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Celebration as Holocaust Bill is given Royal Assent
The Government have warmly welcomed the giving of Royal Assent to the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Private Member’s Bill, as proposed by Andrew Dismore MP.
The Bill, introduced on 26th January this year, will give the governing bodies of national institutions named in the Bill the power to return an object from their collection to its rightful owner, as determined by the Spoliation Advisory Panel.
Andrew Dismore, proposer of the Bill, and MP for Hendon, said:
“I was delighted to have the opportunity of introducing this Bill in the Commons and with all-party support seeing it through, even though it had no procedural priority whatsoever.
“It shows what could be achieved by a determined backbencher: by rolling out my sleeping bag and sleeping on the floor of the Public Bill Office overnight, I was able to become the first in the queue to apply for Second Readings after the balloted Bills, and this tactic paid off.
“Once it becomes an Act, the Bill will right a long-standing injustice by giving powers to museums and galleries to return pieces of art and cultural objects taken from their rightful owners during the period of the Nazi regime.
“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.”
Before the passing of the bill, the Spoliation Panel could recommend an object from a local institution be returned to the claimant, if they were satisfied that the item had been stolen during the Nazi era (1933-1945). However, national institutions are forbidden by legislation from deaccessioning items, even if they too have been investigated and judged to have been stolen. Up until now a valuation of the object has been carried out in such cases and an ex-gratia payment made in lieu of the return of the item. Due to the success of this Bill, national institutions will now be able to return treasures to claimants if the panel so recommends and Ministers agree.
Culture Minister Margaret Hodge, said:
“This is a wonderful day, both for Andrew and those who will benefit from this change in legislation. For too long, families who had heirlooms stolen from them by the Nazis were unable to reclaim them, although they were the rightful owners. This new Act will restore the possibility for families who suffered so terribly during the Nazi era, to get some justice by getting back their heirlooms.”
Lord Janner of Braunstone Q.C., who supported this Bill through the Lords, said:
“The issue of restitution is of vital importance to me. My entire family in Lithuania and Latvia were murdered by the Nazis, the killers stole all of their property. This bill will at least give families of some holocaust victims the power to reclaim some of their family property, which is in Britain.
“I am delighted that this bill has been supported by all
political parties, in both houses of parliament and I give special
thanks to Andrew Dismore for bringing this Bill through the
Jon Benjamin, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said:
“We are extremely grateful for the invaluable assistance of
officials and politicians at DCMS, and in Parliament, in bringing
about this piece of legislation and would like particularly to
acknowledge Andrew Dismore’s role in the
Commons and Lord Janner’s in the Lords.
“The Act corrects an anomaly that most people would be surprised existed, and means that common sense prevails in the case of the rightful heirs of looted artefacts being able to recover them. In some small way, it helps to ease the pain of the enormous hurt of the Holocaust by at least allowing items of sentimental and emotional value to be restored the victims or their families.”
Anne Webber, Co-chair of the Commission for Looted Art in Europe, said:
“This is a great step forward and confirms Britain’s commitment
to providing justice even at this late stage. Objects taken by the
Nazis have immense meaning to the families concerned and returning
them provides some small measure of justice and consolation for
the lives that were destroyed. We greatly appreciate the role of
ministers and officials at the DCMS and particularly of Andrew
Dismore MP who introduced and spearheaded this bill, and hope
other countries which have not yet made restitution possible will
follow Britain’s lead.”
Scottish Government Culture Minister Michael Russell said:
“The Royal Assent to the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Bill is a significant moment and demonstrates the importance the Scottish Government and the UK Government place on this issue.
“Introducing this legislation alongside the rest of the UK, ensures that should any instances arise, Scotland’s National Institutions will have the ability to return cultural objects that were looted during the Holocaust era to their rightful owners. I firmly believe this is the right thing to do.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 26 January and was given Royal Asset on 12 November. It is a Private Member’s Bill which has been supported by the Government. The Bill gives the governing bodies of the national institutions named in the Bill a power to transfer an object from their collection and return it to the claimant, provided that the Spoliation Advisory Panel recommends return and Ministers agree, thus putting them on the same footing as other museums which can make such returns. The Bill will expire on 12 November 2019. The power extends to national institutions in Scotland, following the agreement of the Scottish Parliament in a motion passed on 25 June. The power is not needed in Wales and Northern Ireland, where museums can return such items.
2. The powers in the Act, will be brought into force shortly by a commencement Order made by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Ben Bradshaw.
3. The then Arts Minister Alan Howarth announced the setting up of a Panel to help resolve claims on art looted during the Nazi era on 17 February 2000 and the full membership of the Panel on 13 April 2000.
4. The Declaration of Principles agreed at the Washington Conference on Holocaust-Era Assets of December 1998 states, among the other principles, that:
a. pre-War owners and their heirs should be encouraged to come forward and make known their claims to art confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted;
b. if the pre-War owners of art that is found to have been
confiscated by the Nazis and not subsequently restituted, or their
heirs, can be identified, steps should be taken expeditiously to
achieve a just and fair solution, recognising this may vary
according to the facts and circumstances surrounding a specific case.
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