HC Deb 21 March 2003 vol 401 cc1248-58

Order for Second Reading read.

1.33 pm
Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent)

I beg to move, That the Bill De now read a Second time.

I should very much like to acknowledge the contribution already made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess), who introduced the original Bill with this title, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who encouraged me personally to take up this cause, and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to the same effect. The Bill has cross-party support.

I do not intend to speak for long, because the Bill is simple. It has just one clause, which increases the maximum sentence for those caught trading in endangered species from two years to five years. That, in itself, is clearly a good thing. However, critically, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, these crimes then become an arrestable offence, which they are not at present. Clearly, that would give the police a great deal more power to tackle these offences.

Why is the issue important? First, the illegal wildlife trade is now the second most important criminal activity worldwide after drugs, even more so than gun running. It is now worth over £5 billion a year. Given the current international situation, and the way in which terrorists and criminals trade their money, this trade needs to be closed down as a matter of urgency. In fact, it is a mystery to me why that has not been done already.

Secondly, the Bill would offer much-needed protection to some of the world's most precious and endangered species. I shall give the House a practical example: a recent police raid in the United Kingdom seized tiger cubs that had been killed when they were less than a fortnight old, before their eyes had even opened, and stuffed and mounted on a branch. The police have also found gorilla skulls, leopards, sparrowhawks, snowy owls, turtles, tortoises, parrots and a host of primates. The Worldwide Fund for Nature recently estimated that at least 20 per cent. of the world's species could become extinct in the next 30 years, and the illegal trade in animal products and the animals themselves is a major contributor to that.

It is worth briefly examining those propositions in more detail. I shall deal first with the use of endangered species as an international criminal activity. As I said, the illegal wildlife trade is worth £5 billion a year. More than 520 million animals and plants are traded internationally each year, and 25 per cent. of the wildlife trade tied up in that is illegal.

I regret to say that the United Kingdom is a major centre for the trade, acting as both a transit route and a final destination. There are clear and proven links to organised crime, with endangered species being traded along exactly the same smuggling lines as drugs and guns. A recent case in Moscow resulted in the seizure of 10 tonnes of caviar bound for Europe—harmless one might say, even tasty. However, with the caviar were 400 automatic rifles and 3,500 rounds of ammunition.

There are four main smuggling efforts: the endangered species are concealed; they are mis-declared; the permits under which they are brought in are fraudulent; and there is laundering through re-export. As a result, on average, Customs seizes 570 illegal wildlife items each day. Home Office figures for the period 1987 to 2001 reveal that only 51 cases were prosecuted. That bears repetition: there are 570 seizures of illegal items each day but there have been 51 prosecutions in 14 years. It is little short of a total disgrace.

We are now all aware of the threat posed by international terrorism. Clearly, if we are to defeat it, we must not only defeat the terrorists militarily but destroy their supply lines and finance. There has not yet been a recorded instance of a direct, proven link between endangered species and international terrorism, but the links with international criminal activity, which clearly reads over into terrorism, is very clear indeed.

As I said, we must also consider the effect that the trade in endangered species has on the world's reserves of wildlife. A taxidermist in Islington has admitted 29 charges of obtaining licences by forgery and 12 cases of keeping endangered species for sale without a licence. The endangered species found in the shop included the two tiger cubs that I mentioned earlier, leopards and an elephant's foot that had been turned into a table. The man responsible got six months' imprisonment.

In April 2000, a company was caught in possession of 138 shahtoosh shawls, made from the fleece of a slaughtered Tibetan antelope, which is an endangered species. The combined value of those shawls was £350,000; the fine for the people caught in possession was simply £1,500—an utterly pathetic £10.87 per shawl. Those shawls had a retail value of between £3,000 and £12,000.

In 2002, a survey by Traffic of Chinese medicine shops in the United Kingdom showed that 64 per cent. of them sold illegal products, such as protected plant and animal species, including leopards, bears, musk deer and the extremely rare costas root.

Finally, there is a recent case of a shop that sold whole lions, stuffed, for £5,000 each. It also sold antelopes, porcupines and large live snails. The man responsible received simply a four-month sentence. That is pathetic and extremely damaging.

Those are the reasons why I believe that the Bill is so important. That criminal activity has simply been allowed to continue unchecked for far too long. The current international situation lends the issue urgency, and the Government should act at once. The Bill could not be simpler—it has just one clause—and it would clearly make a demonstrable difference. I urge the House to give it a Second Reading.

1.41 pm
John Mann (Bassetlaw)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) on introducing this private Member's Bill, which will receive support from all corners of the House. It is timely and, if enacted, its result—raising sentences—will be long overdue.

