HL Deb 16 November 1971 vol 325 cc573-84

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, like his predecessors in the Ministry of Public Building and Works and the Ministry of Works, is much concerned with ancient monuments, their scheduling, their subsequent protection and also their prior excavation and recording if they have to make way for modern development. The main effort from the Department goes in the positive field of conservation. It covers advice and grants to owners and, above all, the consolidation, upkeep and display of monuments in the Government's care.

The Department care for over 700 of these monuments, including Stonehenge, Hadrian's Wall, the Tower of London, Fountains Abbey, Melrose Abbey, Caernarvon Castle, Hampton Court and Osborne House, to mention only a few of the most famous. These, and other places like them, attracted over 12½ million visitors in 1970. The existing legislation under which all this goes on has worked well and I should like here to pay a tribute to the good will and the interest of owners of these monuments which have enabled the legislation to work so well. Nevertheless some improvements are now required, and to consider these a Field Monuments Committee was set up in 1966 by our predecessors. I know that the House would like me to acknowledge the debt that we owe to Sir David Walsh, who chaired that Committee, and his colleagues who worked with him.

The Committee made some 70 recommendations of which about 50 involved legislation. These are broadly welcomed by the Government and action on them will be taken in due course. But by far the most important and the most urgent recommendation involving legislation is that for the system known as acknowledgement payment agreements, and that brings me to this Bill. My Lords, field monuments vary widely in type and in size. There are burial mounds of different kinds, hill forts, camps, field systems, linear earth works, deserted villages and so on. One characteristic which they all share is that the land over them can be cultivated, and has indeed been cultivated for countless years, notably by ploughing. In the past, ploughing was light and was not thought to harm the monuments; but now ploughing cuts much deeper and more land is being ploughed.

Pilot studies carried out by the Department in Wiltshire have shown that of 640 small field monuments, well over half have been damaged, some very seriously, over a period of ten years. The implications of this are that over Great Britain as a whole probably many thousands of these field monuments are now in serious jeopardy. There is power in existing legislation to counter this multiple and extensive threat by using the compulsory procedure in each case, but thousands of cases would have to be investigated separately; the process would be extremely long drawn out, and the inconvenience and the compensation bill would be enormous. The need, rather, is for a solution which may be applied sensibly to thousands of monuments at the same time. It would be less costly in cash and less violent and harsh in its application and effect.

The Field Monuments Committee have recommended the acknowledgement payments scheme. This is a scheme of voluntary agreement whereby the occupiers of land containing scheduled monuments found to be threatened by agriculture or forestry, and who are prepared to undertake to respect their monuments and keep them free from weeds and vermin, will be entitled to annual payments in acknowledgement of the consequential interference with their agricultural operations. I think that we have reason to be grateful to the Committee for their proposal. They have, rightly in our view, decided to rely on the farmer's good will and on voluntary agreements. Their reliance seems to us to be well-founded and their recommendation was unanimously agreed upon by the archæological and the land-using members of the Committee. It has since been welcomed by the archaeological world and by farming, forestry and land-owning interests.

Out of a total of 100,000 field monuments only some 8,000 that are threatened by agriculture or by forestry will be scheduled under the Ancient Monuments Act and will therefore come into the Scheme. Of the remainder, the vast majority consist of very small burial mounds. The activities and operations, and developments other than those arising from agriculture, that threaten field monuments may continue to be dealt with in other ways; for example, by developing control. But agricultural operations are not subject to planning control at the moment, and it is not proposed to change that for this purpose. My Lords, I would stress that the Scheme is voluntary. If an occupier does not wish to enter the Scheme, protection for those field monuments under existing powers can still be considered.

I now turn briefly to the few clauses of the Bill. Clause 1 provides the essence of the arrangement proposed and the rest of the Bill is consequential on it. Clause 1 prescribes the circumstances in which monuments will qualify for acknowledgment payment grants and states the persons to whom the payment will be made. As your Lordships will see, there is considerable flexibility over the detail and this will leave it open for the arrangements, such as the precise content of the agreements and their duration, to be varied from time to time—by agreement, of course—as experience may suggest. The acknowledgment payment may be made to occupiers of field monuments endangered by agriculture or by forestry; to the occupier rather than to the landowners as such, because it is the occupier whose operations will be inconvenienced by the existence of the monument. It is the farmer who will need to plough round burial mounds. Owner-occupiers will, of course, be entitled to the payment and landowners generally, not occupiers, should be associated with the agreements; and provision for that is made in Clause 1(2). Some may well conceive this to be in the interests of good estate management. For the purposes of the Bill a field monument is an ancient monument scheduled under the Ancient Monuments Act; that is, it is considered to be of national importance. Clause 1(3) covers the content of the agreements. It is broadly worded to allow for all contingencies, for future needs and for special cases. There is, your Lordships will remember, no compulsion to enter into these agreements; and there is, any-way, no intention to prevent or to restrict any activity which does no harm.

