I beg to move,
That this House has considered the UK ivory trade.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. With your permission, I will outline the case for ending the UK ivory trade and will leave much of the detail to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who has spoken regularly in this House about it. I pay tribute to the work of Lord Hague and many other right hon. and hon. Members for whom this is a matter of great concern.
This debate also addresses the subject of a petition to shut down the domestic ivory market in the UK, which has attracted more than 75,000 signatures. My near neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), has asked me to say that he would very much have liked to be here, but he had a prior commitment. His article in The Daily Telegraph makes a strong case for ending the UK ivory trade. I also want to pay tribute to the work of Tusk, the World Wildlife Fund, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and other organisations for highlighting the threat to elephants and other endangered species.
The elephant population in sub-Saharan Africa has declined dramatically over the past decade. It is estimated that some 30%—perhaps 144,000—have disappeared in the past seven years, substantially as a result of poaching. Estimates of the remaining population vary, but there are perhaps as few as 400,000 to 450,000. This is an emergency that requires emergency action.
What my hon. Friend is saying will have widespread support in all parts of the House. Does he agree that there is something both revolting and nauseating about those who slaughter an endangered animal to use a part of its body as an ornament?
My right hon. Friend has put it much better than I could. I entirely agree with him.
I apologise, because I will not be able to stay for the whole debate. My hon. Friend has spoken about the decline of elephants in Africa, but there are also Asian elephants. Is he going to say anything about what we can do to help the elephant in Asia?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I will concentrate on African elephants, because I know a little more about them, but I am sure the issue of Asian elephants—indeed, all elephants—will be brought up in the debate.
There is no greater expert on African affairs in the House than my hon. Friend, so I am grateful that he has secured the debate. Is he worried, as I am, that Her Majesty’s Government may be underestimating the extent to which the elephant population is declining? In a Government answer on 1 November—
Order. We must keep interventions short. A lot of people want to speak.
I am most grateful for the intervention, Mrs Main. I agree that we perhaps run the risk of underestimating the problem. I am sure my hon. Friend will say more about it later.
I have been fortunate enough to spend 20% of my life in the beautiful country of Tanzania, and therefore fortunate to see elephants in the wild on many occasions. Tanzania has done a huge amount over the decades to protect wildlife by creating possibly the world’s finest network of national parks and game reserves. I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party group on Tanzania. One park in particular comes to mind. Our family stayed in a hut in the remote Ruaha national park in 1999. We lay awake listening to the noise of an elephant, possibly only two or three feet the other side of the tin wall, munching its way through the night. It was an extraordinary sound.
Of course, human-elephant cohabitation is not always easy. A friend of mine who farms coffee and maize on the outer slopes of the Ngorongoro crater showed us where elephants regularly came down from the forest to find salt. Sometimes they went further down, walking through the coffee, in which they were not interested, to the maize, in which they most certainly were. A herd of elephants could easily polish off a large field of maize in a night.
However, what we are speaking about today is not the result of human-elephant conflict, but the deliberate mass slaughter of elephants by criminal gangs who will stop at nothing—certainly not murder—to profit from ivory. Brave rangers who try to protect the elephants are outgunned and sometimes pay with their lives. Tanzania is estimated to have lost 60% of its elephants in the past five years, particularly in the Selous.
This is a very important debate, and I am pleased that my hon. Friend has secured it. Does he agree that we should ask the Government to toughen up our own regulations to counter the problem, because we need to show leadership so that others will follow us?
I will indeed say that in a moment.
What drives the slaughter? It is the demand for ivory around the world. As His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge has said,
“At the root of the illegal wildlife trade...is the demand for products that require the deaths of tens of thousands of these animals every year, pushing them further towards extinction.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire and I are therefore calling for an end, now, to the trade in ivory in the UK, and indeed the world. The World Wildlife Fund, Tusk and many other organisations support that closure, with small pragmatic exceptions such as antique musical instruments, cutlery or furniture where ivory is a very small proportion of the item. However, even those exceptions need to be drawn tightly to avoid them becoming loopholes.
It will be rightly pointed out that an end to the ivory trade in the UK, or indeed the world, will not on its own lead to an end to demand and the consequent slaughter of elephants. Trade may be driven underground. I accept that; that is why I do not argue that bringing the trade to an end is the only measure we need to take. We should support the work of Governments in protecting elephants and other endangered species, as the United Kingdom is doing with assistance from the armed forces we are sending to Malawi next year. We need a global education campaign that shows people the reality of what is happening, so as to make the purchase of anything made from ivory unacceptable.
Local communities in and around conservation areas and national parks that host elephants and other endangered species need to see more of the benefit from tourism. The Conservative party manifestos in 2010 and 2015 committed to ending the ivory trade in the UK. We call on the Government to fulfil that commitment. They took an important step with the Secretary of State’s announcement in September of a ban on modern-day ivory sales, and I welcome that, but we need to go much further. My plea today is for the Government to do what the Governments of the United States and France have almost done—and what stands clearly in our manifesto—and bring an end to the trade in the UK.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) on securing the debate and on his work in this area. It strikes me that there are a number of practical things we can do. The hon. Gentleman has highlighted one, and I will highlight two others that can add to his call for an absolute ban in this country. It would be good to have a Minister who acts while in post rather than waiting until being elevated to the House of Lords to shout. The power is there, and the people are in agreement with the Minister and the Government. Indeed, the more the petition circulated, the more tens of thousands added their names.
Too often, it seems to me, we in this place live for now, or perhaps for the next election—what can be done tomorrow and what was said yesterday. In this debate we are talking about the next generation. This year I happen to be able to talk for the first time as a grandfather, and I have another grandchild on the way in the next few weeks, which gives the subject added poignancy. What is being bequeathed to those two by me and everyone in Parliament?
In the summer I made a visit near to where the hon. Member for Stafford assiduously farms his coffee. I saw no elephants on the slopes of Kilimanjaro when I climbed it. I had a detailed look at mountaineering logs, going back over only 20 years, to find out what species those who ventured there not many years ago could see. What can be seen now? The answer is virtually nothing. Perhaps we in Parliament will do more than our little bit—something significant—for elephants and for other endangered species. I may buy for my grandkids’ visits little plastic toys like I had, of lions and tigers, elephants, polar bears and other species that are in grave danger of disappearing in my lifetime, never mind theirs, or of being consigned—a handful of them—to zoos, where they are kept, desperate. Yet in this country we are major traffickers in ivory—we are the third biggest in the world.
I recall 10 years ago getting through an amendment to one of the vast number of criminal justice Bills that made the trade in endangered species an imprisonable offence. There are wildlife officers in every police force in the country, but the number of successful prosecutions remains pitifully small. Yet in the antique markets and shops of this country, and on the internet—anywhere we might choose—ivory of the past and present is being traded. The figures about where it is coming from show that an extraordinary percentage is from Zambia. It is estimated that 37% of the ivory currently coming into this country is from there. Yet the European Union just last year changed its policy on ivory from Zambia. We in the western world are not getting the message about the heritage of the future.
