HC Deb 04 July 2003 vol 408 cc655-70
Mr. Chope

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 11, after "of", insert "significant".

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 16, leave out paragraph (b) and insert— (b) the removal or excavation constitutes an offence.".

No. 5, in page 2, line 2, after "of", insert "significant".

No. 7, in page 2, line 10, leave out from "of" to "thing" in line 11 and insert

any vessel or part of any vessel.".

No. 8, in page 2, line 12, leave out "trace or".

Mr. Chope

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) said that the key to the narrowness of the Bill was in clause 2. Amendment No. 4 and its corresponding amendment, No. 5, would make the Bill clearer and less all-embracing by inserting the requirement that, in order to become tainted, the cultural object must in the first instance be an object of significant historical, architectural or archaeological interest. I would not classify as a significant cultural object a brick taken from a listed building that had been demolished, but under the Bill"s broad definitions it would be a tainted cultural object because it had been taken from a listed building without consent. However small a piece of masonry it was, it could be caught by the Bill. I hope that the promoter will be persuaded to limit the provision to significant historical, cultural or architectural objects. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) suggested in the previous debate, we should restrict the scope of the Bill.

Amendment No. 7 is a probing amendment. I should like to explore with the promoter why he seeks to extend the definition of "monument" to include vehicles, aircraft and other movable structures. I can understand that sunken vessels may well be historic monument sites. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) is an expert on sunken vessels, or parts of sunken vessels. I do not understand why old cars—old bangers—left in listed buildings or parts of aircraft should be protected under the Bill. I look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam why he thinks the Bill should cover such objects.

Amendment No. 8 would narrow the definition of the remains so that there had to be a sign, rather than just a trace, of the previous existence of the object in question in order for it to qualify for protection. I am sure that in the context of weapons of mass destruction we will discuss where there is a sign of them or just a trace, but in the context of the Bill, if we are creating criminal offences, there should be a sign of the object"s previous existence—something that can be seen—rather than a trace that can be seen only under a microscope or with the expertise of a scientist.

Mr. Chris Mole (Ipswich)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a trace of biological weapons could be extremely significant?

Mr. Chope

I certainly accept that, but I am not sure that biological weapons have yet become cultural objects, although I know that they are achieving a significance similar to that for the Government. The hon. Gentleman makes my point: should the mere trace of a cultural object give rise to criminal sanctions? I hope that the promoter will see the strength of the argument in support of the amendment.

10.45 am
Mr. Allan

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) for tabling amendments so that we can explore clause 2, which defines the scope of a possible offence. He eloquently explained that his amendments would narrow that scope. He used the word "significant" in the first two amendments, but the general point is that objects should be substantial. I shall resist those amendments and speak to my amendment No. 2.

Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are unnecessary. Under clause 2(3), an offence must have been committed. Amendment No. 2 would further clarify that, with subsection (3)(b) being amended to state: the removal or excavation constitutes an offence". That creates the significance threshold that the hon. Gentleman seeks through his amendments. An offence must have been committed, so by definition we are speaking only of objects that have the legal protection of heritage law. I hope that he will accept that heritage law is not applied willy-nilly and that a building or archaeological site must already be significant to achieve protection under listed building or sites and monuments legislation.

Mr. Randall

Looking abroad, I would surprised if many of the places where looting takes place had strict heritage laws. In many places, objects might be property of the state rather than being subject to heritage law. Would that mean that the objects were outwith the provisions, or would they be included?

Mr. Allan

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the international aspects of the Bill, and I am grateful for his close attention. He is right that the scope of heritage protection laws varies in other countries and that that is significant in the context of the Bill. The Bill aims to support the United Kingdom"s membership of the UNESCO convention on illicit trade in antiquities and, by doing so, to give an international assurance that we will classify as tainted any material removed in contravention of the law of any other state and therefore not allow it to be dealt in United Kingdom markets.

That is a very important element of the Bill, which originated, in a sense, in the need to address that potential mischief. Protection laws in other states vary. Some provide that all heritage material belongs to the state. Indeed, within the United Kingdom, Scottish law points a little more in that direction than that of England and Wales. The Bill operates by seeking not to prejudge heritage law, but to reinforce it by saying that if an object has been taken in contravention of another country"s law it will be tainted in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Uxbridge was right to say that such issues will vary, but I think that that is the most workable and practical approach. An approach that sought to define a different threshold for other countries was considered, involving bilateral agreements with Italy, Greece and so on, but it was discounted in favour of that which has been adopted, whose onus is on knowing whether an item has been legally or illegally obtained from the third country.