Clause 2 relates the agreements to the statutory provisions of the Ancient Monuments Acts. Under these, the person responsible for a scheduled monument is bound to give three months' notice of any work affecting it, and thereafter he is free to proceed unless the Secretary of State has meanwhile placed the monument under his statutory protection. The clause therefore provides for a situation in which the occupier decides not to renew an acknowledgment payment agreement, and wishes, for instance, to plough over the monument. Obviously he will remain bound during the period covered by the agreement, but it would be unfair to require him to wait up to a further three months beyond this. Accordingly, the clause provides that statutory notice may be given at any time during the currency of the agreement and will expire either at the end of the agreement or after three months from the date of the notice, which ever is the later.

Clause 3 simply relates the Bill to the Ancient Monuments Acts and will facilitate consolidation of the ancient monuments legislation. It confines the enactment to England, Scotland and Wales. The Schedule covers technical legal points arising from certain limited owner-ship (Part I), and in connection with the enforcement of the agreements (Part II)—all this with due regard to the differences between English and Scottish law.

In the past, my Lords, the system of protection of ancient monuments, like so much else in this country, has relied, as it still relies, and relies successfully, on the good will and voluntary co-operation of all those concerned—those on whose land the monuments lie. The continuation and the extension of this good will is now required to safeguard thousands of field monuments which, having survived for hundreds of years, are now seriously at risk. I commend the Bill to your Lordships, confident that by means of it the continued good will and the voluntary co-operation of all concerned can be secured for the future. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(Lord Sandford.)

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, certainly my noble friends on this side of the House would wish to join the Under-Secretary of State in thanking Sir David Walsh and his colleagues for producing not only an extremely thorough and informative Report, but also one which is so readable, and which could well serve as a textbook to anybody who wants to learn more about these very ancient monuments of which we in this country are so proud. I wish not only to thank Sir David Walsh, but also to congratulate the Government on having taken this comparatively early opportunity of implementing at least some of the recommendations of the Committee. I hope that nobody will draw any political conclusions from the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Molson, has asked me to express his apologies for not being here this afternoon. He is engaged in a function of great environmental importance, otherwise I know that he would have contributed, as he always does so effectively, to the discussion of matters affecting amenity.

I know that in the course of any discussions we may have at a later stage there will be those who will be tempted to argue that it is the thin end of a rather dangerous wedge to start paying people for not doing wrong; and it will be argued that this is a breach of the new principle that the polluter must pay. Those, I think, are attractive arguments. At the same time I incline to the view that one cannot wholly disregard the effectiveness of economic incentives; nor can one ignore the fact that new methods of agriculture make it much easier and much more attractive to destroy these ancient monuments than was the case only a few years ago. So I do not take that point too seriously.

I think, however, that those who hold that view will say that it would be better and more effective to spend the money on strengthening the Inspectorate and widening its scope instead of spending it on paying compensation to farmers who are affected. I, and I think most of your Lordships, would certainly wish to strengthen the hand of the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments. I want to pay my tribute to them this afternoon; and think the whole House would wish to thank the Inspectorate for what they do in looking after the ancient and historic monuments which are in the care of the Department of the Environment. I only wish that more members of the public realised that for the small sum of 75p they can get a season ticket which allows them free entry to any of the monuments in the care of the Department of the Environment. If noble Lords are looking around for small Christmas presents for godchildren, I strongly recommend this as a form of valuable expenditure.

I am a little biased in favour of the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments, because my own interest in archaeology derives from the time when the present Chief Inspector, Dr. Arnold Taylor, and I used to tour the countryside looking at archaeological remains and mediæval architecture. But, quite apart from personal considerations, I know that all of us would wish, so far as possible, to strengthen the hand of the Department of the Environment in this most important work that they are doing.

Therefore I welcome this Bill very much. But in welcoming it, I do not think we should overlook the fact that it is a rather limited Bill. I notice that the Ancient Monuments Board, under the chairmanship of Sir Edward Muir, welcomed the Walsh Report, but regretted that it did not meet all the requirements for fresh legislation. Your Lordships may perhaps know that the view of the Board was that four points should be covered: first, that there should be a class of wardens recruited to undertake regular inspection of monuments; secondly, that the Ministry should publish an annual report on them; thirdly, that the work of the Inspectorate should continue to be centralised; and fourthly, that there should be a system of acknowledgment payment. Not all of those, of course, could be the subject of legislation, but they are important points, and perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will be able to assure us that he is working towards that end.

