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Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill [Lords]

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill [Lords]

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: John Bercow, † Mrs. Joan Humble
Baird, Vera (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs)
Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
Benyon, Mr. Richard (Newbury) (Con)
Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
Drew, Mr. David (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias (Bournemouth, East) (Con)
Flello, Mr. Robert (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab)
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester) (Lab)
Hughes, Simon (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD)
Kidney, Mr. David (Stafford) (Lab)
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op)
Mallaber, Judy (Amber Valley) (Lab)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug (Bristol, North-West) (Lab/Co-op)
Newmark, Mr. Brooks (Braintree) (Con)
Snelgrove, Anne (South Swindon) (Lab)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff, Central) (LD)
Alan Sandall, Hannah Weston, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 27 March 2007


[Mrs. Joan Humble in the Chair]

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill [Lords]

Further written evidence to be reported to the House

TRI 16 MENAI — Professional enforcement services

Clause 129

Protected objects
10.45 am
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I beg to move amendment No. 179, in clause 129, page 99, line 17, after ‘gallery’, insert—
‘(da) the museum or gallery has, within 72 hours of the arrival of the object in the United Kingdom, given the Secretary of State details of the object, including its provenance and ownership,’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 181, in clause 129, page 99, line 18, after ‘with’, insert
‘the Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material published from time to time by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and’.
No. 182, in clause 129, page 99, line 20, at end insert
‘(including provenance and, if appropriate, ownership) on a public register for the purpose of inviting any person who asserts a claim to that object to raise an objection to its inclusion in the exhibition within a specified period.’.
No. 180, in clause 129, page 99, line 22, at end insert—
‘(3A) The Secretary of State must publish the details of an object which are given to him under subsection (2)(da).’.
No. 187, in clause 129, page 100, line 7, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘shall’.
No. 188, in clause 129, page 100, line 10, at end insert
‘, including circumstances where a museum or gallery decides not to include an object in an exhibition or where a lender withdraws permission.’.
No. 189, in clause 129, page 100, line 10, at end insert—
‘(9A) The Secretary of State shall make regulations for the establishment of an independent committee to monitor the publication and reporting of specified information, the compliance of museums and galleries with the Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material published from time to time by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and the handling of claims made or objections raised in relation to any object.’.
No. 153, in clause 131, page 101, line 2, leave out from ‘objects’ to end of line 4 and insert—
‘(2A) It shall be a condition of such approval that any approved institution has agreed to apply to each and every protected object the Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material published from time to time by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.’.
Simon Hughes: I shall speak to amendments Nos. 179 and 180, which were tabled by me and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central, and to amendment No. 153, which was tabled by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk and to which we have added our names.
This is the first debate on part 6, so we are making good progress; indeed, I anticipate that we might make such good progress that we will not be here at the bitter end of the permitted time. The protection of cultural objects is an important part of the Bill, even if it is quite surprising to find it there. As was discussed in the House of Lords, it is slightly odd to find a part of this Bill that is about museums, galleries and works of art, but there is a link that justifies such measures and their accommodation under the long title. It is about whether people can enforce rights on cultural objects on loan in this country, so there is a tenuous link to the Bill that allows its inclusion—the Bill is the next most convenient vehicle for addressing the issue available to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Clause 129 sets out what objects on loan to UK museums and galleries—this is a UK-wide provision; it is not just for England and Wales—would have protection when complying to certain conditions. The clause contains five conditions that must be met for an object to be protected, but amendment No. 179 suggests that there should be a sixth condition.
Obviously, all members of the Committee will be conscious that this part of the Bill was significantly debated, discussed and, indeed, amended by the Government in Grand Committee in the House of Lords. I wish to pay tribute to my party colleagues, as will other hon. Members. Lord Thomas and Lord Maclennan spoke for the Liberal Democrats in what was a consensual and well informed debate, and Baroness Ashton was positive about the representations that they made to get the balance right. I am conscious that the clause has already been amended as a result of debates in the House of Lords.
I shall make four short points. First, all hon. Members privileged enough to have great museums or galleries in their constituencies are aware that they do a fantastic job and that they have been still more able to do their work as a result of the Government policy of making premier museums and galleries free to the public. That will be one of the great legacies of this Administration, whatever arguments we might have about other matters. Those of us who go regularly to museums and galleries are very proud of those jewels in the British cultural crown. We have the opportunity to say how wonderful the museums and galleries in our constituencies are, and I certainly wish to take that opportunity now, as I would have done even if the director general of the Imperial War museum had not written to me about the subject that we are debating. The museum is almost within our sight—it is housed in the old Bethlehem hospital, the original bedlam, on the Lambeth road. It is a wonderful museum and I commend it to members of the Committee who have not been there. I was privileged to be there again last week for the 90th birthday of Dame Vera Lynn and last Saturday for my surgery, which I am kindly permitted to hold there on a regular basis.
Another contribution of the great Imperial War museum is HMS Belfast, which is also in my constituency. It provides a wonderful, well-used opportunity for people to experience a real vessel that served this country during the last war. The director general led on such issues on behalf of museums and galleries until last year. He said, as have others, that he and his colleagues are happy to comply with the changes made to the Bill by the Lords, but that we must get the balance right and not have too onerous a set of obligations that makes the ability to transfer goods, property and objects of art across national boundaries more difficult or actually stops it happening.
By definition, one of the great opportunities for all museums and galleries is to show works of art that are not based in their particular country. What brings in crowds in their greatest numbers, whether to the Tate Modern or the National Gallery, is when an exhibition shows the collected works of Velasquez, Rubens, David Hockney or Gilbert and George. Such collections could comprise works by one artist, from one period or of one type, or as in the case of the Imperial War museum, works that demonstrate the effect of the holocaust or the trenches in world war one. We must encourage the sharing of cultural objects throughout the world.
