April 19, 2004

Parliamentary questions on the exchange of artefacts

Posted at 8:44 pm in Elgin Marbles, Similar cases

On a fairly regular basis, some sort of specific reference is made to the Elgin Marbles in parliament, whether through an EDM or parliamentary questions etc. In this instance, Ansdrew Dismore (Hendon, Lab.) asks the minister for the minister for the arts whether she has been involved in any discussions with the Greek government.
Once again Timothy Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham, Con.) makes arguments about decontextualisation, missing the point that the move to the British Museum was a far worse case of decontextualisation than any which he might be referring to.


19 Apr 2004 : Column 13
Museum Exchanges (Greece)

7. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): What discussions she has had with the Greek government over exchanges of artefacts for exhibition in museums. [166146]

The Minister for the Arts (Estelle Morris): Neither my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State nor I have had discussions with the current Greek Government about such exchanges.

Mr. Dismore : It will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend that I am particularly concerned about the Parthenon sculptures. Does she believe that the offer advanced by the previous Greek Government was good, in that it would not only have helped to deal with the British Museum’s financial problems through the extra income that such exchange programmes would have generated, but would have provided additional resources and exhibitions for regional museums, which currently miss out because the Parthenon sculptures are in London? Is it not about time that the sculptures went back to their proper home in Athens?

Estelle Morris: I am not surprised that my hon. Friend’s question is about the Parthenon sculptures; I recognise his keen interest in that subject, and his expertise. However, the position in law is that this is a matter for the British Museum; it should stay that way, and it will. There is a lot of difference between what people speculate about and read in the press, and what is in any offer that has come from the Greek Government to the British Museum. My understanding is that the matter to which my hon. Friend referred never went in detail to the British Museum to enable it to reply. Any offer that the Greek Government wish to make will be sent to the British Museum, and I have no doubt that if that happened, the museum would consider it and reply. This is not a matter for Governments of any political hue, and that will remain the position of the Labour party.

19 Apr 2004 : Column 13

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): Does the Minister agree that there is no point whatsoever in sending the Parthenon marbles back to Athens, since there is no prospect of those sculptures ever being viewed in situ on the temple? To do so would be to rip the heart out of the British Museum, which is one of the great cultural landmarks of Europe, and whose defence ought to be a matter for the Minister and her Ministry.

Estelle Morris: There are many facets to this debate, and I take the hon. Gentleman’s points. The British Museum contains world collections and receives more than 4.6 million visitors every year. People can see historic artefacts and heritage items gathered in one place. Although this is not quite to do with the hon. Gentleman’s point, the museum in Athens that could house the Parthenon sculptures, were they to be returned, is not yet ready, and we have no date for when it will be. In that respect, he was right. I am pleased that the sculptures are in the British Museum and part of a world collection. I am pleased that the number of people able to visit is increasing year by year.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I congratulate the Minister on that answer and on not listening to and succumbing to the siren voices of the decontextualising iconoclasts on her Back Benches. Will she send her congratulations to the New Democracy party Government in Greece, who have put the brakes on the Acropolis museum, which risks destroying seven levels of archaeology across a 10-acre site, including sculpture factories and other important relics? Will she concentrate on putting the marbles in the place where they are best viewed by the most people in a proper classical context—the British Museum?

Estelle Morris: I take the hon. Gentleman’s last point; the sculptures are well displayed and there are more than 4 million visitors a year. That will continue.

We have had no formal approaches or statements from the new Greek Government about the museum or their attitude towards the Parthenon sculptures, although I might be able to guess what those would be. I join the hon. Gentleman in rejoicing at the fact that the United Kingdom has a museum of the stature of the British Museum, exhibiting such artefacts in such a wonderful way that people not only from this country but from throughout Europe and the world can see what we have to offer.

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1 Comment »

  1. jennifer eastman said,

    08.04.08 at 6:28 pm

    I’m writing a mystery which involves arguments over the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece before the Olympics in 2004. I know they weren’t returned, but who finally made the decision. Parliament? if so when. How can I get information about the vote or the decision? Thanks,Jennifer Eastman

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