I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is a pleasure to introduce this Bill to the House. We have waited a long time to be able to ratify the 1954 Hague convention and accede to its two protocols. The need for this Bill is paramount. In recent months, we have seen the wanton destruction of cultural heritage in the middle east and north Africa. These tragic events are a reminder of how vital it is that the UK ratifies this convention and makes a strong statement about the importance we place on protecting cultural heritage. We fully endorse the steps taken at the International Criminal Court to prosecute war crimes relating to cultural destruction in Mali.
Heritage, monuments and cultural artefacts are part of what makes a country great, educating and inspiring people, and bringing them together as a nation. Sir Peter Luff, chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, was once told, “History is what you learn about in schools; heritage is about who you are and where you come from”. We are lucky to have a highly professional and dedicated heritage and museum sector that works extremely hard to preserve our heritage and bring the story of our history to life. This work helps attract visitors to our shores too. We also have a duty to help protect the culture and heritage of other countries, for they are part of our shared inheritance as human beings.
Many in this House have called on successive Governments to pass this legislation since a commitment to do so was first made in 2004. I would like to make special mention of my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Robert Jenrick) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) for their passionate advocacy. This Bill has already been subject to comprehensive pre-legislative scrutiny. The draft Bill published in 2008 was expertly scrutinised by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State is introducing this Bill today. Her points about destruction will have been brought home to everybody when Palmyra was destroyed very recently. Can she assure the House that after the 62 years we have waited since we signed the treaty, there will not be another 62 years until the Government bring it into effect?
I hope that we will get through this evening’s proceedings and the Committee stage with great speed, and that we will therefore have Royal Assent very shortly.
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee heard evidence from a variety of experts and stakeholders. The Committee warmly welcomed the Bill, and we carefully considered the recommendations made in its report.
The Bill is part of a wide package of measures that this Government have brought in to protect cultural heritage and become an international leader in this field. Earlier this year, we launched a cultural protection fund that is being administered by the British Council. Over the next four years, organisations will be encouraged to apply to this £30 million fund to support projects that will foster, safeguard and protect cultural heritage, particularly in global conflict zones.
In early 2014, the Army established a joint military cultural property protection working group that has been examining all issues concerning military cultural property protection. Earlier this year, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence confirmed that the armed forces would establish a military cultural property protection unit. The Ministry of Defence is considering what this unit might look like, taking into account international best practice. As the convention is likely to become an international treaty obligation by early 2017, the MOD anticipates that the recruitment of specialist Army reserves will start in the near future.
I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend. Six years has been a long wait, but it has been well worth it, and we have now got there. Is it not ironic that part of the topicality of this Bill, and the reason for people’s enthusiasm for it, comes from seeing the horrors of Daesh in Syria and elsewhere, yet it does not fully cover the activities of Daesh because it covers only unlawfully exported cultural property from occupied territories? Without being too greedy, are the Government supportive of looking at future conventions to try to make sure that Daesh comes within the provisions, although the Iraqi and Syrian sanction orders cover the gap?
I again pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in campaigning on this issue. He rightly identifies the fact that sanctions regimes are in place regarding the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts, and touches on the question of Daesh’s standing in international legal circles. We must take great care that we do not deal with one wrong by creating more wrongs elsewhere, but I am happy to write to him about the specifics of the issue.
The convention was prompted by the widespread destruction and looting of cultural property in the second world war. It defines cultural property as movable or immovable property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people, such as monuments, works of art, or buildings whose main purpose is to contain such cultural property. The definition is broad and the list of examples is not exhaustive. As well as traditional works of art, the definition could also include, as was made clear during discussions in the other place, modern or digital types of cultural property such as very rare or unique film or recorded music.
On cultural property, I know that the Bill does not cover this issue, but does my right hon. Friend agree that we should have a discussion about religious and ethnic culture, including languages, poetry and other forms of art and heritage that have for so long been ignored but that are now being destroyed in Iraq? The Mandaeans in northern Iraq and the Yazidis in eastern Syria are struggling to keep any form of culture at all.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, but he will accept that it is beyond the convention and, therefore, the Bill.
The first protocol requires parties to seize cultural property that has been illegally exported from an occupied territory and to return it at the end of hostilities. The second protocol sets out violations that are to be made criminal offences and provides an enhanced protection regime for cultural property.
The UK signed the convention in 1954, but decided not to ratify because its terminology was considered to be insufficiently clear and it did not provide an effective regime for the protection of cultural property. The 1999 second protocol removed those concerns, and in 2004 the Government of the day announced their intention to ratify.
The ways in which we will implement the specific obligations of the convention and its protocols generated a great deal of interest in the other place. We have been looking carefully at implementation, particularly considering what categories of cultural property should be afforded general protection under the convention in the UK.
A previous Administration undertook a consultation on implementation of the convention and its protocols in 2005. Although the majority of the findings set out in the 2006 response to the consultation remain relevant, we will also hold discussions with key stakeholders, including from the devolved Administrations and from agencies, to ensure that those conclusions are up to date.
The Bill will introduce the domestic legislation necessary for the UK to meet the obligations contained in the convention and its two protocols. Part 2 makes it an offence to commit a serious violation of the second protocol to the convention either in the UK or abroad. The Bill also makes provision to ensure that ancillary offences committed abroad can be prosecuted and that commanders and superiors can be held responsible in appropriate circumstances.
Following debate in the other place, we made a minor and technical change to ensure that the Bill’s provisions relating to ancillary offences have the intended effect in Scotland. That amendment was tabled by the Government following consultation with the Crown Office and the Scottish Government.
We have also changed the headings of part 2 and clause 3 by replacing the word “breach” with “violation”. Concern was expressed in the other place that there was a lack of consistency between the language of the Bill and the second protocol, and we made that change to address that. I am grateful to Professor Roger O’Keefe of University College London for his work on that particular point and on the Bill as a whole. I appreciate all the advice and feedback that we have received from experts in the field, which has been invaluable in shaping the Bill.
The maximum penalty for those offences is 30 years. It is important to emphasise that that is a maximum penalty, and it will be for the courts to decide the appropriate penalty in any particular case. It is critical that the penalty reflects the seriousness of the violations of the second protocol and that it is consistent with other penalties for related offences.
Part 3 recognises in UK law the blue shield—the distinctive blue and white emblem created by the convention, which is viewed by many as the cultural equivalent of the Red Cross. The emblem will be used to identify cultural property that is protected under the convention, as well as the people tasked with protecting it. The blue shield will be protected from misuse by making its unauthorised use an offence.
Part 4 implements measures to deal with cultural property that has been unlawfully exported from occupied territory.
Clause 17 states:
“It is an offence for a person to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property, knowing or having reason to suspect that it has been unlawfully exported.”
There could be an unreasonable reason. Will the Government be open to suggestions to improve the Bill so that people are not unwittingly caught by the law?
That concern has been raised with me outside this place by a number of right hon. and hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), the previous Secretary of State, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier). The issue was not raised substantively in the other place but I understand that there are concerns, so the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), and I will meet concerned parliamentarians, with officials, to make sure that we have comfort in this regard. It is important that we are clear that the Bill will not hamper the way in which the art market operates.
It is important to note that part 4 applies only to cultural property that has been unlawfully exported from an occupied territory after 1956, when the convention and first protocol came into force. Clause 17, which the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has mentioned, creates a new offence of dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property. That offence applies only to unlawfully exported cultural property that is imported into the UK after the commencement of the Bill, which ensures that the Bill will have no retrospective application.
Scrupulous dealers have no reason to fear prosecution or increased business costs under the Bill.
Does the Secretary of State accept, though, that, regardless of whether an item is legal or not, if a country falls into a war situation, suspicion will fall on every item of property that would previously have been dealt with perfectly legally?
I do not think that that will happen, and it is certainly not the Bill’s intention, but I am happy, together with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, to speak to colleagues and to spend time with officials to make sure that we are all satisfied. We all want The Hague convention to be brought into UK law—62 years is too long. We want to get on with it, but also to make sure that we do so in a way that satisfies parliamentarians and means they are happy that it will deliver the desired effect.
Although dealers will need to satisfy themselves through due diligence that there is no reasonable cause to suspect that objects presented for sale have been unlawfully exported from an occupied territory, existing codes of conduct already oblige dealers not to import, export or transfer the ownership of objects where they have reasonable cause to believe that the object has been exported in violation of another country’s laws. Dealers will not be required to carry out any further due diligence beyond that which they should already be conducting. In order to commit an offence, a dealer must deal in an object knowing, or having reason to suspect, as the hon. Member for Rhondda has pointed out, that it has been unlawfully exported. If a dealer takes temporary possession of an object for the purposes of carrying out due diligence or providing valuations, they will not be dealing in that object, because they will not be acquiring the object.
The rest of part 4 outlines the circumstances in which unlawfully exported cultural property would be liable to forfeiture, and creates the necessary new powers of entry, search, seizure and forfeiture. Part 5 provides immunity from seizure or forfeiture for cultural property that is being transported to the UK, or through the UK to another destination, for safekeeping during an armed conflict.
Finally, part 6 ensures that if an offence under the Bill is committed with the consent or connivance of an officer of a company or Scottish partnership—for example, directors of private military contractors—that officer will be guilty of an offence, as well as the company or partnership.
There is already a legal framework in place that is designed to tackle the illicit trade in cultural property. The Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, the Theft Act 1968 and the Syria and Iraq sanctions orders enable the UK to take action where authorities suspect that individuals might be engaged in illicit trade. The Bill helps to strengthen that framework in relation to cultural property that has been taken illegally from occupied territories.
In addition to enabling prosecution, the existing legislation also has an important deterrent effect, sending out the message that the UK will not tolerate any illicit trade in cultural property. As well as providing teeth that can be used when required, the Bill will strengthen that deterrent effect.
My right hon. Friend knows that I greatly support this Bill. She is talking about enforcement and greater teeth for the legislation. Why does she think there has been only one prosecution in this country since the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003? Should we not have done better by now?
My hon. Friend helps to make the point about the deterrent effect of the legislation. It is deterring dealers from taking cultural property that has been stolen from occupied territory. Clearly, law enforcement and others need to understand the legislation, the offences and the action that can be taken in order that prosecutions can be brought if there is evidence that a crime has been committed.
On passing the Bill, the UK will be the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to become a party to the convention and its two protocols. Given with the other initiatives we have set in motion in this area, we will have ensured, in the strongest terms possible, that the UK will be a champion for cultural protection in times of peace and war alike. I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the Bill’s Second Reading, and I thank the Secretary of State for her introduction. As she said, the Bill has been a long time coming, as it will enable the 1954 Hague convention to be ratified. It has taken only 62 years. Back in 1954, Winston Churchill was Conservative Prime Minister; Gaitskell, I think—my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) will correct me if I am wrong—was leader of the Labour party; and the Liberals had only six seats in Parliament, so some things do not change too much even over 62 years.
The destruction and theft of cultural heritage goes back long before 1954 and even before the second world war, the events of which triggered the Hague convention in the first place. Hon. Members will remember that in 1700 BC the Assyrians invaded Mesopotamia—now called Ramadi and Falluja in Iraq—stole the stone gods of the Arab tribes and took them back to Nineveh to force the Arabs to negotiate to get their gods back. It is a sad fact that the treatment of cultural artefacts in exactly those locations has progressed so little in the intervening 3,500 years. Indeed, it is worse now because of the destructive potential of modern weapons of war.
The previous Labour Government, as the Secretary of State pointed out, put the ratification of the Hague convention on the political agenda in 2004 and published a draft Bill in 2008, which was scrutinised by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Unfortunately, the Bill ran out of time, but we are pleased to see that the Government agree on the importance of protecting cultural property and of making that priority known to the international community by introducing the Bill. We hope that the principles of mutual respect and co-operation will permeate all Government policies from now on.
Cultural property is targeted because it matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), who is in her place, campaigned effectively—as did other hon. Members whom the Secretary of State mentioned—for the Government to introduce the Bill. As my hon. Friend has written,
“art, statues, architecture—these aren’t societies’ frills, but a fundamental part of the fabric.”
She is not alone in that belief. It is shared even by those whose first priorities might lie, correctly, elsewhere. Michael Meyer, head of international law at the Red Cross, has said:
“Why is the Red Cross worried about buildings and books when human lives are usually our focus? I will always argue that a human life is more valuable than a cultural object. But culture is essential to one’s identity. It’s an important factor for communities and nations.”
I want to put on the record my thanks to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman). I failed to do so in my opening remarks, and I wanted to get that on the record.
I thank the Secretary of State for doing so. It is characteristically generous of her, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and the House are grateful.
