HC Deb 04 May 1973 vol 855 cc1656-76


Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

11.54 a.m.

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

Clause 1 empowers the Secretary of State, if he is satisfied that a site in United Kingdom waters is, or may prove to be, that of a wrecked vessel requiring protection on account of its historical archaeological or artistic importance, to designate by order an area round the site as a restricted area, and specifies the acts which, if done in such an area otherwise than under the authority of a licence granted by the Secretary of State, constitute an offence under the Bill.

The clause reflects the anxiety felt in recent years, and which has been commented upon widely in this House over a number of years, that, with the greatly improved diving and underwater exploration equipment now available, vessels which have lain wrecked on the sea bed for many years, and which should be given proper treatment because of their immense importance, historically or for other reasons, are as matters stand at risk from indiscriminate exploration often carried out purely for reasons of commercial gain.

Other countries have had this problem. For example, the Mediterranean is said to have the remains of many ancient ships, and material of priceless value has been ruthlessly exploited and cleared from its bed. I hope to have the opportunity on Third Reading to say how other countries have dealt with the situation. If it had not been for modern techniques and the increasing interest in aqua-lung diving and exploration of the sea bed, many important wrecks would not have been found at all. Although initiative and enterprise must be accorded due credit, it is unfortunately all too true that on certain occasions quick profit-seeking frequently follows discovery and often destroys much which would have been of the greatest importance to posterity.

Examples of ancient wrecks of a type covered by the Bill and found off the coast of Britain are as follows. I shall not go through the whole list, but I should like to mention one or two which seem to me to typify in their different ways what we are trying to preserve and protect.

The first of these vessels is the "Mary Rose", which was a flagship of Henry VIII and was lost as long ago as 1545. Her remains have been found buried in the sea bed at Spithead. The hull and the contents appear to be largely intact and investigations are now continuing. Another example is the "Amsterdam", lost in 1749. The remains of that vessel, which was owned by the Dutch East Indies Company, are lying buried in the sea bed close to the shore at Hastings. Some of the artefacts, including cannon, have already been recovered and the hull and contents appear to be largely intact. That wreck is different from many others in being accessible at very low tides without diving equipment.

Another example is the "Girona". A large number of artefacts, including gold, silver coins and military equipment, have been recovered from that vessel which was part of the Spanish Armada and is lying in the sea bed near the coast of County Antrim in Northern Ireland. These artefacts are now displayed in the Ulster Museum. So far as we can see, the "Girona" has now been cleared of its artefacts.

Another example is that of Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell's squadron. There were five ships in that squadron, namely, HMS "Association", "Romney", "Eagle", "Firebrand" and "Phoenix" which were lost near the Scilly Isles in 1707. A number of artefacts, including cannon, gold and silver coins and silver plate, were recovered from the wreck of the admiral's flagship, HMS "Association". Some artefacts have also been recovered from "Romney" and "Eagle". The wrecks of the other two ships have not yet been located.

Another famous example, which was mentioned at length during the Second Reading debate, was Charles II's Royal yacht "Mary". The remains of the "Mary", which went down in 1675, have been found on the sea bed near Anglesey. Some artefacts, including cannon, coins and jewellery, have already been recovered.

The present position in law with regard to wrecks derives from Part IX of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, which reproduces similar provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act 1854. Of course, it is not surprising to find that the provisions of that age, drafted to deal with the wreck problems of a time long before present-day salvage methods were invented—such as the plundering and stripping of wrecked ships by the local populace—are inadequate and inappropriate to deal with modern problems.

12 noon.

Perhaps I should say how the clause relates to former legislation. I turn first to the origins of the common law on wreck. By common law, from ancient times goods cast ashore following ship-wreck belonged to the Crown, but if anyone escaped alive from a shipwreck or the owner subsequently appeared to claim his property, the Crown's right was lost. In many areas of the coast, the original rights of the Crown to wrecks of this kind were subject to piecemeal grants to lords of the manor and towns.

The right to salvage for saving and keeping wreck was well established by the beginning of the 17th century. Decisions as to ownership and the assessment of a proper reward in cases of dispute appear to have been a matter for justices of the peace, coroners or local courts, according to the circumstances, depending upon who claimed to be entitled to the goods—whether the owner, the Crown or a grantee of rights to unclaimed wreck, being a lord of the manor or a coastal town with a local franchise court.

