HL Deb 31 October 2001 vol 627 cc1491-506

7.39 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I have three objectives in presenting this Bill to your Lordships: first, to remove some anomalies in the powers and functions of English Heritage; secondly, to recognise that in 1999 English Heritage merged with the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England and, thirdly, to implement some of the uncontroversial proposals in the 1996 Green Paper, Protecting our heritage, published by the previous Conservative government.

There are three broad policy issues covered in the Bill: underwater archaeology, the trading functions of English Heritage and the delegation of English Heritage functions to other relevant heritage bodies. I shall begin by speaking to Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 6 together as the arguments relating to them are to a large extent common. These clauses transfer responsibility for underwater archaeology from the DCMS to English Heritage. Many organisations and professional and amateur practitioners in marine archaeology and associated occupations have asked for that development for many years. It has been a main recommendation of the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee and was part of its 1989 Heritage at Sea proposals and the more recent follow-up, Still at Sea. It was universally accepted in the consultation which took place on the 1996 White Paper.

If this Bill is enacted we shall at last see underwater archaeology being dealt with by the most appropriate heritage organisation. The seas around Britain contain an immense wealth of archaeological sites and remains. Indeed, I estimate that the density of wrecks is probably the highest in the world. These include extensive submerged landscapes, mainly prehistoric, and remains from all the history of the British people and their exploitation of, and dependence on, the sea. As a major naval, mercantile and industrial power and as an island experiencing successive waves of settlement, our history is inextricably linked to our surrounding seas. But despite that rich maritime history, and in contrast to the situation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, English Heritage, the lead agency for managing the physical remains of the historic environment in England, does not have responsibility for marine archaeology. That means that English Heritage is unable to survey underwater sites or fund work on them, give advice relating to them or assist the Secretary of State in the discharge of functions conferred upon her by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.

I believe that we are failing to take the much needed action to protect a significant part of our national heritage. Much of the work that is done, if it is done at all, is undertaken by amateur groups, or relatively poorly resourced non-governmental organisations. That is despite a longstanding government commitment to treat the underwater heritage in a similar way to that on land. That is not intended as a party political point for it refers to both Conservative and Labour governments. It was indeed a commitment in the Conservative environment White Paper of 1990.

I summarise the problems with the current framework. The Protection of Wrecks Act was never intended as a long-term solution to statutory protection of the underwater heritage. Key problems arising from the Act and the procedures arising from it are as follows: it relates only to wreck sites and not to other forms of underwater site and it does not explicitly recognise the desirability of conserving sites, seeking only to apply appropriate standards of salvage. Unlike the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, it makes no provision for the active care and management of sites. It is concerned only with the problems arising from unregulated diving rather than with the wider range of activity such as aggregate extraction and fishing which, of course, could affect wrecks. Over the past 25 years it has, I am afraid, resulted in the protection of only about 50 sites around the United Kingdom.

Scotland and Wales do not suffer from those drawbacks as they are able to declare wrecks as ancient monuments and fully support their appropriate management and funding. I believe that the sooner English Heritage can operate in a similar fashion the better that will be. I refer, for example, to "Stirling Castle", a sealed 18th century warship, one of four sunk on the Goodwin Sands in the great storm of 1703 and recently partly exposed. At first the site was allowed to degrade through divers' activities and natural causes. Now it has been designated and divers and archaeologists are very aware of the respect due to the wrecks and their contents. There remain real concerns at natural decay caused by erosion, tides and storms. If the "Stirling Castle" were a monument on land, it would receive funds, proper management and continual attention. Maritime archaeology, therefore, languishes and cannot revive except through palliative care from dedicated and largely amateur activity. I believe that government should allow a structure that enables heritage agencies to become fully engaged. The current situation only allows English Heritage to act in an unofficial capacity.

I believe the benefits of my National Heritage Bill will be the following: English Heritage's expertise in site management and preservation can be applied; and the extension of definitions to include vessels, aircraft or other movable structure should take account of future desire to protect anything of archaeological significance. English Heritage should bring its expertise to bear to manage the archaeological diving contractor, providing buoys and providing the secretariat for the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites.

