Monday 6 February 2017
[Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]
Domestic Ivory Market
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 165905 relating to the domestic ivory market in the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. This petition has attracted more than 107,000 signatures and is very clear in its aim. This is the second time that this matter has been debated in the House in the past two months, following a debate in this place on 8 December.
I 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. I also pay tribute to the work of Lord Hague and the many other right hon. and hon. Members for whom this matter is of great concern, including my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), who has spoken regularly about it in the House. I will leave most of the detail to her. I want to be clear that the debate is about the UK’s commercial ivory trade. It is not about stopping people owning ivory, inheriting family heirlooms or donating to museums. It is about how we play our full part in increasing global efforts to halt poaching.
The survival of elephants is threatened across Africa. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has estimated that only 415,000 African elephants remain. The savannah elephant population declined by 30% between 2007 and 2014, largely due to poaching. Between 2010 and 2012, 30,000 African elephants a year were being slaughtered for their tusks. The rate of poaching has since declined, although that is partly due to the fact that it is now harder to find large groups of elephants to kill. However, the Great Elephant Census has revealed the current rate of decline is still around 8% a year, which is far higher than could ever be considered sustainable.
The UK currently has one of the largest domestic ivory markets, which contributes directly to illegal trade, providing the opportunity for illegal ivory to be laundered. TRAFFIC has stated that the UK’s role in illegal ivory is in particular as a transit country. Examples in the last year alone can be cited. Christie’s was fined more than £3,000 in 2016 for selling a piece of ivory without the relevant documentation, and in November 2016 an individual based in the UK was prosecuted for selling 78 ivory items valued at almost £6,500.
The Government’s consultation announced in September on banning the sale of modern-day ivory—that is, dated after 1947—is welcome. It follows leadership by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Minister. However, there are a number of reasons why we should go further.
I will come to my thoughts on the steps the Government should take later in my remarks.
There are a number of reasons why we should go further. First, the proposal will not cover worked ivory dated before 1947, which makes up the vast majority of the current UK ivory market. Secondly, it is difficult for our law enforcement officers to tell the difference between pre and post-1947 ivory, especially as newer ivory is frequently and deliberately disguised as antique. Thirdly, it is unclear how all ivory could be age tested.
Although the hon. Gentleman is confining his remarks to the UK market, there are bigger markets outside the UK. We need international action, because countries such as China import a lot of ivory. If we are going to save elephants, we cannot confine the problem to one country.
I will talk later about the action that countries around the world are currently taking and looking to take in the years ahead.
As I was saying, it is unclear how all ivory could be age tested. Radiocarbon dating every piece of ivory would be hugely expensive and significantly increase the cost of the licensing regime. International momentum for action is also building. In December last year, China announced a timetable for closing its domestic ivory trade.
As my hon. Friend knows, I am a fellow member of the Petitions Committee and welcome the opportunity to debate this subject. We spend an awful lot of time discussing as an international community how we can deal with the challenge of climate change, which seems somewhat intractable. Does he agree that this is a much simpler problem, and that we could get on and save great species such as the elephant and the tiger?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this matter forwards from the Petitions Committee. If we are determined to stop the ivory trade, we have to stop the demand. The hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) referred to China. China blatantly disregards world opinion. It pays lip service to stopping the ivory trade, but the trade continues. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that it is time for our Government to step up to the mark and persuade, and perhaps even elbow, China to stop the ivory trade in its totality? That is where the problem is: China says one thing and pays lip service, and does something different.
As I have said, I welcome the Government’s leadership. Other countries around the world are also taking action. Hong Kong has confirmed that it will totally ban all ivory sales within five years. In August last year, France proposed further restrictions on its domestic market. India has implemented a near-total ban. The US introduced a near-total ban on all ivory sales at a federal level in July 2016, and 80% of African elephant range countries support the closure of domestic ivory markets.
It is clear that the public support further action, as is demonstrated by more than 107,000 people—2,000 just over the weekend—signing the petition and therefore triggering the debate, which is the second on this subject in two months. Further research carried out by TNS in September 2016 found that 85% of the public think that buying and selling ivory in the UK should be banned.
It has been suggested by some of those who are against a ban that a certification system could be introduced, whereby pieces of ivory to be sold in the United Kingdom market would have to carry a certificate indicating that they were pre-1947. The hon. Gentleman said a moment ago that radiocarbon dating is very expensive. I am not an expert. Can he give an indication of how much it would cost per piece?
I cannot give an exact indication, but the point I was trying to make is that radiocarbon dating every piece of ivory would be hugely time-consuming and cumbersome. I will say what more I think the Government can do on this important matter later.
The Government’s response to the online petition stated that the consultation would be a
“step towards a total ban.”
That is welcome, but I urge them to take a bigger step by widening the remit of their forthcoming consultation to cover all possible scenarios, including a total ban on the domestic trade in ivory, while considering international examples that include tightly-defined exemptions for items such as musical instruments and items with very small amounts of ivory. That would allow the ban to be practical and enforceable. Parallel measures can also be taken, such as supporting foreign Governments to protect elephants and supporting education around the world.
I congratulate the Petitions Committee on picking this topic for debate. The hon. Gentleman talks about what we can do in foreign countries. It is very important that when we give aid to countries, specific conditions should be attached, including on animal welfare. The massacre of the elephant population is the core and root of the problem.
I completely agree and I am sure the Minister heard the hon. Gentleman’s point. As I said, practical measures can be taken, such as supporting education around the world to ensure that the scale of the problem is understood.
During the course of the debate, somewhere between seven and 10 elephants will be killed. They will most likely be shot and then dismembered to extract the maximum value for poachers. The Secretary of State’s announcement in September was extremely welcome, but I urge the Government to honour our commitment, ensuring we play our part in protecting one of the world’s most iconic species.
I shall be brief, as ever, Mr Brady. Having spoken comprehensively to my satisfaction and, I hope, to the satisfaction of others in the debate in December 2016, I thank all those who signed the petition for this debate. It is democracy in practice, and the longer the petition had been out there, the more signatures it would have accrued, because there is a feeling in the country and increasing recognition that we are throwing away our future.
I pointed out in the debate in December that this is about my grandson’s future, and I can now say happily that it is about both my grandsons’ futures. It is not trite to say that. What are we bequeathing them? Of all the many issues in front of Parliament today and on other days, if we are incapable of fulfilling our role to protect for continuing generations the species that freely roam this planet alongside us, we have no role as politicians.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new grandchild. He referred to a previous debate in December, when I and other hon. Members here today pointed out that an elephant is killed nearly every 15 minutes, so since that debate, more than 5,000 more elephants might have been killed. Does he agree that time is of the essence?
Time is running out for elephants, lions, tigers, snow leopards and many of the other great species. I remember what I did as a kid, so I go out and buy my grandchildren little plastic animals, ready for when they come and visit. Zoos are not what they were in olden days; they are open plains where animals can play and we can move around among them, which is great. I do not want to have to explain, “I’ve seen this animal in the wild, but you’re not going to see it,” because we, the human race, have got rid of it, through our stupidity, greed and political inaction.
In 2003, in a much less crowded environment—the message is certainly getting out to the new generation of politicians elected to the House—I successfully introduced an amendment to make trade in endangered species an imprisonable offence for the first time. We went through the issues and the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) sat alongside me on the all-party group and made up the numbers to pursue the issue. It was a bit of a curiosity for many people at the time, but it seemed important and it got through unanimously. We were at crisis point then, but Parliament did not realise it.
The petitioners can see from the number of people present today—more than 30 Members of Parliament, from different generations, are here on both sides of the Chamber—that Parliament is starting to understand the issue. We need effective action from us and, through us, from the Government. I hope the Minister will be more precise than when she responded to the previous debate about what our Government will do. Will we be trailing behind the Communist party in the People’s Republic of China? I trust not. I trust that this nation will be the world leader. It is our responsibility. We should not be waiting on any other nation. The fact that parties from every part of the House are represented here demonstrates how the Government’s actions will be applauded and supported.
That support comes from all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman referred to interaction with his grandchildren and to where animals roam on the plains. Does he believe that legislative action in the House must include help for countries that have elephants, hippopotamuses and so on to ensure that they have rangers and helicopters and everything necessary to make sure that those animals can roam and live freely?
Those countries desperately need our support. With my mountaineering hat on, I recall climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in August 2016 through what was, 20 years ago, the wild route. It was wild because there were elephants and animals more dangerous than elephants prowling on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. In particular, there were a significant number of elephants in the forest and up on the Shira plateau, but they are not there now. Guides who were with me could recall during their guiding lifetime how many they had seen as adults, never mind as children. That demonstrated vividly to me the crisis in one small part of the world in Tanzania.
If I were a Minister, I would ban the lot and stop any trade in or movement of ivory. The survival of the elephant is far more important than a museum, however great it and the curators of the modern age may be, however wise, experienced and brilliant they may be and however great their genius. That is nothing compared with the survival of elephants. It is about time we were bold and said that there should be no half-measures, mixed messages, little promises or small steps forwards. A total ban is what I want.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the most dangerous of all animals is the Chinese consumer? Nearly all the animals in the list he mentioned are used in Chinese medicine. Piano makers and people who use antique ivory are not contributing to the problem today. We need to tackle what is happening today.
The problem today was manifested differently yesterday, and people today will have the same ignorance that people had yesterday—all of us, and I exclude no one, including me—in our past thinking, which is why we need to be brave in our decision making. More importantly, we need foresight in thinking through what we are bequeathing the planet. As things are going, there will be no elephants or many of the other great species.
When I first went to the Kruger national park about 12 years ago, I saw a herd of 52 elephants, including the big matriarch to tiny newborns. I am told that people now do not see herds; they see one or two animals. That is the problem we are facing and we cannot afford to wait. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
The reality is that in some countries where we have the wonderful opportunity to visit, someone going out into the bush is as likely to see a carcase as a live elephant. That is the reality in all too many parts of the world.
I will finish on that point because many hon. Members want to speak and my previous remarks are in Hansard, not least my calls that everything the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office do should have endangered species, not least elephants, as a key part of the leverage in all our foreign relations and aid. As well as stopping any trade in this country, we should lead the world. It is our duty to do so and I look forward to hearing from other hon. Members.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), who serves on the Petitions Committee and introduced the debate. It is also a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who is passionate about this issue.
It was my birthday a couple of days ago, and although I somewhat dreaded adding yet another year to a number that is already a very respectable cricket score for a batsman, I consoled myself by considering one of the great delights that growing older brings, to which the hon. Gentleman will attest. He has two grandchildren. I am fortunate enough to have five and, on my birthday, I was thinking, as I often do, about my grandchildren, but unfortunately that consideration, so often a source of joy, led me in this instance to distress. I wondered whether all my grandchildren would ever get to see a genuine elephant and, of course, all the other endangered species that have been mentioned. It is an easy and well-worn trick of rhetoric to make such a statement, but on this occasion I really do not think that it is unfounded. Nor is it an unshared concern, because Prince William stated in September 2016 that he fears that Prince George and Princess Charlotte will grow up in a world without elephants—and they are older than my youngest two grandchildren.
In the same month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature stated that Africa’s overall elephant population had seen the worst decline in 25 years, due to poaching. Savannah elephant populations are declining at an estimated 8% a year. Facts and figures applied with cool logic often alleviate my more irrational fears, but in this case they serve only to heighten them. Stark reality makes me more, not less, fearful of elephant extinction and the consequences of that for our world and the people inhabiting it, my grandchildren included.
Since I last spoke in a debate on this issue, which was in this Chamber on 8 December, a minimum of 3,355 elephants have been killed, and that is a conservative estimate; the number could be well over 5,500. Each day, as often as every 15 minutes according to some sources, another elephant is killed, another poacher strikes for greed and gain, another criminal syndicate profits from a corrupt practice, another country sees its rule of law undermined, another ecosystem is degraded and another species comes a step closer to extinction. Between today’s debate and 31 March—I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us when the consultation will start and finish, but let us go to 31 March—another 4,800 elephants will die.
Will the hon. Lady join me in trying to nail the argument that this is just about killing animals for the Chinese medicine trade? The police in this country have seized ivory that has been antiqued to make it look as if it is older—pre the 1947 deadline. This is not just about the Chinese market.
Yes, I agree with the hon. Lady, and in fact how can an ordinary policeman, who has many other duties, tell the difference between pre and post-1947 ivory? That is just not possible.
For many years, Britain was at the forefront of the battle to fight these appalling injustices, taking centre stage on the issue of combating the illegal wildlife trade within the global community. Many Britons have done exceptional, commendable work on the issue, particularly Lord Hague and Prince William. Sadly, though, the UK is no longer at the front of the race, and I do not understand why. At the end of last year, China confirmed its timetable to close its domestic ivory market by the end of 2017. That—[Interruption.] It is indeed too late, but it is better than nothing; we are not doing it. That was a truly monumental step, given that that country has always been one of the largest ivory markets. Hong Kong, a major ivory retail market and a key transit point into mainland China, has confirmed that it will totally ban all ivory sales within five years. Last August, France announced that it would bring forward new legislation for further restrictions on the sale of ivory. Why is Britain not leading; why are we not even following suit?
