HC Deb 04 April 1979 vol 965 cc1360-75

Order for Second Reading read.

5.32 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Kenneth Marks)

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

There are 65 clauses and five schedules in the Bill. I know that normally the House would take a day to debate it on Second Reading and would discuss it in some detail in Committee. I have been reminded by the usual channels that another place would like to receive it fairly early so that it may receive Royal Assent. I intend to be reasonably brief. We hope to complete the remaining stages fairly quickly.

The Bill is a long-awaited measure. It consolidates and amends legislation on ancient monuments that goes back to 1882. The principal Act dates from 1913. There has been subsequent amending legislation. The legislation is now fragmented and in need of modernisation.

The Bill is based on existing principles but brings their application up to date and makes them more effective. It also introduces new powers to meet situations unknown to earlier legislators, notably in respect of rescue archaeology. We believe that it strikes an acceptable balance between the need to preserve, or at least to record, our heritage and the requirements of developers, landowners, farmers, mineral operators and others whose business must inevitably involve a measure of archaeological damage. The Bill received a warm welcome on both sides of the Chamber in another place. Explanations and assurances given there and outside have resulted in the Bill coming to us substantially unamended.

Part I deals with the preservation of monuments. The main changes include the introduction of a consent procedure not unlike listed building consent for the present notification of proposed works to scheduled monuments. It will replace the rather cumbersome and unsatisfactory arrangements of interim preservation notices and preservation orders, the only means now available to stop someone wishing to carry out works that would damage or destroy a scheduled monument.

Under the new consent procedures, special arrangements have been worked out with the National Farmers' Union and others in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to avoid interference with normal methods of cultivation wherever these would not damage a scheduled monument. There is also a wide power to enter into management arrangements in appropriate circumstances.

The preservation of ancient monuments has long been assisted by the giving of grants, and that will continue. Beyond that it has been necessary for the State or local authorities to assume responsibility for selected monuments by guardianship or by outright acquisition. There are now 839 monuments in State care under the present legislation. These arrangements will continue under the Bill, especially the arrangement of voluntary guardianship, which enables the State to maintain and manage a monument while leaving its ownership undisturbed. That arrangement will be retained.

The power of compulsory guardianship, however, has proved unsatisfactory. It will be replaced by a power of compulsory acquisition exercisable only by the Secretary of State. That procedure will never be used, except when it is the only way of securing the preservation of a monument. The compulsory power will extend to the acquisition of neighbouring management land in the interests of either the monument or the locality in which it is situated. The great increase in visitors to monuments makes it necesary to have that power available as a last resort.

Part II breaks new ground in the interests of rescue archaeology. It provides limited statutory opportunities for archaeological investigation, including excavation, in designated areas of archaeological importance prior to development or redevelopment. So far archaeologists have been dependent on the voluntary co-operation of developers. We shall expect them to continue in that way wherever possible. However, experience has shown that some developers will not give access to their sites even for observation. In other instances the opportunities proffered have been woefully inadequate, so that vital knowledge of our past has been lost for ever.

Bearing in mind the increased pace and scale of modern development, some statutory safeguards are now needed. Archaeological areas will be designated selectively. They will not be entirely restricted to urban areas but they will be concentrated largely in the centres of the historic towns.

There will be a six-month period before a designation becomes effective to allow developers to take account of existing contracts. Once the designation is effective a developer could be subject to a maximum of six months' delay on a cleared site, of which four and a half months will be the maximum period allowed for excavation.

We take the view that wherever a site of high potential is thus to be developed in a manner which will destroy its archaeological value, it is right that the developer should allow an opportunity for rescue investigations and that he should not be paid compensation for that delay. In some countries a developer is required to meet the cost of the excavation. We do not propose to do that. Compensation will be payable for damage to the site resulting from the archaeologists' activities.

Exemptions will be granted to enable ordinary life to continue in designated areas. Beyond that, the Government have shown themselves ready to enter into special arrangements where these can be mutually beneficial. A code of practice, which we understand to be acceptable, is being negotiated with the Confederation of British Industry to cover operations for the extraction of minerals.

