THE campaign to bring the Lewis chessmen back to Scotland went to London yesterday as culture minister Linda Fabiani demanded their return on a visit to the British Museum.

The 12th-century figures are believed to originate from Scandinavia but were found on a Lewis beach in 1830. Of the 93 chessmen, 82 are on permanent display in London, a state of affairs that Fabiani last week called "unacceptable". Last year, first minister Alex Salmond also called for their return. The remaining 11 are on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Fabiani was invited to view the exhibition The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army at the British Museum, but also saw the Lewis chessmen. She later met with Andrew Burnett, the museum's deputy director.

In a statement issued after her visit, the British Museum said talks between the minister and Burnett were "informal and cordial" and reiterated its position that the chessmen are an important symbol of European civilisation and the museum places them within the context of interconnected world cultures.

It added: "Each year, millions of visitors, free of charge, admire the chessmen at the British Museum, and they are frequently loaned for display to museums in Scotland, across the rest of the UK, and around the world." In the past 10 years, 27 such loans have been agreed.

The statement concluded: "Both parties agreed that discussions should continue about exhibiting the chessmen to maximise public benefit."

After the visit the minister said: "The government will continue to consult with interested parties to reach a consensus in Scotland and we will then take matters forward with a proposal."

However, the call to repatriate the chessmen is not universally popular at Holyrood. Labour's culture spokesperson Malcolm Chisholm called the Scottish government's position "inconsistent".

The chessmen were discovered by a shepherd in a small stone chamber beneath a sand bank near Uig. When they were created, the Western Isles belonged to Norway, not Scotland.