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Syria and Iraq (Cultural Heritage)

Volume 596: debated on Thursday 4 June 2015

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Foreign Secretary on the effect of the political and security situation in Syria and Iraq on the cultural heritage of those countries. (900101)

It’s me again, I’m afraid.

This is a very serious subject. Obviously, we are deeply concerned about the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq. Discussions are taking place across Government to ensure that we take a joined-up approach towards those horrific acts of cultural vandalism.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Specifically what are the Government doing to stop the illicit trade in cultural artefacts abroad that helps finance terrorism?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we have to stop that illicit trade. We work with partners in the global coalition to put in place international sanctions to prevent the illegal trading of Syrian and Iraqi antiquities. We also have an effective legal framework to tackle the illicit trade, including specific legislation for antiquities from Iraq and Syria.

I congratulate the Minister on his reappointment. What support can we give through our museums, universities and galleries to protect and preserve artefacts already removed from areas under ISIS control?

If you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, I would like particularly to welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House, although he did defeat a colleague of mine from the coalition Government. He is an old friend; I hope that that does not hurt his career in the House.

The hon. Gentleman’s point is well made. The British Museum, for example, leads the way in helping to preserve antiquities that have been saved from looting. All our museums, working with both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for International Development, will continue that work.

14. In 2008, the Select Committee welcomed the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill and considered that the ratification of The Hague convention would strengthen our commitment to the protection of our cultural heritage. Seven years on, cultural heritage is being pillaged at an alarming rate and the EU directive is due to be implemented by the end of the year. When will the Government get on with it? (900108)

I hope that we will get on with it very soon, to be frank. I spend my time making the case to ministerial colleagues for introducing that important legislation to allow us to ratify the convention at the earliest opportunity. The destruction in Iraq and Syria highlights the importance that we must place on safeguarding cultural artefacts from armed conflict.

I echo the comments that we heard a moment ago. Everyone who campaigns on this issue agrees that the two foundation stones that are necessary if the UK is to have credibility are, first, to ratify The Hague convention and, secondly, for the Government to put money where our words have been for many years, by creating something such as a cultural protection fund to protect and support the brave men and women on the ground, under the auspices of great institutions such as the British Museum.

I agree with both those points. I will happily work with my hon. Friend on this. He has been an absolutely first-rate advocate on the issue in the past few months.