Ivory Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:53 pm on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Flather Baroness Flather Crossbench 5:53 pm, 17th July 2018

My Lords, everyone who has spoken in the debate supports the Bill, and it really is motherhood and apple pie, or whatever they say. We cannot not support the Bill, because it is long overdue and ought to be supported. However, I want to share a little of my heritage as regards elephants because I do not think that anyone else who has spoken comes from an area where they grew up with them. Perhaps some other noble Lords did, I do not know, but they have not said so.

I come from India, where elephants are an integral part of our lives. They do not just roam around parks, they are trained to work. There are elephant farms where they work, but you cannot do that with African elephants. Indian elephants are kept in temples where they are an integral part of temple life. Everyone who goes to a temple is blessed by an elephant for one or two rupees. That is the kind of thing we grew up with. In India, elephants are treated with reverence and kindness. They are not considered to be just those lolloping animals who can be got rid of any time you like.

I do not know how much poaching goes on in India, but Hindu Indians are mostly very conscious of the elephant’s qualities and what the elephant stands for. We have a god with an elephant head who is always supposed to do good. Any festival or any such thing must start with a prayer to him first. Elephants are very much a part of our lives. From my life in India, I remember that elephants were not considered animals to be poached, killed and got rid of. I do not know how bad things have become since then.

My husband and I bought our first two ivory items in India in 1976. We bought them from a government shop. Even then, it was not a good idea to buy ivory from anywhere but government shops. They gave us a certificate to say that the items were from a government shop and did not come from poached ivory or an elephant that has been killed. We brought the items to England and declared them. With the certificates, we were allowed to take them home, but even at that time they wanted to know where the ivory items had come from, where we had bought them and whether they were alright.

I am trying to say that awareness of ivory use and what it may cause has been going on for a long time—it is just that the controls have never been properly enforced. There has not been anything strict enough to make a big difference. I hope that this Bill will make a big difference and that people will become conscious of this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Hague, said that we must stop people wanting ivory. We cannot do that. I will always want ivory, but I will never buy it again, even without a Bill. Once you know what it can lead to, you change your view, but that does not mean that you can stop liking something that you have always liked and enjoyed. I hope that the Bill works and things change. We went to Kenya in 1980. At that time, they were talking about culling the elephants because there were so many of them in the parks that they did not have enough food. That seemed so strange; perhaps I misunderstood, but I do not think that I did. They said, “We have too many elephants”. Clearly things have changed since then.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, talked about previous generations. I think that they did not need to worry as much as we do because the population has increased in leaps and bounds. People do not like to talk about population, but the population of Africa and India is going up and up. There are more poor people who have little access to food and the things that they need to live. What do they see? An elephant. To them, it is not a great beautiful beast; it is food. We have to understand that we are in a different ball game now because there are so many more people in the world than before. It is quite depressing to think that so many things will change. We talk about rainforests, forests and habitats, which are going all the time. It is said that in the Amazon jungle, an area the size of a town is destroyed and burned for agriculture every day. We are living in a world that, one way or another, we are destroying every day. It is obviously essential to do whatever we can to preserve what we still have.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, talked about the other species whose tusks or teeth can be used. I saw that the Labour Party put forward an amendment in the other place that was lost. I hope that it will come again and not be lost in this House. When people cannot get ivory tusks, they will go for whatever else they can get, so let us give this legislation a fair wind and see what happens. Even now, we may have to stop the selling of ivory of any kind, even if it has a certificate, because everything will eventually age to the point where a certificate can be created. Let us hope that we are on the right road.