Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill
Earl Peel (Conservative)
I am grateful to the noble Lord, but I shall expand my remarks just a little because this point is worthy of discussion. For example, I think I am right in saying that there is nothing to ensure that these wildlife inspectors will be subjected to the same level of training as, say, trading standards or environmental health officers. That being the case, it enhances the argument for having a legally binding code of practice.
I want to illustrate by way of a piece of information that has come to my attention why I think this amendment is even more important. Perhaps I may draw to the Minister's attention a Scottish police wildlife crime conference which took place earlier this month. At that conference, the new head of investigations at a well-known NGO—I put it no stronger than that—put forward recommendations for future investigation into wildlife crime. Among those recommendations was included the proposal that the police should,
"utilise the expertise available from partner organisations to assist in the preparation of case files for the prosecutor".
I suggest that this is pretty sinister stuff and I know that the implications of such a proposal will not be lost on the Minister. The idea that a senior representative of an NGO should be involved in the preparation of individual case files is, to my way of thinking, alarming.
My information suggests that there is considerable suspicion that this sort of thing has happened quite a lot in the past, so it is essential that the police and all wildlife inspectors are wholly independent and impartial in their operations. I urge the Minister to accept not only that at all times they should have a statutory duty to abide by a code—I think he has agreed to that—but also to recognise that it is important that the contents of the code should cover the illustration I have just outlined for the Committee.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 295 and 296 grouped with Amendment No. 294. They would introduce a requirement for a wildlife inspector to "reasonably believe" that an offence has been committed before entering premises. With these amendments I am attempting to mirror the Government's own amendment in respect of pesticide inspectors, which I think I am right in saying was government Amendment No. 283, stating,
"if he has reasonable grounds to suspect that he may find there evidence that".
The wording in my amendment is different because it was tabled after the Government's amendment. So I hope that the Minister will respond by saying, "If we will do this for pesticide inspectors, we will do the same for wildlife inspectors". That is my hope. Reference is made in the information notes to the Bill that so-called "fishing trips" are not part of an inspector's role. Clearly they should not be, and this amendment would help to ensure that such forays do not take place.
I should point out that I have tabled two separate amendments because the Bill divides the offences into two groups: new offences under this Bill and old offences already covered in legislation. It is also important to note that none of these amendments has any implication regarding the ability of wildlife inspectors to check compliance with licence conditions. They refer only to offences. I beg to move.