HL Deb 08 June 1989 vol 508 cc938-40

3.12 p.m.

Lord Bethell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they propose to take steps to stamp out the ivory trade in Hong Kong.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, we are in close touch with the Hong Kong authorities about this matter. They take very seriously their responsibilities as a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In the light of calls for action to stop the global trade in ivory totally, they are now urgently reviewing their position.

Lord Bethell

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. However, is he aware that last year 264 tonnes of raw ivory were imported into Hong Kong? Does he agree with me that it is extremely likely that a large proportion of that raw ivory was poached through illegal killing in Africa? Does he not agree that it would now be appropriate for the Hong Kong Government to impose a total ban on the import of new ivory into that territory alongside the ban to be imposed by the United Kingdom and other European Community countries? Will the Government encourage the Hong Kong Government to impose such a ban?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am in no doubt whatever that the Hong Kong Government are fully aware of the strength of feeling upon this issue. It is essentially a matter for them because they enjoy a high degree of autonomy on matters of that sort. However, as party to the convention and by virtue of the extension of the United Kingdom's ratification, Hong Kong is required to implement the same controls as all other parties to the convention.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the people of this country have been appalled by the reports of this brutal trade? Can he be more specific as to what Her Majesty's Government propose to do, particularly in relation to the Hong Kong trade? Are they proposing to convey an instruction, which they have a power to do under statute, to the Government of Hong Kong on that subject? In view of the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, that in any event half of the trade is black market, are the Government proposing any specific action on that?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, that is something which the Hong Kong Government are reviewing with urgency in the light of the concerns which the noble Lord and others throughout the country have expressed about this horrible trade. On the basis of that review, the Hong Kong Government will decide what to do and we shall be very interested in that decision.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether much of this ivory is reaching Hong Kong and elsewhere through the United Arab Emirates, one of the worst places in the world for the selling of poached ivory? If that is the case are the Government also putting pressure on the government there to stop their trade?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, yes. Certainly there is concern about trafficking in ivory through the United Arab Emirates and we have repeatedly urged the government there to tighten controls on the trade. We have also helped international organisations and interest groups to express their concerns to the UAE authorities.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the enormous reductions of the great elephant herds in Kenya over the past 10 years is a matter of world concern? Since we have strong relations with Kenya, would it not be possible for Her Majesty's Government to put pressure upon the Kenyan Government? There is no doubt that many people in high places in that country have enriched themselves through that shocking trade which is the source of supply for much of the ivory sold in Hong Kong and other places.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am sure that that is something which we should like to see achieved. However, we are straying somewhat from Hong Kong.

Lord Stanley of Alderley

My Lords, I believe that I am right in saying that during the slave trade Her Majesty's ships could stop slavers to search for slaves. Does my noble friend know whether Her Majesty's ships are allowed to stop ships which they think have illegal ivory on board?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am bound to say that I do not know the answer to that particular point. Perhaps that is something which I can also look into.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, regarding elephants, as we in this country started most of the game parks in Africa could we not help by training their gamekeepers—I do not know if that is the right word? Could we not provide money to provide more staff to defeat the poachers?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, any idea is worth exploring when one considers that the number of African elephants has fallen from approximately 2.3 million in 1970 to about 700,000 today. What my noble friend Lord Caithness is trying to do in Brussels today is to ensure that African elephants are put on to the Appendix 1 side of the convention of which I spoke. We sincerely hope that that will meet my noble friend's concerns.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the monthly wage of what is in fact a game warden—if I can help the noble Viscount—is around 60 or 70 Kenyan shillings per month and that that kind of wage hardly induces him to resist the approaches of people involved in this terrible trade?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I well understand the force of feeling but we are straying very widely from the Question on the Order Paper. That relates specifically to Hong Kong and the end use of the product which is of concern to us.