Anything found at sea, on the other hand, was originally the property of the finder. But as the Admiral's Court became established, exercising jurisdiction over the high seas, including "wreck of the sea", the admiral laid claim to such property in the name of the King. This claim was eventually confirmed by statute. The property claimed by the admiral was in one celebrated case categorised as goods, flotsam, jetsam or lagan. Later, derelict—that is to say, goods found afloat and abandoned on the high seas—was treated as an additional category. It was also established that derelict included property found on the sea bed. But the owner had to have relinquished possession.

To encourage finders to bring in property which they had found on the high seas, the Admiralty Courts paid them salvage but, unless some person appeared to prove his ownership, the goods were condemned as droits of Admiralty. Derelict goods were prima facie droits of Admiralty. A wide class of goods was so condemned.

One passage on the subject states: The droit book of the High Court for the period 1618–1737 is extant, containing particulars of and dealings with all sorts of droits. It shows that every sort of property was claimed and presented as a droit. Ships, ship's gear and cargoes were the most frequent objects; but dead bodies with valuables and money on them … and treasure in wrecks or buried in the sand were not uncommon. Up to the first part of the eighteenth century, what may be called the land jurisdiction, as opposed to the Admiralty jurisdiction, was concerned with common law wreck alone and the Admiralty jurisdiction mainly, if not entirely, with flotsam, jetsam, lagan and derelict. Some of the reported cases are, in effect, demarcation disputes over valuable goods found below high water mark and above low water mark between the proprietor of common law wreck and the admiral claiming the goods as droits.

The claims of the admiral to property liable to be condemned as droits and the claims of proprietors of common law wreck were, however, not easily enforced. The true owners, too, needed protection from depredators. Once ships were close in shore it was to the entire advantage of those on shore that the ship and cargo should become wreck, including those who had rights as grantees from the Crown to unclaimed wreck, salvors who would be entitled to a reward and all whose intention was to plunder without regard to legal rights either of salvage or ownership. So a number of statutes were enacted in the eighteenth century, the first in 1712.

The earliest consolidation Act appears to have been passed in 1846. It repealed earlier statutes. Section V provided: And be it enacted, that all Persons whomsoever who shall find, take up, or be in possession of any Wreck of the Sea, or any Goods Jetsam, Flotsam, Lagan or Derelict, or any Boat, Vessel, Apparel, Anchor, Cable, Tackle, Stores or Materials, or any Goods, Merchandize, or other Article whatsoever, which shall have been found floating or sunk at Sea, or elsewhere in any tidal Water, or cast, thrown, or stranded upon the Shore, and whether the same be found above or below High water Mark, and whether wholly on Land or wholly in the Water, or partly on Land and partly in the Water, or shall find or take possession of any Droit of Admiralty of any Description, whether such Person shall claim to be entitled to such Article or Droit or not, shall forthwith send to the Receiver or to the Collector or Comptroller of Customs at the Port or Place nearest to which such Articles or Droits have been found a Report in Writing of all such Articles or Droits so found, containing an accurate and particular Description of the Marks (if any) thereon, and of the Time and Situation when and where the same were found, and shall also forthwith place such articles or Droits at the Disposal of the said Receiver or Officer of the Customs; and every Officer of the Customs receiving such Report shall forthwith transmit the same to the nearest Receiver, and every Person who shall keep Possession of or retain or conceal or secrete, any such Wreck of the Sea, Jetsam, Flotsam, Lagan, Derelict, Boat, Vessel, Apparel, Anchor, Cable, Tackle, Stores, Materials, Goods, Merchandize, or other Article as aforesaid, or shall deface, take out, or obliterate any Name, Mark or Number thereon, or alter the same in any Manner, or shall keep Possession of or retain, or conceal or dispose of any Droit of Admiralty, or shall not forthwith report and place at the Disposal of such Receiver or Officer of the Customs any such Article or Drqit in the Manner aforesaid, shall forfeit all Claim to Salvage, and shall on Conviction forfeit any Sum not exceeding one hundred Pounds, and also forfeit and pay Double the Value of the Articles to the Owner thereof, if claimed, or to Her Majesty, if the same become or be a Droit of Admiralty; which Double Value may be recovered in the same Manner as a Penalty under this Act. The 1846 Act was superseded by an amending and consolidating Act, the Merchant Shipping Act 1854, and was repealed by the Merchant Shipping Repeal Act 1854. The former Act of 1854 was in turn repealed and substantially replaced by the Merchant Shipping Act 1894. Section 72 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1906 applied certain provisions of the 1894 Act to wreck found outside the limits of the United Kingdom and brought within those limits. The Aircraft (Wreck and Salvage) Order 1938 and the Civil Aviation Act 1949 applied the wreck provisions of the 1894 Act to aircraft and its cargo found derelict at sea, in tidal waters and in ports and harbours.

