosystems for short-term gains.
In addition to the cost to animals and to the environment, the illegal wildlife trade has a human cost. The trade thrives on and exacerbates corruption and undermines the rule of law. It is an entire industry—and a lucrative one, as we heard from the figures quoted by the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton—that operates outwith the authority of any Government or the law. Ultimately, it is an insidious, destabilising force that holds back the growth of developing countries and helps to keep millions of people in poverty worldwide.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful and moving speech. It is known that Janjaweed, al-Shabab, Boko Haram, Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance army and other organisations all derive much of their income from the illegal wildlife trade, which makes it a dangerous and ugly business. Does he agree that one of things we do well, and have done well, as a country is provide real training for people in countries that want to tackle the trade to ensure that their anti-poaching and anti-illegal wildlife trade units are up to the task? We need to see much more of that as part of our “global Britain” plans in years to come.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention and completely agree with him. That is one aspect of our leadership in this area that we should definitely advance. It is highly effective.
For humans, animals and the wider environment, it is imperative that we stamp out this illegal trade. The Government have rightly noted that it will require concerted international action and co-operation with nations across the world to bring the trade crashing down. It is in every country’s interest to end the illegal wildlife trade. Cracking down on it will promote sustainable growth and stability and help to preserve the future of the environment. I am grateful that the Government have set to work on addressing the issue and, as they have frequently expressed it in recent times, are devoid of any complacency in this area.
In 2014, the UK hosted an international meeting, as has been mentioned, where 40 countries agreed urgent co-ordinated action to eliminate the trade. Since then the Government have worked with authorities in China, Vietnam and across Africa, to name but a few, to help to curb the trade. International organisations play an important role too, and our support for the International Consortium for Combating Wildlife Crime, which brings together a range of institutions, makes a valuable contribution to the global fight against the trade. I welcome the publication of the new cross-Government anti-corruption strategy in December, which lays out the blueprint for further action, including against the illegal wildlife trade.
The strategy recognises the many ways in which we can work to curb the trade, including by promoting more robust law enforcement and stronger legal frameworks, encouraging alternative livelihoods and economic opportunities for people who might otherwise be tempted by the lucrative nature of the trade, and simply raising awareness. Likewise, it recognises the importance of international organisations to our future efforts. The UN, our Commonwealth friends and allies and the G20 will all be valuable partners in working to take down this trade and the corruption with which it is so intertwined.
At this point the strategy fills me with confidence that the Government will continue to strive to be a world leader in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade, but it has to be more than virtue signalling. There has to be real action. We already have a strong record—we certainly have a strong catalogue of speeches—in this area, and the strategy needs to develop. I believe we are ready to build on it as all parties in the House of Commons have an appetite for it.
I mentioned earlier that we are eighth out of 180 countries in the world for anti-corruption. I think we can do better in that area as well. Just as we should promote animal welfare around the world, we should also promote our culture of anti-corruption. As one of the least corrupt nations on earth—thankfully—it is our responsibility to help to build a world free of criminal enterprises, such as the illegal wildlife trade, where corruption touches as few lives as possible. With this strategy, I have confidence that the Government will proceed.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing this important debate. I do not want to speak for long, but I felt it was important to make a short contribution to the debate. To be frank, I felt somewhat guilty that I have not spoken much on this issue in my time in Parliament. Like many people, over the past year or two I have been moved by some of the things that I have seen on television and by things that I have read. I have been moved by the devastating figures that have started to emerge, thanks to the work of people such as my hon. Friend and others in the Chamber, and by organisations outside this House, some of whom are with us today.
The world—and ourselves, as a developed nation and a Parliament—is at a crossroads. It is not that the Government are not doing anything and do not care; that would clearly be ridiculous and not true. We do care, and so do a significant number of people across the world. The criminal gangs represent a very small minority, but unless we tackle them and work with other countries with a greater sense of urgency—so that the issue becomes a greater priority for our country, for the various international organisations, for the EU, for the various policing bodies, for the United Nations and for the Organisation of Africa Unity, and so on—our grandchildren will not see a wild elephant, except in a photo or perhaps in a zoo, where we really do not want to see them. They will not see a wild tiger, a wild rhinoceros or many other species of plant or tree, or whatever. Unless we wake up to this, people’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren will look back at 2018 and say, “What were you doing? You were decision makers.”