We should introduce a near-complete ban on the trade of ivory products in the UK. The only exceptions allowed would be out of practicality or for works of genuine artistic value—I am talking about certain works of art ratified by independent art experts, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum. There is a global consensus that domestic ivory markets contribute to the illegal wildlife trade and the poaching of elephants and therefore must be closed, and closed immediately. Admirably, the Government have agreed on a consultation to address these issues—a step that I applaud—but why is it not coming far sooner? As I hope I have proved, every day makes a major difference for elephant populations.
With the illegal wildlife trade conference coming up in London in 2018, the gaze of the international community will be firmly upon us with regard to this issue again. We need to ensure that we can make this conference as successful as the 2014 one was: we need to take action and prove to the globe that we are willing to lead on this issue once again.
It must be stressed that a move to bring in a ban not only is supported by swathes of non-governmental organisations and wildlife charities, but has been promised in the last two Conservative manifestos and championed by the public at large—we have promised to do that. When surveyed, 85% of people believe that it has already happened and ivory trading is illegal.
I am here speaking in the debate only because more than 107,000 people have signed the petition calling for the closure of the ivory market in the UK. As of yesterday, 265 of those people come from my constituency of Mid Derbyshire. I must point out to the Minister, who is representing the Government on this issue today, that the petition was also signed by 228 residents of her own constituency of Suffolk Coastal. I am sure that she will want to ensure that their views are addressed today. Those of us here are speaking not just to one another, but to the thousands of people who have expressed their concern and demanded that a ban be introduced. I am sure that many of us in the Chamber have different opinions on Brexit. Probably the only thing that we can all agree on is that a major element of the decision came from a real frustration at not being listened to—the feeling that politicians do not hear and, even if they do, they do not change anything. Let us show today that we are listening to what people want and that we are willing to make a change.
Bringing about a ban will do three major things: it will stop the poaching, trafficking and buying of ivory—obviously, it will not do that totally, but it will help in that fight. Those elements are closely interdependent: criminals traffic ivory only because they can make money from it, and people can buy ivory only because it has been trafficked in the first place. Therefore, the ways in which those three elements are addressed must be considered in a coherent fashion.
Elephant poaching is a heinous crime. It not only entails the brutal killing of magnificent animals, but threatens the lives of rangers. I said previously that about 1,000 wildlife officers attempting to protect elephants have been killed in the past decade by poachers. That statistic proves that there is a human, as well as an animal, cost to poaching, but I have to say in this instance that, sad though that is, it is elephants, not human beings, that face extinction.
The UK is not the largest ivory market, but the market here is by no means insignificant, with between 500 and 1,000 pieces being sold every week. Some of those who oppose introducing a near-total ban on ivory claim that there is no evidence that antique ivory is related to elephant killings today. In reality, there exists an international desire for ivory products, and the continued trade in ivory in the UK fuels global demand. There is a wealth of evidence to support that. In 2015, there were 182 seizures of ivory, totalling 250 kg, by UK Border Force. Moreover, we know that criminals will go to great lengths to disguise new ivory as antique. In his BBC documentary, “Saving Africa’s Elephants: Hugh and the Ivory War”, campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall revealed the efforts that criminals make to disguise freshly carved ivory as older pieces. He selected several items that were promoted as antiques in online auctions across the country and through carbon dating demonstrated that six of the nine pieces were actually illegal.
The hon. Lady has just adduced a very interesting and helpful piece of evidence. She referred to carbon dating—that is how Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall found those six ringers. Can she give us an indication of how much it would cost to carbon date each piece, to put into context whether it would be better to produce a certificated system?
I have no idea; I have never even thought about having anything carbon dated. However, the cost is not what matters. What matters is having something independently certified to prove that it is old and not new. We cannot expect the police or Border Force people to understand and to be able to look at a piece and say, “That’s post-1947 and that’s pre-1947.” It is just not possible.
May I draw attention to what my hon. Friend said earlier? She actually said clearly—I absolutely agreed with her as, I am sure, many did—that genuine experts can tell the difference between genuine works of art. As others in this room have said, the market in the far east is for shiny, modern, contemporary pieces. That is entirely different from the antique ivory sold by our dealers and exhibited in our museums here. To quote my hon. Friend, genuine experts can easily see the difference.
I am sure they can and I hope that we will have a system where a piece has to go to a genuine expert before it can be traded and moved out of this country.
It is clear that the sale of antique ivory in the UK provides a false veneer of legality for black markets across the world, because most people cannot tell the difference. Owing to the fact that 31% of ivory exported from the EU comes from the UK, Britain is unfortunately an unwilling but major culprit in the illegal trade and, as such, the killing of elephants. Even those who profit from ivory trading admit that current legislation does not go far enough. Auctioneer James Lewis from Derbyshire, who is in the Public Gallery, admitted that the antiques market contributes to the illegal ivory trade by arguing:
“I've been to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland and I have seen antique ivory on the shelf next to brand new ivory. It is without doubt the case that profits from old ivory are being invested in modern ivory.”
Introducing the ban will deter those trying to traffic ivory, as the stricter legislation will deprive them of the opportunity to disguise new ivory as old. If nothing can be sold, nothing can be hidden.
The arbitrary nature of the 1947 cut-off date dividing antique and non-antique ivory should also be addressed. There seems to be no real reason for why that date is the dividing line when the rule of thumb, I believe, is that an antique must be at least 100 years old. Just extending the cut-off point might make it harder for criminals, as they would have to go to greater lengths to disguise new ivory as old. I believe that a cut-off date of 1900 should be used, because that is a nice clear date for everybody.
Until we bring in a near-total ban I fear that criminals will find a way to pretend that illegal pieces are legal, however hard it might be, just because of the sheer scale and lucrativeness of the activity. The illegal wildlife trade is considered the fourth most profitable international crime after drugs, arms and human trafficking—we do not approve of any of those, but we seem to think that ivory is okay—and is worth between $15 billion and $20 billion annually. Ivory makes up a significant proportion of that market. It is estimated that every year approximately 200 to 300 tonnes of illegal ivory enter the global market. If we introduced this ban, we could change consumer demand as well as customer behaviour. A lower supply of ivory, which the ban would effect, would restrict the amount that could be bought. More widely, the ban would act as a strong symbol that trading illegal ivory is a crime and one that Britain will absolutely not condone. No member of the public will be against this ban. No one can condone the slaughter of yet more elephants.
I have heard arguments against putting a ban in place on economic grounds and because of the impact on business across the UK. To that, I say two things. First, the economic impact would be slight. Antiques dealers sell a variety of pieces and the amount of genuine antique ivory being sold in proportion to other works is relatively minor. Secondly, and more importantly, I want to stress that the real reason for bringing in this ban is not economic, but moral. When did we argue about extending legislation on zero-hours contracts or—an even more dramatic example—abolishing child labour or sending children up chimneys? Those decisions might have had a negative economic impact on certain businesses, but they were still right. We have an opportunity today to help put in place a ban that will save the lives of truly remarkable animals and prevent there being more bloody corpses. I do not pretend that this ban will solve the issue entirely—it is a global problem—but no significant problem was ever fixed with one decision.
I accept that banning the domestic trade of antiques in the UK may make some difference at the margin, but does my hon. Friend agree that this must not distract us from the most pressing concern of all—the devastating poaching in Africa? Should we not use our foreign aid to help African Governments to protect wildlife as well as alleviate human suffering?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. From sitting on the Select Committee on International Development, I would like to see more money put into Africa. After all, if it loses all its elephants and other endangered species, will it have a tourist trade anymore? It will not. This is important to give other countries a business they can capitalise on so that people can have a lot of fun going and seeing the animals in the wild. I have done that several times and I have taken my eldest granddaughter; she has actually seen elephants in the wild, although the others may not.
It takes only one step, smaller than the stride of an elephant, to make a difference. Since Roman times, humans have reduced Africa’s elephant population by perhaps 99%. We have a chance to protect that final, precious 1% today and I urge the Minister to seize it. We humans may not have the memory of an elephant, but the world will remember if we do not.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) on introducing the debate today and all those who signed the petition, and on the passion behind it, particularly from the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann).
I am here to speak because I want the ivory ban in place, but I want us to recognise the importance of the antiques trade in this country. In everything we do, we must always find the right balance. It is absolutely right that we ban ivory—I think the phrase used earlier was “a near-complete ban”—and do so as quickly as possible, but we must also recognise ivory’s place in our history and tourism.
I was in Kenya many years ago—it would be terrific to show everyone the wonders of the wildlife there. I remember watching a film of the farmers annihilating some 150 elephants because they kept breaking out of a game park and eating the maize crops. That is the main problem. We should aid those countries so that they can have proper game parks, secure rangers and economies that work. That is where we should concentrate a lot of our effort. The ban would do a little bit to help, but we must recognise that it is just a tiny bit, and that we must do much more work through our aid and world trade.
Does the hon. Gentleman concede that people are at the heart of saving the elephant? Work by organisations such as the Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya has done an enormous amount to make local people understand the value of wildlife. Directing aid and support for communities through that prism is the best possible way to get people and wildlife to live together.
I could not have made a better point. We have to educate everyone in the world, and particularly the Chinese, as many have said today. It is also about showing the Africans the benefit and hoping that tourism, wildlife and everything else helps their countries into the future.
The antiques trade here is worth some £13 billion. I do not want to counter the argument for an ivory ban, but I shall give some facts and figures to make us think more about what a total ban would do. One document I was reading said that up to 2025 tourism will be worth £257 billion to the UK—10% of our GDP—and will be responsible for 3.8 million jobs. Tourists visit some 5,000 to 6,000 venues in the UK that have small and sometimes large antique ivory pieces.
We have to be very careful how we tackle the antiques trade. One or two hon. Members have criticised the existing cut-off date of 1947. The convention on international trade in endangered species guidelines are accepted in the trade, including by the people who know best about dates and times. It is better to go down that route than to try and work on carbon dating. Changing the date to 1900 may seem logical, but that takes out the two of the greatest periods in art—art nouveau and art deco.
When I talked about changing the date to 1900, I was not talking about banning every transaction. All the genuine art deco pieces would be included, provided that they have been verified by somebody independent. That is not the problem. I just want a very clear date that everybody understands.
Having a very clear date is absolutely right. I point out only that a date of 1900 means that we miss out on two of our greatest art movements, so we should keep that in mind. Coming from the other side, I want to see an ivory ban, but I want to see the trade being protected in the right way.
I am not an expert in these things, but because of the horrors of the atomic bombs in Japan, 1947 does not seem to be a bad date for carbon dating. The hon. Gentleman just said that he does not particularly favour a carbon dating approach. He is much more of an expert than me, so can he indicate how much it would cost to carbon date each piece?
My answer is no—I have never been involved in the carbon dating side of things. I have been involved in working out the provenance and the date so that we have the complete history of where something came from, and the value, but I have never been involved in carbon dating and have no idea how much it costs.
We have watched ISIS destroying Palmyra and the Taliban destroy the two fantastic Buddha statues in Bamiyan. If we had a blanket ban, we would be a little bit on the same page, in that we would be trying to get rid of some of the most beautiful items. If ivory were banned, it would not be looked after because it would be worthless. I have seen that happen with a most beautiful Edwardian shotgun stick. It was made illegal—it was banned—and was left in the local police station. It had to be cut into pieces, even though it was one of the most beautiful pieces I have seen—it had a little gold top and a lion’s head and everything on it. Are we really trying to go down that route?
May I challenge what the hon. Gentleman is saying? He suggests we would lose all those pieces, but we will not lose anything. They will still exist, and if they can be verified, they can be traded. I am not saying, “Ban all trade.” I am talking about a near-complete ban, so that all the new stuff—all the trinkets—are not traded. We have to have a near-complete ban.
I agree entirely. It is not about a total ban, but a near-complete ban. I am not criticising the hon. Lady for what she said. I just make the point that we need to look after such stunningly beautiful items. If there is a ban, in time more of the items will not be looked after, and eventually there will be none. Similarly, if we do not look after elephants and tigers, there will be none. At the moment, the situation is leaning towards the animals being lost, so we have to find the right balance.
Let me run through some things that have ivory in them. We all know about antique pianos and musical instruments—often, the pieces on violins that people turn to fit and change strings are often ivory, and 95% of our brass and wind instruments contain ivory. Even the bagpipes I was looking at the other day had ivory fittings. Some 80% of all chess sets contain ivory. One of our greatest exhibits is probably the Lewis chessmen, which are made out of mammoth tusk. Those would be banned. We have to work a way through. What we must stop happening is people copying them and then trying to sell them today.
Portrait miniatures from the 18th and 19th centuries were painted on a thin sliver of ivory, and we particularly need to look after those. People carried those portraits with them when they were travelling the world. They are little bits of history—whether we are talking about Nelson, the Duke of Wellington or Robbie Burns. Those little gems of painting would not be looked after, so we have to make sure that we do. On the other hand, there is the Chinese and oriental trade, with some stunning antique pieces, yet at the same time, we have the problem of those being copied and of other things being made today. That is what we have to stop. We have people here in the trade and in our museums who can advise us. I hope the Minister will set up a committee that can give certificates, set the rules, and advise and be dynamic in how we operate the near-ban.
No. 4 in the book, “A History of the World in 100 Objects” is the swimming reindeer, from 11,000 BC. It is made of ivory, as are No. 11, King Den’s sandal label from 2,980 BC, and No. 61, the Lewis chessmen, which I have mentioned. They are very much part of our history.
