The House of Lords debated the proposed ivory bill at the committee stage on September 10 and 12. Image from

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The UK government’s ivory bill, which proposes a near-total ban on the trade in ivory, passed through the House of Lords without change last week but a clarification on the measuring of the volume of ivory in objects was welcomed by the art and antiques trade.

The complex discussions in the upper house involved requests from members on amendments to the bill and the exemptions contained within it.

No amendments were passed but a clarification from Lord Gardiner of Kimble, the under-secretary of state for rural affairs who introduced the bill, relating to how the so-called ‘de minimis’ exemption will be applied, was welcomed in the face of the refusal to grant other amendments advocated by the art and antiques trade.

Lord Gardiner acknowledged that guidance will be clear once the bill is enacted.

He said: “For example, when registering an item, the owner will make their own assessment of the percentage volume of ivory, meaning that no damage is likely to take place. It will also be made clear that any voids which are integral to the item – for example, in a chest of drawers – will be included in the overall volume of the item.”

Requests rejected

Among the requests for amendments was a change to the size of the de minimis percentage and a date change from 1918 to 1947 to allow for the trade in Art Deco objects that contain pieces of ivory. However, none of these requests were accepted.

A handful of members of the upper house opposed elements of the ivory bill and Lord Cormack deemed it “ill-conceived”, “stringent” and “draconian”. Lord de Mauley, chairman of LAPADA, said: “We have to recognise the most significant factor in stopping the trade in poached ivory is not whether the UK is selling antiques or not, but whether the restrictions promised by China and Hong Kong are effectively enforced.”

Following the debates, Marco Forgione, chief executive of the British Antiques Dealers’ Association (BADA), said: “I feel that the debate in the House of Lords exposed the misguided and unsound basis of the government’s position.

“Lord de Mauley in particular highlighted not just the inconsistencies of the bill but also the fact that the government is using misleading and incorrect data in assessing the current trade in ivory. I hope that, in light of the debate, Michael Gove will reassess the bill and amend it to address these glaring inconsistencies.”

The bill will move to the report stage and its third reading in the Lords this month, before Royal Assent to make the bill into an Act of Parliament.