Under the powers granted by the Hovercraft Act 1968 an Order in Council is in preparation which would make similar provision for hovercraft found derelict. The Sea Fisheries Aot 1968, which repeals and replaces similar provisions of the Sea Fisheries Act 1883, provides that fishing boats or fishing gear lost or abandoned at sea and found within United Kingdom territorial waters or found beyond those waters and brought within them shall be treated as wreck for the purposes of the 1894 Act.

The 1894 Act is very complicated. I have been very struck, in the representations made to me since Second Reading, by the number of persons closely involved in this matter who have no idea what the legal provisions were and how they are affected by what the House will, I hope, agree to today.

Anciently wrecked vessels and their contents as they lie on the sea bed are generally "derelict". At the moment anyone is entitled to dive to them and, having done so, to effect recoveries from them which will then fall to be treated in accordance with Part IX of the 1894 Act. The rights of the original owner or his successors are in suspense but claims to ownership may be established by them to items recovered and brought ashore. The stage at which owners have ceased to have any form of possession or control of a wrecked vessel must remain a question of fact dependent on the circumstances of each case.

Even if a wreck is ancient, there may be exceptional cases where the owner has not surrendered control. This may be so in the case of the famous Tobermory galleon the remains of which are claimed by the Duke of Argyll. At the other end of the scale, in the case of wrecks of recent origin, it may happen that although a vessel has been wrecked and months elapse without any apparent activity to effect recovery, the owners of the vessel and cargo or the underwriters have by no means abandoned it or the prospect of recovering it or part of it.

Some cases will fall between these extremes. For example, the "Tubantia" sank in the North Sea in 1916 and was located and worked on by salvors in 1922 and 1923. Although the salvors had no connection with the Dutch owners or any arrangement with them, the court nevertheless granted the protection of the possession gained by the salvors against interference by interlopers.

The original owners of ancient wreck may be the Crown or the United Kingdom Government, a private person or a foreign Government. An agreement between the legal successor of the original owner and the would-be salvor is sometimes made, as for example in the case of HMS "Association", although it may well be doubted whether such an agreement could in normal circumstances confer exclusive rights to dive and effect recoveries. If that is so, it must be asked what advantage a salvor obtains by making such an agreement. He may, if the agreement transfers title, acquire ownership of the items recovered without waiting for the statutory period of a year for salvage to be paid. We may also know in advance the reward he may expect.

There are cases on record which show that at one time the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport granted licences to dive on ancient wrecks and to recover items irrespective of whether the Crown or a United Kingdom Government Department was the original owner.

The licences carried an entitlement to salvage expressed as a specified percentage of the net proceeds of the sale of the wreck. In these cases it was believed that the Crown had the title to derelict vessels lying on the sea bed in United Kingdom territorial waters. This view may have been influenced by the fact that in two cases the Crown was at war with the original owners at the time of the loss. In other cases where the Crown or a United Kingdom Government Department was not the original owner, the Board of Trade and the Ministry of Transport, with the consent of the Treasury, notified would-be salvors that, in the event of salvage falling to be determined by the Department because items recovered remained unclaimed, the salvage payment would be a specified percentage of the value of the wreck.

