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Westminster Hall

Tuesday 21 March 2000

[Mr. Michael J. Martin in the Chair]

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.--[Mr. Betts.]

10 am

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I welcome this opportunity to debate the United Kingdom's policies and positions for the 11th conference of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild flora and fauna--CITES--which opens in Nairobi in Kenya on 10 April. I am indebted to the Environmental Investigation Agency, and especially to Claire Perry, for supplying me with such a detailed--and damning--briefing on this subject.

CITES is intended to prevent the extinction of wildlife and plant species threatened by international trade. The parties to CITES, which now number around 150, can ban international trade in species threatened with extinction by listing them in appendix 1. Species threatened by international trade but not in imminent danger of extinction can be listed in appendix 2, which requires countries to issue export and import permits that can be used to monitor the volume of trade. The listing does not provide meaningful conservation protection to most species, especially heavily traded species, because there are usually no limits to such trade.

CITES addresses only international trade in wildlife and plants listed in its appendices. With the exception of rhino products, it has never sought to control domestic trade in wildlife products, nor to involve itself in the management of wildlife within a nation's borders.

When used properly, CITES is the most effective multilateral environmental agreement available to save endangered species threatened by international trade. It is often seriously undermined by poor enforcement, but, without it, endangered species such as tigers and rhinos could well have disappeared from the wild. The elephant would now be wiped out in most of its remaining habitats in Africa and Asia if CITES had not voted in 1989 to list the African elephant in appendix 1.

At the April meeting, the parties to CITES will vote on a wide range of measures relating to the trade in wildlife, and will discuss and vote on the conservation of elephants, whales, tigers and numerous other species. I am pleased that there are many hon. Members present who wish to speak. I shall therefore relate my comments mainly to elephants. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) wishes to refer to a number of other species.

The United Kingdom is presently the chair of the CITES standing committee--its governing body--which oversees the implementation of decisions taken by the parties. It is a crucial position. The Chamber should be in no doubt that the fate of the African elephant may rest on what the UK does at CITES.

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The UK has played a critical role in decisions that CITES has taken on elephants, which, tragically, have not always been good for elephants. For instance, when the parties voted overwhelmingly at the 1989 meeting to protect African elephants, the UK Government took formally a reservation to the international ivory ban for six months to allow the Hong Kong ivory barons to sell off their vast stockpiles of poached ivory.

Historically, progress has been slow. In 1975, Ghana first proposed listing African elephants in appendix 1. The proposal failed and they were placed in appendix 2. The result was the mass slaughter of elephants by poachers over the following 14 years. CITES was repeatedly urged by pro-trade interests to continue to try to regulate rather than ban the international ivory trade. In the 1980s, poaching became more organised, thriving on conflict in Africa, where the easy availability of arms, marauding armies and their rebel opponents and corrupt Government officials made ivory a highly valued alternative hard currency on the African continent. Instead of poisoned spears, poachers used AK47s to bring down large numbers of elephants. Military helicopters and trucks moved ivory to government camps, where its trade was legalised by officials. South Africa's apartheid regime was notorious for laundering ivory proached from Angola and Mozambique.

The CITES-approved, legal international trade in ivory was as porous as a sieve, and laundering poached ivory for the legal marketplace by acquiring CITES permits was easy. Vast quantities of poached ivory were laundered in that way. The legal trade provided the cover for poached ivory, just as protected whale species are killed and laundered for the Japanese market by being mixed with whale meat produced by the notorious commercial operations that pose as scientific researchers.

In 1979, there were approximately 1.3 million elephants in Africa. By 1988, only 624,000 were believed to have survived. According to a widely accepted estimate, 94 per cent. of all ivory sold legally throughout the world with CITES permits originated from poached elephants. Across Africa, 70,000 elephants were poached each year to provide ivory for the international market, and the continental African elephant population declined by 10 per cent. a year. In short, listing African elephants in appendix 2 of CITES has failed.

The 1989 listing of African elephants in appendix 1 was probably the most successful conservation action taken by CITES, and the most effective elephant conservation measure in history. The international ban led to a virtual overnight collapse in demand for ivory. Prices plummeted and poaching declined dramatically across much of Africa. The ban was enforced in many parts of Africa, and many elephant populations stabilised. Parks and wildlife staff were motivated and empowered by the ban, which simplified enforcement. The public, who supported the ban, knew that ivory came from poached elephants because the sale of ivory was illegal.

However, a small number of countries--Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa--opposed the ban. Poaching was not widespread in those countries,

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except Zimbabwe, where it is believed that military officials and parks staff became involved in poaching in areas such as the Gonarezhou park. Those countries led a determined campaign to overturn the international ivory ban, on the basis that their elephant populations were stable or abundant.

A week before the CITES meeting in Harare in June 1997, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe hosted a meeting of the Organisation of African Unity and was elected its chairman. He made an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the OAU to support a resumption in the ivory trade, but he succeeded in twisting the arms of other African presidents, who agreed to downlisting and muted their opposition to limited international ivory trade involving the southern African elephant.

After a week of secret ballots, intense pressure from the highest levels of southern African Governments, and manipulated proceedings in which many African state delegates were not allowed to speak, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Botswana secured an experimental export of some 50 tonnes of ivory to Japan, and their elephant populations were transferred to appendix 2. Many African states adamantly opposed the measure, and feared the impact that the resumption of international trade would have on their smaller, more vulnerable elephant populations.