Current provision is inadequate. The prison sentences are far too short—if they are imposed at all—and the fines are paltry, as the hon. Gentleman said so eloquently, so the incentives for those who take part in this lucrative trade are enormous. It is fair to say that the criminals involved in that trade are taking a disproportionately low risk compared with other types of crime, given the proceeds and penalties. He is rightly seeking to redress that imbalance with the Bill.

As the chair of the all-party endangered species group, I know that it has attempted to highlight wildlife crime in the past year. In the last Session, early-day motion 862 received the signatures of more than half the House. Indeed, if it were not for the protocol in relation to certain Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen and Ministers, in excess of 90 to 95 per cent. of the House would have signed that early-day motion. That demonstrates the depth of support for the Bill, for the early-day motion was precisely along the lines of the wording proposed by the hon. Gentleman.

The consensus in the House on the importance of the issue was further emphasised by the contributions in considering the Criminal Justice Bill in Committee, when an amendment that I tabled received open and positive support from Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members.

London has become something of a centre for the illegal trade in endangered species. The depth of the problem is best summed up by the case involving shahtoosh shawls. Not only was the fine absurd in relation to the possible profits, but the find represented at least 2 per cent. of the entire world population of that species. That haul shows how quickly and monstrously a species can be eliminated by such international crimes. The hon. Gentleman illustrated the range of different examples in this country, which I shall not repeat. If the trade has a good base in this country, many other international centres will be involved, too.

The better-known examples include ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts. There are tiny numbers of tigers left in the world, as the Indian Wildlife Board has explained in great detail to me, because they are constantly under pressure from poachers who are openly prepared to risk their lives for the profits available. Much of that trade finds its way to London, which is a significant danger. Of course, precisely the same problem occurs with less well-known species such as the chiru antelope.

The other issue that I want to bring to the House's attention is the linkage with criminal gangs. The survival of the tiger, the rhino and other endangered species should be a fundamental concern of politicians in this House and throughout the world. We would betray future generations were we not to make sure that our house was in order, in Britain, in terms of how we attempt to play our small role in protecting those species. That is precisely the aim of the Bill, which would assist in that attempt.

In addition, the House should be under no illusions about who are in these wildlife crime gangs. They are not localised, cowboy-type poachers who happen to encounter an animal, kill it and somehow try to sell its parts. It is an organised trade. The same gangs are laundering money and smuggling people, drugs and arms: the worst kind of arms. Even when that has been identified, it is difficult to catch them.

To give some examples, at Heathrow, a consignment of live foreign snails packed with heroin was found. In Miami, boa constrictors smuggled in as part of a shipment of 312 animals from Colombia were found to be filled with cocaine—39 kg of it—and all the reptiles died. The same gangs are involved. The profits are of similar margins, and, therefore, be it ivory, heroin or people, they will take their chance on each and every one.

The Indian Wildlife Board has illustrated that in great detail by tracking to whom the people doing the poaching in the wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in India are linked. It is the same organised crime gangs who are smuggling drugs from Afghanistan, and smuggling people from Albania and the Balkans, into Britain and other countries. Therefore, by increasing the penalties for this particular crime, we assist in tackling those two major problems in today's world.

I commend the Bill, and I hope that, in the same way that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn) did, the Minister will be minded, considering his consultation on the issue, to give a clear guarantee to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent that amendments will come forward at the appropriate time, later this Session, under the Criminal Justice Bill.

1.49 pm
Sandra Gidley (Romsey)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) on raising this subject. As he said, the Bill is extremely simple. I believe that it is the same Bill that was introduced in the previous Session, which was supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Lewes (Norman Baker) and for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock).

The Bill increases the penalty for offences relating to endangered species from two years' imprisonment to five years' imprisonment. The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent cited the example of people caught smuggling lions at £5,000 each, who were sentenced to only four months. I wonder what we are doing if we already have a penalty of two years that we do not use. It seems to me that education is needed: we have to get through to the judiciary and others the message that this is a very serious offence. If, in a case such as that of Mobolagi Osaknadi and Rose Kinnane—difficult names to pronounce—a sentence of only four months was given, what guarantees do we have?

John Mann

Does the hon. Lady agree that one implication of raising the tariff from two to five years is that it would make the offence an arrestable offence under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which would, for example, give police officers greater search rights? Is that not precisely why wildlife crime officers, 39 of whom are currently employed by constabularies, are so strongly in favour of the Bill?

Sandra Gidley

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that important point.

