|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
I shall describe to the hon. Lady one eventuality, which fortunately happens rarelythe situation that faces advanced trauma life support personnel. I should
10 Nov 2004 : Column 885
be grateful if she would say how the clause would classify and deal with the situation that I am about to describe. It concerns the scene of an accident or a crime at which, in order to get to a survivor to uncover them or to treat them, it is necessary to deal with someone who is deceased. That might mean moving the person or, in rare cases, removing parts of that person. How would such an eventuality be dealt with under the clause?
Ms Winterton: The clause deals with a coroner's post-mortem. What the hon. Gentleman described is the moving of a body from one place to another to try and reach another person to give them treatment. That is not necessarily relevant to the clause, which states that a coroner's post mortem must be licensed, but there will be circumstances where it may be necessary to take tissue from a body in order to assist the coroner's post mortem. That is where the clause applies. I hope I have correctly understood the situation that the hon. Gentleman describes.
Dr. Murrison: Perhaps I can expand a little further. If a doctor was required, for example, to remove a part of a bodydisarticulate a part of itin order to get to or to treat someone who was living, how would he or she stand in relation to the clause?
Ms Winterton: The doctor would not be affected by the provision because, as I said, it applies to the situation where a coroner's post mortem was being carried out. One would look elsewhere for the actions that would be taken in respect of the situation that the hon. Gentleman describes. I do not know the relevant legislation that would cover it, but it sounds as though someone was taking action to help someone else. I do not believe the clause would apply.
Clause 52 enables the de-accessioningthat is, moving out of their collectionof human remains by specified museums that are currently prevented from doing so by their governing statutes. The clause fulfils the terms of the July 2000 joint declaration between the UK and Australian Prime Ministers, in which the UK Government undertook to increase efforts to repatriate human remains to Australian indigenous communities.
Lords amendment No. 36 is a response to representations made to the Government on behalf of the museum sector, which, while recognising the need to provide for de-accessioning of the remains of indigenous peoples, was nevertheless concerned to ensure that the power did not make the collections held by the museums listed in clause 52 vulnerable to gratuitous or vexatious claims for de-accessioning. There was particular concern about the ancient collections of human remains in the British Museum, such as mummies. The amendment that we tabled responds to this concern by ensuring that the remains of people believed to have died
10 Nov 2004 : Column 886
more than 1,000 years before the clause comes into force are outside the scope of this power. The amendment was prepared following discussion between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the relevant museums, particularly the British Museum, the museum of London, and the natural history museum.
There are a number of reasons why the Government adopted the present formulation. First, specifying a cut-off point of 1,000 years will allow the museum of London to make use of this power in de-accessioning the substantial number of mediaeval remains in its collection, such as remains that originate from mediaeval burial grounds. The original proposal by peers on behalf of the museums had suggested a 500-year cut-off, but that would have prevented the use of the power for the de-accessioning of this category of material.
Secondly, I am told that dating such ancient remains can be rather difficult. There are a number of ways in which human remains can be dated. These include radiocarbon dating, and the examination of the circumstances in which the remains were found and of the artefacts with which they may have been buried. However, none of those methods will necessarily pinpoint the date of death to a precise year. We have therefore formulated this amendment so that it will be sufficient that the remains are "reasonably believed" to be those of people who died less than 1,000 years before the clause comes into force, in order for them to fall within the scope of the de-accessioning power. The Government's formulation therefore allows for professional judgment to be exercised on the part of museum curators, archaeologists and other experts regarding the dating of the human remains. I therefore hope that hon. Members will agree to accept the amendment.
Dr. Murrison: I welcome the amendment. Like many others, my family and I enjoyed the mummy exhibition at the British Museum during the summer, and it would be a tragedy if those exhibits were to be dispersed. My understanding is that that would be prevented by the amendment and, to that extent, we welcome it. I am fascinated by the repatriation of indigenous remains, and the Minister clarified that that had taken place chiefly in response to requests by the Australian Government for the return of Aboriginal remains. I am not an expert in this fieldthe Minister is indicating that she is not an expert either, although I am sure that she isbut I suspect that there are other indigenous communities who would also be interested in this legislation, and I am concerned that there might be some remains that they would like to be repatriated.
As I understand it, this provision has to do with important artefacts. Clearly, mummies are important and the collection at the British Museum is of international importance. I suspect, however, that there are remains lurking in the depths of some museums that are of less significance historically and archaeologically, and it would be nice to think that, if they were significant to the communities from which they originally derived, they might be repatriated, even if they were more than 1,000 years old. I would be grateful to hear whether the Minister knows of any requests regarding such remains that might be made in the future and, if so, whether it might be appropriate to amend the proposal in some way so as to allow the professional judgment, as she put it, of the curators of the remains to prevail.
10 Nov 2004 : Column 887
I am concerned about the term "reasonably believe", because the dating of these artefacts can, as the Minister hinted, be rather an inexact science. Carbon dating is probably the most exact, but other means, such as examining the artefacts buried with the person, might be slightly less specific. My concern is that curators could be tempted to cherry-pick the method by which they determine the age of an artefact if there were any doubt about whether the remains fell within the strictures of the Bill. What safeguards does the Minister envisage in that regard? Does she envisage any guidance being issued to museums on best practice in determining the age of artefacts?
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Just as my predecessors at Old Sarumall two of themrepresented five electors, I have the privilege of representing no electors at Stonehenge. However, I do represent a large archaeological community in south Wiltshire, which contains many hundreds of scheduled ancient monuments. I am also a member of the all-party group on archaeology.
I warmly welcome the amendment. It was first proposed in the other place by Lord Redesdale and Baroness Kennedy that there should be an amendment to do what has now been achieved in finding the right balance between real and effective claims, particularly from first nation communitiesall of which now fall within this time bracketand the need properly to preserve archaeological collections for future research. There is, however, a little matter on which I would be very grateful to receive some advice.
The Trust for Wessex Archaeology, which is based in my constituency, is now the second biggest contract archaeologist. It moves in whenever excavations for road building, housing or industrial development have to be undertaken to satisfy the grant of planning permission for such developments, and it regularly comes across bodies. They might or might not be 1,000 years old. There is already, therefore, a Home Office licensing regime for excavating in certain circumstances, and there is no problem with that. However, I have been asked to seek clarification on one aspect of licensing.
I have read the Bill, obviously, and I have read clause 52. I have also read clause 16, in particular, which deals with licence requirements, but I cannot find anything to satisfy my query. An archaeologist excavating a site might comes across a bodyprobably only a skeletonthat will eventually end up in a museum somewhere. One hopes that it would be the Salisbury and South Wiltshire museum, which is by far the finest museum in the south of England. When the body is betwixt and between the original site from which it was excavated and its final resting place in a museum, is a licence required under the Bill? That is not quite clear. How would the interface work between the Home Office licensing regime and a licence required under the Bill? That is a practical consideration. I would frankly be amazed if even this excellent Minister could answer that question off the top of her head, or even with a little inspiration from on high. Therefore, if she cannot produce an answer this afternoon, I would be grateful if she could drop me a line on the matter, and put a copy
10 Nov 2004 : Column 888
in the Library of the House, so that we can clear up this practical point for the many hundreds of archaeologists who find bodies in these circumstances every day.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|