Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Museums Association

  THE MUSEUMS ASSOCIATION1.  The Museums Association is an independent organisation representing museums and galleries and people who work for them. The association has over 4,000 individual members and 600 institutional members. These institutional members encompass around 1,500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest national museums to small volunteer-run independent museums. The Museums Association is a democratic organisation; its governing Council is elected by the membership. It was founded in 1889 and is a registered charity. It receives no regular government funding.


  2.  Our evidence is divided into two sections, prefaced by a summary of our recommendations to the Committee. The first—and longer—section concerns the illicit trade. This is largely based on the forthcoming report into the Illicit Trade in Cultural Material and its Implications for Museums, jointly commissioned by the Museums Association and ICOM UK (the UK national committee of the International Council of Museums). The report is not yet published, but we hope it will be possible to provide members of the Committee with copies of the final text before the enquiry finishes. The second, shorter, section of our memorandum concerns repatriation. It is worth noting that today's illicit trade in cultural property will inevitably lead to repatriation claims in the future.


  3.  We ask the Committee to consider the following:


  A.  We urge the committee to analyse closely the reasoning that led to the Government decision not to adopt the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property and the 1995 UNIDROIT Convention on the Return of Stolen or Illegally Exported Cultural Objects (see paras 38, 41 and 42).

  B.  If Government has definitely rejected the conventions then it should urgently introduce measures (legislative if necessary) to bring UK practices into line with these conventions. We urge the Committee to explore carefully the Government's intentions (see paras 43 to 45).

  C.  We urge the Committee to endorse current museum practice that museums should refrain from acquiring an object if there is reason to suspect that the object has been acquired in, or exported from, its country of origin (including the UK), or any intermediate country, in violation of that country's laws or any national or international treaties (see para 30).

  D.  We urge the Committee to consider recommending to museums that they should avoid acquiring any unprovenanced item because of the strong risk that it has been looted, unless there is reliable documentation to show that they were exported from their country of origin before 1970, or they have specific written permission from the authorities in the country of origin to acquire the item (see para 32).

  E.  The Government should take a lead in advocating a similar approach to private collectors and work to create a climate in which dealing in—or possessing—illicitly obtained cultural property is seen as unacceptable (see para 45).

  F.  Government should review whether tax benefits should be allowed to accrue to individuals in respect of unprovenanced material unless there is documentary evidence that it was exported from its country of origin before 1970, for instance in the Acceptance in Lieu scheme for inheritance tax and the Conditional Exemption scheme (see para 44).

  G.  Government should review whether it is appropriate for the Government Indemnity scheme to continue to cover loans of unprovenanced material to UK museums, unless there is documentary evidence that the material was exported from its country of origin before 1970, or permission from the authorities in the country of origin to borrow the material (see para 44).

  H.  Government should proceed to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention and Protocol for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, along with the 1999 Second Protocol (see para 44).

  I.  Government should resist US pressure at future meetings of the World Trade Organisation for the abolition of trade controls on cultural material (see para 44).

  J.  The Government should take steps to make the system for licensing exports of cultural material fully comprehensive and to improve compliance (see para 24).

  K.  The Government should explain the reasons for the inconsistencies in statistics on the export of cultural material from the UK and take steps to improve data collection (see para 24).

  L.  The Government should encourage "transparency" in the art trade by requiring that auction houses and dealers record and, when it is in the public interest, disclose the names of individuals or organisations from whom they purchase material (see para 29).


  M.  We urge the Committee to endorse current museum practice that requests for return should each be considered on their own merits by the governing body of the museum concerned, following a common set of criteria, such as Restitution and Repatriation: Guidelines for Good Practice, published by the Museums and Galleries Commission (see para 54).

  N.  We urge the Committee to encourage museums to treat those requesting the return of an item in a museum collection with courtesy and respect (see para 55).

  O.  We urge the Committee to encourage museums to wherever possible address requests for return using an open, transparent procedure, ideally involving meetings open to the public (see para 56).

  P.  The Government should ensure the provision of a central advisory service, possibly funded by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, that can help museums with responding to repatriation requests and avoiding acquiring illicit cultural property (see paras 35 and 50).


