HC Deb 16 November 1995 vol 267 cc2-4W
Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to announce the Government's response to the report of the enforcement working group "Wildlife Law Enforcement". [1]

Mr. Clappison

Following our review of secondary wildlife controls last year, the Government gave a commitment to improving the enforcement of domestic wildlife controls. The enforcement working group was set up to look at what practical steps might be taken to achieve this. I welcome the main recommendations in the enforcement working group's report.

We are today launching the next phase of our crackdown on wildlife crime by setting up a new "Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime". The first meeting of the partnership's steering group is taking place today. The main task of this new forum will be to provide a strategic overview of wildlife law enforcement activity in England and Wales, and to improve co-ordination and communication between all the organisations involved. It will be responsible for following up the recommendations in the enforcement working group report, and by providing expertise, experience and advice, should make a valuable contribution to the development of wildlife law enforcement policy.

The police have agreed to continue to chair the group jointly with my Department. The group will also need to respond to other interests and opinions. I have therefore invited the founder members to co-opt other members, including those representing countryside and sporting interests.

One of the main objectives of the group will be to support the network of police wildlife liaison officers, which is the cornerstone of wildlife law enforcement activity. The network has grown steadily since its inception in the early 1980s, with virtually all police forces in the UK now having one or more police wildlife liaison officers. Few of these officers are engaged full time on this work and many are volunteers performing wildlife duties in addition to their many other tasks. It is important for the network to be retained and, where necessary, strengthened.

DNA testing and other forensic techniques have an important part to play in combating wildlife crime. There have recently been a number of successful prosecutions based on DNA blood sampling evidence, and we will continue to promote and support the use of forensic techniques in wildlife cases.

The enforcement working group identified a number of weaknesses in the powers of the police to investigate wildlife offences, and sought tougher and more consistent penalties for wildlife crime. We will seek to identify legal remedies which will command general support within the next 12 months.

I can also make further announcements today about practical actions which I am taking against wildlife crime.

First, we have appointed the Laboratory of the Government Chemist to prepare practical advice for all police and other enforcement authorities about the application of DNA techniques to wildlife crime. This will include sampling kits, and we expect to issue the full package in May next year.

Secondly, over the next three years, we shall be sponsoring further innovative research into DNA and wildlife crime. This will be aimed at projects which can establish tests for further species—such as tigers—or for different materials such as feathers and hair.

Thirdly, my Department is making resources available immediately to finance a practitioners' guide to wildlife law. This is a key recommendation of the enforcement working group, and will be of particular use to the police and other agencies in their fight against wildlife crime.

Those involved in wildlife crime should be in no doubt that we are determined to do everything possible to ensure that they are vigorously pursued and properly punished.