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Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill [HL]

Volume 774: debated on Tuesday 6 September 2016


Clause 3: Offence of serious breach of Second Protocol

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 3, page 2, line 4, after “offence” insert “of serious violation of the Second Protocol”

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for his support for this amendment. It has a straightforward intention, which is to ensure that the language used in the Bill is consistent and, crucially, consistent with the language used in the Second Protocol. I refer your Lordships to Articles 15 and 21 of the Second Protocol, which use the terms “serious violation” and “violation”.

We have already discussed this matter in Committee in detail, so I will be brief. What is required is simply that the headings to Part 2 and Clause 3 of the Bill are amended so that, in both, “serious breach” is changed to “serious violation”. I am not permitted to do that through an amendment, but I understand that the Government can make these changes if they were to look favourably on the spirit of this amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, I will be very brief indeed. I simply want to endorse what has been said by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and point out that this matter can be resolved at relatively short notice when the Bill is reprinted prior to its next stage. I look forward to the Government’s response on that point.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to respond for the Government to the noble Earl’s amendment, especially as I hope to give him an answer that he will approve of. I am very conscious that I have come late to this Bill and that many noble Lords did sterling work at Second Reading and in Committee, not least my noble friends Lady Neville-Rolfe and Lord Courtown, to whom I am very grateful for getting us this far. And now, before the Deputy Chief Whip intervenes to say that I am breaking the rules for Report, I shall return to the noble Earl’s amendment.

I recognise that there are concerns in some quarters about the differences in terminology between the titles of this Bill, the convention and the Second Protocol, and the potential for confusion that this may cause. My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe explained in Committee that we have used the term “breach” in the titles of Part 2 and Clause 3 because that is the more widely recognised term in English law and the meaning in this context is the same. However, we have listened to the points made in debate by noble Lords, and I am pleased to inform your Lordships that the Government have agreed to change the word “breach” to “violation” in the titles of Part 2 and Clause 3 when the Bill is next reprinted, which, I believe, will be before it goes to the other place. Therefore, it will now say, “Offence of serious violation of Second Protocol”.

I hope this will fully address the concerns that the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, have raised. In the light of this commitment from the Government to change the titles, I hope the noble Earl will withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for agreeing to make the changes to the headings. This is a small amendment but one that strengthens the Bill. On the understanding that the headings of Part 2 and Clause 3 will be amended as has been promised, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Clause 4: Ancillary offences

Amendment 2

Moved by

2: Clause 4, page 3, line 15, at beginning insert “aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring or”

My Lords, I take this opportunity to introduce an amendment to Clause 4 which has arisen as a direct result of the scrutiny and debate on the Floor of this House and to put on record the substance of the letter that I sent to noble Lords last week to explain the amendment.

As was discussed in detail in Committee, Clause 4 deals with the extraterritorial application of ancillary offences. For example, it means that if an individual abroad attempts or conspires to commit an act, that act would be an offence under this legislation.

Noble Lords may recall that in Committee, the noble Lords, Lord Touhig and Lord Stevenson, tabled an amendment to subsections (4) and (5) of Clause 4, which makes provisions for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The essence of the amendment is to try to understand why these provisions were drafted differently from those relating to Scotland. My predecessor, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe, explained that this was due to a difference in Scottish criminal law. While subsection (6) was not the subject of the noble Lords’ amendment, the debate prompted the Government to reflect on the drafting of this clause and to conclude that the original drafting would benefit from some clarification to ensure that the Bill’s provisions relating to the ancillary offences had the intended effect in Scotland. The Scottish Government and the Crown Office in Scotland have been consulted regarding this amendment and have agreed the appropriate drafting.

I hope noble Lords will accept the amendment. I am grateful that the close consideration this House has given the Bill has resulted in this improvement in its drafting. I beg to move.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord to his position and thank him for his previous acceptance of the noble Earl’s amendment and for this amendment. We all agree that this is a good Bill and I am grateful for these two improvements to it.