Maritime archaeology and protection of wrecks will benefit from the great advances made in terrestrial archaeology. The extension of English Heritage's remit should result in great endeavour across the whole range of marine archaeology, including prehistoric and mediaeval submerged sites, scattered debris relating to ships, shipping and coastal activity and seabed emplacements.

Also marine and terrestrial archaeology remains form a seamless physical and intellectual continuum and the extension of English Heritage's remit means that for the first time a framework would exist for a common approach to their study and management. A framework 'will exist which will allow resources to be directed to preservation in situ and active management of marine sites. As regards wrecks, proper management would consider and act on issues of erosion, aggregate extraction, fishing and development, as well as salvage and looting.

Divers are, of course, essential to the exploration and monitoring of wrecks and sites. The Bill is fully supported by associations representing divers and sub-aqua interests, who are committed to conservation and the aims of marine archaeology. They take positive action to educate their members about wreck protection.

I turn to Clauses 4 and 5 which deal with issues regarding the trading functions of English Heritage. Clause 4 enables English Heritage to produce souvenirs relating to ancient monuments or historic buildings which are situated in England and to sell souvenirs. It is important to point out that English Heritage will not be able to act in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland in these matters.

Clause 5 amends an anomaly whereby English Heritage may offer its services and expertise in England but not currently outwith the United Kingdom. The National Heritage Act 1983 restricts the activities of English Heritage almost exclusively to ancient monuments and historic buildings situated in England. But there is a demand for English Heritage expertise, goods and services outside the UK, and the intention is, therefore, to give English Heritage the powers needed to meet that demand. As English Heritage will be able to charge for these services, the Bill will enable it to generate additional income.

I assure the House that English Heritage should not and will not operate in competition with existing commercial concerns. It will complement and not conflict with the services already offered by commercial concerns for operations outwith the UK. By developing relations with overseas bodies English Heritage will help to stimulate the market for UK commercial companies. Overseas agencies look to English Heritage for training and advice. They see English Heritage as at the forefront of heritage development, scientific techniques and environmental policy making. Less experienced agencies would, I believe, welcome its assistance, but will not find themselves subject to interference.

Clause 7 introduces new functions whereby English Heritage can delegate its functions to another person if it has the finance available to do work which is within its own remit but simply does not have available the personnel or the time to do the work itself. That is purely a practical solution to a problem that can arise.

Clause 8, the last clause, covers commencement and extent, taking appropriate account of those matters that are devolved.

The two organisations that are directly affected by the Bill are English Heritage and the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites. Both have signalled their support for the Bill. I am grateful to David Miles, chief archaeologist at English Heritage, and Lady Merrison, who has recently retired as chairman of the advisory committee, for their wise counsel. On a personal note, I particularly thank Lady Merrison, who had the misfortune 36 years ago to teach me history at university. I hope by this Bill to be able to prove that I have not quite let her down yet.

I have received many letters of support from archaeological and heritage organisations and from members of the public. The Delegated Powers Committee has reported on the Bill and said that there is nothing in it to which the committee wishes to draw the attention of the House. However, it made one recommendation in paragraph 5, which says: However, we note that the Secretary of State has power by order to define boundaries for the purposes of the Bill. We are conscious of the sensitivity of this matter and would wish to be assured that the devolved authorities were content with the proposed arrangements". I understand that the Minister has been in contact with the devolved administrations and will be able to give such an assurance tonight. My understanding is that the order referred to in Clause 1(3) will simply reiterate the definitions and co-ordinates of the boundaries published in the devolution legislation and that the co-ordinates will therefore cover remains on the sea-bed. I should be grateful if the Minister could confirm that that is her understanding too and that the devolved administrations are content with the order-making power.

Finally, I am grateful to those noble Lords who have put their names down to speak tonight. I hope that they feel able to support the Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Anelay of St Johns.)

7.52 p.m.

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

My Lords, it was unfortunate that the provisions in the Bill were lost with the rest of the Culture and Recreation Bill that was introduced in the last Session of the previous Parliament. The Government still think that t he changes need to be made, so I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, shares my view that the provisions deserve a second chance.

Broadening the powers of English Heritage to allow it to export its goods and services abroad and to take on work associated with underwater archaeology will be of great benefit not just to English Heritage, but to the historic environment and the heritage sector in general. I assure the House that these provisions have been subject to a number of extensive consultations and have received a very positive response from a wide range of heritage organisations, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said. I am happy to say that the Government wholeheartedly back the Bill. It is a good example of cross-party support for a Bill, underlining the important role that the historic environment can play in people's lives.

