Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee.
Offence of serious violation of Second Protocol
I beg to move amendment 4, page 2, line 6, at end insert
“, which includes a digital attack if the cultural property in question is in digital form.”
This amendment would make explicit that an offence is committed if the act committed under paragraphs (a) to (e) of paragraph 1 of Article 15 of the Second Protocol is a digital attack, where the cultural property in question is in digital form.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 5, page 2, line 17, at end insert
(c) a foreign national serving under the military command of the UK Armed Forces.”
This amendment would ensure that an offence is committed if an act described in paragraph 1(d) or (e) of Article 15 of the Second Protocol is committed by any foreign national serving under the military command of the UK Armed Forces.
Amendment 1, in clause 17, page 8, line 12, leave out
“or having reason to suspect”.
Amendment 2, page 8, line 12, leave out “having reason to suspect” and insert “believing”.
Amendment 3, page 8, line 12, leave out “having reason to suspect” and insert “suspecting”.
The amendment seeks to probe the Government’s thinking on whether digital attacks on cultural property would be considered as damaging cultural property under the Bill. I say in passing that we very much support the Bill, having first introduced it ourselves, but sadly we ran out of time in the Parliament prior to 2010. The Bill will bring into domestic law the offence created by article 15 of the second protocol to the 1954 Hague convention, so it is not before time. I am glad that there is House-wide support for the Bill, but we want to probe a few more points during the remaining stages, to make sure that the Government’s position is clear and on the record before it is sent for Royal Assent.
During previous debates, both here and in the other place, there have been many discussions about the digital reach of the Bill. Given that the original convention was written in 1954, with a subsequent protocol, that was obviously long before issues of digital property would have been actively considered. We welcome the numerous assurances provided by the Government, including by the Minister in Committee, that cultural property in digital form could be protected. If it is true that digital property is protected under the Bill, it would be natural that digital attacks on that property are also covered. The purpose of the amendment is to get the Government to confirm whether that is the case.
It would not be reasonable to recognise digital cultural property but not digital attacks on such property. Given that the Bill involves creating criminal offences, it is important that the Government put their thinking on the record. Their response to an amendment discussed in Committee highlights the need for clarity. We debated whether the cultural emblem of the blue shield, which the Bill introduces from the convention and which marks a protected item, could be shown in digital form. The Minister said:
“For modern, born-digital material, such as films and music, in practice we would expect the emblem to be displayed on the physical object on which the material is stored or on the building in which the physical storage object is kept, rather than being displayed digitally. That would help to ensure that the emblem is readily visible. That is not to say that it cannot also be depicted in digital form.”––[Official Report, Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) [Lords] Public Bill Committee, 15 November 2016; c. 9.]
That could be interpreted as assuming that cultural property, even that which is digital, would be attacked only in a physical sense—in other words, that any attacker would be in close physical proximity to the item and able to see the blue shield on its casing. In reality, however, digital content is more likely to be attacked by way of hacking, in which case the question of how the blue shield could flag up digital cultural property to a potential attacker is relevant. Somebody hacking into a database of some sort will not see the shield on the hard drive’s casing.
We want to know whether the Government have considered the possibility of digital attack, and we want to know their response to our amendment so that we can get that on the record. Will the Minister strengthen her previous wording and assure the House that it would be possible to show the blue shield in digital form in conjunction with a physical marking on the casing or the location of the digital property? The Minister also said in Committee that a roundtable on the particulars of implementing the convention was scheduled and that this item would be on the agenda. When she responds, will she tell the House whether the roundtable has happened since the Committee stage and what conclusion has been reached about the digitisation of the blue shield?
Amendment 4 is also a useful way to probe further the digital reach of the Bill more broadly. Despite reassurances, the digital relevance of pre-digital legislation is not as simple as it seems. I want to draw the attention of the House and of the Minister to two specific issues relating to the digitisation elements of the Bill. The first relates to what the Minister said in the letter, dated 19 December 2016, which she helpfully sent to members of the Committee and others interested in the Bill following the Committee stage. In response to concerns about whether digital content is covered by the convention’s definition of cultural property, she said that it is covered. She also said:
“We do not believe that interpreting the definition in this way would lead to inconsistencies with the international approach, but believe that attempting to expand the definition in our Bill could.”
We have heard that line of argument throughout the proceedings on the Bill. It seems to us that either the protection of digital material is a fair and clear interpretation of the convention that would garner the required international consensus of all those who are party to it and could therefore be set down in writing in some way or other, or it is not. It would be useful if the Minister clarified which of those is the case.
Furthermore, I understand that Wikipedia sought to be listed on UNESCO’s memory of the world register three years ago, which would have secured its protection as cultural property. However, that attempt was unsuccessful due to the difficulties of listing a digital-only and constantly changing website. Is the Minister able to shed any light on that? What consideration has been given to such issues in relation to the Bill? Have such classification issues been considered with regard to attacks on cultural property, as well as with regard to the definition of that property?
We do not intend to press amendment 4 to a Division because we support the Bill, but we want the Government to provide as much clarity as possible for those who have to implement the law in the future. Given that the Bill will create criminal charges, I am sure the Minister agrees that it is absolutely necessary for us to have such clarification before we pass the Bill.
Amendment 5 would ensure that foreign nationals embedded in the UK armed forces are bound by the second protocol of the convention. I am sure that many people will have noted that I and my hon. Friends tabled a similar, if not identical, amendment in Committee, which I agreed to withdraw after listening to what the Minister had to say. I have retabled the amendment on Report on the basis of some new information from the Government. I think it is useful to put that information on the record and get the Minister’s response on behalf of the Government.
In Committee, I mentioned that I was disappointed to have been denied information in response to my written question to the Ministry of Defence about the number of foreign nationals embedded in the UK armed forces in each year since 2010. In an answer submitted on 14 November 2016 at 17.00, the Minister for the Armed Forces responded:
“This information is not held centrally and could be provided only at disproportionate cost.”
I had asked the Secretary of State for Defence
“how many members of foreign armed forces have been embedded in the UK armed forces in each year since 2010.”
I was surprised that the Ministry of Defence did not know how many members of foreign armed forces had been embedded in the UK armed forces in each year since 2010, so I raised that surprise when we discussed the matter in Committee.
The question is slightly harder to answer than it might initially appear. On operations, foreign armed forces are embedded with and serve alongside British troops in various guises and in many different capacities. Unless the hon. Gentleman can be more specific, I can understand the MOD’s difficulty.
It is certainly within the power of the Ministry of Defence to answer the question in terms of its own definitions. However, it cannot have been that hard, because the Minister for the Armed Forces subsequently changed his mind and wrote to me, telling me that he could give me some information. It is always dangerous to intervene too early during the development of an argument. On 28 November, the Minister decided that he could provide some information, albeit not as precise as one might have desired.
I will give the hon. Gentleman five out of 10 on that basis. The Minister for the Armed Forces wrote:
“As my formal PQ response made clear—a definitive response to your question could only be provided at disproportionate cost.
