Shark Fins Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:32 pm on 15 July 2022.

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Second Reading

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath 12:35, 15 July 2022

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I welcome the new Minister, Steve Double, to his place. Having recently spent about six weeks with him in Committee, where he was absolutely superb, I am sure he will be just as successful in his new role as he was in his old role. I thank all Members across the House for their support. I thank the Clerks, civil servants, officials, parliamentary counsel, the Whips—nobody ever thanks the Whips—and my staff. I am delighted to promote this Bill.

I will start by explaining why a ban on the import and export of detached shark fins is crucial to sharks’ long-term conservation. Sharks are truly incredible animals. They have been around for over 400 million years—long before the dinosaurs. As top predators, they tell us a huge amount about the health of our ocean and play a vital role in marine ecosystems. Many species of sharks live in UK waters, from basking sharks to blue sharks and even Greenland sharks. The basking shark is the UK’s largest fish, growing up to 11 metres long and weighing up to 7 tonnes—about the size of a double-decker bus.

These fascinating species face many threats, the greatest of which is overfishing. Out of 500 shark species, more than a quarter are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, ranging from “vulnerable” to “critically endangered”. The international fin trade is a significant driving force behind shark overfishing. Shark finning is an extraordinarily wasteful and harmful practice in which only 2% to 5% of the shark is even used. Once a shark’s fins are cut off at sea, the shark is tossed back into the water to slowly drown. Researchers have found that at least 73 million sharks would have to be killed every year to match the volume of shark fins that are traded in the global market, which is a whopping 1 million to 2 million tonnes a year. While not all of these sharks would have been killed through the shark finning practices, it is likely the fin trade is a significant driving force behind those numbers.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing forward such an amazing Bill; I would love to be in her position. When reading up in advance of this debate I discovered that I had not realised the extent to which European countries are involved in facilitating this trade. The market is in Asia, but Portugal, Netherlands, France, Italy and, in particular, Spain are significant players in supplying that market. Does she agree that we should absolutely not countenance that?

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath

My hon. Friend has always been a doughty champion for animal welfare. I will come to her point later in my speech, but I agree wholeheartedly. If we can get the Bill into law, we in the UK will be the leaders in Europe in banning shark finning.

Sharks desperately need our help and protection. I am an animal lover; I have been privileged to open Westminster Hall debates about animal welfare as a member of the Petitions Committee, and it is a privilege to introduce the Bill today. I grew up near the sea. I spent most of my childhood with my granny, who lived in Porthcawl, a beautiful seaside resort in south Wales. When I was 10, I joined the junior lifeguards and became a surfer. My love and respect for the sea and the marine creatures that live in it has stayed with me throughout my life.

My close encounter with a shark about 10 years ago is typical of the many stories that I could tell about my crazy, unpredictable, funny life. One day, my wonderful daughter Angharad said, “Mum, we haven’t had a holiday since I was 10”; she was 26 at the time. I said, “Oh dear, time flies—go ahead and book one,” so Angharad booked 10 days in Australia followed by 10 days in New Zealand. It completely cleaned out my bank account; I was a poorly paid squash coach at the time and had foolishly thought that she would book a weekend in north Wales.

On the Australian leg, we stayed a couple of nights on Green Island, an absolutely beautiful and remote island off Cairns. One day, I was snorkelling in the shadows off the deserted shoreline. Angharad was standing on the rocks and keeping a lookout for stingrays, because we had been warned that they were prevalent in the waters. When I came up for air, she shouted, “Mum! Shark!” I thought, “Yeah, very funny, Angharad.” She was pointing out to sea, so I turned around—and I absolutely froze.

Swimming towards me was one of the most beautiful creatures that I have ever seen: a shark about 2 metres long, looking like a small, sleek submarine. By now, Angharad was shouting her head off, so I came out of my brain fog and ran out of the sea as fast as my little legs would carry me. We stood on the rocks and watched. We were mesmerised, absolutely gobsmacked and many, many other adjectives by how lucky we were to see that wonderful wild creature up close before it majestically swam out into the sunset. That was my encounter with a shark.

Shark finning has rightly been banned in the UK since 2003 and is illegal in many other parts of the world, but it still happens, so we must now ensure that shark fins are not being imported from places where finning practices still occur. This important and timely Bill will make it illegal to import and export detached shark fins. That will help to end practices that are forcing sharks closer to the brink of extinction. The Bill will be a significant step in helping to restore the balance of our ocean.

