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Ivory Bill - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 24th October 2018.

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Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Conservative 4:15 pm, 24th October 2018

My Lords, I once again declare my interest as chairman of LAPADA, the art and antique dealers’ trade association. The views I express today are my own, but they are informed by my involvement with LAPADA. I will speak to my Amendment 23 in this group, which, like my noble friend Lord Cormack’s, goes to the matter of the 10% de minimis rule. Given some of what I am about to speak of, I would like to say at the outset that my noble friend the Minister is not personally responsible for this Bill. When I had his job at Defra, I was the Minister responsible for the UK’s contribution to efforts to bear down on illegal wildlife trafficking, but by a quirk of restructuring of ministerial responsibilities, he is not. As always, he has conducted himself perfectly correctly through the passage of this Bill, even if I would have loved him to have persuaded his colleagues of its perverseness.

I am very disappointed to report that I have received no response on the points I raised concerning Art Deco artefacts and the UK’s ivory export figures—points which I at least regard as important. A vital element in any decision-making process is that those decisions should be made with as full a knowledge of the facts as is possible in the circumstances. For the last 18 months, profoundly misleading information about the extent of the UK’s role in the international movement of antique and worked ivory objects has been allowed to circulate and be regularly repeated, without being corrected by those who have been in a position to refute, or at least clarify, it.

In the period leading up to the Government’s ivory consultation, the UK’s “official” ivory export figures were employed by several high-profile wildlife organisations to justify their demands for a very restrictive ban on the sale of antique ivory. I refer to the information supplied by Defra to CITES each year. The Born Free Foundation claimed that for the period from 2006 to 2015, the UK’s exports represented 54% of the ivory exports from the entire EU, and that these exports comprised 25,352 ivory items. Indeed, my noble friend the Minister stated in Committee that, between 2005 and 2014, the UK had been responsible for 31% of the ivory exported from the EU for commercial purposes. The Environmental Investigation Agency claimed that the UK is the “world’s largest” ivory exporter. From this language, any sane, trusting person who cares about the welfare of endangered species would be forgiven for imagining that the UK exports thousands of ivory tusks to China as a commodity for carving—something that, if true, would indeed help to fuel the Chinese passion and demand for ivory. I should point out that, in fact, the world’s largest supplier of ivory to the world’s ivory markets is, of course, the continent of Africa.

The EIA announced:

“UK ivory exports are stimulating consumer demand globally, especially in Hong Kong and China, two of the world’s largest markets for both legal and illegal ivory. Even as the Government of China works towards closing its domestic ivory market by the end of 2017, the UK continues to inject a large amount of ivory into China”.

By any reckoning, those are strong and serious allegations, made even more powerful by the language employed and the standing of the body making them.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that the story was widely taken up by media organisations including the BBC, the Times, the Guardian and the Independent. This, combined with information pushed out by the wildlife NGOs direct to their supporters, formed an important part of the background commentary taken on board by the thousands of wildlife campaigners who responded to the Government’s consultation last autumn. Those were the 70,000 respondents referred by my noble friend the Minister when he reported at Second Reading that there had been overwhelming support for an ivory ban. In that debate, he referred to some figures—he repeated them in Committee—computed by TRAFFIC, notably that UK exports to China of objects containing ivory numbered 11,000 between 2010 and 2014.

However, my noble friend failed to cite analysis available directly from his own department concerning the numbers and types of ivory objects exported to China. Those who drafted his speech chose instead to quote third-hand information and interpretation by an NGO of the basic data held on the database of an intergovernmental organisation—information which, in turn, had been prepared by his department solely with CITES statistics in mind. I am not questioning the arithmetic of these third parties in generating such seemingly large export figures but I am seriously concerned about both the lack of care with which the numbers have been interpreted and, I have to say, the reticence of the government department from which they were originally sourced to explain them properly. It is particularly surprising if we bear in mind that the Government already had plans to introduce a ban that was to be among the toughest in the world.

Since Committee, the fellow trade body to LAPADA, the British Antique Dealers’ Association, to which I pay tribute, has made a freedom of information request to Defra. Using the data from that response, it has been able to demonstrate that no less than 74% of the published numbers of ivory items granted re-export permits by the UK over the past three calendar years—2015, 2016 and 2017—constituted piano keys. In 2016, Defra data showed that they represented as much as 81%. It does not take many pianos with ivory keys to cause the export figures to be bumped up enormously, because a piano usually incorporates 52 white keys. If one removed ivory piano keys from the export numbers and treated items such as chess sets as a single export, the true picture of the UK’s exports of worked ivory antiques amounts to an average of just 585 worked items a year, plus 58 pianos. In 2016, the official ivory export numbers prepared in the format required by CITES amounted to over 5,700 individual components or items, but those exports actually represented 541 worked ivory items or sets, plus 93 pianos. Removing pianos from the equation, the true number of antique exports that year amounted to less than 10% of the number submitted by the Government to CITES.

In the last few years, the UK’s ivory exports have amounted to just a few dozen items a month. No serious analysis could ever conclude that such low numbers of exported portrait miniatures, inlaid boxes or netsuke could have had an impact on the large ivory markets in places such as Hong Kong, whose registered ivory stockpile is equivalent to more than a million small carvings. The UK does not permit the commercial export of old ivory tusks, but between 2015 and 2017, CITES data shows that other EU countries—the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to this in the previous debate—exported many hundreds of them, particularly to Hong Kong. Since a large old tusk can be fashioned into many small carvings, the tusks exported in 2016 by Belgium alone were equivalent to 20,000 carved items. If we take account of the piano keys issue and the fact that other EU countries have until recently been exporting hundreds of ivory tusks weighing many kilograms each, suggesting that in recent years the UK has been the world’s largest supplier of ivory to the world’s markets is nothing short of misleading. And it is not just misleading as to the numbers; it also wrongly characterises the nature of the exports. These are exports of small numbers of antique objects, often of cultural significance, which happen to incorporate ivory. They are not exports of reworkable tusks. I find it hard to understand why the very department which all along has held the key to this sort of information has failed to provide and use it and thereby properly inform the debate about an ivory ban.

