My Lords, I am delighted to introduce this Bill. I declare an interest: my entire family, alas, in Latvia and Lithuania—every one of them—was murdered by the Nazis and had all their possessions stolen by their killers. So, sadly, I understand very well the need for survivors and their descendants to be able to reclaim at least some of what they lost and had stolen.
Last month, as chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, I joined our Government’s delegation at the Holocaust Era Assets Conference in Prague. It underlined the urgent need for restitution of a range of assets for families of the victims of the Holocaust, a process which began with the Nazi Gold Conference here in London in 1997. Our excellent head of delegation in Prague, Susan Hyland, referred in her statement to the conference to the passage of this Bill and to the Government’s support for it, support which is hugely appreciated. Indeed, the need to ensure that this kind of legislation is passed across Europe is the key reason why we were in Prague.
The Bill provides a mechanism for the return to their rightful owners of cultural objects held in national collections, objects which were looted during the Nazi period from 1933 to 1945. It gives trustees of national museums the same power to return an object as that held by governing bodies of other public museums, so will correct an anomaly in relation to national collections, which are currently prevented by law from deaccessioning.
I both commend and am grateful to my friend Andrew Dismore, Member of Parliament, for his hard work in introducing this Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons and getting it through. He has campaigned on this issue for many years; indeed, we worked with others back in 2000 to set up the Spoliation Advisory Panel. I remember arguing the case for settling the very first claim, for a painting now in the possession of the Tate Gallery, “A View of Hampton Court Palace” by Jan Griffier the Elder. I helped those who set the panel’s terms of reference and remain entirely supportive of its continuingly important work.
As I have said, the Government’s support for the Bill is welcome and much appreciated. I especially thank the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Barbara Follett, and her officials for their commitment to the legislation. I know that the Government have long made clear their agreement in principle to legislate and that they had hoped to change the law with a heritage protection Bill, which unfortunately was not in the Queen’s Speech. I thank also the Under-Secretary of State’s predecessor, Margaret Hodge, for her efforts when we met and corresponded about this, and I thank all our political parties for their support for the legislation. Anne Webber, from the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, and Jon Benjamin, from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, deserve special praise for lending their considerable expertise, and for working so hard over so many years to help us to pass the Bill.
Two conditions must be satisfied for there to be deaccession. First, the spoliation panel must recommend that the object be returned and, secondly, the Secretary of State, and Scottish Ministers in the case of Scottish museums, must approve the recommendations. In the event that these conditions are met, the national museums’ trustees then have a discretionary power whether to return the object. So it is clear that there must be consensus for there to be restitution; the Bill cannot operate where there is any disagreement.
The Bill applies only to a finite list of institutions, outlined in Clause 1, and is applicable only to the Nazi era. As Andrew Dismore said:
“It is not a Trojan horse for any other art works or cultural items”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/6/09; col. 1043.]
Clause 4 ensures that the legislation ceases to have effect after 10 years, to give sufficient time for claimants to come forward while giving the necessary long-term certainty to our national collections. It is estimated that there may be anything up to 20 looted items in our museums.
It is clear that the law as it stands is leading to unjust and unfair outcomes, and two cases, both heard by the spoliation panel in 2008, demonstrate why. A claim was made for two pieces of porcelain from a Viennese collection, one in the Fitzwilliam Museum and the other in the British Museum. The former was restituted, but the panel believed that it could not recommend restitution of the second piece, because it was said that there was no sign that the Government were going to change the law. It therefore awarded—happily—an ex gratia payment.
This vital and, I hope and believe, uncontroversial Bill prevents similar inconsistencies and allows at least some survivors and their families finally to recover what they have lost. I was delighted that the Bill received all-party support in the House of Commons; I hope that it will receive the same united support in this House. It provides a clear, narrowly defined and consensus-oriented proposition, with appropriate safeguards, for deaccession from national collections. I wholeheartedly commend it to the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am delighted to speak in support of this Bill and I congratulate my noble friend on bringing it before us today—the day of his birthday lunch. As he has said, this is a simple Bill to enable trustees to return cultural objects looted by the Nazis to their rightful owners. Quite rightly, safeguards are built in and it still leaves intact the rights and responsibilities of trustees and directors to look after the cultural objects under their supervision and control.
