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Crime: Wildlife Crime

Volume 742: debated on Thursday 31 January 2013


Asked by

My Lords, the Government are committed to the fight against wildlife crime. We have made real progress in recent years, including providing funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit and introducing civil sanction powers for Natural England to deal with certain illegal activities. Internationally, among other things, we have helped fund Interpol projects, building enforcement capacity to conserve tigers, elephants and rhinos in the countries where they live in the wild.

I thank my noble friend for his Answer. I am sure he is therefore aware of the comments of the CITES Secretary-General, John Scanlon, about the huge increase in poaching of wildlife, especially in Africa, which he feels is going to help fund the insurgencies there. Domestically, in Britain, does my noble friend agree that poaching birds’ eggs, for example, is stealing our children’s inheritance as much as stealing the Crown jewels? What guidance will he give to the new police commissioners to make sure that they realise the seriousness of wildlife crime?

My Lords, first, I am aware that John Scanlon recognises the increasing involvement of organised crime in illegal wildlife trade. He has welcomed the UN Security Council’s call for an investigation into the alleged involvement of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the poaching of African elephants and the smuggling of ivory. Police and crime commissioners will hold their chief constables to account for the totality of their policing, which includes the chief constable working in collaboration with other police forces and agencies to address national issues that impact on their communities. As I have said, we believe that there is often a link between organised wildlife crime and other organised crimes, such as drugs and arms trafficking. We therefore expect the police to take wildlife crime seriously where it is a priority for their communities; co-operation with the NWCU will be key to this.

My Lords, while I commend the Government for their efforts in tackling wildlife crime in this country, is the Minister satisfied with the seriousness with which magistrates’ courts in certain parts of the country take this? Does he appreciate that there is a great deal of public anguish when people who are caught and proved guilty of killing golden eagles or hen harriers get off virtually scot free?

The noble Lord makes a good point. Enforcement is important. The magistrates have taken account of that and issued a document a while ago that specifically addresses that.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of a small charity which funds the training of wildlife wardens in east Africa. Is not my noble friend right to say that this is now an international issue? It has an impact on corruption, particularly in east Africa, and perhaps in Kenya especially. It has an impact on insurgency. The right way for us to deal with it internationally is to begin to raise the human capacity of those organisations in Africa which are taking the front line in fighting what is an increasing tide of wildlife crime. Will my noble friend recommend to DfID that it consider specific programmes targeted at raising the human capacity of, for instance, wardens in east Africa?

First, I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend does. The Government support a wide range of action to tackle illegal wildlife trade, including working with other countries, contributing financially to Interpol-led projects which build enforcement capacity in countries where the animals in question live in the wild to conserve tigers, elephants and rhino, funding a post in the CITES secretariat to help to combat wildlife crime and chairing the CITES rhino working group, tasked with investigating the dramatic rise in rhino poaching.

My Lords, does the Minister think that opting out of the crime and justice measures of the European Union will assist in the fight against international wildlife crime?

My Lords, for the reasons that I have given, I am confident that the measures in place and the resources that we devote to the matter very well address the specific problem of wildlife crime.

My Lords, I suggest to my noble friend that another way to tackle the matter could be to encourage the use of tourism so that wild animals are an asset, not a liability. That would encourage the local people to care about them.

My noble friend makes an extremely important point. In the past, I have been on safari in those wonderful countries seeing those wonderful animals. The more that tourism is encouraged in those countries, the more that money is brought into those countries, the more people will recognise the value of the wildlife. That will contribute to clamping down on crime.

My Lords, in so far as it is an international wish to prevent the extinction of lions, elephants, et cetera, is it not logical to say that in conjunction with African Governments, who have population pressures—which is why in the localities people are not so keen to do much about this problem—the police forces in those countries need a lot more resource? Would it not be logical to say that there should be international help with that resourcing for the local police forces?

In fairness to many of those countries, their Governments recognise the problem. Some countries are making major efforts. As I said, we are doing quite a lot but we all must do better.

My Lords, I draw the Minister’s attention to the report of the Environmental Audit Committee which, like the Government, traces the work of the National Wildlife Crime Unit. The problem is that the unit has to stagger from year to year with just one year’s funding allocated each time. If it is to have proper certainty in its investigations, if it is to recruit and retain the best qualified staff and get best value for money, it needs longer-term funding to ensure that it can undertake its work as effectively as possible. Will the Minister consider that?

My Lords, the provision of funding for the year to come is an important step forward, and removes uncertainty in the short term. I ask the noble Baroness to share with me my delight that the NWCU will continue its excellent work. We will discuss future steps with the unit’s co-funders in the coming months.

Will my noble friend confirm that the Government endorse the view of the charity commissioners that expenditure by charities on pursuing one of their aims through the courts should be proportionate to the demands of their other aims?