  4.  The illicit trade in cultural material is a destructive and often criminal enterprise that is causing concern worldwide. Modern-day looting is greater in scale than any carried out in the past, with damaging results that are often beyond repair. The damage caused to the history and traditions of living communities is often severe and action is needed now to stop it. Archaeological remains are often vital for the rediscovery of a people's history while "ethnographic" material provides a visible and easily accessible reminder of a people's traditions and accomplishments. Their removal abroad steals from a people part of their identity, part of their collective psyche. In view of this, some have argued persuasively that the right to a cultural heritage is a fundamental, human right, and that the destruction of cultural heritage should be treated as a violation of human rights. Scholars are concerned about the illicit trade because when a context is damaged or destroyed in the hunt for a saleable object then knowledge is lost too.

  5.  As an underground, secretive activity, it is impossible to attach a firm financial value to the illicit trade in cultural material. Estimates of its worldwide extent vary from £150 million up to £2 billion per year. (Latter estimate made by Geraldine Norman, The Independent, 24 November 1990.) The scale and impact of the trade can be judged from examples. Just three examples out of many are given here.

  6.  In Italy, archaeological sites are being destroyed at an alarming rate. As early as 1962 a survey of a single Etruscan cemetery at Cerveteri showed that 400 out of 550 tombs had been looted since the end of World War II. Between 1970 and 1996 the Italian police recovered more than 300,000 antiquities from clandestine excavations. In January 1997 Swiss police sealed four warehouses in Geneva which were found to contain approximately 10,000 antiquities from sites all over Italy. Some of these objects had Sotheby's labels on them (see para 19 below). They were valued at about £25 million. In 1998, a police raid on a villa in Sicily revealed more than 30,000 Phoenician, Greek and Roman antiquities, worth more than £20 million, thought to have been taken from the ruins of Morgantina, in central Sicily.

  7.  Looting in Mali has become an international scandal. Mali has more archaeological sites than anywhere else in Africa outside of Egypt, but only a handful have been properly investigated. A recent survey of 125 square miles discovered 834 sites but also showed that 45 per cent have been looted, 17 per cent badly. Particularly renowned are medieval terracotta statues, but of the hundreds presently in museums and private collections, only 30 come from properly recorded excavations. The history of Mali is quite literally disappearing from under the feet of its inhabitants.

  8.  In the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, looting in Iraq has escalated out of all control. Over 3,000 antiquities are known to have disappeared after the looting of nine regional museums; it is estimated that thousands more unrecorded antiquities have been removed from archaeological sites. At the same time the number of Iraqi antiquities on sale in London and New York has increased dramatically. The despoliation of Sennacherib's Palace at Nineveh has been particularly well documented, and looted relief sculpture has been broken up and dispersed for easier transport and sale.


  9.  Looting to feed the illicit trade is usually thought to be something that goes on in foreign countries. However, it also happens in the UK. As a single UK example, consider the sack of Wanborough, near Guildford in Surrey. After the discovery, in early 1985, of some Iron Age and Roman coins, treasure hunters descended on the site. Working mainly at night it is estimated that they removed some 5,000 coins, worth about £2 million, and destroyed an area of about 300 square metres (together with the covering crop). Many of the coins were dispersed abroad and subsequently spotted in Europe and the United States. Surrey Archaeological Society responded with a campaign of rescue excavation through the autumn and winter of the same year and uncovered an important second century AD Romano-British temple, although evidence related to the coin deposits was lost, and the reasons for their burial are not clear. The looting continued and by 1997 the temple itself was under attack as, again by night, deep holes were dug through its foundations. Local residents reported seeing a lorry with no lights driving past full of soil, apparently to be more thoroughly searched elsewhere. The Surrey Archaeological Society took to the field again, with the help of the local metal detecting club, who were themselves disgusted at the looting, and in 1999 a first century AD precursor temple was discovered, which had possibly been contemporaneous with the looted coin deposits, although the nature of their relationship has by now been destroyed.


  10.  As the above examples indicate, the illicit trade is destructive enough in itself. On top of this, there is growing evidence of links to organised crime. Beginning two or three years ago, reports started to appear that criminals involved in drug smuggling, and money laundering, were also dealing in antiquities. This information has come from all over the world:

    —  In January 1999, Spanish police broke up a smuggling ring that had been planning to trade stolen art and antiquities for cocaine.

