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Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: Where the criteria that the Minister described for plants has been
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put into effect in the United Kingdom, how does that work within the single European market? Do the same rules apply across the whole of Europe or do they apply simply to the UK? If so, how has the UK managed to opt out of applying the single market rules to plants?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I do not know, and unless wisdom strikes me from on high in a very few seconds, I shall not have the answer. Therefore I will write to the noble Baroness. However, it would be my understanding that we would act legally and within EU rules, so in those circumstances we must have the power to do so. I am not quite sure whether we are doing that unilaterally; it is possible that we are not. However, I shall write to her.
The Duke of Montrose: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for going into suitable detail on many of these issues in her response. It is interesting to note that the Government reckon that the powers are already in place even if at times they are not necessarily being implemented.
I come to the debate at a slight disadvantage. Periodically we discuss matters relating to Scotland during proceedings on the Bill. I know about the hybridity problem there but I could not say whether it exists in England. In Scotland the Deer Commission has decided that sika deer are polluting the native stocks of red deer and attempts are being made to remove hybrids. I am not sure whether the hybrid problem is known in the English context and whether the Government should be addressing it. However, it may be something for the Government to think about. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Earl said: We now move into the realm of the wildlife inspectors. My amendment seeks to ensure that such inspectors would be subjected to a code of practice. When it comes to pesticides inspectors the Minister has already implied that a similar arrangement will be made, so I assume that he will carry out his commitment as far as concerns this amendment.
Earl Peel: I am grateful to the noble Lord, but I shall expand my remarks just a little because this point is
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worthy of discussion. For example, I think I am right in saying that there is nothing to ensure that these wildlife inspectors will be subjected to the same level of training as, say, trading standards or environmental health officers. That being the case, it enhances the argument for having a legally binding code of practice.
I want to illustrate by way of a piece of information that has come to my attention why I think this amendment is even more important. Perhaps I may draw to the Minister's attention a Scottish police wildlife crime conference which took place earlier this month. At that conference, the new head of investigations at a well-known NGOI put it no stronger than thatput forward recommendations for future investigation into wildlife crime. Among those recommendations was included the proposal that the police should,
I suggest that this is pretty sinister stuff and I know that the implications of such a proposal will not be lost on the Minister. The idea that a senior representative of an NGO should be involved in the preparation of individual case files is, to my way of thinking, alarming.
My information suggests that there is considerable suspicion that this sort of thing has happened quite a lot in the past, so it is essential that the police and all wildlife inspectors are wholly independent and impartial in their operations. I urge the Minister to accept not only that at all times they should have a statutory duty to abide by a codeI think he has agreed to thatbut also to recognise that it is important that the contents of the code should cover the illustration I have just outlined for the Committee.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 295 and 296 grouped with Amendment No. 294. They would introduce a requirement for a wildlife inspector to "reasonably believe" that an offence has been committed before entering premises. With these amendments I am attempting to mirror the Government's own amendment in respect of pesticide inspectors, which I think I am right in saying was government Amendment No. 283, stating,
The wording in my amendment is different because it was tabled after the Government's amendment. So I hope that the Minister will respond by saying, "If we will do this for pesticide inspectors, we will do the same for wildlife inspectors". That is my hope. Reference is made in the information notes to the Bill that so-called "fishing trips" are not part of an inspector's role. Clearly they should not be, and this amendment would help to ensure that such forays do not take place.
I should point out that I have tabled two separate amendments because the Bill divides the offences into two groups: new offences under this Bill and old offences already covered in legislation. It is also important to note that none of these amendments has
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any implication regarding the ability of wildlife inspectors to check compliance with licence conditions. They refer only to offences. I beg to move.
The Duke of Montrose: I support my noble friend Lord Peel in his amendment. We are grateful to the Minister for the introduction of the code of practice which, in many ways, forms his response to the arguments put forward on 5 June in Standing Committee in another place by my honourable friend Jim Paice. It has been suggested that government Amendment No. 283 recognises the concern expressed at the time. We are also interested in the way the Government have followed up the other issue raised at that sitting. In his response to the debate, the Minister, Jim Knight, said:
"Wildlife inspectors have never needed reasonable suspicion of an offence before exercising their enforcement provisions under the 1981 Act".[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee A, 5/6/05; col. 218.]
Lord Hylton: When the Minister comes to reply, I should be extremely grateful if he could say how many wildlife inspectors are now in post, what is their annual cost and whether it is proposed to engage any more than we have already? I must say that I am quite deeply sceptical about the value of such people. This is not something that ought to be increased or proliferated in any way. I apologise for not having given prior notice of these questions. If the Minister cannot reply now, perhaps he would be kind enough to write to me.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I should like to address a couple of the interesting points raised by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, and pay tribute to the work of the police in investigating wildlife crime. Every time they have a successful prosecution, it strikes me how hard it is for them to gather evidence and take it through to a successful prosecution. I recognise that a couple of years ago the Government upped the penalties, which has been helpful. Nevertheless, with all the pulls that crime has on society, it will always be the underfunded part of the work that will be carried out. Although there is underfunding, at the same time there is the willingness of the public to contribute. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, referred to large NGOs which may be willing to carry out the work. It may be easier to foresee a situation in which the NGOs are in a better position to take the sort of action to which the noble Earl referred, rather than public bodies. At the moment, I am not saying whether that is right or
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wrong; I am simply saying that it is a matter of funding, and before decisions are made, I think we need to think about the funding of them.
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