Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Seventh Report


199. Our principal conclusions and recommendations are as follows:

(i)      A clear system for recording the ownership history of a cultural object, linked directly to the capacity to conduct a legitimate transaction, would be an extremely important tool in tackling the illicit trade in cultural property and is therefore desirable in principle. However, we have received persuasive evidence that a compulsory "log book" providing such a record would face many difficulties, some of them probably insuperable, and we have concluded reluctantly that such a compulsory "log book" would not represent a practical way forward. However, where organisations feel that they can establish some sort of voluntary "log book" within their own resources this would be very much welcomed (paragraph 43).

(ii)      We recommend that the Home Office make a public commitment in the course of this year to establishing a national database of stolen cultural property and cultural property exported against the laws of countries concerned under national police control. The Home Office should also seek to take forward detailed discussions with the police service, the insurance industry, the art market and private database operators about the development of an open system which can meet the needs and draw upon the skills and funds of the private sector. Finally, the Home Office should liaise closely with other countries to ensure that any national development is compatible with the wider international development of a database of stolen and illegally exported cultural property (paragraph 54).

(iii)      We do not wish to recommend any changes to the United Kingdom's current controls on the export of cultural property (paragraph 102).

(iv)      We recommend that the Government introduce legislation creating a criminal offence of trading in cultural property in designated categories from designated countries which has been stolen or illicitly excavated in or illegally exported from those countries after the entry into force of the legislation, with a defence in law based on the exercise of due diligence as defined in that legislation (paragraph 108).

(v)      Assuming that the other recommendations in this section of the Report (recommendations (iv) and (vi)) are implemented, we do not recommend that the United Kingdom become a party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention (paragraph 109).

(vi)      We recommend that the United Kingdom sign the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention and that the Government bring forward legislation to give effect to its provisions and facilitate early ratification (paragraph 110).

(vii)      We welcome steps already taken by museums in the United Kingdom and by the Museums Association to increase awareness of the illicit trade in cultural property and its implications for museums. We support the broad principle that museums should avoid acquiring any object that has no secure ownership history, unless there is reliable documentation to show that it was exported from its country of origin before 1970 and we recommend that the Government also state its support for this principle. We further recommend that, in the light of the development of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport conduct a review of the circumstances in which it is appropriate for museums in England and Wales to act as repositories of last resort of antiquities likely to have originated within those countries (paragraph 121).

(viii)    We welcome the publication of the Museum & Galleries Commission's guidelines on Restitution and Repatriation (paragraph 130).

(ix)      It is unreasonable to expect all museums to possess full information on all their holdings. However, in principle we consider that information on collections should be accessible and should not be unreasonably withheld from those with a legitimate interest, including claimants or potential claimants. In setting priorities for the conduct of research on collections and making information about these collections accessible, museums should give consideration to the interests of originating communities (paragraph 131).

(x)      We commend the procedures adopted by Glasgow City Council for handling claims for return of cultural property which provide an important model which others should examine and may wish to follow (paragraph 136).

(xi)      We consider that it would not be appropriate to enact new legislation giving general powers to the trustees or boards of national museums and galleries to dispose of objects in a broader range of circumstances than is currently permitted. Where a special case can be made for return in circumstances affecting national museums and galleries, such return should require specific parliamentary sanction through new primary legislation most carefully prescribing the special additional circumstances in which disposal is to be permitted (paragraph 142).

(xii)      We do not consider that it would be appropriate to establish an independent body to undertake a role in the consideration of claims which would otherwise be undertaken by the governing body of a museum or to consider collectively claims affecting more than one institution (paragraph 144).

(xiii)    We consider that it is appropriate for a service to advise museums on return issues to be developed as a point for advice and information, for example, on the number and nature of claims made and on procedures followed. It is essential, however, that this point of contact for information is not seen as a participant in the decision-making process itself (paragraph 145).

(xiv)      We recommend that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport initiate discussions with appropriate representatives of museums, of claimant communities and of appropriate Governments to prepare a statement of principles and accompanying guidance relating to the care and safe-keeping of human remains and to the handling of requests for return of human remains (paragraph 163).

(xv)      We recommend that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport seek commitments from all holding institutions in the United Kingdom about access to information on holdings of indigenous human remains for all interested parties, including potential claimants, as part of these discussions (paragraph 164).

(xvi)      We recommend that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport undertake a consultation exercise on the terms of legislation to permit the trustees of national museums to remove human remains from their collections with a view to early introduction of such legislation (paragraph 166).

(xvii)    We recommend that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport set out its strategy for assisting non-national museums with provenance research relating to the period 1933 to 1945 and for ensuring that the results of research by national and non-national museums is made available in a common and accessible format in its response to this Report (paragraph 183).

(xviii)    We consider that the case for special treatment of cases of alleged wrongful taking during the period 1933 to 1945 has been convincingly established. It is appropriate that the Spoliation Advisory Panel has been created to ascertain the facts of individual cases and to recommend an outcome for claims which are upheld. While there are merits to a solution which secures continuing public access to an object in a museum, that interest must be seen as subordinate to the interests and wishes of a rightful owner. Where a claim has been upheld and restitution is seen as appropriate by all parties, it is essential that legislative barriers to such restitution be removed. It would be absurd if restitution were not possible in these circumstances due to the dilatoriness of Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (paragraph 193).

(xix)      We very much welcome the lead taken by the British Museum in making clear and unequivocal statements that it would wish to return objects looted during the period 1933 to 1945 and not subsequently returned. We recommend that Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport begin cross-party consultations as a matter of the utmost urgency with a view to securing agreement for early and expedited legislation to permit the trustees or boards of national museums and galleries to dispose of objects which, in the view of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, were wrongfully taken during the period 1933 to 1945 (paragraph 194).

(xx)      We recommend that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport undertake discussions with representatives of the British art market, claimant representatives and other interested parties to explore the extent to which the Spoliation Advisory Panel or a separate body could be engaged to investigate issues relating to cultural objects currently in private hands which may have been wrongfully taken during the period 1933 to 1945 and not subsequently returned and to propose outcomes reflecting the legitimate interests of claimants and of current possessors (paragraph 198).

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