12 Sept 2003 : Column 543

House of Lords

Friday, 12th September 2003.

The House met at eleven of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Peterborough.

Business of the House: Standing Order 47

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order 47 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Monday next to allow the Northern Ireland (Monitoring Commission etc.) Bill to be taken through its remaining stages that day.—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill

11.6 a.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I realise that it will take less time to read the Bill than it will to deliver my speech today, so I apologise to the House for that, but it is probably because this is a well-focused Bill with clear intentions. Those are set out in the Long Title:


    "To provide for an offence of acquiring, disposing of, importing or exporting tainted cultural objects, or agreeing or arranging to do so; and for connected purposes".

It may be helpful if I examine each clause. That is not possible in many Second Reading speeches, but as there are only five clauses it might be helpful.

Clause 1 relates to the offence of dealing in tainted cultural objects. It sets a high hurdle for prosecution under the Bill and rightly so. It was the subject of amendment in another place, where it was questioned whether someone would knowingly deal in tainted objects. I believe that the matter was dealt with in another place and that the present wording is clear and unambiguous.

Clause 2 relates to the meaning of "tainted cultural object". It was the subject of the other amendment in another place dealing with the meaning of "cultural object". A clear distinction has been made.

Clause 3 relates to the meaning of "deals in" and to those who conduct the trade. Museums are also included in this clause, although the code of practice strongly prohibits dealing in unprovenanced artefacts. However, it means that museums must once again revisit and upgrade their standards on acquiring objects.

An area which was not dealt with in another place and is also dealt with in Clause 3 is the trade in artefacts over the Internet. That has been overlooked,

12 Sept 2003 : Column 544

but it is one of the major ways of disposing of objects, especially those found by metal detectorists illegally—those whom we call "nighthawks"—who sell them over the Internet. It would be wrong for them to say that they did not know the provenance of these objects because they can be placed geographically and the fact that they are being sold in dollars clearly indicates that they are trying to find an overseas market for them.

Clause 4 deals with Customs and Excise prosecutions. Obviously, they can prosecute under other powers, but the Bill sets out their roles.

Clause 5 deals with offences by bodies corporate. I return to the Internet because we may need to consider the position. Those who run Internet sites must in future look closely at their responsibilities in dealing in such objects. That means that they must understand the Bill and their obligations under it.

Clause 6 relates to the Short Title, commencement and extent. It means that, given a fair wind, the Bill will be law before Christmas.

I want to disabuse the House of two issues because particular questions have often been asked about the Bill. The Parthenon marbles are not included in it. The Bill will not be retrospective and therefore the Parthenon marbles are not covered under it. Secondly, although human remains could be covered under the Bill, they are already covered under certain other laws.

What is the need for the Bill? It will come as no surprise to your Lordships that the genesis for the Bill and the reason it was given so much publicity in another place—perhaps more than any other Private Member's Bill—was the horrendous looting which took place not just in the Baghdad Museum but all over Iraq. However, not only is Iraq suffering from the loss of its cultural artefacts, both sites in Afghanistan, South America, Cambodia and local sites in this country are regularly pillaged by nighthawks. Some of them have used violence when approached and attempts have been made to apprehend them.

Local churches have been robbed. Recently, medieval brasses, often used for brass rubbings, have been removed from churches in order to sell them. Stately homes have been affected, too. Many noble Lords might have watched the recent excellent television series, "Restoration", which has shown a number of such buildings. One, a listed building, until recently had many fine architectural features in place. However, when the programme was shot, it showed that the entire contents of the building had been gutted by those wishing to sell the architectural salvage.

The aim of the Bill is to stop that trade, and the way to do so is to strangle the market in illicit antiquities. There is a large legal market in antiquities and it is not the aim of the Bill to destroy that. However, its aim is to stop illegal trade in the main markets—one of the main ones being London; the other two being New York and Rome.

Nor should we underestimate the value of this market, which has been seen as being worth millions of pounds. It has been linked to organised crime and

12 Sept 2003 : Column 545

directly linked to terrorism. It has been seen as a national threat to security through its link to terrorism and the use of terrorists to launder money.

The Bill was formulated as a result of the Ministerial Advisory Panel on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Objects report in 2000, which recommended a new law. I thank all those who have been involved in ensuring that the Bill becomes law. Specifically, I want to thank my honourable friend in another place, Richard Allan, MP, Professor Palmer and all the members of ITAP, which includes the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew. I thank those at the DCMS, including, in particular, those in the Cultural Property Unit, and all members of the All-Party Parliamentary Archaelogical Group, who have taken an interest in the Bill. Indeed, the APPAG report, which was published earlier this year, made a recommendation that this law should be brought forward as swiftly as possible.

The importance of the Bill has been underlined by the situation in Iraq. Perhaps we should not underestimate the seriousness of the situation. In Baghdad Museum alone, Colonel Matthew Bogdanos told a press conference in London in July that 30 objects were still missing from the museum's display cases; 169 from the restoration storeroom; 236 from the heritage room; 2,703 from the ground-floor storeroom; and 9,666 from the basement store, comprising 4,795 cylinder seals—the entire collection of cylinder seals which were in the Baghdad Museum. In addition, there were 4,997 small finds, such as necklaces and amulets, and 545 items of ceramic, bronze or glass.

