My Lords, this is a wonderful opportunity for me to take this important Bill through your Lordships’ House. I thank—I do not know if I can call him my honourable friend—the Member for Central Devon, Mel Stride, whom I have known for a while, who guided this Bill through the other place and very kindly asked me to take it through your Lordships’ House. I was delighted to take over the reins, given my interest in these issues in my former role, now so elegantly occupied by my noble friend Lord Parkinson.
Before I get into the meat of the Bill, I thank the excellent Bill team at DCMS—Mark Caldon, Karl Jagdis and Aisling Parrish—as well as the brilliant DCMS lawyer, Lydia Williams. I am sure my noble friend Lord Parkinson will agree with me that he is lucky enough to be working in a department full of the most excellent civil servants who give so much to us.
The Cultural Objects (Protection from Seizure) Bill is a short two-clause Bill and, I think, relatively uncontroversial. It extends the period of protection for an art object against a court-ordered seizure. It covers an object that is loaned to an institution in this country—a listed institution, which I will come to in a minute—for a temporary exhibition and ensures that it cannot be seized while it is in this country.
That provision was brought in by Part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. Under Section 134 of the Act, provided that certain conditions are met, these objects are protected from a court-ordered seizure for a period of 12 months. It is obvious why the legislation was originally brought in: there were concerns from a number of countries that their art objects were in danger of being seized while abroad if a third party, for example, had brought a claim against that object or indeed if a third party had a dispute with the state, albeit some kind of territorial dispute, and it wanted to use the object as a bargaining chip.
Section 134 of the Act clearly provides protection against seizure, provided that the object is normally kept outside the UK, it is not owned by a UK resident and it has been brought here for temporary public display by a museum or gallery—provided that that gallery is approved under Section 136 of the Act. In order for the object to be protected, the borrowing museum must have complied with the regulations made under the Act relating to publishing information about the loan in advance of it coming to the UK, and also doing due diligence on the provenance of the object.
The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for approving the institutions in England—and, indeed, in the devolved Administrations—that come under the provisions of the Act. To gain approval under the Act, institutions have to demonstrate that their procedures for establishing the provenance of the object and the ownership of the object are of the highest standard.
When the Act was passed in 2007, it was considered that 12 months was an adequate period of time to allow objects to arrive in the UK and then to be returned following their inclusion in a temporary exhibition. Section 134(4) of that Act provides that the protection continues for not more than 12 months, and that begins on the day that the object enters the UK. The only exception to that is where the period can be extended if the object suffers damage and repair work is needed.
The legislation has worked well over the years; it has enabled institutions across the UK to borrow some outstanding objects that the public would not otherwise have been able to see. There are now 39 institutions across the UK that have been approved under the regulations. I could point to many examples where the regulations have enabled an exhibition to take place, but I need only cite two that will be very familiar to your Lordships: the terracotta warriors, loaned from China to National Museums Liverpool in 2018, and of course the “Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh”, Tutankhamun, loaned from Egypt to the Saatchi Gallery in 2019, an exhibition that was seen by almost 600,000 people.
A more up-to-date example is the eagerly-anticipated Raphael exhibition at the National Gallery, which opens next month. The exhibition is unique in exploring Raphael’s complete career, featuring his celebrated paintings and drawings as well as his work in architecture, poetry and design for sculpture, tapestry and prints. But it has loans from abroad: from the Louvre, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Prado Museum in Madrid, the Uffizi Gallery and the Vatican Museums. I am sure that it will draw huge crowds.
