Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Natural History Museum


  The Natural History Museum is pleased to give evidence to the Committee for its inquiry into Government policy on illicit trade in cultural objects. Our evidence relates to two issues being considered by the Committee: illicit trade and human remains.

  The Natural History Museum holds some 70 million objects in its collections of botanical, mineralogical, palaeontological and zoological material, together with a substantial library collection. The British Museum Act (1963) defines the Museum's powers and responsibilities with respect to its collections. The Museum provided detailed information on its policies and position in evidence to the Committee's earlier inquiry in 2000.


  The Natural History Museum reviews and publishes its collections policies and procedures on a regular basis—usually every five years. The Museum's policies have for many years included commitments to acquire objects only when proper title can be established, and when the objects have been obtained in accordance with UK, international or other relevant national laws. Since the Committee's earlier inquiry, the collections policies have been revised to include the following policy statements on acquisitions:

    —  "Under the terms of the UNESCO 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which the UK ratified with effect from 1 November 2002, the Museum will reject any items that have been illicitly traded."

    —  "The Museum will use the National Museum Directors' Conference Statement of Principles and Proposed Actions on Spoliation of Works of Art during the Holocaust and World War II period (1998) and report on them in accordance with the guidelines".


  As a part of its wide range of research activities, the Museum supports research on human origins and variation, and related fields, maintaining a collection of human remains from all parts of the world as an essential resource. The Director of the Natural History Museum, Sir Neil Chalmers, has been a member of the DCMS Working Group on Human Remains, which was established in 2001 following the Culture, Media and Sport Committee's inquiry in 2000 Cultural Property: Return and Illicit Trade.

  We look forward to the release of the Working Group report and to any Government response to the report. If the current inquiry is still in progress at that time, the Museum will draft further evidence in response to the report and the response, but in the meantime would like to register its continuing interest in the Committee's work on this issue.

July 2003

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