HC Deb 02 March 1973 vol 851 cc1848-79

Order for Second Reading read.

11.9 a.m.

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is two fold: first, to protect wrecks of historical, archaeological or artistic importance in United Kingdom waters from unauthorised interference so that they may be properly excavated and studied; and secondly, to safeguard the public from the consequences of unauthorised interference with wrecks which are a potential danger to life or property in United Kingdom waters.

I shall deal first with historic wrecks. The growth of aqualung diving as a hobby and its use by persons engaged full time in the search for treasure has led to the discovery of an increasing number of wrecks around our shores. Some of the finds have attracted a great deal of publicity. For example, there was the discovery of the remains of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell's flagship HMS "Association", in which were found cannon, gold and silver coins, silver plate and other artefacts. The site was worked by competing teams of divers.

From the remains of the Spanish Armada galleass "Girona" off the coast of Northern Ireland a large collection of jewellery was recovered. That wreck was excavated very well by the Belgian diver Mr. Robert Stenuit. The collection, is now displayed in the Ulster Museum.

There has been a number of other finds, including the remains of Charles II's yacht "Mary". With the growth of the hobby we may expect more and more wrecks to be discovered around our shores. They must be protected in the interests of our national heritage.

As well as arousing great interest, the developments I have described have caused a great deal of concern among archaeologists and Members on both sides of the House.

The law on wreck in Part IX of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 provides for the safekeeping and disposal of unclaimed wreck property when ships are in distress or recently wrecked, but those provisions are not suitable for historic wrecks. What is more important, the law imposes no restrictions on the freedom of salvors to recover what they can from a vessel lying wrecked and abandoned on the sea bed, provided always that the statutory procedure as to reporting and disposal is followed and the rights of other salvors who may acquire possession of the wreck are observed.

Unless that freedom is limited and the activities of treasure seekers and souvenir hunters are controlled in relation to important historic wreck sites, valuable information about early ship design and construction and the life of the period will be lost for ever. That happened in certain Mediterranean countries before they adopted protective legislation of the kind I propose.

Many countries now have such legislation and some have declared ancient wrecks to be State property. In this country there are already legal powers to protect historic structures found on land. It is only sensible that we should introduce powers to provide the necessary legislation to protect historic wrecks as they lie on the sea bed.

An attempt was made to provide a remedy when amendments to the Merchant Shipping Bill, designed to protect historic wrecks, were moved in March 1970 by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) and other Members. The amendments were not acceptable to the Government of the day because they raised wide, complicated issues. The then Minister of State, Board of Trade, the right hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts), undertook to put in hand a comprehensive review of wreck legislation, with particular reference to historic wrecks. I understand that the review is likely to take a considerable time yet. In the meantime, before the review is completed and before legislation based on it can be passed, important sites are at risk and important new sites are likely to be discovered.

Therefore, with the help and support of the Department of Trade and Industry I am seeking to have the Bill passed to provide an interim measure of protection. It has been widely discussed with all the many interests involved and I think I can say that it has fairly general acceptance from them.

The Bill does not deal with the complicated issues of owners' and salvors' rights or the rights of the Crown or other persons to unclaimed wrecks, nor does it provide for ownership of ancient wrecks as they lie to be vested in the Crown. Such matters are better left to the longterm comprehensive legislation that will come out of the review. I emphasise that the Bill's sole aim in relation to historic wrecks is to control salvage operations on certain sites of special importance.

Clause 1(1) enables the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to designate by order a restricted area around the site in United Kingdom waters of a wrecked vessel of historical archaeological or artistic importance. By subsection (2), a restricted area may be of any extent to ensure protection of the wreck but may not extend above the high water mark. Under subsection (3) it will be an offence to tamper with, damage or remove any part of a wrecked vessel or its former contents lying on the sea bed in a restricted area, to carry out diving or salvage operations, to use diving or salvage equipment in the area or to dump materials in the area, except under the authority of a licence granted by the Secretary of State.

Before making an order the Secretary of State is required by subsection (4) to consult such persons as he considers appropriate, but consultation may be dispensed with if it is a matter of immediate urgency. A newly discovered site may need immediate protection if damage is threatened. The House will agree that that is only common sense.

Subsection (5) provides that licences may be granted only to persons who are competent and properly equipped to carry out salvage operations appropriate to a site of historical importance or who may have any other legitimate reason for doing acts which need a licence. Licences are subject to conditions and restrictions which must be observed. Under subsection (5)(b), obstruction of authorised operations is also an offence.

For the present I shall pass over Clause 2, which deals with dangerous wrecks.

Clause 3(1) defines "United Kingdom waters", "the sea" and "sea bed". Hon. Members will note that the Bill does not deal with vessels found in inland waters or above the ebb and flow of the tide.

Subsection (2) provides that orders shall be made by statutory instrument and may be varied and revoked. The Secretary of State is required to revoke an order designating a restricted area if there is no longer any wreck in the area requiring protection. Again, that is only common sense.

Subsection (3) provides a saving for acts done with the sole purpose of dealing with an emergency, in exercising statutory functions or out of necessity owing to stress of weather or navigational hazards.

The penalties provided in subsection (4) are a fine of not more than £400 on summary conviction and an unlimited fine if conviction is on indictment.

There is no prohibition of navigation, anchoring, fishing or bathing in restricted areas unless those activities are so conducted as to cause obstruction. Nor does the Bill place any general restriction on the freedom of divers to explore the sea bed and make new discoveries, except in restricted areas around important historic sites and in prohibited areas around dangerous sites. I am informed that it is the intention that restricted areas in relation to historic wrecks will be strictly limited in number and extent.

I turn briefly to that part of the Bill dealing with dangerous wrecks, Clause 2. The Bill has been framed with the case of the "Richard Montgomery" very much in mind. This American cargo vessel, which went aground in the Thames Estuary in 1944, remains a serious potential threat to the town of Sheerness. A large quantity of ammunition is still in the wreck. Much has already been removed, but expert advice is that it will be a greater hazard to attempt to remove the remaining ammunition and that the safest course is to leave the vessel and its cargo undisturbed. The wreck is already clearly marked, and shipping passes some distance from it. But concern has been aroused by fishing nearby and trippers taking boats out to the vicinity out of curiosity, which is understandable but very dangerous. It is therefore desirable that the Secretary of State should have powers additional to those already exercised by port authorities to deter people from approaching the wreck, and those powers should be available for use in any similar circumstances which may occur in future.