    —  A smuggler's plane, arriving in Colorado from Mexico, carried marijuana from Western Chiapas and pre-Columbian antiquities.

    —  Miami has become a crossroad for illicit antiquities—from Ireland, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico and Greece—precisely because, according to US Customs, there is so much "dirty money" swirling around in the city. Drug profits pay for the antiquities, which are sent for auction so as to obtain a good pedigree for the cash.

    —  A British graduate, Ian Graham, now of the Peabody Museum at Harvard in the United States, has been photographing Mayan sculptures in situ in Central America for the past 30 years, mindful of the fact that, at some stage, it might be necessary to prove from where these objects—so easily stolen—had been removed. Beginning in 1998, Graham came up against violent gangs who were so intent on taking Mayan objects that they posted look-outs, at the top of palm trees, ensconced in make-shift observation posts, to scare away anyone who was too inquisitive.

    —  In 1998 two guards at Guatemalan sites were killed at their posts.

    —  In one attack on the Angkor storehouse in the early 1990s a guard was shot dead by rocket-wielding bandits.


  11.  In the UK the trade in cultural material is undertaken by dealers and auction houses. The trade is of great financial value and it generates wealth for the UK economy and sustains many jobs. Many dealers try to be careful about what they trade in and avoid material if they think it may be illicit. However, it is not always possible to be sure of the status of a particular item and dealers can make mistakes or take short cuts as the information needed to establish an item's status is often unavailable (see para 26 below). Other dealers do not even try to be careful. Some UK dealers and auction houses appear to be involved in trading in cultural material illegally exported from other countries. (While this is ethically unacceptable, it is not necessarily illegal in the UK—see paragraph 38 below.)

  12.  The unethical behaviour of these dealers—and the sense of uncertainty that pervades the whole antiquities trade—damages the reputation of the UK art trade as a whole. This poses a long-term threat to the London art market. Revelations about the illicit trade in London led Sotheby's to move its antiquities sales from London to New York, resulting in a loss of business for the UK (see para 25 below).

  13.  The central problem involves what are known as "unprovenanced" objects, objects that "surface" on the market and are sold without any accompanying information about where they have been found, in what circumstances, and under whose auspices. "Unprovenanced objects" is a shorthand of sorts. When these objects come to market, someone knows where they originated, but isn't saying.

  14.  There can be little doubt that the great majority of the London trade in antiquities is in unprovenanced objects. No details about private dealers are available, but inspection of the main auction house catalogues shows a surprising—and distressing— consistency in the picture. Generally speaking, over the last 20 years at least, somewhere between 65 per cent and 90 per cent of the antiquities offered for sale on the London auction market have no published provenance, with the figure usually at the higher end of that range.

  15.  Traditionally, the auction houses have argued that the bulk of these unprovenanced antiquities have come from small private collections or were discovered in "attics". This is inherently implausible, a picture that is not mirrored in other sectors of the art market. Until recently it was difficult to do more than quote this implausibility. All that changed in 1997 with an exposé (published as Sotheby's: Inside Story, by Peter Watson) which, for the first and only time, provided a revealing glimpse behind the scenes at an auction house.

  16.  The basic material which gave rise to the book and two Channel 4 television programmes consisted of many original Sotheby's documents leaked to Watson. They showed that very many of the antiquities sold at Sotheby's without a published provenance had come from one dealer in Switzerland who proved to be a "front" for an Italian who was well known to the art squad of the Italian carabinieri. Watson's investigation showed that he smuggled the illegally excavated objects from Italy to Switzerland (where it is still perfectly legal to import and export antiquities without any documentation) in bulk. From there, they were sent to Sotheby's in London. This enabled Sotheby's to claim that the objects had arrived on its premises from Switzerland perfectly legally.

  17.  The size of this traffic was considerable. For example, between December 1983 and December 1986, the dealer and another colleague consigned 248 objects to six sales with a total value of at least £640,880. Separate documents showed that in 1986, 1987 and 1988 he had traded other goods worth around a quarter of a million pounds. In Sotheby's December 1987 sale, another company owned by the Italian consigned 101 lots, out of a total of 360 in the auction. In May 1988 the same company consigned 76 lots and in December 1988 46 lots.