I shall not detail the House long on Part III, but some of the provisions may need some explanation. Clause 42 forbids the use of metal detectors without consent at protected monuments and archaeological sites. The need for that restriction, which is no more than a necessary extension of the powers and duties to protect our archaeological heritage, arises from the recent hobby of treasure hunting with the aid of electronic detectors. That may be an innocent past-time, but in irresponsible hands these devices can lead to irreparable damage and loss of knowledge.

Clause 53 takes power to schedule ancient monuments in territorial waters such as, for example, the Solent forts. Although this could extend to submerged wrecks, and there could exceptionally be a case where such action would be appropriate, the prime responsibility for historic wrecks rests with the Department of Trade under the 1973 Act. The designation of a wreck under that Act will take precedence. Archaeological areas will not be designated at sea. Although there is no statutory bar to expenditure of rescue archaeology funds on investigations at sea, I should make it clear that my Department has no present intention of taking on this responsibility, which may largely be controlled elsewhere and for which we do not have the necessary resources.

Clause 54 enables an archaeologist who has made a find in the course of a statutory investigation or inspection to retain it temporarily for conservation and recording, although the rights of the owner will not be permanently affected.

The Bill also provides the opportunity for some necessary historic buildings legislation to regularise the Government's contribution to the architectural heritage fund and to provide for the recovery of historic building grants in certain circumstances.

I should perhaps say a word about the ancient monuments boards of England, Scotland and Wales. First, I express the gratitude of the Government, and I am sure of the archaeological world, for the invaluable and independent advice of these bodies since their inception in 1913. Althtough the Bill makes clear that decisions affecting the rights of citizens must at the end of the day be made by a Minister answerable to Parliament, the rule of the ancient monuments boards is in no way diminished by this Bill. Clause 22 provides that they have a right to advise the Secretary of State about any of his functions under the Bill and specifically lists certain potentially sensitive issues on which their advice will be positively looked for. I may add that if the board asked to be consulted about every case in any of these categories, we should be happy to comply with that request. The boards' annual reports must be laid before Parliament. They are, of course, free to publish their advice on any particular matter at any time.

In conclusion, I emphasise that the financial effects of the Bill are likely to be insignificant, as much of it simply replaces one set of procedures for another.

Although the provisions in Part II are new, there has been considerable expenditure on rescue archaeology for many years. The Bill does not of itself affect the level of that expenditure. The financial implications of the Bill for local authorities, too, will also be minimal, although effective use of the proposed discretionary powers may in some cases be dependent on a limited increase in professional staff.

I make no apology for the fact that one of the last matters before this Parliament should be a measure about ancient monuments. The Bill makes better provision for preserving our past, or at least our knowledge of the past, for the future. I commend it warmly and ask the House to give it a Second Reading.

5.44 pm.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

I am delighted to follow the Minister and pay him a warm compliment. I think he presented one of the best Bills of this Parliament. Perhaps it is not altogether inappropriate that one of the Government's last actions should be to present the Ancient Monuments and Archeological Areas Bill. However, I shall not pursue that point.

It is sad—I am sure the Minister will agree—that this is almost our first debate on the heritage in this Parliament. I do not believe that we have our priorities entirely right in this matter. This is an admirable consolidation measure, which commends itself to everyone who has these matters close to his heart.

Concern has been expressed in some heritage quarters. This morning I spoke to the chairman of the Save Britain's Heritage campaign. He expressed concern about the effects of clause 14, which touches upon the termination of guardianship. It refers to monuments where guardianship is to be terminated. Subsection (3) (b) contains the words: that it is no longer practicable to preserve it"— that it, the monument— (whether because of the cost of preserving it or otherwise). Some of us are slightly concerned about the precise procedure to be followed when termination is contemplated. I ask the Minister to give us an assurance on that point. If there were contention about termination of guardianship, which may lead to the destruction of a monument. I should like to think that there would always be public notice of the intention. The public notice should specify the proper time in which all interested parties may make their observations. If there is real anxiety voiced from many quarters, a public inquiry should be held. The Secretary of State should have power to deal with those matters. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the Government intend that that procedure will be followed if a monument is threatened.

