Villiers takes forward Bill to return Nazi-looted artworks

A bill presented by MP Theresa Villiers that will allow Holocaust survivors and their families to continue to have art stolen by the Nazis returned to them comes back to parliament tomorrow afternoon.

The former Northern Ireland Secretary introduced the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) (Amendment) Ten-Minute Rule Bill last year.

This procedure almost never results in legislation successfully reaching the statute book but, very unusually, there is a chance that the Bill may receive a second reading on the House of Commons tomorrow. The Bill is third on the list for consideration and therefore stands a reasonable chance of getting through this hurdle and proceeding on to committee stage.

The draft legislation would remove a ten-year ‘sunset clause’ from a law passed in 2009 which allows looted art to be returned.

Without the amendment, victims of Nazi persecution and their descendants will not be able claim their property after November this year if it is discovered in a number of major national institutions. 

Theresa previously told MPs of the importance of her bill. “The appalling crimes of the Nazis can never be remedied but there is action that we can take to return works of art to the people from whom they were stolen,” she said last year.

“There may still be potential claimants who are unaware of the location of artworks owned by relatives who died in the Holocaust.

“So, the moral case for this legislation remains as strong today as it was when the original legislation was passed. Indeed, the case is arguably stronger than it was then as we have fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors still with us.”

Speaking today, Theresa added: “I am very pleased this important bill is now in a good position on the list of debates tomorrow.

"I remain committed to seeing it become law and my hope now is that it will get a second reading tomorrow, which very much increases its chance of reaching the statute book.”

The present Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009 gives 17 national institutions the power to return work of art in cases where it is recommended by an advisory panel and approved by the Culture Secretary.

But the Act also contains a sunset clause which means that it will cease to have effect after 11 November. Theresa’s bill would keep the legislation on the statute book by repealing that clause.

The bill has previously been warmly welcomed by the museum community. It is estimated that around 100,000 cultural objects pillaged during the Nazi era may still remain hidden to this day.