Many of these loans will of course be protected under immunity from seizure. These include Raphael’s letter to Pope Leo X from the state archives of Mantua, a tapestry of “St Paul Preaching at Athens” from the Vatican Museums and paintings such as the self-portrait, the portrait of Baldassare Castiglione, and “St Michael” and “St George” from the Louvre. One of the star exhibits is featured on the front page of the exhibition catalogue: the portrait of Bindo Altoviti, which has been loaned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
I do not know why I am banging on about the Raphael exhibition at the National Gallery, because I have just been appointed as a trustee of Tate. I turn instead to that great institution and commend to your Lordships the new “Surrealism Beyond Borders” exhibition at Tate Modern, which runs until 29 August—so, by my calculation, your Lordships have five months to get across the river. Previous stories of surrealism have focused on Paris in the 1920s. Our exhibition at Tate will reach across the world and over 50 years. It shows how artists around the world have been inspired and united by surrealism from centres as diverse as Buenos Aires, Cairo, Lisbon, Mexico City, Prague, Seoul and Tokyo. Again, many of the loans would not have been possible without immunity from seizure.
The logistics involved in planning and hosting blockbuster exhibitions such as these are immense. With their long experience in managing exhibitions, museum staff are incredibly versatile and adept at dealing with unexpected problems, including transportation delay, but problems can still occur. For example, the Icelandic volcano which erupted in 2010 and, of course, the global pandemic, have both led to delays. Thankfully, travel restrictions have now eased and museums are enjoying hosting and planning future exhibitions with a degree of confidence. However, I say that as the current appalling conflict in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia illustrate that safely moving and returning artwork around the world is never straightforward. That is why this Bill is important.
Where there are unexpected delays in returning protected objects, the Bill allows a period of protection to be extended beyond 12 months, at the discretion of the Secretary of State. It will ensure that the protection remains fit for purpose and that foreign lenders continue to lend to the UK. The new power to extend would apply following an application from a museum or gallery, and extensions would be granted for a further three months initially. There is the possibility of a further extension, if considered necessary. The circumstances under which an extension may be considered will be set out in guidance, which is being developed in discussion with museums and the Scottish Government. It will be published before the Bill completes its passage in this House. The measure is strongly supported by the museums sector and the Arts Council. I am also delighted to tell your Lordships that, only yesterday, the Scottish Parliament passed its legislative consent Motion, so the Bill can now have effect in Scotland.
Although Part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act provides immunity from seizure, there are currently no approved institutions in Wales or Northern Ireland. During the Bill’s passage in the other place, it was actually amended to remove its application to Northern Ireland and Wales. This was because the Department for Communities in Northern Ireland decided that at the moment, it is unable to prioritise a legislative consent Motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Also, following discussions between the British and Welsh Governments, it has not been possible to reach agreement on how the concurrent power to extend the current 12-month period of protection would apply across the two nations. The Welsh Government have also therefore declined to table a legislative consent Motion for the Bill as it stands. I am afraid those are unfortunate developments; I emphasise again that objects may still be protected under the current immunity from seizure legislation in Northern Ireland and Wales, but without a power to extend the current 12-month period.
We have a very busy day today so I will bring my remarks to a close. I trust your Lordships will agree that this is a worthy measure, ensuring that cultural objects can continue to be protected from seizure from their country of origin. I am sure your Lordships will breathe a mild sigh of relief that I will not be taking the House through the current exhibitions at the museums designated in the Act, from the Ashmolean Museum to the Wolverhampton Art Gallery. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am most honoured and grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the Second Reading today. I must declare several levels of interest. First, I am a trustee of the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu and a director of two of its trading companies. Secondly, I am a cultural realm mediator and a founding member of the ADR panel Art Resolve, which was established to mediate in exactly the kind of dispute which this Bill is trying to prevent, and I am vice-chair of the Society of Mediators. Thirdly, my publishing company publishes with the Art Loss Register, the world’s leading resource and database for lost and stolen art, to which any disputes about provenance that the Bill envisages will certainly be referred. Fourthly, the same publishing company has among its publishing partners the National Gallery in London, the Imperial War Museum, Royal Museums Greenwich and the Royal Armouries, all of which could actively benefit by the provisions in this Bill.
While I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate, I am equally grateful to the many kind and courteous people who have helped me over the last month while I settle into your Lordships’ House. As noble Lords will recall, it is a humbling and daunting experience for a new arrival, geographically as much as procedurally. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Borwick who, apart from being my Whip, has taken a considerable amount of time and trouble to show me around the Palace of Westminster and explain many of the House’s more esoteric ways and means.