Did the hon. Gentleman hear it mentioned on Radio 4 this morning that even giraffes are now being put on the endangered species list? That is for meat, not ivory, and it is shocking.
It is estimated that there is a 40% reduction in the giraffe population. It is such a crisis for our world, which we share—we do not own it—and which we choose to concrete over, calling it economic growth. We choose to pretend the world is purely ours, but our species will not survive if we cannot cohabit with other species. In our selfishness we are putting future generations’ lives at stake, through our failure to act.
The hon. Member for Stafford is the expert on matters to do with Africa—I endorse that. He is wise in his advice to Government, and I am sure the House backs him in that. However, we can go further. There are little things we can do. Every delegation of MPs leaving this country should have a briefing about these issues in their hands, and should raise them in Africa and Asia. I raised with one of our ambassadors in central Asia the matter of the snow leopard. There are no elephants in Tajikistan, but there are snow leopards—more than anywhere else in the world. There are good people there, but there is no briefing from the Foreign Office, and the subject is not raised at ministerial level there. It is not being pressed, because it has not been part of our priority. Well, it needs to be. We have the people: we have senior royals and experienced, eloquent MPs. We should be able to do something about it.
Let us see trading standards acting in each part of the country, to find and to prosecute. Let our MPs, our ambassadors or anyone else we have abroad talk with the countries that will benefit if their indigenous species survive and thrive. Let that be significantly higher up the agenda—ours and theirs. Let the Government glory in their manifesto commitment, which is popular. There may even have been the odd vote—in constituencies other than mine—that went to their party for its wisdom in that respect. Let the policy be enacted, and swiftly, so that when we go into the negotiations on the convention on international trade in endangered species and press our case, it is on the basis that we have taken action domestically.
Does my hon. Friend share my frustration that too often manifestos contain commitments, such as the commitment to a ban on wild animals in circuses, but that despite ample parliamentary time in which to discuss the issues there is endless delay, further consultation, and no concrete action from the Government?
The fact of the matter is that people vote, so we spend a lot of time listening to every single request.
I want to make a final point to those who are following the debate, and those who are enthused to do something from outside Parliament: I want to get the people to rise up and make demands of us, turn the arguments into numbers, and put pressure on me, the hon. Member for Stafford and every other Member of Parliament. We need a rising up in the country, to say that we are going to do something and are not prepared to sit by—as we have all done in our lifetime—while there is a disastrous decimation of species, and while species that were not endangered in my childhood become critically endangered. Let us turn the tide and put on the pressure. I say to the Minister: be a hero.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Six hon. Members wish to speak, and I shall be calling for the winding-up speeches to begin a couple of minutes before 4 o’clock. Perhaps the House will bear that in mind, otherwise I will impose a time limit.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) on securing and opening the debate, and commend the thoughtful contributions that he and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) have made.
This year has seen the worst decline in the African elephant population in a quarter of a century, and it is escalating. It is estimated that only 352,271 savannah elephants are left, with approximately 120,000 illegally killed by poachers since the first Conservative manifesto commitment to close the domestic ivory market was made in 2010. I want the introduction of a near-total ban on ivory trading in the UK—one that eradicates the current pre/post-1947 divide. The only exception—this is the reason I refer to a near-total ban—would be for genuine pieces of art, of cultural value, ratified by independent experts such as museum experts. Evidence suggests that the most effective move that the UK could make to save elephants and combat illegal poaching would be closing the domestic ivory market, and that is what I am calling for.
I shall briefly outline the UK position before I explain why a near-total ban on ivory would be beneficial, primarily to boost elephant populations and prevent their slaughter, but also because it would combat criminal activity. It is supported by the public, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw said. The Government have promised to deliver a ban, and we should keep our word.
On 21 September 2016, the UK announced a possible ban on the sale of worked ivory produced after 1947; works before that date would be considered antiques. The ban will be consulted on next year, but that is not soon enough. There is evidence that legislation can successfully combat the illegal killing of elephants. In the US, the introduction of a near-total federal ban on ivory sales in July 2016 is already working well. Crucially, it also has support from the antiques industry; Sotheby’s called the move “manageable”, and stated that even when stricter legislation has been implemented, it has continued to operate successfully. The regulatory situation in the US indicates that the introduction of legislation in the UK could be effective. However, beyond that, a stronger sign is needed that more can and should be done and that more elephants can be saved without harming UK businesses.
Such measures are wholeheartedly supported by the British public. Only 8% of them are aware that it is still legal to buy and sell ivory in the UK, but 85% of them think that buying and selling ivory should be banned. It is one of our nation’s great traits that we are such proud animal lovers and express enormous concern for our planet’s wildlife. Introducing a near-total ban on domestic ivory would give the British people what they want: legislation to protect elephants, which are animals as majestic as any other. The Conservative party knows that people want elephants protected. In our 2010 and 2015 manifestos, we said that we would press for a total ban on ivory sales. It is right that we deliver on those commitments, because we made them.
Crucially, although public awareness about the ivory trade’s legality is not huge, it does not mean that the Conservative decision not to fully implement those manifesto ambitions has gone unnoticed. Tusk, the wildlife conservation charity, criticised the Government, saying that the proposals introduced
“do not represent a near-total ban as promised”.
Just three days after the consultation on the modern-day ivory ban was announced in September this year, the grassroots organisation Action for Elephants UK sent the Prime Minister a letter with 124 signatories, including Lord Hague, Stephen Hawking and the nation’s beloved broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough. Finally, a current e-petition calling for the domestic ivory market to be shut down has reached more than 75,000 signatures. A near-total ban would prove to those groups and the wider public that the Government are committed to protecting endangered species and take citizens’ concerns extremely seriously.
Unfortunately, in terms of legislation—I touched on this briefly—Britain currently lags behind several countries in protecting elephants and restricting the ivory trade. Alongside the USA, China has also gone further than the UK in terms of regulation. The two countries have put in place stricter laws than are required under the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora, which, although it confusingly only mentions fauna and flora in its name, aims to ensure that the international trade in wild animals does not threaten their survival.
On 20 March 2016, China imposed a three-year suspension on importing all ivory tusks and carvings. In June 2016, the Hong Kong Government introduced plans to phase out the domestic ivory trade entirely within five years, as well as bans on the import and re-export of pre-convention ivory into the territory. In the same month, the USA implemented new rules on the domestic trade in ivory, under which the commercial sale and export of ivory between US states are allowed only for certified antiques more than 100 years old.
Recent conferences, such as November’s international conference in Vietnam on the illegal wildlife trade, attended by the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), are key examples of how countries’ treatment of the ivory trade can be put into the global spotlight. That conference was the third conference, the first of which was hosted by the UK Government in 2014. Through the meetings, nations have committed to supporting the elephant protection initiative, which includes measures on closing domestic ivory markets. After making such pledges, Britain must take care that we are not shamed on the international stage or left behind by our neighbours. Introducing a near-total ban on ivory in the UK would prove our conviction to the world. Britain should be leading from the front, not limping behind other nations.
