The UK’s Ivory Bill is in Parliament!

One step closer to a UK ivory trade ban

On Monday, MPs in the House of Commons debated proposals to ban the UK’s ivory trade, at the Second Reading of the government’s proposed Ivory Bill.

We’ve long felt that there’s nothing really to debate here – in this day and age, it’s simply wrong to profit from the sale of dead elephant parts, especially when the trade is helping fuel poaching  – so it was wonderful to see that politicians agreed! The bill passed through the reading unopposed, with cross-party support.

This is welcome news, especially after all of the hard work that IFAW and you as our supporters have put in to getting an ivory ban. The fact that this has happened only six weeks after the consultation ended shows a real commitment to get this legislation through quickly, which we applaud. This will be one of the toughest ivory bans in the world and will contain a few very limited exemptions – fantastic progress for saving elephants.

I have to congratulate the Government and especially the drive and passion of the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, who IFAW met and made the case for key elements of the ban which were all included in the Bill.  He has listened and produced a very good bit of legislation, although there are a few areas which need tightening up. As I listened to the debate, I was uplifted by the huge amount of cross party support. This Bill has been championed by all parties and especially the British public and our supporters. Defra received over 70,000 responses during the consultation, making it one of the most responded to pieces of legislation in their history! 

The debate lasted for nearly three hours, but a few of my key takeaways were:

Everyone wants to see the Bill introduced quickly and have no delays. Ideally it will be on the statute books by October 2018 – fingers crossed!

In the debate there were clear commitments from Michael Gove that he would use the international illegal wildlife trade summit in October in order to encourage "maximum possible buy-in" to halting the trade in ivory and hopes Europe will follow our lead and use the UK’s ban as a template for their own. Representatives of other parties, such as Sue Hayman, the Shadow Environment Secretary, and Dr Lisa Cameron of the SNP, also spoke in favour of the Bill and highlighted the need for clarity around exemptions. Ms. Hayman also asked Mr Gove if there were plans to issue sentencing guidance alongside the legislation, which IFAW has been calling for some time.

One of the areas we have some concerns over is the Government's definition of items of ‘Historical, Artistic and Cultural significance’. Unless this exemption is very tightly defined, it could lead to a loophole that would allow some trade in ivory to continue. We will be bringing up these points and suggested changes during the committee stage of the Bill and have been asked to give evidence next week.

We were also pleased to hear Zac Goldsmith MP pointing out the growing problem of illegal wildlife trade moving online and calling for wildlife cybercrime to be included in the new legislation. Our latest report exposed the shocking scale of the online wildlife trade throughout the UK, Russia and Europe.

Enforcement was also raised in the debate. It’s vital that enforcement agencies be given sufficient support if this Bill is to be effective. National Wildlife Crime Unit funding expires in 2020; it was suggested that the Government should consider permanent funding for this important unit, as well as appropriate staffing level for the Border Force CITES team at Heathrow who are the front line of defence on the illegal wildlife trade. Michael Gove was very supportive, making us hopeful for more updates on this at the London IWT Conference in October.

Ivory surrender

So what happens next? The Bill will now pass to the ‘Committee Stage’ where  nitty gritty discussion of the details will take place so any necessary amendments can be made. The first evidence session will be heard next week and IFAW will be one of a handful or organisations who have been called to give evidence to tighten up the Bill. 

Thank you again to everyone who’s been a part of this campaign. We’ll keep you updated every step of the way until the ban finally becomes law and we can make ivory sales a thing of the past in this country.

--DC

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