The Hague convention is based on the consensus that cultural property, moveable and immoveable, is central to identity. Such items embody a society’s past and encapsulate its ideas and often its ideals. Because of the consensus on the importance of cultural property, attacks on it in recent armed conflicts have drawn the attention of the international media. Daesh’s destruction of Palmyra and al-Qaeda’s demolition of mosques and mausoleums in Timbuktu have, quite rightly, sparked international outrage. For those who live in areas of armed conflict, the destruction of cultural property adds another layer of pain to the process of recovery in terms of both money and morale. Cultural property is a precious resource. When conflicts are over, monuments and their equivalents are key to kick-starting tourist-related industries, so cultural property can be crucial to economic regeneration.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although Daesh brutality is obvious in places such as Palmyra, a more common example might be the golden mosque in Samarra, or the ethnic cleansing and the destruction of churches in places such as Mosul? Does he agree that cultural destruction often goes in hand with forms of ethnic cleansing, whether religious or sectarian?
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman on that point. Palmyra was visited each year prior to 2011 by 150,000 tourists, and a UNESCO mission to the site in April this year found that the triumphal arch and the temple of Bel had been smashed to smithereens. In such circumstances, preserving and sometimes restoring as much as possible of these ancient structures is crucial to rebuilding. The Bill aims to provide the ways and means to allow states to do so.
In that respect, the offences and subsequent sanctions created by the Bill for damaging cultural property are particularly welcome, as is the introduction of immunity from seizure for cultural property that is being moved to or through the United Kingdom from an area of armed conflict for safekeeping. It is important to note that the UK armed forces already abide by the terms in the Bill and respect cultural property during conflict. The impact assessment that accompanies the Bill shows that their behaviour would need to change very little as a result of the introduction of the Bill. However, ratifying the 1954 convention would send a clear signal to the international community of what we already know at home: that the preservation of cultural property is a priority for the United Kingdom.
As I have mentioned, there are consequences for morale as well as for money when monuments are destroyed and when stone is turned to sand. When it comes to art and architecture, we expect continuity and longevity—a bridge between what was and what will be. Hon. Members will be familiar with the words of John Keats, who wrote about a Grecian urn:
“When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man”.
Just as preserving culture is about projecting pride and history, so the destruction of cultural property is bound up in power and subjugation. Hon. Members might have seen an interview that was given to the BBC by Mirza Hussain last year. In 2001, when he was 26, the Taliban took over his city in Afghanistan and ordered him to destroy the Buddhas of Bamiyan. The Buddhas were up to 55 metres tall and were carved into a cliff face in the sixth century, but the Taliban believed that they were idols.
Among a group of prisoners, Mirza was fed very little, left freezing cold at night and saw his fellow prisoner shot. He was then forced to detonate trucks of dynamite below the Buddhas, and when that did not work, two or three explosions were carried out every day until the Buddhas were destroyed. He said:
“We drilled holes into the statue to plant the dynamite. We didn’t have proper tools. The whole process took 25 days.”
He went on to say:
“I regretted it at that time, I regret it now and I will always regret it. But I could not resist, I didn’t have a choice because they would have killed me.”
I am sure that that will bring to hon. Members’ minds the tragic death of Khaled al-Asaad, the archaeologist who had worked at Palmyra for 40 years and was brutally murdered by Daesh in August last year at the age of 82 for refusing to reveal the whereabouts of Palmyra’s treasures.
That leads me to one of the central concerns about the Bill. We will support it on Second Reading tonight and throughout its later stages. However, although the Bill has been brought forward in the context of the aftermath of the destruction of cultural treasures in recent conflicts, it does not, as I understand it, cover the actions I have described because they were carried out by occupying forces that are not recognised states. I hope that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but the Bill will not necessarily prevent extremists from intimidating people into complying. In her response to the debate, will she tell us whether that comes within the Bill’s scope or powers?
I am genuinely impressed by the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge of Mesopotamian and other archaeology. Indeed, his own party’s Ed stone at the last election could be seen as an homage to the stele of Hammurabi, the great lawgiver of Mesopotamia in the 18th century BC. I want to query his last point, because it may well take another change to the UNESCO convention to take into account the modern phenomena of ISIL and other terrorist groups. Would he support our negotiating internationally to try to get the law brought up to date?
I am sure that the whole House would welcome any measures that were negotiated internationally to cover these horrific crimes. In speaking for the Opposition, I am sure that we would support the Government should they seek to negotiate further international agreements to that effect.
I am conscious of the fact that the Bill will bring the 1954 convention into UK law, as well as give effect to the 1954 and 1998 protocols. In that sense, it is limited in its scope. It is important to point out on Second Reading that, although we all understand the context in which the issue has become more and more pressing in recent years, particularly in relation to what has been going on in modern Iraq—ancient Mesopotamia—and modern Syria, the Bill cannot deal with the perpetrators of such crimes. We may be able to deal with such crimes in other ways. For example, if UK citizens engaged in this activity went to fight on the side of Daesh in Syria, they might well be caught—I am sure that they would be—by other aspects of UK law, but that does not mean that the penalties available would be the same as those available under the convention in the Bill, including the possibility of a 30-year jail sentence for any breaches.
We have focused on trying to stop further outrages. Does my hon. Friend agree that the British Museum plays an absolutely vital role—not only in this country, but in modern Iraq and Syria—in trying to protect many Mesopotamian antiquities? Indeed, the British Museum was in closer contact than anybody else with those who were summarily executed.
While we are being nice to Government Members, will my hon. Friend congratulate the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) on the fact that, from the moment he arrived in the House, he has pursued this issue?
It would my pleasure to do so, and it is always nice, as well, to hear my hon. Friend being nice to Government Members.
As I have said, the Bill has been introduced in the context of such events, but it is important to note what it will and will not do. It will not necessarily prevent extremists from intimidating people into complying in the way that Mirza was intimidated into doing in Afghanistan. However, we welcome the ratification of the 1954 convention. It is part of an international project to ensure that we are not faced with gaping craters where great statues once stood. When she sums up, will the Minister be absolutely clear about what the Bill does and does not cover, so that there can be no doubt?
My hon. Friend mentioned the British Museum, which is a wonderful institution. If we are candid, however, we should recognise that our own hands are not necessarily entirely historically clean in relation to the removal of cultural property. That occurred in Britain’s colonial history, and it was used to build British wealth and power at the direct expense of colonised nations. Recent speculation concerning the repatriation of the Parthenon marbles to Greece, as well as campaigns to return the Koh-i-noor diamond to India and the Benin bronze cockerel to Nigeria, shows that the removal of cultural property reverberates through the centuries. I notice that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is shaking his head.
The hon. Gentleman is revisiting an old canard. Will he not just acknowledge that, for example, the Elgin marbles would not exist had they not been saved by the people who endowed the British Museum? The British Museum is a world museum. It is visited by 7 million people, which is substantially more than the number who visit the Parthenon in Athens. These treasures of the world can be seen in the best possible context, rather than decontextualised and open only to the few who would have to pay an admission fee elsewhere.
I will not get into a lengthy debate about the wheres and the what happens.
You started it.
I have spent my whole life starting fights and then running away from them. That is what happens when you are quite small.
Occasionally, when we get on our high horse about these things, we should remember that there have been times during the course of history when we have removed cultural property from others during warfare and, indeed, when we have destroyed cultural property. The convention applies only to events after 1954, so we fortunately do not have to revisit all those times in too much detail; otherwise, before we knew it, we would have SNP Members going on about the Stone of Scone.
We’ve already got it.
I think the hon. Gentleman is going to mention that in his speech.
In that light, the particular attention paid in part 4 of the Bill to the export of property from occupied territory is especially important. With Britain’s history in mind, the ratification of the first protocol could be said to indicate that we have at least learned something from any past transgressions and that the UK is committed to supporting other states in avoiding that sort of event.
I understand—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that no one has ever been charged with the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. That brings me to some of the technical concerns about the Bill. Will the Minister say how, if at all, The Hague convention would apply to the conflict in Afghanistan and other such recent conflicts? Likewise, there are concerns that a convention written in the 1950s, of which the most recent component—the second protocol—was drawn up in the relatively early years of the internet, will not sufficiently protect cultural property in digital form. We have come a long way from the days of Keats’ Grecian urn. The success of the landmark legal case against Uber on Friday is part of an ongoing effort to bring legislation up to date in relation to digital advancements, and the Government must bear that in mind. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) and I have been busy working away in Committee on the Digital Economy Bill, which is meant to update legislation to reflect the digital revolution.
Lord Stevenson raised that issue during this Bill’s Committee stage in the Lords in relation to how cultural property is defined, and he received assurances from the Minister, Baroness Neville-Rolfe, that the wording was “flexible enough” to encompass technological advancements. If the Minister is willing to do so in her summing up, will she reinforce that reassurance that digital formats will equally be protected and included in the Bill’s definition of cultural property? As the convention dates from 1954, some of the definitions may seem slightly arcane, but some of the finest cultural objects in this country are things such as the archive of the British Film Institute—I have visited it—which can only be described as an absolute treasure trove of this country’s culture. Confirmation from the Government that such cultural artefacts are covered by the Bill, in bringing the convention into UK law, would be very helpful.
I want to ask one or two questions about how joined-up the thinking is. During the Second Reading debate in the Lords, Lord Redesdale mentioned the Ministry of Defence’s plans to create a squad of monuments men—and, presumably, women as well—whose focus would be to safeguard cultural property during armed conflicts. As I understand it, they would be soldiers with archaeology qualifications and the like. Meanwhile, the Department for Education has been campaigning against so-called soft subjects, leading to exam boards ending archaeology, art history and classical civilisation A-levels. The AQA explained its decision to cut A-level archaeology as follows:
“Our number one priority is making sure every student gets the result they deserve…the complex and specialist nature of the exams creates too many risks on that front”—
I am not sure how not offering an exam in a subject will make it any less specialist than it already is. On history of art, the AQA stated that the decision had nothing to do with the importance of the subject and
“won’t stop students going on to do a degree in it”.
That logic seems flawed to me. But it does not make a pretty picture overall, let alone a masterpiece, to have the Ministry of Defence wanting more soldiers with knowledge of art history and archaeology and the Department for Education cutting those same subjects from our classrooms, while the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is ratifying conventions and proclaiming that a national priority.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very fine speech, but had he spent any time in an officers’ mess, he would realise that art history surrounds people, archaeology is what they are equipped with and history of culture is often what they are eating. I do not feel that there is a need for much more qualification than that.
I have spent a lot less time in officers’ messes than the hon. Gentleman, but I have spent a lot of time in the classroom as a teacher. The loss of those subjects undermines the Government’s stated aims. I will make this next point very carefully, but it seems to me that it should not only be those who have had access to those subjects through private education, who may well form a disproportionate number of officers in the armed forces—[Interruption.] I will allow the hon. Gentleman to correct me that score, but it should not be only those people who qualify for these jobs in the monuments squad that the MOD says is necessary and wants to recruit. Will the Minister therefore indicate which policy is the outlier? I am sure that she will produce a very creative argument to explain everything to the House.
I have outlined some of the issues that need to be clarified, but we support the principles behind the Bill because they firmly chime with our own. At the core of the convention is the belief that we must co-operate to promote human wellbeing. The 1954 convention states that
“damage to cultural property belonging to any people whatsoever means damage to the cultural heritage of all mankind, since each people makes its contribution to the culture of the world”.
The Labour party has championed those beliefs throughout our history—that everyone is entitled to their culture and heritage and their right to express it, that the success of one is tied to that of all society and that we must work in solidarity with each other because we are all the better for it when we do so.
Given the unfortunate and occasionally ugly tone of political discourse in recent times, the Bill is a welcome reminder of internationalist values and shared civilisation and culture. We have had an increase in attacks since the Brexit vote. In that context, the Bill recognises the importance of preserving our collective past and cultures and the fact that that is now more important than ever, whatever someone’s heritage and background.
The Bill is a signal to the international community not just of our national priorities but of the UK’s remaining willingness to co-operate on an international scale and a recognition that we can often enact change better together. It gives welcome hope that, although occasionally some Government rhetoric may shrink towards little England, Britain still has great aspirations to play a leading role in a rules-based world. The Bill may not be controversial, but it is a small beacon showing that the Government recognise that division is not the way forward, that we have more to gain through co-operation internationally and that we should extend to Syrian people fleeing conflict and seeking refuge the same respect that we give to their ancient architecture and monuments. We will not oppose the Bill; rather we hope the principles behind it will permeate through the Government’s principles.
I am delighted to welcome the Bill’s Second Reading. As has been pointed out, this is a Bill we have welcomed in the past; indeed, I chaired the Select Committee that considered the draft Bill in 2008, when we subjected it to pre-legislative scrutiny. At the time, we very much welcomed the Government’s intention to introduce it. We pointed out that then it was 55 years since the adoption of The Hague convention and that 118 countries had already signed it. Another eight years have passed since then, and I am proud that the Bill should finally go on to the statute book under a Conservative Government in their second Session in office.