That is just in the Baghdad Museum. Vast numbers of sites around Iraq are being looted. Recently it has been shown that very few artefacts are coming from Cambodia, which was a rich source for the illegal market. That is not because few artefacts are being stolen from Cambodia but because systematic thieving in Cambodia over the years means that there is very little left to take.

When we talk about the theft of artefacts, we often say that we should attack people such as looters on the ground. But that is not where the real damage is being done. The looters on the ground receive very small amounts of money and they usually act through economic necessity. The purpose of the Bill is to target the trade, where the money is being made and which generates the activity in the first place. Local looters receive a pittance for the destruction that they cause to their national heritage. It is the large illicit art market on which we should concentrate and, ironically, the individuals, who should be aware of the actions they undertake.

I end with a rather ironic story. Only one arrest has been made in connection with the theft of Iraqi cultural objects, that of the American writer, Joseph Braude, author of The New Iraq: Rebuilding the Country for Its People, the Middle East, and the World, who was stopped in New York and found to be carrying three cylinder seals marked with Iraq museum inventory numbers, which he said he bought for 200 dollars. I commend the Bill to the House.

12 Sept 2003 : Column 546

Moved, that the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Redesdale.)

11.17 a.m.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, with whom I have had several helpful opportunities to discuss the Bill during its progress through the Commons. I congratulate him on the way in which he set out the Bill. I also salute Richard Allan, MP, for introducing the Bill in the other place. Like the noble Lord, I am aware of the impetus that events in Baghdad have given to the Bill. I have always enjoyed the definition of "pre-history" as being a cross between Sir Leonard Woolley's Ur and Sir Rider Haggard's She.

I should initially declare an interest as president of the British Antique Dealers' Association, which I have been since 1995, and of the British Art Market Federation, which I have been since 1996. More by their wish than my own, I receive a small retainer from both of them. In the case of the first retainer from the British Antique Dealers' Association, it is purely potable and, indeed, the case is in the singular.

The British Antique Dealers' Association, or BADA, has been in existence since the 1920s. The British Art Market Federation, or BAMF, which embraces both auctioneers and dealers, was created in 1996 at the request of the then government to provide a single conduit for representations by the art market to government departments—notably the DCMS, the DTI and Customs and Excise. Those arrangements have worked extremely well, and BAMF has made clear on a series of occasions, both in Parliament and outside, its appreciation for the effective collaboration between the trade and the administration of the day in the national interest.

The art market takes extremely seriously the principles and issues that underlie the Bill. Criminal activity damages the reputation of the legitimate art market on which many jobs depend. Britain has the second largest art market in the world, and ours is by far the largest in Europe.

Last year just under 2 billion-worth of art and antiques were imported into the UK from outside the European Union according to Customs and Excise statistics. The market provides employment for 37,000 people and generates further employment in related services, such as accountancy, advertising, insurance, conservation and restoration, security, shipping and packing, and so forth. The sales turnover of the British art market totalled over 4 billion in 2001 and the market is also a powerful attraction for overseas visitors to the UK. A survey in 1995 showed that expenditure by foreign visitors who regarded the art market as an important reason for their visit amounted to nearly 3 billion.

This successful sector of the British economy has a global reputation for expertise. It is acutely aware of the damage that the black market can do to this reputation and for that reason has gone to great lengths to work closely with our own authorities to

12 Sept 2003 : Column 547

introduce measures to eradicate criminal activity without at the same time damaging the competitiveness of the legitimate market. I cannot coin a phrase for the art market to match the analogous one that every good policeman hates a bent copper, but the same principle applies. A bent dealer deals a poor hand to every good dealer and a dodgy auctioneer has first to dodge the rest of the trade. Everyone in the trade is potentially besmirched by a single individual's wrongdoing.

BAMF has played a leading role in the inquiry set up under the chairmanship of Professor Norman Palmer—to which the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred—by the Minister for the Arts in 2000. The Illicit Trade Advisory Panel is made up of archaeologists, including my noble friend Lord Renfrew, art market representatives, museum curators and academics. It was charged with investigating the extent of the international black market in art and antiquities and the extent of the UK's involvement in that market and with suggesting measures to prohibit it. Its report contained a number of recommendations, which included the creation of the new criminal offence contained in the Bill. The Minister accepted the panel's recommendations.

BAMF has been closely involved with the drafting of the Bill. It has from the beginning fully supported the Bill's aims. However, it was also concerned that the Bill should focus unambiguously on criminal activity and not give rise to unintended difficulties for those working in the legitimate marketplace. There were some original drafting difficulties, which gave cause for such concern and, happily, those have now been remedied by two amendments in the Commons to which the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, referred. I am sorry that in some quarters the market's desire for changes to the Bill's wording was misinterpreted as an attempt to delay or frustrate the Bill. That was not the case and I know how grateful the representatives of the art market are to the Bill's sponsor, Mr Allan, for the sympathetic way in which he was prepared to listen to and understand the real difficulties that some of the original drafting might have caused.

