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
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;
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.