Likewise, Black Rod and the Clerk of the Parliaments found time in their busy days to explain their roles, my role and the workings of the House. The Registrar of Lords’ Interests was endlessly patient in explaining into which categories my interests should be registered. I must also thank the numerous attendants for redirecting me when lost around the endless red corridors and, most importantly, the doorkeepers, who seem to recognise me before I even arrive and who are, at this moment, keeping your Lordships captive in here while I finish this maiden speech.
The instructions for a maiden speech are that it should be short and uncontroversial. The brevity side of the requirement will soon, I hope, become apparent, and it is hard to think of any Bill less controversial than the one before us. Having consulted the interested parties already mentioned, all are in total agreement that this is a welcome proposal, which will only strengthen England and Scotland’s ability to attract loans from the world’s most significant collections, many of which are appreciated by hundreds of thousands of visitors.
After hearing my noble friend Lord Vaizey extol the virtues of the Bill far better than I can, I would still like to draw attention to a significant benefit of it not so far mentioned. The Bill directly contributes to a cultural environment whereby British and overseas museums and galleries can, with great confidence, contribute to displaying each other’s exhibitions. It is well known that UK soft power plays a major ambassadorial role in promoting British values around the world, and I believe the Bill will succeed in ways which have so far not been envisaged. The Bill can only help to foster the kind of international cultural collaboration which benefits everyone who participates in it—from schoolchildren to curators, from visitors to guides and all the many specialist staff it takes to organise a major international exhibition.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this Private Member’s Bill debate. I congratulate my honourable friend Mel Stride, from another place, on introducing this, and my noble friend Lord Vaizey, who wonderfully introduced it today. He is a man of culture and an ex-Minister for Culture, and he is now the pilot of this cultural objects Private Member’s Bill.
It is an honour to follow the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Strathcarron, a man of culture, an internationalist, a man of travel and, as we have heard, a supporter of the motor museum in the Midlands—more than that, he is a real global traveller and thinker, not least in some wonderful publications, retracing the travels of Mark Twain across Europe and that wonderful journey where he steamed up the Mississippi River from New Orleans. I look forward to spending more time with my noble friend, to understand more about his thinking around such subjects as mysticism and bliss—I am sure that he will find plenty of both in your Lordships’ House. His was a wonderful maiden speech. Today, by the good offices of Hansard, the publisher becomes the published, and I am sure that we would all agree that, in his maiden speech, he has given us a wonderful first edition.
This is a beauty of a Private Member’s Bill—simple, straightforward, clear and concise. I hope that my noble friend the Minister agrees that it does two things. It gives institutions around the world clarity, confidence, safety and security to lend marvellous cultural objects, not least those that my noble friend Lord Vaizey has set out. It gives the public the chance to see those objects in our wonderful museums and galleries, across the country. Would my noble friend the Minister agree that we have a fine, rich tapestry of museums and galleries, with doors open to everyone, right across the country? This is a simple and straightforward Bill, and I hope that it has a swift and safe passage on to the statute book.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, on his maiden speech, and I hope that we will hear more contributions in this particular area of his expertise. The visual arts are of course a feature, in various ways, in creativity and commerce, and together they are a sometimes underrated but hugely important part of our creative industries.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, for introducing this debate and taking the Bill forward. I am sure that all of us here are perhaps planning to visit or will have been—perhaps not recently enough—to exhibitions containing significant work on loan from other countries. It is great that we can have exhibitions again, although I for one will certainly be wearing a mask to visit, until cases are right down.
I am a great believer in the worth of cultural exchange in the wider sense, and engaging with exhibitions is an important aspect of that: it is a way of connecting with other cultures and periods through objects, including artworks, that we would not otherwise have the chance to see in this country. In addition to the list of the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, this could also include British art that has been dispersed around the world but brought back for exhibition. It is worth bearing in mind that this will also include contemporary art, which can now be very valuable, with there perhaps being a potential for the seizure of that as much as older recognised treasures. The last exhibition that I visited was the brilliant Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum—“Hokusai: the Great Picture Book of Everything”. All of the original drawings have been purchased by the BM, which is one way to solve the problem.
