North Oxfordshire MP Contributes to the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Bill Amendment

On Friday 15 March, Victoria Prentis MP spoke about the importance of returning cultural artefacts lost during the Holocaust. Please see below for a full transcript of Victoria’s speech, taken from Hansard:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury):

“It gives me great pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow such powerful speeches. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) for the enormous amount of work that she has done. I was not able to speak on Second Reading, but she has made moving speeches on both occasions.

It is perhaps appropriate that on a Friday, we are talking about religion and its effect on our legal lives and our family lives. As I said in the previous debate, this is a very sad day for the world, as we have seen a horrific Islamophobic attack—it is a modern attack, and the unpleasantness of the filming as well as the planning really gets us where it hurts. It is good that occasionally we in this House can talk about religion and its effect on the way we live our lives, the way we love and the way we die. It is appropriate that we are talking about holocaust artefacts on such a day, though it is of course very sad.

As my right hon. Friend said, the Nazis wanted to annihilate a whole race, and getting at their possessions was a particularly pernicious way of doing that. Obviously mass murder is the worst thing that can be done, but there are other means of annihilation, such as the non-registration of births.

One reason I became involved in the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism is my family’s Romany heritage. That is not something we talk about often, but it gives us a link in some small way to the horrors of what happened in Nazi Germany. I am also involved with the APPG for Gypsies, Travellers and Roma. It is important to think about what is done to races as well as individuals. Today we are broadly talking about Jewish artefacts. The Nazis wanted to destroy the religion by destroying its possessions as well as its people. That is why it is important that, 70 years on, we are still thinking about this.

Possessions are very important to us. I have a ring that belonged to my granny, which she wore every day. I do not wear it every day, possibly because, as a jeweller once said to me, my lifestyle is slightly more hands-on than that of my granny. I do not think it would survive the wear and tear of the life of a Member of Parliament, but I enjoy wearing it, and it makes me feel close to her. ​

Even more precious personally, though certainly not in terms of money, is a coral necklace owned by my daughter that was passed down to her after being owned by seven generations of my husband’s family. We have a portrait of the lady to whom it first belonged. It is a rough and ready portrait, doubtless done by a jobbing painter, of a little girl wearing this very same coral necklace, with a cat. This is a lady whose name I do not even know, but I know that we feel close to her because of that artefact. Things mean a great deal to people, and that is moving for members of my family. The connection is very real, but it is so much more so when we know that that ancestor was murdered and that we can never meet their children—say, those of our great-aunt—because they never existed.

This Bill is on an issue that really gets us where it hurts. The Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009 is clearly still needed. These artefacts are all over the place. When a race or group of people are destroyed, so many papers and documents get destroyed, and the people who would have inherited many of those artefacts are not born, so it is very difficult to prove ownership. People alive today may not even be aware that they have ownership of these articles, but it matters, and it is important, so I commend this Bill.”