Ivory Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:43 pm on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:43 pm, 17th July 2018

My Lords, this has been a most interesting and informative debate, and I thank the Minister for his comprehensive introduction. We have heard a number of arguments for and against a total ban on the sale of ivory in the UK. We on these Benches fully support the Bill. Unlike others, I am not an expert on this subject; like the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, I fall into the category of a tourist who has enjoyed seeing elephants in Kenya.

I took part in the debate before Christmas on 21 December, and many of the arguments deployed then have been repeated here today. A great deal of thought has gone into the Bill and it has, as has been said, cross-party support both here and in the other place. Your Lordships will be pleased to know that I shall not go through it clause by clause, as that is for Committee.

Elephants, both African and Asian, are iconic species, gentle giants of two continents, the male of which has the great misfortune to have magnificent tusks, which are prized for their ability to be carved into objects of beauty. This has led to the elephant being butchered in large numbers. Currently 55 elephants are killed every day for their ivory, as the Minister said.

The poaching of elephant ivory will continue until its value is diminished to such an extent that it is worthless as a currency. The USA and China have closed their domestic ivory markets; however, this leaves Vietnam and other Asian countries continuing to trade in ivory and the Vietnamese trade appears to be expanding. The UK must show the way by banning this trade and demonstrating to countries like Vietnam that ivory is not an economic currency; it should follow our example and ban its trade. I was very interested in the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, regarding the Asian elephant and its place in the community.

Poaching is on the increase and the illegal wildlife trade has grown to such an extent that it is now, as we have heard, the fourth-largest transnational illegal trade, worth over £15 billion per year, as the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, said. This trade drives corruption, threatens sustainable development and has been linked to organised crime, such as arms, drugs and human trafficking, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, has indicated. It is big business. We can help by taking the value out of the market. We can help countries such as Uganda, Gabon and Botswana to successfully challenge and prevent poaching. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, for his moving story about the death of the matriarchal elephant.

In Gabon alone, 80% of forest elephants have been taken by poachers, as the noble Lord, Lord Hague, so eloquently said. Assisting countries and communities where elephants live to share the space with these animals could also reap benefits. While the UK is not one of the countries actively involved in the illegal ivory trade, there is evidence that our legal market is being used to launder illegal ivory. As many noble Lords have mentioned, we must stand up and prevent this from happening. Tighter controls on our legal ivory trade must be implemented without delay. This Bill seeks to do just that and lays out the certification processes and the penalties for non-compliance very well. It is also made clear how warrants will be issued and executed. In Clause 19(6)(b), the Bill indicates that 48 hours’ notice should be given before the execution of a search warrant. This is something I am likely to return to in Committee.

I am grateful to my colleague the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, for the example she gave of the success of the ban on trading in exotic birds. The Bill we are debating today has exemptions, which are realistic and preserve many items that will be valued for their beauty. The exemptions will not fuel poaching, and that is the whole purpose of this Bill. No doubt we shall return in Committee to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and his exceptions.

The Musicians’ Union, as we have heard from other speakers, is concerned about whether the ban on ivory from elephants would extend to ivory from mammoths, as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Berkeley of Knighton. Musical instruments have been repaired using mammoth ivory as an alternative to elephant ivory, as a way of protecting elephants at the same time as ensuring that instruments are maintained and kept in circulation. This is something we shall also return to in Committee. I was also interested in the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, about the Northumbrian pipes; my husband is a great fan of their sound.

Many thousands of items have been created from raw ivory; they are delicate and show the skill of the craftsmen who created them. Antique items made before 1918 of outstanding artistic value and importance would be exempt, and owners would have the opportunity to apply for an exemption certificate. The Bill is detailed in setting out exactly what is required to obtain and maintain an exemption certificate so, as the Minister has indicated, there is no level of doubt on the subject.

It is claimed that there will be many items which do not fall into this category and will therefore be destroyed, as the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, has said. I believe this is a hollow argument. Many of us own articles which could be classed as “artistic”. They may be of cultural and historic interest to us and our families but this may not stretch to the category of “outstanding”. Are we led to believe that we would destroy these objects because they would not command a good price if taken to the “Antiques Roadshow”? Of course not. They will be retained and passed down through families. There will be a need for more diligence, of course, and for a raising of awareness around small items containing ivory. This could be tiresome but it is essential that the Government stick to their intentions.

I regret to say that for those who have collected ivory carvings solely for their monetary value I have little sympathy. This market has fuelled poaching and brought about the death and butchery of hundreds of thousands of elephants. This trade has to stop. I support those calling for a ban to be extended to other species—hippos, narwhals, et cetera—and I welcome the Government’s commitment to consult once the Bill is passed.

I turn briefly to the cybercrime aspect of the ivory trade. My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones spoke about this, as did the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. The correct certification of ivory is crucial to stopping illegal laundering through the UK. If it begins to look as though it might be impossible to prevent this via the internet, maybe a ban on all internet trading in ivory, even for those items which are exempted, will need to be considered—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso. I am sure that this is something we will return to in Committee in September.

The CITES has prohibited trade in Asian elephants since 1975 and in African elephants since 1990, but poaching continues. Now, before the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference to be held in London in October this year, is the time to institute a countrywide ban and show that we take this terrible slaughter seriously, as mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Grantchester and Lord Hague, my noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, and others. The consultation, which ended on 29 December 2017 and led to this Bill coming forward, had responses indicating that 88% of the population support a ban on ivory sales. We must now assist the Bill to become law, and I am heartened by the number of noble Lords who have supported a ban.

I leave your Lordships with this thought, which will not be popular. This second Chamber, unlike the elephant, is not popular with the British public. If your Lordships were to be culled at the same rate as the elephant—that is, 55 per day—would this House quickly become of a size when the public would cry “Enough”? I look forward to the Minister’s response to the many points made this afternoon and to debating the Bill further in Committee.