For the sake of completeness, I have outlined some of the history of this subject and the attitude of various Governments, and I turn now to the attitude of the United Kingdom Government and the European Union. Before the general election, the Labour party election leaflet, entitled "New Labour--New Life for Animals", made an unequivocal pledge to

Rigorous conditions were attached to the transfer of the elephant populations to appendix 2. The international sale of 50 tonnes of ivory was supposed to go ahead only if Japan, the only authorised ivory importing country, improved its domestic controls to prevent the on-going laundering of illegal ivory. A further three conditions were attached: that comprehensive international monitoring systems should be in place to establish a possible causal link between the sale of ivory to Japan and any detected increase in poaching levels or illegal ivory trade; that a mechanism should be established to allow the southern African elephant populations to be put back on appendix 1 immediately if poaching and illegal trade increased; and that Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia should join a multinational African enforcement body, such as the Lusaka agreement on co-operative wildlife enforcement, which can cross borders to investigate illegal wildlife trade and poaching.

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It is worth noting that even the World Wildlife Fund, which believes that Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia deserve support and credit for conserving and managing their elephant populations, acccepts that the monitoring systems that I have just outlined are not in place. The UK had been elected chair of the powerful CITES standing committee, which was charged with deciding if those conditions were fulfilled before the ivory sale to Japan was allowed to go ahead. When the committee met in February 1999, the international system to monitor increased elephant poaching--MIKE--was not in place, and the £8 million to operate it for the first six years had not been found. Even worse, the system could not show causality between increased poaching and the ivory trade to Japan and it would take six years before useful data could be produced. None of the three southern African countries had joined the Lusaka agreement, nor had they produced a similar enforcement accord. Furthermore, despite some cosmetic changes, Japan had not enacted any meaningful enforcement measures to monitor trade in illegal ivory by the 50,000 or so shops that sell ivory hanko or name seals. In fact, there is virtually no domestic enforcement of ivory or other endangered species trade in Japan.

Seven African elephant range states appealed to the UK-chaired CITES standing committee to delay the ivory trade until the CITES-guaranteed safeguard of an international monitoring system was in place. The United States issued a similar caution. Will the Minister explain why the UK, as chair of the CITES standing committee, did not oppose the experimental international ivory sale, given that the critically important enforcement safeguards were not in place? That represents an early breaking of the pre-election pledge to

Regrettably, the sale of 50 tonnes of ivory to Japan went ahead in April 1999. Since then, many African and Asian elephant range states have reported a dramatic resurgence of elephant poaching. Kenya has reported a disturbing increase in such incidents, which the director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service, Nehemiah Rotich, attributes directly to the reopening of the ivory trade. Zimbabwe has provided the most dramatic evidence of the emergence of a massive increase in elephant poaching. Last November, a WWF survey estimated that 1,378 elephant carcases had been found along Zimbabwe's Zambezi valley. The carcases were between one and two years old, which shows that poaching erupted not long after the 1997 CITES decision to remove the appendix 1 protection from Zimbabwe's elephants. That was hardly an example of a country conserving and managing its elephant population.

Poaching continued in 1999. Between 300 and 400 elephants had been poached in Zimbabwe by August of that year alone, according to sources who have seen official poaching data. Numerous press reports have claimed that Government officials in national parks or the military are implicated in the poaching spree. One report states:

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    national parks department. The Zimbabwean Government have admitted that there is an increase, but press reports quote a senior park official as saying:

    The Department is under-reporting case numbers because they fear the publicity will affect ivory trade. In my view, such a cover-up qualifies as an abuse of the downlisting process, and the Zimbabwean elephants should immediately be put back in appendix 1. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that in due course.

In addition to an upsurge of poaching since the decision was made to allow the sales, numerous large seizures of illegal ivory have taken place, showing the revival of ivory smuggling networks. For example, in April 1998 ivory valued at $3 million was seized in Taiwan; in October 1998, 600 kg were seized in Paris; in China, 1.6 tonnes were seized in November 1998, and a further 2 tonnes in January 1999; 500 kg were seized in Moscow in April 1999; in Kenya, 350 kg were seized in July last year, and 700 kg in August. Seizures continue to be made in countries as diverse as Dubai, Portugal and China.

In a few weeks' time, the parties to CITES will vote on proposals by Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and now South Africa to sell more ivory to Japan and other consuming countries. An alternative proposal from Kenya and India would, if accepted, return all elephants to appendix 1, totally banning international trade. At a recent meeting of 21 elephant range states in Africa, the Kenyan proposal received the backing of most countries present. South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe declined to attend that meeting. The proposal is also supported by a broad coalition of most--but, I accept, not all--of the world's major conservation groups.

Last Thursday, a resolution was passed in the European Parliament with the backing of members of all the major political groups. It strongly urged all CITES parties to support Kenya and India's proposal to maximise international protection for elephants by putting them all back on appendix 1. In the United Kingdom yesterday, a MORI poll was released showing that 82 per cent. of the public believe that the UK Government should support the Kenyan proposal. More than 120 Members of Parliament have signed an early-day motion calling for a full ban on the international ivory trade, which can be achieved only by supporting the Kenyan proposal to protect all elephants by putting them back on appendix 1.

The current position is that the United Kingdom is calling for all proposals to be withdrawn. Let us be clear about what that would mean in practice. Poaching would continue and would be likely to intensify during the two or three years before the next CITES meeting. That would be unacceptable. The Government argue that, because the funds from these sales are, theoretically at least, going back into elephant conservation and community projects, they meet their objective to conserve elephants. However, receipts from experimental sales were less than $5 million, whereas the estimated cost of providing the monitoring systems is about $13 million. Many elephant range states argue that the money would be better spent on keeping elephants alive, rather than on counting them once they have been killed by poachers.

In The Guardian on 6 March 2000, an article entitled "Ivory Towers" stated:

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    As elephant poaching rises again, Kenya fears that the UK will make things worse. In the article, Nehemiah Rotich, director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, stated:

    We are very unhappy with the UK position on the ivory trade . . . It is a major point of concern for us. Britain has such a key presence in Kenya as a development partner that I would have expected them to better understand what opening up ivory trade would mean for us . . . The tourist industry which funds the wildlife service would be badly hit and we would risk a return to the poaching holocaust of the 1980s.

