Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am very pleased to have secured this debate, timed as it is to air the issues around the trade in ivory and the protection of endangered species ahead of the closing of the Defra consultation on 29 December. I recognise that, because of the consultation, my noble friend the Minister will be constrained in what he can say in reply. I look forward to the contributions from all your Lordships and, in particular, the maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, who has experience second to none of the problems of law enforcement.
I start, perhaps surprisingly, by making it clear that I have no interests to declare. I am not involved in the antiques trade, nor am I active in the conservation sector. In common with many people, however, I own some small items made of or decorated with ivory. Their value is minimal and the proposals in the Defra consultation paper would not materially affect me.
There is no question but that the first priority has to be to protect elephants and the other endangered species which are hunted for their ivory in Africa and Asia. The figures are stark, as laid out in the Defra consultation: the number of elephants has declined by some 30%, from 480,000 10 years ago to an estimated 144,000 on the latest count. There is little doubt that this has been driven by the demand for raw ivory to be carved, principally in China and Vietnam. I understand that China is soon to introduce a ban on ivory carving, but it remains to be seen how effective this will be and whether Vietnam will follow suit—there are some indications that Vietnam is in fact expanding its carving industry.
There has been a ban on the sale of new ivory for over 40 years under CITES. The UK has a ban on the sale of any ivory that is post 1947. The problem is that, as can been seen from the decline in the elephant population, this ban has not worked. One reason is that there is a demand for ivory carvings in the Far East, but it is not only a Far Eastern problem. New carvings—often passed off as old carvings from prior to 1947—seem to be readily sold on the internet and elsewhere in countries that, like the UK, have a ban. The problem is that the ban as it stands does not work. Everyone is agreed that we need a more effective ban and most people, as well as the WWF, agree that there will need to be exemptions from the ban.
The consultation suggests that museum-quality items held in museums could be traded between museums and that there would be an exemption for musical instruments and for items whose ivory content is minimal compared to the totality of the object—the so-called de minimis rule. There is also increasing acceptance, notably from the WWF, that miniatures should also be exempt. As I am sure your Lordships know, miniatures are small painted portraits that were popular in the late 18th and early to mid-19th centuries. They were often, but not always, painted on to thin ivory discs. However, ivory was used for many religious, decorative and household objects right up to and beyond World War II, when plastics increasingly took over most of the uses of ivory.
Some items are of important heritage value, possibly of museum quality or near museum quality. Take, for example, a medieval religious ivory carving, of great cultural and historical importance: few would argue that it should not be preserved for posterity. However, where it belongs to a private individual, as many do, under the present proposals it could not be sold unless it met the very restrictive definition of the,
“rarest and most important item”.
It could be donated to a museum, although, in many cases, this is not practical as museums want only the best, not the second best, and often only one of a particular type of object. Museums do not see their role as being to provide storage of many duplicate or near duplicate items. Indeed, many museums, when offered a collection of any sort, will accept it only if they can sell the items which they do not need for their own collection, usually in the open market and rarely to other museums. So, if no museum can be found to accept a fine medieval ivory, the only way to dispose of it would be to destroy it, since it could not be sold. I have taken a medieval carved ivory as an example, but many thousands—probably millions—of objects made of or incorporating ivory were created in 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and not just in Europe but in India, China and, most wonderfully, Japan, where some of the greatest artistic treasures were carved from ivory from the 17th century onwards.
Ivory was used as decoration, as inlay and as veneer on furniture; it was used as insulation on silver coffee pots by the finest makers; and it was used to make handles and knobs on clocks, barometers and furniture. The knobs were often detachable and so would cause difficulties over whether they should be considered part of, say, a barometer and are therefore covered by the de minimis rule, or as a stand-alone item and therefore, under the proposals, destroyed. Ivory was used for the heads and arms of dancers in the fine statuettes made in the art deco period of the 1920s and 1930s. Ivory was used for more mundane items, such as for handles on knives and forks. It was even used for tickets to theatres and opera houses in the 18th century—little discs about 25 millimetres in diameter and 3 millimetres thick, with the date of the performance and the name of the person who purchased the ticket on the face of the disc. That is a specialist interest, but of very real cultural and historical value. It is hard to see that there would be any interest in using new ivory to reproduce those tickets, whose value is typically about £300. The ivory content in that little disc would not be of any interest to an ivory carver in China to re-carve into something more commercial. Given the increasing acceptance that portrait miniatures should be exempted because the amount of ivory they include is so small, it is hard to see why other small ivory objects should be destroyed.
I could expand the list endlessly, but I hope I have given enough examples to show the scale of the problem and the difficulty of defining which items are of museum quality, as museum quality is not confined to those items in museums. Then there are the problems of defining where the ivory content is a minimal part of the whole fabric of the item and therefore covered by the de minimis rule. Is the ivory inlay on a piece of 18th-century furniture covered by the de minimis rule, even though the amount of ivory used is greater than that in a Japanese 17th-century netsuke? As the Japanese netsuke is a solid piece of ivory, although weighing less than 200 grams, it would be destroyed whereas the piece of furniture would not be.
There is one further problem that I want briefly to mention. We would all see the sense in stopping the export of unworked ivory, such as the elephant tusks used by the Victorians to support dinner gongs in country houses. We would also see that ivory billiard balls—and virtually all were made of ivory until quite recently—can be re-carved to produce Chinese ball carvings, and that these new carvings of old ivory could be used to pass off new carvings of new ivory as being the same. In other words, new ivory could be laundered as old ivory. The problem is in the antique restoration business. Antique ivory often needs restoration, like most antiques. If a museum-quality carving needs to be restored, this can be done only with a source of ivory to carve the replacement piece. The source is typically from old billiard balls so, if the sale of billiard balls is banned, the restoration of ivory items becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.
My argument is that this is a complex problem which needs to be solved sensitively. We need a solution which stops the trade in new ivory, stops new ivory being passed off as old ivory and does not lead to the destruction of beautiful, culturally valuable items of historical interest. I suggest that the difficulty comes down to identifying old ivory from new and to ensuring that only a highly controlled and limited trade in ivory heritage items is allowed. Identifying old ivory from new is a specialist business, but one that is done all the time. For larger items, it is possible to carbon-14 date the ivory. It requires taking a piece of the ivory and subjecting it to radioactive treatment. That does not work for smaller items because of the size of the piece of ivory that is destroyed in the dating process. But specialists in ivory can identify old carved ivory from new, partly by the colour, partly by understanding the effect that time has on the deterioration of the ivory, and partly by the quality and type of carving, as well as the evidence of the carving tools used. That is a skill learned from handling many ivory items over many years, which rests in the upper echelons of the antiques trade and auction houses.
Vetting items is a regular part of what happens when an object is taken by a dealer to one of the better antiques fairs. Indeed, much of the value of an antique relies on the item being vetted for its genuine and original state. But vetting would not be enough by itself; it would be open to abuse by rogue experts. I would suggest that it could be coupled with a licensing system, so that the people doing the vetting have to be licensed to perform this task. That in turn could be expanded so that only licensed auction houses and dealers could sell antique ivory. That might sound expensive to administer, and I can quite understand that my noble friend the Minister would quail at the thought of adding that complexity and expense to the Defra budget. However, I suspect that the auction and antiques trade, through the trade bodies, might be prepared to administer and pay for any vetting and licensing scheme under the supervision of Defra.
Of course, any item of ivory, which, for whatever reason, failed the vetting and any possible carbon dating, would not be able to be sold and would probably be destroyed. The vetting system could be coupled with a total ban on the export or import of any type of ivory item, something we will have the power to implement once we leave the European Union—although this might lead to smuggling and just drive the international antiques market into less regulated countries, rather defeating the purpose of protecting elephants and hippopotamuses. Vetting and licensing would depress the value of ivory items domestically, but that might be a small price to pay, compared with a total ban.