Before I speak more generally about the Government's view of the Bill, I shall deal with the issue raised by the Delegated Powers Committee and mentioned by the noble Baroness. Both wanted to be assured that the devolved administrations were content with Clause 1. I can confirm, as the noble Baroness has asked, that my department has been in contact with the devolved administrations. Both Ministers and officials in the devolved administrations said they were content with the Bill. The Scottish Executive and the National Assembly for Wales had originally expressed concerns about the order-making power under Clause 1, but I am pleased to say that we have been able to reassure them. The committee and the House can be assured that the devolved administrations are content with the proposed arrangements.

Perhaps I should briefly explain the need for the power. The Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 gave Her Majesty in Council and the Secretary of State powers to make orders determining territorial sea boundaries between the home countries. Those powers can be used only for the specific purposes of the Scottish and Welsh devolution Acts and in relation to functions dealt with by those Acts. The conferment of these new underwater archaeology functions on English Heritage are not within the scope of those powers, so there is a need for separate and distinct order-making powers. The order under the Bill will reproduce exactly the definitions and co-ordinates of the relevant boundaries that were specified in orders made under the devolution Acts. We have stressed that to the devolved administrations and they are happy with those assurances.

Some noble Lords may prefer to see that stated on the face of the Bill. However, this is the sort of issue that is generally dealt with by order. The Bill adopts the same approach as the devolution legislation and is therefore consistent with that legislation. The House may be assured that when my department comes to prepare the order we will consult colleagues in the devolved administrations on its terms to ensure that consistency is properly reflected. Furthermore, our expert advice is that there is no difference between the co-ordinates at the surface of the water and at the sea bed. The vertical line at a particular point strikes the same place whether it be at the surface or the sea bed; there is no deflection.

It is also important to note that, by mutual agreement, the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites will continue to operate on a UK-wide basis. English Heritage will provide the secretariat, but will consult with the heritage bodies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland whose members will attend committee meetings. That consultation and committee will provide a channel in which any issues and concerns can be raised and discussed. Any wrecks that might straddle boundaries will no doubt be dealt with in that forum.

The overseas trading provisions of the Bill carefully define "foreign" as being outside the United Kingdom, recognising that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own heritage bodies, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, made very clear.

The National Heritage Act 1983, which established English Heritage, restricts that body's activities exclusively to ancient monuments and historic buildings situated in England. However, there is a demand from overseas for English Heritage's expertise, goods and services. England is noted for its cultural heritage and I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that English Heritage is a leading brand name that is respected throughout the world for its expertise, skills and experience in the management, conservation and restoration of the historic environment. At present English Heritage has to turn away requests to use that expertise in foreign countries. That is very sad.

The overseas trading provisions in the Bill, like those in the Culture and Recreation Bill before it, will make it possible for those skills to be shared with a wider audience. I believe that they will benefit the heritage sector in two ways. First, they will create the opportunity for English Heritage to sell products and services round the world, which will generate additional income to benefit its work in England. We can all be pleased about that. Secondly, they will create export opportunities for other British suppliers and contractors in the heritage field who are keen to benefit from English Heritage's lead. Smaller private sector organisations presently find it difficult to penetrate overseas markets without a leading organisation to gain entry. Consequently, they will not be competing with English Heritage but, rather, benefiting as subcontractors or from follow-up orders. I can confirm to the House that the overseas trading provisions do not give English Heritage powers to undertake such activities in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Those countries, of course, have their own heritage bodies.

I turn to the underwater archaeology provisions of the Bill. These arise from the fact that the National Heritage Act 1983 and the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 do not give English Heritage powers to act below the mean low water mark. That means that it cannot perform the same functions for underwater archaeology as it can for land-based archaeology. Again, I believe that the noble Baroness made that very clear. It includes activities such as the provision of educational facilities and services, public information and advice, and contributing towards research costs and grants, to name only a few.