Clause 2 therefore enables the Secretary of State to designate by order a prohibited area around the site of a wrecked vessel in United Kingdom waters which, because of its contents, is a potential danger to life or property. Under subsection (2) the prohibited area may be of any extent appropriate to ensure that unauthorised people are kept away from the vessel but may not extend above the high water mark. Subsection (3) makes it an offence to enter a prohibited area without the written authority of the Secretary of State.

Subsection (2) of Clause 3 requires the Secretary of State to revoke any order designating a prohibited area if the vessel is no longer a potential danger to life or property. The other provisions of Clause 3 which I have described are also applicable to the dangerous wrecks provisions.

The Bill is a sensible measure which is becoming more necessary as more wrecks are discovered round our coasts. We can expect that, with the development of aqua-lung equipment, more will be discovered. I hope that the House will regard this as a sensible and noncontroversial measure which deserves its support.

11.21 a.m.

Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) is worthy of the congratulations of the House on bringing forward the Bill. In a sentence, the core of the Bill gives powers to designate an area around a shipwreck as a prohibited zone and to be entered only by a salvor or diver who is licensed to do so by the Secretary of State. It is a tragic reflection on our system of government that this has never been law before. I was Minister of State at the Board of Trade responsible for shipping matters for more than two years, and I was President of the Board of Trade for a short time. I think the reason why we have not had such provision is due to a combination of two factors: first, the pace of work, and, secondly, the fact that Ministers concerning themselves with major legislation rarely contemplate this sort of minor legislation and its relative importance.

However, I was pleased that early in 1970 a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House who had taken a great interest in this problem raised the matter with my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Goronwy Roberts) when he was piloting the Merchant Shipping Bill through Committee. Because of that interest and pressure, he and I decided that the matter was of such importance that the Wreck Law Review Committee should be established, and I wish to pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) and Woolwich, West (Mr. Ham-ling) and to the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) and, ironically enough, to the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who played a leading role at the time and who is now the Minister responsible for answering this debate on behalf of the Government.

It is amazing that we have never properly legislated to protect shipwrecks, especially those which, having been charted, are of significant historical value. The Bill, rectifying that statutory omission, will prove to be a most important piece of legislation. The procedure seems to have been that, a wreck having been found, a person must claim as the salvor in possession, the Receiver of Wrecks is notified and all items salvaged are supposed to go to him for safe keeping for at least a year, after which they go to the Crown and are sold, which is when the salvor gets his share of the salvaged items.

The trouble is that the salvor is not obliged to keep records of what he finds or where he found it. He has no need to raise items of little commercial value or to bother about adequate conservation. Above all, nothing is done to prevent disposal of the finds. Consequently, not only is maritime history being pillaged and destroyed but the system invites vandalism and stealing for quick commercial gain.

That was highlighted when looting of the wreck of the yacht "Mary" of King-Charles II began. Hon. Members who have taken an interest in the subject will know that the "Mary", a Dutch-built ship presented to Charles II, went down off Anglesey about 300 years ago. In 1971 divers began their invasion of the wreck. At one time there were five groups battling under water for the treasure of the "Mary" until in the end the Royal Navy was sent in to separate the pirates. It gave rise to much publicity and sparked off much discussion among maritime people and archaeologists which has helped to bring forward this legislation.

A ship sunk as a whole is a priceless asset to an archaeologist. It is a complete piece of history, frozen in time from the moment it went down. Because there is no protection, priceless pieces of history are being torn out of our annals of time by ignorant, greedy looters of shipwrecks. What is needed is a national policy of preservation and protection of shipwrecks similar to that given by our Acts of Parliament governing ancient monuments.

Meanwhile this Bill is a useful interim measure, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen. South clearly indicated. It will certainly hinder the ravaging of the wrecks which has been taking place and will slow down what was becoming a highly sophisticated but lucrative new business. It is estimated that there are 5 million wrecks around our shores, and by the use of modern aids such as high pressure hoses and proton magnetometers many of them are now within reach. The Royal Navy has stated that there are 1,000 uncharted wrecks in an area from the Western Approaches to the British Isles. All these have occurred in the past 60 years. Much of this is rich treasure indeed.

The attraction of hidden treasure or the sniff of gold brings out the worst instincts in man—greed, jealously and selfishness. We are reminded of the silver fleets, many of them sunk and for years not traced or able to be salvaged, but today they are being charted. With the use of modern equipment, over £200 million of sunken treasure has already been recovered from the sea. Millions more pounds worth lies beneath the oceans. The lure of treasure waiting to be raised drives on the adventurous, the unscrupulous and the wreckers of maritime history.

Even if the twentieth century sea pirates observe the present law and submit their finds to the Receiver of Wrecks for safe keeping, the trouble is that they are not in safe keeping. Many of these historic objects, having been under water, have been well preserved for years, but when they are restored to light and air the chemical changes quickly ruin them. Therefore, even today in abiding by the law, many fine historic pieces are lost through ignorance. Iron and bronze quickly change. They flake, become diseased or corrode. Wood quickly crumbles and leather disintegrates. To preserve them is a skilled and sometimes difficult business.

Loss resulting from the stripping of wrecks and the ruining of their contents has happened on a quite large scale. Consequently our museums have been denied many valuable pieces. When the Bill is enacted it will therefore be necessary to establish a reputable advisory board to guide and advise the Minister and his Department. Once having legislated to protect a shipwreck and its environs, guidance will have to be given on how best to record the wreck before lifting, or how best to preserve pieces of irreplaceable scientific evidence and particularly on the urgency of conservation once it has been raised.

