HL Deb 17 February 1997 vol 578 cc33-4WA
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they now foresee the ratification of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property and whether there are other legal safeguards against the import into this country of looted antiquities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood)

While Her Majesty's Government has always supported the principles laid down in the 1970 UNESCO Convention, ratification would pose a number of problems. For example, we consider the definition of cultural property to be too wide-ranging and too open to different interpretations; and giving effect to the provisions of the convention would involve a formidable bureaucracy.

It is not an offence to import into this country antiquities which have been illegally excavated in and exported from their countries of origin. However, an EC Directive on the return of cultural objects unlawfully removed from the territory of a member state has been implemented into UK law. This provides a mechanism whereby another member state may request the return of a cultural object which is a "national treasure" and which falls within the scope of the directive if it was unlawfully removed from the requesting state on or after 1st January 1993. In particular, the following categories of object within the directive's scope are of relevance to claims for the return of antiquities:

"archaeological objects more than 100 years old which are the products of:

land or underwater excavation and finds,

archaeological sites,

archaeological collections;" and

"elements forming an integral part of artistic, historical or religious monuments which have been dismembered, more than 100 years old."

In the case of these objects there is no monetary value test of eligibility for return.

In addition, there are mechanisms in place via Interpol and the police for the recovery of any objects which have been stolen.