The trade in shahtoosh was mentioned. As the only woman present in the Chamber, I hate to say this, but we somehow have to get the message across that shahtoosh are not acceptable—that they represent too high a price to pay for fashion or vanity.

Hugh Robertson

It is not merely a question of vanity. To make the shawls, the fur is taken from the underside of the antelope, which has to be killed to get it.

Sandra Gidley

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I am talking about the vanity of people—usually women—who give no thought to the terrible way in which a product is produced, but simply want the latest fashion. The reason why I make this point is that earlier today we debated a Bill on female genital mutilation. That might not appear relevant, but during that debate it was pointed out that women's magazines have done a good job of informing women about such issues. Perhaps through the all-party endangered species group, those magazines can be targeted to get the message across about endangered species. We are already seeing an increase in fur wearing by women. The campaign against fur was so successful that for years women did not wear fur, but this year on the catwalks—no pun intended—fur reappeared. We must do all we can to prevent its re-emergence in fashion.

John Mann

The hon. Lady makes an interesting and important point that I had not considered before, but I would hate the impression to be given that the problem is created solely by women consumers. In fact, and without going into lurid detail, claims made by some in the quirky pseudomedical professions that tiger parts and rhino horn have aphrodisiac properties are aimed specifically at men. The same educational message needs to be given to men, perhaps through the men's magazines.

Sandra Gidley

I agree entirely.

The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent outlined problems with the numbers. I have some recent figures for one year, which were produced in response to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes. His question was: To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer how many seizures were made of (a) species and (b) other material listed under the CITES"— that is, the convention on international trade in endangered species— regime…how mans prosecutions were pursued and what the outcomes were of those prosecutions. The answer was: In the year 1 April 2001 to 31 March 2002 Customs made 337 seizures of imports or exports subject to EU legislation on endangered species. The goods seized were: Live animals—6,345 Plants—8,734". Nearly 2 million parts or derivatives were seized and the answer then referred to "items recorded by weight". It added: In the same period Customs prosecuted six persons."—[Official Report, 28 November 2002; Vol. 395, c. 462W.] Only six people were prosecuted.

I hope that everyone supports the need for increased training of Customs officers so that they know what to look for. Increasing importance should be placed on that. Although the trade in endangered species is important in itself, we have already heard that it takes place alongside the traffic in narcotics and the arms trade. For those reasons, we need to ensure that Customs officers receive all the training that they need.

1.55 pm
Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) on introducing this small but important Bill. I hope that we give it a fair wind.

I inadvertently misled the House in the previous debate on ragwort. I congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on introducing two ten-minute Bills on that subject. Those Bill were, of course, on the subject of endangered species. I was getting the two de bates mixed up. I congratulate him on the two Bills that he introduced last year on this issue.

This is a small but important Bill that will increase the maximum penalty to five years in prison. As the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) correctly pointed out, one of the important provisions in the Bill is that it would make the trade in endangered species an arrestable offence under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about the relationship between the Bill and that Act.

The Opposition are great supporters of CITES, and we always have been. The previous Conservative party manifesto supported the convention and talked about extending it. For example, we think that the Asiatic black bear and the large number of cetaceans that are in demand from commercial aquariums should be added to its list. It is a worthwhile international agreement that should be extended. We certainly support the determination of my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent to increase the penalties payable by those who trade in endangered species.

I shall add hardly anything to the remarks of my hon. Friend and those of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw. They outlined the awfulness of the trade and its links with narcotics, the arms trade and other smuggling activities. A large number of seizures have taken place, including 1,001 at Heathrow alone in the past four years. The trade is widespread.

The World Wildlife Fund produced the excellent report "Switching Channels", and I pay tribute to its work. The report has highlighted the fact that traders export illegally 25,000 to 30,000 primates, 2 million to 3 million wild birds, 10 million reptile skins and 500 million tropical fish. It is a huge trade and we must do something about it.

I was particularly struck by the examples that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent gave of the short sentences that were dished out to people who had committed severe crimes. It is important that the penalties are increased. There is support from both sides of the House and outside for the increase in penalties. The organisation Traffic has been asking for that and Stuart Chapman, the head of species at the World Wildlife Fund, has been outspoken in calling for an increase in the penalties. I was delighted to discover that the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) has stated his support for toughening the legislation. He said: I am determined to toughen up the regulations and want the enforcement authorities to be able to throw the book at these criminals. Throwing the book at them in the way that the Government say that they want to do is precisely what the Bill would achieve. I commend it to the House.