The maritime museums will have to be geared to receive a quicker flow of maritime discoveries. The British Sub-Aqua Club, with its 15,000 members, will have to advise and caution its advanced divers to play a gamekeeping rôle in both discovering and guarding wrecks. Councils for nautical research and archaeology will have to be created to help to knit all these operations together.

This small but important Bill has our blessing. I hope it will be only the beginning of further legislation which will be needed even when it becomes law, and so it may well be enough to digest for the present. Needless to say, there is room for improvement which we can consider in Committee.

I conclude by congratulating the hon. Member on his good fortune in the ballot for Private Members Bills and also upon bringing forward urgently needed important legislation.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

Like the right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) on bringing in this Bill. He said valuable information is being lost and more will be lost unless action is taken, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in saying that this should have been dealt with long since.

Owing to modern aqualungs and, indeed, to the increased interest in everything to do with the past and the connection which many discoveries have with the antiques trade, in these inflationary day the prizes for discoverers are much greater today than they have ever been before. Whether we shall be able to police these wrecks when charted is difficult to decide because divers are a much more dangerous form of poacher, whether the property is to be nationally or privately owned, than any poacher on land, and poachers are apt to use the hours of day or night when nobody is about.

Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that so much maritime history has already been destroyed in the last few years. He referred to the "Mary", which was the Royal Yacht, at one time, of King Charles II, and then went into general naval use before she foundered off Anglesey in 1675. Merseyside divers discovered that yacht, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, other groups went in as soon as the discovery was known and no one now knows quite how much has been lost, how much has disappeared.

Luckily, quite a lot has been preserved thanks to some Merseyside divers depositing what they found with the Liverpool Museum, which has done a splendid work of conservation. The vessel is, admittedly, in the hands of the Receiver of Wrecks, and nobody quite knows now to whom the discoveries will ultimately go because the question of ownership has to be decided, but there is a lot of material in the Liverpool Museum—cannon, coins, things mostly metal, but all in urgent need of conservation.

The Bill will help very much to keep future discoveries as entities. That is necessary when a wreck is discovered. There are three points which have to be borne in mind. Whoever finds a wreck finds something which is an entity, which was used at one point of time. That is very different from any find on land, where the discovery can go through many generations, or many centuries; but a wreck holds what was being used at a particular point in time, and, as such, it is of very considerable historical interest.

The second point is that, as the right hon. Gentleman said, things are preserved in water which deteriorate on land. I am thinking particularly of things of wood. Therefore, provided that, once it has been found in water, it is dealt with as soon as it comes out of that water, material can be saved which would have long since disappeared had it been on land.

The third and final point is that in finding a wreck one finds an entity which, provided action is taken by the Government, can be preserved as an entity, not dispersed throughout the antiques markets of the world. Above all, by dealing with it as one it can be treated scientifically and historically.

11.36 a.m.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Sutton)

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) on bringing forward this Bill, and I echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason), that it is a great tragedy that this legislateon was not introduced earlier. I feel, as a West Country Member, particularly upset about the past. I do not think any of us who lived through the period which started in July 1967 when naval divers found the treasure of the wreck off the Scillies, later discovered to be the "Association", the flagship of Sir Cloudesley Shovel, can be anything but upset. What we have experienced in recent years is underwater anarchy. That is certainly not too strong a word to describe what happened over the "Association." It is to the great credit of the hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott), whose constituency was most affected, that he started to draw the attention of this House to this problem.

There are other wrecks around the West Country, and we have a particular regional interest in this part of our history and are concerned that that which is often intimately linked with the history of the West Country itself should be preserved. I have taken a very strong interest in this matter ever since that wreck was discovered

The problem over the yacht "Mary" came up in July 1971, and the first thing I would say about this Bill is that I hope that it gets the speediest possible passage —through Committee, and through the House of Lords—to become law. It cannot become law too quickly. We are approaching the summer diving season, and it is really urgent that we should have this legislation on the statute book before we start seeing divers going off for a further rampage through the summer months. I will certainly do everything in my power to see this legislation enacted.

The yacht "Mary" was a royal yacht, and by tradition is, therefore, a Ministry of Defence responsibility. I recognise that the Under-Secretary for Trade and Industry will in this debate have some problems over ministerial responsibility, but the yacht "Mary" is the most acute problem we have to face. The House will remember that this was discussed last year in debate on the Royal Navy.

I must say that I think that the Navy Department has come out of this whole business extremely badly. It had immense pressure put on it to make an interim solution. That was before this legislation came forward. What was urged on the Department was that it should give an exclusive salvage contract for the yacht "Mary". The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilley) has paid tribute to the Merseyside divers who discovered the wreck. They had to stand by and see that discovery ruined in front of their eyes. It seemed to me and to many of us that what was really urgent was that the Navy Department should give an exclusive right for salvage. It totally failed.

I wrote to the Prime Minister, and I must say that he responded extremely well, and went round the Navy Department in double quick time. That was in October. He saw the point of the urgency of the matter and was prepared to look into the difficulties. I accept that there are difficulties in providing an interim solution to the problem. What we wanted was a responsible body to have exclusive rights, and, once it had exclusive rights granted to it, that it should undertake whatever action was necessary legally in the courts to save the wreck.

The Navy Department insisted that it would be difficult to do and tried to put itself in the position of the people who would have the exclusive rights. I am hopeful that, as a result of the Prime Minister's intervention in October, sufficient progress has been made in the last few months to enable the Ministry to announce that an exclusive right will be given as an interim measure until the Bill becomes law. It is already March, and we urgently need safeguards for the next two or three months. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us an assurance on that aspect.

My strictures on the Navy Department must go a little further. The Department has a responsibility for naval archaeology and for preserving our maritime heritage. Slowly—it has taken a long time—the Department has begun to recognise this in the saving of HMS "Belfast". It cannot all be done by the Ministry of Defence; voluntary effort must come into it. We are concerned not only with the wrecks of the past but with the wrecks of almost the present, the older ships that need to be preserved.

