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Michael Gove, secretary of state for environment, who introduced the ivory bill for its second reading in the House of Commons.

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The steps have been met with concern by dealer association BADA.

During a second reading in the House of Commons on June 4, many speakers suggested the Government should look at items including sperm whale teeth, narwhal horns and hippo tusks in the legislation. The argument given was that a ban on one form of ivory could increase pressure on another. Timing was also a factor.

Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, said: “We know that this will be the only time we have an ivory bill before this house for many years to come, so if we are going to try to protect those species, it makes sense for us to do it now.”

A BADA spokesman told ATG: “We have grave concerns over any proposal to extend the bill to cover other species before there has been proper inquiry, investigation and consideration of the impact of the proposals.

“The bill currently is being pushed through at incredible haste, which can result in too little scrutiny, which in the past has led to laws that were poorly drafted and have needed to be amended at a later date.” The association is still fundraising in the hope of mounting a legal challenge to the legislation.

We have restrictions but the restrictions don’t work

Michael Gove, secretary of state for environment

The almost wholly consensual ‘ivory’ debate ran in the Commons from 7.15-10pm with around 40 cross-party MPs in attendance.

The second reading passed with unanimous support. The bill will now pass to committee stage scheduled for June 12.

During the June 4 debate the argument was made many times that that the current law – allowing for the trade in elephant ivory worked prior to 1947 – is inadequate. “We have restrictions but the restrictions don’t work,” said the environment secretary Michael Gove.

The need for a narrow band of exceptions was supported by all but one MP (John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw), although most of the speakers suggested it will be necessary to debate some of the finer points at committee stage.

Legal definitions 

This included clarification of the legal definitions that will surround the proposed exemptions – particularly the key phrase ‘objects of outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value’.

MPs also wanted to know how the law will apply to online sales and asked if an annual register of the items issued with exemptions would be made publicly available.

They also sought clarity on proper funding for the Wildlife Crime Unit (currently with an annual budget of just £250,000) and Border Force ahead of the changes to the law – referencing a point made earlier in in the day by dealer Michael Baggott as a guest on BBC Two’s Daily Politics.

He used a Victorian teapot with ivory insulators to demonstrate the de minimis rule that will be subject to a paid-for registration scheme.

“There are 20,000 antiques dealers in the country and many have items such as this that will require certification,” he said. “When this law comes in at least 400,000 certificates [documents] will need to be issued. Now who is going to do that?”

Owen Paterson, the MP for North Shropshire, had consulted with the antiques trade in the run up to the debate. He told the house it was his impression that dealers and auctioneers “admit the bill as drafted is tighter than they would like but they can live with it”.

He quoted Anthony Browne as saying: “Our primary concern now is that the government’s exemptions should not be made more restrictive during its passage through parliament” and added that, in the context of the whole art market, ivory was “a round of drinks for the antiques trade that it can probably manage without”.

BADA continues to fund raise for the potential of a legal challenge to the bill. Anyone wishing to support the action should contact Mark Dodgson, BADA secretary general on 020 7589 4128 or email mark@bada.org.