5. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Director of Public Prosecutions on the role of the national wildlife crime unit in increasing conviction rates for wildlife crime. (903028)
The Crown Prosecution Service’s senior wildlife champion and the head of the national wildlife crime unit work together closely and regularly discuss policy and casework issues. Both parties sit on the partnership for action against wildlife crime, which is chaired by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Does the Solicitor General agree that if conviction rates for wildlife crime continue to increase, it is crucial that the Government commit to funding the national wildlife crime unit not just for a year or two, but as part of a much longer-term wildlife crime strategy?
In the year from July 2014 to June last year, the overall conviction rate was 71%, which compares favourably with other types of crime. There were 605 defendants prosecuted, with 349 entering guilty pleas. The decision on the funding of the wildlife crime unit will be made very shortly.
In my constituency and in the wider south-west, the wildlife crime unit plays a crucial role, particularly in cracking down on poaching, but also in protecting hares, other precious creatures and birds’ eggs. If the unit were disbanded, there would be no one else to step into its shoes, so I urge the Solicitor General to think carefully before withdrawing what does not amount to very much funding for so much valuable work.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, as I am sure do DEFRA Ministers. With about £1.7 million of funding since 2010, the unit has indeed played an important role in the prosecution of these serious offences. As I said, a decision on funding will be made very soon.
Britain has led the world in legislation that criminalises acts of cruelty against wildlife and that relates to the protection of wildlife. While the relevant laws are in place, they will be properly enforced and prosecutions will be applied using the tests that prosecutors have to use, following the evidence wherever it leads them.