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[Mr Joe Benton in the Chair] — Wildlife Crime

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 10th October 2013.

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Photo of Joan Walley Joan Walley Chair, Environmental Audit Committee 1:30 pm, 10th October 2013

That intervention highlights the potential for a constructive debate following the publication of a Select Committee report that looked at the question in detail. The hon. Gentleman has great experience on the Antarctic—and, indeed, following our report on the subject, the Arctic—and he has admirably illustrated that there is real scope for leadership. Events in the Antarctic have demonstrated that what happens there affects all of us; what happens in any part of the planet affects all of us. The issues that we are discussing should not be placed in a box labelled “the environment”; they affect everything from governance and war to money laundering. All these things are interconnected. The sooner environmental questions are placed at the heart of international issues, the better.

I do not apologise for the fact that our report is about the detail of what we found in our investigation. We identified a number of absurdities in the implementation of CITES in UK law. Why, for example, should a vet be present when samples are taken from any animal that is suspected to have been trafficked into the UK? That is a reasonable stipulation in the case of a living animal, but given that we cannot even afford to guarantee funding for the national wildlife crime unit, it is a huge waste of resources to require a vet to be present in cases involving taxidermy. It does not make sense. We even heard that a vet would have to be called out before a sample could be taken from a table made from Brazilian rosewood, which is a CITES-listed species of tree. It is difficult for the Government to provide credible international leadership on tackling wildlife crime if they do not put their house in order.

In their response, the Government said that they would attend to the issues relating to the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997, which implement the international agreement on endangered species, but it would be helpful to know from the Minister what the timetable is. How far has the consultation progressed, and, most importantly, when will a statutory instrument be introduced? I hope it will be before the 2014 high-level summit.

Before I move on, I want briefly to mention tigers. We were concerned about the poaching of tigers, and, as with all endangered species, we recognise that attitudes must change if those animals are to survive. We desperately need new ideas to challenge demand for such illegal wildlife products.

In conclusion, I hope that the Minister, and his new colleagues in other Departments following the recent reshuffle, can see the impact of wildlife crime. As we have heard in interventions, that impact is huge, and it is growing by the day. The new urgency requires a clear lead from Government as they prepare for the high-level summit that they are organising in London in 2014, which we welcome. If the Government revisit our recommendations—this is the nature of Select Committee scrutiny—they could go into that meeting in a much stronger position. Not least, they could think again about our final recommendation relating to the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime. PAW, as it is aptly known, is a multi-agency representative body. Its current membership of 140 organisations includes all significant UK conservation and trade bodies with an interest in combating wildlife crime. It is co-chaired by a DEFRA civil servant and a senior police officer. We called for a DEFRA Minister to take an active interest and give political direction by chairing the body. Our suggestion was dismissed out of hand in the Government response, on the grounds that devolved Administrations were not likely to collaborate in the way that we envisaged—perhaps I am taking a little bit of poetic licence there.

I hope that in this short debate we can set out the need for the Government to be bolder in response to all our recommendations, and not simply the one relating to PAW. WWF UK has expressed concern that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are falling behind, while other Departments—DEFRA, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—are forging ahead. DEFRA is the No. 1 Department, with lead responsibility for ensuring that all Departments protect biodiversity. Only by giving further consideration to our recommendations—we would be happy to arrange to discuss them with the Minister—can the Minister demonstrate clear strategic direction and leadership in his new career at DEFRA. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to hold this debate.