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[Mr Joe Benton in the Chair] — Wildlife Crime

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:23 pm on 10th October 2013.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 2:23 pm, 10th October 2013

I am grateful to the Liaison Committee and to Joan Walley, who is the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, for securing this debate. It is a shame that it has taken so long to secure it. She explained to me earlier that part of the reason for that was that, with the summer recess coming, it was not easy to get a slot. She also made the point that it took the Government some time to respond to the Committee’s report. I am able to say that that was nothing to do with me, because I was not in the Government at the time. However, what I can say—a number of people have said this already—is that my predecessor, my hon. Friend Richard Benyon, was absolutely passionate about these issues, so I do not think anyone should read into that delay that there was any lack of interest in the issue of wildlife crime on his part.

As we have heard, wildlife crime is a matter that we all care deeply about. Hon Members are quite right to seek reassurance about what the Government are doing to tackle the issue. Efforts to tackle wildlife crime have moved forward hugely in the last 10 years, thanks to the commitment and enthusiasm of successive Governments, the enforcement agencies and the many non-governmental organisations that willingly share their expertise and experience. We should take a moment to reflect on what has already been achieved, and to put on record our appreciation of the contribution that has been made by everyone who has been involved. Their work has helped to make the UK the envy of many countries around the world on this issue.

The range and nature of the evidence submitted to the Committee’s inquiry—we heard from the Chair of the Committee that there were 57 submissions—showed how interested people are in this issue, and there was a range of perspectives. As the Chair of the Committee said, the threat from the international wildlife trade has come into sharper focus this year. I welcome hon. Members’ support for the action that the Government are taking to work with the international community to tackle this issue. The increasing levels of elephant and rhino poaching, and of illegal trade globally, are indeed very worrying. They not only threaten individual species but governance, national security and development goals.

The Chair of the Committee said that the illegal wildlife trade is the fifth biggest criminal activity globally. The figures that I have been given suggest that it is now the third biggest, behind only drugs and people trafficking. It has now been categorised by the UN as a serious organised crime. As many hon. Members have already alluded to, as part of our commitment to tackling this trade we will host a conference in London on 13 February 2014 to galvanise international efforts to tackle wildlife crime and to secure top-level global political commitment on this issue. In the run-up to the conference—