I hope I have explained the problems to be overcome, and suggested a workable solution to how they can be overcome, while at the same time achieving our united objective of stopping the sale of new ivory masquerading as old ivory. If we do not find a solution to this problem, the consequences for anyone who owns an ivory item, from fine pieces to everyday items, would be serious, and the consequences for our artistic, cultural and historical understanding of the past would be tragic. I believe this problem is capable of solution, and that we can save the elephants while at the same time saving our history. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham, for securing this debate on an extremely important subject. I agree with the majority of what he has just said, and congratulate him on a tour de force. I am looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe.
When I was a young woman in my first job, I frequently walked past the shop that had the interesting necklace in the window, made of silver leaves and ivory beads. I saved from my wages until I had enough money to buy it. I loved it but, as time went by, realised that perhaps ivory was not the wisest ornament to wear around my neck. So I painstakingly removed all the ivory beads and keep them hidden away in the back of a drawer. Today, I am wearing that necklace, minus the beads; I believe that it looks just as good without the ivory ornament.
The plight of animals who have the great misfortune to have ivory as part of their anatomy is a very precarious one indeed. We have all seen television programmes about poaching elephant ivory and rhino horn for profit. We have seen the devastated carcasses left strewn around. We have sometimes seen the pitiful picture of an elephant calf left by its mother’s body, mourning her loss. I have had the great privilege of visiting the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Kenya. This was an extremely moving experience—seeing the elephant calves transferring to their keepers the affection and attachment they would have had for their mothers. Each had their own keeper who stayed with them all day and slept with them at night, covering them with a blanket in the heat of the day so they did not get sunburn. In the wild, they would have been shielded from the sun by the shade of their mother.
Some of you will have watched the television programme earlier this year about the last male black rhino and Poland’s conservation efforts to preserve this species by impregnating female white rhinos with fertilised eggs. The black rhino species has been poached to near extinction, with only one male and three females left at the time the programme was made. Elephants must not suffer the same fate.
While in Kenya, I was able to see the majesty of the African elephant in its homeland and to stand in a clearing with a white rhino. To say that I was terrified and did not move an inch is an understatement, but it was an experience I would not have missed for the world. I want my children, grandchildren and other people to have this opportunity, if they are able to. We have to devise a strategy to which all can sign up to stop the hunting of these creatures to extinction.
Today, approximately 20,000 elephants a year are still being slaughtered for their ivory at an unsustainable rate. That is one every 25 minutes. There is global consensus that legal domestic ivory markets contribute to the illegal wildlife trade and the poaching of elephants. This fuels the demand for ivory items and provides the opportunity for illegal modern ivory to be laundered through the legal market, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said.
In this country, we have one of the world’s largest domestic ivory markets; ivory items are widely available for sale, subject only to certain licensing restrictions on post-1947 ivory. Independent reports have found that the UK market plays a role in the illegal wildlife trade, providing cover for the trade in illegal items. Trade data indicates that the UK is the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory pieces, exporting more than any other country to the world’s largest illegal markets in Asia.
The poaching and selling of ivory has to be stopped. In their 2015 general election manifesto, the Conservatives committed to a total ban on ivory sales in the UK. I welcome Defra’s consultation on this ban and look forward to the outcome when the consultation finishes on 29 December. Can the Minister update the House on when a total ban on ivory sales will be brought forward?
The consultation at the beginning of this month showed that 85% of the UK population supported a ban on ivory sales—most supported a ban with no exemptions. There is a case to be made for antique ivory in some instances. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, made such a case. Needlessly destroying existing antique ivory pieces will do absolutely nothing at all for the current plight of the elephant, and I would not support such a move. However, a ban on the current commercial trade in ivory would be much more effective.
It seems to be the current culture to destroy and remove anything with a history that has fallen into disrepute. The statue of Cecil Rhodes is one such example. In the case of antique ivory, surely it is better to marvel at the craftsman’s skill of carving or scrimming than to destroy the item so that others may not have the same opportunity. We should learn from the past and move forward.
There are those in the antiques trade who oppose a ban on trading ivory and would prefer a licensing system instead with self-certification, as we have already heard. This would involve the auction houses certifying the age of the ivory themselves as pre-1947. Most do not have the expertise to do this, as the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, said. The extreme difficulty of assessing the age of ivory is allowing new poached illegal ivory to enter the market alongside pre-1947 products.
A study of these auction houses by the research group Two Million Tusks examined 820,000 lots advertised by 301 auction houses from around the UK during three months from the spring to September of 2017. It found that only 0.76% of listings were for objects containing ivory. Of a sample of 133 items, 91% sold for £400 or less and 61% sold for £120 or less.
I believe that any form of self-certification would be deeply flawed. Auction houses selling antique ivory are already failing to satisfy a legal requirement to demonstrate proof of age for pre-1947 ivory. Seventy-two auction houses were contacted with questions about 180 ivory lots, and they were unable to provide satisfactory proof of age for 90% of those lots. Therefore, I do not believe that self-certification is an acceptable way forward and hope that the Minister will agree.
Making it illegal to trade ivory and clamping down on poachers and export is only part of the solution. To be completely successful, the solution to this abhorrent practice will need to involve educating the communities that share the landscape with these magnificent beasts and providing an alternative source of income for those who carry out the poaching and their families. We cannot enforce our standards on them unless we help them to understand the importance of preserving ivory-bearing animals to the landscape, their tourism industries and the wider world. A ban on trading ivory is a start, but it is not the whole story. There is much, much more to do. Preventing poaching at source is an essential part of any strategy to save the elephant, but I hope that the Minister will fully support the proposed ban.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Carrington for initiating this debate and for what he said, with which I agree. Like him, I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe.
Despite a ban on the international trade in ivory, tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year for their tusks. There has been an upsurge in poaching in recent years, which has led to steep declines, particularly in forest elephant numbers as well as some savannah elephant populations. It is a tragedy, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said.
Thriving but unmonitored domestic ivory markets continue in a number of countries. Insufficient anti-poaching capacity, weak law enforcement and corruption compound the problem. I served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from September 2012 to May 2015. During that time, among other things, I was lucky enough to have ministerial responsibility for the United Kingdom’s efforts to bear down on the poaching and trafficking of wildlife. We were fortunate to be granted several million pounds specifically to fund projects around the world which contributed to this effort. That money was wisely and effectively spent. We also organised a conference at Lancaster House in February 2014, convened by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and attended by both his sons as well as—I think I recall—four heads of state and government Ministers from over 40 countries. This conference was followed by one the following year in Kasane in Botswana, which I attended on behalf of the British Government, and one a year later in Hanoi. There will be one again next year, again in London.
Our commitment should be in no doubt, and we have made some progress. Savannah elephant populations in parts of southern Africa are even now expanding, with almost 300,000 elephants now roaming across the sub-region. Enforcement is now better co-ordinated and punishments have been made stricter—but more, of course, must be done. Consumer countries such as China and Vietnam have become engaged. Indeed, the Chinese Government this year announced plans to ban their domestic ivory trade, with exemptions for cultural relics. However, there is much still to do.
I am now chairman of LAPADA, the art and antique dealers’ trade association. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring organisation, has published a survey which found that the number of market stalls offering ivory for sale had declined by approximately two-thirds since 2004, and that the number of items offered for sale had halved. No new or raw ivory was seen in any of the physical market outlets or online platforms. The Government now propose a total ban on sales of ivory, with targeted exemptions. Incidentally, I assume that the Government have an answer to those such as the US Government’s Fish and Wildlife Service, whose website says:
“We know those items created long ago aren’t threatening today’s wild elephants”.
Assuming that the Government’s ears are blocked to that point, the exemption on the grounds of historical, cultural and artistic significance seems reasonable, and, if enacted as currently proposed, should protect the interests of owners of works of art who would otherwise be deprived of the value of their possessions by an indiscriminate ban. However, the proposed de minimis exemption warrants further consideration. The question has to be: where does the cut-off level fall, and how is it to be measured? There are many valuable and precious items which it is technically feasible to date so as to demonstrate that they have had no effect on recent or current populations of elephants, but which may nevertheless have a significant ivory content.
