Beijing should legislate to prohibit the sale of national relics in foreign countries, a National People's Congress member from Hong Kong has suggested. The call by Ma Fung-kwok follows the controversial auction in France of two bronze animal heads that French and British troops looted from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860. A mainland art collector refused to pay after his bid was successful. Mr Ma, who is also chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, said existing laws failed to deal with transactions outside China, although such sales were illegal on the mainland. He said enforcing the proposed new law could be done with mutual help, and Beijing would have to negotiate with other countries. Citing patent rights laws in the United States, he said it was possible for a country to make laws against the 'invasion' of its interests even if the actions were taken overseas. Mr Ma suggested that the government first make a list of national relics, so legislation could be enacted to protect the listed items. 'Unlike privately owned relics, government-owned relics are easy to identify,' he said. He proposed that the new law penalise those selling the nation's treasures abroad. 'If the world's biggest five or six auction houses cannot do business in China any more, other sellers will be deterred from doing so,' he said. A reward system should be introduced to encourage those holding national relics abroad to return them to China. The government might repay the purchase price of the items plus interest, but this should not be taken in the form of compensation, Mr Ma said. He added that he planned to submit the proposal to the central government during the NPC annual plenary session, and would seek the support of other deputies.