Clause 1 will ban the import and export of shark fins or items containing shark fins into or from the United Kingdom as a result of their entry into or removal from Great Britain. The ban applies only to fins that have been removed from the body of a shark. Clause 1 also contains a provision for exemption certificates and clarifies some key definitions. More information about the provision for exemption certificates is set out in the schedule. A very strict application process is followed whereby the appropriate authority can issue an exemption certificate only if the shark fins concerned will be used for conservation purposes. This will allow important conservation and educational activities such as improving shark identification skills to continue where needed.

The appropriate authorities for imports and exports of shark fins are the Secretary of State in England, the Scottish Ministers in Scotland and the Welsh Ministers in Wales. Where someone has deliberately provided inaccurate or incomplete information for an exemption, the appropriate authority can impose a monetary penalty of up to £3,000, which will ensure that the exemptions process is not abused. The Bill contains a power for the appropriate authority to amend the upper limit of the penalty by regulations.

It is important to note that the Bill does not ban the sale or consumption of shark fins. If a shark fin is removed from a shark after it is dead, and the shark was caught legally and sustainably, I do not see why the fin should not be used. In fact, it would be wasteful not to use the whole carcase. Banning the sale or consumption of shark fins that have been obtained ethically would disproportionately impact communities where shark fin soup is considered a traditional delicacy, and that is not what I seek to do.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend. After reading the Bill’s explanatory notes, I am aware that there is a separate exemption for individuals to import up to 20 kg of dried shark fin to the UK for personal consumption. Is that because it is about using the whole shark? I wonder whether something more could be done through the passage of the Bill to ensure that the 20 kg comes from the use of the whole shark, rather than from a shark killed only for its fins.

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that valid point. I am sure that the issue can be thrashed out in Committee, should we reach that stage. I have looked into the research and there are gaps in the data regarding how much personal usage is being allowed, but I know that Border Force does look at that.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

I am a little concerned about what has just been said about allowing importation for use—for example, in the restaurant trade—provided that it can be shown that the shark was killed for other reasons. To what extent would people be able to check that that was the case, or would they see it as a loophole, and pretend that the shark had died by other means and that they were using the whole carcase? It is odd to me that someone would kill a huge shark just for its fins, but we know that that is mostly what happens. What safeguards will there be to ensure that people do not exploit that rule?

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath

I thank my hon. Friend for her important intervention. We are both lifelong vegans, so I have thought about the issue greatly. I have never bought a tin of shark fin soup—I wouldn’t—or any other tins of soup with bits of animals in, but I am sure that where the content had come from and how it was farmed would be written on the label.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Climate Change and Net Zero)

When I raised the issue a long time ago—I think in my early years in Parliament—I received some pushback from the restaurant trade, but I also learnt that a lot of the shark fin soup sold in restaurants is not real shark fin, but because it is seen as prestigious and luxurious, restaurants did not want to admit that it was not the real thing. It was bizarre that people were consuming something that was far more ethical than they thought it was. I am therefore not quite sure whether labelling would work, because a lot of the product being sold turns out not to be shark fin. That is probably another issue to be thrashed out in Committee.

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath

I am grateful for another superb intervention from my hon. Friend, and I bow to her wisdom. Sometimes we do not get what is written on the tin.

Clause 2 amends article 1 of the shark finning regulation 1185/2003, which forms part of retained EU law, to make sure that shark finning cannot take place by any vessel fishing in UK waters, or by any UK vessel fishing in non-UK waters. That ensures that our domestic protections are of the highest standard. Clause 3 sets out the territorial extent of the Bill and when or how each provision comes into force. As the Bill relates to devolved matters, legislative consent will be sought from the devolved Administrations during the passage of the Bill, but I understand that they are supportive of taking action against the cruel and unsustainable shark fin trade.

I would like to thank stakeholders and colleagues who have contacted me on this important matter, particularly members of Shark Guardian and Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation, who have been instrumental in throwing a spotlight on the issue of shark finning for many years—some of them are watching from the Gallery today. Since 2004, Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation has been at the forefront of successful campaigns to end the sale and consumption of shark fins and shark products in Britain. In recent years it launched its “No Fin To Declare” campaign—I love the name—exposing Britain’s contributions to the global shark fin trade. The charity argues that a decision to ban all import and exports of detached shark fins will establish Britain as a global leader in the conservation of sharks and, ultimately, inspire other countries to introduce their own bans and join the UK in the protection of this keystone marine species.

In 2021, Shark Guardian, a charity based in Nottingham, launched a petition on Parliament’s website to ban the British shark fin trade, which secured more than 115,000 signatures, showing the depth of support for my Bill among a passionate and caring British public. Shark Guardian believes that if my Bill is passed into law, that will have a huge and positive knock-on effect on the continent, because the European Union will have to take note of our legislation, and take steps to pass a similar EU law to ban the import and export of shark fin through its borders too, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East mentioned. That is important because Spain is by far the single biggest exporter of frozen shark fins to Hong Kong, a city that has, for many years, been the epicentre of this cruel and unsustainable trade. If the supply chain to Hong Kong, and, by extension to China, can be cut, global shark populations that are threatened with extinction today can be offered a new lease of hope tomorrow.

