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'the removal or excavation, or any failure by any person involved in the removal or excavation to comply with procedures required in respect of that removal or excavation constituted an offence at the time it occurred.'."
We took legal advice, which centred on the word "circumstances". The word adds nothing positive to the Bill, and we should concentrate on the object and its removal, not the legal status of the person or persons connected with the removal, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam said. The amendment should clarify the scope of the offences that may cause tainting. The attached notes reflect that intention.
The Bill should cover removals or excavations that constitute offences, for example, when a person removes, without written permission, an object of archaeological or historical interest that he has discovered through using a metal detector in a protected place. That is an offence under section 42(3) of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam repeated the point that we made in Committee that criminal circumstances may surround the excavation of an item that have nothing to do with the item being tainted. For example, a digger that was used to dig up a large item may have been stolen. That should not taint the object. Perhaps the person responsible for the dig is the subject of criminal prosecution for something else that has nothing to do with digging up the object. Perhaps the digger on the site has been assaulted. Again, those events should not taint the object. Although amendment No. 2 makes matters much clearer, perhaps the Minister would explain what has changed and why Government thinking has changed from the response that the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), who was then the Minister responsible, gave in Committee. He said:
Surely theft laws cover such activities and they are separate from the significant cultural nature for which we are trying to legislate. I should therefore be grateful for some clarification from the Minister of how and why Government thinking changedI am pleased that it didso that they now feel able to adopt a version of the amendment that we tabled in a rather more clumsy form in Committee.
Estelle Morris: I too should like to join others in supporting amendment No. 2. Although amendments Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 8 are interesting probing amendments and the debate has been good and useful, I shall resist them and hope that they will be withdrawn.
First, let us consider amendment No. 2. I cannot read the mind of the former Minister, but it is entirely proper for the Government to reflect on what hon. Members of all parties say during a Bill's passage. I accept the interpretation of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) that alternative legislation could tackle theft and that the Bill should deal with tainted objects. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to say that the Government have reflected on his comments in Committee and decided that the wording of the new amendment is better, I am happy to do so. I sense that hon. Members of all parties support the Bill and I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing the wording to the attention of the Government and the promoter. I acknowledge that, with the help of parliamentary draftsmen, the current wording satisfies us.
Let me briefly consider amendments Nos. 4, 5, 7 and 8. Like other hon. Members, I believe that "significant value" in amendments Nos. 4 and 5 is a test too far. We do not want to draw up legislation that tantalisingly leaves us unable to deal with the offences that we believed we had covered.
On amendments Nos. 7 and 8, I am informed that the definitions of monument and trace merely repeat those in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned. I have no reason to believe that those definitions have not stood the test of time. Having similar definitions in legislation that deals with similar matters is commendable. I hope that the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) will accept that.
I did not have information about marché ouvert in the deep recesses of my mind, but experts reliably inform me that it no longer exists. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) will be surprised to learn that it has been abolished only recently. It used to exist in designated markets, including Bermondsey. I am sure that the
Mr. Chope: We have had an excellent and erudite debate, after which I am wiser. I am grateful to the promoter and to my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for the calm, precise, persuasive and thorough way in which they have dealt with my anxieties. I congratulate my hon. Friend on an ingenious critique when he explained what would happen if one took "vessels" out of context. I am grateful to the Minister for making clear the precedents for the definition of monument and trace. I do not accept all the arguments about "significant", because the amendments qualify the word. It would not stand alone but qualify archaeological and historical interest. However, I take the points that have been raised. In the light of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Allan: I thank all who have been involved with the Bill so far. I pay tribute to the many professionals in the heritage sector who have built the case for us to tackle the trade in illicit antiquities over many years. Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn has played a leading role, which will no doubt continue when the Bill goes to the House of Lords. The next set of principal actors in the Bill's evolution are members of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. I congratulate them on their work, and especially on returning to the subject in the follow-up inquiry that they announced recently.
ITAP, the ministerial advisory panel on illicit trade, did some excellent work on bringing together all the relevant parties under the chairmanship of Professor Norman Palmer, who was also generous with his time in helping me personally with the Bill's preparation. I hope that ITAP's work will be able to continue, as the Bill is certainly not the end of the story in terms of tackling illicit trade. I believe that it could have a particularly valuable role in considering the issue of databases for stolen and tainted objects. I know that the Department is also keen to work on that.
I especially thank one ITAP member, Anthony Browne of the British Art Market Federation, for the huge amount of work he has put into ensuring that the Bill can retain the support of the whole sector. That is reflected in the amendments we have discussed today, but also in much of the debate that we have had to clarify aspects of the Bill that caused concern.
It has been a pleasure to deal with both Ministers who have handled the Bill. The present Minister of State, Department for Transport, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), always brings a certain flair to any debate, and I am grateful to him for spending a couple of Fridays herewe had an abortive first attempt at Second Readingas well as responding helpfully in Committee. As I have said, I am also very pleased that the Minister for the Arts has been here today.
Finally, let me thank the many Members on both sides of the House who have helped the Bill on its way. I am especially grateful to those who volunteered to serve on the Committee and to the Conservative spokesmen who have participatedthe hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois) on Second Reading, and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) in Committee and today. On both occasions, he was an active and helpful participant. We also spent a good deal of time considering these issues during the all-party archaeology group inquiry. I think that one reason that we have been able to achieve cross-party consensus, with a group of Members working behind the Bill, is the discussion in which we were able to engage then. The all-party group has done a tremendous job.
This is, I think, a good Bill that will make an important contribution to heritage legislation in the United Kingdom. It will enhance our reputation as a nation that cares deeply for culture, both our own and that of other countries. It is, I hope, a model that other countries may wish to emulate, so that we can reach a point at which there is no market anywhere for looted cultural objects.