Robert said, "It is an enormous pleasure to speak in this debate, and it is also a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes), who has this evening demonstrated the real mix of wit and insight that the House has come to expect from him.
"It is a real honour to speak in this debate, which shows the House at its best as we come together to make law at a time when we can feel the era changing. Not so long ago a person who wished to indicate that they were civilised and that they had travelled the world would do so by bringing something back, and that something would be a part of an animal they had killed to demonstrate that they had been to those places and seen those exotic animals.
"Times change, and social attitudes clearly change. It is now no longer acceptable for fashion to be facilitated by cruelty, and that is the law we are discussing tonight. We realise, as we have heard a number of times this evening, that the scale of elephant killing is gigantic. We have lost five or six elephants since the start of this debate. The statistic is that we lose 20,000 elephants a year or one elephant every 25 minutes, which is extraordinary, but those dry statistics just do not do justice to the issue.
"Anybody who has been to see elephants—ideally in their natural environment, as my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North has, but even in captivity where they are being bred or researched for conservation reasons—will realise the extraordinary beauty, sensitivity and intelligence of these animals. Elephants seem almost human, and anybody who has seen footage in a wildlife documentary of parent elephants mourning a dead baby elephant, or mourning one of their own group, will realise quite how important it is that we protect them.
"It is important that we have a functioning ecosystem. It is not just elephants, because all the other animals that live on the African plains depend on elephants keeping the ecosystem healthy. Of course it is far more important than that. It is important for the animals, it is important for our environment but it is also important for the people, because we now accept in this House and across the country that we should be protecting, not plundering, developing countries. If developing countries have a resource such as eco-tourism, we realise that we should be helping them—not exploiting them but protecting and helping them to profit from eco-tourism.
"I agree entirely with every hon. Member who has said today that they are standing up on behalf not just of current generations but of their children. I have a two-year-old toddler, and I would like him to be able to go to Africa or to other countries around the world to see elephants in their natural environment. It is crucial that we do this.
"The human impact is so important because it goes further than simply helping people. As with the illegal drug trade, the organised crime ramifications of wildlife crime are enormous. We have heard from a number of Members on both sides of the House that 100 rangers are killed by poachers each year as they try to protect elephants. We simply have to ensure that we stop the demand, and we can do that with the Bill.
"I have sympathy for those who require exemptions for various reasons—for example, for cultural reasons—and I am grateful to the Government for thinking about those reasons and for introducing defined, narrow, clearly interpreted and well thought through exceptions, which I also support.
"At present, unfortunately, the current regime simply is not working. I ask the Government to consider some of the definitions in clause 35, which other Members have raised. My constituency contains Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, and I may be unique in being a Member of Parliament who has bottle-fed a baby rhino, which I was greatly honoured to do at that park. I am of course aware that rhinos could be affected and so it is strange that the explanatory notes state that the
“delegated power could…be applied if the restrictions under this Bill inadvertently lead to the displacement of the ivory trade from elephant ivory to another form of ivory.”
"That is likely to happen and we ought to deal with it now.
"In the last few seconds available, let me say that I am grateful to those from all over West Oxfordshire who have written to me to express their support for the Bill. They are on the right side of history and so are the Government."