The British Academy welcomed the Report of the Walsh Committee, but they expressed disappointment that the Bill did not go rather more wide than it does at present. They believe that the Bill is admirably equipped to deal with the question of acknowledgment payments, but wish that it had covered the wider field. That view has been taken, also, not only by Mr. Allen of the British Academy, but by Dr. Nowell Myers on behalf of the Society of Antiquaries of London. In my opinion, we in this House would be well advised to take notice of the advice and the note of regret that those two learned societies have voiced.

I know the difficulty that Her Majesty's Government have in finding time in what is clearly to be an extremely hard-worked legislative Session, but at the same time this is early in the Session. This is a Bill which, I should have thought, perhaps in the light of my comparative inexperience, was eminently the sort of Bill which we could start in this House, go through it extremely thoroughly, with a great deal of experience behind your Lordships, and be able to send it to another place in a form which would make almost no demands upon the legislative timetable. And if the Under-Secretary of State and the Government feel it possible between now and the later stages of the Bill to expand the provisions so that it is more widely reaching than it is at present, I know that my noble friends and I would certainly be happy to join with the Government in any discussions. The last thing we want to do is to delay the Bill, but if we can make it rather more far-reaching and even more valuable than it is, I think the whole House will be pleased.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, I shall speak extremely briefly and at the outset I wish to declare an interest. My wife is an archaeologist and during the summer months and at weekends I am frequently without her company because she is engaged on rescue digs. Rescue digs are extremely important now because evidence is being destroyed very rapidly, and anything that can be done to give a longer time for rescue digs and more warning of destruction is very welcome. I am nevertheless a very strong supporter of the cause, and although I do not dig myself what worries me is that there are so few noble Lords, so far as I can find out, who have a direct—I emphasise "direct"—interest in what I think is just as culturally important as the other subjects which are brought up far more frequently in this House.

I had intended to say how disappointed many of us were that the Walsh Report, which contains a large number of recommendations, has not yet been implemented and that all we have to-day is really only one of its recommendations, welcome though that is. I understand, and I think in fact the Minister said earlier, that there is on the stocks a Bill covering a much larger number of recommendations. One is sorry to see that although the Walsh Report was completed in 1968 it has not yet been possible to have this fuller Bill. One realises, of course, the difficulty of pressures on time, particularly Parliamentary time, for these matters; but I hope that the Minister can give us a firm assurance that another Bill covering a wider number of recommendations is on its way.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to speak this afternoon but the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has prompted me to do so for a moment or two. I have a special reason for welcoming this Bill, coming as I do from Wiltshire. Parts of that county have, I suppose, a greater density of field monuments than almost any other area of the country. For a very long time it has seemed to me tragic that the perfectly normal and understandable operations of deep ploughing may be damaging, and in some cases destroying, these ancient earthworks. This Bill may go a long way, though probably not quite the whole way, to rectify that.

I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Sandford would explain a little further to the House one point that he made. He said that there were some 100,000 of these field monuments, but that only 8,000 of them were scheduled as ancient monuments and therefore covered by this Bill. Is he implying that the other 92,000 may get destroyed by ploughing because they do not look very important from above and therefore do not matter much? I can not think that that can be the Government's attitude, but his words were capable of that explanation. A little further information will be helpful to all of us.

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, before my noble friend the Minister answers, may I very briefly indeed say that I have a great deal of interest in this matter because, apart from the fact that I live in an ancient monument, I have recently been up to Orkney and Shetland. I think one thing that we should recognise is the tremendous care and love with which the custodians of these ancient monuments work. They are quite amazing. They are young and old; they work not only in good weather but through the winter. I have seen them at work, and those of us who have a real love for these things should, I think, be very grateful to the custodians, to the men, and boys, who work on these ancient monuments.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, while not wishing to pose as an ancient monument, I should say that a few years ago I, too, might have had an interest to declare because in those days I had what estate agents would call a small country estate in Essex, and in one field we had a scheduled ancient monument which was a source of great pride to all the members of the family. I am therefore a warm supporter of this Bill in its endeavours to preserve these ancient monuments.

