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Shark Fins Bill

Volume 828: debated on Friday 24 March 2023

Second Reading

Moved by

My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to introduce this Bill. I begin by paying tribute to the honourable Christina Rees, who so expertly steered it through its Commons stages. As she has now passed the baton on to me, I hope I can complete the job with at least half the passion and determination that she has shown so far. I also pay tribute to the many marine and shark conservation groups that have campaigned so effectively to highlight the need for this legislation, in particular, the Shark Trust, Bite-Back and Shark Guardian. I thank the Minister in the Commons for ensuring that the Bill had a fair wind. I hope this commitment from the Government will continue here through our various stages of consideration.

This is fairly simple but important legislation that tackles acts of needless cruelty and species decline in the marine sector. Anyone who has seen footage of sharks being caught, having their fins sliced off and then being thrown back into the sea to have a slow and lingering death will have been shocked at the callousness and waste involved. It is estimated that only 2% to 5% of the shark is ever used in this practice. All this is being done to supply the supposed delicacy that shark-fins represent in parts of the food sector. This is a huge global trade: 1 million tonnes to 2 million tonnes of shark-fins are traded every year and it is estimated that 73 million sharks are killed each year to supply these fins. This is not only cruel but it upsets the vital marine ecosystems in which sharks play an important part as a keystone species. This practice exacerbates the loss of the species through fishing and marine degradation. Already, one-quarter of the 500 or so shark species are on the vulnerable or critically endangered list.

I am pleased to say that the practice of shark finning was rightly banned in UK waters in 2003, and that relatively few establishments in the UK continue to serve shark-fin on their menu. Those that do will need to import the fins. It is this import and export of fins that the Bill seeks to address, because it is a global trade. Britain still facilitates the trading of fins around the world, and thereby helps to maintain the cruel and unnecessary practice. The Bill will ban the import and export of shark-fins, or items containing shark-fins, into or from the UK. This will apply only to fins that have been removed from the body of the shark; it does not impact on the consumption of shark meat as a whole, or fins that are still attached to the carcass. The Bill also includes the provision of exemption certificates, underpinned by strict application processes, to enable conservation and educational activities to continue.

The Bill has broad public support. Defra ran a call for evidence to better understand the shark-fin trade and its impact in both the UK and overseas. Most respondents emphasised their strong opposition to shark finning and the need for additional measures to address threats to sharks. The Government’s impact assessment shows there to be a minimal impact on business, the main impact being a loss of income to fishers who export shark-fin products. However, it was also recognised that those who trade in shark-fin products do not depend on this income, so their jobs and livelihoods are unlikely to be significantly affected. We can proceed with the Bill in the knowledge that there will be very few disadvantages.

At its heart, the Bill will address the current loopholes that allow shark-fins to be sold and consumed in the UK. More importantly, it sends a message to our global trading partners that this practice is unacceptable. It will establish the UK as a global leader in the conservation of sharks and, I hope, set an example that other countries will follow. While the main market for fins is in Asia, a number of European countries, such as France, Italy and Spain, are significant players in supplying this market. By passing the Bill we would hope to be able to persuade these countries to follow suit.

I hope noble Lords will feel able to support the Bill, which provides greater conservation for sharks at home and provides leadership in protecting those endangered marine species across the globe. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. I am very grateful to her for introducing this Bill in such a measured and comprehensive way. She is quite right: it is about leadership. I do not think that the importation of shark-fins is a huge issue in this country numerically. It has been a while since the “maw and gulf” of the “ravin’d salt-sea shark” was regularly used in Scottish witches’ brews, and it is not a massive issue by tonnage. However, there is a question of moral leadership and example. We think of ourselves as a small island, but we are, in fact, at the heart of a huge archipelago of overseas territories. Looking at the waters controlled by those territories when put together in the Caribbean, the south Atlantic, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, it is an area about the size of India. So, if anything, we are a maritime nation and an aquatic state. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to show a commensurate sense of responsibility when it comes to the stewardship of marine life.

