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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Looting clampdown urged
Iraq national museum after looting
Thousands of items were taken from the Baghdad museum
Plans to crackdown on the black market in stolen cultural treasures have been backed by the House of Lords.

The problem was highlighted by the looting of thousands of artefacts from Iraq's national museum during the Gulf war earlier this year.

On Friday peers gave a second reading to the Cultural Objects (Offences) Bill, which is designed to close a loophole in the law in England and Wales.

The private members' bill, which has government support, has already cleared the House of Commons and stands a good chance of becoming law.

It sends a signal to the international community that we are serious in playing our part at stamping out this trade
Lord McIntosh of Haringey

It will make knowingly dealing in "tainted cultural objects" a criminal offence, carrying a penalty of up to seven years jail.

Liberal Democrat Lord Redesdale told peers: "With a fair wind it could be law by Christmas."

The measure would not only tackle high-profile looting, as seen in Baghdad following the fall of Saddam Hussein in April, but also so-called "nighthawks" who raid churches, stately homes and archaeological sites, often with metal detectors.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, a Tory former cabinet minister and president of the British Antique Dealers' Association and British Art Market Federation, backed the bill, stressing that people who dealt in stolen artefacts gave a bad name to the legitimate trade.

What matters above all is the loss of information resulting from the looting process and the consequent threat to our understanding of the human past
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

Tory Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn said: "The bill will very effectively close the loophole in present legislation which allows illicit antiquities originating overseas openly to be sold in this country as well as some that are actually looted here.

"Its passage is a matter of urgency in view of the very widespread destruction of archaeological sites worldwide to provide antiquities for the illicit market.

"What matters above all is the loss of information resulting from the looting process and the consequent threat to our understanding of the human past.

"Our entire understanding of early pre-history and early history is at risk in this process," said Lord Renfrew, an expert in archaeology who helped draw up the bill.

He urged ministers to consider making resources available for the longer term support of Iraq's heritage.

Stamping out

Baroness Buscombe, for the Tories, said her party supported this "non-contentious" bill.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for the government, anticipated a rise in prosecutions from the measure, which would make "those who would propose to trade in illegal objects think again".

"It sends a signal to the international community that we are serious in playing our part at stamping out this trade," he said.

Lord McIntosh said he hoped the Scottish Parliament would introduce "comparable legislation".




SEE ALSO:
Antiquities returned to Iraq museum
10 Sep 03  |  Entertainment
'One in 10' Iraqi treasures looted
08 Jul 03  |  Entertainment
Iraq museum unveils treasures
03 Jul 03  |  Entertainment
Iraqi museum recovers priceless vase
13 Jun 03  |  Entertainment
Drive to recover Iraq treasures
09 Jun 03  |  Middle East



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