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6.52 pm

Mr. Chope: The Bill is provocative and contentious, and it has been quite a spectacle for Conservative Members to watch one Labour Member fighting another on this issue. The promoter has missed a great opportunity to try to reach a compromise. Clearly it believes in bully-boy tactics, and it is no surprise to Opposition Members that it has found allies on the Government Benches.

On the positive side, the debates have illustrated the importance of strong constituency representation. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and the hon. Members for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford), for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller) on having fearlessly, persistently and at some considerable length deployed the arguments that needed to be deployed on behalf of their constituents. I should like to think that if those seats were represented by Conservative Members, they would have been equally diligent in defending the interests of their constituents. This is a good illustration of why proportional representation and list systems do not work, and deprive constituents of the opportunity of having people speaking out on their behalf in this House.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh), said that his party had no line on the Bill, but the hon. Member for Wirral, West put us right, saying that the Liberal Democrats had

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consistently voted with the Government on the Bill and against the interests of those living on the Wirral peninsula. The hon. Member for Southport would have been right to say that the Liberal Democrats had not yet found a line to explain the inconsistency between their approach to the Bill and their approach to doing away with tolls on the Skye bridge, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), the leader of the party. Perhaps in due course we will have a line on that.

The Bill was conceived and started on the fallacious argument that it was needed to prevent Merseysiders having to pay a levy for a tunnel that they do not use. It has been demonstrated in the debate that that is mere scaremongering. The Bill does, however, contain powers to raise stealth taxes on tunnel users to subsidise other transport activity in Merseyside. I am afraid that it is classic double-speak, typical of the present Government.

Conservative Members believe in a fair deal for everyone. The Bill is not fair: it is strongly opposed by local Members of Parliament and local people, and it runs contrary to the results of a consultation process. Conservatives will continue to work with others in the other place to ensure that the Bill is substantially improved.

6.55 pm

Mr. McNulty: I have a few brief points. I have been happily involved in the periphery of the Bill—first as Government Whip and now in my current position—and I wish to clarify a few small points.

The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) said that the Bill was a precedent, but I do not see how it is a precedent in any regard. If it is about the ability to set in train regular retail prices index increases, it is certainly not unprecedented: Dartford and the Severn crossing are organised in the same way. If it is about the ability to use any surplus tolls for public transport works, it is not unprecedented because of Dartford again and the Forth system.

It may be a measure of the length of time of the different stages that three Transport Ministers have come and gone—I am the third of the three—while the Bill has struggled through Parliament. The notion of implementing RPI increases has been put on a more solid footing—it has a double lock on RPI plus increases—which is all to the good. It amounts almost to an adjustment to the existing system rather than the introduction of a new system and a fallback system. I believe that it will work well for those living in the area.

A smaller point—though a major one in terms of substance and the impact on people—is the noise insulation works. It is, on the whole, a good part of the Bill, on which many people seem to have got the wrong end of the stick. It is certainly not the Government's job to define expressly in the Bill the houses on which there may be an impact at this particular time. We are talking about a Bill that is longer in duration. I shall double-check the answer, but I think that I was right in what I said earlier about the noise insulation regulations in response to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope). I explained why there were qualifications in the early part of the process.

People knock the private Bill process—and Government Bills more generally—and talk about arrogance, pulling strings or exploiting contracts, but I

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do not agree with that. The points about honesty or dishonesty were not well made by any hon. Member. From my involvement in the Bill—tangentially or otherwise—I can say that there has been a good deal of honesty on all sides and a good deal of scrutiny ad debate and many well made points.

As I have said before, the Government's position on Third Reading is entirely neutral. The Bill does not counter any element of Government policy, hence our neutrality.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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Parthenon Sculptures

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Margaret Moran.]

6.59 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): This debate is entitled "The Return of Cultural Artefacts Held in National Collections", and in many ways the Government have a good record in this matter, given what has happened in connection with the return of works of art looted by the Nazis, or the return of ethnographic and anthropological remains. However, there is a glaring exception to the generous approach adopted by the Government—the Parthenon sculptures. I make no excuse for the fact that my speech will focus on them.

I should like to express my thanks to the staff in the Library, who have given me a lot of assistance in preparing for this debate.

The Parthenon sculptures, sometimes known as the Elgin marbles, are part of Greece's national identity. I have travelled in Greece over many years. Anyone with any knowledge of Greece, when asked to conjure up a mental image of the country or of Athens, will think of the Parthenon. That image of Greece's national identity is known world wide.