It would have been quite easy to do nothing. After all, these events occurred some 70 years ago and the objects are few in number. It says something about the values of our Government and our country that we are taking action to right a wrong and to correct an injustice that occurred some time ago. However, the need for the Bill has been apparent for some time. Had it appeared earlier, other countries could not have used our delay as an excuse for their inaction. But it is now on its way in a dignified and trusting manner, which does not involve lawyers and all their costly and lengthy adversarial arguments but relies on the good sense and discretion of those who make up the spoliation panel. As my noble friend said, they have worked hard and conscientiously for some years. I, too, would like to place on record my thanks for, and congratulations on, their work.
My noble friend will remember that this was the way in which the Government righted another wrong 10 years ago. He will remember that, 10 years ago, I announced from that Dispatch Box the enemy property payment scheme, which appointed a similar independent panel under the chairmanship of my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell to adjudicate on claims for compensation to victims of Nazi persecution whose property was confiscated by the British Government during the Second World War under the trading with the enemy legislation. Many of the claimants were of course Jews fleeing persecution.
My noble friend has indicated that there are few objects relating to the Bill; the number 20 has been mentioned in another place. When the enemy property payment scheme was announced, there appeared to be few possible claimants then, but the existence of the scheme and the attendant publicity stimulated and encouraged others to come forward, many with modest but justified claims, and not only for money—one was for a gold cigarette case, another for small items of jewellery sent through the post. I hope that the same will happen again and that this Bill will encourage more people with justified claims to come forward. Perhaps they have not come forward earlier because the objects are modest, but those objects may well have family or sentimental value to them and their descendants.
I say now as I said 10 years ago how much I welcome the low-key and dignified manner in which these wrongs are being put right. Some of the objects were taken because the owners were Jewish. Dealing with the return of these cultural objects in a high-profile manner would only add to the feeling that all Jews are victims. That is why I approve not only of the Bill but also of the manner in which it will work. Perhaps I should declare that I myself am an immigrant. One thing that immigrants do not want to pass on to their children is the feeling that we are victims owed something by society. On the contrary, we want them to feel fortunate that they have an opportunity to contribute to life and society in this country. The Chief Rabbi made exactly the same point in his latest book. So we must make certain that the return of these objects does not further the victim culture.
The Nazis took many objects of Jewish culture and banned works of Jewish composers and writers. They even banned the music of Mendelssohn. The intention was to erase the Jewish cultural presence. In this intention, they did not succeed. The rich heritage of Jewish culture and the effect of the Jewish presence on European culture continue. For the past 10 years, the European Association for Jewish Culture has awarded over 100 grants to European artists, writers and composers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who have created new works based on the European Jewish cultural experience. The association is to be congratulated on its work in adding new works to a rich heritage. This has always seemed to me a more positive response to attacks on Jewish culture.
As my noble friend said, there is still lots to do, but this is a welcome step in the right direction. I thank all those who have worked on this Bill for their hard work and endeavour and I wish it a quick passage through your Lordships’ House. I support the Bill.
My Lords, I very much welcome this Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Janner, on bringing it forward. I declare an interest as a member of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, since it was first set up by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, under the extremely able chairmanship of Sir David Hirst, to whom I pay warm tribute. He has worked extraordinarily hard with the other members of the panel, but the burden of the work has largely fallen on him.
The terms of reference of the panel are as narrow as the terms of reference of the Bill. The concern of the panel has been extremely limited; it has been to recommend a fair solution to cases in which cultural objects were looted, stolen or disposed of by forced sale in the Nazi era—that is, between the beginning of 1933 and the end of 1945. The panel has examined nine cases that have been referred to it voluntarily since it was set up. In three of these, the preferred solution would have been restoration of the objects to their rightful owners, but in two cases out of the three this was not possible because of the law against deacquisitioning that governed the national museums of England and Scotland. The law does not cover any museums in Wales or Northern Ireland.
In 2000, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport recommended that legislative barriers that prevented morally proper restoration should be removed. In the same year, the advisory panel recommended that permissive legislation should be introduced. The panel’s recommendation in 2000 followed a particularly tricky and fascinating case, in which not an individual but a library was claiming restoration of a rare Beneventan missal, apparently looted after the destruction of Monte Cassino, sold to Sotheby’s by a returning British officer, now deceased, bought by the British Museum from Sotheby’s and then in due course passed on to the British Library, where it now is. The missal was extremely valuable as a beautiful example of a kind of local script that gave, along with the words of the Mass, a kind of indication of how these words should be sung. It was a kind of early attempt at written musical notation. The view of the panel was that this priceless object belonged in the place where scholars were most likely to benefit from and enjoy it. There are other examples in the same area of Italy of this kind of script, although not exactly the same. The case did not seem to fall exactly under the terms of reference, because there is no particular evidence that the missal was looted by the Nazis, nor was it a Jewish family who was claiming restoration. Nevertheless, it fell squarely within the time of our remit, and the looting would not have happened if it had not been for the war. Unfortunately, the present Bill, if it becomes law, will not be retrospective, but the principle that informs the Bill is absolutely right, as exemplified in this particular case.