I can show the Minister a number of examples of such items: for instance, a 1720 George I games table in respect of which the de minimis level would need to be set at 20% for it not to be caught, or an 1890 ivory inlaid hardwood Anglo-Indian octagonal table, where the de minimis level would need to be set at 50% for it not to be caught. Above those respective levels these items would need certification as being deemed of genuine artistic, cultural or historic significance, which they might well not qualify for, which would mean they would be unsaleable and therefore worthless, and which could ultimately lead to them being destroyed. That would be an act of vandalism. Unless the cut-off is set at a meaningful level, many thousands of these sorts of items may go the same way. There would also be a question over whether the Government would be breaching the human rights of those who owned them.
The Government have said that they do not want to continue to rely on the current 1947 cut-off date, after which worked ivory cannot be sold, but this could offer the key to resolving what might otherwise be a thorny problem. I urge the Minister to consider the fact that 1947 is now 70 years ago, and that it is technically feasible to age—and then certificate—ivory.
I strongly encourage everyone on all sides of the argument to respond to the consultation, which closes on 29 December, providing as much detailed evidence as they can, to enable the Government to assess the impact of the exemptions. It is vital that they are precise, proportionate and workable. If they are, the impact on objects whose significance depends not on their ivory content but on their status as works of art should be limited. However, the far more numerous ivory carvings of no recognisable artistic, cultural or historical significance, generally produced in huge numbers for a tourist market, should not fall within any of these exemptions and should therefore be banned from sale. My concern, as I have said, centres on items which fall between the two.
I will say a final word on portrait miniatures, in which I declare a personal interest, having a small collection. Dating from about 1700 until about 1900—when a celluloid substitute replaced the need for ivory—they were typically painted on wafer-thin slivers of ivory. They are numerous in British private collections and there are dealers who specialise entirely in them. I hope that the idea of an exemption for these, which would obviate the difficulty of attempting a judgment as to whether a miniature falls within one of the other exemptions when the volume of ivory is almost impossible to assess without damaging the piece, would not be too controversial. The ivory element in portrait miniatures is of no possible application to any alternative use.
I completely share the Government’s objective of eliminating the poaching of elephants and indeed other rare wild animals. However, the kind of works of art that my trade association’s members are involved in selling are unconnected with the illicit market and it would be disproportionate to prevent the sale of such works of art simply because they are associated with ivory as a substance. This point is acknowledged by those in the NGOs with whom my colleagues have been in discussion.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on bringing this Motion to the House and on this debate, and I welcome my ex-colleague, my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe; we await with interest what he will say in his maiden speech.
Nobody who has been to Africa and has seen the distinction of the noble beast, the elephant, and then seen how their tusks have been torn from the body, could fail to be moved. Unfortunately, I have seen that on a number of occasions and have seen the difficulty faced by the anti-poaching squads as they try to enforce the law and restrict this type of activity.
The debate over the total ban versus the strict structure of exemptions for the sale of ivory in the United Kingdom is fraught with some credible arguments on each side, some of which we have already heard. The international trade in ivory has been illegal since 1990, but currently United Kingdom law allows trade in “antiques” carved before 1947 or items worked before 1990 that have government certificates. In September 2016, the then Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom pledged to ban the sale of items carved before 1990 but not before 1947, although to date no progress has been made on implementation.
In October 2017, the Government bowed to pressure to prohibit the sale of pre-1947 ivory. As we have heard, Defra is currently running a three-month consultation on the ban, with current proposals by the Government to include exemptions on the sale of ivory for a number of antique items such as musical instruments, items of significant cultural value and those containing only a small amount of ivory.
A recent poll carried out by Kantar TNS and commissioned by a group of nine non-governmental organisations found that 85% of the British public support a ban on all sales of ivory. As we have heard, the United Kingdom is the biggest exporter of legal ivory in the world. Some argue—quite rightly, I guess—that shutting down the trade will help prevent illegal ivory being laundered by criminals. We might hear a little more about that from my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe. However, to put it in another way, and as we heard early on, 50 elephants are killed every day by poachers, and the population of African elephants plunged by a third between 2007 and 2014 alone, leading, as we heard, to fears of extinction. That is an absolute fact.
Those who support the continued sale of antique ivory, including the British Antique Dealers’ Association, agree with the Government that a proposal of a system of certification for antique ivory is the way forward. This system is favoured by some collectors as it would allow genuine antique artworks to continue to be sold, and they say that the system of certification would raise funds to contribute to the fight against elephant poaching. Antique dealers have claimed that a licensing system would take “90% of the junk” out of the sales in auction houses at present.
Critics of this system argue that modern or faked ivory artworks would still be able to be sold in the United Kingdom, just without a certificate, thereby defeating the purpose of the system as a means of banning the sale of modern ivory. Furthermore, it would be difficult to administer due to the difficulties which have been shown in distinguishing genuine articles from fakes. We have already heard a bit about that. Therefore, a total ban of all ivory sales appears a far simpler and cheaper option to administer.
Some who support a total ban argue that the sale of antique ivory boosts the profile of the commodity as a luxury and valuable status symbol, thus driving people to invest in modern ivory pieces. Antiques experts dismiss this claim as they say there is no evidence that the demand for modern ivory carvings is inspired by the price of antiques. However, it could be argued that it appears to be common sense that the value of these objects is circular to some extent, and the historic value of the commodity is surely part of the allure for those who are perhaps beginning to build a private collection with modern ivory.
Those who support a total ban also claim, following a study they commissioned, that there is a lack of expertise in identifying and dating ivory, and that much newly poached ivory is slipping through the net and being sold as antique. Certainly, on a recent visit to Vietnam, I could see some evidence of that taking place in that country. Antiques experts concede that, although there is perhaps a lack of expertise in some provincial areas of the United Kingdom, the main auction houses and specialist dealers, mainly based in London, have confidence in dating procedures, which will allow people to know the date and age of the ivory. The question is: what happens if the certification route is taken? The answer is that it will be absolutely essential that the expertise already in London is allowed to percolate to other parts of the country so that those involved are educated and empowered to be responsible for the classification, if that is the route that the Government wish to take.
Campaigners argue that the demand for ivory is fuelled in part by the UK’s legal ivory market, and that this encourages the poaching of an estimated 20,000 elephants per year. As I have said, the results of opinion polls suggest that a total ban on the sale of ivory should take place. Campaigners argue that if a ban is taken forward, any antique piece of ivory that is historically and culturally significant and which the public want to see should be placed in a museum. However, I think it will be quite hard to pursue that line.
As has been said, globally there has been significant progress in the last few years in the attempt to reduce the demand for ivory. In December 2016, China, home of the world’s largest legal and illegal ivory markets, announced that it will ban the domestic trade by the end of 2017. We watch this space to see whether that takes place. In June this year, Hong Kong, the largest city market for ivory, published a Bill to ban the ivory trade by 2021. In October, as we have heard, there will be a very important major international conference on the illegal wildlife trade, bringing global leaders to London to put forward their views. Surely the Minister will agree that this is an opportunity for us to take the lead in setting the standards and outlining in detail where we are going in terms of the domestic laws that need to be put in place. Surely this country needs to take the high ground in relation to this disgraceful butchery—I do not hold my words back, having seen the butchering of magnificent animals.
My Lords, I rise to speak for the first time in your Lordships’ House. Many noble Lords may remember feeling as I do now, but without fear there is no courage, and therefore I shall plunge on. I should probably have made sure that my maiden speech was not preceded by the maiden speech of a former President of the Supreme Court, variously and accurately described as “brilliant” and “excellent” and as having been delivered with great flair. Again, I will plunge on. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for this important debate on the impact of the trade in ivory on animal welfare.
Recently, during my first appearance on the BBC’s “Question Time”, a poor woman collapsed just after my contribution. The programme ended early for the first time in 30 years. Your Lordships can rest easy on their Benches—I will be neither contentious nor lengthy.
