Ivory Bill - Second Reading

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Crossbench 6:17 pm, 17th July 2018

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, who made another compelling speech in this very interesting Second Reading of the important Bill before us. Like every noble Lord here this afternoon, I am wholly behind the central aim in the Bill of doing what we can to frustrate elephant poaching.

A few years ago, I was in the Selous in Tanzania. This area, the size of Switzerland, has no resident human population. On successive days our party saw a recently vacated poachers’ camp and was charged by an elephant in rude health. Those two experiences very much stimulate my enthusiasm for the Bill’s central aim. I declare my interests as set out in the register of the House: in particular, as chairman or trustee of three charities that run between them five museums; and, for reasons that will come later in my remarks, in respect of the insurance industry where I have had decades of experience of insuring heritage objects. I will confine my remarks to the exemption provisions in the Bill and to considering the positions of ordinary citizens, museums and insured parties.

On ordinary citizens, I was looking through the catalogue of a major regional auction house’s fine furniture sale last week and noted that just over 10 items out of 400 or so had ivory inlay or other low-ivory content. Examples from the catalogue were a dressing-table mirror with four small ivory embellishments, a chest of drawers with ivory surrounds to the keyholes and a box with ivory inlay. The estimated prices for these objects were mainly below £200 and the lowest was £80. I visited our local antiques centre last weekend in Perthshire and started looking around for objects with low-ivory content. They started at less than £10 and a substantial number of such objects was available.

I conclude, and I think everyone knows, that the total number of low-ivory-content objects in the UK is enormous. The Explanatory Notes refer to an online government registration website with alternative telephone and postal methods. These could be very busy. Could the Minister give some further detail about the registration system and its cost? I feel that getting this right, with particular emphasis on the low-ivory-content objects, is an important part of encouraging ordinary citizens to buy into the Bill, which involves the change in attitude that the noble Lord, Lord Hague of Richmond, who is not in his place, spoke of. If everyone is to ignore the registration, we will not change any attitudes and the Bill will have little effect.

I turn to museums. In my long experience, the buying and selling of solid-ivory objects is pretty rare. Indeed, in all my time on various boards, I can recall only one sale of a small number of ivory objects a few years ago, which was done because they were not core to the museum’s collections and we needed some help with the roof. Far more common is the lending of objects for specific exhibitions. Again, in my experience the large majority of loans affected by the Bill concerned objects with low-ivory content. For many years, ivory inlay was a popular way of embellishing special items. The standard museum loan agreement does not normally share gate money, although occasionally it does. What is very common is to agree to share money from images sold, for example, from postcards. In addition, the lending institution may receive catalogues and other benefits, and will definitely receive invitations to opening receptions with glasses of champagne. Can the Minister therefore provide some comfort that such loan arrangements, including the sharing of gate money, would not constitute a hire under the Bill and therefore be an offence, and that nothing in the Bill is intended to interfere with current, ethically sound inter-museum lending practices?

I close with some insurance difficulties. The problem here is what happens following a theft. Under an insurance contract, the insurer pays the insured but then becomes the owner of the stolen object. An insured item of low-ivory content may or may not be registered and may or may not have been photographed. I am therefore concerned that the change in ownership under an insurance claim could be illegal, and thus no claim could be paid for an unregistered item. This would seem an undesirable result, given that I do not believe that the payment of such a claim could in any way detract from the Government’s admirable central aim of frustrating elephant poaching. A solid-ivory object owned by a private client would not be insurable for theft. Would the Minister agree to meet to discuss whether a bona fide insurance payout should also be represented in the “Other exemptions” under the Bill, with whatever safeguards are suitable? In the mean time I, along with everyone else, wish this important Bill a speedy passage.