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.