Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their plan for ratifying the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to have secured this debate this evening. I first sought it six months ago. In fact, if anything, it has become more timely. I am particularly grateful to all the noble Lords who are remaining in the Chamber and will be contributing. It is not the best of times. It is a very unfashionable hour and it is extremely cold, and I really appreciate the effort that noble Lords have made to take part. I am very grateful to the Minister for the hard work that she has already done on this matter.
I offer particular thanks to Dr Peter Stone, who holds the UNESCO Chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace at the University of Newcastle. He has been extremely generous with his help, and I know that he is well known to many noble Lords. I also offer thanks to Dr Mike Heyworth of the Council for British Archaeology, and to a young lady called Eleanor Clare Williams, who provided me with invaluable research assistance.
It was in June last year that the Government finally announced, 62 years after signing the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, that they were ready to ratify the convention and to join the other 126 nations which had already done so. They included the USA, although when the USA agreed to ratify the convention in 2009, it did not agree to ratify the protocols.
At the same time, the Government announced that this legislation would be supplemented by a cultural protection fund to support the work of cultural protection in areas of armed conflict. However, apart from the useful confirmation from the Minister on 2 July last year that the UK would indeed ratify both the protocols attached to the convention, there has been silence. At least, that had been the case until today, when, with exquisite timing, I am delighted to say that the Government published their consultative document on the cultural protection fund. It is very good to see it now in the open for consultation, which will last until 19 February. I hope that this debate will make a contribution to that process.
This is not the place to speculate on why we have been so negligent in ratifying the convention or on how this can be reconciled with our leadership role in so many other areas of heritage protection across the world. I would be interested in any comments that the Minister can make. However, this debate essentially presents the opportunity for the Government to tell us, in short, when the legislation will be introduced, what form it will take and what the overall timetable is for implementation.
Given the apparent lack of action on the part of government, it is just as well that there has been progress in other areas—not least in the very welcome formal creation of the international Blue Shield under Dutch law. I hope that that will be a very important step on the route to it becoming the equivalent of the Red Cross for heritage.
We have also seen the creation of our own all-party group on cultural property, which now sits alongside the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group. In addition, a raft of work is now being done across the UK to record the threat to cultural property beyond the Middle East. There is also evidence of an increasingly close understanding between civil and military leadership, seen most notably in the UK with the creation of the British Army’s cultural property protection working party, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Tim Purbrick. It is using as a basis the four-tier approach to best practice developed by the Blue Shield and there is a commitment to the creation of a relevant capability within the new 77 Brigade.
What we have today, therefore, is a growing sense of urgency, which has been underlined by the grotesque failures in Iraq and is now fuelled by the increasing barbarity in Syria. The events of the past six months have, I believe, changed the game. They have made the effective application of the convention more urgent than ever, both as a clear framework of principles and criteria and also as the means of attributing individual responsibility and securing justice through the International Criminal Court.
In recent months the world has been witness to an increasing incidence of cultural nihilism targeted at the destruction of one of the world’s greatest civilisations—a civilisation which has certainly shaped our values and cultural history. The consultative document published today puts it well, saying that throughout history culture and heritage have often been targeted for destruction by those who oppose others’ values, beliefs and ways of life. Indeed, in the past, the destruction of cultural heritage has often been a specific weapon of war and propaganda, targeting monuments of great significance—for example, the Mostar Bridge in Bosnia. However, cultural heritage is equally vulnerable to ignorance and collateral damage, and in Syria at the moment, to opportunistic looting—a very toxic and lethal mix. Across Syria, as Francesco Bandarin of UNESCO put it, vast regions are classified as “distressed cultural areas”—sites such as the ancient city of Apamea, where early Roman settlements are being swiftly and ruthlessly destroyed. If the Minister permits, I will send her two images of the extent of the damage to Apamea, which has happened very quickly.
In Palmyra itself, the amphitheatre has become a performance space for the theatre of cruelty: a place of execution. In effect, the monument has been taken hostage and its greatest champion and curator, Khaled al-Asaad, was brutally murdered at the age of 82. As an example of collateral damage, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who cannot be here today, told me of the damage to the Ottoman mosque in Sur, in Diyarbakir, Turkey, which has been largely destroyed, this time in the conflict between the Turkish Government and the Kurds.
There is, I believe, not a day to be lost in ratifying the convention and protocols so that the UK can finally show its commitment to the protection of universal cultural heritage, establish consistency with our own pride in our own history, and signal our shared human values and culture. If anything—and this is more important—we should do so because we recognise that long and sustained peace cannot be achieved if cultural heritage is destroyed in areas of conflict. This view is rooted in the experience of the military, not least in Iraq.
Cultural property has always been a casualty of war, but it is equally true that military theorists and strategists alike argue that to destroy cultural identity is to create enemies for life. Stretching from 1625, when the Dutch scholar Grotius wrote On the Law of War and Peace, to the evidence presented to the Chilcot inquiry in 2010 by the UK heritage agencies, the case has been made in different ways. In 2010, the agencies documented the different ways in which,
“by failing to provide for the protection of cultural property, Coalition planners made it considerably more difficult for troops on the ground to win hearts and minds”.
There was never a more telling need for the protection of cultural property as an exercise in soft power.
The result of that understanding, over time, has been the refinement of legal frameworks, whether for the protection of civilian life or for the protection of cultural identity and property. The Hague Convention and its protocols are the culmination of that and are designed to provide as effective a framework as possible for the implementation of protection.
Given both the convention’s ethical and political importance and its strategic value, it is very disappointing that it has taken the UK so long to prioritise its ratification. There was a missed opportunity in 1999 when the Second Protocol was presented—especially since the Government at the time recognised that the provisions of the convention had been tightened to make it more enforceable. Indeed, a Bill was available in 2008 to do just that—but parliamentary time was not found.