This is clearly an excellent Bill, designed to instil confidence and trust in lenders and facilitate exhibitions, supported on all sides of the House during what was a very good Second Reading debate last year, in the Commons. I have a couple of questions for the Minister. The first is very basic, and there may be a straightforward answer to it. It is simply this: why does there have to be a fixed period of time in the first place in which seizure cannot take place? Once a museum has been approved, following the high standard of checks that it will need to make around provenance and so on, why does there have to be a cut-off point and therefore a necessity for this Bill? Of course, the Bill will very helpfully extend that original one-year time period further, if required, but perhaps the Minister can explain that. I ask this question not just as a matter of clarification but because we now live in very uncertain times indeed—more uncertain perhaps than when the Bill had its Commons Second Reading, in September. There is now arguably the increasing potential for cultural objects not to be returned for a long period, depending on where they might be lent from.
My second question relates to the approval of museums and galleries to participate in the scheme. I counted 39 public museums and galleries on the approved list published on the Arts Council site, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, said. This is actually one more than the government website, which lists only one of the two Scottish museums, giving the Hunterian but not the National Galleries of Scotland, which are both on the Arts Council site. It has been 15 years since the original legislation, and 39 feels still quite a smallish number, although many of our major museums are on that list. However, they are mostly from England rather than the devolved nations—Wales and Northern Ireland do not have any approved museums at all, which seems strange. Is this because some museums have yet to apply because they have not yet felt the need to do so or are even unaware of the scheme, or have some applications actually been turned down? It would be interesting to know what the department’s view on that is. Perhaps the Minister can clarify its expectations about extending the list, if that is a concern.
A similar argument applies for Wales and Northern Ireland for inclusion in this extended scheme. Has anything changed with regard to Wales and Northern Ireland since Report, when they were excluded from the Bill? It would be helpful to know whether there has been a development on that front. It seems a shame that this legislation could not apply equally across the whole of the UK, even without as yet approved museums.
A museum’s desire to exhibit art and artefacts from other countries presupposes their existence, and it is distressing when we hear about the destruction of cultural property. The Minister will of course be aware of UNESCO’s huge concern about the threat to Ukraine’s artistic and cultural heritage, and we know that art has already been destroyed and cultural sites targeted, on top of the appalling loss of life that we have seen. I thank the Government for their written reply to my question on this last week; in it, the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, outlined some of the action that the DCMS has been taking with regard to this. It would be helpful if the Minister could say a few words about this.
I wish the Bill success and again congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, on steering it through this House.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and today is no exception. From these Benches, I offer congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Strathcarron, on his rich and considered maiden speech. I extend a very warm welcome to your Lordships’ House—we certainly look forward to hearing more from him.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, on bringing this very practical and straightforward Bill to your Lordships’ House today. We are delighted to support him in his endeavours. The principle of granting extensions, which will relieve the pressure on cultural institutions should they come up against practical hurdles in respect of returning items, is certainly extremely timely and welcome.
We cannot underestimate the role that public collections in this country play in communicating history, stories and identity to the world. Similarly, as noble Lords have well described, these institutions play a great role in receiving works from abroad, so that an interchange of histories and stories can occur, and be told and shared among the British public. What might seem to be a slightly technical point about protecting the ability to do that actually underpins a huge and important role that we as a nation play in the world. Being able to receive important and globally relevant works of art from around the world allows cities and institutions across our entire country to do their job.
This has a great impact, not just on tourism and the visitor economy, but on the learning in which we are all able to participate, particularly the younger generations. This is profoundly important. I have noticed some discussion of late about the value of school trips, and whether they contribute to examination grades. On this point, it is perhaps an appropriate moment to raise my feeling that it is rather limiting to see the offering of museums, galleries and other cultural houses simply as places we quantify as marks on an exam paper. We do not necessarily need art galleries, museums and other institutions to help with exams, but we do need them to make us think and feel. That is an enrichment of life, particularly for the younger generation.
