Clause 2 - Meaning of ''tainted cultural object''

Part of Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 14th May 2003.

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Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport 3:00 pm, 14th May 2003

Although I understand the concerns that led the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham to table the amendment and I wholeheartedly join him in resisting the notion that we should line any lawyer's pockets, his concerns are unfounded. The amendment would unnecessarily restrict the definition of a tainted cultural object and introduce uncertainties in the scope of that definition.

Under subsection (2), a cultural object is tainted if an offence is committed because of the circumstances in which it is removed or excavated. Drafted thus, the tainting of an object is not limited to those cases in which the removal or excavation of the object itself constitutes an offence. That is to ensure that the offence that the Bill creates covers not only conduct

that breaches local laws that prohibit the removal or excavation of cultural objects from monuments but those cases in which the conduct is in breach of laws that protect property generally—for example, theft.

The amendment would reverse that by apparently reducing the range of offences that are capable of giving rise to the tainting of an object under the Bill. It is unclear what the precise effect of the amendment would be, which is in itself a reason for the Committee not to support it. The effect would clearly be to include an offence that is triggered by the removal or excavation of a cultural object. However, in contrast to the current text of the Bill, which is clear, it is not clear whether offences such as theft would be included, where the process of removing or excavating can lead to the commission of the offence, even though the fact of removal or excavation is not an intrinsic element of the offence.

The second part of the amendment creates additional uncertainties. It enables the tainting of an object when it is excavated or removed in circumstances in which any person concerned fails to comply with procedures that are required in respect of the removal or excavation. However, it is not clear precisely what would be covered by the term ''procedures'' in that instance. The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland drew attention to that. Let us consider, for example, a case in which an object cannot be removed without a licence. In such a case there is likely to be a stipulated procedure for applying for the licence, as well as for granting it. It is not clear whether the amendment would apply where a person had gone through the required procedures of applying for the licence but no licence was granted to him for the removal of the object. In any event, it seems questionable whether this element of the amendment will add anything in practice. It is likely that any removal or excavation without having complied with necessary procedures would make the removal or excavation illegal and therefore fall within the first limb of the amendment.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for expressing the concerns that have led to the amendment. There seems to be a concern that the Bill as drafted would allow the tainting of cultural objects where the offence has only a limited connection. It is important to bear in mind that a person can be convicted of an offence under the Bill only where his dealings are proved to have been dishonest. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman some comfort. Also, the words used in subsection (2) clearly require the process of excavating or removing the object to form part of the offence in some way. Offences that are wholly unrelated to the process of excavation or removal—such as a breach of foreign export laws, a breach of local VAT regulations, an assault on an archaeologist or damage to excavation equipment—would not taint the object. For those reasons I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.