So I come back to the question I put to the Minister, and to some related issues. When will parliamentary time be found? What progress has actually been made on the drafting of legislation? Will the 2008 Bill as redrafted be used as the basis for ratification? Can she give us an idea of the precise parliamentary timetable and of the process? Can she assure me that it will be accomplished during this Session? Can she also assure me that the DCMS will be able to command the support of other departments and that policy is being effectively co-ordinated—and, if so, how? I am sure that she is aware that UK heritage bodies are fully in support and see no difficulties in our taking this step,
Clearly, the involvement and support of the MoD and the armed services in making the convention as effective as possible will be crucial. It is in their interests to do so. There is a great deal of evidence of their understanding and involvement, especially since Iraq, in promoting the value of cultural protection. Can the Minister therefore confirm that the MoD also sees ratification as a very positive step? Can she also tell me something of the response of the other armed services, in particular the Air Force, and whether equal action is being taken?
On the funding of ISIL, does the Minister also agree that as long as civilian populations are impoverished and made desperate, ISIL will be able to profit in different ways from the proceeds of the illicit trade in antiquities, and that there is likely to be no brake on looting and exploitation? Can she tell me whether any strategies are in place to deal with this, either in the area or, for example, by tackling the illegal trade coming into the UK?
I turn to the proposals for the new fund for cultural property. The funding is enormously welcome and came as something of a surprise. However, does the Minister agree that it has to be managed as smartly as possible? I am sure she is aware of the recommendations made in the open letter from the UK national committee of Blue Shield in October to the Secretary of State, which emphasised the paramount need for co-ordination to organise and direct existing work in the field, as well as for training and capacity. This is extremely important. It must not be just another layer of activity. It is needed to support the work of the established organisations, including Blue Shield, which have done so much with so little so far.
Finally, does the Minister agree that the UK is not alone in realising its responsibility towards the protocol? Five members of the UN Security Council have not ratified the convention, but France and China are actively considering doing so. There is a considerable prize if we act quickly now and establish ourselves as global leaders rather than slow learners.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for securing this timely debate on what I term the “international monuments men” convention. If it were possible, this debate should not be happening in either Chamber but under the arch of the House of Commons, which was damaged in the Second World War and which Prime Minister Churchill insisted be put back in an unrepaired state. Although parts of the Palace of Westminster belong to the Queen, in many senses it belongs to the British people, and much of what your Lordships point out to our guests on the tourist trail would not be here had it not been for the wise stewards who removed many of the monuments prior to the Second World War. These prudent actions mirror the principles in Article 3 of the Hague convention.
My interest in this issue arises from a principle and, as is so often the case, a person. First, the principle: Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights outlines freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, and the right, either alone or in community with others, in private or in public, to manifest that religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship or observance. Obviously, this manifestation often includes buildings and monuments, which then form part of the cultural heritage of a nation. YouTube and social media perhaps further encourage the wanton destruction of ancient places in times of conflict, such as the Arch of Triumph in Palmyra. Current events are reminiscent of 16th-century iconoclastic riots associated mainly with Huldrych Zwingli, the early 20th-century mass destruction of Buddhist monasteries in China and the Tuareg uprising in 2012, which saw the destruction of 15th and 16th-century Sufi shrines in Timbuktu, Mali.
Secondly, the person is the inspirational Tasoula Hadjitofi, who was a refugee from northern Cyprus, which suffered widespread destruction of cultural heritage. The NGO she founded, Walk of Truth, has, alongside the London mayor, just launched the cultural crime watchers initiative to provide a way for people, especially refugees, to pass on intelligence on these looted artefacts. At an event in Parliament, Tasoula brought along four frescos that had been rescued, two of which have been identified since being put on display. It will be a privilege to see them returned to the Prime Minister of Cyprus on behalf of the Cypriot people later this year. If, as everyone hopes, Cyprus can be reunified, they might even be returned to the church ceiling from which they were stolen.
Turning to the convention, although signed in 1954 and in force from 1956, for many years the UK did not believe that the legislation was effective. But after the Balkans conflict, we saw the adoption of the second protocol, with clear criminal sanctions which the UK was involved in securing. Since then, there has been no good reason not to ratify the convention. Since 2004, the UK Government have said they will do so. However, I join the noble Baroness in wanting to know a precise parliamentary timetable for that. Sometimes the devil is in the detail, so I am grateful for the assurance today that the protocols will be ratified along with the convention.
Preserving cultural heritage is an important part of the reconciliation and restoration of the people affected by conflict, and not only in terms of the livelihoods that are often attached to cultural heritage. The UNESCO world heritage site in which we stand brings incalculable financial input into tourism. More importantly, when homes and neighbourhoods are destroyed and then the people eventually return, the presence of cultural heritage is cathartic and healing. It is harder to bring about peace when the environment in which people live has been destroyed.
Lakdhar Brahimi, the former UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, said the following:
“Destroying the inheritance of the past robs future generations of a powerful legacy, deepens hatred and despair and undermines all attempts to foster reconciliation”.
Consider the significance of the Pope’s visit to the Central African Republic in December. He not only visited the Muslim community; he visited the mosque. It is important for the reconciliation of the religious communities and for the return of Muslim refugees that their religious buildings remain. The same is true for the diverse communities who, it is to be hoped, will one day return to their homes in the Middle East.
Her Majesty’s Government have played a leadership role on the international stage by trying to sever the finance to IS and similar groups, whose trade in artefacts was a key source of income. However, even though it may have declined, the trade in looted art, beyond its initial sale, enables organised criminal gangs to launder their money. Any object for sale whose provenance is not verifiable is suitable for this. The Metropolitan Police Art and Antiquities Unit is tasked with monitoring this trade but it has very few staff. I would be grateful if the Minister asked whether additional resources can be made available from counterterrorism funds to support this unit. The same routes that are used for the illegal trade in drugs, arms and humans are used for these looted artefacts. Therefore, any disruption of those routes will have the collateral benefit of affecting these other global illegal trades.
