Before we get on to our proceedings, it might be useful for hon. Members if I set out the differences between Report and Third Reading. Report stage, also known as consideration, is an opportunity for the whole House to consider what has been done during Committee. Members may table amendments, either as probing amendments to elicit more information or because they want to make changes to the Bill. The scope of the debate is restricted to the amendments that have been selected. Third Reading is the final opportunity for MPs to pass or reject the whole Bill. Members can speak about the Bill as a whole and the debate is much wider.
Members may wish to consider those points and then decide at which stage or stages they want to try to catch my eye. If they are on the list and do not want to speak to the amendments, it would be helpful if they could let me know.
Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
Protection of cultural objects on loan
I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 6, at end insert
“in relation to an object that is in—
(a) the United Kingdom for the purpose of public display in a temporary exhibition at a museum or gallery in England or Scotland, or
(b) England or Scotland for any of the purposes listed in subsection (7)(b) to (e).”
This amendment provides for the extension of the maximum protection period to apply only in relation to objects that are in the United Kingdom for the purpose of an exhibition in England or Scotland, or otherwise in England or Scotland for certain purposes.
Perhaps I should begin with a brief declaration of interest, Mr Speaker, in that as a hobby, I am a qualified Blue Badge guide—qualified to guide in such wonderful places as the British Museum, Westminster Abbey and others. I pay tribute to all those Blue Badge guides who work so hard to promote our country and our culture.
Amendment 1 provides for the extension of the maximum protection period to apply in relation only to objects that are in the United Kingdom for the purpose of an exhibition in England or Scotland or otherwise in England or Scotland for certain purposes. That follows a decision by the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland not to prioritise the legislative consent motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly, which would have allowed the powers to apply to Northern Ireland. Similarly, and following discussions between the UK and Welsh Governments, it has not been possible to reach agreement on how the power to extend the current 12-month period of protection will apply across the two nations. The Welsh Government have therefore declined to table a legislative consent motion for the Bill as it stands.
Amendment 1 and the other amendments, which are consequential on it, will ensure that the Bill addresses that situation while introducing the Bill’s important measures for application in England and Scotland.
Amendment 1 agreed to.
Amendments made: 2, page 1, line 14, leave out paragraph (b).
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.
Amendment 3, page 1, line 26, leave out paragraph (d).
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.
Amendment 4, page 2, line 10, leave out “two or more” and insert “both”.
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.
Amendment 5, page 2, line 21, at end insert—
“(4E) In relation to an object the maximum protection period for which is the period mentioned in subsection (4D)(c), references to the United Kingdom in subsections (4)(a), (5) and (8) are to be read as references to England or Scotland.”
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.
Amendment 6, page 2, line 23, at end insert—
“(4) In section 137 (interpretation), in subsection (10)—
(a) For “‘United Kingdom’” substitute “A reference to the United Kingdom or any part of the United Kingdom”;
(b) after “adjacent to the United Kingdom” insert “or that part of the United Kingdom”.—(Mel Stride.)
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 1.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
This is a short, two-clause Bill that extends the period of protection against court-ordered seizure for cultural objects on loan from abroad. The Bill amends part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, which provides immunity from seizure for cultural objects on loan from abroad in temporary exhibitions in public museums and galleries in the United Kingdom. Under section 134 of the Act, cultural objects that are on loan from abroad to feature in exhibitions held in UK museums and galleries approved under the Act are protected from court-ordered seizure for a period of 12 months from the date when the object enters the United Kingdom.
The legislation was prompted by events in 2005, when 54 paintings, including works by Picasso, Matisse and Cézanne, were seized by customs officers in Switzerland. The paintings, from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Russia, were impounded after they had left the town of Martigny in Switzerland. The Swiss authorities acted on a court order obtained by a Swiss import-export firm, Noga SA, which claimed that the Russian Government owed it several million dollars in unpaid debts relating to an oil-for-food deal signed in the early 1990s and which sought to enforce a Stockholm arbitration award in its favour.
The impounding of the paintings was just one of several attempts by Noga to recover its purported debt by seizing assets abroad. In 2000, Noga instituted proceedings to seize a Russian sailing ship that was due to take part in a regatta in France; it then sought to freeze the accounts of the Russian embassy in Paris. Both actions were dismissed by court rulings in favour of Russia. In 2001, it tried to appropriate two Russian military jets during the prestigious Le Bourget air show in France; that attempt also failed.
But it was Noga’s seizure of the Pushkin paintings that sparked the most outrage of all. The director of the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg said that
“works of art are now being used as hostages in trade disputes”.
Although the seizure order was quickly cancelled by Switzerland’s Federal Council, the Hermitage warned that no Russian museum would be able to send objects on loan to any overseas venue unless it received concrete legal guarantees that its artworks would not be seized during the loan period.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his Bill. Does he agree that the relatively minor change in it will give great reassurance to overseas lenders about their capacity and confidence to lend assets to the United Kingdom? In the Scottish Borders, across Scotland and across the UK, all our constituents will now benefit from being able to enjoy those assets, and the lenders will have the comfort of knowing that they are safe here.
My hon. Friend precisely pinpoints the advantage of the Bill, which is very narrowly defined but will provide extra certainty to those who lend artworks to England and Scotland and the museums therein that those artworks will be returned in due course. That comfort will drive further loans in future, which will be to the benefit of the people in this country, our tourism industry and our cultural offering in general.
The measures in the 2007 Act enable the UK Government, the Governments of Scotland and Wales and the Northern Ireland Executive to give guarantees for such loans in the United Kingdom. Since the Act’s introduction, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been responsible for approving institutions in England for immunity from seizure, and the devolved Administrations have similar powers for other parts of the United Kingdom. To gain approval under the Act, institutions must demonstrate that their procedures for establishing the provenance and ownership of objects are of a high standard.
