Thursday, 3 November 2016

Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill: Second Reading

(c) David Gill
The Hansard text of the second reading of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill on Monday 31 October 2016 has now been made available.

Some highlights in the debate (that ranged over a number of cultural issues beyond the Bill) include:
  • The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Karen Bradley): "We are lucky to have a highly professional and dedicated heritage and museum sector that works extremely hard to preserve our heritage and bring the story of our history to life. This work helps attract visitors to our shores too. We also have a duty to help protect the culture and heritage of other countries, for they are part of our shared inheritance as human beings."
  • Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): "Can she assure the House that after the 62 years we have waited since we signed the treaty, there will not be another 62 years until the Government bring it into effect?"
  • Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): raised an important issue about clause 17 and "unreasonable reason".
  • Karen Bradley: "Although dealers will need to satisfy themselves through due diligence that there is no reasonable cause to suspect that objects presented for sale have been unlawfully exported from an occupied territory, existing codes of conduct already oblige dealers not to import, export or transfer the ownership of objects where they have reasonable ​cause to believe that the object has been exported in violation of another country’s laws. Dealers will not be required to carry out any further due diligence beyond that which they should already be conducting. In order to commit an offence, a dealer must deal in an object knowing, or having reason to suspect, as the hon. Member for Rhondda has pointed out, that it has been unlawfully exported. If a dealer takes temporary possession of an object for the purposes of carrying out due diligence or providing valuations, they will not be dealing in that object, because they will not be acquiring the object."
  • Keven Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): "That leads me to one of the central concerns about the Bill. We will support it on Second Reading tonight and throughout its later stages. However, although the Bill has been brought forward in the context of the aftermath of the destruction of cultural treasures in recent conflicts, it does not, as I understand it, cover the actions I have described because they were carried out by occupying forces that are not recognised states. I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but the Bill will not necessarily prevent extremists from intimidating people into complying. In her response to the debate, will she tell us whether that comes within the Bill’s scope or powers?".
  • Chris Bryant: "Does my hon. Friend agree that the British Museum plays an absolutely vital role—not only in this country, but in modern Iraq and Syria—in trying to protect many Mesopotamian antiquities? Indeed, the British Museum was in closer contact than anybody else with those who were summarily executed. While we are being nice to Government Members, will my hon. Friend congratulate the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) on the fact that, from the moment he arrived in the House, he has pursued this issue?".
  • Keven Brennan: "My hon. Friend mentioned the British Museum, which is a wonderful institution. If we are candid, however, we should recognise that our own hands are not necessarily entirely historically clean in relation to the removal of cultural property. That occurred in Britain’s colonial history, and it was used to build British wealth and power at the direct expense of colonised nations. Recent speculation concerning the repatriation of the Parthenon marbles to Greece, as well as campaigns to return the Koh-i-noor diamond to India and the Benin bronze cockerel to Nigeria, shows that the removal of cultural property reverberates through the centuries. I notice that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is shaking his head."
  • Keven Brennan: "During the Second Reading debate in the Lords, Lord Redesdale mentioned the Ministry of Defence’s plans to create a squad of monuments men—and, presumably, women as well—whose focus would be to safeguard cultural property during armed conflicts. As I understand it, they would be soldiers with archaeology ​qualifications and the like. Meanwhile, the Department for Education has been campaigning against so-called soft subjects, leading to exam boards ending archaeology, art history and classical civilisation A-levels. The AQA explained its decision to cut A-level archaeology as follows: “Our number one priority is making sure every student gets the result they deserve…the complex and specialist nature of the exams creates too many risks on that front”— I am not sure how not offering an exam in a subject will make it any less specialist than it already is. On history of art, the AQA stated that the decision had nothing to do with the importance of the subject and “won’t stop students going on to do a degree in it”. That logic seems flawed to me. But it does not make a pretty picture overall, let alone a masterpiece, to have the Ministry of Defence wanting more soldiers with knowledge of art history and archaeology and the Department for Education cutting those same subjects from our classrooms, while the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is ratifying conventions and proclaiming that a national priority. "
  • Mr John Whittingdale (Maldon) (Con): "Cultural assets are also part of the world’s heritage, and we all have a duty to do our utmost to safeguard that heritage. For that reason, I was delighted when the Government established the cultural protection fund, worth £30 million, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), Chancellor of the Exchequer when the fund was established, and the Education Secretary, who was then Secretary of State for International Development, for their part in agreeing to that, as a large part of the fund can be classified as international aid. I also pay tribute to Neil MacGregor—he has already been mentioned—who was the driving force for the establishment of the fund. He and I launched it together, and, as the director of the British Museum at the time, he took responsibility for the first phase, a £3 million fund administered by the British Museum to send archaeologists into Iraq to advise and help in restoration where damage had taken place."
