Ivory Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:23 pm on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 6:23 pm, 17th July 2018

My Lords, I support the Bill for all the reasons that the Minister has skilfully put to the House, and I agree with everything that he said. So far as I am concerned, elephants win over business and wealth. As for the timing of the Bill, I too hope that we can get the Bill passed before the IWT conference in the autumn while at the same time giving the Bill the scrutiny that it deserves. My position on my own ivory is exactly the same as that of the Minister.

The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, was the first speaker to make the very good point about online sales. As I read the Bill, a person who offers ivory online is caught by Clause 1. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that the operator of an online platform is also caught by Clause 12, which prohibits the facilitation of the sale? The difficulty is that an online offer for sale can claim that the article is certified and exempted and therefore not caught by Clause 1, and the online platform operator can therefore claim that Clause 12 does not apply either. In Committee, the Minister will have to convince us that there is no loophole with online sales.

I will seek to tread cautiously, but I detect some vested interests at play. Of course it is vital that we look at this legislation with great care. It is interesting to note that when I recently opposed provisions in a government Bill that would ban the sale of certain deactivated firearms, I had almost no support from my Back-Bench colleagues apart from, ironically, my noble friend Lord Crathorne. However, that Act—as it is now—significantly reduced the value of many people’s collections of deactivated firearms, as they could not be sold. In some cases, the loss was in excess of £1 million. Indeed, I was slightly affected to the extent of about £100. Fortunately, due to the good sense of the Home Office Ministers and officials involved, your Lordships’ House passed amendments which, in time, should solve the problem.

In this debate, we now have several experienced Members of your Lordships’ House quite properly expressing concerns about the loss of value to collectors and individuals. I have to say that in many cases the answer surely is to give the items away, not sell them. There is no need to discard the items, although I recently did so for a very small item. I hesitate to say this, but could this difference in interest be something to do with the relevant socioeconomic groups of those who collect deactivated firearms and those who collect antiques and ivory?

I have some concerns about the detail of the Bill. The first concerns inheritance tax. I declare an interest, as my family is winding up my late mother’s estate, but the effect of the Bill is at the bottom end of negligible so far as it concerns IHT—I know IHT affects only certain socioeconomic groups. Does the Minister agree with my noble fried Lord Carrington that the correct probate value now for an item of ivory caught by the Bill is zero because it will not be possible to sell it in the future?

It must also surely be possible that IHT has recently been paid on a genuine ivory antique that the family concerned would never want to sell. However, with the passing of this Bill, even if they were in severe financial distress, they could still not sell the item. It would be purely an ornament and not an asset, but nevertheless IHT had recently been paid on it. Is the Minister sure that this is a fair situation?

In principle, I have never been happy about civil penalties, except for matters such as motoring offences. Civil penalties are provided for in the Bill, and I share the concerns of my noble friend Lord De Mauley. The overall aim of the Bill is to reduce the international value of ivory in order to reduce the poaching of elephants. Once the Bill is passed, in reality no respectable person or business will sell ivory, and the desired effect will be achieved.

As I see it, three things can go wrong in terms of compliance. Perhaps two individuals might make a very small sale of ivory between themselves. If caught, a caution would be appropriate, or it could be dealt with summarily in the magistrates’ court by means of a modest fine. If an individual is contemplating making a higher value sale then the magistrates’ court, I suggest, is a good deterrent. In the case of a business illegally trading in ivory, that might be a matter for indictment that attracts unlimited fines, as noble Lords will be aware. Therefore, it is not clear to me why we need a civil penalties regime, and I fear the scenario outlined by my noble friend Lord De Mauley. I hope that my noble friend the Minister can either explain that this evening or perhaps write to me.

In conclusion, I support the Bill and will do so during future stages, while helpfully ensuring that the Bill does what it says on the tin.