We in Parliament make the laws. We set the priorities for our Government, and our Government, through the international organisations to which we belong, can demand that priorities are set and action taken. So the question is: what did you do? Where were you? What did you say? When I found out about this debate, it made me think I had better start speaking up. It is a challenge for me, let alone the Government. We must demand that the Government make the issue a priority. It is not a case of blame; it is a case of saying, “For Christ’s sake, let’s wake up. For goodness’ sake, let’s look and see what is going on.”
The figures say billions were made here, or billions were made there. We can argue about the figures, but countless billions of pounds are made by small numbers of gangs who are ruining our planet and our future. We must tackle them. We sometimes know who they are. We sometimes fail to implement existing laws and fail to take the proceeds of crime from people who have benefited from it, but why does that happen? The Minister does not want that to happen. The Prime Minister does not want that to happen. The Prime Minister of our dreams would not want that to happen. It does not matter which party is in power; it happens, and it carries on happening. The same can be said about the international bodies we belong to.
Billions of pounds are made. The figures produced by various people are shocking. When we see the pictures it brings tears to our eyes, but crying about it does not save a single elephant, rhinoceros or tiger. That is simply the starting point—the thing that wakes each of us up, to say, “We will not stand for this any longer.” Although we cannot wave a magic wand, we want to be able to say to our grandchildren that we did everything we possibly could. At the moment, I do not think I could say that. I will let others judge whether they could, but I could not. That is why I wanted to speak in this debate.
I do not want the Government to get defensive about this, but they could do more simply by saying, “We are going to put a new shirt on, dust ourselves down, see what the laws are, bang the desk and demand that we get better action”—from ourselves, but also from the police and the international organisations that we belong to. If that happened, it would not stop these things overnight, but I bet it would start moving things along.
Can we not accelerate things a bit? Do we really want to come back here in a year, or two or three, and say, “There are still elephants being poached for their ivory”? That was the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton and the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr). Whatever the difficulties, the consultation has finished. I accept that it will not be easy, given the exemptions that will have to be made; but for goodness’ sake, we have been talking about an ivory ban for years. Can we not just get on with it somehow?
Other people know far more than I do about the laws and the difficulties—some will have had to go and witness them. I came here to say this to the Government. I know they want to do as much as they can, and they are doing so. That is true of us all. But let us not be the Parliament, or the Members, or the legislators who had to tell their grandchildren, “We’re sorry that those great wild animals no longer exist. We wanted to do more, but it was difficult to get people to work together, and the exemptions were difficult.” Whatever the challenges and difficulties, we owe it to our children and grandchildren, ourselves and the planet, to do better. That is the task before us.
It thank the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) for introducing the debate.
The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) issued a challenge to the House to hold wildlife in trust for those who come after us. We all have that challenge in our hearts. We must try to do it. I recently saw a video making the rounds on social media of a baby rhino in South Africa lying by the side of its dead mother, seemingly crying—it looked like that on the video. Such things are an unfortunate reality in the world we live in, but what caused that death should not be. The mother’s horns had been ripped from her body. Stats sometimes bring things home to us, because they show the enormous scale of what is happening. Rhino poaching has increased between 2007 and 2013 by 7,700% from 13 per year to 1,004 per year. That is incredible. The significance and magnitude of the figures cannot be stressed enough.
I was interested to hear about the hidden talents of the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) on the bagpipes. I would not have known. I am fond of the bagpipes, by the way. I love them, and they are very much part of life and tradition in Northern Ireland. Perhaps one day we will have the hon. Gentleman over to entertain us—12 July would be the day to come, but that is by the way.
The illegal wildlife trade is worth more than £15 billion a year. It is the fourth most lucrative illicit trade in the world after drugs, weapons and human trafficking. The very thought makes me ill. I have had a surprising number of emails from constituents about the debate. The more I have looked into the facts and figures, the more I have seen that, while we clearly have taken steps, we are not doing enough. We should be stepping out on the world stage, playing a greater role on behalf of those we could help, and bringing about the end of a vile trade.
I firmly concur with the aims and goals of the Worldwide Fund for Nature with respect to the end of illegal trade in animals: we must be clear, first, about adopting
“zero tolerance policy on corruption associated with the illegal wildlife trade, recognising with great concern that corruption is an important factor facilitating the criminal activities associated with the illegal wildlife trade.”