The lessons of this are clear. It is vital to involve the art market in proposals aimed at stamping out criminal activity as the market has a common interest in seeing that that is done. It is also important to ensure that measures taken to bear down on illicit activity do not add a regulatory burden to the legitimate market. The British market is aware of its responsibilities, which are summarised in BAMF's guidelines of practice, published in the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel's report. The international art market is highly competitive and it is vital that we maintain a balanced and reasonable regulatory environment here if we are to prevent this thriving market from disappearing abroad.

I would not be true to myself if I did not add that other recommendations of the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel have made less progress, to the frustration of the art market; in particular, the recommendation for databases of stolen art and antiques and of the cultural laws of other countries. Those will be urgently

12 Sept 2003 : Column 548

required if the present Bill is to be affected. It is unreasonable to place obligations on the legitimate art market without providing the information that it needs if it is to avoid inadvertently handling tainted objects. It is noticeable that the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has also called for such a database and it is regrettable that no progress so far appears to have been made towards achieving that objective.

I realise that the matter I have just raised is business for another day, but it would be sad if efforts to get the Bill on to the statute book so expeditiously were not followed up by further measures to make it wholly effective. In the mean time and on behalf of the federation I welcome and support the Bill unreservedly.

11.24 a.m.

Lord Stewartby: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest, or what is a potential interest, although I had some difficulty in working out how exactly it would operate. I have been a coin collector for more than 60 years and should like to raise a number of points and questions as to how the Bill will affect coins and the numismatic trade. I should mention that I was chairman of the Treasure Trove Reviewing Committee and its successor, the Treasure Valuation Committee, for five years during the time when a transition was made from the treasure trove regime to the new system under the Treasure Act, which has worked very well. I was glad to have been able to contribute to that.

The Explanatory Notes point out that the British Numismatic Trade Association is one of the three trade bodies primarily affected, like the British Antique Dealers Association, on whose behalf my noble friend Lord Brooke so elegantly spoke. I strongly support the broad purpose of the Bill. The situation in Iraq has brought home to people the desecration of valuable buildings and historical areas that can happen in a most dramatic way. However, it is far more widespread than that. Legislation to deal with this subject is urgently needed.

I should like to mention a number of matters which are puzzling. Clause 1 refers to dishonestly dealing in tainted cultural objects. I am not clear how one could deal honestly in such objects. It may be that the word "dishonestly" is not needed. However, if it means something, I should be interested to know what is excluded by honesty in such dealing.

My second main point is to ask how coins are covered by the Bill. Many coin hoards are found frequently in this country each year. They are not normally found in or associated with buildings. There are some dramatic examples of where they have been, such as Corbridge on Hadrian's Wall, but as a general rule they tend to be found more in open country, often by metal-detectorists but also often in the course of natural activities. Ploughing and farming have produced quite a harvest of coins over the years.

12 Sept 2003 : Column 549

The Treasure Act lays down the procedure for dealing with coin hoards in this country. I am acutely conscious of the amount of information which can be lost if the procedures under the Treasure Act are not properly followed. A few years ago there was a major hoard buried in the reign of Canute, probably from Cambridgeshire. That never came through the correct treasure trove route and coins from that hoard, or which one can assume came from it, have been filtering on to the market for several years. It has been said that archaeological objects out of context are valueless and meaningless. However, the contents of that hoard, even though one did not know where it had come from, would be extremely valuable to numismatic studies.

Why is such a hoard not declared? It could be that it came from an archaeological site. Certainly, that is one possible explanation, but there are others. For example, the detectorists who found it may well not have had permission from the landowner or there may have been disputes between groups of finders. Therefore, unless the provenance of coin hoards is known, one cannot assume that they would be tainted under this legislation.

In the case of coins from abroad the situation is more difficult. The Mediterranean countries throw up an enormous number of coins each year. There are not hundreds of thousands but probably millions in existence. That number is being added to continually. A number of those parcels reached the London market. Here there is a slight dilemma because if they come to respectable dealers they may very well be shown to students who can publish and provide important information on them even though they do not know precisely where they were found. If, as a result of this legislation, dealers feel that they should not handle material of that kind, I fear the consequence will be that they will go to the less respectable end of the trade for more gradual dispersal. Even that knowledge will then be lost.

So I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, whom I congratulate on bringing the Bill before the House, or the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, could comment on what is the actual assumption. If a dealer does not know from where something has come, does he have to assume that it comes from a dishonest source? It is an open question. It could be an honest source. After all, objects come to London because it is a good place to sell them and their price may be a good deal better than that in a local country. So it is not necessarily the case that they have been handled illegally or dishonestly.

As my noble friend Lord Brooke said, there are many reliable and honest dealers in antiques, as there are in coins. It would be a pity if one of the consequences of the implementation of the Act—as I hope it will soon become—was to drive trade away from those who are likely to handle it in the most honourable and respectable way.

Despite those concerns, I strongly support the Bill. I hope that it will soon be on the statute book. I should be very grateful for any illumination on the points that I have raised.