This Bill is crucial to ensuring the long-term survival and recovery of vital shark populations. It is an important step for the UK to demonstrate its leadership and commitment to shark conservation. I therefore urge all Members to support the smooth passage of the Bill through this House and onto the statute book.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Darren Henry Darren Henry Conservative, Broxtowe 12:53, 15 July 2022

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank Christina Rees for introducing this Bill. As a Nottinghamshire MP, I am glad she was able to mention Shark Guardian, as that organisation in Nottinghamshire has done so well. Out of more than 500 species of shark that we have worldwide, 143 are listed as under threat by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with the different species ranging from those that are considered “vulnerable” to those that are “critically endangered”. As she alluded to, sharks are on top of the natural marine food chain because of their limited number of natural predators. Their importance to marine ecosystems cannot be overestimated, so I am very happy to see this Bill today.

Sharks are often characterised in film and media as aggressive. The films we show our kids, such as “Finding Nemo” and “Shark Tale,” add to this characterisation but, by nature, sharks are not natural predators of humans. They are far more likely to ensure that they do not come into contact with us, rather than to attack, so education is key.

Education about sharks is crucial to ensuring a more universal effort to protect them and to prevent a further threat of extinction. As with most industries, the supply of shark fins is driven by demand. By banning the importation and exportation of detached shark fins, we will ensure that demand is lowered and that more species of endangered sharks are protected. The Government published their action plan for animal welfare in May 2021, but we must go further. Protecting animals from extinction is vital, and this Bill is a fantastic first step towards ensuring that animal welfare and animal protection are made a priority.

Photo of Jill Mortimer Jill Mortimer Conservative, Hartlepool 12:56, 15 July 2022

I congratulate Christina Rees on her Bill.

Hartlepool is a coastal community, and we take seriously our role as custodians of the sea. We know all too well the importance of marine conservation. The crustacean deaths along our coastline in recent months have destabilised our ecosystem and broken livelihoods. I continue to work with Stan Rennie and other members of my fishing community, which has fished ethically for generations to conserve the fish populations in our waters. They are true custodians of the stocks and caring farmers of the sea.

We know that ecosystems are very finely balanced and fragile. Driving entire species into extinction has dire consequences for biodiversity and the health of our planet. Sharks, in particular, are a key indicator of ocean health, and they play a vital role in marine ecosystems by helping to maintain healthy levels of fish in the food chain. This delicate balance has been disrupted by the shark fin trade and unsustainable fishing levels.

Regrettably, as we heard from my hon. Friend Darren Henry, the International Union for Conservation of Nature now considers 143 species of shark to be under threat, ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered. Banning detached shark fins from being brought into the UK will help to protect wild shark populations, which is why I support this Bill.

Shark finning is a uniquely cruel practice, whereby a shark’s fin is sliced off while the shark is still alive—the rest of the body is discarded. The UK does not support this cruel trade, and it is rightly banned in our waters. By supporting this Bill, the Government will send out a clear message to those countries that do support it, and again I thank the hon. Member for Neath for pointing out that our European neighbour, Spain, is one of the main perpetrators of this practice. We have a proud record on animal welfare and environmental sustainability, often well in advance of EU regulations, and this Bill will strengthen that record further. I share her hope that, where we lead, Europe follows.

We are a global leader in maritime protection, and our Blue Belt programme protects an area of ocean the size of India around our British overseas territories. We also lead a global campaign, supported by more than 80 countries, for at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans to be protected by 2030. We also continue to champion shark conservation measures, the regional fisheries management organisations and the convention on international trade in endangered species, which requires such trade to be carefully regulated or prohibited altogether.

I hope this Bill will be the first of many measures to protect shark populations worldwide, and I have no doubt that we will continue to work with our partners abroad to eradicate this cruel practice and all trades that show blatant disregard for animal welfare and the protection of fragile ecosystems.

Photo of Mark Eastwood Mark Eastwood Conservative, Dewsbury 12:59, 15 July 2022

I congratulate Christina Rees on introducing the Bill. I have to say I do not profess to know an awful lot about sharks, but I was interested to hear about her holiday experience and encounter with a shark. I hope not to have the same encounter in the future.

