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Antiquities: Illegal Traffic

3.11 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, any legislation in this country would need to define an illegally excavated or illegally exported object as being one which was excavated or exported contrary to the law of the country of origin. Evidence would be required to establish the relevant foreign law. Factual evidence would also be required about the circumstances surrounding the excavation or export. For exports, it should be straightforward to prove that the export contravenes the law of the country of origin. However, proof of the circumstances surrounding an excavation may be more difficult.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his thoughtful and constructive Answer. We all abhor the illegal import of antiquities. Will the Government press for more official provenances and encourage more stringent policing from the countries concerned?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, to achieve congruity between our laws and those of other countries, we shall need a combination of changes to our law and adherence by many countries to international conventions. That is not an easy process, but it is reassuring that every advance that we make provides additional protection, as was seen by yesterday's conviction in the Bullrush case.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Criminal Justice Act 1993 allows

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prosecutions for acts committed abroad? If that is applicable in this case, when will the relevant section be brought into effect?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. As I said when the matter was debated earlier this month, officials of the Department of National Heritage have approached the Home Office about this issue. I am happy to be able to confirm that the Secretary of State for National Heritage has now written to the Home Secretary seeking to make progress on the implementation of Part I of the Criminal Justice Act 1993.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the scale of the market in looted antiquities, and does he agree that it is in the nature of successful looting and successful illegal export, as with most crime, that there is no available documentation of the circumstances?

If the noble Lord says, "You are reading", I am doing so because my noble friend Lord Renfrew, who is not here today, asked me to put a supplementary question.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I would not dream of telling the noble Baroness that she was reading; but she has answered her own question. If we knew the extent of illegal exporting and illegal excavation, we would know the cases involved and we might be able to make some attempt to deal with them. As the noble Baroness said, it is an unknowable statistic. Indeed, illegal activity usually is.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether, apart from practice and voluntary custom, there are not circumstances in which an auction house has a legal obligation to prove affirmatively that the goods were legally excavated and exported? In that context, may I ask the noble Lord also whether our courts do not have extra-territorial jurisdiction?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord was a great help when he raised this issue when we last debated the matter and suggested that one protection would be further advance knowledge of what was about to be put on sale. I gave the noble Lord a not entirely accurate answer; but perhaps I may now be able to help him by saying that it is possible, using the auction search service which is provided by a company called Thesaurus, for countries of origin, victim countries and public museums to learn shortly before an auction takes place what is likely to be displayed for sale, and thus to take action to remove an article from the sale if that seems appropriate.

Lord Hankey: My Lords, as the Getty Information Institute has, after three years' research, had considerable success in the establishment of Object ID, an identification system for cultural objects, and as proving the provenance of the objects is essential to the control of the illicit trade, does the noble Lord agree that common recording standards must be adopted and that

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the use of a system such as Object ID should be co-ordinated at national level by the Home Office encouraging police forces to use a common system, by the Department of National Heritage encouraging its use by heritage bodies, and at the international level by the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question and for drawing my attention to the details of Object ID. I can confirm that the Department of National Heritage has been in discussion with Dr. Robin Thorns and that we are very interested in the proposals which have been put forward by the Getty Information Institute. We shall be pursuing those discussions.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords--

Noble Lords: Next Question!

Lord Marlesford: My Lords--

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I think that perhaps we should move on. We spent a little long on the first Question.

Digital TV: Regulation

3.18 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they consider that the Office of Telecommunications (Oftel) should take in the public interest to investigate and if need be to regulate the proposed £0.5 billion joint venture between Sky TV and British Telecom to subsidise set-top black boxes to receive digital TV and to develop interactive services.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, Oftel already regulates the operation of so-called "conditional access" services for digital television; that is, services which will control access to broadcast television through digital set-top boxes. Oftel has broad powers covering all questions relating to subsidy and operation of the set-top boxes in respect of broadcast services. I can also confirm that the Government intend, at the earliest opportunity, to extend the scope of the existing regulations to provide the same safeguards covering the use of the same "black boxes" to control access to interactive services.

The proposed joint venture will be subject to scrutiny by the European competition authorities and by the Director-General of Fair Trading; since Ministers may have some statutory role to play as part of this process, I cannot comment further at this time.

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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which is topical since the matter appeared in the Financial Times only yesterday. Perhaps I may take this opportunity to welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box to answer our questions and tell him how pleased we are to see him here. Do the Government share the reported concern of the Independent Television Commission about the ever-increasing influence of Mr. Rupert Murdoch, a foreign citizen who controls five of our national newspapers with a readership of 26 million, and who, through cable and satellite television, also controls one of Britain's main news channels with worldwide viewers numbering 70 million? What do the Government propose to do about that?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her kind welcome. It is a pleasure to stand opposite her twice running. I congratulate her on the topicality of her Question. As to bidders and competitiveness, it is clear that the ITC also has a regulatory responsibility to ensure that there is quality in broadcasting, competitiveness in the market place and free choice. Therefore, let the ITC take its decisions, backed up, of course, by the OFT and the Commission. I believe that it is for them to judge at what point the offerers of services have too much power. I leave that to the authorities to whom it applies.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that we on these Benches welcome the Minister's response? However, the Question comes from a side of the House which when in Government steadfastly opposed any effective regulation of the Murdoch domination of these matters. Will the new Government take a fresh look at competition in the media field generally not only in the matter of black boxes but in the matter of the new award of multiplex franchises by the ITC, which has also been referred to in the press in the past few days? If I may put a Scottish point of view, Scottish Television is being allowed to have excessive domination not only in the west of Scotland but in taking over the excellent regional franchise holder, Grampian Television.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. I cannot comment on the position taken on media bids in the past. I am so young in the House that I have not yet caught up. I believe that we must strike a careful balance between the capacity to bring on new technology, where there will be few players with the ability to fund these options, and the creation of opportunities that this wonderful revolution in information services provides. The challenge to look again at competition policy is probably an early one. We want to make the offers available and see who is there to bid, and then we will consider competition issues.

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