I do not want to turn this into a pub quiz, but HMS Beagle’s chronometer—object No. 91—has ivory in it. In fact, the British Museum has 13,000 objects that are made of ivory. We have to reach a consensus, which I think is breaking out, that antiques should be exempt from any ban.
I could not have taken a more helpful intervention. That is exactly what I was leading to. The British Museum, which loans pieces worldwide and looks after the items that are the whole world’s history and artefacts, has bought, paid for and kept parts of collections from Iran and Iraq. It gathers in objects from around the world. Think of our museums, galleries and great houses everywhere. The ivory trade is in there in part. Yes, it may be ghastly and awful that that is what people did in the past, but we have to find the balance.
I cannot compete with shrunken heads. Contrary to some hon. Members’ views, the Chinese have announced a ban on ivory for March 2017. Beijing says that ivory trading and processing, other than auctions of legitimately sourced antiques, will be outlawed, so they have come up with a plan to save their antiques. Does the hon. Gentleman have a view on that? We might learn some lessons.
I rather hope we come up with a plan that is as good if not better. I welcome the fact that the Chinese have accepted the ban, but as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, we need to ensure that they actually do it and put the rules and regulations in place to stop the misuse of ivory. Having worked for Christie’s for 18 years, valuing contents in people’s houses and helping to sell them, I have seen stunningly beautiful items that need to be looked after and allowed to be traded. I have also seen the modern stuff coming from Africa that proves that we need to have the near-ban.
I should like to make one final point. I have a very strange exam pass: an O-level in east African history, which is a whole other story. It was a very short O-level, because east Africa’s history is very short—it has only been written up for 200 years, because people passed on their history by word of mouth. For them, the few key items from the past that are made of ivory are their history. As time goes on and the stories are lost, items such as the Benin heads and Benin ivories in the British Museum are key to understanding the Africans and celebrating their history.
We need a near-ban. Let us do it quickly, but let us do it right and ensure that we protect everyone’s history and everyone’s culture. That is the right way forward.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady; I am sorry that my voice today is not quite as strong as it might be. I declare an interest: I am president of the British Antique Dealers Association and I have been advised by the British Art Market Federation, the Antiquities Dealers Association and LAPADA, which comprise a group of Britain’s most knowledgeable and highly regarded auction houses and specialist dealers in fine art, decorative arts and antiques.
The fact that a second ivory debate has been triggered by a petition to Parliament demonstrates the strength of feeling among the public about the plight of elephants. I therefore really hope that we can clear up these misunderstandings about ivory and about antiques. For the record, I must emphasise that the British antiques trade deplores the trade in poached ivory. The most important point that 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. Every hon. Member present agrees that we must look to our future, for our children and our grandchildren, but we must not throw away our past. We all welcome the proposals from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to remove from sale all ivory items that are less than 70 years old. Antiques collectors have no interest in items made from modern or poached ivory. We all welcome tougher measures to stop the sale of tourist trinkets made in recent decades.
This is, understandably, an emotive topic, so it is crucial to be factually correct. The e-petition claims:
“From 2009 to 2014, 40% of UK customs seizures were ivory”.
That is not correct. For example, the Border Force typically makes 500 drug seizures a month. Cases of ivory seizure represent less than 1% of all seizures. The British Antique Dealers Association’s understanding is that the Border Force does not regard the UK as the final destination for poached ivory. Most seizures are of one or two small carved items, often old objects that lack the necessary paperwork. A smaller number of seizures are of tusks and freshly carved trinkets that have arrived here in transit, destined for other countries, and I concur with my hon. Friends that that is something that we need to stamp out.
Last year’s TRAFFIC report, backed by the World Wildlife Fund, on the antique ivory trade in Britain concluded:
“Links with the current elephant poaching crisis appear tenuous at best, as researchers found no new or raw (unworked) ivory for sale, and only one item that was reportedly after the 1947 cut-off date for antique ivory.”
We all know that the largest market for ivory as a material is in the far east, as other Members have said this afternoon. Buyers there have no interest in most historical objects on sale in the UK; they desire ivory in any form and prefer it shiny and modern. Other EU countries must therefore stop exporting whole tusks to China. As has been mentioned, the Chinese Government’s announcements of further restrictions are very welcome, but they have to happen and they have to be enforced. They cannot come soon enough. It is in the far east that we must galvanise our resources. We should stop confusing ourselves on the topic by looking at our own medieval treasures in our museums, churches, homes and antique dealers. We must protect our history.
The hon. Lady has connections with the antique trade, as she has declared. Can she answer the question that I keep asking, which is whether the antique trade would support some kind of certification system? There is already some paperwork—she spoke about paperwork on seizures and so on. Can she also tell me how much it costs to radiocarbon date a piece of ivory?
Certainly. I can answer both questions. There are many parts of the art and antiques dealers’ trade for which we keep catalogues, make certifications and work among trade associations and specialists to keep certificates, records and suchlike. I have absolutely no doubt that when the Minister sets out her suggestions on a committee or a way of taking things forward, the trade will willingly look at ideas about the certification of finer objects with photographs and detailed descriptions of provenance, size and so forth, so that they can be properly catalogued.
With carbon dating, a very tiny item can be destroyed if too much is drilled out, which is why everyone is so reluctant to do it. However, as other Members have said, it is usually easy to tell. The usual cost is a few hundred pounds, but it very much depends on the complexity of the object. With early Chinese and other works of art that have been around for hundreds or thousands of years, there is always a lot of unhappiness about drilling out the left foot, because it inevitably spoils the item. I am sorry if that was a rather longer answer than the hon. Gentleman wished for.
I think the cost of radiocarbon dating depends on the complexity of the testing required, but I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) for her clarification.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service recognises that antique ivory is a special case that warrants exemptions. People say, “What lessons are we learning from the rest of the world?” Well, in America, although some imports are restricted, federal rules allow trade in legally obtained antique ivory.
Does not my hon. Friend think it a pity that in this country we are not being consulted on the American system, which I understand uses a rolling 100-year rule? This year, it has moved from 1916 to 1917. We have not been able to hear the antique trade’s view, or anyone else’s, on a 100-year ban. Personally, I would like it to be longer, but there must be a way forward without all this complication. We could register these works of art and then move on with a proper ban that would be respected round the world.
That is absolutely the sort of discussion that I know the trade is very willing to hold. I am sure that such a discussion would represent the interests of many hon. Members present and would be a good way of discussing a way forward.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has stated that old ivory items do not threaten today’s wild elephants, so the point is accepted elsewhere. No one has demonstrated that the UK antiques market contributes to poaching today.
I wonder whether the hon. Lady could help me out with something that she has said; indeed, it has been said a couple of times today. She has spoken of beautiful, historic ivory objects in churches and museums, and so on, that are part of our history and should be respected as such. Could she explain how the banning of ivory and the ivory trade threatens the beauty or the intrinsic historic value of these objects?
Things have to have value in order to be kept, in order to be valued. Also, as the British Museum has said, these things are part of all our history. Nowadays, we are obviously very upset when people destroy other people’s history, and that is exactly the point. Things have to have a value. We have cherished our history, just because it shows our history to our children, our grandchildren—and even the grandchildren of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann)—which is why it is so important that we do keep our best.
Does the hon. Lady have some evidence that this issue is not a problem? How would she explain the £3,250 fine on Christie’s in May last year, or the record 110 kg of ivory tusks that were found at terminal 4 in Heathrow airport in October 2015, which came from Angola and, like other such shipments, was headed eastwards via the United Kingdom? How would she explain those incidents if there was not a problem?
First, as we all know, the Christie’s stuff is publicly known—Christie’s admits to making a mistake and paid up; that is a matter of public record. As has been said before with regard to the tusks, as we all know, they were in transit and that is what we have got to stop. Every Member in this Chamber, and I am sure that all those watching, would absolutely concur with the hon. Gentleman: we have got to stop the trade and the transit of tusks. There is no disagreement between us on that.
If the hon. Lady is so enthusiastic about placing a value on everything, can she tell us the value of an elephant?
Absolutely immeasurable—nobody is disputing that. However, the argument that I am making is that we cannot compare a wonderful live elephant, where the value of the tusk is to the elephant, with something that comes from several thousands of years ago. I think the hon. Gentleman is trying to compare apples with pears, and that is the point I am trying to make to him. He does not have to agree with me, but that is the point I am making: that the value of an elephant tusk is to an elephant. What I am talking about are objects that have been around for thousands of years and are now in our museums.
The hon. Lady has spoken about priceless antiques being part of our history. Surely the point of today’s debate is that we want elephants not to be part of our history but part of our future?
Absolutely—I have no doubt about that at all. There is no dispute there; there is nobody in this Chamber or among those watching who would agree with killing elephants today. The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I am merely saying that, as others have said, when we come up with the new regulations, we must do so very carefully so that we do not destroy what history we do have.
On behalf of the museums I represent in my Kensington constituency, as well as many of the antique dealers, let me say that I genuinely believe—I paraphrase one of the other Members who has spoken—that items of cultural and artistic heritage should continue to be exempt from a trading ban. Our museums rely on, or work with, the trade, in order to continue to develop their own collections. The royal collections have continued to develop and build up their own collections, as was talked about earlier.
The British Museum has stated that restricting the ability of collectors to purchase important works of art would have a detrimental effect on public collections. The British Museum collection includes many significant objects made from ivory from many different cultural traditions, including objects from prehistory that are carved from mammoth ivory and the Lewis chessmen, which are made from walrus ivory. They are integral parts of the museum’s collection and play an indispensable part of its presentation of the history of human cultural achievement.
On this most propitious of days, the Queen’s sapphire jubilee, Members will be familiar with portrait miniatures, which were referred to earlier. These are painted on ivory, as they are viewed as having long-lasting and special properties. We should not be thinking about destroying or not treasuring these things.
My hon. Friend has twice used the word “destroy”. Who is going to destroy any ivory? As far as I am concerned, that is not part of the Government’s consultation. I do not think that it is the policy of any Member on any side of this argument, if there are different sides of this argument. Nothing will be destroyed; all those pieces of artwork will still exist. What we are talking about is not encouraging ivory to be poached and elephants to be killed because there is a market in ivory today.
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend; nobody wants to destroy anything. I was just getting a bit nervous because of some of the talk earlier, so I stand corrected. I am delighted that everything is going to be saved.
As many Members have already done, I could list examples of how ivory has been used down the centuries. The British Art Market Federation has made copies of its reference document available, and I know that one has been placed in the Commons Library.
To conclude, we must stop the current trading in raw and poached ivory, but that is not the same as trading in antique cultural artefacts. To stop that would be like suggesting that the current threats to whales should prevent the sale of scrimshaw and corset bones in the costume collections in our museums. We must separate modern poaching—I am speaking about the importance of our historical objects, in our constituents’ homes, in our local antique dealers and on display in our world-famous museums.
There is a huge interest in antiques in this country and there must be antique dealers in most Members’ constituencies. The craftsmanship of objects and their historical interest is foremost in the minds of buyers, not the materials used. Many of our constituents will have objects passing through their hands that incorporate ivory, whether little inlays on a desk, a miniature portrait or a tea caddy. A ban would mean that their lawfully acquired possessions would become unsaleable, and not a single elephant would necessarily be saved.
The antiques trade has made it clear that it welcomes the opportunity to share its knowledge by working closely with my hon. Friend the Minister to help to ensure that the proposed ban on the sale of post-1947 items is properly enforced. The trade has a number of ideas for cataloguing, certificating and working together to address the issues raised so forcefully this afternoon. I have no doubt that, working together with the antiques trade, we can ensure that Britain’s heritage is protected for future generations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady.
I thank the Petitions Committee and also the public, for the 107,000 signatures. I am sure that members of the public will continue to sign this type of petition until the Government act. My constituents remind me every week of the importance of animal welfare and particularly the importance of preserving and conserving elephant populations. That is important to them, it is important to me and—as we have already heard today from a number of Members—it is important for future generations.
I thank the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) for opening this debate. It is an important and iconic debate at Westminster. I was pleased to speak in the debate last month and it is a privilege to speak again today, because in my mind preventing the ivory trade cannot be spoken about enough in Parliament until action is taken.
As we have heard, 415,000 African elephants remain, but in Mozambique and Tanzania, the decline in elephant populations has been as high as 48% and 60% respectively. As a result, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has concluded that
“Africa’s overall elephant population has seen the worst decline in 25 years, mainly due to poaching”
over the past 10 years. Some people in this House do not like experts, but we should listen to experts on this issue. Experts indicate that wild elephants could be extinct within as little as 20 years. My young children saw elephants for the first time last summer and I will never forget the amazement on their faces. They saw them moving around and saw the baby elephants with their mother, and they still speak of it today. Surely it is incumbent on us to ensure that that opportunity, that experience and that nature is there for future generations. We must preserve this iconic species.
Announcements from the United States and China point to the implementation of complete bans on the ivory trade in those countries. In addition, a number of other nations have implemented restrictions on the sale of ivory, including France and India in 2016, and Hong Kong, forthcoming, in 2021. Will the Minister join me in welcoming those moves, but also give assurances that the United Kingdom will follow suit, to maintain its prominence as a world leader in tackling the issue? It is very concerning that we are no longer at the forefront; sadly, we are lagging behind. Indeed, since the Conservative party’s pledge to press for a total ban on sales in both its 2010 and 2015 manifestos, more than 144,000 African elephants have been poached for their ivory. We seem to be dilly-dallying while the elephants are dying.