In 1965 the Board of Trade was advised that it should not be taken to be a principle of United Kingdom law that all ancient wrecks lying in United Kingdom territorial waters were vested in the Crown, as they lie irrespective of their original ownership. Instead the Crown is entitled by the provisions of the 1894 Act to the proceeds of any wreck recovered if no owner establishes his claim within a year after the wreck has come into the possession of the Receiver of Wreck.

It followed that licences to dive on such wrecks had no validity and would not keep others persons away. It will be noted that this advice did not preclude the Department from notifying a would-be salvor, as in the cases I have mentioned, that a certain percentage of the salvage award would be paid in the event of the salvage falling to be determined by the Board of Trade if wreck recovered were unclaimed.

From 1965 onwards this policy was not followed, on the grounds that it was unwise to prejudice the appropriate award before the value of the property recovered was known and that high awards in such cases might become the general rule for all unclaimed wreck recovered from sunken vessels. Accordingly, subsequent cases were dealt with on the basis that the salvage award would be determined when the net proceeds of the sale of unclaimed wreck were unknown.

In the case of "de Liefde", a Dutch East Indiaman wrecked off the Outer Skerries in 1711, the Dutch Government established its claim to ownership of the bulk of the finds and salvage was determined by an agreement between the Dutch Government and the British salvors. In the case of the "Girona", a Spanish Armarda galleass which was located by Mr. Stenuit off the coast of Northern Ireland, the salvor, while notifying the receiver of his finds, refused to deliver the property recovered on the grounds that much of it was the personal property of the passengers and crew and therefore not wreck. The opinion of counsel taken in this case was that this view would not be upheld in the courts.

12.15 p.m.

The salvor has now delivered the property into the receiver's custody on being assured of a certain scale of salvage award in the event of the property remaining unclaimed. With the HMS "Association", wrecked off the Isles of Scilly in 1707, the Ministry of Defence has made non-exclusive agreements with two groups of salvors concerning property which can be identified as belonging to the Ministry.

Items which cannot be so identified, comprising largely gold and silver coins, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell's silver plate and other artefacts, fall to be treated as unclaimed wreck. Two public auctions of the unclaimed property have already been held and salvage has been paid. The remains of the "Amsterdam" lie buried in the foreshore near Hastings. Certain artefacts have been recovered and delivered into the receiver's custody. The Dutch Government has announced its intention of making a claim to ownership. The foreshore where the wreck lies buried is the property of the Hastings Corporation whose byelaws control access by vehicles to the site. The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports has the right to unclaimed wreck, whether common law wreck or Admiralty droits, in this area but has agreed that the receiver will administer them on his behalf.

In these cases it has been the normal practice for the Receiver of Wrecks or the Board of Trade to consult appropriate museums regarding the conservation of artefacts in the receiver's custody. Objects of no great intrinsic value or bulky objects such as cannon have been lent to museums when security permits for preservation, study or display to the public.

I come now to the question of the rights of salvors in possession. It was established in the case of the "Tubantia" that a salvor who could show that he was in possession of a derelict vessel and its contents lying on the sea bed might in certain circumstances obtain a High Court injunction restraining other salvors from interfering with his operations. Mr. Stenuit obtained an opinion of the Northern Ireland court to this effect in an action concerning the "Girona". A similar action has been initiated by Mr. Roland Morris to restrain the Lyonesse Salvage Company from interfering with the wrecks of the "Association" and the "Romney". An ex-parte injunction was granted in the latter case but after a full hearing the application was refused.

As I have demonstrated, there is provision in the Act for the custody and proper disposal of items recovered from wrecks and also for preventing plunder and disorder. In the case of newly-wrecked vessels where lives and property are in danger, there is provision for protecting the carrying out of rescue work and the receiver's functions. There is no provision for preventing disorder or conferring protection in the case of derelicts lying on the sea bed of possibly great value not only in terms of money but in terms of historical, archaeological or artistic interest.

Cases have already occurred where explosives have been used under water to effect the recovery of valuables quickly, regardless of possible damage to other important remains on the sea bed in the area. Indeed, fighting between rival salvors has occurred over at least one wreck of great historical importance, namely, the "Mary Rose". That was discussed at considerable length during Second Reading. It is in consequence of the considerable pressure of opinion which has arisen that wrecks of that kind should be properly dealt with as part of our national heritage that this short Bill has been introduced.