A more immediate and tangible reason for introducing a near-total ban than protecting British reputation is the horrendous illegal slaughter of elephants, which has reached an appalling level. The great elephant census, released in September this year, found that the number of African elephants plunged by 30%, or around 144,000, between 2007 and 2014. It is not possible to understand the scale of the slaughter without also understanding the scale of the illegal ivory trade.
In an answer to the hon. Lady on 1 November, the Government said that only 111,000 African elephants had disappeared in the last 10 years. Does she share my concern that the Government are underestimating the scale of the problem?
Yes. I am not sure where those figures came from, but other independent people and organisations have come up with much bigger figures, and the problem is escalating. It is not at a flat level or decreasing; it is escalating. They are being killed faster and more frequently.
The illicit wildlife trade is considered the fourth most profitable international crime after drugs, arms and human trafficking. It is worth between $10 billion and $20 billion each year. Ivory makes up a significant proportion of that market, and an estimated 200 to 300 tonnes of illegal ivory enter the global market every year. Given the value of ivory, the brutality directed towards elephants becomes increasingly predictable, although no less despicable. The word “poaching” may conjure up the image of small, individual instances of killing, but the term does not convey the horror of frequent butchery.
In an article in The New York Times, Ugandan Eve Abe describes how, after Idi Amin’s overthrow, both armies involved in the conflict would throw hand grenades at families of elephants and then cut out their ivory. Those armies are no longer present, but to assume that the brutal killing of those animals and the use of the profits to fund terrorist and militia activity have disappeared with them is, unfortunately, incorrect. As long as current UK legislation inadvertently helps ivory trading remain that profitable, the killing will continue.
Tragically, that killing affects more than animals. The Thin Green Line Foundation estimates that around 1,000 wildlife officers have been killed in the past decade. Not all of those deaths will have been due to ivory poachers, but the statistic proves that there is a human as well as an animal cost from the illegal ivory trade market.
Order. Before the hon. Lady continues with her remarks, I encourage her to finish by at least 3.30, so other hon. Members have a chance to speak.
Thank you, Mrs Main. I will skip the statistics that I have, although they are important. The Government have an opportunity to make a big difference to the world, not just to Britain. We have an important opportunity to discuss, and ultimately to fight, the appalling slaughter of elephants being driven by the ivory trade. We are seeing the massacre of magnificent animals that face ever-increasing threats from poaching, including potential extinction.
The largest tusks are from the oldest elephants, who are the first in herds to be killed. Elephants live in family units. If the oldest, wisest elephants are slaughtered, the unit is left incomplete, and many of the “teenage” elephants lose their role model. Just like human teenagers, they can run wild. Many of those rogue elephants can become extremely violent. The extension of the domestic ivory ban offers a simple and effective way to protect elephants, and I hope that everyone here will support it.
I have said before in this very hall that, like the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, I fear that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren may never see elephants, given the increasing scale of their deaths. I reiterate that fear today, but I hope that it is the last time I must do so.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) on securing this debate on the back of a very popular petition, as well as the other hon. Members who I know have campaigned on this issue for a long time. It is clear from this debate that there is a collective will across party political lines for the UK to do more to protect the world’s elephants. As the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) said, they are the most magnificent animals.
I very much support the aims of this debate and the call for a complete ban on the domestic ivory trade in the UK. As other hon. Members have said, 330,000 elephants are still killed every year for their tusks—a death rate of one every quarter of an hour. Africa’s elephant population is in serious decline, mainly because of high levels of poaching; 30% of Africa’s elephants have disappeared in seven years. That ongoing tragedy was highlighted really well in the excellent programmes made by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. We should also appreciate the plight of endangered Asian elephants, as the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) pointed out.
The Government’s announcement in September of a ban on the sale of worked ivory produced after 1947 is a step in the right direction but, as other hon. Members have said, there is still more that can and should be done. I thank my constituent Rob Hepworth, who is a former head for the convention on international trade in endangered species and an officer for the UN convention on migratory species, for his work. I also thank all the non-governmental organisations that briefed us for this debate on their campaigns. On Mr Hepworth’s behalf, I reiterate that it is felt that the Government’s proposals are too limited because they do not include older ivory products. Illegal ivory is often laundered and falsely claimed to be old ivory. As we have seen from the programmes and from work done by wildlife monitoring organisations, there is extensive evidence of current abuse and of ivory being smuggled to overseas markets, mainly Hong Kong.
On my constituent’s behalf, may I also raise with the Minister the Government’s actions at EU level? It is felt that they missed an important opportunity to act at the recent CITES conference in South Africa when they supported the European Commission delegation’s block vote denying maximum protection status to all African elephants. That action not only seemed to negate the pledges made in the last two Conservative manifestos to
“press for a total ban on ivory sales”
but simultaneously contradicted the Foreign Secretary’s criticism of the EU Commission at the Conservative party conference, in which he slammed the “absurd” EU veto on an ivory ban. Will the Minister explain why the Government acted in that way at the conference? That would really help campaigners out there.
It would also be good to get some clarity on whether the Minister is seriously considering stricter national measures to ban the UK domestic ivory trade altogether. While we remain in the EU, it would be useful to know whether she can press Brussels to amend the binding regulations that allow unrestricted sales in allegedly antique ivory without any checks or certificates, so that in effect EU countries would have to regulate ivory sales, too.
We can change the law, but—as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) asked—what consideration are the Government giving to enforcement? Will they give more resources to agencies such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wildlife inspectorate, the national wildlife crime unit, the police and Border Force for extra enforcement support? That is really important.
Finally, on behalf of Rob Hepworth, may I ask what consideration is being given to the destruction of stockpiles? I understand that the US, France, China and African states have publicly destroyed ivory to highlight the trade. Have the Government considered that? The public certainly support more action on the ivory trade; in October, as has been mentioned, more than 100 conservationists, campaigners and politicians signed an open letter to the Government to that effect. It would be good to hear from the Minister what more we in the UK can do to lead the way and to help to secure a future for wild elephants while supporting the local communities that live alongside these extraordinary creatures.
It is a pleasure to speak on this extremely serious subject. I applaud my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) for introducing the debate.
I want to start by telling a story about an experience that convinced me that we absolutely have to do our utmost to protect these precious animals, aside from all the appalling statistics that we have heard today and that many of us know so well. This summer, I was fortunate enough to go to the northern part of Kenya. My husband and I stayed in a camp called Sarara on Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust land in 75,000 acres of glorious countryside. Pretty much all the camp’s profits are ploughed back into the community and into protecting the wildlife and habitats of which elephants are a key part.
Let me give some of the background history. The northern districts of Kenya were at the centre of mass elephant poaching in the 1980s: hundreds of elephants were killed for their ivory and the population was virtually wiped out. People soon realised that the wildlife had no future unless the communities themselves could participate in its protection, including by protecting the land, which was becoming eroded and over-grazed. To succeed, a presence had to be established in the bush to deter poachers and protect the elephant population and the local communities had to be convinced that the wildlife was not competition for food but a source of income. Initially, the local herdsmen were provided with radios so that they could report poaching incidents. As time went on, the community began to understand the benefits of having wildlife on their land. Visitors like my husband and I who were interested in the wildlife could be used as a source of income. The Samburu people of Namunyak have learned that, correctly managed, the land can generate a more sustainable income for the community and also protect the elephant herds and their habitats.