Finally, all the recommendations that the spoliation panel has made and all those that will be made by the new advisory panel are based on moral considerations. Legally, the statutory time for complaints of wrongful acquisition or failure to take proper account of provenance has long been passed, in all these cases. Our task on the panel was to ask whether, nevertheless, there were moral reasons for recommending restitution or compensation. There is no danger of a slippery slope argument being deployed here—and your Lordships will know that I am not a friend of that type of argument in any circumstances. Each case will be examined separately by the advisory panel and its advice passed on; each will be examined with extreme care on an individual basis, so there is no danger of any extension of this kind of order for deacquisition. This has happened in the past and will happen in the future; each case will be examined separately. Moreover, there is a sunset clause, which ensures that there will be re-examination of the case. Sadly, the number of cases is likely to fall—indeed, the number of cases coming before the panel has fallen and is now a trickle, because the families, sadly, die out.
I recommend the Bill to the House as absolutely timely, if not belated, and an extremely good example of just and fair legislation.
My Lords, I am very glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. I am sure that we are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Janner for introducing this Bill, which, as he said, has already been passed by another place.
The power that the Bill gives to national museums and galleries to return a cultural object taken by the Nazi regime from mainly Jewish collections in the occupied countries is long overdue. The confiscation of so many cultural treasures from private collectors by the Nazi leaders in order to line their own pockets was big business. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, so many paintings were taken that the authorities had to take over the Jeu de Paume in the Tuileries to house them. These were then sold through intermediaries, mainly to art dealers in Switzerland, which was a neutral country. The Swiss dealers would sell on the works of art either to other dealers or to private collectors in Switzerland and the United States, who bought them in good faith. Many, of course, must have changed hands several times during the past 60 years, when the original provenance was not known. Some must have arrived at our national museums and galleries through gifts and in lieu of inheritance tax.
Most of the original owners died in the horrors of the Holocaust, when whole families were murdered in the extermination camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka. There are no heirs in many cases. But there are heirs in some cases, who are entitled to claim. The Bill allows the item to be returned if the advisory panel recommends it and this is approved by the Secretary of State. This is surely the least that we can do. I support the Bill wholeheartedly and hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.
My Lords, this is no ordinary Bill before your Lordships’ House. It is a short one but a complex one. Art is an ethical issue. Displaying looted art, once it is known to be such, is not just an invasion of privacy and a demonstration that wrongdoers may indeed profit from their crimes; it is also putting on show something that the owners never meant to be seen in such circumstances. It has ceased to be an object of beauty and one that museums can be proud of or use for educational and aesthetic aims. The spectator cannot look at it without seeing the pain and betrayal that led it to be situated there in a national museum. It taints the spectators who knowingly take advantage of the presence of the picture there and it speaks to them of loss and war, not creativity and insight. It is a well known principle in physics that the act of observation changes the object observed and there is something of that principle in our viewing of looted art.
The Bill has an exemplary background of preparation. The UK set up the Spoliation Advisory Panel in 2000 consequent on the Washington principles of the 1998 conference on Holocaust assets, agreed by all the then EU states, and a total of 44 states in all. The panel provides mediation and takes moral issues into account, as stressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. Its existence recognises that the people who lost property in the Nazi era face many obstacles in proving legal ownership in the civil courts, though they may also choose that route. The museum directors set up a working group in 1998 to establish principles governing provenance and spoliation; the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport supported this approach in its seventh report and the advisory panel recommended this legislation. The Bill fills a gap because other museums already have a power to return or to offer compensation. The museum may, however, still refuse to carry out the recommendation of the panel and the Secretary of State. The Bill passed through the Commons swiftly.
This is not the Elgin Marbles situation, because in the circumstances covered by the Bill there is a known victim of a strictly defined period. The victims were ideological targets of the destruction of a people along with their goods; indeed, the looting possibilities may have provided an extra inducement to carry on to mass extermination. This form of looting was recognised as early as 1943 by the Inter-Allied Declaration.