It has been fully realised in the long term that there must be revision of Part IX of the 1894 Act, which, as the House knows, runs to 61 Sections. A committee, which is representative of all interests affected, has that matter under consideration. In the meantime, some degree of statutory protection is urgently required. I think that the committee agrees with this.

I now turn to Clause 1 and to one or two rather more detailed matters. Clause 1(1) provides: If the Secretary of State is satisfied with respect to any site in United Kingdom waters that (a) it is, or may prove to be, the site of a vessel lying wrecked on or in sea bed; and (b) on account of the historical archaeological or artistic importance of the vessel, or of any objects contained or formerly contained in it which may be lying on the sea bed in or near the wreck, the site ought to be protected from unauthorised interference, he may by Order designate an area round the site as a restricted area. The words "United Kingdom waters" are defined in Clause 3(1) to mean— any part of the sea within the seaward limits of United Kingdom territorial waters and includes any part of a river within the ebb and flow of ordinary spring tides". The words "the sea" are defined as including— any estuary or arm of the sea; and references to the sea bed include any area submerged at high water of ordinary spring tides". Thus, the power to designate areas does not extend beyond the outer boundary of the territorial waters of England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. It does, however, extend to areas which are generally termed "the foreshore". As I have already mentioned, the site of the "Amsterdam", lying close to low water mark in the sands off Hastings, could be designated under the Bill if the Secretary of State so decided.

The expressions on or in the sea bed' and objects contained or formerly contained in —that is, in the vessel—take account of the fact that the remains of a vessel wrecked possibly centuries ago and of its equipment, such as antique brass cannons or cargo, and personal possessions of the passengers and crew, such as coins and jewellery recovered from the "Girona", which are now on exhibition at the Ulster Museum, had become scattered over the sea floor following the gradual disintegration over the years of the vessel.

Of course, such objects frequently become buried in the process. It is for that reason that it is necessary to take power to designate, and so to subject to the restrictions which follow, an area round the site of the wrecked vessel, as well as what might be termed the specific site itself.

Subsection (2) requires orders to identify the site where the vessel lies or formerly lay or is supposed to lie or have lain. As I have already said, a wrecked vessel may disintegrate with the passage of the years. Also, where the Secretary of State has to deal, as provided in subsection (1), with a site which "may prove to be" that of a vessel, the evidence before him will no doubt be factual and sufficient to justify designation but may fall short of the visible presence of a vessel on the sea bed. Both those eventualities require to be covered by the enabling power.

The subsection goes on to provide that the restricted area designated in the order must not include any area above high water mark, that it must all be within such distance of the site as is fixed and specified in the order, and that that distance is to be such as the Secretary of State may fix as appropriate to ensure protection for the wreck.

Subsection (3) lists the acts which will constitute offences if done in a restricted area otherwise than under the authority of a licence granted by the Secretary of State. The first is tampering with, damaging or removing any part of a vessel lying wrecked on or in the sea bed, or any object formerly contained in such a vessel. The second is carrying out diving or salvage operations directed to exploring any wreck or to removing objects from it or from the sea bed, or using diving or salvage equipment. The third is depositing, so as to fall and lie abandoned on the sea bed, anything which if falling on the site of a wreck would either wholly or partly obliterate the site, obstruct access to it, or damage any part of the wreck.

The subsection also makes it an offence to cause or permit such acts to be done by others in such an area and otherwise than under licence.

Regard has been had in the framing of these offences to ensuring that restriction of activities in designated areas is not more than is reasonably necessary to pro- vide adequate protection for the wreck and for authorised work to be carried out upon it. It will be seen that ordinary navigation, which includes anchoring, fishing and bathing in the area remain lawful. If I am fortunate to catch Mr. Speaker's eye on Third Reading I shall refer to fishing, which is of considerable interest to my constituents. I emphasise, with specific regard to Clause 1, that fishing remains lawful subject only to the provisions relating to obstruction.

Under Clause 3(3), acts done to deal with an emergency or in the exercise of statutory functions or in any other specified circumstances are not to be offences under the Bill.

