HL Deb 17 June 2003 vol 649 cc655-6

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to increase the length of sentences to control the trade in endangered species from two to five years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, I am glad to tell the House that the Government are today tabling an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, which received a Second Reading yesterday. It will provide for maximum prison sentences of five years for certain endangered species trade offences.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very welcome announcement. If we are intent on stamping out illegal trade in endangered species, will the Minister also consider appointing more police wildlife liaison officers, as I understand that there are only six at present?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, my noble friend tempts me to go beyond my powers. The deployment and designation of police officers is clearly a matter for chief constables. We understand that most police forces now have at least a part-time wildlife crime officer. They are augmented by the wildlife liaison department, which brings in other agencies in support of the police. That indicates that we take those wildlife offences very seriously.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, in welcoming the Minister's announcement, we should not allow ourselves to become too self-congratulatory. I hope that the Minister will agree that the announcement would not have been made had it not been for the very hard work of Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House of Commons. What is happening is welcome. The heavy involvement nowadays of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) in investigating this trafficking is also welcome. My next question may not be entirely appropriate, but the Minister should know the answer. Is he satisfied that NCIS is adequately resourced to play a proper part in the investigations? Some rare species give rise to very high-value products that are immensely corrupting.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, in response to the first part of the noble Lord's question, I am always happy to endorse the work of Back-Benchers of all parties in both Houses, but the charge of complacency on the part of the Government is misplaced. We have always intended to increase the maximum sentence thereby making trade in endangered species an arrestable offence, and we have indicated so. We did not table an amendment during the Commons stages because we needed to take account of the full consultation, but we always intended so to do.

On resources, now that we have a partnership against wildlife crime involving all the agencies, there is significant additional focus on the area. Obviously, that must be kept under review. But the noble Lord is right that, while some of the offences may be inadvertent, others involve very serious criminal activities.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, does the description "endangered species" cover occupants of the Woolsack?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the technical answer is that that is probably doubtful. If one contemplates the previous incumbent, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, he had a rather successful period in a unique habitat and therefore does not seem endangered. The present Lord Chancellor, although we might be changing the name of the species, is clearly adaptable to several different changing habitats and is therefore not endangered.

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