The recent Terezin Declaration of the June Prague Holocaust-era assets conference called on nations to do exactly what is being done in the Bill, and the UK, which had a delegation to the conference, was praised for its initiative. I echo the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, in his brilliant and moving maiden speech earlier today, and of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, in expressing gratitude to this country for its movement towards the correct principles in this situation and for its tolerance and nurturing of those who came here in 1939 and earlier, deprived of all their worldly goods, and who had to rebuild their careers.
The declaration of the June Prague conference together with the joint declaration by the European Commission at the same conference reminded nations that they should support intensified systematic provenance research in archives, make the results known on the internet and establish mechanisms to assist claimants.
The Bill’s provisions are a model for what should happen in relation to real property looted during the Nazi era, all of which is situated in the European Union countries—not here, of course—where the conflict and the seizures took place. The Terezin Declaration likewise called on those countries that have not yet made restitution—the most egregious of them is Poland, and here I declare a possible interest—to do so along these lines, and Her Majesty’s Government by signature have aligned themselves with this. I commend the Bill to your Lordships and look for ultimate justice and peace of mind for those who lost their lives in the war and whose well chosen artefacts are the living and permanent reminder of their lost existence.
My Lords, I speak in the gap because I did not know that I could be here today. However, I am very glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, who has made a powerful speech—indeed everyone who has participated in the debate has done so. I congratulate my noble friend, whom I have known for many, many years, on promoting this overdue Bill. He has done a service to Parliament and to many people who have suffered, as the noble Baroness said, at the hands of the Nazis. They are a depleting band of people but it is nevertheless important that both Houses—the Bill has excited no opposition in either—should support what my noble friend is trying to do. The Bill is designed to ensure that an equitable solution can be available to those who have suffered so much. They deserve no less.
Perhaps I may also pay a tribute to the father of my noble friend Lord Strabolgi. He did so much to excite my interest and awaken my concern about so many issues which this Bill represents. He spoke when I was a child and I listened assiduously to him. I am glad to say that my noble friend has very worthily followed in his footsteps. He spoke brilliantly today and I wish only that we could hear him more often.
The Bill is thoroughly welcome. As my noble friend Lord Janner said, it is belated, but it is very important because it gives hope to so many people who would otherwise feel forgotten.
My Lords, I hesitantly rise to pay my tribute to my noble friend Lord Janner and all noble Lords who have spoken. Given their prolific knowledge and understanding of this matter, I am extremely hesitant, but I was emotionally pushed by what I have heard to support this Second Reading. It is a great tribute to my noble friend’s work. I congratulate him and salute all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, although I missed some of it. It gives great hope to the relatives of those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and brings back a sense of honour and pride. I hope that the Bill is supported by all sides of the House.
My Lords, I begin by expressing gratitude to the noble Lord who introduced the Bill and appreciation to Andrew Dismore in another place for so persistently pursuing these objects. All that needs to be said about the purposes of the Bill has been said with great eloquence during the debate, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, and the historical background was further expanded by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. I was particularly happy to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, whose words of wisdom will no doubt have struck a chord across the House.
If I appear to be focusing on matters that might be thought to be Committee points, I do not necessarily expect them to be dealt with today, but I hope that when the Minister replies, he may bear them in mind and, if they can easily be dismissed, he will do so today, or will otherwise reflect upon them.
I first came to grips with the problem that we are grappling with here as long ago as 1964 when I worked in a distinguished law firm on Wall Street. Our clients were a family of Czech refugees who had suffered despoliation of their inheritance at the hands of the Nazis. It is with some wry wonder that I think that it happened so long ago, yet there are still evidences of the injustice that have not been put right.
That brings me to the duration of the Bill and its scope. It appears that it is perfectly possible that works that were looted during the period that the Bill covers may emerge and even come into the hands of institutions within the United Kingdom other than those listed in the Bill. I know that the auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s do good research into the provenance of works of art in many public collections and further afield. It is conceivable that there could be other discoveries in the years ahead. I have heard, and I have no reason to doubt it, that the number of cultural objects that has been mentioned is what is known now. I wonder whether it might be worth while adding to the Bill, perhaps at a later stage, a power by order to add to the list of national museums any other recognised national museum that comes into possession of such a work of art at a later date. It is intended that the Bill will expire after 10 years. The sunset clause is an indication that this is not a matter that will go on indefinitely. However, there is still considerable movement of art around Europe and the wider world, and there are those with a commercial interest in discovering where it is moving to who may, in the course of time, come up with information that would be relevant but not covered.
