My Lords, I have an interest to declare, in that I own a 19th-century artefact made entirely of ivory. It is of minimal intrinsic value and little artistic merit; in fact, it is a long paper knife. These items were most often used for cutting the pages of new books. However, it belonged to Benjamin Disraeli and is one of the few Disraeli treasures outside the ownership of the National Trust at Hughenden. It has letters of provenance from his niece, Mrs Coningsby Disraeli, attesting that it was always on the great man’s desk, and family tradition had it that it was given to her Prime Minister by Queen Victoria herself when she was created Empress of India.
Notwithstanding that, I have listened to the description given by my noble friend the Minister of the wonderful work that the British Government are doing across the world in trying to bring to an end the illegal killing of elephants for their ivory, an activity which I entirely condemn. I have read thoroughly all the guidance we have received as well as the various submissions by others to the consultation. I have read the speeches in the other place, and I agree that the banning of the sale of pre-1947 works made of ivory in this country could lead to a reduction in the incidence of poaching for ivory in the Asian sub-continent and in Africa, and a reduction in the appalling market for ivory products in China. I welcome the explanation given by the Minister of how this will work. However, would he also comment on whether any other antique artefacts are made from parts of animals or birds that are threatened with extinction which have been banned for sale with the result that their numbers have risen?
Disraeli’s paper cutter would, I suspect, be exempt under Clause 2 of the Bill as being of outstanding historical value. I have no intention whatsoever of selling it, but I would like to consider for a moment the process of exemption. Should I decide to apply for an exemption certificate and pay a fee, the Secretary of State will appoint assessors, probably several of them, to consider the following: first, whether it is indeed made of ivory; secondly, whether it was fashioned before 1918; and, thirdly, whether it is outstanding according to the criteria set out in the Bill. Unfortunately, the combination of government processes and cultural or historical assessors is too often a recipe for procrastination and delay. I am currently awaiting some answers from government and its assessors concerning another valuable historic artefact, and have been doing so for five years, so far with no result. Would it not be proper for the process of the creation of exemption certificates to be time-limited to, say, normally three months? If that limit cannot be put into the Bill, would the Minister give an assurance that he will consider it for the regulations?
My comments are but brief ones, and this is an area in which understandable emotions and sorrow concerning the fate of these wonderful animals must indeed guide us. I welcome and shall be supporting the Bill.