  18.  Nor was this all. The documents also showed that:

    —  among the sellers at Sotheby's auctions were several dealers from Munich whose names were well-known to police for their involvement in the sale of looted antiquities;

    —  the Italian shared an office address in Geneva with a London dealer, who traded in Switzerland under a different name, and also consigned to Sotheby's a broadly similar range of unprovenanced antiquities; and

    —  in individual cases, regarding more valuable pieces, Sotheby's personnel had either been aware that objects sold on their premises had been illegally exported from Italy, or had themselves had a hand in the arrangements.

  19.  Italian police began an inquiry and, at the time of writing, the Italian awaits trial in Rome. The carabinieri, aided by Swiss police, found that he had four warehouses in the Geneva Freeport, where there were 10,000 unprovenanced antiquities valued at £25 million. Some of these objects had Sotheby's labels on them, raising the possibility (not yet proven) that they were sold at the London salesroom and then bought back, as a way of "laundering" them, making it appear that they had been bought on the "open" market.

  20.  The documents also related to antiquities that had been illegally excavated and smuggled out of India. Specific dealers had been consigning material to auction in London for at least 10 years. Dealers in Bombay admitted to investigators that material came out of India by the "container-load". Subsequently, they identified a London address where the material was warehoused and this was visited by the investigators. There, they found objects consigned by the Bombay dealers, and identified by them in a Sotheby's catalogue.

  21.  On another occasion Dr Dilip Chakrabarti, an Indian scholar in the Department of Oriental Studies of Cambridge University, drew attention to three items in a Sotheby's catalogue for a sale of Asian antiquities, that were labelled "Probably Chandraketugarh, West Bengal, second and first century BC". Dr Chakrabarti explained that this site, north of Calcutta, has never been professionally excavated and was not discovered until the mid-1950s, by which time India's law forbidding the export of archaeological material was already in place. Therefore, any material from Chandraketugarh has by definition been illegally excavated and illegally exported from India. (Although dealing in this material in the UK is not necessarily illegal; see para 38 below.)

  22.  An example of an illicit trading chain in Britain of the type revealed by Watson in Italy and India has recently been exposed in a remarkable study carried out by Ian Stead at the British Museum. He investigated the Salisbury Hoard, which had been excavated illegally in southern England in 1985. It is a unique find in British archaeology and contained over 500 bronze objects of various ages ranging over 2,000 years, which had apparently all been buried together sometime around 200 BC. However, after its excavation the hoard was broken up and sold piecemeal.

  23.  Stead and his colleagues set out to investigate the provenance of the pieces. The involvement of the police in what became a criminal investigation opened up the record books of auction houses and dealers. The true nature of the trade stood revealed. The stolen hoard was broken up into smaller lots and passed through the salesrooms of Britain. Many dealers and auction houses—including Sotheby's, Christie's and Spinks—at one time or other sold objects from this hoard, not knowing them to be stolen.

  24.  It is not possible to determine the financial value of the UK dealers' and auction houses' trade in cultural material. Even the Government's official trade figures do not give a clear picture, with massive inconsistencies between the figures given by DCMS and DTI—and further discrepancies between the DTI figures and US trade statistics on imports of cultural material from the UK. In part this may be because of weaknesses in the UK export licensing regime which does not appear to be applied comprehensively. (These points are being explored more fully in a memorandum from the Illicit Antiquities Research Centre,) It would clearly be useful to have reliable information about the scale of UK trade in cultural material and we recommend that the Government should take steps to improve data collection about the value and pattern of the UK's international trade in cultural material and to make the system for licensing exports of cultural material fully comprehensive and improve compliance. This would also help detect the presence of organised crime and money laundering in the trade in cultural property. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommended in 1998 that an effective export licensing system is a key component of any strategy designed to defend against international crime.