When we took evidence, it was pointed out to us that there had been some examples of damage to heritage assets during the course of the Iraq war, particularly some in the city of Babel, that may have been caused by coalition forces. Although that was obviously not deliberate, it highlighted the importance of stressing the need to protect cultural assets.
I have a specific question on cluster munitions. The right hon. Gentleman just used the words “not deliberate” in reference to the fact that often some cultural objects are destroyed in war. Cluster munitions can be so indiscriminate and they spread across a wide area, and so their use is one reason why cultural objects are often destroyed. Is it not incumbent on us now as a country, having given up cluster munitions ourselves, to try to persuade all our allies to do the same?
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman’s point. All signatories to the convention should certainly do their utmost to prevent damage to cultural assets and assets that have been identified as culturally important. I would therefore expect our allies who are signatories to adopt that approach as much as we do.
As has already been raised, however, there is a huge gulf between what may have happened as a result of actions by forces in the Iraq war and what we have seen being carried out by Daesh in Syria in recent years, in Palmyra in particular but in other places as well. The first priority has to be the humanitarian crisis and preventing loss of life, but the destruction of cultural assets is hugely damaging. As has been said, they are part of the history and national identity of a people. They are also, potentially, part of their salvation, for when conflict comes to an end cultural assets can represent economic assets from which one can rebuild an economy by attracting people to visit.
Cultural assets are also part of the world’s heritage, and we all have a duty to do our utmost to safeguard that heritage. For that reason, I was delighted when the Government established the cultural protection fund, worth £30 million, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), Chancellor of the Exchequer when the fund was established, and the Education Secretary, who was then Secretary of State for International Development, for their part in agreeing to that, as a large part of the fund can be classified as international aid. I also pay tribute to Neil MacGregor—he has already been mentioned—who was the driving force for the establishment of the fund. He and I launched it together, and, as the director of the British Museum at the time, he took responsibility for the first phase, a £3 million fund administered by the British Museum to send archaeologists into Iraq to advise and help in restoration where damage had taken place.
I was also immensely privileged to meet Dr Maamoun Abdulkarim, who is director-general of antiquities in Syria. He was the boss of Khaled al-Asaad, whom the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) mentioned. Dr Abdulkarim described the courage shown by his colleague, who did not wish to divulge where very valuable artefacts had been concealed and as a result was beheaded by Daesh.
The question of whether Daesh comes under the definition of occupying forces has already been raised. Even if it did, one has to admit that it seems unlikely that the passage of an Act will prevent it from carrying out such horrific atrocities. But it will send a very important signal. It will also have an effect on our own forces.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. Although I appreciate his point that the Bill is unlikely to dissuade Daesh from its actions, it may affect its ability to support itself financially, because one of the ways in which it currently fills its coffers is by selling looted artefacts.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. Most of the attention has been on wilful destruction, but he is absolutely right that the trade provides finance to Daesh. We must do everything we can to stamp that out, which is why I support the principle that it should be unlawful to deal in illegally exported cultural property.
I pay tribute to the efforts already made by the Ministry of Defence and commanders in the field to abide by the terms of the convention, even when it was not ratified. When the Committee took evidence from the MOD, it said it would review and strengthen the commitment it had already given that training should take account of the absolute priority of abiding by the requirements of the convention.
The Committee heard concern about one aspect of the Bill: the offence of dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property. The first concern was about the definition of occupied territories. At the time, we were told that it was a very narrow definition, or that only a narrow group of countries or territories could be considered to be occupied. In 2008, the regulatory impact assessment identified the Golan heights, East Jerusalem and the west bank. Unfortunately since that time, the list of occupied countries has grown—I draw attention to Crimea. For the purposes of certainty for those dealing in cultural objects, it would help if we clarified exactly which territories we consider to be occupied.
The more serious concern related to clause 17, which makes it an offence
“to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property, knowing or having reason to suspect that it has been unlawfully exported.”
As has been pointed out by the legal advisers, there is a huge difference between “having reason to suspect” and “to suspect”, which is causing concern. If the definition of the offence covers “reason to suspect”, it gets into mens rea, as I understand lawyers call it. I will leave it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) to say more on that subject with considerably greater expertise.
The issue was flagged up for the Committee when we looked at the Bill eight years ago, which is why we suggested a clearer requirement of dishonesty. That is what currently applies in the Theft Act 1968, which carries a penalty of seven years, and in the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, which also carries a penalty of seven years. The Bill introduces a penalty of seven years, and therefore it seems reasonable to ask that the same threshold should be required. I am delighted to hear from the Secretary of State that she is aware of that concern and will have further discussions.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Is he aware how many people have been convicted under the 2003 Act? My understanding is that the number is very low, and perhaps even zero.
That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) earlier. The fact that there have been no convictions does not necessarily imply that the Act is not working—it is important to have it on the statute book. I do not believe that this country is full of dodgy art dealers who wilfully ignore the law and deal in plainly illegally exported objects.
Nor should we go around lowering the threshold in order to scoop up innocent people.
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a perfectly valid point and I agree with him. The art market is determined and supports the Bill. The last thing it wants is for this country to become a place where people can deal in unlawfully exported objects. It is worth bearing in mind that the market is hugely competitive and the third biggest in the world—it was worth something like £9 billion in sales in 2014. I would not like to see it inadvertently put at a disadvantage compared with other markets around the globe. I hope the Government bear that in mind. As I have said, I very much welcome their commitment.
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I have finished my speech.
The Scottish National party Members and the Scottish Government very much welcome the Bill and the purpose it serves. The Government can be assured of our support in getting this much needed legislation through Parliament so that we put in place the necessary domestic legislation to enable the UK to ratify The Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, and to accede to both the 1954 and the 1999 protocols.
I share the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) that a 1954 convention that was last updated in 1999 may lack understanding of what is required in the 21st century, particularly the need to deal with the role of non-state actors in modern conflict in the destruction of cultural heritage. With that caveat, SNP Members are firmly of the opinion that, no matter where it is located in the world, we all benefit from a rich and diverse historical and cultural heritage, and that every effort must be made to protect it in a time of war—and, indeed, at all times. Although there has been widespread parliamentary support for that, going back many years, time has never been found—for whatever reason—to introduce primary legislation to ensure that the UK can fully meet its obligations as set out in the convention and subsequent protocols. Many hon. Members have said that the Bill has been a long time coming—it has been 62 years—and I fear that, had it been delayed any longer, it would be almost as old as some of the artefacts it is designed to protect.
We welcome the fact that that wrong is about to be put right, and that very soon the United Kingdom will join many other nations in tightening up its domestic law on the protection of cultural property in a time of conflict. I happily acknowledge that, despite the Government not ratifying the convention, UK armed forces fully comply with it during military operations, and recognise the blue shield—the emblem that identifies cultural property protected under the convention and protocols. In ratifying the convention and protocol, the UK will formalise the responsibility of its troops when they are operating in armed conflict overseas.
In 2008, when the subject was last debated in Parliament, one of the main concerns was whether such a Bill would constrain our troops on military operations by limiting their freedom to protect themselves should they come under fire from opposing forces based in a museum or holy place of worship. Back then, the Ministry of Defence appeared to be confident that the passage of the Bill would not be problematic. I was pleased when the then Minister for the Armed Forces, the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), repeated last year that the cultural property convention is upheld across the armed forces. We know that they currently act within the spirit of the convention and are fully compliant with their own statute. Given that the Ministry of Defence was so relaxed about the consequences of ratifying the convention—the ’54 protocol and the ’99 protocol—last year, I trust that nothing has happened to change its view.
If anything, that view should have hardened as the stories and images of the wanton destruction by Daesh of some of the world’s greatest and most important heritage sites in Iraq, Libya and Syria have become widespread. The destruction of temples, churches and mosques, as well as the ancient cities of Palmyra and Nimrud, can be seen only as deliberate and calculated attempts to erase our collective human experience. They were unspeakable and barbaric attacks on thousands of years of human progress and civilisation.
UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova was right when she branded the activities of Daesh as
“a form of cultural cleansing”.
What Daesh is doing, in willfully desecrating and pillaging the artefacts in those sites, is a shameful and inexcusable crime against all of humanity. But let us be clear, not everything that Daesh is doing can be dismissed as simply malicious vandalism or an attempt to eradicate all traces of a pre-Islamic civilisation, as there is irrefutable evidence that when Daesh seizes a new city, one of its first acts is to plunder the museums and cultural sites for artefacts to raise much needed cash. Its looting of priceless artefacts is done for profit, and the flood of stolen antiquities being smuggled into the open arms of collectors across Europe and America shames us all.
Michael Danti, a Boston University archaeologist who advises the US State Department on smuggled antiquities, said last year,
“What started as opportunistic theft by some has turned into an organized transnational business that is helping fund terror”.
Irreplaceable artefacts are being stolen from an already beleaguered people and are being sold on the black market to an unscrupulous but fabulously wealthy elite, whose money is funding Daesh’s murderous campaign.
I am delighted that the Bill will make it a criminal offence to deal in cultural property that has been illegally exported from a territory that has been occupied during an armed conflict. Such a measure is long overdue and very welcome. We urge the UK Government actively and vigorously to implement the measures outlined in the second protocol of 1999 and bring to justice those individuals who engage in and profit from the illegal and totally immoral trade in stolen ancient artefacts.
As the respected Lebanese-French archaeologist Joanne Farchakh told Robert Fisk of The Independent last year, antiquities from Palmyra are already on sale here in London. She explained that Daesh sells the statues, stone faces and frescoes to the international dealers. Daesh takes the money, hands over the relics and blows up the temples and buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of what has been looted and, presumably, to help to protect the identities of its paymasters—the dealers and collectors across Europe and America.
France Desmarais, the director of programmes and partnerships at the International Council of Museums, has described what has happened in the middle east as the largest scale mass destruction of cultural heritage since the second world war. That has to stop, and hopefully the Bill, by creating a new offence for a person to deal in cultural property, knowing or having reason to suspect that it has been unlawfully exported from occupied territory, will go some way to stopping it. We welcome that. The purchase of plundered antiquities in such circumstances is deeply immoral on so many levels, and if the Bill can stop the trade and bring those guilty of dealing in looted artefacts to justice, it will have served much of its purpose.
A people’s cultural heritage is a crucial part of who they are and what they were in the past. For almost all communities, anywhere in the world, it is a symbol whose importance cannot be overstated. What also cannot be overstated is the social and economic importance that that cultural heritage will have in helping Syria, Iraq, Libya and others to begin to recover, once Daesh is defeated. I sincerely hope that the Bill will ensure that, post conflict, plans are in place to repair as much of the damage that has been done to the cultural heritage of communities as possible. It is incumbent on us, and the rest of the world, too, to help them to regain those important and socially valuable, tangible reminders of their cultural identity, around which they can repair in peaceful times.
While The Hague convention is specific to times of armed conflict, the work of protecting cultural heritage must also continue in peacetime. In the spirit of the convention, we urge the Government to take this opportunity to return the Parthenon marbles—the Elgin marbles—to Greece where they belong. The passing of the Bill and the ratification of the protocols give the Government an excellent opportunity to lead by example and celebrate the ratification of the convention with a highly appropriate and long overdue gesture.
Finally, let me reiterate the position of the Scottish Government. It is for the UK Government to accede to an international instrument such as The Hague convention and it is important that the same or similar standards are applied across the UK. The UK Government’s Bill contains all the provisions that are necessary to enable implementation of the convention in the UK, while making appropriate provision for Scotland. It is the view of SNP Members and the Scottish Government that it is in the interests of the Scottish people and good governance that the provisions outlined within the Bill should be considered by the UK Parliament, and we will support its passage through this place.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in the debate. As I have mentioned, I may not be able to observe all our conventions, as I will shortly host an event for the Holocaust Educational Trust. That may be pertinent, as it is worth reminding the House that the UK has been in advance of many other nations in dealing with spoliation—the unlawful taking of goods from the Jewish community during the second world war. That issue has been handled well in this country, which bodes well for how we will handle aspects of The Hague convention in the future.
One waits six years for a DCMS Bill and then, like buses, two come along at once. I am pleased that I have been able to speak in debates on the Digital Economy Bill and this Bill. I wanted this Bill for a long time as Minister. When I was an Opposition spokesman, I remember looking forward to its introduction by the Labour Government, but it fell by the wayside as the election approached. I argued vociferously for six years for the Bill, but for some reason the Government’s business managers did not see its importance. I am glad that, under the new Government, they do understand how important it is. Many officials have brought it to fruition, but I wish to mention Hillary Bauer, who originally brought the Bill forward. So long has the process been that she has now retired. Of all hon. Members who have an interest, I wish to pick out in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), who has been vociferous about cultural protection. He has engaged with me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) about the issue.