I thank many people for assisting me in my introduction to this House. My supporters, the noble Lords, Lords Alton and Lord Dholakia, are different men with common traits of sincerity, courage and judgment. I hope that noble Lords will understand if, first, I need to thank the police who keep us safe here. I also thank the doorkeepers, our catering staff, and Black Rod and his team—in fact, everyone who has helped me to negotiate my first steps through the maze of these corridors. I have found it a warm place. I find myself surprised to be standing here at all, and I am sure that many of your Lordships will have a similar feeling—perhaps even about their own elevation.
I was born in the great city of Sheffield, the proud son of a single unmarried mother. I grew up initially in a slum clearance house adjacent to the stainless steel works that made Sheffield’s name, followed by various council flats in the city. I mention my start only to emphasise that I have never judged people by their wealth, their status or their start in life—only by how they treat other people. A privileged start is no guarantee that a person will have a happy life; nor will a challenging start inevitably make someone caring or socially aware.
After school, I worked for a short time for the National Health Service in a histopathology lab. However, I was hungry for challenges and, looking for excitement, I joined the police. The police were and remain my heroes, stepping in to confront bullies. The routine is never predictable. Every day one meets new people and crises. I loved my 38 years as a police officer. I have walked the streets of Sheffield, Liverpool and London. I found I was good at arresting thieves and burglars. I have never lost the thrill of arresting the bad guy to protect the good guy.
I remember one night being angry at being taken away from my foot patrol to sit with a prisoner. The night before I had chased and caught a car thief. I was sure I would do so again that night. Little did I know that the man whom I sat with for a few hours was the Yorkshire Ripper. An interesting conversation took place.
I have arrested someone at every rank. I was the only chief constable in Merseyside to accompany the winner of the Grand National on horseback. In the Met, I uniquely patrolled with mounted branch at every London football ground—even Millwall, which I have to say I found to be incredibly peaceful, with caring staff and supporters, and I wrote to the chairman to point that out.
The police supported me through an education at Merton College, Oxford. I will always be grateful and will be their champion, but not without seeing their flaws at times. My colleagues and friends will always agree that one of my traits is to be challenging—and sometimes they mean it in a kindly way. I hope to bring that skill to this House, combining it with the ability to listen, enabling me to be both passionate and caring in my judgment.
We need to apply forensic judgment to the trade in ivory. At present, the bad guys are getting away with it. As we have heard, the poachers are slaughtering an elephant every 25 minutes—equivalent to 20,000 elephants a year. The largest demand for ivory worldwide is from China, Thailand and Vietnam. However, as noble Lords have already said, we must accept that legal domestic ivory markets contribute to this horror in two ways: by fuelling demand for ivory and by providing a hiding place for illegal modern ivory to be laundered through the legal market, and the UK is a significant trading place for legal ivory.
In those circumstances, I want to make it clear that I support a total or quasi ban on the trading of ivory in the UK for both domestic sale and export. I could support a total ban on ownership but there are still so many unanswered questions, as has been sketched out here today, about how to implement such a ban. In this connection, I would like to make the following points.
First, if it were only the UK that implemented a ban, how could this be effective worldwide? Until 2015, the UK had the largest amount of ivory exports in the world by a very significant degree. This unexplained trend started in 2010. Even today, we account for four times more ivory trading than the next country on the supply league table. So, both practically and symbolically, our effort would have a significant worldwide effect.
However, as we have heard, innocent owners of antique and modern ivory could at a stroke lose significant assets and might have a reasonable claim for compensation from the state. Great works of art might be lost or destroyed. Therefore, until I hear clearer answers to how a total ban on ownership might be implemented, I will reserve judgment.
I support the government proposals to ban the trade in ivory in the UK, but with three considerations that are important for me. First, the proposals talk entirely of banning sales but not gifts. If gifts and exchange are still allowed then a ban may be harder to police. It also provides a potential defence to allow a suspect to claim that they transferred the ivory to a new owner but did not sell it to them.
Secondly, I would want to see far more emphasis placed on recovering criminal assets from ivory poachers and those they sell to. I know from experience, as will police officers here and those I have worked with, that organised crime is always about profit. Criminals may trade in drugs, sometimes human beings, firearms or, as we have heard today, ivory, but always for profit. Take out the cash and you stop the crime; follow the cash and you will find the criminal.
Finally, I am concerned by one of the four exemptions to banning the sale of ivory, which proposes continuing to allow the sale of items of artistic, cultural or historic significance. In my view that is too subjective and too broadly drawn. I worry about the ability of the trade entirely to police itself.
I thank your Lordships for your patience and support in this, my first speech in this place. I greatly look forward to contributing to the important work that the House undertakes to keep our people safe, healthy and economically strong.
My Lords, it is my pleasure to congratulate my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe on his most impressive and thought-provoking maiden speech. I assure him that there is no chance of my collapsing. My noble friend is well qualified in opening his innings in your Lordships’ House given his very distinguished career as former Metropolitan Police Commissioner. As he mentioned in his speech, law enforcement is pivotal to the debate on ivory. A major challenge in the ivory trade is clearly to distinguish and identify between legal and illegal ivory. We look forward to my noble friend’s future contributions in your Lordships’ House and we warmly welcome him.
I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham, for introducing this topical debate. I declare a strong interest, having served as a trustee of Tusk Trust for over 20 years, and now as a member of the international advisory board. With the Government’s consultation on the proposed ban on the sale of ivory closing on 29 December, this debate is extremely opportune. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, mentioned the importance of education. One of the core objectives of Tusk is not just to try to reduce illegal poaching but to educate local communities on the important of ecotourism.
The staggering statistics of the decline in elephant populations over the last 10 years, caused in the main by poaching, are extremely chilling. As all noble Lords have mentioned, approximately 20,000 elephants a year are being killed in Africa alone for their ivory—that is one every 25 minutes. Just as alarming—I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, mentioned this—10 years ago there were 150,000 forest elephants in Africa; now, 70% have been killed, with Gabon being the last stronghold. I will return to talk more about Gabon. The tusks of forest elephants are more in demand than those of savanna elephants, as the ivory is more durable and easier for the carvers. If remedial action is not taken now, the forest elephants of Africa could soon be extinct in many countries.
There is global consensus that legal domestic ivory markets contribute to the illegal wildlife trade by increasing the demand for ivory items and providing the opportunity for illegal modern ivory to be laundered through the legal markets. Therefore. I warmly welcome the Government’s proposals to ban ivory sales in the UK, with the few exemptions that several noble Lords have already outlined. I support the exemption for sale of items containing a de minimis amount of ivory, particularly furniture, along with the exemptions for musical instruments and sales to and from museums. Clearly there needs to be a pragmatic approach. I am not advocating a ban on sales of all antique ivory, nor the destruction of existing ivory pieces, nor a ban on ownership or on inheritances. I take the important point of my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe that as far as gifts are concerned, there could be a grey area for illicit trade. However, I do not support the licensing system, which I believe is open to abuse and likely to be vague, subjective and complicated to administer and enforce.
As my noble friend Lord Stevens mentioned, it is noteworthy that in recent polling at the beginning of December, 86% of the UK public supported a ban on the buying and selling of ivory in the UK. As royal patron of Tusk, the Duke of Cambridge has played a pivotal role in highlighting the crisis facing elephants and other species that have been decimated as a result of the illegal wildlife trade. There is no doubt that the diplomatic efforts of Her Majesty’s representatives, including the Duke of Cambridge, in China in 2015 contributed to the bold decision by President Xi Jinping to implement a ban on the ivory trade from the end of this year. Sadly, our diplomatic efforts in Vietnam last year have not been as fruitful.
I would like to revert briefly to the situation in Gabon. The country is facing an increasing number of highly armed militarised poachers, who are linked with human trafficking and drug trafficking. Our Army has recently developed a relationship with the Gabonese Government to provide training for anti-poaching. I urge that this training be scaled up from short courses to long-term sustained mentoring, with training embedded in Gabon.