My noble Friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart said that the best context in which to share cultural objects throughout the world is organisations such as UNESCO, which is based in Paris. Ideally, we need legislation that is applicable in all countries rather than one country. Such a measure needs a common legislative basis. I am not arguing that it should be done through the European Union or in another way; of course, it should be done nationally, but by agreement along the lines of the good work of the Council of Europe and the United Nations.
My second point does not collide with the desire for protection if objects of art are borrowed from abroad for temporary exhibitions. The wish to make sure that works of art illegally stolen, looted or taken from their owners at different times in history can be returned has obviously been on the agenda here and worldwide. The most commonly argued case concerns objects of art that were taken as a result of the Nazi governance of Germany, the invasion of many European countries by Hitler and the holocaust. It has been argued strongly that works of art are still being looted from families and homes in Poland and elsewhere which, if they reappear, must be returned to their rightful owners. That applies not only to families who lost family members or relatives in the terrible, terrible holocaust tragedy, but to countries that have been subject to military invasions and the unauthorised taking of property.
The amendments that were accepted by the other place and those before us today are trying to strike the right balance. I am grateful, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central, to all those who have made their views clear. We have taken account of what they said. The specific condition in amendment No. 179 is that there should be an ability and a requirement that those who import works of art temporarily lodge such information with the Secretary of State in an official place within 72 hours of the works arriving here. We would therefore know what was on loan in the United Kingdom, where it came from and
“the details of the object, including its provenance and ownership”.
The straightforward effect of amendment No. 180 would be that when that information was supplied to the Government, it would be published so that everybody could see what was here at a particular time.
Amendment No. 153 applies to clause 131, which deals with “Relevant museums and galleries” and defines which museums and galleries will be covered by the requirements. We shall debate later other amendments that would change that definition slightly. Clause 131 sets out both how a museum or gallery will be defined and the criteria for approval of those places as approved institutions. One of the conditions, set out in clause 131(2)(a), is that there will be approved procedures
“for establishing the provenance and ownership of objects”.
We shall debate later whether to keep clause 131(2)(b), which leaves it to the Secretary of State to set out guidance, or insert something more specific.
Amendment No. 153, which is a joint Conservative-Liberal Democrat amendment, would add the condition precedent:
“It shall be a condition of such approval that any approved institution has agreed to apply to each and every protected object the Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material published from time to time by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.”
That suggests that in order to tick the boxes and be an approved institution, a museum or gallery should need to agree to apply due diligence guidelines. There was a big debate in the Lords about having those guidelines, and nobody disagrees that they should exist. The amendment is about recognising the fact that they do.
My last point on this group of amendments applies also to the later amendments to clause 129. It is important that we do not impose requirements that are so impracticable, onerous or financially burdensome that they would make the exercise of the provisions impossible and make it impossible for objects of art to be transferred and shown. There is a big legal point behind that: if somebody carries out due diligence and checks to ensure that an object is an authentic work and is honestly owned and lent, a later claim that needs to be pursued may still arise.
The international community, private owners, private galleries and people who have lost things that belonged to them or their families, ancestors or community need as easy a process as possible in international law for ensuring that they can get their property back. We need easy legal processes and ways in which goods can honestly be returned to people. That is a slightly different exercise—of course, there are links—from ensuring that we protect the transfer of works of art.
I hope that, at the end of our deliberations in Committee and downstairs, we will get the balance right. We have been pretty well getting a consensus and the amendments suggest what might be a final, small set of adjustments to complete the process. I hope that the Committee is positive about them, and I look forward to hearing what other hon. Members have to say.
11 am
Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mrs. Humble. I agree with what the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey said. I shall speak to the amendments standing in my name and those of my hon. Friends.
The hon. Gentleman explained why it is important for Britain to remain the major centre for world class exhibitions. He said that those exhibitions are popular and important to London’s cultural base because they often draw pictures from around the world. He mentioned the Reubens exhibition. I was fortunate enough to see the Renoir exhibition at the National Gallery the other day, in which a number of Renoirs from around the world had been collected together.
I accept that there have been problems over the threat posed to some works of art. In the debate in the other place and on Second Reading, a number of examples were alluded to, including the loan of works of art by Russia to Switzerland. Those works were seized on the basis of the debt that Russia owed to Switzerland. Russia then made it clear to Britain that unless immunity provisions were put in place, its museums would be most unlikely to lend certain works of art to Britain.
We also heard about how a gallery here was trying to borrow works of art from Taiwan. The works were tainted, however, because the People’s Republic of China claimed that they had been given to Taiwan by the former Chinese leader, Chiang Kai-shek, and therefore were rightly the property of the People’s Republic and not of Taiwan.
Concerns were therefore expressed, and I think that the Government were right to take action. I certainly agreed with the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey when he asked whether provisions should be tacked on to the Bill. In the long title, there is scope for such provision, but we do not want to get into an argument about that. I would far rather have had a dedicated Bill considered with real focus in both Chambers. We could have had longer debates on all the important issues. Indeed, many legitimate concerns have been expressed about this part of the Bill. The Commission for Looted Art in Europe, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and a number of academics have come up with various comments about what we are doing. It is perfectly legitimate to argue that we are putting Britain in a different position regarding the granting of immunity to a number of other countries. It may be that other hon. Members would like to discuss that point.