I understand that the Government have not yet decided how to vote, but if they openly oppose Kenya's proposal, they will give implicit support to the southern African position. Failure by the Government to back Kenya and India will horrify the 82 per cent. of the British public who support Kenya and India's proposal. There is a clear duty to ensure that a precautionary approach is taken and the only precautionary approach on the table is that proposed by Kenya and India.

The Government have said that they remain unconvinced that the recent ivory sales have had an impact on poaching or the illegal trade. Given that the 10 largest seizures of illegal ivory in a decade have occurred since the decision was taken to allow the sale of ivory to Japan, to what does the Minister attribute such a clear-cut sign of increased trade and poaching, if not to that decision? Do the Government accept that poaching has increased in Kenya, or do they think that the Kenya Wildlife Service is lying?

Will the Minister investigate the evidence of increased poaching in Zimbabwe and the alleged cover-up by Zimbabwean Government officials of such increased poaching? I remind the Minister of the near reign of terror that the Zimbabwean Government have effected on their citizens, many of whom are terrified to report increased elephant poaching.

Despite the overwhelmingly clear view of the British public, our Governments have not always been as proactive as they should have been in pursuing a global ban on the ivory trade. In the next couple of weeks, the Government will have the opportunity to honour their pledge and to use their influence in the European Union and internationally to push for a full ban on the international ivory trade, and I hope that they will do so. We cannot risk

10.21 am

Angela Smith (Basildon): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) on securing this debate on an issue about which many of us have strongly held views. Speaking in Westminster Hall has an added attraction to Labour Members: it is the only time that we can see Ministers' faces during debate--we normally sit behind Ministers in the Chamber. I hope that we shall see the Minister showing strong support for the issues that we are raising today.

As the hon. Gentleman has said, discussions at CITES are vital for a variety of wildlife, including turtles, sharks and whales, but given the limited time available and that several hon. Members wish to speak, like the hon. Gentleman I shall concentrate on elephants and the ivory trade. I confess that my interest in elephants goes back many years to my time at primary

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school. My primary school teacher was clearly responsible for my interest because he taught me how to tell the difference between an African elephant and an Indian elephant. I have not seen many African or Indian elephants in the flesh, not wanting to go to zoos to see them, but he told me that an African elephant's ears are the shape of Africa and an Indian elephant's ears are the shape of India. I do not know whether that is true, but it has stimulated my interest in elephants and their protection for many years.

I have asked several parliamentary questions about the ivory trade. I attended the International Fund for Animal Welfare press conference on the issue yesterday. The answers that I have received and that press conference have brought home to me how important it is that we take urgent action. In response to the questions that I asked on 10 February, the Paymaster General told me how much ivory had been seized in the United Kingdom. In 1998, Customs and Excise seized 387 items of ivory and a further 15 items were seized in the first nine months of 1999. Several of those seizures involved direct imports from central and southern African states and from India.

However, the problem with those figures is that, unlike other countries, the United Kingdom reports seizures not by weight but by the number of items, so the figures cannot be translated into how many elephants have been killed to produce that ivory because we do not know the weight of ivory involved. It would be helpful if the Minister would examine that matter and perhaps write to me. We should consider recording ivory seizures, as other countries do, by weight rather than by item, because worked ivory and carved ivory items can range from small, artistic, delicately carved pieces to large pieces, although those are less popular now because of problems with illegal trade. We must consider recording seizures not only by number, but by weight.

The importance of recording is shown by experience in France, where two major seizures of more than 1,000 kg were recorded in 1998 and 1999. In addition, about 1.5 tonnes have been seized in both India and Portugal. The worldwide total of seizures is horrific and shows the level of the problem.

I am grateful to have worked on campaigns with the Born Free Foundation in my constituency and nationally. Along with other organisations, it has expressed its wish for a positive outcome from the CITES talks. Born Free told me that only between five and 20 elephants, from an original estimate of 320, remain alive at a major national park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the area surrounding that park, up to 3,000 elephants are reported to have been killed. There lies one of our problems, and the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington touched on that. It is obvious that further relaxation in ivory trade laws will lead to an increase in poaching. If there is a legal trade in ivory, how can illegal trade be monitored? How can we tell the difference between the two? Enforcement is made extremely difficult.

The Kenyan Government have reported an increase in poaching, but in some war-torn areas of Africa, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we must establish scientifically that it is the change in the

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international trade laws that has led to an increase in poaching, rather than issues connected with war, natural disasters or the abject poverty facing people in those countries, all of which we have a duty to take action on. That challenge faces our Ministers at the CITES talks. It would be wrong for the countries pushing for relaxation in the laws to use their widespread problems as a cover or excuse to argue for measures that would lead to immeasurable suffering and the killing of elephants. I do not dismiss the problems of those countries, but there can be no argument about the fact that since CITES sanctioned the resumption of the legal ivory trade, seizures of illegal ivory items have increased. It is difficult to argue that there is no relationship of cause and effect between those two events.

Hon. Members attended the launch yesterday of the report entitled "The Ivory Markets of Africa" with representatives of the International Fund for Animal Welfare in the Jubilee Room, and that is reported on in BBC Wildlife Magazine this month. Those hon. Members will have heard of the continuing problem of this trade in death since the partial reopening of the ivory trade in 1997. The debate on what is responsible for its increase will continue, but we must make clear our views to the Minister this morning. We should listen to those who have exposed the effects of the relaxation in the ivory trade, on which the report is damning. We should also listen to the Kenyan Government, who are arguing for greater protection for the elephant, and to the 82 per cent. of British people who, in a MORI poll this week, urged the Government to support the Kenyan and Indian proposals. We should implement our pre-election promise to support protection for the African elephant and oppose any resumption of the trade in ivory and elephant skins.