Secondly, we must urge countries where poaching, trafficking and buying take place to commit to supporting strategies that deepen understanding of corruption risks, and mitigation strategies to address the corruption that makes the illegal wildlife trade possible. We must review progress on existing high-level commitments such as those made in the London declaration of 2014 and the Kasane statement of 2015. We have made lots of statements and verbal commitments, but we need something that stops what is happening. We need to address the problem of corruption facilitating wildlife trafficking and related offences by reviewing or amending legislation as necessary, and criminalising the corruption that facilitates the trade. We should strengthen the legal framework and facilitate law enforcement to combat the illegal wildlife trade and assist with prosecution and the imposition of penalties that are an effective deterrent.
The illegal wildlife trade is made possible by corruption, and it fuels further corruption. Only if we tackle corruption can we eliminate the trade. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) in an intervention mentioned steps taken by China, which I hope make a difference. China sometimes says it will do something, but ivory trading seems to continue. Let us see how that works. Corruption can take place at every stage of the chain—poaching, trafficking, trading and laundering of the illegal proceeds of crime. It can be at the highest level, sanctioned for individual gain.
I had the pleasure of going on a half-day on safari in Kenya, with the armed forces parliamentary scheme. It was an opportunity for me to watch some of the creatures that God created. They must have been looking at me, as I had a white shirt on—of all the things to wear on safari. The sheer power of the lions, the beauty of the giraffes and the intelligence of the elephants is something that remains with me to this day. I thank my creator, God, who made wonders for our enjoyment—certainly not for our abuse or for the illegal animal trade. That is an abuse of God’s creation. Lions are being hunted for the thrill of the ride and as a trophy, and elephants for their ivory, with more than 100,000 killed by poachers between 2010 and 2012. Twenty thousand elephants are killed every year for the illegal ivory trade. The numbers suggest that, in the two months since the closure of the consultation at the end of December, approximately 8,300 elephants have been slaughtered, not for meat or to feed starving families, but to decorate people’s houses with ivory. That is not acceptable.
As hon. Members have said, we need to stifle the demand and end corruption and illegal killing. What help can the Minister give to countries that are trying to stop illegal poaching? The training and equipping of rangers is perhaps the sort of help needed on the ground.
A staggering quantity of illegal wildlife trade happens online, so one way to deal with demand would be to tackle that trade online. Will the hon. Gentleman join me in paying tribute and offering huge thanks to organisations such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare that have done so much to persuade big online retailers to weed illegal wildlife trade out of the way they do business? Taobao, Alibaba and eBay have massively changed their policies as a consequence of campaigning by groups such as IFAW. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.
It is my belief that we need to introduce legislation quickly to play our part in reducing the number of animals killed by poachers, and ensuring that narwhal, walrus and hippopotamus ivory will not be used as replacements so that those animals become next in the firing line. We must end the trade. We can up our game and do a better job of playing our part. That can begin today, with this debate. Let us set the scene. I ask the Minister and her Department to take heed and urgently implement the steps to legislation.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairwomanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing the debate. There have been some fine speeches, but that of my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) was particularly moving. I have been involved in the debate for a long time and have sponsored events at Parliament to draw attention to the issue. The very fact that an ex-Home Office Minister, who is a senior and respected Member of Parliament, has taken the time to show how engaged he now feels in the debate is an indication of how much movement is being made. We are now at the point at which this controversy and scandal must be addressed seriously, both nationally and internationally.
I will not go through the numbers and facts behind the size of the trade—we have heard them many times today—but suffice it to say that we still do not fully understand the full relationship between this form of organised crime and other forms, including drugs, and the way it helps to underpin international terrorism. Our attention to animal welfare and protecting the elephant and rhino, and all those other species, is often justified because of organised crime, and we have now reached a point where that is fully understood. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling brought us back to the important point: this is also about protecting some very precious and important species.
Let me provide a little detail on the issues involved. We know that there is still a great deal of work to do in the countries where poaching takes place, and there is an absence or inadequacy of measures to track performance on stopping poaching in the first place. Officials and employees are badly paid, and in some cases rangers provide information on patrols or the location of animals. On occasion they turn a blind eye to poaching. We also know that we get false documentation in the trading environment, and that a blind eye is turned to checks and inspections at borders. That is all underpinned by corruption, which illustrates the scale of the challenge.
