HL Deb 27 April 1994 vol 554 cc747-51

8.41 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Treasure Bill, have consented to place their prerogatives and interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 2 [Meaning of "treasure"]:

The Earl of Perth moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 18, leave out ("200") and insert ("300").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I said on Report that it probably seemed wise to have the age of coins and the age of objects in parallel in the Bill. At that time, the Bill stated that coins 300 years old should have to be reported, but the provision was only 200 years for other objects. I even went to far as to say that it looked as though 200 years was almost within our memory, but I now move an amendment that 300 years should be the requirement.

Some noble Lords may have noticed that in Clause 2(1) (c) the provision remains 200 years. That is because the Secretary of State, who has those powers, may want to change the requirement to a later date in the light of experience. I should add that I think that that is most unlikely. I say that lest your Lordships think that that provision of 200 years remains in the Bill by mistake. I beg to move

On Question, amendment: agreed to.

Clause 3 [Jurisdiction of coroners]:

Lord Renton moved Amendment No. 2: Page 3, line 18, leave out ("trove").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the word "trove", which I seek to leave out of the provisions, is, I believe, unnecessary and misleading. It does not appear in the Coroners Act 1988, except in a side note which is not part of the law. Indeed, the word "trove" is not mentioned in that context anywhere in the Coroners Act 1988. As I have said, as it would be not only unnecessary but misleading to include it in the Bill, I accordingly beg to move.

Lord Stewartby

My Lords, I should like to raise a matter relating to the difference between "treasure trove" and "treasure". I hope that if I put a modest query to my noble friend the Minister, she will be able to put my mind at rest. As I read the Bill, Clause3 refers to the jurisdiction of coroners ceasing in relation to treasure trove. Clause 1(6) refers to the Crown's right to, any treasure trove found after the commencement", of the legislation, implying that the concept of "treasure, trove" continues. I should be grateful if my noble friend could first assure me—and place it on the record—that, in fact, the practical effect of the Bill is to put an end to the law of treasure trove as it currently applies.

My second point, which is closely related, is that Clause 2(1) (d) states that, any object…which would have been treated as treasure trove if found before the commencement of", this legislation should be treated as "treasure". That means that all existing "treasure trove" definition would be subsumed within the new definition of "treasure". However, Clause 2(1) (d) also refers to, any object not within paragraphs (a) to (c)". Paragraph (a) refers to a "coin" and paragraph (b) refers to, any object (not being coin)". That is drawing a distinction between an object and a coin. Furthermore, Clause 2(8) states: 'artefact' includes a coin and any part of an artefact", but "object" is not stated to include a "coin".

Unless it is absolutely clear that an object in Clause 2(1) (d) includes coins, it is conceivable that certain discoveries which would currently be defined as "treasure trove" would still be "treasure trove" or at least would not be redefined as "treasure". I hope that my noble friend might be able to comment on that point. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of the details of the Bill and may be able to help me immediately. If not, I shall be content if she will write to me about it.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, if I may deal first with my noble friend Lord Renton, in whose name Amendment No. 2 stands, I am grateful to him for his explanation of it. As he knows, I have reservations about his approach on this point, but I do not want to introduce an element of discord into our harmonious proceedings at this late hour and, at this late hour, if it is the wish of your Lordships that this amendment be accepted, I shall not seek to stand in your Lordships' way.

I turn now to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Stewartby. I am happy to confirm to him that the effect of Clause 1(6) is to abolish "treasure trove". The effect of the Bill is to replace treasure trove with a new statutory concept of treasure. The purpose of Clause 2(1) (d) is not to continue treasure trove in any form but to ensure that from now on any object which would have been treasure trove but for the Bill will now be treasure. Secondly, my noble friend Lord Stewartby questioned whether there was any significance in the fact that "artefact" is defined as including a coin whereas there is no corresponding definition of "an object". I am happy to confirm that the word "object" is wide enough to include coin without the need for further definition. Where it is intended that coins should not be treated as any other object, the Bill makes express provision, as in Clause 2(1) (b). I am conscious that I am surrounded by legal eagles. I will write to the whole lot of you if anyone wishes for further information on those points.

