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Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill (Lords)

23rd November 2016

Speaking in a Public Bill committee on the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill, Jonathan Djanogly calls on the Government to consult with the art selling and auctioneer communities and publish guidance on acceptable working practice.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Although I have no interest in any bodies that sell art, I appreciate the importance of art sales to this country. I would therefore like to say a few words. I have read the Second Reading debate, along with subsequent briefings from various parties. This has clearly become a contentious issue for a number of right hon. and hon. Members, and indeed for a significant section of the art market.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and the hon. Member for Cardiff West have set out those concerns very effectively, and I do not intend to rerun them. I note the Government’s position that this offence and the change in the criminal intent required will not in practice make a difference to the operation of the art market in the UK. I am sure that the Minister will elaborate on that point.

I appreciate the practical reality of the change in legal approach. Whatever the Minister says today, nothing will be able to stop a prosecuting lawyer advising that this is new law and that it is therefore open to be tested in the courts. Furthermore, because of the nature of the changes, there are those in the auction market and wider art market who would have concerns that the
existing, accepted levels of due diligence will be threatened by the legislation, and uncertainty is always the enemy of business. The art sellers’ fear is that, as a result, Britain could lose its international pre-eminence in the art sales arena—a scenario that none of us would want to see.

I have a suggestion. When I was a shadow Minister, I scrutinised the previous Labour Government’s Bribery Act 2010, which mostly had cross-party consensus. The Act also addressed corruption. As with this Bill, we had to persuade large sections of the business community that its practical application would not disrupt their operations. The route devised to address those concerns was for the relevant Department to publish guidance.

There was significant and wide consultation on that guidance, which addressed the more day-to-day, process type decisions and due diligence considerations that could not realistically have been included in the legislation.

For example, if the famous picture to which my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington referred had been removed from a Soviet-occupied country in the 1970s—a country that is no longer occupied, of course—would it come within the Bill’s scope? Or if the same picture had been shown in a widely distributed sale catalogue for a certain period of time, would it be acceptable for an allegation of dodgy provenance to be made on social media half an hour before the sale, so that the auctioneer would stop the sale, possibly affecting the picture’s value and a possible future sale, even if the allegation was subsequently disproved? If so, under what conditions would that be acceptable? Those concerns also apply to clause 2 and what constitutes property that is important to all peoples.

By using guidance that is properly consulted on, acceptable practice norms could be established and generally supported with the buy-in of our art selling and auctioneer communities. That could address many of the practical concerns raised on this clause. I would be grateful to hear the Minister’s views on what I hope she will take as a positive suggestion.

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