My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the Bill and outlining its objectives and key clauses: he has made a very powerful case. This party is very pleased that the Bill is finally before your Lordships’ House today and I am honoured to lead on this Second Reading debate for this side of the House, as since early childhood the elephant has been my favourite animal. Elephants are majestic, social animals that have walked this earth for tens of thousands of years, and their existence is now threatened by man’s greed.
Labour Party policy is to introduce an ivory ban, as set out in our 2017 manifesto and restated in our animal welfare plan. The Conservative Party planned to ban the ivory trade in its 2010 and 2015 manifestos. After failing to act, it quietly dropped the pledge from its 2017 manifesto, but I am now delighted that this Government have had a change of heart and I commend the NGOs, charities and campaigners who have been pivotal in ensuring that this important legislation has now been brought forward. The Minister said that the illegal wildlife trade has grown rapidly in recent years; this can no longer be ignored. It is now estimated to be the fourth-largest transnational illegal trade behind drugs, human trafficking and counterfeiting, and to be worth more than £15 billion annually. It is estimated that 100,000 elephants were killed by poachers between 2010 and 2012. Despite international efforts, around 20,000 elephants are still being killed every year for the illegal ivory trade—approximately 55 every day. According to figures collected by the Elephant Trade Information System, approximately 40 tonnes of ivory were illegally traded in 2016, the highest amount ever recorded. At that unsustainable rate, elephants are likely to be extinct in the wild within two decades. This is despite a ban on the sale of new ivory having been in place for more than 40 years.
The rapid decline in elephant populations demonstrates that the current legislation has failed to end the illegal trade. The existence of legal domestic markets has fuelled this trade by providing cover and reinforcing the high value of ivory across the world. Recently, China, Hong Kong and the United States have taken measures to ban the sale of ivory. As the largest exporter of legal ivory, Britain must now act urgently.
Ivory is an emotive topic for conservationists and antique dealers alike, and we believe the exemptions in the Bill strike the balance between being robust and being pragmatic. We welcome the de minimis exemption for items made prior to 1947 with less than 10% ivory content and the exemptions for musical instruments made prior to 1975 with less than 20% ivory content, accredited museums and items of outstanding artistic, cultural or historical significance. We will be pressing the Government to ensure that only the rarest and most important items of their type are granted exemptions and that an annual register of exemptions will be published to ensure transparency and public confidence in the ban.
Given that there is cross-party recognition that a comprehensive ban on the sale of ivory is necessary, we had looked forward to an amicable process that would enable us to pass this legislation swiftly. However, I am aware that some Members present are concerned about the limited exemptions for antique ivory and may question the relationship between ivory antiques and the illicit market and seek to dilute the tough provisions in the Bill. The Bill responds to the call of African nations that have grappled with the devastation of the illegal ivory trade over many years. Illegal poaching is serious organised crime that is decimating wildlife populations, threatening local livelihoods and fuelling further criminal activity including terrorism, with extremists using the money to fund their activities across Africa. I hope that as amendments are debated regarding the value and trading of antiques, the House will keep that at the forefront of the debate as the Bill makes good progress. The elephant and its conservation are the objectives.
While Labour wholeheartedly supports the ivory ban, that is not to say that the Bill cannot and should not be improved. It currently has a narrow focus on elephants, which ignores the poaching of hippos and other non-elephant species for their ivory. We believe that broadening the definition of ivory is necessary not only because many CITES species are at risk of becoming endangered but to prevent a narrow focus on elephant ivory pushing poachers towards other forms of ivory. The black market’s insatiable demand for ivory has turned towards hippos, which offer a cheaper and, in many ways, easier ivory option, given that there is now more awareness and legal protection targeted at elephants. Indeed, hippos have declined by 12% to about 100,000 in the past decade. We hope that the scope of the legislation will be extended to protect hippos, walruses and narwhals and welcome the Government’s commitment to put this out to a public consultation. This is important, given that there may be different consequences of banning certain types of ivory. For example, the Musicians’ Union has highlighted the use of mammoth ivory in instrument repairs over many years as a deliberate alternative to the use of elephant-derived ivory.
We would also welcome further consideration of how exempted items can be verified. Of the many submissions received on the Bill, one of the most interesting came from the Musicians’ Union. This brought up several issues concerning the documentation process for musicians, especially when travelling internationally for performances. We will also be looking to the Minister to provide assurances that the registration and certification scheme is not open to abuse. The Minister will be aware that legal CITES Article 10 certificates have been used to conceal illegal ivory in the past and that other certification schemes have been subject to fraud. We must not let that happen here.
We will also be pressing the Government to ensure that the threshold for the defence of ignorance is set very high. It is well known that illegal trade is fuelled by unscrupulous traders marketing ivory as bone, as ivory sourced from other species or as antique ivory when it is in fact new. The consultation received record responses, as the Minister indicated, which is indicative of public and industry awareness. The Bill will be greatly improved by the inclusion of a legal notice at the point of sale advising that the documentation is a legal requirement, and we will seek to introduce such an amendment in Committee.
Lastly, we are also keen to ensure that there are adequate resources for enforcing this new legislation. The National Wildlife Crime Unit will be directly responsible for investigating and for enforcing the legislation once it is passed, but at present it has merely 12 members of staff, including administrative staff, to cover the entirety of its work across the UK. What assessment have the Government made of the resource implication of enforcing the ban for the wildlife crime unit? We trust that the Minister will be able to give assurances that it will receive the appropriate funding necessary for its needs. In similar fashion, I ask the Minister to outline what plans the Government have for proactively policing and monitoring sales, including online activity, and what kind of resources will be needed. This will need to be explored in greater detail in Committee.
I extend my thanks to the many organisations that have provided submissions and briefing notes on the Bill. There is no doubt in the public’s mind that this is an important issue in desperate need of concerted national and international action. There must be a culture change away from ivory in a similar fashion to the changing perception regarding fur coats. It is a moral imperative.
These Benches are pleased to show cross-party support for this measure, which has been introduced in time for the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference due to be held in London this October. It also needs to be most urgently brought forward for the elephant.