1.59 pm
The Minister for Rural Affairs and Urban Quality of Life (Alun Michael)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) for bringing the matter to the House's attention and I congratulate him on securing his place in the ballot and on the topic that he chose for the Bill.

Many hon. Members have serious concerns about the illegal trade in endangered species and the Government are determined to tackle the problem. The hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) quoted my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is well known for his personal commitment to protecting wildlife in general and, especially, endangered species. Indeed, I hope that all hon. Members will join me in paying tribute to the way in which he has represented Britain in many international discussions about the issue because that has strengthened our position in the world.

John Mann

I endorse the Minister's comments about my constituency near neighbour the Under-Secretary. Has there been any discussion and consultation between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Office about endangered species, because questions that I tabled to the Home Office on the matter have been redirected to DEFRA? I have received satisfactory answers but I have also talked to Home Office Ministers. What ministerial or departmental discussions have been held between the Departments on the subject?

Alun Michael

My hon. Friend will appreciate that I should not refer to conversations and exchanges in government. However, given his discussions during proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill, he will know that Home Office Ministers and officials are working on the issues. DEFRA has lead responsibility for our policy on the protection of endangered wildlife, but there is a Government-wide approach that aims to strengthen the way in which we address it. The Bill and related initiatives would increase penalties for specific wildlife-trading offences, and Home Office and DEFRA Ministers are engaged in an approach to that.

John Mann

I was not attempting to entice the Minister to give us details of private discussions but his rsponse was slightly vague. Will he confirm whether there have been formal discussions on the issue between the Home Office and DEFRA?

Alun Michael

I shall outline the ways in which we are pursuing the issue and deciding whether we should introduce legislation. I am not sure whether I misunderstand my hon. Friend. If he is trying to ascertain whether there is ministerial and official discussion between the Home Office and DEFRA on those issues, the answer is yes. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responds on behalf of the Government as a whole.

Let me outline the Government's position. Many hon. Members have made it clear that they support increasing the penalties. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on attracting 344 signatures to his early-day motion in the last Session and on his tireless work that has done much to raise awareness of the issue. He made a strong point about the connection between different types of crime, including the read-across to drug and people smuggling. I am sure that he will agree that we need to ensure that people involved in the unpleasant trade are pursued effectively and strategically. There must be a lot of co-operation and the courts must be able to impose an appropriate penalty on people who are prosecuted.

We accept that increasing the penalties is justified. In fact, we suggested that in a consultation paper that we published in January, which covers a range of other enforcement issues. The consultation has not finished yet, but in the meantime my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw has tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill currently going through Parliament, calling for increased penalties for illegal trade in endangered species. It was considered in Committee on 27 February, when the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Hilary Benn), said that, depending on the outcome of the consultation, the Government would return to the issue on Report. I hope that both the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent and my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw will accept that it would be premature for the Government to support the Bill while public consultation is still in progress. We will, however, return to the matter during the later stages of the Criminal Justice Bill, when I hope we shall be able to introduce exactly the measures that the hon. Gentleman seeks today.

Hugh Robertson

Is the Minister committing the Government to supporting my proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill, subject to the positive outcome of the review? Can we therefore expect legislation in the current Session?

Alun Michael

It would be inconsistent for me to say that we should await the completion and outcome of the consultation before deciding firmly on the next step. My precise words were "We will, however, return to the matter during the later stages of the Criminal Justice Bill, when I hope we shall be able to introduce exactly the measures that the hon. Gentleman seeks today". I also referred to what was said by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary in Committee. The hon. Gentleman should accept that as a firm indication of intent on the Government's part.

Hugh Robertson

Given that the Minister has been about as clear as it is possible to be, I do not think I need detain the House further. With the leave of the House, I will withdraw the Bill.

Alun Michael

The hon. Gentleman may wish to do that, but he has raised an issue, and I think it sensible for us to explore what is being done.

Hugh Robertson

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Now that I have been given the commitment that I sought, I do not think we need detain the House further on my account. Is it in order for me to withdraw the Bill?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

In a sense the Minister is giving as firm a commitment as he can, but there is a hint, shall we say, of some objection to the withdrawal of the Bill at this stage. Perhaps it would be as well if we heard the rest of the Minister's speech.

Alun Michael

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Gray

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am a little puzzled. My hon. Friend has sought to withdraw his Bill, and the Minister has not formally objected to that. How can the Minister, who says that the Bill is unnecessary because its proposals will be included in another Bill presented by a different Department, none the less want to go on discussing a Bill which cannot now become law by any stretch of the imagination?