I hope that the regions will not be forgotten in nautical archaeology. Here I have a special interest. The West Country has a strong naval tradition and history, and is intimately bound up with our heritage. We do not want to see all the naval archaeology accumulated in large centres like London. We want to see a form of regional naval archaeology. I have long championed the cause of regional museums, and there is an overwhelming case for doing something in the West Country.

I obviously have a slight constituency interest. Plymouth is a large city, and I am open to argument for anywhere else, but when I was Navy Minister I put forward an argument that Clarence Store in Plymouth—a fine building which had been a victualling store—would be admirably situated for use as a museum. That was at the time when it was thought that HMS "Belfast" might come to Plymouth. We need a West Country museum for underwater and surface archaeology, and I hope that the Navy Department will reconsider its decision.

I made no commitment, but I wrote to the town clerk at the time suggesting that the store might be available after 1971 and that the Ministry would look sympathetically at any claim that Plymouth might wish to make. I hoped then that the Department of Education and Science might consider financial aid. I now find that the Navy Department considers that Clarence Store can no longer be made available for a naval museum. That is another example of how backward is the Navy Department in not facing its considerable responsibility in these matters.

Turning to the more detailed parts 0f the Bill my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley mentioned the need for a formal advisory body to advise the Secretary of State, and I strongly endorse that plea. I strongly uphold the interests of archaeologists and the Council for Nautical Archaeology, but there are other people with legitimate interests. The Salvors Association also has a case that needs to be heard. In the past it has done salvage work and wishes to be able to continue to do so. The British Sub Aqua Club is also concerned. I am therefore in favour of including all the different elements in this mix on the advisory board so that the best advice is available to the Minister.

I attach importance to Clause 3 which contains power to de-designate a site. After the wreck has been charted and the major finds discovered, amateur sub-aqualung divers and other people with a legitimate interest may wish to visit the site. It should not necessarily be frozen in perpetuity.

The explanatory memorandum says that it is not expected that there will be any increase in public expenditure. Clearly, there would be expense if an advisory board were appointed. It is not that people would wish to be paid fees, but out-of-pocket expenses would be incurred. If experienced archaeologists are to visit the site and if there is to be diving on the site, there will be a requirement for a survey prior to designation. This will involve costs, but the costs are so negligible that they can probably be met under the Minister's normal powers. May we have an assurance on this?

We do not know how many sites there are which will have to be designated. I gather that there are about six or seven round the coast. Some sites are already being examined by experienced archaeologists, for example the "Mary Rose", Spithead, and the "Ferdinand" wreck around the Lizard. There are other sites which are not very well known, and until the Bill becomes law one does not want to talk too much about them.

The Bill is limited in its function. Have the Government in mind to cover things of archaelogical interest other than wrecks—for instance, underwater settlements which are not covered by the Ancient Monuments Acts? I also understand that boats on land above the high water mark are not covered by the Ancient Monuments Acts. It is extraordinary that they should be excluded. We need to tidy up the legislation. We may well find in burial sites ships which need to have a formal protection.

Most of these matters can easily be covered in Committee. There is a considerable amount of good will for the Bill and a feeling amongst all of us that it should have been put on the statute book earlier. It is the general wish that the Bill should pass through all its stages at the earliest opportunity, and I should be grateful for an indication from the Minister when he hopes to have the legislation.

I am still concerned about the yacht "Mary". I hope the Minister will give an assurance that, as a result of the discussions which have taken place in the last few months, there will be interim cover for the yacht "Mary" while the Bill is passing through the House. The Bill will cover the "Mary" in perpetuity thereafter. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South will, I am sure, feel in later years that he has served well the cause of nautical archaeology. The Bill, though long overdue, will be of considerable help in preserving our heritage and deserves our support.

11.48 a.m.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I join other hon. Members who have congratulated the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) on introducing the Bill. I am sorry not to have arrived in time to hear his speech, but I am delighted at the bon accord with which the Bill has been received on both sides of the House.

This is a piece of legislation which no doubt successive Governments have said would be useful sometime but is pushed further and further down the queue by what the Government regard as more important legislation. There is no doubt that the Bill is long overdue.

The danger with a wreck in which there is likely to be bullion or valuable objects is that the historical part of the wrecked vessel may be damaged before the museum authorities and archaeologists can get to work.

A relative of mine was living on one of the outlying Scottish islands at a time when a crowd of freelance divers arrived at the wreck of an old Dutch vessel. The residents were most concerned because the divers appeared to be interested only in bringing up the coins that were available. There was considerable ill-feeling in the island at the thought that the wreck was perhaps being damaged by people who had the sole purpose of getting at the coins at all costs.

I am delighted to see that Clause 3 gives a good deal of flexibility so that the whole measure is very much a commonsense provision. I hope that the Bill will go speedily through its remaining stages, and I wish it godspeed.

11.50 a.m.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Smethwick)

I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) on introducing the Bill. I am sorry that I missed the introductory part of his speech.

I wish to make one or two observations on a slightly broader area. One consequence of the Bill will be that, if we require that divers should make adequate provision for conserving their finds, it is reasonable that the divers can fairly ask where they can take the finds, many of which require complex conservation procedures. Even for those who are willing to pay for conservation, the situation is very difficult. Hardly any of our museums have adequate storage facilities or proper laboratories, and in any case they are fully committed on their own material.

It is to be hoped that the Eccles Committee's report on aid for provincial museums, which is due to be published fairly soon, will recommend a great increase in support for the conservation departments of such museums in terms of increased facilities and, equally important, more personnel. I hope that the particular problems of conserving material lifted from under water will not be overlooked. The problems are extensive and the cost can be considerable, but the finds from wrecks may include objects rarely found on land, such as items of wood and leather.

The obvious solution would be the development in a few provincial museums of special conservation units to handle underwater material in large amounts. Many of us who have been lucky enough to see work carried out on underwater sites—as I did last October in Port Royal, Jamaica—have seen the sort of stuff that is brought to the surface—for example, hundreds of bottles. Room has to be found somewhere for the conservation of these objects until they can be properly worked upon. This is a massive problem.

