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South Antrim MP Danny Kinahan and Kensington & Chelsea MP Victoria Borwick spoke up for the museums and antiques trade that own and sell antiques containing ivory.

Kinahan said: “I want a ban that recognises the antiques trade. We need the right balance.”

He argued the economic case of the antiques trade and raised concerns a ban would damage it. He added: “We can set up a committee that can give certificates, advise and set the rules.”

Borwick, who is also president of the British Antiques Dealers' Association, said: “Genuine items of cultural and artistic heritage should continue to be exempt.”

Many MPs calling for a total ban actually acknowledged that there should also be exemptions.

Rebecca Pow, Taunton Deane MP, said: “We are not anti the antiques trade. I have inherited ivory brooches... I don’t think I should crush them. They are part of our nation and history.”

Tory MP Owen Paterson, a former environment secretary, said: “We should allow (some items) to be traded but under very strict conditions. We need a near comprehensive ban.”

However he added: “You cannot compare ancient jewellery with a living animal. We will run out [of elephants]. We need to get that into our heads.”

Illegal Activity

He suggested certification would be needed for true antiques and said: “It is easy to cheat. We must not underestimate the cheating… We need to stop the trade that allows illegal activity to carry on.”

Paterson also called for the UK government to look to the US on how it had dealt with the ivory trade and suggested a “de minimis” rule of allowing the trade in items with small amounts of ivory.

However many MPs continued to call for a total ban, without exeption. John Mann Labour MP for Bassetlaw said: “Ban the lot. However great museum curators are, that is nothing compared to survival of elephants. No half measures and no mixed messages. Ban it all.”

Justin Madders, MP for Ellesmere Port, argued for it to become “socially, morally and legally beyond the pale” to own ivory.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is launching its consultation with a survey to "gather views from experts from across the environmental sector and antiques industry to make sure the rules around the ban are clear and effective."

Yesterday’s parliamentary debate was triggered by a public petition which received more than 107,000 signatures. The debate can be watched again at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/.