§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Hoyle rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made on the review of the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (COTES).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope for a positive response to my Unstarred Question as regards longer sentences for those involved in the illegal wildlife trade.
§ First, I wish to outline the background to the illegal trade. International wildlife trade is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In the UK the illegal wildlife trade is governed by the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (COTES).
§ Wildlife crime is a booming business. On average, Her Majesty's Customs and Excise seize thousands of items each year. In one raid alone it seized two stuffed tiger cubs—animals which had been less than two weeks old—mounted on a branch, the skull of a gorilla, a leopard, and vultures, sparrowhawks and snowy owls.
§ There is increasing evidence that this illegal trade is linked with organised crime, drug trafficking, intimidation and violence. Persistent offenders are very aware of flaws in existing legislation. In 1996 it was reported that Heathrow Customs officers discovered heroin packed in shells of live snails, while investigators in Rome found heroin hidden inside elephant tusks.
§ However, there is a maximum limit of only a two-year prison sentence and limited fines. Sentences rarely match the seriousness of offences. For example, in April 2000 a company was fined just £1,500 for possessing 138 shahtoosh shawls made from the fleece of the highly endangered Tibetan antelope. Although the fine was only £1,500, the shawls were worth over £350,000 and—even worse—the animals that were killed to obtain the shawls were estimated to represent about 2 per cent of the world population of that species of antelope.
§ Flaws in current legislation make the cost of building a case and recording the crime extremely difficult. The police have no power of entry into a suspect's premises without a search warrant and no powers to caution people. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC, an organisation that monitors the trade in wildlife, campaign for tougher sentences and penalties for those engaged in the illegal wildlife trade. They want the maximum prison sentence to be increased from two to five years. That would not only send a strong message to those involved in the illegal trade but would also make the offences automatically arrestable under Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.1075
§ The important feature of arrestable offences is that the police have additional powers. For instance, they would have the ability to search the premises owned or occupied by the concerned person without a warrant. The police would also have the power to take fingerprints, which is highly important. Equally important, they could obtain DNA samples, compel suspects to be interviewed, and bail suspects with conditions, where appropriate. With crimes increasingly endangering such species, it is very important that we increase the penalty.
§ The good news is that the Government have already set out in consultative proposals the increased penalty— from two years to five— that I have been requesting. That is welcomed by the WWFWK, TRAFFIC and many people in the country. The Government are taking the matter extremely seriously. When their consultative review is completed, I am sure that they will be prepared to act. It is vital that any changes are brought into law as soon as possible.
§ I have some questions for the Minister. What is the date for completing the consultation process? And, arising from that, when can we expect new legislation introducing tougher sentences for wildlife criminals? Those are important because until we have them the species we are discussing will be in great danger. If at all possible, can the legislation be enacted during this parliamentary term? I do not think I am asking the impossible. If the Government respond quickly, I should have thought that the measure could be introduced in the Criminal Justice Bill. Is that the case? That would mean the proposal being brought forward very quickly, which would be a great help.
§ What discussions have already taken place between DEFRA and the Home Office on the matter? How far have they gone? Is the timetable that I advocate reasonable?
§ Knowing that my noble friend is due to reply, I can be sure of one thing: I shall get some very straight answers. I hope that they will be positive, that there will be good news, not only for myself and all those attending the debate—I thank them for taking the time to do so—but for the species in danger.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord Rotherwick
My Lords, I declare that I am a member of an endangered species myself. Although I did not speak about my survival in a possible reform of the Lords last week, I rise to my feet on the more important issue of the black-market trade of other, more exotic endangered species. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, for the opportunity.
In my view, it is imperative to tackle the problem on two fronts. In the first instance, it must be tackled in the market-place, with strict enforcement to crack down on the black-market trading in endangered species in this country. The proposals announced by DEFRA make a good start at doing that. However, we must go further otherwise DEFRA's efforts will be wasted, because equally important as tackling the problem in the market-place is helping to tackle the problem in the country of origin.
