Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Board of Deputies of British Jews

  The Board of Deputies of British Jews has been following with interest the Select Committee's investigation into Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade. Established in 1760, the Board is the democratic, representative organisation of British Jewry. Amongst the organisations who are members of the Board are Synagogues and Synagogal bodies as well as a wide range of cross-communal organisations and regional councils. Members include: the Association of Jewish Ex-servicemen and women and the '45 Aid Society representing Holocaust Survivors.

  We have a long involvement in relation to restitution for Holocaust survivors and the return of Holocaust Era Assets. Amongst other matters the Board represents the British Jewish community on the World Jewish Congress and the World Jewish Restitution Organisation; we worked with the Government to distribute funds to needy Holocaust survivors in the UK and with the Department of Trade and Industry to establish the Enemy Property Payment Scheme.

  Over recent months we have, with the Commission on Looted Art in Europe and the Holocaust Educational Trust, been in consultation with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport over the establishment of the Spoliation Advisory Committee. We have found the process to be somewhat unsatisfactory and we are concerned over the length of time it is taking the Department to establish a just and equitable system for the return of looted property to their rightful owners.

  We believe that restitution must be the key purpose of the Panel. Any alternatives must be a matter for the successful claimants. We continue to seek assurances that the Government will do all in its power to ensure that there are no impediments, legal or otherwise, to such restitution. This is, of course both a legal and a moral issue. In this regard it is essential that the Panel be given such powers as may be necessary to achieve justice and fairness.

  It has been made clear to the Department that the key principles for those representing claimants are:

    —  that the basis of settlement has to be the restitution of looted property;

    —  that a low level of proof is needed; and

    —  that the Government should give a clear commitment to provide Parliamentary time to amend legislation so that restitution can be effected.

  We believe that if it is proved that a work was looted then it should be returned to the successful claimant. If there are impediments to that return it is up to Government to ensure that the impediments are removed.

  If the claimant wishes, rather than the work being returned, the Panel may recommend other solutions which are negotiated with the successful claimant. These may include the payment of compensation at full market value, a loan to an institution acceptable to the claimant and/or the display alongside the object of an account of its history and provenance during and since the Nazi era, along with special reference to the claimant's interest therein. This should not preclude other solutions acceptable to the claimant.

  We still believe that a claims panel would be the best way to resolve these problems. However, as we have made quite clear to the Minister, if they do not establish a system which is just and equitable, then we may be put in a position where we have to advise claimants that rather than entering the claims panel system they should go directly to the courts. This is not an option we would desire, but we are concerned lest the Government establish a panel in a way which would be antithetical to the needs of claimants.

  We trust that the Committee will find our comments of use during their deliberations.

May 2000

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