§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Lord Kennet asked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Why they have not signed the 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
My Lords, ratification would expose us to formidable bureaucratic problems including differences of national interpretation of the meaning of cultural goods, the need for additional resources and possible new parliamentary legislation. Non-ratification does not affect our ability to take steps outside the convention to combat illicit traffic.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, is it not nevertheless the case that the signatories and ratifiers of the treaty include most of the countries in which saleable works 1112 of antiquity and arts are found—I have in mind especially Egypt, Greece, Italy, Syria and Turkey from the list—but exclude the countries where one would expect such things to be auctioned or sold on the art market, principally Switzerland and this country? Is there any connection between those two facts?
§ Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
My Lords, are the Government aware that looted antiquities exported illegally from Greece and other countries mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, are publicly advertised for sale in this country? Do the Government agree that if we were signatories to the convention, that would be much more difficult to do? Does my noble friend agree that antiquities that have been looted from this country are publicly on sale in the United States and that we have no redress so long as we remain non-signatories to the convention? Does my noble friend further agree that talk of bureaucracy is not sufficient in this difficult situation?
My Lords, I believe that my noble friend is probably referring to the Icklingham bronzes, which are in New York. The problem is that we do not know who exported them illegally. However, we do know that they were exported illegally. Under United Kingdom law, we cannot get them back because we have no proof of ownership. There is no proof of who owns them or, indeed, where they were found. Various allegations have been made by someone who feels that they were looted from his land, but there is no proof of that.
§ Lord Jenkins of Putney
My Lords, given the widespread feeling that the Government should have signed the convention—or, not having done so previously, that they should sign it now—why do they continue to resist doing so?
My Lords, there are a number of differences of interpretation. The convention refers basically to works of art that are in the public domain. Some countries regard that as including works that are privately owned, which they regard as being in the public domain also. We support the convention in principle, but there are problems in United Kingdom law. We have our own laws, which we feel achieve many of the same objectives as the convention.
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the answers he has given seem to be slightly contradictory? At the beginning, he gave the impression that we have all the powers that we need even though we have not signed the convention. In his answer to my noble friend he seemed to indicate that we could do nothing about getting back the treasures because we had not signed the convention. Which of those answers is the correct one?
My Lords, the treasures are in New York. The problem is that there is no proof of ownership of the treasures. That is why the alleged owner is having difficulty in getting them back.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, is there not a draft directive from the European Commission on the 1113 restitution of illegally exported cultural objects which was referred to by the Minister for the Arts in another place on 3rd February? How can that help solve the problem given that internal frontiers will cease to exist after 1992 which will make it even easier for smuggled and stolen goods to circulate within the Community? Have the Government any plans to deal with that difficult problem?
My Lords, we fully appreciate the need to ensure that our national heritage continues to be protected, as allowed for by the provisions of Article 36 of the Treaty of Rome. Other member states are equally worried that the advent of the single market, to which the noble Baroness referred, should not have an adverse effect upon the protection of their heritage. We are therefore currently considering with our European colleagues a draft directive from the Commission for countrywide co-operation and the establishment of a right for a member state to apply to the courts of another member state for the return of illicitly exported national treasures.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there appears to be a continuing trade in smuggled antiquities in this country? One case is coming before the courts. Will the department please see what other cases there are so that when the court has decided it can take suitable action instead of waiting?
My Lords, I am not aware that there is a large trade in smuggled goods in this country. I do not believe that to be the case. We have one of the most open markets and, therefore, unlike many of the secretive markets in Europe, it is easy in this country to establish whether something has been stolen or illegally exported. Our museums and galleries and the United Kingdom art trade have a voluntary code of practice to which, by and large, they keep. They regard the code as extremely important.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, is the Minister aware that at least one of the antiquity dealers provides separate bank accounts under different names for people who import goods which should not be imported?
My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is referring to a case in which an employee of Sotheby's made allegations in his defence when he was found guilty of stealing antiquities. It is obviously not appropriate for me to comment upon allegations made in the privileged circumstances of a trial which are unproved.
§ Lord Strabolgi
My Lords, with regard to the Icklingham bronzes, could not the auctioneers and dealers in New York who are selling them be asked? They must be being sold on behalf of someone. Is it not possible to find that out? Could not Interpol help?
My Lords, it is a complicated case. As I understand it, it is alleged that the bronzes were stolen in 1982 from Mr. Browning's farm and illegally exported. They appeared in America. We have been 1114 informed that Mr. Browning has retained a lawyer in America to bring a case against the gallery which is the so-called present owner of the bronzes for wrongfully acquiring the bronzes. We await the outcome of that case.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, in view of this Question and certain goings on in or around another place, will the Government make it clear that the receiving of stolen goods is still an offence against the law of this country?
My Lords, I am sure that the receiving of stolen goods remains an offence against the laws of this country.
§ Lord Kennet
My Lords, the Minister has given as a reason for the Government not signing or ratifying the convention that there are differences over its interpretation. How many other conventions have we not signed or ratified because of difficulties over their interpretation?
My Lords, that question is wide of the Question on the Order Paper, and I do not have the information.