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Cultural Objects (Protection from Seizure) Bill

Volume 821: debated on Monday 25 April 2022

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, I will keep my remarks extremely brief. The Cultural Objects (Protection from Seizure) Bill amends Part 6 of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, which provides immunity from seizure for cultural objects on loan from abroad in temporary exhibitions in public museums and galleries in the UK. Cultural objects on loan from abroad featuring in exhibitions held in UK museums and galleries approved under the Act are at the moment protected from a court order seizure for a period of 12 months from the time when the object comes into the UK.

The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is responsible for approving these institutions in England, which can come under this regime, and the devolved Administrations have similar powers in other parts of the UK. To gain approval under the Act, the institutions must demonstrate that their procedures for establishing the provenance and ownership of objects are of a high standard.

When this Act was passed, 12 months was considered to be a very adequate period for objects to arrive in the UK and to be returned. During the Bill’s Second Reading, I mentioned that unforeseen travel delays can now result in works not being returned on time, and that risks undermining the confidence of foreign lenders to lend their art treasures to the UK.

The measures in the Bill would allow the current period, therefore, to be extended beyond 12 months at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, or indeed Scottish Ministers when it comes to Scotland. That will ensure that this protection remains fit for purpose. The new power to extend would only apply following an application from the approved museum or gallery. Extensions would be granted for a further three months initially, with a possibility of a further extension if considered necessary.

I am pleased to inform noble Lords that guidance for approved museums and galleries on how they can submit an application for extension has now been published in draft by the department, so the process and the guidance to support it are now ready to go.

I am delighted that the Bill has received such strong support, and I thank everyone who has contributed, including the Member for Central Devon, Mel Stride, for his work steering the Bill through, and the civil servants in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. As the department’s Secretary of State pointed out in the newspapers only today, they are knocking it out of the park in DCMS—whether they are present at their desks or not. Finally, I thank my favourite cultural object, who is, of course, our wonderful Minister, my noble friend Lord Parkinson. I am delighted that, after his successful visit to the Venice Biennale, he was protected from seizure and has returned to our shores to give the Bill the final seal of approval.

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend not just for bringing forward this Bill but for his kind words. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Sonia Boyce, who represented the United Kingdom at the UK Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, as well as Emma Ridgway, the curator, and everyone at the British Council who commissioned her work, which I am very pleased to report won the coveted Golden Lion for the first time since 1993. It is a tremendous achievement and everyone in the UK is very proud of them all.

I am pleased to reiterate the support of Her Majesty’s Government for this Bill. It is short and straightforward but will be of great benefit to the many approved museums and galleries in England and Scotland that rely on immunity from seizure protection when they borrow cultural objects from abroad. It will add an appropriate layer of flexibility to the existing legislation covering immunity from seizure. Currently, as my noble friend says, the maximum length of time an object can be protected from seizure while on loan is 12 months. As we learn and move on from the unprecedented challenges that museums and galleries have faced over the past two years in particular, the Bill rightly recognises that unpredictable delays do sometimes happen and that it may not always be possible for objects to be returned within that existing timeframe. The ability to extend the protection afforded to cultural objects is a sensible option to have. I am very grateful to my noble friend for presenting these helpful measures and for all his work in guiding the Bill through your Lordships’ House, to all noble Lords who have supported it, from all corners of the House, and, as my noble friend says, to the DCMS officials who have supported it.

As my noble friend says, the guidance for approved museums and galleries on how and when to apply for an extended period of protection has now been published in draft. The policy is therefore ready to be put into effect, subject to Royal Assent being granted. I am grateful to all those who helped the Bill speed on its way to the statute book.

Bill passed.