HL Deb 14 November 2001 vol 628 cc656-72

8.38 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Anelay of St Johns. )

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Nicol) in the Chair.]

Clause 3 [Exercise of certain ministerial functions]:

Lord Redesdale moved Amendment No. A1: Page 2, line 44, at end insert— ( ) The Secretary of State shall provide the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England with such additional funds as are necessary for the Commission to exercise any functions specified by a direction under subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is simple: it is to question the ability of English Heritage to meet the onerous commitments of the new responsibilities under the Bill to deal with underwater archaeology.

I thank the Minister for her kind letter after the previous stage of the Bill, explaining the financial position of English Heritage. However, the money allocated—£200,000 a year—which is to be ring-fenced for underwater archaeology, will come from the increases that English Heritage was promised before the Bill was drafted. Therefore, the money had already been ear-marked. So it could be argued that the £200,000, which English Heritage could have spent several times over because it is strapped for cash at present, is in effect a reduction in the increase that it is getting—although I am sure that the Minister will not consider it as such.

The purpose of the amendment is to bring forward the case that has been put forward by the underwater archaeological lobby that the amount needed will be above £250,000. In fact it is estimated to be around £1 million or £1.2 million to meet the commitments for underwater archaeology. I hope therefore that the point will be taken on board that the funding of underwater archaeology will have to be re-examined. I beg to move.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

In a general sense it must be that the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, is correct and that it will be desirable that significant funding is attributed to underwater archaeology on the English Heritage account when this Bill is enacted, as I hope that it will be. That is a point which I am sure the Government have fully in mind since their proposals were very close to those in the Bill as set down by my noble friend Lady Anelay.

I cannot wholeheartedly support the amendment because one would not wish the Government, or indeed anybody else, to take fright at this stage at the financial commitments that ought to follow. Rather, I express the hope that when the Bill is enacted not only will consideration will be given to furnishing the sums which the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, says he has reason to believe will be supplied, but constructive consideration will then also be given to the further sums which will undoubtedly be necessary.

However, I should be sorry to see this financial point, significant though it is and ultimately correct as I believe it to be, as an impediment to the passage of the Bill. For that reason I cannot entirely support the amendment, although I support the spirit in which it is moved.

Lord Bridges

I rise to support Amendment No. A1 because it concerns Clause 3 of the Bill, which is at the heart of this proposed legislation. Let us be clear, the intention of this Bill is to authorise the transfer of responsibility for underwater archaeology from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to its affiliate body, English Heritage. Perceiving that, I have two consequential difficulties in mind.

The first anxiety is that the purpose of the Bill is not adequately reflected in the Bill's title. At present it is simply called the "National Heritage Bill". That is misleading and I give notice that I shall seek to introduce an amendment at the next stage. I supposed at first that a better title might be "Underwater Archaeology Bill", but there are provisions in the text relating to English Heritage alone. It might be better therefore to propose "National Heritage and Underwater Archaeology Bill". We can debate that later. But I suggest that it would simplify the task of those looking through the statutes at large to find the specific law if words relating to underwater archaeology were included in the title. We can be sure that this Bill will be the subject of future litigation and it is important that it should be readily accessible.

The second matter that I wish to raise concerns the wording of Amendment No. A1, which I am inclined to support, as I support the observations made on it by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew. I support the need to increase the level of resources likely to be available to English Heritage to carry out its responsibilities in the future. Those responsibilities are large and go well beyond the financing of the periodic meetings of the Advisory Committee of Historic Wreck Sites which take place at present. Incidentally, I am informed that the chairman of that committee has lately resigned and I hope that that will not further complicate the transition.

I hear that English Heritage has been making inquiries to discover what cash it can hope to receive to discharge its new mission. The results do not sound promising. This is not a case where the provision of a stool, desk and telephone in an attic room in Fortress House will be sufficient. Because of our long maritime history and our geographic position astride trade routes and strategic battle grounds in the past, we have large areas of seabed to protect and investigate—an area increased by the extension of our territorial waters to 12 miles. All that will require additional effort in cash, people and time.