12 Sept 2003 : Column 550

11.32 a.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, several years ago I asked at Question Time in your Lordships' House, whether the Minister could confirm that it is not an offence in this country for a dealer openly to offer for sale an antiquity which is known to have been illicitly excavated overseas and illegally exported from its country of origin to this country. My noble friend Lord Inglewood—for this was still in the era of the Major Government—confirmed that such was indeed the case. It is in the light of that scandalous situation and of observations made subsequently during the investigation into the illicit traffic undertaken by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons, that the then Minister for the Arts, the right honourable Alan Howarth, set up the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illicit Trade—known as ITAP—under the chairmanship of Professor Norman Palmer, on which I have the honour to serve.

In its report in December 2000, the first two recommendations were:


    "1. We advise that the other measures referred to in this Report satisfy the UNESCO Convention . . . and that the UK should therefore accede to it.


    2. We propose that, to the extent it is not covered by existing criminal law, it be a criminal offence dishonestly to import, deal in or be in possession of any cultural object, knowing or believing that the object was stolen, or illegally excavated, or removed from any monument or wreck contrary to local law".

The United Kingdom formally acceded to the 1970 UNESCO Convention in October 2002. So that was the first recommendation. The present Private Member's Bill, introduced in another place by Richard Allan MP and admirably and skilfully argued and presented by him during its passage there, will very effectively enact the second recommendation.

The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, in presenting the Bill to your Lordships, has lucidly summarised its main points. The Bill will very effectively close the loophole in our present legislation which allows illicit antiquities originating overseas openly to be sold in this country, as well as some that are actually looted here. Its passage is a matter of urgency in view of the very widespread destruction of archaeological sites world-wide to provide antiquities for the illicit market. What matters above all is the loss of information resulting from the looting process and the consequent threat to our understanding of the human past. Our entire understanding of early pre-history and history is at risk in this process.

As the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, has stressed, the Bill is not retroactive; it applies only to antiquities which are dug up illicitly—and so become "tainted"—after the date of enactment. Moreover, there is no risk that, after that date, the innocent and unsuspecting buyer may unwittingly commit a criminal offence by purchasing an object which he or she does not realise is tainted; for an offence is committed only if the purchaser knows or believes that the object is indeed tainted. That, however, should be enough to incriminate some of the dodgy dealers in illicit cultural goods who are so damaging to the otherwise good reputation of the British art trade.

12 Sept 2003 : Column 551

The Bill is indeed welcomed by respectable members of the art and antiquities trade, who are often embarrassed by the behaviour of those who deal in illicit antiquities, as my noble friend Lord Brooke has already mentioned in the course of this debate. The reputable trade is very effectively represented on the ITAP panel, as we have heard, which supports the Bill, as of course does the entire archaeological community and indeed the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Archaeology, of which the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is the energetic secretary. The Bill has been scrutinised in another place and has had clarifying amendments, so I very much hope that it will find support on all sides of your Lordships' House today.

To make the Act work effectively, the ITAP panel recommended that there should be prepared both a database of international legislation, which it is hoped UNESCO may undertake, and a database of unlawfully removed cultural objects. My understanding is that the Home Office has made no headway whatever with this proposal and that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has made effectively zero impact on the Home Office and has taken, so far, no practical steps of its own to set up such a database. Perhaps the Minister, when he replies, could indicate whether any progress has been made beyond vaguely worded expressions of good intent.

It is a matter for satisfaction that British antiquities as well as those of overseas origin will be protected by the Bill. And of course British antiquities of precious metal have been protected since 1996 by the Treasure Act, and indeed before, as my noble friend Lord Stewartby has indicated. It is particularly to be welcomed that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport facilitated the establishment of the Portable Antiquities Scheme with 14 liaison officers, and that the scheme has now been expanded to cover the whole of England and Wales with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund funding a further 32 liaison officers, thereby establishing a national network.

In this way Britain can be said to be playing its part in countering the illicit trade in antiquities, so far as antiquities originating here are concerned. But it is known that the Heritage Lottery Fund grant ends on 31st March 2006 and that it will not be repeated from that source. Can the Minister confirm that the department will undertake the necessary long-term funding of this essential service when the Heritage Lottery Fund payments come to the end of their term in 2006?

The Statement made to this House on 10th October 2002 that the Government,


    "will give active thought to the question of the long-term sustainability of the scheme".—[Official Report, 10/10/02; col. 495.]

is welcome, but after a year of "active thought" the time may now be ripe for some concrete planning and indeed budgeting.

Perhaps I may remind the House, however, that in relation to the Bill the responsible collector, the responsible dealer and the responsible museum will need to employ a much higher standard of diligence

12 Sept 2003 : Column 552

than that implied by the avoidance of committing an offence under the new Act. For it is in fact quite difficult to establish—as I believe my noble friend Lord Stewartby was indicating—that a cultural object such as an antiquity or indeed a coin is "tainted", for instance through being illegally and clandestinely excavated and illegally exported.