I am envisaging that the units set up in the provincial centres would be ones with which salvors could contract for the conservation work, perhaps possibly paying in kind. Obvious centres would be places with historical connections with the sea, such as Liverpool where the city museum has valiantly coped with the conservation of material from the "Mary"; or Bristol where the recently published report by Sir Hugh Casson on the redevelopment of the city docks area has recommended the creation of a maritime museum close to the SS "Great Britain"—which, thank God, has come back to this country after a varied history of travels in most of the oceans of the World.

There is one serious problem at the moment which the Bill will do nothing to lessen. I understand that this is interim legislation and that longer-term legislation will not be too long in coming. The serious problem to which I refer is that most finds from a wreck are, under salvage law, sold and dispersed; and in these days, with the popularity of antiques and the money that seems to be available to invest in them, prices are usually well beyond the reach of museums since in this country we appear to treat our museums in a penny-pinching sort of way.

Since the contents of a wreck form a related group they should ideally be kept as a group. This is what would happen in the best of all possible worlds, except that we do not happen to live in one. This has happened with certain finds such as the finds in the Armada wreck "Girona", now in the Ulster Museum. In that case, thanks to the generosity of the salvor it was possible to arrange for a sale at valuation. One hopes that this will set a valuable precedent.

I hope that the long-term legislation which is envisaged as a follow-up to this interim measure will get to grips with the operation of salvage law. This is one of the problems with which the Bill does not deal. I wish the measure the best possible speed and I hope that all hon. Members who are fortunate enough to be chosen to serve on the Standing Committee will get on with the detail as quickly as possible so that this legislation may soon be placed on the statute book. We must remember that the summer is now coming on apace and that this is the time of year when people like to go under water to discover what loot can be obtained from these very valuable finds.

11.58 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Cranley Onslow)

I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) on his felicitous choice of Bill, having had the luck to draw so good a place in the ballot. I assure him of continuing Government support for the Bill. I also wish to congratulate him on the clear and concise way in which he introduced this measure.

I hope that the general welcome which has been given to the Bill today will be reflected in its speedy passage on to the statute book. I am as anxious as any hon. Member to see the Bill go through.

The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) was kind enough to remind the House of past history when I and other hon. Members played a leading part in stimulating legislative interest in this subject. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Nott) was particularly concerned because he set the ball rolling by introducing a Private Member's Bill. That Bill did not get as far as the statute book but its provisions were the basis of amendments to the Merchant Shipping Act.

One of the people who deserve credit for today's Bill is none other than my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). It was as a result of activities on his part, following what might be described as certain piratical events, that there was a sudden surge of interest in the subject in private Members' legislation two or three years ago. As a result of that surge of interest, my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives and others, including myself, decided to do something about the situation. Therefore I regard it not as ironic but as a happy coincidence that today it should fall to me to answer on behalf of the Department on the outcome of this process of stimulus.

I wish at the outset to say that the detailed review of wreck legislation mentioned by the right hon. Member for Barnsley is still continuing in consultation with the interests concerned. Its object is to introduce comprehensive legislation to bring up to date the wreck provisions in Part IX of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 in their general operation and to make provision for historic wrecks. This work no doubt will take some time and these are complicated matters.

I assure the House that my Department does not intend to lose sight of this subject. There has been so much public concern expressed about the lack of protection for important historic sites which continue to be discovered that the Government agreed that a relatively short Bill suitable for introduction by a Private Member should be prepared to give some measure of interim protection to selected historic wrecks pending the introduction of comprehensive legislation.

Everyone resents the smash-and-grab raids on the nation's past of which we have seen too much evidence on land and more recently under water as new techniques have been developed, and I endorse what has been said by the right hon. Member for Barnsley and by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South about the need to act now. I realise that there are problems involved and that the answers to some of them must be sought outside my Department. When it comes to boats on land, I think I can disclaim responsibility in the direction of the Department of the Environment. I doubt whether the Ancient Monuments Act is a fit subject for which the Department of Trade and Industry should be made to answer. I recognise, however, that there may be problems confronting the Department of Education and Science in its provision of support for museums of the kind that the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds) identified. I hope I shall be forgiven if I do not comment too much on this subject, tempting though it is.

Meanwhile I have had a chance to see the progress which is being made in our preservation problems, not least in terms of the preservation of the material from which ships are made—wood. On the occasion of a recent Fanfare for Europe event I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to inspect what is irreverently known as the national soggy wood collection at Greenwich and to hear about the progress being made in the techniques of preserving ancient boats. I think that progress will become more rapid as interest mounts and as funds become more readily available.

The Bill's provisions are the result of wide discussions with all the interests concerned, and I express my gratitude to them for their help and advice in the drafting of legislation. They include the Council for Nautical Archaeology, the British Sub-Aqua Club, commercial salvage interests and other interested parties. Their views have been taken into account so far as possible and the proposals embodied in the Bill are generally acceptable to them. Although I do not imagine that they would necessarily command support from everyone involved, the proposals are supported by archaeologists and diving interests. I hope that the House will find the Bill substantially non-controversial and support it.

I express again the extent to which I share the generally expressed desire that the Bill should make swift progress to the statute book.

I now take up some of the specific questions asked by the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen). I am not sure that I can give him full information on the "Mary", and I do not think he would expect me to confirm or comment on the departmental demarcation disputes which he identified, though I am grateful for his tribute to the effect of the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he took up the matter with him.

The ownership of the "Mary" and its contents will not be affected by the Bill. Contracts to work on the wreck are a matter not for my Department but for the Navy Department of the Ministry of Defence, and therefore it would not be right for me to comment on it. Nor can I say whether the "Mary" would necessarily be one of the immediate sites for designation, although it is an obvious candidate for consideration. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman—and I hope he will regard this as being worth something—that there will be close and continuing interest in this subject on the part of my right hon. and hon. Friends who have direct responsibility and, I have no doubt, of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as well.

The hon. Member for Sutton, asked about the expenditure involved. He is right to suggest that this is so small, if it exists at all, that it can be borne on existing Votes. There is an inhibition on the spending of public money in respect of private Members' legislation. However, I do not think the hon. Gentleman need fear that there will be a shortage of the small funds that will be necessary to implement these provisions.

