MPs are to have the chance to remove the ten-year time limits in the Government’s current laws allowing for the return of Nazi-looted art to descendants of the art’s original Jewish owners.
An amendment bill put forward by Theresa Villiers, the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, will call for the removal of the so-called ‘sunset clause’.
She said that without the amendment, victims of Nazi persecution and their descendants will not be able claim their property after November next year if it is discovered in a number of major national museums, libraries and galleries.
With backing from the Government, Villiers will present the Bill to Parliament this week, proposing “a permanent right to return works of art stolen by the Nazis where a claim is made and then agreed by an advisory panel and the Culture Secretary”.
“There remains a moral obligation for the UK to reunite objects looted by the Nazis with their rightful owners and I believe we are failing in that responsibility if we do not renew this legislation,” Villiers said.
“Although nothing can make-up for the trauma and suffering of those who lived through the Holocaust, or who lost loved ones as a result of that atrocity, this Bill will allow families to continue to claim in perpetuity the precious works of art which were stolen from them.”
It is thought that up to 100,000 cultural objects stolen between 1933 and 1945 remain unaccounted for, and identifying the lost art “remains a work-in-progress,” she said.
“So many potential claimants may still be unaware of the location of some of the objects which were taken from them. That means the Bill, if it becomes law, will be needed for many years to come.”
Significant works of art such as the British Library’s 12th century Beneventan Missal manuscript – looted during the Allied bombing of Benevento in Italy in 1943 – have been returned to their owners thanks to the original 2009 law.
A total of 17 major cultural UK institutions, including the National Gallery, the British Museum and the Tate Gallery, are covered by the legislation.