The need to ratify is now urgent. We are a global leader, but we are the only permanent member of the UN Security Council not to have ratified the convention. Given that 127 states have ratified it, this can only be said to be disappointing. The cultural protection fund announced last year is now out for consultation. However, it seems obvious that we must secure Syria’s heritage as well as Iraq’s, using whatever means we can. I commend the cultural protection team at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport for emailing me with details of the consultation on this matter. Such proactivity is helpful when the pace of life and of emails is so fast. I will pass the details on to the interested parties I know.
The irony is that the UK is fulfilling much of the substance of the convention through the special police unit, military units and the £3 million dedicated to the Iraqi emergency heritage management project run by the British Museum. The legislation is not complex and the matter is now urgent. Perhaps I will be forgiven if it is heretical to suggest that we might use a sitting Friday, in this Chamber at least, to pass the legislation.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Andrews and congratulate her on securing this debate. Her commitment and knowledge of heritage are unsurpassed in this House.
It is extraordinary that we are still having to hound the Government in Parliament to ratify the convention. It induces in me personally a mixture of incredulity, embarrassment and anger. As the noble Baroness just mentioned, the convention dates back to 1954: 45 years later the United States of America ratified the convention and the protocol was introduced. This removed the last vestige of excuse for our own Government not to ratify.
I was the Minister at DCMS with responsibility for heritage and cultural property between 1998 and 2001. We were determined to ratify and I pay tribute to Hillary Bauer, the director of the Cultural Property Unit, who pressed the case across Whitehall with the greatest energy and ability. In 2004, my successor, Lord McIntosh, was able to announce the intention of the Government to ratify. We then had another long interval before the draft Bill was provided in 2008. That was approved by everyone, with only minor drafting changes thought necessary. In 2009, another Heritage Minister, Barbara Follett, had to announce that the Government would ratify at the “earliest possibility”. In 2011, Ed Vaizey said the same. Later that year, the Secretary of State for Culture, Jeremy Hunt, said it. In 2014, poor Mr Vaizey—for whom I have the greatest admiration and I was delighted to see the tribute to him in a letter to the Times earlier this week; he is the longest lasting Minister for the Arts and I hope he will be an eternal fixture in that capacity—announced that it was a priority of the Government to ratify, but on the very next day DCMS officials wrote to interested parties to explain that the Cabinet committee had not been able to grant drafting authority for the Bill.
On a number of occasions, the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, and the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, have pressed the Government on the matter in this Chamber. Last February, in an excellent debate in the House of Commons introduced by Mr Robert Jenrick, Members of Parliament from all parties pressed the Government. The Minister, David Lidington, said again that the Government were committed to ratification but it had not yet been possible to secure parliamentary time. The excuse that it has not yet been possible to secure parliamentary time is on the level of “the dog ate my homework”; it is pathetic. In June last year, the Secretary of State, John Whittingdale, announced not only that it was the Government’s intention to ratify, but that the cultural property fund would be set up and a summit would be held. All of that is greatly to his credit. In October last year, he said again that it was the intention of the Government to ratify, but we are now in January 2016. At least we have the announcement of the consultation document, but we do not have a Bill.
It would be comic if it were not tragic and, actually, humiliating. There can be no excuse. All the political parties are agreed that we should ratify. The whole of the UK heritage community seeks it, including the Council for British Archaeology and the British Museum, which has sought to do so much in the afflicted regions of the Middle East. The scholarly community is agreed, as of course is the UK Committee of the Blue Shield, and I add my tribute to Professor Peter Stone. The DCMS wants to ratify and, to my observation, the problem has never lain with the Ministry of Defence. We are also told that the FCO would like to ratify. What is the problem? Where is the blockage? Is there some substantive policy difficulty that we have not been told about? Is it simply that the business managers have not been bothered to make the time for this legislation? In the period between 2004 and 2016 there have been huge swathes of parliamentary time. Moreover, the Bill could go through on a fast track, but it should not be a handout Bill given by the Government to a private Member; it should be a government Bill because this is a proper government responsibility. When the Minister responds to the debate, will she please be candid with the House and tell us what the real reason is for the Government’s persistent failure to take the steps necessary to ratify the convention?
Why is this important? It is essentially because the UK is the only significant military power in the modern world not to have ratified the convention. We are a major presence that is engaged in a major way in the Middle East. We were leading belligerents in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and we have now embarked on a policy of air strikes in Syria. Equally, we have been deeply engaged in north Africa, particularly in Libya, where catastrophic damage has already been done to its heritage and much more is threatened. As the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, told us, Islamist fundamentalist iconoclasm has spread to Mali. The signal that is given by our failure to ratify is profoundly unfortunate. I would say that it is effectively a nod and a wink to the vandals, looters and traffickers. It betrays a lack of moral seriousness on the part of the Government, an impression that is unfortunately compounded by our propensity to sell weapons in the war-torn region of the Middle East. It is a scandal.
I do not want to be misunderstood. Ratification by Britain would not have stopped ISIL from its depredations. Its members would still have destroyed the Temple of Jonah, they would still have looted the ancient city of Nimrud to make money for ISIL and would have destroyed the buildings to generate propaganda. They would still have shown the world their video of ISIL members engaged in the destruction of ancient treasures in the museum at Mosul. Equally, they would still have done what they have done to Palmyra, about which all of us grieve.
In a grotesque parody of government, IS would still have established its ministry of antiquities, which ensures that it maintains a monopoly on the sale of antiquities in the region and the areas that it occupies, and issues licences and extracts levies. We would not have been able to stop starving Syrians selling cultural property that they could lay their hands on to enable them to feed their families.
More than ratification and legislation is needed. ISIL is a full-blown criminal enterprise dealing in cultural property to finance terrorism. It is engaged in assisting money laundering. This is much more than cultural outrage, yet Her Majesty’s Government appear to be pussyfooting in the face of this problem.
What is the Government’s assessment of the state of affairs in the UK antiquities market? We need a cross-governmental drive on law enforcement which engages the police, the National Crime Agency and HMRC. We need to be sure that the Government are intent on regulating and policing the market. As has been said, the police need to be properly resourced.