1076 It is for the people living in the countries where the endangered species originate that the issue of smuggling is most urgent. Indeed, many of those people's livelihoods and diets depend on the finely balanced environment in which each species makes up a crucial part. The loss of one species can, and will, upset the whole balance, usually in areas of abject poverty.
The wildlife and poverty study undertaken between April and October 2001, to assess evidence from DfID-funded activities for links between wildlife and poverty, shows that 101 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live on one dollar a day or less. It is in those areas that food security impacts on wildlife, particularly through tourism and bushmeat.
What is the best way to control the trade in endangered plants and animals? In my opinion, an outright ban is not the answer. A total ban on the trade of endangered species would ignore the opportunity for sustainable development. With the hindsight of experience in combating the drugs trade, it would seem unlikely to succeed. Sustainable development involves managing resources in such a way as to allow wealth generation through trading revenues, while ensuring that that practice does not conflict with the overall goal of conservation.
My next point is the one that I really want to press home. It is through sustainable development that those living and working in the country of origin will experience the fact that the good of endangered species and their own good go hand in hand. That matching of interests is the real answer to the dilemma about protecting endangered species. There are some interesting examples of ranching and farming of exotic species such as, in Ghana's ranching operations, the export of skins of monitor lizards, chameleons and pythons.
A decade ago, I joined conservation teams mapping coral reefs in both Belize and the Philippines to determine the impact of tourism and fishing on coral reefs. Many reefs were not only damaged through dynamite and cyanide fishing, but through poor diving techniques. Conservation officers teaching and training local university students and local people to understand their coral reef environment, on which their communities' livelihoods relied, enabled those communities to realise the damage being done to their livelihoods. That is now helping to bring about sustainability.
What does that mean with regard to today's debate? Measures to ensure stricter enforcement of illegal trade in endangered species are imperative. Illegal trading of wildlife not only risks the introduction of diseases—we have surely learned how serious the consequences of that can be—but can result in endangering species and a decline in food security in the country of origin.
1077 However, more than that must be done. Where there is a desire expressed by the country of origin to initiate sustainable development, we must work with it to make that happen. There is an opportunity here that should not be wasted. Let us go further than the well-meaning but limited DEFRA proposals that we are debating.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
My Lords, I warmly welcome this short debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, for introducing it. It enables noble Lords to focus on the urgent need to strengthen the existing regulations and to introduce tougher sanctions against illegal trading in endangered species. I hope, too, that a new clause may be introduced into the Criminal Justice Bill to give to police and wildlife inspectors new powers and to make much more effective the campaign to curb this obnoxious trade. It is extraordinary that one can be arrested for poaching deer or salmon—or even a pheasant—in this country but that one cannot be arrested for selling a tiger or dealing in rhino horn or ivory.
My concern is for two reasons. There is a very real danger of the extinction of certain species, which would be a disastrous loss to the biodiversity of the planet, and a serious matter in itself; it might well also have significant implications for human well-being. Even on a narrowly anthropocentric view of conservation, it is highly desirable to maintain the greatest possible variety of species for the sake of possible undiscovered benefits to humanity from plants and animal life. On any proper reckoning, the beauty and diversity of creation should be respected and protected in its own right.
The second reason is that illegal trading in endangered species can often inflict considerable suffering on the animals concerned, whether they are brutally killed in their own habitat or—even worse—subjected to long journeys in intolerable conditions if they are live imports. There are many examples of scandalous abuses, which cry out to be dealt with more effectively and deserve much more severe punishment than can currently be administered by the courts. They have been well explained by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle. I agree with him about the changes that are needed.
Illegal trading in endangered species is a very valuable business; it is extremely lucrative and is frequently linked to violent crime, drug dealing and Mafia networks. The present sanctions are ludicrously inadequate. Because the offence is not an arrestable offence, the police officer investigating it can say to a suspect, "Would you care to come with me to the police station?", but the person can perfectly well reply, "No thank you".