From my knowledge of the work of English Heritage in East Anglia, it is already suffering from a shortage of those resources. So in one sense it is not surprising, although deeply regrettable, that we were not able to vote in favour of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Heritage on 29th October. Although it was not explicitly acknowledged by our delegate there, the underlying reason for our abstention from the vote in favour of a convention appears to have been that we are almost alone in Europe in not having an effective protection and management regime for historic wrecks. That is disgraceful. In this area of activity we should be in the van, not in the rear rank in company only with Belgium.

My fear is that this clause exemplifies the weakness of the Bill as a whole. It merely authorises the transfer of functions and says little or nothing about the discharge of responsibility. Perhaps that is a result of the Bill being presented in this form by a Member of the Opposition rather than by the Government. But at least I can understand or guess at the desire of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, to transfer this difficult subject to another department.

I have been in correspondence with the Minister about the forcible removal of a cannon by officials in her department. Her letter of reply arrived, surely not by chance, on Monday morning last and I shall reply to that shortly. Her letter is evidence, if it were needed, of the inability of those concerned in the department to understand the extent of the challenging issues which we face in the world of marine archaeology. I trust that that large responsibility will fare better under its new custodians. But that will require the commitment of additional resources and personnel skills. If the noble Baroness can reassure us on that point, it will greatly ease the passage of this Bill and give encouragement to those seeking to identify and protect our underwater heritage. That encouragement is sorely needed at present.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I agree that the title of the Bill is a little peculiar. It is difficult to know what the title should be. Although it relates to matters that are devolved to Scotland and, as I pointed out last time, touches on a devolved matter in Scotland, it is largely an English affair. It is somewhat insulting nowadays to talk about a "National" Heritage Bill when "National" usually means the whole country. I do not know whether or not the noble Baroness will be able to sort that out, or whether my noble friend will. It is an important issue.

If the Committee will allow me, I should like to use the discussion of this matter of funding to thank the Minister for what she has done as a result of a matter I raised at Second Reading. It actually related to Clause 1, but one could say that it relates to the whole Bill. I raised several points about the order which the Secretary of State may make to delineate waters that are adjacent to England and waters that are not adjacent to England; in other words, the waters of other parts of the United Kingdom. I was worried whether there had been adequate consultation. I found that my colleagues who were Members of the Scots Parliament had never heard of the issue, and that seemed to me to be rather strange.

I also asked the Minister about the bottom of estuaries, particularly the Solway Firth, where a wreck might roll from being in waters adjacent to England to being in waters adjacent to Scotland, thus bringing great riches to Scotland or the reverse. The noble Baroness very kindly wrote to me a very full letter on Monday. She had taken a great deal of trouble and I appreciate that enormously. She points out that there is a concordat, by which the different Parliaments together discuss such matters. That does not involve Members of the Scottish Parliament, only officials and the Executive. It may be that the issue will be raised in the Scottish Parliament. If so, how they deal with it will be a matter for them.

Such issues need to be examined at Westminster when they crop up so that we can be sure that devolution is operating well. It will operate well only if we ensure that relationships between the different parliaments are correct. Therefore, I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness. I hope that she feels that it was a useful exercise to consider the matter and ensure that we are operating correctly according to the rules as they stand at present.

The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Baroness Blackstone)

Perhaps I may start by responding to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and by focusing on the amendment and various points that he made in this little debate.

As the noble Lord stated, I wrote to him after Second Reading and tried to set out the funding arrangements for the transfer of underwater archaeology to English Heritage. I am extremely sorry to say that I need to make a correction to the figures in that letter, but it is a correction on the right side. The grant-in-aid will be increased by £5 million in 2002–03 and £11 million in 2003–04, not £9 million for the second year as I stated in the letter. That is a substantial improvement. Those levels of grant-in-aid reflect the fact that we intend to transfer responsibility for underwater archaeology to English Heritage during that period. As the noble Lord rightly said, English Heritage has been advised that the Government expects it to devote at least £200,000 per annum from that increase to underwater archaeology. That is not a reduction. We anticipated that this would eventually happen.