The sense of the debate in the other place when this measure was discussed was that most designated areas would tend to be urban. Indeed, many would be urban areas. However, I should like an assurance from the Minister that designated areas may indeed be rural. I read the Bill in this way. I know that the Council for British Archaeology has a little anxiety on that point. I would welcome it being spelt out from the Dispatch Box that designated areas may be rural areas and that there is nothing to weight the Bill in favour of urban as against rural areas.

I now refer to the code to be worked out with the CBI. I am all for voluntary codes. I welcome the fact that the problem will be dealt with in that way. I stress that there is concern that the code should be stringent. We do not want valuable monuments and sites to be endangered because the code does not lay down a sufficiently stringent procedure.

This is a long and detailed measure. Many years of careful thought and study lie behind its production. It is admirable that we should end this Parliament with a Bill that is so well thought out and drawn up, and so non-contentious. In future it will be looked upon as a monument of legislation to preserve monuments. I am delighted that it was presented. I am glad that it was rescued when it appeared briefly in jeopardy last week after last Wednesday's vote.

5.48 p.m.

Mr. John Parker (Dagenham)

I support the Bill. I declare an interest as I am a member of the inland waterways amenities advisory council. It is perturbed about the descheduling of monuments along the canals.

Canals form a feature of the enjoyment of our leisure time. People going along the canals enjoy seeing the monuments. In some cases the monuments may be restored to decent condition and add to the amenities of the canals and the countryside. There is a fear that clause 4, which provides for descheduling, might lead to some of the buildings that were constructed for industrial purposes along the canals being thoughtlessly destroyed. We should like an undertaking that when a building is descheduled there is a chance of a public notification and, if controversial, that at least the ancient monuments boards should have a chance of considering the matter and making recommendations.

Although much of the legislation now on the statute book has been there for a long time, many of the scheduled buildings have disappeared without anybody being aware. We want to preserve our monuments. We want a satisfactory procedure through which the public and interested bodies may be informed when descheduling or the removal of protection of a building will take place, so that representations may be made to the relevant Government Department or Ministry, and so that if there is controversy about a monument, advice may be taken and, if necessary, an order brought before the House and discussed. Therefore, I should like to have some discussion about descheduling, how the Government look at the future of it and how it will work in practice.

5.50 p.m.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

The few hon. Members who have spoken seem to have been well briefed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because some of the points I intended to mention have already been raised.

I am particularly concerned with clause 1(6), in which, at line 35, there is reference to the local authority in whose area the monument is situated, of the action taken and so on. This reference to local authorities, parish councils, and so on, follows the point to which the Minister referred when he talked about consultation with the ancient monuments boards.

Local authorities and conservation bodies—there are some very able ones in this country—want to have prior information when a monument is to be excluded from the schedule or, conversely, when something is to be included. Although I accept that, according to the schedule, advertising is to take place in the usual way, I am not sure that this area is adequately covered by the Bill.

There is a parish council in my constituency whose chairman has personally undertaken the repair of an ancient monument. The monument concerned could very easily have been descheduled—£and no one would have known anything about it—if the chairman had not taken a personal interest in it, undertaking the mortaring of the stonework, and so on. This shows that in some instances parish councils are prepared to step in where Governments and other bodies are not prepared to do so.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) referred to clause 14. I have recent knowledge of a termination of guardianship at Appuldurcombe House on the Isle of Wight, which is related to the Worsley family. The Department of the Environment announced its intention of withdrawing the custodian. He happened to be a superb person who had taken a great interest in the house and created a great deal of public interest in visiting it. He was about to be withdrawn when the local authorities got together. I hope that, as a result of the consultations with the Department, his services will be retained by means of contributions from the local authorities. Clearly, then, there must be consultation in all these matters.