Conservation and animal protection are international issues on which we need to take firm action, and I hope that the Government will help by persuading the European Union to use its block vote at the CITES talks. As a Labour MP, I am somewhat reluctant to get into the argument about the block vote and I use the term with caution. Rather than abstaining as it did in 1997, the EU should be persuaded to use its block vote for good and to take action for animal protection.

I want to make some strong representations on behalf of my constituents, who are concerned about the possible resumption of international trading in whale meat. I have received several letters on that subject, which I would like to be taken into account. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Cuba, I see no conflict in using my position to make strong representations to the Cuban Government against their proposal to reopen the trade in hawksbill turtle shells. Closer to home, there is a need for much greater protection of the basking shark. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) will speak about that. The basking shark is one of the most spectacular sights to be seen off the British coast. That species should be protected internationally, as action by just one Government will have little effect.

Now that we are in 2000, we should be moving forward on worldwide protection issues, not fighting a rearguard action to maintain protection for animals such as turtles and whales. I have strong hopes that representatives of our Government will be in the

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forefront of positive moves at the CITES talks in Nairobi in April, and will recognise that any trade in ivory will lead to an increase in slaughter and the international trade. The internal trade is for countries to deal with themselves.

The debate about CITES and about trade and seizures is, in a sense, a sterile one, but we must recognise that this issue--and that of the suffering of animals, at home and abroad--raises great emotion and passion. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as it is not the only issue about which we feel passionately. It is right to be passionate about suffering, whether it happens at home or abroad, to people or to animals. While we talk dispassionately about illegal trade, customs, seizures and the tonnage of worked or raw ivory, elephants are being poached and killed. My attention was drawn this morning to a leaflet that I received from the Born Free Foundation, and I shall quote from it:

We have heard the argument that elephant numbers are very low. I am not motivated by the lowness of the numbers--in some ways, that is a red herring. What motivates me is the suffering of the elephants whose ivory is poached. Suffering and justice are crucial to the debate. The ivory trade is thousands of years old, but we know better today, and justice demands that we do much more.

10.32 am

Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) on securing the debate at exactly the appropriate time: there are just weeks to go before the next CITES discussions in east Africa. He has painted a vivid picture of the background to the debate and the problems that confront the nations that will be represented at Nairobi.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith), the hon. Gentleman concentrated on the plight of the African elephant. I turn to the plight of the Cetorhinus maximus, known to its friends--that incudes me, I hope-- as the basking shark. I shall set out the facts that make that species vulnerable, before moving on briefly to the international position and the case for its inclusion in appendix 2. I am pleased and proud that our nation is proposing inclusion. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington said that inclusion in appendix 2 was no guarantee that the species concerned would be strongly and successfully defended, but it is, at least, a first step.

Basking sharks are, without doubt, a vulnerable species and are recognised as such in the red list of threatened species drawn up by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, also known as the World Conservation Union. The sharks are protected in Great Britain, the Isle of Man, Guernsey, in the waters off New Zealand, in parts of the

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United States and in the Mediterranean sea. However, they migrate extensively and, although they may be protected in one country, are extremely vulnerable to unmanaged and unsustainable fisheries elsewhere.

Commercial fishing of fins and oil for international trade has seriously depleted shark stocks. Fins continue to increase in value as an ingredient in shark fin soup. Indeed, in China last year, one large fin was sold for the equivalent of £10,000, which suggests the economic value of the shark to those who prey on it. Sharks accidentally caught outside the limited protected waters that I mentioned earlier are much more likely to have their large fin removed than they are to be released because the fin is valued so highly. That damages the shark population and is immensely wasteful as killing sharks for fins results in meat being discarded in the ocean.

If unrestricted and unregulated fishing continues, basking shark numbers will probably decrease to a point at which local extinction is highly likely. Most documented basking shark fisheries have collapsed after relatively short periods of exploitation. Reports on the species show a consistent pattern of rapid decline followed by a long period of low population numbers in the past 50 years or so. Indeed, that phenomenon is observed in other large shark populations in many parts of the world, including Europe, north America, Japan and China.

Basking sharks are especially vulnerable to targeted fisheries because they grow slowly, mature late, and bear few young after a long gestation. Estimates show that, at best, the basking shark population may grow by 1 to 2 per cent. per annum. We should consider that carefully, as experience shows that some basking shark populations have not recovered decades after being exploitatively fished. I hope that the member nations of CITES in Nairobi will consider that carefully.

I am delighted that our Government have proposed that the basking shark be listed in appendix 2. Indeed, they have done some active lobbying and, with the support of the wildlife and countryside link, distributed leaflets to all CITES secretariats. I am sure that hon. Members will wish to join me in congratulating them on that.

The proposal is strong and environmentally attractive and undoubtedly appeals to us in the Chamber. However, those states that are adamantly against any form of marine fish listing are sure to oppose it in Nairobi, along with their camp followers. Those countries--in the main, Norway and Japan--will argue that no marine fish should be listed until all the marine fish listings have been reviewed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and National Resources, CITES and the Food and Agriculture Organisation. They will argue that the FAO plan of action for shark conservation and management will give sharks sufficient protection.

Our Government are aware of that and the International Fund for Animal Welfare has discussed the issue with the Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is extremely worried about the matter. My hon. Friend is not optimistic that the necessary two thirds majority for the proposal will be achieved. It will be a struggle; the Minister has a good understanding of related issues and

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his colleague is especially well placed to handle the negotiations and campaigning on the issue. That is not intended as a criticism of the Minister who is responsible for aviation and countryside access and a rich, wide and astonishing variety of other matters. I hope that my hon. Friend the Fisheries Minister can be encouraged to attend the conference in a few weeks' time.