Furthermore, it is not possible for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to direct English Heritage to carry out certain administrative functions in relation to underwater archaeology. In particular, I refer to running the secretariat for the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites and the management of the contract for the provision of archaeological diving services on designated wreck sites throughout the United Kingdom. DCMS has therefore had to retain those functions. English Heritage's involvement would permit more expertise to enter the decision-making process.

The provisions contained within the noble Baroness's Bill will rectify such anomalies. They will enable underwater archaeology to benefit from English Heritage's services and will allow underwater archaeology projects to benefit from English Heritage grant schemes. There is a broad consensus that those administrative functions would best be carried out by English Heritage. Furthermore, it is accepted by the devolved administrations that those functions should be carried out on a UK-wide basis with English Heritage consulting the heritage bodies of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Bill will make that possible.

I know that many in this House have concerns about the effective protection of historic wreck sites and of items found on them. I believe that the Bill put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, will make a significant contribution to improving the current regime in England by enabling English Heritage to take responsibility for advising on the management of sites and making grants for their preservation. My department works very closely with the Receiver of Wreck, who is responsible for making decisions on the disposal of material recovered from wrecks in UK waters, to ensure that the best possible home is found for historical material. I am sure that English Heritage will do likewise.

A. final point to mention is that the Government's comprehensive spending review of 1998 recommended the merger of English Heritage with the Royal Commission on Historic Monuments in England. The intention was to create a single organisation capable of acting as the lead body for the historic environment in England, covering both terrestrial and marine environments. Although the two bodies have merged in practice, underwater archaeology is one of the two issues that have prevented their full legal amalgamation. The passage of this Bill will take us nearer to completing that very desirable process. Action on the other issue of pension schemes is also in hand.

Before I finish, I should tell the House that the Bill is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. In addition, my department is preparing a regulatory impact assessment for the Bill, which I shall place in the Libraries of both Houses.

In conclusion, the Bill is a valuable and useful piece of legislation, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for introducing it. It will give English Heritage the opportunity to export its expertise and also to generate more income. It will create opportunities for smaller private sector organisations to penetrate the overseas markets. It will place underwater archaeology on the same footing as land-based archaeology and, most importantly, it will further enhance English Heritage's stratus as the lead body within the sector. Once again, perhaps I may say how pleased I am to be able to offer the support of the Government.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Redesdale

My Lords, we on these Benches also support the Bill wholeheartedly. We thank the noble Baroness for introducing this Private Member's Bill. Indeed, as the Minister pointed out, we have already debated these provisions in the Culture and Recreation Bill. But for, perhaps, a failure of this House to reach an agreement, that Bill would have been allowed to pass its further stages. I believe that one issue which was a sticking point—culture on line—is now coming into being without the provision of legislation.

This Bill is limited, as are all Private Members' Bills. It is hoped that the risks to the Bill which would have been introduced by the concerns expressed by the devolved assemblies are now no longer an issue. I very much hope that it is given a fair wind in another place.

However, because archaeological Bills are such rare and precious objects, I believe that it would be unfair to miss the opportunity to lament some of the matters which are not raised in the Bill. That is no indictment of the Bill as drafted by the noble Baroness. One issue that should have been in the Culture and Recreation Bill was to make SMRs statutory. Now I believe that the Government have put forward a proposal that SMRs should be replaced by historic and environmental record centres. But that seems a good deal in the distance, and I believe that we have missed an opportunity to preserve the system that we have at present.

Another area—although it is perhaps even wider of the Culture and Recreation Bill—is reform of the CAP. One major issue affecting archaeology at present is the destruction of sites through ploughing. Another issue that could have been considered is a code of practice to deal with the issues brought about by the Valetta Convention. However, the Minister was kind enough to share her thoughts on that matter last week at the Society of Antiquaries. She indicated that a voluntary code of practice may be the way that the Government are looking forward on this issue. Although I support very much the Institute of Field Archaeologists' code of conduct, I consider that a voluntary code will still have some cost implications. I believe that these matters will be the subject of debate in the future.

Another area which perhaps could have been considered is the vast list of buildings mentioned on the English Heritage Buildings at Risk list. I should also like to have seen a measure to introduce a criminal offence for destroying sites of monuments, a review of PPGs 15 and 16 and a review of the curriculum introducing pre-history. 'Unlike most planners of school education, I believe that most human history took place before the Romans landed. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, whose subject is based firmly in an era which pre-dates the history taught in the curriculum, is nodding in agreement.