We need collaboration between the public and the private sectors. The Government need to ensure that dealers in antiquities maintain the proper standards and apply due diligence. They need to make sure that collectors, with whom ISIL seeks one-to-one relationships, know that they will be pursued and prosecuted if they are found out. They should work with insurance companies and ensure that transport companies that engage in this kind of business understand the risks that they run. They should work closely with archaeologists, museums, NGOs and, of course, other Governments. They should be learning from the experience of achieving international agreements on the matter of blood diamonds and a similar model might be helpful in relation to blood antiquities.
UN Resolution 2199, which was passed last year, requires member states to take appropriate steps to prevent the illegal trade in cultural property coming from Iraq and Syria. What is the Government’s precise policy to conform with that resolution?
What is their strategic vision? What do they see as the role for Blue Shield? What is their relationship with Blue Shield? There is an opportunity to lead here. We are told that the Government are intent on developing soft power—here is a perfect opportunity.
ISIS’s “cultural cleansing”, to use the phrase coined by Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, and its obliteration of the history of cultural and religious diversity in the Middle East will be traumatic for many generations to come. The longer the destruction continues, the longer it will take to establish peace. History will not be kind to a Government who dither and procrastinate over this problem. We need action, not words. The noble Baroness is a true blue Conservative. She will know that that is the title of a past Conservative manifesto. We need leadership and delivery. In April, it will be World Heritage Week. If the Government have not ensured the passage of ratification by then, I shall despair.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for this debate and for the very important Question that she asks of the Government Front Bench. In June 2015, the Ministry of Defence answered a Written Question, as we have heard, on the timetable for ratifying the Hague convention. A Minister stated:
“The Government believes that protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict is a priority and remains committed to that task”.
She confirmed the,
“plan to introduce legislation to ratify the Convention”,
as we know,
“as soon as Parliamentary time allows”.
The Answer continued with a reassurance:
“Respect for cultural property is already upheld across the Armed Forces and they currently act within the spirit of the 1954 Convention. This respect is incorporated into military law”.
I wholeheartedly welcome that commitment and ask the Minister if she can recognise both the embarrassment of the present and lengthy delay in ratification, which successive Governments since 2008 have pledged to end, and the compelling practical, cultural and humanitarian reasons for speedy rectification of this inordinate delay.
To act within the spirit of the convention is indeed right, and to respect cultural property, but we should agree to be bound by the principles and to implement law to ensure that the treaty is upheld. If there was some reason to hesitate over the 1954 protocol, I accept because of too low a level of criminal responsibility and some lack of clarity in terminology, those matters were surely addressed in the 1990 protocol. If there are no other issues and reservations, I hope that the Minister will welcome the encouraging nudge I offer and tell us that parliamentary time will be committed to this matter.
Cultural heritage is a mirror of our humanity. A good proportion of my time is spent in historic buildings—as well as here, in churches and cathedrals. I am deeply aware as I minister of the spiritual and cultural identity, as well as history, built into the fabric of those buildings and actively shaping that worshipping community today. Buildings cannot be considered merely as historic monuments, so whether it is the deliberate destruction of pre-Islamic remains by militant Islamic groups, as in Palmyra, or the deliberate targeting of religious buildings to destroy communities, as in the case of Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi from Mali, these atrocities do more than inflict physical damage. They are a callous assault on the dignity and identity of people, their communities, and their religious and historical roots.
As we know, these are current issues for two principal reasons. The first is with regard to the actions of military forces during conflict. Our own national conviction that cultural heritage is important is reflected in a century of legislation that protects not just buildings and sites but the sites’ settings and character. The earliest evidence of hominid occupation in northern Europe at Happisburgh, the still-used routes of Roman roads, the castles of the Norman conquest, the important national and religious identities of the Celtic nations, our great cathedrals and churches, and the bunkers dotting the landscape as evidence of the Cold War all form part of a rich tapestry, to which the state has given importance to protecting. As the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, reminded us, during both world wars there were large-scale and some smaller efforts to protect important cultural heritage. I think particularly of the removal of York Minster’s magnificent medieval great east window to protect it from Zeppelin raids in the First World War. It is entirely right, then, that the same legislature that has done so much for its own heritage should accord equal importance to its part in protecting the heritage of other nations during times of conflict.
Secondly, as we have also heard, this matter is current because trade in looted antiquities is a most pressing and immediate problem. I understand that the current situation is that it is illegal to remove items from, or sell on items received from, Syria since 2011 and Iraq since 1990. However, the enforcement of this law is up to individual countries and the lack of a paper trail is not putting many buyers off. Although the major auction houses are increasingly acting within the spirit of the convention and not selling suspect items, there are enough small and private sources which continue to sell items on. It can be almost impossible to prove an item was looted, especially as museum records from the originating countries have often been destroyed.
Ratifying the convention and protocols is one way in which the United Kingdom can make law enforcers take this problem far more seriously. Pursuing cases through the courts would provide a more effective deterrent than the current situation. Buying these items funds war and terror, and by not taking the strongest possible stand against the illegal trade the UK can be seen as complicit in this.
Finally, it seems to me that the conflict in Syria gives renewed urgency to this matter. The ratification of the convention is necessary not just to strengthen the United Kingdom’s ability to deal with issues of looted heritage, it is a vital part of taking an international stand against the destruction of cultural and built heritage which is part of the identity of local communities, and is also part of our shared humanity.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for the opportunity to speak in this debate and congratulate her on her excellent and comprehensive speech. For his extensive briefing, I also thank Peter Stone of Newcastle University, who, I should add, holds, from the beginning of this year, the first UNESCO chair in Cultural Property Protection and Peace, which is a coup for this country.
The debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, is well timed. A number of things are coming together and there is now both increasing interest and activity, prompted of course, in part, by the terrible destruction wreaked in the Middle East in the last year in particular—destruction which, as the noble Baroness said, also included the tragic death of the Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, who gave his life to protect his country’s heritage.