However, it is roughly estimated that at least 200 members of foreign armed forces are either liaison officers or on exchange officer roles annually across the three services.”
He went on to confirm that the Department “does not routinely collect” the requested information about embedded foreign armed forces.
That does at least tell us what kind of numbers we are talking about, albeit not in precise terms. However, the point of my question was to get a general idea of how many people might be impacted by this legislation and to understand whether the Government had a grip on the rough ballpark figures.
Our concern was how the Bill would impact on foreign nationals embedded in the UK armed forces who were involved in the destruction or illegal exportation of cultural property. In her response to my amendment in Committee, the Minister said that
“if a foreign soldier were to commit an act set out in article 15(1)(d) or (e) while embedded in a UK unit, we would dismiss them and send them back to their home state to be dealt with for disobeying orders. The individual would face the consequences of their actions on their return home, and there is no loophole for embedded forces; that would apply whether or not a foreign state had ratified the convention or protocols, as the individual would be disobeying an order.”––[Official Report, Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Public Bill Committee, 15 November 2016; c. 14.]
Now that we have a figure from the Government on the number of foreign nationals to whom the Bill will apply, albeit a rough one, I just wonder—
I appreciate that these are probing amendments, because if the hon. Gentleman were to press them to the vote, I do not think he would get much support from the people behind him. However, will he explain what he thinks is the difference between the terminology in the Bill, which is
“a person subject to UK service jurisdiction”,
and that in his amendment, which is
“a foreign national serving under the military command of the UK Armed Forces”,
because he has not answered that question yet?
I do not think that is a question for me to answer. It is one for the Minister to answer in her response. As for his comments about those on the Benches behind, I always prefer these odds when debating in the House of Commons.
What assessment has been made of whether this matter constitutes a risk or a loophole? In Committee, the Minister mentioned that when a foreign national is embedded,
“a bespoke status of forces agreement or memorandum of understanding is drawn up that sets out responsibility for the individual involved.”—[Official Report, Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Public Bill Committee, 15 November 2016; c. 14.]
Is responsibility for protecting cultural property a part of that understanding? If it is not, will it be following the passage of the Bill?
As the House knows, the UK armed forces already abide by the terms of the convention. I very much welcome that, and I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to their work and their outstanding contribution. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure the House that although the armed forces are a complex organisation, the application of the Bill will be consistent for everybody who serves in them.
The other amendments in this group were tabled by Government Members. We had fairly extensive discussions in Committee on the impact of the Bill on the arts market so I do not propose to say anything further on that matter.
I am very sympathetic to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan). He has ploughed a lonely furrow with great elegance and humour. At least he can claim to have 100% support from the representatives of the Labour party today. I am not entirely sure that I can, but I will have a go and see whether I can tempt the House towards supporting my amendments—amendments 1, 2 and 3. I am very happy to say that they were co-signed by my hon. Friends the Members for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) and for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham). Like the shadow Minister, although we are few in number we are very high in quality.
Modesty is not a word I have ever heard of. It may be, to refer to the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, a cultural object, but clearly one that is far too expensive for me to have ever clapped eyes on.
If I may, I would like to tease out from the Government further information on, and their thoughts about, their policy in relation to clause 17, which sets up the offence of dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property. I should say by way of introduction—if, three minutes into my speech, I am entitled to call these words an introduction—that it strikes me that the Bill is, by and large, entirely uncontroversial, deeply unexciting and about 50 years too late. That said, if we are to introduce uncontroversial Bills 50 years too late, we might as well get the law right. It strikes me that clause 17 contains a self-evident defect, which I dealt with on Second Reading on 31 October 2016. If I may, I would like briefly to rehearse those arguments for the following reasons.
I convinced myself—I remain convinced and have yet to be persuaded otherwise by the Government—that the second element of the criminal intent provision in clause 17, which I criticised, is legally incoherent. Beyond that, I have yet to be persuaded by the Secretary of State and the Minister of either the content or quality of the counterpoints they made in response to the concerns identified in my three amendments. We have had a number of meetings, both one-on-one and collectively —possibly with my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, but certainly with other representatives of the art market—and I think it is fair to say that our concerns about the wording “having reason to suspect” in clause 17 have not been answered satisfactorily.
There has been some assertion: “This wording is better,” say the Government. There has been further assertion that the wording that I prefer, which comes from the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, has failed to lead to the prosecution of any people guilty or suspected of being guilty of offences under that Act and that therefore the level of criminal intent needs to be lowered.
My right hon. and learned Friend does himself an injustice: repetition can be a good thing, if he is right, but it might not be such a good thing if the point is overstated. I refer him to the Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003, as well as the EU Council regulation on Syrian cultural property, where the wording is:
“had no reason to suppose”.
That is similar to the wording in the Bill, and I understand that there has been no grave injustice served on those law-abiding, prudent antique dealers who have been observing those provisions.
My hon. Friend anticipates me: that was the fourth point I was going to make in due course. The difficulty in his making that point—I am grateful that, either through his own research or thanks to assistance from other hon. Friends, he has been able to make it to me—is that those are statutory instruments, which were never debated on the Floor of the House. I am not even sure they were debated in Committee. The whole point about passing criminal legislation that could lead to an individual being sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment or, if a company, to an unlimited fine is that we ought to pass good law. We ought to debate it and we ought to allow an idea to be tested, sometimes to destruction. The Afghanistan and Iraq orders that my hon. Friend talks about have not been tested in this place. The 2003 Act was tested in this place and this Bill is being tested in this place, and if the Government do not enjoy that, well I am sorry for them.
My right hon. and learned Friend is dealing with his fourth point, but I wonder whether one of his subsequent points deals with international best practice in relation to United Nations resolutions, including paragraph 7 of Security Council resolution 1483 of 22 May 2003 or Security Council resolution 2199 of 2015, which focus on the same provision of “reasonable suspicion” that is in the Bill, which are obviously binding on all UN members and which are also part of the international legal architecture of our accession to The Hague convention.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will have plenty of opportunity in the next two or three hours to make his own speech, but I am always very happy to take his interventions. If, however, he looks at The Hague convention—which is being brought into our criminal law by this Bill—he will see that there is no rubric or form of words that are required by that convention to be imported into our criminal law. If we are to base our criminal law on a form of precedent, I would look to the most recent statute, which is the 2003 Act, rather than two undebated and, I think, time-limited statutory instruments. But anyhow, my hon. Friend will no doubt have an opportunity over the next few hours to develop the points that he has thought a great deal about.
I have yet to be persuaded that the Government’s counter-arguments, which I rudely describe as mere assertions, deal with the points that I made on Second Reading. I will not repeat what I said on Second Reading—I know that the hon. Member for Cardiff West, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, has carefully read what I said on 31 October and recited it every week at the Labour party parliamentary meetings, which is why Labour Members have not attended this afternoon—but I make a serious point: the content of clause 17 sets up two systems, which is to say, actual knowledge, which is fair enough, and “reason to suspect”, which in my view is not fair enough and could lead to the conviction of people for lacking curiosity or being careless, rather than for having the requisite criminal knowledge.