The reason this Bill is particularly timely is because it takes account of the very challenging year which cultural institutions have faced in respect of the pandemic. We share the view that the Government need to respond to what has been a very difficult time with support and help, and by facilitating the very things which institutions need to get them through such a difficult time. This would also pre-empt any difficulties which may come in the future. The Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, brings to us today is certainly one of those things which would make a contribution.
Reflecting on the pandemic has made us realise just how important arts and culture are in this country, because we had limited access to them. It could have been an interesting thought experiment in the past to imagine what it would be like if we shut down every museum and gallery across our country. Of course, it was not an experiment; it actually happened. Therefore, the Bill shows that if we can make small changes and facilitations to make things easier, we can see better continuity of culture—and that must be a good thing. Our young people deserve access to the best museums and galleries which our country has to offer. Tourism, the visitor economy and the learning which we all experience are absolutely key. We all deserve the comfort and calming influence on our lives of cultural institutions, and we know about the positive impact they have on mental health. To do this, we must ensure that we can play our part. The UK has an incredible place in the world in demonstrating the very best of global culture. We need to ensure that, despite any turbulence now or in the future, these institutions which we so treasure are still able to do that. Therefore, I once again congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, and wish this Bill every success as it continues its passage in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I thank my esteemed predecessor and noble friend Lord Vaizey of Didcot for bringing forward this Bill which, as he said, was successfully taken through another place by our right honourable friend the Member for Central Devon, Mel Stride. I also take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend on his recent appointment as a trustee of the Tate, one of the most important institutions in this country and a principal user of immunity from seizure protection. I am very grateful to him for his absolutely correct words of praise for officials at DCMS, not least the team which has been working on this Bill. We are very lucky to have their support on this legislation and all the other matters with which we deal.
It is a great pleasure to very warmly congratulate and welcome my noble friend Lord Strathcarron to his place in your Lordships’ House. Often maiden speeches show some ingenuity to bring to bear the expertise and experience which new Members have. In this case, his credentials were set out very clearly and have direct application to the matter at hand. We are very lucky to have him in your Lordships’ House scrutinising the Bill, and I look forward to more contributions from him on matters relating to DCMS, and many more besides.
As my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond said, this is a beauty of a Bill. The beauty lies in its simplicity. It is a short, two-clause Bill amending existing legislation in Part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, to ensure that our immunity from seizure provision remains fit for purpose. It will mean that approved museums and galleries are better able to respond to unforeseen obstacles which might otherwise threaten the safe and timely return of the wide range of cultural objects which they so regularly borrow from abroad for the benefit of the public across the United Kingdom. The 12-month limit of immunity from seizure protection is an issue which was raised specifically by approved museums and galleries during the more restrictive periods we all faced during the pandemic. The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, asked why there needs to be a limit at all. In general, the 12-month limit had been sufficient for the normal length of exhibitions, allowing time for those exhibitions to conclude and for items to be returned. Of course, recent events—not least the pandemic but others which have been mentioned—highlight that it is important for this provision to be needed occasionally. There will be no limit to the number of three-month extension periods which can be granted. However, as with all applications, there will need to be a good case for granting each extension. There will be flexibility, as well as protections, in the new system.
As with all sectors, our cultural institutions have faced tremendously difficult times recently, and we recognise the need to support them to recover, thrive and welcome people back across their thresholds as we emerge from the pandemic. As noble Lords have noted, there are 39 museums and galleries across England and Scotland which make use of immunity from seizure protection. As my noble friend mentioned, it is unfortunate that the territorial application of the Bill had to be amended in another place to exclude Wales and Northern Ireland. None the less, as all museums and galleries currently approved for the purposes of immunity from seizure are in England and Scotland, the 12-month time limit is of most relevance in those territories. As my noble friend noted, we are very pleased to see that the legislative consent Motion was granted in the Scottish Parliament yesterday. However, the territorial extent of the Bill remains UK-wide.
