Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-91)|
28 OCTOBER 2003
Q80 Chairman: It has to be on a case
by case basis, has it not?
Sir Neil Chalmers: On individual
cases, absolutely. Absolutely. That is why I would argue all the
time for considering in each case, in a balanced way: What is
the benefit to humanity? How strong is the claim for return? You
then come to your decision on that case. In my case, I would almost
alwaysI have to say this very clearlycome down on
the side of the benefits to humanity from holding items for research.
Q81 Michael Fabricant: I personally
have huge sympathy with the scientific argument that you have
presented today. But perhaps I may ask you this: while I assume
that the storage of human remains will be done in such a way to
preserve them in the best way possible, is there any code of conduct
regarding the way they are stored?really relating that,
I guess, to the ethical dilemma that Frank Doran spoke about.
If someone came to you and said, "We would like a ritual
performed on a regular basis," would you be open to that?
Has anyone come to you and said, "There are particular rituals
that we would like performed"?
Sir Neil Chalmers: Yes, we have
had good discussions with some communities, in which we have asked
them and they have put to us what it is about the way in which
we hold collections that they want to see. I do not know if we
have had any cases of people wanting to perform rituals. It may
be that I am going to get an example right now. (Information received)
Yes, rituals are possible but none has yet taken place. We have
certainly heard strong statements from some communities saying,
"We would like our community to have access to our ancestors
but no other community at all." They feel that it is that
exclusivity which is important as part of their claim.
Q82 Michael Fabricant: How do you
treat such requests?
Sir Neil Chalmers: We have respected
them. We do say though that we must and will allow validated scientific
researchers to have access to the collection because that is the
whole point of having them. So we cannot concede to that request
but, I think where we can reasonably accede to the request of
a claimant community about the conditions under which we store
objects, of course we are more than pleased to discuss that with
Q83 Chairman: Could I ask a follow-up
question. I think it ought to emerge clearly from these hearings
that we do have a very, very respectable record in this country.
There have been reports in the press over the years that the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York is absolutely full of stolen objects,
and the same has been said of the Museum of Natural History in
New York, even in these categories. Therefore, although obviously
these are universal questions, I think it is very important to
get on the record that British museums have a very good, clean
record on these issues. When we had the British Museum in on the
last inquiry, they made it very clear that if they had any stolen
objects, for example, they would very much like permission to
be able to return them. That did not refer to the Parthenon Marbles,
which they denied were stolen, and indeed which the record of
the select committee in the nineteenth century demonstrated were
indeed not stolen.
Sir Neil Chalmers: I would be
delighted if that statement did go on record, Chairman, because
I think it is absolutely right.
Q84 Michael Fabricant: Earlier on
you told me that you had had meetings or a meeting with Estelle
Morris in connection with the working group. How many meetings
have you actually had?
Sir Neil Chalmers: This was not
a working group meeting, this was a telephone conversation I had
Q85 Michael Fabricant: In that case,
how many meetings has the working group had with DCMS in its aim
to get the law changed?
Sir Neil Chalmers: The working
group overall has met a large number of times. I honestly cannot
answer that question. I believe it is in the report somewhere.
It is a large number of times over three years. Without wanting
to anticipate what I am sure the Chairman will say to you, and
the Minister, I think there was very little disagreement about
the need for the law to be changed. There was some discussion
about the exact legal devices that were the best to bring about
such change, but I think everybody on the group favoured, as I
understood it, a relaxation to enable, at the very least, the
kind of changes for which I have been arguing.
Q86 Michael Fabricant: Given that
there is this happy consensus, have you detected any movement
at all in the legislative process?
Sir Neil Chalmers: I have not
been privy to the legislative process. I have been told that this
is something that the Minister favours but beyond that . . . or
that she is looking at, I am sorry. I am trying to remember the
detail of the telephone conversation. She asked my opinion, as
to whether I felt the law should be changed to allow relaxation.
I said yes, in the way I have described to you.
Q87 Michael Fabricant: Because you
will be dealing with civil servants, officials, as well as ministersI
suppose I can ask you thishave you detected that there
has been any delay because of the change in the ministerial structure
within DCMS? Or has the natural progression, if there is a natural
progression, continued unabated?
Sir Neil Chalmers: I think it
has continued. I think that the change in ministers has not actually
slowed things down. That is my own impression, just talking to
Q88 Chairman: If nothing is happening
you cannot actually put a stop to it, can you?
Sir Neil Chalmers: I can only
talk about what has been happening at my level, if you like, and
not what has been happening at ministerial level.
Q89 Michael Fabricant: Has DCMS given
you any indication as to when they think the law might have changed,
given that they seem to agree that there is a need for this?
Sir Neil Chalmers: I think they
are hoping that their Minister will be able to make a statement
or contribute to a statement that will be part of the Queen's
Speech, as I understand it. But I know no more than that.
Chairman: They made a statement in response
to our previous report saying they would legislate. I went to
a conference and proclaimed it as the "great achievement"
of the British Government, this Select Committee, international
effort, etcetera. The only legislation that I know about is the
private members bill by an opposition member.
Q90 Michael Fabricant: There will
be an opportunity in November to question the Secretary of State
herself and Caroline Flint regarding this matter.
Sir Neil Chalmers: I can only
report to you what I have heard in a telephone conversation and
had in a conversation with Vince, as I have said.
Q91 Chairman: We are grateful to
you, Sir Neil. What we have had from you is what we might have
expected, a decent, civilised, constructive approach. Thank you
Sir Neil Chalmers: May I say something?
It is about a totally different issue, if I may. It is just to
say how much I appreciated the report which you did on free admission
the last time I appeared before you, I think in this very room.
The recommendations were extremely helpful and I would just ask
you to keep pressing those recommendations. That would be very
Chairman: Much appreciated. Thank you.
I hope that next time Greg Dyke comes before us he will speak
in that tone!