During the meetings, as I say, the Government undertook to find out from the Crown Prosecution Service how many cases had been dropped or not pursued by virtue of what was described as the high level of criminal intent required under the 2003 Act. As I understand it—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—there is no information to support that assertion. That argument, it seems to me, falls away.
To persuade me and those who think like me who come from the art market rather than from Parliament that this is a perfectly acceptable way to design this clause, it has been said, “Don’t worry; we will produce some guidance to the CPS, or the CPS itself will produce some guidance, which will inform the decisions of the police or prosecutors about whether to prosecute under the ‘reason to suspect’ arm of clause 17.” Of course, we have not seen that guidance, and we do not know where it is or what it will say; neither do we know what its legal effect will be.
I repeat that we are here creating an offence that could lead to somebody being sent to prison for seven years. Now if I am about to be sent to prison for seven years, I would rather like to know why. If I am to be prosecuted—even if I am later acquitted—I would again like to have some clearer information about the basis on which I am to be prosecuted.
I would hope, too, that all of us in the Chamber would like to keep an eye on the public expenditure implications of running prosecutions. We all know that the court system is overloaded; we all know that bringing prosecutions is expensive and has to be paid for by the taxpayer. If we are asked to introduce into our criminal law wording that foments uncertainty and a sense of unfairness, we should all be a little more careful before permitting such wording to go ahead.
As I said a few moments ago, I shall not repeat everything I said on 31 October, because it is there on the record for everyone to see. Let me finish, however, with this plea. If the Government are not persuaded to get the law right, simply because so few people are interested in this subject, and they know that they can whip the Government party to come in here and vote for whatever it is they want, I say fair enough in that I accept the arithmetic of our legislative democracy. It would be foolish of me to think that by standing up and speaking on a Monday afternoon I could persuade others to defeat the Government.
I am not going to press my amendments to the vote. I do not know whether my hon. Friends the Members for Kensington and for North West Norfolk have other plans, but for my part, I shall not urge them to press these amendments. What I do urge, however, is that the Government at least condescend to tell us what on earth they are on about. So far, we have not had any genuine information or any genuine evidence or any thoughtful response to the concerns that I have expressed. As I said on the previous occasion, these are not just my concerns; they are shared by many who have worked for many years in the art market and have practical experience of the difficulties caused by woolly wording.
My arguments have also been assisted by and based on what has been said by people who have far greater legal expertise than I have. I listed their names on Second Reading. They include a former Lord Chief Justice, a professor of law at Leicester University, a highly respected Queen’s Counsel who specialises in criminal law, and many others who—while approving of the policy behind the Bill and the inclusion of this ancient convention—fear that we are setting off on a wrong track that may lead to injustice. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister hates injustice of all sorts, and I suspect that, when she finds it in a Bill of which she has the conduct, she will probably want to do something to correct it.
Let me begin by repeating what I said on Second Reading. Both the SNP and the Scottish Government welcome the Bill and the purpose that it serves. Like the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), I support its enactment.
When talking about amendment 4, the hon. Gentleman made some good points about the use of the blue shield in digital form, which seems to be an eminently sensible idea. I also agree with his amendment 5. It is only right that foreign troops who are embedded in United Kingdom forces adhere to the same standards and rules as those forces. The Government can be assured of our support for this important legislation, so that the United Kingdom can ratify the 1954 Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, and accede to both the 1954 and the 1999 protocols.
Although the United Kingdom has never ratified the Hague convention, it is widely and rightly acknowledged that UK armed forces already comply fully with it during military operations, and that they also recognise the blue shield, which is—as the hon. Gentleman explained—the emblem that identifies cultural property that is protected under the convention and its protocols. I think it would be useful if the Government considered extending it to digital property. Ratifying the protocols would allow the Government to give our troops formal responsibility when they are operating in armed conflict.
We firmly believe that, no matter where it is located in the world, we all benefit from having a rich and diverse historical and cultural heritage, and that every effort must be made to protect that in time of war—and, indeed, at all times. I do not expect to hear many, if any, dissenting voices when it comes to the principles of the Bill. We all recognise that a people’s culture is a crucial part of who they are now and what they were in the past. For virtually all communities, regardless of where they are in the world, cultural heritage is a symbol whose importance cannot be overstated.
With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall return to a theme on which I touched briefly on Second Reading: the fate of the Parthenon marbles, which are still referred to by some as the Elgin marbles in memory of the man who misappropriated them from the Parthenon just over two centuries ago. What better way could there be of marking the passing of the Bill than allowing the Parthenon marbles to return to—
I have tried to allow the hon. Gentleman some latitude, but, as he knows, we are dealing with amendments rather than with Second Reading speeches. Tempted though I was to hear the hon. Gentleman’s Second Reading speech again, I must keep him within order.
I will be very brief indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker.
We know that there has been systematic looting of priceless artefacts, and that a flood of artefacts are coming on to the market throughout Europe, America and the far east. We must do everything that we can to protect those artefacts, and I hope that the Government will take on board the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Cardiff West. I think it incumbent on all of us to protect the cultural heritage, regardless of whose it is. I look forward to supporting the Government, and I am sure that they will accept the amendments.
I declare that I am president of the British Antique Dealers’ Association and that I have also been advised by the British Art Market Federation, the Antiquities Dealers’ Association and LAPADA, all of which have made written representations on this Bill. I concur with the comments of my colleagues that the art and antiques industry is fully supportive of the principles and aims of this Bill.
Turning to the amendments in my name and those of colleagues, clause 17 relates to the most important point made in the submissions from the art and antique trade. Members have spoken before of the need for certainty in law—that is the point that needs to be clarified—so that well-intentioned and honest dealers and auction houses are clear as to exactly what is permitted. That is even more important when, as others have said, there is the possibility of a criminal conviction. The concern is over the level of knowledge of wrongdoing required before a dealer or auctioneer can be judged to have committed a criminal offence—what I understand lawyers call the mens rea point—and whether that has been expressed with an appropriate level of clarity in the Bill as currently worded.
Clearly no one objects to the word “knowing” in the relevant subsection. If a dealer knows that cultural property was unlawfully exported from an occupied territory, they are guilty of an offence. The problem lies with the additional criterion for committing an offence when someone has “reason to expect” that an item was unlawfully exported. Despite carrying out appropriate provenance checks on an item of cultural property, a dealer or auctioneer might, just prior to exhibiting it at an auction or antiques fair, receive an unsubstantiated allegation that it was illegally removed from an occupied territory.
Of course we all hope that is the case, but that is why we all in this House, jointly I believe, are seeking clarification: we do not want unsubstantiated allegations that something was illegally removed from an occupied territory, or a request for something that was legally exported. The allegation might be totally groundless when something is just about to be sold or exhibited, but the seller, genuinely believing that the item had not been illegally exported, would fear that the allegation could be deemed “a reason to suspect”, and that could lead to the item then being withdrawn from sale. The time-dependent opportunity to sell it would be lost and the very act of withdrawal could well then damage the artwork’s future saleability. The mere making of an unfounded allegation that an item was unlawfully exported from a potentially occupied territory after 1954 may place in the mind of a potential dealer or auctioneer a reason to suspect that it has been unlawfully exported, and although that might not later turn out to be the case, he will not go near it because it has been tainted.