That excellent question is the crux of the matter, and it is something we need to pursue. In my mind, time is running out and we cannot allow that. We are dilly-dallying. If a near-total ban is not enough to preserve the elephant population, then it is not enough. Those experts are crucial to ensuring that the right decisions are made. The UK public need those decisions to be made and the Government need to follow them. The UK public support a ban on the ivory trade here, so a ban is not against public opinion. In fact, 85% of the public think that buying and selling ivory in the UK should be banned. We must consider the evidence. That is the crux and we must take it forward.
The other issue is sustainable livelihoods in Africa. The elephant brings much to the community and, as a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I am keen to see aid money going towards the conservation of elephant and rhino populations and helping the sustainable development of conservation in African countries.
Consultation takes time, and elephants and rhinoceroses do not have that time. If we want to preserve these species, do we have the time? We must take the lead. I wonder how many elephants have died in the month since I last spoke on the issue. It is so frustrating. If we cannot wait, the Government must act. The elephant cannot become the dodo of our generation under this Government. Is that the legacy this Government want?
The question is: is a near-total ban enough? We need that information. If it is not, then in my mind it is not good enough. It is incumbent on the Minister today not merely to respond, because time is running thin. We need to act. We need to act now, for our children, for their generations and for the human race, because they will forgive nothing less. We have heard today about chess sets, antiques, trinkets and all sorts of things in museums. Yes, we must find a place for those things and try to preserve them, but the crux of today’s argument is that elephants are priceless and we must act.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) on landing the debate, and all those who signed the very significant petition, which has well over 100,000 signatures.
In five seconds’ time, we will have lost our fifth elephant while we have been speaking today. That is the horror of what is going on, and the House must get a grip of the enormity of what has happened. One hundred years ago, there were 10 million elephants. In 1979, the number was down to 1.3 million and, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, today we are down to 415,000. We lose 20,000 a year—that is one every 15 minutes. That was brought home to me dramatically when, as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I went to Lewa, a conservancy in north Kenya, in the autumn of 2013.
Picking up on the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), there was the most brilliant example in Lewa of co-operation between the local landowners—the Craigs, who have been established in Kenya for a long time—and cattle farmers. Together, by establishing a conservancy where cattle raising and the protection of wildlife is encouraged, they have set up a virtuous circle. It is horrendous to go in a helicopter and smell a carcass from 200 feet and then get closer, turn off the engines and hear this weird, bubbling, buzzing sound of the boiling entrails, the stench and horror of the death of a young animal, which is completely pointless because the rangers have got there and taken the ivory. That brought home to me, however, that there was, potentially, a virtuous circle: local people can be got to value wildlife and prosper as cattle farmers. The most immediate impact of having proper rangers and a proper conservancy was that rangers were around and there was law and order. The centuries-long habit of cattle rustling and stealing therefore stopped. There was active talk of building an abattoir in the locality to encourage a long-term beef business. It can be done.
Two years ago, I went to the Kruger, which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned, mainly to look at rhinoceroses. It was completely horrendous. I saw four carcasses in one weekend. There are the most enormous elephants there—that should be encouraging for my hon. Friend. Since it is so easy for poachers to come through the fence—the old security fence has lots of holes in it—it is much easier to take a rhinoceros horn, stick it in a backpack and get back over the border to Mozambique than it is to approach the elephants. We are losing a rhino every nine hours. We will run out of rhinos in what is their biggest population in the world. The poachers will then turn on the wonderful elephants, and we will run out of elephants.
I admire the fortitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) for coming here today, given the terrible operation she has just had, but I am afraid that I wholeheartedly disagree with her. She said that the value of an elephant is immeasurable. Of course it is. This is an absolutely iconic species. Lots of Members have talked about their children and grandchildren. We cannot compare a bit of ancient jewellery, which is not going to be destroyed, with a living animal that is. One every 15 minutes is killed. We will run out. Can everyone just get that into their heads?
I came back from that trip and met the then Foreign Secretary, now Lord Hague of Richmond, who immediately took on board the significance. I also enlisted the support of the then Secretary of State for International Development, my right hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Justine Greening), and we all sat down together, led by officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I pay tribute to Mr Jeremy Eppel, who has sadly left the Department. He led the negotiations with other Departments. He also led the huge task of putting together the biggest global wildlife conference that has ever been organised. Sadly I missed the conference because I was having an eye operation, but 42 countries turned up.
Before that, I had been in Moscow talking to the Russian Minister. Great things were being done there with the Chinese about the snow leopards on the border. The Minister gave me invaluable advice on how to work with the Chinese. I also talked to the Chinese Minister, who was keen to come to the conference to explain what China was doing on its elephant population and on conservation in its jungles. The conference was an extraordinary and hugely successful event and we had three generations of our royal family playing a critical role.
The conference came up with three absolutely key targets. One is the reduction of demand. The conference summary was absolutely clear. It said:
“The economic, social, and environmental impacts of the illegal wildlife trade can only be effectively tackled if we eradicate both the demand and supply sides for illegal products wherever in the world this occurs.
To this end, we commit ourselves and call upon the international community to take the following action…Support, and where appropriate undertake, effectively targeted actions to eradicate demand and supply for illegal wildlife products”.
That does not just mean the Chinese and the Vietnamese tackling ivory and rhino horn; that means us. We made a commitment to that in our manifesto, which was touched on by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). Our manifesto stated:
“As hosts of the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, we helped secure the adoption of the London Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade and will continue to lead the world in stopping the poaching that kills thousands of rhinos, elephants and tigers each year. We will…press for a total ban on ivory sales, and support the Indian Government”.
We are clearly committed to the issue.
We were world leaders. We had the world here. All our extraordinary historical links, including our links to the Commonwealth, our good relations with China through Hong Kong and our good relations with the United States, were enormously valuable. What has happened since then? We should think carefully about that. We had that commitment in our manifesto. We were elected, and we got a majority. What has happened? Sadly, I fear that we are losing our leadership. We did not send anyone to the International Union for Conservation of Nature conference in Honolulu. We certainly did not send a Minister. We then had the CITES conference. On the day, the Secretary of State made a welcome announcement that she intended to bring in a ban on post-1947 ivory. I did not understand why the consultation did not start immediately. It was promised early this year. It is now the evening of 6 February, and the consultation has not yet started.
I hear that there might be complications about a fast track. I am very glad that it is not a slow track, because we have not started. I would like the Minister to respond on this, because it is a fundamental point. According to the document I have pulled off, a fast-track consultation can happen where the measure is low cost, which means that the gross cost to business in-year is less than £1 million. The planned consultation on a post-1947 ban may count as fast track. If it is not fast track, or if the ban is extended to earlier years, how much longer will it take, because 23 September was 19 weeks ago last Friday? In that time, we have lost 12,768 elephants. I would like a specific answer to that. If we do not have a fast track, and go for an all-encompassing, near-comprehensive ban, how long will that take? That is fundamental. In public with Lord Hague, I welcomed as a first step the Secretary of State’s announcement of the post-1947 ban. We have written letters, and we have a hundred different conservationists and other people behind us, and what worries me is that we are losing ground.
Several Members have mentioned China. China recently introduced a ban. It is going to stop the use of ivory. I heard late this afternoon from China, verbally, that large companies will be closed in China in the earlier phase before 31 March 2017. That will include state-owned factories and possibly some others. The briefing states:
“According to SFA Notice No.9 2015, there are 34 designated factories and 130 retail outlets in China that are permitted to legally operate in the manufacture and trade of ivory; representing 89 discreet enterprises in total.”
It looks as if the Chinese plan is that they will be closed, because the notice states, in its first point:
“All the processing and sale of ivory and ivory products will be stopped by December 31, 2017.”
What is fascinating is that the African countries are now looking to China as an example, not us, who held the greatest wildlife conference in 2014. Only two days ago, the Shanghai Daily said:
“The European Union (EU) member states should take a cue from China and ban domestic and overseas trade in ivory products, members of the African Elephant Coalition (AEC) said.
We welcome China’s decisive action to close its ivory market. It is a major breakthrough in the battle to save elephants,’ AEC chairman Patrick Omondi said.
But we need other countries with legal domestic markets to follow suit and are calling on the EU to take advantage of the momentum created by China and shut down their trade in ivory once and for all’”.
What is happening in other parts of the world? Hong Kong has recently announced plans to implement a ban within five years. America has a very tight ban. In some states, such as California, the ban is even tighter, yet we have still not begun our consultation.
The hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington made comments about the antiques trade. I was fascinated, as the hon. Member for South Antrim said, to find that the antiques trade was worth £13 billion. I got a note from the British Art Market Federation that total sales in the whole arts and antiques market reached £9 billion in 2014. The ivory trade is a round of drinks. Do not tell me that we are going to bring the antiques trade to its knees if we limit the trade in items containing ivory in a measured and sensible manner. Why do we not go to America and talk to the Americans and the Californians and see how they have done it? They have de minimis specifications. They have a limit of 200 grams, so an ancient piano can be sold and does not have to be destroyed. In many ways, that is what is awful; these wonderful creatures died a tragic death, but at least they live on in piano keys. I would like to see such items allowed to be traded, but under very strict conditions.
Happily for the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris), I have got the figures for what carbon dating costs. In September 2016, there was a case in Carlisle Crown court, and the judge sensibly directed that the objects, which were described as “cow bone carvings”, should be carbon dated. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman how many objects there were, but the total cost was £1,134. I have also picked up that the University of Oxford does a cheap deal on a single item for £500. He rightly keeps mentioning that issue, and I think there is merit in it.
I am looking at a near-comprehensive ban. With respect to my near office neighbour, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, a total ban would not work. A near- comprehensive ban, learning lessons from the States and other countries—it is amazing, but we might be learning lessons from China—is the way forward. It is simply not possible to stop the ivory trade, and it is not possible to maintain the high moral ground and tell other countries what they should be doing if we have not set an example. It is absolutely incredible that we have fallen behind.
First, I thank the right hon. Gentleman for actually producing some evidence with that £500 figure. He will not be surprised to hear me say this, but it looks like having a certification system at £500 a pop for pre-1947 ivory is the way forward to balance things. He has spoken passionately, and I hope he gets on to this matter. I asked the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) for some evidence that a total ban on the domestic ivory market, which is what the debate is about, will stop or lessen considerably—hopefully to zero—the poaching of elephants. I am not getting a causal connection there, because I am not hearing the evidence.
I am grateful to my not-so-distant neighbour for his kind compliments. First, it is easy to cheat, and people in the trade will cheat. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall may not be an expert. He is a BBC journalist, and he did a pretty simple test. He bought nine items. Six that were masquerading as pre-1947 were dated as post-1947. We must not underestimate the fact that there is massive cheating.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington quoted TRAFFIC. It did a survey in September 2016 of the whole of London’s antique sector. It found ivory items widespread across the city’s antiques markets. The report found that
“the UK plays a role in illegal ivory trade, at both import and re-export, but in particular as a transit country, with ivory seizures reported by the UK having increased in recent years.”
It also pointed out how cheating can go on. It mentioned a fascinating case. As a country, we reported exports of only 17 raw tusks, but importers’ records showed 109 tusks originating from the UK. There is no doubt whatever that an illegal trade is going on and that people are cheating. They give cover to other activities in other markets. We simply cannot take the high ground and ask other countries to ban activities, as the Chinese have done, if we have not set an example. Our proposed ban on post-1947 ivory is sadly now inadequate and is being overtaken by countries such as China and India, which have introduced bans.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for producing evidence, but he has left me more confused. When I looked at it, I found that the August 2016 report by TRAFFIC, “A Rapid Survey of UK Ivory Markets”, stated that links between the antiques trade and
“the current elephant poaching crisis appear tenuous at best.”
Of more than 3,000 objects sampled, no new or unworked ivory was found. Only one item from the 1960s came after the 1947 cut-off date for antique ivory. Are we reading different reports?
[Mrs Anne Main in the Chair.]
The hon. Gentleman has cited evidence of cheating. The point is that the UK is by far the largest exporter of ivory items among EU members. According to CITES, the EU had a huge export volume of about 1,874 ivory transactions from 2006 to 2015, but we were easily the largest with 25,351. That is 54% of the EU total, and we know cheating goes on. Bluntly, we have to learn lessons. In China, it has always been an iconic key feature of great family occasions—a wedding, a banquet or a state occasion—to eat shark fin soup. It has come down from on high in recent years and the party establishment in China has said, “We have got to stop this because of the damage to shark populations,” and they have. Habits have changed.
The immediate reaction to ivory is, “Great. There’s world demand. It is marvellous that there is now prosperity in China and people are not dying of starvation as they were when I grew up. Let us let them prosper. Let them buy ivory and let us grow more of the item.” The problem is that we simply cannot farm elephants and rhinoceroses and meet the demand. If there is any legal activity, it gives cover to the illegal activity. That is a tragedy. I would love to be a Hayekian on this. I would love to say, “Let us open up savannahs and grow masses of elephants.”
