On Wednesday, Dr Rupa Huq led a Parliamentary debate on the Anti-Corruption Strategy and its relationship with the illegal wildlife trade. The government strategy, launched in January 2018, aims to reduce corruption both in the UK and abroad. However, as the Ealing Central and Acton MP was keen to stress, the strategy includes few specifics on how the government will endeavour to tackle the corruption that fuels the illegal wildlife trade.
In Rupa's words, “the message is that progress is being made, but it does not offer any concrete examples of policy or initiatives.”
The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth £15 billion a year, making it the fourth most lucrative illicit trade in the world after drugs, human trafficking, and arms. With 800 kilograms of Rhino horn said to value at almost £6 million on illegal markets, it has been described as a ‘low risk, high profits’ endeavour for criminals who often have links to terrorist groups and militias.
The focus of Rupa's speech was to urge the Government to implement strong action on open registers of beneficial ownership in overseas territories. A move which would help to prevent the profits from illegal animal parts being laundered through shell companies.
Rupa said, “In 2016, the Conservative Government said all countries needed to reach a ‘gold standard’ of public registers of beneficial ownership. David Cameron painted himself as a leader on the issue, promising action. Yet now, the Foreign Office only expects UK tax havens to adopt the public register model when it becomes a ‘global standard’. Although the government finally relented to pressure and appointed a new anti-corruption czar after a gap of six months, their strategy does not do enough to bring forward open registers. While these won’t end the illegal wildlife trade, they will help to combat the industrial nature of it.”
Rupa, who is co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Anti-Corruption, also called on the government to enact a total ban on the import of lion trophies, an issue which came to public attention in 2015 following the heart-breaking case of Cecil the lion.
The Ealing Central and Acton MP received support from MPs of all colours, including Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park. Mr Goldsmith joined Dr Huq in urging the government to strengthen its fight against ivory and expand the current Elephant ivory ban to include walruses, rhinos, and narwhals.
Despite support from a number of MPs, Rupa Huq was not satisfied with the response from the government representative. Dr Huq said, “The debate thought the minister’s response was disappointing if not poor. It seems that the October conference is London on the illegal wildlife trade is being used as a smokescreen so nothing is properly answered. None of the questions posed were concretely answered, not even when the results of last week so consultation on the Ivory ban will see the light of day so I will be writing to her to follow up.”