I give as an example an old master picture that has changed hands on the legitimate open market in Europe in the past few years. It is sent to London for sale by auction. Due diligence is carried out and its known provenance is investigated, as is its sale history, and checks are made that the item has not been stolen. The picture is then included in an auction catalogue which is published several days before a sale. An allegation is then made that it was removed from an occupied eastern European country in the 1960s. Time is necessarily short to investigate whether that is true. Attempts to resolve the matter beyond doubt before the auction do not succeed, and even though it may well prove groundless, the allegation itself represents a reason for suspicion under the terms of the Bill as currently drafted. Not wishing to run the risk of prosecution, the auction house has no alternative but to withdraw the picture from the auction, to the disadvantage of its owner who, at best, will have to wait for another auction and, at worst, will face financial loss, as marketing it for a second time could adversely affect its value. The rarer and more valuable a picture or piece of art it is, the greater is the risk that a successful sale will be prejudiced by its withdrawal from an auction. In time, the allegation could well prove groundless, but the damage will have been done.
I recall the Secretary of State saying on the Floor of the House on 31 October that
“It is important that we are clear that the Bill will not hamper the way in which the art market operates.”—[Official Report, 31 October 2016; Vol. 616, c. 700.]
The closest existing legislation to the current Bill is the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) referred earlier. It is concerned with illegally removed archaeological material and objects that have been taken illegally from monuments or historical structures. However, unlike the Bill—in which the types of cultural property covered are extensive and could even include cultural property in people’s family collections—the 2003 Act does not cover works of purely artistic interest. The Act states:
“A person is guilty of an offence if he dishonestly deals in a cultural object that is tainted, knowing or believing that the object is tainted.”
My hon. Friend refers to the 2003 Act. She and I will recall that the genesis of the Act was the ministerial advisory panel’s report on illicit trade, which was published in 2000. The report suggested that the gap in the Theft Act 1968 should be filled by what became the 2003 Act and by the “knowing or believing” test for mens rea. Is it not a pity that the Government do not seem to remember that, and that they seem to be moving down a different route?
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving us the benefit of his experience, which I hope will prompt the Government to reconsider.
As the British Art Market Federation and others have stated, the existing statutes mean that a dealer acting with honest intent and conducting reasonable due diligence is highly unlikely to run the risk of prosecution, unless it can be shown that they have wilfully acted dishonestly. I understand that the Government have cited article 21 of the second protocol of the convention as justification for a lower level of mens rea, but I draw my hon. Friend the Minister’s attention to article 15 of the protocol, which indicates that an offence has occurred if a person intentionally commits an act of theft or misappropriation against cultural property protected under the convention. Surely that suggests that an element of dishonest criminal intent is required by the convention. I seek that assurance. If the Bill were to introduce a lower threshold of mens rea, that would amount to gold-plating, which appears to run counter to Baroness Neville-Rolfe’s assurances in the other place that
“the Government intend to do only what is necessary to meet our obligations under the convention and its protocols.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 6 June 2016; Vol. 773, c. 586.]
For all those reasons, I am concerned that the words “having reason to suspect” are inappropriate. Terms such as “believing” or even “suspecting” carry greater certainty and clarity. I emphasise that this is a point of law; it does not weaken or water down the Bill. We all understand that the objective is squarely to target those with criminal intent. I ask the Minister to consider these views and those of the art and antiques industry when drawing up the detailed regulations that will ensue from this legislation.
It is a pleasure to take part in the later proceedings of this important Bill. I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on cultural heritage; it is excellent to see the Bill on its way and at long last to enable our ratification of The Hague convention, which will be very welcome. Having said that, I very much respect this level of scrutiny and the concerns outlined by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick). We also had exchanges on this issue in the Bill Committee. I welcome that because the concern among dealers has been outlined, not least to the all-party parliamentary group.
The British Antique Dealers Association, the British Art Market Federation, the Antiquities Dealers Association and LAPADA all made considered written representations, which need to be fully respected, and I join them in wanting to ensure confidence in the market. The last thing we want to happen is for the Bill in any way to provide uncertainty or ambiguity in the codes of practice and guidance, which are very welcome—they are welcomed not least by the all-party parliamentary group. We want London to be the centre of excellence for dealers’ associations, and we want there to be true confidence in the market.
The all-party parliamentary group has deliberated on some of the scaremongering stories out there. We recognise that the London dealers’ market has a very good record, and we want to ensure continuing confidence in that market. I have due respect for the concerns that have been expressed, and I look forward to further roundtable meetings and the publishing of guidance.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough, a former Law Officer, pleaded for guidance to be published at this stage. As he will know, some of us who scrutinised the Bill in Committee, including the shadow Justice team, are on his side in pleading for such guidance to be published before the end of our proceedings. Sadly, those pleas have been made in vain in some ways. I share his concern that there should be as much transparency as possible.
It is important to recognise that other stakeholders are concerned about amending clause 17. Although the antiquities and antiques dealers’ associations are important and must be listened to, we must also listen to the police. I understand that police representatives have said that they support the Bill as currently drafted. I have an interest as a criminal defence solicitor, and I am not necessarily surprised that the police support the current wording, but it is worth taking account of other interested parties, such as the British Red Cross and the British Museum.
I was puzzled by the reference to the British Red Cross in a letter from the Minister, so I checked it with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and she, too, was a little puzzled by the reference. I am not sure that the Red Cross has anything whatever to do with this. This is all about preventing the unlawful trade in items unlawfully exported from occupied territory. The Red Cross has lots of things to worry about, but I am not sure its main aim in life is supporting this Bill.
I do not often disagree with my right hon. and learned Friend, but the British Red Cross has a great deal of interest because, in many ways, it is the pre-eminent body in dealing with issues of international humanitarian law. What we are doing here is ratifying The Hague convention, in which the Red Cross plays a crucial role.
I quoted Mr Michael Meyer, the head of international law at the British Red Cross, in Committee. If you will forgive me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will repeat what I quoted because it is of direct relevance:
“However, it appears that, in practice, the clause should place no greater burden on dealers than already exists to conduct appropriate due diligence. In other words, the threshold of ‘reason to suspect’ is not so low as to have an adverse impact on the legitimate market, while at the same time acting as a necessary and suitable deterrent for those who may be less scrupulous. The wording is somewhat similar to that used in the existing Iraq and Syria sanctions orders. There is also very similar wording found in section 17 of New Zealand’s Cultural Property (Protection in Armed Conflict) Act 2012.”
That Act followed New Zealand’s ratification of The Hague convention. What that international lawyer says is relevant because, although I respect the well-made point that this Parliament is considering how the convention is applied domestically through our courts, we are catching up on ratifying The Hague convention and setting ourselves on an equal footing from an international legal standing. I pray that in aid.
