Submission to Environmental Audit Committee
Inquiry: Biodiversity and Ecosystems,
Parliamentary Session 2019 - 20.
The terms of reference have been drawn narrowly, referring to human benefit from biodiversity as the sole reason for its conservation: ‘healthy ecosystems are vital for human existence…(m)aintaining their numbers is crucial if we are to continue living healthy lives.’ This implies the need for an economic justification, and an economic parameter, for doing anything. This is a totally inadequate basis for evaluating the complex, interconnected web of life with which we share this planet, which could only arise from the perception of those who ‘know the price of everything, and the value of nothing’. It also fails to reflect international law. Both the CBD and Bern Convention refer to wildlife having an ‘intrinsic value’, beyond any measurement in terms of human economic well-being, and their terms make it clear that action which is against human needs or wishes will be necessary, that species and habitats needs will sometimes over-ride human.
If the Committee maintains this requirement for human benefit to result from conservation activity it will fail to provide an effective regime for biodiversity as a whole, as much needs to be done which is not in human economic self-interest. The correct test is ‘does it benefit species and their habitats?’ Controlling and limiting human activity is the fundamental need as that is the cause of biodiversity’s sorry state.
It is regrettable that the committee in its terms of reference appears not to understand this, and apparently wishes to continue the ‘human first’ approach which has done so much damage.
A fundamental part of this broader, and correct, approach is the legislative framework, and its consequent enforcement mechanisms. It is therefore highly regrettable that the committee has not taken steps to require the fulfilment of its demands of Defra made in its third report of 2012 – 13 on Wildlife Crime. These reflected concerns the committee had and included the following: - the lack of implementation of the offence of possession of illegal pesticides (Section 43 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006); implementing third party criminal liability; addressing the undue complexity of legislation and the low level of maximum sentences for offences.
In respect of these Defra has done nothing. Meanwhile the Scottish Government has addressed effectively all four, the matter of sentences being revised to a 5 year maximum jail term is in the Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament.
It is surely reasonable to expect some concern to be expressed by the committee and some effort to compel ministers to act. Defra’s Secretaries of States since have been primarily concerned at supporting rural incomes and not ‘upsetting’ the constituency which overwhelmingly supports the ruling Party. So, although Defra did request the Law Commission to provide proposals for updated legislation, and penalties, which it did in 2015, it comes as no surprise to note that the only part enacted related to invasive alien species, because of the adverse economic costs these have to businesses. The rest gathers dust (virtually at least) in the department’s computer system.
Further, despite a Defra representative being involved in its creation and accepting its terms, the Bern Convention’s Tunis Action Plan 2013 – 2020 for the better tackling of wildlife crime has entirely failed to elicit any implementation in England from the department.
The real value that governments since 2013 have placed on biodiversity can reasonably be measured by this total lack of action; and the concern of successive committees likewise.
It is therefore respectfully submitted that these outstanding, fundamental, matters require urgent action to implement them. However interesting or important the matters proposed for inquiry by this committee now may be, they must not be allowed to eclipse past concerns that have been entirely ignored.