Madam Deputy Speaker

The Minister's objection is to the withdrawal of the Question. The debate can therefore continue.

Alun Michael

I have tried to help the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent—

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Friday's business always consists of a series of private Members' Bills, and several were tabled for discussion today. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) has received assurances from the Minister which have allayed any fears he had that the Government would not consider the matter, and he has said that he no longer wishes to pursue his Bill. Surely it is not in order for a member of Her Majesty's Government to prevent discussion of another Bill when the promoter of the Bill currently under discussion has stated so firmly that he wishes to withdraw it. I seek your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, because that suggests that a private Member is not in control of his own legislation.

Madam Deputy Speaker

As I understand it, the Minister is responding to an intervention. I expect him to complete his response to that intervention.

Alun Michael

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. In fact, these interventions are taking up time.

I want to set the Bill in context, but first I wanted to satisfy the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent as to the direction in which I intended to take the debate. He has raised important issues, so it is only fair to ensure that the House is aware of the steps that the Government are already taking to deal with some of them.

Despite the strict controls on the trade in wildlife, there will always be people at one extreme who are genuinely unaware of them and, at the other, who deliberately and cynically breach them. People who bring home holiday souvenirs may not know that their new possession has been crafted from a highly endangered species, although they find out quickly enough when Customs officers seize the items.

However, the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw want to deal with much more sinister wildlife criminals. Some of them collect wildlife specimens for their aesthetic appeal, breeding potential or rarity. They will pay almost any price and have no regard for the effect of their purchases on the conservation status of that species. The demand for traditional medicines fuels the trade in certain endangered species, especially the tiger, the bear and the musk deer. Although work is being done to identify alternative products, the demand continues and provides an incentive for illegal trade.

John Mann

If the Bill were enacted, what would be the position as regards European legislation on wildlife trade, such as EU regulation 338/97?

Alun Michael

We are working hard with our colleagues in Europe to strengthen the steps being taken by the Commission.

Mrs. Gillan

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In response to my earlier point of order, you said that the Minister was responding to an intervention and that we must wait until he had done so before my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) could withdraw his Bill. It is obvious that the Minister has been reading from prepared notes and he has now responded to another intervention, so he must have come to the end of the—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. I assure the hon. Lady that the hon. Member promoting the Bill will have an opportunity to respond.

Alun Michael

In view of the comments of the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent, I am shortening my contribution so as to place the Bill in context and not delay the House. However, it seems from her repeated interventions that the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) does not want the House to understand the context of the trade in endangered species—

Mrs. Gillan

Quite wrong.

Alun Michael

I agree that it was wrong of the hon. Lady and I hope that she will stop intervening.

Some wildlife crime is entirely profit driven and the National Criminal Intelligence Service has commented that ounce for ounce some wildlife products, such as rhino horn or deer musk, can be worth more than class A drugs or gold. That is an enormous incentive—a point strongly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw.

I want to make it clear that our approach is not only to increase the penalties for wildlife crime. We have taken several significant steps to improve the enforcement of wildlife legislation. In April last year, my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment launched the national wildlife criminal intelligence unit. The Government are contributing £440,000 over three years to get the unit off to a strong start. In conjunction with the Magistrates Association, he also launched, in November of last year, an information toolkit and guidance to help magistrates to deliver effective sentences for environmental offences. That is an important point in view of the comments made by Members on both sides of the House about the use of the sentences available to courts. We accept the need to increase the penalties for illegal trading in endangered species. The current maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment is not sufficient in, for example, cases where specimens of a high value are involved, where illegal trade may affect the conservation status of the species concerned, or where the trade is highly organised or part of a pattern of ongoing illegal activity such as that referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw.

John Mann

Have officers involved in the wildlife intelligence initiative been involved in the consultation process to 4 April, and has evidence been requested from them concerning the effectiveness of that initiative? For example, how will enabling officers to perform searches by making such activities arrestable offences under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 impact on that initiative?

Alun Michael

My hon. Friend is right about the additional strengthening that that would bring to bear. Through the involvement of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, all avenues are being looked at to ensure that these matters are dealt with.

It is our responsibility to ensure that the courts have appropriate penalties for serious offences of this type, which is why we have already proposed that the current penalty be increased. As I said, we hope to address this issue through amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, once we know the outcome of the current consultation exercise. In view of the fact that the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent said that he is prepared to withdraw the Bill on the basis of the assurances that I have given, I am certain that we can move forward in a way that will be applauded on both sides of this House.

Hugh Robertson

In view of the almost cast-iron assurances that the Minister has given, I am more than happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.