HC Deb 18 January 2002 vol 378 cc583-9

Order for Second Reading read.

2 pm

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

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

The Bill has three principal objectives. First, it would remove some anomalies in the power and functions of English Heritage. Secondly, it would acknowledge that English Heritage merged with the royal commission on historical monuments of England in 1999. Thirdly, it would implement some of the uncontroversial proposals in the 1996 Green Paper, "Protecting our Heritage", which was published by the previous Conservative Government.

The Bill originated in the other place, where it was promoted by Baroness Anelay of St. Johns. It received its Second Reading on 31 October and was in Committee in the other place on 14 November, when it reported with one amendment, which the Baroness moved.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I hope that the Bill will make good progress. In the short time available, will my hon. Friend assure us that, although it appears substantial, he is satisfied that the content is uncontroversial, and that we will be able to scrutinise it adequately in Committee?

Sir Sydney Chapman

Although the Bill deals with important matters, it consists of only eight clauses. The eighth deals with commencement, a technical matter that is included in every Bill. The record of the debates in another place shows that the Bill has been scrupulously examined.

The Bill would put on the statute book proposals that the previous Conservative Government initially presented. Its contents were included in a Bill that the Government introduced in the last Session of the last Parliament. I hope that my right hon. Friend is satisfied with that reply.

The Bill has all-party support, and I shall deal generally with the eight clauses. Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 6 would transfer responsibility for underwater archaeology from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to English Heritage. That responds to the overwhelming wish of many organisations, professions and amateur marine archaeologists. The aim was universally accepted in consultations on the 1996 Green Paper, "Protecting our Heritage", to which I referred earlier.

Hon. Members know that the seas around Britain contain a wealth of archaeological sites and remains. I hazard the opinion that the density of wrecks around our shores is the highest in the world.

I shall deal briefly with clauses 4 and 5. Clause 4 covers the trading functions of English Heritage and enables that organisation to produce souvenirs that relate to ancient monuments and historic buildings only in England, where English Heritage's remit runs.

Clause 5 would empower English Heritage to offer its services and expertise outside the United Kingdom. Hon. Members will know that the National Heritage Act 1983 restricts the commercial activities of English Heritage to England. It is common sense to allow it to deal in services and offer its expertise outside the United Kingdom.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

Will my hon. Friend humour me by telling me whether any commercial gain resulting from the Bill might be passed on to any of our excellent universities that carry out first-class archaeological work? I am thinking of Bristol university, in particular, which has an eminent archaeology department. If there were some way in which our heritage could help to bring extra funds into our academic institutions—which provide their services not only in this country but throughout the world—there could be spin-offs that my hon. Friend has not thought of.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I cannot give my hon. Friend a categorical, definitive answer, but I would judge that, if clause 5 were enacted, archaeological interests throughout the country, including universities, would indirectly be helped. The reason why I dare to suggest that is that English Heritage is funded by the taxpayer, but the amount of its funding depends on how much it earns from other sources. Presumably, the more it earns from other sources, particularly—as clause 5 would allow—from outside the United Kingdom, the less the Government will have to give it in grants. Alternatively, English Heritage would have more resources to give grants to universities. Either way, the prospect will be brighter for supporting archaeological interests if the Bill goes through.

Clause 7 seeks to empower English Heritage to delegate functions if it has the finance available for a project, but not the personnel. This is a rather technical clause, but it is common sense that, if English Heritage does not have the personnel available to help with some project, it should be able to offer its finances to other reputable organisations to carry out the research or whatever work might be involved. Clause 8 covers the usual technical details relating to the commencement and extent of the Bill.

I understand from my research and that of Baroness Anelay of St. Johns that all the organisations directly affected by the Bill seem to support its provisions. The two principal organisations affected are English Heritage and the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites. Both fully support the Bill.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton)

The hon. Gentleman says that those organisations are in favour of the Bill. Does he know whether they have received assurances from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about whether the budget that currently resides in the Department will be sent down to English Heritage to ensure that its funding is not cut? English Heritage is at present unable to fund some very valuable projects throughout the country—for example, repairs to Kingston parish church in my constituency—because of constraints on its budget. If this transfer of responsibilities were to result in its budget being eaten into by further responsibilities, without a transfer of additional funds, some of us might be a little more concerned than the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Sir Sydney Chapman

It is not for me to give the categorical assurance that the hon. Gentleman seeks, because I do not happen to be in the Government, and only the Government can be answerable. I understand, however, that the DCMS is anxious for the Bill to be passed. It feels that English Heritage is the right authority to deal with such matters. If we cannot secure the guarantees sought by the hon. Gentleman on Second Reading, I am sure we shall be able to ask for them in Committee.

