Anti-Corruption Strategy: Illegal Wildlife Trade

Nick's intervention in the Westminster Hall debate

 

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)

I strongly support what the hon. Lady [Dr Rupa Huq] is saying about the need for transparency. I agree with her about the transparency of companies, the registers of beneficial ownership in overseas territories and the need for more enforcement. Does she agree that it is vital that we choke off demand for ivory? In the end, as with all crime, if we do not tackle demand, but only focus on enforcement, we will not be successful. It is just as important that we address the demand for ivory, as well as the vital enforcement measures, which I agree are important.

 

Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)

I will come on to speak about demand. I agree that we need to stop these ivory products being desirable, especially in south-east Asia. The right hon. Gentleman made a very good speech the other day in the debate on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, with which I agreed wholeheartedly. He has also noticed that the Government seem to have downgraded their ambition. In 2016, we were told that all countries needed to reach a gold standard of public registers of beneficial interest. David Cameron painted himself as a world leader in this and promised action. Now, the Foreign Office says that it expects UK tax havens only to adopt the public register when it becomes a global standard, so I think there has been a bit of slippage, but I know that the right hon. Gentleman has done excellent work on this. He is absolutely right that these products should not be desirable at all and people should not be clamouring for them…

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dr Thérèse Coffey)

Thank you, Mrs Moon; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) on securing this important debate on the anti-corruption strategy and the illegal wildlife trade. I welcome the debate, which is timely because we are preparing for the illegal wildlife trade conference in London in October, as the hon. Member for Stroud (Dr Drew) pointed out.

The UK Government’s anti-corruption strategy was published in December. It provides an ambitious framework for tackling corruption to 2022 and includes significant international and domestic commitments. The strategy describes the illegal wildlife trade as the fourth most lucrative trans-boundary crime, with an estimated value of up to £17 billion a year. We recognise that it damages economic growth and undermines state institutions and the rule of law. It relies on and exacerbates corruption, cultivating discontent and undermining security. Seizures of illegally traded species have been recorded in 120 countries and include approximately 7,000 species.

I am very conscious that the illegal wildlife trade threatens some of the world’s most iconic species, such as elephants and rhinos, with extinction, but it is not just those majestic animals that are threatened; birds, flora and invertebrates are also among the thousands of species at risk from illegal trade. For example, tropical hardwoods are illegally felled and shipped around the world, with impacts on forest fauna, water quality, medicines and building materials for local people.

CITES—the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora—protects more than 35,000 species. The UK is fully committed to its obligations under CITES to act against unsustainable trade that threatens the survival of species in the wild. We are pressing ahead with activities inspired by the aims of CITES to ensure the sustainability of legal trade in wild flora and fauna and to protect species ranging from lions and goshawks to cacti, coral and rare orchids.

The UK chairs the CITES working group on proposals to combat illegal killing and trafficking of rhinos. We take an active role in the implementation and development of CITES controls and are actively involved in working groups on species ranging from great apes to sharks. ur aim is to ensure that the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

International trade in hunting trophies is controlled under CITES. Although there are examples of negative effects from big game hunting caused by poor or inappropriate management, scientific evidence shows that in certain limited and rigorously controlled cases, trophy and big game hunting can be an effective conservation tool, supporting local livelihoods and attracting revenue for other conservation activities. That was confirmed in the report that was prepared for the Government by Oxford University. That said, we will continue to look very carefully at big game imports, to ensure that they do not impact on the sustainability of endangered species in the country of origin.

The UK anti-corruption strategy recognises that countering the illegal wildlife trade requires concerted multilateral action to raise awareness, eradicate markets, strengthen legal frameworks, strengthen law enforcement and—critically—promote alternative livelihoods. While I in no way excuse such activity, if somebody can earn in one night what it would otherwise take them five years to earn, one might understand that people commit these crimes. However, there is no excuse for doing so. We are working with global partners, including the G20 and UN, to achieve the aims that I have outlined.

Progress is being made. UN resolutions, co-sponsored by the UK, recognise the links between IWT and corruption. In 2015, the UN General Assembly called upon Member States for the first time

“to prohibit, prevent and counter any form of corruption that facilitates illicit trafficking in wildlife and wildlife products.”

Last year the UK worked successfully with Germany’s G20 presidency to agree high-level principles on combating corruption related to the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products.

The UK has shown global leadership in tackling IWT, and I thank right hon. Members and hon. Members for their generous comments about that. We hosted the first, groundbreaking London conference in 2014, which secured ambitious agreements from more than 40 Governments to take urgent, co-ordinated action and was hailed as a turning point in global efforts to tackle these damaging activities. We also played a leading role in the subsequent conferences in Botswana and Vietnam.

Previous conferences have achieved an international consensus against IWT, but we recognise that there is more to do. The levels of poaching of many species remain unsustainably high and, as has already been pointed out, organised criminal networks continue to benefit from the proceeds of IWT. That is why urgent, united action by the international community remains vital.

Our work on IWT fits within the four strategic pillars that were agreed at the first conference in London in 2014: eradicating the market for illegal wildlife products; ensuring effective legal frameworks and deterrents; strengthening law enforcement; and providing sustainable livelihoods and economic development. These four pillars are well established and are used globally to focus on IWT.