Obviously, this is an important Bill. To learn some of the background to the shark fin debate, I did some research. As the hon. Lady said, sharks are older than dinosaurs, which means they are also older than Members who reside in the other House. Sharks grow up to 50,000 teeth in their lifetime. Let us hope they do not need access to an NHS dentist, because we know how problematic that can be. Sharks have the thickest skin of any animal species, and it feels like sandpaper. As an ex-sales person and someone who has probably had a bit too much time in the sun, I can appreciate how sharks feel.

Sharks can be found in all oceans and they can only swim forwards. I am bringing out some interesting facts, although I do not have the expert knowledge of my hon. Friend Darren Henry on this subject. Shark’s teeth are not used for chewing—they are for snapping, crushing and maiming prey, which makes them sound like ideal candidates for Chief Whip in this House.

I have come across a number of shark facts. Shark attacks are extremely rare. It is more likely that we will kill sharks—100 million sharks are killed a year, but only four people are killed by a shark each year. That means that we kill 25 million more sharks than sharks kill us, and it is not acceptable.

I was hoping to talk about prehistoric shark fossils in today’s debate, but I’m afraid I struggled to find any ancient sharkefacts—[Interruption.] I appreciate the groans on that one. I was hoping to tell a long line of dad jokes today. Sharks can be dangerous. I know that they are gentle, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe suggested. They can attack, but it is a rare occurrence. Reports of attacks are more frequent in the Atlantic than the Pacific. That is because people who reside in the Atlantic areas tend to have greater access to the internet. It does not mean to say that there are more attacks; it is just that there are more reported attacks. In 2018, the United States led the world, with the highest number of reported shark attacks, according to ISAF, the international shark attack file. Within the continental United States, more shark-human incidents occurred in the Atlantic ocean. Only four attacks were reported in the Pacific, compared with 27 in the Atlantic. That is because people have the technology.

The distribution of the 108 authenticated unprovoked shark attacks among victim groups is: divers 50, surfers 41, swimmers 12 and kayakers five. It is a rare thing to happen. However, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you think that the shark-infested waters of the Atlantic are bad, try being in this place when there is a Tory leadership contest on.

On a serious note, I am here to support the Bill rather than crack some very poor dad jokes.

Photo of Jill Mortimer Jill Mortimer Conservative, Hartlepool

My hon. Friend has explained how rare shark attacks are. Does he agree that not all species of shark carry out attacks? The most likely sharks to attack are the tiger shark and the all too well known great white.

I too have had a shark encounter. I was snorkelling with a friend one day when I saw a small reef shark wedged under some coral below me. I did not know whether this was true at that point—although it had always been one of those pub facts that we all know—but I believed that, if sharks did not swim, they could not breathe, because they have to drive water through their gills to do that. So I looked up and said to my friend that there was a shark and that it was going to die, at which point he turned and swam very quickly to shore. I went down, pulled the shark from the reef and swam with it a little while. It was almost dead—it was very flaccid—but then it suddenly clicked to life and swam away. It was one of the most remarkable events of my life to spend that moment with that amazing creature. I did not feel in any danger and I was not in any at all.

Photo of Mark Eastwood Mark Eastwood Conservative, Dewsbury

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. Again, my knowledge of sharks is not the greatest. The only great white shark I have ever seen was in the film “Jaws”, and that was mechanical. But I take on board what my hon. Friend says.

This is an important and serious debate. Some 250 sharks are killed every day. Between 2000 and 2008, the net combined shark tonnage reported by four EU member states—the hon. Member for Neath touched on this—was higher than that reported by the world’s No. 1 shark fishing country, Indonesia. Spain, Portugal, France and the UK made up 13.4% of the tonnage figures, which is way too much. Obviously, that was when we were a member of the EU—thankfully, we have come out of it now. A Greenpeace Unearthed report published in 2019 showed that, between January 2017 and July 2019, the UK exported 50 tonnes of shark fin to Spain. Again, that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Neath. That figure included 29.7 tonnes in 2018 and 12 tonnes in the first months of 2019.

To outlaw the cruelty of finning at sea, it was decreed that sharks must be landed with their fins naturally attached, as has been mentioned. The buzzword is “retention”—returning the whole shark is a practical way to limit total shark catch.

We have also mentioned the consumption of shark for food, including shark fin soup. People actually see this wonderful animal almost as a delicacy. That means that more sharks will be killed in the future. I have not actually tried any shark dish. I am not a vegan like the hon. Member for Neath, but shark is not something that would appeal to me—I would prefer to go to my local Spinners Fisheries in Earlsheaton for haddock and chips. But I appreciate that this is going to be a problem in the near future.