I am arguing against myself to some extent here, but I recognise that if we were dealing with a simple issue relating to another dishonesty offence being added to the criminal legal handbook, I would be joining my right hon. and learned Friend in expressing concern about the disparity on mens rea in respect of this offence and the normal panoply of dishonesty offences. However, we are dealing with a unique offence in unique circumstances.
The shadow Minister made a point about the impact assessment and the view that there will be one prosecution. That is relevant because we are talking about an exceptional prosecution in respect of an exceptional piece of property that comes through to the market in this country and how it is then dealt with. We should therefore not overstate the concern, and we need to take into account the confidence of the market. We are dealing with exceptional cases, which need to be dealt with appropriately and carefully. That is why we need to have regard for what is already in place, not least how other cases are dealt with in international practice and how we have applied other relevant legislation.
The Iraq (United Nations Sanctions) Order 2003 was a statutory instrument that did not have the level of scrutiny we are afforded in dealing with this Bill—that is why we are undertaking this scrutiny. It is important to look at the impact of what has been in place since 2003. That order contains the words:
“and had no reason to suppose that the item in question was illegally removed Iraqi cultural property.”
That is particularly relevant here, as it is an equivalent provision to the one in clause 17. Interestingly, the provision is more onerous, as it shifts the burden on to the defendant, with the onus on them to prove that they had no reason to suppose that the property had been illegally removed, whereas in clause 17 the onus is on the prosecution to provide the proof. I have not heard concern from the dealers’ association and others about this order and how it goes even further in shifting the onus in respect of people dealing illegally with removed Iraqi cultural property. I am not aware of any case in which an antiquities dealer has been unjustly convicted—or, indeed, even prosecuted or arrested—under that order, even though it goes a lot further than clause 17 in shifting the burden on to the defence.
What I do know either way is that no antiquities dealer has come forward about being unjustly convicted and there has not been a campaign about such. None seems to have been unjustly convicted under this order—or there has been no evidence that there has been an iniquity in relation to an arrest, prosecution or seizure under the order or, indeed, under the other relevant provision, the European Union Council regulation on Syrian cultural property. That refers to
“Syrian cultural property goods and other goods of archaeological…importance…where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the goods have been removed from Syria without the consent of their legitimate owner”.
Again, I am not aware of any antiquities dealer having fallen foul of those provisions, with the complaint being that the net is cast too widely.
I concede that, in terms of mens rea, there is a difference between normal dishonesty offences and this particular offence, but in respect of the actual impact of the Bill, I am not aware of a serious problem. Rather, the answer is that, with the appropriate legal advice and the due diligence that one would expect of any decent, law-abiding antiquities dealer, they will be able to chart their way through the legislation.
Another relevant aspect is international practice. We are in the process of ratifying The Hague convention and putting ourselves into line internationally. It is important to refer to paragraph 7 of UN Security Council resolution 1483, which came into being on 22 May 2003 and is obviously binding on all UN member states. It was made in direct response to the looting of cultural institutions in the immediate wake of the invasion of Iraq. All member states signed up to taking
“appropriate steps to facilitate the safe return to Iraqi institutions of Iraqi cultural property and other items of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, and religious importance illegally removed from the Iraq National Museum, the National Library, and other locations”.
Paragraph 7 says specifically that that should be done
“by establishing a prohibition on trade in or transfer of such items and items with respect to which reasonable suspicion exists that they have been illegally removed”.
Similar wording is used in United Nations resolutions.
That similarity continued in paragraph 17 of UN Security Council resolution 2199, from 12 February 2015. Again, it is binding on UN member states. It was adopted in direct response to the looting of Iraqi and Syrian cultural property in the course of the ongoing armed conflicts in those states. The Security Council reaffirmed its decision and recognised that there was a corresponding obligation for cultural property illegally removed from Syria since 15 March 2011. On the standard of knowledge considered sufficient by the Security Council, of which the UK is of course a permanent member—we want to ensure we are right up there in terms of signing up to ratifying the two protocols—there was the same equivalence in relation to reasonable suspicion.
On the point about the uncertainties, perhaps the Minister will clarify whether the legislation is going to be retrospective. Is it going to apply to items that are imported in future, or to items that are currently in the country? Alternatively, will it apply only to what happens after the Bill is passed? We are talking about items that move from country to country, particularly those in areas of potential conflict, so it would be helpful if there was clarity in the Bill about the date on which an item was imported.
I am happy to facilitate the Minister’s being able to respond to that question.
On 18 January 2012, before the adoption of paragraph 17 of Security Council resolution 2199, an EU Council regulation emphasised the same points made in the Security Council resolutions. It referred to situations in which
“there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the goods have been removed from Syria without the consent of their legitimate owner or have been removed in breach of Syrian law or international law”.
The amendments have been tabled in good faith and are well intentioned, and in ordinary circumstances I would think they were well merited and had substance. In this particular case, however, given the context, I do not think they are necessary or, indeed, desirable, especially when one takes into account the international best practice or hears from stakeholders such as the Red Cross and the British Museum. I shall conclude with the words of the latter:
“We feel it is particularly important that there is no watering down of responsibilities or requirements in the Bill. Specifically, we feel that in regard to the Clause 17…it is imperative that the working should remain ‘knowing or having reason to suspect that it has been unlawfully exported’”.
I am grateful to all those who have contributed to this good debate on Report. I propose to respond to the amendments in the order in which they have been grouped.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) for his explanation of amendment 4. He and Lord Stevenson have been passionate about ensuring that digital property is protected—I congratulate them on their efforts. The hon. Gentleman raised really interesting points about the risk of cyber-attacks. We should always be vigilant in protecting against and resisting such attacks. This is a complex and, indeed, developing area, but the amendment is both unnecessary and inappropriate. It is unnecessary because we consider that article 15 of the second protocol is already capable of covering cyber-attacks in the context of an armed conflict. As clause 3 is drafted with reference to article 15, the Bill is also able to cover such attacks.
The amendment is inappropriate because the precise meaning of article 15 is a matter of international law and we should not seek to elaborate on its meaning. The amendment would risk creating a divergence in meaning between our own law and international law, and not only would that be unhelpful, but it could ultimately place us in breach of our international obligations. Clause 3 as drafted is sufficient to implement the convention effectively in the UK, so I must oppose the amendment.
Let me briefly address the other issues that the hon. Gentleman raised about digital property. The roundtable on implementation took place on 5 December with representatives from the heritage and museum sectors, and experts in cultural property protection. On the subject of the cultural emblem, we discussed its digital display, which stakeholders broadly welcome. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that digital issues will continue to be fully considered as part of the ongoing discussions about this particular aspect of the Bill.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for tabling amendment 5, not least because it allows me to highlight the tremendous work of our armed forces on cultural property protection. Our military already take the protection of the world’s cultural heritage very seriously. Not only is respect for cultural property upheld across the UK’s armed forces and reinforced in policy and training, but the joint military cultural property protection working group provides an important focal point for progressing numerous aspects of cultural property protection.