The whole problem with the illicit and clandestine trade is that it is indeed clandestine, and looted objects rarely come with a label informing you that they have been looted. That means that whenever one buys an antiquity which has no specific and documented provenance—an unprovenanced antiquity—there is the serious risk that it indeed comes from an illicit excavation, perhaps a very recent one. That was the serious issue with the Sevso treasure, which we have sometimes discussed in your Lordships' House, and it is the problem with many antiquities which come on to the market. For that reason, in the exercise of due diligence, it is desirable that collectors, dealers and museums should simply not purchase recently unprovenanced antiquities.

I think that everyone accepts that antiquities which left their country of origin many years ago—in the 19th century—may respectably be acquired. The year of 1970, the year of the UNESCO convention, is frequently taken as a watershed in the matter. Since 1998, that has been the position adopted by the trustees of the British Museum, who have stated:


    "Wherever possible the Trustees will only acquire those objects that have documentation to show that they were exported from their country of origin before 1970, and this policy will apply to all objects of major importance".

A similar position has been taken by the National Art Collections Fund in relation to support of acquisitions.

I invite the Minister to confirm that a comparable criterion will be included among the tests applied when antiquities are being considered for acceptance by the state under the in lieu scheme in place of what used to be called death duties. For it would indeed be an anomaly if looted or recently unprovenanced antiquities were used to generate tax benefits. Can we seek to ensure that the same logic is applied to any tax benefits which might arise from other charitable donations or transfers?

We have all been dismayed by the events in Iraq, to which reference has been made this morning, including the thefts from the Baghdad Museum and the continuing looting of archaeological sites there on a very large scale. The illicit trade in such artefacts is already covered by the Security Council resolutions, and it is satisfactory to know that they will continue to be covered by the Bill even when United Nations sanctions are lifted. But what consideration are the Government giving to the longer-term support for the heritage and archaeology of Iraq? The Minister will be aware that the British School of Archaeology in Iraq went into understandable decline following the first Gulf War, and is no longer effectively funded by the Government through the British Academy. Will the Minister undertake to investigate the possibility that the mission of the British School of Archaeology in

12 Sept 2003 : Column 553

Iraq could be reactivated in the months to come, and that the Government might make additional resources available to the British Academy to make that possible?

In conclusion, may I say what a pleasure it is that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, will reply for the Government? We have all had the opportunity to admire the breadth of his knowledge on cultural and heritage matters while he spoke from the Dispatch Box as a Government Whip. As the Minister responsible for heritage, he will speak to us with comparable erudition but with even greater authority, which is much to be welcomed.

I have much pleasure in supporting this useful Bill and commend it to the House.

11.43 a.m.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, I also welcome the Bill, which extends and reinforces the powers of the police authorities and Customs and Excise and plugs a gap which was to the discredit of everyone involved in the area. As has been said, the United Kingdom has a particular need to be seen to act in this area as a major market centre for the international art trade and, heretofore, with a high reputation which we must ensure is fully maintained.

It is sometimes tempting when faced with a short Bill to think that it should be embroidered a little and go further, but I recognise that in order to be enforceable and effective, it must be kept simple and focused, so I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on his part in introducing the Bill.

The need for the Bill has been emphasised by every speaker so far in the debate. To the examples of Iraq, Afghanistan and others, I would add those of Ethiopia, with the loss of Lalibela's healing cross, and of Burkina Faso, where the three famous thefts of the Kurumba Mamio fertility statuette, the Pog-Neree mask from Tigundamba—Africa is not my country of speciality, so I hope that I am pronouncing these correctly—and the Bobo butterfly mask. The two first have been recovered by international co-operation; the last is still missing. Those examples and many others were raised at a hearing that I attended in March, a colloquy organised in Paris by the Committee on Culture and Education of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, in collaboration with the French Senate, at which we focused especially on the issue in relation to African countries.

I fully agree with all those who have said that prevention is the best solution and in that regard international co-operation and co-ordination are as essential as the implementation of rules such as those introduced by the Bill. It is clearly key in all such cases that the fullest possible information is available at source, so that we know what objects that contribute to our world culture exist and where they are kept. Any support that can be given to countries to build up inventories—or, as my noble friend Lord Renfrew said, the database approach supported by UNESCO—must also receive the full co-operation and commitment of the British Government.

12 Sept 2003 : Column 554

UNESCO is clearly a leading organisation drawing attention to the need for international co-ordination and co-operation, as is the International Council of Museums. The Council of Europe's Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage, to which the United Kingdom is a signatory also lays down guidance and rules, which we must play our full part in fulfilling and observing. I therefore ask the Government and the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, when he responds to the debate, to tell us what international bodies—both intergovernmental and non-governmental—it is planned to work with to carry through the Bill's provisions. I also ask which other countries have similar legislation to the Bill, so that we can know with which countries we can best co-operate.

Having said that, I feel sure that the Bill will receive the support of your Lordships. I wish it a fair wind and speedy implementation.

11.49 a.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, perhaps I may add a word of congratulation to my noble friend on the Bill. In doing so, I place a footnote to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, about rebuilding the capacity of Iraq to safeguard its own cultural heritage. We have a particular interest in helping Iraq to do that, because it was a brilliant citizen of this country, Gertrude Bell, who started the Department of Antiquities in Iraq and who left 50,000 in her will to be spent on its development. She excavated many of the important sites in Iraq. She was effectively number two to Sir Percy Cox, the Bremer of his day. He played a significant role in the construction of Iraq in 1921 and afterwards.