There are two ways to combat the argument that will be advanced by Norway and Japan, who will oppose the inclusion of the basking shark in appendix 2. They should be told, first, that sharks are not marine fish in the commonly understood definition of that species. A classic example is that of the cod, with its huge reproductive potential; there are other, similar species. The biology and life history of sharks have far more in common with cetaceans; shark populations are slower to recover from harvesting than whales and they are, therefore, much more vulnerable to unregulated exploitation. A significant drop in the numbers of sharks will always be worrying, whatever the outcome of criteria reviews.

Secondly--this matter should be tackled head on--it should be stated that the FAO international plan of action on sharks is a wholly voluntary and untried management tool. It will never carry as much weight as CITES, an established agreement on international trade in species, which is far more appropriate as the monitoring tool for the basking shark. How will the Government counter the arguments that Norway and Japan put before CITES? The nations in Nairobi next month should support the Government's proposal that basking sharks should meet the criteria listed in conference resolution 924, which states:

A CITES listing would help to monitor the numbers of sharks that are harvested after accidental capture and could help to regulate their significant and sad mortality. It would encourage the introduction of effective fisheries management and research to ensure that future catches are sustainable. Finally, it would help parties to meet the recommendations of the FAO's newly agreed plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks.

I am confident that a strong case can be made for the listing of the basking shark in appendix 2. I am even more confident that the Fisheries Minister should be encouraged to blank out three or four days of his diary, which is not insignificant for a busy Minister, for something that is crucial to the future of the basking shark. The mental image of a basking shark is of a

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Conservative Member bathing off the south coast of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper). Conservative Members are, of course, an endangered species, but the threat to the basking shark is much more serious. I urge the Minister to take these points on board, and discuss them with his hon. Friend the Fisheries Minister as quickly as possible and obtain tickets tomorrow for the flight to Nairobi.

10.45 am

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): I am pleased to be able to contribute briefly. I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) on securing the debate, during which he has eloquently and comprehensively outlined the predicament of elephants and the general issues relating to the CITES conference in Nairobi next month. The timing is appropriate, not only because of the imminence of the CITES conference--I believe that it is the 11th convention of the parties--but because of last night's Second Reading debate on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. This should tell us that, however admirable the attempts by Governments to secure protection for wildlife and conserve their natural resources, ultimately it remains a matter for international negotiation and agreement. The CITES conference is a classic example of the way in which Governments, if they have the political will, can work together to secure international agreement.

When something scandalous, disgraceful or disturbing happens in another country, for whatever reason, there is always a risk of our thinking that our Government should automatically respond. I am as conscious as any other hon. Member that there are limits to the powers of individual Governments. However, on the trade in ivory, the shells of hawksbill turtles or whale meat, our Government can make a difference, depending on the position that they adopt or persuade our European Union partners to adopt at the CITES conference. I want to put one or two powerful arguments for taking a strong line at the conference.

In recent years there has been a huge increase in public interest in matters of animal welfare, the conservation of natural resources and biodiversity. There are now more members of animal welfare and conservation groups than of all the political parties together. There are more members of conservation groups than of trade unions and certainly more than there are active churchgoers. The animal welfare conservation lobby is becoming increasingly powerful, and is especially influential among young people. I wish to draw attention to our on-going concerns about the involvement of young people in the political process, the apparently growing alienation of young people from the process and their cynicism about politics and what it can and cannot achieve. The Nairobi conference presents an ideal opportunity for the Government to reconnect with young voters and show them that they share an interest that is dear to their hearts by taking firm action on the international trade in animals.

The ban on, and close regulation of, this international trade is crucial for maintaining biodiversity. In last night's Second Reading debate on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill, there was a brief but interesting reference to the status of the United Kingdom's biodiversity action plan and whether it should have full

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legal status. CITES is an international convention that does have legal powers. It is critical that we use that status to maintain global biodiversity. I argue that on not only the abstract ground that it is important to maintain a wide variety of species, but because the maintenance of a wide variety of species is crucial to the fragile ecology on which we all depend. The environment that supports that wide variety of species is the same as that in which human beings exist.

I do not necessarily accept that western countries should tell people in other parts of the world how to conduct their business and trade. On some occasions, there is a tendency to a form of neo-imperialism; we can be accused of lecturing countries and peoples who have earned their living and constructed their economies for many years through the trade in animals. Nevertheless, we must engage in constructive argument with them. We must raise their awareness of the wider global implications of the threats to biodiversity posed by some of the traditional economic practices. I urge the Government to use their influence with the European Union to take a strong line on any attempts to downgrade particular animals from appendix 1 to appendix 2. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take on board very carefully the representations that have been made by all hon. Members.

10.51 am

Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) on securing the debate. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) on the early-day motion on the ivory trade, which has secured the support of a number of hon. Members across the parties. I hope also that my hon. Friend the Minister will take note of the number of Labour Members who want to take part in today's debate; it is a sign of our strong feeling, which is shared throughout the House. The information that has been provided by organisations such as the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, the Environment Information Agency, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Wildlife and Countryside Link and the Born Free Foundation has been of a high quality. It has ensured that we are all better informed about these vital issues.

I hope that the Ministers will take note of the comments that have been made about the importance of CITES for a number of species. I endorse the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) about the importance of having a ministerial presence at CITES. I have already written to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment, suggesting that he might find time to attend, but following the events yesterday, I suspect that he will be busy on more domestic matters over the next few weeks.

In view of the important role played by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food at the international whaling convention a year or so ago, perhaps he might find time to attend. I suggest that not for the reason that my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire has given, but because if the vote goes the wrong way on certain proposals on whaling, it could severely affect the balance that exists between CITES and the international whaling convention. The

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internaitonal whaling convention is recognised as the governing body for whaling matters and some of the proposals from Japan and Norway could upset that balance. My hon. Friend the Fisheries Minister is well respected internationally and he would have a valuable contribution to make to those discussions.