I should also make clear that that is in addition to the £340,000 per annum currently in the DCMS baseline for underwater archaeology administrative functions which will be transferred to English Heritage. That is the current cost to my department. An increase in spending of approximately 60 per cent will be available for underwater archaeology. I am sure that Members of the Committee will agree that that is quite a good increase. Underwater archaeology projects will be able to compete on equal terms with land archaeological projects for English Heritage grants.

I fully appreciate, as did the noble Lord, Lord, Renfrew, that English Heritage want to do the best possible job for underwater archaeology. However, Members of the Committee will not be surprised to hear me say that there is only a finite amount of funding available, which has to be allocated by the department according to many difficult and conflicting priorities. I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew.

It would be wrong to have an amendment of this kind on the face of the Bill. However, I do not think that that was the purpose of the amendment; the purpose was to probe. I hope that the probing has resulted in my being able to give information which will be helpful.

Before responding to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, perhaps I may respond to the noble Baroness. Lady Carnegy of Lour. I am grateful to her for her kind words. I am delighted that, having done a little more digging, I have been able to satisfy her about what will happen when the Bill is implemented in Scotland.

I think that we are all clear that that will be all right and that perhaps some of her initial concerns were not justified. However, she was right to raise them.

I was pretty flabbergasted by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, on a number of fronts. I have dealt with the point on funding. Perhaps I may begin with the UNESCO Convention. It is simply untrue to say that the UK abstained from the UNESCO Convention because it lacks an effective protection and management regime for historic wrecks. I really rather resent that suggestion. The UK has had legislation to protect wrecks since 1973, during the lifetime of a number of different governments, and already manages designated wreck sites in accordance with the rules set out in the UNESCO Convention.

However, we have concerns about the convention's proposal that the protection regime must be extended to all wreck sites over 100 years old, no matter what their historic significance. There are literally tens of thousands of wrecks off the coast of the UK. Therefore, we believe that that proposal would be impossible to implement and extremely expensive. The UK is therefore considering its position on the convention. Perhaps I may also say to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that the Ministry of Defence has considerable concerns over the status of warships as dealt with in the convention. That was another reason why the Government decided to abstain.

I was puzzled by the noble Lord's suggestion that my department is simply handing over this matter to another department. That is absolute rubbish. English Heritage is an agent of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. I work closely with the chairman of English Heritage. My officials work extremely closely with its staff, including its chief executive. The noble Lord used the word "disgraceful" to describe the Government's position on the UNESCO Convention. I hope that I have explained why I think that is completely purple prose and unfair.

Perhaps I may say that the noble Lord also indulged in a disgraceful attack on my officials, which was unacceptable. I find that particularly surprising, given that it came from a distinguished former official.

I do not think that there are any other issues raised by the noble Lord which I need to address in response to the debate on the amendment. However, I hope that in the light of my comments the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for giving us the opportunity to debate the crucial matter of funding. If there is inadequate funding, the work of English Heritage across all its remit is at risk. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate in such an authoritative way. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for her contribution and explanation and particularly, perhaps, for the correction upwards of the figure contained in the letter written to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. I am sure that all noble Lords will carefully monitor the actions subsequently taken by the Government in funding matters with regard to English Heritage.

Perhaps it is also appropriate at this point to thank my noble friend Lady Carnegy. I have found her experience in parliamentary matters, particularly in Private Members' Bills, to be extremely helpful and encouraging. If it had not been for her careful and persistent research, we would not have had such a clear explanation from the Government on several matters. I should like to register my thanks to her.

It is right that I refer to several important matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. He referred to the work of the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites and stated that he had been informed that the chairman had recently resigned. Perhaps I should make clear on the record that the chairman retired rather than resigned. I checked that matter this afternoon. Having served on the committee as chairman since March 1996, it is only for personal reasons that she is no longer in a position to continue as chairman. There is no reason that any of us should see her leaving in a sinister light. I am sure that if she were able to do so, she would love to continue with what is the light of her life.