With regard to exploratory diving and the use of diving equipment, it was decided, after careful consultation, that its prohibition, in what will, it is expected, be in few and comparatively small areas, would be necessary to ensure proper protection. I hope the Committee will agree that in the circumstances that is not unreasonable.

Subjection (4) requires that the Secretary of State, before making a designation order, must consult persons whom he considers to be appropriate. When my hon. Friend comes to reply he may explain the law on that matter. I understand that the Secretary of State is required to consult such people unless he is satisfied that the making of an order is a matter of immediate urgency. I am sure that the Committee will agree that that is only common sense. It must be remembered that the Bill deals not only with vessels of historical, artistic or archaeological value but with dangerous wrecks.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer (Louth)

I apologise for missing the first two or three minutes of my hon. Friend's speech. I should like to know exactly what happens now if a ship goes down which is different from what will happen as a result of what he is putting forward. Let us say that a ship goes down in the Channel: what happens now and what will happen in future?

12.30 p.m.

Mr. Sproat

I do not think my hon. Friend quite means that. Perhaps if he reads HANSARD tomorrow he will correct his syntax. It is because there are no effective powers at the moment that we are seeking to provide them, and, in particular, to deal with the provisions about dangerous wrecks.

In normal cases it is proposed that higher consultation should take place with archaeologists, representatives of museums—including the National Maritime Museum and the corresponding Scottish, Northern Ireland and Welsh institutions—the British Sub-Aqua Club and commercial salvage interests. It is proposed that the chairman of the advisory group should be available to give prompt advice if there is a need for immediate action so that designation, if required, can take place immediately. The Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh Departments and harbour authorities would be consulted if a site were within their areas. There would also be consultation with the appropriate Departments if sites were in lobster or scallop fishing areas or recognised dumping grounds.

Subsection (5) deals with the licences to be granted by the Secretary of State in respect of restricted areas for the purposes of subsection (3). They are required to be in writing and are to be confined to persons appearing to the Secretary of State either, first, to be competent, and properly equipped, to carry out salvage operations in a manner appropriate to the historical, archaeological or artistic importance of the wreck in question and objects contained, or formerly contained, in it, or, secondly, to have legitimate reason to carry on activities in the restricted area which would be unlawful under the Bill unless done under the authority of a licence.

Sub-paragraph (i) provides for what may be generally described as the main or principle licence under which the essential work of salvage involving proper and careful treatment appropriate to the wrecked vessel and its contents will be entrusted to suitable persons. Sub-paragraph (ii) is intended to cover cases where, making due allowance for what has to be done to conserve the wreck, it is necessary or reasonable to allow other unconnected operations to be carried out in the area, with appropriate safeguards. Examples of such cases might be salvage operations necessary to recover another vessel or cargo from it in the rather unlikely event of its sinking in a restricted area, and also the possibly more probable case of diving operations for the taking of fish from the sea bottom.

The subsection goes on to provide that licences may be granted subject to conditions or restrictions, and for their variation or revocation on not less than one week's notice to the licensee. It also provides that the breach of a condition or restriction in a licence is to be treated for the purposes of subsection (3)—which deals with offences—as done otherwise than under the authority of the licence.


Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

About time.

Mr. Sproat

I do not think the hon. Gentleman was present when we debated this on Second Reading. If he had taken a closer interest in the last stage of the Bill I should have been more willing to accept criticism from him.

Mr. Hamling

I was away on other business at the time of the Second Reading of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is aware of the close interest that I have taken in this matter all through the debates on it.

Mr. Sproat

I know that, and that is why I particularly mentioned the Second Reading debate. I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest, and it would have been more courteous if he had followed the progress of the Bill more closely. Had he done so, I should have been more willing to accept criticism from him. I take this matter very seriously.

From the representations which I have received over the last two months it is clear that there is a great deal of misunderstanding and ignorance about this issue, and it is important to get on the record exactly what is the legal position.

Subsection (6) deals with the obstruction of authorised operations. It is made an offence, subject to Clause 3(3), for a person to obstruct or cause to permit to be obstructed any person who is authorised by licence under the clause to carry out diving or salvage operations in the doing of anything authorised by that licence.