I am looking sideways because Hansard will not be able to record this unless I explain what has happened between me and my noble kinsman, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope. When this point first arose in Committee, I rather stupidly intervened ahead of the noble and learned Lord and he rose magisterially, if that is not too otiose a phrase, to explain that, even though I hail from Scotland and carry a Scottish town in my title, I was hopelessly under-read about how the law operates in Scotland and I should know better than to try to amend a Bill that he was able to assure us was in good order at that time.

Or was it? I did not know very much about it—and did not intend to say that I did—but, in the tradition of these Bills, I tabled a probing amendment. We rarely have an opportunity to see probing amendments come home to roost with such extraordinary felicity—I am still nervous that the noble and learned Lord will jump up and shout at me—but I relish that this has now happened. I also welcome the fact that we are having a good afternoon with two concessions already, so I shall not say any more.

Perhaps I may follow those kind remarks by saying that I entirely approve of this amendment. The phrase originally used in that part of the clause was rather too terse. These additional words certainly have resonance in Scotland and it is wise to include them.

Amendment 2 agreed.

Clause 6: Penalties

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 6, page 4, line 29, leave out “, or an offence ancillary to such an offence,”

My Lords, I will move Amendment 3 and speak to Amendment 4 in the place of my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf, who yesterday underwent a knee operation. I am happy to tell the House that it all went well and that no doubt he will be ready to respond to the call for “Strictly” whenever it comes.

I confess to having played no part in earlier debates on the Bill, but I am a keen supporter of the principles and objectives that underlie it. As will readily be appreciated, these amendments to Clause 6 are designed to separate out the primary or principal offences under Clause 3; that is, serious violations of the convention and the Second Protocol from ancillary offences, which are dealt with separately in Clause 4. As presently drafted, all are subject to a maximum term of 30 years’ imprisonment. We propose in these amendments that in the case of ancillary offences—let me make clear, as does paragraph 37 of the Explanatory Notes, that we are talking not just about offences ancillary to the principal offences but to offences ancillary to ancillary offences—the maximum penalty should be reduced to 14 years. This point was first raised, and the change urged, by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf serves. The chairman of the committee, Harriet Harman, pointed out in a letter to the department that an example of an ancillary offence is someone destroying evidence to conceal an attempt by a friend to steal property that is protected under the Hague convention.

Of course, I well recognise that a 30-year maximum sentence ultimately leaves it to the court to decide on what the appropriate punishment or sentence should be for any particular offending. In one sense, one might ask where on earth is the harm in having what is, I suggest, for ancillary offences an absurdly high maximum. But on that approach, why not have 40 years or life imprisonment? The fact is that the fixed maximum gives some indication of the relative gravity with which offending is viewed by Parliament. If, as here, it becomes wildly out of touch with reality, far from strengthening the legislation, I respectfully suggest that it actually weakens it. Better by far to keep the matter in a proper perspective.

A sentence of 14 years for an ancillary offence is itself likely to be way beyond any appropriate sentence, but at least it would highlight the true comparative gravity of a principal as opposed to an ancillary offence. I should just add that the department responded to the Joint Committee’s plea to change this by saying that the policy in this legislation is to mirror the position with regard to war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act 2001. That also provides for a 30-year maximum sentence to be applied equally to ancillary offences and principal offences. It is true that the definition of a war crime includes,

“intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historical monuments … provided they are not military objectives”.

I suggest that such an offence would be equivalent to one at the very upper end of offending under our convention, the Hague convention. Realistically, the 30-year limit prescribed for war crimes is rather more apt for classic war crime offences—genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes against peace and such like. In short, war crimes provide an imperfect parallel with our legislation, particularly with regard to ancillary offences, and it is for those that we propose in these amendments to reduce the maximum to 14 years. I beg to move.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hamwee is one of the signatories to these amendments. Sadly, she cannot be in her place but she, too, is a member of the JCHR, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, already referred, as he did to the letter to the department from the chairman of that committee. As the noble and learned Lord eloquently explained, the letter from Harriet Harman makes it very clear that we are talking about two sets of offences. One is the offence of a serious breach, the other is an ancillary offence—or, indeed, even an ancillary to an ancillary offence. These amendments clearly suggest that, in the light of the differences between them, there should be two sets of maximum penalties accorded to them. That has been very clearly laid down.