In summary, I am fully supportive of the Bill. My hon. Friend Jill Mortimer mentioned that we have a proud record of animal welfare in the UK—in fact, we are in the top four countries globally in that respect. I appreciate the Bill, I fully support it and I thank all Members for listening.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Conservative, Charnwood 1:09, 15 July 2022

I pay tribute to Christina Rees. I have had the pleasure of working with her on a number of issues since I have been in the House, and it is a genuine pleasure today to have the opportunity—now that I have returned to the Back Benches—to contribute to such an important debate and to express my wholehearted support for the Bill.

It is also a real pleasure to speak in a debate to which the newly appointed Minister will respond. Until recently, my hon. Friend Steve Double was my Whip, and he managed to discharge those duties firmly but very charmingly. I am sure he will bring the same balance of charm, firmness and indeed determination to his new role, and I hope he will continue to be a Minister for many years to come. Let me add that his is an extremely good appointment in respect of this particular brief.

The hon. Lady and others have already set out the context of the Bill and the challenges with which it is intended to deal. It is a very short Bill, with only three clauses and one schedule, but it does not need to be long, because it contains in those three clauses and one schedule everything that is needed to move things forward and close this loophole.

The scale, globally, of the trade in fins has been estimated at between 16,000 and 17,000 tonnes per annum, with an estimated 97 million sharks killed annually. We know that since 2003 the landing of detached shark fins has been banned in the EU, but, as we have heard from the hon. Lady and others, that does not appear to be doing the job. As we have also heard, 143 species are under threat, and 46 species and ray are listed in CITES, the convention on international trade in endangered species.

As the hon. Lady said, these creatures are integral to the ecosystems of our oceans. They play a hugely important role in what are fragile and complex ecosystems—and our oceans’ ecosystems are crucial to the health of our planet as a whole. In January 2021, an article in Nature suggested that there had been a 71% decline in the global abundance of sharks since 1970. That is a terrifying decline in the numbers of a creature which plays such a central role in our oceans’ ecosystems. We are talking here about sharks in the context of marine ecosystems, but we should bear in mind the fact that the ecosystems of all our waters, be they oceans, seas, chalk streams or rivers, are vital to the overall health of our planet. That is why it is right that we are considering this issue today.

I am pleased that such leadership has been shown on both sides of the House in respect of animal welfare and protecting our planet. The animal welfare action plan that was published recently is hugely important, and in 2020 there was a petition debate about this very issue. I pay tribute to Shark Guardian for promoting awareness of the issue, and securing the engagement that has, I know, helped the hon. Lady’s cause.

As we have already heard, the Bill closes a loophole in banning the import and export of detached shark fins, and the fins of other cartilaginous fish such as ray, with the exception of the

“pectoral fins of a ray”.

It is well and tightly drafted, and it will do what it seeks to do. As others have said, the practice of finning, the catching of a shark, the removal of the fin and the discarding of the rest of the shark—sometimes still alive—is not only wasteful but cruel and unnecessary.

The Government have said that they do not oppose the landing of a whole shark with its fins naturally attached. I know that some would wish us to go further while others would not, but I think that the hon. Lady, with typical sense, has struck an appropriate and proportionate balance in tackling a wasteful and cruel practice while still allowing a whole shark to be landed sustainably appropriately.It strikes, as we so often need to do in this place, a difficult but necessary balance, with the various specific scientific exemptions that have been highlighted and which we would expect to see for conservation purposes.

I do not propose to detain the House longer, so I will conclude by congratulating the hon. Member for Neath on bringing forward this important Bill. She has my wholehearted support, and I wish her every success in seeing it swiftly translated on to the statue book.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Conservative, Kensington 1:15, 15 July 2022

I congratulate Christina Rees on this excellent Bill, which I wholeheartedly support. Indeed, it is another example of our Government’s policy being implemented through a private Member’s Bill from the Opposition Benches, and it shows that we truly can work on a cross-party basis.

I will talk about the specifics of the Bill, but first I want to say that animal welfare and conservation is one of the most important issues for my constituents. I asked my office to check this morning how many emails we received on it over the last year, and it was more than 1,500. I have a politically active constituency, but that is a lot of emails. They were on a broad spectrum of issues, ranging from pet smuggling to the oceans, and animal welfare is a priority of mine. I do not wish to make this overly political, but I think that we can see this as an opportunity of Brexit, as we can go a step further than the EU has gone. We can make this country the best for animal welfare standards. This is an important opportunity for us.

The hon. Member for Neath was powerful in her description of what happens when sharks are finned. They are taken out of the ocean, their fins are cut off, and they are then chucked back in alive. They essentially die from suffocation, and float to the bottom of the ocean. It is a pretty grim business. We have heard from a number of Members about the importance of sharks to our marine ecosystem, and I understand that of the 500 species of shark, 143 are currently under threat. That is pretty remarkable, and those species range all the way from “vulnerable” to “critically endangered”. There is no question but that one of the leading predators in the ocean must be important to that ecosystem. We are collectively doing the right thing, and my hon. Friend Edward Argar was correct to say that while there may be people who want us to go even further, this is the right balance.

