[Mr Joe Benton in the Chair] — Wildlife Crime

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:13 pm on 10th October 2013.

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 2:13 pm, 10th October 2013

It is a great pleasure, Mr Benton, to serve under your chairmanship in this debate. I pay tribute to the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, my hon. Friend Joan Walley, who usually does a sterling job in steering her group of colleagues to impeccable conclusions, and this report is no exception. I welcome the Minister to his new position. I had the pleasure of serving with him on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and I know that he brings to his new role not only a wealth of experience and knowledge but a great deal of passionate commitment, and I look forward to working with him.

It has been a good debate. We have gone over many aspects of the original EAC report, but I still have a few issues to highlight. First, there is a need for the Government to clarify their position on controls of the possession of certain pesticides, in view of the effect that they can have on wildlife and the way they are used in wildlife crime in this country. I refer to the supplementary evidence that was submitted to the Select Committee by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and particularly want to draw it to the attention of the Minister. Currently, offences occur as a result of improper storage and use of approved pesticides contrary to the statutory conditions. The improper storage and use of pesticides that have had their ministerial approval removed is, of course, an offence. There are also examples of people storing legitimate pesticides specifically for attacking wildlife in this country, and they are escaping the law at the moment.

Carbofuran is an example of a pesticide that has had its ministerial approval for use removed, but can still be properly stored in England. Section 43 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 creates an offence of possession of pesticides harmful to wildlife prescribed by the Secretary of State. That is a method of ensuring that we capture the storage of those pesticides for illegal purposes—where they are being used to kill wildlife. An order listing the prescribed pesticides could be made, which would deal with that issue.

In Scotland, a list of eight pesticides has been prescribed—aldicarb, alphachloralose, aluminium phosphide, bendiocarb, carbofuran, mevinphos, sodium cyanide and strychnine—under the Possession of Pesticides (Scotland) Order 2005. We need such legislation in England. We have the provision for it under the 2006 Act, and the RSPB, in its supplementary evidence to the Committee, made a strong case for legislation. I hope the Minister will look at the matter seriously. It is one way in which the pesticides used in poisoning wildlife in the UK could be brought under control. A full enactment of section 43 NERC controls would be a powerful tool in the fight against wildlife crime and the illegal poisoning of wildlife in particular.

As I have said, that offence in Scotland has shown its value with at least 10 successful prosecutions involving at least four of the products on the current list, one of which involved the possession of 10.5 kg of carbofuran. Let me put that in perspective. That amount of carbofuran is enough to poison the entire Scottish population of birds of prey six times over. I recommend that the Minister considers such legislation. It is a remedy that is easily available to him. It has proved its efficacy in Scotland and should be replicated in England.

On the subject of birds of prey, I want to echo the wise words of the Chair of the Select Committee about raptor persecution and vicarious liability. No one should underestimate the true effect of raptor persecution on some of the UK’s most endangered species. According to the Government-sponsored joint nature conservation committee report on hen harrier conservation, 2013 was the first year in which there was not a single successful breeding pair in the UK. That is extraordinary, and I know that the Minister, although new to his position, will take the matter seriously. There is enough appropriate habitat in the UK to support 324 to 340 breeding pairs of hen harrier. Today, we have zero breeding pairs.

As for the peregrine falcon, the goshawk and other raptors, it is absolutely clear that someone is more likely to see a peregrine falcon from the terrace of the House of Commons than they are on a walk through the north-west Peak district. Why? That is a question that the Minister should ask himself. The Committee was entirely right to focus on vicarious liability, because without vicarious liability we will lack a key piece in the puzzle—highly intensive, driven grouse moors with irresponsible owners. At this point, I will say that there are many grouse moors that are sensibly, properly and responsibly managed. However, we all know that there are also irresponsibly managed moors, and the evidence shows that they are having a devastating effect on the populations of some of Britain’s most iconic birds of prey.

The EAC report shows a clear understanding of that problem. Of those convicted of raptor persecution, 70% are gamekeepers. There is no getting away from that fact and it is something that the Department must address by looking seriously at vicarious liability.