My only point is to ask a further question of the Minister that follows on from the letter that Harriet Harman sent, which says:

“Moreover, with an unusual offence of this kind, we would also ask whether the Government plans to request that the Sentencing Council issue guidelines (and if not, why not?)”.

The House would be interested in the Minister’s response to that query from Harriet Harman.

My Lords, I suggest the Minister might be rather cautious about the length of the sentence referred to in the amendment. I am in sympathy with the idea of separating the principal offence and the ancillary offence and looking at them separately—but, drawing on my experience as a prosecutor in Scotland and referring to the phrase “art and part” in Clause 4(6)(a), very often the difference between a person who is found guilty of being art and part in the commission of a crime and the principal actor is very thin. It is quite difficult, in the absence of hard facts, to establish precisely where the line should be drawn between the two maximum sentences.

I suggest that if the Minister is inclined to follow the suggestions made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, he might be wise to consult the Crown Office in Scotland to see whether it has a view as to whether the maximum suggested sentence of 14 years is realistic, given there can be a much closer alignment between a person found art and part and the person who is the principal actor. I would not quarrel with the idea of separating the two; I simply introduce this note of caution as to whether the right figure has been selected.

My Lords, having heard the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, it seems to me that the point he makes is very pertinent. In particular, a concern I sometimes have is that parliamentary draftsmen, when bringing forward proposals, identify equivalence between different statutes which, perhaps under further closer examination, are not as equivalent as they would like you to believe. Therefore, there is an underlying and important point in that respect.

Also, now I am on my feet, I will say that in Committee I suggested some proposals on mens rea and Clause 17. I put on record that I am having a constructive and cordial dialogue with my noble friend the Minister on that, which is why there is nothing on the Marshalled List about it today.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, for taking on this brief. I also take this opportunity to wish the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, a speedy recovery from his operation.

The amendments give us the opportunity to discuss the important concerns of the Joint Committee on Human Rights in relation to the maximum penalty for ancillary offences under Part 2 of the Bill. Noble Lords referred to the fact the JCHR raised this matter in its letter of 29 June, to which my predecessor replied on 8 July.

I understand the concern that the penalty for ancillary offences should not be disproportionate in any particular case. The Government have carefully considered the amendment but we have concluded that we should retain a maximum penalty of 30 years for ancillary offences. This is primarily for reasons of consistency with existing UK legislation: namely, the International Criminal Court Act 2001 and its Scottish equivalent. That legislation provides, as has been said, for a maximum penalty of 30 years for the offence of committing a war crime, and provides expressly that the same maximum penalty applies in relation to ancillary offences. I think that that answers the noble and learned Lord’s question about why it should not be 40 years or life. It is the same as the existing legislation.

The noble and learned Lord also mentioned that under the International Criminal Court Act 2001, “war crimes” include certain crimes concerning cultural property. He read out the wording—I will not repeat it now—that it is a war crime to direct attacks against buildings, et cetera. Therefore, in our view there is a clear parallel and, indeed, overlap between that legislation and the Bill. The same factual circumstances could, in some cases, constitute an ancillary offence under either piece of legislation. It is therefore desirable that the potential penalty is the same. For these reasons, we think it is appropriate for the Bill to follow the precedent of the International Criminal Court Act 2001 and its Scottish equivalent.

In any event, it is important that the maximum penalty reflects the degree of seriousness with which the UK views breaches of the Second Protocol. At Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, said that the 30-year maximum sentence shows,

“how serious we are about protecting cultural property in times of armed conflict”.—[Official Report, 6/6/16; col. 588.]