In 2007, it was considered that 12 months was an adequate period to allow objects to arrive in the UK and to be returned following their inclusion in a temporary exhibition. Section 134(4) of the Act therefore provides:
“The protection continues…for not more than 12 months beginning with the day when the object enters the United Kingdom.”
The Bill has widely been received very positively. There have been very positive discussions with the devolved Governments, as I outlined in the debate on amendment 1 and my other amendments. There have been some changes in relation to Wales and Scotland, but the Bill has received support across the House; it went through Committee without Division, and my amendments on Report have been agreed to without Division. It is an important and widely supported set of measures.
The only exception in which the 12-month period can be extended is where an object suffers damage and repair work is needed. The legislation has been effective over the years and has enabled many exhibitions to be enriched by loans that the public might not otherwise have been able to see. There are now 38 institutions across the United Kingdom that have been approved for immunity from seizure and where objects have benefited from protection. Those 38 institutions are in England and Scotland; there are currently no approved museums in Wales and Northern Ireland.
For many of our regional museums, galleries and historic houses, temporary exhibitions are made up with a relatively small number of items from abroad. Does the right hon. Gentleman think we will expand on that number of 38 institutions, to allow many more of our regional museums and galleries to have immunity from seizure?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. My understanding is that the application process to become an approved institution or museum is relatively straightforward. It is rigorous in the sense that, clearly, a number of important aspects have to be met. I would defer to the Minister, who might tell us a little more in his concluding remarks about the guidance that is appropriate and how it operates in those circumstances.
As I was saying, my Bill was drafted to allow the period of protection to be extended beyond 12 months, at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for institutions in England or the relevant approving authority in the devolved nations. That was to ensure that the protection remains fit for purpose and can adequately respond to unforeseen circumstances, and to provide increased confidence in the UK system for those who generously share their cultural objects with UK audiences. The new power to extend would apply following an application from an approved museum or gallery, and extensions would be granted for a further three months initially, with a possibility of a further extension if that is considered necessary. The circumstances in which an extension may be considered will be set out in guidance.
I commend my right hon. Friend for getting the Bill before the House. It is clearly an important measure and it is important to support the tourism industry, which generates so many jobs. In what sort of circumstances might an institution want to apply for the extension? Have those circumstances happened in the past or is this just a precaution to deal with situations that might arise in the future?
I will come on to these points imminently, but let me immediately address the question my hon. Friend has posed. The circumstances have not arisen in the past in the UK, and the 12-month period has always been adequate. However, things such as the covid problems and the grounding of air flights—a volcanic eruption happened in Iceland some years ago and grounded flights—are causes for concern. The most important thing is that although we have not had a situation where we would have needed an extension in the past, there is no doubt that this comfort is required for those lenders who generously lend their cultural artefacts to our museums and galleries.
The devolved Administrations have all shown strong support for the purpose of the Bill. However , the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland has decided at this time that it is unable to prioritise a legislative consent motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly and that Northern Ireland must, regrettably, be removed from the Bill. That is unfortunate, although in practical terms it has little impact at present, as there are currently no approved museums in Northern Ireland, as I have said. Furthermore, following discussions between the UK and Welsh Governments it has not been possible to reach agreement on how the concurrent power to extend the 12-month period of protection will apply across the two nations, the Welsh Government have declined to table a legislative consent motion for the Bill as it stands. Therefore, the Bill has been amended to remove its application in Wales. As with Northern Ireland, there are currently no Welsh institutions approved for immunity from seizure, so in practical terms that has no direct impact at the moment. I am informed that a legislative consent motion has been successfully lodged in the Scottish Parliament so that the measures in the Bill can and will have effect in Scotland. Given the decisions taken in relation to Wales and Northern Ireland, the Bill has been amended so that the power in proposed new subsection (4A) to extend the protection period for three months applies only in relation to objects that are either in the UK for the purpose of a temporary exhibition in England or Scotland, or in England or Scotland for one
“of the purposes mentioned in subsection 7(b) to (e)”.
I know all hon. Members will be very familiar with them. That will limit the effect of any extension of the maximum protection period to England and Scotland. I emphasise that the 12-month protection period under the 2007 Act will continue to apply across the United Kingdom as it currently does.
Our museums have shown, particularly during the anxious times of the past two years, that they are incredibly good at managing unforeseen events. Where it has been possible, exhibitions have gone ahead and works returned to lenders on time. However, that has not always been the case and the restrictions and difficulties with international travel that we have all faced mean it has not always been possible to return loaned items as rapidly as desired once exhibitions have concluded.
As restrictions in the UK continue to be eased, museums will be able to plan with greater confidence. A number of exciting exhibitions are already planned for this year, including the Raphael exhibition at the National Gallery, Van Gogh’s self-portraits at the Courtauld Gallery and “Surrealism Beyond Borders” at Tate Modern. We can expect all those exhibitions to be popular with the public.
We may feel safer in going about our daily lives, but we should not forget mother nature’s ability to surprise us. On Second Reading, I raised the disruption to air travel caused by the Icelandic volcano that erupted in 2010; the eruption earlier this month of the Tongan volcano, which threw out a huge cloud of volcanic ash, is further evidence that we can be taken unawares and forced to change our plans, sometimes at very short notice.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his detailed exposition of the legislation, which I strongly support. He mentioned in his introduction the various circumstances in which it is deemed necessary for there to be protection against action taken overseas—in Switzerland, France and so on; is he aware of any UK cases of the court-ordered seizure of artworks that have come here for exhibitions? In what sort of circumstances might that happen in future? Would it be when law enforcement authorities are worried about, for example, the breaking of anti-money-laundering rules, which we have talked about? Or would it be families trying to get back goods that they think belong to them rather than to foreign galleries?