If the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) would like to comment on that, he can do so.

Mr. Kamling

It is not for the hon. Gentleman to tell me—or any other hon. Member—whether I am or am not permitted to comment on the Bill. The conduct of the debate is in the hands of the Chair, and we want no advice from the hon. Gentleman on how the debate is to be conducted.

Having listened to a speech lasting for about 41 minutes on the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill", I began to wonder whether the hon. Gentleman wanted to talk out his own measure. The bulk of what he said ought to have been discussed on Second Reading and was not, in my view, a matter to be raised at this stage of the Bill.

Notwithstanding that, I do not propose to detain the Committee for long because following this Bill there is an important measure dealing with heating for the elderly and I do not want to hold that up. I do not want to prevent the House from discussing it. I began to wonder whether the hon. Gentleman had some consideration at the back of his mind other than that of getting his Bill through. I began to wonder whether, by speaking at such length, someone might want to prevent the Heating for the Elderly Bill from being discussed, but that is perhaps supposition.

I know how helpful both the Minister and his Department have been on this matter. May I ask what progress has been made on the setting up of an advisory committee and whether the Minister has in mind some distinguished person who might be willing to act as chairman of the committee?

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

I do not want to be drawn into an argument between my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), but perhaps I may seek to arbitrate. I am sure that the House has ample time available today to discuss as much of its business as it wishes to.

When a Bill is expected to go to a Standing Committee upstairs, and, as a result, the arguments which might be advanced on Second Reading are left to be considered in Committee by those who are known to have a close and continuing interest in the matter, and it is then found that the Bill comes on to the Floor of the House for its Committee stage, I do not think the sponsor of the Bill should be condemned because he sets out in a meticulous and perhaps painstaking way what would have been discussed at some length in Committee upstairs.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

I am the sponsor of the next Bill to be considered by the House. I think that if an hon. Member adopts the device of taking the Committee stage of his Bill on the Floor of the House it might be courteous of him to pay some regard to the fact that he is pre-empting the time of other hon. Members who have been lucky in the Ballot. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) might have had the courtesy to bear that in mind and restrict his remarks.

Mr. Onslow

That again is a matter between the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South, and not one in which I wish to take sides. However, I think that the hon. Member for York is asking for an excessive amount of courtesy between hon. Members. It might be said that if a Bill takes a long time in Standing Committee it is holding up other Bills waiting consideration by that Committee and that the hon. Member who is sponsoring it should stand up in the House at Business Time and make an apology. I do not think it would be profitable to allow ourselves to be drawn into a debate on parliamentary etiquette, because we are here to consider something quite different.

I think that it was justified of my hon. Friend to remind the Committee at the outset of the historic articles which we are here seeking to provide with protection. My hon. Friend's rehearsal of the legal history was about as evocative as anything that I have heard. It seemed to me that the Chamber was filled not only with the sound of the sea but with the ghosts of Sir Francis Drake and other eminent parliamentarians of that day and with the echo of the protests to which some of the earlier legislation on wrecks must have given rise in the parts of the country where wrecking was the principal local industry. I have no intention of following my hon. Friend except to comment briefly on one or two of the points made by him and to answer, as it is right that I should, the question asked by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West.

I think it is generally accepted as necessary that this legislation should be introduced. It is also, I am sure, understood that the time cannot be indefinitely deferred when there should be full revision of Part IX of the 1894 Act. Perhaps my hon. Friend will take it a compliment from me, as it is certainly meant to be, that he can claim to have won pole position in the race for a Committee which considers whatever legislation is introduced to amend the Act.

However, I am in no doubt at all that the legislation he is sponsoring and has spoken to today is necessary, is generally seen to be necessary, and is generally supported by the public. In spelling out its terms with some care my hon. Friend can justifiably claim that it is of the greatest importance that there should be no misunderstanding on the part of those who may find themselves brought into a different position vis-à-vis the law from that which they have hitherto occupied because some of those concerned have in the past shown some sign of not being particularly concerned with what the law actually says, and it is because of their piratical activities that it is necessary that we should legislate. I believe it is extremely important that they understand what the impact of this legislation is, because we do not want to find that its introduction is followed by a number of cases being brought against offenders claiming that they did not understand the effect of the law.