As we continue to support the recovery of our museums and galleries from the recent uncertain and challenging times, an option to extend the length of time that objects can be covered by immunity from seizure is a welcome and sensible contingency to have. I am therefore pleased that this Bill looks to ease some of the uncertainties with which our museums have been grappling in recent months, and I am happy to confirm that the Government continue to support this succinct and helpful Bill. The depth and quality of the permanent collections held by these institutions is of course already exceptional, but lending and borrowing objects is also an important core activity for our museums and galleries. Immunity from seizure protection often plays a fundamental role in enabling loans from other countries to go ahead, with many lenders stipulating that such protection is in place as a condition of loan. The Bill will provide a sensible improvement to an already worthy tool used by many of our esteemed cultural institutions across England and Scotland.
My noble friend Lord Vaizey mentioned some of the upcoming or newly launched exhibitions to which we can look forward this year: no less than a visit from one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance at the National Gallery, and a re-examination of surrealism at the Tate. I hesitate to say that my noble friend’s speeches sometimes show the influence of surrealism, but they are certainly rich with cultural allusions on every occasion. Loans help to complement and enhance the stories told by our UK institutions. The British Library recently hosted the excellent exhibition “Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens”, which I had the privilege of seeing. I was fascinated to view the letter—on loan from archives in Spain—penned by King Philip II, lamenting the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, and declaring his determination to proceed with the Spanish Armada. Immunity from seizure cover enabled this fascinating letter to sit alongside some of the British Library’s most exceptional Elizabethan manuscripts, adding to the tale of the two rival queens and providing a fantastic opportunity for visitors to view these documents in their wider context.
I was one of 600,000 people who had the pleasure of seeing the breath-taking Tutankhamen exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery a couple of years ago. Another show benefiting from immunity from seizure coverage is “Van Gogh. Self-Portraits”, which opened at the newly refurbished Courtauld Gallery last month, which I saw on Wednesday morning. This is the first exhibition dedicated to Van Gogh’s self-portraits, promising visitors a unique insight into the life of the great artist. The Courtauld is home to perhaps Van Gogh’s most famous self-portrait, “Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear”, and this new show assembles portraits of the artist’s own likeness from museums across the globe.
It is clear from the small selection of examples mentioned today that borrowing objects allows museums to stage exhibitions and displays that would not otherwise be possible. These loans enable them to further contextualise their own collections, create opportunities to attract and inspire new audiences, and re-engage their existing visitor base with new offers and insights. It is understandable that many lenders require certainty around immunity from seizure protection when they lend such valuable artefacts, and it is therefore important that we ensure that the legislation that underpins this protection is up to the task. The Bill will help to reduce the risk of cultural property from other countries being left unprotected while in the temporary care and custody of approved institutions. The option to extend the length of time an object can be protected while on loan will allow our approved museums and galleries to continue to co-ordinate and plan important loans with international partners, safe in the knowledge that contingency against unpredictable events is available.
For the reassurance of noble Lords, I wish to take a moment to affirm the Government’s current view regarding the loan of cultural objects from institutions in Russia at present. The Government recommend that museums and galleries should not be borrowing objects or negotiating new loans from state-sponsored or state-funded Russian institutions at the moment, in light of recent events. Indeed, I am aware of several prospective loans that will now not be proceeding, as well as exhibitions that have been cancelled in recognition of the unfolding conflict in Ukraine. Her Majesty’s Government fully support the decisions made by those museums and galleries to take such action. In the case of cultural objects currently on loan from Russian institutions, it is for the borrowing museum concerned to decide whether it is appropriate to keep them on display and to arrange for their return at the appropriate time. I have had a number of discussions with museums and galleries, and I know that they are engaging with this very important issue very thoughtfully, in consultation with their staff, their audiences and others.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, asked what the Government are doing to protect the cultural property in Ukraine. Like other noble Lords, I was horrified to see the attack on the Mariupol theatre in Ukraine this week—of course, for the fact that children and families were sheltering in it, but also for the appalling destruction done to the building. The Government are working closely with relevant organisations and our international partners to support the Government and people of Ukraine in protecting their incredible cultural property. Russia, Ukraine and the United Kingdom are all signatories to the 1954 Hague convention, designed to protect cultural property from destruction and looting during armed conflict, including monuments, archaeological sites, works of art and other important artefacts. Through UNESCO, we are working to ensure that Russia conforms with its responsibilities under that convention. The deliberate destruction of cultural heritage can be designated a war crime, so officials are also working with non-governmental organisations to record details of where deliberate destruction may have taken place.