In conclusion, next October, the UK will be hosting the next international Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference. It is pivotal that we implement the ban on ivory sales in the United Kingdom, with the proposed exemptions, as soon as possible. If we do not take a leadership role and send a strong signal, there is a real danger that we shall run out of time. We do not want to be the generation responsible for the extinction of elephants in many countries in Africa.
My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Lord, and I agree entirely with him and everybody else who has spoken about the importance of the African elephant, the Asian elephant and the despicable crimes committed by poachers. I saw an item on the “ITV News” earlier this week, and the most chilling aspect was the proof of collusion between the wardens and the poachers.
We have to put this debate in some sort of perspective. It is very easy to jump to the conclusion of banning everything. A friend of mine used to have a little notice on his desk: impossibilities I do at once, miracles take a little longer—doubtless the Bishops would agree with that. However, just because we have a difficult problem, we should not necessarily panic and rush to what seems the obvious conclusion: a total ban on everything. I am very glad that the Government have acknowledged that in their consultation. I took part in the consultation. I wrote to the Secretary of State and had a very courteous reply. It is very important that we look at the picture in the round.
Of course, it is right to exempt great works of art. Some of the greatest carvings of the Middle Ages are in ivory. Who would wish, should another set appear, to destroy the Lewis chessmen? It would be totally absurd and ridiculous. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, indicated when she spoke, destroying an antique item of enormous worth does not bring any elephant back to life. It is right for the Government to recognise that in items of high museum quality. But the history of this and every other nation—I am talking primarily in the context of European nations—is not merely encapsulated in what we can admire in museums any more than the great features of my wonderful Lincoln Cathedral, which I look at every day when I am at home, are typical of every parish church. There are literally tens of thousands of items carved in ivory or painted on ivory, which are part of the warp, weft and fabric of our civilisation.
Of course, I am delighted that the Government seemed to have indicated, and the WWF has done likewise, that miniatures should also be exempt, but I would take it a stage further. I was musing only the other day on a moment that I had in the city of Caen many years ago when I picked up in an antique shop an exquisite carving of the Virgin Mary. It was attributed to the Dieppe school. The largest museum of carved ivory in the world is in Dieppe. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries—indeed, going right back to the end of the Middle Ages—Dieppe was where some of the finest ivory carving was done in Europe. The other place was Paris. Many of those items were made for domestic adornment or as objects of devotion and veneration. They help to tell the story of our civilisation. To say that there should be no opportunity to acquire those things in the future would be a foolish response.
Another aspect of our civilisation is illustrated. There was a great carver of ivory called David le Marchand, born in Dieppe. He left Dieppe shortly after 1685 when Louis XIV revoked the edict of Nantes, which withdrew protection from, and toleration of, French Protestants. He came over here and many of his finest works were here. Many of his ivory portraits were of great Englishmen such as John Locke, Isaac Newton and many others. We would fail future generations if we connived at the simplistic, total ban that would prevent the sale of those things as well as their ownership. I am glad that no one at the moment is advocating a ban on ownership, but it is the next step on a slippery path if we are not careful. I urge noble Lords to take that most carefully into account.
No words can explain fully how much I deplore the destruction of these noble beasts and the pernicious activities of those who destroy them. But in the past there were those who did carve exquisite and wonderful things. We could move from high art to folk art and the scrimshaws carved by sailors who were often whalers. We do not approve of whalers now—I certainly do not—but this is part of our maritime history. Without knowledge of these things, our young people cannot fully understand our cultural history. It has been said that we should never trade. I am delighted to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, to the House. He cast doubt on gifts. He knows better than anyone that a crook can get around anything. Many of these things have passed through families. They are part of the story of the family. What if the family comes to an end? I heard of a man who had a collection of miniatures, not one of which was probably worth more than a couple of thousand pounds, but they were his sole assets. Are we seriously saying in your Lordships’ House that he cannot do what he wishes with his own? That verges on intellectual tyranny.
I favour a licensing system. Any licensing system will be imperfect. A Leonardo was sold the other week for hundreds of millions of dollars, and there are many, and I am one of them, who doubt that it really is entirely the work of the master. But even though there may be certain problems with the licensing system it should not be beyond the wit of man to draw up a licensing system that calls on only the greatest experts, which certainly restricts the number of outlets through which ivory can be sold. But it does at least allow a legitimate traffic in that which was carved or from centuries ago. I hope that the Government will take time, when the consultation period is over to recognise that the immediate knee-jerk reaction, which may be a total ban, is not necessarily the right reaction. We have the duty not only to preserve the flora and fauna of the present, but to preserve the art of the past. I rest my case.
My Lords, I do not feel well qualified to speak on this, given the knowledge that has been poured out, but I want to make a couple of points and thank the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for this useful debate. I have certainly learned a huge amount.
First, I agree with all the stuff that has been said about the destruction of the world’s cultural heritage. That would be a terrible thing. It would be an irreplaceable waste of hours of work and also skills that have been lost in some cases. We may not appreciate until later what skills they are. Two things really worry me. One is that it is impossible to set rules that cover every single artefact. It is often a case of artistic opinion. Flexibility will be required. We have heard how one table might require one proportion and another might require another. There are so many exceptions. In a complex world and with the complexity of the stuff out there, we must be careful not to have very strict rules—which is the opposite of what one noble Lord said earlier. They need to be highly flexible and we need to have a method of making flexible judgments.
The other trouble is that experts have their own biases, and tastes change as life moves on between the generations. Looking back, Georgian things were thought of as great and people turned their noses up at art deco and more recent things; there were times when some of the art was regarded as pretty nasty. I will be very interested to see what happens to the modern art that some people think will not be looked at in 10 or 100 years’ time and will disappear. We just do not know what will happen in future generations. I do not know whether the scrimshaw mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is regarded as something that we should preserve. I can think of many experts who would probably say that they are just little carvings of unknown sailors and ask why they are of interest.
The second thing that worries me is effectiveness. Will it work? Will it help the elephants? The whole point—with which I entirely agree—is that we are trying to preserve a great, noble species that is currently being poached out of existence in the most horrendous ways. It worries me that sometimes the cry of “something must be done” leads to things that do not quite work, because people cannot think of anything better to do and feel powerless. What will this do? Will it move markets abroad to countries that do not really care and create a market there? Will it drive things underground, so the situation does not get any better? If anything, ivory could then fall into the hands of criminals and the criminal fraternity, which would make things worse.
A typical example of that is the war on drugs, which has not worked. I will not go into that, but some of these things put things in the hands of criminals and make everything worse. That is what is happening at the moment because, by creating scarcity, we make things more valuable and expensive. Then suddenly there is an incentive for criminals to spend a lot of money on doing something with it. I wonder: is there no way of farming ivory in such a way as to create a glut on the market and push down its value so that it is not worth financing gangs of poachers? I suspect there is not, or people would have done it. But is there a way for us to incentivise local people when they own herds of elephants by giving them intense support and letting them keep the profits, thus giving them a real reason to guard their animals? Sometimes destruction is not the way to create scarcity; we often see that a glut pushes the price of things down.
As for burning ivory, a brilliant artist said to me last night that, historically, burnt ivory was one of the great black pigments and it has properties that cannot be replaced by burnt bones and other such things that have been tried since. She asked us, if we are going to burn the ivory, to at least use it to make great black pigment, so the animals will not die for nothing.
My Lords, we are indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for bringing this subject to us as the final full debate of 2017. As contributions to the debate—and the noble Lord’s excellent and nuanced opening contribution—have shown, this issue is complex. Perhaps if there had been a simple solution, such as the removal of one trade in one good by an act of regulation, it would have been done and been successful. However, the fact that we are debating this and that the Government have a live consultation on UK government policy, which Parliament will debate fully, shows that this issue touches on great complexities. We are grateful to the noble Lord for bringing the issue forward.
