Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Bill
Frank Cook (Stockton North, Labour)
Order. I must remind right hon. and hon. Members that it is customary throughout the parliamentary system that when a Member seeks to make a statement, they undergo a process called catching the Speakers eye. The only way to do that is to stand in ones place and make it plain that a statement is forthcoming. Mr. Vaizey, stand up, please. It is no good making the request and then sitting on your butt.
Edward Vaizey (Shadow Minister, Culture, Media & Sport; Wantage, Conservative)
I thought that I was getting up. After that intervention, I shall try, as one of our great actresses said, to gather my thoughts.
This is a small but important Bill which Conservative Members welcome. It has not, despite the broad consensus in this Committee, had the easiest of passages. In fact, this is an opportunity for me to pay tribute to the work of Anne Webber and all those who have campaigned for such a Bill. Although the Bills objectives are something that every right-thinking individual would welcome, there was also, potentially, an important principle at stake, which was the inviolability of our national collections. It was therefore extremely important, and somewhat time-consuming, to engage with those looking after our national collections, the directors of our national museums, to ensure that they were comfortable that this was not somehow the thin end of the wedge. I know that the hon. Member for Hendon may be pushing some more wedges into our national collections with another private Members Bill not unrelated to friezes from the east of Europe. Nevertheless, it is very welcome that we have arrived at this point today.
I know that national museums have worked very closely with the Government, the hon. Gentleman, Anne Webber and others to ensure that this Bill will be passed. The Bill is very clear in its aims. It gives all those who feel that they have a justified claim to an object looted by the Nazis which is in a national collection the opportunity to make that claim. It provides a very sensible mechanism in which an advisory committee can make a recommendation, the Secretary of State can approve it and the trustees may have the final decision before that object is released, thereby keeping in place the principle that the trustees are the guardian of the collection.
I also welcome the fact that there is a sunset clause. As other hon. Members have pointed out, sunset clauses are, in principle, a very good thing to include in any legislation. Conservative Members wholeheartedly welcome the Bill.
Lembit Ípik (Montgomeryshire, Liberal Democrat)
The hon. Member for Wantage says that this is a small but important Bill. I would say that it is a simple but important Bill, because, for those whom it assists, it is of tremendous importance in righting a wrong that dates right back to Nazism and the second world war. Nazism nearly destroyed Europe, and it was thanks to the courage of the British people and our unassailable ally, the USA, that Hitler was ultimately defeated. Nevertheless, the Bill illustrates the reach of Nazism and the damage that was done by that appalling creed. There are many families, including my own, who were permanently affected by the consequences of the second world war. It is a matter of honour for me to serve on this Committee and to see a collective consensus across parties which is far more important than any partisan dispute.
I am involved with the Holocaust Education Trust because I think that we must never forget what happens if good men sit and do nothing when evil is perpetrated. This restitution draws a line in the sand which indicates that Britain, and, indeed, no right-thinking country, will ever again allow that kind of injustice to be perpetrated, either in the name of democracy or of humanity. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hendon, who has made a powerful statement in simple terms, which I am sure we all agree with, that Nazism, injustice and inhumanity must never be allowed to triumph.
Lee Scott (Ilford North, Conservative)
May I say, for anyone who was unable to get here this morning, that I apologise for my constituent, Mr. Crow, not allowing people to get here? I will be passing that message on to him when I see him next.
I would like briefly to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hendon. Many of my own constituents, along with people from all over the country, owe him a debt of gratitude for this Bill, and I thank him for introducing it.
Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside, Labour)
I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon for his work and perseverance, and I would also like to thank everybody else who has been involved in bringing the Bill to this point today.
The wrongs and the horror of the Nazi era can never be put right, but there are areas where restitution can be made in an attempt to keep memories alive and bring some kind of justice for the descendants of those who perished in such a terrible way. This is one such area. It is very important that the matter has been approached in a careful and balanced way, with safeguards written into the process. The fact that we have got to this point is due to the work of so many people in looking at the detail and operation of the measure, as well as the principle. I would like to record my appreciation to everybody who has been involved and give particular thanks to my hon. Friend for his dedication, initiative and perseverance.
Barbara Follett (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Culture), Department for Culture, Media & Sport; Stevenage, Labour)
I reiterate my tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon and thank all members of the Committee. As you said, Mr. Cook, it has been more informal than usual. Perhaps that is because the matter is more consensual than usual; perhaps it is also because there are no Whips present. I am very glad that we have cross-party consensus on this issue.
I would like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge). It was under her aegis, when she was holding the job that I now hold, that we began work on this Bill. I particularly thank all those outside Parliament who have worked so hard to make sure that this happens. They have put right a very old wrong, one that needed to be corrected. Finally, I thank you, Mr. Cook, for your patience with us all today.
Andrew Dismore (Hendon, Labour)
I thank all hon. Members for their kind remarks about the Bill and repeat my thanks to my hon. Friend the Minister and, indeed, her predecessors. Several of them, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking, have taken an interest in this issue. I also thank my hon. Friends officials, who have been patient with me throughout my e-mail bombardment of them, which I hope did not cause too much offence.
I thank Anne Webber, who has given me a lot of assistance with the Bill, and also Jon Benjamin. We should also mention Lord Janner, who has run an indomitable campaign on this issue. He first got me interested in the subject shortly after I was elected in 1997. At that time the campaign was to get the Spoliation Advisory Panel set up. That took a couple of years, and we thought that that was the end of the problem. As time went by, it became clear that it was not. I sincerely hope that the Bill will now end the problem and that art can be returned to its rightful owners. In the end, it is for them to decide what happens to that art; whether they want to leave it where it is, take compensation or have it back. That should be their choice because they are the owners of something that was stolen from them and their families so many decades ago under the tyranny of the Nazis.
I also thank you, Mr. Cook, for your patience and wonderful chairmanship today. The fact that we have been able to get through the proceedings in 39 minutes is a tribute to that and to the Committee as a whole.