There is a growing sense that we in this country need to do much more than we are. Within Parliament there has been the launch of a new All-Party Group for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and in October a one-day summit was held where the Government could hear presentations from a variety of experts. The Government have announced a hugely welcome £30 million cultural protection fund. My sense is that crucially, the British Armed Forces are not only now convinced that protecting culturally significant sites helps and does not hinder military action, but they see the importance of being proactive. My understanding is that Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick, who has written the Army Headquarters paper on cultural protection and whose talk some of us attended at the All-Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group, is currently introducing the new team which is planned to be part of the new 77th Brigade. Excitingly, they will be the UK’s monuments men and women for the 21st century.
The convention is now backed by every party and all departments. The time has clearly come to ratify the Hague convention. If, at the end of this debate, we hear the words “when parliamentary time allows”, there will surely be a groan around the House. We need a commitment from the Government that the necessary legislation will be introduced in 2016.Will the Minister confirm this?
Ratifying the treaty will not bring back what has been destroyed at Nimrud and Palmyra, but it will hugely help with the future. UK ratification, following the US as recently as 2009, will not only strengthen the treaty itself but will allow the UK the necessary international moral authority which it so far lacks. But that should be just the start, because the UK has an opportunity—a crucial opportunity—to take the lead in building a strategic vision for cultural property protection, in a sense leapfrogging everyone else. Given our experience and research facilities in our museums, universities and institutions, there is the potential to do so. But to enable this we need most immediately to do two things. The first is to ratify the second protocol of 1999, which, among other things, crucially defines the conditions of individual criminal responsibility. None of the permanent five has yet done so, not out of any specific concern for the protocol—44 states have ratified the second protocol and France and China, I understand, are considering doing so. I am pleased that the Government intend to do this.
The second necessary thing to achieve is to use part of the cultural protection fund to set up a co-ordination centre in London that could then become the international headquarters of the organisation of the Blue Shield, the emblem of the 1954 convention and the umbrella organisation for heritage NGOs. If this happened, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has suggested, it would be the cultural property equivalent of the setting up in 1863 in Geneva of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Will the Minister take careful note that establishing such a co-ordination centre as the priority use for the new cultural property fund is backed by the British Museum, the Museums Association, the Council for British Archaeology, the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, and the Art Loss Register, among many others? The worry at present, however, is that the fund will be used mainly for local, if not insignificant, projects and that, at the end, there will be no legacy. The consultation document launched today, which will run to 19 February, while full of good things in terms of localised protection, training and education, makes no mention of co-ordination. As Peter Stone says, an endowed core team would provide the strategic vision, credibility, and focal point for the efforts of the international community’s actions regarding cultural property protection long into the future. We have this window of opportunity to take an effective leadership role in cultural property protection and become its international centre, both real and formal, and we should not lose it.
On a separate if related issue, it is important that we try to do something about the trade in illegal artefacts. We know through anecdotal evidence that there is a trade in London in illegal antiquities and this must be addressed. It is worth noting that in the 13 years since the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act came into force, there has not been a single prosecution. I find it extraordinary that while so much scholarship in these areas is built on the principle of provenance—I am thinking of art objects more generally—the antiques trade, including auction houses, is still very secretive, when it suits, about previous ownership. I wonder if there should be buyers’ rights legislation for antiquities.
Finally, to put this debate into a human context, it is important to protect our living culture as well as the past. It is, of course, people who built our cultural heritage in the first place. There is no more extreme case at present than the plight of the poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh, who has been in jail in Saudi Arabia for the last two years. He was charged with apostasy and, in November, sentenced to death, against which an appeal has been made. He has strong links with the UK, helping to foster British-Saudi cultural relations through arts projects between the two countries. The literature and arts communities around the world have expressed huge concern. I mention Ashraf Fayadh in particular today because a worldwide reading of his work, organised by the Berlin International Literature Festival, is taking place at this very moment in many cities in Europe, Canada, the United States, Egypt, China and many other places, including London.
In this spirit, I want to read just a few lines from his poem “Asylum”, translated from the Arabic, from his collection Instructions Within. It has a particular resonance in Europe as well as the Middle East, given the upheavals we are currently witnessing:
“Asylum: To stand at the end of a queue.
To be given a morsel of bread.
To stand!: Something your grandfather used to do.
Without knowing the reason why.
The Morsel?: You.
The homeland: A card to put in your wallet.
Money: Papers that carry images of Leaders.
The Photo: Your substitution pending your return.
And the Return: A mythological creature ... from your grandmother’s tales.
End of the first lesson.”
Ashraf Fayadh is not the only artist currently held in prison and is certainly not the only wrongly held prisoner, but I ask the Minister, in her capacity as the Arts and Culture Minister, to convey the huge concern being expressed by the arts community in this country to the Foreign Office and ask what action the Government are taking to help secure his release.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my very dear and noble friend Lady Andrews, who initiated this debate. Like many other noble Lords, I was utterly shocked when the first images appeared on our screens of ISIL militants destroying antiquities in Iraq. We then saw it repeated in Syria, at Palmyra, but with the horrible news of the murder of Khaled al-Asaad, the caretaker of that important site. Because of my interest in antiquities, I have visited Syria and to see that destruction is just so horrifying. As I, like others, watched the hacking into historical artefacts and saw them being toppled and ground into the dust, I felt almost as deep a wound as when I hear news of bombings and killings. I questioned my own moral compass. I wondered why I was feeling such grief over the loss of things—artefacts and art—and why it was so sickening. Why were we having such visceral responses to this? It is because of the very thing that many have mentioned, particularly the right reverend Prelate who spoke. This is about the destruction of our common heritage and sense of who we are as a people. It is about our humanity, and our shared humanity at that.
The deliberate destruction and theft of cultural heritage by Islamic State is not just mindless vandalism but ideological. That is the horror of it because it is justified by invoking the part of traditional Islamic thinking about Tawhid and the idea of the Islamic religion being monotheistic. But it is being invoked in a literal way to oppose anything that is other or different, so it has justified the destruction of monasteries and shrines, too, if they are of the Shia tradition. There is the destruction of churches, because Christianity is in their sights, and of ancient temples and statues, especially if they are of human form. This is all part of the Salafist tradition, which has its source in Wahhabist Saudi Arabia. It is a corrupted form of Islam.
