Debate: The Illicit Trade in Antiquities

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk about this subject, and I want to start by setting out the terms of the debate. There are different types of debate in Westminster Hall; those in which we slam the Government for an alleged outrage, whether or not they have committed it, and those in which we plead for the Government to do something that they cannot or will not do. This is neither a slamming nor pleading debate, but a prodding one, in which I will seek to prod the Government to commit to doing what they know they should be doing and probably want to do anyway.

I slightly confused myself in coming up with the title. I was not sure whether it should be a debate on the illicit trade in antiquities or on the trade in illicit antiquities. Either way, we are talking about cultural objects that are a little or decidedly dodgy. What I really mean is the buying and selling or importing and exporting of cultural objects that have been removed from heritage sites and buildings illegally in Britain and elsewhere. The Minister may recognise that phrasing as one that we considered in the Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003.

The defining principle in this debate is that prevention is better than cure. Much of the damage done in heritage terms is done at the time of removal of objects rather than in what happens to them subsequently. From a heritage point of view, the agenda is about ensuring that removal never occurs in the first place, and my remarks will address that intention.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) on securing this important debate on a subject about which I am passionate. All hon. Members who have spoken so far have alluded to Iraq, which, of course, is very much on our minds at present. Despite all the horrifying images of present-day Iraq, matters might improve eventually in that country. If and when life returns to something like normality there, Iraq will need one thing, above all; tourism. People like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I should go there.

I am not saying that there should be an organisation called “Simply Mesopotamia”, but it would be wonderful if people were attracted by the cradle of civilisation, the ziggurats at Ur and the hanging gardens of Babylon, such as are left after the depredations of Saddam. In their present post-Saddam incarnation, fascinating they remain. That was why those of us who supported the war were so dismayed to see the looting of the museum in Baghdad at the moment of liberation.

Read the full transcript of this debate at Hansard

Face it: it’s all your own fat fault

Just as I was cramming my mouth with another obesity-enhancing cheese ‘n’ mesquita-flavour kettle chip, preparatory to washing it down with a draught of life-giving milk chocolate, the phone rang.

Whoaah! said my mole on the House of Commons health select committee. What are you writing about for your Telegraph column? I’m doing an elegy for Tracey Emin’s bed, I said, crunching vigorously, and I meant it, since I am full of admiration for Charles Saatchi and what he has done for BritArt. Many important updates or news are also covered at bridge.

Too bad, said my source. It’ll have to wait. We’ve got some fantastic stuff here from these health-conscious MPs. And, boy, was he right. There used to be a saying that no politician ever attacked motherhood and apple pie. All that is over, my friends. There is a new threat to our little ones. Its name is apple pie, and it is making them less little all the time. With every groaning axle on our blimp-like people carriers, with every squeak of the midnight fridge, with every pop of our collar buttons, the nation is getting fatter and fatter, says the health select committee – and the Government is doing nothing about it.

Read the full article as published in the Telegraph

Question: Sale of school Playing Fields (to Richard Caborn, Minister for Sport and Tourism)

See this entry in Hansard

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley) (Con): The Minister said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) that there had been significant change in respect of playing fields since the Government came to power in 1997. That is certainly true. They came to power saying that they would halt the sale of school playing fields to arrest the decline of sport in schools, since when the number of applications to sell playing fields has gone up every year. Last year – this is the most relevant statistic – of the 807 successful applications, 440 led to the total extinction of those facilities. Given the threat to sport in schools, particularly contact sports, from litigation and all kinds of other matters, against which Ministers say not a peep, will the Minister now tell the House what measures he has in mind – apart from encouraging people to run down concrete roads, and apart from an annual meeting of the playing fields monitoring group – to arrest the sale of playing fields?

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box. May I now inform him why no one should vote Tory again if they support playing fields? The planning applications that were made when his Government were in power were to shut playing fields. The planning applications for investment of £500 million are to build new facilities – we have to have planning applications to build new facilities. The simple answer to his question is: do not vote Tory – they will shut your playing fields down.