On our visit, we were also fortunate to go to the opening of a unique elephant sanctuary that was set up by the people of the community with a lot of guidance from very good consultants and charities working there. It is an elephant orphanage; some of the elephants it gathers up have fallen down wells, but others have become orphans because their parents have been killed by poaching. It is an essential establishment.
I want to highlight a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham): when an elephant is poached, it affects not just that one elephant but the entire herd. Elephants are deeply intelligent and emotional creatures; losing one member can devastate the herd’s whole set-up. It is like a family member being knocked off. Elephants live in fluid, intergenerational, predominantly female herds and flourish under leadership. The matriarch is often the elephant that is killed, because it is the biggest, the grandest-looking and the one the poachers want, and losing it can confuse the herd. Their roaming patterns change and that can be the difference between life and death for elephants. Understanding the deep intelligence of these creatures makes killing them for a tiny part of their body for jewellery even more abhorrent.
There are documented examples of elephants swimming across a river to Namibia by night, where they eat as much vegetation as they can and—
Order. Could the hon. Lady bring her remarks back to the UK ivory trade? Other Members want to speak; background information is very interesting, but time is short.
Thank you, Mrs Main. I will move straight on to the ivory trade; I was just illustrating why it is so shocking and why I am calling for the ban to be extended. A complete ban on all ivory sales would make such a difference to these deeply sensitive and intelligent creatures.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s commitment to a consultation, but I gently remind the Minister that a pledge to ban all ivory sales in the UK has been in the Conservative manifesto for some time. I urge her to shed some light on how we might move that forward. I know that many believe in the status quo and the ban on post-1947 ivory to discourage poached ivory arriving in the UK market, but I do not believe that those measures would do the trick. Allowing any ivory trade at all leaves a place for illegal ivory to be hidden. There are ways of making modern ivory look old, as was recognised recently at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s world conservation congress, which voted to close down domestic ivory markets around the world.
Some will argue that we should take care of the small number of antique dealers in this country whose trade potentially relies on ivory. I understand that tests can be carried out to try to prove whether ivory is pre or post-1947, but they are costly and take a long time, and they are often not actually carried out. It falls to the UK’s Border Force to police the ivory trade. Shockingly, over the past five years, 40% of its seizures have been ivory. Good work is also done by the national wildlife crime unit, and I applaud the Government for saving it recently, because its work is invaluable.
I am winding up now, Mrs Main, but you may remember that I mentioned those elephants swimming to Namibia. They swam from Botswana, which is a safe haven because it signed up to the elephant protection initiative. I wonder why, when we are urging other countries to join such initiatives, we do not share their values, join the initiatives and ban our highly damaging domestic ivory market. We can do that quite simply. It would be cheap, and we would have enormous public support. We could prove that, yet again, we are a world leader, and take a stand against organised crime and the dreadful poaching that has had such a terrible knock-on effect in many of the countries we have been discussing. Some good news is that Stop Ivory has commissioned a legal opinion, which states that only secondary legislation would be required for a complete ban to be enacted. I would be happy to share that opinion with the Minister.
To conclude, as I said earlier, I welcome the Government’s consultation on this issue. I urge the Minister to ensure that the Government consult on a ban on all ivory sales so that we can move towards a complete ivory ban. We cannot carry on as we are; it is much too high a price for our precious elephants to pay.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. Before I call Margaret Ferrier, I should inform the other Members who wish to speak that there is now a six-minute limit on speeches.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Mrs Main. I thank the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) for securing this important debate, and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) for her efforts. I was only too happy to support her, given that previously I have failed in several applications for a Westminster Hall debate on the same topic.
I, along with many of my SNP colleagues, have been particularly passionate about the ivory trade. Indeed, earlier this year, my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan) tabled an early-day motion calling on the UK Government to fulfil their pledge to ban the domestic ivory trade. Although the Government’s recent announcement of a ban on non-antique ivory is welcome, I urge them to build on that and go a step further. Some would argue that the new ban is a watered-down version of the Government’s manifesto commitment to
“press for a total ban on ivory sales”,
which was itself arguably a watered-down version of the 2010 manifesto pledge not only to introduce a ban, but to press for
“the destruction of existing stockpiles”.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare warns that the demand for ivory to make decorative items, jewellery and trinkets is pushing elephants to the brink of extinction. That sobering fact is reason in itself to show the trade zero tolerance. Although the IFAW welcomes the partial ban as a
“positive step in the right direction”,
it is continuing to urge the Government to introduce a total ban on domestic ivory sales, as it believes that such a measure is vital to help to shut down the markets in the UK. Most people will be unaware of this fact, but the UK actually has the largest legal domestic ivory market in Europe. Information obtained from the Border Force and the Metropolitan police indicates that the UK is home to a significant illegal market. Furthermore—the hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) referred to this briefly—there is evidence to suggest that some traders attempt to stain or disguise newer items in order to pass them off as antiques. It is for that very reason that a total ban is imperative.
The ban on the sale of worked ivory produced after 1947, although welcome, still enables a rogue trade in such items. It is simply not effective enough. A total ban is required if we are truly to stamp out the trade. The other effect of a total ban would be to make ivory undesirable and socially unacceptable. Ivory should not be viewed as a commodity, and should have absolutely zero monetary value. The real cost of ivory is the extinction of elephants from our planet. Too many elephants suffer horrific deaths that are totally needless. It is important to put a number to that. We are not talking about a handful of elephants here; we are looking at around 100,000 over the past three years. If more people understood the sheer scale of the trade, I am sure there would be greater public uproar.
The UK should be leading the way and providing an example to the rest of the world. Time is running short for elephants. We need to see further action from the Government, building on the work already done. I would like to see the Government undertake a consultation on how to close the ivory market, looking at our domestic and international obligations. The ban needs to be strengthened to fulfil properly the Conservative manifesto commitment to ban the domestic trade. That must include ending the sale of pre-1947 ivory. I look forward to the Government’s response to the points raised today, and thank the Minister for her consideration of this matter.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I declare that I am president of the British Antique Dealers’ Association. I have also been advised by the British Art Market Federation, the Antiquities Dealers’ Association and LAPADA, which together comprise a group of Britain’s most knowledgeable and highly regarded auction houses and specialist dealers in fine art, antiques and the decorative arts. I hope that this timely debate, secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), will provide an opportunity to discuss a number of misunderstandings.
As the MP for Kensington, my constituency includes antique dealers and institutions containing world-renowned collections of cultural objects—notably, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, all of which have worked ivory and other natural materials in their collections. The V&A houses not only medieval and baroque ivory, but ivory from the early 20th century.