To help to reaffirm political commitment, we are bringing global leaders back to London this October for another conference. I understand that the invitations ave gone out and we want to welcome people from around the world, so that we can come together to focus on tangible outcomes for delivery. In particular, we intend to focus on law enforcement and tackling the corruption that facilitates IWT. The conference will recognise IWT as a serious organised crime that affects people as well as animals, and it will harness the power of the private sector, NGOs, academia and technology to strengthen global action.

To support our global leadership on tackling IWT, the UK Government are investing £26 million in practical action around the world to reduce demand, strengthen enforcement, ensure effective legal frameworks and develop sustainable livelihoods for affected communities. We are providing funding to Interpol to expand its work on tracking and intercepting illegal shipments of ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products.

Also, the four-year Waylay II project starts this year. It will improve awareness and understanding of advanced investigative techniques in Kenya, Uganda, Singapore, Vietnam and China. We have funded the British military to provide tracker training for park rangers in African states. We have also worked with China to deliver joint training to African border forces, and we have committed up to £4 million to the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime—Interpol is one of the five organisations involved in the ICCWC—to help to strengthen criminal justice systems and co-ordinate support at regional, national and international levels to combat wildlife and forest crime. We have already paid £1.6 million of that money this month.

 

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)

The Minister has touched on this, but I asked in my contribution what help was being given towards training and equipping the rangers. Can she confirm that she has been able to help with that?

 

Dr Coffey

I have already pointed out that we have funded the British military to provide tracker training. I attended a project in South Africa, where we have worked with an organisation involving the Tusk Trust to increase anti-poacher training and the techniques to do that. More than one Member has asked about this, but we are investigating, as the 25-year environment plan said, the feasibility of a more established poaching taskforce. Just last week, I was in France speaking to my opposite number and we will explore options together. This work does not need to solely involve the UK Government or the British military; there should be a collective effort to extend it.

The Crown Prosecution Service has worked with officials in key states such as Kenya and Tanzania to share its expertise and to help to strengthen the enforcement activities in those countries. Part of the UK Government’s funding is the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ IWT Challenge Fund. It funds 47 projects around the world and has a value of just over £14 million.

Those projects include training of rangers, border force agents and prosecutors; campaigns to reduce the demand for products in key markets; supporting legislative reform; and helping communities to manage their wildlife and benefit from it, for example through tourism. It also funds projects aimed at tackling corruption, by engaging with Governments, enforcement agencies and he private sector. There is also mapping of one area, as the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton referred to. The next round of the IWT Challenge Fund is expected to open for applications later this year. I am sure that we will welcome any new projects, and I hope to announce the successful applicants to round four of the fund later this spring.

We are also strengthening action against IWT at home. We have consulted on proposals to introduce a total ban on UK sales of ivory, with narrowly defined and carefully targeted exemptions. It was welcome that we received more than 70,000 responses, with overwhelming support for a ban. A response to the consultation will be published shortly.

I know that hon. Members often ask, “What is ‘shortly’? When will it happen?” We want to ensure that any ban we propose will be effective and will not be open to legal challenge. That is why we need to go through, very carefully, every representation that has been made to us. If we did not do that, we would be subject to legal challenge, which could derail the legislation that is already being drafted on some of the big items, where there is no dispute about what we want to take forward. I can assure the Chamber that officials and lawyers are already actively working on this issue.

In the short time I have left, I will again mention the London conference. It will have three main themes—

IWT is a serious organised crime, so one area that we will focus on is illicit financial flows and corruption, which is key, as well as strengthening networks of law enforcement agents and helping frontline countries to co-ordinate across the trade routes. As I referred to earlier, we will build coalitions, including with the NGOs, and we will continue to work on encouraging countries to close markets in this trade.

Quite a lot was said about bagpipes, which I am sure are a key reason why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recognised the need for musical instruments to have an element of exemption.

In addition, I recognise today the absolute passion shown by the hon. Members for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith). The hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge asked about the situation post-Brexit. I can assure her that our commitment to working with Interpol, and indeed with our friends in the EU, will continue unabated. As for the scientific committee, it is fair to say that our experts from Kew and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee are well regarded. We will need to work on how we take that co-operation forward in future.

The hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) was right to praise and to be proud of the specialist crime unit in Scotland. The hon. Member for Stroud asked a specific question about official development assistance. The Department for International Development already provides funding for the National Crime Agency to tackle corruption specifically; I think there is work in 29 countries around the world. That work will continue.

One thing that it is worth pointing out is that of course we want to tackle poaching but hon. Members will recognise that we also need to do a lot of work to preserve habitat, because the destruction of habitat is also a major challenge.

With regard to the beneficial ownership of overseas territories, in reality progress is happening. The UK concluded an exchange of notes with overseas territories with financial centres and with the Crown dependencies on the exchange of beneficial ownership. That work is moving on. I recognise that the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton may want quicker progress in that area, but I can assure her that beneficial ownership information should be available on request within 24 hours, or within one hour in urgent cases.

We are preparing for post-Brexit—the IT systems that we need to upscale and the issuing of permits to support the movement of such elements. I have already said no to meeting Duncan McNair, but I know that officials have agreed to meet him, so that is at least something. As for the historic, artistic and cultural objects test, I am afraid that the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton will need to wait for the response to the consultation. Overall, we are taking action.

 

You can read the full debate on Hansard, here.

Joe CoombesEnvironment, Wildlife