Ivory Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Crathorne Lord Crathorne Conservative 6:00 pm, 17th July 2018

My Lords, the Government’s aim to reduce the poaching of elephants for their tusks is an entirely laudable one. I have been lucky enough to see these magnificent animals in the wild in Botswana and it is one of the great experiences of my life; a world without elephants is unthinkable.

The concern about this well-intentioned Bill is that it is unlikely to deter poachers, and this point has been made several times. A spokesman for TRAFFIC—the leading research organisation into the trade in endangered species—has stated that it is the booming Asian market that drives the poachers, and to a much lesser extent the western European market. The headline of the current issue of the Art Newspaper states:

The UK’s ban on ivory sales will not protect the elephants”.

I think we are all totally in favour of protecting elephants, so we must look at some of the Bill’s provisions to see if we can suggest minor improvements. The Defra report, which the Minister quoted, says:

“The Ivory Bill will be the toughest in Europe and amongst the toughest in the world. It will prevent the poaching of elephants by introducing a total ban”.

It will be completely brilliant if that is so, but it simply will not be.

A question was raised by my noble friend Lord De Mauley about the owners of ivory items. First, there is no compensation if you own ivory and an awful lot of people will lose out financially—in some cases, quite substantially. Then there is the rather complicated question of whether you are breaking the law or not. It will not be that difficult to be criminalised, quite unknowingly. My noble friend Lord De Mauley mentioned the example of a bring-and-buy sale, where somebody is selling something that contravenes the law. The Bill is pretty draconian; you can go to prison for up to five years, so there is quite a substantial risk if you get things wrong. I thought France had done rather well with this, through a rather enlightened approach, by permitting the sale within the EU of all ivory carved before a date in 1947, which was accepted by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. There, you merely notify the Government of the sale.

We have heard about the exemptions in the Bill and I have a question for the Minister. It seems slightly odd to have 10% ivory for one exemption and 20% for another. I wonder whether it could be a similar figure for both—I hope for 20% rather than 10%. My noble friend Lord Carrington of Fulham explained the complications of this and the worry about the enormous number of people involved in trying to sort this out.

We then have items of,

“outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value”— the rarest and most important item of their type. Again, that is pretty difficult to sort out. Having spent part of my life working with experts in various fields, I know that they do not really agree. To get someone to say, “This is of outstandingly high artistic value”, will be quite a complicated business. Just “high artistic value” might be better than “outstandingly high”, because there will be so many disagreements about what is outstandingly high and it is very difficult to judge.

Something in the Bill surprised me slightly. My noble friend Lord Cormack mentioned religious artefacts. I would have thought that “outstandingly high artistic, cultural, historical or religious artefacts” would be better in the Bill. For thousands of years religious artefacts were made from ivory and have been and are much venerated. That is something we should look at.

The date of 1918 has been set in the Bill. It is slightly arbitrary, but I imagine that it is simply because it is 100 years ago. Items produced after that cannot be sold except for limited exceptions. Again, my noble friend Lord Carrington of Fulham mentioned art deco pieces. Think of the quite amazingly beautiful art deco pieces with lots of ivory in them. At a stroke they will become valueless. Indeed, people collect those things. There will be people with collections that will become valueless. I suppose they will be able to send them abroad for sale. Paris will be the beneficiary of that. That date seems quite arbitrary. Could we not extend it to 1947? That would cover much more ground.

It was in around 1918 that Sir Victor Sassoon was forming his superb collection of more than 500 Chinese ivories. The collection was given to the British Museum by the Sir Victor Sassoon Chinese Ivories Trust. I was at the British Museum on 27 June when the director, Hartwig Fischer, launched the museum’s most recent review, which contained a lot of information about the gift of ivories. To my great surprise, in the question and answer period one journalist, I think from the Times, asked the director whether it was appropriate for the museum to accept a gift of items of ivory at this sensitive time. The implication in the way the question was asked was that destroying them might be a better option. I cannot imagine a better repository for those extraordinary items, created centuries ago. They will be cared for in the British Museum. They will be seen by the public and available for scholars. I thought it sad that somebody felt it was wrong for fine items of ivory to end up in public collections. The director of course defended the acceptance of the gift, rightly adding that not accepting it would not save a single elephant’s life today.

This morning, a group of 70 members of the All-Party Parliamentary Arts and Heritage Group visited the British Museum to see the Rodin exhibition. If any of your Lordships have not seen it, they ought to try to go. I mention that because I had a chance to talk to the director. He said he thought that one of the problems with the whole discussion about ivory is the non-separation of the old ivory created and carved many years ago, when there was a great abundance of elephants, from the poaching of ivory now and the sale and use of raw ivory supplying the Asian market.

I think the Bill is sadly unlikely to deter the poachers and the illicit raw ivory trade, but certainly anyone now contravening the Bill, when it becomes an Act, will be very severely dealt with: spending five years in prison is quite a threat. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply and, in spite of some of our misgivings today, I hope the Bill will help ensure the survival of these absolutely magnificent animals.