Let us look at some of the comments made by academics. I would like to quote Professor Norman Palmer, who is an expert on the subject. He is emeritus professor of the law of art and cultural property at University college London and visiting professor of law at King’s college London, and more importantly, he was chairman of the illicit trade advisory panel, chairman of a working group on human remains and museum collections and a member of a spoliation advisory panel. He is still on that advisory panel. Professor Palmer said:
“There is room for concern that the enhanced security of possession to be conferred on borrowing museums by an anti-seizure statute could tempt museums to become less vigilant in the monitoring of loans. Museums might be inclined to think that, because no legal proceedings can be taken against them during the loan period, there is no compelling reason for them to make positive inquiries about the origins and history of the objects they borrow.
I believe that such a development would be regrettable. It would subordinate ethics to law and undo much of the good that has been achieved in recent years.
Many third party claims against museums involve spoliated objects. To deny a Holocaust survivor access to justice is an austere and arguably disproportionate response to the administrative, economic and cultural concerns of lenders and borrowers, however legitimate those concerns. The denial may be particularly distressing where the object is the only tangible reminder of a lost family or home.”
Those are strong words indeed. Many other leading academics take a similar point of view. What they are saying is that there is also a strong possibility that the legislation amounts to a derogation from the UK’s commitment not to borrow or acquire Nazi-tainted art, as laid down in the 1998 Washington principles on Nazi-confiscated art. Those principles are endorsed and adopted by the UK and by the 1998 NMDC—National Museums Directors Conference—statement of principles and proposed action on the spoliation of works of art during the holocaust and world war two period.
The Government have rightly looked at some of those concerns and made a number of amendments, so one has to give praise where it is due. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey pointed out that there had been changes to due diligence procedures. There are changes in connection with the publication on a public register of lists of objects to be borrowed prior to their arrival in the country, and museums will be required to publish that specified information for a set period. Five or six amendments were made, but there are still a number of concerns. I accept entirely that the Government have moved some way to acknowledge the legitimacy of the concerns raised by a range of groups and individuals. On the other hand, the amended Bill still leaves potential claimants without the full protection that we feel they ought to have. I should like to have a quick look at some of the areas of ongoing concern, and then discuss specifically what we seek to do in our amendments.
We are also concerned about the publication of provenance and ownership information. Let me explain why. Publication will provide a safeguard only if it includes comprehensive information on an object’s history, identity and current ownership, such that a deprived owner is able to recognise it. Where preliminary due diligence has persuaded a museum that a loan should not go ahead, that too should be the subject of full disclosure and proper publication.
On the notice period, in order for potential claimants to be able to recognise their property and express concerns, there must be a sufficient period for them to do so, particularly as many potential claimants are likely to live in different countries spread far and wide. The Government said that they are minded to bring in a fairly short period, but we feel that that is inadequate. The Government have now indicated that they are looking at a two-month period. Opposition Members would submit, however, that three months would be an appropriate period, given all the obstacles and difficulties that any potential claimant is likely to face and the fact that claimants will almost certainly be in different far-flung countries.
As to identifying a stolen or looted work of art on the register, in order for publication of a register of prospective loans to be meaningful, there must be a formal procedure for registering claims and obtaining further information and assistance regarding any claim from the DCMS and institutions concerned. We feel strongly about that. It is also important to bear it in mind that the DCMS has stated that if a serious objection is raised during the notice period, an object that has arrived in the UK and been granted immunity is unlikely to be included in the relevant exhibition. I do not feel that that should be left to the discretion of the museum. If an object has been the subject of serious objections, saying “unlikely” is not good enough; there should be no question of its being included in the exhibition.
On approved status, the Government have addressed some of the problems by agreeing that only certain museums and galleries will be able to benefit from the legislation, but we are concerned that the Secretary of State will not be obliged to withdraw approval if an approved museum falls well short in its practice of due diligence. If the due diligence exercise is not mandatory, all that the Government will be required to do is consider the situation. There is too much flexibility in such an arrangement, and I suggest that in such circumstances the Secretary of State should have a duty to withdraw approval in order to ensure compliance.
Our amendments address many of our concerns. The hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey has explained his amendments, and I should like first to look at amendment No. 181, which would insert these words:
“the Due Diligence Guidelines for Museums, Libraries and Archives on Collecting and Borrowing Cultural Material published from time to time by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport”.
Those guidelines should be published by the DCMS, and they should appear in the Bill. That is essential, for reasons that I have given. The spot check concept will not be anything like strong enough. Amendment No. 153 is linked to that. Although it applies to clause 131, it is consequential. It would insert a new subsection (2A), which again makes our point about due diligence.
Amendment No. 182 would insert these words at the end of clause 129(2)(e):
“(including provenance and, if appropriate, ownership) on a public register for the purpose of inviting any person who asserts a claim to that object to raise an objection to its inclusion in the exhibition within a specified period.”
Again, that would make substantial sense, and it would go some way towards correcting the problem that I identified earlier.
Amendment No. 187 would take out “may” and insert “shall”. That, too, is self-explanatory. For the reasons that I gave earlier, we should be more specific about what can and cannot be done. Subsection (9) would be a great deal stronger if it said that the Secretary of State “shall” make regulations, rather than “may” make them. If the Bill is to have real impact and bite, and serve the purposes the Government intend, changing the language from “may” to “shall” would make substantial sense.
11.15 am
Mr. Brooks Newmark (Braintree) (Con): I am sure that the Minister thinks that we are being pedantic, but continual use of “may” lends a sense of ambiguity to the Bill. Putting in stronger wording reinforces the point and is very much in the spirit of what the Government are trying to achieve.
Mr. Bellingham: I agree fully with my hon. Friend. As things stand, we are looking at guidelines being put into regulations and at a lot of secondary legislation. With much of this part of the Bill being skeletal, we are looking at a great deal of scope being given to the Secretary of State.