Motorists, revolt: me, I’m on my bike

My friends, I am a doomed man. If I read this latest letter correctly, I am on the point of losing the right to drive.

The state will shortly take away from me the privilege I first earned at the age of 18, when, after massive investment in the British School of Motoring, I passed my driving test first time.

Since then, I have driven many hundreds of thousands of miles, in dozens of countries, and never yet had a prang. Not a single person has been thrown from my bumper; not a deer, not a cat, not a dog, not even, dare I say it, a mouse.

If you discount the minor flesh wound sustained by a Cornish meat pie van that brushed my Alfa very late at night some years ago, I have barely come into physical contact with another vehicle, so scrupulous is my driving.

Wherever I go, I see louts who pull out without looking, who overtake on blind corners, who fling open their doors just as I am coming by on my bicycle.

I see idiots and crash-artists and prangmeisters and fools who change nappies on the hard shoulder; and in all this carnival of incompetence and carelessness it is I – I, who have never so much as crunched a headlight! I, who have never even stoved in a bonnet, boot or door! – I am being taken off the road.

According to my secretary, Batley-born Ann Sindall, I have now been photographed so often by the same speed camera, exceeding the speed limit by the same pathetic amount, that, come September, the game will be up.

She has been counting the letters from the police, and totting up the points. The emanations of the state will be warned that I am no longer allowed on the Queen’s highway, and any breach of the ban will be an imprisonable offence.

Read the full article as published in the Telegraph

MPs May and Johnson Reject Branch Line ‘Community Railway’ Change


Local MPs Theresa May and Boris Johnson have spoken out against plans to reclassify the Henley – Twyford branch line as a ‘community railway’.

“The Strategic Rail Authority has plans to hive off about 12.5% of the national network, separating local services from the main network and reclassifying them as ‘community railways’. They claim that this would not be done according to one model but would be developed in line with local needs. They have included the Henley – Twyford line as a proposed community rail line.

The idea of community rail may work for some train lines but not for the Henley – Twyford line. The Government is trying to hive off local lines and will let services deteriorate as a result. We have already seen with the recent First Great Western proposals how hard we have to battle just to keep our local services. We don’t want to see the line to Henley downgraded – it’s too important for local commuters.”

We fear that ‘community railways’ might be a smokescreen for hiving off these lines, spending less on maintenance and improvements, and generally forgetting them thus making closure in future easier.”


Examiners are not making the grade

When giving a speech at a school, there are many ways to endear yourself. You can turn up drunk and address the head teacher loudly and enthusiastically by the wrong name. You can allow your trousers to split at the back, or spill your glass of water, or fall head first from the rostrum.

All these strategies will earn you an appreciative round of applause. You can try to suck up to your audience by saying that you once experimented with cannabis, and, though you will find a surprising measure of disapproval, you will not forfeit their general sympathy.

But there is one taboo you must never break. If you should so much as breathe a word of scepticism about the number of A-grade passes awarded to the modern cohort of British schoolchildren, then you are for it, my friend.

If you should seem to harbour the slightest reservations about our amazing and continuous Soviet-style improvement at exams, you will find that there is a Batemanesque horror across the room. Your entire audience will look dumbfounded, like a bunch of baby bunny rabbits clubbed across the mazard.

Even as you are blurting out your horrible opinions you will find – as I found the other day – that the teacher in charge springs from his or her place to cut you off. It is all very well for you to say that, says the teacher, but how do you know that these marks are not accurate? Might it not be, says the teacher, that British children deserve to have more A grades than ever before? Might it not be the case that we, as a nation, are just getting cleverer and cleverer? Might it not be that children are more hard-working and better taught than ever before?

At this point, the teacher turns to the class and says, with a triumphant flourish, that mankind never ran a sub-four-minute mile until 1954, and that this feat is now accomplished regularly by thousands of people. Is it not possible that the same is happening in the field of education? she demands.

And then the audience of students begins to look at you threateningly, and a gurgling murmur of hate is heard, and stare wildly back, and you wish you had the facts at your fingertips.

So here they are…

Read the full article as published in the Telegraph