  • John Whittingdale: "The Committee heard concern about one aspect of the Bill: the offence of dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property. The first concern was about the definition of occupied territories. At the time, we were told that it was a very narrow definition, or that only a narrow ​group of countries or territories could be considered to be occupied. In 2008, the regulatory impact assessment identified the Golan heights, East Jerusalem and the west bank. Unfortunately since that time, the list of occupied countries has grown—I draw attention to Crimea. For the purposes of certainty for those dealing in cultural objects, it would help if we clarified exactly which territories we consider to be occupied."
  • John Whittingdale: "The fact that there have been no convictions does not necessarily imply that the Act is not working—it is important to have it on the statute book. I do not believe that this country is full of dodgy art dealers who wilfully ignore the law and deal in plainly illegally exported objects."
  • John Whittingdale: "The art market is determined and supports the Bill. The last thing it wants is for this country to become a place where people can deal in unlawfully exported objects. It is worth bearing in mind that the market is hugely competitive and the third biggest in the world—it was worth something like £9 billion in sales in 2014. I would not like to see it inadvertently put at a disadvantage compared with other markets around the globe. I hope the Government bear that in mind. As I have said, I very much welcome their commitment."
  • Brendan O'Hara (Argyll and Bute) (SNP): "What Daesh is doing, in willfully desecrating and pillaging the artefacts in those sites, is a shameful and inexcusable crime against all of humanity. But let us be clear, not everything that Daesh is doing can be dismissed as simply malicious vandalism or an attempt to eradicate all traces of a pre-Islamic civilisation, as there is irrefutable evidence that when Daesh seizes a new city, one of its first acts is to plunder the museums and cultural sites for artefacts to raise much needed cash. Its looting of priceless artefacts is done for profit, and the flood of stolen antiquities being smuggled into the open arms of collectors across Europe and America shames us all. Michael Danti, a Boston University archaeologist who advises the US State Department on smuggled antiquities, said last year, “What started as opportunistic theft by some has turned into an organized transnational business that is helping fund terror”. Irreplaceable artefacts are being stolen from an already beleaguered people and are being sold on the black market to an unscrupulous but fabulously wealthy elite, whose money is funding Daesh’s murderous campaign."
  • Mr Edward Vaizey (Wantage) (Con): "inally, I cannot resist the bait from the Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara). He talks about the Elgin marbles. I am afraid he does this great convention and the Bill a disservice by bringing up the Elgin marbles. They were, of course, purchased legitimately in the ​19th century. Not only that, they have been preserved to the very highest standards possible in the greatest museum in the world which, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) pointed out, is a world museum that is open to all, free of charge. The Elgin marbles are seen in pristine condition by millions of people. Indeed, they were recently loaned to Russia for even more people to see, which goes to show that the British Museum preserves the Elgin marbles not for any national self-interest, but for the world. "
  • Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): "Cyprus has witnessed its cultural and religious heritage fall prey to the policy of pillage, destruction and desecration instituted after the illegal invasion of the island in 1974, and during the subsequent and continuing occupation. Churches, chapels, monasteries, archaeological sites, libraries, museums and private collections of religious art and antiquities in the occupied areas of Cyprus have been systematically looted. The art treasure market of the entire world has for years been flooded with Cypriot antiquities from the occupied part of Cyprus. Sculptures, ceramics, figurines, statuettes, tools, weapons, frescoes, religious paintings and other works of art from Cyprus are routinely found at auction houses around the world, in particular here in London. I sought to intervene on my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) to gently remind him that London is not only a centre of antiquities; it is likely to be a significant place for illegal antiquities, too. Research undertaken by The Guardian found the illegal market to be flooded with antiquities, and there are various reasons why the Government have not been able to stop it."