We cannot cope with 600 million new middle-class people with middle-class aspirations in China, where ivory has great value and is seen to be an investment. That is the worst thing. Some are buying ivory knowing that the supply will dwindle and ultimately disappear when elephants are exterminated, and their product will go up. The answer is to follow what they did on shark fins. Let us simply make this a non-U item. It should simply not be acceptable.
We have stopped drink-driving. It is no longer acceptable in this country. It is very simple. I am afraid I totally disagree with the hon. Member for South Antrim and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington. It is completely ludicrous to put things on the same level.
Does the right hon. Gentleman not see that we are all on the same page? I want the near ban to protect the animals as much as he and anyone else does. This is a question of semantics. We have got to find an urgent way of protecting the elephants. We do not have to damage the antiques trade. We can do things together, but let us do it quickly. Let us learn from the Chinese and the Americans. We are all on the same page.
In that spirit of co-operation, perhaps we could agree among ourselves that we need to close down the majority of the trade in products from live animals, otherwise we will lose the elephant. Perhaps we could have a near-comprehensive ban, which is not quite what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw wanted.
I ask the Minister whether we could extend the consultation, which still has not started yet. I had a good meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) and Lord Hague last week, along with DEFRA and Foreign Office officials. As I understand it, there is a possibility that, because the post-1947 consultation has not yet started, we could extend it deeper. We could look at a complete ban or a rolling 100-year ban, as the United States has done, but sadly, I am convinced that a post-1947 ban is worthless. If it falls down on the so-called fast-track rule—we have already been faffing around for 19 weeks—let us go for a full-blooded consultation on a really meaningful ban that is near-comprehensive and look at what the States has done on 200 grams and de minimis. We will not be destroying ancient bagpipes and pianos and absolutely not destroying wonderful ancient painted panels. We would be stopping the trade, which can be disguised and which allows illegal activity to carry on elsewhere. If we do not do that, we will lag behind and the Chinese will be well ahead of us.
We will be hosting the conference, which I am delighted to say is coming back to London, having been to Botswana and Hanoi, where the Secretary of State made a splendid and resounding statement that she wanted to introduce a ban, but we will still be limping along behind. We have lost the leadership.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way and commend him on everything he has done to get the Government to take the matter more seriously. Does he agree that, apart from discussing how we get round the antiquities problem, we need to do a great deal more on the ground using DFID to put funding in to help fight this wicked trade? A lot more could be done immediately to support the fight against the illegal trade in ivory if we used our power as a nation and if we used DFID money to achieve some of that.
I agree with my hon. Friend. If we had more time, I would talk about the lessons from the wildlife conference, where there was clearly a DFID angle. The three big aims are to reduce demand, improve enforcement—in fairness, lessons from the wildlife conference had a direct impact on operations in northern Kenya the year after—and long-term sustainable economic development. He is absolutely right about that.
To go back to my visit to Kruger, it is near a pretty miserable and poor part of northern Mozambique. It is very easy to spot the rhino horn poaching leaders because they live in smart houses and have smart cars. There is not much economic activity there. When one of these guys gets back over the border with a rhino horn, there is a big celebration. It is absolutely fundamental that we work with Mozambique to bring in sanctions in that country, along with better law enforcement and better judicial arrangements so that there are penalties, which has been done in other countries. We also need to teach them about the value of the animals so that their children and grandchildren will benefit in the long term. The game tourism industry in South Africa and Kenya is advanced and brings in significant income. There is none of that in northern Mozambique, but that is the sort of thing we should be doing.
My right hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful and impassioned speech. I want to speak up for a project in Samburu in Kenya where they are doing exactly as he describes. We could target more funds that work for the communities to save the habitats and the elephants. We could also focus on carbon dating. If we know products are coming out of those areas, we can isolate them and target the poaching areas that we know are a problem.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention—I totally agree—which brings me on to the London conference. At the London conference in 2018, we should definitely look at involving DFID and we should look at long-term conservation measures and the development of long-term economic prosperity. We should look at attaching value to the animals and at co-operating with the farming activity. The Minister might have ideas on this. We discussed technology last week with her colleague at the Foreign Office. If the poachers get hold of drones and new technology, it would be catastrophic. We need the very latest technology brought to bear.
Sadly, the lesson from the Kruger was that we had a South African major-general—the head of South African Special Forces was his No. 2. He had been involved in what the South Africans politely call 28 incidents. They had three aeroplanes, two helicopters and 700 well-armed rangers, and they still lost four rhinos the weekend I was there. There is no doubt that better surveillance and better intervention is necessary and should be discussed at the London conference.
Another problem is corruption and money laundering. We have great expertise in this country and a proud record under our previous Chancellor of bearing down on corruption in our own country. There are lessons we can export to other countries when we go to the conference.
Another area of real value is sentencing guidelines. We had better start at home. I would be interested if the Minister talked about that, because Justice Ministers are not keen to lean on our officials who apply sentencing guidelines. In 2015, there was a case involving a tiger parts trader, who was found guilty and got only 12 months’ community service. She was not fined or given the appropriate penalty. I hope the Minister will comment on that. We can take action now and set examples of better law enforcement for other countries. We should use the maximum penalties. That should also be discussed in the London conference. Will the Minister talk about that, given that the consultation has not started?
Sadly, the post-1947 ban has been overtaken by action in other countries, so we have to go for a near-comprehensive ban. It sounds like there could be an agreement that would satisfy the hon. Member for South Antrim and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, possibly using carbon dating, which will thrill my near neighbour, the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West, and a de minimis rule. Let us be practical. We do not want to destroy ancient pianos, so let us go for 200 grams and look at how the Americans and others have done it sanely. Do not forget that other countries will be watching us. This is the key thing: we cannot go to the 2018 conference unless we have the high ground.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I congratulate the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) on the knowledgeable way he introduced the debate. Although some hugely important issues are being debated this week, the excellent turnout in the Chamber shows that ivory is also an issue about which future generations will ask whether we did enough.
We are the dominant species on the planet, but not necessarily the wisest. We have overseen the extinction of countless species over the centuries. We have abused our power, which we should be using to repair the damage we have caused. As we have heard, 30,000 elephants die in Africa each year to supply the ivory trade. The Government committed to ban the ivory trade in their two most recent manifestos, and announced new proposals to restrict the sale of ivory. There is a general concern, which has already been discussed, that the proposals do not go far enough, as they do not cover ivory products dated before 1947. Some people think they will not substantially reduce the amount of ivory bought and sold in the UK.
We want the ownership of ivory products to be considered socially, morally and legally beyond the pale, but by exempting items from before a certain date, are we not in danger of watering down the message that the objectification of these magnificent creatures is unacceptable? The Government may class pre-1947 works as antiques, but does someone with an untrained eye—such as me and, I suspect, the vast majority of the population—know what is pre-1947 and what is not? It is clear that very few people working in customs have the necessary skills and expertise to know the difference. The date seems arbitrary. A total ban was promised in not one but two manifestos. That is what we should aim for.
This is not the time to dilute messages or measures. This is the last chance saloon. Between 2007 and 2014, the savannah elephant population declined by 30%, largely due to poaching. Forest elephants are declining by 9% per year. The Great Elephant Census, which reported in August 2016, showed that the current rate of decline in elephant numbers is 8% per year, primarily due to poaching.
Evidence shows that more elephants are being killed each year than are being born. History gives us a pretty clear warning about where that leads. Man hunted the woolly mammoth to extinction, but at least we did not then have the global picture to help us understand what we were doing. Then it was a case of survival for the hunter gatherers, but now it is about not survival but personal gratification, trade, greed and sometimes even sport—motivations we should consider abhorrent when talking about the murder of sentient animals.
Let us not forget that, when elephants are slaughtered, they are not without feeling or thought. The Nayaka people, who live in south Indian forests, told of “the elephant who walks alone”. It had a reputation for being aggressive and one day killed a human. The Indian authorities wanted to hunt it down as they considered it a risk, but the Nayaka people refused to help. They said that the elephant had seen its partner captured, which caused it to become angrier. They told the authorities that if they had seen their partner treated the same way, they would have reacted similarly. We all know the pain of losing a loved one, so let us be clear that, when those animals are killed, there is an emotional as well as a physical cost.
With an estimated value of between $15 billion and $20 billion annually, the illegal trade in wildlife is a lucrative market for criminals. It is one of the highest-value illicit trade sectors in the world. I agree that the existence of a legal ivory trade serves as a cover for illegal sales of ivory, and continues to perpetuate the cycle of supply and demand. It has been reported that, in recent years, a surge in demand for wildlife products, including ivory, has largely come from east and south-east Asian markets. I would like to hear from the Minister about whether there is more we can do to deal with the countries that the demand comes from. As the right hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) said, tackling the illegal activities in the countries in which poaching takes place is a huge challenge. Are we satisfied that we are doing all we can as a nation to tackle it?
I have to disagree with the hon. Members who spoke in support of the antiques trade. I do not believe that this can be described as a balancing act between the survival of elephants and the continuation of the antiques trade. The trade will carry on without ivory. It will adapt and survive, but elephants will not have that option if we carry on down this road.
There have been a number of speeches today, so I will be brief. I will conclude by naming several animals: the eastern cougar, the western black rhinoceros, the Japanese river otter, the Pinta island tortoise, the Cape Verde giant skink, the Formosan clouded leopard, the Scioto madtom, and the Bermuda saw-whet owl. It is not a particularly long list, but every name on it should serve as a warning to us that we are responsible for our actions—not just to each other, but to all other creatures on the planet. All those animals have been declared extinct in just the past five years. When advances in technology and understanding give us the power to do things that were unimaginable even 10 years ago, it is to our immense shame that there are still one or two extinctions every year. I do not want a list read out in three or four decades that includes elephants. This is our last chance. If it comes to pass that we read out a list of extinct animals that includes elephants in the future, the next generation will judge us harshly, and they will be right to do so.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) on securing this debate. As I rise to speak, a 10th elephant has probably died—although my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson), who made an exceedingly good case, spoke for such a long time that it might be a 20th elephant.
It is telling that we are debating this subject again just two months after we had virtually the same debate in this place, but so many people signed the petition that we were driven to have another debate, which has cross-party support. The fact that so many people—including many in Taunton Deane, where, as far as I know, we do not have any elephants—signed the petition shows that there is so much passion for ensuring that these creatures remain alive. The all-party group for animal welfare, which I co-chair, spends much time talking about domestic animals, but we also deal with international animals. Ivory is high on our agenda.
As has been said, something like 30,000 African elephants have been slaughtered in just the past year. There are only 450,000 African elephants left. That figure will be halved in six years. Allowing that to go on around us is a shocking reflection on our society. The death of just one elephant is a death too far—elephants are too valuable. This summer I visited one of those wonderful conservancies in Kenya. Seeing abandoned baby elephants is heartrending because they cannot cope on their own. They do not really grow up and cannot leave their mums until they are about eight years old. That is one small, heartrending angle on the situation.
The ripples caused when only one elephant dies go right out into the community and affect the whole habitat. The creatures live in families, but the death has a knock-on effect on the communities, too, which now very much work with the elephants in the conservancies, as we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire. We might describe that as an economic angle, because tourism is part of the drive to keep the elephants and to look after the wildlife, but it is about maintaining the entire biodiversity and habitat. We are talking not only about killing elephants, but about the big knock-on effect.
The illegal wildlife trade is now the fourth most lucrative transnational crime. It is also a dangerous activity. Poachers bring in increasingly sophisticated weaponry to many areas, as well as a lack of respect for the environment and the communities. The effect is to destabilise those communities. Over the past weekend, there were worrying reports of unrest in some conservation areas in Kenya, namely Laikipia, where some excellent conservation work is carried out to help species to survive, including elephants. Survival in that excellent conservation project is alongside the people. The unrest does not relate directly to poaching, which is not what caused it, but unrest opens the door to the poachers to creep in to kill more elephants.
I asked the director of the Sarara sanctuary at the Namunyak Wildlife Conservation Trust, in Samburu, northern Kenya, about whether poaching was increasing. He stressed the whole-system idea—the multifaceted approach in which conservation works alongside communities so that wildlife may thrive. By creating a potential market for ivory, we are certainly adding one more strain on those areas and projects, destabilising them. I totally support calls for DFID funding to contribute further to such conservation projects, because they will result in help for the elephants.
I welcome the Government’s forthcoming ivory consultation, but I press the Minister to include pre-1947 ivory. To consider only what we describe as “modern day ivory” is to miss the opportunity completely. We all appreciate that Government time, money and resources are exceedingly tight—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has many concerns on its table at the moment—but I am concerned that considering a ban only on post-1947 ivory in the consultation is almost a waste of our resources. As has been said, surely we would still soon have to readdress the whole issue.
As a nation—this has been much commented on—we should be keeping up with the rest of the world. Normally, we are at the forefront, leading the way on animal welfare. We pride ourselves on that.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. After all, America has a rolling 100-year plan, China has said that it will again consider exempting antiques when it brings in its arrangements, and France already exempts antiques. As she says, there is a lot of good will about making progress, and the idea of some sort of rolling scheme might be a way forward.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I congratulate her, too, on speaking in the debate today, which was exceedingly brave. We understand many of the points made by the antiques trade, and we are not anti it. Antiques are a massive part of our history and I even have had handed down to me some ivory heirlooms—ancient broaches and bracelets. Not for one minute do I think that anyone is suggesting that I should crush them or throw them away. Indeed, I would like to hand them on to my children, because they all have a story. Antiques are part of our nation and our history. We will be thinking about a modern day ivory ban, however, so we should not miss a huge opportunity to do more. In the Chamber today we have heard some sensible ideas. Will the Minister kindly comment on that 100-year rolling plan?
