Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill

Protection for Cultural Property on Loan to UK Museums and Galleries

NMDC welcomes the proposed legislation in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill[1], providing immunity from seizure for cultural property on loan to UK museums and galleries. Anti-Seizure legislation is essential to bring the United Kingdom in line with other countries and to maintain the UKs position as a major centre for world-class exhibitions. The Bill was subjected to detailed scrutiny in the House of Lords, leading to Government amendments which were supported by the national museums. The Bill has its Second Reading debate in the House of Commons on Monday 5 March 2007 and we urge all Members of Parliament to support the clauses on cultural property.

Need for Legislation to Protect UKs Position as Leading Venue for International Exhibitions

Important loans to future exhibitions at museums across the UK are at risk because international lenders are increasingly reluctant to lend to countries which do not have immunity from seizure legislation. Exhibitions in the UK have already suffered from being unable to include works, which were subsequently added to the same exhibition when it was seen in the United States. The clauses in the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Bill are essential to enable the UK public to continue to benefit from world-class exhibitions in the UK, and will bring the UK into line with other countries, including France, Switzerland, Germany and the USA. Provisions in Part 6 of the Bill will enable a guarantee to be given to lenders that treasures they have lent to temporary exhibitions in UK museums and galleries will be returned.

The risk of the judicial seizure of art and antiquities loaned internationally for exhibition is a real and current problem. Museum exhibition plans are at risk because of international lenders hardening stances on loans to countries which do not have immunity from seizure legislation and loans from certain countries are becoming increasingly difficult and time consuming to negotiate. There are increasing instances of items being withdrawn from loan, and of museums deciding not to apply for certain loans because of the difficulties surrounding immunity.

The UK is at risk of falling behind as a venue for world-class temporary exhibitions. The lack of key exhibits from an exhibition inevitably affects attendance figures. Figures published by The Art Newspaper show that in 2006[2], London dropped from second to sixth place for total number of visits to major exhibitions, falling behind Paris, Washington, Tokyo and San Francisco for the first time. London has averaged about four million such visits in each year from 2000 to 2006, while the New York number is almost double that. While visits to exhibitions in London are high, the latest figures show that these have not kept pace with the scale of increases in New York, Paris, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Tokyo.

Major exhibitions also have a substantial economic impact. For example, the National Gallerys Raphael exhibition in 2004/5 was estimated to have generated as much as £30 million in additional economic activity, excluding the exhibition ticket sales.[3] Therefore the UKs declining position is not simply a cultural concern.

Due Diligence Research on Provenance of Objects on Loan to Museums

The Bill was subject to intense scrutiny in the House of Lords and concerns were raised about the impact of the legislation as originally drafted on potential claims for return of works looted during the 1933-45 period. A number of Government amendments were made at Report Stage to provide assurances that the legislation would not negate the need for due diligence on provenance research by borrowing museums and galleries.


UK museums take their moral obligations regarding illicit trade, Nazi-looted objects and human remains very seriously and their actions demonstrate this. UK national museums have been in the vanguard of international action on 1933-45 provenance research and response to claims. NMDC members are committed to the NMDC Statement of Principles and Proposed Action on the Spoliation of Works of Art During the Holocaust and World War II period and the principles set out in DCMS publication "Combating Illicit Trade: Due Diligence guidelines for museums, libraries and archives on collecting and borrowing cultural material" and Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums. In accordance with these guidelines, national museums ensure that they do not acquire or exhibit any stolen or illegally exported works and that they acquire legal title to items accessioned to their collections.

NMDC members are also committed to giving prompt and serious consideration to claims to title for specific works in their collections. The proposed legislation will not affect any claim to objects which are held in national collections or other museums in this country, or which are usually kept in this country. To date, the Spoliation Advisory Panel has considered six claims for items lost during the 1933-45 period. National museums greatly value the work of the Panel and cooperate fully with the Panels inquiries. Details of other items subject to unresolved claims can be found on the NMDC website. Over the past eight years museums have undertaken extensive research into 1933-45 provenance of works in their collections, and published details of items with uncertain provenance. There are currently over 6,574 items listed on the NMDC website with uncertain provenance between 1933-45.

The proposed legislation strikes a fair balance between the rights of the potential claimant and the public interest in promoting cultural exchanges and enhancing understanding of other cultures by facilitating public access to works of arts and cultural objects from other countries through major exhibitions. Exhibitions bring objects in private collections into the public domain which may otherwise remain unknown. Inclusion in exhibition catalogues, publications and websites, mean information on these items is accessible to many more people than will see them in the exhibition. The purpose of the law is to offer reassurance to owners lending cultural objects for public benefit that these will be returned to them, and it should be remembered that, without the new law, a judicial seizure of a cultural object on loan would be possible merely in satisfaction of a civil debt that is nothing whatever to do with title to the cultural object itself.

NMDC supports the current wording of the Bill which strengthens and refines the procedure for the granting of immunity from seizure. It requires the Secretary of State to have regard to an institutions due diligence procedures when considering whether it should be approved as an institution eligible to offer immunity to lenders; and it gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations requiring the publication of information about the objects being borrowed. The Bill also makes it clear that the eligibility of an institution to offer immunity from seizure depends on an approval which may be withdrawn if the Secretary of State considers that the institutions procedures for establishing the provenance or ownership of objects are inadequate. It will not be enough for museums only to satisfy the Secretary of State that they are following appropriate due diligence procedures when they apply for approval. Those standards must be maintained, if approval is not later to be withdrawn.

Clause 129(2)(c) of the Bill provides that any protection offered to lenders cannot contravene any prohibition or restriction on the import of cultural objects imposed under any enactment. In other words the proposed immunity cannot be used to compromise, for example, the enforcement of the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003 and the Return of Cultural Objects Regulations 1994

For further information on the cultural property provisions in the Tribunal, Courts and Enforcement Bill, or information about national museums work on 1933-45 provenance research, please contact us.


[1] Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill (Bill 65 06-07) Part 6, clauses 129-133 make provision for protection of cultural objects on loan to UK museums and galleries.

Further information can be found in the relevant section of the Explanatory Note for Bill 65, prepared by the Department for Constitutional Affairs at:

[2] The Art Newspaper, No178, March 2007, Exhibition Attendance Figures 2006