My Lords, it is a pleasure to be taking part in the Second Reading of this most important Bill. The Government are to be congratulated on bringing the Bill forward, as is the Minister on his excellent and comprehensive introduction. Given how much consensus has been achieved even on the trickier issues of antiques, I will not dwell on the detail of the Bill. However, I will mention some important points around it.
With regard to the illegal wildlife trade, bans work. Before 2005, the rainforests of Africa and South America were being stripped of their bird populations. Some species were driven to the edge of extinction, macaws in particular. Initially the UK was a bit reluctant to join in but in the end it lent its vote to the EU, and the EU trade ban came in in 2005. Now, if you want a parrot, it has to be bred in captivity.
A study in 2017 by scientists from the University of Copenhagen and the University of Porto, published in Science Advances, looked specifically at how the EU’s ban had affected the number of birds traded annually. They found that it had dropped from 1.3 million to 130,000—a drop of about 90%. Obviously 100% would be perfect but given that the trade is illegal there will always be some who flout the law, but I suggest that that is an incredibly impressive figure. Legislation in this area definitely has been shown to work.
After legislation, two sectors play a particularly important part in achieving the objective—those who work in the media and those who are in the front line. I congratulate the Guardian newspaper on its ongoing campaign in support of environmental defenders. Last year, 197 people were killed for defending land, wildlife or natural resources. In recording every defender’s death, the Guardian hopes to raise awareness of the deadly struggle on the environmental front line. This House should commend the Guardian for highlighting these astonishingly brave people who, knowing the risks, lay down their lives for wildlife. It is often about habitat destruction, which I believe is as dangerous for wildlife as the trade in the products. Certainly that would be true for elephants. If they have no habitat, it is hard for them to exist.
The Minister mentioned avarice in his opening remarks, and much of this trade is based on avarice. Some people, however, think that it is based on necessity, such as when river sand is taken at completely unsustainable rates for use in development. Others mine minerals of all sorts around the world, including copper in South America—which I have seen at first hand—as well as nickel. I went to Lake Izabal in Guatemala, where some of the last manatees on earth live. Very sadly, the Solway Investment Group, which takes something like 2.2 billion tonnes of nickel a year and claims to do environmental assessments, has put that lake under extreme threat and, no doubt, the manatees with it. We have a responsibility for the mines because they are often owned by multinationals based in the UK, Canada or the US. Agribusiness is another destroyer of habitats. It is the biggest driver of violence against the defenders I mentioned, in the drive for soy, palm oil, sugar cane and beef. There is an awful lot to be done about habitat destruction, but I realise that that is not the subject of this Bill.
The BBC has done a lot to raise public awareness. Its programme “Natural World” recently featured a beast that I really had not appreciated, the pangolin. “Natural World” did for pangolins what “The Blue Planet” did for oceans. The pangolin, a little-known, scaly mammal found in Africa and Asia, is apparently now the most poached and illegally trafficked animal in the world. The conservationist Maria Diekmann rescues and rehabilitates pangolins. It really was an extraordinary programme and anyone who did not see it should watch it on catch-up. It showed what one person working on the front line could do to build a campaign to raise awareness of the plight of an animal that most people have never heard of. What she did that was particularly powerful was to go to where the pangolins’ scales are sold for medicine—China—and join forces with a Chinese social media megastar to campaign to the Chinese people about not buying this product.
I again congratulate the Government on hosting the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in the UK in October and commend them for their lead on this. At that conference, will the Government recognise the role of environmental defenders with a memorial wall? In particular, and especially poignant this afternoon, will they recognise the role of Esmond Bradley Martin, whose ground-breaking investigations helped the fight against elephant poaching? He died after being stabbed at his home in Nairobi. Bradley Martin was a geographer by training but he brought the illegal trade to the attention of the world. He had been working on this for a lifetime, since the 1970s, looking in detail at the movement of elephant ivory and rhino horn, among other substances. John Scanlon, head of CITES, said:
“He was tireless in his efforts to protect elephants and rhinos … His research and findings across multiple continents had a real impact … He was a longstanding and highly regarded member of the Cites technical teams looking into the poaching of elephants and smuggling of their ivory. He will be sadly missed by all at Cites but his legacy will live on”.
This Bill is part of that legacy.