We have had representation from the Association of County Councils to the effect that there will be some financial implications for county councils. The association has noted the change in the wording of the introduction to the Bill. It is thought that this will cost county councils rather more than has been indicated, and the association is seeking some assurance that there will be compensation for them. I hope that the Minister will say something on that subject before we conclude the Second Reading debate.

5.53 p.m.

Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

So rapidly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are events moving today that I owe an apology to the Minister for not being able to hear him make his speech at the outset of the debate. Obviously, I was aware of the spirit of the Bill and am strongly in favour of it, as have been the other hon. Members who have spoken.

The City of London is, I think, now the most important archaeological site in Europe, and therefore I declare a constituency interest in saying a few words about it. The movement of the Billingsgate market to the West India docks has involved a major archaeological development, and it could well take up to three years for the work to be fully done. It is not the market building which offers the opportunity, for obviously the deep-freeze arrangements and the basement arrangements have long since disturbed the archaeological sub-strata immediately beneath the buildings. But the lorry park, which adjoins the buildings, is a site of major importance, just as the whole of the bank of the Thames in the City of London has been in recent years.

We are lucky that, of the whole area of the City, about 25 per cent, has not been deep-basemented, and therefore the really exciting archaeological opportunities are still ahead of us. The archaeologists believe that, out of that 25 per cent., they will be able to piece together a very clear picture of the occupation of the City of London which has gone on for 2,000 years.

The unit that operates, under the City corporation, in terms of rescue archaeology in the City is the largest in the country. We are lucky that by chance it is led by a man who was a business man before he became an archaeologist. He has been extremely successful in working with individual developers in the City and in persuading them not only to delay the movement of their own plans but also to finance the archaeological work being done.

I pay tribute to the Department of the Environment for the massive assistance that it has given to the City corporation, and to the unit, in terms of the work that is being done. I am very much in favour of the Bill and of what the Department is doing in my constituency in support of this work.

I should like to say a brief word on behalf of the City of London branch of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. The institution obviously made comments at the time of the consultative document which preceded the Bill. The City of London branch did not make representations, as the institution was itself already making them, although the branch obviously had the opportunity of seeing the institution's comments. The branch, which has about 1,600 members of the RICS, is inevitably one with a great deal of expertise in relation to the whole development area.

Before the Bill is enacted, I should like to record the fact that there is concern that the really extraordinarily amicable and co-operative relations that exist between the developers and the archaeologists might be disturbed by the introduction of statutory controls such as those which the Bill encompasses.

Secondly, there is concern because the monuments are not merely of national but of European importance. I said earlier that in my view it is the most important archaeological site in Europe. There is a feeling that, although compensation will be available in some circumstances, it will not be available in others. I wonder whether the question can be looked at, since these are sites and monuments of such importance. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether compensation might be available from the national Exchequer for the individual developer.

The third misgiving, which relates to the other activities of the City of London, is that the statutory delays, which are inherent in part II of the Bill, pose something of a threat to development within the City of London. Frequently, the client who is to be the end user of the development, which is being done by someone on an individual basis, is unhappy about the amount of delay that might be involved. The clients are often international organisations which have the option of going to Paris, Frankfurt or Brussels instead. Therefore, there is concern that the introduction of statutory delays may upset the process of development.

Those are, I believe, sensitive and informed comments from a particular area of expertise within my constituency. Having drawn attention to them, I repeat that I am strongly in favour of the Bill. I am delighted that this Parliament should be seeking to enact it before we go our several ways.

5.59 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Jones (Daventry)

On behalf of the Opposition, I join in the warm welcome to the Bill expressed from the Opposition Benches. The Bill brings together a great deal of previous legislation in an increasingly important field of interest and endeavour. It is only by search and by inquiry that we can study the wealth of our heritage, and great steps have been accomplished in recent years in that respect. The subject is being continually investigated and new discoveries revealed.