The decline in the black rhino population has been catastrophic. Numbers have fallen from 65,000 about 30 years ago to 2,500 today. This species is particularly targeted by illegal traders. This trade needs to be stopped and the police given proper powers to bring 1078 traders to justice. However, a man found in possession of 127 rhino horns in 1998, with a value of £2.8 million, was able, on appeal, to retain them. In 2000, a survey by TRAFFIC, the wildlife monitoring programme, found that two-thirds of Chinese medicine shops in the United Kingdom were selling products containing protected animal and plant species. In the same year, as the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, pointed out, there was a haul of shahtoosh shawls, which are made from the wool of the rare and endangered Tibetan antelope—the chiru—but a ridiculously inadequate fine was placed on the person who had gathered the stock, which was worth £350,000.
There are many more examples of the money that can be made out of the trade and the total inadequacy of the sanctions that are currently in place. It is, to our shame, true that the United Kingdom is a particularly lucrative market for this illegal trade in endangered species. We must accept our share of responsibility for the catastrophic decline in many rare species. Even the Indian tiger is threatened; its numbers are down by 95 per cent over the past 100 years. The South China, Siberian and Sumatran tigers are on the verge of extinction and three sub-species have already gone for good.
There is much cruelty and malpractice in this wretched trade. Birds of prey are stuffed into six inch plastic tubes with their claws tied together, with no access to food or water on interminable intercontinental journeys. Eight deadly snakes were discovered closely confined in a flat in Sheffield. A four-foot alligator was abandoned in a telephone box. It beggars belief. Much of the trade goes on undiscovered and vast numbers of animals, birds and reptiles die in transit.
I am not sure about sustainable trade in endangered species; I believe that it is actually a contradiction in terms. I am all in favour of sustainable trade, which genuinely benefits developing countries, but we must be very careful before even considering the possibility of sustainable trade in seriously endangered species. There must be an absolute priority for protection and conservation.
We need stronger legislation as soon as possible to tackle this abominable business, for reasons of conservation and of animal welfare. Of course there is legitimate trade, which is properly and carefully controlled, and that needs to continue. However, the criminals should be caught and punished and other would-be illegal traders must be suitably deterred.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen
My Lords, I, too, am pleased to take part in this debate and I thank my noble friend Lord Hoyle for initiating it. For me, one paramount reason for debating this matter is that we cannot allow those who are irresponsible, to say the least, or are corrupt and ruthless exploiters, to say the most, to destroy vulnerable species, which I believe we have a duty to preserve for future generations.
One of the difficulties that we face in the protection of endangered species is that such animals are often those that tend to be less popular with the public at 1079 large. Turtles, tortoises, vultures and sparrowhawks arc not as attractive as furry seal pups with their big eyes, for example, which we see on many adverts against seal culling. There is not overall revulsion against the endangerment of such animals from the population at large.
The WWF and the RSPCA have welcomed the Government's new proposals, which are currently out for consultation, and which involve tougher sentences for illegal wildlife traders. Both are pressing for those proposals to be implemented speedily. They are also campaigning for the Government to highlight what is happening in this relatively unknown area of crime. The trade is relatively unknown but it covers the sale of rare birds of prey, exotic reptiles, ivory and rhino horn, and it is claimed to be worth more than £5 billion per year. That sum is second only to the illegal drugs trade.
The RSPCA has proposed a formula for dealing with this crime. It believes that there should be tougher penalties to reflect the suffering involved. It says:For every animal that survives, hundreds die a most horrific death. All too often we see the gruesome consequences these endangered animals have suffered, at the hands of the inexperienced handlers".In the latest RSPCA journal, "Animal News", a graphic description of what we are facing is given. As the right reverend Prelate mentioned, last year 23 rare birds of prey were pushed into plastic tubes in a bid to import them illegally into the UK from Asia. Their value on the black market was £35,000. They endured a 14-hour flight with their feet bound and had no food or water. Customs officers at Heathrow Airport found them in two suitcases. Six were already dead and another died later. Other examples include: young animals that are brought into this country, which are cute when they are small but which cannot be properly looked after in gardens or sheds when they grow to maturity; birds that need a much larger aviary than that which is provided for them, resulting in damage to their wings and feet; and reptiles and lizards that grow too large for a house. The right reverend Prelate mentioned an alligator in a phone box. Such animals are too large to be comfortably handled, so they are let out into the wild, where conditions are not conducive to them.