I will make one point. We are enabled to pass Bills of this kind because we now have our own trade policy. I know it is a point that is unpopular in this Chamber, but it is worth saying that. As happened when we unilaterally lifted all our tariffs and restrictions on Ukrainian exports, this is an opportunity for us to show leadership in the hope that our friends and allies in the European Union will follow. I am conscious of speaking between our two excellent noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, who are two outstanding contributors to your Lordships’ counsels—Jones the Strike and Jones the Green, as it were. I hope my dear friend the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—who is a proper 30-year standing friend, and whose homemade jam is a delight to my children—will take the opportunity to acknowledge that this is something we are able to do because we are now a fully sovereign country, which is something that happens so rarely. It is precisely issues of this kind that ought to be determined through our national mechanisms and procedures.

My Lords, it is always fascinating to follow my noble friend Lord Hannan; as he said, we have been friends for 30 years since we met on the slopes of Mount Sinai. Of course, he had to bring Brexit into it: a failed project—so sad—even though I supported it.

When I first saw this Bill on our Order Paper, I got quite excited because I am constantly fighting the forces of growth and blindness to our climate crisis. I thought, “What a really good Bill”, because this is clearly something that no one can argue against. Then I found that no one is arguing against it. In fact, even the Government support it. What is the point, really, in my saying anything? But I will say something anyway because, for me, the whole issue of shark-fins encapsulates the human problem that we have in our relationship to our planet. There is an attitude among a vast majority of people—particularly in this House—that the planet is there for us: it is there for us to rape and pillage, to use as and when we need. As a Green, I can see that simply is not true. The majority of people think that this whole world is at our disposal—animal, vegetable, mineral—and I argue that it is our lifeline. It is our home, and we ought to be looking after it better. Humans have been around, more or less in the form that we are at the moment, for about 100,000 years. In evolutionary terms, that is like being tiny little toddlers, and our behaviour is often like toddlers; we are greedy, we grab and we do not follow common sense. We certainly do not seem to understand that earth is our support system.

Listening to the debate on the Budget last week was profoundly upsetting. There was a constant mantra that growth is good, growth is prosperity and growth is well-being. There was no understanding that you cannot carry on with growth when you have a finite planet: our resources will run out. Why should we—in a very advanced country—grab more than our share? After that debate, I also thought that it is ridiculous, and I cannot keep banging on about climate change when nobody is listening. I then saw that they were serving octopus in the restaurant and thought, “There is something I can do: I can stop them serving octopus”. They are an incredibly intelligent species and not necessarily something we need to eat. Even that is proving very difficult. There is also the possibility that we eat shark, which is a fish that often has other terms, like flake or white fish.

This Bill is clearly a brilliant Bill which is going to pass. I am slightly concerned that there is still a small gap about shark-fins that can come in if they are sustainably sourced. That is a slight problem because how are we going to know they are truly sustainable? In the meantime, it is an excellent Bill and I support it 100%.

My Lords, on these Benches we support this Bill. We thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for bringing it to this House and so clearly articulating it before us today. We were reminded this week that sharks are not just over there, in our overseas territories; we had a small-tooth sand tiger shark found on our beaches in Hampshire. They are here as well as overseas, so this is an important initiative. Personally, I am very grateful because I have a 19 year-old who has been obsessed with sharks since she was three. It is great to have something to speak about in this House where I know the people in my home will actually be interested in what I have said.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, we know that one of the major threats to sharks—which are top predators—is commercial overfishing. I was very surprised to see the figures provided by the House’s Library. I was shocked that 100 million sharks were commercially fished in 2010—that is a huge number. The figures are, however, almost out of date so we estimate them. There seems to be a really big lack of data on our marine environments. The Government have invested some more money in data collecting in terms of our species on land, but there is still a lot more work to do in understanding and therefore being able to better protect our marine species in the future.

I think the issue most people have with this Bill and why it is so welcome is the cruelty. Yes, there is the ecological waste, but the cruelty of taking a fin from a shark and leaving it in the sea to die by suffocation, blood loss or predation is something I think all of us find completely abhorrent. It is right, therefore, that it should be banned. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, this has been banned in our country for nearly 20 years. That was obviously during the time when we were members of the EU, and I will come back to that point in a moment. It will make a negligible effect in terms of how many animals are affected, given the imports are very small. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, rightly said, it is important that we take the role of global leadership we have very seriously.