As the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey pointed out, making this part of the Bill work successfully is a balancing exercise between the crucial need to ensure that London retains its eminent status as the world’s number one centre for culture and exhibitions and, at the same time, the protection of the rights of individual families who have suffered unspeakable grief, terror and violence, which are beyond words. We have to respect and protect their rights as well. Instead of relying on two Departments to get together cosily, to liaise, to impose a regime of spot checks and—possibly or possibly not—to make regulations, we are saying that the Bill should state that the Secretary of State “shall” make those regulations.
Flowing from that “shall”, we have tabled amendment No. 188. I will read out the entire subsection:
“The Secretary of State may”—
under our proposal, the subsection would say “shall”—
“make regulations requiring a museum or gallery to provide persons with specified information about an object in specified circumstances (which may include in particular compliance with conditions imposed by or under the regulations).”
Then we would insert
“including circumstances where a museum or gallery decides not to include an object in an exhibition or where a lender withdraws permission.”
That follows on from the point that I made a moment ago.
We would also insert proposed new subsection (9A), which is important and follows on from my earlier points. It states:
“The Secretary of State shall make regulations”
and then we talk again about due diligence, which is vital. Amendment No. 153 brings the due diligence requirements and guidelines into clause 131.
As I said, we could debate the matter for a long time. I accept that the debate is partly on clause stand part, because we are talking about general issues. Many of the amendments touch on a lot of different aspects of the clause. All the organisations involved, which have been extremely patient and given generously of their time to brief members of the Committee, Ministers and shadow Ministers, are grateful to the Government for the amendments that they have introduced. However, on reflection, those organisations feel that the Government now need to make some further concessions.
None of our amendments is in any way going to cause excessive inconvenience to galleries, museums and exhibitors. We are not in the business of complicated rules and regulations, or of stifling the innovation or the verve and panache shown by so many of this country’s exhibitors. They show that day in and day out, which is why they attract such amazing exhibitions, not just to London but to other cities and towns.
Mr. Newmark: Again, I do not want to labour the point, but it sounds to me, listening to my hon. Friend, that all he is trying to do is to give some teeth to the moral and ethical guidelines laid down in the statement by the National Museum Directors Conference. All we trying to do is to give some bite, and not to have vagueness in the language that the Government seem to be obsessed with.
Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I would not say “bite” or “teeth”, because that sounds almost too aggressive. We are just trying to apply some clarity. Everyone agrees that, for the arrangements to work properly and fairly, they need to be clear and balanced. Our amendments give them that clarity and balance and I see no reason why the Minister should not accept them. She should certainly look at them positively and, if she cannot accept them now, at least take our arguments away and come back on Report.
Mr. Richard Benyon (Newbury) (Con): I find it rather difficult to approach this subject after the other parts of the Bill. It requires a bit of an intellectual leap to deal with the enforcement of the debts of some of the most vulnerable people in society and then with works of art of quite staggering value. It is nevertheless important and I understand why the Government have tacked the clause on to the Bill. We just want to get it right. It would be a shame if we ended up with legislation that was more lax than in other countries. It would be worth while if the Committee took a few moments to consider what happens in other countries.
Many countries require full disclosure and publication of all information on the loan and provide for claims to be made in a notice period prior to exhibition. Immunity will not be conferred in many countries if a claim is made within that notice period. In addition, in many cases, immunity ceases if it is discovered that a work of art has been stolen.
In the United States there is federal and state law. Under federal law there are stringent conditions requiring full disclosure of all details of the loan of works of art six months prior to any exhibition, without which immunity will not apply. Details of that information include a copy of the lending agreement, full details of the items being imported and a statement giving information as to why anyone might want to attach the property. Under state law, all states, except New York, provide for immunity from civil claims. The protection does not apply where the theft of the work of art from its owner is alleged and found proven in court.
Canada offers a similar system to that in the US Federal Act and Canadian states operate a similar system to that in the majority of states in the US. In France, the Minister of Culture and the Minister of Foreign Affairs issue a joint decree for each exhibition, listing the cultural objects protected, determining the duration of a loan, and thus the protection, and identifying the exhibition organisers. The decree may be challenged by a third party within a period of two months—we are talking about a period of three months—from the date of publication in the Journal Offici e l. Protection only becomes effective if no claims are made within that two-month period.
Obviously in Germany and Israel there are particular sensitivities which have already been alluded to. German law provides for immunity from seizures, but prevents the sale of an object on which immunity has been conferred. The law requires that the work of art be returned to the place of origin. In Israel, immunity will be conferred only on public, not on private lenders. Immunity will not be conferred where there is no legal remedy for a dispossessed owner in the country from which the loan originates.
Lastly, Switzerland has very strict rules. It requires that loan requests be published in the federal bulletin, describing the cultural property and its origin. People are entitled to claim ownership and such claims will prevent immunity from being conferred on the object in question. Switzerland also requires that the cultural property will be returned to the contracting state of origin, following the conclusion of the exhibition.
Precise and clear guidelines therefore exist in other countries. The amendment tabled by my hon. Friend and the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey are designed to tighten up certain aspects of the rules and regulations. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that the guidelines are clear and on the face of the Bill.
Mr. Newmark: As always, it is a delight to see you in the Chair, Mrs. Humble. I shall simply address amendment No. 153 and then perhaps back up a couple of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk.
A rather significant controversy surrounds this part of the Bill, as it balances the broad issue of the public interest against personal loss. That is a difficult balance to strike, and is not made easier by the fact that it is an emotive subject for the many people who are affected by the looting of works of art. I recognise the efforts that the Government have made to meet the criticism that this aspect of the Bill received in the other place. I support amendment No. 153, however, because there should be no ambiguity about the requirement for due diligence. The best way to remove ambiguity is to refer specifically to the guidance that already exists from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. It is necessary to refer to it, because although the general principles are in place, there is scope to tighten up on the details. I therefore ask the Minister for her assurance that her ministerial colleague in the DCMS will take this opportunity to review the guidelines.
