Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): I congratulate once again the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) on introducing the Bill and on having a good chance of getting it on to the statute book. It is a great achievement to get a private Member’s Bill passed into law. He has been extraordinarily successful in managing to get a large number of other such Bills on the Order Paper, some of which I suspect have rather less chance of being passed. I think he had to get up early in the morning to get this opportunity; it was time well spent.
The best way of getting a private Member’s Bill passed is to pick up a subject that the Government are committed to advancing, but have failed to do so. The Government can then breathe a sigh of relief and use the vehicle provided by the private Member’s Bill. That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman’s Bill does. This country has long been committed to amending the law to allow the restitution of artefacts and artistic objects that were plainly looted. It has been an embarrassment that we have not done so.
The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which I chair, considered this issue a couple of years ago and called on the Government to make the necessary change. We were just one of a long list of bodies to have done so. I thoroughly support the Bill and I am delighted that it is likely to succeed.
One has to accept that the Bill is largely symbolic. We amended provisions in Committee to cover Wales, although there are no national institutions in Wales that would benefit from the Bill. It is nevertheless plainly right that we should extend it across the country. Equally, the one object—the Beneventan missal, where there is clear evidence that it should be returned—will not be covered by the Bill, unless another application is made, because it has already been considered. It may well be that the Bill’s provisions are never used. The Spoliation Advisory Panel has met very few times and the Bill may well pass on to the statute book and lie there. In my view, however, that does not matter. It is the fact that we have made the change that matters.
Many terrible atrocities were committed during the holocaust, and the looting of art is very minor in comparison with some of the horrific events that took place. The difference is that this issue is one that we can do something about and put right. By doing so, we send out a very important signal this morning. On that basis, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his Bill.