My hon. Friend is, of course, very familiar with the issue of economic crime as he serves with me on the Treasury Committee and we are currently looking into these very matters in great detail. I believe there probably have been instances in which there has been a need within our country’s borders to seize objects and cultural artefacts. I cannot give my hon. Friend specific examples, but there will have been such seizures and the capacity for them will remain—for example, under proceeds of crime legislation if artefacts are used to conceal drugs or similar or for something associated with money laundering. Seizures could still occur under certain circumstances, but those circumstances are narrowly defined and will not be changed in any way by this legislation.
I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will agree that the Bill is an important and worthy measure that will give our museums and galleries, and those who lend to them, greater comfort in knowing that the protection afforded under the 2007 Act can be extended if travel plans are disrupted and it is not possible to return loaned objects within the current 12-month period.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way again; he is being generous. I notice that the power to extend by three months can be repeated again and again—there is no limit on how many times the relevant authority can extend the period for three months. Why has my right hon. Friend phrased the legislation in that way? Would it not have been better to give the relevant authority the power to extend for a longer period?
I believe the three-month period came out of the consultation process. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been conducting an informal consultation with museums and the rest of the sector and it was felt that, in the context of the existing 12-month protection, three months was a reasonable and proportionate further extension. It is relatively straightforward for the Secretary of State, or for Scottish Ministers when the question relates to Scotland, to bring forward further extensions—it is not a lengthy or onerous process—so three months seemed a reasonable period of time. We have to put forward some kind of period for extension because that has to be addressed.
The Bill will ensure that our national museums and galleries can continue to host major exhibitions, which provide so much enjoyment for the many millions of people who visit them every year and which are vital as we continue to rebuild our economy. I commend the Bill to the House.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) on bringing forward this important Bill. My constituents care passionately about our arts sector, as do I, and I am enormously proud to represent Caterham, which is home to the world-famous East Surrey Museum.
The pandemic has been extremely hard on our cultural sector, but it has made me and my constituents realise how lucky we are that this country is home to some of the finest museums, galleries and exhibitions in the world. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s world-leading booster programme, our country was spared another lockdown and our cultural organisations were spared having to close their doors once more.
Some challenges remain, however, which is why I am delighted to support this iconic sector in any way I can, including through this Bill. Many objects have benefited from existing legislative protections, such as the baby mummified mammoth Lyuba, which was borrowed by the Natural History Museum from Russia in 2014; the terracotta warriors loaned from China to the National Museums Liverpool in 2018; and the Tutankhamun treasures loaned to the Saatchi Gallery in 2019.
Without protection from seizure, the loan of such objects would never have been granted; world-famous exhibitions and galleries may never have come to fruition; and the opportunity of blockbuster success for our museums and cultural sector would have been squandered. Although the risk of seizure in Britain is, of course, very low, legislative protection none the less ensures that our museums and galleries can reassure their lenders and retain their status as some of the most enviable across the globe.
We have heard about some of the exhibitions this year, such as at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, which will host several self-portraits of Van Gogh, three of which will be loaned from the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Art Institute of Chicago; the Tate Modern, which will host pieces from Vancouver, Berlin and New York; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, which will host a piece from Princeton University library. That gives a sense of how difficult it can be to weave together the wonderful exhibitions that we can all enjoy so much.
The prudent three-month extension that we are discussing will further boost Britain’s exhibition sector by increasing the confidence of international owners to lend to British institutions and will make the exhibition planning of our museums and galleries easier. Although the 12-month period of protection has generally provided a sufficient length of time for museum exhibitions to take place and for objects on loan to be returned in line with agreed schedules, on occasion, we can see how that would leave us vulnerable. We have heard a bit about international travel; we all remember the 2010 volcano eruption in Iceland; and we have debated in the House some of the real difficulties that we see in Tonga this year as well.
Supporting our cultural sector is about not just the arts but our economic strength. Over the years, I have witnessed many attempts by other countries to lure our brightest and best—our top talent—to other areas. It is our rich cultural fabric that acts as a magnet to this country. The museum sector alone also generates £2.64 billion of income and £1.4 billion of economic output to the national economy, which inputs to our £75 billion tourist economy. We know that several countries would almost certainly be unlikely to loan us objects if the protection was not in place.
As I have said, the risk of seizure in Britain is low, but I wholeheartedly support the Bill to ensure that all our opportunities in museums, galleries and exhibitions remain open. It will reassure those who lend to British institutions, secure our ability to host some of the finest cultural objects across the globe, and retain Britain’s status as a cultural superpower.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) on bringing forward the Bill. It is not just a London issue; many hon. Members who represent constituencies with historical links are appreciative of what we have in this country. For Hertford and Stortford—this is a link with covid—during the reign of Elizabeth I, this Parliament sat in Hertford castle. It moved there to escape the plague, so there is a link there, and we also have the amazing Great Bed of Ware, which resides in the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is one of its prime objects. Our cultural heritage is important to all of us, and all the people, and the constituencies that we represent.
I had no idea that my right hon. Friend was a Blue Badge guide. It is something I have always intended to do. I was honoured in 2018 to be one of the volunteers lighting candles in the moat of the Tower of London to commemorate the end of the first world war, and many of my fellow volunteers were Blue Badge guides, and it was very inspirational. I commend him on doing that; perhaps one day in the future I will join him.
