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

Part of Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:54 pm on 14th May 2003.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 2:54 pm, 14th May 2003

Before the sitting was suspended I had accepted an intervention, and I think that I can respond to the points that were raised. To understand the key point about the amendment, we must move

forward slightly to subsection (3)(a), which makes it clear that an offence is committed regardless of whether the excavation took place in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. To return to the Italian example, we would, in effect, import Italian law and impose it on the unsuspecting dealer in London who had come into possession of what would be defined as a tainted object. The object would presumably become tainted in perpetuity, regardless of whether it was excavated and sold on the market perfectly legitimately.

The person responsible for the excavation may, under Italian law, commit an offence that is unconnected with the excavation. He may, for example, carry out the excavation as a tax scam or as part of a money-laundering operation, or even using a stolen excavation machine. However, the object may be put on the open market legitimately. The person who comes into possession of it in London would not know, and could not be expected to know, that the person with whom it originated had committed other criminal acts. Under the present wording, however, he would be guilty of receiving a tainted good.

That is why the amendment would more tightly define the act of the excavation, clarifying that it must be illegal in itself. Such excavations should not be carried out in the first place. The amendment would separate them from other acts, which may be illegal—under the laws of other countries, in this case—and which may be committed by someone connected with the excavations, although the excavations themselves may not be illegal. I am not a lawyer, which is part of the problem, but I seek through this probing amendment to prevent lawyers from having complicated arguments in complex and expensive legal cases.

Through our probing amendment, we are looking for a keener definition of when an illegal act is committed. The person who would be prosecuted for handling what would become a tainted cultural object would have no knowledge, or could not be expected to have any knowledge, of offences that did not directly influence the removal of that object. I want the Minister to give us an assurance that prosecutions will not proceed on that rather less justified basis.