The Bill, perfectly properly, does not deal with the tax issues that may be incidental to its effectiveness. Although some reference was made to this in another place, it would be of interest to know the Government’s thinking about this. I understand that any proposals to change our tax law to take account of those issues would be handled in a finance Bill, but it is important that the concerns of this House are taken into consideration in drafting such legislation in future. As a result of its almost de minimis nature, it would seem sensible to give some thought to these matters during the passage of this legislation. For example, what would be the appropriate level of capital gains tax to be paid if an object is sold after being returned to its initial owner? If an ex gratia payment is made, should it be free of tax? Should there be exemption from inheritance tax? If someone donates an item to a museum that is subsequently proven to be of doubtful provenance or to belong to someone else, should the tax advantage gained by donating the item be lost? It seems to me that it should not. These are all matters of substance that are worthy of consideration before they are confined to the footnotes of some future finance Act.
I understand that the Bill has been helped by the support of the Government, and a very useful Explanatory Memorandum was prepared by the Government in consultation with the noble Lord. For that, we are very grateful. I am not entirely sure whether the language of the Bill was similarly subject to a dialogue with the Government to the extent that the Bill reflects the Government’s thinking in its detail. I shall mention a couple of points that might be of slight help.
There is a reference to Scottish Ministers having to be consulted in the event of objects being in the listed cultural institutions in Scotland. It is not entirely clear whether those Scottish Ministers are Ministers of the United Kingdom Government, Ministers of the Scottish Executive or both. I think this may be a matter of standard statutory interpretation, but I am not entirely sure that it is. I should therefore be grateful for elucidation because there is a Scottish dimension to this. I understand that the Scottish Parliament has already been consulted about the purposes of the Bill and that a reply is awaited. It would be inconceivable if approval were not to be forthcoming from that quarter.
I hope that these remarks are constructive. They reflect my strong support and that of my noble friends for the purposes of the Bill. Some concerns have been expressed externally about the possibility of it being widened to cover bigger and broader issues, but the Bill has been cleverly drafted to deal with specific issues, which it does very well. I hope that it will pass.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Janner of Braunstone, for introducing the Bill, and for the careful way in which he has explained how it will work. We should all pass our congratulations to Mr Andrew Dismore in another place on piloting it through that House.
I have heard nothing today with which I disagree. The one certain way of finding ourselves in another holocaust is either to forget about the events of the Nazi era or to deny them—simply to airbrush them from history. We must never, ever do that. I have personally seen, both in Bosnia and Rwanda, how difficult reconstruction can be post-genocide or ethnic cleansing. Some believe that installing democratic processes must be the highest priority in these situations, but security, justice and the rule of law can be more important. Property rights are an important component of this, but are clearly very difficult to provide for.
The Bill marks a positive step forward in the moral and legal task of redressing some of the wrongs committed in the Nazi era in regard to the looting of cultural objects. The Holocaust Educational Trust and other bodies have done a good job, along with the Government, in helping Holocaust survivors and their relatives trace and recover lost works of art and in keeping up the profile of the cause. A legal solution to this problem need be delayed no longer. While some Holocaust survivors are still alive we must concentrate our efforts to honour them and the members of their families who perished, and to pursue the course of justice and restitution as soon as possible.
The Holocaust was a horrendous and shameful period and its legacy weighs on us all. The noble Lord, Lord Janner, was right when he noted that history will judge the nations who participated by their conduct today. Immediately after the war, restitution of property was not a major priority for the allies, leading to many objects being scattered around Europe and lost to their owners. As time progresses and these owners become fewer, the Bill is one of the last chances to ensure that justice prevails and a right which has been denied for decades is recognised.
There are some tax implications that I am aware of, and the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, touched on them. To me they sounded frighteningly complex and I do not pretend to understand them. I will certainly not articulate them, lest any noble Lord challenge me on the details. Is the Minister confident that these issues have properly been thought through? We need to be aware of the law of unintended consequences. For instance, it would indeed be a harsh result if a work restored to a claimant shortly before his or her death had to be sold or returned to a public collection to pay or minimise the liability of the claimant’s estate for inheritance tax—a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart.
The Bill also makes it clear that it is in no way extendable to the problems of regions and times outside the Nazi era, even though claimants might argue that the circumstances in which cultural and religious objects were removed from their original societies were of a comparable severity. However, the nature and extent of the Nazi atrocities were quite exceptional—orders of magnitude greater than the disasters of Bosnia and Rwanda. There should be no implication of an argument, by extension, that if claims for cultural objects wrongfully taken by the Nazis can be accepted, so too should claims for deaccession arising from other circumstances in other eras. The Museums Association’s code of ethics for museums, which was updated in 2007, already covers claims regarding objects from other periods, and sets out agreed ethical codes and standards that allow museums to deaccession items from their collections, subject—in the case of national museums—to statutory limitations. The museums and libraries authority has ensured that its accreditation scheme has incorporated this code of ethics.
