The Ivory Bill passes the Lords

On Tuesday 13th November the Government’s Ivory Bill had its third reading in the Lords and passed through to receive Royal Assent. This was a landmark piece of legislation to go some way towards protecting elephants, especially the African elephant, who are poached for their ivory. Currently approximately 20,000 elephants a year are still being slaughtered for their ivory. This unsustainable rate equates to one every 25 minutes. We have now reached the stage where more elephants are being killed by poachers, than live elephant calves are being born every year.

The aim of the Bill was to take most of the value out of trading in ivory and so make ivory objects worthless. All import and export of ivory, whether raw or in objects, is banned with four exceptions: –

  • Pre-1918 items of outstanding artistic value and pre-1918 portrait miniatures with a surface area of less than 320 square centimetres;
  • Pre-1975 musical instruments where the ivory is less than 20% of the total volume of the instrument;
  • Pre-1947 items with low ivory content with less than 10% ivory of the total volume; and
  • Acquisitions between qualifying museums

All items which qualify as exceptions must now be registered and have a licensed certificate which accompanies that item throughout its future ownership. There are heavy fines and the possibility of imprisonment for anyone found to be illegally trading in ivory.

As you might imagine there was a heavy rear-guard action by the antique ivory lobby to water down the Bill. The first of their votes to increase the amount of allowable ivory to 50% and 20% respectively, was heavily defeated by 323 votes to 20. There was no doubt in anyone’s minds that they were on to a losing streak in opposing the limitations in the Bill.

The passage of the Bill through all its stages in the Lords was an outbreak of cross-party working to make something happen to attempt to ensure the elephant survives. One of the most eloquent speakers in favour of the Bill was William Hague, now Lord Hague. Lord Hague’s experience and expertise was key to ensuring that waiverers, who had been lobbied by those with family and commercial ivory interests, were made to think twice.

The UK now leads the world in having the most stringent and restrictive laws in ivory dealing. It is hoped, and indeed expected, that other countries will now follow suit and pass similar pieces of legislation. In the past I had visited the elephant orphanage in Kenya, so this subject was very dear to my part. It was a great privilege to lead for the Liberal Democrats on this Bill and to work with other Party’s across the Chamber to ensure the Bill passed with very limited amendments.

* Baroness Cathy Bakewell is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson on DEFRA.

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This entry was posted in Parliament.


  • Richard Underhill 22nd Nov '18 - 1:57pm

    This issue should be progressed in the European parliament while we can,

  • Congratulations Baroness Bakewell on taking the lead for the Libdem group on this cross-party effort to steer this legislation successfully through Parliament.

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