I pay tribute to those NGOs that have worked so hard on this for many years, in particular the WWF and IFAW. They are clear about what is needed at the conference in London later this year: we want, and need, a zero-tolerance policy on corruption. The UK has a lot of soft power on this issue, and we must go out and urge those countries where poaching, trafficking and buying takes place to continue to support strategies that deepen an understanding of the risk of corruption. Mitigation strategies may also be required to address the corruption that enables that illegal trade. As an important international power—even now—we are in a position to help and support those countries.
We must strengthen the legal framework and facilitate law enforcement for illegal wildlife trade. At the event I sponsored about three years ago, Interpol was in the room. Will the Minister say to what extent we are still engaged in such international co-operation? Can she guarantee—I am sorry to bring this into the debate; I do not want to, but I have to—that post Brexit we will still have that international co-operation, particularly with Interpol and European crime agencies, to ensure that we continue to tackle the issue successfully?
Finally, I want to mention the ban. The consultation finished at the end of the year, and I have attended meetings on this issue. What I really want to hear from the Minister is when we will get detail about the outcome of the consultation. The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling was absolutely right: now is the time to take action, so the sooner we hear from the Minister, the better. I understand the need for exemptions, and the point raised by the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) about musical instruments was well made. I also accept the need to get those exemptions absolutely right for the antiques trade. That will not be easy, but if we do get it right, we will gain the co-operation of that market. That will make it a lot easier for us, as a major international power, to demonstrate not only that are we legislating to do our bit to stop the illegal trade—perhaps by banning the domestic trade in antique ivory, with exemptions—but that we also have the full co-operation of those involved in that market. I will finish on that important point.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing this debate.
I am grateful for the opportunity to sum up on behalf of the Scottish National party. It has been fairly consensual—I have taken part in debates in Westminster Hall since I was elected in June, and this has been one of the best. We heard an excellent speech from the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), who told us of his talent in playing the bagpipes. He spoke of his trip to Blair Drummond and about being up close to those rare animals. As a nationalist Member of Parliament from Glasgow, being here with Conservative MPs feels much the same, but in all seriousness he made an excellent speech.
The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) made one of the most moving speeches that I have heard in my time in this House [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It was very sincere, and as the father of a young child it struck a chord with me to think that my son, who is two years old, will one day grow up. There is an expectation and onus on us as legislators and politicians to make sure that we show leadership. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to listen to the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) was typically gracious in reducing his speaking time to allow other hon. Members to speak, and he hammered home the statistics. That 7,700% increase in rhino poaching, which I think was in the Library briefing from an exchange I had with the Foreign Secretary, reminds us that this is very serious. The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) has been a Member of the House a lot longer than I have, and has put a lot of effort into this work. She was right to pay tribute to IFAW and the WWF, and made a point about our use of soft power, for which I was grateful.
The SNP welcomes recent UK and global commitments to tackle the international ivory trade, and we hope for continued progress from the UK Government in contributing to the end of that trade. I was encouraged by the Prime Minister’s press statement after her visit to China earlier this month, and I hope the Government will respond accordingly to the DEFRA consultation. The huge public response—something like 77,000 people took part—shows that people in the UK want action, which has been demonstrated by the cross-party consensus in the Chamber.
One of the first batches of lobby emails that I received as a new MP was about attending an IFAW ivory event in Parliament. I am grateful to Justyna Gogolin, Anthony Bain, and Maria Gavienas in my constituency, who encouraged me to go along and learn more—it was probably not on my radar when I first got elected. Ms Gavienas was my teacher at Bannerman High School, so I dared not miss the event. I was grateful for her encouragement to go along, and the more that I attend such events, the more strongly I feel.
I want to speak briefly about what is happening in Scotland, but not in a parochial way because it is actually impressive. Scotland hosts the UK’s only dedicated wildlife DNA forensics lab. It is leading the way in the use of forensic science to shape wildlife law enforcement. Forensics can provide evidence that an offence has been committed, and it plays an important role in investigating trade routes and poaching.
Last year Scotland hosted a symposium at the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science to focus on how scientists can best support wildlife crime investigations at both national and international level. Scotland very much has a role to play in that. There was also a commitment to the Wildlife Forensics Development Programme, which builds on Edinburgh’s strong reputation for biosciences and takes a progressive approach that will strengthen links between enforcement, policy and forensics. Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture—SASA—is setting up a DNA database to provide a unique identifier for individual rhinoceros horn in UK museums, and for zoo animals. That is in response to a recent increase in theft of rhino horn from museums, and an initiative by UK enforcement agencies to crack down on such illegal activity that is perpetrated by criminal gangs and thugs. Unique DNA profiles will be generated from small samples of horn, which will help to trace the origin of any stolen rhino horn intercepted by the police or customs.