The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, expressed his anxiety that the provisions regarding maritime archaeology are not adequately reflected in the Bill's Short Title. Earlier today, he was kind enough to inform me of his concerns and I explained then that the Title was chosen on the advice of the Public Bill Office in June, when I went there to discuss the Bill. Staff in the Public Bill Office took great care at that stage to consider what might be the appropriate Short Title and they undertook a great deal of research. I acted upon their advice.

After speaking to the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, today, I immediately returned to the Public Bill Office and I am grateful to the staff for their further advice. They have agreed that I may give the following information which I gleaned from my conversation with them. The Bill deals with more than underwater archaeology, vitally important though that is and neglected by many parliamentarians as it has been. But underwater archaeology is part of our national heritage, not separate from it. It is a most valuable part, as I stressed at Second Reading.

The advice of the Public Bill Office remains that the current Short Title is appropriate and sufficient. The staff advised that if it were extended—for example, to become the National Heritage and Underwater Archaeology Bill—it would become more like a Long Title. They pointed out that even when a social security Bill deals with a particular group of people, perhaps only widows, the Bill is still entitled "Social Security Bill". They stated that, for example, the provision to change the national air traffic control system was simply entitled Transport Bill.

Although I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, has good intentions and that he wants to make it as easy as possible for those interested in the provisions to be able to find the Bill in the indices, I am advised that the current Short Title should cause them no more difficulty in so doing than do other Short Titles in this regard.

I hope that with that explanation the noble Lord might have further thought about his intention, which he announced tonight, to amend the Title of the Bill on Report or at Third Reading. I would greatly welcome further conversation with him on the matter after the Committee stage and hope that we can resolve it by amicable agreement.

I conclude by repeating my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for tabling the amendment for debate. I am sure that we shall return to these issues in future debates, not least because the noble Lord has a great interest in these matters having been the prime mover in setting up the All Party Archaeological Group, for which we thank him. However, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

9 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

I shall dodge the arguments put forward in respect of the Short Title. They are wide of my amendment. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, raised an interesting issue relating to her speech at Second Reading. She asked who would claim jurisdiction over wrecks which were in disputed waters between England and Scotland. However, I can see a different scenario which relates to the amendment; that is, that the two organisations may fight to claim that it was in the other's territorial water because of the funding implications of a proper dig.

I did not expect the amendment to be moved—I was impressed that with the help of the Clerks I had managed to come up with a form of words which was almost acceptable. However, if the amendment were to be agreed to, it would result in the need for an open-ended cheque book. As the Minister said, there are vast numbers of wrecks and the amendment would commit many millions of pounds. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 1 Page 3, line 1, after "is" insert ", or may be,

The noble Baroness said: I tabled the amendment in response to views I have received within and outwith Parliament since Second Reading relating to the protection which can be given to sites. As the Bill is presently drafted, protection for sites can be given only when the Secretary of State is absolutely certain that the site is of historic or archaeological interest.

I am advised that frequently when sites are first investigated—marine environments as such—a clear and positive identification of remains is not easy. Archaeologists may have a reasonable idea of what they might be looking at, but at that stage absolute certainty is not possible.

I believe that if we can designate a wreck site on the basis that one has reasonable grounds to think it is significant, that will give it protection from less scrupulous people or bodies until investigations have been completed. A decision can then be made based on accurate data. At that stage, designation can be withdrawn if the site does not prove to be significant. The important point is that protection would be given by the amendment while investigations were underway. The site could therefore be protected from potential looters.

I am advised that if the amendment were not on the face of the Bill, protection would not be possible and valuable sites could be put at risk. I therefore hope that the Committee will agree to the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Bridges

As we are still on Clause 3, and as I have been corrected on a number of points, I hope that I shall be allowed to offer a few words of explanation. First, I had understood the chairman's retirement and I am grateful for the correction.