I keep returning to what the general public think would be right, and there is no doubt in my mind that the Bill will have the support of many of my constituents. That was shown by the fact that the petition that came before Parliament in the previous year attracted 115,000 signatures. This is a major issue. The Bill has my full support, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on bringing it forward. As we go forward over the last few years of this Parliament, I would love the House to focus on more issues such as this. There is no doubt that animal conservation is important to Members of the House, and it certainly is to me.

Photo of Dean Russell Dean Russell Chair, Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art 1:19, 15 July 2022

I wanted to speak in this debate to show my support for the Bill. It is such an important Bill to get through, and I hope it will proceed rapidly.

I will not speak for too long, but I noticed this morning, when I was double-checking the speeches for today, that this week I have been listening to “Jaws” on Audible as I drive in to Parliament every day. That is probably because of my huge respect for Christina Rees, who is such an incredible campaigner and constituency MP; clearly she must have had an effect when we talked about the subject previously. I raise that not so much for humour, but because when we look at people’s assumptions about sharks, they are usually very wrong and often come from a perspective of what is in the mainstream media. Books such as “Jaws” are phenomenal, and the film was brilliant too, but they had an impact on popular culture and, rightly or wrongly, on how we view sharks.

Sharks play some incredible roles within the sea. The idea of cutting off the fin of such a beautiful creature as a way to make money, allowing it to effectively drown or die from not being able to move, is abhorrent. Never in a million years would we think it would be okay to do that to any other animal. We would not cut the legs off a sheep or cow so that we could eat just those parts, and then leave it to die in incredible pain.

These are majestic creatures who serve a role within the sea and the ecosystem. I understand that culturally there are those who eat shark fins, but this Bill will solve the issue by ensuring that that abhorrent act comes to an end. I know my colleagues have given some incredible statistics, but I will mention one that I found. I hope I am not repeating this, but it staggered me, and I had to read it a few times to check I was not wrong. If hon. Members do not mind, I will read it out so that it goes into Hansard:

“It is not known exactly how many sharks are killed or wounded each year by the practice of finning. The most recent, reliable estimate of the number of sharks killed worldwide by finning was around 97 million in 2010, within a broad range of between 63 million and 273 million. An earlier estimate put the figure at 73 million in 2006.”

If I have understood that correctly, it is an incredible number, especially if we remember that every one of those sharks is a majestic creature that has had its fins cut off and been left to drown and drop to the ocean floor, no doubt for others to come in and have a feeding frenzy.

The Bill says clearly that it will be prohibited

“to import shark fins, or things containing shark fins, into the United Kingdom as a result of their entry into Great Britain”,


“to export shark fins, or things containing shark fins, from the United Kingdom as a result of their removal from Great Britain.”

Effectively, it aims to stop the import of fins on their own and prevent this abhorrent act.

I will leave it there, but I wanted to stand for a moment and say that this is an incredibly important and humane Bill, and I know that is in line with the way the hon. Member for Neath acts and works within this place.

Photo of Ruth Jones Ruth Jones Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 1:23, 15 July 2022

I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend—my very good friend—Christina Rees, for bringing this Bill to the House and for its reaching Second Reading. This is an important issue and I congratulate her on her speech and all the work she is doing on this issue. I know that our hon. Friend Alex Sobel wishes he was able to be here to stand in my place and contribute to the debate today.

I also welcome the new Minister to his place, although I must admit that after three days of sitting opposite him, he does not feel that new any more; in fact, he is a seasoned member of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs team, but I welcome him. I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate today, even Mark Eastwood, with his terrible dad jokes. Sadly, he is no longer in his place. The tales of shark encounters have been particularly fascinating, and I thank everyone for recounting them.

I should say at the outset that the Bill has our full support, so I will not detain the House any longer than necessary. I want the Bill to become law as soon as possible. In many ways, we should not be here today. A ban was announced by Ministers almost a year ago; we are relying on a private Member’s Bill to deliver a policy set out in the Conservative party manifesto. It appears that the caretaker Government have adopted a policy of government by private Member’s Bill.

Putting that aside, let us take a moment to reflect on why we need to end our part in this barbaric practice and to remind ourselves of its impact, not only on sharks but on our planet and increasingly fragile ecosystems. I accept that human beings have an uneasy relationship with sharks. These magnificent creatures are often reduced to the much maligned mythical monsters of “Jaws”, “Deep Blue Sea” and “Sharknado”. On a lighter note, I am sure that every Member can perform the “Baby Shark” dance. I will be checking later that they know how to do it.

