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MPs push for wider consultation on domestic ivory market

Thursday 23 February 2017

On 6 February 2017, a second debate took place in Westminster Hall following the Government’s announcement in September that it will consult in the coming months on plans to ban modern-day ivory sales. The previous debate took place on 8 December 2016.

The debate was triggered by an e-petition which gained over 103,000 signatures and was led by Luke Hall (Conservative) MP. He opened the debate by making it clear that the issue was 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.” 

He went on to say that 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. 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.”

Mr Hall is leading the calls for the ban to go further by arguing, “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.”

He raised the issue of determining how to test the age of ivory and said, “Radiocarbon dating every piece of ivory would be hugely expensive and significantly increase the cost of the licensing regime.” Therefore Luke Hall is urging the Government, “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.”

London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade is due to take place next year

Pauline Lathan (Conservative) who spoke in the previous debate on this issue said, “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.”

Danny Kinahan (Ulster Unionist Party) explained, “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.”

The former Environment Secretary Owen Patterson was also in attendance and argued, “Sadly, the post-1947 ban has been overtaken by action in other countries, so we have to go for a near comprehensive ban. 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.”

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Dr Thérèse Coffey responded to the debate by saying. “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.”

Read a transcript of the debate in full here

We are monitoring the Government’s activity in this area and will inform NAVA Propertymark members of the consultation as soon as it has been released.