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21 Mar 2003 : Column 1251—continued

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.

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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:

that is, the convention on international trade in endangered species—

The answer was:

Nearly 2 million parts or derivatives were seized and the answer then referred to "items recorded by weight". It added:

Only six people were prosecuted.

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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 debates 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

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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:

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?

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