I wish to draw the Minister’s attention to three issues for when she sums up. Having watched the video of her playing keepy-uppy last week, I know that her summing up will be something to behold. First, I hope that she will make it clear that our own troops will not be at risk under the convention. The convention and the Bill make it clear that it is the intentional destruction of cultural property that comes within their scope—something that our British troops could never be accused of doing. They already act within the terms of the convention, and indeed it is wonderful to hear that the Ministry of Defence is working with DCMS to set up a 21st-century version of the monuments men, made up of people from the Army reserves. I would welcome any information the Minister has on progress regarding that point.
Secondly, on the vexed question of clause 17, my understanding is that the convention has been in place in Germany for the past 10 years and I know of no cases in which art dealers have unwittingly been brought within its scope. The legislation is clear: there must be some degree of suspicion on the part of any dealer before they could possibly be brought within scope. Given the noble profession of art and antiquities dealers in this country, any dealer who had a suspicion that something had been looted or trafficked would immediately alert the authorities, so dealers have nothing to fear from the Bill.
My third point is about the cultural protection fund, which is close to my heart and something for which I campaigned as a Minister—wholly unsuccessfully—on the back of Neil MacGregor, the then director of the British Museum. He said to me early in my time as a Minister that the museum, and many of our other national museums, do extraordinary work in many jurisdictions to support the work of archaeologists and the preservation of antiquities. My campaign was unsuccessful until my hon. Friend the Member for Newark raised the issue. I think the situation in Palmyra also changed the Chancellor’s mind.
I am glad that the Department for International Development has, I gather, stumped up most of the money for the cultural protection fund. It is deeply frustrating that the terms under which DFID operates—the alleviation of poverty—seem to preclude it from helping out in these areas. The fact remains that our national museums do this work all over the world, and it seems to me wholly legitimate that international development funds should supporting the skilling up of people in developing countries in archaeological expertise, as well as the preservation of their culture. We should, without doubt, support that.
I urge the Minister and the Secretary of State to take the cultural protection fund as a starting point for the UK to become an international centre for the preservation of antiquities and the skilling up of archaeological schools around the world. Members in the other place have suggested that we could become a repository—a digital archive—for some of the great treasures around the world, as well as the centre for the blue shields. I urge the Secretary of State to take that up.
Finally, I cannot resist the bait from the Scottish National party spokesman, the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara). He talks about the Elgin marbles. I am afraid he does this great convention and the Bill a disservice by bringing up the Elgin marbles. They were, of course, purchased legitimately in the 19th century. Not only that, they have been preserved to the very highest standards possible in the greatest museum in the world which, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) pointed out, is a world museum that is open to all, free of charge. The Elgin marbles are seen in pristine condition by millions of people. Indeed, they were recently loaned to Russia for even more people to see, which goes to show that the British Museum preserves the Elgin marbles not for any national self-interest, but for the world.
It is a great pleasure to follow the former Minister. I am sure he recalls the many occasions I asked him about this very issue. He did tell me, in answer to a written question, that he intended to legislate as soon as possible, so he will be pleased that this day has now come. The Bill is very important not only for this country but for the protection of cultural property worldwide. We need to play our part to safeguard the centuries-old cultural and religious heritage of the world.
The UK is the only member of the UN Security Council that has not yet ratified the convention. The Bill seeks to change that. Ratification would be an important step towards the UK becoming the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to have ratified both the convention and its protocols. I am very pleased about that.
I am aware that the Opposition, when in government, published the draft Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill in 2008. Many of us regretted that that Bill was not passed then. As the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), said, the Labour Government simply ran out of time, and I am pleased that Labour supports this Bill. Back in January, I called on the Leader of the House to bring forward the Bill in the Queen’s Speech and I am pleased the Government have chosen to do so.
The destruction of cultural capital is a powerful propaganda tool and is part of a long history of demoralising communities. The Opposition spokesman mentioned the Nineveh period, but I have to say that in this country the Vikings started it. Recently, in Syria, we have seen the continued destruction of places such as Palmyra. Indeed, the Bill has been introduced as a result of that continuing catastrophe. It is, however, not the first catastrophe to have taken place.
The Government say that the Bill will ensure that the UK can act, and be seen to act, legitimately according to international law in response to such crises. Baroness Neville-Rolfe said in the other place that the Bill will mean that a UK national who is fighting with Daesh in Syria can be prosecuted in relation to
“theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property”.
I do not quite share her confidence. I recently wrote to the Home Office to ask how many UK nationals had travelled overseas to engage in terrorist activity and had subsequently returned to the United Kingdom. In response I was told that
“around 850 linked individuals have travelled to engage in the conflict since it began, and just under half of those have returned.”
I went on to ask how many people had been charged with terrorism offences committed overseas on their return to the UK in each of the last three years, and was told:
“The number of individuals suspected of involvement in acts of terrorism or criminal matters who are arrested and then formally charged is recorded and collated in the Home Office Quarterly Statistical Bulletin which was last published on 22 September 2016. These statistics do not disaggregate arrests, charges and convictions relating exclusively to overseas returnees.”
So the answer is that the Home Office does not know. I am not sure how it would be possible to identify a UK national fighting with Daesh in Syria and prosecute them in relation to
“theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against, cultural property”
when the police are not able to prosecute jihadis returning from Syria.
The Bill is particularly important to me because it is very important to a large number of my constituents. Cyprus has witnessed its cultural and religious heritage fall prey to the policy of pillage, destruction and desecration instituted after the illegal invasion of the island in 1974, and during the subsequent and continuing occupation. Churches, chapels, monasteries, archaeological sites, libraries, museums and private collections of religious art and antiquities in the occupied areas of Cyprus have been systematically looted. The art treasure market of the entire world has for years been flooded with Cypriot antiquities from the occupied part of Cyprus. Sculptures, ceramics, figurines, statuettes, tools, weapons, frescoes, religious paintings and other works of art from Cyprus are routinely found at auction houses around the world, in particular here in London. I sought to intervene on my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) to gently remind him that London is not only a centre of antiquities; it is likely to be a significant place for illegal antiquities, too. Research undertaken by The Guardian found the illegal market to be flooded with antiquities, and there are various reasons why the Government have not been able to stop it.
Since the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, 77 churches have been converted into mosques after being stripped of all icons and church furnishings. The others have been pillaged, destroyed, used as stables, warehouses, garages, arsenals, mortuaries, hotels, art galleries and night clubs or simply abandoned to their fate. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and I know this very well, having visited many of these locations. That number, however, does not include 50 sacred buildings whose condition is still not known because they are located in zones under direct military control, and others that have been demolished. Numerous archaeological sites in the area have not escaped theft and despoliation either.
Other reasons for alarm are the removal and selling of mosaics, frescoes and thousands of icons, which are now practically lost in the international market of smuggled art works. This phenomenon is unfortunately common to many areas of the middle east, as they experience war and conflict. One of the more clamorous examples is the church of Panagia Kanakaria, which held a work of art of inestimable value. Its apsidal mosaic from the Justinian period was one of the few images in the eastern Mediterranean that had survived the fury of the iconoclasts. In 1979, it was removed, stolen and broken up. It represented Christ in the arms of the Virgin seated on a throne, surrounded by the archangels Michael and Gabriel and thirteen medallions with the faces of Christ and the apostles. Four pieces re-emerged in Europe in 1988. A Turkish art dealer, Aydin Dikmen, offered them to the American antique dealer Peggy Goldberg, who in turn offered them to the Paul Getty Museum in Malibu. The museum was savvy enough to realise there was something wrong and went to the American authorities. I am pleased to say that these pieces have now been returned and can be seen in the Byzantium museum in Nicosia, which my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate and I have also visited. That is just one example of destruction and illegal sale. At this point, I would like to congratulate my constituent Dortos Partasides on his work documenting churches on the island. His invaluable work documents the destruction that has occurred over many years.
Returning to the Bill, London is one of the world’s largest antiquities markets and is considered a natural destination for looted goods. There have been UNESCO conventions on antiquities since 1970. At the beginning of the year, the UN Security Council banned trade in artefacts illegally removed from Syria since 2011 and from Iraq since 1990 in an effort to stop the funding of terrorism groups. Enforcement in countries such as Syria is near impossible for obvious reasons, but in the destination countries, including the United Kingdom, it is up to law enforcers to establish when those objects left conflict zones.
Just as I am concerned about the prosecution of theft and vandalism of cultural artefacts, I am concerned about how the Government intend to legislate on what constitutes “an illegal antiquity”. A common practice by smugglers is to claim that an antiquity has been in their family for a long time, and so it could not have been smuggled. They also sometimes say, “I bought it at auction, and there is no paper trail.” Or they could say it came from a private collection in Jordan or Lebanon a couple of years ago. How do the Government propose to prove that any of these treasures were smuggled out during a conflict?
That said, I support the Bill, which will greatly assist in not only tackling further looting, but ensuring that stolen property such as that stolen from Cyprus will be returned to its legal and rightful owners, because it will make it an offence to deal with cultural property that has been illegally exported from territory occupied during an armed conflict and it will provide powers for the forfeiture or seizure of such cultural property.
Speaking as co-chair of the all-party group for the protection of cultural heritage, it is a pleasure to support the Bill. One of the main reasons for establishing the APPG was to support the ratification of The Hague convention and it is great to see the aim fulfilled in the passage of the Bill.
We MPs are probably creating an impression that seems far removed from watching a Formula 1 grand prix, but I would like to draw an analogy. We can share the same enthusiasm as is expressed in Mexico City when the grand prix takes place. Until this Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill is enacted, the UK is, let us say, at the back of the international grid. That is significant; that is what this is about. We are at the back of 127 countries that have already ratified The Hague convention. We are catching up with those already on the grid that have got away in the race, to ensure that we fulfil our international obligations.
We can recognise through domestic legislation, through our compliance with European legislation, through sanctions and through other legal forms that we have played our part in seeking to hold to account those who are illegally trading in arts and antiquities, but while we were out there seeking to take a lead, just as we did with the cultural protection fund, it was somewhat embarrassing that we were not ratifying The Hague convention. We had taken an international lead in this area in many circles, but we are now playing catch-up in this particular respect. Now we are on the grid, showing that we mean business.
We were at the back of the grid regarding the permanent UN Security Council members. That is particularly significant because the Government have in the past flirted with ratification. I would like to pay tribute to Members who have expressed cross-party concern which has helped to ensure that we have got where we are today. I pay particular tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), who got behind the wheel. He was there as poacher turned gamekeeper, scrutinising legislation and seeking to bring it to fruition. He responded to calls from across the House. From my limited experience as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in various Departments, I know how difficult it is to make progress in managing the business and get a Bill into a legislative programme in a second Session of Parliament. That is why we must pay my right hon. Friend a particular personal tribute for bringing us up to speed.
Over the passage of time, we benefit not only from the ratification of The Hague convention, but from inclusion of the first and second protocols. That has helped us to get into pole position on the grid with other Security Council members. I hope that speedy passage of the Bill will mean that we get there first—although 60 other countries have got there before us! Still, among the permanent members we will get there first, which is important.
I am not an expert in many things, including arts and antiquities, archaeology or history, but I have developed a particular interest in cultural property and heritage, as I have seen and started to understand the impact of the destruction of such cultural property—yes, in relation to recent scenes in Syria and Iraq, but also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) said, what has happened in northern Cyprus. When we visited northern Cyprus, we saw that appalling acts of desecration and pillaging had taken place and not been properly taken account of. Given that it is an occupied territory, we should try to ensure that that happens if any objects come into this country’s jurisdiction.
I am concerned, as doubtless we all are, about human dignity. That is what gets my passions and convictions going. It is important to see the appropriate link between the trafficking of human beings and the trafficking of cultural property. There is the same disregard for people, for their faith, for their community and for their identity. Indeed, there is a cross-over from funds from trafficking providing further resources for exploitation—whether it be of property or of human beings. It is therefore appropriate that the Secretary of State introduced the Bill today, given that she guided the Modern Slavery Act 2015 through the House so well. She will fully appreciate the connections that I mention and the concern for human dignity.
As museums and other such places see architectural monuments, works of art and manuscripts mainly as aesthetically significant and pleasing, it is important to realise, as already mentioned, that the destruction and looting of these items is an offence to human dignity. The culturally unique way in which communities relate to their property demonstrates that a property can be much more than an isolated monument or piece of art. It can be very much part of a cultural narrative, authored by the people who live among that cultural heritage. This is what makes the whole issue of cultural property a wider project of concern for us all, particularly when we see the ravages of destruction. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon quite rightly said, within the ravages, the debris and the ruins, we must look at the hope and opportunity of restoration. That is why the cultural protection fund is so important. That is why within the second protocol, although the voluntary fund administered by UNESCO takes some hits from different commentators, it still plays an important role. The funds going into it are important for the future, so we should contribute.
