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

Part of Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:47 pm on 14th May 2003.

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Photo of Kim Howells Kim Howells Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Culture, Media & Sport 3:47 pm, 14th May 2003

The hon. Gentleman has done an excellent job of tackling the concerns raised by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. I will be brief.

On removing features from buildings and structures, subsection (4)(a) provides that an object will become tainted only if it has at any time formed part of a building or structure of historical, architectural or archaeological interest. That means that the illegal detachment or amputation of structural, architectural or ornamental elements of a building or structure—fireplaces, mantelpieces, doors, door-hoods, floors, panelling, painted wall plaster, roofing and so on—will be tainted. However, the removal of objects that may be contained in and even integral to the function of the building will not be tainted. I hope that that is clear. Some examples of objects that will not be covered are chairs, tables, mirrors, and works of art that are hung in a building.

To give an example, the Roman Venus from Newby hall near Ripon would not come under the scope of the offence since the statue has never been attached to the building, even though it is integral to the architectural design. The Bill seeks to close the loophole whereby, although it is an offence to remove integral parts of a listed building or structure, whether they be statues hacked from the fa¢ade of a cathedral or fireplaces ripped out of a Georgian mansion, it is not a crime to sell them on.

I understand that there has been some concern in trade circles, which has been repeated this afternoon, that the Bill might cover portable furnishings. I therefore repeat the words of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam and state categorically that we do not believe that there is any justification for that concern. It is certainly not the intention to include such objects within the scope of the Bill. The requirement that the object must have ''formed part of'' the building or structure is sufficiently clear to exclude objects that are in no way integral to the form or structure of a building. Much will depend on circumstances, but in that respect the Bill aims to make as clear a distinction as possible between fixtures that are integral to a building or structure, and furnishings that are not.

The introduction of the term ''fabric'' would appear to reduce the scope of the criminal offence, but in a wholly unpredictable manner. It would also run the risk of excluding objects that should be covered by the Bill. I considered two definitions of ''fabric'', one from my slim but concise Oxford dictionary—6th edition, 1976—and the other from the newer, ''shorter'' dictionary, which is actually much longer than my concise version. The definition of fabric in the newer Oxford dictionary is,

''the basic structure (walls, floor, and roof) of a building''.

It is strongly arguable that that definition would exclude such objects as architectural sculpture, panelling and fireplaces, and in so doing would seriously undermine the scope of the Bill.

The purpose of the amendment is to reduce the types of object removed from buildings that would fall within the scope of the offence created by the Bill. Although it seems clear that the amendment will have a narrowing effect, the wording that is used makes it unclear as to the precise extent to which it will have such an effect. Given the dictionary definition of ''fabric'', however, there is a risk that the amendment will have a substantial narrowing effect and leave unprotected many objects such as statuary, panelling and fireplaces, which ITAP clearly intended should be protected.

For those reasons, I hope that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham will withdraw the amendment.