Mr. Randall

The hon. Gentleman is raising as many questions as he is answering. Let us take the example of property that belongs to somebody, after which there is a change of regime and the state says that no private property should be held and that any such property is therefore state property. The person who previously owned the property, which could have been in their family for generations, might decide to get rid of it or sell it. Would that constitute an offence?

Mr. Allan

There is a separate regime for illegal exports. The Bill seeks to remain narrow. The hon. Gentleman said that I had raised as many questions as I had answered. This is an area in which we cannot be entirely definitive, as there are problems concerning a lack of regime and, as he pointed out, the way in which legislation can change. All we can do—this is why I point to the United Kingdom"s accession to the UNESCO convention as a significant aspect—is attempt to make our law as effectively as we can and accept that United Kingdom courts may have to make judgments about whether the law that they are asked to work with was properly enforced. I do not think that we can cater for every eventuality, but the Bill will go a long way towards supporting our UNESCO convention membership and the general thrust of law on illicit trade in antiquities, which seeks to ensure respect for each other"s legal codes. I cannot go into the detail of every regime change that could take place, but I think that the general principle is a sound one. The matter was considered and discussed by the panel of experts, and the principle that has been used is the one that it felt was most likely to be effective.

Mr. Chope

I should like to cite a nitty-gritty example from my constituency, where there is a grade 1 listed building called Highcliffe castle, which has recently been restored. In recent years, its owners have been selling off pieces of masonry from the castle, which are now adorning people"s gardens in Christchurch. Are those cultural objects tainted? Such items are not significant, but they are cultural objects.

Mr. Allan

The hon. Gentleman cites a very good example. Provided that the building"s owners had listed building consent, the objects will not be tainted in any way. The key point in clause 2 is whether an offence was committed and, therefore, in the context of the UK, whether materials were taken contrary to listed building consent. The architectural salvage trade has properly raised concern about the issue. When a building has been demolished or altered with all the consents in place, there will be no problem whatsoever. Any material from the building can be sold on to the market in accordance with whatever other legal provisions exist. The Bill has no locus where people have listed building consent.

The concern about the word "significant" is that it would set up a double test: first, whether an offence had been committed—the test that is already included in the Bill—and, secondly, whether the material was significant. I think that the additional second test is unnecessary. If the offence has been committed, the matter should be serious enough for the offence set out in the Bill to be considered. We should not have to reach a second threshold of significance.

The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) was kind enough to indicate that amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are probing amendments. On amendment No. 7, he asked whether we need to deal with monuments other than ships, including aeroplanes and so on. I refer him to battlefield sites and second world war plane wrecks. Such sites can properly be listed as protected. Increasingly, if we are future-proofing the Bill, we must recognise that some objects and sites need protection in respect of the longer description that it sets out. Such objects might include aeroplanes or vehicles that require protection, rather than merely ships or vessels. I hope that he will accept that that is the reason for the broader scope, especially in respect of battlefield sites.

In respect of amendment No. 8, the hon. Gentleman referred to traces and the fact that scientific detection is required. He is right: archaeological scientific detection is required. One of the key points is that traces can be the most important element of an archaeological site. The Bill seeks to bolster the protection of those sites. Somebody who digs up an archaeological site, as happened recently at Yeavering Bell, can extract objects that may be of little value in themselves, but will destroy material of huge archaeological and scientific value. Frequently, such material takes the form of traces. For example, in respect of Anglo Saxon burials, the nature of the ground and soil in Suffolk is such that the skeletal remains will frequently have disappeared, leaving only a trace in the sand. Such a trace will have huge scientific and archaeological relevance, but we could not deem it substantial. Any test saying that it was okay to destroy such material as long as nobody took large objects made of silver or gold would be anathema to archaeologists and contrary to the purpose of the Bill.

Mr. Chope

Can the hon. Gentleman explain how one can deal in traces in the sand? This is the season for sandcastle building, but it is difficult to preserve sandcastles. Likewise, how could anybody move a trace in the sand, deal in it and open themselves to prosecution under the Bill?