Months have passed during which misleading figures have been employed by those seeking a very tight ban. Antique dealers are angry that full and transparent information was not voluntarily offered by Defra. Goodness knows how many hours of Civil Service time have been devoted to this Bill. Surely someone could have thought to provide a comprehensive analysis of the types of ivory goods being exported, particularly given that, as I understand it, BADA made such a request in its own submission to the consultation last December. If we do not know the quantities and types of different ivory objects being exported, how on earth can we ensure this well-intentioned Bill is properly targeted?

First, the Secretary of State has acknowledged that the UK ivory market has not been directly linked to the trade in recently poached ivory. Secondly, as I have demonstrated, the legal export trade in antiques made from ivory amounts to just a few dozen items a month. Consequently, suggestions that the sale in the UK of genuine antique teapots and Victorian sewing boxes is resulting in large exports to the Far East and helping to glamorise the purchase of ivory there, is just hogwash.

There have also been frequent references by campaigners and in some government literature to the idea that, unless the UK stops the sale of most genuine ivory antiques here, there is the risk that legal antique ivory could be exported into China and may become mixed with illegally sourced ivory, thereby supporting demand for poached ivory. This represents a sloppy and lazy analysis. If we are talking about importing raw ivory tusks into Hong Kong, I would of course agree. We know that the ability of Hong Kong to import raw tusks from other EU countries has opened up a loophole to justify the existence of poached raw tusks kept in the storerooms of workshops there, but that is not what is happening in respect of the UK’s exports. Most of the types of antiques traded in the UK that contain elements of ivory, such as Georgian inlaid boxes or silver fish slices comprising 15% or 20% ivory, are of no interest to ivory buyers located in the demand markets of Hong Kong, Vietnam and China. The other types of ivory objects, such as solid ivory carvings, can indeed be of interest if they are from the Asian culture. But, as I have already explained, their export numbers amount to a handful a month. Why, therefore, do we need to prohibit the sale here of many thousands of genuine historical and cultural objects which are either of no interest to the demand markets or, if they are, are exported in such small quantities, and will be sufficiently highly priced, that they could never be masking the sale of cheap modern bangles and Buddhas?

Thirdly, we should be honest and openly admit that this Bill is really about sending a signal to the world that the UK really cares about the plight of the African elephant. I am happy fully to support this. I welcome the provisions in the Bill that incorporate the inspection and certification of items, particularly solid ivory carvings, because the UK should do its bit to reduce the opportunities for poached ivory to be laundered as old ivory.

In the context of the recent Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference, I am also delighted to hear that the Ivory Alliance 2024 has been set up by Governments to tackle the demand for illicit ivory in those countries that act as key transit and demand markets. I understand that the intention is to introduce ivory bans in those markets. I understand why endeavours such as the alliance mean that it has been necessary for the UK to take, and be seen to take, the lead. This does not, though, mean that the Bill cannot still retain its impact and fulfil its principal aim of helping conserve elephant populations while, at the same time, allowing the sale of items that have neither a direct nor indirect impact on the demand for poached ivory in those demand markets.

The Bill exempts musical instruments containing less than 20% by volume of ivory while for all other items the threshold is 10%. No evidence has been brought forward by anyone to explain the particular features of a Georgian tea caddy containing 12% ivory that render it more likely to be reused or valued for its ivory content than a set of bagpipes with the same ivory content. Neither is in demand in China. The vast majority of historical objects where ivory is not the predominant material are not valued on the basis of their ivory content. This would apply to items containing a slightly higher proportion of ivory than the Government’s proposed 10%, such as 19th century Vizagapatam inlaid boxes. The ivory is incidental and integral in such items and not vulnerable to re-carving. The boxes are therefore not purchased for their ivory content. Besides which, little bits of ivory inlay just one or two millimetres thick have no resale value. No evidence has been put forward by the Government to suggest otherwise.

The same applies to plenty of other objects that comprise less than 20% ivory. Indeed, had this not been the case it would have been hard for the Government to proceed with their 20% threshold for musical instruments. Had the Government possessed evidence that sets of bagpipes are being purchased with a view to removing and re-carving the pipes’ ivory mounts then I am sure they would have been reluctant to opt for a 20% threshold for instruments. Besides which, somebody buying a mixed-material object with the express purpose of removing and reusing its ivory content is certainly not interested in its original purpose, musical or otherwise. They will simply look at the price and the amount of ivory incorporated in it.

No evidence has been brought forward by anyone in any of the debates to suggest that where ivory represents less than 20% of a historical object it contributes to poaching. Furthermore, the proportion of ivory in objects such as wooden boxes inlaid with small slivers of ivory will be extremely difficult to calculate. There are many such boxes hovering around the 10% threshold. Owners will be required to perform complex calculations to determine the proportion of ivory. This is completely unnecessary because, regardless of the proportion of the ivory content, small slivers of inlay have no possible reuse. I have previously restated that I am concerned as to how much time will be devoted by hard-pressed wildlife crime officers to the process of checking these computations.

The House should be made aware that other countries use 20% as a cut-off. For example, in France, items incorporating less than 20% ivory do not need to apply for a sales certificate. Those with more than 20% need government confirmation that they were created before 1947. New York state also employs a cut-off of 20%. The amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Cormack would change the Clause 7 threshold from 10% to 20% and thus bring consistency to the new law, rendering it fairer and simpler to understand and apply, without in any way fuelling ivory markets in the Far East.