Ivory is one of the world's most iconic and treasured species and it should never be seen as a commodity for financial gain or a status symbol.
I am therefore glad that Ivory Act 2018 will introduce one of the world's toughest bans on ivory sales. This includes a ban on the purchase or hire of items containing elephant ivory and applies to UK exports and imports. The ban will cover items of all ages and the maximum available penalty for contravention will be an unlimited fine or up to five years in prison. The ban will also include certain narrowly defined exemptions for items that do not contribute to poaching, where a ban would be unwarranted. The recently launched digital ivory service will allow anyone wishing to deal in exempted ivory items to register and certify them. It will provide a register of items and the evidence to demonstrate compliance with the Ivory Act 2018. This legislation will be enforced by the Animal and Plant Health Agency.
I understand that progress on implementing the legislation was delayed by a legal challenge which the Government successfully defended. I welcome that ministers have confirmed that the Ivory Act will come into force in the spring.
I understand that the Act will not affect the ownership of ivory items. Ministers recognise that some owners may decide it is not cost-effective to register their low value items for sale and that this is a decision for individual owners. These items may instead be gifted, donated or bequeathed rather than discarded. Ministers have committed to an awareness raising campaign to explain to owners their options.
Further, ministers have also consulted separately on extending the Ivory Act to afford greater protections to a range of ivory-bearing species, including hippopotamuses and walruses, and I look forward to reading the Government's official response to this once this has been published.
I am also encouraged that since 2015, Defra has provided over £4.2 million in funding for Asian elephants living in the wild through the Darwin Initiative and the Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund. This includes funding towards a project seeking to reduce the illegal ivory trade in Cambodia, and a project supporting Nepal’s world-leading community anti-poaching efforts. Defra and the Home Office also contribute £300,000 per year for the National Wildlife Crime Unit which helps prevent and detect wildlife crime, such as the illegal import of ivory.
Banning ivory sales will reaffirm the UK’s global leadership on this critical issue, demonstrating our belief that this abhorrent trade should become a thing of the past.