Cultural Objects (Protection from Seizure) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 10th September 2021.

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Photo of Mark Jenkinson Mark Jenkinson Conservative, Workington 1:45 pm, 10th September 2021

In rising to support the Bill, I declare my interest, which predates my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. For a number of years, I was a trustee and director of a small but wonderful local museum, the Helena Thompson Museum. It probably will not be affected by this Bill, which seeks to protect international artefacts alone, but it wonderfully tells the story of Workington and the surrounding area.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted almost every area of our lives, and it is entirely appropriate that we take time to revisit existing legislation to take account of such unprecedented events that have a major impact on international air travel, which has created significant problems for loaned objects that are due to be returned to their country of origin and have been unexpectedly delayed here.

My right hon. Friend Mel Stride referenced the example of the Icelandic volcano—I will not try to repeat its name—in 2010, when 100,000 flights were grounded, causing major international air travel disruption and posing a risk to the timely return of cultural objects.

I have studied the Bill closely, and it addresses the issue clearly and comprehensively. In giving my support, I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing it to the House. As he has outlined, the Bill amends the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 to allow the period of protection from seizure and forfeiture to be extended from 12 months to a further period of up to three months. I hope Members on both sides of the House can see how this puts museums and international lenders on a much firmer legal footing, creating the higher level of certainty that these international exchanges require and implementing the safeguards they need. I am sure the custodians of these treasures will breathe a collective sigh of relief as the Bill progresses.

Although the risk of seizure is extremely small, a number of countries place great emphasis on having this added layer of protection. Providing this greater degree of certainty on the protection available, with the knowledge that it can be extended at the discretion of the relevant authority, will increase the confidence of owners of loaned objects, providing a boost to our exhibition sector, which after the past 18 months certainly needs it. Providing a power to extend the period of protection helps to mitigate the impact of major unforeseen disruptions, and not just to international travel, which might otherwise leave these objects at risk.

The extension is fully justified as a contingency to mitigate unexpected and unprecedented events beyond anyone’s control. I commend my right hon. Friend for raising this important issue and for the fervour with which he does so. The Bill has my full support.