As regards the Short Title, I yesterday spoke to the staff of the Public Bill Office and explained my intention to them. The form of words I used in my speech reflected what I was told. Evidently, there has been a misunderstanding and what I had intended will not be possible. I must consider the situation further.

As regards the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, I did not suggest that in our voting record in the UNESCO convention we should give the reason that I cited. I merely suggest that that is the way in which it will be interpreted. It seems odd that we are unable to join that particular convention, which would be an indication of our commitment to the protection of the underwater cultural heritage. I am sorry that we are not able to do so. I did not believe that the alternative explanation given by the noble Baroness was particularly convincing.

Perhaps I may also add in defence of what I have done that in my letter to the noble Baroness I invited her to visit us in order that we could explain our local difficulties. However, in her reply she did not refer to our invitation. It is still outstanding and I hope that she may feel able to take it up.

Baroness Blackstone

I am grateful for the invitation. However, the noble Lord will probably be aware that there is a long-standing issue around this excavation. It would be helpful if he and I could have a further discussion about it. I am sure that he will also understand that there are a lot of pressures on my time, as on all Ministers' time. My only reason for declining his offer to visit was pressure on my diary. I should be happy to talk to him at some point about the issues which concern him. I had hoped that the letter I wrote to him would convince him. However, it patently has not. But there is no connection between when the letter was sen and today's business. The letter was sent when I received a draft after officials had considered the matter, and I was able to sign it. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that I did not write to him either to discourage him from speaking tonight or to encourage him to do so.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Before the Minister sits down, I was hoping that she would say that she agreed with my noble friend that this was a desirable amendment. We were discussing the amendment rather than the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges. Are the Government in favour of the amendment? Do they think that it will suffice?

Baroness Blackstone

The Government are in favour of the amendment. If the Government had not been, I would have spoken. I took it for granted that it would be understood that we were entirely behind it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

We were waiting with bated breath to know what the Government thought about the matter. That is why none of us spoke.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I am saved by my noble friend Lady Carnegy from having a heart attack. I thank her for getting to the heart of the matter and to the Minister for making it clear that the Government are in favour of the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 7 agreed to.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn moved Amendment No. 2: After Clause 7, insert the following new clause—

"LOCAL AUTHORITY SITES AND MONUMENTS RECORDS. (1) It shall be the duty of each responsible local authority in England to maintain an archaeological sites and monuments record. (2) The Secretary of State may by order prescribe—

  1. (a) the local authorities with responsibility under subsection (1),
  2. (b) the area of responsibility for each authority, and
  3. (c) standards to which sites and monuments shall conform.
(3) In maintaining archaeological sites and monuments records, it shall be the duty of local authorities to record portable antiquities found by members of the public whose residence or place of work is within the area of the authority.

The noble Lord said: I repeat my thanks to my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns for introducing this useful Bill. Perhaps I may say how much I appreciated the Minister's gracious Second Reading speech in which she supported the Bill's principal provisions. I hope that the Minister will feel able to give a response to my amendment since we attach great weight to the Government's views on these matters. In a Bill of this kind, we would not wish to move an amendment unless it had, if not the support, at least the acquiescence of Her Majesty's Government.

It is the same in substance as two amendments I set down for the Culture and Recreation Bill which had its Second Reading in January but which was unfortunately not proceeded with in the subsequent four months of the last Parliament. It is a probing amendment. I look forward to the observations that we may hear upon it.

I now realise that it might have been better to set down two amendments: one dealing with sites and monuments records, which I do not believe requires any substantial financial provision, and another relating to the voluntary reporting of portable antiquities which might require such provision. If it seems appropriate to proceed with these matters on Report, I shall set down these two issues separately.

The provision of sites and monuments records is central to the practice of archaeological conservation in this country including rescue archaeology, and hence to the protection of the national heritage. That is why it is pertinent to the Bill. Planning applications for new work are granted at district level and the availability of up-to-date data on archaeological sites which might be threatened or damaged in the course of development is of central importance to the system. With adequate information it is possible for appropriate conditions to accompany any planning permission which may be granted or indeed for planning permission to be withheld. In general, the system works reasonably well, and under the guidance of PPG 16 it is appropriately the developer who pays for any necessary remedial action.