The protection of our heritage is a subject which is of great interest. It is widely supported. The number of people who visit historic sites, historic houses and National Trust properties is a clear indication of the widespread interest on the part of our own people and visitors to this country.

I recently had the privilege of chairing one of the Select Committee inquiries into the national land fund. We warmly welcomed the Government's response. In their White Paper they accept many of the recommendations that were made by the Select Committee. In fact, the Government adopted the title that we proposed—"The National Heritage Fund".

It is a useful step forward that we should be able to provide facilities to discover and evaluate. These additional facilities should be provided for those who are interested and qualified to evaluate the nation's social, economic and cultural development over the last 2,000 years. I am sure that the Bill will be widely acclaimed not only in the House but also outside it.

I have no knowledge of the consultations that have taken place on this important subject, and I think it would be interesting if the Minister could give us some information about that. The question whether the Bill is applicable to rural as well as urban areas is important and is a point that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack). The great problems of access and the costs of inquiry lie essentially in the urban areas and city centres. I am sure that the House will take particular note of what my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) said in that respect.

I was very interested to read a publication by the department of the City architect and planning officer for the City—Mr. E. D. Chandler—entitled "Archaeology—Background Study" published in February of last year. It made fascinating reading. It set out the hopes and objectives for the future. Paragraph 6.5 reads: The archaeologists are seen not only to exist in the City, but also seen to be a competent, well-organised and established enterprise. They can with good will and well co-ordinated publicity be accepted by developers and not necessarily seen as a liability. That emphasises the point that my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South made about the necessity for mutual regard and cooperation. Hitherto, I think that that point was well founded. It is a risk, I think, to put it in statutory terms, but I am sure that the subject will be treated sympathetically and that the excellent spirit of co-operation will continue.

I am particularly pleased that there will be some control over metal detectors, especially on designated sites, although I recognise that those using metal detectors elsewhere have made remarkable discoveries. I was reading in the newspaper only this evening that someone found treasure trove of a Roman paymaster which, in current terms, would be worth £¼ million. I believe there were 3½ cwt. of Roman coins. That shows what lies buried beneath our soil.

Mr. Cormack

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones). He has done so much in this area, but I am sure that he will agree with me when I say that there is a real worry about these metal detectors. One does not want to ban them, or stop people having them, but many inexperienced people can cause untold damage to priceless objects by the indiscriminate and careless use of them. This is something that we must constantly emphasise.

Mr. Jones

Yes. I gave my qualified blessing to sites that are designated. I said that in that sense I thought that the terms of the Bill were quite correct. However, it is difficult to say that metal detectors should not be used elsewhere, because they have been instrumental in revealing sites that might not otherwise have come to our notice.

May I add one or two personal qualifications which stem from the same considerations raised by my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South? It is clearly necessary that we should ensure a balance between archaeological interests, architectural interests—both in terms of restoration and redevelopment—and the protection of ancient monuments on the one hand, and on the other hand the rights of owners and developers.

I note particularly what was said in the other place by my noble Friend Baroness Stedman, who made a particular point that the developer should not be paid anything in respect of delay. The Select Committee that I chaired also looked into planning delays, which are most material for developers, because the resource cost involved is sometimes very significant. This matter may require more definition, because my noble Friend the Baroness went on to say: The archaeological excavation of a site sometimes makes the subsequent development works themselves more expensive. I believe this to be unusual but where the site is damaged in that way, compensation will be obtainable from the Secretary of State."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 February 1979; Vol. 398, c. 460.] I am not quite cletar what is involved in the statement of my noble Friend, but I have some figures here which indicate the cost of delay. I quote from the paper to which my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South referred, prepared by the City branch of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. It reads: The effect upon development in terms of the loss that is created by the delay amounts to approximately 4 per cent in respect of a four and a half month delay and 5.3 per cent, on a six month delay. Also, the rental income that someone had been anticipating will be deferred for that period, and in terms of City development this is a substantial sum. In some ways the percentages could be considered as being very small, which they are in terms of the overall cost, but I do not believe in practice it will work in this way. I think that the fact of designation will result in the sites being down-valued by developers to a much greater extent because they just do not know what will happen if archaeologists start to dig, and also they will not know whether an Ancient Monuments listing could be imposed once they start to dig. Therefore there are qualifications in that respect. The paper goes on: It would appear that no mention has been made in the consultative document nor in any of the debates in the Lords about the effect upon the development process and its cost. We believe that the consideration that has been given to the Bill has been focused on rural activities rather than business centres. Already within the urban areas there is considerable delay in the obtaining and implementation of planning consents and there is no doubt that this legislation will cause further problems and concern to owning companies and developers. I have no knowledge of the consultations that have taken place, but from my reading of the debates I do not know what weight these considerations have been given in the Government's proposals. There is no doubt that substantially increased costs could arise and be of considerable significance.