However, sharks are apex predators. They are ancient creatures who play a vital role in our oceans, where they balance and maintain fragile marine ecosystems. Jill Mortimer highlighted that clearly. Sharks have low reproductive rates, and overfishing has seen the number found in the open oceans plunge by 71% in half a century. Shamefully, 60% of shark species are now threatened with extinction.

We have heard that the practice of shark finning is the epitome of cruelty. Many Members have highlighted that it entails cutting off the fin while the shark is still alive and then just tossing the shark back into the sea, leaving it to die a slow and painful death from suffocation and blood loss.

Fins are used worldwide for shark fin soup, a dish often associated with wealth and celebration. The fins are used not for taste—I am reliably informed that they have no taste—but for their texture. Of the 100 million sharks killed annually at the hands of humans, 72 million are killed through finning for shark fin soup. The practice, just like rhino dehorning, is one of the most shameful and wasteful acts of animal cruelty in the name of trade still in existence in the 21st century.

The UK’s involvement in the practice goes beyond the clandestine sale of shark fins in restaurants. According to the 2019 HMRC and Traffic report, the UK imported 300 tonnes of shark fins between 2013 and 2017. According to a report of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, between 2015 and 2018 the United Kingdom reported between 2,000 and 3,000 tonnes of “marketable fin” shark species landings per year. Indeed, my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy highlighted that we are ranked fourth among EU coastal states for shark landings, behind Spain, Portugal and France.

Those import figures do not take into account the personal allowance, which allows anyone to import up to 20 kg of dried shark fins for personal consumption, as my hon. Friend Ms Brown, who has temporarily left her place, highlighted. That can equate to 500 individual fins from up to 60 individual sharks, which can make in excess of 700 bowls of shark fin soup. Under current legislation, all that is exempt from any border control declaration, so I ask the Minister to tighten that loophole as part of the Bill.

Just under a year ago, the outgoing Prime Minister announced a “world-leading” ban on what he correctly described as a “barbaric practice”. That was in line with the 2019 Conservative manifesto and the Government response to a 2020 petition to Parliament, in which they said:

“Following the end of the Transition period we will explore options consistent with World Trade Organisation rules to address the importation of shark fins from other areas, to support efforts to end illegal shark finning practices globally.”

Yet that commitment by the Prime Minister, which was widely welcomed by conservationists, campaigners, activists and people across the country, was quietly ditched, reportedly after backlash from senior Ministers worried that, as the legislation was tied up with foie gras and fur coats, the ban would be un-Conservative. I hope that the Minister will be stamping his authority on his new role and ensuring swift action in all those areas.

Today, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Neath, we have the opportunity to be leaders once again. We have now left the European Union. That limits our ability directly to influence a continent-wide ban, but a UK ban on the import and export of shark fins would set an example for our European partners to follow.

My hon. Friend’s Bill follows Canada’s lead. Canada introduced a ban on all imports and exports of shark fins not attached to a carcase, meaning both a reduction in finning overall and the easier identification of the shark species being traded. Canada is a global leader on this issue, but it is not the only one legislating and making a difference. Hawaii banned finning in 2013. Its example caused 13 other US states to follow, culminating in Florida banning the import and export of fins in September 2020. Countries such as Ecuador, Egypt and Honduras have adopted fins naturally attached policies, and Thailand has had great success with its Fin Free Thailand programme, where an extensive list of companies have banned shark fin soup, including 111 hotels, four supermarket chains and nine restaurants. India has established a ban on imports and exports, and the United Arab Emirates has become the first nation to ban all shark products. International companies such as Amazon, Fairmont Hotels and Carrefour are banning the sale of shark fin soup, and the transport of shark fins has been banned by airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, BA and Qatar Airways, and shipping companies such as Maersk, MSC and Evergreen.

It is now time to put an end to this unsustainable, unnecessary and barbaric practice. There is little economic cost associated with it, but the Bill allows us to lead the world on this issue—after all, we are global Britain now, aren’t we? The time for the Bill is now and the time for action is now. I am delighted to be here to support the Bill and to support my hon. Friend the Member for Neath.

Photo of Steve Double Steve Double The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 1:31, 15 July 2022

I congratulate Christina Rees and thank her for introducing this very important Bill. I also thank her for her very kind words at the start. I thank all hon. Members who have spoken in support of the Bill.