I commend the importance of cultural objects, museums and galleries in this country. There are about 2,500 museums in the UK, and the UK’s tourist industry is worth about £75 billion. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) said, it makes a hugely important financial and economic contribution to our economy. The ability to put on exhibitions with new material from overseas is an important way for museums and galleries not only to survive—we have seen how important that is over the past couple of years—but to thrive and continue to attract a wide range of audiences, including tourists, and from all across the country, too. The purpose is to educate, to inform and to widen people’s knowledge of history and culture.
My hon. Friend raised the importance of tourism to the economy, which is right. As she said, it is about £75 billion, and the measures in the Bill will clearly help promote tourism. As fellow members of the Treasury Committee, she and I have been looking at the economic progress over the past two years since the pandemic, and clearly the economy has done a lot better than most people predicted at the beginning. We have had progressive easing of travel restrictions—now there are virtually none. Does she agree that that, along with the measures in the Bill, will help promote tourism in the UK and help it bounce back from a difficult time?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is amazing how we are coming out of this pandemic with a lot of support from the Government to the cultural sector, but as we come out of this pandemic, galleries and museums will effectively be competing for business with all sorts of other attractions. The certainty offered by the Bill will enable museums across the world to lend to each other with confidence, and that can only help with the important task of getting our cultural sector back up and running and making that economic contribution to the country that it always has made, and we hope it will continue to grow.
I remember—vaguely—one of the first major cultural exhibitions, which was the Tutankhamun exhibition in 1972. It began the phenomenon of great big blockbuster exhibitions, and from then they have gone from strength to strength. I think there were 1.6 million visitors to that exhibition. There were pictures of people queueing around the corner of the British Museum. That was what sparked this whole thing, and it is a vital part of the business model of museums and galleries. Exhibitions attract tourists and visitors, increase the cultural importance of institutions, attract sales in gift shops and so on—an important part of the business model—and they attract sponsors.
The impact of large exhibitions cannot be underestimated, and their contribution goes beyond money: they are extremely important to inclusivity in the cultural sector. Many people in this country cannot afford to go abroad to see important artefacts, so to bring them to this country could and should be seen as part of the Government’s levelling-up agenda, by enabling everybody to see them. Many museums and galleries are free; sometimes people have to pay for the exhibitions, but it is about the accessibility to things that people, particularly young people, could not otherwise see.
We have seen some fascinating exhibitions focusing on LGBT history and culture, and they are not exclusive. We had an amazing David Bowie exhibition a few years ago, which was hugely popular—I think one of the most popular in the past 20 years. Exhibitions are not exclusive; they are very inclusive. If people want to see indigenous Australian art or African art, those are important things that can be achieved only with the security this Bill helps to provide.
Order. I have been quite lenient, but this should not become a political broadcast for what the Government are doing. We have to be careful. I know it is Friday and we are a bit more relaxed, but we must try. This is about seizure of objects, and I have allowed all the exhibitions and everything, but we must be a bit careful that we do not totally make this about patting the Government on the back for everything they are doing.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I will say briefly to my hon. Friend that I agree, and move quickly on. In fact I will close here, because I am aware that others want to speak, but I emphasise that in so many different areas—financial, cultural and practical—this Bill goes a long way towards helping to secure all those benefits with more certainty than in the past.
I will try not to make this a political broadcast, Mr Speaker, but stick to the subject matter.
I rise to support this Bill, which I know will be of great reassurance to museums and galleries in the Black Country and the wider west midlands, particularly because I spent much of my youth and adult life in museums and galleries. They are a joy. That is what I used to do: we did not have the internet or those exciting things that absorb us now, attached to a phone. We used to get out there and see incredible exhibitions. My hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson) mentioned the blue badge, and I may look into that myself—it sounds very interesting.
The coronavirus pandemic underscores why this legislation is needed. Back in March 2020, no one could have foreseen the disruption to international travel that would occur. With nearly all overseas flights suspended, objects on loan to British museums could not be returned to their country of origin. As a result, the artefacts were at risk of being left unprotected by the current 12-month period of protection from seizure. By changing existing legislation, this Bill will help to mitigate those unforeseen disruptions to the timely return of artefacts on loan from lenders abroad.
However, the Bill is more than a contingency for unforeseen events: it strengthens the partnerships between our museums and international institutions by providing a greater degree of certainty and building trust. Many foreign lenders insist on immunity from seizure when lending artefacts, so the Bill is crucial to ensuring that international owners have the confidence to lend culturally significant objects to British institutions, in the knowledge that they will not be at risk of inadvertently being left unprotected.
Museums and galleries across the country and in the west midlands stage incredible exhibitions, many of them only made possible by the borrowing of objects from international lenders. These international exhibitions are vital to both enhancing their existing collections, and attracting new audiences. Other hon. Members have stolen my thunder, because I was going to mention Tutankhamun myself. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) mentioned the 2019 exhibition, which I believe marked the 100-year anniversary and was the last visit. Some of us remember the 1972 exhibition, which I remember as a child of the time—my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson) mentioned that, and I think it quite unbelievable that she can remember it. It was absolutely thrilling, the excitement of it all, and there were record crowds of 1.7 million people. I remember the black and white pictures of the queues going round—I think we used the word Egytpomania at the time—and it was so exciting. It was an exhibition of the beautiful painted wood torso of the young king, exquisite domestic objects, and the glint of gold everywhere. I seem to remember that exhibition coming to Birmingham, which is where I was born and bred, but when I did a bit of research I could not find it. Nevertheless, I believe it moved around slightly. Imagine if that incredible exhibition had been blighted by a pandemic.