This sentiment was supported by my noble friend Lord Renfrew and the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, and I agree. In my view, the same principle applies equally to ancillary offences.

However, it is important to note that 30 years’ imprisonment is a maximum penalty. In practice, the penalty may be a much shorter sentence or even a fine. It will be for the courts to consider all the circumstances and determine the appropriate sentence in any particular case. For example, in the al-Mahdi case about the destruction of cultural objects in Timbuktu, which was recently before the International Criminal Court, the prosecution called for a nine-year to 14-year sentence for violations under the Rome statute.

There are many scenarios in which an offence under Clause 3 may be committed and, similarly, many scenarios in which there might be an ancillary offence. I do not think that it can be said that an ancillary offence is necessarily deserving of a lesser penalty than the principal offence. The appropriate penalty depends on the circumstances, not on whether the offence is the principal offence or an ancillary one. It is the Government’s view that a maximum penalty of 30 years should be available in respect of both the principal offence and related ancillary offences, and that it should be left to the courts to determine the appropriate penalty in any particular case. We think that the courts are the best place for that difficult decision to be made.

I cannot help reflecting that on my first outing at the Dispatch Box as a Whip, during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, we spent what seemed like hours discussing with noble Lords and noble and learned Lords how we were restricting judicial discretion and here I am, two years later, arguing that judicial discretion is very important and should be retained in this case.

The noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, asked whether the Sentencing Council would be issuing guidelines. I understand that the council normally waits for sentencing practice to develop before considering guidelines, rather than issuing them on the creation of a new offence. We think that prosecutions under the Bill are likely to be rare, so I do not anticipate guidelines being developed in the foreseeable future.

I hope I have reassured the noble and learned Lord and others that the penalty for ancillary offences has been appropriately considered, and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have taken part in this short debate and to the Minister for his reply. I do not pretend to have been persuaded by most of what he said, or to believe that there is the close analogy between war crimes—even those of destroying buildings which are for cultural purposes—and the legislation which we are now concerned with. I respectfully endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said about the dangers of suggesting that other legislation is necessarily closely parallel to that which is under direct and immediate consideration. All that said, I am confident that at the end of the day the judges, in their discretion, will reach sensible solutions. It is a pity that Parliament looks by this to be a little out of touch. The maximum penalties cease to have quite the same conviction if they lose perspective but I am certainly not proposing to divide the House and I accordingly seek leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

Amendment 4 not moved.

Clause 23: Search and seizure warrants

Amendment 5

Moved by

5: Clause 23, page 11, line 2, at end insert—

“( ) For the avoidance of doubt, a warrant under this section may not be issued in respect of the Parliamentary Estate.”

My Lords, this matter was discussed at some length in Committee. At the time of that sitting, we were in receipt of letters from the noble Lord, Lord Lang of Monkton, on behalf of the Constitution Committee, and from the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, as the Minister in response. It was made clear in Committee that this was a slightly moving target. The purpose of this amendment, therefore, is to invite the Minister to bring us up to date with where things have got to and to make it clear to us whether there are any outstanding issues that he might wish to return to at later stages.

It is worth mentioning this issue because I think it will come up again in the following amendment. It is about the powers that the Bill needs to contain so that it can empower the Government to sign the convention in relation to seizure, primarily of goods in transit where they are found to have originated in a conflict area and therefore become subject to the Act or the convention. In the discussions in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, made it clear that the Government are seeking to fulfil an obligation under the First Protocol to be able to return the property that I have described to its country of origin. She pointed out:

“That obligation is absolute and does not allow for any exceptions”.

It therefore needs to be the case, she said,

“that the police have the power to search for and seize unlawfully exported cultural property wherever it may be in the United Kingdom”—[Official Report, 28/6/16; col. 1532]—

including in Parliament.