All those—I am sorry to have put forward a wish-list of such length—are probably areas that would necessitate the introduction of a fully-fledged archaeological Bill. I hope very much that the Minister will put forward the need for that at the next ministerial Cabinet when DCMS makes its bid for new legislation. However, I digress slightly from the aims of this most sensible Bill.

I want to raise three points about the Bill, although I support its aims and objectives and they are well set out. The first concerns the issue of underwater archaeology. I want to raise the sensible measure of considering not only wrecks. Following the flooding of the North Sea 10,000 years ago, most of Britain would obviously have been counted in the highlands of Europe. The North Sea would have been the most fertile area on which to find Mesolithic sites and, indeed, many Mesolithic artefacts have been recovered. Underwater archaeology has progressed to the extent that digs can be undertaken on sites. I raise that because large funding implications are involved. Underwater archaeology is one of the most expensive forms of excavation. The Culture and Recreation Bill proposed that funding for underwater archaeology would come from the English Heritage emergency fund for rescue archaeology but that fund is already vastly over-stretched. We may introduce provisions relating to underwater archaeology but, without proper funding, we might take away the means to undertake that work.

My second point involves the extent to which English Heritage should work abroad. I can see the appeal of making its well-known and internationally valuable expertise in that field available in other countries—it was previously available until it was realised that that was outside the scope of English Heritage. I am raising a neglected issue. One reason why English Heritage so desperately wishes to work abroad arises from the associated financial implications; it manages to raise money by working abroad. Speaking as an international development spokesman, I have a slight apprehension about the fact that if English Heritage works abroad, it will not, on a financial basis, be able to give its expertise to those countries that most desperately need it—sub-Saharan Africa, African countries and developing countries. I say that because the arrangement might fall outside the criteria in the new International Development Bill, which sets out the criteria for DfID. It might not meet the needs of the poorest.

My third point relates to the sale of souvenirs, which is a valuable area. I must declare an interest because I run a small archaeological reconstruction centre in Northumberland, and I realise that a vast proportion of our revenue comes from the tea shop and the souvenirs that we sell. The secretary-general of the Society of Antiquaries provided me with a particularly fine example of an English Heritage souvenir. It is a snow globe, and if one shakes it, it produces a snowstorm over Stonehenge. It is very fine, especially because it has the word, "Stonehenge" emblazoned on the front in Greek letters. English Heritage obviously knows something about the construction of Stonehenge that we do not. However, I was told that it would be against the provisions of the Companion to brandish the snow globe in the Chamber this evening! I shall not raise questions of taste about what English Heritage sells.

I finish my rather lengthy remarks by posing a question. Has English Heritage, by selling souvenirs up to this point, been breaking the law, and have those who bought souvenirs been doing likewise? If not, it would be helpful to have that confirmed. That underlines the fact that English Heritage is underfunded with regard to the provision of its services and the sites that it maintains. We shall return to that matter when we discuss the difficulties that it faces concerning its work on buildings at risk.

8.14 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I am bound to say that it is somewhat curious that the Government, having had four years to bring forward these important provisions, gave them such a low priority that they appeared so late in the previous Parliament that the Bill fell. They have failed to reintroduce similar provisions in this Parliament. It has fallen to my noble friend Lady Anelay to attempt, from these Conservative Benches, to do the job for the Government. I congratulate her on her remedy—she is clearly making much progress with the Minister and the House—and I hope that she succeeds. Many people are waiting with impatience for the Bill.

I want to speak only about Clause 1, which relates to underwater archaeology. The aim of that clause is clearly sensible. As it stands, it could be the source of all sorts of trouble, which could easily be avoided if action is taken now. As my noble friend and the Minister have explained, Clause 1(3) will enable the Secretary of State to determine, by order, for the purposes of this Bill, the parts of the United Kingdom territorial waters which are to be treated as adjacent to England, and"— this is the important part— those which are not". Despite the fact care for heritage is a devolved matter, there is nothing in the Bill that will make consultation and agreement with those devolved administrations that are affected by the Bill mandatory. In other words, the Bill states that the Secretary of State—who, by virtue of Clause 8(5), is the Secretary of State for England and Wales—may, in detailing which seas are adjacent to England, also partly determine which seas are adjacent to other parts of the United Kingdom. There is no reference in the Bill to consultation or agreement, which to me is extraordinary.