Finally, although the existing Spoliation Advisory Panel is able to offer a swift, independent and transparent assessment of claims in a way that is cost-effective for all parties, its recommendations are rightly only advisory. The power of independent decision-making remains with the museums. This will maintain the arm’s-length principle on which our national museums, galleries and libraries are governed. Can the Minister confirm that the existing Spoliation Advisory Panel will be the advisory panel mentioned in the Bill?
In conclusion, we on these Benches support the Bill and look forward to it receiving Royal Assent in due course.
My Lords, I am pleased, if somewhat humbled, to represent the Government on this Private Member’s Bill, and to follow what has been an august range of speakers, all of whom have demonstrated their personal interest in many instances. Speaking personally, listening to some of the personal passion and commitment has been an experience in understanding the reality of the work of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, and the case and need for permissive legislation. I echo the earlier comments of another noble Lord about the power of the particular points made by my noble friend Lord Strabolgi. There were some powerful reminders, particularly from the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, that an essential element of the enjoyment of art is informed by the knowledge of its provenance involved in the act of observation. That should be borne in mind by the institution as well as the participants.
This whole debate has reminded me of the importance of restitution, of perseverance on issues that people care about, and the mechanisms that acknowledge the morality, as well as the legality, of claims. As an aside, it is also, in procedural terms, a shining example of the power of a Private Member’s Bill to make a real difference. Andrew Dismore deserves both thanks and admiration for what my honourable friend in another place described as his “sleepover technique” in securing a Private Member’s Bill. The Government have offered our strong support to the Bill in the other place, and have worked closely with the honourable Member for Hendon, who introduced it, to ensure that it both matched the Government’s own policy objectives in this area and was in good shape for debate and consideration by this House.
I am doubly pleased and personally honoured that the Bill has been taken up by my noble friend Lord Janner, who is so knowledgeable on these issues and who has campaigned for so many years for the restitution of property belonging to Holocaust victims. Indeed, he was instrumental in arranging the Nazi-looted gold conference that took place in London in 1997. As the noble Lord mentioned in his opening speech, he has only recently returned from the Conference on Holocaust Era Assets in the Czech Republic, where he delivered a powerful statement on his personal involvement in this work and the efforts that have been made internationally to address the restitution of Holocaust-era assets. The outcome of the conference was the Terezin declaration, supported by 46 countries, which seeks, among other things, to further efforts to bring about the restitution of Jewish cultural property lost during the Nazi era. That is, of course, highly relevant to our debate today.
If any further evidence of the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Janner, were needed, I am aware that he has regrettably had to cancel an important birthday celebration—I am not sure which number it is, or that he would thank me for mentioning it even if I was—in order to be here today. I hope the House will take note of that and join me in wishing him many happy returns for tomorrow.
Setting to rights the terrible crimes committed during the Second World War is just as important for us today—perhaps even more so—as it was following the defeat of the Axis powers in the 1940s. The widespread and systematic seizure of cultural property in territories occupied by or under the control of the Nazis and their allies has been recognised in international declarations—the latest as recently as last week, as I have just said—as warranting particular recognition and deserving of special treatment for more than half a century. The 1943 Inter-allied Declaration, for example, signed by 16 countries, including the United Kingdom, resulted in a commitment by those states to do all in their power to defeat the methods of dispossession in territory under enemy occupation or control. At the 1998 Washington conference on Holocaust-era assets, 44 states, including all EU member states, adopted non-binding principles to assist in resolving issues relating to Nazi confiscated art, and the Vilnius Forum Declaration in 2000 asked all Governments to undertake every reasonable effort to achieve restitution of cultural assets looted during the Holocaust era to their original owners.
Compared with many other European countries, the recovery of looted art has not been a major problem in numerical terms in the United Kingdom. Unlike the Netherlands or France, for example, where many hundreds of works of art have been returned to claimants over the years, very few looted paintings and other cultural objects have been uncovered in UK museums. Indeed, the Spoliation Advisory Panel, established in 2000 to provide advice to claimants and institutions on what might be appropriate solutions, has considered only nine cases in the nine years it has been operational. The honourable Member for Hendon said in the other place that there were a possible further 20 cases in the pipeline. Indeed, this was referred to by two noble Lords today. I do not know what knowledge the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has of these but the Government—and I think that I can speak for the Spoliation Advisory Panel on this point—would certainly find it helpful to know more about these potential claims, if for no other reason than to be able to plan and prepare for the work.
