|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
As I understand it, the Government's reservations are twofold. They have explained that they are worried about the impracticality of monitoring and enforcing such a duty. In Committee, we attempted to explain why we thought that those fears were misplaced. As to human rights, we should certainly ensure that the amendment does not offend the ECHR, but I believe that it does not. We had a searching discussion about this issue at our meeting and our reasons for thinking that it does not offend the ECHR were set out in greater detail in subsequent correspondence. I would now add only the observation that the Treasure Valuation Committee has flexibility in allocating reward money so that up to 100 per cent of it could in principle be provided to somebody who came into possession of treasure and reported it. These matters should be considered case by case, with no preconceptions. On that basis, I think that we can satisfy the human rights requirement.
I shall not repeat what I said in Committee about the worrying indications of abuse that the British Museum's monitoring of the eBay website has brought to light, but I shall just highlight one finding of the British Museum survey. In 26 per cent of cases, the vendor stated that he had no knowledge of where the object was found, from which it is obvious that there are vendors who are buying items that may be treasure without performing due diligence. My noble friend acknowledged in Committee that there was an
26 Oct 2009 : Column 984
The case of the Staffordshire hoard shows the intense public interest in archaeology. Let us suppose for a moment that the person who found the Staffordshire hoard, that metal detectorist, had not been scrupulous-he was indeed perfectly scrupulous and followed to the letter all the procedures set down under the Portable Antiquities Scheme-or let us suppose that the whereabouts of the site had been prematurely leaked, as all but happened with the BBC. We can imagine that people might have been feeding these important and precious objects through to dealers who were not going to ask any awkward questions in exchange for ready cash. The Treasure Act provides no protection against this. If either of those eventualities had occurred, there would have been enormous public outrage. I cannot believe that my noble friend the Minister wishes to leave important archaeological finds at risk in this way.
With the law as it is, we can at best say that the duties on third parties-people who buy, inherit or are given antiquities-are unclear, but we know for sure that, with the vagueness and the weakness of the existing legislation, landowners are being defrauded and important objects are being lost to museums.
How did it come about that important antiquities looted from the national museum in Afghanistan were dispatched to London? In 2004, customs officers intercepted hundreds of them, fortunately and to their great credit. I do not think that there can be any doubt that they were on their way to dealers in this country. London has the second biggest market in antiquities in the world, estimated to account for some 30 per cent of global turnover. The Government have a major responsibility in this field. The market in antiquities in this country needs policing, but if it is to be effectively policed there must be a watertight legal regime.
I cite one piece of unacceptable practice in the London antiquities market. In 2006, Bonhams, the auctioneers, chose to display a number of artefacts from the Sevso hoard of Roman silver and invited many people to come and see them. These objects had entered the market without any proof of their legal origin, no direct evidence of the circumstances in which they had been excavated and no details disclosed about dealings in them in the period following their discovery. There was no secure history of their ownership and no proper provenance for them. Ethically, they should not have been in the market. It was incontrovertible that they had been illegally removed from their place of origin; no country would have authorised their excavation unsupervised, their export for commercial gain or their exposure to the market, as occurred. In its invitation, Bonhams asserted that these pieces of silver were,
To acquire or exhibit items from the Sevso treasure would have been to violate all the responsibilities that a museum properly has. Bonhams was cocking a snook
26 Oct 2009 : Column 985
These instances and the statistics produced by the British Museum exposing cavalier attitudes, or worse, within the trade show the need for Amendment 37 and for a new offence of dealing in undocumented archaeological objects that would be created by Amendments 68 to 73. The Government have a responsibility to clean up this scene and it is urgent that they should do so. My noble friend may say to the House that we should await their review of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act. However, that review was promised as long ago as 2006 and we still have not had it. Perhaps my noble friend will be able to tell us this afternoon when the fruits of that review will be made available. Meanwhile, this Bill and the amendments that we have proposed provide the ideal opportunity to deal with some of the starker needs.
