HL Deb 27 March 1979 vol 399 cc1468-73

2.52 p.m.

Bill read 3a with the Amendments.

Clause 42 [Restrictions on use of metal detectors]:

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendment No. 1: Page 39, line 23, leave out from ("is") to ("situated") in line 24 and insert ("either— (a) the site of a scheduled monument or of any monument under the ownership or guardianship of the Secretary of State or a local authority by virtue of this Act; or (b)")

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 1 to 8 together. The purpose of this group of Amendments is quite simply to remove an unnecessary distinction. As at present drafted the basic offence of using a metal detector without consent applies equally to "protected monuments" (that is to say, scheduled monuments and monuments under the ownership or guardianship of the Secretary of State or a local authority by virtue of the Bill) and to designated areas of archaeological importance; but the secondary offence of removing an object of archaeological or historic interest discovered by using a metal detector applies only to those protected monuments. This apparent anomaly arose from a reluctance on our part to create new offences without clear justification. During the drafting of this Bill we have had increasing evidence that an irresponsible element among metal detector users deliberately ignore their own code of conduct and its instruction not to interfere with archaeological sites.

Just as the scheduling of a monument has attracted treasure hunters in the past so, I fear, will the designation of areas of archaeological importance act as a beacon in the future. These areas are designed to allow archaeological excavation before development and there is a real danger that treasure hunters will descend upon such sites in mid-excavation when finds may be easily located. Indeed this is already a growing hazard in archaeological excavations. My Lords, it is the Government's duty to do what they can to prevent such vandalism and to ensure that archaeological areas do not become a treasure-hunter's paradise. Designation of an area is not, of course, designed primarily to prohibit the hobby of metal-detecting; it is designed to enable the archaeology of important areas to be professionally investigated and recorded. Amateur metal-detecting works directly against this end. The Government have therefore decided that the offence of removal of objects by this means should apply in these areas as it will on the sites of protected monuments. I beg to move.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Government for having introduced these Amendments. They go a certain way to ameliorating the situation about which we were all rather afraid. We all know that there are dangers, as the noble Baroness has said. I should have liked—possibly she might also, but I cannot speak for her —to see it go further in giving protection from these metal detectors in irresponsible hands. Putting these metal detectors into the hands of some people is like putting a dodgem in the hands of a child on a motorway. I have heard from the noble Baroness at very full length—and I am grateful—as to why the Government feel that it is hard to go further than they have gone. I understand that it is fraught with difficulty of a legal kind. So far as they have gone, I am most grateful.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Baroness STEDMAN moved Amendments Nos. 2 to 8:

Page 39, line 29, leave out from beginning to ("he") and insert ("in a protected place")

Page 39, line 41, leave out from ("detector") to ("in") in line 42 and insert ("in a protected place")

Page 40, line 7, leave out ("either")

Page 40, line 10, leave out from ("interest") to end of line 13.

Page 40, line 14, after ("subsection") insert ("(1) or")

Page 40, line 17, leave out ("the site of a protected monument") and insert ("a protected place")

Page 40, line 19, leave out subsection (8).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendments Nos. 2 to 8 en bloc.

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

An Amendment (privilege) made.

2.57 p.m.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In doing so, I should like briefly to thank noble Lords for their informed and constructive comments, not only in this House but also in correspondence. I trust that my replies here and my letters have not only clarified much of the thinking behind the provisions but have also given reassurance where necessary. I am also gratified by the warm welcome which the House has given to this long-awaited measure.

Past experience indicates that the opportunity for such major legislation about our archaeological heritage comes only about once in a generation. It is therefore probable that this Bill will have to serve as the legislative framework at least until the end of this century. I believe we have produced a measure that will serve that purpose well because it makes adequate provision for preservation or recording in the face of inevitably increasing threats for our heritage without imposing impossible and unreasonable burdens on developers and others. I am very grateful to noble Lords for their help in improving the Bill and in getting it through. I hope it may have an equally safe and speedy passage in another place. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.— (Baroness Stedman.)


My Lords, we have been very lucky in the Government having a Minister in the form of the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, to move this Bill. She has done it with great tact and ability. There have been many fears from the mineral operators and people in cities, developers, about the effects of this Bill. We are at one with the Government in their intent to preserve what is best of the past for future generations' information. Archaeology is this. We want to preserve ancient monuments intact.

This Bill has consolidated a lot of previous small Bills which have never been effective because they have been so disjointed and people did not know the law sufficiently about any one point. The way the Government have gone about the archaeology areas Bill has been very satisfactory, certainly from the archaeological areas' point of view. I think that the mineral operators ought to be satisfied with the protections and, above all, the assurances that the Minister has given from that Dispatch Box.

There are one or two small matters that have come to my notice since. One or two county councils have expressed worry lest, with the increasing enthusiasm for archaeology, small splinter amateur archaeology groups can spring up in areas where there are already well established archaeological groups. Sometimes these small groups are able to go to the noble Baroness's Department of the Environment and collect grants, although not of enormous sums, I agree. One county mentioned that a small splinter group had received a sum of some £30,000 and was being slightly a pain in the neck of the established archaeological group. The one county I am thinking of, in particular, suggested that it might be better if the Department were able to consider with the council concerned and possibly disburse their charity to these bodies, their benevolence, through the local authorities. The latter would have advance information of motor planning or town planning and therefore would be able to channel the funds to areas where they would be more useful to the community because the matter would not have to be dealt with in such a hurry. That is not a big point, but I wish to mention it at this stage so as to bring it to the notice of the Government.

We have been particularly lucky with the Bill, in that all the complainants—be they the farming community, the landowning community, the CBI, mineral owners or mineral workers—have at the end of the day, so far as I am aware, all expressed themselves as satisfied with the way the Government have expressed their intention to proceed and operate the Bill, and to that extent the Government are to be congratulated. The noble Baroness has been the catalyst of the Bill for the Government and I congratulate her sincerely. So far as we can see from these Benches, it should prove a useful measure. If experience shows otherwise, whatever Government may be in power, it can be altered, but I agree with the Minister that this will be the definitive measure for some time to come.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray and Stourton, gave me notice that he would be raising the particular point he has asked about. I have had a short time to make some inquiries about it and I hope I may be able to satisfy him on that point. The body he referred to is the rescue unit which has for many years carried out rescue investigations in Kent. It has its own archaeological trust, and it is known as the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit. The noble Lord is right in saying that the Department provides the bulk of its funds, and £30,000 has been allocated for 1979–80. That covers four projects of which three are in the post-excavation stage.

We certainly do not support splinter groups, and the Kent Archaeological Society is anything but a splinter group. Fortunately, many county councils are taking an increasingly active interest in archaeology. The Department and, I am sure, noble Lords, welcome that. Kent County Council are, we understand, considering the appointment of an archaeological officer, and that too is to be welcomed. We cannot understand why the continued support by the Department of a long-established rescue unit should be a matter of difficulty for the county council at this time. We understand that the unit has applied to Kent County Council for help and we understand too that it has perhaps not disclosed the amount it has received from the Department. If so, the unit has been remiss and we deplore that action on its part. However, there is no secret about our grants. We shall be happy to supply to Kent County Council any details of grants we have given to this organisation or others in their county if they care to approach us.

If the noble Lord has other particular points in mind and will write to me, I will go into them at greater detail. It is clear that this is a matter of administration, not something arising directly from the provisions of the Bill, which I hope may now pass.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.