The issue touches on interrelated issues that perhaps sum up some of our ethical questions in this early part of the 21st century: the growth of human development in Africa and Asia; greater understanding of the fragility of nature and wildlife; the success of conservation; conversely, the recent growth in illegal hunting and poaching; and the connections with organised crime. The connections between all these things exist in many vulnerable economies in Africa and Asia. The associated trade of materials sourced from the death of a now heavily protected animal touches on ethics and history.
As the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and other noble Lords said, we see ivory in the historical aesthetic and decorative arts. We also see it in all classes, from some of the items described by the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley—the most beautiful and expensive and valuable products—to what in many respects are humble objects, such as the Sheffield steel cutlery with ivory handles that my granny had, which was brought out only when family guests came round because she thought that was the posh cutlery. From the most lavish households to the most humble, it is a ubiquitous product—perhaps even including on the Clerks’ Table in this Chamber, where I see an ivory product.
I have seen that complexity in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, which is full of breathtaking ivory ball carvings. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, and others indicated, the sight of carcasses of a beautiful animal in Africa also touches on some of the elements and contradictions of humanity. Since this is a complex issue, perhaps it is understandable that the Government’s consultation has taken time to be brought about; it will not be easy for the Government to bring forward legislation. I reiterate the question posed by my noble friend Lady Bakewell: I hope that in his response to the debate the Minister will outline the timeframe post completion of the consultation on 29 December, and indicate when legislation and proposals are likely to be brought forward. The Government are committed to going beyond what we signed up for in the 1976 CITES agreement and existing EU regulations, which themselves go beyond the original legislation from over 40 years ago.
Few debates in this House can avoid Brexit and this is no exception. Perhaps only a Liberal Democrat can bring Brexit into an issue such as this. Nevertheless, if the Government do not bring forward legislation on the ivory trade that will be passed before we leave the European Union—if we leave the European Union—there will need to be clarity as to whether our commitments under the Control of Trade in Endangered Species Regulations 1997 will be covered in the withdrawal legislation and absorbed into UK legislation, or whether we will be able to amend our legislation prior to Brexit, which will then supersede the 1997 regulation.
The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, outlined the depressing fact that while activity to reduce poaching has increased, the level of illegal killing in Africa in particular has also increased. As many Peers across all Benches said, CITES shows, in a 2016 audit, the real decline of the African elephant. There are considered to be 111 fewer animals now than there were 10 years ago. This is over 37 African elephant ranges, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, but 12 elephant populations are reported to have been lost in their entirety over the last decade. While the Asian elephant population is about a 10th of the size of the African population, there remain areas of great vulnerability too.
Development support is therefore needed, not just on trade, policing and law and order. On policing, the UK has taken a considerable leading role in anti-poaching technology, as the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said. I have seen this for myself in southern Africa. Also, those economies, populations and communities have been affected not only by the positive element of tourism to see these animals in their natural beauty, but by poaching and illegal activity.
That has led Zimbabwe and Namibia in particular, which have relatively healthy elephant populations, to argue within the African community that there is a different approach from an all-out ban. They had an attempt last year during the CITES COP to argue a different case—that they were able to sell a surplus of ivory from natural death or accrued from poaching so that funds raised can have a positive impact on communities close to elephants themselves. I had the fortune to be in Namibia in February and met a parliamentary committee making that case. This is an issue not simply to do with the markets where this ivory is traded, but the communities affected by elephants. However, it is the case that that attempt through the CITES process was unsuccessful. The grouping of 29 African countries now has a unanimous position when it comes to supporting a trade.
Even in India, where I had the benefit of being in communities affected by elephant populations last year, there is again a complex relationship with the elephant. Some communities see them as providing a net damage. There have been killings not through poaching, but through human development. Part of the growth of the deaths of elephants—in particular females, which do not produce ivory—has been because of human development and conflict. Therefore, we should not lose sight of development issues. For any solution or proposal that the UK can bring on our domestic trade, I hope there will also be a development argument. As the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, said, one of the benefits of the UK’s leadership has been that we have not separated out trade, crime and development. We have integrated them all together.
When we think that illegal trade in wildlife in its totality is valued at around $20 billion a year, according to CITES, this is a massive issue—one where, depressingly, as we have heard, the UK plays a significant role. It is depressing because, as we have heard, exports of ivory items from the UK is, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said in his excellent maiden speech, four times higher than the next highest exporter, the United States. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, said, there is movement with China and Hong Kong, so there are some elements of positive news, but as he also said—I agree entirely; perhaps only a copper can say this— we have to make sure that they keep by the rules. Therefore, the pressure needs to be maintained. As the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, follow the money. In many respects, it is linked to organised crime. When he made that point I was able to reflect on when I was in Namibia. At the time there was an open letter from the grouping of environmental charities in Namibia to the Chinese embassy, in particular asking the Chinese Government to stop turning a blind eye to those coming from China to trophy hunt elephants in the African southern hemisphere. It is a case of not simply passing new regulations but ensuring that they are enforced and adhered to.
To conclude, in a very good contribution, the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, cited the influential work of UK soft power. He did so by referencing the very good work of the Duke of Cambridge. It is worth repeating a contribution the Duke made to the Tusk Trust last year so that it is on the official record. He said:
“In my lifetime we have seen global wildlife populations decline by over half. Africa’s rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050—a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month. There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure. Urbanisation, infrastructure development, cultivation—all good things in themselves, but they will have a terrible impact unless we begin to plan and to take measures now”.
He went on:
“There is a global conversation happening about how to make our world more liveable”.
It should be liveable for humans but also for animals.
Whereas in the past, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others have said, we could admire and marvel at the beauty of human creativity and artistry in these materials—as I have myself appreciated—I hope we can move beyond admiring the beauty of what we as humans cleaved and wrenched from the elephant to admiring ivory, now and in the future, in its most beautiful form: on the animals themselves.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for tabling this debate today and for giving us the opportunity to discuss how best to protect the dwindling elephant population from illegal poachers. I, too, welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, who made a passionate maiden speech and is clearly going to make an important contribution to shaping our policy on this and other issues in the years ahead. I look forward to working with him.
I had hoped that this last debate of our winter term would be an opportunity to discuss something about which we could all agree, but, as it has gone on, I have found myself mired in the complexities and nuances that a number of noble Lords have raised. It has led me to conclude that the only way in which we will address the need to have some sort of ban on the ivory trade and to stop the slaughter of elephants is to have something that is operable, simple and deliverable. The more I listened to noble Lords, the more I felt that the Government’s initial approach, which was to have a simple answer on this, is the way forward; otherwise, we will end up with something that simply cannot be policed. This is the real challenge for us.
On that basis, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that we are very much in favour of the ivory ban that is now the subject of the Government’s consultation. It is an issue that we have championed for some time and we very much welcome the Secretary of State’s determination to act on this cruel and unnecessary slaughter and the terms in which he has so far expressed the debate. As a number of noble Lords have said, this is an issue that also has huge popular support, with a recent survey showing that three-quarters of the UK public want a ban on the trade in ivory.
As a number of noble Lords have recognised, we are facing a crisis of elephant conservation, as elephant populations across Africa continue to decline. The Great Elephant Census, published in August 2016, showed that 144,000 were lost to ivory poaching and habitat destruction in less than a decade. Many of those elephant killings are carried out by illegal poachers. It has become big business for criminal gangs, who do not countenance local people or conservationists getting in their way and often have their own ways of dealing with them when they come across them. So they are not nice people. They are drawn by the huge profits available from the growing south-east Asia market and by those who successfully manage to disguise new ivory for antique ivory, which is creating an ever growing demand. That is the crux of the problem: how do we differentiate between the two? There is a real concern that, if this trend continues, African elephants will no longer exist in the wild and sightings for our next generation will be reduced to zoos and safari parks. I do not think that anybody wants that. It would be a tragedy for such magnificent and intelligent animals.