As a result of our close association with Iraq over the years, I hope that the Minister will listen to the pleas from all sides of the House. Almost every noble Lord who spoke has entered a plea that we give additional support. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, remarked that we need further measures to make the Bill wholly effective. I am not sure whether what has been said can be done within the framework of the Bill. But a strong message has been given to the Government that this House would like to see further money and resources given to enable the Iraqis to rebuild their capacity to look after their own antiquities.

11.51 a.m.

Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for introducing this important Bill in your Lordships' House, following its introduction by his honourable friend Richard Allan in another place. I thank the noble Lord for including me in helpful discussions on the Bill with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport earlier this year.

We welcome the Bill. It has had a rocky ride, with its passage through the Commons, so we are very pleased that it was revived and made its way to your Lordships' House. I am particularly pleased for, and

12 Sept 2003 : Column 555

grateful to, my noble friend Lord Renfrew for his tenacity and commitment to these important measures. It is hard sometimes to understand the hit-and-miss process of Private Members' Bills, given the immense amount of usually personal, passionate commitment that goes into their drafting. This Bill is certainly a case in point. So I will say straightaway that we want to see this Private Member's Bill in statute this Session.

It is an important measure that seeks to make it an offence if, knowing or believing a cultural object to be tainted, a person acquires or disposes of it, imports or exports it, agrees or arranges to do so. It aims to combat traffic in unlawfully removed cultural objects and to assist in maintaining the integrity of buildings, structures and monuments, including wrecks, by removing the commercial incentive to loot. The offence is irrespective of the origin of the object.

The Bill is an important contribution to heritage legislation. It shows that we care for the culture of other countries as well as our own. It sets a good example and is a non-contentious Bill that we strongly support. It also seeks to protect the interests of the many honourable dealers, bearing in mind the point made by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville that everyone in the trade is besmirched by an individual's wrongdoing. Further to the reference by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, to the American author caught with three seals labelled "Museum of Baghdad", which he bought for the princely sum of 200 dollars, are the Government aware of any other related fines? The database referred to by my noble friend Lord Renfrew would greatly assist in the detection of these important cultural objects.

My noble friend Lord Renfrew has said that the Bill is a matter of urgency, so I shall discuss some of the concerns and problems raised during the passage of the Bill.

First, on the burden of proof in Clause 1, my honourable friend Tim Loughton MP stated in another place that we are,


    "concerned that the provisions need to be tested in the courts. It is important that we do not get the balance in relation to the burden of proof wrong. We do not want to legislate in haste only to build up problems later".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee F, 14/5/03; col. 5.]

I am pleased to confirm that that problem was resolved in Committee in another place.

Concerns have also been expressed about expected levels of prosecution. A regulatory impact assessment stated that the level of prosecution is estimated to be no more than one every two to three years. My honourable friend Tim Loughton questioned that and hoped there would be more. That remains a concern. It is surprising, given the right importance now attached to the Bill, that so few prosecutions are envisaged.

On a separate issue, we were alerted by the British Art Market Federation to the practical difficulties with the definition of a tainted cultural object as originally drafted. In response, in Committee in another place on Clause 2, my honourable friend Tim

12 Sept 2003 : Column 556

Loughton's amendment tried to concentrate the clause on the illegality of the circumstances in which the object was removed thus avoiding its use where the offence has a limited connection. Although that amendment was withdrawn, the concern was dealt with by amending the Bill on Report.

Although the term "tainted cultural object" has been tightened, the definition of "cultural object" is not tight. Admittedly, it is very difficult to define. A discussion of whether an object was a cultural object would therefore precede a decision on whether the object was tainted, particularly in architectural salvage.

A further issue vital to the life of the Bill has been the need to clarify the scope of the material that the Bill intends to incorporate. Adding "the fabric of" before "the building or structure" in Clause 2(4) alleviates concerns that the Bill might cover portable furnishings.

I hope that the Government can respond to the questions raised today, including those raised by my noble friend Lord Stewartby on coins. Our focus has been very much on the conflict in Iraq and the resultant desecration of the National Museum of Baghdad. As my noble friend Lady Hooper pointed out, this has been an ongoing problem for many years. We should take note of the examples that my noble friend has used—for example, Ethiopia. I wish the Bill well.

11.57 a.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, the Government are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for bringing forward the Bill. I assure him that it has our support. We are also grateful to Mr Richard Allan, who took the Bill through quite lengthy proceedings in the House of Commons. Like other noble Lords, we are grateful to Professor Palmer and ITAP, with the distinguished membership of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew.

It is important to realise that the Bill is only part of a series of government measures designed to help, protect and sustain our own and the international historical environment. Inevitably, as it is a Private Members' Bill and must therefore be framed by consensus, it is a compromise Bill.