  25.  In the wake of the Watson exposé Sotheby's stopped their antiquities auctions in London and now hold them only in New York, where there is stronger regulation of the market under the US Cultural Property Implementation Act (see para 37 below). After an internal enquiry, in December 1997 Sotheby's announced a new Code of Conduct and established a Compliance Department to oversee its implementation and operation. An important feature of the new Code is a pledge not to sell an object if it is known to have been exported illegally from its country of origin, regardless of its status under EC or US law.

  26.  This is a welcome move, as are other voluntary codes such as the Council for the Prevention of Art Theft's Codes of Due Diligence, designed to impede the flow of stolen material through the art market. However, these voluntary codes are not enough. The information necessary to assess the status of an item is often non-existent or is kept secret. Vendor and purchaser anonymity is a fundamental feature of the trade and when selling an item there is no requirement to reveal a record of ownership history, or the original findspot, so that there is no published information which can be used to trace an antiquity back to its original source. It is usually simply not possible for a potential good faith buyer to establish whether an antiquity was originally obtained by honest, or dishonest means. Licit and illicit antiquities become hopelessly mixed. Looted antiquities acquire a patina of legitimacy when ultimately they are sold, without provenance. There is little chance they will be recognised as looted.

  27.  In general the trade seems to prefer to assume items are all licit, "innocent until proven guilty". It would be safer—and more realistic—to regard certain categories of material as potentially illicit unless proven otherwise. This is what we are now recommending to museums—see paragraph 32 below.

  28.  Auction houses regard their first duty as being to their clients, by which they mean the people who sell through them. It is easy for collectors and auction houses to hide insalubrious practices behind the argument that client security comes first, so nothing must be said. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. It will only prove possible to combat looting of cultural material when the trade in antiquities is fully transparent so that clear chains of ownership can be established.

  29.  We recommend that the Government should encourage "transparency" in the trade by requiring that dealers record and, when it is in the public interest, disclose the names of individuals from whom they purchase material.


  30.  Under the (voluntary) Registration Scheme for Museums in the UK, introduced by the Museums and Galleries Commission, and the Museums Association Codes of Ethics museums and galleries are required to "refrain from acquiring an object if there is reason to suspect that . . . the object has been acquired in, or exported from, its country of origin (including the UK), or any intermediate country, in violation of that country's laws or any national or international treaties".

  31.  Until recently, museums were not always as careful as they should have been in following this requirement. However, museums are now much more cautious. For example, the British Museum Policy Statement on the Acquisition of Antiquities, adopted in 1998, states that the British Museum deplores the looting of antiquities for the market, and refuses to acquire objects that have been illegally excavated and/or exported. Enquiries made during the preparation of the forthcoming Museums Association/ICOM UK report suggest that many UK museums turn down potential acquisitions because they are unable to satisfy themselves that the acquisition is acceptable. Museums generally seem to be aware of the need not to purchase unprovenanced material when it is recognised as archaeological. (However, attitudes may be less secure when pieces are labelled as art.)

  32.  The Museums Association is now to recommend to museums that they 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. To ensure it is acceptable, any purchase should be accompanied by full and proper documentation, including, critically, any relevant export licences from the country of origin. This may be achievable when the item is being offered by a dealer, but purchases from auction houses are more problematical. It should, by now, be clear that the appearance of an object in the saleroom of a major auction house is no guarantee of its good pedigree.

  Unless good evidence of its history and means of first acquisition is forthcoming an item should be avoided because of the risk that it could be illegally exported—or fake, or stolen.

  33.  By undertaking "due diligence" procedures it may be possible to establish a provenance or reconstruct an ownership history. However, in some cases it will prove impossible to establish a secure history, in which case the acquisition should be avoided unless specific written permission is officially granted by the relevant authorities in the country of origin.

  34.  Due diligence is an indispensable procedure to be followed for any acquisition. It can be time consuming, and expensive, and it is tempting to take short cuts. But failure to adequately check the history of an acquisition could result in an embarrassing and expensive mistake. The cost of diligence procedures is effectively a hidden cost of the trade, the need for them a result of their secretive, often unethical practices, and one passed on to museums.

  35.  A further problem is that many museums lack the resources or expertise to undertake due diligence—or even to identify the correct overseas authorities who should be contacted. For this reason, we recommend that a central resource should be set up to advise museums and make available the export legislation of all countries. UNESCO hold copies of relevant legislation from all states party to the 1970 Convention but, in general, such information is difficult to come by.