Mr. Allan

We are not seeking to suggest that somebody should not deal in the sand that comes from the site, but trying to supply a definition of "monument" that is broad enough to include places where the primary artefacts are traces. The material taken from a monument may be a single gold clasp, but the monument would have been protected in the first place not because of that clasp but because of the many scientific traces. My concern is that the hon. Gentleman"s amendment would narrow the scope of the Bill so that monuments of the sort that mainly consist of traces could no longer be protected, and that material that had been taken—I accept that that would not be sand, but some other movable object—could be freely dealt in and could not be deemed to be tainted. I think that the amendment addresses the question of the nature of the monument rather than that of the object that is removed. I am arguing for us to continue to keep the scope of "monument" broader, so that it includes scientifically valuable sites.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that I have dealt with the concerns that he raised in his probing amendments. I also hope that the House will support amendment No. 2, which has again been drafted with the support of the British Art Market Federation and is an attempt to tighten the definition of the sort of offence that could trigger the tainting. The amendment specifically refers to concerns expressed in Standing Committee and previously about avoiding a situation whereby somebody could commit a health and safety offence, for example, in the context of removal or excavation, and thereby trigger the offence in question. It contains a much tighter wording, which makes it clear that the removal of the excavation itself is an offence, rather than permitting a broader scope of offences that apply to the removal or excavation that might trigger the offence itself. I cited various examples such as VAT fraud, health and safety and assaulting an archaeologist. We are trying to ensure not that one cannot do any of those things—if one did, one would be taken to court under other laws—but that the tainting offence would not come into force in those circumstances. It comes into force very specifically when people have breached heritage legislation.

11 am

Mr. Randall

I am grateful for the opportunity to delve further into this matter. In a previous job, I was a tour leader for a specialist bird-watching company that went all round the world. When we were not bashing around in swamps and jungles, we often came across local people, well off the beaten track, offering objects for sale. Expert bird-watchers the tourists may have been, but cultural experts they probably were not. When they got near to a cultural site they got their binoculars out to make sure that there was not an interesting species lurking there, not to look at the architecture or archaeological features. I am therefore concerned that if they bought something in good faith—one could argue that they should be a little more cynical about where it may have come from—they would fall foul of the Bill.

My only other question delves deep into areas I had almost forgotten about. I seem to remember that there is something in law, which may have disappeared by now, called "marché ouvert", whereby if a person buys stolen property on a stall or in a market, they cannot be deemed to have committed the offence of buying a stolen object, as they would if they bought from a shop or a dealer. Perhaps "marché ouvert" went out with William the Conqueror—it sounds as though it should have done—but I should like to know whether it would apply.

Tim Loughton

I want to deal with the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) before adding my support to amendment No. 2, which is in my name and that of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan). My hon. Friend"s amendments are interesting, but they would detract from the Bill.

The most important aspect of amendments Nos. 4 and 5 is the addition of a double test in relation to the word "significant". The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam listed the various legal protections that sites have under heritage law and illegal export legislation. If the word "significant" is inserted in those two places, who on earth will judge what is significant or not? Would the significance test be based on its importance to a certain culture or cultural sequence—an importance that may be recognised only by a certain museum, country or part of the world? That would start all sorts of value arguments as to the historical, architectural or archaeological significance of items to different bodies of people. The entire subject of today"s very important Bill—it is certainly very important to hon. Members who are here—is, regrettably, of absolutely no importance to most people outside this place, who have other priorities, albeit that many people recognise that the nation"s culture and heritage is of great importance.

Can one qualify significance in terms of size? My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch mentioned bits of masonry. Was the bit of the sphinx"s nose that Napoleon"s troops took pot shots at significant? In itself, probably not—it is just a chunk of old rock—but it is of exceedingly great significance in the context from which it comes. Would a little bit off the end of a Gujerat frieze or a Mayan temple constitute significance? As just a little bit of well-weathered, worn stone, it would not, but in the context of where it came from and what it was part of, it might. Many parts of the Elgin marbles in the British museum may not be regarded as significant— indeed, it is often hard to tell what they are—but they are of course significant in the broader context. Could the qualification of significance be applied to the medium in which the object was made? If it is only old, rough-hewn stone, would it have the significance of properly dressed marble? Would it have to be made of a precious metal rather than a cheap alloy?