  • David Burrowes: "Let me touch on the Bill’s wording, which has been a matter of concern to the Association of Art & Antique Dealers and others. Clause 17 in part 4 needs careful attention, and we will no doubt hear more from Members about it. It is worth noting that the National Police Chiefs Council lead for heritage and cultural property crime, who should be commended and for whom resources for the enforcement effort are important, said that given that dealers in cultural property are expected to conduct due diligence checks, they would be unlikely to fall foul of the objective test of “reason to suspect”. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport impact assessment is in agreement with that, which is perhaps not surprising."
  • Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): "Most of the Bill is about the illicit trade, and we must shrink the demand for these works in the world today. Contrary to some of the remarks made in passing this evening, the UK is very good in this regard. We are not the epicentre of the illicit trade in art and antiquities; that is to be found in the Gulf states, in China, in Russia and in other parts of the world. The UK is actually at the forefront of having responsible dealers and major auction houses who care about their reputations, but that is all the more reason for us to do this and lead the world in enforcement. I want to say a few words about the offence of dealing unlawfully in exported property. We must tackle this issue, and I would like to think that the Minister would give this further thought on Report. This matters because, if we want to shrink the illicit market, we have to defend the legitimate market. The great auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s actually have very little interest in maintaining their antiquities departments; antiquities account for 1% or less of the turnover of such auction houses. It would be very easy for them and for experienced legitimate dealers to walk away from this trade, and that would matter because it would push more objects on to the black market and on to smaller auction houses that lack the compliance and legal and regulatory structures to do due diligence properly, and it would push out good dealers and give trade to those we are more concerned about."
  • Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): "Beyond that, I urge the Government to consider what effect this provision will have on the art market here in London. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, who speaks with the advantage of being not only a lawyer, but a former director of Christie’s, this will have a stifling effect. It may be that there will not be many convictions or many arrests, but the mere threat of the reputational damage caused by this possibility is enough to put the mockers on this valuable and entirely legitimate aspect of the London art market. The art market will go elsewhere and the crooks will get away with it. If we want to catch the bad boys, and if we want to inhibit this wrong and immoral market, why not stick to the 2003 wording or something similar to it, rather than allowing this Bill to contain an error of principle which could confound the interests of all of us who wish to see the destruction and the dealing in cultural objects that have been stolen brought to an end?"
  • Tim Loughton: "Iraqi intelligence claims that Daesh alone has collected more than $40 million from the sale of artefacts. It is the equivalent of what the Taliban were doing in Afghanistan through the cultivation and sale of heroin to feed markets in the west. We took that very seriously and it was a priority for the invading and occupying forces in that country, yet the devastation and profit involved in the plundering of these archaeological sites and the sale of antiquities does not seem to register nearly as clearly on the world’s radar. This is an important part of putting that case firmly on the world’s agenda.​"
  • Tracey Crouch: "If I may, I will explain the Government’s position on clause 17. As dealers should be carrying out due diligence for any piece of cultural property that they wish to buy or sell, in accordance with industry standards, we do not consider that the legislation imposes any extra burdens on those in the art industry. In order for a criminal case ​to proceed, the prosecution must be satisfied that there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and that there is enough evidence that prosecution is needed in the public interest. Where there is credible evidence to suggest that an object may have been unlawfully exported, we consider that a dealer would not be acting in good faith if they proceeded in a deal involving that object unless further due diligence were undertaken to rebut that evidence. On that basis, we do not believe that honest dealers should be concerned about the risk of prosecution."

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