  36.  The illicit trade is facilitated by differences in law between jurisdictions: it is difficult for a government to reclaim material once it has been exported illegally from its territory. To overcome these problems a series of international conventions have been devised over the years, with the aim of allowing an internationally unified response to what is an international problem. The 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property establishes a legal framework within which governments can have the opportunity to co-operate to fight the illicit trade in cultural property. The Convention makes provision for a state party to request the return of an object stolen within its own jurisdiction but located within the jurisdiction of another. It also makes provision for a state party to request another to impose import restrictions on specific classes of material. There are also recommendations for education and training. A state can implement any or all of the articles of the Convention.

  37.  The 1970 UNESCO Convention is not retroactive. This means that claims for restitution can only proceed for an object that was removed from the territory of a claimant state after the date of ratification by the state party from which the object is to be recovered. Private and public collections established within a state before it becomes party to the Convention are not open to claims for restitution. At the present time there are 86 signatory states around the world. Of the three largest market states (USA, UK and Switzerland), the USA has ratified the Convention, which entered US law in 1983 as the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) and even Switzerland is currently drafting implementing legislation.

  38.  However, in sharp contrast, the UK Government has consistently refused to ratify the Convention. This means, shockingly, that as Lord Inglewood told the House of Lords in 1997: "It is not an offence to import into this country antiquities which have been illegally excavated in and exported from their countries of origin". On 9 February 2000 the Government announced that it had decided not to sign the 1970 UNESCO Convention because "significant practical difficulties remain in implementing its provisions into UK law". What these practical difficulties are was not made clear.

  39.  The failure of the United Kingdom to ratify UNESCO is regrettable in itself, but the position is worsened as, in effect, the United Kingdom is undermining American efforts. Reports suggest now that in the wake of import restrictions placed on pre-Columbian material by the United States that such material is now moving through London before entering the United States—through the "back door", so to speak. It was reported in 1997 that the London market was glutted with smuggled pre-Columbian antiquities, with 60 per cent of the sales revenue coming from Americans.

  40.  The 1970 UNESCO Convention is an instrument of inter-Governmental co-operation—there is no provision for private individuals or institutions to reclaim stolen material through the courts of a foreign country. The 1995 UNIDROIT Convention is designed to rectify these deficiencies by providing a legal framework within which private actions can proceed, and by defining that an object which has been illegally excavated should be considered as stolen. Like the UNESCO 1970 Convention, the UNIDROIT Convention is not retroactive. Unlike UNESCO, UNIDROIT must be fully implemented. Eleven states have ratified the UNIDROIT Convention, with France being the only major market nation to have done so.

  41.  On 7 February 2000 the UK Government announced that it would not sign the UNIDROIT Convention due to conflicts with current UK law. It put forward two legal objections in support of this decision. In the first place it is argued that the limitation periods are different to those which apply in the Return of Cultural Objects Regulations 1994, which are in turn different to those which normally apply for stolen property. This would cause confusion in the courts. Secondly it is argued that the principle of compensation is alien to established common law practice. HM Government's objection to the payment of compensation is difficult to understand. Article 9(1) of the Convention allows common law countries to ignore requirements for compensation, and thus represents an advance over the 1994 Return of Cultural Objects Regulations, where compensation is payable in cases of illegal export, and which have already been accepted into British Law to implement the EU Directive on the return of Cultural Objects Unlawfully Removed from the Territory of a Member State.

  42.  The Museums Association is not competent to address the legal arguments in detail. We regret that the Government has not taken a more positive attitude to the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the UNIDROIT Convention and urge the Committee to closely analyse the reasoning that led to the Government's conclusions.

  43.  In announcing the Government's decision not to become a signatory to the UNIDROIT Convention, the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport wrote "please rest assured that our decision in no way represents a rejection of the objective of discouraging trade in stolen, illicitly excavated and illegally exported cultural objects . . . I do assure you that we are seeking energetically and constructively to find another way forward which would be compatible with our current legal system". This statement of intent is welcome. Less welcome is the Secretary of State's admission that this "will take some time to consider fully". If Government has definitely rejected the conventions then it is under a moral obligation to move forward quickly with the introduction of an alternative regime. We urge the Committee to explore carefully the Government's intentions.