During the debate, however, it turned out that, in December 2015, the Constitution Committee had made it clear to the Leaders of both Houses that:

“When Bills contain provisions that could apply to Parliament”,

in relation to legislative drafting, including the type that we are talking about,

“the authorities in each House are meant to be consulted at an early stage”.

I think we picked up from the noble Baroness’s response at that time that the DCMS had not been as effective in communicating its wishes to the parliamentary authorities as it might have been. So we have an issue which raises and engages with the powers of our Parliament and the way in which the powers to enter and seize property operate within the Parliament, and an issue of consultation. I invite the Minister to bring us up to date and to explain where we stand on these matters.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for the opportunity to discuss the important concerns that he and the Constitution Committee have raised about search and seizure powers, which the committee outlined in its letter of 15 June. As the noble Lord said, my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe replied to that letter on 27 June. My officials are also liaising with the relevant parliamentary authorities.

The purpose of the search and seizure provision is to enable the UK to fulfil our international obligations, as the noble Lord said. This is in relation to cultural property which has been unlawfully exported from occupied territory. In particular, it enables us to fulfil our obligation under paragraph 2 of the First Protocol to return such property to its country of origin. That obligation is absolute and does not allow for any exceptions. The provision also enables the UK to fulfil our obligation under Article 21 of the Second Protocol to take the necessary measures to suppress illicit export, removal or transfer of ownership of such property.

Therefore we need to ensure that the police have power to search for and seize unlawfully exported cultural property wherever it may be in the United Kingdom. I listened carefully to the noble Lord’s arguments and I read the debate in Committee. We consider it right in principle that the search and seizure powers in Clause 23 apply equally to the Parliamentary Estate, and we consider that the drafting of the Bill allows for this. As we know, the Bill has been roundly welcomed and it is right that Parliament should be seen to be leading the way, rather than expecting special treatment or exemption from the Bill’s requirements. It is highly unlikely that unlawful dealing in cultural property, particularly this sort of cultural property, would take place within the Palace of Westminster, but if it does, the appropriate enforcement powers should be available. This building should not be a haven from the law or our international obligations.

In her letter to the Constitution Committee my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe noted that we consider that this provision applies to the Palace but that any search or seizure taking place within the Palace of Westminster would, of course, need to be exercised in a way that respects the privileges of Parliament. Of course, in practice, we would expect there to be a high degree of co-operation between the police and the House authorities, both with regard to the need to obtain a warrant at all and with regard to the execution of any warrant obtained.

The noble Lord also raised the mistake that my department made about notifying the House authorities. That has been done, and it has undertaken in future to do it at an earlier stage. There have been various exchanges of correspondence with the House authorities since my officials wrote to them on 22 June. The question of the privileges of the House are a matter for the House authorities. There are differences between this House and the other place. I note that there is a protocol in the other place outlining how these things should be dealt with. There is no such protocol here, but the privileges of the House and how they are dealt with are a different issue and not for this Bill.

It is important that this House is subject to the powers. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will feel that these provisions have been appropriately considered and that he can withdraw the amendment.

I thank the Minister for his response. I just reinforce the point, although I am sure that I made it clear, that drafting was never the issue. The wording of the Bill is, of course, appropriate and we support it. The question was really about the processes surrounding the necessary consultation with the House authorities, which the Minister explained was not done in the way that had been suggested by the committee. That point has been noted. He has now read into the record confirmation that the Government would expect that the appropriate processes in place in both parts of Parliament would be followed in the unlikely event of any case being raised in respect of the Bill. I am not sure that I entirely followed him on whether there was a bit of a gap emerging over the protocols that should apply in this part of Parliament. Although it is not a matter for us—I am sure it is way above my pay grade—I hope the Clerk of the Parliaments has noted the point. He is nodding, so I think he has. Perhaps there is something that the Government might wish to raise with him arising from the Bill about the need for a proper protocol to be prepared so that we are ready should this event occur. With that bit of business in place, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

Clause 28: Immunity from seizure or forfeiture

Amendment 6

Moved by

6: Clause 28, page 13, line 12, leave out “legislation or rule of law” and insert “enactment or rule of law, unless—

(a) it is seized or forfeited under or by virtue of an order made by a court in the United Kingdom, and(b) the court is required to make the order under, or under provision giving effect to, an EU obligation or any international treaty.”