My noble friend and the Minister mentioned that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, of which I am a member, has commented on the matter. My noble friend read out a comment from the report, which pointed out the sensitivity of the issue. My noble friend and the Minister have responded with several important assurances—the Minister has given some this evening, for which we are grateful. We are told that Ministers of the devolved administrations have been consulted and are happy with the arrangements. Furthermore, in the case of Scotland, which is my particular concern, the Minister said that the boundaries proposed in the legislation will be identical to those that are already agreed, for a different purpose, in the Scottish Adjacent Water Boundaries Order 1999.

I point out that such an order can be varied and that there may be other orders. That is not the only issue with which we are dealing. The assurances may well satisfy the Select Committee and there will no doubt be discussions on the matter. Such is the sensitivity of any definition within United Kingdom waters that the Bill should either make consultation and agreement on the order mandatory or the order should state what the proposed boundaries will be, so that everyone can see that the boundaries are already agreed by the administrations concerned.

If the Minister advises my noble friend that the Bill should be amended in either of those ways, and if my noble friend agrees to table an amendment, I shall not need to take any further action. This is an important matter. I shall read the Minister's remarks again but I do not think that anything that she said will change my view of the matter.

I would also like to ask the Minister two questions. I realise that she is not on the list to speak again, so she may like to write to me or to my noble friend, or if she knows the answers immediately, she may answer before I sit down. First, she said that the definition of a boundary on the surface would continue in a straight line to the sea-bed at the bottom—implying that the definitions were the same. I should point out that, in the case of the Solway Firth, where the north shore lies in Scotland and the south shore in England, as in other inlets, the tides and the work of dredgers cause the seabed constantly to shift and move. One could imagine a wreck moving with the sea-bed. Is her contentment fully justified in the case of such inlets? She should consider the matter, unless she has already done so.

Secondly, if the Bill is enacted, will the Government give an undertaking in Committee that when orders are laid a belt-and-braces statement is made that the boundaries set cannot be used in arguments unrelated to the Bill? On the face of it, the Bill precludes such an argument; but the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, when moving the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999, said: The boundary provided by the draft order has particular significance for sea fisheries. I wish to make it clear—though it should be self-evident—that the boundary has no significance for other matters at sea which are reserved. In particular, it has no relevance to the regulation of oil and gas exploration and production at sea since these are reserved matters".—[Official Report, 23/03/99; col. 1264.] Devolution had not yet come into effect, but the noble Lord knew how those boundaries might be used in argument. He made the matter clear; it is on the record in Hansard and can be referred to whenever necessary. It would be good if the Minister could assure us that such a statement will be made when an order is moved under the Bill.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the noble Baroness is raising extremely esoteric issues that require expert advice. Experts have been consulted on the matter. I thought that all that I said provided her with adequate reassurance, but I am entirely to happy to write to her on the matters that she raises.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. It would be worth doing that, because both questions are important from the Scottish perspective—I know that she appreciates that sea boundaries are slightly more sensitive than they are south of the Border.

8.24 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, it seems strange that the first national heritage Bill to emerge under the present Administration should be a Private Member's Bill proposed by an Opposition Member. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns on her welcome initiative.

It is stranger still that this Bill should be salvaging part of the wreckage—to use a nautical metaphor—of the Government's Culture and Recreation Bill, which sank without trace in the weeks and months before the general election. I remind your Lordships that that Bill received a Second Reading on 18th January—long before the general election. I hoped that the Bill would proceed through the House during the many weeks and months between January and the election. 'The present Bill comprises, almost verbatim, Clauses 19 to 24 of that sunken Culture and Recreation Bill.

I take this opportunity—my first—to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, to her new position as Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, responsible for national heritage. With her much respected clarity of mind, she will be able to give us clear answers to heritage questions.

I also pay tribute to her noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who has dealt so effectively and sympathetically with heritage matters in this House. Indeed, only this week he successfully managed to get the Treasury off the hook with its strange proposal to sell off the Privy Council silver collection by recognising its evident heritage importance. I also recognise the progress made by the predecessor of the noble Baroness as a culture Minister, Alan Howarth, who has supported the portable antiquities voluntary recording scheme, and who announced the Government's intention to accede to the 1970 UNESCO convention—something that many of us warmly welcome.