Planning for the new military cultural property protection unit is continuing apace. The unit will ensure that cultural property is protected from damage and looting, and it will provide advice, training and support across our armed forces. I am sure that the whole House will join me in commending this important work.
Amendment 5 would extend the UK’s jurisdiction over the offences described in sub-paragraphs (d) and (e) of article 15.1 of the second protocol. If it were passed, foreign nationals committing those offences abroad would be subject to our jurisdiction if they were serving under the military command of the UK armed forces. This issue was raised in Committee and, to be helpful, I will be more than happy to set out our position again. Before I do so, however, let me respond to the hon. Gentleman about the reply he received from the Minister for the Armed Forces regarding the number of foreign personnel embedded in UK armed forces. That is a matter for the Ministry of Defence, and I am really sorry to say that I have nothing further to add to that correspondence.
In Committee, I stated that we should not extend our jurisdiction beyond our obligations under the convention and protocols. Clause 4(3)(b) currently covers all those subject to UK service jurisdiction, regardless of nationality. Although that is not expressly required by article 16(1), it does no more than reflect the existing position under the Armed Forces Act 2006. This is quite a different matter to extending jurisdiction to all foreign nationals serving under UK military command, which would be inappropriate. It is important that we respect the service jurisdictions of our allies in relation to their personnel when they are embedded in the UK military, as we rightly expect our service jurisdiction to be respected when our own service personnel are embedded in the forces of another state.
Such arrangements are often reciprocal. If we try to impose UK jurisdiction on foreign embedded forces, other states will be less willing to allow UK forces to be embedded with them. Clearly, that would be detrimental to the operation of UK armed forces. As I explained in Committee, these arrangements are reflected in status of forces agreements or memorandums of understanding, and a foreign soldier committing a serious violation would be dismissed and returned to their sending state. It should also be remembered that, as required by the convention and protocols, jurisdiction over the acts described in sub-paragraphs (a) to (c) of article 15.1 of the second protocol already extends to all foreign nationals committing the gravest offences abroad.
The scope of jurisdiction set out in clause 3(4) is in line with that required by the second protocol, taking into account existing provision in the 2006 Act. This ensures that all people subject to UK service jurisdiction can rightly be prosecuted on the same basis, regardless of nationality. To go any further would be to interfere needlessly with the service jurisdictions of our allies in a manner that would be at odds with standard military practices. Given that explanation, I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff West will not press amendments 4 and 5 to a Division.
I turn to amendments 1 to 3, which relate to clause 17. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Victoria Borwick) for setting out their concerns, but I am afraid that I cannot agree to their proposals. I explained the Government’s approach when we considered clause 17 in Committee, but I am sure that it will be helpful to the House if I briefly to go through the main points again.
I stress that the Bill is about protecting a small but very special category of cultural property: that which is
“of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people”,
as defined in article 1 of the convention. The dealing offence in clause 17 applies only to this most important cultural property when it was unlawfully exported from occupied territory after 1956, when the convention and first protocol came into force, and if it has been imported into the United Kingdom after the Bill comes into force. I hope that that provides some clarity with regard to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington. However, dealers should always be concerned to ensure that any objects in which they deal have good and lawful provenance. If there is any evidence to suggest that an object might have been unlawfully exported from its country of origin—wherever and whenever that export took place—dealers should not deal in that object.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington raised this issue by using the example of an old master. I know that art market stakeholders are concerned that claims about the provenance of an object that are made in a phone call or published on a blog shortly before a sale could stop that sale proceeding. That might be the case on very rare occasions, but this is already an issue for the art market and it will not be solved by watering down the Bill. If new, convincing evidence is presented about an object’s provenance shortly before an auction, we already expect dealers to pause and consider whether they need to undertake further due diligence. If, however, a claim is made with no evidence to back it up, it may be perfectly legitimate for a dealer to disregard that and proceed with the sale. Such claims are unlikely to be considered a reason to suspect that an object has been unlawfully exported. When unlawfully exported cultural property is imported into the United Kingdom, it is important that we are able to protect it by deterring and, if necessary, prosecuting those who would deal in it.
The Minister’s point is confusing. She says that the examples she gave do not provide reason to suspect. In fact, they provide reason to suspect, but it might be that that suspicion is not true. That is the distinction that the Government fail to understand.
But my point is that this issue already exists in the art market—the Bill does not alter that at all. Art market dealers should be carrying out due diligence in all cases. The hypothetical circumstances and examples that have been given make no difference as to whether such cases are covered by the Bill or by existing legislation. The Government consider that the offence as drafted is the most appropriate way to achieve the protection needed to deter people from unlawfully importing exported cultural property into the UK.
The offence created by clause 17 is consistent with similar offences created by the Iraq and Syria sanctions orders, which use “reason to suppose” and “reasonable grounds to suspect” as the basis for determining criminal liability. The offences in the sanction orders are the most appropriate comparators for the offence created in the Bill, as they also deal with cultural property that is unlawfully removed from conflict zones. We therefore refute the suggestion that the drafting of the Bill is novel or contentious, as some have suggested. The Iraq sanctions order has been in place since 2003, and the Syria sanctions order since 2013, and they have not had an adverse impact on the art market. While I hear what my right hon. and learned Friend says about the fact that they are statutory instruments, they are still the law. The fact is that they have not had an adverse impact on the art market, and we still think they are the best comparators.
Thirdly, key stakeholders, including the police, academics, museums and the Council for British Archaeology, support us in our view that the threshold is appropriate. One leading academic, Professor Roger O’Keefe of University College London, has confirmed his view that the drafting of the offence reflects international best practice, as was highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes). Furthermore, we have discussed the issue at length with art market stakeholders, and we have listened to their concerns carefully, but they have provided no clear evidence that the mens rea in the Bill would create insurmountable problems for the market or increase the due diligence that dealers need to undertake. It will, however, provide a deterrent for those unscrupulous dealers who might be tempted to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough also mentioned guidance. To reassure those with concerns on this issue, we made a commitment to work with art market stakeholders, with a view to providing guidance where necessary to assist the art market in understanding the new dealing offence and complying with the Bill. My officials are taking that forward with art market stakeholders, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police. A meeting to discuss the issue was held last week, and a further meeting is planned for 1 March.
With that, I hope my colleagues are reassured and feel that they do not need to press their amendments to clauses 3 and 17.
Amendment 4 negatived.
Queen’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Today is an important milestone in our drive to protect cultural property not only in this country but around the world, and particularly in places where it is threatened by armed conflict. The 1954 Hague convention for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict and its two protocols are an important part of the international legal framework for protecting cultural property. Since 2004, successive Governments have promised to bring forward the legislation required to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the convention and accede to the protocols. I am delighted that this Government have finally been able to do so, and I thank my right hon. Friends the Members for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale) and for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) for securing time for the Bill in this Session.