The Bill provides a greater degree of certainty, and makes it easier for British museums and galleries to plan their exhibitions. It will help to ensure that the UK continues to be able stage international exhibitions, with the finest artefacts from around the globe. Many such exhibitions are made possible only through the borrowing of objects from international lenders.
I now want to tell the tale of an artefact of great distinction and notoriety that resided in the midlands: an 8 foot tall, 890 kg fibreglass statue commissioned for display in Birmingham in 1972, as part of the sculpture for public places scheme in partnership with the Arts Council of Great Britain. It was commissioned to make something city-oriented, and the sculptor chose King Kong—I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) remembers the King Kong that resided in Birmingham. I do not want hon. Members to do a quick Google now, as I will be told off by Mr Speaker, but when they leave the Chamber, they can see the incredible artefact that was in Birmingham and supposed to represent it. It was down to the sculptor’s association with New York City, and he created it for their own petty reasons. It was displayed in the heart of the city for many years—imagine if it was actually seized! It was something of a notoriety, and I loved it as a child growing up. We used to drive round to look at it. Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that King Kong lives on, and is now retired in Penrith.
I welcome the Bill for non-UK artefacts, because the ability for museums and galleries to stage international exhibitions is vital for the tourism sector in the UK. Tourism is a vital part of the local economy in Stourbridge, and in the wider Borough of Dudley. More than £534 million was spent by visitors to the area over 7 million trips, supporting more than 8,000 jobs. The west midlands is home to plenty of fantastic museums and galleries, such as the Glasshouse Heritage Centre in Stourbridge’s historic glass quarter. That heritage attraction is a real gem in my constituency. It is run by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, and it hosts a wide array of artefacts that tell the incredible 400-year story of glassmaking in Stourbridge. I know that the Bill will be welcome by institutions such as the Glasshouse Heritage Centre, as the arts sector makes a strong recovery after the pandemic. The Bill will be of great reassurance to museums and galleries in my region, and the wider west midlands. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) for introducing the Bill, and long live King Kong.
As I said in my earlier intervention, I strongly welcome the Bill. That is not because any of the 38 institutions that might take advantage of it are in my constituency—I have not checked the full list of institutions, but I am pretty sure none of them is there. However, I know that a lot of my constituents enjoy these big exhibitions, as some of my hon. Friends have said, and I declare an interest because I also went to the 1972 Tutankhamun exhibition at the British Museum. I remember being part of the big queues outside it with my parents, and I have very vivid memories of seeing those Egyptian artefacts. It is incredibly important that we carry on having these big blockbuster exhibitions, by giving foreign galleries and institutions the reassurance they need when lending to the UK. I have seen other international blockbuster exhibitions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) mentioned the Terracotta army. That has also been to the UK and I went to see it.
The Bill is especially important because of the disruptions we have seen to international air travel. Indeed, I have personal experience of that. When the Icelandic volcano erupted I was in Malta, on a little holiday with my family in a nice hotel by a swimming pool. Then the airspace closed and I was condemned to stay in Malta at this lovely hotel for another week before a hole emerged in the volcanic ash cloud and we managed to escape to Toulouse and drive back to the UK. So clearly disruption to international travel does happen—I have experienced that myself.
The other thing that no one has mentioned yet is that we are in a period of rising international tensions. We have had debates here about possible events in Ukraine. Clearly tensions are mounting between the west and China. Many of the blockbuster exhibitions that we have and want to attract come from those two countries—for example, the terracotta army from China. Other hon. Members have mentioned the Hermitage Museum, which is one of the world’s biggest museums, with an incredible wealth of exhibits that we may want to bring to the UK. In a time of rising international tension, we want to be able to give reassurance to galleries and museums in other countries that they can lend to us in full safety.
I want to give one little anecdote about the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. If people have never visited it, I strongly recommend it if they can ever get there. It is one of the most extraordinary buildings on the planet and a real tribute to the—I am not quite sure how to put this—wealth of the Tsarist regime, which built the winter palace. It has rooms that are made out of gold, malachite and everything else. The building itself is as astonishing as any of the exhibits in there, and it is vast. It has such a wealth of art that the Russian empire and then the Soviets built up and put in there. A lot of that art—there are Picassos and so on—is stuff that we would want to see in the UK.
There are also a lot of Russian icons, and this is relevant to today’s debate. It is illegal in Russia to export any of the icons, but there is a really busy industry in making replica icons that people might want to exhibit at home. The gift shop of the Hermitage Museum sells replicas of the icons that are on display there. As it is not allowed to export real icons, you get a certificate of fakeness when you buy a replica—a very nicely done certificate saying, “We confirm this is a fake”—and you can then export it. I bought a little icon which is proudly in my sitting room now. When I went out through Moscow airport—I went back to Moscow—the customs official uncovered it, and I said, “Ah, but it is fake, look I’ve got a certificate of fakeness.” The official said, “But this certificate of fakeness, it could be fake.” [Laughter.] Clearly there are big concerns about exporting and expropriating different bits of cultural heritage.
The Bill is important because of concerns about air travel and rising international tensions. It is important to continue blockbuster exhibitions, for all the economic reasons that various hon. Friends have mentioned. Tourism is a £75 billion industry, and blockbuster exhibitions are important for that. People come from other countries to the UK to see those exhibitions. One reason why the Bill is important is that if the Hermitage Museum or the Chinese Government are thinking about where their exhibits might go, they will go to only one or two places in the world. They want to lend them to the place that can give the greatest reassurance. The fact that we can provide this extra reassurance makes it more likely that they will agree to UK institutions as opposed to institutions elsewhere.
