HC Deb 22 July 2002 vol 389 cc656-7
7. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

If she will make a statement on her Department's support for archaeological excavation and research in the UK. [689641

The Minister for Tourism, Film and Broadcasting (Dr. Kim Howells)

In the policy statement, "The Historic Environment: a Force for our Future", published in December 2001, the Government recognised archaeological remains as an integral part of the historic environment, and affirmed their commitment to the maintenance of an effective framework of statutory protection for all elements of that environment. That includes the continued funding of archaeological excavation and research. In 2001, the Department, via English Heritage, provided more than £11.6 million; that figure is likely to be more than £11.8 million for 2002.

Tim Loughton

The Minister will be aware that the all-party archaeology group has recently held a series of Select Committee hearings in the Lords with a number of people and groups involved in archaeology, from which it has become clear that British archaeology is in a state of crisis. Site and monument records are patchy throughout the country, and there is a real problem with archaeological education. There is also a lack of trained archaeologists—which is not surprising given that the average wage is just £13,000—and many archaeological sites are subject to deep ploughing without proper recording. Furthermore, when the British Museum celebrates its 250th anniversary next year, it will do so with 15 per cent. fewer staff than this year, and 30 per cent. less funding than it had 10 years ago. Will the Minister ensure that British archaeology is given a higher priority in his Department, and that some of the funding from the comprehensive spending review announced last week is used to that end?

Dr. Howells

My Department takes archaeology very seriously. The recently published Government statement entitled "The Historic Environment: a Force for our Future" fully acknowledges that archaeological remains from all periods constitute a key component in the historic environment, and includes a number of proposals to help improve understanding of that key component. The report on the state of the historic environment is also directly relevant to archaeological remains, and the statement does not overlook the importance of marine archaeology.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we take the subject seriously, and that it will be taken into account in consideration about how money should be spent in the Department.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Does not the brilliant and innovative, if gruesome and spine-chilling, restoration by the Guildhall of the Roman amphitheatre show what can be done? But what can be done to rescue archaeology when those practising it are not as well endowed as the City of London?

Dr. Howells

There are various funds. If my hon. Friend tells us of specific projects that he does not think are being given proper attention, we will certainly try to help however we can.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

The Minister mentioned marine archaeology. He will know that under the National Heritage Act, which became law recently, responsibility for underwater archaeology is being transferred from his Department to English Heritage. Members on both sides of the House welcome that, but can the Minister assure us that appropriate funds will also be transferred? Indeed, given the backlog of work to be done on the subject, could a little more money he provided?

Dr. Howells

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. I congratulate him on the work that he himself did to ensure that the transfer was conducted with such speed and style, and assure him that we are well aware of the need to provide appropriate funds for marine archaeology, which is an important part of our heritage.