§ 3.20 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CRANBROOK
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In so doing, I must declare an interest, in so far as I am a trustee of the Natural History Museum which will be one of the three potential beneficiaries if this Bill becomes an Act. On most nights of the year, and particularly during the month of August, it is possible to see shooting stars or meteors flying through the sky; indeed, in my own part of the world, to go looking at shooting stars is one of the normal opening gambits of a courtship. These shooting stars are large or small bodies from Outer Space which, as they approach the Earth and come into its atmosphere, become incandescent with friction. The vast majority of them are burned up, but the very few which reach the Earth's surface are called meteorites.
It would seem that fragments of about thirty of these are recovered in some place or another throughout the whole world every year. So your Lordships will see that meteorites are very few in number 1232 compared to the very large number of shooting stars which one can see. The number which fall in Britain is very small. There were ten in the nineteenth century and there have been seven so far in this century, making an average of about one every ten years. As a meteor passes through the atmosphere, much of it is vaporised from heat. It can break into fragments, and can therefore hit the ground in one piece, or in a shower of fragments or as dust. I do not think that we need concern ourselves with the dust. The largest single body which is known to have fallen in this country weighed 56 lb. and of the largest shower a little over 100 lb. was recovered. Meteorites are thought to have originated in the breaking up of some body in the solar system very much like this Earth and of the same constituents.
Until men landed on the Moon and brought back fragments of Moon rock, meteorites were our only source of information of extra-terrestrial objects. They have therefore always been of great interest to scientists. The British Museum of Natural History has collected them from the 18th century and has by far the largest and best collection in the world. There are known to have been only about 2,500 actual strikes on the Earth from which either the entire meteorite or fragments have been recovered. Of those, the Natural History Museum has either the meteorite itself or fragments of showers of over 55 per cent. It is perhaps some measure of the importance attached to them by the world at large—which is much more than I knew about meteorites when I first started to prepare myself for this Bill—that at the end of the 1950s the Nuffield Foundation gave about £50,000 to the Museum to purchase one of the best-known private collections to add to its own.
Scientists have always been able to study the morphological features and chemical constituency of meteorites, and much has been discovered of the origin of this world and of the solar system; but of recent years it has been found that during their passage through space cosmic rays act on the meteorites forming a number of objects, some stable and some radioactive. The radioactive ones have a very short half-life; but if the meteorites can be recovered soon after their fall and 1233 before the radioactive constituents have become inert a great deal of valuable information can be obtained. It is therefore obvious that the sooner they are in the hands of the scientists and in a properly equipped laboratory the better; much of the information which they would otherwise give may be lost if they become a pure curiosity in the cabinet of somebody who knows little about them.
The curious fact is that in this country meteorites seem to have no legal status; and the same is true, apparently, of most parts of the world save France and the U.S.A., where they belong to the owner of the land on which they fall, and India, where they belong to the State. In 1963, a Working Group on Meteorites set up by UNESCO recommended, first, that in every country the national museum should have specimens of all meteorites which fall upon that country; and, secondly, that all member States should adopt legislation to ensure that meteorites are conserved and used in the public interest. This Bill is the result.
There are three national museums in Great Britain: the Natural History Museum, the Royal Scottish Museum and the National Museum of Wales. All three museums are united in approving of the principles which lie behind this Bill. For a long period of time during the lengthy discussions which resulted in this Bill in its present form, the Trustees of the Natural History Museum had the advantage of the advice of the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Radcliffe, who was then one of their members; and in these conditions it seemed best to follow the precedent set by treasure trove but without the necessity for an inquest. As your Lordships will be aware, treasure trove consists of objects of gold or silver which have been buried by somebody with the intention to recover them at a later date. An inquest is held to decide whether or not there was an intention to return to recover them. If the inquest decides that the find is treasure trove, the objects are the property of the Crown—they go to the appropriate museum and an appropriate reward is paid to the finder.
That was the course which the Trustees were obliged to follow in framing this Bill. We were also advised that it was unnecessary and undesirable to set out in the Bill the administrative machinery 1234 necessary to follow once actual ownership was decided. All meteorites would vest in the Crown once they had hit the earth and so much of the fall as is thought necessary would go to one or another of the museums and the appropriate reward would be paid to the finder.