I was making the point about how we should be leading the way and continuing our wonderful record on animal welfare. We need to get to grips with the issue forthwith. Obviously, we will not solve the problem overnight, but the tide can start to change. Given the actions of the Chinese Government, who have expressed their disappointment with our actions, and the growing prominence of the CITES treaty, we must not shirk our responsibilities. As the same time, however, we need to be clear about the direction that we will take and how we intend to deal with the situation.
I recognise that on paper we already go further than the CITES requirements, which only mention banning post-1990 ivory. I also understand that the use of the 1947 date is in part due to EU regulations. If we ban the sale of all ivory, enforcers would need a recognised dividing line. We are large contributors and supporters of enforcement efforts throughout the world. I applaud that, as I do the positive moves of the Government domestically to save the national wildlife crime unit. We have a good record and so must not be too negative about it. We need to use our strengths and to move on.
To sum up, I gently remind the Minister, who has a good heart in such areas, that both the 2010 and 2015 manifestos state that we will press for a total ban on ivory sales, so to consult only on post-1947 ivory seems to be shirking our responsibilities somewhat. With many hon. Friends and other hon. Members, I urge the Government to get on with the consultation soon, but it should not unduly affect museums and other places that hold historic items and heirlooms. There are many good suggestions of how to deal with the issue, including those of the World Wide Fund for Nature.
The introduction of a total ban would be welcome not only for the elephants and by the communities where the elephants live, but by all those animal lovers from Taunton Deane and further afield who have signed the petition. Surely we want an environment that works for everyone and everything. The Minister has already done great work with the introduction of a microbeads ban to protect our marine habitat—a forward move by the Government—but we need to protect everything, from our ancient trees to our nematodes in the soils and, in particular, those gentle giants, the elephants. It would be a very sad reflection on our society if we are unable to take that small step for the sake of those glorious fellow creatures.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main.
I thank the Petitions Committee for bringing the debate forward and I congratulate the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) on one of the shorter speeches so far, which nevertheless comprehensively introduced the topic. These Monday evening e-petition debates often have a box office quality about them and clearly attract the interest of our constituents and the public, so I wonder, as a member of the Procedure Committee, whether we should look at ways to get some debates on the more important and well-subscribed issues into the main Chamber, as well as here in Westminster Hall.
One hundred and twenty-seven of my constituents signed the petition that we are discussing today, and several of them made a point of requesting that I participate in the debate. I was keen to do so in any event, because I wish to focus on DFID funding, which has been mentioned a number of times already, and the global impact of the ivory trade, which the petition mentions specifically.
I want to pick up on one thing first. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Oliver Dowden), who is no longer in his place, made a rather obtuse intervention about climate change. I am not entirely sure what he was getting at. To try to pretend that these issues are not interrelated is to misunderstand the situation. Climate change was described by Lord Stern as the “biggest market failure” of modern history, and it affects elephant populations just as much as human populations—in fact, perhaps doubly so, because people may well be driven to poach elephants if they cannot find sustainable livelihoods for themselves. If, because of climate change, people are displaced from their land or cannot grow crops to feed themselves and their families, they will look for other means of generating an income. To pretend that the debate about tackling climate change and the debate about protecting biodiversity and elephant populations are mutually exclusive is to misunderstand the nature of the debate as a whole.
The main conversation has been about the importance of a ban on the domestic ivory trade and how that will affect the broader illegal trade around the world, prevent money laundering, and so on. As other Members have said, we have to tackle both supply and demand. We can play a role in developing countries by using the expertise that we have here in the United Kingdom. The Government of course have a responsibility here; sustainable development goal 15 commits all the parties that are signed up to it to protect ecosystems and halt biodiversity loss, so there is a global agenda in play even as we discuss the domestic market. As I said, one of the best ways of doing that is to ensure that poaching is not the most lucrative option for people who live in otherwise pretty desperate and poor circumstances. Any initiatives and support that help people to diversify their incomes, pursue genuine economic development and education opportunities, and all the rest of it, ought to be welcomed.
There has been some discussion about DFID funding, and I think that has been conflated a little with aid. The 0.7% budget is welcome, and I hope that the Minister will restate this Government’s commitment to that in this and future spending rounds, as other Ministers have when I pressed them to. Although I would like as much of that money as possible to be spent by DFID, if the Government insist on spending some of it through other Departments, tackling the ivory trade seems a pretty worthwhile use of that additional or alternative spending. It is certainly a much better alternative to some of the securitisation that we have seen and some of the commercial investments that have been discussed elsewhere. I note that an initiative to tackle poaching already exists in Malawi. That was announced at the various conferences that we have heard about, and the UK Army is involved in it. It would be interesting to know whether that will be classified as overseas development assistance.
Some aid money and UK expertise have been used in counter-terrorism initiatives. I wonder whether some of the approaches that have been used to disrupt Daesh and other terrorists—tackling cyber-communications, shutting down illegal bank accounts and so on—could be used to disrupt poachers and traders in the illegal wildlife and ivory trades, who use many of the same techniques. Perhaps that expertise can be used to take forward some of these goals, too. The hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) made a point about the conditionality that is sometimes attached to aid, and that is also worth considering, especially if money goes to Governments rather than international development organisations.
Finally, there has been discussion about the antiquities and antiques markets. It is important to draw a distinction between antiques and antiquities. I do not think anyone suggests that incredibly valuable and historic pieces such as the Lewis chessmen should be covered by a ban. Most of those things are priceless and will not be traded or sold in any meaningful way. We welcome the fact that the British Museum has permanently loaned the chessmen back to an exhibition in Lewis and the Western Isles. That is where the distinction between a total ban and a near-total ban comes in. It is important to learn lessons from other parts of the world—particularly the United States. The idea of defining an antique as something that is more than 100 years old, which would mean that the date changed year on year, is well worth exploring. The UK Government ought to consult as widely and as soon as possible. They must explore all options, ensure that all the lobby groups and everyone who has provided briefings have their views heard, and take the best advice possible.
Another reason for preserving antiques and antiquities is that our interpretation of them may change over time. Intricate and beautiful works of art may have been created in a time of ignorance or less understanding about the damage that was being done to the planet. We should remember that, which may help us get to the point where it is perhaps not the elephant itself but the successful campaign to save the elephant that is legendary.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again in a debate about the domestic ivory trade, Mrs Main. I thank Ellen Cobb for creating the petition, and the 107,000 people who have signed it so far. We know that they speak for the 85% of the population who want this Government to introduce a total ban on the ivory trade, but 8% of people believe that such a ban is already in place, which takes us even further into why the Government need to move on this issue.
We have seen progress in China since we last debated this issue, and I very much concur with the many Members who have talked about us now being followers rather than leaders in this movement. We must pick up the pace, because the pace around this issue is definitely picking up out there in our communities. The world is watching on in horror as these majestic, sensitive—we have heard about the way that they live in families—and beautiful animals are butchered, yet we are no further forward with the Government.
What progress has been made in the 50 days since we last debated this issue? If we take the figure of one elephant being killed every 15 minutes, nearly nine elephants have been slaughtered since this debate began, and 4,811 elephants have lost their lives since I last spoke about this issue. But this is not just about elephants; we must remember the rangers who guard those elephants, and some 17 fellow human beings have lost their lives. We are talking about the most heinous crimes, which are destroying these beautiful animals. There is much frustration across the country, as there has been in the Chamber today and as there is, I understand, in the Cabinet. People are baffled that the Government are not moving further, faster. We want the pace to pick up as a result of today’s debate—I have picked that up from every single contribution—and I trust that the Government will respond.
We all have a responsibility. We have heard how important it is for our generation to ensure that we do everything that we can on our watch to introduce a ban and ensure that it picks up pace. Non-governmental organisations have done amazing work; they have campaigned and raised awareness. It is through that awareness that we become more responsible for our actions here. I want to put on the record my thanks to them.
Will the hon. Lady join me in congratulating Stop Ivory, which I meant to mention in my speech? It has really put this issue on the agenda and at the core of what it does, and ensured that public support is targeted and the campaign moves from strength to strength.
Absolutely, Stop Ivory has done a wonderful job, as have the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the WWF, Tusk and Save the Elephants. There are so many organisations out there—I would not want to draw out one in particular—all working together, I hasten to say, because they have one objective. I think we can see that right across the House we share an objective with them to move forward on the ban.
As we have heard, what we are talking about is getting on top of criminal activity. Surely the Government’s first focus should be to get on top of what is happening, which is happening in conjunction with other criminal gangs, drug rackets and sales of arms. We know that there is an interconnection, and it is so important that we get on top of that criminal activity. A full ban is one way of bringing an end to those gangsters’ deplorable activity. From the statistics we have heard so many times in this place, we know that 200 to 300 tonnes of ivory are being stolen from elephants. That is bringing in £10 billion to £20 billion of blood money. Therefore, shamefully, we are complicit with that agenda if we are not doing absolutely everything in our power to stop the trade.
I want to come on to the consultation, which we have not seen yet, and the date of 1947. We were promised it at the last debate, but another two months have passed and we still do not have it. I know that DEFRA has so much on its agenda at the moment, not least dealing with the EU, but elephants cannot wait for those distractions. We need to put our foot on the accelerator. Let us move on today. Let us resolve in this place to move on and fast-track our approach in taking this forward.
We have seen how fast China has moved. A vaster, much more complex country than ours is talking about putting a stop to the process in just three months and putting a full ban in place in 12 months, so there is no reason why we have to spend months in consultation or thinking about consultations and what questions to ask. Let us just be honest and straight, and let us just move on. I therefore ask the Minister: why the delay on such an important issue? Can we not just get on with bringing in the ban? She will not find opposition across the House or across the country—in fact, people will get behind her. I therefore urge her to move on with that.
I want to look at the date of 1947. I believe I said in the previous debate that it is a rather arbitrary date, so why are we so rigid on that? Why do we not move forward? We have heard about the US and its 100-year rolling programme, which is perhaps one approach that could be taken, but why do we not move to a total ban? We have heard questions such as, “How can you tell what year it was bought?” Carbon dating is one way of doing that, but again I ask the Minister a question she did not manage to answer the previous time I challenged her on this point: can we tell the difference between ivory from 1946 and 1947 or from 1947 and 1948? Where the margins are so fine, why do we complicate things by drawing false demarcations rather than moving forward to a total ban? As we have heard, the human eye cannot necessarily spot the difference, as pieces of ivory are made to look more antique. We also know that paperwork can be forged. It is therefore important that we do not draw arbitrary lines and then try to justify it around the edges. We must have the courage of our convictions to say, “This is wrong,” and to move on from that.
The hon. Lady is right about the difficulty of those details when something is made entirely of ivory. Of course, ivory often forms part of something else. Therefore, we often date, for example, a clock, a piece of furniture with an inlay or another decorative object on the other items. For example, it is easy to date ivory that appears in a silver teapot where it acts as the handle or an insulator. Although this debate is all about ivory—one of the reasons the date was chosen was because it is pre-convention—where ivory appears in something else, the date of the ivory can be assessed from the rest of the item.
The hon. Lady knows so much about this subject matter—[Interruption.] She denies it. There may be other contributing factors, so that still does not necessarily date the actual ivory, and that is the subject for today’s debate. We have to move on from trying to draw arbitrary lines and making judgments, either with the human eye or with carbon dating—we have had contributions about the costing of that—and say, “Why make things so complicated, when out there across the country and in this House we want a total ban?” Let us move on from that debate. Let us be really pragmatic and bring in the total ban.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. I am trying to be pragmatic. I keep pressing for the evidence. I have to say to her, with all due respect, that she is assuming what she is trying to prove, and I do not accept that as a legislator. She assumes that a total ban will save elephants. Can she give me evidence for that?
If my hon. Friend will hold on for now, I will move on with my speech. I will pick up those issues. The problem is, as we argue and debate in here, the gangsters out there are laughing at us, as they are still making their millions on the back of dead elephants. To be seen to take leadership on this issue and to control the agenda, it is so important that we now move forward and see that total ban. We know that the Government promised that in their manifesto, and I have made it clear that Labour would also bring in a total ivory ban, so let us move forward on this today.
The clock continues to tick. We keep debating this issue, and I dare say that if movement is not made in the Minister’s contribution today, we will be back here again and again, and at question times, continually saying, “Let’s move forward, because there is a majority view of how we take this forward.” We cannot go back to the CITES conference or to Hanoi in 2016, or look back to what China has said. We are in 2017 and we have now got our opportunity to make our mark. I therefore urge the Minister to do that, because in 2018 I do not want the UK to be on the world stage as apologists. I want to ensure that we are proud of what we have achieved to save the elephant.
I want to pick up the point that this is not just about a total ban; there has to be a wider strategy built around that. That is right, and that goes to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris). We have to make sure that we move forward. We have heard about the work that the Ministry of Defence is doing: the 1st Division is out there, training up people in the parks to ensure they have better security. That is part of the strategy and, as we have heard, education from the NGOs is absolutely vital, so that this generation and the next understand what is at stake.
