Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Art trade amendments to looted art bill rejected in parliament

Those poor antiquities dealers are claiming they are hard-done by and being victimised again (Laura Chesters, ' Art trade amendments to looted art bill rejected in parliament Antiques Trade Gazette   21 Feb 2017).   

The UK government has passed the third reading of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill,   designed to tackle the looting and destruction of cultural heritage in conflict zones. In the debates leading up to this, Kensington MP and the British Antique Dealers Association  president Victoria Borwick had implored ministers to “consider the views of the art and antiques industry”. Parliament however it roundly opposed amendments to the draft bill called for by the art and antiques trade.
Among those calling for amendments to the bill, were members of the art trade who had called for changes including clarification of the definition of “cultural property” and the meaning of the phrase “having reason to suspect” in the wording of the clause relating to “dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property” [clause 17.1 of the bill]. [...] However Tracey Crouch MP, the under-secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport, who steered the bill through parliament, said: “Dealers should always be concerned to ensure that any objects they deal in have good and lawful provenance.” She said issues in the art market around provenance “will not be solved by watering down this bill”. She added that after consulting with the art trade there was "no clear evidence... this bill would create an insurmountable problem for the art market or increase the amount of due diligence that the dealers need to take. It will however provide a deterrent for those unscrupulous dealers who might be tempted to deal in unlawfully exported cultural property". 
So once again, antiquities dealers were trying to stall a cleaning up of the market by raising (US lobbyist style) pretended difficulties which in fact do not exist in any licit business. In fact the Bill cites the seminal definition of ‘cultural property’, as defined in The Hague Convention 1954 (so antiquities dealers have had ample time to consider, and challenge if they see fit, this notion - but then these atavistic milieu tends not to prioritise any form of forward looking considerations).

Rebecca Davies, chief executive of LAPADA, said [...] As things stand, and without clear guidance on this, art market professionals will face the choice of ignoring the unsubstantiated claim [on an object they were handling] and risk prosecution or accept that any claim, regardless of merit, would create grounds for suspicion under the terms of the act and effectively taint the object while exposing them to the risk of prosecution if they ignored the claim.” 
Absolutely, that is how it should be. When will dealers realise that the outside world expects would-be respectable dealers to handle only material which can be shown on the basis of proper business documentation not to be potentially tainted  - and in the British situation that means complying in full with the terms of the 2003 'Dealing in cultural property ((offences) Act'  - also in force long enough now for the dealers concerned to know its wording and act accordingly in filling their stock rooms.

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