Since, so far as we can find out, nobody at present appears to have any rights in racteorites—although I believe that there are some curious Scottish customs about which my noble friend Lord Balerno, knows more than I do—no injustice would be done to anybody if this Bill were passed in its present form. I understand that as it is worded the Crown would have no liability for any damage done by the meteorite on its way to the ground. If it passed through the house of one of your Lordships; or indeed through the head of one of your Lordships, that would be just too bad. The Crown would take possession of the meteorite after it had done its work and the heirs of the noble Lord concerned would have no redress.
If your Lordships will look at the Bill you will see that it is a very simple one; there is one operative clause. I hope that your Lordships will feel that it is important that these bodies from Outer Space should come as soon as possible into the hands of scientists and that you will approve this Bill. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Cranbrook.)
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, after that extremely interesting introduction by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, I need not speak for very long. He and I have been allies for some while in matters of this kind, and it was because I have a great deal of confidence in his judgment and the scientific virtue of matters that he brings before your Lordships' House that I objected the other day when he asked the leave of the House to withdraw his Bill. It is indeed for consideration whether we ought to allow Bills to be withdrawn as lightly as that, when the House does not really know the reason for it.
But on this occasion we were told by the noble Earl:When I introduced it, I was under the impression that time would be found for it in another place if your Lordships were good 1235 enough to pass it. I have heard it is unlikely that time would be found, and in those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24/3/71, col. 915.]I do not accept that—and I think that other noble Lords will agree with me—as an adequate reason. There may be good reasons not to pursue this Bill further. I make no reflection on the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, but I feel that perhaps it might have been helpful if he had spoken earlier. I make no criticism of him, because we want to get on and my remarks, therefore, are inevitably conditional on what he may have to say to us. But it has been our experience in the past that a Bill introduced into this House is imperfect. It appears to me that this is a very simple Bill; it is a one-clause Bill. If it is as simple as it seems, and if no Amendments have to be made, it is conceivable that it might go through another place on the nod.
On the other hand, if that be not the case, there is a good deal to be said for our taking this Bill to some further stage in an attempt to get it right. This was the experience we had in connection with the Seals Bill. I will not conceal the fact that when I, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Stonham, who was ill at the time, was briefed to oppose the Bill for the Government, it became quite apparent that your Lordships wanted to go on with the Bill. Therefore I gracefully accepted the inevitable; indeed, I was sympathetic to the noble Earl in the matter which was some advantage, and we let it go through. The Government undertook—and they did so, but not very rapidly—to try to get the Bill right. In due course it was introduced again; we got it right and it was passed. It was taken to the Commons, and now it is the law of the land.
I submit, my Lords, that there is a good deal to be said for giving this Bill at least a Second Reading. Then it will be up to the noble Earl to decide, depending on the amount of support he gets, and again subject to what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has to say, whether to continue. But even if the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chan-arguments against this Bill as it stands, and even (we have no knowledge of this: all we know is that we have been told 1236 there is no time for it in another place) though he may, because of his interest in law reform, have intentions of his own in the matter, there is none the less a certain stimulus to Government (I speak as someone who has felt the benefit of that stimulus when I was in Government) in giving a Bill a Second Reading.
The case for doing something has been amply made by the noble Earl. There is the simple fact that no one knows to whom meteorites belong. I do not think that even the most extreme protector of property would suggest that something that falls out of the sky on to his land automatically ought to be his. In any case, there is a need to establish some certainty in this connection. Secondly, we have been urged by a very important international body to act with other countries and to do something about it. Therefore I believe that we should. The solution seems to me to be a simple one.