However, this debate and this legislation are not determined by the scale of the problem or the number of applications. As several noble Lords have said, it is about recognising an overwhelming moral imperative to ensure that, where the Spoliation Advisory Panel finds that it would be appropriate for a museum to return a lost item, it is able to do so. That can only be right and I am sure nobody would argue against that.
As regards what the Bill seeks to do, there are currently inconsistencies in how claims made to the panel are resolved. In the case of the national museums listed in the Bill, primary legislation prevents the trustees removing an item from the permanent collection in this way and, when the panel recommends the return of an item, claimants are offered an ex gratia payment instead. However, university museums and those run by local authorities are not prevented by similar express statutory restrictions from so returning an item. As the noble Lord, Lord Janner, highlighted, a good example of how this inconsistency can arise was demonstrated recently in the Spoliation Advisory Panel’s eighth report on a claim presented by the same claimant for two pieces of porcelain, one in the British Museum and the other in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The panel found in favour of the claimant and recommended that the item in the Fitzwilliam, which is not subject to a statutory restriction on the disposal of objects in the collection, be returned to them and that they receive an ex gratia payment for the item in the British Museum, which is currently prohibited by statute from returning such an object.
While, throughout the history of the panel, claimants have generally been content to receive an ex gratia payment, the Government believe that museums should not be prevented by statute from deciding to return an object following the recommendation of the panel. In its seventh report in 2000, the Select Committee for Culture, Media and Sport, stated:
“We consider that the case for special treatment of alleged wrongful taking during the period 1933 to 1945 has been convincingly established”—
I believe that point was echoed by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee—
“It is appropriate that the Spoliation Advisory Panel has been created to ascertain the facts of individual cases and to recommend an outcome for claims which are upheld. While there are merits to a solution which secures continuing public access to an object in a museum, that interest must be seen as subordinate to the interests and wishes of a rightful owner. Where a claim has been upheld and restitution is seen as appropriate by all parties, it is essential that legislative barriers to such restitution be removed”.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, recalled from first-hand experience, in its second report on the Beneventan Missal in 2005, the panel, guided by the advice of the Select Committee, recommended that legislation be introduced to amend the British Museum Act 1963, the British Library Act 1972 and the Museums and Galleries Act 1992 so as to permit restitution of objects in this category.
In 2006, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport conducted a public consultation on the issue of Nazi era restitution.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Before he leaves the point that the noble Baroness made, she said that the Bill was not retroactive. Consequently, I am uncertain whether, following the passage of the Bill, it will be possible to deal with the Beneventan Missal case. Could the Minister help us on that?
My Lords, I will seek an answer and return to that, along with the noble Lord’s other searching Committee-like questions, in a second.
The conclusion was that removing the statutory restrictions that stop museums deaccessioning works of art lost during the Nazi era would be beneficial to all. It was also felt that legislation should include a sunset clause. I think that point was raised earlier by the noble Lord.
In 2008, the Government planned to include clauses in the Heritage Protection Bill to allow national museums to return works of art lost during the Nazi era but it was not possible for the Bill to be included in the congested legislative programme. The Government were therefore understandably keen to support this Private Member’s Bill which, I am glad to say, following a number of amendments made in the other place, now closely resembles the policy proposals we had intended to take forward in 2008.
The Bill will give the 17 national museums in England and Scotland named in the Bill a power to transfer an object in their collection, where it is found to have been lost between 1933 and 1945 by an advisory panel designated by the Secretary of State. In answer to the question of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that will be the Spoliation Advisory Panel. This is also the case where the Secretary of State, with the consent of Scottish Ministers—in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, devolved Scottish Ministers—has approved the advisory panel’s recommendation in respect of a Scottish museum. The intention is to designate the Spoliation Advisory Panel, whose authority and advice is widely acknowledged and respected in this field. Thus, the power to return an object would apply only to those cases where two conditions were satisfied. First, the advisory panel must uphold the claim and recommend the return of the object and, secondly, Ministers must approve that recommendation.
The power in the Bill will not override the conditions attaching to objects held in trust. The requirement that the Secretary of State must approve the panel’s recommendation reflects current practice and provides a safeguard in the unlikely event of an irrational recommendation by the panel.
