Joanna van der Lande, chairman of the ADA, told ATG the wording of the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill leaves “too much uncertainty for dealers or auctioneers to proceed with confidence”.
The bill passed its third and final reading in the Commons on February 22. Members of the art trade had called for changes to the wording of clause 17.1 of the bill relating to “dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property”. These included clarification of the definition of “cultural property” and the meaning of the phrase “having reason to suspect”.
However, Tracey Crouch MP, the under-secretary of state for culture, media and sport, who steered the bill through parliament, said 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”. Offenders will face fines and up to sevenyear prison sentences.
The bill refers to ‘cultural property’, as defined in The Hague Convention 1954 which covers objects “of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people”.
While the law does not apply to items already in the UK, it does apply to works of art arriving in the UK after the bill receives Royal Assent.
Accordingly, an item legally exported from, say, France but at one time having come from Cyprus could fall within the ambit of the law.
Van der Lande said there is still no clear understanding of the range of objects covered. “The very least we should expect now is clear and unequivocal guidance for the trade so we do not live under a constant cloud of fear that there will be an unfounded claim from a country occupied at any time since 1954.
“The minister has said that if you are uncertain you shouldn’t sell the object. So then the owner will effectively have a valueless object. The law will not be fully tested until a case goes to the courts.”