There is, of course, a further argument which came out in a very interesting way from the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook. It is that there is urgency in the matter. Most noble Lords recognise, I suppose, that there might be urgency in regard to whales, but might assume that there would be no urgency in the case of meteorites. However, the matter of the passing radioactivity acquired in the passage through space suggests that there is a need for clarity. Therefore I support the noble Earl. I hope that even if the noble and learned Lord has powerful cellor feels that this Bill is unsatisfactory, and has in mind his own intentions, if the feeling of the House is as I hope it will be we may be allowed to give this Bill a Second Reading as an indication of an intention to proceed further. In those circumstances it would not be unreasonable for the noble Earl to say that he did not propose to take the Bill any further. But I do not regard giving a Second Reading to a Bill as a useless gesture. It has proved exceedingly useful in other cases, and therefore I am very happy to support the noble Earl.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, may I venture to speak as it were on behalf of Scotland where the law has a different aspect, if indeed there is a law on the subject? The 1237 scientists of Scotland who concern themselves with these matters, both the Royal Scottish Museum and also the Grant Institute, which on occasion analyses Moon dust, are very interested in this Bill and grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, for bringing it forward. For these meteorites are the only extraterrestrial solid matter at present available for laboratory study. As the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has said, there is considerable scientific interest, as the meteorites yield information about the history of the solar system and conditions in the Earth's upper atmosphere. It is to the conditions in the Earth's upper atmosphere that I particularly wish to draw the attention of your Lordships.
This information must be, as it were, developed as quickly as possible after the arrival of the meteorite, certainly within days and preferably within hours. At present there is but one laboratory in this country—in London—which cart do this work fully and adequately. Developments in space exploration have led to a very great increase in the popular interest in meteorites and the emergence of amateur collectors and the creation of a market for specimens. This can result in important samples being lost to scientific study and to the national collections. Even if this does not happen it is likely to prevent the access of qualified scientists to the material during the critical period after a fall, while arguments and negotiation proceed.
Regarding the confusion of the law in Scotland concerning this matter, I should like to refer to the last fall of meteorites which we had in Scotland, popularly known as the "Strathmore shower". It occurred on Monday, December 3, 1917 at 1.18 p.m. The shower was remarkable in many ways, not least from the fact that there was one person who both observed and also heard it. Perhaps I may read to your Lordships an extract from the report at the time. It said:One of the most remarkable meteoric falls that has ever been recorded in the British Isles and certainly the most remarkable that has been recorded in Scotland. Mrs. MacLaren, while gazing up into the sky, as she frequently does, saw a ball of fire followed by a train of light rush across the sky and disappear behind a small grey cloud. Before it had time 1238 to emerge from the other side of the cloud, she heard the sound of a terrific explosion and saw nothing more.That is in itself a remarkable occurrence, because one either sees or hears it. Very seldom does one and the same person happen to hear and see a meteorite.
In this case there were four major fragments of meteorite, the heaviest being 20 lb. The confusion came right from the beginning. The local constabulary, having determined that there were no enemy aircraft in the area (it being 1917), decided that they ought to take possession of the meteorites. The Chief Constable of Perthshire came into action. Unfortunately, the local constable had gone over the county boundary and had got one of the meteorites from the county of Forfarshire. Consequently there was an unseemly wrangle between the two Chief Constables as to which of them owned the meteorite. The Procurator Fiscal laid claim to the meteorites and the Chief Constable of Forfarshire acidly drew attention to the fact that the Procurator Fiscal's office was next door to the office of the Chief Constable of Perthshire.
The Royal Scottish Museum laid claim to the meteorites against the claims of the King's Remembrancer, who, representing the Exchequer, also had a claim. A little later on the British Museum put in a claim for the meteorites. Meantime, the tenants of the houses on which they had fallen decided that they had a right to them and the owners of the ground also laid claim. The confusion was never quite properly sorted out and it nearly came to a lawsuit between the tenants of a cottage where the meteorite had landed through the roof and stuck in the ceiling but had not hit the ground, and the proprietrix of the cottage who, being wealthy and able to put the tenant out of the cottage at will, retained possession and was allowed to get away with the meteorite. Eventually, two of the meteorites remained in private possession and, by adjustment, two went to museums. The confusion was very great and there was at no time any chance of getting these meteorites quickly for analysis.