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps I may in reply —I have a right of reply as I moved the amendment —say how grateful I am to my noble friend Lady Trumpington. Quite frankly, my amendment is a simple drafting one. It is wonderfully simple, and I hope that your Lordships will accept it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4 [Duty of finder of treasure to notify coroner.]:

[Amendment No. 3 not moved.]

An amendment (Privilege) made.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

I shall say just a brief word on the Bill's history. It has had a long period of gestation. I wish again to thank all those who played their part in its birth. I have not mentioned before Lady Hanworth of the Surrey Archaeological Society. She has been involved from the very start. She was present at innumerable meetings and consultations when we were putting the Bill into shape. I know that she rejoices in its passing, but by a curious coincidence she has today another cause for rejoicing: it is her 54th wedding anniversary. I say to her and to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth: on to the diamond!

What else should I say about the Bill? It started as a weakly child, but suddenly it flourished when the welcome support of the Department of National Heritage was announced by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, on Second Reading. She said that the Bill's paramount objective was to encourage the reporting of finds and to discourage wrong behaviour. In this, archaeologists and metal detectorists both have their part to play. I met Mr. Wells, chairman of the National Council for Metal Detecting, a little while ago. After our meeting, I received a letter which said: We are particularly appreciative of your concern that responsible metal detection is not adversely affected by the Bill". I confirm that again most strongly. Also, of course, landlords have a place in this Bill for the first time. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(The Earl of Perth.)

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps I may say briefly how much your Lordships and the whole of England and Wales owe to my noble friend Lord Perth. Tonight is the climax of several years of endeavour on his part to protect our heritage, and to prevent the disappearance of masses of valuable and fascinating evidence going back even earlier than the bronze age.

I shall say a quick word about people with metal detectors. They have unearthed a good deal of such evidence and have, as my noble friend said, mostly been responsible and helpful in ensuring that their finds go to museums. But the Bill would have been necessary even if the metal detector had never been invented.

Finally, I wish to join in thanking my noble friend Lady Trumpington and her advisers for the rapid way in which they have made improvements to the Bill. Despite what my noble friend Lord Stewartby said, I am convinced that the Bill is workable. Any Bill can be drafted in several different ways. This way is as good as any.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Donoughue, who is unavoidably absent, has asked me to tell the House, first, that he regrets not being here and, secondly, that he wishes the Bill well. He also wants me to congratulate the Minister and her colleagues on accepting the good sense of what the House was trying to do. If what the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has been doing is to bring in more control, then we are in favour of "Perth control" of this kind. I wish the Bill well.

Lord Stewartby

My Lords, before my noble friend the Minister rises, in case the words of my noble friend Lord Renton conveyed sentiments that I did not mean to express, I should say that I felt that it would be helpful if my noble friend the Minister could clarify the rather arcane point about the future status of treasure trove and assure us that the Bill not only discontinued treasure trove but that in a technical sense it was, indeed, workable. I was not intending to cast aspersions on it. Perhaps I may also pay tribute to her for the way in which she has conducted the Bill, and, of course, to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for his enormous achievement in bringing the Bill to such a successful conclusion in your Lordships' House after many years.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, at this stage I feel rather like a midwife, called in by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for the birth of his baby. There has been the most remarkable degree of support for the Bill in all parts of the House. I am delighted that the Government have been able to offer support and that the debates at each stage have been so constructive. That is a great tribute to the way in which the Bill has been handled by the noble Earl and to the support that he has received from his colleagues, particularly my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Renfrew, who have both made extremely valuable contributions to our debate. I know that your Lordships will join with me in wishing the Bill a safe passage through the other place.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, I am told that I have the right to reply to what has just been said by your Lordships and by the Minister. I want to say just two things. I wish to thank noble Lords on all sides of the House who have supported the Bill at various times during its history. It shows how much we all care about the past and, in particular, about the tangible past which is what we have been dealing with. We should say thank you also to the media. They have given the whole issue prominence. That makes people realise how important treasure can be to our history.

Finally, I, and I am sure all of your Lordships, hope that the Bill will go smoothly through another place. There it will be in good hands. I ask that the Bill do now pass.

On Question, Bill passed and sent to the Commons.