The most important point I need to make is that the antiques trade does not support the killing of elephants, nor does it support any system that allows raw ivory from post-1947 sources to be traded. I emphasise that all the dealers and auctioneers I have spoken to are deeply concerned about the plight of African elephants and deplore their slaughter. They, and the vast majority of antiques collectors, want nothing to do with items made from modern or poached ivory. They welcome the tougher measures proposed by the Minister to remove from sale objects that are little more than tourist trinkets made in the past few decades. Even more importantly, we would all welcome a ban on the export and trading of raw tusks from other EU member states. We have already led the field by banning them ourselves some time ago.
The UK has the second largest art and antiques industry in the world. Collectively, the pool of expertise represented by all those businesses throughout the UK amounts to a resource that is unsurpassed by any other country. Visitors flock to these shores to sell or acquire artworks. Our museums rely on and work with the trade to continue to develop their collections. In fact, at a meeting a few months ago representatives of the V&A explained how they are still enhancing their collections of significant 20th century ivory pieces.
Ivory has been used in European decorative arts for centuries. I have available and can pass around a document compiled by the British Art Market Federation that gives some examples. Antique items containing ivory, such as musical instruments, can be found in the homes of many people in Britain. One of the great misunderstandings about the antiques trade is when people regard all ivory as part of an ivory market; however, the purchaser of a carved ivory medieval Christian diptych who wants the ivory because it is a beautifully worked, culturally and historically significant piece that happens to be made of ivory is not the same as a buyer of modern-day trinkets. To ban the sale of an 18th-century cabinet inlaid with small pieces of ivory, or the sale of an 18th-century portrait miniature painted on a thin slither of ivory, in order to stop far eastern buyers purchasing contemporary carved Buddhas or trinkets, makes no sense. We need to be intelligent enough to differentiate the two.
The majority of ivory buyers in the far east appear not to be interested in objects of cultural significance. What they want is ivory as a material, and thus we must distinguish between raw tusks and antique objects. In places such as Hong Kong, which is a destination for illegally poached tusks, illicit tusks can be mixed with older tusks, which continue to be exported by some European countries. The EU has plans to introduce a total ban on the export of raw tusks, and the sooner such a ban is implemented the better.
No one has so far demonstrated that genuine antiques containing ivory, of the type sold in the UK and found in our museums, contribute in any material way to the sale of poached ivory in the far east. The World Wide Fund for Nature-backed TRAFFIC report concluded that
“alleged links between the UK antiques trade and the poaching crisis appear tenuous at best”.
In conclusion, the antiques trade in the UK has made it clear that it welcomes working with my hon. Friend the Minister to develop the further regulations that may be necessary to remove from sale post-1947 items, which will effectively be a ban, because it is very important that we all understand the difference. We all welcome greater checks to ensure that only genuine antique items are sold—
Order. I call Dr Lisa Cameron.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Mrs Main. It is also an absolute pleasure to speak in such a profound—
Order. I apologise; I am sorry. I call Fiona Bruce for the last few minutes before the Front-Bench speeches. Sorry about that.
Thank you, Mrs Main.
On 24 September 2016, the third annual global march for elephants and rhinos took place, with people from 140 cities worldwide uniting to call for a ban on the trade in ivory and horn, and to demand that action be taken to end the irretrievable damage caused by the acquisition and trade of ivory. I commend the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) for securing the debate and support him in his call for Members to recognise the irrevocable damage that will be caused both to elephant species and to individuals’ livelihoods if action is not taken.
I particularly commend the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham). She articulated so well how a near-total ban on ivory trade is the way ahead. I very much support such a ban and, as I say, she expressed very well how an “intelligent” differentiation can be made, to use the word of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick), between museum pieces and genuine antique objects and other ivory, so that we can not only ensure that there is that distinction but at the same time put an end to and cut off the source of funding for the brutal killers who are poaching elephants in Africa and elsewhere.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned, a survey on elephants in August 2016—the great elephant census—showed the severe fall in the number of African elephants. The figures that have been mentioned in the debate vary, but it is clear that there has been a severe decline. If the current level of poaching in Africa continues, elephants could be all but extinct by 2030, and certain species will experience an extreme decline even earlier. For example, the African forest elephant has declined by 65% since 2002, giving it only another decade before extinction. The gravity of the need to act on the ivory trade is undeniable.
However, the different species of African elephants are not the only victims of the ivory trade. I saw that on a visit to Tanzania about two years ago, when I was privileged to be invited to go on a safari. We saw many, many animals, but we saw no elephants, and the guide explained to us that the decline in elephants was a serious deterrent to tourists visiting the area, which would have an increasing impact on the jobs and livelihoods of the people living in that area unless something was done.
Those of us on the International Development Committee —including my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford and for Mid Derbyshire, and others who are here today—know that this is a critical issue to be addressed in Africa today, particularly for the younger generation. I particularly ask that the Department for International Development considers whether there is more that it could do to support those dealing with this issue in the countries in which we are spending UK aid.
The responsibility that Britain must take in tackling the ivory trade cannot be ignored. The domestic market means that there is a transition point in the UK for the trading of ivory, with import and re-export occurring. Between 2009 and 2014, 40% of seizures by the UK Border Force were of ivory items.
There has been some progress. I am pleased to see the Government’s commitment to doubling their £13 million investment to tackle the illegal ivory trade and the endeavour to train a British military anti-poaching force. Those are bold and leading measures to tackle the problem, but more must be done. I join other Members in asking the Government to take further steps to close the ivory market, in order to rid Britain of the status of a transitionary market for the trade of ivory, and to impose a near-total ivory ban.
In recent years, international collaboration has been very encouraging. I welcome the announcements by the USA and China within the past year regarding the banning of the ivory trade, and more recently the announcements by Hong Kong and France. I urge the Government to join that international movement and to recognise the urgency of action on the ivory trade. Without a near-total ban on the ivory trade in the UK, we will neglect not only to counteract the rapid decline of African elephants but to support the livelihoods of many people in developing countries who have been crippled by the ivory market. It would be to the shame of our country, and indeed our Government, if we lagged behind other countries that are currently taking a lead on tackling this issue.
I call Dr Lisa Cameron. As the Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Lady has 10 minutes. I apologise for getting her jumping to her feet a little earlier.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship once again so soon, Mrs Main.
I am privileged to speak in such a profound and important debate. First, I commend the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) for bringing this issue to the House. He has great experience and speaks from the heart. I also thank the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Born Free Foundation, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Tusk and many other organisations and agencies that work so hard to conserve the wonderful, majestic elephant population of our world.
The hon. Gentleman outlined with great veracity the need for this debate; the need to stop the decline in elephant numbers, which are currently at 400,000 to 450,000; the grave issues that exist regarding poaching; the emergency of the situation that we face internationally; his own personal experience in Africa, in Tanzania and beyond; the need to end the ivory trade now, in fulfilment of the Conservative party election pledges; and the global need for education campaigns for children, to spread the word.