Recent government proposals to overhaul animal welfare have been widely welcomed by the RSPCA, which described them as "radical". In particular, the society praised DEFRA for adopting its proposals for a statutory "duty of care" approach to protect not only wild and exotic animals in captivity but also domestic and farmed animals. John Rolls, the RSPCA director of communications, said:This initiative is a massive step forward for animal welfare, and puts the responsibility on owners to provide all animals with a certain standard of care".In order for the Government's initiative to be built on, it is vital for this cruel trafficking to be highlighted, for explanations to be given—as is being done tonight—about what such cruelty entails and for information to be circulated about the ruthless individuals who are involved in it. This debate is part of that exposure. I ally myself with the questions raised by my noble friend Lord Hoyle.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Baroness Gale
My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate tonight. I thank my noble friend Lord Hoyle for bringing forward this important matter. I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the Labour Animal Welfare Society and joint secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Animal Welfare.
We must have measures in place to protect endangered species; otherwise, so much will be lost for ever. Future generations will not thank us for any inaction on our part. Much has been done to protect endangered species but the illegal trade still continues. The present laws, it seems, are not strong enough to deter those who are determined to carry out illegal trading in endangered species. The rewards can be much greater than any fines that may be imposed.
I welcome the public consultation launched earlier this month by Elliot Morley, the Minister with responsibility for nature protection, to look at ways of tightening the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997. As my noble friend Lord Hoyle said, wildlife crime is a booming business. On average, HM Customs and Excise seize thousands of items every year. Again, my noble friend Lord Hoyle pointed out that it has now become a lucrative sideline to drugs and arms trafficking and is often carried out by persistent and known offenders who have little regard for the effects on vulnerable species.
The obnoxious people involved in the illegal drug trade have little respect for the human lives that they destroy, and they certainly have no care or concern for the protection of wildlife. The law must be clear. This illegal trade cannot be tolerated. Those caught and convicted must be dealt with in a manner in which robust messages are sent out. It should no longer be possible to make a profit out of this awful trade.
As has been mentioned by several noble Lords, the WWF, in partnership with TRAFFIC, has been campaigning over the past year—I am sure that it is more than a year—to put a stop to the illegal wildlife trade and to bring an end to low sentences and nominal fines. We know that they are campaigning for tougher sentences and penalties and to increase the maximum sentence from two to five years' imprisonment. Again, as other noble Lords have mentioned, if the offence could lead to automatic arrest, that would certainly send out a very strong message to the criminals.
The WWF and TRAFFIC say that they are,delighted with the government's recently published new proposals for consultation. This is a significant step forward in stamping out illegal wild-life trade within the UK".It is vital that these changes become law as soon as possible. I am pleased to note, as others have done, that animal welfare groups have welcomed the consultation proposals. That is always a good sign that government thinking is on the right lines.
I look forward to the Minister's response. She can be assured that the Government will have a good response from all animal welfare groups and from all those who care about the welfare of animals. I believe that the Government have shown their commitment to 1081 improving and strengthening laws in this field. I look forward very much to legislation coming forward on this matter as soon as possible.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer
My Lords, it is certainly very timely that the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, has introduced his debate tonight. His suggestion that the regulations could be attached to the Criminal Justice Bill is very practical. From these Benches, I also congratulate the WWF, which has, indeed, campaigned tirelessly on this issue. It might otherwise have remained unseen and unspoken of. The fact that that organisation has researched the matter thoroughly deserves full recognition
Noble Lords have mentioned that the scale of the problem is huge. When I looked into the facts and figures, I was astonished at the size of the trade—some £3.5 billion per year. However, the figures are more depressing when we look at the number of animals involved. It is estimated that every year at least 350 million animals are traded. Although UK Customs seizes some 570 items per day, I believe we can safely assume that that is the tip of the iceberg. I ask the Minister how many prosecutions are brought following the seizure of 570 items per day. I realise that we are discussing stiffer penalties, but it would be invaluable to know how many prosecutions are brought under the present seizure system.