This is all good and reassuring news, but the message from hon. Members today is that we want to see top-level action from the Minister and the Secretary of State. I thank the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton again for securing the debate and giving us the opportunity to continue to press the Government on this hugely important issue. I echo the hon. Member for Gedling: we want to be able to look back in years to come and say, “We were the Parliament, and this was the Government, that took action.” The Scottish National party is more than happy to support that action.
I am delighted to serve under your firm but fair chairship, Ms Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on her speech, which was a tour de force. I will not need to go over all the issues again, because she has covered them all.
This has been an important and thoughtful debate. I thank all hon. Members who spoke in it—particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton, but also my hon. Friends the Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), and the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), who all made valuable contributions. The debate’s importance was demonstrated by the rapid and regular interventions from the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), the hon. Members for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), and my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield).
I will concentrate on the London conference, because it is something that we can contribute positively to today, but first let me make two quick observations. First, given how terrorist groups use the illegal wildlife trade to finance their activities, we need to make it clear that it is no less of a priority for us than the drugs trade or human trafficking. It is a multi-billion-pound exercise, from which many such organisations derive most of their income; we need to understand that when we consider Interpol and other matters. I will say in passing that if I manage to get into South Sudan later this year, I will have a word with the SPLA-SPLM about what they are doing to ensure that they legitimise their activities rather than drawing any money from this nefarious activity. Secondly, I do not understand how we can allow anyone in this country who goes trophy-hunting to come back with anything other than a potential prison sentence hanging over them. We need to be much firmer on that.
I have some questions about the London conference in October that the Minister may wish to take away—I do not expect her to answer them all now. I hope that at the conference we will establish a very strong legal framework against corruption and wildlife trafficking. That will be the bottom line. There are already several international laws, but we need to make them much more overt and much stronger. We need to recognise the importance of capacity-building and ensure that customs officials have discretionary powers to interdict and draw attention to what is happening in their countries. I hope we will support the World Customs Organisation’s important project GAPIN—Great Apes and Integrity—to enhance integrity in 15 African nations, because the role of Africa must not be underestimated.
We should also strengthen our international development support for enforcement, for shutting down chains, for helping frontline and subsequent investigations and for the operation of customs. We need a holistic approach; I hope that that will come out of the conference. It is no good pretending that we can address what is happening throughout the world unless we ensure we are doing all we can—whether through an ivory ban or through other measures—to stop the worst aspects of the trade affecting what happens in this country.
My penultimate point is that we need to look at import and export licences to ensure that what people bring into the country is what they say it is. We need to take a stronger approach, and we should encourage other countries to do so too.
Finally, I ask the Minister what particular action we are taking to help NGOs to ensure that they tackle the corruption and illegality associated with this terrible trade, because so much of the activity of the Department for International Development happens through the NGO community. We need to protect whistleblowers. So much of what we find out comes from people who have bravely put their head on the line and taken the risk of saying what is going on, so we must protect those people in their countries. I hope the Government will bring that up at the conference.
The conference will be very important, and it needs to be given much more attention. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling says, this is the end—if we do not get this right now, not many of these species will be left and we will not have done the anti-poverty work that is needed. We have to give people alternatives, because we cannot pretend that we can shut the trade down without giving people a quality of life that allows them to stop what they are doing. That is why the conference is so essential. I wish the Minister well. I do not know whether she will speak at the conference, but as we are hosting it, I hope she will send a high-level deputation to ensure that the British Government do their bit and that we get something concrete out of it.
Thank you, Mrs Moon; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing this important debate on the anti-corruption strategy and the illegal wildlife trade. I welcome the debate, which is timely because we are preparing for the illegal wildlife trade conference in London in October, as the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) pointed out.
The UK Government’s anti-corruption strategy was published in December. It provides an ambitious framework for tackling corruption to 2022 and includes significant international and domestic commitments. The strategy describes the illegal wildlife trade as the fourth most lucrative trans-boundary crime, with an estimated value of up to £17 billion a year. We recognise that it damages economic growth and undermines state institutions and the rule of law. It relies on and exacerbates corruption, cultivating discontent and undermining security. Seizures of illegally traded species have been recorded in 120 countries and include approximately 7,000 species.
