HL Deb 05 April 1982 vol 429 cc44-5

5.9 p.m.

Lord Abinger

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time. If I may make one brief comment on it, I believe that the subject of the Bill, the better care of antiquities, has a wider than purely domestic interest. If I may put it like this, I think that we in Britain would be concerned and distressed if states like Egypt and Israel, or great nations like Italy and Greece, did not take proper care of their antiquities. Antiquities are not only part of a national heritage; they are part of the human heritage. The countries I have mentioned would have an equal right to hope and expect that we in Britain would take proper care of our portable antiquities, too. Unhappily, Britain is behind other countries in this respect in our legislation; but, while I cannot claim that this Bill aspires to being able to put a bad situation completely right, I would claim that it is at least a step in the right direction. The noble Earl who has spoken for the Government in our debates on the Bill has suggested that the Bill proposes a radical change in the law on property. I can only say with the greatest respect that I cannot agree with him. I would claim that the Bill seeks no more than a fairly modest extension of the existing law, the law of treasure trove.

I should like, in conclusion, to express my gratitude and thanks to noble Lords who have supported the Bill; my particular thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, who has given it staunch support and who has reflected the view of the British Museum; my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, who spoke eloquently in support of the Bill and with the authority of having been a Minister in the Department of the Environment; and, not least, my thanks to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, for his brief intervention. He suggested that in some respects the law of treasure trove is an ass. My wish might be that this Bill would seek to make it a little less asinine.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a third time—(Lord Abinger.)

The Earl of Avon

May I first acknowledge the time and attention that my noble friend Lord Abinger has devoted to this Bill and the contributions of others in this House who have generally supported the Bill or have sought to improve it. Its basic aim is to seek improved arrangements for the recording of archaeological finds and for their subsequent disposal. If, in the course of these debates, the Government have seemed rather less than wholehearted about the Bill, this reflects some doubts whether in practice these aims are achievable in this way. There are also some matters about which your Lordships have heard me express misgivings. These points have been mentioned in the course of debate and I have no intention of labouring them now. The Bill has many friends in this House and I would not want to cast a blight on the proceedings. I end as I began, by complimenting my noble friend on the way he has piloted the Bill through the House and on the diplomatic way in which he spoke this afternoon.

On Question, Bill read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.