The motivation is to eradicate utterly that with which it disagrees. It is an attack on the identity of peoples, their belief systems and who we all are. Our shared cultural heritage, which should be teaching us tolerance and respect for diverse humanity, is invoked for the very opposite purposes. We should be concerned about what this all means: a return to year zero, in the way invoked by Pol Pot, leaving no traces of any previous culture or civilisation so as to provide a new platform for that which is being promulgated. We should be very clear why we should feel this so deeply and why this moment is a time for acting with urgency.
Despite the UN’s ban on the trade of artefacts looted from Syria since 2011, we have seen extensive smuggling out of the Middle East and into the underground antique market of Europe and North America. The horror of those crimes has to be met with a proper response, but it is more than that. We are seeing other crimes. This destruction is a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court. I saw only recently that Mrs Fatou Bensouda, the lead prosecutor at that court, has insisted after the destruction of sites in Mali by Ansar Dine that perpetrators will be held accountable because these are war crimes. However, they are not only war crimes. Those of us concerned with international law would all recognise that they also constitute crimes against humanity because of what they are doing to the identity of peoples.
That is why I heartily endorse the appeal to government by my noble friend Lady Andrews that urgent steps should be taken to make progress on ratifying the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. It is a source of shame to us that we have this history, described so powerfully by my noble friend Lord Howarth, of this being agreed time after time by Ministers, yet we still stand here today without having legislated.
ISIS cannot silence history and we should be making that message clear. ISIS cannot erase great culture from the memory of the world. We should be sending a message that perpetrators of these crimes will be held accountable, and delays in legislating are unjustifiable. We have to find time to get this legislation through. I hope that the Minister will be the bearer of good news today and will not just rely again on the idea that time is not available. This is urgent and is something that speaks to who we are.
My Lords, in winding up from these Benches I have always taken the attitude that there is no point in writing a speech, because you will be following someone else, and it is particularly dangerous to read from a prepared briefing if somebody has already eloquently set out what is going to be in it. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for initiating this debate, but will not follow her in asking the Government when they are going to ratify the convention. Although of course it is quite dangerous for a Liberal Democrat after the election to use the expression “I’ll eat my hat”, I have never known any Minister to declare ahead of the Queen’s Speech coming out that time has been found and that a specific measure will be part of the next Session.
There is a danger here. As the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, knows—he has been a great advocate of archaeology and heritage—this has been an issue on every single agenda of the All-Party Archaeology Group for decades now, and it seems rather a shame that it was taken off. I very much hope the Government will ratify the convention, because it is slightly embarrassing when you look at a map of the world and realise that Britain is one of the last major powers not to have done so, even though, through the work we have been doing, especially through the work of the British Museum, we are seen as a leading light in the world of heritage.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, raised an issue that I also had difficulty with, which is the feeling of shock and horror that came about through the destruction at Palmyra especially, a city I have visited. Of course there is the issue of why we are so upset by that when the beheadings and other outrageous acts of Daesh are so much at the forefront of people’s minds. I suppose it is because it is trying to destroy our heritage. It is a shock tactic which has been used very effectively. That seems to be the basis of many of the actions it has undertaken.
We are of course dealing with this and there is a great deal of movement behind it because Daesh is using the proceeds of the looting of antiquities, which is being done on an industrial and organised scale, to fund its activities. Although the RAF is targeting the wellheads to reduce the amount of money going into the coffers of this organisation, a great deal of money is coming through artefacts which end up on the international art market. As was pointed out, this is not an international art market that operates outside the UK: a large number of Mesopotamian artefacts have appeared in the underground British marketplace. A number of us in the Room pushed through the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill specifically to deal with artefacts looted after the last Gulf War.
I very much hope this issue will be pushed forward in terms of the military aspects. The issue there is how we deny the enemy the ability to conduct warfare by reducing the resources that it has. The fact that the MoD is looking at creating a modern monuments team, as the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, mentioned, could be very useful in this area. I would like to volunteer personally for such a unit. Apparently, they are looking for people with an archaeological degree, which I have. Indeed, I was a student of Professor Stone—not a great one, I have to admit. They are looking for ex-officers in the Army—I was informed that a large number of archaeologists are ex-officers in the Army, which is an interesting fact I had not known before—with knowledge of the Middle East.
It is particularly important to realise where these artefacts are going. They are not just going to Britain and America, although we should realise that after the latest Gulf War, some of the artefacts looted from Baghdad museums, with their serial numbers, were on sale in the US. They are also going to the Gulf states. It is very important to understand that there is a large marketplace there and to deal with it.
I would happily join that unit, but my great disability, which is abject cowardice in the face of danger—and having to explain it to my wife—might hinder me from undertaking that voluntary duty. Building the knowledge base within the MoD will be important. That is not the only country or the only war in which that was used as a tactic. It has been used many times in the past and probably will be in future.
The MoD and RAF have made a great effort to do as little damage as possible. We had great discussions during the Gulf War about targeting solutions and making sure that we did not drop bombs on Iraq’s heritage, because it was a war against not the people of Iraq but its regime. There has been recent targeted bombing of Libyan government forces, ensuring that their military assets were destroyed without destroying cultural assets.
The most interesting area is the development of the protection of cultural property fund. We must be extremely grateful to the Chancellor for being so generous in introducing it. Those are words I never expected to say in this Chamber, but it is worth bringing them out at this point. A large amount of money is involved in archaeological terms, and we must be very careful about our use of it, because it does not come around very often. I very much hope that we spend it not only on specific projects, where it will be desperately needed, but to leverage greater funds from other countries around the world. If Britain could be seen as the country that was bringing a great deal of knowledge and expertise from our institutions—I, as an alumnus of Newcastle University, would be keen to see the fund under the chairmanship of the UNESCO chair that has been created there—that would have enormous value. One problem with archaeology is that it is a living subject. It is not just about artefacts in the ground; it is knowing how they relate to our history and can be used to understand where we come from as peoples.