However, the maintenance of local sites and monuments records is very uneven throughout England and Wales. It is a local responsibility but not yet a statutory responsibility. Nearly all competent bodies are persuaded that it should be statutory. That is the view of English Heritage, the Institute of Field Archaeologists, the Heritage Forum (which the Minister addressed a few weeks ago), the Council of British Archaeology and the Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers. It was only this week that the Minister welcomed the report on the operation of the Treasure Act. Recommendation 19 of the report states: The reporting of treasure to SMRs, which should be done by local reporting centres, needs to be improved, speeded up and made consistent. This would be greatly facilitated if local authorities were in future to be given a statutory duty to maintain SMRs". I am glad that the Minister welcomed that report, although she did not make specific reference to that recommendation in her welcome.

It is fully recognised, of course, that some SMRs are organised at county level, some at district level while some are organised by consortia so that different detailed arrangements need to be made on an area by area basis. My amendment recognises that circumstance.

The previous government, which had been planning to introduce such a statutory obligation as provided for in this amendment, held the view that this could be done on a de minimis basis: that the costs in each case of fulfilling the statutory requirement would not be so great that they would have to be met by a central government financial provision. That may or may not be the case, for certainly many SMRs are already well maintained. Those that are not would certainly require some resource input. But it is certainly arguable that the means should be found locally and that they would be so found if the obligation was a statutory one. On the other hand, there is no doubt that some additional Government support would be welcome.

It may be that the noble Baroness will, if she comments on the amendment, refer to the proposals in the English Heritage sponsored document—and I am still not entirely clear who takes responsibility for it— Power of Place which we have already considered in this House in the debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu; namely, proposals for historic environment research centres.

I am entirely in favour of these, as are most of the bodies which I mentioned earlier. But it is very clear that they would require significant funding. I shall be surprised if the Minister were to annmounce today that such funding will be immediately forthcoming and that historic environment record centres are to be set up immediately across the country. Perhaps I may emphasise that I would be entirely in favour of that for it is clear that the statutory obligation to maintain a sites and monuments record would be part of such an arrangement.

But if we cannot be given such an immediate undertaking it would certainly be appropriate simply to refer to future hopes in that direction. It would not he appropriate to use this issue as a smokescreen to hide inactivity and as an excuse for doing nothing for the SMRs themselves. The best can be the enemy of the good and in the field of the nation's heritage we have sometimes become used to seeing neither. I refer here to the failure of the present Government's Department for Culture, Media and Sport to introduce any new legislation whatever in the heritage field and to see it through the appropriate procedures. For whatever the Government's good intentions, as reflected in the Culture and Recreation Bill, it failed to prosecute them in the four months between Second Reading and the general election.

Therefore, I hope that when we hear the Minister's comments she will not seek to dispose of the matter of the SMRs by simply confusing the issue with that of the hypothetical historic environment record centres, which many of us do not expect to see in action during the life of the present Government. That would be no excuse for failing to grant statutory status to the SMRs.

I note that to grant statutory status to the SMRs would be an excellent and inexpensive way of working towards the future HERCs, for some SMRs are held electronically and in most cases it would be possible to divide the data quite readily into open on the one hand, and administratively confidential or just too detailed on the other. Internet access to this open information would be a workable objective and a first step towards the intentions expressed in Power of Place for on-line access to the HERCs. That proposal would of course be in harmony with the Government's "culture online" strategy in so far as we were able to understand it from the rather sketchy outline presented in the Culture and Recreation Bill.

So statutory SMRs can be seen as a necessary first step to statutory HERCs and any failure to implement the HERCs immediately would be no bar to immediate statutory status for the SMRs.