There are two instances where the Government can strongly take this forward on the back of this Bill. First, in November last year at the CITES—the convention on the trade in endangered species—a number of new species, including commercial species, were added to the list. By us now having this “fins naturally attached” as standard, we can assist in the propagation of the CITES convention, show our global leadership and encourage other countries to take that forward. It is an important step for us to show our leadership and our commitment to the international obligations that we have in this space. Secondly, we have the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals COP in Uzbekistan in October. Again, by having this Bill on the statute book by that time, it is a proper opportunity for the Government to signal our international leadership in this space. It is excellent timing for us to have this on the statute book in advance of the CMS in October.

I will not make too many points, but I want to pick up on the point that we can legislate on this because we are out of the European Union. Yes, we can—but, as I said, this is going to have a minor impact, and the bigger issue of stopping fishing in our own waters was dealt with when we were members of the European Union. I say gently that this is a Private Member’s Bill. I think we have had five Private Members’ Bills on animal welfare issues in the last two years, yet we are still waiting for anything from the Government on live transport. They could act on this, as we are now no longer in the European Union—and it was also a Conservative manifesto commitment.

Yes, we are out of the European Union, but it would be great if the Government actually got on and said what they felt were the important things to do. There has been nothing on live transport and, equally, nothing on the kept animals Bill. Again, that was a manifesto commitment which we can now act on because we are outside the European Union. That would deal with illegal puppy smuggling, standards in our zoos, keeping primates in our homes and other important issues. We could be dealing with those issues, but we are not. This is a Private Member’s Bill, and I am delighted that the Government have decided to support it. However, it is all very well and good to make political points but, if the Conservatives put things in their manifesto because we are out of the European Union, the Government should deliver on them.

Because we are out of the European Union, we are not in a position to have the leadership role we had when we were members. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, rightly reminded us, some of the countries which are still overfishing are Spain, Portugal and France. We are no longer members of the European Union, where we had a brilliant record of pushing those member states to better animal welfare standards—but we are not at the top table any more.

Having said that and got it off my chest, I return to my point that I am grateful that the Government are supporting the Bill. It is important in terms of the global leadership we should be showing, have shown in the past and need to keep showing in the future. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, I commend the small conservation organisations such as the Shark Trust, which do a brilliant job not only campaigning on these issues but helping people to understand the importance of these top predators and disabusing them of some of the misinformation about these magnificent species, which play such an important role in the ecology of our waters.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch for introducing the Bill and Christina Rees MP for bringing it through the other place. I start, as the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, did, by saying how strongly we support the Bill and are pleased to see it in front of us today. As others have done, I pay tribute to the conservation organisations which have been pressing for this, particularly the Shark Trust, which sent a very helpful briefing.

As noble Lords have said, the Bill is so important because of the needless cruelty. In fact, I would say that the practice is just disgusting; I cannot believe it actually happens. Again, it is important to see the Bill in front of us today. Assuming that it goes through—I know it has government support—it then needs to be very promptly adopted, and it needs to reinforce the UK’s position as a global leader in shark conservation and sustainable fishing, as other noble Lords have said.

We have also heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and others that the biggest threat to sharks is overfishing driven by demand for many different products, including meat, cartilage and liver oil as well as the fins. Shark finning has of course been banned in many major fishing nations. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, that it was banned by the EU in 2003, so the EU also has an interest in ending this practice. The other thing we need to think about is that shark-fins are not the only driver of shark fisheries. Banning the trade alone will not curtail the demand for sharks. Having said that, if the Bill is enshrined in law, it will demonstrate the UK’s commitment to shark conservation and sustainable fishing, and we will then have a platform through which we as a nation can encourage other nations to follow suit and also ban these appalling practices.

We have heard that the global trade is significant but that the largest importers are Hong Kong, Malaysia, China and Singapore, which account for 90%. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, said, UK imports are historically negligible. However, as my noble friend and others pointed out, it is important that we are able to hold other nations to the high standard that we would expect. By being a global leader on this, we can encourage the nations that are trading in this way to look at doing it in a more sustainable way, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said—like her, I do not quite understand what that means, but it is clearly better than the current practice that is still allowed. She also talked particularly about conservation and marine life, and this is an important step in taking that forward.

I think it was all the way back in May 2022 that the Government reiterated that they were committed to banning the import and export of detached shark-fins and shark-fin products, originally through the animals abroad Bill, along with other items that were going to be banned through that Bill. We now have some Private Members’ Bills that will arrive in your Lordships’ House at some point that look at other aspects from that Bill, but unfortunately, some seem to have disappeared in their entirety, including the bans on imports of fur and foie gras. Can the Minister say what has happened to the outstanding parts of the animals abroad Bill that we were all promised would be banned by a Conservative Government?