By its nature, this trade targets the already rare. A vicious circle is then entered. Because it targets the already rare and lifts the creatures that remain in the wild, they then become more rare. Therefore, it is extremely urgent that we tackle the issue. Indeed, we owe it to other countries which try to tackle the problem themselves. I quote the example of Brazil, which has formed a task force to address the issue. There, individuals involved in the enforcement work are at very real risk—the type of risk to which I do not believe people in Britain would be subject. As the end market for this trade, I believe that we owe it to the countries in the developing world to tackle it from this end. We should take the impact on the biodiversity of those countries as seriously as we do the impact on our own.
At present, there is a far more effective framework in place for the police to deal with those who commit crimes against the wildlife in this country—for example, by stealing rare eggs—than there is to deal with the international offender. Of course, UK rare species deserve protection, but I do not believe that they deserve far better protection than the wildlife of other countries. Because Britain is such an important end market, it is our duty to tackle the issue. It will be disgraceful if we remain a consumer nation of endangered species.
I ask the Minister, too, whether it is simply the case that we are a consumer nation or whether we are also a primary entry point for the European trade in endangered species. Do other European countries have a better regime than we do in tackling the problem?
1082 Noble Lords have mentioned that the scale of the punishment does not match the scale of the profits that can be made. Various examples have been quoted and therefore I shall not quote endless others. I simply say that, if a pair of parrots can realise £50,000 and if, of every 10 birds or animals captured, nine are dead on arrival, it does not take much imagination to realise that the scale of the profits is still enormous.
I believe that the National Criminal Intelligence Service is also to be congratulated on establishing the National Wildlife Crime Intelligence Unit. I should be interested to hear a little more about the successes of that unit. I believe that it takes exactly the right approach and that a great deal of such crime could be solved through good intelligence. I am sure that the work of that unit will prove invaluable.
I turn for a moment to the role of Customs and Excise and control at airports, in particular. I mention an issue that we on these Benches have highlighted constantly over the past 18 months—that is, the need for a more rigid regime, such as the use of sniffer dogs and so on, to counter the illegal meat trade. Much of that overlaps the issue that we are discussing. The bushmeat trade often deals in illegal species. Again, there is no point in increasing the penalties if Customs and Excise do not have adequate resources to catch the criminals.
The Government's consultation on tougher sentences is certainly to be welcomed. Clearly we are dealing with big business and organised crime. We need to take an approach that recognises that. It is astonishing that until now offences under COTES were not deemed arrestable. This is big-time crime and it is time that we tackled it as such. The main difference and the reason why it has not been addressed before is that these are victimless crimes. Traditionally victims are seen as human beings. Ultimately we are the victims, as the right reverend Prelate pointed out, because we suffer the loss as the planet loses its biodiversity and some of its most extraordinary creatures.
I believe that unintentional acts also lead to the trade in endangered species. Although I realise that such acts are not the subject of the regulations, the Government could take some steps that would help. It would be helpful if, on leaving this country to go on holiday, we could pick up a leaflet detailing what we should not buy in the country to which we are travelling. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a website giving advice on health and safe practice which could also advise one of the products not to buy. Sometimes it is difficult to know what one should not buy. If one is approached by someone selling shell carvings, which would be nice souvenirs to buy and which one may consider would encourage the "trade not aid" attitude, one does not know whether the shells are from endangered species. A more pro-active approach to British people travelling abroad would be helpful.
