My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate and welcome this Bill. I pay tribute to the Minister for introducing it, and to my noble friend Lord Grantchester, who both showed that there is very strong cross-party support for this measure. Indeed, that cross-party support was very clearly seen in the House of Commons and already in this debate there has been very marked all-party support in your Lordships’ House.
The history of killing elephants for ivory is a very ugly and shameful one. The sheer scale of the slaughter shows that we are in a race against extinction of one of the world’s most well-loved species. However, I was glad the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, reminded us that there have been human victims of this ivory trade too, including brave people who have given their lives to combat it, and they deserve to be remembered and known for their valour and courage.
I am glad that the Labour Party has a history in its manifesto of committing to this measure, and I support the amendments put forward by the Opposition in another place in seeking to allow the Bill to be extended to other animals. I very much take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hague, that simply banning elephant ivory risks displacement to other similar ivory substances. However, in speaking in this debate I will make particular reference to musical instruments. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Grantchester and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, mentioned this. I will mention an instrument that I imagine was not in the forefront of drafters’ minds when they were looking at this legislation: the Northumbrian pipes. I have a non-financial interest to declare in that I am president of the Northumbrian Pipers Society. I own two sets of pipes, although they do not contain any ivory.
The Northumbrian pipes are perhaps the only indigenous instrument of the regions of England still being played. They are not like the Scottish bagpipes in that they are a domestic instrument, rather than an instrument that can be played in grand open-air ceremonies. Indeed, their history is that they used to be played largely by shepherds in hillside cottages in the winters in Northumberland for local entertainment. The difference between the two sets of pipes was brought home to me when I tried to arrange a reception for pipers here in the House of Lords in which I hoped 20 pipers would be able to play in quite a small room. The authorities at first looked at me with some horror, imagining the amount of sound that would come from 20 or so pipers in a room. I commend these instruments to your Lordships. Indeed, in this summer of the Great Exhibition of the North I hope you will all visit Newcastle and the north-east to hear them for yourselves.
There is an issue with the retrospectivity in the legislation. A lot of Northumbrian pipes were made entirely legally in the 1970s and the 1980s, when there was renewed interest in the instrument, using either antique or CITES-licensed ivory. These days, many of those original pipe-makers are now not making pipes. It is felt that if the exemption applies as strictly as is currently arranged in the Bill, it will be quite difficult for those Northumbrian pipes to remain on the market and to be used, at a time when we are trying to increase interest in the instrument, in particular to increase the playing of it in schools and local areas in the north-east.
The percentage rule has been mentioned. I ask the Minister—it is not clear to me, although it might be to others—why those percentages were chosen and how they are interpreted. In the case of the pipes, for example, if you look at just the actual pipes, several would easily come over the 20% rule, although for the instrument as a whole, with the bellows and the bag, the percentage would be rather different. Would the Minister address in Committee, if not today, how these percentages will operate? I note he said it was by volume, but I would like some clarification of how that operates in the case of a rather complex instrument like the Northumbrian pipes.
I was struck by the powerful speech from the noble Lord, Lord Hague, and I understand and support the rationale behind the Bill, but I find it slightly difficult to understand how permitting the sale of the Northumbrian pipes made after 1975, entirely legally—pipes that were bought as instruments to be played, not as pieces of ivory to collect—would in any way threaten the vital battle against the poaching of elephants. These items will be on the market despite their ivory content, not because of it.
The Minister in the other place expressed sympathy about this and agreed to meet with Members of the other place who raised this issue, in particular the Member of Parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my honourable and good friend Liz Twist, the MP for Blaydon. I hope that those meetings are taking place and that some ways of addressing this issue can be thought about in a sympathetic way. I know that the Minister here today and my noble friends are aware of my concern, so I will not say anything further about it at this stage but will perhaps revert to it in Committee if I feel I want to explore the issues further.
I do not wish what I have said to detract from my overall support for this measure, which I believe is extremely important. It is important in its own right, but also in terms of our commitments to biodiversity at the international and national level. We all know what a challenge biodiversity is in the world today. It is even a challenge to us here in the UK—with threats to species such as the hedgehog, the water vole and our beloved red squirrel, there are many challenges for us here to address—but internationally this is a huge challenge, and fundamentally I believe that the Bill is an important way of starting to meet it.