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House of Lords

Tuesday, 20th March 2001.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Wakefield.

UNESCO Cultural Property Convention

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they propose to accede to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Means of Preventing the Illicit Traffic in Cultural Property, and to implement the other recommendations made last December by the Ministerial Advisory Panel on Illicit Trade, chaired by Professor Norman Palmer.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am pleased to confirm my Answer to the Written Question of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, on 13th March. The Government have taken the decision to accede to this convention once the normal parliamentary and other formalities have been completed. We are giving active consideration to the other recommendations of the report of the ministerial advisory panel, particularly the criminal offence, and we will announce progress on these in due course.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, will the Minister accept my congratulations and, no doubt, those of other noble Lords on this very welcome, if perhaps long-awaited, announcement in relation to the UNESCO convention? Will he confirm that it will be possible to complete the formalities to which he referred before the Summer Recess? The noble Lord will be aware that one of the recommendations of Professor Palmer's working party was that there should be four new members of staff in the export licensing unit to facilitate its work. Can the noble Lord say how soon we can expect the appointment of these new staff members in order that London will no longer be a bazaar for unprovenanced antiquities?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in accepting the noble Lord's congratulations, may I return them. The noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, was a distinguished member of the panel, the recommendations of which we have accepted.

The formalities involve preparing the convention and an explanatory memorandum as a White Paper, which would then have to be presented to Parliament for at least 21 sitting days. I am not sure that I can promise that this will be done by the Summer Recess, but it can certainly be done this year. As to the issue of four additional staff, we do not think that quite as many will be needed. We are working on the numbers and on the costs involved quite actively.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, will the Minister join me in welcoming the recent publication

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by the British art dealers' federation of a new code of practice in this area? What are the Government's plans for monitoring its progress?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in welcoming the new code of practice of the British Art Market Federation, which seems to cover the necessary ground very effectively. I think self-regulation--in the first instance, at any rate--is probably the wiser course of action.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister on his reference to the creation of a criminal offence in connection with archaeological finds. Can he give any kind of timescale as to when that criminal offence will be introduced in this country?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, we are giving active consideration to the recommendation of making this a criminal offence, but first we have to establish how far it needs to be a new criminal offence and how far the offence is covered by the existing law. The panel also made a recommendation that there should be an international database of legislation, which is a very valuable recommendation. When we have completed the review of whether the existing law is adequate for the purpose, if there are any gaps we will then consider how they should be filled. That would probably be by means of an insertion in a criminal justice Bill. As we seem to have criminal justice Bills every year, that may not mean too long a delay.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, can the Minister give any indication of the Government's thinking on the proposed Home Office database of stolen and looted antiquities and antiques?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we support the recommendation and we are discussing it actively with the Home Office. Incidentally, in view of an article which appeared in the Sunday Telegraph last Sunday which suggested that there should be a log book for all items of cultural property, I should say that this is not something which is being discussed between the Department for Culture and the Home Office. That idea was specifically rejected by the Palmer panel. It seems to us to be an unnecessarily bureaucratic and intrusive burden on the trade. A database of stolen and illegally removed property is a much more sensible idea.

Fishing Industry: Compensation

2.41 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have to compensate British fishermen who can no longer make a living as a result of government action.

Lord Carter: My Lords, the Government and other EU member states have been obliged to act as a result

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of the severe decline in some of the main commercial fish stocks. If not reversed, this decline in stocks threatens the long-term viability of the industry. We are urgently considering requests from the industry for financial assistance, and we expect to be able to make an announcement shortly--within days rather than weeks.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I am very pleased to hear that Answer. I assume that, as the necessity is to reduce the catching capacity, the Government are thinking of a decommissioning scheme. Will the Minister assure the House that it will not be like the previous one, which was so unrealistic that fishermen sold their quotas and their boats to Dutchmen and Spaniards rather than take part in the scheme? Will the noble Lord also assure the House that, in addition to the decommissioning scheme, some short-term measures will be taken to alleviate the present distress caused by boats being tied up without fish to fish for?

Lord Carter: Yes, my Lords. I do not have the details of the plan that is to be announced; however, I am aware that decommissioning is high on the agenda. The Government have certainly learnt from the experience of the previous decommissioning scheme. The noble Lord referred to foreign vessels taking advantage of that. It is worth pointing out that the number of foreign-owned vessels in the UK fleet has been reduced substantially. They represent about 5½ per cent of the fleet and about 17 per cent of the vessel capacity. A scheme is in place to provide £60 million over three years in England and in the devolved administrations in order to help the fishing industry. That will help to alleviate some of the problems referred to.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, in terms of tonnage at least half of the British fishing fleet is Scottish. As fishing is a devolved matter, and as the Scottish Executive, consisting of Labour and Liberal Democrat members, recently took an extraordinary decision--contrary to the advice of fishermen's organisations--leading, it seems, to the massacre of juvenile haddock, from where would any compensation come? Would it come from Westminster, from Edinburgh, or from both?

Lord Carter: My Lords, I am delighted to say that I am not responsible for the actions of the Scottish Executive. The Scottish Executive announced a scheme to provide up to £25 million for decommissioning. The money came from the famous--I almost said "notorious"--Barnett formula funds, and the money will obviously have to be found from somewhere else within the total. That decision was followed by a Motion in the Scottish Parliament for a change of policy, which succeeded by one vote; namely, the casting vote of the Presiding Officer, the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood. I understand that the Scottish Executive is going ahead with the scheme

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to provide £25 million for decommissioning, which, I repeat, comes from Scottish funds and not from the taxpayer in England and Wales.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, for the record, is my noble friend the Minister aware that the changes in areas where vessels might fish in the North Sea have absolutely nothing to do with the Scottish Executive or any extraordinary decisions taken by it? The Presiding Officer--I am not sure whether he should be described as the noble Lord, Lord Steel, or Sir David Steel--took a step that was extraordinary in the circumstances and used his casting vote. Is it not the case that fishermen primarily in the north-east of Scotland voluntarily decided not to go to sea? Is it not extraordinary that they should demand compensation for their own actions?

Lord Carter: My Lords, my noble friend is right. In his existence as Sir David Steel, the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament did exercise the casting vote in favour of a Motion to add a tie-up scheme to decommissioning. As I understand it, the Scottish Executive decided to stick with the plan that it had already announced; namely, to spend £25 million only on decommissioning.

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