My Lords, again in place of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, I move Amendment 6 on Clause 28. This amendment has been requested by not only the Joint Committee on Human Rights but also the Constitution Committee of this House. As drafted, Clause 28 prioritises compliance with Article 14 of the Hague convention over compliance with every other legal obligation that the United Kingdom may be under pursuant to EU or other international law. Under the amendment, if conflicting obligations do indeed arise under international law, it will be for the court to decide where, ultimately, the priorities should lie.

As your Lordships of course appreciate, Clause 28 deals with cultural property in the United Kingdom; it dictates that in certain circumstances, when it is protected it cannot be seized or forfeit. With this provision, there is, I respectfully suggest—contrary to the position under the matter I was discussing earlier—a useful and close analogy. As pointed out by the Joint Committee and the Constitution Committee, the analogy is with the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 which, in order to facilitate loans of property to museums and galleries in this country, provides assurances that objects which are normally kept outside the United Kingdom will not be seized or forfeit here. In other words, to encourage foreign galleries or owners to lend property for exhibition here, there is the assurance that those objects in the United Kingdom will not be seized or forfeit. But importantly—this is the crunch point—Section 135 of that Act is subject to the proviso that it has no effect where a court is required to make an order,

“under, or under a provision giving effect to, an EU obligation or any international treaty”.

Essentially, it is just that same proviso which we are seeking, by Amendment 6, to introduce into this legislation.

It is true, as the department has said in the Minister’s letter that it is “very unlikely in practice” that there will be any conflict between our obligations under the Hague convention and any other international treaty obligations. But what possible disadvantage is there in providing for such a conflict to give the discretion to the court in case the conflict arises? Surely it is better to provide for it than not and to leave matters prioritising it, as the Bill as drafted does.

I urge the House to consider how moderate, how measured, how sensible and how restrained our amendment is when one compares it to the altogether more radical amendment which I suspect is shortly to be spoken to and which would delete Clause 28 altogether. I beg to move.

My Lords, we have an amendment in this group. It is nice to be described as the radical party—I thought we had lost that tag. To be vigorous and radical with a proposal to delete a clause is always a good thing. However, our intention was exactly the same as that of the noble and learned Lord. The issues raised by the Constitution Committee needed a further outing, and he has expressed them in such a brilliant way that I see no need to add to that. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I beg the House’s pardon, but there is a little bit of a problem here, given that this is exactly the time that we in this country should be very careful about our international obligations. As we are busy trying to untangle ourselves from entirely sensible international obligations because of very un-sensible policies, this is the moment to make sure we do not make any other mistakes, and I hope very much that we will pass this amendment.

My Lords, I will address the noble and learned Lord’s amendment and the clause stand part amendment together, but will just start with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who talked about not making any mistakes in our international obligations. I respectfully point out to him that this international obligation was made in 1954 and has therefore been an obligation for a very long time. We all agree that we should pass the Bill so that we can ratify our international obligations and bring this into domestic law.

The amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, seeks to make the protection from seizure or forfeiture explicitly subordinate to any other international or EU obligations. It would enable a court to order the seizure or forfeiture of a protected object if it was obliged to make such an order by virtue of another international or EU obligation, whereas the present Clause 28 provides contains no such caveat. I understand the noble and learned Lord’s intention is to address concerns about potential conflicts with other EU or international obligations.

I also understand that, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, explained, the amendment to omit Clause 28 altogether was tabled with the same intention, but in fact I think it was really tabled so that we could have a discussion of these issues, which we are doing now. For the record, if the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, were accepted, it would in fact prevent us from fulfilling any of our obligations under Article 14 of the convention and Article 18 of the regulations.

