Looted Art: Claims Panel Timetable

– in the House of Lords at 3:09 pm on 11th May 2000.

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Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour 3:09 pm, 11th May 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made by the Spoliation Advisory Panel of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in the achievement of justice for the owners of looted art which is now in British public collections.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the Spoliation Advisory Panel will meet for the first time on 8th June. The panel is expected to adopt its terms of reference and to agree its rules of procedure which will set out the timetable for submissions by claimants and responses from institutions. That will determine the date when it will hear the claim received against a painting in the Tate Gallery.

Photo of Lord Janner of Braunstone Lord Janner of Braunstone Labour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he agree that the whole purpose of the process is to seek to achieve some measure of justice for survivors of the Nazis who had property stolen from them? In many cases the property was stolen from people who were murdered or who died, so justice is sought for their families and heirs? If so, a prime purpose of the panel--one expects to see this in its terms of reference--should be to ensure that where owners are clearly identified they are able to choose what happens to their property. Does my noble friend agree that where practicable they should be able to decide whether, as in the case of the owners of the Griffier that is in the Tate Gallery, they leave it where it is and come to a reasonable arrangement or whether the item is returned to them because it is their property and justice has been denied to them for too long?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we have been fortunate in being able to set up an expert and entirely independent panel. That panel is considering its terms of reference and rules of procedure. It will proceed on a case-by-case basis and make its own judgment. It will take into account the point made by my noble friend, but I do not believe, in considering such cases, it is for the Government to point it in any particular direction. I agree with the point, to which I believe my noble friend refers, that the draft terms of reference propose mutual exclusivity between compensation and an explanatory pack. I agree that they should not be mutually exclusive.

Photo of Viscount Falkland Viscount Falkland Liberal Democrat

My Lords, as noble Lords will agree, this is a complex and sensitive matter. The Question on the Order Paper relates to British collections. However, works of art that were looted from victims of the Holocaust could have gone to collections all over the world. Is there any liaison or contact between the department of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and similar authorities in other countries?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Viscount is probably aware that in addition to the initiatives that have been taken in this country--I pay credit to my noble friend Lord Janner for his part, two years ago, in those initiatives--we are all working on the basis of the recommendations of the Washington conference on Holocaust era assets. In that sense, as many countries as possible are working on the same basis. Clearly, my department will be keen to take part in any international co-operation that is required.

Photo of Lord Strabolgi Lord Strabolgi Labour

My Lords, if a gallery has purchased a painting in good faith after it has passed through many hands--it may have been marketed by Nazi leaders through Switzerland or through other sources--and no known heirs can be traced, does a gallery have title to the work of art or do further searches have to be conducted?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, as the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, said, this is an enormously complicated matter. I do not believe that I can give a general answer as to the circumstances in which the gallery will have title. I believe it will depend on each individual case. That is why we have an expert, independent panel to make recommendations on each case. Basically, I do not believe that the Government should keep a dog and bark themselves.

Photo of Lord Campbell of Croy Lord Campbell of Croy Conservative

My Lords, while I fully support the advisory panel in its future work, some owners, and even their heirs, are very elderly. Do the Government agree that time is important in deciding these matters?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

Yes, my Lords, we agree with the noble Lord. For that reason, when the issue was raised two years ago, the museum directors' conference immediately set up a body of experts to search for works of art that might fall within the category of spoliation. Those experts have carried out intensive inquiries, not only in national museums and galleries, but in all recognised museums and galleries in this country. So far, only one case has come forward. As soon as that happened we took steps to set up our advisory panel. However, we regret that it has taken a long time.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Wirral Lord Hunt of Wirral Conservative

My Lords, perhaps I may respond to that point.

Noble Lords:

Ask!

Photo of Lord Hunt of Wirral Lord Hunt of Wirral Conservative

My Lords, there is a degree of disappointment that eight months have elapsed since the Government's proposals were announced but the one claim is still outstanding. Sadly, the claimant is elderly and unwell. Can the Minister indicate how much longer the claimant will have to wait?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I well understand the disappointment to which the noble Lord refers. When the claim was made in the summer of last year, first, we had to find a chairman. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and his department assisted us in finding the distinguished judge, Sir David Hirst, for that position. Then we had to adopt Nolan procedures to find the members of the panel. We had to consult on the membership of the panel with a wide body of people whom last month I listed in a Written Answer. The panel members--distinguished and busy people--had to find time in their diaries to meet. As I said, they will meet on 8th June. As soon as they have set up their procedures, I am sure that they will proceed as quickly as possible towards the determination of the case before them.