Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, this draft statutory instrument was laid before the House on 19 May 2021. This is a short but important instrument that will bring clarity and certainty for the UK’s museums and art market. Its effect is to remove from the statute book those provisions of the EU regulation on the introduction and the import of cultural goods which became UK law as retained EU law at the end of the transition period, but which are now redundant or legally deficient. It will not affect the provisions which already exist in UK law to protect cultural goods or our ability to tackle the illicit trade in cultural goods.
It may be helpful if I begin by setting out some context. EU regulation 2019/880 on the introduction and the import of cultural goods aims to tackle the illicit trade in cultural goods and to prevent the proceeds of that trade being used to fund terrorism. The regulation came into force on 28 June 2019. However, not all its provisions became applicable on that date. In particular, a provision known as the “general prohibition”, which prohibits entry into the EU customs territory for cultural goods which were unlawfully removed from the country in which they were created or discovered, only began to apply on 28 December 2020. Provisions which require importers of certain cultural goods to present an import licence or an importer statement, to guarantee the legal provenance of the goods, will become applicable only when an EU-wide IT system is in place, or from 28 June 2025 at the latest.
At the end of the transition period, on 31 December 2020, all those provisions of the regulation which had become applicable by that date became UK law as retained EU law—that is, those provisions which became applicable when the regulation came into force together with the general prohibition provision. The provisions requiring import licences and importer statements did not become UK law, and there is therefore no legal obligation for us to implement them. We have always made it clear that we would not implement these provisions if there was no legal obligation to do so.
Many of the provisions which have become UK law are redundant, because they create obligations in relation to the EU or relate to measures to prepare for the introduction of import licences and importer statements. The general prohibition provision has become legally deficient and cannot be enforced in UK law. It relates to the “introduction of cultural goods”, which is defined in the regulation as,
“entry into the customs territory of the Union”.
Great Britain is no longer part of the EU customs union, so the provision cannot be applied to Great Britain. We have therefore decided to address this legal deficiency, and at the same time remove the redundant provisions from the statute book, by revoking the regulation.
I make it clear that the regulation will continue to apply directly to Northern Ireland by virtue of having been added to annexe 2 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol. Revocation of the regulation from UK law does not affect this.
There are two important reasons why we have decided to revoke the general prohibition provision. First, even if this provision were not legally deficient in the way that I have described, it would still raise issues of concern and create complexity and confusion for importers and for our customs and border authorities. These arise because the provision applies to almost all cultural goods created or discovered in non-EU countries, regardless of their age, value or date of export, and because there is no requirement in the regulation for any person to provide evidence to demonstrate either lawful export or unlawful removal from the country of creation or discovery. In the event of a claim of unlawful export, it is not clear where the burden of proof would lie or what evidence would be required. These issues could result in cultural goods being delayed or detained at the border, and might deter people from importing cultural goods to sell in the UK art market or museums from lending objects for exhibitions in this country. It would be possible to address these issues, but we consider that this is not necessary. This brings me to our second reason for revoking the regulation.
We consider that we already have sufficient legal powers to tackle the illicit trade in cultural goods and the import of cultural goods which have been unlawfully removed from another country. These powers are set out in existing domestic law, and in some cases also derive from our obligations in international law—to name but a few, the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003, and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017, as well as the Theft Act 1968 and the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017.
The effectiveness of our existing legislation was demonstrated very recently, when we returned to Libya a statue which had been unlawfully removed from that country and which was found and detained by HMRC at Heathrow Airport. This is only the most recent example. In the last few years, thanks to the diligent efforts of our police, customs and border authorities, we have been able to return other important cultural objects to the countries from which they had been unlawfully removed. In view of the existing, effective provisions in our law, we consider that the general prohibition in the EU regulation is unnecessary.
In summary, therefore, this instrument will revoke those provisions of the regulation which have become UK law. It will provide clarity and certainty, and ensure that there is no confusion as to the rules and requirements for the import of cultural goods, but it will not mean that we are any less able to prevent the import of unlawfully removed cultural goods. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his very good introduction to this SI. He covered all the ground and his commitment shone through in what he said, but I have one or two questions, some of which he may not be able to answer directly, as I am sure this is not his main centre of interest. I am happy for him to write to me with the answers, if necessary.
