Department for Culture, Media and Sport Consultation paper on anti-seizure legislation

Response from the Museums Association, May 2006
1.0 Introduction

1.1 The Museums Association (MA) is an independent membership organisation representing museums and galleries in the UK and people who work for them. The Association has over 5,000 individual members and 600 institutional members.

These institutional members encompass around 1500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest government-funded national museums to small volunteer-run charitable trust museums.

Formed in 1889, it is a charity, receiving no regular government funding, which seeks to inform, represent and develop museums and people who work for them in order that they may provide a better service to society and the public.

1.2 The Museums Association broadly welcomes the proposed legislation. It is clear that museums in the UK will come to be at a disadvantage internationally without such legislation, seriously undermining the service they can provide to their users. Our comments on the specific questions raised are set out below.

2.0 Whether any anti-seizure legislation should offer potential claimants the opportunity to object to the grant of immunity in relation to a particular object?

2.1 The Association sees no practical benefit in offering claimants the chance to object since, as the consultation document points out, such an objection would simply result in the borrower refusing to lend. Moreover, it would serve to lengthen the process of negotiating loans even further.

Given the complexity of organising major temporary exhibitions, any additional delay is likely to militate against the interests of potential exhibition visitors.

3.0 Whether the grant of immunity should be automatic, or depend on an advance application, providing detailed information on the objects for which immunity is required?

3.1 Again, an advance application would add to the complexity of organising exhibitions and lengthen the lead-in time. This would seem to be an unhelpful step to take, particularly in light of the current EU-wide initiative that aims to increase collections mobility by making loan procedures more flexible and less bureaucratic.

4.0 Whether immunity from seizure should be extended to objects borrowed by all museums and galleries; only museums and galleries entitled to benefit from the Government Indemnity Scheme; or only museums and galleries accredited by the MLA?

4.1 We consider that the only practical solution is to extend immunity from seizure to objects borrowed by all museums and galleries.

4.2 Limiting protection to only the national museums, or to museums with Designated collections does indeed seem too restrictive. In principle, it seems reasonable that immunity from seizure should be restricted to objects borrowed by museums and galleries that meet certain minimum standards.

This could also serve to ensure that the exhibitions in question do indeed serve a public benefit (see below) since such organisations would not normally stage for profit or selling exhibitions.

4.3 However, this is problematic in practice. Accreditation should provide a suitable yardstick. But important exhibition venues such as the Royal Academy are not Accredited, and may not be eligible to become so. Moreover, libraries and archives staging exhibitions would also be excluded.

4.4 Using the Government Indemnity Scheme eligibility criteria is also problematic, given that eligibility is not currently automatic for independent museums, even if they meet Accreditation standards. For this reason, we do not recommend this option.

5.0 Whether immunity from seizure should only be given to objects loaned to exhibitions which are not organised for profit?

5.1 We agree that the difficulty of defining not-for-profit makes this unworkable. For example, the Tutankhamun exhibition currently touring the United States aims to raise funds for the Grand Museum of Egypt. Does this mean that it is for-profit?

5.2 From the Association's point of view, what matters is that exhibitions are organised for the public benefit and are publicly accessible. If a restriction is applied, it should be based on this criterion.

6.0 Whether immunity from seizure should only be extended to objects which are lent to an exhibition benefiting the public, and not to objects which are for sale?

6.1 Yes, as noted above, public benefit is key.

7.0 Whether immunity from seizure should be available only for loaned objects in public ownership or whether it should be available to all loaned objects, provided that the exhibition for which the object is loaned can be shown to be for the benefit of the public?

7.1 The Association considers that immunity from seizure should apply to all loaned objects, including those in private ownership, provided the exhibition concerned is for the public.

7.2 During the inquiry that led up to the publication of our 2005 report, Collections for the Future, the MA explored attitudes in the museum sector towards working with private owners. One conclusion to emerge very clearly from this was that museums have a responsibility to realise the public value of privately owned collections, by bringing them into the public domain. If museums are to achieve this as fully as possible it will be vital for immunity from seizure also to apply to objects in private ownership.

8.0 If immunity should be given against three types of seizure, as set out in the consultation document?

8.1 We do not feel that the Association has the expertise to comment on this question, since we do not fully understand the different legal implications of the three scenarios.

9.0 Should immunity from seizure be limited to the three cases set out in the consultation document (i.e. while the object is in transit to the exhibition, while it is in the exhibition location for the purposes of the exhibition and while it is en route from the exhibition venue to the place where it is usually kept), or should it also be available where a work is retained in the United Kingdom for conservation or restoration work to repair damage suffered during the exhibition?

9.1 It seems reasonable to extend immunity from seizure to objects undergoing conservation following damage during an exhibition.

9.2 But we do not understand why the consultation document proposes extending protection only in these very limited circumstances. There is any number of other possible circumstances in which an object might remain at an exhibition venue after an exhibition closed, or arrive ahead of an exhibition opening.

For example, a museum might arrange to photograph or to conserve works belonging to a private collector before the exhibition opened. Or, to give a second example, a museum might make special arrangements for a researcher to study an object in detail after an exhibition had closed.

It would seem reasonable to extend immunity from seizure in these circumstances as well. We suggest that protection could be offered to objects in transit to or from an exhibition venue, or while it is at the exhibition venue (rather than limiting this to being at the venue for the purposes of the exhibition).

For further information, please contact:

Helen Wilkinson, Policy Officer, Museums Association, 24 Calvin Street, London E1 6NW 020 7426 6950