I turn now to portable antiquities. One of the real achievements of the present Government in the heritage field has been the pilot scheme for the voluntary reporting of portable antiquities, and I am sure that we would wish to acknowledge that. The finds officers who have already been appointed are in general much respected locally, but the immediate future of the scheme is currently said to depend on a lottery bid. Even if the bid is successful, it will provide funding for only a limited period. Therefore, perhaps I may ask the Minister for a clear statement on this matter. Unlike the previous element of my amendment, to maintain the scheme on a national basis would require some central funding. It would not be reasonable to expect local authorities to take up this additional obligation without it. But such funding would be limited in extent. Perhaps the noble Baroness would care to give us her latest estimate. Once again, all of this has its culture on-line aspects, and the voluntary reporting scheme for portable antiquities already has its website and Internet access. I should find it strange if the Government could not see the possibility for progress in this respect.

I recognise that the Government have recently taken a number of useful steps in relation to the archaeological heritage. Perhaps I may ask the Minister when she expects to introduce into this House the necessary formalities to complete Britain's accession to the 1970 UNESCO convention on the illicit traffic in cultural property.

The provision of statutory status for our SMRs would be a modest yet highly valuable step in that direction. It would help to fulfil one of the provisions seen as desirable in relation to the UNESCO convention, and more particularly the Valetta convention, which already has statutory force. I beg to move.

Lord Redesdale

I am tempted to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, in expressing the hope that he will not press the amendment—obviously, we want the Bill to go through.

However, I want to express my support for the sentiment behind SMRs, if not in the detail set out by the noble Lord. The issue is close to the heart of most archaeologists. It is one of the major, fundamental concerns that SMRs, given their part-time basis and their lack of funding, are a direct impediment to the dissemination of knowledge on which archaeology is based.

I especially echo the noble Lord's comments on the portable antiquities scheme. He mentioned the problems with funding and that it is based on a lottery bid. But an additional problem is that, although the scheme is worthwhile and has been commended, and although it has demonstrated practical benefits, at present it is not country-wide. Vast areas of the country are not covered.

I am an eternal optimist. I believe that, in their reply to Power of Place, the Government will announce that historic environmental record centres will be at the centre of the next Queen's Speech; I very much hope that they will announce that they are to be implemented as quickly as possible. That would solve our problems.

I realise that this is a probing amendment merely to raise the issue. I hope that the noble Lord will not press it.

Baroness Blackstone

Perhaps I may take up the issue of the Culture and Recreation Bill raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew. He also raised the matter at Second Reading. At that time I did not make any comment. The reason the Government did not prosecute it, to use the noble Lord's terminology, after Second Reading—and I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will confirm this—was that Front Bench spokesmen from his own party in another place did not like the Bill. They threatened to table 1,000 amendments and made it absolutely clear that they would not agree to negotiate in the event of the Bill failing to complete all its stages in both Houses if a general election was called. So as a result of what the Government saw as a somewhat unhelpful and intransigent approach on the part of some of the noble Lord's colleagues in another place, the Bill fell.

To return to the amendment, I am familiar with the arguments for placing SMRs on a statutory basis. As the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, said, the matter was touched upon by English Heritage in Power of Place, suggesting that such provision is necessary in the longer term. However, before embarking on such a course—as I am sure the noble Lord will agree—we need clear definitions of exactly what SMRs should comprise and also what it will cost. Unfortunately, I am not able to give the noble Lord an estimate at this stage. We need to give a little more thought to definitions.

As the noble Lord mentioned, as a more immediate aim, Power of Place recommended that SMRs should be expanded to become comprehensive historic environment record centres, the content of which would be widely accessible through electronic media. The report does not explain precisely what such records should comprise, but might include expanding the present archaeological records to embrace historic buildings, whether listed or not, possibly conservation areas, historic battlefields, parks and gardens, portable antiquities and various other things.