I want to end on one little note that is not totally relevant to this debate, but almost is. There is a reciprocal debate about what we do with the Elgin marbles; the Minister may or may not want to comment on this later. We have the Elgin marbles here in the UK, and there is obviously a big debate about whether they should or should not go back to Greece. I do not want to reopen that whole debate, but there is an issue about whether we could lend them to Greece for an exhibition and what sort of reassurance we could get that we would get them back. That is a mirror image of the legislation that we are talking about today. I put that there; maybe we could encourage other countries to give similar legal reassurances.
I fully support the Bill and the amendments that my right hon. Friend tabled. I think we should all say Aye to it.
It is a privilege, as always, to follow the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne). I congratulate the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) on his hard work on the Bill. In September, I was pleased to speak on Second Reading in support of the Bill and its sensible and straightforward changes, and I warmly welcome the opportunity to briefly do so again on Third Reading.
The enforced closure of cultural venues during the pandemic emphasised to people across the country, including—as we have heard—many in this House, the true value that those venues and the exhibitions and pieces in them can provide our society. While restrictions were in place over some of the last couple of years, the learning opportunities and inspiration provided by those venues were well and truly missed. Thanks to our apparent recovery from the pandemic—we all hope that is the case—I believe 2022 can be the year that the people of this country rediscover our world-leading museums and exhibitions, and the venues can make a strong recovery.
As we are aware, under section 134 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, cultural objects from abroad on loan to UK museums and galleries approved under that Act are protected from seizure or forfeiture for 12 months from the date that the object enters the UK. That provides international lenders with reassurance they may consider vital, even though the risk of seizure and forfeiture in this country would be incredibly small.
The disruption caused by the pandemic, especially to international transport, has highlighted concern about unforeseen delays to the return of loaned objects to their country of origin. Under the current rules they would, in theory, be at risk of being unprotected should the 12-month limit expire before the borrowing institutions can arrange their return. I am sure many of us feel the pain of those cultural objects, having been denied family trips abroad, as I have been now for 27 months.
At present, the only way the 12-month period can be extended is when an object suffers damage and subsequent repair work is required. It is right to allow the relevant Minister the discretion to extend the standard protection period by up to three months, where necessary. That will provide the owners of those loaned objects a greater degree of confidence and certainty that their objects are protected, and thereby boost the UK’s reputation as a cultural magnet.
I have listened with interest to hon. Members’ references to museums in their areas around the country. We heard, for instance, about the terracotta warriors, which were on display four years ago in the National Museums in Liverpool, an important city for my constituents, being not far from north Wales. Such exhibitions provide vital income, as we have heard, for the centres. They also educate and inspire many of those who come to see them.
At a personal level, as a Welsh MP, I am disappointed that the Welsh Government have been unable to come to an agreement on the matter with DCMS, even though the Scottish Government have apparently done so. I worry that that will mean that, in future, international artefacts will be less likely to be displayed in Wales. However, the priority must be to progress the Bill to ensure that objects in the principal museums in the United Kingdom—in reality, in the major cities of England and Scotland—are protected.
The steps set out in the Bill are as important as they are reasonable. As the impact of the 2007 Act showed, the improvement of legislation on the seizure of cultural objects has a practical, real-world effect on our cultural venues and the exhibitions they can host. The Bill will help ensure that the UK continues to attract some of the most significant cultural pieces from across the world. For that and all the other reasons I have mentioned, I support the Bill and wish it success in its passage through the other place.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) and to speak about this straightforward and reasonable Bill, which has been designed in a specific and targeted way, and will only help to support a sector that, like so many others, has been affected during the pandemic.
Our museums and cultural institutions in the United Kingdom do an incredible job. They have the power to transcend barriers, to preserve and to educate. Our museums, galleries and cultural institutions teach us about the past—the good, the bad and the ugly. By learning about the past, we can be inspired for the future to do better or learn from past mistakes. They stimulate our brains and make us smarter.
My Dudley North constituents are lucky that we have many rich cultural institutions on our doorstep: the Black Country Living Museum, Dudley zoo and castle, the Wren’s Nest site of special scientific interest, the Dudley canal tunnel trust, nature reserves, our microbreweries and pubs, and our bowling greens and parks. The list really does go on.
Order. I think I might have to intervene first. We are stretching it to mention pubs and zoos; the Bill is about museums. I know Members want to get it all on the record, but I would be more than happy if the hon. Lady intervened to say something that might get us back on track.
Order. The Bill is about museums. It does not say that we can advertise things. I could say that Astley Hall in Chorley is beautiful and my constituency has good gin, but I would be totally out of order, because the Bill is nothing to do with pubs. I would not expect Members to follow that example.
The past year has undoubtedly had a huge impact on this sector in many ways, but with resilience and Government support such as the culture recovery fund and the zoo animals fund, our museums, zoos and entertainment venues will once again see us all flocking back to them.
Across the country, and indeed internationally, our museums and galleries loan artefacts and exhibitions to each other, which makes exploring culture far more accessible than it has ever been before, and I want to see more of that. I am not just the Member of Parliament for Dudley North—the heart of the Black country and birthplace of the industrial revolution—but the trade envoy to Brazil. I would love to see more British exhibitions taking place in Brazil and vice versa. How cool would it be, ahead of the 200-year anniversary of Brazil’s independence this September, to have even more access, in the UK—with nearly 200,000 Brazilians living here—to learn about Brazil’s rich cultural history?
Under section 134 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, cultural objects that are on loan to UK museums and galleries from abroad are protected from seizure and/or forfeiture for a period of 12 months from the date that the object enters the UK. The Bill will go further and offer yet more invaluable support in the cultural sector.