May I ask the Minister one question? He said that there are about 8,000 of these monuments which are preserved. The foreword to the Bill assesses the cost in payments to the occupiers of land containing these monuments as £150,000 a year. That figure works out at nearly £20 per farmer per monument per year. For £20 he can rent and grow crops on a fair amount of ground—a far larger expanse of ground than that which would be covered by one of these monuments. I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell us how this figure of £150,000 is worked out, and what will be the basis upon which farmers will be compensated? At first sight, it seems to me that this payment is on a very generous scale.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, like other Members of your Lordships' House I am remiss in not having put my name down to speak during this debate and also in not having properly prepared the point of view which I should like to express; but I have an interest in this matter as the chairman of a committee concerned with trying to rescue and protect many of the treasures that lie below the surface of an ancient town in Essex, and doing so against great difficulties and with quite inadequate resources. Therefore one has a very strong feeling about the problems which this Bill underlines, and of how important it is that it should be given not only support but also perhaps a wider scope such as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale.

It appears to me—and I think that this was the point which my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor was making—that the farmers and landowners who are likely to participate in this scheme are those who already have the value and interest of these fieldworks at heart, who are anxious to protect them and indeed are prepared to enter into an arrangement of this sort to do so. But surely at risk are the many thousands of monuments on lands belonging to individuals who have no great historical or archaeological interest and who regard such relics as there are on their land as being simply hindrances to the work of their farm, estate or whatever it may be. I do not believe that this Bill, whatever its scope, will cover what I really think is at risk so far as the archaeological inheritance of this country is concerned.

I, too, hope that my noble friend Lord Sandford, of the Department will consider the possibility of extending the scope of this Bill, though I realise that there are other means whereby some at any rate of these historic monuments can be protected. I think that if we are to have legislation a Bill should go further than this Bill goes at the moment. I am sure that your Lordships realise this only too well: we have seen, not only in the country but now in the towns, development taking place to an extent and of a character which so quickly destroys all evidence very often before the excavators can get out and before there is any chance of protecting and rescuing so many of the things that are at risk at the present time. Therefore, any legislation which we put forward at this moment is timely but surely must be of sufficient strength to deal with the problems which all of us in our own localities in different ways are facing.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, having taken the trouble to look at the Walsh Report, I will not delay the House further but I would ask two questions. In the Walsh Report there are some 43 recommendations, and I would refer to Recommendations 28 and 37, whose implementation would not cost the Government any more money. Recommendation 28 says: The Ministry should issue a comprehensive annual report on the progress made in the field monuments programme…and it should put it on sale…". Recommendation 37 states: County Councils which have not already done so should consider whether adequate professional archaeological assistance is available to them and should examine whether the appointment of archaeological officers on a full or part time basis is called for in their areas …". As I say, I do not want to delay the House further, but I think both those Recommendations could go down from the Ministry to the appropriate county councils, and the one about publishing a report should be thought about. As I did not put my name on the list of speakers, it would be unfair for me to speak longer, but I would thank the Minister for a reply on those points.

3.31 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome very much, and I am sure that the Ancient Monuments side of our Department will welcome very much, the noble Lord's "commercial" for our season ticket. I welcome, too, the accord, if not the actual alliance, across the Floor of the House, which augurs well for the conduct of environmental business here during the Session; though I shall be surprised if it lasts to the very end of it. I am particularly gratified that not only has the Bill been welcomed but also a desire to expedite it, and even to add to it, has been expressed. We shall of course do our best to meet Sir Edward Muir's regrets, and in that connection I perhaps could point out that even under this Bill a dozen of the wardens who are so clearly seen to be necessary in this field will in fact be appointed. Several noble Lords have asked that the Bill should be widened to include a number of the other recommendations involving legislation. This is a matter to which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has given earnest and anxious attention, but in view of the state of our legislative programme it has been decided to concentrate on an item which I think everybody agrees is far more urgent and far more important than any other single recommendation; and that is the decision we have taken. I would urge noble Lords who are concerned about many other important recommendations not to put this important item on which we are legislating at risk by adding to the Bill.

In response to the question from my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, I would say that the scope of the Bill has to be limited to scheduled ancient monuments because of the impracticability of dealing comprehensively with the 100,000 field monuments. But, of course, it is within the scope of existing legislation to bring on to the Schedule those important field monuments which are threatened and which otherwise would be lost. In answer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Leather-land, I would say that, although his arithmetic is strictly speaking correct, it is too crude an equation to apply in that particular way, because he will recognise that field monuments vary enormously in size and the hindrance to agricultural operations caused by different kinds of monument make it quite impossible to say that £20 a year would be the standard grant. I hope that what I have already said deals with the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. My Lords, we are well aware that there are many other recommendations, both those involving legislation and those which do not, which need to have our attention and we are certainly seized of the importance of "getting on with it".

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.