I cite those hypothetical examples because they are the sorts of defences that people could use in a legal situation to avoid prosecution. Inserting the word "significant" in those two places would add an unhelpful extra test that would detract from the effectiveness of the Bill.

Amendment No. 7 would replace the longer description in clause 2 with reference only to vessels. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall), who has now left the Chamber, was amusingly described as being an expert in vessels—not, I am sure, those vessels that are drunk from. Referring only to vessels could detract from the definitions in the Bill, because vessels could be construed as being pots, or assorted cookware rather than ships as many people might expect. The amendment would add confusion. It is a pity that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge is not in his place. We know him to be a retailer to the gentry, but I never had him down as a professional international twitcher, as he revealed himself to be. I am delighted that he has now returned. Perhaps a reported sighting of a lesser spotted something in New Palace Yard diverted his interest and explains his temporary absence.

Mr. Allan

While the hon. Gentleman is on that subject, I wonder whether I can allay the fears of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) about his birdwatcher friends and colleagues, whom I, too, would not wish inadvertently to be prosecuted. The prosecution test, whereby the individual must know or believe that they are buying a tainted cultural object, is paramount. Someone who cynically went over to South America—I assume that the hon. Gentleman is thinking about such countries—and bought material that they knew to have been illegally removed would be liable, but someone who inadvertently picked something up would not.

Tim Loughton

That is absolutely right. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that extra clarification.

On amendment No. 8, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch shows consummate skill and a degree of appropriateness. The Bill has great resonance in the context of Iraq because of the events at the Baghdad museum, and he brought weapons of mass destruction—biological weapons—into the equation as well. That shows great ingenuity. However, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam is right that the word "traces" is required. Often in archaeology, to the frustration of many of us who have laboured many long days in pouring rain or beating hot sun to excavate precisely nothing, finding nothing is more significant than finding something. An object may be of interest or of value, but the context in which it is found—or not found when it had been expected to be found—is often far more important in archaeological terms. For example, there may be no bone remains owing to the acidity of the soil, but something attached to the area suggests a burial. It may be a chariot. There have been interesting examples in this country: the grave of a female charioteer was excavated last year. In such cases, most of the wooden remains, such as the wheels, have gone, but a few examples of ironwork remain. In some cases, examples of metalworking or burnt layers suggest that industrial activity took place in a specific area. In those instances, the traces have greater archaeological significance. Perhaps it is like finding the dinosaur footprint. One has not found the dinosaur"s foot, but the footprint is enormously significant, not archaeologically—

Mr. Allan


Tim Loughton

Absolutely. I had momentarily forgotten the word. I shall not attempt to spell it, but Hansard will have to.

Amendment No. 2 is a tidying-up exercise. It stems from the amendment that I tabled in Committee, which stated: leave out from the beginning to end of line 17 and insert the removal or excavation, or any failure by any person involved in the removal or excavation to comply with procedures required in respect of that removal or excavation constituted an offence at the time it occurred.'. It was simple and straightforward but perhaps the wording of the amendment that we are considering— the removal or excavation constitutes an offence"— is much neater. It makes the matter legally clearer, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam said. I am grateful to the parliamentary draftsmen, whose skills have created such a neat amendment.

We took legal advice, which centred on the word "circumstances". The word adds nothing positive to the Bill, and we should concentrate on the object and its removal, not the legal status of the person or persons connected with the removal, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam said. The amendment should clarify the scope of the offences that may cause tainting. The attached notes reflect that intention.

The Bill should cover removals or excavations that constitute offences, for example, when a person removes, without written permission, an object of archaeological or historical interest that he has discovered through using a metal detector in a protected place. That is an offence under section 42(3) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam repeated the point that we made in Committee that criminal circumstances may surround the excavation of an item that have nothing to do with the item being tainted. For example, a digger that was used to dig up a large item may have been stolen. That should not taint the object. Perhaps the person responsible for the dig is the subject of criminal prosecution for something else that has nothing to do with digging up the object. Perhaps the digger on the site has been assaulted. Again, those events should not taint the object. Although amendment No. 2 makes matters much clearer, perhaps the Minister would explain what has changed and why Government thinking has changed from the response that the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), who was then the Minister responsible, gave in Committee. He said: The amendment would unnecessarily restrict the definition of a tainted cultural object and introduce uncertainties in the scope of that definition."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 14 May 2003; c. 15.] He said that we needed to ensure that the offence that the Bill created covered not only conduct that breached local laws to prohibit the removal or excavation of cultural objects from monuments but cases in which the conduct breached general laws that protected property, such as theft.