In discussing the loan of objects from abroad, I also believe it is important to highlight that the process that sits behind immunity from seizure protection is necessarily robust. To use the protection, museums and galleries must go through a rigorous application process to attain approved status. That addresses the question from the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, about why there are just 39; this rigorous process involves demonstrating that they are an ethical organisation, that they follow proper due diligence processes for examining the history of the objects that they borrow, and that they will not borrow items if any suspicion lingers that they were stolen, looted or illegally obtained. For the protection to apply to objects that they are borrowing, approved institutions must also publish detailed information about such objects at least four weeks before the objects enter the UK. This diligent work is all part of the high standard of professional practice that our museums carry out as part of their loan procedures.
It is fantastic that 39 museums so far have achieved immunity from seizure approved status. That is a testament to their excellent track records and their continued commitment to upholding the highest standards of due diligence. Of course, new institutions join their number, and I am pleased to say that the 39th on the list of approved institutions was made as recently as last month, when Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham successfully met the rigorous requirements to achieve approved status ahead of its upcoming exhibition, “The Grand Tour”, which will now feature two paintings on loan from galleries in Italy. As an approved museum, Strawberry Hill House will be in good company, sitting alongside great institutions such as Manchester Art Gallery, National Museums Scotland, Hampton Court Palace, the Natural History Museum, Norfolk Museums, the V&A and many others that have been mentioned this morning.
Layers of hard work, training, rigorous provenance research and meticulous record-keeping go into making immunity from seizure work in practice. This provides assurance that approved museums and galleries borrow items from abroad in an ethical way. While immunity from seizure protection builds the confidence of lenders that their objects are safe, it also builds confidence in our sector that only sound loans are followed through, and this in turn reduces the risk of seizure being likely. There has, in fact, never been such an incident in the UK.
The Bill my noble friend has presented us with today is an excellent recognition of where existing legislation can do more to help the work that our museum professionals deliver. While our approved museums and galleries demonstrate an admirable execution of skill in attending to all the necessary work that sits behind immunity from seizure protection, the measures in this Bill can help them to be more confident that, in the event of the unexpected, the objects they are loaning can stay a while longer in the UK, and that they will remain protected until they are able to be dutifully returned to their owners overseas.
In conclusion, I thank my noble friend Lord Vaizey of Didcot for bringing this incredibly worthy Bill before your Lordships and for setting out so articulately and clearly the benefits that it will bring. I am very grateful for the support that it has had from all the contributions across your Lordships’ House today.
My Lords, this has been a fantastically erudite and insightful debate, covering a wide range of issues, but coming back always to focus on the importance of the Bill. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, on mentioning school trips, and the controversy, and I commend the article from Maria Balshaw, the director of the Tate, in yesterday’s Evening Standard, in which she agrees with the noble Baroness—as do I—that school trips are absolutely essential to museums and should not simply be seen as there to promote grades.
I am tempted to take up my noble friend’s invitation to compare every speech to a great exhibition. If my speech was a surreal one, may I say that the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Strathcarron was absolutely excellent. I am going to compare it to the British Museum exhibition on Stonehenge—rooted in tradition, reaching back to the ancients and yet still illuminating us with new and current modern insights. I say this with all sincerity: it is wonderful to have him in the House, and I look forward to partaking with him on many debates on cultural policy.
I would compare the great speech of my noble friend the Minister to the V&A exhibition that opened yesterday, “Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear”. As we listen to his erudite comments, we simply must acknowledge also that he is one of the most elegant Members of the Front Bench, in terms of how he puts his case and how he presents himself in the House. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.