I must pay tribute to Tasoula Hadjitofi. I got to know her through her concerns about her home in Famagusta, which is still frozen in time. With all the pillaging that has gone on, it is as though her whole identity has been frozen. Through the “Walk of Truth”, she looks at areas of conflict and sees examples of property being pillaged and destroyed, but she tries to view what has happened as a means of bringing the communities together. She provides routes to reconciliation, which is something that we should commend.
I welcome the fact that at last the UK will be able proudly to bear its international duty to protect. My interest, as already alluded to, is a constituency interest. A considerable number of Cypriots live here in the UK, who have seen for themselves wanton destruction and pillaging of their heritage. That is why it is so important that we join together and make sure that this long-fought battle to ratify The Hague convention comes to fruition. We look forward to the unification of Cyprus in the long term, but in the meantime, we must make sure that people are held to account when they seek to profit from the proceeds of crimes of destruction.
Let me touch on the Bill’s wording, which has been a matter of concern to the Association of Art & Antique Dealers and others. Clause 17 in part 4 needs careful attention, and we will no doubt hear more from Members about it. It is worth noting that the National Police Chiefs Council lead for heritage and cultural property crime, who should be commended and for whom resources for the enforcement effort are important, said that given that dealers in cultural property are expected to conduct due diligence checks, they would be unlikely to fall foul of the objective test of “reason to suspect”. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport impact assessment is in agreement with that, which is perhaps not surprising.
We could also look at precedents. Section 338 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 is relevant, and honest dealers have been able to rely on the same form of words: “reason to suspect”. It is not dissimilar to the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, which makes reference to the terms “knowing or believing”. It is similar, too, to the sanctions order referenced in respect of Daesh, both the Iraq sanctions order and the Syrian sanctions order, while there is also the example of article 11c in the EU Council regulations. Again, the language is similar, mentioning “reasonable grounds to suspect”, so there is parity with the Bill.
Other countries have enacted the ratification of The Hague convention in their own domestic law, and the wording of section 17 of New Zealand’s Cultural Property (Protection in Armed Conflict) Act 2012 in respect of reasons to suspect someone of committing an offence is similar to the wording of clause 17 of the Bill. That is worth pursuing in Committee.
As has been pointed out, the Bill has limitations. For instance, it does not cover the international law definitions in relation to Daesh, because we do not recognise Daesh as a state. I appreciate that, and I appreciate that the gaps are filled by the sanctions orders and other legislation, but now that we are up to speed and in pole position in relation to the first and second protocols, I urge the Government to ensure that we work collaboratively, on a cross-party basis, to create a third protocol to deal with the activities of Daesh.
I pay tribute to the cultural protection fund, and look forward to seeing it do good work in the coming weeks, months and years. I also pay tribute to the work of Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick, who has set up a property protection working group of so-called monuments men. He is doing fine work, and we must ensure that the Ministry of Defence gives his group all the support that it needs.
I could go on, Mr Speaker. I have a long night’s sleepout waiting for me at Lords cricket ground in support of the good work of the homelessness charity DePaul UK. However, I recognise that other Members probably do not want such a long night, and would prefer me to cut my speech short. Let me end by saying that I strongly support the Bill. We have waited a long time for it, but better late than never. It is certainly worth it, because it protects not only property but human dignity.
As such a lowly Member, I was not expecting to be called at this point, so thank you for doing so, Mr Speaker.
I warmly welcome the Bill. Eighteen months ago, a select band of us—a happy few—engaged in a Backbench Business debate. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) made a particularly notable speech, which led to his being described as the Gertrude Bell of the House of Commons. I felt like a pupil sitting at the feet of the professor; the House may have the same experience later this evening.
During that debate, we called for three things. First, we asked that a great wrong be righted and that, after all these years, The Hague convention be brought into our law. Secondly, we asked for something to be done to enable us to make a practical contribution to staving off extremism in the middle east and to build capacity among those who were on the front line of protecting culture. We built on the idea of many others before us of creating a national cultural protection fund. Thirdly—this was equally important—we asked the Government to escalate the issue of cultural protection, tackling the illicit trade in antiquities and, more generally, to take seriously Britain’s role as a world leader in cultural diplomacy. That would of course include cultural protection, which is currently centre stage.
It is greatly to the Government’s credit that they listened, and just 18 months later, they have acted on each of those concerns in a way that no previous Government have done. I thank the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), and my right hon. Friends the Members for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) and for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who pushed these measures through when they were in office. I thank cross-party colleagues such as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant)—continuing our earlier bromance—and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, as well as, of course, the current Secretary of State and Ministers.
I am grateful to persistent and eloquent supporters outside Parliament. The most notable, in my view, was the former director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, who was a superb supporter on all three of the fronts that I mentioned earlier. Indeed, he was the instigator of many initiatives.
When we first raised these issues two years ago, the legitimate retort from many, especially in the media, was to ask why we should be interested in the destruction of mosques, libraries, souks and documents, when the real tragedy in places such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen was an unimaginable human tragedy: the murders, the rapes, the starvation, the displacement and the ethnic cleansing. One answer, of course, was that the scale of the destruction in recent years was so great. It was the greatest in any era since the end of the second world war, and some of the greatest sites of our shared civilisation were affected: Aleppo, Mosul, Nineveh and Palmyra. We were facing one enemy, Daesh, that was doing more to destroy the world’s cultural heritage than any other group since the end of the second world war, if not before.
The destruction that we saw 18 months or two years ago has continued, if not escalated. Only last week, we were discussing the conflict in Yemen, and a corollary of that has been the destruction of much of the great city of Sana’a, with its wonderful tower houses, any one of which would be considered one of the great monuments of other parts of the Gulf.
The second answer to that question—which is, perhaps, more important to me and which is relevant to what we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes)—is that there was a human dimension. That was brought home to me earlier this year when Nadia Murad, whom many Members will remember, came to Parliament on a couple of occasions to speak to us. When I talked to her afterwards, she surprised me, given all that she had been through—she had been raped and beaten, and her family members had been killed in front of her—by emphasising the destruction of the culture of the Yazidis as much as her own physical and mental torture. That, she said, was because she felt that there was a wider attempt to rob future generations of any connection with their past and that extremists were trying to impose their own contorted views on her and her people and eradicate their ancient culture.
We should bear in mind that some of the people who have been on the frontline of protecting our culture have faced a very great penalty for that in recent years. We have already heard about Professor al-Asaad, the wonderful creator and director at Palmyra, who lost his life while trying to defend treasures there. I have been told other stories over the last few years, and one in particular stuck with me. It concerned a guard who used to take money and open the gates at Nineveh and whom members of the British Museum had known for many years. He was a wonderful elderly gentleman who refused Daesh entry and was subsequently executed. To compound the tragedy, every male who attended his funeral service a few days later disappeared and was executed, including all the known staff of that wonderful site.
There are countless other stories. Only recently, when I had the pleasure of bringing to Parliament the first archaeologists and curators who had come here from Iraq, thanks to the cultural protection fund, and who were later given some press attention in The Times and The Daily Telegraph, they had to remain anonymous owing to the grave risk that, even when they returned to fairly safe parts of Iraq, extremists would target them because of the work that they were doing.
The last reason why I felt that this was important then—I think that it remains so today—was not just the destruction, but what was happening to the material that was being systematically looted and stolen. This is a revenue stream for Daesh, the Assad regime and others. As Neil MacGregor so eloquently put it, sculptures were being turned into tanks, which should worry us all. The channels used by that trade are at times very dark and very dangerous. As we have already heard this evening, they are interwoven with the drugs trade, the arms trade and human trafficking. The lines established in Iraq, from which much of the material is moved, were established by Saddam Hussein and his regime. Action here matters to us all, whether or not we care about the cultural aspects, because it is part of tackling extremism and part of tackling serious organised crime and the funding of terrorism.
While this cultural barbarism at times appears utterly hopeless, and we have to temper our remarks about what we can possibly achieve, I always believed, as did many others, that it was possible to do something and that we could make a modest national contribution while also, as part of that process, enhancing our reputation as a country in the region and around the world. That is what this Bill really does, and we have to see it in tandem with the cultural protection fund, which is an important aspect of our cultural diplomacy. It gives us above all a firmer foundation on which to speak on these issues of cultural diplomacy and protection. It makes practical contributions to those on the frontline who are already appreciating it thanks to the £3 million we have already given to the British Museum, with more on the way. Lastly, it helps to tackle the illicit trade through the offences in the Bill and in other ways, on each of which I shall say a few words.
This is not a panacea, of course, and it does not apply to some of the crimes happening in Syria and Iraq today, but it is very symbolic, not least because it rights an historical wrong that was a drag on our international reputation. The leading experts in this field, such as Neil MacGregor, who are really diplomats and ambassadors for Britain in the cultural sphere, felt it was a shame and a stain on the UK’s reputation that we had never done this. So purely by doing it we enhance our reputation in the world. That enables us to play a stronger role in cultural diplomacy, which has all manner of benefits in trade and in establishing cultural links with other countries —as we have seen with the British Museum, working with the British Council, lending art and artefacts to Iran and Russia in the past and doing things Governments struggle to do. I hope the UK will do more on this in a way we simply have not done in the past, along with other countries, including France, with a proper network of cultural attachés and Government links. People including John Kerry and François Hollande have made major speeches on this. I hope that we will seize on that and see this as the beginning of the UK adding another weapon in our arsenal of diplomacy around the world.
The cultural protection fund is a huge step forward. It is the first major fund of its kind. François Hollande has copied us and has supposedly created a €100-million fund, which is about to be launched. I am pleased we were in the vanguard of doing this and would like us to do more.
I am very pleased that what we have done was able to be ODAed because that makes a difference; it recognises that this is not just about art and architecture, but about economic regeneration post-conflict and healing the wounds of conflicts and bringing cultures together. We must view this as just the beginning, however, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) said; I would like us to see it as seed capital for us to be bolder and for this to turn into a major lasting national achievement.
Most of the Bill is about the illicit trade, and we must shrink the demand for these works in the world today. Contrary to some of the remarks made in passing this evening, the UK is very good in this regard. We are not the epicentre of the illicit trade in art and antiquities; that is to be found in the Gulf states, in China, in Russia and in other parts of the world. The UK is actually at the forefront of having responsible dealers and major auction houses who care about their reputations, but that is all the more reason for us to do this and lead the world in enforcement.
I want to say a few words about the offence of dealing unlawfully in exported property. We must tackle this issue, and I would like to think that the Minister would give this further thought on Report. This matters because, if we want to shrink the illicit market, we have to defend the legitimate market. The great auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s actually have very little interest in maintaining their antiquities departments; antiquities account for 1% or less of the turnover of such auction houses. It would be very easy for them and for experienced legitimate dealers to walk away from this trade, and that would matter because it would push more objects on to the black market and on to smaller auction houses that lack the compliance and legal and regulatory structures to do due diligence properly, and it would push out good dealers and give trade to those we are more concerned about.
Essentially, there is no right or wrong answer when doing due diligence. The way an auction house assesses property is by making a judgment. A whole range of material comes forward for any piece being sold in antiquities sales. Some will come from blogs that are emerging; others from states such as Egypt that automatically challenge the sale of every piece being sold in the UK. An experienced professional—whether a dealer, a specialist in an auction house or someone in an auction house legal department—has to weigh up the factors and make a judgment. I would not want this Bill to criminalise people who ultimately make honest mistakes. That would set us back in our task of shrinking the illicit market and empowering the people at the forefront of getting this right. The Minister kindly reassured me in a letter she sent to Lord Judge that answers some of these points, but I would like this to be further considered on Report. It is extremely important that the due diligence being carried out is proportionate and does not dissuade legitimate businesses from participating in the market.
We have heard from other Members that no law is worth legislating for if it is not properly enforced. Sadly, enforcement in this area is very poor. The Met police have a small art and antiques squad. At different times, it has had between one and three members, and at present has, I think, one and a half people. They are excellent individuals; I have met some of them and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and others know some of them, and I do not want to criticise their professionalism, but they are very constrained. This has been viewed as a sort of Lovejoy area of the criminal market that does not really matter; it is considered to involve harmless rogues in a barn in Suffolk. However, this is serious crime that is linked to human trafficking, the drugs trade and the funding of terror, and the policing needs to match that. I hope the good intentions set out in this Bill will lead to a prod to the Met police and others to beef up their policing as soon as possible, or else our efforts in this Bill will ultimately be in vain.
I welcome the Bill and am grateful to the Government for doing this. It is to their huge credit that we have finally done this. In debates such as that last week on the conflict in Yemen, we hear of cities of enormous value such as Sana’a being destroyed and of cultures under threat, and we realise why this matters. It matters because it is about protecting our shared international heritage and ensuring extremists never win.