I also thank the esteemed and hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) for his contribution. He spoke, as always, with great emotion. He spoke about the people’s petition and the people’s voice—the people who assert the need to save endangered species for the sake of the next generation. He made the excellent point that we want to conserve elephants in the world and not just visit them in zoos. He also described the important issues that MPs have a responsibility to raise on every delegation visit we have to countries where there are endangered species. MPs, ambassadors, Ministers and the United Kingdom Government can and must do more.
There was an eloquent contribution from the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who I know feels especially strongly about this issue and who will work hard, as always, to achieve concrete results. She raised the important issue of combating criminal activity as part of the overall strategy and emphasised the urgent need for action. She wants to see the UK be a role model and lead the world on taking this issue forward, because currently we are falling behind. She also raised the important issue of the escalation in the illicit wildlife trade.
The hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) made an excellent contribution, as always. She informed the Chamber that 30% of Africa’s elephants have disappeared. She raised the issue of the UK Government’s action at EU level, which has sadly been lacking. She asked about the destruction of stockpiles and the Government’s lack of action to date in that regard.
The hon. Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) made a thoughtful contribution. She spoke about her experience of the majestic elephant and of visits to elephant sanctuaries, and about the importance of tourism to local livelihoods and sustainability.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) urged the UK Government to take steps towards implementing a total ban on ivory. She highlighted that the cost of ivory is the extinction of elephants from our planet.
The hon. Lady mentions all these things and asks what the Government are going to do, but they have said that they plan to widen the UK ban on ivory sales. Would she like the Minister to respond to that point and explain exactly what it means?
Yes, I would like the Minister to explain in detail what the Government mean to do on the issue.
The hon. Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) gave a perspective from her constituency regarding antiques dealers and museums. She indicated that antiques dealers would welcome tough measures on the sale of ivory and are aware of the plight of the elephant population across the world. They advocate a ban on the export of tusks.
The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce)—I nearly made my speech before she had even had a chance to speak—made a measured speech, as always. She emphasised the severe decline in the elephant population and spoke about the International Development Committee’s work, to which she has dedicated herself. She raised the important issue of jobs and livelihoods and asked that the Department for International Development does more to protect wildlife in the countries in which it is active.
This year, my two-year-old daughter saw an elephant for the very first time. It was an amazing experience that she will never forget, and I want future generations of children to be able to behold that sight. Time is of the essence. We must act now. If we do not, elephants could face localised extinction. In some African countries, including Senegal, Somalia and Sudan, elephants have already been driven to extinction. Communities across Africa are dependent on elephants for income through tourism, so saving elephants also means preventing poverty, sustaining livelihoods and promoting sustainable tourism.
Elephants are a key species in the ecosystem, and many other animals rely on them for survival. Elephants are nature’s gardeners. Plants and trees rely on them to disperse seeds. Elephants, as has been mentioned, are intelligent and emotional. They grieve for lost ones and feel fear and joy. We must stem demand for ivory from consumer countries. That is fundamental to the survival of the species. Up to 100 elephants are killed by organised criminals every day. In the past 10 years, 1,000 rangers have been killed by poachers.
Order. Will the hon. Lady bring her remarks to a close? There are two Front Benchers still to go.
We need conviction rates and justice systems to be strengthened.
I ask that we protect and preserve elephants for the world. If the UK Government do not take steps to act on such a fundamental issue, we must question their fitness to represent the United Kingdom across the world.
It is good to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mrs Main. I start by thanking the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) for providing such an excellent exposition of the plight of elephants today and the causes of the mass slaughter and butchering of those majestic animals. He has been joined by many Members from both sides of the House also pleading for a total ban on the trade in ivory. That feeling does not just exist in the House; we know that 85% of the public want to see a total ban on the trade in ivory, and we heard that only 8% know that trading continues in this country. It is therefore incumbent on us to listen to the public and what they are calling for. The petition is gathering pace. It has more than 76,000 signatures, and I am sure it will have many more after today’s debate. They are calling for a total ban, not a partial ban.
I thank the NGOs for the fantastic work they do in raising awareness of this dreadful issue. Save the Elephants, the World Wildlife Fund, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Tusk and many more are ensuring that the issue is placed in our consciousness and that we know the impact the ivory trade is having. Of course, that impact is not just on the elephant community; we have heard how 1,000 of the rangers who dedicate their lives to saving those wonderful creatures have lost their lives as a result of the criminal activity we are witnessing across the globe. Progress must be made, and I trust that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) said, it is happening on our watch and this is our opportunity—today we will see progress from the Minister in ensuring that we go further and see a complete ban on the trade in ivory.
In preparing for today’s debate, I have been distressed to read about the mass slaughter of those wonderful animals. In the past year, 33,000 elephants were consigned to their end. For what? For greed, money and criminal activity. We have a duty to stand up for those wonderful animals. Of course, it is not just about the elephant; we have heard today about giraffes—there are now fewer than 100,000 giraffes—and about snow leopards. At the turn of the last century, there were half a million rhinos. Today, there are just 29,000. They have been traded for blood money. It is therefore incumbent on us to ensure that no more elephants lose their lives.
The clock is ticking. In the course of this debate, six more elephants will be murdered. The time for consultation is over; it is time for action, and we must start today. We need the Government to make firm commitments and to be accountable for them. The reality is that the battle is being lost. If we do not make more progress, and quickly, it will be too late and our children and grandchildren will not witness elephants in the wild. That will happen within a generation, so it is so important that we move the debate forward.
We have had opportunities on the global stage. I will not be critical—it is very difficult to bring global progress—but we have to show leadership with those opportunities. The Government have clearly made commitments, but we want to see them fulfilled, not just in the UK, but on the global stage. They should not stand back from those commitments to move forward; they should show leadership and take people along with them, whether at CITES conferences or in Hanoi.
I have spoken to the general of the 1st (United Kingdom) Division of the Army—it is based in my constituency and long may it remain there—about using our armed forces and their skill to protect elephants in Africa. We would welcome such steps because, clearly, this is a war against mass criminality. We need to take such actions and use our skills.
Can the Minister tell me the difference between ivory of 1946 and of 1948? Elephants fell to their deaths in 1946 and 1948, so what is the difference in the false demarcation of 1947? Authorities and dealers cannot tell the difference. We have heard that only carbon dating can provide the necessary identification. The demarcation is false, so why draw that line? Why not just say, “Pre-1947 and post-1947 ivory will be banned”? We will support the Government if they take that forward. We want to know from the Minister why the Government will not address the antique ivory trade. What is so different?
The remarks of the hon. Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) were objectionable. She referred to a beautifully worked piece, but it was a beautiful elephant once. She called it artwork. What is artistic about murder? Although those pieces are already in existence, they should no longer be traded. We would introduce a total ban on all ivory, with no excuses and no demarcations —a clear and simple ban. We call for leadership from the Government on this issue.
I agree with Action for Elephants UK, which states:
“The existence of a legal ivory trade serves as a cover for illegal sales of ivory, while continuing to perpetuate the cycle of supply and demand.”
We must see a ban on historical and new ivory, and I call on the Government to close the ivory loophole today and for the Minister to be bold enough to do that, on her watch and while she has the power to make the difference around the globe. Tougher penalties are needed for those who break the law and education campaigns should coincide with that, as well as an amnesty on those that possess ivory in their own homes, so that they can get rid of those products, which are not beautiful artworks but products paid for by the blood of animals.