I finish with two questions. First, I could go into great detail about how I would want the money spent, but I ask the Minister to meet Professor Stone, Blue Shield and other interested parties—perhaps before the DCMS consultation—to understand how we could make this a long-term solution and leverage further funds and knowledge. I ask that specifically because that conversation could indicate how the questions should be asked in the consultation. Secondly, I follow the excellent suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, that we use a Friday specifically, because Fridays are usually reserved for Private Members’ Bills. If this is not going to be a hand-down Bill in the other place, would it be suitable for a Private Member’s Bill in this place? I ask only because the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill was a Private Member’s Bill thought through in quite an area. I say that tongue-in-cheek, of course, because it would be incredibly embarrassing if this was not government legislation.
My Lords, it is the second time this week that the Minister and I have been the last act of the day, and I promise to be much briefer than I was on Monday.
I start by thanking my noble friend Lady Andrews for initiating this important debate, or perhaps I should say “timely debate”, as timing is clearly the crux of the issue. The convention entered into force 60 years ago and has now been ratified, as we have heard, by 127 states. The UK signed it in December 1954, the month of my birth—do show your shock. We have been publicly committed to ratifying it and its two protocols since 2004. As my noble friend pointed out, Labour published a draft Bill for consultation in 2008 which proposed the necessary legislative changes and was backed by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, whose inquiry’s main purpose at the time was to establish whether it would unduly constrain military operations. Of course, the MoD told the committee that the Bill would not have this effect.
As we have heard, the Government’s announcement last year that a new cultural protection fund would be established to help address recovery from acts of cultural destruction overseas is the first positive news on the convention and its protocols since the publication of the draft Bill. I received a copy of the draft consultation document on the fund today, in the foreword to which the Secretary of State, John Whittingdale, says that he is,
“determined that this government once and for all ratifies the 1954 Hague Convention and accedes to its two Protocols”.
While I very much welcome this commitment, my fear is that if it is not done immediately our inaction will continue to undermine our moral authority to speak out on, as well as to help to protect against, the destruction and theft of cultural heritage.
We have recently witnessed—and we have heard descriptions in today’s debate—in the Middle East and north Africa the terrible destruction of cultural property and heritage sites, most notably and devastatingly by Daesh in Iraq and Syria. As my noble friend Lady Andrews said, five members of the UN Security Council have not ratified the treaty, but France and China are now actively considering doing so. As she said, we could retrieve the credibility which has been lost over years from delay and procrastination by acting now. As my noble friend Lord Howarth said, all sides in both Houses support ratification, and I have absolutely no doubt that everyone will co-operate in ensuring its speedy passage through parliamentary stages. I say with the greatest of respect to some speakers that the time is not for more debate but for action and implementation. Like others, I ask the Minister to break with convention and give a clear commitment to a timetable that will achieve implementation in this Session.
Like other noble Lords, I am aware that the Government have acted to comply with the spirit of the convention. As the right reverend Prelate said, in a response to a Question from Sir Nicholas Soames, the MoD has stated:
“Respect for cultural property is already upheld across the Armed Forces and they currently act within the spirit of the 1954 Convention. This respect is incorporated into military law through the UK Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, our targeting policy, training, and in battle area evaluation and assessments. The Armed Forces must comply with the Rome Statute which makes intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes … a war crime”.
My noble friend Lady Andrews also reminded us of Blue Shield. I read with interest about the new cultural property protection capability. Having specialists working in war zones alongside commanders to advise on how to locate, protect and save cultural riches is vital. However, as many noble Lords have indicated, the key to success will be the ability to collaborate with other agencies and the police to stop the black market smuggling of priceless artefacts which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and my noble friend Lord Howarth reminded us, has become an important source of funding for insurgent and terrorist groups. Will the Minister set out the progress that has been made on the new unit and how it is functioning and collaborating with other agencies?
The work of the MoD and the implementation of the convention show that cross-departmental co-operation is vital. This also applies to the new cultural protection fund, which the consultation document proposes will be administered by the British Council, a non-departmental public body of the FCO, working in partnership with DCMS. How does the Minister see this co-operation working in practice? Who will lead? As my noble friend asked, is she confident that DCMS will be able to command the support of other departments to ensure the policy is effectively co-ordinated?
My Lords, I start by paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, who was a distinguished chair of English Heritage and has been a persistent advocate of cultural protection. I thank her for bringing this crucial issue to the attention of the House today and for welcoming the consultation document we today issued to experts, including noble Lords in this House.
It is helpful for those of us who love heritage and want to protect culture in war zones to hear such a wide level of support for early legislation. I will set out the Government’s plans for the ratification of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 1954 and—to pick up the question from my noble friend Lady Berridge—its two protocols. First, it is crucial to acknowledge the wider circumstances and the importance of the UK in championing and protecting cultural heritage globally, as so many noble Lords have said. Cultural heritage sites and collections of great importance in the Middle East and north Africa, especially in Syria, Iraq and Libya, are currently at significant risk of attack, degradation and destruction.
Indeed, in recent months the world has witnessed the wanton destruction and exploitation of cultural heritage by Daesh. How tragic it was to see the devastating iconoclastic attacks on such important and beautiful sites as the Temple of Bel in Palmyra and the demolition of what remains of powerful and advanced civilisations at sites such as Nimrud and Hatra. I very much look forward to the troubling photographs from the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. As part of our comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat Daesh, the UK must do what we can to prevent what the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, rightly called “the destruction of our common heritage”, and to support the recovery of affected sites.
Cultural heritage is not just of aesthetic and academic importance; it comprises priceless assets for humanity that are fundamental to people’s shared sense of history and identity. Through our history and unique expertise, we carry a vital responsibility to support cultural protection overseas, and recent events have confirmed the urgency of this role. We are taking concerted steps to meet that responsibility.