On that note, I will finish by totally supporting the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about other government promises through the kept animals Bill, which finished Committee in the Commons some time ago now. We are still sitting and waiting for Report on that and to hear what will happen to the pieces of legislation in that which are so important. Are they going to come through piecemeal by PMB? Is that the plan, so that the Government can pick and choose which bits of that Bill they want? If the Government are making all these promises on animal welfare, we need action.

I am very pleased that the Bill is in front of us. It has our strong support, and my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch gave an absolutely excellent introduction to it. However, I am concerned about not just this but everything else that was promised as well.

My Lords, may I say at the outset what a joy it is to respond to a Bill that has universal support? While I am enjoying the moment, I observe that the Bill requires legislative consent Motions from the devolved Governments, and I am pleased to say that, where appropriate, those are being provided.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for her sponsorship of this important Bill and for the powerful manner in which she has made her case. She is indeed a worthy champion of the Bill in your Lordships’ House. I am also very grateful to all noble Lords for their valuable contributions to today’s debate. I pay tribute to the honourable Christina Rees, who successfully steered the Bill through the other place with passion and clarity, as well as to stakeholders such as the Shark Trust, as other noble Lords mentioned, for their support as we progress this important legislation.

As your Lordships are no doubt aware by now, shark finning is vile and cruel. Shark-fins are removed from a living shark at sea and their finless bodies are wastefully returned to the water. Without their fins, sharks are unable to swim, which means they cannot pass oxygen through their gills so are left slowly to drown. As the honourable Member said,

“the effects of shark finning are devastating, with impacts seen across … species”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/7/22; col. 654.]

We have over 40 species of shark around the coast of the United Kingdom, including some of the rarest, largest, fastest and most highly migratory in the world. From the sleek and elegant blue shark to the second-largest fish in the sea, the basking shark, the UK has a wealth of shark diversity in its waters.

Shark finning is a practice that has been banned in the UK for almost 20 years, and we also have a “fins naturally attached” policy that means sharks must be landed with all their fins on their bodies, but we are now going further and banning the trade in detached fins and shark-fin products. This underlines the UK Government’s commitment that shark finning must stop, wherever it takes place.

As other noble Lords have said, the greatest threat to sharks is overfishing, driven by the demand for shark products such as their fins. Enshrining the Shark Fins Bill in UK law will demonstrate the UK’s commitment to shark conservation and sustainable fishing, providing a platform from which to encourage action by other nations and fisheries bodies. This Bill gives us the opportunity to be a leading example in shark conservation and enable the UK to hold other nations to the same standard.

As well as an ambitious domestic agenda for sharks, the UK Government champion shark conservation internationally through fora such as CITES, RFMOs and CMS. The UK has long been pressing for stronger international action to protect sharks and was pleased to support the listing of almost 100 shark and ray species, a significant portion of which were co-sponsored by the UK, on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, following a successful Conference of the Parties in Panama last year. This landmark agreement has placed nearly all shark species traded internationally for their fins under CITES, and the UK remains committed to the implementation of these listings.

The UK has also funded a significant portion of efforts to implement existing shark CITES listings, ensuring they are effective and enforceable. This includes pioneering work with international partners to develop identification guides for all listed shark and ray species. The UK has also supported the implementation of further measures in RFMOs, specifically pushing for crucial catch limits to be put in place for commercially exploited shark species to prevent overfishing of species such as blue shark and shortfin mako.

In 2021 it was agreed at ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, that parties should implement a prohibition on retaining on board, transhipping and landing, whole or in part, North Atlantic shortfin mako caught in association with ICCAT fisheries in 2022 and 2023. This was a pivotal agreement, strongly advocated for by the UK, which will be the first step in rebuilding the stock of the species. As of 1 April, we will also see this species on the prohibited species list, further reinforcing our commitment to the protection of this species.

The convention on migratory species is another key example where the UK has supported the listing of shark species. The CMS provides a global platform for the conservation of migratory species in which we will continue to work with like-minded countries, especially to develop shared objectives on the global conservation and management of sharks.