The Government continue to be a leading voice for the protection of sharks. Much work has been done and continues to be done in the UK and globally to ensure that we do not lose these important marine animals from the ocean. The Bill shows that positive change is happening, signifying another step in the right direction to taking meaningful action on the conservation of sharks. Yesterday marked International Shark Awareness Day, which celebrates these amazing animals. What better way to raise awareness than by introducing this Bill here today? As my hon. Friend Mark Eastwood pointed out, for many years sharks have been misunderstood and vilified—I hold Steven Spielberg personally responsible—but I am sure we have all noticed that that outdated view is fading fast and opinions are shifting.

Let us be clear: shark finning is a vile and cruel act. Shark fins are recklessly removed from living sharks at sea and their finless bodies are wastefully returned to the water. Without their fins, sharks are unable to swim through the water, which means they cannot pass oxygen through their gills and they are left to slowly drown. Shark finning is a practice that has been banned in the UK for almost 20 years. We also have a fins naturally attached policy, which means that sharks must be landed with all their fins on their bodies. We can now go even further and ban the trade in detached fins in shark fin products. This underlines our determination that shark finning must stop, wherever it takes place. The Bill has the full support of the Government and we will do all we can to assist its swift passage through both Houses and on to the statute book.

As has been said, the effects of shark finning are devastating, with impacts seen across many species, from the sleek and elegant blue sharks to the majestic gentle giants we know as basking sharks. A number of Members referred to their encounters with sharks. Thankfully, my only encounters with sharks have been in Cornish waters with basking sharks, which are wonderful creatures to behold.

We also need to make absolutely clear that we are only able to take this step through the Bill because we have left the European Union. Exercising our independent trade policy enables us to take this step and ban these products from the UK. This Bill will ban the import and export of detached shark fins into and out of Great Britain. That includes parts of fins and products made of fins. The only exception is where imports or exports will facilitate the greater conservation of sharks—for example, through education and training. There are strict processes in place to assess applications for exemption certificates to ensure that they do not undermine the overall ban.

I will clarify one point that has been raised a few times in the debate. To be absolutely clear: this Bill bans the import and export of all detached shark fins. There is no exemption in the Bill for a personal allowance of 20 kg. That was allowed previously, but it is being removed through the Bill. The only exemption, as I have referred to, is for conservation or research.

I briefly highlight that, like my hon. Friend Jill Mortimer, I represent a coastal community—in fact, I have the pleasure of representing two coasts. We take incredibly seriously our responsibility to protect our seas and coastline. I pay tribute to the many organisations in my constituency and across Cornwall that play a vital part in keeping our beaches clean, tidying up our seas and protecting them. They include the Newquay Marine Group, Newquay Beach Care, the Three Bays Wildlife Group, the St Austell Tidy Up Team, Friends of Par Beach and Final Straw Cornwall, among many others. They do an incredible job of raising awareness and mobilising volunteers to keep our beaches and seas clean and protected.

There are also organisations that work across Cornwall and further afield, such as Fathoms Free, the amazing Beach Guardians led by Emily Stevenson, and of course Surfers Against Sewage, which I have had the pleasure of working with over many years. They all play an absolutely vital part and we should pay tribute to them and to the many others across the whole country who take such matters seriously.

Shark finning is a cruel and wasteful practice. This Bill will be a significant step in demonstrating the UK’s global leadership in shark conservation, animal welfare and protecting our natural environment. I thank the hon. Member for Neath again for introducing the Bill and I look forward to doing all I can to see it on to the statute book as swiftly as possible.

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Labour/Co-operative, Neath 1:37, 15 July 2022

With the leave of the House, I am grateful and privileged to have cross-party support for the Bill. All hon. Members made important points. Darren Henry said that we must protect animals from extinction—definitely. I loved the story of how Jill Mortimer rescued the shark, which tops mine. It is wonderful that she saved it. The ex-salesperson, Mark Eastwood, brought so much humour to the debate. If the Bill gets to Committee, he ought to be a member, so he can entertain us all the way through.

Edward Argar, who is my friend in many ways, highlighted that this is a small and perfectly formed Bill. He said that it does not need any more and that it strikes a balance. I am grateful for his comments. Felicity Buchan highlighted that we work together. She said that many of her emails were about animal welfare, so she makes it a priority. She said that her constituents would support the Bill, for which I am grateful. How could I ever forget Dean Russell, who now has the nickname “Jaws”? It is true that sharks drown or bleed out, which is absolutely tragic.

There were superb interventions from my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) and for West Ham (Ms Brown), for which I am grateful. I am also grateful for the support from my hon. Friend Ruth Jones on the Labour Front Bench. I thank the Minister again for his support. He said that he has two coasts to look after—I could not think of anyone better to do that. I also thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time; to stand committed to a Public Bill Committee (Standing Order No. 63).