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4 Apr 2003 : Column 1229continued
Mr. Dismore: There is another problem with the definition of monument in the Bill. It would not catch, for example, people who were simply using a metal detector in an open field if there were no building nearby. My hon. Friend is right when she talks about treasure and metal content but other objects may be found through field-walking in an area that is of general interest but does not contain an excavation or any other site that is defined as a monument in the Bill. Would she like to comment on that?
Shona McIsaac: Someone who is metal-detecting or field-walking may find something and remove what they find without proper excavation. While there are good metal detectors who work with archaeologists on sites, if some people detect something and dig through, they can destroy the archaeology and that is a worry.
If anyone wants to appreciate the sheer volume of the problems relating to stealing culture, they should read a book that was published by the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research in Cambridge about three years ago called "Stealing History", the phrase I used earlierpeople are stealing our history. That book details many of the most serious cases of plundering and looting of archaeological sites in the UK. It also details cases involving Khmer temples, mosaics from Kanakariá, Cyprus, which may be the case to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon alluded, Lydian treasure from Turkey, the Moche tombs of Sipán in Peru, the Wanborough Romano-British temple and many others, including those in Mali that I mentioned.
It is a phenomenal problem. We have not taken it seriously until now. The Bill goes some way to dealing with that problem. I hope that every hon. Member in the House today will support the Bill and that it clears all its stages as soon as possible, because we cannot allow our history and heritage to be stolen at such an alarming rate any longer.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): I rise to support the Bill. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) said, its genesis lies in the report produced by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, on which I have the honour to serve, although I was not
I was relieved to hear that the Bill will not cover cultural objects that have been in the possession of British museumsI consciously use the pluralfor several years. The Elgin marbles are a rather controversial group of objects that the Greek Government would like to obtain. As I said, I am delighted that they would not fall within the ambit of the Bill, because the Elgin marbles have been better cared for in the United Kingdom than they would have been if they had been kept in Greece. Over the past 50 years, cultural objects kept in Greece have suffered huge corrosion.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Although we have been reassured by its promoter that the Bill would have no effect on, for example, the Elgin marbles in the British Museum, does my hon. Friend share my worry that the Bill would strengthen the argument for returning the Elgin marbles, because it would alter the atmosphere and environment in which the debate takes place?
Michael Fabricant: I share my right hon. Friend's concern, which is why I intervened on the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam at the outset to ask about that specific point. I was greatly reassured and I know that people both inside and outside the House will note his response. When the Minister makes his winding-up speech, I hope that he will emphasise that this important Bill does not cover objects such as the Elgin marbles.
The hon. Member for Cleethorpes (Shona McIsaac) made an important point when she said that once an object is removed from its original place, without detailed records kept of where, how and in what condition it was found, it becomes almost worthless, certainly so far as archaeologists are concerned. She was right that it is vital to keep records of where objects are found.
I come from a seaside town and often saw people walking around with metal detectors. I hope that whenever such people find somethingwhether treasure trove or notthey record where they found it and, preferably, do not move it until archaeologists and other experts are brought to the site. It is worth noting that Israel has a separate police force, the architectural police, to deal with the problem. The hon. Member for Cleethorpes has witnessed, as I have, people picking up objects in the area of the Parthenon, and in Herculaneum and Pompeii, for example. Remarkably, the guards simply stand there, and seem to do nothing but watch as objects are picked up and put into rucksacks. Sometimes objects are even broken off buildings and put into rucksacks, which is truly extraordinary.
Michael Fabricant: That is a crime in every sense of the word. It is not only Europe that is affected. I am a keen walker and I have been to Inca sites in Peru, Mayan sites in Belize and the Yucatan peninsula, where there are no guards at all. It is worth noting, although it does not fall within the ambit of the Bill, that they have the problem not only of people breaking off objects for sale or for souvenirs, but of people clambering all over sitesI must confess that to some degree I, too, have committed that crimeand presumably damaging those objects of antiquity. That has to be wrong. Such objects tell us about our whole heritage. That is true not only of the nation of Britain, but of the nations that existed in the old Mayan and Inca civilisations. They, too, represent the heritage of our planet and the human race.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam raised an interesting point about shipwrecks. Time and again, we hear about objects that are retrieved from shipwrecks. Incidentally, huge sums of money are generated by people sponsoring those archaeological investigations into shipwrecks and selling the objects that are pulled out. That gives rise to the question of whether those objects were retrieved from shipwrecks in territorial waters or outside territorial waters on the high seas. The provenance of such objects is unknown. It is imperative that when the Bill passes through Committeeon the assumption that it will, as I hope, receive its Second Readingit includes a clear definition to ensure that it covers even objects that are found on the high seas: otherwise, that would be a major lacuna.
Mr. Allan: The hon. Gentleman may be comforted to know that work is being undertaken on that in relation to the UNESCO convention on the protection of underwater cultural heritage of 2001, so there is a multi-front push aimed at dealing with the problem. The hon. Gentleman is right that some situations at sea require specific international agreement.
I hope that the Bill will receive considerable support in the House, given that it is welcomed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and that it will protect not only the heritage of other nations, but that of our own. The Bill is rather like the previous Bill that we debated, which dealt with dog's mess and will help to control the activities of people who look after dogs, in that it will control the activities of people who go around with metal detectorsa perfectly reasonable activityby ensuring that they do not knowingly, or unknowingly, because they simply cannot be bothered to find out about it, remove objects of archaeological interest. Let us never forget that those objects tell a story about our past, and by knowing about our past we can perhaps learn something about our future.
Those who think that looting and pilfering from archaeological and artistic sites is an activity that is engaged in by petty criminals on the margins need a wake-up call, and the Bill provides that. Such activities are increasingly linked to the world of organised international crimenot only drug trafficking, but terrorism. It is no surprise to learn that organisations such as the Taliban that show such disdain for human life have a similar disregard for our cultural heritage and are willing to trade in, and on, it.
Of course, nobody wants to restrict the legitimate art trade. It is a great joy to be able to enjoy exhibits from other countries in our own country. I do not want to trespass too far into the debate about the British museum, which is so full of objects from abroad that some peoplenot merefer to it as the British swag bag. We like to be able to enjoy those objects. I am sure that many hon. Members have had the opportunity of visiting the wonderful Aztec exhibition, but Mexico, traditionally, does not allow artistic objects out of the country.
While we want opportunities to see artistic objects from abroad in our own country and there is also a legitimate art trade, we must clamp down on looting and the illicit trade in objects pilfered from artistic sites. We want to improve access to sites of our own cultural heritage, as well as stamping down on international terrorism and drug running, where there are so many financial links to the trade in illicit objects. We need the Bill.
As has been said, many artistic objects from Italy are traded through London. Members of the all-party group on Italy, of which I am chairman, have been in touch with the Italian Government about that trade. The group supports the Bill and would be pleased to work with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam and the Government, if they support the measure, on strengthening bilateral co-operation to clamp down on the illicit trade in artistic objects from Italy.