I am very conscious that the illegal wildlife trade threatens some of the world’s most iconic species, such as elephants and rhinos, with extinction, but it is not just those majestic animals that are threatened; birds, flora and invertebrates are also among the thousands of species at risk from illegal trade. For example, tropical hardwoods are illegally felled and shipped around the world, with impacts on forest fauna, water quality, medicines and building materials for local people.
CITES—the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora—protects more than 35,000 species. The UK is fully committed to its obligations under CITES to act against unsustainable trade that threatens the survival of species in the wild. We are pressing ahead with activities inspired by the aims of CITES to ensure the sustainability of legal trade in wild flora and fauna and to protect species ranging from lions and goshawks to cacti, coral and rare orchids.
The UK chairs the CITES working group on proposals to combat illegal killing and trafficking of rhinos. We take an active role in the implementation and development of CITES controls and are actively involved in working groups on species ranging from great apes to sharks. Our aim is to ensure that the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
International trade in hunting trophies is controlled under CITES. Although there are examples of negative effects from big game hunting caused by poor or inappropriate management, scientific evidence shows that in certain limited and rigorously controlled cases, trophy and big game hunting can be an effective conservation tool, supporting local livelihoods and attracting revenue for other conservation activities. That was confirmed in the report that was prepared for the Government by Oxford University. That said, we will continue to look very carefully at big game imports, to ensure that they do not impact on the sustainability of endangered species in the country of origin.
The UK anti-corruption strategy recognises that countering the illegal wildlife trade requires concerted multilateral action to raise awareness, eradicate markets, strengthen legal frameworks, strengthen law enforcement and—critically—promote alternative livelihoods. While I in no way excuse such activity, if somebody can earn in one night what it would otherwise take them five years to earn, one might understand why people commit these crimes. However, there is no excuse for doing so. We are working with global partners, including the G20 and UN, to achieve the aims that I have outlined.
Progress is being made. UN resolutions, co-sponsored by the UK, recognise the links between IWT and corruption. In 2015, the UN General Assembly called upon member states for the first time
“to prohibit, prevent and counter any form of corruption that facilitates illicit trafficking in wildlife and wildlife products.”
Last year the UK worked successfully with Germany’s G20 presidency to agree high-level principles on combating corruption related to the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.
The UK has shown global leadership in tackling IWT, and I thank right hon. Members and hon. Members for their generous comments about that. We hosted the first, groundbreaking London conference in 2014, which secured ambitious agreements from more than 40 Governments to take urgent, co-ordinated action and was hailed as a turning point in global efforts to tackle these damaging activities. We also played a leading role in the subsequent conferences in Botswana and Vietnam.
Previous conferences have achieved an international consensus against IWT, but we recognise that there is more to do. The levels of poaching of many species remain unsustainably high and, as has already been pointed out, organised criminal networks continue to benefit from the proceeds of IWT. That is why urgent, united action by the international community remains vital.
Our work on IWT fits within the four strategic pillars that were agreed at the first conference in London in 2014: eradicating the market for illegal wildlife products; ensuring effective legal frameworks and deterrents; strengthening law enforcement; and providing sustainable livelihoods and economic development. These four pillars are well established and are used globally to focus on IWT.
To help to reaffirm political commitment, we are bringing global leaders back to London this October for another conference. I understand that the invitations have gone out and we want to welcome people from around the world, so that we can come together to focus on tangible outcomes for delivery. In particular, we intend to focus on law enforcement and tackling the corruption that facilitates IWT. The conference will recognise IWT as a serious organised crime that affects people as well as animals, and it will harness the power of the private sector, non-government organisations, academia and technology to strengthen global action.
To support our global leadership on tackling IWT, the UK Government are investing £26 million in practical action around the world to reduce demand, strengthen enforcement, ensure effective legal frameworks and develop sustainable livelihoods for affected communities. We are providing funding to Interpol to expand its work on tracking and intercepting illegal shipments of ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products.