It is a pleasure to talk on this subject, and on this Bill which, as have heard, has been a long time coming. It is of great cultural and symbolic significance. I know the debates in another place have been conducted in a constructive bipartisan spirit, and it is nice to see this debate conducted in the same vein. I am delighted that the Government have found parliamentary time for this type of measure, which has not been achieved in the past. It shows a welcome recognition of the significance and symbolic power of the measures in the Bill.
As the Government have rightly been at pains to point out, it is important to say that although the UK has so far failed to sign up to The Hague convention or the 1954 or 1999 protocols, our armed forces already act absolutely as if they were bound by them; in fact The Hague convention and its protocols form a framework today for both training and armed conflict.
The establishment of the £30 million cultural protection fund, our sponsoring of UN resolution 2199 designed to stop Daesh from transforming cultural destruction into financial profit, and the work of the joint military cultural protection working group all bear witness to the UK’s ongoing commitment to protecting cultural property in spheres of conflict. It is worth emphasising that the successful passage of this Bill would make the UK the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to ratify the convention and accede to both its protocols, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) pointed out. As the House has heard, that has been in the offing for more than 10 years, so it is perhaps a good time to recognise the work of those who prepared the original draft Bill, which bears a striking similarity to the one we are considering today.
As I said, this is a timely moment to be passing such legislation. We recently saw the first person be charged by the International Criminal Court for damaging mankind’s cultural heritage in Timbuktu. Our minds are also concentrated by Daesh’s appalling targeted destruction of cultural sites in north Africa and the middle east, including St Elijah’s monastery, historic libraries and pretty much any other representational art that it comes across.
To talk about the importance of cultural property in conflict is obviously not to undermine in any way the essential truth that the preservation of human life will and should always be the prime motivating factor in the conduct of military operations. That truth is enshrined in the doctrine of military necessity that formed a vital part of the original convention and is strengthened in the second protocol, which we will also be approving should we pass the Bill. The Bill will make a strong statement about the UK’s commitment to the future at a time when such protection is more necessary than ever.
Finally, the Bill, and the convention it ratifies, deals largely with state-to-state conflict. In offering my support, I would be grateful to hear more from the Minister about how the Government will continue to work to provide a similar level of protection in more asymmetric conflicts involving non-state actors such as Daesh. The states and groups that destroy monuments and artistic expression are trying to hide. They are trying to destroy pluralism, thought, inclusivity and diversity in order to reimpose a childishly simplistic, inverted form of good and evil. I do not need to tell the House that cultural heritage enables all peoples to see themselves clearly both as individuals and as members of an historically coherent and culturally significant whole. The House will remember the words of Heinrich Heine, now engraved into the ground where the Nazis burned thousands of books in 1933:
“where they burn books, they will in the end burn people”.
I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) but, with all due respect, if there are two speeches to which the Government should pay particular attention, they are those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick). Despite the excellence of the other speeches from both sides of the House, they are the two that really hit the problems on the head.
The Bill is welcome and I wholeheartedly support it, subject to one or two concerns that I shall touch on briefly. The first relates to the definition of cultural property, as mentioned by several hon. and right hon. Members. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport also touched on the topic in her opening remarks. The definition in the Bill lacks sufficient clarity. I accept that the Bill refers us to article 1 of The Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict but, taking the example of the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), film and so on were I suspect not considered when the convention was drawn up in the early 1950s. New forms of heritage—if that is not a contradiction in terms—have emerged since then, and the Government need to give the definition of cultural property a little more thought. That is not an aggressive point; I simply want to point out something that it would be sensible for the Government to look into.
The other area that also needs more thought is the absence of any definition of an occupied territory. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon mentioned that when he was Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the west bank, the Golan heights and perhaps another place—
East Jerusalem—they were designated as occupied territories. However, the world has moved on and, as my right hon. Friend correctly pointed out, there are now other parts of the world that could, either as a matter of fact or as a matter of law, be considered occupied territories. The Government must be more open, or at least clearer, about the definition of an occupied territory.
There is, however, perhaps an even more important matter that needs resolving, which involves the level of criminal intent for the offences described in clause 17. In framing my remarks, I am grateful for the help I have had from the British Art Market Federation, the British Antique Dealers’ Association, Mr Hugo Keith QC, and Professor Janet Ulph of the University of Leicester school of law. I stress, however, that what I shall say is my interpretation. If I have got things wrong, that is my fault and not the fault of those who valiantly tried to explain the matter to me. You will be glad to hear, Mr Speaker, that I cannot for reasons of time go into the detailed legal analysis undertaken by them, but I sent the Secretary of State a copy of Mr Keith’s opinion, which carefully explains why the use of “reason to suspect” in the context of this Bill is unwise and unfair.
Clause 17(1) makes it an offence to
“deal in unlawfully exported cultural property”
that the dealer knows or has
“reason to suspect… has been unlawfully exported.”
So far, so good. No one can support the dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property when they know it has been unlawfully exported, but the mens rea—criminal intent—required under the provision has caused concern in the London art market. The worry is that “reason to suspect” will place an unacceptable and stifling burden on the market. That aspect of the Bill was touched on only briefly in the other place but was not taken up by the Government.
Clause 17 creates an offence of dishonesty, carrying with it a sentence of imprisonment of up to seven years, as well as the destruction of reputation. The problem that worries me arises from the provision that relates to the state of mind, which must be proved before the defendant can be convicted. Dealing in prohibited property knowing that it has been unlawfully exported, the first offence created by clause 17, is simple, easily described, uncontroversial and comes within well-established and clearly understood principles of criminal law. Dealing in such prohibited property believing that it has been unlawfully exported would also be an equally straightforward offence. “Knowledge” or “belief” identify the mens rea, or criminal state of mind, accompanying the prohibited activity. To establish guilt, the prosecution would have to prove that at the time when the prohibited activity took place the defendant knew or believed that he was dealing in prohibited property.
That, however, is not what the second offence created by clause 17 provides. Rather, it defines the criminal activity—dealing in prohibited property—but by relating the criminal state of mind required for the offence to “suspicion” it introduces an unusual concept into the ordinary law that applies to offences of dishonesty. Indeed, it does not even provide that the offence is proved if the defendant personally suspected that he was dealing in prohibited property.
Can my right hon. and learned Friend think of any other examples of mens rea of this type that are in use?
One often sees the type currently drafted into clause 17 when a defendant has to rebut a presumption—the possession of certain items in sexual offences or drugs offences. It is also to be found under certain rarely used disclosure offences, such as under section 119 of the Companies Act 2006—something that we speak about so frequently in the clubs and bars of Market Harborough. As regards the substantive criminal law and the making of a substantive criminal offence, my hon. Friend is right to say that this is a rare and wholly unusual distinction, and I quietly urge the Government to think again.
As drafted, this provision abandons the principle that it is the defendant’s state of mind that must be “criminal”, whether defined in terms of belief or even suspicion, for an objective test: whether he had reason to suspect. What may arise from an offence defined in that way can be quickly described. The defendant may be offered property which, because of the circumstances, he may have reason to suspect may be prohibited. Just because he wishes to proceed with caution, and to avoid committing a criminal offence, after sensible inquiry and investigation he may in good faith decide that his suspicions have been allayed and proceed to deal in the property. For a defendant acting in good faith to be convicted of an offence of dishonesty is a novel proposition. It may be suggested that the offence is not intending to apply to such an individual, but only to the individual who, notwithstanding any investigations he may make, turns a blind eye to reasonable grounds for suspicion, but that is not what the clause says. The offence can and should be defined in terms of the defendant’s belief or suspicion, and currently it is not.
Surely the question to ask is whether the defendant did or did not believe, or did or did not suspect. The more powerful the evidence that he had reason to suspect, the more likely it is that the jury would conclude that he did indeed believe or suspect, and that the offence is proved. In short, where the defendant did indeed have “reason to suspect”, that would provide the evidence to establish that he did indeed believe or suspect that he was dealing in prohibited property. That however goes to the evidence available to prove guilt; it should not define the offence.
It would be unusual for an offence of dishonesty to be created that did not focus on the defendant’s personal state of mind. It would also be unusual to create two offences in a single provision which make provision for separate and distinctive forms of criminal intent: knowledge, which is entirely subjective; and reason to suspect, which is not. Any summing up in an indictment which alleges the two offences as alternatives would not be straightforward. Worse still, it would be unwise, and it would make for significant complexity in any trial for two statutes with the same objective—the protection of the cultural heritage of every nation—not to define criminal intent in exactly the same way.
Section 1 of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 states—
Order. I do apologise to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but when he leant down like that, I thought it was because he was approaching his peroration. That may have been a triumph of optimism over experience.
Ms Bell, I think, has spoken on my behalf. I was just advising you, Mr Speaker, about section 1 of the 2003 Act, which I know you want to hear about.
At least I am right about that. [Laughter.] It states:
“A person is guilty of an offence if he dishonestly deals in a cultural object that is tainted, knowing or believing that the object is tainted.”
This Bill says that it is
“an offence for a person to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property, knowing or having reason to suspect that it has been unlawfully exported.”
For the reasons that I have been briefly explaining, I suspect that the 2003 Act provides the better wording. The provision in this Bill is not following well-established principles relating to the prosecution of offences of dishonesty. I am concerned that the Bill, which is concerned with the same issues, fails properly to take into account that set of principles. As drafted, it may result in the prosecution and conviction for an offence of dishonesty of a defendant who has, or may have, acted in good faith.
It is one thing for a defendant to be convicted of handling stolen goods where they have been shown to have known or believed the goods were stolen—the law is clear and the defendant knows when he is convicted that the jury was sure he knew or believed the goods were stolen—but under this Bill, as currently framed, a convicted defendant cannot be sure that his conviction reflects his actual state of knowledge or belief and that he was not convicted simply for lacking curiosity. Absence of curiosity may be regrettable and sometimes stupid or negligent, but it should not lead to a conviction, with all the reputational damage that flows from it.
Beyond that, I urge the Government to consider what effect this provision will have on the art market here in London. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark, who speaks with the advantage of being not only a lawyer, but a former director of Christie’s, this will have a stifling effect. It may be that there will not be many convictions or many arrests, but the mere threat of the reputational damage caused by this possibility is enough to put the mockers on this valuable and entirely legitimate aspect of the London art market. The art market will go elsewhere and the crooks will get away with it. If we want to catch the bad boys, and if we want to inhibit this wrong and immoral market, why not stick to the 2003 wording or something similar to it, rather than allowing this Bill to contain an error of principle which could confound the interests of all of us who wish to see the destruction and the dealing in cultural objects that have been stolen brought to an end?
I am delighted to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier), peroration and all. I declare an interest, as the chairman of the all-party groups on archaeology and on the British Museum, and as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.
As we have all agreed, the Bill has been a long time coming—it is 62 years old. As I glance around the room, I hazard a guess that that makes it older than anybody in the Chamber, now that my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) has left.
I am delighted to be put right by my right hon. and learned Friend, although we would never know it, Mr Speaker.
I also pay tribute to what is left of the Labour Opposition and the remarkable dexterity of the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) who, in a debate on cultural artefacts, managed to mention Keats, Uber taxi drivers, the temple of Bel and an attack on private education. He certainly gave us his money’s worth, even if he does not have many mates with him to support this excellent Bill.
I very much welcome the Bill. We know that the original protocol and convention were passed in 1954, largely as a reaction to the destruction of cultural artefacts of the second world war. We know that the second protocol, which came about in 1999, mostly followed in the wake of great destruction in the former republic of Yugoslavia. We recall the familiar scenes at the UNESCO world heritage sites such as the Mostar bridge, which really brought home the futility of war and the destruction of our culture, which we just do not get back. That protocol recognised that the desecration of cultural property could become a war crime and identified the blue shield scheme, which many Members have referred to. It also set up an international non-governmental organisation advisory body to the intergovernmental committee for the convention. There were therefore great hopes in 1999 that we might follow suit. We have made reference to the heritage Minister Andrew McIntosh, who brought forward in 2004 a commitment to ratify the convention. That led to a Bill in 2008, which was scrutinised by the Select Committee, led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale). The Bill was supported by the Ministry of Defence and the whole heritage sector, but the excuse given for what happened was that it became overshadowed by the financial crisis and ran out of parliamentary time. Then in 2011, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), as a Minister, reconfirmed the Government’s commitment to ratification at the “earliest possible opportunity”.
In 2014, there was another great body blow when the Cabinet Committee said that it had not been able to grant drafting authority for a Bill—not even a handout Bill. The commitment of successive Governments was in question when their warm words were not followed up by definitive action. At long last, that earliest possible opportunity has arrived. I particularly pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon—he is not in his place at the moment—whose personal commitment to this matter and lobbying of the powers that be at No. 10 has made this Bill a reality.
