Friday, 12 November 2010

Empty Words About Heritage and Archaeology in Hansard

Those who follow the detecting forums will have seen the artefact hunting metal detectorists of the UK assuring each other that "PAS funding is safe" and even CBA's director Mike Heyworth is tweeting "Good to see that PAS funding will continue".

How odd, considering that what the Minister actually said was
- I appreciate that there is concern over the future of the scheme in the light of the announcement that the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which currently provides most of the scheme’s funding, will be wound up by April 2012. I am pleased to confirm that the scheme will continue. Discussions are taking place about the best way for it to be managed and funded....
which isn't quite the same, is it?

In the same sitting the Crosby Garrett Helmet fiasco was brought up twice, Lord Renfrew asked the government where it was, Baroness Rawlings (Whip, House of Lords; Conservative) had to admit"
I am afraid that I cannot tell him where the helmet is".
The helmet fiasco might well end up costing the PAS more than a tube ticket to send some PAS talking heads along to Christies to rubber-stamp the official story of the discovery (the "one-guy in a Cumbrian field one"). A quango that has just dropped the ball in full public view isn't going to be one that escapes the cuts that better quangos are having to bear, surely?

But no fear,the future of British archaeology itself surely in in safe hands? Lord Howarth of Newport (Labour) asked

"can the Minister offer any comfort to archaeologists, faced as they are with cuts to funding for museums, universities, English Heritage and local authority archaeological departments and, indeed, the collapse of archaeological businesses that are dependent for their funding on developers? Do the Government have any policies to support archaeology?"
Ah! There's a useful question, how does the British government intend to support British archaeology? Well, lo and behold it seems that all this outreach to Treasure Hunters has brought its reward. Asked how the Government will support ARCHAEOLOGY, Baroness Rawlings replied:
Measures included in the Coroners and Justice Act to improve the treasure system will be implemented. Ministers are still considering the feasibility of a coroner for treasure. DCMS and the Ministry of Justice are working together to assess the extent to which measures on treasure may be implemented within current financial constraints.
That's it. Nothing about the importance of archaeology to the identity of places and the people, of strengthening archaeology's place in the planning system, making preservation of the archaeological record and preventive mitigation of damage to it a priority. All the Brits are interested in now is getting those metal detectorists out there in the fields finding TREASURE and the law on THAT is being tidied up.

No good news on the antiquity trade front either, Lord Redesdale (Liberal Democrat) drawing again on the Crosby Garrett fiasco asks:
My Lords, are moves afoot to look at the practices of the auction houses [...] Are the Government looking at sales of antiquities through internet sites such as eBay? That is becoming a real source of worry, as much of our heritage is disappearing abroad without any record whatever.
[Ah, they'll need an MOU with the US then, which the Wisconsin 12 Congressmen will query too, most probably.] But Baroness Rawlings does not understand the question (or pretends not to):
My noble friend Lord Redesdale makes interesting points on the pieces and on eBay. It comes back to provenance. It is in the interests of both auctioneers and dealers to check that the provenance of items is acceptable to reduce any risk of prosecution for handling stolen goods or dealing in tainted or mended goods
[what "risk" is that ma'am?] Sadly, she continues:
the Government consider that the existing offences (sic) adequately satisfy the United Kingdom's obligations under the 1970 UNESCO convention and would be wary of introducing further legislation unless there was a proven need to do so.
Which of course is not what previous governments' declarations of an intent to stamp out the illicit market would have involved if they'd ever even lifted a finger to do anything about it. It's all empty words isn't it?

UPDATE: For a slightly different 'take' on this discussion, see David Gill's 'Lord Renfrew calls for transparency' on Looting Matters.

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