Before I come to the subject of the advisory boards to which the right hon. Member for Barnsley referred, perhaps I might explain how the provisions of the Bill will be administered. We anticipate that the designation of historic wreck sites will be restricted to those of special importance. They should not amount to more than half a dozen at the outset. There will be consultation with Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh interests and with harbour authorities if sites are within these areas. There will also be consultation with the appropriate departments if sites are in lobster fishing areas or recognised dumping grounds.

The number of designated sites will increase as important new sites are discovered, but it is not expected to exceed 24 in all. If there is a need to extend the figure, there will be consultations with the interests involved. However, there are powers in the Bill to de-designate, so I do not anticipate a need to go above that ceiling.

The real need is to prohibit unauthorised diving in a restricted area round a designated site to facilitate enforcement, otherwise it would be difficult to determine whether a diver had interfered with a designated wreck while he was under water. The number of restricted areas will be limited. There will be consultations with the British Sub-Aqua Club regarding the extent of each restricted area to keep the area as small as possible, consistent with providing adequate protection of the site. In practice I do not expect that will mean that a restricted area is likely to exceed a radius of 500 yards. It is also not intended to designate restricted areas on a mere suspicion that an historic wreck may lie somewhere within it. We shall require physical evidence of the existence of an important wreck—for example, artefacts lying on the sea bed—before designation.

The Department will consult advisers comprising archaeologists, representatives of museums, including the national institutions of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the British Sub-Aqua Club and commercial diving interests about the sites to be designated, the licences to be granted for salvage operations and the conditions to be attached to those licences.

The right hon. Member for Barnsley will have noted that it is not spelt out specifically in the Bill who will comprise the sum total of the advisers who are to be consulted. He will recognise from his own experience that it is probably a mistake to try to be over-precise in cases of this kind. But I hope he will understand that the consultations will be comprehensive and that the advice will be the best we can get.

Where there is a need for immediate action because a new site is threatened with damage, it is proposed that the chairman of the advisory group should be available to give prompt advice so that designation if required may take place immediately. There is no question of procedural difficulty resulting in delay and thus damage to a site by people who have already got on to it.

Dr. David Owen

The hon. Gentleman referred to the chairman of the advisory group. Is the advisory group likely to have some form of formal status and be publicly announced so that people will know who is advising the Minister?

Mr. Onslow

I am sure that the identity of the chairman of the group will be announced, but I do not think that the group should have a formal, permanently constituted membership. There is a need for informality so that if necessary consultation can extend outside the normal ambit in a special case. The terms of the legislation extend to wrecks of historic, archaeological or artistic interest. It would be difficult to get a thorough and comprehensive group guaranteed to include every single possible expert. But I can undertake that the identity of the chairman will be made known.

It is proposed to advertise the Secretary of State's intention to designate a named site in the Department's journal Trade and Industry and elsewhere and to allow time for consideration of objections. Where the need for immediate action precludes advertisement of intention, a designation order will be made immediately and can subsequently be revoked. A decision on that would be taken in the light of any representations which might be received.

Designation orders giving an accurate description of the site and the restricted area will be widely publicised. In appropriate cases, the Hydrographer of the Navy has agreed to issue notices to mariners to mark sites on Admiralty charts. The sites would also in appropriate cases be marked with buoys, the form and installation of which has to be discussed with the lighthouse authorities.

We must recognise that the rights of an owner or salvor in possession of a designated wreck may be affected by the order. He could indeed suffer serious financial loss if, without good reason, he was stopped from exploiting the site for an indefinite period, if onerous conditions were imposed upon him or if rights to salvage were granted to another person. We recognise, therefore, that the owner or salvor has the prior claim to salvage the wreck provided he can meet the conditions required for a licence necessary for the protection of the archaeological value of the site.

Some sites may be regarded as suitable for salvage operations without any serious loss of their archaeological value, provided the requisite conditions are met. A few sites, where the vessels and their contents may be largely intact, will probably need to be kept undisturbed until a full-scale archaeological survey and recovery operation can be organised in order to investigate any particular and peculiar characteristics. In the previous debate I described this process as being a kind of time capsule. Now that we have found the key to open up these sites, it is extremely important to have the means of keeping them intact and in one piece as far as it is reasonable to do so.

There will, of course, be difficulty in enforcing the provisions of the Bill about historic wrecks, particularly since some sites are in remote areas. We do not propose additional resources for enforcement, and the police will not be asked to accept the primary enforcement responsibility. It is felt that it will be better to rely on the receivers of wreck, many of whom are Customs officers, the Coastguard and the enthusiasm of the amateur diving fraternity to report un-unauthorised exploiting of wrecks. We feel that this will be a reliable safeguard.

We believe that this system, allied to the sense of history of a local community, is likely to prove an adequate safeguard against unauthorised intrusion and the despoiling of a wreck. Although some anxiety has been expressed about the practicability of enforcement, it may also be possible to devise some sort of incentive for the licensed salvors of wrecks at designated sites. This point has been put to me in representations and it is being carefully considered. It is not necessary to put a specific provision in the Bill about it because my Department has full discretion to make what requirement it thinks appropriate in cases of unclaimed wreck sold by the receiver for the benefit of the Crown, but I agree we should carefully consider the question of providing an incentive to the diving fraternity.

The proposals in relation to dangerous wrecks do not need much explanation although it might be helpful to give some background. In principle it is desirable that the Secretary of State should have power to prohibit the entry by any unauthorised person into an area immediately surrounding a wrecked vessel which is potentially dangerous to life or property. The penalties for contravening an order would be an additional deterrent and would reinforce such powers as harbour authorities already possess.

At present there is only one site which needs such protection, the "Richard Montgomery", but there may be future cases involving cargoes of explosives or chemicals which would call for designation in order to provide appropriate protection. I should stress that the "Richard Montgomery" wreck has not become more dangerous and there need be no increased anxiety simply because the Bill would cover it.