A number of species have been referred to. With the exception of the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker), I am the only Member with a coastal constituency. I shall perhaps concentrate on Eretmochelys imbricata, the Cuban hawksbill turtle, which is not native to the Sussex coast, as far as we know. One of the problems with the proposal to downlist the Cuban hawksbill turtle to appendix 2 is that its migratory habits are not fully known. I do not think that it has been sighted off the coast of Newhaven or Brighton, but anything is possible. Doubts exist about its habits, which is one reason why it should not be downlisted as Cuba proposes.

Many of us are worried about the way in which alliances have been formed on a number of separate issues in the run-up to the talks. Clearly, Japan and Norway have used their influence in terms of trade agreements and support through aid to try to ensure that their proposals on whaling receive support. We do not know what discussions the Cuban Government may have had with those countries to stitch up a deal on whaling, which might include the downlisting of the hawksbill turtle.

Why is the hawksbill turtle so important? It is the smallest of the six species of marine turtles and is currently on the CITES appendix 1 listing. It is also listed as critically endangered on the red list of threatened animals. The threats to it include illegal trade in its shells, harvesting of eggs, loss of habitat and entanglement in nets. Globally, the species has declined by 80 per cent. in the past 60 years, and approximately half the nesting population is known or suspected to be in decline. The best estimate of the sexual maturity of hawksbills is 20 to 40 years. Only one egg in 500 to 1,000 is likely to survive to adulthood. The species suffers from high early mortality, and its delayed maturity requires large populations to maintain a small but stable adult population.

The danger of removing mature animals from a slowly declining population is severe, although the consequences may not be visible for decades. Decisions taken in a month's time--even though they can be reversed in three years at the next CITES conference--could have severe repercussions. The hawksbills play a critical role in coral reef conservation. Their diet of toxic and armoured sponges creates gaps for the settlement of reef-building species and provides foraging access for fish that cannot penetrate the sponge's armour. It is not only the turtles that are at risk but the ecological system in which they live.

I hope that the parties to the convention, and certainly the EU delegation, will be persuaded by a strong line taken by the United Kingdom Government and representatives on this issue. If the threat to the species were not enough to convince people of the need to retain the appendix 1 listing, the Chamber should be aware of the description given by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of the method used to slaughter the hawksbill turtle. Turtles are difficult to kill humanely--certain drugs are recommended, but

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even with the correct lethal dose and administration the animal can take many hours to die. That is especially true if pentobarbitone sodium is used. In practice, it is likely that the animals will have their shells ripped off while still alive--which I hope that all hon. Members would agree is totally unacceptable--or be decapitated. The only way in which that method can be slightly improved is by administering drugs beforehand and pithing the brain and the spinal cord after decapitation. It is doubted whether turtle poachers would take the time to use even this partly humane method.

There is a strong case for the standpoint of our delegation and the Government can influence it. If there were more time I would have argued the case for Tersiops truncatus ponticus--the Black sea bottlenose dolphin. My interest in dolphins dates back to when I worked with what became the Born Free Foundation to ensure the return to the wild of the dolphins that were once on display in the Brighton dolphinarium. Times have changed, I am pleased to say, and in this country we now think differently about those creatures. Perhaps other hon. Members will talk further about the risks to that species.

Thank you for calling me to speak in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the Minister will have much food for thought as a result of it.

11 am

Mrs. Helen Brinton (Peterborough): I also congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) on securing this important debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to add my voice to all those hon. Members who are attempting to influence the outcome of the CITES talks next month.

We have heard some effective and passionate speeches--for example, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith), whose interest in these matters was sparked off by a fascination for elephant ears when she was at school. I am sure that her teachers must feel proud of what she is doing now. We have also heard the passionate speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper), whose work is well known. His description of the death of the turtle--I do not know the Latin name--should be enough to convince us, if we need any more convincing, that this terrible practice has to be stopped.

Labour Members are not criticising the United Kingdom Government staff, but seeking to strengthen commitments by a display of Back-Bencher opinion. I hope that the debate will be reported nationally and internationally. Only 11 hon. Members may be present today, but interest in this matter is increasing--both within and outside the House of Commons. A total of 125 Members from all parties have so far signed early-day motion 342, which relates to the ivory trade.

At the talks, the UK voice will be heard throughout the European Union, so it is vital that our representatives at Nairobi should ensure a united front in line with the best European Union traditions. In 1997, the EU regulations on wildlife trade were enthusiastically welcomed by key organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature. Unsurprisingly, implementation is much more difficult in certain member states.

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This good and encouraging news is in complete contrast to the EU position adopted at the last conference of the parties to CITES, in which the EU disgraced itself by abstaining on a crucial vote, which would have transferred certain elephant populations from appendix 1, thereby allowing and promoting the sale of nearly 60 tonnes of raw ivory from elephant populations in Botswana, Namibia and, as we have heard today, Zimbabwe. South Africa has now joined those countries to propose yet further obscene sales of ivory, while Kenya and India propose a total ban by listing all elephant populations in appendix 1.

I am delighted to join my colleagues of all parties in urging the Minister to persuade the EU to support the Indian and Kenyan position. I hope that he will find time, notwithstanding his busy diary, to attend the conference for those four days, as he has been urged to do today. I understand that the Indian and Kenyan position was generally supported at a recent meeting of 21 elephant range states.

As we have heard, the other major proposed downlistings concern whales, and my hon. Friend the Member for Pavilion has talked passionately about the basking whale. Japan and Norway are behind the proposals to remove protected status from certain whale populations. Japan in particular has exploited legal exceptions to continue whaling for so-called scientific purposes. It also wants to sever the links between CITES and the International Whaling Commission, the recognised body for the conservation and management of whales stocks and the regulation of whaling activities. Even worse, Japan is in effect using aid to bribe smaller and developing countries to support its position at the talks. If those moves are successful, other countries, such as Russia and Iceland, are likely to resume whaling.

