Requirement to amend definition of ivory

Part of Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) (No. 2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 4th July 2018.

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Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng Conservative, Spelthorne 4:00 pm, 4th July 2018

This is a very important debate. In listening to speeches from across the House, I was struck by the fact that I had never seen the House so united in terms of the purpose and seriousness of this legislation. The real differences—if there are differences—are about the manner of dealing with this and how we get the best results. That is very encouraging.

If one were to look at the number of elephants, one would be truly horrified. There were something like 1.2 million in 1980. Today, from the figures that I saw, there are a little over 400,000. Over 38 years, we have seen a two-thirds reduction in the number of wild elephants, so the species is undoubtedly in danger.

As a consequence, one can see why the Government have come up with this legislation. Initially, it was a very narrowly focused Bill, essentially designed to stop the trade in ivory with respect to elephants and the killing of elephants by poachers. One can understand exactly what the narrow scope of this legislation was. It was right for the people who have been campaigning on this issue to suggest that the narrow focus on elephants should be widened. Obviously, ivory comes from a range of sources. People have talked about mammoths and the teeth of hippopotamuses. It was inevitable that the legislation as drafted would be perhaps attacked or scrutinised on the basis that the focus was too narrow. I fully understand that.

What has happened in the past couple of days is that the Front-Bench team has listened to the debates and to the various representations. I saw on Twitter—I do not use Twitter very much, by the way—that the Environment Secretary has suggested that the next phase should be a much wider consultation than that proposed in new clause 1 by Opposition Front Benchers. That must be the right approach because, under the new clause, as Members have mentioned, mammoths are not included. We know that the way people claim that bits of ivory come from mammoths hides a multitude of sins and a great deal of criminality. That is another issue that is often overlooked in this debate—it has been mentioned once or twice.

The communities in which elephant poaching takes place, and the people who are driving this trade, are often linked with organised crime and with other very unsavoury elements in the countries of Africa in which the elephant and ivory are found. This has been going on for decades. One need only read accounts from Stanley in the 19th century to see how poachers—mass murderers, my hon. Friend Mr Jayawardena suggested—have been perpetrating these crimes for decades. It has to stop. The reason that this is an interesting and important piece of legislation is that it marks, I think, the first time, or one of the first times, that a western country—or certainly an advanced economic country—has taken this issue very seriously.

As we go forward, after the international conference at the beginning of October, we will have to be even more focused and even more rigorous in our approach to the ivory trade. As people have observed, just banning the ivory trade with respect to the elephant will not be good enough. We have to take a holistic approach. We cannot simply say that ivory from the elephant should be banned and not legislate for other animals and other sources of ivory. The broader approach is obviously the best one, but legislation is difficult in any broad approach. We have to get the right terms and the right drafting. I am not sure that new clause 1 is necessarily the best way of trying to address this problem, which is why I will vote against it if it is pressed to a Division. I think that Government amendments 3 and 4 are a bit broader and more flexible. As we have discovered today, there have been later announcements suggesting that a broader approach—even broader than that proposed in new clause 1—is for the best.

It is a real credit to this House that something as sensitive as this Bill has brought forward a wide, courteous and informed debate. It is a real honour to be able to participate in the passage of this legislation.