Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160-179)|
4 NOVEMBER 2003
Q160 Michael Fabricant:
But do you take the view that the Government should take the lead
in this if
Mr Browne: Yes.
Q161 Michael Fabricant:
Mr Browne: I do,
because one of the key elements is it has to be internationally
Michael Fabricant: Thank
Q162 Chairman: Before
I call Mr Wyatt, following the question Mr Fabricant has put to
you, you say, very understandably, that the Government in your
view should take the lead. The statistics with which we have been
provided show that total art sales are £4,200 million, that
we have a quarter of the global market and three-fifths of the
European market. Those are colossal figures and show how cardinal
the role of the United Kingdom is. That being so, do you have
any rational explanation for the Government dragging its feet
in this way over a number of years, despite the fact that the
whole thing was highlighted in our previous report, let alone
other contributions to these discussions?
Mr Browne: Not
really. I think it is lost in discussion somewhere in departments,
but it is to be regretted. The Government, I have to say, to pay
it tribute, has been on the whole very supportive of usI
mean, hugely in terms of
Q163 Chairman: Supportive
in every way, short of action!
Mr Browne: Short
of doing any . . .
Mr Ede: It is a
question of cash.
Mr Browne: I would
think it is resources. If I may widen things, the easy part is,
in a sense, to do things like sign up to conventions. The difficult
part is actually to commit resources, to make practical steps
to deal with these issues. I think that is the thing. It is practical
measuresvery often not very dramatic practical measuresthat
could make a big difference.
Chairman: Thank you. Mr
Q164 Derek Wyatt:
When you say it is expense, have you put a paper to the DCMS to
say how much it will cost? Mr Browne: No, because,
as I say, we want to see how they would want to go about it. May
I turn the thing round, Mr Wyatt? The point is that we already
have the Art Loss Register which we subscribe to. What we were
doing was reacting to widespread public concern about the illicit
market. We are saying that if there really is a determination
to solve this problem, this is the practical step which should
be taken. It is not us saying, "We would like this for our
own purposes"we already have the Art Loss Registerbut
it needs this real practical step to be taken which would actually,
as I said to Mr Fabricant earlier, have a number of, I think,
Q165 Derek Wyatt:
But if I turn it around and say that, perhaps, if I were Minister
of Art, I would say to you, "Okay, I am going to take 0.1%
of your budgets on each sale and that would go to do this,"
would you have any deep objection?
Mr Browne: I would. And may I
say, on the figures the Chairman has quoted, there are people
sleeping under the arches because they confuse turnover with profit.
I think that the market is already paying quite substantial sums
of money to the Art Loss Register to carry out checks and the
people who can afford to do it are doing it. As I said to you
earlier, the problem is that it does not stretch to people who
have less resourcessmall businesses, in particular. The
art market is almost overwhelmingly composed of small businesses
and for them this is a major problem.
Q166 Derek Wyatt:
You said that you would come back to something Mr Fabricant asked
earlier, that there is a . . . whether it is perceived wisdom
or truth, I am not sure . . . that the illicit trade in all this
is in London. You are saying, "No, it is not," or "Perhaps
it is not." Could you just expand on that? And not just you,
but if any of your colleagues want to come in.
Mr Browne: I am sorry to monopolise,
but, since I was on the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel, I will give
an answer. The problem with the illicit trade is that, by its
very nature, it is actually very hard to pin down and find out
where it is and what it is worth. I think one of the most confusing
statistics which is often quoted is the "value" of the
illicit trade. When a picture is stolen that may have an insured
value of £10 million, what is it worth? It is not worth £10
million. To say this market is worth £4 billion or £10
billion or whatever figure has been thrown up, all you can do
is attack it from the end of: Where have the losses occurred?
This is what the Illicit Trade Advisory Panel did. We looked at,
for example, the plunder of archaeological sites. We looked at
insured losses for art. We looked at thefts from churches. You
can aggregate all that but where these things are going is a much
harder problem to solve. We found it actually very difficultpartly
because the London art market is a very open market and actually
people can see what is going on in it, so if something does eventually
turn up in a legitimate market, then, through the Art Loss Register
and so on, it can be recovered, it can be identified. I think
the transparency of the market is actually its major strength
in that respect.
Q167 Derek Wyatt:
Do any of your colleagues want to comment on that?
