Ivory Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:52 pm on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 6:52 pm, 17th July 2018

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Grantchester has made clear, we very much support the aims of the Bill. Action to tackle the international trade in ivory is welcome, if not long overdue. As we have heard, despite international efforts, around 20,000 elephants are killed each year for the ivory trade—approximately 55 elephants every day. At that unsustainable rate, elephants are likely to be extinct in the wild within two decades.

Our country can make a huge contribution to reversing that decline, not only through the action that we take in the UK but through the influence that we are then able to bring to bear upon others. By passing this Bill we will have earned the right to become a global voice on this issue, and indeed to use that voice to urge other countries to follow our lead.

At the heart of the problem are some very unsavoury organised criminals. The illegal wildlife trade is the fourth largest illegal trade behind drugs, human trafficking and counterfeiting, worth over an estimated £15 billion annually. Ivory tusks trade at £65 per pound on the Asian black market. It is a serious organised crime that is decimating wildlife populations, threatening local livelihoods and fuelling further criminal activity, including terrorism, with extremists using the money to fund their activities across Africa.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, pointed out, security forces believe that many of the gangs involved in wildlife trafficking are now using existing drug trafficking routes to smuggle the ivory as well. They use sophisticated techniques: they have secret codes and communications channels and are therefore very difficult to intercept. However, we have to take that challenge on.

Such gangs can succeed only because demand for highly valued ivory pieces in Asia continues to be so strong and so lucrative. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hague, that ultimately our challenge is to reposition ivory not as a symbol of luxury and wealth but as a symbol of cruelty. That is where the future lies.

Meanwhile, the criminals continue to be successful because the restrictions we have already introduced are simply not working. Recently, the campaign group Avaaz bought 109 items of ivory from 10 European countries and had them tested using radio carbon dating. Almost one-fifth of the objects were found to contain ivory from animals killed since 1990. This is illegal, following the restrictions on the global ivory trade that were put in place in 1989. Three-quarters of the items were dated after 1947. Even the highly respected auction house, Christie’s, has been fined for trying to sell illegal ivory, and there is widespread evidence of the current rules being circumvented or misunderstood.

As well as blocking routes to markets, we have to address the poverty and deprivation that drives some of the poorest African villagers to poach—a point made by a number of noble Lords. They have to be persuaded that they have a future conserving elephants and other wildlife. The value of elephant tourism is extremely high, with a living elephant in the savannah worth 76 times more than a dead elephant in the marketplace. Protecting Africa’s elephants, therefore, makes monetary sense too, but we have to get that message across. This is why we have welcomed the £44 million recently announced by the Government to invest in such initiatives as eco-guardians and the community enforcement networks to help to create alternative livelihoods.

I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that we need to pay tribute to those conservationists and individuals who have risked and lost their lives to protect endangered species. I very much liked her suggestion that we could have a monument to acknowledge their contribution to the campaign.

I turn now to some of the concerns that have been expressed today. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and others questioned whether a continued antique ivory trade contributes to the illegal trade in new ivory. We should of course acknowledge and value the cultural significance of historic ivory products—nothing in this Bill prevents their continued ownership—but the fact of the matter is that the existence of a legal domestic market is helping to fuel the illegal trade by providing cover and reinforcing the high value of ivory across the world. We know that illegal ivory items seized by the police and Border Force in the UK have been falsely antiquated, using artificial stains or ageing techniques, and are clearly destined for the legal antique market. The two sources are interconnected. There is also considerable evidence that legal CITES Article 10 certificates have been used to conceal illegal ivory.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hague, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, have said, the Bill is not a panacea—of course it is not. However, it will make a difference and will save the lives of thousands of elephants by beginning to break up those trading routes.

For those who queried how museum quality would be judged, in evidence to the Common’s committee on this Bill the museums themselves expressed that they were confident that they could make the arrangements work, whether it is for small museums or large museums.

Other noble Lords have contrasted the 10% de minimis exemption for antiques with the 20% proposed for musical instruments. We support the 20% threshold and believe it is necessary to manage the legacy of instruments made decades ago when alternative materials such as plastic were not readily available. These instruments are not subject to the same level of commercial activity. There is no music industry trade in these instruments, but simply an ongoing series of one-to-one transactions between fellow musicians and music shops to repair, maintain and sell the instruments on to further instrument players. For professional musicians, their instruments are the tools of their trade. They are an investment in their livelihoods, mostly sold at the end of their career only to allow them to retire with dignity, not to make a profit.

My noble friend Lady Quin raised the issue of Northumbrian pipes. I think we would all like to hear them played because she has sparked our interest. I would have thought that the instrument would indeed include the bag and the bellows. The Minister might have a different view. But as she said, these are domestic, not commercial instruments. I would have thought that their future could be protected by sharing and gifting in the future.

I now turn to some areas where we would like to see improvements in the Bill and we will explore these in Committee. First, as has been said, the Bill has a narrow focus on elephants. It ignores the poaching of hippo and other non-elephant species for their ivory. Broadening the definition of ivory is necessary, not only because many other CITES species are at risk of becoming endangered, but to prevent a narrow focus on elephant ivory pushing poachers towards other forms of ivory. For example, the black market’s insatiable demand for ivory has already turned towards hippos, which offer a cheaper and, in many ways, easier, ivory option. Hippos have declined by 12% to about 100,000 in the past decade with the rise in demand for hippos’ teeth threatening the mammal with extinction.

In the other place, the Minister was sympathetic to these concerns, but argued the need for a further consultation to satisfy the requirements of the European Court of Human Rights. We have never been persuaded of this argument and indeed have legal advice and advice from the Consultation Institute that contradicts that. Nevertheless, we are pleased that the Secretary of State has now announced a further consultation to extend the provisions in the Bill to include hippo, walrus and narwhal ivory. But the consultation is not due to start until this Bill receives Royal Assent, which will be some time towards the end of October. I do not understand why this consultation cannot start now. If it did, it could be completed before Royal Assent and perhaps included in this Bill. Can the Minister explain why the Government are unable to publish the consultation before the Bill is passed?

Secondly, we believe the exemptions to the ban on sales set out in the Bill should strike a balance between being robust and proportionate, but we share concerns that the scope of Section 2 as drafted is too wide. To this end, we will be pressing the Government to ensure that only the,

“rarest and most important items of their type”,

are granted exemptions. That was a phrase initially used by the Government which has now been replaced by a broader exemption as defined in the Bill. We will revisit that definition.

In addition, we will argue, as other noble Lords have mentioned, for an annual register of items that have been exempted to be published to ensure transparency and public confidence in the ban. We will also be looking for assurances that the registration and certification schemes are not open to abuse. That is important because, as we have heard, legal CITES Article 10 certificates have been used to conceal illegal ivory.

Finally, we believe it is vital that the UK has the right level of funding and enforcement powers in place to enforce the ban. The National Wildlife Crime Unit has only 12 members of staff, including administrative staff, to cover the entirety of its work across the UK, and its funding is due to expire in 2020. So we hope that the Minister will be able to give us greater assurances about longer-term funding.

We will be seeking more powers to tackle online cybercrime where so much of the illegal trade continues to flourish and we hope that the Government will be able to give us further assurances on that. If not, I am quite attracted to the proposal put by the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, for a complete ban on internet trading, which may be an easier option.

In conclusion, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed their expertise to the debate. We will seek to improve the Bill in Committee, but I am pleased that so far we are developing cross-party support for it, and ultimately I hope that we will achieve unanimous approval of its overarching objective of ending the illegal poaching of elephants.