Among the measures included in the bill is the creation of a new offence of dealing in unlawfully exported cultural property, with a sentence of up to seven years.
The ADA outlined its areas of concern as the Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords last week.
The bill is designed to tackle the looting and destruction of cultural heritage in conflict zones but the ADA, which is helping to advise parliament on the issue, has said it could affect the rest of the art market unintentionally.
Their chief concern is that a clear and acceptable definition of what constitutes cultural property under the law is still needed. The bill refers to ‘cultural property’ as defined in The Hague Convention 1954 which covers “property of great importance to the cultural heritage of every people” such as monuments and buildings but also includes “works of art; manuscripts, books and other objects of artistic, historical or archaeological interest”.
The association believe that this definition is not specific enough and could “unintentionally blight artworks and objects that have nothing to do with this issue”. ADA chairman Chris Martin said that the definition used in Article 1 of the UNESCO Convention – already adopted by 130 countries – is more appropriate “because it restricts the definition to items of ‘outstanding universal value’ in terms of cultural heritage.”
“If it is not possible to alter the wording of The Hague Convention’s definition under the new Bill, then the Government should include an additional clause to clarify its intention,” he said.
The amount the UK government has pledged towards its new ‘cultural protection fund’ to support countries in global conflict zones to protect and restore their cultural heritage.
Conservative peer Baroness Neville-Rolfe who introduced the Bill told the House of Lords on June 6: “The Government are clear that dealers acting in good faith have no reason to fear prosecution under the Bill. If a dealer takes temporary possession of an object for the purpose of carrying out due diligence or providing valuations, they will not be “dealing” in that object, because they are not “acquiring” the object.
She added: “The Bill will add to that deterrent effect, so that people will know that there is no legitimate market for tainted cultural objects in the UK.”
Chris Martin said: “The ADA are keener than anyone to prevent looting, not least because it is the legitimate trade’s reputation that criminals risk tainting by their activities. The highly robust new Code of Conduct we have recently drawn up sets the standard for others to follow and illustrates the serious intent of the association in promoting honest dealing.”
Following the second reading, the bill will go to committee stage where detailed line by line examination and discussion of amendments will take place.
ADA’s new Code of Conduct
The Antiquities Dealers’ Association’s new Code of Conduct aims to promote honest dealing in part by lowering the threshold demanded for additional due diligence from £10,000 to £3000.
At transactions above this level members must carry out more checks when buying an item from a vendor (other than a fellow dealer or auction house) who is unknown to them.
In this event, the member must obtain photographic identification of the vendor, the vendor’s title to the objects and confirmation of specific purchase details.
The ADA have recently launched a new website which includes further information about the Code of Conduct.