The interests of the art market and those of the archaeological community are not necessarily the same. However, in the widest sense it is in the interests of the archaeological community and the vast bulk of the legitimate art market that there should not be an illegitimate trade. Nevertheless, the pressures that have existed between the archaeological community and the art market in the framing of the Bill must be recognised. I was very pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, in particular, and the noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, in speaking about the interests of the art market, and the noble Lords, Lord Renfrew and Lord Redesdale, in speaking about the interests of the archaeological community, have reached the consensus necessary for the Bill to proceed.

12 Sept 2003 : Column 557

I say explicitly that we are now in the middle of September, and the time available before the end of the Session is quite limited, so it is important that no amendments be carried against the Bill. I urge those who might be tempted to table amendments not to do so.

I spoke of the Bill as part of a range of measures designed to help protect and sustain our own and the international historic environment. Noble Lords will know that DCMS and the then Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions published, in 2001, a document called The Historic Environment: A Force for our Future, which dealt specifically with those issues.

The problem is that there has been asset stripping on an industrial scale, as we have seen recently in Afghanistan and Iraq—and also, as has been said, in this country. That is why we need this new legislation. The primary objective of the Bill is to strangle the black market in antiquities and protect a finite resource for future generations: one which offers the best hope of a sustainable economic future to many communities, both in this country and around the world. Let nobody think that looting antiquities brings even short-term benefits to the people who actually do the looting. They get paid a pittance and the dealers make a fortune. That is the way it works.

The Bill is not retrospective, which would have been very difficult to achieve, but it will make it an offence to deal dishonestly in unlawfully removed cultural property from these regions or from any other area in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, asked about the word "dishonesty". We have included the requirement for dishonesty in the Bill to ensure that those with a purely innocent motive are not caught. For example, someone may acquire an object intending to return it to its source. Without the dishonesty requirement, such a person might be technically guilty of an offence. The penalties on the illicit trade will act as a disincentive to the damage and looting of sites and monuments for commercial gain.

As I said, throughout the proceedings of the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel, this Bill has had the support of both the heritage community and the legitimate art and antiquities trade. That is what gives the Bill its strength. It criminalises an activity that does so much damage to the world's heritage and threatens the business interests of thousands of legitimate dealers.

What else is being done? Last October, the United Kingdom signed the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. That sent out a powerful signal to the international community that we are serious about playing our part in the collective effort to stamp out this trade. We now have 100 countries, including the United Kingdom, and, in recent months, Sweden and Japan, that have adopted the UNESCO convention, which enhances its value as a means of protecting the cultural heritage of the United Kingdom and other signatory countries.

12 Sept 2003 : Column 558

There has been discussion of due diligence and a due diligence database. There have been voluntary codes of due diligence developed by dealers associations. However, they had a limited effect on the criminal element in the trade, because, clearly, that element does not adopt the codes. Therefore, the legitimate art trade recognises that the Bill will help to eliminate the activities of dishonest dealers who pose a threat to its business.

It has been rightly said that we now need an open national database of stolen and unlawfully removed cultural objects. The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport recommended that, as did ITAP in 2000. The noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Renfrew, spoke powerfully about that. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, reminded us that such a database is important in fulfilling our new obligations under the 1970 UNESCO convention, especially those articles covering inventories and publicity regarding the disappearance of stolen items. The law enforcement agencies see that as an important element.

We have been accused of lack of progress on the due diligence database. It is an ambitious project that needs extensive consultation among policy makers in other Government departments and law enforcement agencies. The Home Office has asked us to prepare an outline business case for the database, which analyses the administrative arrangements, the budgets required and the operational security and access issues. We are working on that and if there is any further news, I will try to find the opportunity to report back to the House. I recognise that the issue is an important and urgent one and that what has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq has increased the urgency. The measures are needed by the trade, by law enforcement agencies, customs and the museums.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, among others, referred to the changes made to the Bill in Committee in the House of Commons. We welcome those, because they have been important in achieving the consensus that we all need.

Reference has been made to the cultural heritage crisis in Iraq, quite rightly. It is true that the orgy of looting that took place in Iraq earlier this year and which has taken place in Afghanistan, will not be covered by the Bill, because it is not retrospective. However, although we may have only one prosecution every two or three years, I hope that there will be a spate at the beginning, as the impact of the Bill first becomes known. Internet service providers, for example, who provide a facility for trade in illegal antiquities could be prosecuted. The measures will make a difference, and make those who propose to sell or trade in illegal objects, even though they are not formally covered by the Bill, think again. Ideally, the Bill would drive such people out of business.

With a Private Members' Bill, as the regulatory assessment says, it is important that we do not impose significant burdens on anyone. Instead, we should be encouraging those who are not complying with industry-approved standards to come on board. The

12 Sept 2003 : Column 559

benefit of this Bill, especially to legitimate small businesses, vastly outweighs any possible disadvantage.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, referred to the problem relating to the trade in ancient coins. He rightly said that the difficulty with coins is that their provenance is much more difficult to establish. Many come from farming or metal detectors, and have no connection with any particular site. However, we cannot make exceptions for the dishonest dealing in coins or hoards of coins that can be demonstrated to have been removed from their place of origin. Although it is true that not all coins have the provenance that Corbridge provided, we should remember that this Bill concerns maintaining the integrity of archaeological sites. Coins are no exception to the general rule.