What is going to happen the next time there is a fall of meteorites in Scotland? Are we to go all through this same rigmarole of not knowing to whom they 1239 belong and of not making them available for scientific examination? I should have said that one of the proprietors of the land on which a meteorite had fallen wrote, saying:I am therefore putting all the Parliamentary machinery in motion to have the decision of the Crown authorities upset or at least modified.It may be said that in a Court of Session case dealing with treasure trove the principle was enunciated that all ownerless objects become the property of the Crown. But that is not regarded either legally or by scientists as sufficient to warrant the immediate action which is required, and the simplest way of getting immediate action on the arrival of a meteorite is by vesting the rights of it in the Crown. This does not happen very often. The previous fall of meteorites in Scotland was in 1830. Falls do happen in the United Kingdom roughly every five years or so, but it is clear that Scotland is due for another shower of meteorites and we should like to be ready for it, with our umbrellas.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, there is only one question on Second Reading which I should like to raise and perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor or the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, will be able to answer. I agree very much with the remarks of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition that we ought to look at all these Bills carefully. During the course of his interesting speech, the noble Earl who introduced the Bill made the unilateral declaration that there was no liability in respect of the Crown if a meteorite fell upon one's property. I can only understand the Bill as I read it, and as I read it, it means that any meteorite which falls on any land is thereupon vested in the Crown. Hitherto, I know, it has been considered an act of God.
If this Bill is passed and the ownership rests in the Crown, at what moment does the liability for any damage begin and at what moment does it cease? If a meteorite falls on the roof of my house, surely it is then landing for the first time upon the soil of this country and in that case there should be a liability upon those who have ownership of the meteorite— 1240 that is, the Crown. Therefore, in passing this Bill, are we granting citizens a protection which they have not enjoyed hitherto from damage caused by meteorites?
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I tell him that this point has already been discussed in Scotland in relation to the 1917 fall. It was then decided that so long as a meteorite was in the air it was the responsibility of the Astronomer Royal of Scotland.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, I think, cannot establish his case. For there to be any claim against the Crown it must lie, I should have thought, either in contract or in tort. I find it hard to see what contract there could possibly be between the Crown and the man on whose property a meteorite falls; and as to any liability in tort, the Queen can do no wrong.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD HAILSHAM OF ST. MARYLEBONE)
My Lords, I rise with suitable humility to take a modest part in this fascinating struggle. I begin by reminding the noble Lord who has just sat down that neither he nor I knows anything about the laws of Scotland, where there is, so far as I know, neither contract nor tort. As the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition reminded us, we owe the pleasure of this debate (and I think we can all be agreed that it has been a pleasure) to the fact that the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition resisted the blandishments of my noble friend when he sought to withdraw the Bill. It is, I think, a fact, whatever inferences one draws from it, that such is the horrible state of legislation during this Session that the chances of its reaching the Statute Book this Session are absolutely negligible. I would respectfully, but without passion, suggest that probably my noble friend's judgment is right, and that having had this discussion the best course would be to withdraw the Bill. He could then discuss with my right honourable friends who are concerned with the policy of the matter some of the unresolved questions which the Bill raises and does not answer, and cannot be made to answer in exactly 1241 its present form, and then, perhaps, if an agreed policy can be worked out, a Bill which can reach the Statute Book could be put forward at a later stage.
I want to say relatively little about the policy of the Bill for that reason, but there are one or two things which I should like to put before your Lordships. Later on this evening, if we reach the point, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, is going to raise an Unstarred Question about the responsibility for the law in England and Wales. I do not know what answer I shall then give him, but it will probably be a rather complicated one. One of the things I intend to say, however, is that I think the Lord Chancellor has a sort of basic responsibility to see that the law should not be a bigger ass than it has to be in the nature of events. Therefore I approach this Bill not so much from the point of view of policy, which can be hammered out, but from the point of view as to whether as a Bill it is a piece of legislation which would do us credit as legislators.
With regard to policy, I think we can probably start from a number of common assumptions. My noble friend has clearly made out the case that meteorites are of considerable interest to scientists, and it is therefore desirable that they should be made available to scientists as quickly as possible. Apparently some radioactive material has a fairly short life. What he has not sought to argue, but which is not at any rate to me so self-evident, is whether you best achieve this result by passing an Act which in principle nationalises all meteorites without compensation if they fall after a given vesting date, but not before, or whether you are more likely to get them by offering a decent price and reward for finding them.
I do not find that my noble friend's answer, which is based on assumption, is self-evident. Nor did he attempt to adduce any kind of reason to make one believe that he was right and that the contrary answer was not equally plausible. What he did was to introduce, to my mind, the misleading analogy of treasure trove. Treasure trove belongs to the Crown; that is to say, if after an inquest the treasure trove is identified, as such, and the finder does not just put it in his pocket and walk away with it. But I wonder how much treasure trove would 1242 actually find its way into the national museums if it were not for the compensation clauses which the Crown in fact carry out. I should think probably precious little, at any rate of the smaller items.