Surely theft laws cover such activities and they are separate from the significant cultural nature for which we are trying to legislate. I should therefore be grateful for some clarification from the Minister of how and why Government thinking changed—I am pleased that it did—so that they now feel able to adopt a version of the amendment that we tabled in a rather more clumsy form in Committee.

11.15 am
Estelle Morris

I too should like to join others in supporting amendment No. 2. Although amendments Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 8 are interesting probing amendments and the debate has been good and useful, I shall resist them and hope that they will be withdrawn.

First, let us consider amendment No. 2. I cannot read the mind of the former Minister, but it is entirely proper for the Government to reflect on what hon. Members of all parties say during a Bill"s passage. I accept the interpretation of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) that alternative legislation could tackle theft and that the Bill should deal with tainted objects. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to say that the Government have reflected on his comments in Committee and decided that the wording of the new amendment is better, I am happy to do so. I sense that hon. Members of all parties support the Bill and I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing the wording to the attention of the Government and the promoter. I acknowledge that, with the help of parliamentary draftsmen, the current wording satisfies us.

Let me briefly consider amendments Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 8. Like other hon. Members, I believe that "significant value" in amendments Nos. 4 and 5 is a test too far. We do not want to draw up legislation that tantalisingly leaves us unable to deal with the offences that we believed we had covered.

On amendments Nos. 7 and 8, I am informed that the definitions of monument and trace merely repeat those in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned. I have no reason to believe that those definitions have not stood the test of time. Having similar definitions in legislation that deals with similar matters is commendable. I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) will accept that.

I did not have information about, marché ouvert in the deep recesses of my mind, but experts reliably inform me that it no longer exists. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) will be surprised to learn that it has been abolished only recently. It used to exist in designated markets, including Bermondsey. I am sure that the promoter will be interested in telling the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) about that. In it, items could be sold before sunrise. Believe it or not, in this land of ours, people could sell stolen—my officials put "dodgy" in brackets, but we do not use that term—objects. I assure hon. Members that it has been abolished. I hope that that deals with the fears of the hon. Member for Uxbridge.

Mr. Chope

We have had an excellent and erudite debate, after which I am wiser. I am grateful to the promoter and to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for the calm, precise, persuasive and thorough way in which they have dealt with my anxieties. I congratulate my hon. Friend on an ingenious critique when he explained what would happen if one took "vessels" out of context. I am grateful to the Minister for making clear the precedents for the definition of monument and trace. I do not accept all the arguments about "significant", because the amendments qualify the word. It would not stand alone but qualify archaeological and historical interest. However, I take the points that have been raised. In the light of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 2, in page 1, line 16, leave out paragraph (b) and insert— (b) the removal or excavation constitutes an offence.".—[Mr. Allan.]

Order for Third Reading read.

11.20 am
Mr. Allan

I thank all who have been involved with the Bill so far. I pay tribute to the many professionals in the heritage sector who have built the case for us to tackle the trade in illicit antiquities over many years. Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn has played a leading role, which will no doubt continue when the Bill goes to the House of Lords. The next set of principal actors in the Bill"s evolution are members of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. I congratulate them on their work, and especially on returning to the subject in the follow-up inquiry that they announced recently.

ITAP, the ministerial advisory panel on illicit trade, did some excellent work on bringing together all the relevant parties under the chairmanship of Professor Norman Palmer, who was also generous with his time in helping me personally with the Bill"s preparation. I hope that ITAP"s work will be able to continue, as the Bill is certainly not the end of the story in terms of tackling illicit trade. I believe that it could have a particularly valuable role in considering the issue of databases for stolen and tainted objects. I know that the Department is also keen to work on that.