We welcome the new determination of the Government to take action on our domestic ivory trade and to play our part internationally to halt this cruel trade. Of course, as a number of noble Lords have said, this is a global issue, which can ultimately be resolved only on the international stage. I am sure that our Government will continue to play a role in the various multilateral discussions that cover this trade, particularly the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
However, we know that a number of African countries, including Zimbabwe and Namibia, are keen to reintroduce a trade in ivory. I hope that our Ministers will continue to resist this pressure. I also hope that we have learned the lesson from the previous CITES decision to permit two one-off sales of ivory stocks, which subsequently reignited a poaching crisis and made matters worse. Next year’s international conference on the ivory trade is a critical opportunity for the UK Government to show leadership; it is a one-off opportunity for us to take leadership on an international stage and set the scene for how this issue should be dealt with globally.
I hope that our Ministers will congratulate the Chinese Government on taking a heroic stand in banning ivory sales despite the country’s historic cultural identity with carved ivory art. At the same time, I hope that Ministers will send a message to President Trump that they abhor his decision to reverse the ban and allow big game trophies, including elephant heads and tusks, to be imported into the US again. Of course, it is no coincidence that his sons have been pictured with big game that they have killed, but it is a huge setback to the cause of animal conservation.
In the UK, the Government’s current consultation on the ban is due to finish in December, as we know. I am sure that the Minister will be able to update us on the progress being made and I hope that he can reassure us that the Government have received widespread support for the initiative and that their commitment remains strong. It is clear from today’s debate that all noble Lords recognise the need to protect our dwindling elephant population through a ban on imports of new ivory. The issue of debate is what, if any, exemptions should remain for the trading of existing ivory stocks. For our part, we support a clear ivory trade ban and the end of the distinction between ivory carved before and after 1947. As noble Lords will know, this proved impossible to police and ended up distorting the ivory market, with an influx of fake antiques.
We know that some auction houses are still unaware of what is legal and illegal under the current framework, as illustrated by the fact that Christie’s was fined in 2016 for offering unworked elephant ivory for sale. The truth is that many auction houses do not have the skills or the training to identify the age of an ivory carving. Examples were given of some auction houses that have that expertise, but it certainly is not true of all auction houses and dealers around the country. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said, in a recent survey of 72 auction houses, about 180 ivory lots, 90% were unable to provide satisfactory proof of age. This is going on all the time and the skills simply do not exist at the moment.
At the same time we expect rather too much of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and UK police forces in terms of the skills that they need to detect and eliminate fraudulent activity in ivory sales, including imports and exports. We believe that we need a simple and clear set of rules that does not allow ambiguity or loopholes in order to prevent the UK market from being a transit for illegal export to Asia. It is only by closing the markets that we can stop the poaching.
We understand the need for some small, practical exemptions, such as antique items with less than 5% ivory by volume, musical instruments containing less than 300 grams and antique miniatures. We also support the proposal that museums should be allowed to acquire and exchange ivory items, provided that they are not able to find their way back into private ownership and hence back on to the market: that is another challenge for us.
However, we cannot support the view expressed by several noble Lords today that items of artistic, cultural or historic value should be exempt. That is a real challenge: who is to determine which pieces meet that description? Self-certification is clearly open to fraud and a licensing system, as some noble Lords attempted to describe, would be cumbersome and would rely, again, on skills that auction houses simply do not have.
Other noble Lords talked about trying to define a work of art, but again, the case has been made that that is a subjective judgment. Very often it is about fashion—what is on trend or is valued in one year or one decade may change in the next. We feel that such a definition would be rather too vague and would make the ban meaningless in practice. At the end of the day, artistic merit is surely in the beholder’s eye and could be ascribed to any piece of carved ivory: we would have a real problem trying to police that definition.
I am also not sure that I accept that a trading ban would lead to the pieces being destroyed. If, as noble Lords have argued, they are of artistic value, then surely they will continue to be admired, regardless of any monetary value. Indeed, they will be passed down the generations or, if that is not possible, offered to museums, where they can have a wider audience and a wider enjoyment. On this issue, unusually, I tend to agree with Michael Gove, who said in launching the consultation:
“Ivory should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol”.
That is at the heart of the matter.
I know that this is not what a number of noble Lords want to hear, but sometimes we have to make tough decisions—decisions that can be implemented and policed. We believe that a ban on the commercial trade in ivory is a necessary prerequisite to tackling the slaughter of elephants. Anything less than that will create new loopholes which will undermine the whole point of the legislation.
It is great that the Government are thinking about taking action on the ivory trade, but I am still unclear, as were several other noble Lords, what mechanism will be needed to take the ban forward. If the consultation goes well, as I am sure it will, would such a ban need primary legislation or can it be enacted via secondary legislation? Can the Minister shed some light on what the timescale would be to follow this up? I do not wish to put a dampener on this point, but the Government have form on making promises on animal welfare issues that are not followed through. I am sure that the Minister will disabuse me of this, but I hope that he can reassure me that, if the consultation goes well, it will be acted on.
However, in closing, I reaffirm our support for the Government’s policy as declared so far and very much hope that they will hold firm to a complete ban, with a small number of exemptions of the kind that I have mentioned. I look forward to working with the Minister to make that ban a reality.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for securing this debate on ivory. The protection of endangered species around the world is a priority for this Government, as we reaffirmed in our manifesto earlier this year. Key to protecting endangered species is tackling the demand for wildlife products such as ivory.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, showed his humanity, courage and experience during his maiden speech. I am sure your Lordships would all agree that it is no surprise that the noble Lord is a Member of this House. His experience will be invaluable on so many matters.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, said, the illegal wildlife trade is a serious criminal industry. The illicit nature of the trade makes it challenging to value precisely. However, it is estimated to be worth up to £17 billion a year globally. It not only threatens some of the world’s most iconic species, such as elephants, with extinction, but damages economic growth and sustainable development. It is fuelled by corruption, which in turn undermines good governance and the rule of law.
The UK is committed to playing a leading role in tackling the illegal wildlife trade and the trade in illegal ivory, and we are working with our international partners to protect endangered species. The proposed ban on UK sales of ivory, and on its import and re-export, should build on the range of actions we already undertake across Africa and Asia, both to protect elephants and to tackle the demand for ivory. Already, as a matter of policy, we do not issue export permits for raw ivory—in other words, tusks—of any age. Our proposed ban will go even further than this. We want to bring an end to the poaching of elephants, and our proposed ban demonstrates that we are willing to take direct action in the United Kingdom.
Elephants are an important and iconic species that are revered by many people both in this country and across the world. They are extraordinary and emblematic creatures, playing a key role in the ecosystems of their range states. They disperse seeds crucial for new plant and tree life to grow. In forested areas they create gaps in the canopy, encouraging tree regeneration, and in the savannahs they clear tree and shrub species, allowing grass to grow which in turn provides food for other species. They are, therefore, essential to the very essence of the countries where they live.
The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, spoke of the forest elephants, yet every year the population of African savannah elephants alone declines by 20,000, primarily due to poaching. If this rate of poaching continues, elephants could become extinct within decades in some African countries. It is surely our duty to act to help protect this iconic species and assure its future in the wild. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, spoke movingly of their experiences. Indeed, I shall never forget seeing families of elephants in Africa in happier circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, spoke of the economic issues. The loss of elephants would deprive some of the poorest countries in the world of an invaluable natural asset, affecting economic growth and sustainable development. Research suggests that around £25 million in economic benefits each year for local communities has been lost because of the effects of poaching on tourism, especially in the savannah areas of east, southern and west Africa.
We must do everything we can to make sure that future generations do not inherit a world without elephants. It would be the worst of indictments on the human race and our generation if elephants no longer roamed in the wild. That is why, on 6 October, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced proposals to ban the sale in the UK and the import or re-export of items containing ivory that contribute directly or indirectly to the poaching of elephants. The proposals, on which we are currently publicly consulting, are designed to put the UK front and centre of global efforts to end the insidious trade in ivory. The Government are currently consulting on our proposals to ban UK sales of ivory. The consultation will end on 29 December, and I hope your Lordships will accept that I am not in a position to comment on the final scope of the proposed ban or, indeed, on how any exemptions could be defined at this juncture.