The injunction in the guidelines that museums should beware of fake documentation, for example, does not inspire me with confidence in the process of due diligence. It does not sound rigorous to me. My other concern is that the threshold for establishing provenance is 1970, I think, so no works of art that were acquired illicitly before that date—during the holocaust, for example—will be caught by the requirement for due diligence. I see the Minister shaking her head, so perhaps she will correct me on that point. I am aware that the 1970 threshold is in line with the UNESCO convention. Perhaps she will clarify the situation in respect of due diligence to be carried out on works of art that were acquired before that date.
Finally, I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk that it is questionable whether the Bill is compatible with the UK’s support for the principles that were laid down at the 1998 Washington conference on holocaust-era assets. Furthermore, it undermines the moral and ethical guidelines, with which I am particularly concerned. They were laid down in the National Museum Directors Conference statement of principle, and proposed action on the spoliation of works of art during the holocaust and world war two. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Vera Baird): As everyone has said, the point of this part of the Bill is to provide immunity against seizure of objects. I shall come to the availability of other kinds of action, as mentioned by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, presently. For objects that are lent to the country from overseas for public display in a temporary exhibition at an approved—that is important—museum or gallery, immunity from seizure will apply where it is ordered by the court in relation to civil proceedings, or by any law enforcement authority that is seeking evidence in an investigation or to confiscate the proceeds of crime. The absence of that kind of general immunity for works of art lent to the country for inclusion in temporary exhibitions has made museums and private owners increasingly reluctant to lend to such exhibitions without a guarantee that their work will be returned.
11.30 am
The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk cited the examples that I would have cited, so I will not repeat them. It is self-evident that this is a necessary change. It is obviously desirable that we remain a major world centre for artistic and cultural exhibitions, as we undoubtedly are. The two Opposition Front Benchers spoke with feeling about our role in that respect. They cited exhibitions that they enjoyed, so I shall pick my favourite, which was the Degas, Sickert and Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition at the Tate Britain. I thought that it was excellent and a tribute to the curators, who not only assembled it from a variety of sources, but arranged it comprehensibly and accessibly.
I have also recently attended the Tate Modern. I cannot see how the legislation would apply to the slides, which were the main exhibit, but they were none the less a great deal of fun. I would also like to refer in passing to having visited an exhibition of the works of Craigie Aitchison, who is a royal academician. He is noted for having done a good number of crucifixion scenes, and also for the fact that he incorporates—he does so even in those scenes, which is perhaps slightly curious—his favourite subject: Bedlington terrier dogs. As the proud owner of a Bedlington terrier—a dog who was Westminster dog of the year only a few years ago, let me say—it was a delight for me to meet Craigie Aitchison and discuss the breed with him.
I do not want, any more than did the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, to miss an opportunity to mention my local museums in Redcar. Kirkleatham Old Hall museum has permanent exhibitions relating to our maritime history; the history of our steel industry; our earlier history, from salt panning in the Tees estuary; and what I understand to have been a powerful role played by local people in action linked to the peasants’ revolt. I am very proud indeed that we were rebellious even then. Redcar also had the first ever lifeboat in the UK, and it is still in Redcar, exhibited in the Zetland Lifeboat museum. However, at this time one must express one’s indebtedness not to the public authorities that run the museum, but to the excellent volunteers who staff it for the significant benefit of the citizens of Redcar.
Clearly, this issue is very important. We all cherish and value the displays that we are privileged to see and it is a huge tribute to this Government that they are all now available free of charge. That is very different from when the Government of the party of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk were in office, when people from the sort of social classes that I represent in Redcar were quite unable to take their children to see exhibitions of the kind that I and others have cited. We have to measure very considerably the fact that that change has been made and it is fitting that we should pay tribute in this Committee to that excellent policy decision.
Let me make specific reference to the need for balance. Clearly, we are all lauding our own ability to enjoy all these works of art and cultural objects. Equally, there are those who have suffered appallingly the depredations of others, whose only link to a previous generation that was treated scandalously and appallingly is through objects that were themselves taken away, but can be rediscovered with appropriate diligence. It is therefore clear that we have a major duty to ensure a balance in the provision and that we are neither too onerous on the museums and the collections nor neglectful of the undoubted hurt that still lies behind the issues that I have referred to. We must not be the slightest bit neglectful of people’s need to know the origins of items that they suspect have come from their ancestors. We must not be neglectful at all of the importance of ensuring that such people have the information that they need to go through the process that I have set out.
We think that we have now got the balance right in this legislation. Before going any further, I pay tribute, as I think other Front Benchers have done, to the role played in the Lords by Ministers, including Baroness Ashton, and by other peers from all parties, who clearly applied themselves with great diligence to addressing the kinds of concerns expressed about the legislation. This part of the Bill is infinitely better as a result of the participation of all parties, for which the Government are very grateful. In particular, I would like to compliment Baroness Ashton, who has given me a relatively straightforward job to do in this House in connection with this part of the Bill. I would also like to pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), who has played a very important liaison role with all of the interested groups that have been alluded to.
The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk made a passing suggestion—I do not think that it was seriously persevered with—that there ought to be more time to debate the issue. Of course, he has the whole of today to do so; do not let me tempt him, but if he wants to carry on, there is absolutely nothing to prevent him from doing so. I think that he was really just having a general prod at something or other, rather than seriously suggesting that there has not been abundant and ongoing consultation and debate that can continue on Report.
Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful for the hon. and learned Lady’s observation. My point was that if we had had a dedicated Bill on this matter, there might have been more focus on it because we would have had a full Second Reading debate. However, it was difficult for us to focus so exclusively when we were talking about setting up operations such as tribunals and bailiffs.
Vera Baird: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that pointer to what he was suggesting. There was significant reference to this aspect of the Bill on Second Reading and much attention has been focused on it by all relevant interested parties. The Government have, as I have indicated, been very responsive to all that. It would not have been sensible to wait for another legislative vehicle when we needed to ensure that Britain remained important for the exhibition of cultural and artistic objects. We published a consultation document as long as a year ago and have worked diligently to ensure that everybody who needed to be asked and have their views heard has been consulted. I am grateful for the support of officials from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, who have helped me understand and take on the matter.
Before moving to the substance of the amendments, the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk talked about legal proceedings not being available. Of course, legal proceedings may be brought, notwithstanding the immunity, which applies only to the item itself. For instance, during the loan period actions for damages could be brought. No museum will want to be sued for the value of a looted work of art, so there will be a powerful driver to ensure that museums observe due diligence as required under the legislation. We go a step further back in the application of those due diligence provisions than is proposed by Opposition Members, in that a museum cannot be approved unless it can demonstrate that it carries out appropriate due diligence. Those points needed making in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s speech.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about a formal procedure to register claims and receive further information. We will consider the circumstances in which further information should be provided by museums. The power given to the Secretary of State to make regulations under clause 129(9) would permit such a procedure to be established. We will explore that point in consultations with museums and all interest groups. I hope that he has no more fears along those lines.
It is not right that guidelines need to be published in the Bill. In the same way in which we attained a balance between the interests of museums and those of the other interest groups, we have attained an appropriate balance between what is in the Bill and what, for flexibility’s sake—including, for example, the need for revision and updating from time to time—ought to be in delegated legislation.
The hon. Member for Newbury mentioned other countries’ rules. I could provide a different list of other countries’ rules to counter what he said—alleging, I think, that our rules are a little bit on the soft side—but I will write to him rather than detain the Committee with factual examples.
The hon. Member for Braintree wanted the Government to undertake to review the guidelines. We appreciate the need to add to the current guidelines, and that is why we are not referring solely to them. We made it clear that the principles in the guidelines apply to Nazi-era objects, so the hon. Member for Braintree need not fear the 1970 threshold.
I am grateful for the amendments as they allowed us to reconsider the matter, but they do not strengthen the position of potential claimants in comparison with our provisions. Clause 129(2) makes it clear that protection under this part of the Bill will be conditional on museums and galleries complying with the requirements for the publication of specified information about the objects that they propose to borrow, as we will set out in regulations.
We will engage in full consultation with all relevant interest groups on the content of the regulations, which we will publish in draft form. We have already made it clear that subject to consultation we propose to require museums to publish details about the objects that they intend to borrow two months before the start of an exhibition. That compares favourably with other countries; in Switzerland the period is only 30 days and in the United States, under the federal system, it is six weeks before importation. Amendment No. 179 would mean that the information did not need to be published until 72 hours after the object reached the United Kingdom, which would not give potential claimants any significant opportunity to raise their concerns before the object reached the UK.
The regulations will also say how information about an object should be published. It is clear from clause 129 that the information required from museums must be published, so amendment No. 180 would add nothing. We will seek to ensure that the information is made as available as possible to as many people as possible.
Simon Hughes: I am grateful for the Minister’s response to the amendment. What she says is persuasive and we will take note of it. I mean no discourtesy to her, but if you will permit it, Mrs. Humble, I will leave my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central to wrap up the debate, because I am required to be on duty in the abbey at 12 noon. I wanted to wait until the Minister had responded to the amendments, and I hope that she and the Committee will permit me to disappear before the end of her speech.
Vera Baird: We will miss the hon. Gentleman.
Amendment No. 182 is also unnecessary; it would not strengthen the provisions. We intend to require museums to publish sufficient information about an object to ensure that it can be identified by anyone who might have an interest in it. That will require the publication of some information about provenance, but it is unnecessary for the full provenance of an object to be published in every case. For example, a 17th century painting acquired by the Metropolitan museum of New York in the 19th century had remained in the Met’s collection since its original acquisition. Publication of the full provenance of that painting between the 17th century and its acquisition by the Met would not assist potential claimants to objects or art looted or stolen at any other time.
Mr. Bellingham: My experience of art is that the early provenance of these paintings is usually very well documented, and listing full provenance would not be a burden. We are concerned about items, particularly associated with the Nazi holocaust, that may have been passed around different parts of Europe in the years after the last war. Focusing on that part of an object’s provenance is very important, but I would not have thought that seeing it in the context of the wider provenance would be a problem.
11.45 am
Vera Baird: As I have said, we are striving for a balance here. To put in place onerous requirements as to provenance, in a situation of the kind I have just set out, would not be of any assistance to potential claimants looking for objects looted during the Nazi era or stolen at any other time within memory. The amendment seems to us to put the balance too heavily in that direction.
We will also propose to require publication of the identity of the lender in advance of the exhibition, where the lender is a public body. More difficult issues arise in relation to the publication of the identity of private owners. We will need to discuss with museums and other interest groups whether and how it will be possible for that information to be made available to potential claimants.
Amendment No. 187 would require—that is the difference—the Secretary of State to make regulations to oblige museums and galleries to provide further information about an object in specified circumstances, but it may be possible to require all relevant information about a protected object to be published in advance of the exhibition when it would be most useful to potential claimants. Obviously, the earlier the better. In that case, the power would not be necessary. If consultations demonstrate that it is not appropriate for some information to be given general publication but that it could be provided to anyone concerned about a particular object on request, the power will be used in that way.