Finally, Amendments 52 and 53 to Clause 39, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, explained, would correct an omission in the Treasure Act. The Act requires finders of treasure to notify the coroner directly. In practice, 97 per cent of finders report their finds to one of the finds liaison officers employed under the Portable Antiquities Scheme. That was what took place in the case of the Staffordshire hoard and that practice is in accordance with the Treasure Act code of practice. The problem is that the Government's code of practice is inconsistent with the law. Amendments 52 and 53 would regularise current practice, which works well and is entirely acceptable in itself, empowering the coroner for treasure to designate suitable persons to receive reports of finds of treasure. In that way, finders would be assured that they had fulfilled their legal responsibilities. I emphasise to my noble friend that there is real concern among the archaeological community and the metal detectorists about this anomaly in the law.
The requirement that the coroner for treasure should consult the British Museum in these amendments is consistent with the practice created by the Treasure Act, which appoints the British Museum in Section 9 to specific responsibilities. If my noble friend says that new regulations under the existing Treasure Act would solve the problem, I must respectfully disagree. The problem resides in the drafting of the Treasure Act itself; it is the primary legislation that needs to be amended.
If these amendments were passed, they would not bind the Government to maintain all the existing arrangements of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, although I hope that the scheme's success has been so well proved by now that neither this nor any future Government would wish to unravel it. The amendments would also ensure that the coroner for treasure was not burdened with an excessive workload, which was an anxiety that Ministers expressed at earlier stages of this legislation. There are no public expenditure implications in these amendments. I hope that the Government will be able to accept them.
If my noble friend finds that he is unable today to commit himself to accept all these amendments, because
26 Oct 2009 : Column 986
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, I support the amendment tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Howarth of Newport. The Minister will recall that at an earlier stage of the Bill, I paid tribute to the effective activities that the Government have undertaken in trying to restrict the market in illicit antiquities. It is all the more sad, therefore, that a glaring loophole has emerged in the working of the legislation relating to treasure, which Amendment 37 seeks to close, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, described.
It has become clear that many finds of treasure are still going unreported. Why is that? At present, only the actual finder has a legal obligation to report the discovery of treasure. It is quite clear that dealers are, in some cases, selling new archaeological finds without undertaking due diligence to ensure that they have been through the treasure process. There is no legally enforceable obligation at present on them to do so. Monitoring of eBay sales confirms that that is so. There is a major trade in unreported treasure. I will not speak at length about this because it has been well covered by the noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Howarth of Newport, but this is a necessary amendment to ensure that the Treasure Act works well in practice
The noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, has dealt with Amendments 52 and 53, so I will proceed at once to Amendment 68. This introduces a broader group of amendments with the same purpose of reducing the trade in looted antiquities-illegally excavated antiquities-with the ultimate end of preventing or reducing the looting process. It is not restricted to finds made in the United Kingdom: the looting of archaeological sites for gain continues all over the world.
London is still a clearing-house for looted antiquities. Some auction houses continue to offer goods for sale without any indication of provenance and without any secure documentation. We thought that that might stop with the passage of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act in 2003, but can the Minister confirm that there has so far been not a single prosecution under that Act? Amendment 68 requires that a person dealing in an archaeological object should produce evidence to show that the object has not been unlawfully excavated. That places a duty on the vendor of knowing and stating the recent history of the antiquity. It will no longer be sufficient to say that it fell off the back of a lorry or was found in the vendor's attic.
Time is short, so I will omit my observations on the example of the Sevso treasure because that has been well covered by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and I agree with everything that he said. The second case to which I shall refer is as scandalous but less well known in view of intimations of libel action by the lawyers of Mr Martin Schøyen, a Norwegian shipowner. He purchased a major series of 654 Aramaic incantation bowls that had been imported into this country in the 1990s in dubious circumstances and lent them for study to a London university. When the university realised that they might be looted antiquities, it rightly
26 Oct 2009 : Column 987
Despite that, I am sorry to say that the bowls were not returned to Iraq: they were returned to the custody of Mr Martin Schøyen. Under the new clause proposed in Amendments 70 and 68, lending and borrowing would both be dealing in terms of the Bill. It would be an offence to deal in undocumented archaeological objects in such a way-and so it should be: it is scandalous that the heritage of Iraq has been treated in this way.