The CITES website, for which the Government are not responsible, is simply a dense list of Latin names, although one can opt for the more common names. It 1083 is not very enlightening, nor does it contain any pictures of endangered species. It provides little guidance for the British tourist abroad.
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, I do not want to believe that any trade in endangered species is sustainable. I believe that encouraging tourists to spend money seeing plants and animals in the wild in an appropriate manner, spending money on what is known as eco-tourism and ensuring that the money goes to the preservation of habitats abroad, is the most positive contribution that we can make. I hope that the Minister will take from these Benches every encouragement to introduce the regulations as soon as is practicably possible.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Byford
My Lords, in 1978 my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbots, who is not in his place—the then Robin Hodgson MP—introduced a Private Members' Bill on this subject. Another of my colleagues in another place, David Amess, introduced another Private Member's Bill last year. It is a pity that neither of those Bills received a Second Reading. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, for giving the House an opportunity to debate a subject which is close to our hearts.
On 15th January this year the Minister issued a news release announcing the proposals for doubling the maximum prison sentences and strengthening controls on the banned trade. I believe that support for that has been shown around the House. Perhaps the Minister can clarify the position as my understanding of the news release was that it was to extend the sentence to four years rather than to five. If it is four years, that means that it is not an arrestable offence. When other noble Lords were speaking I began to think that I had misunderstood the position. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that. If the sentence is limited to four years, there will be huge problems.
Since the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has indicated, we on these Benches have been urging for action to be taken to stop the import of dead animals into this country, particularly of bushmeat and joints of fillets of beef. All kinds of items enter the country in personal luggage. It is an illegal trade that should be recognised and acted upon. Equally important is the risk of importing into this country disease which may affect our livestock, as all noble Lords who have participated in debates on the recent foot and mouth outbreak are all too aware
Recently a variety of programmes from "Farming Today" to "You and Yours" have contained complaints from contributors that it is possible to enter this country without observing any check on imports. Will the Minister place in the Library examples of the notices that the Government are apparently using to warn against the imports of animals and animal products and perhaps a list of locations where they can be viewed because so many people who enter the country say, "I did not see anything'?
1084 A report on Radio 4 news last Sunday morning stated that the trade in illegal animals, animal products and plants is proving worth while for organised crime, as the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, explained. For a long time the WWF has campaigned to stop illegal imports and for the imposition of swingeing sentences and crippling fines for those caught trading in, or keeping, banned items. As other noble Lords have said, that organisation wants the offences to be made arrestable, hence my earlier question. Were that the case, offenders would have to comply with police instructions; their premises and private property could be entered and searched without a warrant, and their fingerprints and DNA samples could be taken.
When will the current government consultation close? How soon will the new sentences, if approved, come into being? Can we also have assurances from the Minister that the consultation will not be used as an excuse for delaying the action for which noble Lords are calling tonight? So often, sadly, consultation means delay. I mean that genuinely. More importantly, I ask the Minister to ensure that the sentence is five years.
The evidence of damage being done to wildlife and to habitats all over the world is overwhelming; the evidence of how much is perpetrated illegally is compelling; and the constant demonstration of how this country connives sadly with the continued existence of a healthy illegal trade is shaming. I am so glad that the right reverend Prelate used that word—I have it in bold type in my speech—because it is a disgrace and something that we should attack.
The right reverend Prelate also highlighted the suffering caused to animals which are killed in t heir own country prior to being imported here; but more importantly there is the cruelty involved in transporting animals around the world in difficult circumstances.
We are constantly told that the police and Customs and Excise do not have the manpower to conduct a realistic operation. However, I suggest that police or Customs officers need not necessarily be responsible for such work. Are the Government considering ways in which help could be given with checking and searching? I also wonder whether similar searches of restaurants, pubs, clubs, shops, hotel kitchens and pet shops could be done by, for example, meat hygiene inspectors, who have to enter such premises to carry out checks anyway. Has there been any liaison between the Department of Health, which is now responsible for the Meat Hygiene Service, and DEFRA?