As time is tight and we are looking forward to hearing the Minister's response, I shall cut short my remarks and end on this point. We must use the instruments and organisations that we have to tackle the most pressing issues. The preservation of whales and elephants is just such an issue, and I urge the Minister to give it his most forceful consideration.

11.5 am

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) not just, in conventional terms, on securing the debate but also on what he said. He not only gave us a fascinating and important history of the operation of CITES since its formation and of other protection measures, but gave a compelling analysis of the problems that the Government face and, in particular, revealed that they are in the throes of betraying their pre-election promise, which he read out.

I hope that the multi-portfolioed and multi-talented Minister, as we have discovered him to be in the past 24 hours or so, will be able to explain what the Government's position will be and how that squares with what they promised before the election. He will recognise the importance not only of the intrinsic issues but of the tone that the Government adopt.

I agree with the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), who used the phrase "neo-imperialism". There are two great dangers in the debate. The first is that the House thinks that it should urge the

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Government to find a solution to problems that essentially belong to other countries; the second, more serious, danger is that this country will adopt a tone of imperialism or moral superiority. The Government should avoid such a tone, simply because it will be less effective in the long run in obtaining the animal and species protection that Members on both sides of the House want.

I hope that the Government will continue many of the CITES policies that the UK has adopted for a number of years. The Minister will be aware that at the 1992 CITES conference the previous Government were instrumental in persuading many other countries to maintain the ban on the sale of ivory. There was then, as there is today, a group of countries that wished to change the situation and the UK was successful in persuading them not to do so. Similarly, under the previous Government the UK supported the decision to stamp out the illegal trade in rhino horn and tiger parts. We welcome the Government's recent initiatives to give the remaining tiger population extra protection. To revert to the subject that has dominated most of our debate this morning--the protection of elephants--the previous Government contributed considerable sums of taxpayers' money to elephant conservation projects.

Clearly, what is of most interest today is the forthcoming Nairobi conference. There is a great disparity between what, on paper, appears to be a good and efficient regime and what is actually happening, so how does the Minister propose to help CITES enforce its own rules? Even if Kenya and India are successful in their bid to maintain the bans on trade in appendix 1, countries can seek a reservation allowing them to continue with ivory sales. Under existing CITES rules, proceeds from ivory sales must be spent on elephant conservation. For countries such as Zimbabwe, which faces a worrying political position and considerable economic hardship, funding for such essential conservation work is not easily come by. None of us would want the position on conservation to become even worse than it is. I therefore accept that the Minister's position is not easy.

The most worrying aspect of the debate about the sale of ivory concerns its direct effect on the level of illegal poaching. The position was rather bad in the 1970s, became extremely bad in the 1980s and improved slightly after international limits were imposed, but the thrust of evidence shows that it is now worsening again. We can only conclude that the new monitoring system--the MIKE system mentioned by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington--and the related elephant trade information system are not yet effective. Until they are effective and generate information leading to enforcement, parties to CITES will not be able to take appropriate remedial action.

The interim system is not adequate to perform the systematic role that the long-term monitoring system is expected to have and which was proposed by the 10th conference of parties to CITES. Indeed, the parties have not yet agreed the thresholds and precautionary criteria needed to trigger remedial action. So the Minister, along with fellow Ministers attending the Nairobi meeting, is in a rather dangerous position. I echo suggestions that having a ministerial presence in Nairobi would be symbolically significant for this country, but I accept that the Minister and I will discuss wildlife protection in

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a more domestic forum during the period in which the conference takes place. However, I accept what hon. Members on all sides of the House have said about the expertise in such matters demonstrated by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Long-term enforcement is the key to a return to a gradual improvement in the condition of elephants and an increase in the number that can thrive and survive in the wild. Clearly, that will be one of the most important issues to be considered at Nairobi. However, as hon. Members have said, the elephant will not be the only species to be affected by ministerial decisions at Nairobi.

The whale population is another matter of deep concern; the World Wide Fund for Nature regards the position on whaling as the most important decision to be taken at Nairobi. I have some sympathy with that view. We know how strongly Norway and Japan feel about the matter and that they are trying to assemble a coalition to relax the proposals on whaling. That would be damaging and I urge the Government to stand firm. No country should move back to damaging large-scale commercial whaling and countries that follow the lead of Norway and Japan are likely to have even fewer domestic controls than those two countries, so the situation may become worse than it was before.

The World Wide Fund for Nature rightly said that there is no information on proposals for domestic controls in any other potential whaling nations. Any country that started taking whales in international waters, whether or not that country was a member of the IWC, could issue itself with an introduction from the sea certificate, or a state ship could transport its catch directly to an importing country under such a certificate and bypass the international security arrangements currently in place. That would be an extremely dangerous development that would make the position more damaging than it was before. Any attempt to introduce annotations to the proposals, such as zero quota for commercial whaling purposes, would create a major loophole because, under the CITES terms, a party that is also a party to the international convention on the regulation of whaling, which includes Norway and Japan, would be exempt from CITES restrictions for whale species listed in appendix 2; thus, a zero quota would be inoperative, and there would not be an adequate safeguard. As in so many international agreements on whaling, the devil may be in the detail and I urge the Government to stand firm on the issue.

The Government will also have to answer to the House and to CITES on our domestic record. Last October it was reported that the Government were permitting illegal wildlife trade in some of our overseas territories in the Caribbean. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell the Chamber what action the Government have taken since then.

On a final note of optimism in a debate that, rightly, has mostly been pessimistic, it is a pleasure to read newspaper headlines such as "Tigers surge back from the brink", showing that the action taken on tigers in the past few years is working. I hope that the Minister will take that as inspiration. Some international agreements

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can achieve their objectives. Positions are not irreversible and any decent action that he can take will be worth while.