We have recently had a diving survey carried out on the wreck of the "Richard Montgomery". The results of the survey have been examined by my Department and other interested bodies and we find nothing to alter the earlier decision that we should continue to leave the wreck undisturbed, as this would be the safer course. A team of Ministry of Defence salvage divers carried out the survey both of the wreck and of the seabed around it. The wreck is in two parts and, although rusted, remains generally sound. There is no sign that the explosives are any more dangerous than they have been, and silting inside the hull has increased considerably since the last survey in 1965.

A working party of experts in hydrology and hydrography has concluded after the survey that there is no immediate danger but has recommended that the situation should continue to be closely monitored. I can therefore give the assurance that the risk of spontaneous explosion is receding with the passage of time. The best course is still to leave the wreck undisturbed, but it will be kept under constant review and we are giving consideration to increasing the buoyage of the wreck to protect it from interference and to ensure that shipping is given full warning of the site.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen. South and I were fortunate enough to see the site for ourselves this week when we flew over it at a prudent height by helicopter. It is appropriate to include this site in the legislation and I believe that the Bill will provide an answer which may prove appropriate in the "Richard Montgomery" case which, we trust, will be unique.

I commend the Bill to the House. I thank my hon. Friend for introducing it and I hope that in principle it will receive general support.

12.8 p.m.

Mr. Sprout

I am extremely gratified to find that the Bill has such a large measure of goodwill on both sides of the House and from almost all parties. I was particularly glad to see the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart) with us, particularly after the rather gruelling, not to say grilling, four hours we had last night on the BBC. I had rather expected him to be celebrating his party's performance in Dundee, East. I am sorry that the House did not appreciate his touch of neat wit about the motto of the city of Aberdeen. However, I repeat my pleasure that he was able to come and sponsor the Bill with me.

The right hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Mason) put the situation well when he talked about vandalism, as did the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Dr. David Owen) when he talked about underwater anarchy. I do not think that many members of the public at large realise just what scenes have taken place under water during these last five years. There have been almost unbelievable scenes of physical violence, with all the romantic ingredients of a good television serial.

But—on a rather more serious note—as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) said, in the case of vessels like the "Mary" it is really a question not only of keeping people from satisfying their greed and all the other unpleasant vices which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned but of preserving our national heritage. The point mentioned by the hon. Member for Sutton about boats above high tide was very interesting but naturally my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for State did not want to get involved in something concerned with the Department of the Environment. However, I am sure it is a point we must look at again.

I took the point made by the right hon. Gentleman—I am sure he did not do so deliberately in a pejorative sense —when he linked together the words "adventurers", "wreckers" and "pirates". We should make it clear that there is a big distinction between people who explore these wrecks for love of adventure and those who exploit them in the sense which the right hon. Gentleman suggested, as pirates and wreckers. It was an unfortunate use of the word "adventurers", although that is none of the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility because, having started out as a word to describe people of high spirits whose activities we would wish to encourage, it has come to have the unpleasant connotation of referring to people taking advantage of situations for their own greed.

We ought to emphasise how much we owe to all the people whose sense of adventure leads them to investigate the depths of the ocean. The right hon. Member for Barnsley said that there were about 15,000 members of sub-aqua clubs. We are indebted to them for what, through their sense of adventure, they are discovering for the nation as a whole. A membership of 15,000 may be something of an underestimate. I understand that there may be almost double that number, and no doubt as techniques improve and equipment becomes cheaper there will be an even greater spread of this hobby. It is particularly appropriate that the Bill should be introduced at a time when the hobby is on the increase.

I should not like anybody to think that we were downing those who have a sense of adventure. On the contrary it is something we ought to encourage, and I should hate to think that any Bill which I introduced would have a bad effect on those who undertake this splendid and adventurous hobby.

The hon. Member for Sutton mentioned regional museums, and I am pleased that he introduced this subject into the debate. I am glad to see present the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Faulds), who keeps up his Scottish connections and is always pleased to announce that fact to the House. The hon. Gentleman broadened the debate and made a valuable point about where these collections were to be kept, and I am grateful to him for raising the matter because I am sure that more and more discoveries will be made.

It is possible that museums have not realised just what we may be letting them in for with regard to storage space and so on. I hope that all those in the museum world will take note of what was said by the hon. Member for Smethwick and that the report which he mentioned will find some way of helping this considerable problem, which is likely to increase as time goes by.

The hon. Member for Sutton said that the West Country was particularly interested in this subject because of its long naval tradition. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recognise that that is not the only part of the country which has such a tradition and that we in North-East Scotland would very much like to have a museum there. South Aberdeen, with its long tradition of having a fishing industry, is a particularly appropriate place for it.

The little fishing communities on the east coast of Scotland are under considerable threat due to the discovery of North Sea oil. Because of the natural tendency to maximise job opportunities there is a tendency to brush them aside. Although we are doing all we can to ensure that the environment is not messed about, if I may put it that way, by the maximisation of job opportunities, it is inevitable that that will happen. Hardly a week goes by without a picturesque cottage being knocked down, after great argument, and if oil is discovered off the west coast of Scotland the hon. Member for the Western Isles may have to cope with similar problems. It is therefore particularly appropriate that some sort of maritime museum should be founded in the North-East of Scotland while there are still intact examples of the life of the people of those parts.

Mr. Faulds

There is a small maritime museum in a little church at St. Monan's in Fife. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has been there. There are some remarkable models of ships and it would be tragic if, with the diminution of church congregations—which is happening also in our homeland—they were to disappear. I hope that the proposed maritime museum will include all those marvellous Scottish treasures.

Mr. Sproat

That is an interesting point. I have not visited that church. Fife is one of those small enclaves to which one tends not to go unless one is going specifically to Fife. Only this month a Committee upstairs decided that Fife must not be divided because of the great sense of history felt by the people in that part of the country.

The fishing industry in the North-East of Scotland is still very strong and it employs about 25 per cent. of the men and women in my constituency, but we must expect oil to play an ever-increasing part in the life of the community. There is therefore a danger that old techniques, old boats and old fishing methods will recede from the knowledge of the people.

