My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on an excellent speech and it is a pleasure to follow him. When we declare an interest with regard to a particular matter being debated in the House, it is usually a financial or economic one. On this occasion, as we discuss a ban on the buying and selling of ivory with a few limited exceptions, I would like to mention an interest in one relative in particular. I am very happy indeed to have as my cousin Iain Douglas-Hamilton, a renowned zoologist and wildlife conservationist. He and his family are based in Kenya and, 25 years ago, he founded the charity Save the Elephants, which is still going very strong.
Iain said that as a boy he dreamed of flying across the African bush helping to save the continent’s wildlife. Dreams can come true. Indeed, for many years he flew over a number of African countries carrying out elephant counts so that their Governments would know by how much the elephant populations had dwindled. This was an important service for the Governments concerned. Iain became one of the foremost authorities in the world on the African elephant and one of its greatest champions. He wrote in the National Geographic blog:
“The world’s wildlife, both on land and in our waters, is such a precious resource, but it is also a limited one. It cannot be manufactured. And once it’s gone, it cannot be replenished. And those who profit from it illegally are not just undermining our borders and our economies. They are truly stealing from the next generation”.
I believe that lain Douglas-Hamilton was right about the next generation. The natural heritage of many parts of Africa is directly under threat, and what amounts to ecocide could destroy the wildlife and the magnificent animals that attract tourists to Africa from all over the world.
Thanks to Save the Elephants and other estimable wildlife conservation organisations, we have a great deal of knowledge about the situation facing these very intelligent animals, which make such an invaluable contribution to the ecological infrastructure of our precious planet. We also know, sadly, of the man-made perils that currently stalk the elephants. Ivory can command a high price, particularly in the Middle East, and that continues to be a powerful incentive to the networks of brutal poachers and traffickers.
According to the United Nations, up to 100 elephants in Africa are being killed every day, with their tusks hacked off their bodies by ruthless poachers involved in the now illegal international ivory trade. In the last 10 years, the number of elephants in the world has gone down by almost one-third and, as has been said by the noble Lord who has just spoken, we must not forget the threat posed also to rhinos, hippos and walruses, as well as the narwhal, with that extraordinary pointed tusk. It is much to be welcomed that the Government began a consultation earlier this month to see whether the new, tougher ivory trading ban that we are considering today, which will apply regardless of the date of the object, can be extended by secondary legislation to other such creatures.
The trade in ivory has highlighted the situation by pointing out how close to extinction a very special species can be. My noble friend Lord Hague of Richmond made one of the best speeches I have ever heard in this House. He is fundamentally right in saying that we are confronting a moral outrage. I believe that to be entirely the case.
The action taken by the United States, China and France has already been referred to. Being prepared to act is a significant indication of the importance of this subject. The Government have said that the Bill before us will bring into force a ban on ivory sales in the UK which would be,
“the toughest in Europe—and one of the toughest in the world”.
Adequate enforcement of the ban in the UK will obviously be very important, so can the Minister assure us that that will happen and that the narrow exceptions, which the Government say do not make any contribution to poaching, will not be exploited or abused? Are the proposed self-registration and certification processes robust enough for items for which exemption is sought?
The ivory trade of course is not the sole threat to the well-being of elephants in Africa and Asia; they also face the continuing encroachment of human development into their traditional territories. Iain Douglas-Hamilton has put a lifetime of research into the conservation of elephants. He has discovered that farmers do not need to kill elephants that are trampling their crops. Elephants fear bees stinging them in the eyes, so if the boundaries encompassing fields have beehives, the elephants will not invade them. Over and above that are the proposals for safe zones for elephants. These will need to be protected and local populations helped to understand the positive benefits that co-existence with the elephants can bring. One reality identified by Save the Elephants is that elephants travel by night to avoid predators. Despite this evasive action, however, the threat to their survival continues.
Returning to the Bill, the Government are to be strongly commended for listening to the views expressed by more than 70,000 people who took part in a wide-ranging consultation, in which 88% backed a complete ban. The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, has said that this legislation,
“will reaffirm the UK’s global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that the abhorrent ivory trade should become a thing of the past”.
That day cannot come too soon.