Our cultural sector has been hard hit by the pandemic in more ways than simply not being allowed visitors. Disruptions to international travel during the coronavirus pandemic created problems beyond limiting tourists. They meant that loaned objects due to be returned to their country of origin were unexpectedly delayed in the UK. Those objects, unable to travel out of the UK, were left at risk of being unprotected should the 12-month limit expire before the borrowing institutions could arrange their return. Yet it is not just a global pandemic that can create such issues. As we have heard, environmental factors such as smoke clouds from volcanic eruptions have also proven to be problems.
Although the risk of seizure and forfeiture is extremely small, several countries place great importance on having those protections. Providing greater certainty about protection, and the knowledge that it can be extended at the discretion of the relevant authorities, will increase the confidence of owners of loaned objects, and will provide a boost to the UK’s exhibition sector.
We all deserve the security of protecting our institutions for generations to come. We have a hunger for cultural appreciation, and we should be doing whatever we can to ensure that it continues. On that note, Mr Speaker, I would love to invite you to a pub in my constituency—[Laughter]—to appreciate the cultural impacts that it has on my local area.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley North (Marco Longhi) on inviting you to his local hostelry, Mr Speaker—but I also greatly, and gratefully, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride). He is the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, and today he has told us about his cultural skills. He is clearly a man who uses both sides of his brain.
The UK has some of the finest museums in the world, which play a significant role in educating and inspiring people of all ages. They are also critical to our £75 billion tourism industry, which supports 4 million jobs. In Leicester, we are proud to have the Richard III Museum. Another museum, in Charnwood, features a wide range of exhibits reflecting the history, geology, archaeology and industries of our area. Of course, our museums also have great relationships with other institutions around the world, allowing for the import and export of cultural objects for temporary exhibition to help broaden our understanding of different cultures, as well as other countries’ understanding of ours. That, I think, is vitally important. We have talked about the Tutankhamun exhibition of the 1970s. The recent Treasures of the Golden Pharoah exhibition featured 150 authentic pieces from the tomb of King Tutankhamun, 60 of which travelled outside Egypt for the first time. Such exhibitions are also an important source of revenue for museums, and help to ensure that visitors come back.
We must do everything we can to support museums, especially given the impact that the pandemic has had on them. I welcomed the nearly £2 billion that the Government provided over the course of the pandemic to support our cultural sector, along with the original £1.57 billion that the Cultural Recovery Fund announced in July 2020. I want to record my thanks for the funds that came to my constituency, including funding for Great Central Railway and the Loughborough Bellfoundry, the only working bell-foundry and bell-foundry museum in the country.
I am pleased that the Bill will support the sector by addressing another issue that has arisen from the pandemic, that of culturally significant objects being left at risk of seizure or forfeiture owing to the major unforeseen disruption to international travel. As has been pointed out, that also happened in 2010 as a result of the volcanic eruption. Although the risk of seizure or forfeiture is extremely small, we know that a number of countries ascribe great importance to having adequate protection in place—and, I imagine, their insurance would be affected. By giving the Secretary of State power to extend the period of protection from seizure and forfeiture for a further period of up to three months, we will ensure that international owners retain confidence in the system and continue to lend to our great institutions.
May I ask the Minister to clarify two points? First, might one reason for that extension be the popularity of a touring exhibition and the need for it to spend more time in the United Kingdom? Secondly, is the agreement of both parties necessary for the extension to be validated?
I congratulate, in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride). In a sense the Bill is very technical, simply extending a law that is already in force, but it is seems significant at a time when our country is going through a period of great change.
Earlier, Mr Speaker objected to a reference to global Britain, suggesting that that was some sort of party political point. I do not think it is. Surely, even Opposition Members believe in the UK playing a successful role in the world, and I think it matters enormously that we are doing this; it is an important signal of our commitment to global exchange.
I hope that it is not just because he is the Chair of the Treasury Committee that my right hon. Friend is promoting the Bill. There have been lots of references to the boost to GDP from our role as a place of cultural exchange; my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) also made the pounds, shillings and pence argument, rather depressingly. It is a fair point—£75 billion is not to be sneezed at—but surely, the real value of what we are proposing and, I hope, voting through today is the value of cultural exchange. It is a great thing. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne), who is also on the Treasury Committee, made the point that at a time of tension with Russia and China, increasing the opportunities for exchange of cultural objects with those countries matters enormously.
While I enthuse about the role of the UK, and particularly of the London museums, as a meeting place for the world’s artefacts, surely the real value of the United Kingdom in the cultural sphere lies in our local museums. I echo the point made by the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) about the importance of regional museums. My hon. Friends the Members for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson) and for East Surrey made the same point about their local museums. Those were good efforts, but surely the Wiltshire Museum is the one to mention. We have in Devizes the museum that houses the oldest artefacts in the United Kingdom. We talk about the terracotta soldiers and Tutankhamun’s tomb and the Elgin marbles, but those are flashily new objects—box fresh—by comparison with the Neolithic artefacts that were dug out of the long barrow at East Kennett and, of course, our great stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury, which are 5,000 years old.
I welcome the renewed focus on the United Kingdom as a place of cultural exchange, and I hope to welcome the terracotta army to Devizes at some point.
I will be brief; we have had an extensive debate this morning, ranging from Tutankhamun and Richard III to pubs and zoos, so I do not intend to detain the House much longer.
On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) set out our support for the Bill. We think it is a sensible and proportionate measure that will provide useful safeguards for the ability of our cultural institutions—the British Museum and galleries, museums and libraries up and down the country—to stage the kinds of exhibitions that add so much to our cultural and tourism offer. We reaffirmed our support in Committee, and the Opposition support the measures before us today. It therefore remains only for me to congratulate the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) on bringing the Bill to this stage and to wish him success as it moves forward.