We are told that notices are displayed at airports. I have checked to see what is happening on our airlines, and I understand that British Airways is working with DEFRA on a video to be shown on in-corning flights. Can the Minister expand on that?
I am sorry that time has been so restricted tonight. The subject is dear to our hearts, and all the contributions have reinforced the importance of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle. I hope 1085 that the Government do not delay. They know that there is a problem; we do not need to establish that. We need to find solutions, and to find them quickly.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, I echo with great feeling the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. It is a pity that we have not had enough time tonight. I will, of course, write to all noble Lords who took part, as I will not be able to cover everything.
I thank my noble friend Lord Hoyle for bringing this important matter to the attention of the House. I fully agree with him and other noble Lords that we must do all we can as a government to reduce these disgraceful crimes. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford said, the world's wildlife is a priceless natural heritage, and we owe it to future generations to fight as hard as we can for its survival.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, asked detailed questions about the extent of the trafficking. I shall write to the noble Baroness about that. Where I offer to write to noble Lords, I will send a full reply on everything to every noble Lord who took part. As my noble friends Lord Hoyle and Lady Gibson of Market Rasen and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford—to mention a few—said, wildlife crime is big business. The cruelty is appalling. Ounce for ounce, some wildlife products such as rhino horn or deer musk are worth more than class A drugs or gold. There are huge financial incentives for people to traffic in wildlife products, and we are keen to respond firmly and effectively. We wish to make progress with the review, and I beg noble Lords who spoke so knowledgeably to respond fully to the consultation, further details of which I shall give in a moment.
We welcome the opportunity to debate the issue. I am also grateful for the way in which all noble Lords stressed the importance of giving full support to the proposals in the consultation on the Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997. The COTES proposals would strengthen the power of the police in investigating and prosecuting people who are illegally trading in endangered species in the UK. They would give the police power to enter premises and land where protected specimens were being used for commercial purposes, and once they are there, to require specimens and any relevant paperwork to be presented for inspection. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and other noble Lords that no powers are proposed that would allow the police to enter dwellings unless they had a search warrant or unless the occupier or owner was already under arrest. Clearer powers for police officers to require blood and tissue samples to be taken from wildlife specimens are also proposed.
The proposals would clarify the powers of DEFRA's wildlife inspectors, by specifying more clearly when and why they carry out inspections. The inspectors would have powers, during inspections, to require specimens and paperwork to be presented and to require blood 1086 and tissue samples. New offences are also proposed which mainly follow on from the proposals for new powers. They include failure to present wildlife specimens or paperwork or obstructing police officers or wildlife inspectors in other ways. Finally and fundamentally, penalties will be increased across the board. The maximum gaol sentence for offences tried in magistrates' courts would be increased from three to six months. For offences tried in the Crown Court, the increase would be from two to five years. As the noble Baroness recognised, it would also make the offences arrestable, which should significantly improve the chances of achieving successful prosecutions for this awful trade.
Those are important proposals and we shall be looking at the responses to the consultation paper very carefully. As the consultation period does not end until 4th April, it is important that noble Lords respond and encourage the many organisations with which they are obviously involved to do so likewise. After the responses have been received, copies of all responses will be available in the Library.
In response to my noble friend Lord Hoyle, some proposals can be taken forward through a statutory instrument; others will need primary legislation. Subject to the outcome of the consultation process, the Government will be looking for an early legislative slot. My noble friend Lord Hoyle, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, asked whether the Criminal Justice Bill might be an appropriate vehicle. I assure all noble Lords that this possibility is being considered. We are currently having discussions with the relevant departments to explore the proposals further.
It is clear from this debate that noble Lords will want any proposals put forward by the Government to have a smooth passage so we can ensure that these criminals are properly penalised for their crimes and are made to realise the damage that they are causing.
