1.This instrument proposes to revoke EU Regulation 2019/880 on the introduction and import of cultural goods. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) explains that several provisions in the Regulation came into force during the Transition Period, thereby becoming part of retained EU law. This includes Article 3(1) which came into force on 28 December 2020 and prohibits the introduction of non-EU cultural goods which have been unlawfully removed from the country in which they were created or discovered (referred to as the “general prohibition”).
2.In the Explanatory Memorandum (EM), DCMS explains that the general prohibition provision “has become legally deficient, as it applies to the ‘introduction of cultural goods’ which is defined […] as ‘entry into the customs territory of the Union’”, and that this “refers to the customs territory of the EU, and cannot be interpreted to mean the customs territory of the United Kingdom”. DCMS further explains that the Department has chosen to revoke the Regulation, rather than amend it because it considers that:
“even if not deficient, this provision would not add anything new to the existing obligations on businesses and importers to ensure the legal provenance of cultural goods which they bring into the United Kingdom, or to the measures already available to the United Kingdom’s border authorities to prevent cultural goods being brought into the United Kingdom when there is information or evidence that they have been unlawfully removed from another country”.
3.DCMS further states that these measures “are in line with our existing commitments and obligations as a member of international organisations such as the World Customs Organisation and Interpol and in international law, including the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.”
4.In the De Minimis Assessment, the Department acknowledges, however, that revoking the instrument:
“is likely to be criticised by those who consider that the UK needs to do more to prevent the import into the UK of cultural goods which have been stolen, looted and/or unlawfully exported from other countries. […] There could be a perception that we are watering down our commitment to protect cultural property from illicit trade which we will need to robustly counter.”
5.While the Department has provided us with a list of international and domestic legislation in this area, we are concerned that this instrument may nevertheless have the potential of weakening the legal prohibition that is currently provided by Article 3(1). We also note potential concerns that the UK should do more to prevent the import of stolen or looted cultural goods. These are significant issues that the House may wish to examine further. On balance, therefore, we take the view that the instrument should be subject to the affirmative procedure. We also ask that the EM be revised to include the additional information provided by the Department.