My final case is simple and I shall be brief. On 15 October this year, Bonhams the auctioneers withdrew from its London antiquities sale at the request of the Italian Government some 10 antiquities, among them items formerly owned by the now sadly notorious dealer Mr Robin Symes. I understand that the Italian authorities had already made representations to the Home Office about several warehouses in London containing antiquities formerly in his ownership-many of them, it is alleged, illegally excavated in Italy.
What is an auctioneer in this country doing, selling antiquities without a documented provenance? It is scandalous that this practice continues, and to put an end to it is one purpose of this amendment. There are serious matters here, which demand government attention. I shall be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, some people may believe in ghosts and others may not. You might be forgiven for thinking that the ghost of the late Lord Perth is wandering around the Chamber this very afternoon, because the Act of which this amendment is part was entirely due to his efforts. I was lucky enough three times to take a Private Member's Bill for treasure trove through this House and eventually-by rather foul means-managed to get the Government to introduce a government Bill. It is very interesting that this is the first time that an amendment to that Act has been moved, and I have great pleasure in supporting it. I can think of nothing which causes worse relations than what one might call stolen treasure trove.
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I wholeheartedly approve of the thrust of these amendments. It is surely entirely laudable and proper that recognition should be given to the immense public interest that is involved in all these matters. We are dealing with something that is part of the community's most essential heritage.
It is the word "property" that I quarrel with. It suggests to me, as a retired lawyer, the question of ownership or some other identifiable estate in that object. The question of property is surely, ultimately, a matter of title. That, of course, is something that might have to be decided at a later stage, so it would be premature to refer to it as acquiring property at that point in time. The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, referred once to property and three times to possession. I think that what is dealt with here is possession. If I am wrong, I apologise. It may be that a form of words dealing with both possession and the acquisition of an interest that is something short of property would be more appropriate.
Lord Henley: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Trumpington was quite right to draw the House's attention to the work of the late Lord Perth in his various attempts to get a Treasure Act on the statute book. I am very glad that she also drew attention to her own activities, which I think she described as having been by fair means or foul-something that she was very good at in ensuring that the Treasure Act got on to the statute book back in 1996.
The noble Lords, Lord Redesdale and Lord Howarth, and my noble friend Lord Renfrew have set out their arguments comprehensively. The Government have already introduced in Committee some amendments concerning treasure, which were, I think, welcomed by the Archaeological All-Party Group, of which I think all three noble Lords are members. The current amendments, as I understand them, deal with metal detecting-not something with which I am familiar, but I appreciate the problems that are raised by the secondary market in found items in particular. The amendments seek to remedy these by placing a duty to report treasure on those in possession of objects as well as those who find them. On the subject of possession, we should all note what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. I am sure that the Minister will comment on that small legal point and tell us whether the amendment should be further altered at Third Reading, to place a duty to report treasure on those in possession of objects as well as those who find them.
We on these Benches are sympathetic to the arguments put forward. However, we would like to hear from the Minister. In Committee, he suggested that the Coroner for Treasure will have the power to issue a notice requiring a person to produce an object to him for inspection, examination or testing. We would like the Minister to expand on that, so that we may consider whether the power is necessary to meet the concerns of the noble Lords who tabled the amendment, who may then consider whether they want to pursue it at this stage or come back to it later.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the House is well served by Members who are in the Archaeological All-Party Group. They serve an important purpose both outside and inside the House, and I am grateful to all of them for having spoken in the debate today. The amendments address concerns about the small minority of unscrupulous people who seek to gain from dealing in objects of cultural value. We accept that there are problems with the investigation and prosecution of these individuals. I hope that noble
26 Oct 2009 : Column 989
Amendment 37 would impose a duty on acquirers of objects that they believe to be treasure to report the object to the Coroner for Treasure. There are issues around making this duty both workable and compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. However, we believe that the issues are not insurmountable. The "narrow legal point"-to use his own phrase-raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, from the Cross-Benches, will also be taken into consideration in what I say later about what we will do with Amendment 37.