We have a short corporate memory in your Lordships’ House sometimes, despite our existence for so many thousands of years—as it sometimes seems. I will come back to the deficiencies the Minister raised on the existing legal framework, but will start with why the Government are seeking to revise this particular general prohibition by removing it entirely, rather than amending it. The main problem words in the regulation, which seem to offend, are
“entry into the customs territory of the Union”,
which the Explanatory Memorandum says,
“cannot be interpreted to mean the customs territory of the United Kingdom.”
It may not be interpreted as such, but I am sure it would be pretty easy to amend it. I therefore wonder why the trouble the Government have gone to to revoke the original regulation is necessary.
I say that in particular because of the reference to Northern Ireland, which the Minister, with his ease of manner and delivery, glossed over quickly. How have we got to a situation where one of the most complicated issues about the pursuit of cultural goods is different in one territory of the United Kingdom from the rest? GB will have a set of rules, which are set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, which I will come to in a minute. Northern Ireland will have those, as well as remaining in the EU, with its new, very important and rather clever IT-based, modern set of rules and regulations, by which information will swiftly move across the whole continent. Potential defaults and problems will therefore be picked up. I ask the noble Lord to comment further on that.
My second point relates to paragraph 7.5 and the succeeding paragraphs of the Explanatory Memorandum. Paragraph 7.5.2 states that
“The United Kingdom has been a state party to the 1954 Hague Convention”—
1954 is a long time ago—
“for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict”.
My first point is that that is limited to armed conflict. Secondly, the corporate memory to which I referred should be invoked at this stage because during the debate on the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill that legitimated the 1954 Hague convention as far as the UK is concerned—we are a dualist state that cannot just accept agreements with foreign powers; they have to be brought into UK law—that was heavily criticised. The convention dates to 1954, and cultural goods had a different meaning then.
This morning, I looked up my rather excellent speeches —I can say that because I am sure nobody else has read them—about the need to update the cultural definitions portrayed in that convention and used in that debate. They entirely exclude media, cinema, digital art and related issues. In other words, we have a convention on which the Government are relying to get them out of an EU proposition they do not like, which does not, in the case of armed conflict, satisfactorily deal with the art that I care about. I was promised by the Ministers at the time that this would be looked at, so perhaps the Minister could remind me of what progress has been made to update the 1954 Hague convention. There was a proposal to update it in the wings. Have the Government looked at that and, if so, when will the House have a chance to debate and discuss it?
There is a minor point in relation to the risk of trade in cultural goods being used to finance terrorism, which the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, mentioned. There is a rather odd phrase in paragraph 7.5.9 of the Explanatory Memorandum which I wonder whether he could unpick for me. It is normal for explanatory memoranda to have more descriptive comments, and I wonder whether there needs to be a bit more around the fourth line than currently. It says that the regulations—SI 2017/692—
“require art dealers and others even tangentially involved in a transaction of €10,000 or more to collect and report information about their customers.”
I think I get the message, but “tangentially” is not a word that really satisfies certainty about who is caught by that. Can the noble Lord respond, perhaps in writing, about the intention behind that phrase? As I say, this is a pretty minor point.
My third point relates to the assertion in paragraph 7.6. I return to the original point that the regulation is being brought forward in this form at the moment because of the uncertainty and complexity that might be caused if we had to rewrite it for the UK customs area with all the problems with Northern Ireland. I look forward to the noble Lord’s response, but the argument here is a little unconvincing. The main point seems to be that
“the Regulation is silent on who bears the burden of proof of the breach of the laws and regulations of that country, as well as on the evidence which would be required to demonstrate … the cultural goods concerned.”
It sounds a bit like a straw person being set up in order to be knocked down. I thought that was what lawyers were all about. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, when he comes to speak, will be able to justify in every sense the ability of lawyers to get to the bottom of who is responsible and what the necessary evidence would be and that he would enjoy the process of so doing.
Finally, the Minister’s argument ended with the point that this was a good SI and something that we can support—and I think that inevitably we will—because it brings clarity. I have already talked about the Northern Ireland situation, and I do not think he can defend that, but we are relying on a very disparate set of rules and regulations, set up over a long period of time, dating back to 1954, including regulations as recent as 2017 and later. Will the Minister consider a serious point from me, which is that if this is the route that we are going down—and I am sure we will—will he consider suggesting to the Government that there is a good case for the Law Commission to take away all these issues and come up with a consolidated set of rules and regulations for the transfer of cultural goods? It would mean updating the terms of culture, looking at where the actual powers and responsibilities are, assessing as necessary where the evidence needs to be sought and who should be responsible, should any cases be made, and generating a Bill that we could perhaps look at in a few years’ time that draws all this together. I would be very happy with that. Although I will not be opposing what is before us today, I hope that I have made the case that this is a bit flimsy and needs a bit more attention.
