Ivory Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:25 pm on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Digital) 4:25 pm, 17th July 2018

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of Space for Giants, the conservation charity, and as an organiser of the Giants Club conservation initiative, which unites the heads of state of the four countries that hold half of Africa’s remaining elephants: Botswana, Gabon, Kenya and Uganda. It has been a pleasure to follow the speeches today. It is true that, whatever our disagreements on other matters, what unites everyone in this building is that we are all elephant lovers. There are many people who should take credit for the decisive action in this Bill, and many of them are in this House today. This is a real opportunity for leadership by the UK, as several witnesses said to the Public Bill Committee, and Defra has shown enthusiasm for the cause. At the same time, we are part of a worldwide movement, and I am particularly pleased by the hugely significant ban by China on the trade in ivory, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hague.

I am not going to repeat the figures for the decline in the savannah elephant populations, which were set out so clearly by the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, or indeed the rate at which elephants are being slaughtered for their ivory each year, which was mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Hague and Lord St John. However, the rate is unsustainable: one every 25 minutes. There is global consensus that legal domestic ivory markets contribute to the illegal wildlife trade and to the poaching of elephants, by fuelling the demand for ivory items and providing the opportunity for illegal modern ivory to be laundered through the legal market.

The UK has one of the world’s largest domestic ivory markets, with ivory items widely available for sale, subject only to certain licensing restrictions on post-1947 ivory. Independent reports have found that the UK market plays a role in the illegal wildlife trade, providing cover for the trade in illegal items. Trade data indicates that the UK is the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory pieces and in particular exports more than any other country to the world’s largest illegal markets in Asia. So I strongly welcome the UK Government’s proposal to ban ivory sales. As the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, mentioned, recent polling conducted at the beginning of December 2017 showed that a huge proportion of the UK population—88%—supports a ban on buying and selling ivory in the UK.

With the London conference on the illegal wildlife trade being held in October, I agree with the conservation charities that it is imperative that a near-total ban on UK ivory sales is in place as soon as possible. But I also agree with many of the environmental and conservation charities, such as the Environmental Investigation Agency, the Born Free Foundation, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and others, that there are key flaws in the Bill that should be addressed in the meantime.

I do not advocate a total ban on sales of all antique ivory and I support the Government’s proposed exemptions for sales of items containing a very small amount of ivory, along with pre-1975 musical instruments, and sales to and between museums. As a strong supporter of live music, I do, however, share some of the concerns of the Musicians’ Union, which is otherwise very supportive of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer a number of specific questions in this respect. Does mere ownership require registration under Section 10 or if the owner wishes to sell an instrument? Will a certificate be required for non-commercial use? Will a UK certificate be usable internationally as a musical instrument certificate when a musician performs abroad? Is that a certificate for each instrument or are all instruments owned by an individual covered? What will be the charge for such a certificate? The MU asked that this be waived or set at a low rate for professional musicians.

On the contrary, however, I do not support the width of the proposed exemption for continued commercial trade in items of artistic, cultural or historic significance. The scope of the proposed Section 2 exemption in the Bill is vague and will involve subjective judgments. An analysis of the impact of the Bill showed that around 25% of currently traded ivory items will fall under the exemptions. The UK exported around 36,000 ivory items worldwide from 2010 to 2015, with the USA the next-highest exporter with around 9,800 items. Therefore, even if the proposed ban with exemptions had been in place, exports would have been around 9,000 items—a quarter of 36,000—meaning that the UK would still have been the second-highest export of antique ivory in the world. At the very least, exemption certificates should be made harder to obtain.

All commercial imports and exports of ivory items should be banned and, if not, at least Section 2 items should be banned. All online dealing in ivory should be banned, as the noble Lord, St John of Bletso, mentioned. Allowing only physical sales, combined with the exemption certificates and registration process, should considerably reduce illegal trade and make the enforcement authorities’ job far easier. As the noble Lord also said, the Bill should clearly specify that all trade in raw ivory is banned—in other words, raw ivory should not be sold under any of the exemptions.

There should be a compulsory registration scheme for items exempted under Section 2:

“Pre-1918 items of outstanding artistic … value and importance”— which means that they can be traded repeatedly. Documentary evidence to prove the legality or origin of the ivory item should be required to support applications for exemption certificates and registration. Finally, the statutory guidance on criteria for the artistic exemption to be issued by the Secretary of State under Section 2(3) will be crucial. Will there be public consultation with all stakeholders on its provisions? Then, as mentioned by a number of other noble Lords, we have extensions to non-elephant ivory. That should not delay the Bill, but there should be, as many organisations have suggested—I hope that the Minister will repeat this assurance to the House—a consultation under Clause 35.

I have a further query about resources for enforcement, both online and offline, for Border Force based at Heathrow leading the CITES team that enforces the UK’s obligation to the convention and the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit. Will they have sufficient powers under the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979? How will this interface with the regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards? Also, while there is mention in the Bill of forfeiture following conviction, there is no specific mention of the application of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 for recovery of criminal assets. I hope that the Government can clarify that all this will apply. We should ensure that the full force of the criminal law is brought to bear through the process of this Bill.