DCMS reconsiders Charities Act laws allowing museums to return items

14 Oct 2022 News

Lord Kamall


The government has delayed implementation of parts of the Charities Act 2022 which could allow museums to transfer items on moral grounds.

New laws on ex gratia payments originally set to be introduced as part of the Act this autumn, are now “under further consideration prior to commencement”.

Speaking in the House of Lords yesterday, civil society minister Lord Kamall said the government would now defer implementation of sections 15 and 16 of the Act “until we fully understand the implications for national museums and other charities”.

Government to delay ‘until we fully understand the implications’

Lord Kamall spoke about the potential implications of the new measures in the Charities Act. 

He said: “I am aware that it has been reported that the two provisions, Sections 15 and 16 of the Act, have the effect of enabling national museums for the first time to restitute items from their collections, based on moral grounds. 

“However, I am also advised that when your Lordships and the House of Commons debated the charities bill, no such intent was considered, nor agreed on. 

“Given this, the government are deferring the commencement of the sections of the Act, which we initially expected to be part of the first tranche of commencements in the autumn, until we fully understand the implications for national museums and other charities.”

Lord Kamall added “we really want to understand the implications” adding “whatever one thinks of the debate, it is important that we understand the legal implications”.

He continued: “We also recognise that restitution cases are complex and that every situation is different. Given that, at the moment the government are not changing their position.”

Charities minister: ‘I understand the powerful argument’

The civil society minister added that it was to be encouraged that museums were exploring circumstances in which they may be able to return objects.

Lord Kamall referenced the return of the Benin bronzes to Nigeria by the Horniman museum in August this year. 

He said: “Let me be quite clear: I understand the powerful argument that often museums are willing to return objects to countries but are prevented from doing so due to existing law. 

“Many people—indeed many noble Lords—feel that there will sometimes be very good reasons why an object should not be returned, such as concerns over preservation, curation, storage or who to return it to. 

“But they also feel that a law preventing items being returned should not be the only justification about returning those items. I understand that debate and these arguments completely.”

Alexander Herman, director of the Institute of Art and Law, described the now-delayed changes as “remarkable” in a recent report.

The principal legislation affecting charities in England and Wales is the Charities Act 2011, and the new Charities Act 2022, passed by parliament in February, will make changes to this.

Implementation of the new Act will begin in tranches this autumn.

For more news, interviews, opinion and analysis about charities and the voluntary sector, sign up to receive the Civil Society News daily bulletin here.


More on