The announcement in last year’s autumn statement of the £30 million cultural protection fund together with a summit of heritage experts really gave flesh to that commitment. The legislative wheels grind frustratingly slowly, and, as with the second protocol, it has taken the cultural cleansing atrocities in Syria and Iraq to concentrate the minds of those in a position to bring forward this ratification today.
I do not want to be churlish, because I really welcome the Bill and the commitment behind it. I absolutely praise all those who have played an integral part in this. Many of them have been mentioned today. I am talking about Sir Neil MacGregor, the former outstanding director of the British Museum, and my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) who, in his relatively short time in this House, has made a big impact in this area. It is really important now that we get on with it. We need to gain the moral high ground and become the only one of the five permanent UN Security Council member countries to ratify both the protocols and the convention.
Why is this important? At a time when we are seeing horrific scenes of women, children and men being bombed, murdered and executed in the most grotesque fashion by Daesh in the tragic conflicts in both Syria and Yemen, why should we be concerned about a bunch of old rocks and relics? My hon. Friend the Member for Newark described just a couple of examples. Let me mention Professor Assad, the director of antiquities at Palmyra, which I was privileged enough to visit just before the civil war in Syria—it is the most magical archaeological site imaginable, and I speak as someone who studied Mesopotamian archaeology and who has visited many sites—and the guards at Nineveh. These people gave their lives because they appreciated and understood the importance of protecting culture as the spirit of a nation, and that it makes mankind what it is and is what separates mankind from savages. As the Heritage Alliance put it:
“The destruction of cultural capital is a powerful propaganda tool and is part of a long history of demoralising communities by destroying the symbols of their nationhood.”
As Irina Bokova, the director general of UNESCO, said, this is “cultural cleansing”, and we must view it as such and in the same terms as trafficking.
Many antiquities can be purchased on the black market. Does the hon. Gentleman think that Governments should—either directly, or indirectly through a third party—try to purchase some of those antiquities and keep them for posterity for the years to come?
It is an interesting prospect, but I would much rather track down and prosecute the people who benefit from trafficking these antiquities. We do not want to set up a legitimate market, with Governments paying money to criminals. There are other ways of tracking down some of these important antiquities. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newark that London has, by and large, a very legitimate market in antiques and antiquities. Obviously there are a few people who are the exception to that, but London has an excellent reputation compared with many other parts of the world. Hopefully, this Bill will prompt the United States Government to ratify the protocols, as it is suggested that they have been looking for a lead from a significant military ally.
We have heard several examples of recent high-profile tragedies involving cultural terrorism: the 2015 looting of the Mosul museum; the vandalism of the Nergal Gate at Nineveh; and the destruction of the temple of Baalshamin at Palmyra—separate to the triumphal arch of Palmyra, which the hon. Member for Cardiff West conflated it with, but an important monument to that civilisation. All those tragedies were at the hands of Daesh. Indeed, Palmyra should be treated as a crime scene, given the damage that was done there. Fortunately, there was not as much damage as Daesh might have inflicted on it had it been given more time.
In other continents, shrines were deliberately destroyed by Boko Haram in Nigeria. We have heard one bit of good news, which is the first prosecution in the International Criminal Court of Ahmad al-Mahdi for his destruction in Timbuktu, the centre of Sufi Islam. He directed the destruction of 15th and 16th century Sufi tombs and the burning of the library in Timbuktu. His verdict just last month gave out a nine-year prison sentence for that cultural vandalism. That sends out a very important message, and we need to see many more people being brought to justice to emphasise just how important a crime against humanity this is.
May I continue a little, because I know that the Minister will want to respond on this?
There has also been mention of Yemen. Again, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit Yemen just before the civil war broke out—I am not a precursor to these civil wars, but I was in the country when it was a slightly less dangerous place to be. There are four UNESCO world heritage sites in Yemen: the historic town of Zabid; the old walled city of Shibam, the Chicago of the desert, with 16th century skyscrapers—the earliest skyscrapers in the world—made out of mud brick rising out of the desert; the magical walled medieval city of Sana’a itself; and the natural world heritage site on the island of Socotra. These sites are going largely under the radar. We hear more about the carnage being waged in Yemen, but little about the important cultural background to that country. Those are just a few of the sites that we know about.
May I take the hon. Gentleman’s mind back to when he mentioned Mosul? When we visited Iraq, and Irbil in particular, we had the opportunity to meet Archbishop Nicodemus of the Orthodox Church. He was archbishop in Mosul, and he informed us that his church had been destroyed and the cross taken down. Where there was a church is now a car park. When Mosul is liberated, does the hon. Gentleman think that those responsible should be made accountable for their dastardly deeds?
Those people should absolutely be held accountable and brought to justice. I am sure that when it is safe to do so, that important religious establishment will rise phoenix-like again, and I am sure the people of Mosul of all faiths will want to see that happen as that city gets back on its feet after the terrible things it has been through.
Across the world, spread across 165 countries, we have 1,052 UNESCO world heritage sites, of which 814 are cultural. I have mentioned some of the sites, but those are just the ones we know about. Some 90% of archaeological sites in Iraq have yet to be excavated, and many will have been looted over recent years. There is also the issue, as we have heard, of how cultural looting by Daesh and others finances terrorism.
The destruction of Syria’s archaeological sites has become catastrophic. There are unauthorised excavations going on, and the plunder of and trafficking in stolen cultural artefacts is an escalating problem. Many of the objects have already been lost to science and society, and the context in which many of them are being dug up in unsupervised conditions will be lost forever. The trading in looted Syrian cultural artefacts has apparently become the third largest trade in illegal goods worldwide. It is big business. It is estimated that looting is Daesh’s second largest revenue source after oil sales. There are around 4,500 archaeological sites including UNESCO world heritage sites which have been under the control of Daesh. Hopefully, fewer or none of them will continue to be, as the counter-offensive against Daesh succeeds in Iraq in particular.
Iraqi intelligence claims that Daesh alone has collected more than $40 million from the sale of artefacts. It is the equivalent of what the Taliban were doing in Afghanistan through the cultivation and sale of heroin to feed markets in the west. We took that very seriously and it was a priority for the invading and occupying forces in that country, yet the devastation and profit involved in the plundering of these archaeological sites and the sale of antiquities does not seem to register nearly as clearly on the world’s radar. This is an important part of putting that case firmly on the world’s agenda.
We are facing a quadruple threat. First, jihadists are looting these sites, claiming some sort of religious reason for doing so. They are entirely hypocritically profiting from their destruction on international black markets. Secondly, it is alleged that President Assad is knowingly selling antiquities to pay his henchmen. There are videos showing Assad’s soldiers at Palmyra some time ago ripping out grave relief sculptures and smiling for the cameras as those are loaded on to trucks. Thirdly, the Free Syrian Army in its various guises is looting antiquities as a vital source of funding. Fourthly, an increasingly active part of the population is involved in looting. Ordinary people are looting Syria’s cultural heritage because they have no jobs, income or tangible economic prospects and are increasingly turning to age-old plundering techniques, in some cases looting to order.
As a result of the activities of those four different parties, the fantastic culture of Syria and Iraq in particular is being systematically plundered, yet that hardly features on the west’s radar. We also have to face the consequences of the financing of terrorist organisations through the plunder of antiquities. We look forward to a day in the future when peace in some form comes to this region, but the looting also threatens to deprive Syria in particular of one of its best opportunities for a post-conflict economic recovery based on tourism which, until the conflict started, contributed more than 12% of national income.
It is important for the United Kingdom to be passing this legislation, as we have one of the most professional and strategically thinking heritage communities in the world. The Bill will enable the UK’s soft power and diplomacy agendas to position the UK as an international leader in demonstrating a supportive and facilitating approach to the protection of cultural property. Post-Brexit—something that has not been mentioned this evening—we need to promote our extensive cultural wealth and network of contacts through world museums such as the British Museum to re-forge new relationships beyond the EU. The respectability and gravitas of having signed up to the world’s protection protocols gives us considerably more strength and credibility in doing so.
We have heard about the £3 million which has been given to the British Museum to bring Iraqi archaeologists and restoration experts to the UK to help train them in how to reconstruct their country after the war and the conflict are over and ISIL has been driven out. London hosted the unveiling of the replica of the Palmyra arch, which then went on a world tour—a fantastic example of rescue archaeology and how, in the face of the cultural vandalism, we will rebuild these important heritage sites. I particularly welcome the proposed property protection unit in the Army. The Foreign Secretary and I have already said that we would willingly volunteer to be part of such a force and go out to the middle east to help the new monuments men and women, but they will be much better than the original monuments men.
I gave this example once before, but the extraordinary figure of Colonel Matthew Bogdanos, who came to the House 10 years ago, led the hunt for the treasures looted from the Baghdad museum in 2003, after the allied invasion. He led an investigation into the looting of the Iraq national museum, from which many thousands of priceless treasures disappeared. Probably the most priceless of those was the 5,000-year-old Warka vase—the first representation of the human face in an art form in stone. After the good works of Colonel Bogdanos, a clapped-out red Toyota appeared outside the Baghdad museum, the boot was opened and in a box was a vase in 20 pieces, which turned out to be the Warka vase—what people had forgotten was that, when the German archaeologists dug up the Warka vase, it was in about 20 pieces and was then glued together. Extraordinary work by an American reservist lawyer with a small team of people reconstructed so many thousands of the important artefacts that had been taken from the museum in Baghdad. We can do even better, and we have the expertise in the British Army, British academia and our museums to play a role even greater than that played by the heroic Colonel Matthew Bogdanos.
May I end, or approach my pre-peroration, Mr Speaker, with a few questions for the Minister? I welcome the £30 million cultural protection fund, as everybody else who has spoken today has. It will help to build capacity to foster, safeguard and promote cultural heritage in conflict-affected regions overseas, but what sort of projects does she envisage it being used for? We know about the £3 million for the British Museum. What happens after the three years to which that £30 million has been devoted?
What about more proactive protection measures than just retaking sites, tracking down looted artefacts and carrying out reconstruction? Can we do a lot more to try to prevent these things from happening in the first place? There were tales in the middle east of the residents of a town, in the face of ISIL, linking hands around some of their important monuments to try to protect them—huge bravery in the teeth of such savagery. Surely we could do more to make sure that we get there before the terrorists and that the terrorists are deflected.
When will we hear further about the Army working group? How many people is it likely to include? The excellent Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick, who gave a presentation to the all-party group on archaeology, is hugely impressive and hugely keen, and he wants to get on with it. Perhaps the Minister can give us a progress report on when we might see some tangible results.
Baroness Neville-Rolfe, in the other place, told peers that work was going on in the Department to consider
“what cultural property should be covered in the UK”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 June 2016; Vol. 773, c. 584.]
Perhaps the Minister can update us on what progress has been made on that, and on when we can expect a definitive list.
Then, of course, there is the thorny issue of when cultural property is attacked by terrorist organisations such as Daesh or Boko Haram that are not covered in the Bill because they are not covered by the protocols to the convention. Effectively, we are asking whether the Minister will pursue the possibility of a third protocol. I know we are only just about to sign the first and second protocols and the convention, but if we are to bring the convention up to date, that will require international co-operation to counter those terrorists who are not part of states.
Penultimately, the heavy workload on the excellent Metropolitan police art and antiques unit has been mentioned. If the Bill is to be effective, that workload will be increased, yet there has, as I mentioned, been only one prosecution to date under the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003. Will the Minister give some assurances that that unit, which is the responsibility of the Home Office, will be properly resourced so that it has enough people with the skills and training to track down the minority of criminals who should have been tracked down before now?
Then there is the issue of scheduled ancient monuments —archaeology in the ground. There are some 20,000 scheduled ancient monuments in the United Kingdom, but they are not included in the proposed list because they are not graded in the same way as listed buildings, for example. What added protections are there for those monuments, given that they are not specifically covered in the Bill?
What is the future of the blue shield scheme, which the Secretary of State described as the “cultural equivalent” of the Red Cross, as it is currently a completely voluntary organisation that is also, to some extent, undermined by the lack of a central team to co-ordinate its activities and avoid duplication? I think she is supportive of the excellent work by Professor Peter Shaw of Newcastle University, who has done so much to champion this whole cause.
Finally, I cannot resist echoing a point raised, slightly impertinently, by the hon. Member for Cardiff West: how does it help to find the archaeologists of the future, who may go into the Army to be part of the new team of monuments men, when we are about to lose the A-level in archaeology? How are we to find the expertise that is so essential to carry out the terms of the legislation that we are belatedly but thankfully scrutinising today? Will the Minister, as a result of these deliberations, have a conversation with her colleague the Secretary of State for Education to see what can be done to keep that important subject on the curriculum? I studied archaeology at school to A/O-level. I did not, however—I am sorry to burst the hon. Gentlemen’s balloon—go to a private school. It was an important subject then and it is an important subject today, across so many areas.