The Bill, together with The Hague convention and its protocols, fits into the wider framework of our initiatives to protect cultural property. I recently had the pleasure of visiting the British Museum to learn more about its Iraq emergency heritage management training scheme, which is helping to build capacity in the Iraqi state board of antiquities and heritage by training staff in a wide range of sophisticated techniques of retrieval and rescue archaeology. The scheme is supported by £3 million from our new cultural protection fund. That fund, which is managed by the British Council, is so far supporting nine projects to the tune of £8.8 million, using British knowledge and expertise in places where cultural heritage is at risk.
The first group of Iraqi participants completed their training in November. One of them has already been appointed by the Iraqi state board to lead the assessment of the site of Nimrud, which was recently liberated from Daesh control. The second group of participants is now in training at the British Museum, and I am delighted that they are in the Public Gallery to witness our debate and the passing of this important Bill.
I commend the Minister on navigating us through to this stage. She has now become an international advocate, having travelled to conferences to extol the virtues of our commitment to cultural property. Will she also pay tribute to Professor Peter Stone of Newcastle University and the UK Committee of the Blue Shield, who want us to establish a centre of excellence for the collection and sharing of information on threats to cultural property worldwide? We are an exemplar on that, and we could perhaps do more with more funding.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. I am sure that the Prime Minister was paying close attention to our proceedings in Committee, during which my hon. Friend asked me to consider going to Abu Dhabi for an international convention on cultural property, because, shortly after he made that request, the Prime Minister wrote to ask me to attend that convention. I am really pleased that I went to that excellent convention. I met some leading figures from around the world, including the head of UNESCO, and the event gave us an opportunity to show that the UK is leading the way on this matter. I will come to my hon. Friend’s point about praising Professor Stone later.
The creation of the new cultural property protection unit in the British Army—a modern-day version of the famous monuments men, and of course women—will ensure that respect for and protection of cultural property is embedded in our armed forces. The unit is expected to consist of between 10 and 20 specialist reserve officers. It will provide advice, training and support across the armed forces, ensure that cultural property is protected from damage and looting, and be able to investigate, record and report cultural property issues from any area of operations. I congratulate Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick on his work so far to develop this unit, and I look forward to following its progress.
Those initiatives are ensuring that the United Kingdom is a world leader in the protection of cultural property. Passing this Bill, and becoming a state party to The Hague convention and both its protocols, will cement that position. The Bill introduces into UK law the provisions that are necessary to ensure that we are able to comply with the convention and protocols when they come into force. Together, they provide protection for the most important cultural property—that which is of the greatest importance for the cultural heritage of every people. As I confirmed in Committee and in my subsequent letter to hon. Members on 19 December, the definition of cultural property set out in the convention is broad and flexible. It could include cultural property on film and in digital form, provided that it satisfies the requirement of being of the greatest importance for the cultural heritage of every people. The Bill makes it an offence to attack or destroy such cultural property during armed conflict, in violation of the convention or second protocol. It regulates use of the cultural emblem—the internationally recognised sign used to identify cultural property that is protected by the convention. It also makes it an offence to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property from an occupied territory, and ensures that we are able to protect cultural property that is brought to this country from areas of conflict until it can be returned.
This has been my first Bill as a Minister. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be responsible for such an important measure that has become so widely and internationally welcomed and supported, not just in Parliament but beyond. The Bill has been well debated and scrutinised in both Houses. I am grateful to all hon. Members who contributed to our proceedings. I thank Opposition Front Benchers, particularly the hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan), for their support. I also thank the Whips and the Clerks for their assistance. Looking back, I thank the Culture, Media and Sport Committee for its scrutiny of the draft legislation in 2008. At that time, the Committee was chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon, who championed this cause by ensuring that we could introduce the Bill during this Session. I thank the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, who have been fully supportive of the Bill. This has been an excellent example of us working together as one United Kingdom to achieve a common goal on an issue of great importance to us all.
My thanks also go to the many stakeholders who have advised and supported us during the preparation and passage of this Bill: academics, particularly Professor Roger O’Keefe and Professor Peter Stone; the police, including Chief Constable Paul Crowther and his team; specialist agencies such as the Red Cross—I am pleased that Michael Meyer is in the Gallery today to show his support—and many other representative organisations. They have all contributed their specialist knowledge and expertise, which has been most welcome and much appreciated.
Last but not least, I thank the officials who have worked on this Bill—not only those who have supported me and my ministerial colleagues in taking the Bill through Parliament, but their predecessors who worked on these issues, drew up the draft Bill 10 years ago, and ensured that that was not forgotten but was ready when a place was found for it in the legislative programme. Their efforts have finally borne fruit, and it is only right that we should acknowledge their contribution.
Passing the Bill moves us one step closer to finally ratifying The Hague convention, acceding to the protocols and, I hope, achieving our aim of becoming the first permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to do so. Indeed, it seems that our initiative in introducing the Bill might well have encouraged France and China to begin their own procedure to accede to the second protocol, proving once again that the UK is the world leader in the protection of cultural property.
We look forward to continuing to work closely with our partners and stakeholders to develop and enhance the protection of cultural property in this country and around the world. It has taken 60 years for us to get around to ratifying The Hague convention. The Bill has been waiting for almost 10 years to get on the statute book. That it is finally on the verge of becoming law is true testament to this Government’s commitment to protecting the world’s cultural heritage.
Although I have acknowledged that the Bill seeks to protect a limited class of cultural property, it should not be lost on Members that, in passing it, we will be taking essential steps to protect the world’s most pre-eminent cultural heritage for the benefit of all people and future generations. At a time when cultural property is facing global danger, that cannot happen soon enough. I commend the Bill to the House.
I echo all the thanks given by the Minister. I also note our achievement in saving A-level art history along the way as well. We raised the issue on Second Reading and managed to save the Government from themselves, so this outbreak of cross-party collaboration has been worth while.
We do not oppose the Bill, as we have said all along. On the contrary, we are very proud to support the ratification of the 1954 Hague convention. The Bill has been 63 years in the making and I am pleased that the ratification of the convention will show that protecting cultural property is a UK priority. Culture is essential to society. It is not an added luxury. It preserves our past, inspires our future and enriches us as human beings.
The convention is particularly laudable in its internationalism and collectivism, and in its acknowledgement that the culture of one is important to the culture of all across the world. As has been pointed out many times during our debates, the process of ratifying the convention has been done on a cross-party basis in this House and in the other place. The process was begun by the last Labour Government. Unfortunately it was not completed by 2010, but I thank my colleagues and former colleagues for putting the issue on the national agenda as far back as 2004 and for publishing a draft Bill in 2008. In 2015, the Government announced their intention to ratify the convention, and thanks are due to the right hon. Members for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), the former Secretary of State, and for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who played a part at that stage.
Likewise, I thank the Minister for her contributions in this Chamber and in Committee; for her responses to the sometimes annoying amendments that we tabled in Committee; and for granting us access to her officials during the course of the Bill, which was extremely helpful. The Bill is about co-operation and mutual respect, so it was entirely appropriate that we co-operated across party lines in order to get it on the statute book. The way in which the Minister has steered the Bill through and the courteous manner in which she has conducted herself throughout the debates is a useful example that all Ministers in her Department and others should follow.
