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Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I sympathise with the Minister's noble friend's opposition to the illegal exporting of stolen treasures. Does she not agree that were we to sign the convention, it would be desirable to have in conjunction with it--as is the case in France, the United States and Canada--some anti-seizure legislation, because the risk under the convention is that a host country such as the UK, which hosts loans of art works from a second country, may have legal action taken against it to seize the works of art? To give specific examples, the Hermitage in Russia would be reluctant to loan its Impressionists to this country for fear of writs from the Germans. The Taiwanese would fear writs from the Chinese and the Israelis would fear writs from the Arabs. As a country, we must have protection from such action. Would the noble Baroness and the Government consider looking at the two together?
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I totally understand the noble Lord's question. I point out to him that we support the principles of a European convention to provide a standard for the protection of archaeological sites and artefacts throughout Europe. The UK ratified the first European convention; and signed the revised one. However, we are currently considering whether we ratify the present form.
The Earl of Gowrie: My Lords, will my noble friend remain her usual robust self and refuse to sign this particular convention? While I have considerable sympathy with the aims of my noble friend Lord Renfrew in respect of antiquities, is it not the case that the convention is drawn so widely as to define cultural objects pertaining to literature, art or science, thereby effectively forbidding the trading in, and therefore the collecting of, cultural objects of any kind?
Lord Derwent: My Lords, as a past chairman of the London and Provincial Antique Dealers' Association, I thank the noble Baroness for her caution about the convention. The definition is so widely drawn that it is fairly clear that the legitimate trade will move into countries which have not signed the convention. Is the noble Baroness aware that under the terms of the convention as drafted no owners of a work of art or their successors in perpetuity could ever be sure that their ownership might not be challenged?
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, the Government have not signed the Unidroit Convention. They have no intention of doing so. Therefore, the trade need have no fear of losing business to other countries.
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, while accepting fully the point made by my noble friend Lord Derwent and my noble friend Lord Gowrie, the ex-chairman of Sotheby's, will the Minister confirm that at present it is legal to import into this country antiquities which have been illegally excavated overseas and illegally exported from their host countries? Is not that at the root of the present difficult situation?
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, my noble friend is right. It is not an offence to import objects which have been illegally exported from another country; but under an EC regulation the UK cannot issue an export licence for export to a destination outside the European Community for an object which has been illegally exported from another member state. Under an EC directive such an object may be requested back by the source state.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the Government decided to exclude Lappel Bank from the Medway estuary special protection area because the Lappel Bank was essential to the continued commercial viability of the port of Sheerness. Lappel Bank, though a habitat for migrating birds, was not important for any rare species listed in Annex 1 of the Birds Directive. We await the judgment of the European Court of Justice in the case referred to it by this House.
Lord Molloy: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. He has indicated that he is aware that Lappel Bank is well known throughout Great Britain and on the Continent. It was designated to protect special wild birds. Indeed, the decision by Mr. John Gummer to abolish it was challenged by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. I am quite sure that this House will not rule that that Royal Society should not be listened to.
I understand that this House referred the matter to the European Court of Justice, but I have heard no result. The Minister is very kind and helpful. Many people have written to me about this issue. Will he agree that whatever the Government do, they should listen to the voice of the British people? The British people want this area preserved.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, we decided that the Medway estuary should be divided into 4,681 hectares for the birds with 22 hectares for the people. That seems to me a very generous decision in favour of the birds.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the European arrangements for designating the special protection areas for birds are Europe-wide for migratory species because they are a Europe-wide asset. We thoroughly support the efforts being made in Europe to designate safe areas for these birds. We also support the exclusion of certain limited areas which are necessary for the development of their adjacent human communities.
Baroness Nicol: My Lords, the Minister might have told my noble friend that this site was also worthy of protection under the RAMSAR and Berne Conventions as well as any European directive that may exist.
Should compensation arise, there is no defined way in which compensation can be paid. That would be a matter of negotiation at first instance with the Commission. I imagine that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds might propose that we flood the entire Romney Marsh; we might propose to dump 22 hectares of estuarine mud on the Lodge at Sandy, Bedfordshire; and somewhere there would be a compromise. However, we cannot discuss any form of compensation at present.
Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, whatever the rights or wrongs of this specific site--there may be a balance to be sought as regards jobs--it seems to fall into a general pattern of setting profit before the preservation of the wildlife of this country. There has been a 50 per cent. reduction in song thrushes in this country over the past 25 years. What do the Government propose to do about that and about the other 23 birds now on the endangered list? We had only eight on that list 15 years ago.
Lord Desai: My Lords, does the Minister argue that the exclusion of 22 acres helped business? What proportion of the income gained are the Government willing to pay as compensation? If it did not raise any more income, then surely there is no point in the exercise.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the 22 acres were required as a vital part of the development of Sheerness. They now play a part in the commercial life of the port. In due course, if not now, that land will result in increased taxation for Her Majesty's Treasury, which is always desirable.
Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, will the Minister reply to the question which I put to him? I asked what he was doing about the 23 species of bird which had declined by 50 per cent. over the past 15 years with the serious loss of songbirds, larks and so forth.
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