Robert speaks on remaining stages of the Ivory BIll

Robert said, "We have had an important discussion of this Bill over the past few weeks. It has been a great honour to speak on something that is so important to so many of my constituents. It has also been very good to see how the House works very constructively together on occasions where there are particularly important and historic matters for us to discuss, as in this case. I am very grateful to the Government for listening so constructively to many of the points that I have made, some on behalf of my constituents and some on my own reading of the Bill, and for answering a great many of them. I will address those in the course of my brief comments.

"I do not support new clause 1 because I think the Government have proposed a better way of doing this. I say that for two reasons. They have been covered already but bear repeating. The first is the fact that the Government amendment goes further. New clause 1 deals only with CITES-listed species. The hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) rightly raised a concern that we all have—I raised it on Second Reading—about species displacement, for want of a better phrase. The new clause, if anything, makes that more likely because it does not cover species that are not on the CITES list, such as the warthog. We need to ensure that we can go further. There is much more freedom in the Government’s approach, which is to add species whether they are endangered or not and whether they are extant or extinct. Their amendment will also cover the mammoth, which, as we have heard, is being mined, and closes a loophole whereby mammoth ivory can be passed off as elephant ivory. It is a much better way of doing this because it goes further.

"Secondly, the Government’s amendment goes faster because we can deal with the matter by secondary legislation. I entirely understand what the Opposition are trying to do through new clause 1, but the big, overriding problem is the procedural one. If a challenge is raised to the primary legislation on the human rights ground, we may run into difficulty on the whole Act, and that would be a great shame. I have thought very hard about this. As a lawyer, I am naturally of the mind that I do not like legislation that is rushed through, because rushed laws are often bad laws. I would instinctively prefer that we took more time and got it right. In this case, however, there is very much a need to move quickly, given that the conference is coming up, and given all the heartbreaking stories that we have heard today and throughout the Bill’s passage, including during the evidence session.

"It is very important that we make it clear that the ivory trade is no longer acceptable. It is also very important that we make it clear that Britain is a world leader on this. We have heard about the great work that is being done by the Army—I pay tribute to that—and ​through DFID. We can look at doing a lot more to expand that work. I very much welcome that.

"For those reasons, we need to get this Bill on to the statute book as soon as possible, despite the fact that that goes against my natural instinct whereby I prefer to slow things down and take more time to make sure that there is not a hiccup further along the line. I am sensitive to the concern about everything being pushed into the long grass and the further expansion never happening, but I am very encouraged by today’s announcement by the Secretary of State that he will now be consulting on this. It seems to me that the Government have approached this in entirely the right way.

"I have had a number of concerns about the Bill as it has gone through. Constituents have raised concerns with regard to the antique trade and those have been answered. I am grateful to the Minister for doing so, in full, and at relatively short notice. I had some concerns about the definitions aspect of clause 35. The Government’s amendments deal with those concerns because they mean that we do not have to worry about a particular species once the secondary legislation has been brought in to expand the species list further.

"We can now move forward quickly with legislation that sets a positive, leading path for Britain as a nation. I wholeheartedly welcome that. I thank the Government very much for listening to all of us who have expressed concerns and for answering those concerns. I very much welcome the Bill and the Government’s amendments to it."