HL Deb 19 June 1997 vol 580 cc1340-2

3.11 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Answer given by Lord McIntosh of Haringey on 3rd June (H.L. Deb., col. 563), how it is possible to define or prove in law that antiquities have been illegally excavated in, or illegally exported from, their country of origin.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, any legislation in this country would need to define an illegally excavated or illegally exported object as being one which was excavated or exported contrary to the law of the country of origin. Evidence would be required to establish the relevant foreign law. Factual evidence would also be required about the circumstances surrounding the excavation or export. For exports, it should be straightforward to prove that the export contravenes the law of the country of origin. However, proof of the circumstances surrounding an excavation may be more difficult.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his thoughtful and constructive Answer. We all abhor the illegal import of antiquities. Will the Government press for more official provenances and encourage more stringent policing from the countries concerned?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, to achieve congruity between our laws and those of other countries, we shall need a combination of changes to our law and adherence by many countries to international conventions. That is not an easy process, but it is reassuring that every advance that we make provides additional protection, as was seen by yesterday's conviction in the Bullrush case.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Criminal Justice Act 1993 allows prosecutions for acts committed abroad? If that is applicable in this case, when will the relevant section be brought into effect?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. As I said when the matter was debated earlier this month, officials of the Department of National Heritage have approached the Home Office about this issue. I am happy to be able to confirm that the Secretary of State for National Heritage has now written to the Home Secretary seeking to make progress on the implementation of Part I of the Criminal Justice Act 1993.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the scale of the market in looted antiquities, and does he agree that it is in the nature of successful looting and successful illegal export, as with most crime, that there is no available documentation of the circumstances?

If the noble Lord says, "You are reading", I am doing so because my noble friend Lord Renfrew, who is not here today, asked me to put a supplementary question.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I would not dream of telling the noble Baroness that she was reading; but she has answered her own question. If we knew the extent of illegal exporting and illegal excavation, we would know the cases involved and we might be able to make some attempt to deal with them. As the noble Baroness said, it is an unknowable statistic. Indeed, illegal activity usually is.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether, apart from practice and voluntary custom, there are not circumstances in which an auction house has a legal obligation to prove affirmatively that the goods were legally excavated and exported? In that context, may I ask the noble Lord also whether our courts do not have extra-territorial jurisdiction?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord was a great help when he raised this issue when we last debated the matter and suggested that one protection would be further advance knowledge of what was about to be put on sale. I gave the noble Lord a not entirely accurate answer; but perhaps I may now be able to help him by saying that it is possible, using the auction search service which is provided by a company called Thesaurus, for countries of origin, victim countries and public museums to learn shortly before an auction takes place what is likely to be displayed for sale, and thus to take action to remove an article from the sale if that seems appropriate.

Lord Hankey

My Lords, as the Getty Information Institute has, after three years' research, had considerable success in the establishment of Object ID, an identification system for cultural objects, and as proving the provenance of the objects is essential to the control of the illicit trade, does the noble Lord agree that common recording standards must be adopted and that the use of a system such as Object ID should be co-ordinated at national level by the Home Office encouraging police forces to use a common system, by the Department of National Heritage encouraging its use by heritage bodies, and at the international level by the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his question and for drawing my attention to the details of Object ID. I can confirm that the Department of National Heritage has been in discussion with Dr. Robin Thorns and that we are very interested in the proposals which have been put forward by the Getty Information Institute. We shall be pursuing those discussions.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords—

Noble Lords

Next Question!

Lord Marlesford

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard)

My Lords, I think that perhaps we should move on. We spent a little long on the first Question.