Mrs. Gillan

In another place, the Minister dealing with the Bill said: In conclusion, the Bill is a valuable and useful piece of legislation, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for introducing it. It will give English Heritage the opportunity to export its expertise and also to generate more income … Once again, perhaps I may say how pleased I am to be able to offer the support of the Government."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 31 October 2001; Vol. 627, c. 1497–8.] Is it not disappointing that no DCMS Minister is present to—obviously—support the Bill? It is a great shame. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), who is present, knows that the Government support the Bill; she must be a bit chagrined.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I see one extremely attractive member of the Government, and another member of the Government, on the Front Bench. I am immodest enough to declare a certainty that my subliminal powers of persuasion will reach the Government, even if no DCMS representative is physically present.

Ms Claire Ward (Watford)

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) may well have forgotten that, in this Government, Ministers are able to deal with a range of issues. I am more than sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health will be able to deal with this matter, on the Government's behalf, as capably as any DCMS Minister.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I do not know whether I am referring to one or to both Ministers involved, but I know that if the Bill is given a Second Reading a money resolution will be needed, so I will do all that I can to be polite to Ministers—especially Treasury Ministers.

I have no doubt, given all that was said in the other place, that the Bill has all-party support. It reflects the last Conservative Government's views, as declared in the 1996 Green and White Papers. Moreover, I think its exact provisions were included in the present Government's Culture and Recreation Bill, introduced in the last Session of the last Parliament. I gather that the Government did not proceed with the Bill because they wanted to run for cover and call a general election.

Ms Debra Shipley (Stourbridge)

I have two interests in the Bill. A long time ago I wrote a book for English Heritage, so I have intellectual property rights in that regard; and I am a member of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport. Would English Heritage be allowed to consult other expert groups, and would it be given money enabling it to perform functions that it could not otherwise perform owing to a lack of expertise or personnel? If something exciting and wonderful was discovered, what would happen in terms of the commission's exploitation of intellectual property? Will the hon. Gentleman expand on the two relevant clauses, and how they would work?

Sir Sydney Chapman

I recognise the hon. Lady's interest in these matters. I trained as an architect because I moved down the alphabetical list, and could not remember how to spell "archaeology". Clause 7 would act as a long stop. It would apply only in those cases where specific expertise or action was needed. English Heritage might not have the personnel, or they might be working on other things, but it would have the power to give grants to other organisations to complete work that might be highly specialised. That is certainly an aspect that we can explore in Committee.

Ms Shipley

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. My point may indeed be one for Committee, but how would the provision affect intellectual property rights? If an individual, or a group of individuals, has undertaken work, who would own those rights? There is a discrepancy in the provision.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I apologise to the hon. Lady for misunderstanding her question. I must brazenly say that I cannot give her a definitive answer. I think that the work would be subcontracted and that, as the finance would be provided by English Heritage, it would own the intellectual property rights. I shall certainly find out and write to the hon. Lady, or we may be able to deal with the point in Committee.

The Bill would put underwater archaeology on the same basis as land archaeology and bring it within the remit of English Heritage. It would enable English Heritage to take over the running of the secretariat of the Advisory Committee on Historic Wrecked Sites. Indeed, that committee fully welcomes that provision.

The Bill would give English Heritage the right to sell its expertise abroad at a commercial rate, produce souvenirs and exploit its intellectual property. The measure would assist the formal merger of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England—which has already merged with English Heritage—with the royal commission on the historical monuments of England into a single national body for the built heritage. In fact, those bodies have already been merged administratively.

For those reasons, I commend the Bill to the House. I hope very much that Members will feel able to give it a Second Reading.

2.17 pm
Shona Mclsaac (Cleethorpes)

As a member of the all-party archaeological group, I am delighted to speak in this debate. I wholly support the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman). It is entirely common sense to put marine archaeology on the same footing as land-based archaeology. There has been a mismatch for many years.

The waters around the United Kingdom are among the richest in the world for archaeology, especially as regards wrecks—to which the Bill refers. Around our coast, there are some Viking wrecks and Spanish wrecks from the time when the armada was scuttled. Such wrecks are to be found in many parts of UK waters, especially in Scotland. We all recall the raising of the Mary Rose. That vessel still provides us with a vast amount of information on the shipbuilding of its period.

When the Bill is in Committee, I hope that we may be able to address the fact that many wrecks are also graves. The Bill deals with archaeology, and it will not be long before some of the battleships sunk during the first world war can be examined as archaeology. However, in the minds of many people those ships are also war graves and we must consider that point in Committee.