I especially thank one ITAP member, Anthony Browne of the British Art Market Federation, for the huge amount of work he has put into ensuring that the Bill can retain the support of the whole sector. That is reflected in the amendments we have discussed today, but also in much of the debate that we have had to clarify aspects of the Bill that caused concern.

David Gaimster and the DCMS team have gone beyond the call of duty to ensure that everything could proceed smoothly, and have been unstinting in the time that they have devoted to the Bill. Roger Bland and Michael Lewis of the portable antiquities scheme at the British Museum have also helped with the Bill, and have been inspirational in showing how we can better handle found cultural objects. That excellent scheme, with its network of local finds liaison officers, has led to the reporting of thousands of cultural objects in this country that would otherwise have gone unrecorded. I hope that the Department will be able to guarantee its future funding when the current heritage lottery fund arrangements run out, but that is a debate for another day.

It has been a pleasure to deal with both Ministers who have handled the Bill. The present Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), always brings a certain flair to any debate, and I am grateful to him for spending a couple of Fridays here—we had an abortive first attempt at Second Reading—as well as responding helpfully in Committee. As I have said, I am also very pleased that the Minister for the Arts has been here today.

Finally, let me thank the many Members on both sides of the House who have helped the Bill on its way. I am especially grateful to those who volunteered to serve on the Committee and to the Conservative spokesmen who have participated—the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) on Second Reading, and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) in Committee and today. On both occasions, he was an active and helpful participant. We also spent a good deal of time considering these issues during the all-party archaeology group inquiry. I think that one reason that we have been able to achieve cross-party consensus, with a group of Members working behind the Bill, is the discussion in which we were able to engage then. The all-party group has done a tremendous job.

This is, I think, a good Bill that will make an important contribution to heritage legislation in the United Kingdom. It will enhance our reputation as a nation that cares deeply for culture, both our own and that of other countries. It is, I hope, a model that other countries may wish to emulate, so that we can reach a point at which there is no market anywhere for looted cultural objects.

I hope that the House will give the Bill a Third Reading, and wish it well in another place.

11.24 am
Mr. Randall

I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) on his admirable Bill, and thank those who took part in its earlier stages. I am delighted to discover the great expertise of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), which I am sure the Conservative party will use to great effect in the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) referred to my expert knowledge of underwater vessels. I am not entirely sure where that came from, unless it is connected with the fact that this time last year my private Member"s Bill on marine wildlife conservation was holed below the water line in another place, and is now sitting at the bottom of the legislative ocean. I rather hope that it is found not by a team of marine archaeologists, but by a team of salvage operators who will bring it to the surface in due course.

The protection of cultural objects, whether in our own country or elsewhere in the world, is of prime importance. In Iraq and, as I said earlier, in Kosovo, we have recently witnessed the incredible destruction of centuries-old buildings, and the resulting loss of objects that were inside them. But whether we are talking about the churches and monasteries of Kosovo or historic churches such as my local parish church, St. Laurence in Cowley, this is a vital issue. Even the archaeological traces of long-lost legal knowledge that I once acquired have now, sadly, become part of history.

I wish the Bill well in the other place.

11.26 am
Mr. Chope

I too congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who has been very actively involved in the Bill.

The Bill has been considered very carefully both before and during our debates in the House, and there was widespread consultation. It has been dealt with in an exemplary way. Its ambit is relatively narrow, but although it is a specialist Bill it is tremendously important to those who are concerned about these issues. I have learned a lot, and I now know that my constituents who have pieces of masonry from Highcliffe castle in their gardens will not offend against the Bill if they decide to sell them in due course.

I think we are all concerned about our heritage and its despoliation by those who seek to make money. That applies not just in this country but elsewhere. Although the Bill is modest and will not involve many prosecutions, it will send a clear signal that we need to protect our heritage. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam for enabling us to do that.

11.27 am
Dr. Murrison

I broadly welcome the Bill, although there are problems of definition, which we have covered in a most amusing fashion. I thank the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) for his assurance on architectural salvage, which was most useful, but I think it is important to identify what we mean by a cultural object in this context. I still fear that we are confusing objects of obvious cultural importance—the sort referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall)—with the more workaday objects that we might see in this country.

11.28 am
Tim Loughton

We warmly welcome the Bill. I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) about the way in which it has been handled, thanks largely to the expertise of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) and the cool manner in which he has guided it through Parliament. That has not been easy at times, but we have ended up with a very good Bill. The hon. Gentleman may well have fulfilled his political ambition by producing this important piece of legislation, and I envy him for being able to put his name to it.

