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Parliamentary Estate: Art Works

House of Commons Commission written question – answered on 15th June 2020.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury), Acting Leader, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Social Justice)

To ask the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, whether art depicting (a) former slave owners and (b) people involved in the slave trade is on display on the Parliamentary Estate.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The Parliamentary Art Collection has been built up by Members over the past 150 years. It documents the history and work of Parliament up to the present day, and includes portraits, satirical prints and group portraits featuring 17th, 18th and 19th century parliamentarians who, as predominately wealthy landowners and businessmen, were often directly involved in, and profited from, slavery and the slave trade, or came from families who had.

There is no definitive listing of individual MPs with close connections to the trade, but they will be numerous, and some will be included in artworks on display in Parliament. The intention of the artworks is not to venerate people who have supported and committed acts of atrocity, but to truthfully reflect the history of Parliament, our democracy and the people who played a part in it. In 2007 Parliament held a large public exhibition in Westminster Hall ‘Abolition, Parliament and the People’ to reflect on its own role in significantly shaping the progress and development of the transatlantic slave system through legislation, before responding to one of the first and most successful public campaigns which called for the abolition of the trade and then slavery itself. The 1807 Act of Parliament to abolish the British slave trade was followed in 1833 with the Slavery Abolition Act.

The Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art and the Lord Speaker’s Advisory Panel on Works of Art supported by the curatorial team are actively working to improve the diversity of the art collection, both in terms of the people portrayed and the artists commissioned, to ensure that the Collection reflects and celebrates the diversity of all who contribute to Parliament. The most recent example is the bust of Olaudah Equiano, a former enslaved African and abolitionist, which is currently on display in Portcullis House.

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