Shark Fins Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:00 pm on 20 January 2023.

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Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:00, 20 January 2023

I am delighted to be here speaking again on this important subject. I am very grateful to Christina Rees for all her great work to introduce this Bill and for navigating it through to this stage. I also thank all Members who have contributed not just today with their perceptive speeches and interventions but on Second Reading and in Committee. It has massive support right across the House. I am delighted that we will continue to assist in every way that we can to ensure swift passage through both Houses so that this important Bill gets on to the statute book.

I normally work so closely with the shadow Minister, Alex Sobel, but I was a little concerned about his slight negativity and the shadow he threw over the Bill by asking whether it should be brought forward in some other Bill. We consider this issue so important that we specifically allocated time for it. We want to support this individual issue because it will make such a difference, as we all agree, to protecting this glorious and precious species. It is just another measure to be added to all the other work we are doing as a Government internationally to help with shark conservation.

Sadly, this species has undergone the most immense suffering. One of our Whips was singing the “Jaws” tune before I took to the Dispatch Box, but the other day I heard the director of that film apologise for the fact that he has caused that horrible feeling that we all have about sharks, being scared and fearful of them instead of revering them for the precious and amazing creatures that they are. They play such an important role in their hierarchy in our food chain, because once they go, all the other creatures below them are under threat. They face enough threats as it is with global warming, warming seas, coral reefs changing and, critically, overfishing—a point mentioned by my hon. Friend Virginia Crosbie, who has incredible marine knowledge. We have so many other threats, including plastics. We are working on everything else we can do to help on the international front, but things such as this Bill will be so helpful.

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. This Bill means that we can go even further and ban the trade in detached fins—that is critical point—and in shark fin products. The Bill outlines our determination that shark finning must stop wherever it takes place. I have already said how irreplaceable these animals are.

The call for evidence that we ran through DEFRA showed how strong the opposition to shark funning is among individuals and all the other marine organisations who worked on this Bill. I must thank them because they played a great role. The sheer grossness of it was outlined by my hon. Friend Dean Russell, for which I must thank him. My hon. Friend Simon Baynes made a sensible input on the stats involved—a very good point. We have widespread backing.

A point that was raised that is worth reiterating is that when we were in the EU it would have been extremely difficult to take action on this issue. Any restrictions on the shark fin trade would have needed agreement from all member states. The great news is that we now have much more freedom to introduce stricter measures and we are demonstrating through this Bill that we are doing exactly that.

I will give a few details about the Bill itself. It will ban the import and export of detached shark fins into and out of Great Britain. The ban applies not only to whole shark fins, but to parts of fins and products made from fins, such as tinned shark soup—we had a lot of discussion about that on Second Reading, but that has been covered. In that context, “shark fins” means,

“any fins or parts of fins of a shark, other than the pectoral fins”,

which are part of skate and ray wings, and “shark” means,

“any fish of the taxon Elasmobranchii”,

as set out in clause 1.

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

We have done so much internationally; I wanted to mention that, very positively, even since this Bill was introduced last year almost 100 shark and ray species have been afforded greater protection under the convention on international trade in endangered species at the 19th meeting of the conference of parties in November. That list brings the majority of global trade in shark fins under CITES regulation for the first time. That is an important move and shows how we work globally on this issue and how important our position is in leading the way on conservation, not only on sharks, but on the wider ocean work.

I thank all hon. Friends and hon. Members, including my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby, who is no longer in her place but who raised the important fact that we are now banning the 20 kg personal allowance for consumption. I was pleased that she mentioned the egg cases—did you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that some sharks lay their eggs in little egg pouches and they wash up on the beach? I thought they were bits of seaweed, but they are actually pouches in which one finds some shark eggs, and they are great to look at.

In winding up, I thank again Christina Rees for introducing the Bill and all hon. Members across the House who have taken part in the debate. I wish the Bill all the best on its way and reiterate the Government’s support for it.