Memorandum submitted by Mr Claude Hankes-Drielsma
In writing to the Committee I would like them to
have a brief understanding of my background and interest. I am
a former Chairman of the Management Committee of Price Waterhouse
and Partners, a collector of antiquities, a Patron and benefactor
to the British Museum and on a Committee of the Ashmolean Museum,
Patron of the National Portrait Gallery and an Honorary Fellow
of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. Several years ago when I identified
some important Romano-British objects with a dealer in New York
I immediately reported this to the British Museum. It turned out
to be an illegal export, had been stolen and the matter could
be dealt with accordingly.
I also identified an item in an antiquities
sale at Sotheby's in London which at the time had no provenance.
It was only because it was publicly auctioned that it was in due
course united with other parts of the object with impeccable provenance
and is now on loan to the British Museum. Had Sotheby's refused
to auction the piece because of no known provenance, the provenance
would almost certainly have been lost for ever and the object
would have been lost to the nation.
My evidence is primarily aimed at archaeological
objects. I have visited many of the countries concerned and am
aware of the problems of the trade of antiquities. Of course UNIDROIT
would affect all trade in art and contravene significantly the
spirit of free trade.
The fundamental problem of illicit trade lies
with countries from which the illicit trade stems. Sensible and
pragmatic laws by those countries could greatly reduce the problems
of trade and change much of the trade from illicit to legal. The
laws which we have in England make eminent sense as to chance
finds. The regulations and laws with regard to chance finds for
many countries are such that the finders of such properties would
rather destroy them than declare them. The penalty of declaring
in terms of land confiscation and corruption is such that there
is no incentive to do so.
Counteracting this illicit trade has to start
by the countries concerned applying a more pragmatic approach
both with regard to losses and economic realities. Furthermore,
countries which are concerned with archaeological illegal exports
need to ensure that objects excavated and in museums are properly
photographed and recorded. This would enable them to identify
when these objects are stolen and then ensure that they alert
institutions such as the Art Loss Register to the loss. It would
enable dealers in antiquities over a certain value to always check
with the Art Loss Register or such like organisations to ensure
that the objects they are handling are not stolen.
The operational effect of legislation relating
to the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed is extremely
complex and it is unlikely that unless objects have been photographed
and identified that the countries concerned can prove in which
of the countries the object originated. There have been several
recent examples where three countries claimed one object was from
their country. In other cases countries have reclaimed objects
(recently Egypt) where it turned out the said objects were fakes.
Ratification of UNIDROIT by the UK would not
only be a direct contravention of free trade but the bureaucracy
required to deal with claims would be insurmountable given the
above problems. Art trade is a very major international market
and if a country could claim art which had been purchased legally
was under their domestic law an illegal purchase, and it would
then be for the owners of the art to prove this was not the case
and these owners would be in an impossible position to fight the
resources of a country. Furthermore, the country's laws may be
such that they totally contravene the legal rights of ownership
of the country under whose jurisdiction the owners are. Any success
in this regard for the said countries could generate an avalanche
of claims, very often for political reasons rather than cultural.
Destruction of important and crucial sites to
the understanding of the ancient world takes place in countries
such as Greece, Turkey and Italy on a daily basis. The Athens
airport, underground, olympic stadium are to name a few. The destruction
of Greek vases in Athens recently due to gross incompetence (the
vase cases were known to be totally unstable for several years)
demonstrates the lack of concern and financial commitment within
many of the countries that create the biggest outcry with regard
to illicit trade. We must therefore question whether very often
this is not a politically motivated action when the countries
are party to destruction of similar objects.
Unless an item has been photographed and recorded
in the said countries, there is no practical way of resolving
the problem. Recently as a result of pressure by individuals such
as Lord Renfrew, Sotheby's London decided to close down its antiquities
department. The result has been that their New York office has
almost doubled the size of its antiquities sales in the last few
years. However, the sale of important antiquities has tended to
go underground, ie through dealers, making it impossible for scholars
and museums to be aware of either archaeologically important objects,
but far more important, to be able to identify objects when they
might have been stolen.
The pragmatic approach we take with regard to
Treasure Trove etc sadly cannot be applied in many countries due
to corruption within the said countries. But unless a pragmatic
approach is taken and the basic laws of ownership and rules of
free trade apply, a problem will be unleashed which will be far
greater than we have at the moment and in no way resolve the underlying
problem, which rests with the countries of origin.
There is also a real danger that the impracticalities
of UNIDROIT and the like will lead in many countries to increased
destruction of cultural heritage rather than preservation.