Likewise, we should thank all those individuals and organisations that submitted evidence and participated in discussions, as well as those who campaigned for the convention’s ratification in the intervening years. I also thank my colleagues in the other place, particularly Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Lord Collins of Highbury, for their robust and informed questioning as the Bill went through its respective stages in the House of Lords.
I am also grateful for the previous work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and for the work of the Clerks, Hansard reporters and Door Keepers in making possible the passage of the Bill.
Before our debate comes to an end, I want to re-emphasise a point I made on Second Reading that, in the light of recent events, has sadly become even more relevant. The destruction of Palmyra in Syria has been mentioned many times during our debates as a tragedy and an outrage that made clear the importance of ratifying a convention that pledges to protect cultural property, even if it does not directly apply to that circumstance.
While the Bill was proceeding through its stages, the Government recently announced their plan to suspend the scheme inspired by Lord Dubs’s amendment and to stop accepting unaccompanied young refugees. All of us who strongly support the Bill would assent to the notion that Governments should be judged principally on how they treat people, rather than how they treat palaces. I hope that rather than being an inconsistency, the passage of the Bill will mark a turning point in this Government’s thinking. We should extend to Syrian people fleeing conflict and seeking refuge the same respect and protection that we are offering to their ancient architecture.
Again, we are proud to support the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill. It is not often that the House is united in passing a Bill of such historical significance with such a degree of consensus, and I also welcome the support of SNP colleagues throughout this process. I hope that the passage of the Bill gives the UK an opportunity to demonstrate international leadership and to create a legacy of which all of us can be proud.
I thought, listening to all these paeans of praise, that I had wandered into the BAFTAs, but they are well placed, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister. She says it is the first Bill she has conducted through this place as a Minister, and I hope it is not the last. I wish her every success.
That having been said, as we used to say, this is not simply formulaic; there is a purpose in having a Third Reading debate, albeit that such debates are now very truncated and that as I think we all agree, apart from my point of disagreement, this is a wholly uncontroversial and utterly worthwhile Bill. Its genesis was several decades before my hon. Friend was even a twinkle in her parents’ eyes; sadly, I am older than the convention, but there we are. Perhaps I am a cultural object.
I know I am a treasure, but the Minister is so kind.
I will make three quick points, if I may. First, it is important not to confuse evidence for an offence with the definition of an offence. Those are two different legal concepts, and in our enthusiasm to pass this Bill into law, we are in danger of allowing that confusion to remain. Despite the fact that I accept the political reality, I think clause 17(1) is and remains flawed, and I am not yet convinced that what the Government propose is the right answer, but there we are, I have lost that particular argument.
Secondly, I hope we will see the guidance for prosecutors and the police soon. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) said, Governments often talk about guidance and secondary legislation is often drafted to achieve clarity. It is no good just saying things; we need to do things. I hope that we will see the guidance long before the end of the summer, and that it will be available to be considered in published form.
Thirdly and finally, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to press the Foreign Office to come up with some form of definition of “occupied territories”. It is a movable feast, and I appreciate that the facts on the ground and the law relating to the status of particular parts of the world change almost week by week. However, if there is to be guidance on whether it is appropriate to prosecute under clause 17(1) for “having reason to suspect”, we equally need guidance on what an occupied territory is as a matter of fact and as a matter of law.
As president of the British Antique Dealers’ Association, I know, as I have said previously, that the arts and antiques industry fully supports the aims of the Bill. There are still areas of concern, however, which have been mentioned. In particular, it is important that honest and well intentioned dealers and auction houses do not risk criminal prosecution when conducting reasonable due diligence. We have discussed the aspects of the Bill concerning the trade that relate to avoiding uncertainty in the art market and ensuring clarity in the practical operation of the law. There is no doubt that uncertainty hampers any market. It is reassuring that the Minister has made it clear on the Floor of the House today and previously that she does not want the market to be hampered. I thank her for that assurance.
The clause 17 offence of dealing in unlawfully exported property depends directly on the clarity and understanding of what is meant in the Bill by the term “cultural property”. As it stands, the punctuation that is used in article 1(a) of the convention, which is reproduced in schedule 1, means that cultural property is not limited to
“property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people”.
Although the Minister has previously reassured us that cultural property can be protected if it is of great importance to every people, the market seeks absolute clarification on these points, as has been said by other hon. Members. Other categories of property are covered by the definition, regardless of their cultural significance, including
“works of art; manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest”.
I am delighted that the Minister today confirmed her statement in the House of 31 October that the Government intend to take the same restricted approach to the definition of “cultural property” and that the clause 17 offence of dealing in unlawfully exported property will apply to only a very small but special category of cultural objects—those that are of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people.
Another area of uncertainty is an auctioneer or dealer’s ability to identify the occupied territories to which the law applies, particularly if an item may have been here previously. Of course, a lot of trading goes on between countries all the time. That is why the points that have been made about certainty and the dates of an occupied territory need to be clarified.
Clause 16 states that the Secretary of State’s confirmation that a territory was occupied is “conclusive evidence” of that status once legal proceedings have begun. If the Secretary of State’s word may be provided after the beginning of proceedings, cannot the list of occupied territories, together with the relevant dates of occupation, be drawn up for all to see? Alternatively, could the criteria that the Secretary of State would apply when determining whether and when a country is considered to have been occupied be clarified? I could add to the list east Jerusalem, the west bank, northern Iraq, Libya or southern Sudan. I am sure that other countries could be added. For the avoidance of doubt, art and antique dealers need to know at what point since 1954 a particular territory is covered by the legislation, and whether or not that will be retrospective.
Even if those operating in the art market can identify the territories and the periods when they were considered to be occupied, there is the added issue of determining whether objects left those territories during the period of occupation or at another time, and whether those objects were here before, during or after that period. We need that clarity. The precise historical date or year when an object left a territory could well be difficult to ascertain, which is why the trade asks for clarity in and guidance on the final definitions. We are talking about territories that were deemed to be occupied prior to 1954, so surely this is historical and factual information that should be readily available to the arts and antiques trade, and others, to provide absolute clarity.
In 2008, the Government’s response to the territory question was that a dealer who had carried out proper due diligence checks would be unlikely to be convicted of a criminal offence. I urge the Minister to ensure that that response is clarified and brought up to date.
The Government added that they were unaware of any other parties to the convention having drawn up such a list. I struggle to understand how a law concerned solely with objects unlawfully exported from occupied territories can be expected to operate effectively when there is no means by which anyone is able to identify those territories. Do the Government expect a dealer or auction house to submit requests for confirmation of a territory’s status to the Secretary of State on a case-by-case basis, prior to handling an antique, as part of their due diligence? I urge the Government to prepare a list of the territories covered and the relevant dates, so that proper guidance can be given. As the application is retrospective to 1954, that information must be available and must be a point of record. I ask the Minister to consider these points and others when preparing the regulations governing the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Third time and passed, without amendment.