The Bill has widespread support among all sorts of organisations and individuals who care about culture and cultural objects. It sprang from recommendations made by the Select Committee back in July 2000, which were taken up by the advisory panel set up by the Minister under Professor Norman Palmer. The panel did some excellent work. The Bill has the backing of the Council for British Archaeology, Rescue, the British Museum, the portable antiquities scheme, the National Council for Metal Detecting and other organisations. The Government should be given credit for the progress that the Bill has made, for taking the issue seriously and for signing up to the 1970 UNESCO convention on cultural objects, which they did last October. For once, then, on this issue, we can give the Government credit where credit is due.

As the Minister said, the Bill has all-party support. We have had a good debate and much interest has been shown by Back Benchers. I look forward to welcoming all their applications to join the all-party parliamentary group on archaeology, which is a very important body in these Houses. I belatedly welcome the Minister to her new role. We greatly enjoyed the contributions of her predecessor, not least because he said that he had a particular interest in the Bill and in archaeological matters, and he added the relic of Welsh rugby to the discussions in Committee.

It is important to get the Bill right; it should be proportionate in providing protection and in allowing honest, decent dealers in items of cultural and archaeological significance to go about their business. After all, the art market in this country is an important employer, with some 40,000 people, and London has an international reputation for expertise and honesty in this field. The Bill should add to the respectability of that market.

As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam said, illegal trading in cultural items is now big business. It is not quite up there with dealing in drugs, but it is becoming an important international business, and there are links to the funding of terrorism. As Julian Radcliffe from the Art Loss Register has said: I used to be sceptical about whether stolen art is being used in money laundering. Now I'm not. We need to move with the times and clamp down on an activity that has only really evolved in the last 10 to 20 years. It is unfortunate that we have to do that, but it is right that we preserve the cultural integrity of nations around the world.

Once items are lost to scholarship, particularly if, as in many cases, they are taken from sites that were previously unknown, that leaves an enormous gap in our understanding of many cultures. Often we do not learn much from the antiquities themselves unless we know their context. Those of us who profess to be amateur archaeologists do not dig up objects for their own sake; we do it to expand our knowledge of why they were there, who made them and how they fit into the cultural thread.

There have been several alarming cases such as the recent one involving a New York dealer who, I am glad to say, was given a sentence of 33 months in jail for conspiring to receive and handle stolen Egyptian pieces. Those pieces had been covered in plastic so that they looked like the cheap tourist knick..knacks brought back from Egypt by holidaymakers. People are going to extraordinary lengths to try to abuse the proper dealings in cultural objects.

Many bodies in this country are doing great things to improve the checking mechanisms. The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art has plans for its members to conduct searches with a database for all items over the value of £10,000 to make sure that they are not stolen. It is now looking to reduce that threshold to £2,000, which would scoop many more people into the net.

The British Museum set a good example in 1990 when it restricted itself to acquiring only pieces that were documented as having been out of the ground before 1970, when the UNESCO convention kicked in. As the hon. Gentleman said, we should give a lot of credit to the work of Lord Renfrew, who taught both of us at Cambridge in our archaeological days. He also set up the illicit antiquities research centre at the MacDonald Institute in Cambridge, which does a lot of good work in this area.

The Bill"s timing has been focused by events in the Baghdad museum in Iraq, and it is right that we should raise the profile of the cultural vandalism and potential disaster that took place there. However, as events have unfolded in recent weeks, it has become clear that the extent of the looting was, thank goodness, much smaller than anticipated. Artefacts such as the bull"s head harp from Ur, which is 4,500 years old, the great vase of Warka, which is 5,000 years old, and others from all the incredible cultures in the cradle of civilisations that is that part of the middle east have re-emerged and been returned to the museum.

It was fitting that yesterday the museum was able to re-open its doors, albeit on a temporary basis, to show people that most of the exhibits were still in place. Many of the objects that were stolen had been in store rooms, and were probably taken in planned looting. We should take those matters seriously, and it is right that the Department, in co-ordination with the British Museum, has lent its help to ensure that Iraq"s culture is not lost.