All of that is an attractive option but it is a big undertaking. It is important that we look at the practicality of making electronic access to that data widely available given variations in the way SMRs are presently operated. The Government are, of course, giving more thought to how we can improve the present situation. Therefore, I am sympathetic to what lies behind the noble Lord's amendment. We shall have a little more to say about that in our forthcoming historic environment statement which, as I have already indicated on various occasions, will be published before the end of the year. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on one or two of the other issues he raised which do not have anything directly to do with the amendment. In the light of what I have said, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

I am grateful to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to debate the matter. It is core to our debates on how we record our heritage both as regards sites and monuments records and portable antiquities. He is an authority on that matter. I was also pleased to hear the views of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, on those issues. I am sure it is something that we shall debate in detail. Certainly, with regard to SMRs, I am very much aware of the patchy provision around the country with regard to their maintenance. I understand from what the noble Baroness and my noble friend said that the Government are pursuing a somewhat different route—that of historic environment records. We shall follow the development of that government policy with interest.

I attended the annual general meeting of local government archaeological officers in July and I am certainly very much aware of the importance they attach to the matter. The reasons I did not adopt the course suggested by my noble friend and include measures in the Bill on SMRs and portable antiquities is as follows. As it is a Private Member's Bill I tried to be as restrained as possible and to cover relatively few issues. I certainly feel as if I have been overambitious, limited though my Bill is. Certainly as an individual I did not believe that I had either the resources or the authority to canvass the views of all local authorities in the country with regard to their current approach to SMRs and the financial implications for them if such a measure were implemented. I was certainly aware that some might object to a statutory system and all would have wished to have government undertakings regarding funding to support such a system. I therefore felt, somewhat reluctantly, that this issue could be resolved only by the Government and not by an individual through a Private Member's Bill.

I was certainly interested in the Minister's comments with regard to the Culture and Recreation Bill. She referred to my colleague in another place saying that the Opposition would table 1,000 amendments unless the Bill passed through all its stages. If that was said, it certainly was not in my hearing. I thought that I had attended all the ministerial meetings on that issue. That may not be the case and I shall certainly ask my honourable friend about what took place. In this House I believe that we tabled 180 amendments. The Government tabled 50 or so amendments to their own Bill before we reached Committee stage. It is a matter of record that the first meeting that the Government offered with the then Minister, Mr Alan Howarth, was offered late in the day. In practice, the Government offered us half a day in Committee on the Floor of the Chamber for a Bill with 40 or so clauses covering some contentious issues. The Minister may have been thinking of Part 4 which concerned culture on-line when she referred to opposition to the Bill. Perhaps, as always, there are two sides to that story. On this occasion, on this Bill, the two sides may come happily together. My noble friend was kind enough to refer to his amendment as a probing amendment. I therefore hope that he will withdraw it.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for his somewhat qualified support for the amendment. I understand his position and fully respect it.

We shall not prosecute further the demise of the Culture and Recreation Bill. We could discuss that in greater detail but that might not be profitable on this occasion. Whatever the recommendations of my right honourable and honourable friends in another place, I saw many merits in Culture Online and I imagine that I would have seen more if the details had been more fully spelt out.

I am grateful to the Minister for her careful words on the amendment. She said that the Government wish to give more thought to the issue and that they are sympathetic to it. She also said that we should await her historic environment Statement, which we will have before the end of the year. That will be most welcome.

The Minister discussed historic environment research centres. I counsel again that the best can be the enemy of the good. While we support the concept of HERCs, it would be a disaster if the SMR issue awaited the resolution of all problems relating to HERCs. She rightly spoke about historic buildings, battlefields, gardens and so on. All those matters have to be resolved in relation to HERCs, whereas very few matters need to be resolved in relation to SMR s. She referred to definitions; I believe that definitions are being pored over and refined at this very moment and that within just a few weeks we shall have agreed definitions in this regard. I therefore encourage the Government to proceed with both approaches, but they will find that the SMR issue can be resolved sooner and that the HERCs issue can be resolved later. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Anelay for explaining the modesty of her Bill; it is indeed demure in all of its aspects and we hope that it will have a very happy passage through the House. To facilitate that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with an amendment.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before ten o'clock.