Mr Ede: I think
we have the most stringent laws in this country. The new cultural
offences bill which has now become law means that we have tougher
laws on this than any country in the world. I think it is true
to say that London of course is a huge market and any percentage
of a very large market will be illicit. That is why the database
is so important, so that we can attack this from the bottom.
Q168 Derek Wyatt:
If I may, Chairman, it is good to see Richard Allan MP here because
it was his bill. I am glad he is here. We have been told that
the looting of Iraq is much bigger and has gone on for much longer
actually than just since the war. Is it your perception that London
is the centre of this?
Mr Ede: No, there
is no evidence of that. Of course there is tremendous looting
in Iraq and has been for a long time, but, if you look at the
statistical figures for London, the amount of material of Mesopotamian
origin dealt with here is very small.
Q169 Derek Wyatt:
Does that mean it is going elsewhere? Is it coming through London
from Dubai and from Jordan?
Mr Ede: With Heathrow
particularly being a sort of hub, pieces may well go through Heathrow
from, say, Dubai to the United States or elsewhere. That is not
to say that they end up on the London market. My experienceand
of course we have given very stringent guidance to our members
on this subjectis that this material is not coming through
London. Nobody will handle Mesopotamian antiquities at the moment
Q170 Derek Wyatt:
How do you make a market, then?
Mr Ede: I do not
think there is a market at the moment. I think what has happened
in Iraq has completely destroyed that market, including the market
in material which is legitimate but which has no published provenance.
Q171 Chairman: Consequent
on the answers you have just given to Mr Wyatt, I have already
asked you to elucidate one puzzle which, with your best efforts,
you have failed to do. Could I ask you now to elucidate two more.
We recently had before us two absolutely excellent officers from
New Scotland Yard but, so far as I can gather, that is just about
it. You talk about what is going through Heathrow, for example.
There is not one single dedicated officer of Customs & Excise
trained to deal with these matters. Yetand I do not know
the current figureswhen we conducted our previous inquiry
and met the carabinieri in Rome, they had 300 people. What is
it, together with the failure of the Government to address itself
constructively and actively to these matters, taking into account
the size of our market, that puts it so low down on the list of
Mr Browne: I would
like to be able to answer that question. I really do not know
the answer to that question. We did, you will recall, in our previous
evidence to your Committee, Chairman, make the point about how
important it was to have officials who are properly trained in
this area. It is quite complicated and it requires a pretty high
degree of knowledge, particularly in James Ede's field of antiquities.
It is something we lament greatly. It just does not seem to be
Mr Aydon: I wonder
if it is not possibly a question of it not being an attractive
career route through the police. Maybe there are more interesting
areas in the force in which officers want to work and this does
not really attract interest or very many applicants.
Mr Browne: We would
always be very happy to play our part in trying to add to the
knowledge of people. There is no reason why we could not do that.
But it just needs to be a higher priority, Chairman.
Mr Ede: I think
you also have to ask yourself the question: If large resources
were thrown at this problem, maybe you would find that the problem
was not as big as has been suggested. I think actually that is
the nub of the matter: there would not be very much for them to
do. It would clearly be useful to have a dedicated officer in
each county constabulary who was an expert in antiques, so that
there was some cross-pollination and some movement of intelligence
and informationthe lack of which we suffer very badly now.
In the past, I have rung Scotland Yard to get information on a
theft I knew to have taken place in Huntingdon, to be told that
they did not know anything about it. But I do not think the problem
is as great as it is suggested.
Q172 Mr Flook: Mr
Browne, for the sake of the record and as a constituency interest,
Mr Chairman, if I may be so bold, last week we had Thornton Kay
of Salvo come before us, and I know he e-mailed you. Could you
just confirm that your organisation has not consulted Salvo. I
think that is what he was asking.
Mr Browne: Yes,
exactly. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to put this
record straight. It is important to understand how our federation
works. It is really a coalition of individual organisations, so
we do not have individual members. I think you have a list of
those, of which Salvo is not one, so I do not purport either to
represent him or them and cannot represent their views because
I do not necessarily know what their views are.
Q173 Mr Flook: He
makes the point that there is not an organisation that represents
the architectural and gardening antique dealers. Is that a bit
of a loophole? "Loophole" is the wrong word. Is that
a bit of a weakness?
Mr Browne: I would
have thought so. He made that point to me and I suggested that
he perhaps forms oneafter all, all these organisations
start somewhere. If they have a community of interest, as obviously
they have, then it would seem sensible to have an organisation.
Q174 Mr Flook: Good.