There is a good case for preserving historic wrecks. We have not located the precise whereabouts of any wrecks in the neighbourhood of my constituency, but I believe that a couple of Spanish galleons went down there in the 1580s and 1590s, one off Colliston and one off Peterhead Bay. One was the "Santa Caterina" and the other was the "Santa Michele", and I am sure that as techniques improve we shall be able to locate them and bring ashore coins and interesting articles such as cannons.

Anyone who has not seen what is brought ashore from old vessels would be astounded at the variety, richness and extraordinary state of preservation of many of the articles that are found. Small buckles, gold buttons and so on are found in an almost perfect state of preservation after all these years, and it would be wonderful if the articles taken from these old vessels could be stored in a museum at Aberdeen.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will use the good offices of his Department to see whether the matter can be looked into further, possibly in conjunction with the Scottish Office. I know that my hon. Friend has undertaken to consult the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries in Scotland and also, presumably, the Secretary of State for Scotland, but this may be something on which further consultation can take place and perhaps result in the kind of museum that has been suggested today.

Mention has been made of incentives for salvors, and my hon. Friend said that his Department would look sympathetically at methods by which such an incentive might be provided. I think we must recognise that many of those who are involved in this business find the present Acts rather restricting. One understands why that must be so if somebody finds a wreck the ownership of which is traceable, but if someone finds a Spanish galleon, legal ownership of which is difficult to establish after hundreds of years, he reports it to the Receiver of Wrecks and he then has to wait a year until it is decided how much it is worth and what must be done with it.

We all appreciate the need for that procedure, but those concerned resent the length of time involved and the general bother to which they are put. One hears—and I do not know how true this is—of many cases in which the strict provision of the Act are not carried out for that reason. If we accept that people feel a slight resentment about the provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, even though we agree that there must be such provisions, we must also recognise that under this measure there is to be imposed what might be called another layer of bureaucracy on top of the layers that already exist.

I recognise that the Bill will add what might fairly be described as a disincentive to fulfil all the provisions of the legislation and that it would be a good thing if we could find a way in which to provide an incentive to encourage people to report wreck sites. However, at the moment there is no way in which that can be done. We must rely on the good will of those who discover the sites. For every reason we should provide the maximum incentive to carry out the law for the benefit of the community. Therefore, I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has promised to look at the sort of incentives that can be given.

A number of interesting and valuable points have been raised, and no doubt we shall have a chance to discuss them in Committee. One matter which I will mention now if only to show that the difficulties are recognised, is that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) about enforceability. I think we are all aware of the great difficulties of enforcement. Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that we are not allowed to spend a great deal of money under the Bill. Any question of special police provisions or special vessels equipped for going out to the various sites is, alas, not possible under the provisions of the Bill. None the less, it is recognised to be a difficult problem and one which we will have to discuss later.

There have been many suggestions about how we can police the Bill. Perhaps I should not say "police" but rather how we can enforce its provisions. My hon. Friend has mentioned Customs officers and Her Majesty's Coastguards. It must also be remembered that with modem and powerful telescopes one can see a a long way out to sea on a clear day. As we are discussing only wrecks that have gone aground or sunk in United Kingdom coastal waters, that is a more powerful deterrent than might be apparent.

There have also been offers, which I am sure we will gladly take up, by British Sub-Aqua Club personnel to police the sites. I am sure that that could be a most valuable contribution. I particularly value the commitments to help that they have given because they were afraid at one time that the measure would in some way limit their ability to dive and continue with their hobby. I hope that their fears have been set at rest. I hope I made it clear earlier that we are not preventing anyone from sailing or bathing or doing anything else within the area of restriction as long as there is no inteference with a wrecked vessel.

I understand that there has been, and there possibly remains, some anxiety about the effects of this legislation upon sub-aqua clubs. Therefore, it is all the more credit to them that they have agreed to help in policing the provisions of the legislation.

Probably our greatest aid in enforcing the provisions of the Bill is that if there is an authorised salvor on the spot looking after his own interests, and the site has been designated and licensed by the Secretary of State, we can be certain that the salvor who has the licence will protect his own interests absolutely. It was a most regrettable situation that existed in the past when competing teams of divers engaged in fighting. I believe that on occasions shots were fired and violence was used. It must have been like something out of a television serial. Under the legislation which we are proposing there would be recourse to law, which did not exist before.

Although there may be contributions from the sub-aqua clubs, by Customs officers and Her Majesty's Coastguard, there is no doubt that the greatest enforceability factor in the situation will be the determination of the salvor, who will have his licence, to protect his own interests.

We have talked this morning almost exclusively about historic wrecks. I emphasise that the provisions about dangerous wrecks, although of a much less wide application, are equally important. I do not know how many wrecks the Secretary of State might wish to designate. It has been suggested that six or seven will be designated. It might be six or seven, it might be none or it might be a dozen; we do not know at the moment. However, it is likely that over the years the number will be fairly considerable, whereas the provisions which at present apply to dangerous wrecks apply only to the ss "Richard Montgomery" which sank in 1944 with 7,000 tons of ammunition on board.

I understand that 3,700 tons has already been excavated—it must have been an extremely difficult operation—and well over 3,000 tons still remain. Although there is no question of the wreck becoming a greater danger, it is most important that the Bill should seek to prevent unauthorised interference with the vessel. It is extraordinary how danger acts as a magnet for people in these cases and how many people will take little boats out to see the "Richard Montgomery". It lies about a mile and a quarter off Sheerness, so it is not necessary to go a very long way to see what it looks like. In fact, even at low tide not very much can be seen. Only a small part of the wreck can be seen above water. Nevertheless, that seems to be enough to titillate curiosity and feelings of danger.

It is necessary to introduce provisions to prevent that sort of thing. I was very surprised, when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I went to have a look at the wreck recently, to see how close ships pass to it. I imagined that they would steer very clear of the wreck, but modern sophisticated and precise navigational equipment ensures that they are safe. I mention this because I should not like it to be thought that the Bill is concerned solely with historic wrecks. It has these dual provisions.

I greatly hope that all the interesting and valuable points which have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House will be given a thorough going over in Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).