Turning to our proposals, as a starting point we aim to implement a total ban on UK sales of ivory where such sales could continue to contribute directly or indirectly to poaching today. We believe that only by taking robust and decisive action can we play our part in ending this appalling trade. My noble friend Lord De Mauley spoke of the 1947 cut-off date in the current regulations. We set out in our proposals that our intention is to ban all sales of ivory, regardless of age, unless an exemption applies, and that we intend our ban to go further than present rules.
We also recognise that there is a case for some items to be exempt from the ban, where the sale of such items would not contribute to the continued poaching of elephants and where a ban would be unwarranted. We have proposed four categories of exemptions: musical instruments; items containing a small amount of ivory; sales to and between museums; and items of historic, artistic or cultural significance. There have been suggestions today about how we might define these exemptions, such as a de minimis exemption defined as a specified percentage of the item by volume. My noble friend Lord De Mauley spoke of this. My noble friends Lord Carrington of Fulham and Lord De Mauley also spoke of portrait miniatures as a potential exemption. I hope noble Lords will understand that it is not possible for me to respond on these points, as the consultation is still ongoing.
My noble friend Lord Carrington of Fulham raised the important issue of protecting cultural heritage and suggested that items may be destroyed as a result of the proposed ban. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Cormack spoke of many examples of artistry. The proposed exemption for items of significant historic, artistic or cultural value would recognise that some items which contain, or are made of, ivory have an intrinsic value unrelated to their ivory content, be it the artistry or the historical provenance.
Through the consultation, we are working with the arts and antiques sectors, museums, environmental organisations and other interested parties to define the scope of the exemptions, such as our proposed exemption for items of historic, artistic and cultural value. I commend the constructive engagement that we have had from all of these sectors so far.
My noble friends Lord Carrington of Fulham and Lord Cormack spoke of a vetting or licensing system as a way to make sure only rare and important items can be sold under this exemption. We will consider all these proposals, of course, alongside those arising from the consultation.
I must emphasise that our objective is to protect elephants, and we want our ban to support that aim. We recognise that certain items cannot be said to fuel the modern-day demand for ivory that in turn fuels poaching, and we want to define our exemptions through the consultation so that they do not detract from our overarching objective. Similarly, we wish to work with all interested parties to develop effective and proportionate compliance and enforcement arrangements so that loopholes cannot be created or exploited.
We are not proposing to ban the ownership of ivory or that items should be destroyed. Many people will continue to use items containing ivory regardless of the ban on sales, and the gifting, bequeathing and inheriting of items that contain ivory will continue. We also do not intend to affect the ability of museums and other institutions to display ivory items to the public if they so wish.
By implementing a ban on the sales of ivory in the UK, we will help to lead global action to protect this iconic species. We will send a clear signal that the trade in ivory should be consigned to history and that we will not tolerate the trade in items that could fuel continued poaching. It will confirm to our partners around the world that we support their actions to stamp out the trade and, we hope, encourage others to follow suit. To our partners in the elephant range states of Africa and south Asia, it will confirm our support for their work to tackle poaching.
The majority of the modern-day demand for ivory comes from east Asia. Banning all but a very limited number of sales in the UK will greatly reduce the amount of ivory exported to this region, ivory which may serve to reinforce the status of the material or which may even be recarved to suit local markets. The proposed ban should also remove the opportunity for criminals to launder new or freshly poached ivory through the UK’s legal markets.
I very much register what the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, said about the need for global action. We welcome measures taken by other countries—a number of your Lordships mentioned China, currently the world’s biggest demand market for ivory, and its forthcoming restriction on the domestic ivory markets. It is only through such international commitment and global co-operation that we will end this brutal trade. Our proposals will be among the toughest in the world.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, raised the question of prices. There is early evidence to suggest that ivory prices have already started to fall in China since the announcement of the ban.
The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, also mentioned China and the demand in markets. It is absolutely correct that the UK needs to exert all diplomatic pressure and soft power in this area. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary raised this very issue with his Japanese counterpart only last week, and we continue to fund projects aimed at reducing demand in a number of east Asian countries.
I should also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defra will be speaking at a parliamentary reception with the Chinese embassy next month to mark the implementation of China’s ivory ban. This is an example of collaboration, which is absolutely essential.
A number of noble Lords—particularly, on the Opposition Front Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch—asked about next steps. As has been said, our consultation will end on 29 December, and we will look to publish a response to it shortly afterwards. I shall ensure that Defra considers the contributions that your Lordships have made today when finalising our proposals. We will need to implement our proposals through primary legislation, so there will need to be a Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.
Our proposed ban should be seen not in isolation but as part of a comprehensive response to protect elephants and other endangered species. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord De Mauley, my predecessor at Defra, whose experience of these matters has been very real. Four years ago, the UK held the first conference of global leaders on the illegal wildlife trade, IWT, in London. It was a marked success, and every attending country committed to a combined attack on the driving forces behind the illegal trade in wildlife, including ivory. Leaders agreed to recognise poaching and illicit trafficking as serious crime within national legislation. Several countries also introduced strict measures to halt the flow of illegal products, such as ivory, into their markets.
Our approach to tackling IWT includes supporting sustainable livelihoods, strengthening law enforcement and legal frameworks, and reducing the market. To support our global leadership on tackling illegal wildlife trade, Defra is investing £26 million to tackle IWT in countries that are most affected. We are providing funding to Interpol to expand its work on tracking and intercepting illegal shipments of ivory, rhino horn and other illegal wildlife products.
The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, referred to Defra funding the British military to provide tracker training for park rangers in key African countries, helping to ensure their effectiveness and safety while working to prevent elephants being poached for their ivory. I thank the noble Lord for his appreciation of the sterling work undertaken by members of the British Army in training rangers in Gabon, and we should be proud of their work and their achievements.
As my noble friend Lord De Mauley and a number of your Lordships said, next October we will be hosting the fourth international conference on tackling IWT. To be effective in tackling IWT, it is vital that Governments work with the private sector, academia and civil society. The conference will be a key opportunity to bring our combined expertise, innovation and technology to bear on this issue, and to maximise support for and action by countries directly affected by this criminal trade.
I hope it is clear from what I have said that tackling the illegal wildlife trade is a priority for the Government. The UK has been at the forefront of driving global efforts to safeguard the world’s most vulnerable species. This Government’s proposed ban on UK ivory sales reflects our continued commitment. We recognise the case for some limited exemptions from the ban, including in relation to the cultural heritage of certain ivory items. We are specifically inviting views on that as part of our current public consultation. The Government cannot predict the outcome of the consultation, but we are clear that the purpose of our ban is to the stop the brutal assault on these iconic creatures.
A ban would help to close legal ivory markets and therefore help to reduce the price of ivory and thus the incentive to poach, helping to prevent the killing of thousands of elephants each year. I hope noble Lords will agree that this is the right thing to do and will demonstrate the UK’s commitment and leadership in our efforts to conserve one of the world’s most iconic, beautiful and threatened species. Surely that is our first priority.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting, indeed an excellent debate. I thank all noble Lords who have participated, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, for his exemplary and excellent maiden speech. I took two things away from it. One was his comment about the difficulty of policing gifts, on which we all need to reflect, because it bears directly on whether ivory can be passed down from one generation to another successfully. The other is that he is from Sheffield. Sheffield was one of the great users of ivory in the 19th and the early part of the 20th century. There is barely a set of cutlery from that age which does not have ivory handles, as did that of the grandmother of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis; some are of very fine quality indeed.
There is unanimity across the House on the objective of protecting the elephant and other endangered animals that are sources of ivory. The question is how that can be achieved. I hear the doubt expressed about whether the ivory trade can be regulated in a way that will be effective in achieving our joint objective. I believe it can; I know that others believe it cannot. We need a proper study of whether a process of vetting—as I said in my speech, it is well practised in the antiques trade—coupled with a rigorous licensing system that takes out all the small auctioneers without expertise and the small dealers in trinkets, could achieve the objective we all want: preserving the elephant. With those comments, I commend the Motion.