As noble Lords have recognised, reviewing the COTES regulations is only part of the answer. In answer to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, the Government have taken three other significant steps to combat illegal wildlife trade. First, at the international level, the UK delegation, led by my honourable friend the Minister for Fisheries, Water and Nature Protection, was a key player at the conference of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) held in Santiago, Chile, in November. The conference took a number of decisions of great importance, both for the development of CITES and for the wildlife species it protects. For example, it agreed to the UK's proposal to move the basking shark up to Appendix II of the convention and to provide similar protection for the whale shark, sea horses, mahogany and many turtle species. The experiences of the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, were fascinating. I am sure that we shall benefit from his knowledge as we take forward proposals following the consultation.
In response to my noble friend Lady Gale and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, CITES imposes a complete trade ban on the most endangered 1087 species. Therefore, there is no question of sustainable trade in such species. I note the comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, about the density of the website. We shall try to draw attention to that.
We believe that these outcomes represent a triumph for persistent lobbying by the Government in support of its sustainable development agenda within CITES. We took further significant steps in April 2002 when we launched the National Wildlife Crime Intelligence Unit, which complements the excellent work being done by police and Customs officers tackling wildlife crime at the international level. The unit was given £440,000. That, along with the £100,000 promised by police chief constables in England and Wales, and the support of the Scottish Executive, has ensured that the unit has the resources it needs to go ahead. It also aims to identify the main individuals involved in serious wildlife crime, gather intelligence in relation to priority species, including caviar, ivory, shahtoosh, parrots and birds of prey, and has access to databases.
It is important to note—the noble Baroness, Lady By ford, will be interested in this point—that the Magistrates' Association information toolkit and sentencing guide will increase magistrates' awareness of the seriousness of environmental crime. The sentencing guidance will increase the importance of stressing the conservation implications of wildlife crime.
The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, raised different facets of sustainable development. It is important to try, as we did at the CITES conference in Santiago in November, to reach a compromise between the various countries in regard to stockpiles of raw ivory. Noble Lords will recognise that many of them suffer from poverty; for example, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. We believe that we achieved a fair and reasonable balance, but there is always a conflict between the needs of those in poor countries and those who want to protect various species.
It is important that noble Lords respond to the consultation. The Customs and Excise operate a specialist CITES enforcement team based at Heathrow, which is widely recognised across Europe and the rest of the world as an example of how to tackle the problem. It is also important that we supplement the work carried out by the National Wildlife Crime Intelligence Unit, which complements the excellent work done by police and Customs officers in tackling the crime at national and international level.
It is important that punishment matches the crime and I have already outlined our proposals for increasing sentences. However, it is no deterrent if the available sentences are not used. We were therefore delighted that the Magistrates' Association joined my right honourable friend the Minister of State for the Environment and a number of other key players in the fight against environmental crime to launch the information toolkit.
§ Earl Peel
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for intervening. I have not taken part in the debate. We 1088 discussed the important aspect of surveillance equipment during the course of the Animal Health Bill. I accept that increasing penalties will have a deterrent effect, but surely the key is catching people.
Sophisticated surveillance equipment is available but I wonder whether it will be made available to those whose job it is to try to catch these people.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, I am sure that the wildlife unit which I have detailed will be examining the most effective means of developing its work to counter such trade. If I can provide further information, I shall write to the noble Earl.
I apologise for running over my time. In conclusion, I thank my noble friend Lord Hoyle for initiating the debate. I have not had time to discuss in sufficient detail the COTES proposal and I hope the House will understand why I said initially that I should be delighted to write to all noble Lords who have taken part. I welcome the support we have been given.
In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, the consultation is definitely not a means of delay. Quite the contrary: it is a means of achieving consensus for action. My noble friend has ensured that we have a good base on which to build that consensus and during the consultation period we must all press to ensure that not only is there agreement and consensus but a will to act with best speed to protect animals and species about which noble Lords have spoken with such passion.
§ Baroness Andrews
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question. Motion agreed to.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 8.25 to 8.30 p.m]