Amendments 52 and 53 seek to extend the matters to be addressed by treasure regulations made under Clause 39. As we have heard, there is concern that people following the Treasure Act code of practice would report their find to a finds liaison officer, in contravention of the reporting duty in the Treasure Act itself. We have looked at the current version of the code of practice and can see that it is possible that finders would be confused about where they should report finds. The delivery of objects thought to be treasure will be covered by the power to issue a notice under paragraph 1 of Schedule 5 to the Bill. The current review of the Treasure Act code of practice will assist in clarifying both these points.
After extremely helpful meetings with the noble Lords, Lord Renfrew and Lord Redesdale, and with my noble friend Lord Howarth of Newport, I am looking at the issues again as a matter of urgency. Noble Lords will understand that I can make no promises: I may or may not be able to offer movement on the matter. However, if noble Lords will agree today to withdraw Amendments 37, 52 and 53, we will explore what might be possible at Third Reading. I will let them know what stage we have reached in good time before Third Reading, in case they choose to take certain actions as a result of what I say.
I cannot be as helpful with Amendments 68 to 73, which would introduce a new criminal offence of dealing in undocumented archaeological objects. The new offence would add to the existing offence of dishonestly dealing in a cultural object that is tainted. That offence was introduced in the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003. The introduction of the Act showed our commitment to address the problem by facilitating the prosecution of people who trade in objects looted or stolen from buildings and excavations both here and abroad, and its provisions have an important deterrent effect. There may well have been no cases at this stage, but we believe that it has had a deterrent effect and has raised awareness of the importance of the need to make appropriate checks when acquiring items of cultural importance.
I know that the noble Lords to whom I have referred support the provisions of the 2003 Act as the national heritage of many countries is at stake. Our reluctance to accept these amendments is that we are always wary of introducing yet another new criminal offence unless there is a proven need to do so. The proposed new offences would extend to objects which have been excavated in countries other than England and Wales, which is outside the scope of the treasure system.
In addition, the duty under the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property 1970 is met in the United Kingdom by the offence under the 2003 Act, to which I have already referred, as well as the offence of handling stolen goods under the Theft Act 1968. Many professional associations now have codes of practice to which their members agree as a way of demonstrating their commitment to acting fairly, ethically and honestly. As we have heard, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will review the operation and effectiveness of the 2003 Act. I am afraid that I cannot give a precise date, but the review will take place as soon as resources permit following consultation on the treasure code of practice, which will take place next year.
To be fair, noble Lords involved in this debate have already recognised that the provisions in the Bill dealing with treasure are a significant advance. I hope that they will be happy not to press these amendments on the understanding that, as far as we can, we will return to this matter at Third Reading, particularly to Amendments 37 and 57.
Lord Henley: I have an important question about timing. It has been put to me that the usual channels are concerned that we will not finish Report stage on Wednesday and might have to continue until Thursday. That being the case, it is possible that Third Reading will also be a day later. I therefore hope that the Minister will accept that there will be an extra day for the Government to consider these matters before they have to make up their mind. Timing gets very tight between Report and Third Reading and they will have to make up their mind on what to do.
Lord Bach: I am grateful to the noble Lord, but we hope, as I am sure does he, that Report stage will finish this Wednesday, so that Third Reading can without more ado take place on the day already in the green paper. I take his point. However, if there is no date for Third Reading, it is proposed that it should be as soon as possible under Standing Orders after Report. We are conscious that Thursday is a possibility, but it is not one that we would want to take up.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his help at this stage and in our consultations to look at this matter. Obviously, on the undertaking that he has given, we will wait for his reaction at the next stage. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that we might have to marshal our forces on a Thursday if we do not get the result we want is one to take into consideration. However, seeing the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, looking quite so forceful, I do not think that that will be as difficult a job as one would imagine.
During the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, raised the issue of ownership and property. Perhaps I could ask the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew,
26 Oct 2009 : Column 991
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|