Also, the four-year Waylay II project starts this year. It will improve awareness and understanding of advanced investigative techniques in Kenya, Uganda, Singapore, Vietnam and China. We have funded the British military to provide tracker training for park rangers in African states. We have also worked with China to deliver joint training to African border forces, and we have committed up to £4 million to the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime—Interpol is one of the five organisations involved in the ICCWC—to help to strengthen criminal justice systems and co-ordinate support at regional, national and international levels to combat wildlife and forest crime. We have already paid £1.6 million of that money this month.
I have already pointed out that we have funded the British military to provide tracker training. I attended a project in South Africa, where we have worked with an organisation involving the Tusk Trust to increase anti-poacher training and the techniques to do that. More than one Member has asked about this, but we are investigating, as the 25-year environment plan said, the feasibility of a more established poaching taskforce. Just last week, I was in France speaking to my opposite number and we will explore options together. This work does not need to solely involve the UK Government or the British military; there should be a collective effort to extend it.
The Crown Prosecution Service has worked with officials in key states such as Kenya and Tanzania to share its expertise and to help to strengthen the enforcement activities in those countries. Part of the UK Government’s funding is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ IWT Challenge Fund. It funds 47 projects around the world and has a value of just over £14 million.
Those projects include training of rangers, border force agents and prosecutors; campaigns to reduce the demand for products in key markets; supporting legislative reform; and helping communities to manage their wildlife and benefit from it, for example through tourism. It also funds projects aimed at tackling corruption, by engaging with Governments, enforcement agencies and the private sector. There is also mapping of one area, as the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton referred to. The next round of the IWT Challenge Fund is expected to open for applications later this year. I am sure that we will welcome any new projects, and I hope to announce the successful applicants to round four of the fund later this spring.
We are also strengthening action against IWT at home. We have consulted on proposals to introduce a total ban on UK sales of ivory, with narrowly defined and carefully targeted exemptions. It was welcome that we received more than 70,000 responses, with overwhelming support for a ban. A response to the consultation will be published shortly.
I know that hon. Members often ask, “What is ‘shortly’? When will it happen?” We want to ensure that any ban we propose will be effective and will not be open to legal challenge. That is why we need to go through, very carefully, every representation that has been made to us. If we did not do that, we would be subject to legal challenge, which could derail the legislation that is already being drafted on some of the big items, where there is no dispute about what we want to take forward. I can assure the Chamber that officials and lawyers are already actively working on this issue.
In the short time I have left, I will again mention the London conference. It will have three main themes—
Forgive me, but I want to try to get through as many of the points that Members raised as possible.
IWT is a serious organised crime, so one area that we will focus on is illicit financial flows and corruption, which is key, as well as strengthening networks of law enforcement agents and helping frontline countries to co-ordinate across the trade routes. As I referred to earlier, we will build coalitions, including with the NGOs, and we will continue to work on encouraging countries to close markets in this trade.
Quite a lot was said about bagpipes, which I am sure are a key reason why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recognised the need for musical instruments to have an element of exemption.
In addition, I recognise today the absolute passion shown by the hon. Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith). The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge asked about the situation post Brexit. I can assure her that our commitment to working with Interpol, and indeed with our friends in the EU, will continue unabated. As for the scientific committee, it is fair to say that our experts from Kew and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee are well regarded. We will need to work on how we take that co-operation forward in future.
The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) was right to praise and to be proud of the specialist crime unit in Scotland. The hon. Member for Stroud asked a specific question about official development assistance. The Department for International Development already provides funding for the National Crime Agency to tackle corruption specifically; I think there is work in 29 countries around the world. That work will continue.
One thing that it is worth pointing out is that of course we want to tackle poaching but hon. Members will recognise that we also need to do a lot of work to preserve habitat, because the destruction of habitat is also a major challenge.
With regard to the beneficial ownership of overseas territories, in reality progress is happening. The UK concluded an exchange of notes with overseas territories with financial centres and with the Crown dependencies on the exchange of beneficial ownership. That work is moving on. I recognise that the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton may want quicker progress in that area, but I can assure her that beneficial ownership information should be available on request within 24 hours, or within one hour in urgent cases.
We are preparing for post-Brexit—the IT systems that we need to upscale and the issuing of permits to support the movement of such elements. I have already said no to meeting Duncan McNair, but I know that officials have agreed to meet him, so that is at least something. As for the historic, artistic and cultural objects test, I am afraid that the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton will need to wait for the response to the consultation. Overall, we are taking action.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the anti-corruption strategy and the illegal wildlife trade.