The Bill, empowering the designation of areas of archaeological importance and the appointment of investigating authorities for these areas, is an important step forward in the research and discovery of our heritage. The powers will, I hope, be prudently used in the fulfilment of these desirable objectives.

6.10 p.m.

Mr. Marks

I am grateful to the House for the support that it has given to the Bill. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) said that we did not have many debates on the heritage. However, I have been kept up late quite often because we have had a number of debates, including one on Stonehenge, as well as several on the natural environment. I hope that there will be more interest in the House, and in the country as a whole, in regard to our natural environment and our building heritage, which has evolved over many years.

Clause 14 has perhaps created most concern, no doubt genuine, about the possible situation in which the Secretary of State might seek an agreement to terminate the guardianship in order to stop maintaining a monument. No such case is currently under consideration or is in sight. However, such a situation is conceivable, and we thought it right and proper to make provision for it. In prac- tice, it would be most unlikely that a Secretary of State would persist with such a proposal if the ancient monuments board advised against it after full consideration and discussion. If such a situation were to arise, it would be unthinkable for the Secretary of State to seek to implement his proposal without making a prior public announcement and giving opportunities for representations by all concerned.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) was rather worried about descheduling. Obviously, there may be times when an area of what is thought to be a monument could be scheduled. There have been examples where it is thought that a mound could be an ancient burial mound but is later discovered to be full of nineteenth century bricks. That is the kind of thing that is envisaged, but there would be no de-scheduling if a place kept the character that it had at the time of scheduling and was accepted as such.

Sometimes an ancient monument becomes a dwelling-house and is occupied, in which case it does not come under this category and can be dealt with in other ways.

The ancient monuments board has a specific right to advise on descheduling, and descheduling will never be used as a device to circumvent the need for an ancient monuments assent. I think that this will particularly apply to cases related to British waterways, which I think are the ones about which my hon. Friend was worried.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Ross) talked about the need for close consultation with the local authorities. I hope that future Governments will do that in all cases, because it is inevitable. I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the financial implications for county councils. This depends on how much they use their powers. Of course, some will use their powers more than others.

I can tell the hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) that there has always been good co-operation within the City, and so far as I know there are no examples of developers objecting to the system on which this Bill has been based. The City of London branch of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors was among those organisations consulted by their national organisations. I am afraid that I saw its rather lengthy document only this morning. I hope that consideration will not delay the Bill, but I shall examine what was said.

As to funds from the national Exchequer, as I said earlier, for six months there will be no compensation, but if a temple of Mithras is discovered in the middle of a development there will have to be consultations, and, I hope, agreement. A developer might even bring such a site into his development, and then there would be an acceptable case for compensation.

The Bill will apply to rural areas just as much as to urban areas. Obviously, the first sites that will be looked at will be those in the historical towns. I give the assurance that has been asked for.

As I said earlier, we must educate the public to take care to preserve these monuments and the countryside. We must also educate our children and their parents to look after them and not to leave litter about. During the coming summer I hope that there will be an improvement in the care of ancient monuments, not only by the Government but by the people themselves.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Tinn.]

Further proceedings postponed, pursuant to Order [30 March].