11.19 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin ): The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) made a powerful speech and asked some sensible questions. I say to him, gently, that it would be helpful to know in advance what is on his mind. My office attempted to contact him last Thursday, again on Friday and again yesterday, but we succeeded in establishing contact only when I passed him a note during the debate on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill yesterday. The title of his debate is wide-ranging, but his speech was specific. If detailed answers are required, it helps to give as much notice as possible.

Mr. Brake : I apologise for not giving the Minister more advance notice. It was not intentional; I am not trying to catch him out in any way. I would welcome a written response from the Minister in the near future.

Mr. Mullin : I am grateful. I shall certainly follow up in writing any outstanding matters from today's debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) said that we had to be wary of becoming neo-imperialists lecturing poor countries on animal welfare issues when there is sometimes a mote in our own eye. His point was taken up by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green). I agree: there are some motes in our own eye. I am a member of Compassion in World Farming, which takes an interest in factory farming in this country. Many questions certainly need to be answered about the way in which we treat animals. However, a debate about that is for another day, and perhaps another Minister.

The CITES conference in April will consider more than 100 proposals, ranging from technical issues such as how the convention should treat operations that ranch and harvest animals, to high-profile proposals involving elephants, whales, turtles and sharks. I shall not go into great detail, but we shall be majoring on three issues: the listing of the basking shark; a paper on bush meat; and, together with colleagues in Germany and Switzerland, a proposal on DNA, which will help to preserve biodiversity sources by speeding up the diagnosis and treatment of wildlife disease.

Let me first deal with elephants, which the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington spoke about in his opening speech. He asked why the UK and other EU states abstained in the 1997 vote. We did so after securing significant safeguards, including the new monitoring system and agreement on a mechanism, however inadequate, to return elephants to appendix 1 if there were signs of increased poaching. The system now in place in Japan to monitor trade in ivory is, I am advised, the most comprehensive in the world. I will, however, reflect further on the hon. Gentleman's points about it.

We shall oppose all proposals to open up the trade in ivory, and will continue to do so until the monitoring system, which we worked so hard to achieve, provides

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proper results. I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's points but, as I said, the monitoring system is the most extensive and comprehensive ever developed and should continue to be supported.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether we accepted that elephant poaching in Kenya had risen. We accept that there has been a small increase in poaching incidents this year. The figures are lower than in 1993--but only just--and are a long way short of the terrible situation in the 1980s. We also accept the view of the CITES secretariat that the increase is not statistically significant, and that there is no evidence to link it to the experimental one-off sale in ivory. Our knowledge of poaching in Kenya is based on information supplied to CITES by the Kenya Wildlife Service. To put the figures in context, the 1999 elephant population in Kenya was approximately 28,000. In the 1980s, about 2,000 a year were killed. According to figures given to us, 57 have been killed so far this year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Angela Smith) quoted the Born Free Foundation. I understand that the CITES secretariat has written to complain about the statistics quoted on the Born Free website. Members of the secretariat reviewed all available information and visited Kenya to follow up reports of increased poaching, and they consider the figures to be a gross distortion of the true picture. The Save the Elephants report stresses the importance of not exaggerating the amount of poaching that is taking place because doing so can help to fuel demand.

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington referred to what he called the terror in Zimbabwe. I cannot quite subscribe to that because one must be careful about commenting on another country's internal political situation. However, the vigorous political debate that is taking place in that country recently resulted in its Government losing in a referendum, so all the signs are that freedom of speech and thought are still alive and well in Zimbabwe, whatever other problems it faces.

I was asked whether we shall send a Minister to the CITES conference. I do not think that there were any votes for my attending. For reasons that I understand perfectly, my hon. Friend the Fisheries Minister has been mentioned frequently. As far as I know, there are no plans for a Minister to attend the conference: Ministers do not usually attend CITES conferences. However, strong representations have been made and I shall draw them to my hon. Friend's attention.

Mr. Norman Baker (Lewes): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Mullin : No. I have only four minutes left and I want to comment on a couple of other subjects.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Lepper) referred to turtles. We have already made clear our objection to the Cuban proposal to harvest hawksbill turtles for Japan. However, there are mixed views within the EU on a secondary proposal to allow a one-off sale of stockpiled shells. Cuba devotes significant resources to managing its fishery. Its protection of nesting sites and breeding areas has resulted in increases in the local hawksbill population. However, although we are

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supportive of Cuban efforts to improve the conservation status of the species, we are aware that their biology remains complex. They range widely, and Cuba has yet to produce convincing evidence that its proposals will not have an impact on turtle populations elsewhere in the Caribbean. Our feeling is that there should be no international trade in hawksbill products other than as part of a wider initiative, possibly under the convention on migratory species, to protect nesting sites and breeding areas and to tackle accidental by-catch.

My hon. Friends the Members for Basildon and for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) spoke about whales. There is agreement among EU countries to oppose Norwegian and Japanese proposals to allow international trade in minke and grey whales. We also oppose proposals to change the existing relationship between the CITES convention and the International Whaling Commission. Under agreements that they have backed since the early days, CITES parties have accepted that the IWC should be the lead body in determining issues relating to whaling. CITES has long respected the moratorium on catching whales by putting great whales in appendix 1 of the convention, thereby preventing international trade in whales and their products. We see no reason to change that, and we shall continue to work hard to persuade the CITES parties that are unfamiliar with the IWC that opposition to the proposals is the only way of preventing an upsurge in commercial whaling.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) mentioned basking sharks. He will be glad to hear that the United Kingdom has proposed to list the basking shark in appendix 2, which would regulate the worldwide trade in the sharks.

I have only one minute left before I turn into the Minister responsible for aviation but, before doing so, I will say something about elephants. We and other EU states are disappointed that several African countries submitted proposals that may have a further impact on the conservation status of elephants. We have urged those countries to withdraw their proposals until monitoring and control systems have had time to bed down and produce meaningful results. There are encouraging signs that some countries are preparing to withdraw their proposals.

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