To turn briefly to the detail of the Shark Fins Bill, it will ban the import and export of detached shark-fins into or out of Great Britain. This ban not only applies to whole shark-fins but includes parts of fins and products made of fins, such as tinned shark-fin soup. In this context, “shark-fins” means any fins or parts of fins of a shark, except for pectoral fins, which are part of skate and ray wings, and “shark” means any fish of the taxon Elasmobranchii. This is all set out in detail in Clause 1.

There is only one exception to this ban, which is where imports or exports will support greater conservation, for example through education and training. This point was raised by the noble Baroness in her opening speech. Importantly, there are strict processes in place to assess applications for exemption certifications to ensure that they do not undermine the overall ban. This exemption process is clearly set out in the Schedule to the Bill. There are penalties of up to £3,000 where the applicant has deliberately provided inaccurate or incomplete information.

In Clause 2, the Bill also amends the existing shark finning regulation 1185/2003, which forms part of retained EU law and includes the amendments in regulation 605/2013. The amendment in this Bill is to make sure that shark finning is not taking place by any other country’s vessels fishing in UK waters, or by any UK vessel wherever it fishes. We remain firmly committed to building on the UK’s strong position on shark conservation.

In supporting this Bill, the Government have conducted a thorough regulatory triage assessment to assess the impacts. We conducted research to assess the costs to businesses and government associated with these measures, and the good news is that this Bill will involve very low public expenditure and costs to business. The imports and exports of shark-fins are already checked for compliance with CITES, so these existing processes will be used to enforce the new requirements in the Shark Fins Bill.

My noble friend Lord Hannan was right to speak of the UK’s leadership and stewardship of marine life but, to be even-handed, I suggest that being in the EU did not impact our ability to designate marine conservation areas around the UK, which was a UK-driven commitment. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, mentioned two opportunities for the UK to continue to demonstrate its global commitment and leadership in CITES and CMS. I am sure that my Defra officials present will take note. The noble Baroness also mentioned the kept animals Bill, which my officials say is on Report in the House of Commons. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned foie gras and fur imports in the animals abroad Bill. I will endeavour to write to her with the exact status of those initiatives.

These animals are irreplaceable components of nature’s rich tapestry. We must do all we can to create an agenda to protect the ocean’s richness and diversity. I am sure that noble Lords all agree that this is an imperative for future generations. I conclude on behalf of the Government by thanking noble Lords for their involvement in today’s debate, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for her work in guiding the Bill through this House. I also thank the non-governmental organisations that have engaged with our officials throughout the passage of the Bill. This Bill will add a small but vital part to our legislation. I am pleased to reiterate the Government’s support for it, and I hope that we can ensure its smooth passage through this House.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed and given their support. As others said, it is a pleasure to work on such a collegiate and cross-party basis and to be part of this debate.

I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannan, who made an excellent contribution about the moral leadership we should give. He also quite rightly made the point that sometimes we underplay our leading role as a marine nation and how powerful we are on the international stage because of it. He could not resist mentioning us leaving the EU. As other noble Lords have counterattacked, I say to him that we have given up our leadership in the EU, where we were always a leading voice on animal welfare issues. Now we are doing it from the sidelines, when we could have been at the heart of it. That is a much bigger debate that I am sure he would love to participate further in, but maybe not today.

I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who again reminded us of the international opportunities that we have to press the case and to ensure that we play a leading part internationally in delivering not only these sorts of measures but a wide range of other marine conservation measures. She made the point, as other noble Lords did, about the cruelty that underlines it. It is purely a cruel thing to do. Even if people feel that the cruelty itself is not sufficient, it is also such a waste that you then throw the remaining carcass back into the sea and that it is not used in any useful way, so there are so many strong arguments for this.

I agree with my noble friend Lady Hayman that shark finning is only one step in the conservation of sharks and that we need to do considerably more. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about octopuses. Maybe that should be our next campaign. I would be very happy to join with her on that one.

A number of noble Lords made the point that this is a Private Member’s Bill and that we are going about this on a very piecemeal basis. I agree with all those points. How much easier it would be if we had the more substantive Bills we have been promised on this. There are outstanding issues around a live export ban, a ban on fur imports, the import of foie gras and many other issues. I am sure we are all pleased to hear that the kept animals Bill is on its way and look forward to participating in that. There are many more debates to be had, but in the meantime I am very grateful for all the support we have been given today.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.