When we consider the scientific aspects of underwater archaeology, we sometimes underestimate its importance, as regards not only wrecks but towns, and so on. After the last ice age, sea levels rose when the ice melted and many cities and villages were flooded. I was intrigued to hear today that a city about 9,000 years old has been discovered off the coast of India. Although the Bill will not affect that, it will revolutionise our thinking on the origin of cities. That is part of underwater archaeology, and it will be a new area of exploration in future.

I am glad that the Bill has been introduced, because it will put lost underwater villages on the same footing as the ancient villages that are protected by English Heritage on land. I hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading and rapidly becomes law.

2.20 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper)

I shall keep my remarks as short as possible. On behalf of the Government, I welcome the Bill. We give it our wholehearted support. The substance of its provisions was contained largely in the Government's Culture and Recreation Bill, which was introduced in another place in December 2000 but was unable to complete its parliamentary passage before the general election was called, so, unfortunately, the provisions contained in this private Member's Bill were lost at that time.

The changes that the Bill would effect are needed. The Government are very pleased that these provisions have been given a second chance, because broadening the powers of English Heritage to allow it to export its goods and services abroad and to take on work associated with underwater archaeology will be of great benefit not only to English Heritage but to the historic environment and the heritage sector.

I can assure the House that these provisions have been subject to a number of extensive consultations. They have also received a very positive response from a wide range of heritage organisations. The devolved Administrations are content with the Bill and considerable consultation has taken place with Ministers and officials in those Administrations.

English Heritage was established in 1983 by the National Heritage Act 1983, which restricts the activities of English Heritage exclusively to ancient monuments and historic buildings situated in England, yet there is a demand from overseas for English Heritage's expertise, goods and services. We know that England is noted for its cultural heritage. English Heritage is itself a leading brand name and the organisation is respected throughout the world for its expertise, skills and experience in the management, conservation and restoration of the historic environment, but at present it has to turn away requests to use that expertise in foreign countries.

The Bill's overseas trading provisions, like those in the Culture and Recreation Bill before it, will therefore enable those skills to be shared with a wider audience—for example, by creating the opportunity for English Heritage to sell products and services around the world—and will create export opportunities for other English suppliers and contractors in the heritage field who are keen to benefit from English Heritage's lead.

The underwater archaeology provisions of the Bill arise from the fact that the 1983 Act and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 do not give English Heritage any powers to act below the mean low water mark. As hon. Members have said, that obviously leaves an anomaly whereby English Heritage cannot perform the functions for underwater archaeology that it can for land-based archaeology, whether it be the provision of educational facilities and services or public information and advice or the making of contributions to research costs and grants, to name but a few.

It is not possible at the moment for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to direct English Heritage to carry out certain administrative functions in relation to underwater archaeology. To allow English Heritage similar involvement with underwater archaeology to that which it has with land-based archaeology would permit considerably more expertise to enter the management and decision-making process in connection with underwater archaeology.

The Bill is valuable and useful. It will give English Heritage the opportunity to export its expertise and generate more income and it will create opportunities for small private sector organisations to penetrate overseas markets. It will place underwater archaeology on the same footing as land-based archaeology and, most important, it will further enhance English Heritage's status as the lead body in the sector.

I repeat that I am pleased to offer the Government's support for this private Member's Bill.

2.24 pm
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham)

I shall not delay the House, except to rise in support of the Bill and to say that, despite the United Kingdom's rich maritime history and in contrast to what happens in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, English Heritage—the lead agency for managing physical remains and the historical environment in England—is not responsible for marine archaeology; the Bill will redress that situation.

At the moment, we are failing to act to protect our national historical heritage, and the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) will correct that. I am delighted that the Government and all the hon. Members who have spoken so far in this brief debate wish the Bill well and hope that it receives its Second Reading. I hope that the House will allow the Bill to be debated in Committee.

2.25 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I want to add just a brief word in support of the Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) has so skilfully steered to this stage of its proceedings. It is now pretty obvious that he has persuaded the House of the Bill's merit, and time has fortunately permitted a debate to take place. The Bill was considered fully in another place, as he said, so we can look at it from our perspective in the light of that knowledge.

I very much welcome, for example, clause 4 on the new trading functions of the commission. The Bill has been widely welcomed, and there is no doubt that it will allow the great inherent strengths of our heritage to be fully exploited—in the best possible meaning of that word. However, I want to put down a tiny marker, which hon. Members may want to consider in Committee.

I am always interested when a Bill contains provisions such as those in clause 3(2), which states: If the Secretary of State directs the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission … to exercise functions … the Commission shall exercise them. It looks as though the Minister, even in these provisions—welcome as they are—was not quite able to let go, but perhaps that can be considered in Committee, and it is proper that the Committee should do so. All in all, the Bill, which started in another place, has been debated here and has received a widespread welcome, and I wish it well.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).