Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill

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Mr. Allan: I think that in my earlier comments I made the substantive case as to why the single test of the wording ''formed part of the building'' is the appropriate one. We were talking in the context of the UK. It is also important that we clarify how this legislation will work in the international context before we move on. My understanding of the way the Bill will operate is that there are two conditions if an object that has been removed from a building is to become tainted. The first is that the offence was committed in another country and the second is that it also passes the part of a building test in our legislation. If a third country had its equivalent of the listed building legislation that covered all objects such as furniture, free-standing statues and so on, those objects would nevertheless not be covered by the Bill. The fact that they were removed from another country in a way that constitutes an offence is not enough on its own to be covered by the Bill. Two tests would be applied. First, that the offence had been committed and secondly that the objects formed part of the building.

The aim is to give certainty to people trying to trade in that area. They can understand that if they acquire some goods, from Germany, France or wherever, that may or may not have been part of a building, they need to apply the tests to understand whether they are at risk under this legislation and they should look at the comparable body of UK case law, which defines part of a building. If an object is outside that—if it falls into the category of furniture, free-standing

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objects and so forth—they will not be at risk and do not need to worry about the application of this legislation. It is important to clarify that matter because some other countries will have a much broader definition in their listed building legislation and I do not include that concept of part of a building.

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman has done an excellent job of tackling the concerns raised by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. I will be brief.

On removing features from buildings and structures, subsection (4)(a) provides that an object will become tainted only if it has at any time formed part of a building or structure of historical, architectural or archaeological interest. That means that the illegal detachment or amputation of structural, architectural or ornamental elements of a building or structure—fireplaces, mantelpieces, doors, door-hoods, floors, panelling, painted wall plaster, roofing and so on—will be tainted. However, the removal of objects that may be contained in and even integral to the function of the building will not be tainted. I hope that that is clear. Some examples of objects that will not be covered are chairs, tables, mirrors, and works of art that are hung in a building.

To give an example, the Roman Venus from Newby hall near Ripon would not come under the scope of the offence since the statue has never been attached to the building, even though it is integral to the architectural design. The Bill seeks to close the loophole whereby, although it is an offence to remove integral parts of a listed building or structure, whether they be statues hacked from the fa¢ade of a cathedral or fireplaces ripped out of a Georgian mansion, it is not a crime to sell them on.

I understand that there has been some concern in trade circles, which has been repeated this afternoon, that the Bill might cover portable furnishings. I therefore repeat the words of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam and state categorically that we do not believe that there is any justification for that concern. It is certainly not the intention to include such objects within the scope of the Bill. The requirement that the object must have ''formed part of'' the building or structure is sufficiently clear to exclude objects that are in no way integral to the form or structure of a building. Much will depend on circumstances, but in that respect the Bill aims to make as clear a distinction as possible between fixtures that are integral to a building or structure, and furnishings that are not.

The introduction of the term ''fabric'' would appear to reduce the scope of the criminal offence, but in a wholly unpredictable manner. It would also run the risk of excluding objects that should be covered by the Bill. I considered two definitions of ''fabric'', one from my slim but concise Oxford dictionary—6th edition, 1976—and the other from the newer, ''shorter'' dictionary, which is actually much longer than my concise version. The definition of fabric in the newer Oxford dictionary is,

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    ''the basic structure (walls, floor, and roof) of a building''.

It is strongly arguable that that definition would exclude such objects as architectural sculpture, panelling and fireplaces, and in so doing would seriously undermine the scope of the Bill.

The purpose of the amendment is to reduce the types of object removed from buildings that would fall within the scope of the offence created by the Bill. Although it seems clear that the amendment will have a narrowing effect, the wording that is used makes it unclear as to the precise extent to which it will have such an effect. Given the dictionary definition of ''fabric'', however, there is a risk that the amendment will have a substantial narrowing effect and leave unprotected many objects such as statuary, panelling and fireplaces, which ITAP clearly intended should be protected.

For those reasons, I hope that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham will withdraw the amendment.

Tim Loughton: I am grateful again to the Minister and to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam for giving greater definition to what they do not see as being brought within the scope of the Bill. However, I still have my doubts. The cases to which I alluded show the dichotomy in relation to the application of some of the past definitions.

There is also the problem of the way in which the definitions in the law of countries overseas would apply in this country. It is my understanding—I am sure that the Minister would agree—that if an especially draconian set of laws defining what constitutes part of a building were brought into force in another country and tainted goods from there ended up in the UK, the UK definition of the building or structure would apply, rather than the definition applied by that other country. That is an important point because we can argue long and hard about the way that definitions should apply to the UK, but we are talking about objects that might have originated overseas, where legislation may be different.

Dr. Howells: The hon. Gentleman is seeking comfort on this matter and I can give it to him. The test is whether an item forms part of the building in the ordinary and natural meaning of those words. It is not a question of whether the removal is contrary to another country's definition.

Tim Loughton: The Minister has indeed given me comfort. However, it is an important point and I do not think that we have fully gone over that ground today. It is ground that is nectar to many lawyers. This is, none the less, another probing amendment. We have had a useful discussion on definitions by which people would not be caught by the wording of the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 3 to 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 6

Short title, commencement and extent

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Allan: The clause makes it clear that there will be no retrospective application of an offence. I hope that it is also clear that that should not be seen as giving a green light to any objects already in circulation for which prosecution may be appropriate. I would like to place that on the record, having spoken to the Metropolitan police art and antiquity squad, who said that they did not want the legislation to be seen as stating that other material should not be pursued, for example, under legislation relating to the handling of stolen goods. I hope that that is clear.

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As this is a delegated matter, it does not apply in Scotland, as my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland pointed out. However, we should be able to secure a commitment from the new Scottish Administration that they will introduce parallel legislation should we be successful.

Thank you, Mr. Hurst, for your chairmanship. I would like to thank all Members for their support for the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at two minutes to Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Hurst, Mr. Alan (Chairman)
Allan, Mr.
Bayley, Hugh
Carmichael, Mr.
Casale, Roger
Colman, Mr.
Garnier, Mr.
Howells, Dr.
Jones, Mr. Jon Owen
Key, Mr.
Loughton, Tim
McIsaac, Shona
White, Brian

 
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