If these cases have to be brought they can only be brought as a consequence of further damage to the historical articles that we seek to protect, and I am prepared at the price of a few moments on the Floor of the Committee, to see these proposals explained to save from further damage articles of irreplaceable value which lie on the sea bed of our coasts of this country.

I hope that my hon. Friend will take it from me that I, and, I think, the whole House have great sympathy with what he seeks to do.

It is correct that we should also make clear that neither the House nor the Secretary of State will be acting, when it comes time to act, without the best possible advice being made available. My hon. Friend has pointed out that under Clause 1 the Secretary of State is required to consult appropriate persons before making a designation order. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West asked for elaboration of this point. I think it was made clear on Second Reading that we intend to establish an advisory committee consisting of experts in the various fields concerned and representative of a wide variety of interests, and that this committee should be under an independent chairman.

I am now glad to be able to tell the House that Lord Runciman has agreed to take on this task, and I am sure that there will be agreement that there could be no one better. He is a very distinguished former chairman of the trustees of the National Maritime Museum; he has a wide interest in maritime affairs; and he takes interest in, as well as having great knowledge of, nautical history. I feel we have been extremely fortunate in securing the services of so eminent and obviously non-partisan a man to take on this task.

It is a quite considerable task which will fall to him. It is right that it should be made clear precisely what duties will be devolved by the Secretary of State to the experts whose advice he will seek. It is our intention that the committee should consist of persons distinguished in fields of archaeology, representative of the commercial and other interests affected, the Hydrographer of the Navy, the Directors of the Science and National Maritime Museums, and two experts on coins and cannon from the British Museum. The national museums of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would also be consulted on sites in their areas. The Department will be free to consult other interests and Departments as necessary.

This I have explained to Lord Runciman in inviting him to take on this task, and he has agreed it is reasonable. I also explained to him that the committee would not be a statutory body, and fees would not be payable for the services of its members, but reasonable out of pocket expenses would be met.

12.45 p.m.

The composition of the committee may be varied with the chairman's agreement if circumstances require it, and clearly, to relieve perhaps embarrassment, it would have no duties in relation to the dangerous wrecks provisions in the Bill, where obviously, matters of public interest rather than any historical considerations, would determine decisions.

We hope that the full committee might meet only once or twice a year, the day-to-day work being undertaken by a subcommittee consisting of the chairman, four representatives from museums and representatives of archaeology and diving interests concerned with a site under consideration.

The Department will provide secretarial assistance and as much information as possible relating to the wreck site. We envisage that only about half a dozen sites would be designated at the outset; the number might increase as new sites were discovered, but it is unlikely to exceed 24 in the first few years.

The intention to designate a named site would be advertised and time allowed for consideration of objections. When the need for immediate designation precluded advertisement of intention, a designation order would be made immediately but could be revoked in the light of any representation arising.

In case hon. Gentlemen feel we have had time to consider the matter and so should be able to say what would be the top priority for a designation order, I think that on reflection they may agree that we must depend on the advice of the committee. Although we would have recommendations to put to it ultimately, what we do will depend upon what it advises that we should do in these cases. I think something like the "Mary Rose" is a fairly obvious example of a candidate for designation.

To complete the explanation of the committee's functions, the advisory committee and its chairman would be called upon to consider any objections received either in response to a notice of the Secretary of State's intention to designate or to an order made as a matter of urgency. The committee would be asked to advise whether licences should be granted for salvage operations and what conditions should be attached to such licences for the protection of the archaeological value of a designated site.

If the Bill is enacted substantially in its present form here and in another place it will be an acceptable basis upon which we would hope to proceed, and I hope the House will agree that it is a most reasonable basis upon which to proceed.

There is little else I can add. It may be that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West would like to come back on Third Reading to what I have said, but, in any case, I have given the House a fairly full account of the way in which we see the Bill working. There may be one or two refinements which might be introduced in relation to the consultation procedure, but nothing which would be in any way in conflict with the spirit of the Bill or the way in which it is at present drafted, and with that I recommend this clause to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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