I turn to the questions and points raised by noble Lords. Unfortunately, I cannot make the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, eat his hat, but I can reiterate the Government’s clear and firm commitment to ratify the Hague convention and its two protocols at the first opportunity. New legislative measures are necessary in order for the UK to ratify the Hague convention, although of course we signed it years ago and largely implement its provisions, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, was kind enough to acknowledge. The draft Bill that we have published provides an excellent template for the changes to UK legislation that will be needed to meet our obligations under the Hague convention. We are now in the process of building on that substantial draft so that a suitable government Bill can be introduced. I agree that that is a better approach than a Private Member’s Bill.
Once the legislation has been introduced, the UK will deposit an instrument of ratification with UNESCO—in Paris, rather suitably—and the convention and its protocols will enter into force three months afterwards. Our Armed Forces already act as though bound by the Hague convention, and we have extensive arrangements in place for the protection of cultural property through our dedicated heritage and museum sectors. As part of the implementation process, we will take steps to raise the awareness of all relevant parties of their obligations under the treaty.
Since the inception of the legislation it has enjoyed widespread public, cross-departmental and cross-party support, passing pre-legislative scrutiny by the Culture, Media and Sport Commons Select Committee, under the now Secretary of State, a well-known enthusiast. We are working closely with other government departments, heritage agencies such as Historic England and law enforcement agencies to ensure that any outstanding issues are resolved so that the draft Bill is up to date and ready for introduction.
In view of his compelling examples of UK cultural sites, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth will be interested to know that we are also working on a statement that will set out our approach in determining what cultural property in the UK will be afforded general and enhanced protection, in the event of armed conflict, for example—a gruesome prospect, but it is completely right to do that work. We will also describe our policy on taking the protection of cultural sites into account when planning military operations and in the aftermath of a military operation.
It is important to note that the Hague convention and its protocols already inform our Armed Forces’ law of armed conflict doctrine and training policy, particularly with regard to respect for cultural property, precautions in attack and recognition of the blue shield. A joint military cultural property protection working group, established in early 2014, is developing the concept of a unit of cultural property protection specialists, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said. In the near future that unit will start to recruit specialists, perhaps reservists with cultural expertise, pending final approval. The working group will be reviewing cultural property protection training within the Armed Forces.
The Government are taking concerted action against Daesh, the main perpetrators of cultural heritage destruction in recent times. The UK is a leading part of a global coalition of 65 countries and international organisations, including many in the region, which are united to defeat Daesh on all fronts. As well as attacking it militarily we are also squeezing its finances, disrupting the flow of fighters with exit checks, challenging its poisonous ideology and working to stabilise areas liberated from Daesh.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, asked about Ashraf Fayadh. I will have to pursue this with the FCO and will write to him about the case.
We understand that oil and extortion are the two main sources of Daesh funding, accounting for about 80% of its revenue. It also generates a small amount of revenue from selling looted antiquities and from donations from misguided individuals. Although looted antiquities provide a minor revenue stream, we take this very seriously, and the UK has an effective legal framework to tackle the illicit trade. We are working with our international partners to prevent the illegal trading of Iraqi and Syrian antiquities, including here in the UK, through the implementation and enforcement of UN and EU sanctions. Therefore, there is both use of sanctions and collective endeavour, which, quite rightly, I have heard a lot about this evening.
The noble Lord, Lord Howarth, asked about our policy to conform to UN Security Council Resolution 2199. The UK co-sponsored this important resolution, taking steps to prevent Daesh benefiting from trade in antiquities among other sources of revenue, and the sanctions imposed by the resolution are fully implemented and enforced in the UK.
The issue of looted antiquities smuggled out of conflict zones such as Iraq and Syria through the black market is inherently complex, as we all know, which is why we seek to work with international partners to prevent illegal trade, including through sharing intelligence via the enforcement agencies and international sanctions, as I have mentioned. As all noble Lords have said, collaboration is key.
I am pleased to confirm to my noble friend Lady Berridge that in the recent spending review, the Government pledged their enduring support to the police nationwide and protected police budgets in line with inflation, which is obviously important to the work of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Art and Antiques Unit.
Will the noble Baroness respond more specifically to the important point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, about the funding of the Metropolitan Police’s art and antiquities squad? It is miniscule, almost non-existent—as I understand it, it is having to raise its own money. We ought to do better than that, should we not?
I have explained to the noble Lord and to my noble friend that the police budget has been protected, and I take the point that the House thinks that more resources should be spent on this. I will certainly think about that. However, I have found in other areas with similar issues, such as intellectual property, that bringing the different enforcement agencies together can make a big difference.
In October last year, the Government announced that we are providing £3 million for the British Museum to work with experts from Iraq to set up a rescue archaeology programme. This will enable Iraqi archaeologists to be trained in the UK and Iraq in specialist techniques. The programme will be the first in a series of new initiatives to protect global cultural heritage.
The Government have committed £30 million to a new cultural protection fund, as has been said. This will seek to support local communities in protecting and restoring their cultural heritage in ODA-eligible countries in global conflict zones, helping to provide them with long-term sustainable socioeconomic stability. The cultural protection fund is intended to be executed in co-ordination with our international partners and international heritage organisations. It will be designed both to complement and to bolster existing initiatives. Today, we began consulting experts on the most effective ways of using this fund, and I would be delighted to meet the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and the Blue Shield committee.
Last month, the Government further underlined their commitment to ratification of the Hague convention and its two protocols by making a public pledge in conjunction with the British Red Cross. Although depressing, recent events have given a greater sense of urgency to legislation and to ratification of the convention.
I cannot say more other than that my Civil Service career was helped by leading the Bill team as an official as the then Food Safety Bill went through Parliament. Sadly, it took Edwina Currie and salmonella in eggs to get us the long-awaited Bill slot that we needed to update the food safety rules, and it could be that Daesh will be the infection which brings about new legislation in this instance.
House adjourned at 6.55 pm.