This is a really important Bill. It may be specialist in nature, but it has been pored over, in various forms, for the past 62 years, in expectation of this day. We now, at last, need to get on with it.
It is a pleasure to rise to support the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) said, the previous Labour Government put this issue on the political agenda in 2004 and pushed a draft Bill in 2008. The Bill is long overdue, 62 years after the convention was first brought forward. As has been made very apparent during this debate, cultural property is not just bricks and mortar—it is the very fabric and soul of society and our history. It deserves our prioritisation, our attention and our protection. As has been elucidated, unfortunately we do not have to look too far, even today, to see examples of wilful cultural destruction, from Daesh’s destruction at Palmyra and al-Qaeda’s demolition of the mosques and mausoleums in Timbuktu, to the destruction and churches in Mosul, which, as the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) said, goes hand in hand with ethnic cleansing.
We have heard some excellent speeches. The right hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale)—who is, I believe, particularly to be congratulated on bringing this Bill forward—gave a moving account of the courage of Khaled al-Asaad, who laid down his life in the protection of the Palmyra site. Not only is there wilful destruction of such cultural property, but Daesh and others are profiting from the proceeds.
The right hon. Gentleman, among others, made a pertinent point about clause 17 and the difference between “knowing” and “having reason to suspect” that cultural property was illegally acquired. He called for a clearer requirement on dishonesty that exists in similar provisions in legislation such as the Theft Acts. I am sure that the Minister will provide us with an assurance that the threshold is not low to scoop up innocent people but rather ensures that prosecutions are brought against anyone who has not conducted their due diligence. Only a single prosecution has been brought under the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, and it has been criticised for its low threshold. I hope that the Minister will stick to her guns on that.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O'Hara), who spoke on behalf of the Scottish National party, made some excellent points about the plundering of cultural artefacts by Daesh and the role of the European art market.
The right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who is not in his place, was full of self-deprecation about how unsuccessful he was as a Minister in introducing the proposed legislation, but he welcomed, as we do, the cultural protection fund. He was right to point out that the British Museum is free to visit, and that is thanks to the last Labour Government, who acknowledged that there should be no class barrier to accessing and participating in culture. Unfortunately, he showed none of the humility that my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West called for in recognising some of the less desirable aspects of our history with regard to our colonial past.
The hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) made an impassioned case for the Bill in relation to illegal antiquities from Cyprus that turn up in London, the biggest art market in the world. It is vital that we enforce against that here, because it is so difficult to do so in war zones such as Syria and in Cyprus.
Similarly, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) said that it is important that we ratify not only the convention, but the two protocols, to bring us into line, finally, with other Security Council members and to ensure that we are at the front of the pack of the five permanent members.
The hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) was rightly praised by a number of hon. Members for the role he has played in the Bill’s progress. He pointed out that a great wrong is finally being righted, and he is to be congratulated on his persistence. He spoke in particular about those on the frontline who risk their lives to protect their living histories and about why our cultural diplomacy and how we back it up through our legislation and the cultural protection fund are so important. He was also right to say that the Bill is symbolic.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) pointed out that protection is more necessary than ever and that there should be similar protection in conflicts that involve non-state actors. I hope that the Minister will address that in her response.
The right hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) called for greater clarity on the definition of cultural property and pointed out that many new forms of heritage have been developed since the 1950s. Greater clarity is also needed on the definition of occupied territory, given that there are many different forms of it in the world, with Crimea being an interesting example.
Last but by no means least, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) praised the renowned dexterity of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West in his opening speech. The hon. Gentleman said that it was important that we hurry up and get on with the Bill, so that we can lead the way and be the first of the five permanent members of the Security Council to ratify the convention, not only to secure and promote London’s reputation as the centre of the international art market, but to prompt other states to ratify the convention and to prosecute those who hypocritically profit from trade on the international black market and, in some cases, as he pointed out, loot to order.
We welcome the Bill and the fact that the Government have finally made time for it. The ratification will put the UK at the forefront of international cultural property protection. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West has asked me to thank Ministers for allowing him to meet the Bill team in preparing our response.
Will the Minister assure us that legitimate art dealers will not be caught up by clause 17? In her opening remarks, the Secretary of State said that she did not think that that would be the case, but can the Minister be more explicit?
Will digital formats be protected? My hon. Friend Lord Stevenson said in the other place:
“Who could, these days, expect to understand, debate and discuss the culture of any country or time without having regard to the moving image?”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 June 2016; Vol. 773, c. 1476.]
We appreciate how tricky it is to capture the spirit, purpose and language of an instrument that was drafted more than 60 years ago, while creating a relevant and effective regime for the present day, but we would appreciate the Minister’s comments on that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West will probe further the issues raised by several Members about mens rea, but we are generally supportive of the Government’s position, which would require effective due diligence by art dealers in relation to clause 17. Finally, we ask the Government to think again about the removal of art history, archaeology and classical civilisation A-levels, for which my hon. Friend has passionately made the case. They are vital if we are to enforce the measures in the Bill and promote our cultural diplomacy across the globe. We are pleased to support this Bill on Second Reading.
It is with great pleasure and pride that I close the Second Reading debate on the Bill. This piece of legislation has been a long time coming, and I pay tribute to the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) for his success in securing a slot for the Bill this Session. The debate has shown us that there is cross-party consensus in the House, as there was in the other place, on this Bill, and that we are all working to achieve the shared goal of protecting our cultural heritage.
I thank Members of the House who have, over a number of years, pushed for the Government to ratify the convention and accede to its two protocols. I would like to give a special mention to my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), for Newark (Robert Jenrick) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), and to the work of the all-party group on cultural heritage. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) for her campaign when the Labour party was in government.
I thank all the stakeholders who have helped the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to bring the Bill before this House, particularly Professor Peter Stone, Professor Roger O’Keefe, Neil MacGregor, and Michael Meyer of the British Red Cross, who have all worked closely with the DCMS for many years on the subject. In addition, I thank the police, the Ministry of Defence, the armed forces, and Historic England and its counterpart agencies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for their support in bringing forward this Bill. The art market and the British Art Market Federation have also been effective in working with the Department to highlight the Bill’s impact on an important sector of our economy. The Government appreciate and support the work of all those stakeholders to keep the Bill in the spotlight, enabling us to have this well-informed debate.
We have had a good debate that has covered many aspects of the Bill, and I would like quickly to address some of the key points. The two main themes of Syria and the mens rea clause were raised by many. I will deal with some of the specific issues that Members have raised, but some will need to be dealt with beyond the Chamber, so I hope that colleagues will bear with me.
Syria is a complex matter, and we need to remember what the Bill does and does not do. The Bill enables the UK to ratify the convention and both its protocols, delivering a strong message that the UK will not tolerate illicit dealing in cultural property. The Bill applies to the situation in Syria, although its application is limited in part because the UK does not recognise Daesh as a state and because Syria has not ratified the second protocol. However, UK nationals fighting with Daesh could be prosecuted for serious violations under clause 3, because article 15(1)(e) of the second protocol covers property protected under the convention, which Syria has ratified.
Many Members raised concerns about clause 17. It is important to note that the Bill will not require the art market to change how it operates. The matter was not raised on the Floor of the House during scrutiny of the Bill in the other place, but I understand that there is concern in the House. As such, I would be happy to have a meeting with anyone who wants to discuss the matter further. In addition, the Secretary of State and I will meet the chairman of the British Art Market Federation on Wednesday.
If I may, I will explain the Government’s position on clause 17. As dealers should be carrying out due diligence for any piece of cultural property that they wish to buy or sell, in accordance with industry standards, we do not consider that the legislation imposes any extra burdens on those in the art industry. In order for a criminal case to proceed, the prosecution must be satisfied that there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction, and that there is enough evidence that prosecution is needed in the public interest. Where there is credible evidence to suggest that an object may have been unlawfully exported, we consider that a dealer would not be acting in good faith if they proceeded in a deal involving that object unless further due diligence were undertaken to rebut that evidence. On that basis, we do not believe that honest dealers should be concerned about the risk of prosecution.
A question was asked about whether the definition of the mens rea exists in other legislation. The answer is yes. The Iraq and Syria sanctions orders create similar offences with similar penalties, using as the mens rea the very similar standards of “reason to suppose” and “reasonable grounds to suspect”. The art market has continued to operate successfully while complying with the Iraq and Syria sanctions orders, so we see no reason why that should be any different in relation to the offence under the Bill. The Government’s view is that the sanctions orders provide the most appropriate models for the offence created under the Bill, given the particular and very serious risk posed to cultural property during times of armed conflict. However, we have listened to the concerns that have been raised, and we are very happy to meet anyone to discuss this matter further.
I will turn to the specific points that colleagues have raised. The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), like the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh) in her summing up, mentioned the issue of digital forms. The reassurance that the noble Baroness Neville-Rolfe gave in the Lords remains true—this was repeated by the Secretary of State in her opening speech—which is that the rare and unique film or music can be included in the scope of the Bill. The hon. Member for Cardiff West also mentioned the issue of recent conflicts, including about how the Bill will apply in Afghanistan. That country has not yet ratified the convention, so the Bill’s application there will be limited.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and other hon. Members mentioned the cultural protection fund. Typically, he was incredibly understated about the role he played in securing the fund. In fact, he did not mention his role and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) in the establishment of the fund. I reassure him and other hon. Members that it is making good progress. My right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon rightly paid tribute to the MOD. The MOD has operated as though bound by the convention, so the Bill will have no material effect on the conduct of UK military operations.
The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) raised some interesting points. I just want briefly to say that we welcome his contribution and the support of the Scottish Parliament for the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage started this Bill, so I will finish it for him. He raised the issue of the monuments men. The Bill continues to enjoy the full support of the MOD and the armed forces with regard to the monuments men and women. The MOD has consulted international partners to identify best practice, and it has tasked the Army with examining the best means of delivering the unit. Initial thoughts suggest a small unit of up to 20 personnel from across all three services. I look forward to updating colleagues further in due course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) raised the question of Cyprus. I think we all agree that the division of Cyprus continues to cause difficulties across a range of issues, and that the most effective way to resolve them is through a just and lasting settlement. It remains important to ensure that the illegal export of cultural property is tackled and the property returned to its legal owners.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate for his support, and I welcome his sporting comparison with Formula 1. As he knows, I am hugely competitive, and the idea of our being the first permanent member of the UN Secretary Council to ratify the convention and the two protocols thrills me enormously. To keep the motorsport analogy running, we in the Department are the drivers on that grid, but the car has very much been built and developed by the Members of this House, including by my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newark has been rightly praised by all colleagues for his role on this Bill. He made the point that we are not the epicentre of illicit trade; nor do we want to be. He spoke with great knowledge about our art market, and about how the Bill may have an impact on auction houses. He will be aware that the market is very much self-regulated, and that is how it should remain. He will also be aware that the art market itself, through its codes of due diligence, sets the common principles of practice in dealing, with a checklist for dealers. The Bill will not change that. Regardless of whether they are large or small houses, dealers should always be concerned about whether cultural objects have been lawfully exported from any territory. Let us be clear that the dealing offence applies only to a very small but very special category of cultural objects—those which are of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) for their comments and support. My right hon. and learned Friend raised two additional points about the definitions of cultural property and of occupied territories. On occupied territories, it is for the Foreign Secretary to decide on a case-by-case basis. On the other definition, article 1 of the convention defines cultural property, but we will shortly hold a round-table meeting of experts to consider what cultural property should be covered in the UK.
Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham was right to pay tribute to the International Committee of the Blue Shield, a voluntary organisation made up primarily of cultural heritage experts keen to mitigate damage to cultural heritage during and after conflicts and natural disasters. My Department is grateful for the support the ICBS has given in shaping the Bill.
The cultural protection fund is work in progress. My hon. Friend asked some specific questions about its future application. I will ensure he gets updated on that on a regular basis.
This debate has shown how important cultural heritage is to all world citizens. The Bill offers the UK the chance to demonstrate its world leadership in the protection of cultural heritage. Through formal ratification we are sending a clear message of condemnation to those who intentionally destroy cultural heritage in times of conflict and those who seek to profit from the illegal trade in the cultural property and heritage of occupied territories. Combined with the cultural protection fund and the existing legislative framework designed to tackle illicit trade and terrorism-related activities, the Bill is another positive step towards ensuring our cultural heritage is protected for future generations. I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [Lords] (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [Lords]:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 17 November.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of any message from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Christopher Pincher.)
Question agreed to.
House of Commons Commission
That Dame Rosie Winterton be appointed to the House of Commons Commission in place of Mr Nicholas Brown under the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, as amended.—(Michael Ellis.)