My Lords, the objective of this legislation is to replace the EU regulations in so far as they have been operated by the UK prior to us leaving the EU with the existing laws that are already in place. They will, as the Explanatory Memorandum says, be primarily aimed at the 2003 legislation, as it states in paragraph 7.5.3:
“The principal domestic legislation relating to the illicit trade … is the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003”.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I believe that deficiencies are left by the process that we currently see. They fall into three areas: the geographical scope, which I will come to in a moment; weakened regulation over the requirement to be vigilant; and the loss of potential international reputation and data sharing.
The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, in looking at this matter, raised three issues on which it seemed to have got agreement from the department that there are problems with this legislation. The first is that the revocation of the EU regulation by this instrument could potentially weaken the legal prohibition currently provided by Article 3.1. The second is that the UK needs to do more to prevent the import into the UK of cultural goods that have been stolen, looted and/or unlawfully exported from other countries. The third is that there could be a perception that we are watering down our commitment to protect cultural property from illicit trade, which we will need to counter robustly. Those, roughly, are the three areas that I will cover and question the Minister on.
On the geographic scope, given that the primary piece of legislation is that 2003 legislation—not a weighty document; it takes up only a small number of pages—the last paragraph of that Act of Parliament, Section 6(3), says:
“This Act does not extend to Scotland.”
My first question is therefore: if these are devolved powers to Scotland—I suspect they are not—what legislation is in place from the Scottish Parliament to cover that gap? If this legislation, which is the primary legislation that the Government are falling back on, does not apply in Scotland, what is there to replace it? Clearly, I do not suggest this will happen, but these goods could be imported through Scotland and then even passed on to Northern Ireland or to other parts of the United Kingdom.
The second issue is Northern Ireland itself. The UK Government declared on 8 December 2020 that the regulation would be fully implemented in Northern Ireland, as I believe the Minister said in his opening. However, the government website currently states that Article 3.1 applies in Northern Ireland but that the Government do not intend to change the way they handle the import of cultural goods. There is a direct contradiction between what the Minister has explained to us today and what the Government have on their website. Northern Ireland cannot comply with its obligations and fail to change the way it handles the import of cultural objects. We need an explanation of that if we are to follow through and understand what the resultant revocation of these regulations means.
The second area of concern is weakened legislation. Article 3.1 of the European legislation significantly widened the scope of applicable cultural property and would apply in the UK today if we had kept it and moved forward with it. The scope of the objects concerned is wider, which reflects the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. However, the date threshold at which an object is considered illicit is longer and varies according to the country of origin of the object. The regulation itself places obligations on authorities to put measures in place to restrict import rather than creating a criminal offence for the individual knowingly dealing in tainted objects, which of course is in the 2003 legislation.
I will give an example of that, which I am grateful to Blue Shield United Kingdom for giving to us. Prior to Article 3.1 coming into force, it would not have been illegal to import into the UK an Egyptian cultural object simply because it had been illegally exported—but not necessarily stolen—from Egypt in 2000, despite Egypt having enacted national legislation. Article 3.1 has an impact. It requires that customs authorities permit the import of this Egyptian object only if it was legally exported from Egypt post 1983, which of course is 20 years in advance of the 2003 legislation, or if the importer can demonstrate that it was exported prior to the Egyptian law banning export. There is a danger and a perception that the legislation will be weaker than what we would have had before the revocation of the EU law.
The third area, of course, is that of potential loss of international reputation. This is significant, because there will be inevitable criticism for the way in which the UK Government have gone about this. We will have been clearly put in a position where there are deficiencies in our current legislation, and where the European legislation is providing a better and broader understanding of what needs to be done and is more up to date. There is no change proposed to the UK legislation—and, if any is proposed, surely it would have been better to consider these matters together rather than separately.
The third point is what the EU legislation proposed—the use of an electronic system for a centralised database to be shared between EU member states so that people can easily track and follow goods that are particularly concerning or worrying. Will we have the opportunity to be part of that electronic database, or at least have access to it? Clearly, it will provide a safeguard that would be helpful going forward and it would protect us a little bit from having our international reputation chipped away at.