Many thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) for introducing the Bill and for speaking so eloquently about it today. Indeed, I thank all those who have contributed to today’s debate.
The Bill will provide an important improvement to an already worthy tool, which is used by many of our fantastic cultural institutions across England and Scotland. The useful recap that my right hon. Friend provided, setting out the history of how immunity from seizure legislation was first arrived at in the UK, was very important. It emphasised the confidence that such measures have built, and the willingness and trust that our international partners now have when they lend their objects for temporary exhibitions in our approved museums and galleries.
Many international lenders require immunity from seizure protection when they loan cultural objects to other countries as a matter of course, and it is often an uncompromisable condition of their loan that the object is protected in that way during its stay. If that condition were not met, we would risk not having those very objects that we want to come here. The protection provides a legal assurance that a lender’s objects will be protected from court-ordered seizure for a limited period while in the UK. Many countries have their own similar version of immunity from seizure, for the same reasons, enabling us to lend abroad.
The process that sits behind immunity from seizure protection is necessarily robust. To use the protection, museums and galleries must go through a rigorous application process to attain approved status. That involves demonstrating that they are an ethical organisation, that they follow proper due diligence processes for examining the history of loans in, and that they will not borrow items if there is any suspicion that they were stolen, looted or illegally obtained. For the protection to apply to objects they are borrowing, approved institutions must also publish detailed information about such objects at least four weeks before the objects enter the UK. That diligent work is all part of the high standard of professional practice that our museums carry out as part of their loan procedures. It is fantastic that 38 museums and counting have achieved immunity from seizure approved status. That is a testament to their excellent track records and their continued commitment to upholding the highest standards of due diligence.
Many Members highlighted the very important fact that this is not a London issue. Many museums that provide the service are outside London, including Manchester Art Gallery, the National Museums of Scotland, Wolverhampton’s museums and museums in Liverpool, Norfolk and elsewhere around the country. Therefore, the important points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Hertford and Stortford (Julie Marson), for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies) and others about this not being a London issue are very well taken and noted. My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Claire Coutinho) highlighted that fact by giving specific examples of where the protection has already meant we have had loans from incredible institutions around the world, with many more coming this year.
Many Members also mentioned, rather interestingly, the issue with the Icelandic volcano. I did note, however—maybe you can help, Mr Deputy Speaker—that none of us were actually brave enough to name the volcano.
There’s always somebody, isn’t there, Mr Deputy Speaker? [Laughter.] I was just about to say that, but there is no point anymore.
Several Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Stourbridge (Suzanne Webb) and for South Cambridgeshire (Anthony Browne) and others, mentioned their memories, decades later, of visiting the Tutankhamun exhibition or even just watching the news coverage of some incredible exhibitions. That shows the importance and embeddedness of these events and the impact they can have on us, in particular when very young.
The 12-month limit of protection was an issue raised specifically by approved museums and galleries during the more restricted periods we all faced during the pandemic. What would happen to loans approaching 12 months if coronavirus measures and global travel delays meant the borrower could not return them in time, despite all their efforts to comply with regulations and to satisfy the owner’s conditions of the loan? The issue is most relevant to our approved museums and galleries in England and Scotland, as the current users of immunity from seizure protection. As the world begins to feel a little more certain again, I am sure that the recent experiences have taught us to expect the unexpected. As we continue to support the sector’s recovery, it is important that we consider measures such as this. An option to extend the length of time that objects can be covered by immunity from seizure is a sensible contingency to have, especially in uncertain times.
The proposal for such extensions to be considered on a case-by-case basis where needs arise is welcomed, as it will allow for some flexibility. Assessing scenarios in that way will also help to ensure that the extensions are used only where absolutely necessary, and that in the majority of cases objects on loan to approved museums in England or Scotland are returned in a timely manner and within the standard 12 months.
Several Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), raised questions about guidance and when that would be implemented. Policy guidance for museums on how they should apply for extensions and in what circumstances is in development at an official level and will be a collaborative effort with officials in the Scottish Government to ensure they provide succinct practical steps for approved museums to follow in the event that they cannot return objects in time. It will set out broad examples of acceptable circumstances where an extension protection may be justified, for example where long-term national or international travel disruption is expected to last beyond the expiration of the 12-month loan period.
As I have said, it is regrettable that the Bill will not have effect in Northern Ireland and Wales. There are currently no museums in Wales and Northern Ireland approved under the 2007 Act, but the Bill does not change their ability to apply for approved status in the future, and of course any objects loaned by approved museums in Northern Ireland and Wales will be covered by the standard 12-month period available to all approved museums.
The Government are content that the drafting of the Bill offers the best protection to cultural objects. I am pleased, therefore, to confirm once again that the Government welcome and support this private Member’s Bill, and I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Devon for introducing it.
With the leave of the House, I would like to express my gratitude to various individuals who have assisted me in bringing in this Bill. First, I thank the officials at DCMS for their advice and, in particular, Mark Caldon. I thank the Clerks who assisted me with process and particularly Adam Mellows-Facer, who is no longer at the Table so I am sparing his blushes. I thank the Members who helped to take the Bill through the Bill Committee. I thank the Minister and the Opposition, including the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Jeff Smith), for his very generous words a moment ago. I thank all those who spoke on Third Reading and crammed in so many other Government policies; this is a narrow Bill, but it seems to me that it promises a very great deal beyond its intention. I also thank in advance Lord Vaizey, who will sponsor the Bill, and all those who work in our museums and galleries and who enrich the lives of so many of us.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.