Let us get on top of the cyber trade too. Let us get on top of the reality of the issue and see a total ban. In our time in Europe, let us use our influence while it remains to see European countries coming behind our leadership on this issue. At the moment, France is ahead of us. We know that the US, too, has tougher penalties. We have to play catch-up. We also have to listen to countries such as Botswana, where the largest elephant population lives, which is also calling for a total ban. We have to listen to those that know best.
This is not just a fight for the future of elephants and rhinos and so many animals—it is a fight against organised criminality. That is why it is so important that we as a country step up and refuse to tolerate any of it. Where there are loopholes and confusion, which is what the Government measures will bring, criminality will continue, because that is what criminals do. I ask the Minister to please join us—the 85% of people across our country and hon. Members today—and call for a total ban. It is on her watch and she has the ability to make the change. I trust she will.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) on securing this debate. As has already been pointed out, nearly 77,000 people have signed the petition calling for a total ban and I am sure that the Petitions Committee has linked that to this debate.
Hon. Members have spoken with passion. We have heard points made about the trade in ivory and its links to the trafficking of poached ivory. That is what it comes back to—the horrific poaching of elephants that is currently taking place. We all agree that it has to stop; we will not stand aside while there is the threat of extinction.
Many hon. Members have expressed their love of elephants, and I admit to that too. In 1977, I saw the appropriately named Jubilee in Chester zoo, and earlier this year I visited South Africa to attend the Conference of the Parties to the convention on international trade in endangered species and saw in Kruger national park elephants roaming wild, as they should be.
One Member asked about international aid. The reason I went to Kruger national park was to see the work being done with UK taxpayers’ money through the aid system to train rangers to prevent the poaching of rhinos. In South Africa, there seems to have been a measure of success; instead of three rhinos being poached a day, we now have one rhino being poached a day. That is some success, but those are still horrific figures.
Will the Minister give way on that point?
I will not yet—I need to open my speech. The Government are absolutely committed to taking the action needed and showing the required leadership to end the poaching crisis.
A lot of statistics have been cited today, several of which I do not recognise. I would be happy to understand them further. It is my understanding that, at its peak in 2011, it was estimated that 30,000 African elephants were slaughtered in a year for their tusks, based on extrapolations from data from 12 key sites. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reported the loss of 111,000 in the great elephant census, which was announced at the recent CITES COP and was the basis of the parliamentary answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham). The 2014 African elephant census, which is collated by a different organisation, provides the most recent and comprehensive data and indicates a 30% fall in the savannah elephant population in a seven-year period between 2007 and 2014. That equates to 144,000 elephants.
Does it really matter what the statistics are? It is a few thousand here or a few thousand there. They are being slaughtered and bloody corpses are on the ground.
My hon. Friend is right—that is why I alluded to that point in the opening of my speech—but I want to make sure that we are clear in the assertions that are made. I do not recognise some of the statistics to which she refers. The general consensus is that the levels of poaching peaked in 2011 to 2013, but I agree that one poached elephant is one too many. I fully accept that.
What the overall numbers hide is the vastly different experiences across the African continent. Tanzania has been particularly hit hard by poaching, especially in the Selous region, with a reported decline of more than 60,000 elephants, which is a significant part of the population. Conversely, the experience in other parts of Africa, especially in the southern states, is of a stable or growing population. For example, in the Hwange national park in Zimbabwe, the population is growing and the Government report that they are beginning to suffer the problems of overpopulation, including habitat destruction.
The hon. Member for Newport East (Jessica Morden) referred to the EU. Our Government’s view is that the large and growing elephant populations in southern Africa did not meet the clear, scientific criteria established in CITES for inclusion in appendix I of the convention. Moreover, moving those populations to appendix I would have had no impact on the status of the ivory from those four countries, or the concern that trade might resume in the future. Their existing appendix II listings have an annotation that effectively treats ivory from those countries as if it were in appendix I. Such a move could in fact have been counter-productive. It was strongly thought that Zimbabwe, Namibia and possibly more countries would have taken out a reservation against any move to appendix I. Two countries taking out such a reservation would have resulted in ivory being able to be traded without contravening CITES and so would have potentially reopened commercial trade in new ivory with immediate effect.
A range of solutions is needed to tackle the poaching crisis and CITES, which also covers both fauna and flora, is an important part of that. I recognise that this debate is about the UK ivory trade, but we should be conscious that many species were added to appendix I, including sharks and rosewood. The illegal wildlife trade covers far more than just the ivory to which we are referring today.
I assure hon. Members that the UK was an active participant in discussions to give a clear direction to close national ivory markets where they fuel poaching or illegal trade. That was an outcome we strongly endorse. There was also decisive action to strengthen national ivory action plans—I have met Ministers from China and Vietnam and we have discussed those matters—which set out clear actions for countries to combat ivory trafficking in key markets, with scrutiny of achievements by the CITES community up to and including trade sanctions for inaction.
The current global rules under CITES are that trade in ivory dating from after 1990 is banned. There is no time limit to that. To change that would require a positive decision by two thirds of the CITES parties to embrace trade in ivory, which is not a realistic prospect. The UK has already for a number of years gone further than CITES requirements. We do not permit exports of any ivory tusks, given the very obvious potential for such international trade to be used to launder recently poached ivory tusks.
The rules around what trade in ivory is permitted are only part of the story and how they are enforced is an essential element. Within the UK, the existing legal trade is enforced by the police forces and the Border Force. Ivory is a top priority for the Border Force’s wildlife trafficking team. The petition for today’s debate notes that 40% of UK customs seizures between 2009 and 2014 were ivory, which is 40% of seized wildlife products, not of all items seized by customs. Given the priority and resources that the Border Force target on intercepting illegal ivory, I would expect that to form a significant proportion of their seizures, as the evidence shows.
Border Force has run specific operations targeting ivory in recent years and Operation Quiver, which specifically targeted illegal ivory in the parcel system, won the WWF enforcement operation of the year award last month. The expertise of our Border Force team is held in high regard globally and the UK has recently been asked to lead work at EU level on enforcement action against ivory trafficking. Interpol attended CITES for the first time. I have already met my hon. Friend the Security Minister and we intend to visit the wildlife crime unit early next year to reinforce our belief that this is an important matter that must be tackled.
Within the UK, enforcement is led by various police forces and supported by the national wildlife crime unit. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has provided additional resources in this spending review period to target illegal trade via the internet, which we know is an issue of growing concern. As I say, I intend to visit the unit early next year.
Globally, the UK is a strong supporter of enforcement efforts to combat poaching and trafficking, and we committed £4 million to the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime. The five partner organisations are at the forefront of supporting global enforcement efforts. Interpol is taking an increasingly active role in the cause, and we are partnering with it to focus on intercepting illegal shipments of ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products. Through those initiatives, we will have a real impact on the volume of trafficked ivory.