Thank you for helping to clear that up. Secondly, going quickly
through your biographies, there are many decades of experience
amongst the four of you from varying angles, and particularly
the legal angle from Christie's. Could you say a few words of
where you have come across illicit trade, in your experience as
individuals. Were you surprised upon closer checking of the approach
that the provenance was not what you thought it was? Could you
give us a few examples. We have had the police view. I will not
tell you what they said about, say, the British Antique Dealers
Association, until you answer.
Mr Aydon: I will
comment from the auction house perspective, if I may. Certainly
two areas where we devote enormous effort actually to checking
provenance, are areas such as Iraq and such as objects which may
have been taken in the 1933-45 period. As to Iraq, I personally
have identified one object which was suspicious, and which I handed
to the police under the regulations which came in earlier this
yearin June, I think.
Q175 Mr Flook: What
was the response of the prospective clientnow no longer
clientto you doing that?
Mr Aydon: We told
him what the law was and he had no choice but to accept it and
he has accepted it so far.
Q176 Mr Flook: Was
he likely to have been a middleman himselfor middlewoman,
Mr Aydon: No. He
told us that he had inherited it. It was a family object that
he had inherited.
Q177 Mr Flook: And
he was called Mr Smith from Northampton.
Mr Aydon: No, no,
no. He is a middle-eastern businessman. And there was a provenance
that he gave us going back, oh, 20 years or so, with some documentary
evidence to back it up. But in our academic researchand
this comes back to the point about research and checking: we did
extensive work with the scholarly bookswe found that some
of the dates in the published books did not quite match the dates
in the provenance that we were given. Now, the provenance may
have been right and the books may have been wrongit is
not for us to make a final judgment therebut there was
enough suspicion, bearing in mind the new Iraq order, to oblige
us to hand the object to the police, which we did.
Mr Ede: Recently,
last year, I acquired a Greek stela (a memorial tablet in marble)
and, during the course of research, discovered that it had been
published as being in the Thebes Museum in 1923 in Greece. I assumed
it had been stolen during the warbecause I acquired it
from a dealer who had acquired it at auction, and the auction
house, I know, checks with the Art Loss Register. It did not appear
on the Art Loss Register, so I assumed that it must have been
during the war. I contacted the Greek embassy to find out whether
they had sold it. They assured me it had been stolen. I handed
it back to them, obviously, and it turned out that it had been
stolen since 1980 and they had not realised they had lost it.
I asked them for information about other pieces which might have
been lost at the same time and, to date, following four more letters
to them, I have had no reply. This is what we are up against.
That is why there is no point in throwing lots of policemen at
this. We need a database that works, that is free for us to get
into. The reason I say "free"and I think this
really does need to be hammered homeis that the vast majority
of the members of my trade association deal in objects that are
worth between £1 and £500. It costs £30 to do a
check with the ALR. We cannot require our members to check things
on that basis. We require them to check anything over £2,000;
I would like them to check everything. It is not foolproof, but
it is cheap and it is effective and it also gives a very clear
definition of due diligencevery clear to everybody.
Mr van Haeften:
My particular sphere is paintings, which is perhaps slightly different.
Pictures are slightly more identifiable, generally.
Q178 Mr Flook: And
they are unique as well, are they not?
Mr van Haeften:
Yes and no.
Q179 Mr Flook: I accept
Mr van Haeften:
Every work of art is essentially unique. You get complications
with somebody like Peter Breughel the Younger, of the famous winter
scene or the "Bird Trap" there are 110 versions by various
members of the studio. With pictures that have been stolen most
recently, the Art Loss Register is extremely good. I am constantly
in touch with them. More complications come with pictures that
are concerned with Nazi spoliation issues, where a catalogue,
let us say, in 1933, may describe a landscape by Salomon van Ruysdael
"with two figures crossing a bridge". Virtually every
picture by Salomon van Ruysdael has two figures crossing a bridge!
Or a picture by Philips Wouwerman of the white horse. Well, he
only painted white horses! It is complicated unless you have a
proper database with illustrations. One of the things that Anthony
brought up, of which Sotheby's is very aware, is that the London
trade has had a reputation since the 17th Century of expertise
and connoisseurship. That is why the trade in London is as big
as it is and that is why so many things come here. But we take
enormous pains to check the provenance of any work of art comes
our way, speaking certainly for the picture dealers, and I know
it happens in every other discipline as well. It must be said
that it is a complete pain to buy a work of art that has a tainted
provenance. It is a nightmare.