  44.  The Government now needs to build on the Secretary of State's desire to "discourage trade in stolen, illicitly excavated and illegally exported cultural objects". There are a number of practical steps that the Government could take to do this. These include:

    —  Government should review whether tax benefits should be allowed to accrue to individuals in respect of unprovenanced material, because of the risk that it may have been illicitly traded, for instance in the Acceptance in Lieu scheme for inheritance tax and the Conditional Exemption scheme.

    —  Government should review whether it is appropriate for the Government Indemnity scheme to continue to cover loans of unprovenanced material to UK museums.

  Note:  In considering the above recommendations it may be useful to adopt the rule of thumb used increasingly by museums that provenance need not necessarily be established if there is documentary evidence that the material in question had been exported from its country of origin before 1970.

    —  Government should proceed to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention, along with the 1999 Second Protocol.

    —  Government should resist US pressure at future meetings of the WTO for the abolition of trade controls on cultural material.

  45.  Perhaps most importantly of all, the Government should work to create a climate in which dealing in—or possessing—illicitly obtained cultural property is seen as unacceptable. (As, for example is the case with rare birds' eggs.) No Government can police every archaeological site in its country in an attempt to keep off looters, nor can it monitor every border crossing to enforce export controls. The solution ultimately is in the hands of the customer, or collector. While people in the West remain happy to buy objects with only the flimsiest indication of provenance, that is what they will continue to be offered. It will continue to be easy for the trade to market looted material, whether knowingly or unknowingly, by turning a convenient blind eye. Collectors should demand documentary evidence of an object's history. If they fail to do so then, at the end of the day they will be the real looters.


  46.  As the main focus of this memorandum is on the illicit trade, the evidence offered here on repatriation is extremely brief and we would be happy to provide additional written evidence, if the Committee would find that useful.

  47.  In 1997 the Museums Association published a report by Moira Simpson Museums and Repatriation: An account of contested items in museum collections in the UK, with comparative material from other countries. The report's key findings were:

  48.  97 per cent of Museums Association personal members thought that items should be repatriated under certain specified circumstances (for example, if the items would be preserved in a museum after repatriation). Almost 50 per cent agreed with the statement "Circumstances have changed and in many cases there are grounds for repatriation, even if the items may not be preserved in a museum".

  49.  Demands for repatriation in Australia, Canada and the USA have led to a profound shift in museum philosophies. Museums in these countries now generally have a concept of sharing responsibility for museum collections with communities of origin. This is generally not the case in the UK, where museums see themselves as having the main responsibility for objects in their care.

  50.  Most non-national museums had not adequately addressed the possibility of repatriation. Only 6 per cent of museums responding to a questionnaire had developed written policies specifically referring to repatriation. This, and other evidence, implies that many museums need expert advice and assistance to help them follow through the complex procedures needed to properly assess a repatriation claim. Government needs to ensure this expert advice is provided—perhaps as a central advisory point that can also advise on related cultural property matters such as avoiding illicitly traded acquisitions.

  51.  International treaties on illicit trade in cultural property (such as the UNESCO 1970 Convention and the UNIDROIT Convention) have little, if any, relevance to demands for the repatriation of material acquired during the colonial era.

  52.  Evidence from Australia, Canada and the USA suggests that only a small proportion of museum collections are likely to be subject to repatriation requests.

  53.  Repatriation negotiations can bring benefits for museums. If handled properly, a repatriation request need not be a negative experience—it can lead to future co-operation and partnership.

  The Museums Association also wishes to make the following additional points.

  54.  In view of the diversity of museums, motivations for repatriation requests and histories of objects in museum collections, every repatriation request has to be considered separately, by individual museum governing bodies but according to a common set of criteria. The kinds of criteria to use are outlined clearly in the MGC publication Restitution and Repatriation: Guidelines for Good Practice, as are possible procedures.

  55.  It is essential the museums treat those making a repatriation request with courtesy and respect.

  56.  As public, accountable bodies, museums should wherever possible address repatriation requests using an open, transparent procedure, ideally involving meetings open to the public.

March 2000

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