Clause 1 - Offence of dealing in tainted cultural objects

Part of Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 14th May 2003.

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Photo of Mr Roger Casale Mr Roger Casale Labour, Wimbledon 2:00 pm, 14th May 2003

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Hurst. Once again, I welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam on promoting it.

I do not have a specific constituency interest, although as the hon. Member for Salisbury said,

there are important constituency concerns as we all have heritage sites in our constituencies. An example that springs to my mind is Merton priory, which is a 12th-century monastery that was dissolved and looted under Henry VIII. In modern times, it was concreted over and it now lies underneath one of the largest supermarkets in Europe. Looting of cultural objects is a problem that has been with us for a long time and it affects each of our constituency interests.

I wish to address a matter related not to my constituency but to my work as chairman of the all-party British-Italian group. Italy has about 60 per cent. of the world's heritage cultural objects, and there was some debate on Second Reading about the looting of objects from Italian archaeological sites. Italy has been at the forefront of international efforts to combat the trade in illicit cultural objects, and it quickly signed up to the 1998 UN convention on the matter, and to subsequent European conventions. Four years ago, I had the privilege to lead a delegation from our Parliament to the Italian Parliament, where we looked at issues related to the fight against organised crime and, in particular, at the steps taken by the Italian Government to counter money laundering.

One image that we may have is of the petty criminal or tourist picking something up and putting it into their bag at an archaeological or artistic site. That happens, it is wrong, and we must try to stop it. However, I understand that the Bill aims to deal with the far greater racket that is linked to organised international criminals. Proceeds from the looting of artistic and cultural objects are second only to the proceeds from the trade in drugs. When we examine the sources of funds that are laundered through banks and the international money system, we see that this is a very lucrative trade. It is increasingly being used to finance other illicit activities, including the drugs trade, and to finance the activities of international criminal gangs. It has also been linked to terrorist activities, a matter that was raised on Second Reading.

I am making those points during our discussion on clause 1 because it is the point in the Bill where the focus moves from the illicitly traded cultural object to the person who is trading in such objects. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam, who is promoting the Bill, said that he did not think that it would be difficult to ascertain whether a person who was trading in those objects had malicious intent. We do not want to catch bona fide art dealers or others who have been unwittingly trading in looted objects. We must make sure that we catch the big fish—the people who are doing it with malicious intent. We must not only ask whether they knew that an object was looted but look at what other activities they are involved in.

We must consider the Government's recent legislation to expropriate the proceeds of illicit crime. We must seek the opportunity to override some of the banking secrecy laws, and we must consider whether the person is not only trading in illicit goods but using the proceeds from that trade, perhaps by illicitly laundering the money and using it to finance other

illicit activities. When confiscating the cultural object from that person we must consider also confiscating some of the proceeds of the illicit trade.

In conclusion, I believe that organised criminals carry out an increasing amount of the trade in illicit and looted cultural objects in a cold-blooded and systematic way. I do not believe that we will have any difficulty retrieving the objects, and, in many cases, it will not be difficult to establish the criminal intent of somebody who is in the frame for this offence. I support the clause.