My Lords, I draw attention to my interest as the voluntary chairman of the United for Wildlife transport taskforce, a coalition of companies that tries to prevent the shipment of ivory and other illegal wildlife products. I strongly and emphatically welcome this Bill today. As Foreign Secretary, as my noble friend Lord Gardiner noted, I hosted the first intergovernmental global conference on the illegal wildlife trade, here in London in 2014. The Conservative manifesto of 2015 went on to say that we would,
“continue to lead the world in stopping the poaching that kills thousands of … elephants … each year”,
“press for a total ban on ivory sales”.
In the 2017 election, this commitment was mysteriously and, in my view, foolishly omitted, leading to some confusion about the Government’s intentions. I am glad to say that that confusion has now been dispelled, particularly with the arrival of the current Secretary of State, Michael Gove, at Defra.
Two weeks ago, it was a pleasure to attend the reception at the Foreign Office with three Secretaries of State committing themselves to the success of the forthcoming conference, the successor conference on the illegal wildlife trade. One of those Secretaries of State has already departed the Government, of course, which is a little concerning, but I have already had a word with his successor, the new Foreign Secretary, who very much supports the importance of the conference. That conference is a reminder to us that, while this Bill is very important, it should not make us think that we are yet doing everything that is necessary to combat the illegal wildlife trade. This is part of that effort, on one aspect of it—on ivory. We should renew our determination on every other aspect, because rhinos are being driven to extinction by beliefs about the properties of their horns that are utter drivel, and hundreds of thousands of pangolins, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, said, are trafficked and killed. That is sad testimony to the fact that, even though we think that we live in an age of enlightenment in the human race, we are still surrounded by a great deal of selfishness, stupidity and greed.
The situation of the African elephant is one of the most dramatic pieces of evidence of that, with perhaps 30,000 elephants killed annually. Other figures of 20,000 are cited, but the numbers are vast. The great elephant census of 2016 showed the population of savannah elephants declined by 30% between 2007 and 2014, in just seven years. The situation of forest elephants is perhaps even worse. The need to end that slaughter is easy to justify even in purely human terms, of course. An elephant should be worth more alive than dead to a local community. They are a key part of a sustainable ecosystem; their killing is often part of the actions of organised crime or the consequence of corruption. It is in conflict with effective development in many countries across the world to allow that slaughter to continue but, of course, we do not need to justify it only in human terms. Put simply, this planet is not just for us; if we have any right to live on it, so do all the other species of the earth. It is a moral and ethical outrage that so many species are driven to extinction while inadequate steps are taken to address that.
The situation of the African elephant is now an emergency, which has developed in the last decade as rising prosperity in the East has brought new demand for ivory items. On
The ultimate answer is, of course, to eliminate the demand for these products. The work done by our task force is under the auspices of the Royal Foundation and His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge. I pay tribute to him and his efforts. When he addressed the people of China about not wanting such items any more, he had an audience of hundreds of millions and made a great impact. There is now hope: China is showing strong and firm leadership. Its airlines are signing up to declarations with the other companies that I mentioned. When President Xi Jinping met President Obama in 2016, China and the United States committed themselves to a near-total ban on the ivory trade. China is probably the largest market in terms of demand for these illegal products but is closing shops and factories. However, Chinese officials have expressed disappointment to me in the last 18 months. They deplore and regret the United Kingdom’s failure to take similar action until now. The Bill is part of putting that right.
Many British people would be astonished to discover that the United Kingdom is now probably the largest legal ivory market in the world. That has to be brought to an end, and here is the crux of the argument for the Bill. We have to persuade people in China, Vietnam, Thailand and elsewhere: that seeking products made of ivory is no longer socially acceptable; that they are not to be regarded as of value; that they are not a symbol of luxury but of cruelty; and that seeking their acquisition is not a sign of wealth but of ignorance. We cannot defeat ivory poaching if we cannot persuade people of those things. We cannot persuade people if we in the United Kingdom say that it is OK to sell our old stuff to them, even though we do not want them to buy anything new. This is all the more true when it is so hard for most people to know how old ivory may be. Sometimes, in recent years, thousands of ivory items from the United Kingdom have been sold through the Hong Kong market in a single year.
The antiques trade in this country is indeed, as my noble friend said, a world-renowned and outstanding industry, but a couple of months ago I saw a quote in the newspapers from someone in that trade arguing that banning sales of older ivory would not save a single elephant today. The answer to that argument is: of course it will save elephants. We cannot persuade anyone that seeking ownership of ivory is undesirable if we are selling it to them at the same time and ascribing value to it. That is why a ban of the kind embodied in the Bill is so important. For it to work, the law has to be simple, clear and tough enough for people to know if they are breaking it. Therefore, the exemptions have to be kept as minimal and tight as possible. The Government have found the right balance in the Bill, or come very close to doing so.
Under current law, necessary certificates are often forged and internet sales, which have become prevalent in recent years, show little awareness of or care for existing laws. The International Fund for Animal Welfare found that most ivory sold in antique shops and fairs was sold without the required proof of age, while 40% of the illegal wildlife products seized by UK Border Force in a recent five-year period were of ivory. That is not an acceptable state of affairs in the United Kingdom. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is in no doubt about this; my noble friend quoted it, so I will not read that out again, but basically the trade in illicit ivory is lucrative only because there is a parallel licit supply. That is why countries such as Botswana and India have now implemented a total ban, with no exemptions. It is why African range states are asking us to take this action and why it is important to extend this ban—as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, mentioned—to other species which have ivory, such as hippos, so that new confusion and displacement of demand is not inadvertently created by the introduction of the ban on elephant ivory. I am also pleased that the Government made commitments on Report in the other place to address that issue, and quickly.
The case for the Bill is overwhelming. For those of us who are involved, as I am, in efforts to interdict and intercept shipments and to reduce demand, our job will definitely be made easier by the introduction of this law. It is not the answer on its own but it is an integral part of a concerted and urgent effort across continents, cultures and industries. If we did not in this country propose and pass such a Bill, we would not be playing our part in the great international effort that is required to save some of the world’s most iconic, splendid and vital animals from slaughter and devastation. If we pass the Bill and give it a warm welcome in this House, we can play our part in that necessary work.