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Heritage Sites

Volume 403: debated on Monday 7 April 2003

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What recent discussions she has had with her EU counterparts on protection of international heritage sites. [107052]

Officials from my Department attended a specially convened session of the world heritage committee at UNESCO in Paris last month. My Department will also be represented at the main session of the world heritage committee in China this summer, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will know that we are supporting the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill, introduced by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan), which will allow much easier prosecution of anyone who tries to trade in this country in objects stolen or looted from cultural heritage sites across the world.

I gave the Department notice of my supplementary question mid-morning. Has the Minister had discussions with either the international body or the Ministry of Defence about the fate of the museum at Basra, the shrine at Al-Kawaz, the great mosque that is 16 km to the west of Bara, or the early Islamic site at Tulul ash Shuaiha? In the light of the answer that was given at oral questions by the Prime Minister before the war started that everything possible would be done to protect sites of holy or cultural interest, why has no one in the Government contacted, after their pleas, Professor Postgate and his team at Cambridge, Harriet Crawford of the Institute of Archaeology or John Curtis of British Museum?

I have not had discussions with the experts that my hon. Friend mentions, but I have been informed that representatives of the British armed forces have discussed with those of our coalition allies how best to make all coalition forces aware of the many historic and important sites in Iraq, and I am sure that they will do all in their power to minimise the damage to those sites. I am sure that my hon. Friend will know that the United Kingdom is prohibited under article 53 of additional protocol 1 to the Geneva convention from directing any attack on cultural property, unless, of course, that property is used to support Iraq's military effort.

Will the Minister use his best efforts in the European Union to try to get our partners around the Mediterranean to do rather better at identifying such sites and protecting them? Is this not another case of Britain playing the game and enforcing the rules much better than our southern partners? Can he help them to do rather better?

I am not aware that the countries to which the right hon. Gentleman refers are deficient in any sense. If he has examples of such sites that are not being identified and recognised in other parts of the world, I am sure that he is ready to write to me about them; I have not heard of them.

When considering international heritage sites, will my hon. Friend take into account objects at the birthplace of the industrial revolution, such as the weaving mill at Queen street in Burnley? [Laughter.] Well, such things still work. We need to preserve them, to ensure they are successful and to attract tourists to them.

The Government have a tremendous record of identifying, looking after and putting money into sites relating to the industrial revolution and to industry in general. I will certainly look at the example that my hon. Friend has given.