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The Holocaust (Stolen Art) Restitution Act, which passed into law early on November 12, will supersede any 'house rules' at institutions such as the British Museum, whose collections are protected by a ban on deaccessioning.

The bill was introduced earlier this year by Labour MP Andrew Dismore, who said the Act would "right a long-standing injustice".

It will now be possible for the Secretary of State to order returns on the recommendations of the Spoliation Advisory Panel, which was formed in 2000 to resolve disputed artefacts from the Nazi era (1933-45) and has already upheld nine such claims.

Until now, institutions prevented from returning works have instead paid over compensation based on the valuation of disputed objects. The law change affects England and Scotland - Wales and Northern Ireland already enjoy such powers.

"Whilst I do not envisage the Act having to be used very frequently, this is an important moral step, to ensure that we can close yet a further chapter on the appalling crimes of the Holocaust," said Mr Dismore.

By Ivan Macquisten