The way the Government have done this has left us with a shoddy mess of inadequate and conflicting law that will damage our reputation worldwide. There is a need for extra actions to be taken. It may have been better to try to amend the legislation; revoking it without looking at the consequent legislation that we are left with seems inappropriate and certainly not helpful to our reputation. It will give the impression of a reduction in the scale of protection in the objectives that we have set out ourselves and which are in the EU legislation, as well as those that lie behind it. Overall, it is not a helpful position for us; it would have been far better to have done this in a more comprehensive manner.
My Lords, I also thank the Minister for his introduction today. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and my noble friend Lord German.
The Government have adopted what can be described only as a cavalier approach to the repeal of an important regulation designed to prevent illicit trade in cultural goods in the EU. I am glad that the advice of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has been heeded, and that we have the opportunity for this debate today. I understand that new provisions are needed on our exit from the EU, but a complete repeal without any replacement mirroring the provisions for the UK by itself raises serious questions of the kind that both the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and my noble friend have raised. On these Benches, we do not support this SI, for the reasons set out by my noble friend, the noble Lord and, shortly, by myself.
There are real issues here about what consultation was carried out, what the result of the consultation was, who was in support of this solution and who wanted to see a different solution. Were the requirements on provenance the key objection to the current regulation? If so, in what respect? Does not the sum total of what the Government are proposing mean that illicit and looted artefacts will now enter the UK more freely?
The timing of the tabling of the SI was a surprise to expert organisations such as UK Blue Shield, the organisation so instrumental in campaigning for the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017. Indeed, we had little notice in Parliament that this was coming before us. UK Blue Shield rightly raised the question of whether the decision to revoke the regulation intended to prevent the funding of terrorism, as one of the UK Government’s first post-Brexit repeals, may well cause international controversy and criticism. It calls into question the UK Government’s recent declaration in the integrated review, Global Britain in a Competitive Age, that culture is key to their soft power agenda.
The Explanatory Memorandum and the de minimis assessment are highly misleading. They suggest that existing domestic laws are sufficient to prevent illicit trafficking, but they say little about the practice of those laws. As Blue Shield says, referring to the 2003 Act and the Hague convention mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson,
“in reality, they are not actively enforced in the UK and do not require active checks of imported cultural goods. Furthermore, not all legislation applies equally across the UK, a fact which is notably absent from the Memorandum.”
This was expertly brought out by my noble friend Lord German, who is a great deal more expert in the vagaries of devolution than I am. It goes on:
“As a result, by trying to reduce the requirements imposed by the Regulation, UK customs authorities will have to understand and operate three different sets of rules and laws to ensure no illicit cultural objects enter UK borders, depending on the point of entry.”
My noble friend shared with us the very graphic example of an Egyptian artefact.
Blue Shield sets out three major risks with which I entirely agree: that Northern Ireland may be used as a gateway to move illicit cultural property into Europe, that there would be reputational damage to the UK and that the UK would be a target for illicit cultural objects. It quotes Alexander Herman, assistant director of the Institute of Art and Law, who comments:
“The EU Regulation’s Article 3(1) prohibition on introducing cultural goods presents a significant expansion of the usual import restrictions for this sort of material. By repealing it, the UK may be seen to be facilitating the illicit trade, even if that is not its intention. Rather than a ‘quiet repeal’”—
more like “virtually invisible”—
“the UK should instead come out and demonstrate its commitment to fighting illicit trade by ensuring that its existing national legislation is properly implemented and enforced at the border. Only through such actions will the UK be able to ensure that its art and antiquities market remains legitimate going forward.”
Why is the UK repealing this regulation with a whimper and not this kind of commitment?
I assume that the current GOV.UK link is to out-of-date guidance on licences by the Arts Council England—at least, I hope it is out of date—which was last updated in December. The GOV.UK site says:
“You need a UK licence to export cultural objects from the UK to any destination outside the UK. You do not need a licence to move objects of cultural interest from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.”
That, I assume, will have to change. Can the Minister confirm that checks will be required by the regulations on cultural goods going into Northern Ireland, or are the Government planning to break the terms of annexe 2 of the Northern Ireland protocol EU agreement?
It is clear that the Government risk getting us into a muddle and allowing confusion on the rules, which will give a real opportunity for those dealing with illicit works. I hope that is not the Government’s intention, but they seem to have listened to the wrong advice on this. Will they rethink their approach or are they in the pockets of the art dealers—the “art market stakeholders” so frequently mentioned in the assessment —who want to continue with the practices of the past?