I have spoken about the anticipated level of prosecutions. I was asked about the actions that we had taken in Iraq to protect and conserve Iraq's cultural heritage. We have sent experienced and expert staff as part of the first tranche of civilian administrators sent to Iraq after the war. We have supported new legislation to clamp down on the black market in looted cultural objects—this legislation. We have worked with Interpol, UNESCO, and the International Council of Museums to ensure that items looted from Iraq are apprehended if they come on to the art market. We have worked with the provisional authority in Iraq, helping to assess the situation and support the Iraqis in setting up their own cultural administration to determine priority. We have created a database of offers of help from the UK heritage community, and we are grateful to all those who have taken part.

I shall briefly make one point that was not made. The Bill does not apply to Scotland because it relates to a devolved matter. From the Dispatch Box, I express the hope that the Scottish Parliament will think fit to pass comparable legislation.

I was asked about portable antiquities by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn. On 8th July, the Secretary of State said to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport that,


    "we ought to try to ensure that we can fund it"—

the portable antiquities scheme—


    "in the long term".

That was the thrust of the noble Lord's point. Obviously, we will have to take that issue seriously in the next spending round. The noble Lord asked me about the acceptance in lieu panel and about the related provenance issues. As the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel said, nothing should be accepted in lieu unless it has full and acceptable provenance.

The noble Lord asked me about the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. We welcome the efforts of the school in assisting the national board of antiquities after the conflict. We log offers of help from the British archaeological community, and we will discuss strategies for protecting the Iraqis' cultural heritage with the school—we are one of their expert advisers—when there is more security in the area.

12 Sept 2003 : Column 560

In conclusion, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for introducing the Bill. It has the endorsement of all who spoke today and of all working in the museum and heritage community and the art and antiquities trade. I am pleased, on behalf of the Government, to commend it to the House.

12.13 p.m.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that welcome for the Bill. I also welcome him to his new role at the DCMS. It is a pleasure to know, after all the years of dealing with the noble Lord in so many different guises—from the Treasury through to just about every other department—that his strength and skill will now be directed to the benefit of the DCMS. I also took on board what the Minister said about the Bill being a small-focus Bill and about the need, perhaps, for more archaeology legislation. It is just a pipedream that there might be a special archaeology Bill in the Queen's Speech, but we can dream on.

I also thank the noble Lords who spoke. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, spoke on behalf of the British Art Market Federation. The federation's past work, its acceptance of the Bill and its future work to make sure that the Bill works successfully will, I hope, help strangle the illegal market that causes so many problems for the legitimate market. It should not be allowed to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, asked some questions concerning coin collection—I use that term because I have difficulty with the word "numismatics". The noble Lord asked why the word "dishonestly" was used. The word is, perhaps, particularly apt for coin collection because of the activities of nighthawks specifically looking for coins. He asked whether the dealer should have to act as policeman. I say, "Yes". The dealers have the knowledge. Coins are traded because they are valuable, and their value is based specifically on their provenance and knowledge of their rarity value. It is due to that trade that certain sites, such as Yeavering Bell in Northumberland, have been ransacked. Holes have been dug illegally during the night all over such sites.

The noble Lord mentioned buildings. The Bill does not just cover buildings in which coins could be found, it covers any archaeological site, monument or offshore wreck, thus including coins found at sea. The noble Lord said that coins could be found in fields. That is an important point. As the Minister helpfully pointed out, the portable antiquities scheme, which is the backbone of the system for listing small finds throughout the country, is essential. We hope that coins will be presented to the finds liaison officers supported by the scheme. I hope that money can be found to support the scheme. The Secretary of State's comments on the future of the scheme were welcome. I also hope that there will not be only one receptacle for such coins; namely, into the trade and into private collections. There are more valuable places in which such coins could be deposited: local museums. The coins are part of local heritage.

12 Sept 2003 : Column 561

The noble Lord, Lord Stewartby, also mentioned hoards of overseas coins. One of the aims of the Bill is to stop the breaking of other countries' laws by strangling the market in illicit antiquities. If people dig up coins illicitly overseas, they will not be able to get round the law by trying to trade them in this country.

In an excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, raised the issue of a database. I thank the Minister for his comments about that. A database would be helpful, and I hope that it can be set up in the short term. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned further work along those lines. The UNESCO convention, although ratified, will need legislation. I hope that it will be introduced as soon as possible. I am sure that all members of the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeological Group will do all that they can to help the Government to make sure that it becomes part of our law.

The noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, raised the issue of prosecutions, which was raised by the honourable Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, Tim Loughton, in another place. Like the Minister, I hope that there are very few prosecutions when the scheme is up and running. We hope that, if there is a large number of prosecutions when the scheme comes into effect, the market will clean up its act, so that there will be fewer prosecutions. One of the reasons why we have such a thriving trade is that there have been no laws strong enough to bring about prosecutions. The Bill will, I hope, change that situation.

It is a short Bill. I hope that it will have a major effect on the illicit trade in antiquities and have the knock-on effect of quelling the vast amount of plundering done on archaeological sites.

On Question, Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page