We also need to think about what is happening with antiques, as we have heard debated today. I want to pick up the point strongly argued by the hon. Members for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) and for Kensington (Victoria Borwick). I will take issue once again with calling them beautiful works of art. I am sorry, they are not. The reality is that animals have died for their production. We need to be honest about what we are dealing with. The problem is, every time these objects are glorified, value is added on to them and on to ivory. We want to see the value taken out of ivory. We do not want these items displayed as glorious parts of our heritage. It is a shameful part of our history, and we should name it as that and realise what we did in leading the world in those trades. We need to move on in the way in which we look at these pieces and name them for what they are.
Why have them on display? The Minister made an important point in the previous debate when she said that perhaps we could take them off the shelves of our museums. Perhaps that is the right way forward. I thought that was a progressive point, because that is a way of taking the value out of these items. That would be a first step in saying that they do not hold the value we have placed on them, and that would be a step forward.
I apologise for not being able to attend the debate from the beginning, Mrs Main. I entirely endorse all that the hon. Lady says about the need to clamp down on the criminals who are now killing a precious species, but what she is saying is fundamentally wrong. The value in the ivory products that came from the tomb of Tutankhamun or the royal graves at Ur, or exquisite pieces of Louis XVI furniture, is not in the ivory but in the workmanship and historic context in which they were produced. Given what she says, why, by the same token, does she not call for a ban in the trade in jewels produced from blood diamond activity—the result of the deaths of thousands of human beings, and not just elephants? How is it that we would save a single elephant by not having the 1947 cut-off?
I absolutely agree. Blood stones— the fact that we have put our ideas of worth above the natural value of our fellow human beings and animals: that is wrong. The hon. Gentleman missed that very point, about the value we put on antiques versus the value of animals that will not be with us much longer, being made earlier in the debate. That is why it is vital to move on. We will mourn, on the day when elephants no longer roam the savannahs of Africa. We are now at the point when we cannot say that our values—our greed and the fact that we want those objects—are more important than saving elephants. It is important to move on and pick up the pace, rather than delaying and dragging our feet. We must put something in place now—including introducing tougher sentencing, as mentioned earlier. That is an important part of a wider package, as is getting on top of the cyber trade, and making sure that there is infrastructure for policing the elephants’ habitat.
We are dealing with organised criminality and we need to do so with the severity it deserves. Therefore let us move on. The Minister has an opportunity not to drag us forward slowly, following other countries, but to take leadership on the issue again and issue a total ban on ivory. That will make ivory pieces worthless—in the sense that the worth of the elephant will come first. I do not think that she will hear a cry from across the country if we do that. It is an opportunity to lead and I trust that the Minister will do so.
I am delighted to be taking part in the debate. I extend my thanks to the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) and congratulate him on obtaining it.
Like many hon. Members in the Chamber and many people throughout the world, I am deeply concerned about the decline in the population of elephants. The UK Government have committed to a ban on post-1947 ivory, but, as has been pointed out, action has so far been thin on the ground. Today’s debate is the result of a petition with more than 107,000 signatures, calling for a shutdown on the domestic ivory market in the UK. That petition is indicative of the strength of feeling about the barbaric practices that the ivory trade fuels.
Many warm words have been spoken about reducing the trade. In 2015, the US and Chinese Presidents pledged to enact near-complete bans on the import and export of ivory. I sincerely hope that the progress made in the US will not be reversed under the new regime. China has also committed to gradually stopping the processing and sale of ivory for commercial purposes by the end of 2017. That is believed to be extremely significant, since according to experts China buys 70% of the world’s ivory products.
The slaughter, however, continues in horrifying numbers, and it is hard to see, when such barbarity is going on, how the beautiful creatures that are being destroyed can sustain themselves as a species. Ivory dealers employ armed poachers who in turn target entire herds of elephants, shooting them with automatic weapons and hacking off their tusks with axes and chainsaws. The tusks are fed into the illegal international ivory trade, which is controlled by highly organised criminal syndicates. That trade feeds demand for ivory products in Asia, Europe, the USA and elsewhere. It continues to bankroll the destruction of elephants.
The history of the ivory trade is too long and too bloody. Investigations by National Geographic uncovered the fact that elephant ivory is now a key source of funding for armed groups in central Africa such as the Lord’s Resistance Army. National Geographic commissioned the creation of artificial tusks with hidden GPS trackers, which were planted in the smuggling supply chain, starting in the Central African Republic. They averaged 16 miles a day, crossing the border into South Sudan. The price of ivory can rise tenfold as it moves through the supply chain. For a pound of ivory, middlemen in the bush pay poachers anything from $66 to $397. As tusks reach Asian markets their value skyrockets and they are used for carving in art and jewellery.
The savannah elephant has declined by 30% between 2007 and 2014, largely owing to poaching: 144,000 elephants have been lost—about 96 a day. Even in protected areas, such as parks, a huge number of carcases is reported. Embattled park rangers are often the only defence for wildlife and villagers. Increasingly, park rangers speak of being there to protect not just the land and animals but the people who live around the park. Worryingly, studies have shown that more than 90% of ivory in large shipments seized between 2002 and 2014 came from elephants that died less than three years before. That demonstrates that it is not taking long at all for illegal ivory to make it to the marketplace, which testifies to the fact that there are large networks for moving ivory across Africa and out of the continent.
What we need, to stop that horrific practice, is international co-operation. We need it as soon as possible if elephants are to survive as a species. That is how urgent the matter has become. All countries around the world need to introduce a complete ban on the international and domestic ivory trade. As has been said, there was a pledge to do that in the Conservative party’s manifesto, but so far the Government have not acted.
I want to take issue with some things that have been said in the debate, which I and I am sure others listening to it found bewildering, if not chilling. To suggest that a ban on ivory puts us on the same page as the religious fundamentalists who destroyed Palmyra is not only absurd but a little hysterical. The hon. Member for South Antrim (Danny Kinahan) said that that was so. I found it quite distressing when he talked about antiques—trinkets with pretty gold tops. Religious fundamentalists destroyed Palmyra deliberately, but a ban on ivory will not destroy trinkets or important historical pieces. Banning trade in ivory does not mean we lose our history; it means we remove the conditions in which the ivory trade thrives and continues.
The hon. Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick), to whom I pay tribute for attending and speaking so well while suffering from a malady, spoke about the beautiful historic ivory objects in churches and museums, but I am not convinced that banning the trade in ivory threatens their beauty or intrinsic historical value. It seems from the answer she gave me that if historic artefacts cannot be valued in pounds, shillings and pence, they have no value at all in the eyes of the world. I find that extremely depressing.
I believe passionately that as long as there is an ivory trade of any kind, the illegal ivory trade will continue. We have already heard about the difficulty and the prohibitive cost involved in trying to date an ivory product.
Perhaps I may just address my remarks to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris), who spent most of the debate trying to get an answer to a specific question about the relationship between a total ban on ivory trading and poaching. If we can get a total international ban, it will make ivory much more difficult to sell. The more difficult it is to sell, the fewer buyers there will be. That will reduce the price of ivory, because there is no one to sell it to.
We need to push for a total ban. Time is running out. The United Kingdom could do something good here. It could lead in this battle and use its international influence. I urge the Minister to tell us what plans she has in that direction.
I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the crucial issue of protecting our planet’s wildlife. As we have heard, the magnificent African elephant is at grave and immediate risk from slaughter by poachers for its ivory tusks.
I suspect that many people watching this debate at home, including my constituents, will be wondering why we are debating the plight of elephants again today. Indeed, the many people who signed the petition are, I suspect, bemused that Parliament is again debating a subject that all right-minded people consider incontestable. Many agree that it is incontestable because they are familiar with the plight of the African elephant: they have seen how they are ruthlessly killed and slaughtered; how poachers use axes and even chainsaws to hack into the elephants’ faces to access their tusks; and how all of that is done in front of their young, without a second thought as to the horrific impact on their psychology.
We know that elephants are intelligent, social animals with complex social structures, subtle systems of learning and sophisticated communication, but we are only beginning to recognise the true impact of this slaughter and how it is endangering the species and the ecosystem within which these animals live. Sadly, we are having this debate because the UK Government are contributing to the conditions that encourage the slaughter of these animals and have failed to deliver the promises made in the Conservative party election manifestos of both 2010 and 2015, for which many people voted.
In September 2015, the then US President Obama and China’s President Jinping together pledged to enact near-complete bans on the import and export of ivory. They are to be commended for their pledge, which they upheld. In June 2016 the US Government introduced new regulations to ban the trade in ivory, and at the end of 2016, China announced that it too would introduce a ban on all ivory trade and processing activities by the end of 2017. India, Hong Kong and France, along with almost all African countries, have also introduced bans on ivory trading. In contrast with the United States, China, Hong Kong, India, France and many African nations, the UK Government have failed to act. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) noted, that is regrettable.
Despite the Conservative party manifesto of 2010 noting,
“To give wildlife greater protection, we will… press for a total ban on ivory sales and the destruction of existing stockpiles”
and the 2015 manifesto then explaining, under the heading “We will tackle international wildlife trade”,
“We will…press for a total ban on ivory sales, and support the Indian Government in its efforts to protect the Asian elephant”
the UK Government have done almost nothing. It is largely because the UK Government failed to deliver on their manifesto commitments that e-petition 165905 was signed by more than 107,000 right-minded members of the public. Many will be watching this debate today, and I congratulate and thank each of them for creating this opportunity. In fact, 85% of the public think that buying and selling ivory in the UK should be banned outright.
The e-petition rightly notes that 30,000 African elephants are slaughtered every year just for their tusks. Despite the promises that have been made, the UK Government have still not outlawed the trade. From 2009 to 2014, 40% of UK customs seizures were ivory items, and yet that evidence of an horrific trade has not been sufficient for the UK Government to implement promised action to ban the trade in ivory and fully commit to outlawing the markets that fuel the wasteful slaughter of elephants. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Dr Cameron) noted, there are only around 450,000 African elephants left in the world. In another six years, there will be half that number. I wonder how far numbers have to fall before the UK Government finally start taking the action promised more than seven years ago to outlaw a trade that is placing elephants at risk of extinction.
The UK has a thriving, growing domestic ivory market. Ivory is widely available for sale, subject only to some licensing restrictions on post-1947 ivory. Independent reports have found that the UK market plays a critical role in encouraging illegal wildlife trade, provides a hiding place for the trade in illegal products manufactured from post-1947 ivory and is seriously undermining international efforts to close down a hideously destructive trade. The UK Government’s failure to act is simply inexcusable.
The UK Government’s inaction is all the more shaming because while other countries are implementing bans, the UK Government announced plans as recently as 21 September 2016 to permit trade in ornaments and works of art dating to before 1947 by classifying the ivory as antique. More welcome was the announced intention to ban the sale of worked ivory produced after 1947, but disappointingly that remains just an intention. DEFRA, we understand, now plans to consult with environmental groups, industry—whatever that might be—and other relevant parties to establish how and when such a ban could be introduced and necessary exemptions early in 2017. When exactly will that happen, Minister? Sadly, despite the manifesto commitments of 2010 and 2015, that consultation has not happened and the UK Government are procrastinating.
An immediate and total ban is desperately required. We must be absolutely clear that the UK market in ivory is connected to the illegal market in post-1947 or modern ivory. The UK Government should be leading action to completely close down the domestic market with immediate effect for both pre and post-1947 ivory. The UK Government’s current proposal to ban sales of post-1947 ivory does not go far enough. Focusing on so-called modern ivory will not significantly reduce the amount of ivory bought and sold in the UK and will do little to stop the illegal wildlife trade across the world. It will, in fact, continue to encourage the slaughter of African elephants and to offer a hiding place for trade in products manufactured from ivory taken from slaughtered animals.
The UK Government’s failure to act is damaging international momentum and undermining the actions taken by other countries. We need effective action on a range of fronts, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) explained. The people who signed this e-petition want the UK Government to stop procrastinating and begin acting. The people want the UK Government to join the global effort under way to end the ivory trade and to close down the UK’s ivory market. Our constituents are not interested in excuses, in another round of consultations or in spin. They are interested in protecting one of our planet’s most extraordinary animals. They want to know that the Government will honour their manifesto promises and start to protect these priceless animals. I urge the Minister: for goodness’ sake, get on with the task.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Mrs Main. I thank the members of the public who signed the petition and the Petitions Committee for securing this debate. Our thanks must also go to all the organisations, some of which have been mentioned, that are supporting this cause and working to protect elephants and other wildlife in this country and across the world. The hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall), on behalf of the Petitions Committee, made a very clear case for why the Government need to support the ban set out in the petition. I thank him for that. I commend those who have taken part in the debate, especially my hon. Friends the Members for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell). They all made an excellent case for ensuring the survival of elephants and, most importantly, why the weight of responsibility is on us here and now.
Throughout the debate, we have heard from hon. Members how the UK, and indeed the EU, must match the action to stop the terrible ivory trade that the US, France, Hong Kong and recently China, the largest global market of all, have taken. The evidence of support for immediate similar action in the UK is clear from the number of people supporting this petition and from opinion polls showing that 85% of the British public want an ivory trade ban.