The SLSC pointed to fears in the de minimis assessment, and I think it is worth quoting from that. It says that:
“It is likely to be criticised by those who consider that the UK needs to do more to prevent the import into the UK of cultural goods which have been stolen, looted and/or unlawfully exported from other countries. They are likely to argue that we should have fixed the provision to make it operate correctly in UK law. They may also argue that we should retain the other provisions to facilitate the eventual implementation of the whole of the Regulation, including the import licence and importer statement requirements.”
Bullseye—that is exactly the criticism being made of these regulations.
I thought the constructive suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson—that the Law Commission could get involved—was very good. Others have been put forward around co-operation with UNESCO that Blue Shield would be keen to see. I think there are a number of ways forward, but they all involve putting something in place which brings us closer to the original impact of the regulation and does not simply repeal the EU regulation in the way that the Government have suggested.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to this SI. I have taken careful note, as I am sure he has, of the contributions from my noble friend Lord Stevenson and the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Clement-Jones, who brought their collective attention to this matter. I have a sense of foreboding that the Minister may regret introducing this short statutory instrument by suggesting that it is simply a matter for clarification, as it seems to have required yet further clarification in the course of this debate.
This is a short statutory instrument—the main provision is one sentence long—but it sends a worrying signal to those who are concerned about the protection of items of cultural significance. We are grateful to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for recommending that this SI was upgraded from the negative procedure to the affirmative, and for the additional information provided in its fourth report of the Session.
DCMS insists that this instrument is merely an exercise in tidying up the statute book, but, as the SLSC noted, the department’s decision will give many a perception that the UK is watering down its protections for cultural goods that have been stolen, looted and/or unlawfully exported from other countries. That is not the message that this Government should be sending.
This is undoubtedly a highly emotive subject. It is also a live one. In recent weeks, we have seen the case of a British auction house removing two looted Ethiopian objects from sale, following an intervention by that country’s embassy. Elsewhere, in Italy, authorities recently recovered what has been described as an “archaeological treasure trove” of almost 800 stolen artefacts from Belgium. I am sure we all agree that it is a tragedy that criminals commit these acts, but for as long as that occurs, we have to ensure we have the appropriate protections in place.
The Explanatory Memorandum helpfully lists a number of the statutory provisions and international conventions that the UK has or is party to, but can the Minister outline what steps are being taken to keep them under review? As with other areas of crime, there is a worry that the trade of stolen cultural items is increasingly taking place online, and potentially through platforms on the dark web. Is the Minister able to comment on this trend and the steps that his department is taking in response to it? Can the Minister comment on how he feels the current system is working and how well our domestic rules are doing?
Finally, in response to the disruption of trade flows following the end of the transition period, HMRC waived administrative requirements on certain imports and exports. In doing so, it conceded the risk of security issues at the border. Last week, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, committed to write to my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe on this issue. However, until then, is the Minister able to say whether these temporary waivers could have inadvertently aided those seeking to get cultural items into or out of the country? I look forward to the Minister’s response on these points and the other points that were raised during the course of the debate.
I am grateful to noble Lords for their comments and questions on these regulations. I will do my best to cover the range of questions raised but, as ever, will make sure I consult the exchanges and write with further detail, where I am not able to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, asked why we have chosen to revoke rather than amend the regulations. As I tried to set out in opening, even if these regulations were not legally deficient, the general prohibition would raise other issues of concern for us. It applies to a wide range of cultural goods, regardless of their age or value, who is importing them, for what purpose or when they were exported from their country of creation or discovery. That gives it a very broad scope. Any cultural goods within its scope could be prohibited from entering the United Kingdom if they were believed to have been unlawfully exported from their country of creation or discovery, even if they have been, to all intents and purposes, lawfully owned for years, decades or, in some cases, even centuries by private owners or museums, without their legal provenance being questioned. We think that it could prevent cultural goods created or discovered within Great Britain from being returned, if they had previously been unlawfully exported from this country.