The matter of potential conflicts with other international or EU obligations was raised, as the noble and learned Lord said, by both the Constitution Committee and the JCHR. We have replied to explain that it is, in our view, highly unlikely—as, again, has been said—that a conflict would arise between our obligations under the Hague convention and those under other international or EU laws. Clause 28 is required to implement our obligations under Article 14 of the Convention and Article 18 of the regulations for the execution of the convention. It requires us to provide immunity from seizure or forfeiture for cultural property that is being transported to another country under special protection for safekeeping in line with Article 12 of the convention. It also provides for cultural property under special protection for which the United Kingdom has agreed to act as depository in order to safeguard the cultural property during an armed conflict.

It is our view, which is supported by academic commentary, that the obligation to provide immunity from seizure contained in Article 14 of the convention is absolute. It is worth noting that no state parties, including the vast majority of other EU member states, have made any reservations in relation to the immunity from seizure obligations. We believe, therefore, that accepting the proposed amendment would be incompatible with our obligations under the convention.

It is important to note that immunity will apply only in extremely limited, prescribed circumstances, and only during an armed conflict between states. Stringent requirements must be fulfilled for cultural property to be transported under special protection. Given those extremely limited circumstances in which immunity will be provided, we think it highly unlikely that a conflict could arise in future between our obligations under the Bill and any other EU or international obligation. We note that the Convention is a specialist treaty regulating a very particular subject matter in situations of armed conflict.

In addition, if there were ever any concerns about potential conflicts, the UK could refuse to accept transport of cultural property under special protection to or through its territory. It can also refuse to act as depository.

The noble and learned Lord referred to comparisons that have been made between Clause 28 and the qualified immunity provided under the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 to objects on loan to museums and galleries. Under that Act, the immunity provided is expressly subject to any international or EU law obligations that would require a UK court to order the seizure or forfeiture of the otherwise protected object. We can understand the reasons for the comparison, but it is our view that to make the immunity in the Bill automatically subordinate to all other international and EU obligations is unnecessary. The 2007 Act is a purely domestic piece of legislation designed to facilitate exhibitions at museums and galleries, whereas the Bill is implementing our international obligations to protect, in very precise circumstances, the world’s most important cultural heritage in times of armed conflict.

We are unaware of any existing conflicting EU or other international law obligation and can take the necessary steps to avoid any potential conflict arising. We note that the vast majority of other EU member states will also wish to avoid such a conflict arising, given that they also are bound by absolute obligation to provide immunity. If a conflict did arise with our EU obligations, my officials advise that, if necessary, the courts would interpret Clause 28 as implicitly subject to EU law. If a conflict arose with international obligations, the UK court would be bound to apply the domestic legislation, but if the other international obligation had also been incorporated into our national law, the conflict between the two pieces of primary UK legislation would have to be resolved by the court in light of the relevant treaty obligations.

I hope that the House will understand that it is not our intention to elevate our obligations under the Hague convention above all other treaty obligations, but, equally, we do not think they should automatically be relegated to the bottom of the pile. With that in mind, I should be grateful if the noble and learned Lord would feel able to withdraw his amendment and that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, would withdraw his objection to clause stand part.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for that full explanation of how the department sees this matter. I am reassured that it, too, would like to achieve the position where if, ultimately, in the improbable event that there is a conflict in international obligations that this country owes in respect of this property, it will be for the courts to resolve. I respectfully disagree that our amendment would make the obligations under the Hague convention subordinate. I respectfully suggest that they would have left the position substantially as the Minister says that we are now left with them: for the courts to determine any such conflict. However, I find his explanation as a whole altogether more satisfactory and reassuring, if I may say so, than that on the previous amendment and I therefore respectfully ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 6 withdrawn.

Amendment 7 not moved.