If I have one qualification about the Bill, it concerns regulatory impact assessment No. 37. I made this point in Committee and it was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). The RIA says that it is not anticipated that there will be more than one prosecution every two to three years, so it is de minimis to law enforcement agencies. I hope that that is not the case, because although this is a deterrent measure that sends out clear signals that this behaviour is criminal and will not be tolerated, illicit dealing will still go on. Many people will need to be taught a harsh lesson if they are to learn about the seriousness of the legislation. I would hope that we will have some high-profile prosecutions, along the lines of that in New York, which would set an example. We do not want to lock everybody up, but there will have to be more than one such case every one or two years if the Bill is to be taken seriously. The RIA makes a serious underestimate.

That notwithstanding, this is a good Bill. As the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam said, it will make an important contribution to heritage legislation in the UK, and, as with much else that happens here, send out good signals and set good examples for other countries. It has the wholehearted support of Conservative Members, and we wish it a speedy and successful passage through the other House.

11.37 am
Estelle Morris

I, too, welcome the Third Reading of the Bill, and I wish it well as it goes to the House of Lords. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), and all the members of the Standing Committee, on the Bill.

One of the joys of trying in the last few days quickly to read the Committee"s proceedings was to realise not only the interest but the expertise in the matter that there is in the House. It was clear from the pages of Hansard that all Members who took part in the debates on the Bill did so with great enthusiasm and energy. I was surprised at the size of the all-party group on the issue. I had not realised the extent of interest and expertise both in this House and in the other place, and that is to the great credit of Members. I suspect that that explains why this is a good Bill—the people who have guided it through the House care about it and about what it will mean.

Perhaps with greater enthusiasm than on many occasions, I congratulate the promoter, and I suspect that in years to come, when he looks back on all his contributions to politics, he will see this as a major one. I know that the Bill will stand the test of time and that many people, not only in this country but in those that are seeing their cultural heritage destroyed, will have reason to be grateful for him. I pay great tribute to his energy and enthusiasm, and I pay equal tribute to other Members who, in the Committee and the Chamber, have shown the House at its best. Every Member who has spoken today has properly explored the issues and acknowledged that the Bill is important, and we want to speed it on its way.

On behalf of my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), now the Minister of State, Department for Transport, as well as on my own account, I thank hon. Members for their comments about my officials and the help that they extended to the promoter of the Bill. We are all confident that the legislation will be good; it has been properly written and will fit the purpose.

Sometimes, when archaeological sites and sites of cultural interest are looted, local people think that they stand to gain, but they do not. They are being robbed of their heritage as well as being robbed financially. The Bill is in their interests. It is also in the interests of the legitimate London and UK art market. Because that market plays by the rules, it has been let down by the illicit trade so the Bill will be welcome.

When I read the background, I was delighted to find that the Bill is welcomed by all parts of the trade; that cannot be the case for many measures. I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for his acknowledgement that the Bill has been dealt with speedily. As much as is possible in any parliamentary Session, the Department has tried to give it time.

If the Bill had been passed four years ago, many people in this country would not have understood its significance. Sadly, because of what has gone on in international conflict, most recently in Baghdad, no one will fail to understand the Bill's significance, so the Bill is timely. In thanking everybody for their work on the measure, I join hon. Members in wishing it good speed as it goes through the House of Lords.

11.41 am
Mr. Allan

With the leave of the House, I briefly thank all hon. Members for their most kind comments. I do not want to take too much time as I know that other Members are waiting to speak to their Bills.

Like all movers of a private Member"s Bill, my nerves have been thoroughly wracked on many occasions over the past few months, but each time that things looked decidedly dodgy people from both sides of the House and from all quarters have turned up to help. I even found myself warming to the shadow Leader of the House as he was advising me on dates and timings, which I certainly had not expected. I have received cooperation from across the board so it merely remains for me to thank all hon. Members who have taken part.

The Minister for the Arts referred to the size of the all-party archaeological group; she may find that the muscle of the all-party group will be knocking at her door to discuss associated issues, so I hope that she is similarly receptive to the other measures that we want to introduce to protect our culture both in the UK and abroad.

I am confident that there is sufficient support in the House of Lords for the Bill to have a good chance of reaching the statute book and I am dead chuffed that we have got this far.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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