Moreover, there is no requirement for anyone to provide evidence of either lawful export or unlawful removal from the country of creation or discovery. In the event of a claim that cultural goods were unlawfully removed, it is not clear where the burden of proof should lie. I hope that sets out some of the concerns we had with the regulations and the thinking that underpinned our decision to revoke. As we already have existing legislation that has proved to be effective in tackling the illicit trade in cultural goods, we think it better to revoke the general prohibition to clarify the position and avoid confusion.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, also referred to the Hague convention of 1954 which, he rightly points out, is some time ago. The UK is also party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. The requirements and obligations of both those conventions are reflected in our domestic law, most notably in the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017, both of which are more recent pieces of legislation. The UK and its authorities are members of international organisations, such as Interpol and the World Customs Organization, which enable them to co-operate and share information and intelligence with their counterparts in other countries, as well as make sure that our response is fully up to date in the ways the noble Lord raised. I should point out that the other types of culture that he mentioned in his question are not reflected in the EU regulation either.
I will take the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, up on his offer to write, after I have checked with lawyers why they chose the word “tangentially” in paragraph 7.5.9 of the Explanatory Memorandum. I would be happy to write when I have that explanation, and I shall take back the suggestion that he made about the Law Commission to the department.
The noble Lord politely suggested that I had glossed over the impacts on Northern Ireland. That was not my intention, although I do not think that is what he was suggesting either. The Northern Ireland protocol has been and continues to be well debated in your Lordships’ House. We do not expect the general prohibition to have a significant impact on the import of cultural goods into Northern Ireland, including from Great Britain. At this stage, it is not possible to say how significant that impact might be.
The noble Lord, Lord German, asked about the application of the law to Scotland. The 2003 Act does not apply to Scotland, but other legislation and relevant international law does. I mentioned a couple of Acts in opening—the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 and the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Act 2017—both of which apply to Scotland. Retained EU law is, of course, a matter for the UK Government.
The noble Lord, Lord German, and others suggested that revoking these regulations might risk sending the wrong message about the UK’s commitment to tackling the illicit trade in cultural goods. We do not believe that is the case and are determined to tackle that illicit trade. The UK has a strong record of finding and returning unlawfully removed cultural goods. In opening, I mentioned the example of a statue that was recently returned to Libya. To give another example, in 2019, a Mesopotamian kudurru or boundary stone, which was probably stolen in 2003, was seized by HMRC at Heathrow Airport and subsequently forfeited to the Crown. It was formally returned to Iraq in March 2019. Over 150 Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets, seized by HMRC in 2011, were also returned to Iraq in August 2019. So I hope there is no doubt about our commitment, determination or track record in tackling the illicit trade in cultural goods.
We will explore the issue which the noble Lord, Lord German, raised about a database, but it is worth saying that we already share intelligence via our role in Interpol, where we are a key player, and through the World Customs Organization.
The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, suggested that Northern Ireland risks becoming a gateway for unlawfully removed cultural goods to enter the EU from the UK. We do not believe that will be the case. Importing unlawfully removed cultural goods into the EU via Northern Ireland would be a lengthy and costly route for anyone who chose to do so, and there would be many opportunities along the way for unlawfully removed cultural goods to be detected and seized. Our customs and border authorities will continue to do their utmost to prevent unlawfully removed cultural goods entering the UK and ensure that such goods are not transferred to Northern Ireland with the intention of moving them on from there to the EU.
To address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, no export licence will be required for movement from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Other checks are a matter from HMRC but will not include any new measures for the general prohibition. The noble Lord also referred to our art market, which is the second-largest in the world and has a notable and deserved worldwide reputation. There is no evidence that it is underhand or acts outside the law. I am sure that is not what he was suggesting.
To respond to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, I do not regret the way I set out these regulations. I hope that the consideration that your Lordships have given them in Grand Committee today has afforded the proper opportunity for scrutiny and, through my answers, some clarification. I will follow up in writing with further points where that is needed.
We believe that this statutory instrument will provide clarity and certainty for the UK’s museums and art market, allowing them, and their partners and clients, to bring cultural objects into the UK without fear that they will be delayed or detained at the border because of any unsupported claim of unlawful removal from another country at some point in the distant past. Our existing legislation was robust in protecting cultural goods before the general prohibition came into effect, and it will continue to provide protection against the illicit trade in cultural goods. In cases where there is evidence or information that an object was unlawfully removed from another country, our customs and border authorities will still be able to detain it and deal with it accordingly, using their existing powers and procedures. I end by re-emphasising that this statutory instrument will not change that.
The Grand Committee stands adjourned until 4.10 pm. I remind Members to sanitise their desks and chairs before leaving the Room.