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Could this Bill put an end to time limit on Holocaust restitution claims?

The original legislation made it impossible for families to claim property after November 2019

    Theresa Villiers, Chipping Barnet MP (Photo: Getty Images)
    Theresa Villiers, Chipping Barnet MP (Photo: Getty Images)

    The government has been urged to scrap a cut-off date which would stop families reclaiming items looted by the Nazis.

    It is thought as many as 100,000 objects, including paintings, figurines and other cultural treasures remain unaccounted for after being stolen between 1933 and 1945.

    A Bill introduced by Theresa Villiers, the Conservative MP for Chipping Barnet, in the Commons on Tuesday, seeks to remove a “sunset clause” which placed a time limit on restitution claims.

    Included in the original legislation in 2009, the clause would have made it impossible for families to claim property after November 2019 if pieces were found in major national museums, libraries and galleries.

    Ms Villiers’s amendment has government backing and cross-party support and her Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) (Amendment) Bill is expected to pass through Parliament unchallenged. It will next be heard in April.

    At a major conference on restitution held in London last September, John Glen, the then Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, said the government wanted to make it quicker and easier for families to identify and recover lost art.

    He had outlined the intention to allow claimants to come forward after November 2019, paving the way for Ms Villiers’s bill. Michael Ellis, a Jewish Conservative MP, is now responsible for the issue for the government.

    Ms Villiers said: “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.

    “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.”

    She wants the law to allow the permanent right to return looted art.

    “Identifying the lost art remains a work in progress, so many potential claimants may still be unaware of the location of some of the objects which were taken from them,” Ms Villiers said. “That means the bill, if it becomes law, will be needed for many years to come.”

    More than two dozen works of art have been returned to families since the government set up the Spoliation Advisory Panel in 2000.

    The panel examines claims about pieces in British collections which are believed to have been stolen by the Nazis. The legislation covers cultural institutions including the National Gallery and British Museum.

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