Treasure trove which is gold and silver is easily identifiable, because being refined it is not an object which occurs in that state in nature—at least, I believe not. A meteorite, however, except to the scientists with their Geiger counters and other powers of analysis, is not particularly identifiable from other material, at any rate if it has been some time on the earth. Moreover, one wonders whether in the case of treasure trove the same results could not be obtained by the compensation clauses without the mediaeval law and the coroner. I do not know, and I do not propose to dogmatise this afternoon.
What my noble friend really has to make out on policy is, first of all, that the scientist is more likely to get a material quickly if he passes a law and takes it, at any rate in form, without any compensation provision, or whether he is more likely to get it if he pays a decent price for it. At the moment, of course, the evidence, so far as we have it, is rather in favour of the second, because apparently the British Museum, without any powers of compulsory acquisition, have already got examples from over 55 per cent. of the 2,500 strikes that have taken place since the year dot all over the world. So that there is not, at any rate, a prima facie case that the scientist does not get the material without powers of acquisition.
What is really extraordinary about this Bill is its total absence of machinery of any kind. What, for instance, is the machinery for enforcement? In the case of whales, in which my noble friend interested himself some weeks ago, the machinery was there, although it was quite irrelevant to the law: and the machinery was all right, because there is a coastguard whose duty it is to identify a whale, or whatever it is, when it is stranded on the sea shore; and whales are easily identified when they are stranded on the sea shore because they are quite big. But this is not so in the case of meteorites. Meteorites mainly fall, if they fall at all (most of them, as my noble friend said, are consumed in 1243 the atmosphere and therefore are not caught by the Bill), fall as dust, which is not so easily identified. And those which do fall often break into small fragments about the size of a pebble, all of which may be interesting, but are not altogether easy to identify. There is nobody like a coastguard. I gather that in Scotland, on the happy occasion when Mrs. MacLaren saw a unique strike, when she was able to see and hear at the same time, the local Dogberry went and possessed himself of the meteorite. But this cannot ordinarily be expected to happen. I do not know what the law of trespass is in Scotland; I gather that they do not have such a thing. But in England there is a law of trespass, and this Bill does not provide any power of entry at all.
The Queen's property may be landed in somebody's field, but nobody can go and get it unless the farmer agrees. So what is the sense of that as a piece of legislation? Either it must be nationalised, with power to acquire possession, or it must not. The mere vesting of property does not take away the power of the farmer to close his gate against the local Dogberry when he tries to possess it, if he can find it, on behalf of the Queen. What will be the penalty for a suppression of information if one of these objects falls on one's land? No penalty is provided: we are not bound to give the information. Of course, meteorites do not come down like eggs with date stamps on them, and one has to admit that once the half-life of the radioactive materials disappeared, it would be remarkably difficult to discern a thing the size of a pebble which had fallen just before vesting date from a thing which has fallen just after vesting date, because it is not stamped with a date on it.
We must remember that the Earth (so far as I am aware) is about 20,000 million years old. It follows, then, that for the next 20,000 million years most of the meteoritic material at present on the Earth anywhere has fallen before vesting date, and I suppose that that is probably true of all meteoritic material at present existing in the British Isles. And even after 20,000 million years the odds would be exactly the same, even assuming the number of strikes does not vary. Once 1244 one of these small objects gets into the black market—because I think what my noble friend is postulating is that there is a black market, or there is likely to be a black market, in these things, to the detriment of natural science—I should like to know how you can ascertain whether it fell before the vesting date. No doubt there are very sophisticated scientific techniques; but I am not sure what they are, or what my noble friend proposes to do about it if it is on the black market.