Amendment No. 188—
Mr. Bellingham: Before the Minister moves on, I do not feel that she did amendment No. 187 justice. We want to replace “may” with “shall”, so that the provision read “shall make regulations”. We are talking about general regulations here; as I understand it, they are not specific. Surely it makes sense for the Secretary of State to be forced by the Bill to make those regulations, rather than having the option of doing so. Perhaps she can go into more detail.
Vera Baird: I think that I have given the hon. Gentleman a satisfactory answer. I think I can say without fear of contradiction from any quarter that the Secretary of State will make regulations in connection with that matter and I hope that that satisfies him and his colleagues. The Secretary of State will make regulations—there is no difficulty about that. It is imperative that he does. We see no purpose, therefore, in a heavier provision as proposed in amendment No. 187.
May I turn to amendment No. 188, which we say is not directly relevant to the Bill? The only objects that will be protected here are those which come to this country. Objects that are not included in an exhibition because of the decision of the borrowing museum or of the lender will not be protected. Their position is not changed by the Bill. Clause 129 requires at subsection (2)(d) that an item
“is brought to the United Kingdom for public display in a temporary exhibition”
and at subsection (7)(a) that an item continues to be here for the purposes of
“public display in a temporary exhibition at a museum or gallery”.
Once it ceases to be here for that purpose, it will not be protected. It will have exactly the same status as it had before. The amendment does not help, therefore. The position is not changed in any way by the Bill and it is not appropriate to make provision requiring museums to provide information on such items in the Bill or in regulations made under the Bill.
Let me turn to the amendments on due diligence, which are to be imposed on approved museums and galleries. Amendment No. 153 deals with approval but, as drafted, clause 131(2) already requires the approving authority to take account of the extent to which the institution applying for approval already complies with the due diligence guidelines referred to in the amendment. Museums will also need to show that they comply with that guidance. I make it clear that no museum and no gallery will be approved unless it can show that it meets the high standards set in those guidelines.
It is not necessary to provide that the guidelines are applied to each and every protected object, as under amendment No. 153, or to make the immunity for a particular object conditional upon compliance with the guidelines, as under amendment No. 181. It is one of the basic principles set out in the due diligence guidelines published by the DCMS, that a museum should not acquire or borrow any item unless it is satisfied that there are no legal or ethical doubts about that item. That means that a museum will have to apply the due diligence guidelines to every item that it wishes to borrow. Failure to do that will amount to a failure to comply with the guidelines. As clause 131(3)(a) makes clear, that would threaten the approved status of the museum.
Amendment No. 189 would require provision to be made for the establishment of a new statutory body. That is not necessary. Non-statutory bodies such as the spoliation advisory panel and the reviewing committee for the export of works of art play a valuable role in carrying out a similar function to that proposed for the new body.
The DCMS will be working closely with an independent body, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, to ensure that the Secretary of State has access to appropriate advice on the due diligence procedures followed by museums seeking approval and that, following approval, museums' due diligence procedures and their compliance are subject to appropriate monitoring. We will be exploring the possibility of seeking advice from independent experts.
I am sorry that this has taken a while to set out. However, I think that it was appropriate, because of the long history of concern, consultation and negotiation about the provisions, to set out why we think that we now have the balance right, and the way we have got it right. Although we are grateful for these probing amendments, they do not strengthen the provisions, which we feel represent the best balance that can be attained. With those words, I invite hon. Members not to press their amendments.
Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. We will be coming back to these issues on Report. I do not want to prolong the debate significantly, but I do not agree that it is unnecessary to strengthen subsection (9). I am not satisfied with the explanation about that and we may want to return to the matter on Report.
We understand what the Minister said about our other amendments. She explained in some detail that amendment No. 182 does not add extra strength to the rights of any claimants. With regard to the provisions on due diligence, she made the point that clause 131(3)(a) already provides protection. However, we explained the arguments. We went into a lot of detail. Due diligence should not be left to the guidelines and the rather vague wording of that subsection. That is why we feel strongly that amendment No.153 would give that extra strength. I reserve the right to come back to that on Report and possibly even have a vote. I am tempted to have a vote now but the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey has had to go to Westminster abbey for the service on the abolition of slavery, and there is no point in having a vote and losing it very heavily. On Report, I hope that we might persuade a wider audience of the merits of our case.
On that basis, I will not press the amendments. I thank the Minister again for her explanations and the movement already made by the Government in another place. However, we will be returning to these issues and pushing them further at a later stage.
Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): As the hon. Gentleman has said, I am sure that we will return to these issues on Report. However, at this point, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
The Chairman: I must tell the Committee that the amendment was moved by the hon. Lady’s colleague, the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey, and only he can withdraw it. Therefore, I must put the question on amendment No. 179.
Amendment negatived.
Mr. Bellingham: I beg to move amendment No. 183, in clause 129, page 99, line 25, leave out ‘and’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 184, in clause 129, page 99, line 27, at end insert ‘, and
(c) only so long as the conditions in subsection (2) continue to be met.’.
Mr. Bellingham: Amendment No. 183 is an enabling amendment. Subsection (4) states:
“The protection continues—
(a) only so long as the object is in the United Kingdom for any of the purposes in subsection (7)”—
the purposes that we discussed earlier—
(b) unless subsection (5) applies, for not more than 12 months beginning with the day when the object enters the United Kingdom.”
After that, we would insert amendment No. 184, which is a small tidying-up amendment to add a little clarity.