The driver for poaching is, of course, the lucrative profits that can be made in trafficking ivory. I learned on my trip to South Africa that somebody can earn in one night what they could earn in five years if they did a different job. It is important to bear that in mind when we think about the economic growth and development that we should be encouraging those countries to pursue. Where possible, we should use our aid to encourage alternatives, but not every country in Africa is eligible for overseas development aid.
Poaching is driven by the demand for ivory products. We must understand and address that problem. We need to raise Asian consumers’ awareness of the devastating impact they have on elephant populations. We need to inform and engage with them, and ultimately change their behaviour. His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge showed leadership when he visited Hanoi recently, alongside my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That kind of engagement is a key part of what UK leadership can do.
To achieve that, we need to change the dynamics of the market. We need to reduce not just the availability of ivory, but the acceptability of the trade. That is why in the UK we are looking at our own market. Other countries, such as the US, have taken action. We want concerted international action. Most important, we want China to take action to follow through on its commitment to close its market.
Hon. Members referred to a number of other countries, so it is worth setting out what their plans involve. The US has introduced what it describes as a near-complete ban: a prohibition on trade in items under 100 years old. That is 30 years further back than the limit we have proposed, but it is a rolling date, so it will progressively allow trade in newer items year by year. The US also included a range of exemptions from the ban, including musical instruments and items containing less than 200 grams of ivory if it is less than 50% of the overall item. Those are federal rules that apply to exports and trade between states. Trade within states is a matter for the individual states to legislate on. A small number of states, although some of them are highly populous, have adopted tighter controls along similar lines to the federal controls, but they remain the minority.
We welcome the Chinese Government’s announcement of their intention to close China’s domestic ivory market, and we look forward to hearing more detail about their intentions for the ban. Earlier this year, France announced that it will permit trade in pre-1975 ivory only on a case-by-case basis, although we and others are still seeking clarity on what the criteria for the case-by-case assessment are, so we can understand how restrictive its approach will be. We understand it intends to consult shortly to clarify the rules and exemptions.
I am proud that in September the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced plans for banning the sale of ivory that is less than 70 years old—dating from 1947. That is an important step. The 1947 date has its foundations in EU regulations, which still remain the overarching legislation for the implementation of CITES in the UK. From a control and enforcement perspective, there are advantages to working with a date that is already used by the rest of the EU and traders to draw a dividing line. We will consult early in the new year on our plans to implement such a ban. I am pleased that it has happened on the watch of this Prime Minister and the Secretary of State.
Will the Minister give way?
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I want to cover as many of the points that were raised as I can. If I have time at the end, I will give way.
We will also consult on putting into legislation our existing administrative ban on exports of raw ivory. In June, the UK pushed the European Council to urge all member states to end the trade in raw ivory in its conclusions, although they are yet to be implemented by many member states. The Council conclusions also considered other measures to go further. I assure hon. Members that our plan means that the UK will have some of the strictest rules governing ivory trade in the world. It is part of our manifesto commitment to press for a total ban.
As has been said, over the centuries, ivory has been used in a wide variety of different products and artefacts. It is easy to think of ornaments and trinkets made solely of ivory but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) said, it is also used as part of decorative items and instruments, including piano keys, violin bows and sets of bagpipes. As a matter of good policy making, we need to understand better the impact that potentially banning the trade in all those different types of items will have, including on the businesses, museums and individuals who own such items. Therefore, as part of the consultation, we will have a call for evidence on those points.
I hope the Minister is not turning into a liberal. There is a manifesto commitment and a consultation. Will the Minister recommend the Conservative party manifesto commitment in that consultation?
The Conservative party manifesto commitment —a commitment that I do not think Labour has ever included in its manifestos—is to press for a total ban on ivory sales, and that is part of the action that this policy fulfils.
The currently legal trade is only one part of the picture. We need a truly global response to all aspects of the problem if we are successfully to end the poaching crisis, and the UK leads the way in several of those areas. Just last week, I met CITES secretary-general John Scanlon, who commended the UK’s excellent work in leading the international illegal wildlife trade agenda and cited the 2014 London conference as a turning point for action. We provided financial and practical support to Vietnam to host the recent illegal wildlife trade conference in Hanoi, which built on the 2014 London conference, and we supported its successor in Botswana in 2016. To maintain global momentum, the UK will host the next high-level event in London in 2018.
Two years ago, we launched a £13 million fund to invest in projects around the world that tackle the illegal wildlife trade at its root. In Hanoi, the Secretary of State announced an additional £13 million to fund new measures, doubling our investment. We provide practical support on the ground. The British military trains anti-poaching rangers on the front line in Gabon, which is home to Africa’s largest population of forest elephants. That will be extended to provide training to anti-poaching rangers in other crucial countries such as Malawi. As I said, we continue to work with our partners using the UK Border Force, and the Crown Prosecution Service supports the judicial system in key states such as Kenya and Tanzania. We also support projects in Asia to raise awareness and educate potential consumers about the damage that is being done by demand for a whole range of wildlife products, including ivory.
On artworks, the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) made some very strong points. She seemed to commit the Labour party to banning leather products, because she suggested that anything made from animals should be banned. We need to think carefully about how artworks in museums are considered. People may not realise that the Lewis chessmen are ivory, but we should consider whether museums should continue to display ivory tusks. That is the kind of thing that we should discourage them from doing.
I need to leave time for my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, so in conclusion, I can assure—
Will the Minister give way on the question that I asked her directly to answer?
Will the Minister explain why she will not extend the ban from 1947 to an earlier date?
I heard the hon. Lady’s question and I explained that, so she clearly was not listening.
To clarify, the manifesto commitment is that we will press for a total ban on ivory sales. That means acting on our domestic ivory trade and pressing for truly global and concerted action across all areas necessary to success. That means ensuring more effective enforcement, strengthening criminal justice, tackling the demand that is driving poaching, and supporting communities that are impacted by the effects of poaching. In all those areas, the Government are acting and showing true global leadership. I will ensure that, on my watch, we press on with such measures and continue to act so future generations can enjoy these majestic creatures roaming wild.
I thank the Minister for her reply and all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken. Given the amount of time left, I will not list everyone, but I am most grateful for the interest shown in this debate.
The point I want to make is that we should work towards shutting down the domestic ivory market in the UK. The weight of opinion is on that side, as is the weight of evidence, although I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) said.
I respectfully suggest to the Minister that she widen the consultation early next year to cover all possible scenarios, including a total ban and a near-total ban with the kind of exemptions to which I referred in my speech, such as those that the WWF suggested—cutlery, musical instruments and furniture with inlaid ivory. Widening the consultation does not commit the Government, but it would show a willingness to take the various arguments into account.
We face an emergency; we need emergency measures. We cannot simply go on consulting and consulting. I welcome the practical action that the Government have taken in providing support to Malawi and elsewhere—by the way, pretty much every African country is eligible for ODA, which can be given to all middle or low-income countries.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the UK ivory trade.
[Relevant document: E-petition 165905, entitled “Shut down the domestic ivory market in the UK.”]