The main motivation for the UK Government should be the slaughter of elephants by poachers who feed these markets. The Government must recognise that an overwhelming majority of African countries actively campaign to close down ivory markets everywhere. The Government should listen to the African nations who share their lands with the elephant herds and not to the voices of the antique traders, the big game hunters or those who still sit on stored ivory as bullion.
The Government would do well to take notice of Botswana, the largest elephant range state. It is home to 130,000 elephants, almost a third of the total African elephant population. Botswana is a Commonwealth country, a parliamentary democracy and a long-standing friend of our country. Last year, it changed its policy and is now committed to 100% protection of its elephants, which have proved to be a sure asset for the tourist trade there. Botswana’s Environment Minister, Tshekedi Khama, spoke passionately at last year’s CITES conference in favour of appendix 1 status for elephants within his country’s borders, but he was ignored by the EU and the UK Government, who used their block vote to veto it. I have been told that many UK attendees at that conference felt a true sense of shame at this outcome.
Mr Khama and his brother, the President, remain absolutely committed to conservation and to Botswana’s role as a safe haven for migrating elephants under threat in neighbouring countries. Sadly, our Government have shown little commitment to supporting these efforts. Consultation documents, which are overdue and address only a fraction of the ivory trading problem, are certainly not seen as the way forward by Botswana.
Tanzania has also changed its policy on the ivory trade, freezing its stockpile, and trying to address the serious poaching threat that has decimated its elephants in recent years. Last month, the former President, Benjamin Mkapa, called on all nations to ban trade in elephant ivory. He said:
“We need to work together to stop this, our fellows must ban the importation and uses of elephant tusks, this means there will be no market for tusks and nobody will kill elephants.”
His words are clear, and our response as a friendly country should be to close our own ivory markets, not fiddle at the margins with one category of post-1947 modern ivory.
In East Africa, we already have the inspiring example set by Kenya. For many years, that country has led African calls to ban the ivory trade, anticipating the appalling escalation of poaching. Last year, its President publicly destroyed his country’s ivory stockpile of more than 100 tonnes with huge pyres in the Nairobi national park. The action was endorsed by both France and the US, but not by the UK. That is another broken promise by the Government, who advocated the destruction of ivory stockpiles in their 2010 manifesto.
Kenya went on to press successfully for additional international action to protect elephants at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and CITES conferences in September and October 2016. Although CITES appendix 1 status was blocked by the UK and other EU countries, those conferences passed resolutions calling for the closure of domestic ivory markets throughout the world. The resolutions are clear. They do not exempt antiques, but make a link between the existence of markets and the illegal killing of and trade in elephants. Again, the UK’s role is weak and ambiguous. We must remember that the EU is the single biggest exporter of ivory and ivory products according to the CITES trade database. There was a dramatic increase in the number of both raw and worked ivory items exported from the EU in the last two years for which data are available.
At the IUCN conference, many EU countries, including France, Italy and Spain, voted to support the unequivocal call to close domestic markets. Some others abstained but, shamefully, the record shows that the UK abstained by proxy. We sent a postal vote to abstain on the fate of elephants being poached at the rate of four every hour. The sound of the UK dragging its feet in this debate may resonate around the world, as well as in this Chamber.
Only last week, Patrick Omondi, the Kenyan CITES chief and chairman of the African Elephant Coalition of 29 African countries said:
“The CITES recommendation to close domestic ivory markets was a breakthrough. But it will be meaningless if countries ignore it. The EU and its Member States have an opportunity to realign themselves with France, which recently issued strict regulations, and work with China to implement the CITES recommendation. One thing is certain: business as usual is not an option if we want to save elephants for future generations.”
I call on the Minister again, as I did in the debate in December 2016, to step up to the plate and to keep her party’s promise to ban ivory trading altogether in the UK. As my hon. Friend the Member for York Central said in that debate, Labour would support the legal steps needed to implement the ban. We must act before it is too late for the elephants. I urge the Minister to act now, to forget exemptions, to support the petition and to heed the appeal of the 29 member countries of the AEC to both the UK and the whole of the EU to permanently ban all external and domestic ivory trade.
With the European Commission due to issue new guidance on the ivory trade within and exports from the EU, following its CITES management authority’s meeting tomorrow, will the Minister take the opportunity to press for new regulations in Brussels? How can we afford to see these intelligent, beautiful giants of the Earth disappear because our generation failed to save them from extinction?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. As has been pointed out, we last debated this matter in Westminster Hall on 8 December 2016 and since then a further 30,000 people have signed this petition created by Ellen Cobb and chosen for debate by the Petitions Committee. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury and Yate (Luke Hall) for opening the debate and I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond.
It is clear that all of us here are united in our goal to stop the poaching of elephants that are being slaughtered for their ivory. Elephant numbers in most African states have seriously declined over the last decade. The brutal actions of criminals are endangering the survival of one of the world’s iconic species. That is why the Government are already taking action to end poaching, involving proposals for legislative action, which I hope will be consulted on very soon. We are working in the international community to provide global leadership to reduce the demand for ivory and direct action on enforcement, tackling the issue at source and through illegal wildlife trade channels.
Illegal wildlife trade is a global issue that can be effectively tackled only with co-ordinated international action. The UK’s rules on ivory have their basis in the international CITES agreements, implemented via EU legislation, although UK rules are already stronger than required by CITES and the EU. We do not permit exports of any ivory tusks given the obvious potential for such international trade to be used to bring illegal, recently poached ivory tusks on to the market. We expect shortly to publish our consultation and a call for evidence on proposals to extend a ban on the domestic sale of ivory and the enforcement of such a ban. I like to think that the House will see then that our initial proposals will be among the toughest in the world.
The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) aid that while legal ivory trade in pre-1947 items continues, there will be an illegal ivory trade. That is true, but it is not the right question. The question is—perhaps the Minister can help with this—what is the evidence that if there is no legal ivory trade of pre-1947 items, there will be no illegal trade?
I understand the argument that people have made about any market at all, and many of the examples cited today still allow a market in ivory. It will be important, in the call for evidence, for people to come forward and demonstrate that point, for the reasons I hope to set out.
Last September, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced plans for a ban on the sale of worked ivory that is less than 70 years old—from 1947 onwards. That demarcation is used across Europe and was chosen because it was 50 years before the EU wildlife trade regulations came into force to regulate trade and protect endangered wildlife. By using that date for their proposed ban on the sale of ivory, the Government are on solid legal ground to bring a near-total ban into effect quickly. For control and enforcement, there are advantages in working with a date already used by the trade and the rest of the EU to draw a dividing line.
I recognise that many people want the UK to take an even stronger stance on the ivory trade and, as the petitioners demand, that there be no trade at all in ivory. Let me reassure the House that the Government are open to views on the matter. That is why the consultation will include an open question on this, with a call for views and evidence. I am regularly informed, and have been in this debate, that other nations have banned trade, so why have we not yet done so? I think that it would be helpful to set out to the House what is happening around the world.
The US has introduced what has been described as a near-total ban. The US Government can act only at federal level, and their ban covers trade internationally and between states, although it does not affect trade within states. The ban prohibits trade in ivory items that are under 100 years old and continues to allow the trade in pieces older than 100 years, as that is the US’s legal definition of an antique. The federal ban also provides for a range of exemptions, including musical instruments and items that contain a small amount of ivory. Four states have so far chosen to apply similar controls within their state. Those restrictions do not seem to apply to establishments for educational or scientific research purposes, which includes museums. My right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) referred to action by California, but he will recognise that trade continues.
I am really sorry, but my right hon. Friend spoke for nearly half an hour and I have limited time to reply.
Last year, France made the bold announcement that it would permit trade in pre-1975 ivory only on a case-by-case basis, but since then it has consulted on the scope of its ban and is now considering exemptions for pre-1947 items and musical instruments. We look forward to hearing the final outcome of its consultation.
We welcome the announcement by the Chinese Government of their intention to close China’s domestic ivory market by the end of 2017. Again, we look forward to hearing more details of their intentions for the ban, including what the exemption allowing the auction of ivory “relics” will cover. However, the welcome closure of the carving factories this year will be a huge step in stopping the creation of new worked ivory artefacts.
Hong Kong was mentioned. The Hong Kong Government announced plans to phase out the domestic ivory trade, but it is my understanding that, again, there will be an exemption for antiques, which has still to be defined. Domestic sale will be allowed with a licence.
I have met groups on all sides of the debate, from conservation experts to antiques sector representatives, and will continue to do so. It matters that when considering the final outcome of the consultation, including the calls to go further, we know that there is a strong likelihood of legal challenge and so we would require further understanding of the impact on individuals, businesses and cultural institutions that own these items and the interaction with the conservation of elephants today. As has been pointed out, ivory is found in works from the art deco period and in musical instruments, often forming a small proportion of the item. The kind of assessment that we would have to consider would include how prohibiting the sale of a 17th-century ivory carving of the flagellation of Christ prevented the poaching of elephants today.
I note what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw said on a total ban, as indeed have other hon. Members, and what he said on museums. I am not sure whether he would go further and seek the destruction of ivory pieces, including the throne given to Queen Victoria—I am not sure whether he wants to go that far. However, I stand by the comments that I made previously about display, and I was referring particularly to the display of raw tusks, which still happens.
It is still shortly, and I really hope it will be as soon as possible.
With regard to the reference to CITES and appendices 1 and 2, I think that I answered this in the December debate. CITES relies on scientific evidence. There is a differentiation between appendices I and II, in terms of the extinction rating in the relevant countries. There was reliable intelligence that if what was proposed went through, reservations would be applied by certain countries, thus destroying the ban by CITES.
Laws are only as effective as our action to enforce them, and the House should be proud of its record and global leadership. Enforcement at the UK border is led by Border Force, which makes ivory one of its top priorities. That is reflected by ivory seizures accounting for 40% of seized wildlife products between 2009 and 2014. One seizure alone in 2015—this was referred to—equated to more ivory than was found in the previous 10 years put together. It was more than 100 kg of tusks, beads and bangles that was en route from Angola to Germany and it was detected here in the UK. Enforcement within the UK is supported by the specialist national wildlife crime unit, which provides intelligence, analysis and specialist assistance to individual police forces and other law enforcement agencies. DEFRA has recently provided additional funding to the unit to help it to crack down on illegal trade via the internet—a growing concern.
The UK also shares its wealth of wildlife crime expertise internationally, including in a recent project providing training to customs, police, corruption specialists and parks authorities in Malawi. That has resulted in increased arrests, convictions and custodial sentences for wildlife offences. Initiatives such as those provide a real deterrent to the perpetrators of wildlife smuggling.
I have little time. The UK is working with Interpol to expand its work with key nations, tracking and intercepting illegal shipments of ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products. Initiatives such as those will make a real impact on the illegal ivory trade by disrupting trafficking routes. Reference was made to sentencing guidelines. It just so happens that I am meeting the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), tomorrow to discuss this matter in more detail.
The driver for poaching is the lucrative profits that can be made in trafficking ivory, which is driven by the demand for ivory products. We need to raise awareness with ivory consumers of the devastating impact that they are having on elephant populations, and ultimately change behaviour. That is why the UK has supported work in Asia to increase awareness of the brutal impacts of poaching and reduce demand for ivory. We are providing practical support on the ground with financial help, and the British military train anti-poaching rangers on the frontline in Gabon, home of Africa’s largest population of forest elephants. That will be extended to other crucial countries such as Malawi. Last year, I visited South Africa, where I saw some of the work that we were doing on other animal populations at risk.
We are supporting projects in communities that share a landscape with elephants. Many hon. Members dwelt on the role of the Foreign Office and, in particular, DFID. We recognise that the money to be made from poaching can be a huge temptation to get involved, so we must continue working closely with DFID and the Foreign Office to create viable alternative livelihoods, but hon. Members will be aware that there are tight controls on official development assistance classification.
I reiterate our shared goal of ending poaching and saving elephants. That means taking not just symbolic action on domestic ivory, but action that works. The Government are committed to introducing the most effective ban possible on ivory. That means that we must ensure that our rules are robust and proportionate and will achieve the aim of ending the poaching of elephants. We need to foster truly international action to tackle the demand that drives poaching, enforce rules more effectively and strengthen criminal justice, as well as supporting communities affected by poaching. The UK continues to be a world leader in the fight to protect wildlife, but we know that there is more to be done. Our consultation on plans for even stronger action will soon be launching. That will enable us to ensure even better protection of our majestic wildlife for generations to come.
I have listened carefully to today’s debate and, in particular, the discussion on antiques and verification; there was talk of certification and radiocarbon dating. I encourage hon. Members to contribute to the consultation and call for evidence, so that we can make progress on this matter.
Thank you for chairing the debate, Mrs Main. I will keep these remarks extremely brief. The attendance here today reflects the strength of feeling in the House and in the country about this issue. There were many contributions today. I will just thank specifically my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham), the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson) for their passion in this Chamber and their work outside it. I thank the Minister for her update on the Government’s work and her words that the initial proposals will be among the toughest in the world, although I am disappointed that we could not come forward today with a date for the consultation. Most importantly, I thank the 107,000 people who signed the petition to ensure that we were able to hold a second debate on this issue today.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petition 165905 relating to the domestic ivory market in the UK.