Vera Baird: Under the current drafting, an object is entitled to protection if it complies with the conditions when it enters the UK. Subsection (4) provides for the continuation of that protection if two further conditions are met. The amendments would add a further condition to make an object’s ongoing protection conditional on its continuing to comply with all the conditions in the clause throughout its stay in the UK. I have a note that says, “This amendment is confused”—but I am not going to read that out.
The only conditions that might change over the period of the exhibition are the ownership of the objects and possibly their usual keeping place. However, if an object is returned either to a new home or the owner’s residence in the UK, it will no longer be protected anyway, and could be seized. I suppose that the underlying concern is that it is wrong to let objects change ownership when they are in the UK, but we do not think that it would be practical to monitor that. It is most likely to affect private lenders—public lenders are unlikely to dispose of objects in their collection, but a private owner wishing to sell his property to another owner overseas would not be obliged to tell the museum anyway and so we would have no way of discovering such information.
The legality of importing such objects into the UK is most appropriately tested when they enter. The fact of whether a museum published the required information two months in advance will not change during the exhibition. Of course, as I think that I said on the last group of amendments, if an object ceases to be in the UK for public display in a temporary exhibition, its protection ceases as well, unless damage has been caused in the UK and repairs are needed before it goes home—as a rule, I think that that would be pretty unlikely. I am not criticising Opposition Members for the confusion, but I hope that I have satisfied them that there is no need to add those amendments.
Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to the Minister. I do not think that the amendments are confused, but I take on board her light stricture. In the light of what she said, we shall give further consideration to the matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Bellingham: I beg to move amendment No. 185, in clause 129, page 99, line 35, at end insert
‘, save that there must be at least three months between each period of protection.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 186 clause 129, page 99, line 35, at end insert
‘, save that the total period of protection shall not exceed 36 months in any period of five years.’.
Mr. Bellingham: Subsection (6) states:
“A new period of protection begins each time an object enters the United Kingdom and the conditions in subsection (2) are met.”
I think it extremely unlikely that an object will come back into the UK after coming here for an exhibition. I suppose that it is just possible. For example, if there were a Monet exhibition in London, the painting in question might go back to where it had come from and then perhaps might return to the UK shortly afterwards. However, that is pretty unlikely.
12 noon
Amendment No. 185 would add to subsection (6). Under the amendment, there
“must be at least three months between each period of protection”.
That is fair enough. The painting in question would go back to its owner or the gallery where it was normally on display, and it would be three months before it could be on loan again in the UK. It is most unlikely that such a state of affairs would arise, but let us assume that one such picture was in some way tainted. That would give the claimants some extra protection. The extra time is important.
Amendment No. 186 would add another proviso,
“that the total period of protection shall not exceed 36 months in any period of five years.”
Again, it is most unlikely that such a situation would arise, but legislation needs to allow for all eventualities, and we would not be diligent or assiduous in our role as legislators or parliamentarians if we were not prepared to look for unexpected eventualities. The eventuality provided for by the amendment would be highly unexpected, but the idea is that within a period of five years there should not be more than 36 months’ protection in total. That is fair and generous and gets the right balance, which is what the provisions are all about.
There was a discussion on Second Reading about what would happen if a work of art that was on exhibition in this country were to be sold to a new owner while it was here. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher) raised the point, and there was some to-ing and fro-ing at the time, but I should be grateful if the Minister made things clear. Is it 100 per cent. clear to her that if a work of art were sold while it enjoyed the relevant immunity, the immunity would be removed at the point of sale, when the contract had effect? Alternatively, as some of the organisations that have advised us believe, would the immunity continue?
Vera Baird: I understand the intention behind amendments Nos. 185 and 186—that it should not be possible to get protection under the Bill indefinitely by bringing an object to the UK for the maximum period of 12 months, taking it away for a day and then bringing it back. However, the amendments are not necessary. Clause 129(4) already provides that the protection can continue only for 12 months, except in the case that I have already explained of an object that, having been damaged in the UK, is having that damage repaired in the UK.
The only objects that will be protected under the provisions—this is a feet-on-the-ground point, I suppose—are those brought to the UK for the purpose of a temporary exhibition at an approved museum or gallery. Museums will want to borrow only objects that are relevant to the theme of their exhibition. It would not be practical or possible—I think that the hon. Gentleman accepted that it would not be practical—for an owner to ensure that there was a succession of temporary exhibitions at approved museums on a theme that married up with the nature of his cultural object, so that those museums would, in sequence, borrow his work of art and secure its indefinite protection. Nor would I have thought that any lender would be prepared to subject his property to constant travel out of the UK to ensure its protection.
On the assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks, a work of art could not be taken from exhibition to be sold in the UK; if it were, the protection would cease. It could be sold by private treaty to a new owner. We would not necessarily know that it had been sold. The protection would continue until it was returned from the exhibition to the owner.
Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. In other words, if the work of art were sold privately and secretly, by definition, the immunity would continue. However, am I right that immunity would be withdrawn if the sale were public—if, during or immediately after the exhibition, the picture, work of art or cultural object in question were auctioned and a public sale were announced to the Inland Revenue, for example?
Vera Baird: Yes, I think that that is correct. If I am not right about that, I will write to the hon. Gentleman and indicate the contrary. It is probably the case that the work ceased to be here for public display in a temporary exhibition. If it is taken away to be auctioned at Sotheby’s for tax purposes, the fundamental conditions have been broken. If I find that that is incorrect, and that there is a loophole of the kind that the hon. Gentleman is anxious about, I will write to him before Report. He will then have every opportunity to come back and fill that loophole, if we find one.
Mr. Bellingham: I am grateful to the Minister, who has been as generous as ever in trying to explain the matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 129 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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