The Bill includes a sunset clause, which will ensure that the power in the Bill ceases to have effect 10 years from the date of Royal Assent. The noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked whether the duration of the sunset clause was appropriate. I will clarify that in an answer to him, but my understanding is that there was a significant degree of due diligence before that term was specified in the Bill. It was judged that that period would balance the interests of providing access to restitution with some planning certainty for the institutions. As I recall, it also reflected the majority of the views expressed in the consultation.
The Bill consists of four clauses. The bodies to which the Bill applies are listed in Clause 1. The power to return victims’ property is set out in Clause 2. This clause sets out the two conditions that need to be met to trigger the power for the trustees of one of the institutions named in the Bill to transfer an object from its collections. Clause 3 defines the advisory panel for the purposes of the Act, as has been discussed. The panel is to be designated by the Secretary of State and he or she may designate only a panel whose functions consist of considering claims in respect of objects relating to events during the Nazi era—1933 to 1945. Clause 4 deals with the Short Title, extent, commencement and the sunset clause.
We have had discussions with the devolved Administrations on the Bill. There is no need for these powers to apply to institutions in Wales or Northern Ireland, because the principal museums there are not subject to the same sort of statutory restrictions on the return of an object to a claimant. On the other hand, Scottish national museums are subject to the same sort of statutory restrictions and are included in the Bill, following the passing of a legislative consent motion in the Scottish Parliament.
I shall conclude by providing the House with some reassurances and by clarifying two or three specific points that have been raised in the debate. On a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, I should make it absolutely clear that the principle and practice of consent applies here. This is a power of permission, not compulsion. Museum trustees will continue to take the final decision on whether to return an object that has been recommended for return by the panel. This is in keeping with the long-established arm’s-length principle, which recognises that trustees are responsible for the items vested in their care, and that it is not for Governments to tell the trustees what to do with them.
The power in the Bill has been narrowly defined, and linking it to a recommendation by the designated advisory panel will ensure that museums can transfer only items lost during the Nazi era. Those issues were raised by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. The Government consider that, as in the case of human remains on which we legislated in 2005, it is right to allow museums to remove items from the national collections where there are overwhelming moral grounds to do so. The Holocaust era was unique in that it represented a systematic campaign of evil by the Nazis to eliminate whole races of people and their cultures. The widespread and systematic deprivation of property in the Nazi era and the problems faced by individuals seeking to recover their property has also been widely recognised in international declarations as requiring particular measures to remedy these terrible wrongs.
The Government are committed to maintaining our national collections and support the role of museum trustees as the guardians of these collections. The Government will resist other measures that would break up and disperse our national collections.
The Terezin declaration of 30 June 2009, to which I referred at the beginning of my comments, encourages countries to invest more into carrying out provenance research on items in national collections. UK museums have a very good record on carrying out provenance research into the objects in their collections, and it is commonly recognised that the years 1933 to 1945 require special attention where there are gaps in the provenance during those years. The Government have issued guidance on collecting and borrowing art, which also includes advice on these specific issues. Museums publish information about works in their collections where there are gaps in provenance during that period on a searchable spoliation database located on the cultural property website, www.culturalproperty advice.gov.uk.
In response to a specific question, the power in the Bill will not be retrospective. If, after the legislation comes into force, a further claim is made for an item that the Spoliation Advisory Panel has already considered, such as the Beneventan Missal, it will be up to the trustees of the institution concerned to decide whether once again to refer the claim to the panel. I hope that that provides clarity.
There was a whole range of taxation questions, not least on how capital gains tax applies to an institution, what obligation there is on the individual, what the inheritance tax threshold obligations are, and the potentially invidious situation raised by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, of individuals being forced into sale in order to deal with the beneficial consequences of restitution. There is a series of detailed answers to those questions but, in the interests of time, I shall not go through each of them. Our judgment is that it does not make sense to put them in the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, asked, but I will provide both noble Lords with a detailed exposition of the responses that I have had from HMRC and the Treasury on both those questions, because they are clearly important.
In summary, the Bill is a simple, four-clause measure designed, as a number of noble Lords have highlighted, to correct an anomaly in the way that national museums are able to deal with requests for the return of items in their collections that were lost during the Nazi era, and it seeks simply to place all museums on a level footing. I commend it to the House.
My Lords, I thank all speakers, and especially the Minister, for what they have said, and of course I am very grateful for the kind birthday wishes that I received. I especially greatly appreciate the unanimous support for the Bill from all sides of the Chamber, and I now ask the House to give it a Second Reading.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.