Then there is the very interesting question of compensation, which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye raised—I think properly. It is quite clear that this Bill provides for no compensation, and to that extent I agree with my noble friend Lord Conesford. One wonders whether it ought to do so. If a meteorite falls on your house (if a meteorite falls on your wheelbarrow it would not be caught by the Bill, and I wonder whether that is something which should be tightened up) and damages it, it can cause a considerable amount of damage. Most meteorites are very small, but the one which fell in Siberia at some unascertained date did more damage than a thermo-nuclear bomb. It devastated about 20 square miles of territory by its impact and then disappeared completely. It must have popped off into the sea somewhere, or disappeared into a thousand fragments. If a meteorite falls on the ground, shatters, breaks your greenhouse and knocks down your house after it has become the Queen's property, and the Queen is thereupon enabled, through her faithful Ministers, to recover the fragments, but to pay no compensation for the damage, one wonders whether justice has been done.
I am raising these points for this reason. When a Bill is short—as, mercifully, this one is—everyone says that it is a simple little Bill. This is a simple little Bill, but is it not too simple? Should there be machinery for enforcement? Ought we to think about the question of entry or compensation, identification and black market? It seems to me that we probably should do so. But, my Lords, is it all that urgent? A meteorite falls every five years in this country, and there may be trouble about the half-life of the radioactive material if somebody puts it on the black market instead of offering it to the British 1245 Museum. I should have thought that was very unlikely to happen. But if it is worth legislating about in this particular form, ought we not to get it right? I think that probably we should do so.
These, therefore, are not drafting questions, but are basically matters of policy: whether you ought to legislate in this way, and if you want to do so, what enforcement machinery are you going to couple to the Bill. I should have thought, with great respect to my noble friend, recognising that the material is of scientific interest, and that one's object should be to sec that it joins, if not one of his pet museums, at least a university, that perhaps we could talk about the policies involved. Of course it is possible that we may get a shower on this House tomorrow. One of the glorious uncertainties of this matter is that one does not quite know when it is going to happen. My hope and belief is that we shall not get one before next Session. I have no hostility to my noble friend's general assumptions, but perhaps the best course would be, as this Bill cannot in any case get on to the Statute Book, to talk it out with some of my right honourable friends who know more about meteorites than I do.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CRANBROOK
My Lords, I begin my reply with some diffidence in being forced into criticising my noble and learned friend who sits on the Woolsack, who complains that my Bill is too simple. I would ask him, simple though it is, to read once again through its only clause, because he referred at quite considerable length to the difficulty in telling the difference between meteorites which fell on the Earth some 20 million years ago (and I think it might be 250 million years ago), but as I read it they are not included in the Bill, which refers to:… meteorite which after the date of the coming"—.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, if my noble friend will forgive me, this was exactly the point I was making. If a meteorite gets on to the black market, unless you use some fairly sophisticated techniques you do not know what you are buying—whether it is one which was vested in the Crown or one which fell in the reign of King Edward I.
§ THE EARL OF CRANBROOK
My Lords, I apologise for not having understood what the noble and learned Lord said, and I much regret that I have not caught him out. I also regret that I could not have made myself clear in what I said earlier this afternoon. I had written down and intended to say that of course compensation would be payable, and I had intended to say that compensation would be payable exactly as in treasure trove which, although it is technically paid by the Crown, is in fact paid by the Museum to which the gold or silver object goes; and in many cases museums have had to have grants, national art collection funds, and the like, to pay for it.
I cannot resist correcting my noble and learned friend when he talked about the meteorite which vanished in the middle of Russia. I understand on the very best authority that it made such an enormous hole that it is assumed to have been a minor comet and not a meteorite. No meteoritic remains were found around it.
The point which the noble and learned Lord has made is trenchant, and not being a lawyer I am quite incapable of replying to him. All I can tell your Lordships is that when this Bill appeared in its first form it had all the things for which the noble and learned Lord is now asking, and we were advised on the very best authority—or second best authority, apparently—that it would be better to have it in this form than to try to lay down in black and white the things which we undoubtedly intended to do; that is, to pay compensation in relation to the market value of these things to the finder—and we would have been in some difficulty in knowing whether it was to be the finder, the owner or the police constable—for giving us the material.
I must confess that I should much prefer your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading as a symbol of the fact that your Lordships approve the principle. If your Lordships are good enough to do that, we shall of course be unable to go further with it, unless the Department of my noble and learned friend produces such Amendments as they would wish me to move during the course of this Session. But we should establish the principle that your Lordships feel that this is a right and proper thing to do, and after a period of time we can perhaps bring in a Bill, after consultation with 1247 my noble and learned friend, of which he would approve.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.