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 Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 2:54 pm, 14th May 2003

Since I ceased to make my living from practising as a court lawyer, I have become increasingly enamoured of the idea that we should try to avoid legislation that gives rise to lengthy and complex legal debate. However, the provisions before the Committee are fairly straightforward, although they stand to be complicated by the amendment.

The words

''in the circumstances in which the object is removed or excavated''

make it fairly clear that the taint—what used to be called the vitium reale—derives from the act of removing, not from a character fault or any wrongdoing in other respects on the part of the person responsible for the removal.

Let us consider for a second the expanded rationale that the hon. Gentleman gave the Committee. He said that we should avoid prosecutions in relation to dealings in otherwise perfectly legitimate artefacts.

There would be a danger of such prosecutions if the amendment were made. It says that

''the removal or excavation, or any failure by any person involved in the removal or excavation to comply with procedures required in respect of that removal or excavation''—

it is a matter of style, but I would put in another comma there—

''constituted an offence at the time it occurred.''

Let us consider the circumstances in which a perfectly lawful excavation has taken place, and somebody unrelated to the immediate excavation has subsequently had to apply for an export licence or for registration of the fact that the artefact has been excavated. Under the wide provision in the amendment, the object would be tainted by the failure of a person involved in the removal or excavation to comply with the procedures required. The amendment risks widening the scope of the clause unnecessarily. The Bill is clear and concise, and there is no scope for debate.