I am pleased that the new approach of the PASOK Government has got away from some of the old and sterile arguments over the Parthenon sculptures. The argument is not now about how Lord Elgin obtained the marbles, although the method was obviously dubious, neither is it about how they came to be in the possession of the British Museum. The issue is not now the sculptures' ownership, but their location so far from their original home. The Greek Government have waived all claims in relation to other cultural objects held in national collections here, but from their point of view, the Parthenon sculptures are not negotiable and should return to their home in Athens.

The archaeological case is very strong. Reunification of the sculptures in their original topographic, historical and cultural context would mean that they could be understood much more easily by the general public and by scholars. It must be borne in mind that not all the sculptures involved are in the British Museum. The frieze originally consisted of 111 panels, of which about 97 survive; 56 are in the British Museum, 40 remain in situ on the Parthenon or in the Acropolis museum, one is in the Louvre, and there are fragments in one or two other museums around Europe. Of the original metopes, 39 remain in situ or in the Acropolis museum, and only 15 are in the British Museum.

Some of the sculptures are broken, with heads in one museum and torsos in another. Some fragments are in Athens, and others in London. A good example is the torso of Poseidon: the front—the six pack, as it were—is in Athens, but the rear—the shoulders and back—is in London. The sculpture has literally been split in two, with the front separated from the back, top to bottom. To view the sculptures as a whole, or to see the separate parts of the same item, it is necessary to travel the 1,500 miles between London and Athens, as 98 per cent. of the remaining sculptures are split between those two museums.

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The Parthenon cannot come to London, so the sculptures must be reunited near the Parthenon, in Athens. It is for that purpose that the Greek Government are building the new Acropolis museum. They have made it clear that reunification will happen as a result of a voluntary effort on the part of Britain. It would not entail ceding any legal title of ownership, or any rights in connection with the sculptures.

The new museum is being built on the same alignment as the Parthenon, a little lower on the Acropolis. It will contain a shell of the same dimensions as the Parthenon, which will allow the sculptures to be displayed looking outwards. At present, in the Duveen galleries, the sculptures look inwards. The sculptures would be presented in their proper relationship to the Parthenon, and the views from the galleries would look out towards the Parthenon, allowing people to make that spatial connection.

The sculptures would be viewed in the proper light, which can never be recreated inside the British Museum. I visited the Acropolis curator, Professor Pandermelis, and he showed me how the Parthenon was lit originally. Direct light was not used: instead, Mediterranean sunlight bounced off the polished marble pavements, lighting up the sculptures from below. We could never hope to recreate that effect in London.

The new museum does not even have to be called the Athens museum, or the new Acropolis museum. The Greek Government have made it clear that they would be prepared to let the museum be known as the British Museum in Athens. Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek Culture Minister, said on 11 August that the Greek Government were looking at "either a long-term loan" or something that might take

The sculptures would not be going back to the slightly scruffy city that people over the years might have perceived Athens to be. Athens is being transformed. I am a regular visitor, and I am astounded at the progress that is being made in cleaning the city up and in making the monuments there more accessible.

New vistas of the Parthenon itself have been opened up from central Athens. All the advertising hoardings have been taken down in Syntagma square, revealing a view of the Parthenon in the heart of Athens that had been hidden for many years. The archaeological sites have been pedestrianised to link all the different sites and enable people to move around them more freely. That includes, as a centrepiece, the new Acropolis museum, currently under construction.

The Acropolis itself has been undergoing major restoration. The Parthenon has, in large part, been taken down and put together again to remedy some of the mistakes made in previous restoration efforts. It has been possible to restore it with many more slabs than was possible before. The Erecthion has been restored, and is now a wonderful building in its own right.

The rebuilding of the Parthenon has been carried out in an incredibly sensitive way, involving complicated computer modelling. For example, it has been possible to match the stains in stones to make them fit together.

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The rebuilding has involved not just the frieze but parts of the Parthenon's physical structure: for example, one of the drums from one of the columns has been restored and is in the British Museum. Even if all the other arguments fell, it could surely be argued that that at least should be returned.

Over the years, we have heard many arguments against the return of the artefacts. We have heard, for instance, the "floodgates" argument. Greece has already said that it will waive all other claims. The fact is that the Parthenon sculptures are a unique special case: they are part of Greece's national identity. With the assistance of the Library, I have examined claims from Egypt, China and many other parts of the world. They do not have that essential quality of national identity. As I said earlier, we are already considering the return of human remains, most of which were taken during the imperial years of the 19th century.

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