The Bill is especially timely because it is now clear that historic wrecks in our waters are increasingly subject to systematic looting, such as has become familiar off the east coast of the United States where historic wrecks are commonly plundered for their cargoes, which are then offered for sale. Naturally, such recovery is not conducted to the high standards of underwater archaeology, nor are the results properly published nor the finds lodged in a publicly owned museum. On sea, as on land, the problem is the loss of context, and of the historic information that accompanies such loss. It is vital that we strengthen the procedures by which ancient wrecks are preserved and opened to systematic investigation by competent workers who will publish the data professionally. The Bill goes a long way in that direction.

Just last week, I received a circular from, a British based salvage company with an interest in recovering historical as well as commercial shipwrecks. In addition one of the company's aims is to establish a commercial shipwreck Heritage Centre. The circular offers shares in the company, and states: The Directors hope to raise … £750,000 in share capital". I deplore those who seek to commercialise our heritage in that way and to sell off the evidence of our past. The company announces that it has relocated to the southeast of England on the grounds that, there are a number of relatively untouched wrecks off Kent particularly on and around the Goodwin sands". The circular concludes: You should note that an investment … should qualify under the Enterprise Investment Scheme: conferring EIS capital gains tax deferral and EIS income relief. Something is seriously wrong there, and I hope that the Bill will make it more difficult for the heritage of Britain—with respect to my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour—to be exploited inappropriately in such a way.

We need a competent national organisation to deal properly with our historic wrecks and the Bill, which brings such matters within the remit of the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England—that is, English Heritage—will be a significant step forward.

To broaden our perspective a little, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale has done, some may feel that national heritage has had a rather low profile under the Labour Government. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has replaced the former Department of National Heritage, and has not produced a single piece of legislation in the field of heritage, other than the ill-starred assortment of items proposed but not passed in the Culture and Recreation Bill.

In the Green Paper, Protecting our Heritage, published in 1996 when we still had a Department of National Heritage, a whole series of recommendations were put forward. Furthermore, the recommendation for statutory sites and monuments records was put forward in the document, Power of Place, which we debated 12 months ago in a debate initiated by my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. But where are those proposals? And, indeed, where is the Government's response to Power of Place?In another context, I have heard the Minister say that the Government plan to respond soon and that is welcome. But where are the provisions for sites and monuments records about which there seems to be virtual unanimity in the heritage world and in local government?

I am a little perplexed that the noble Baroness is not expected to reply at the end of the debate because I had a series of further questions. I should be happy to have my questions answered and having asked them would defer at once if she felt inclined to do so. However, I am a little puzzled to know what are the Government's plans in relation to the other provisions of the Culture and Recreation Bill. I have the Explanatory Notes for that Bill before me and note that the structural changes laid out include the establishment of a single body, the Arts Council, to bring together support for arts and crafts; the creation of the commission for architecture and the built environment to promote architecture on a wider basis than the Royal Fine Arts Commission; the establishment of a film council to prepare and implement a strategy to improve access to the moving image; the creation of Resource, the council for museums, archives and libraries, as a new national strategic body for museums; the transformation of the English Tourist Board; and the reconstitution of the Football Licensing Authority as the sports grounds safety authority. The matter of safety on sports grounds is no trivial one.

I was interested to learn from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, that the Government have other proposals for Culture Online, but I am not aware of an announcement to that effect. I had hoped that a debate on the National Heritage Bill today would afford the noble Baroness the opportunity of indicating the Government's proposals. I am not sure that I have the opportunity to ask those questions and, more exactly, I am not sure that the noble Baroness has the opportunity of replying. That is a matter for disappointment but I await the announcement of the Government's intentions on these matters as soon as conveniently possible.

In conclusion, I want not only to congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay but also to welcome the constructive response which the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has given to the proposals. It sounds a fruitful debate and it is satisfactory that the Government have responded in such a constructive and graceful way to the proposals which have been made. From what I have heard I am hopeful that the Bill will have a smooth passage through your Lordships' House and I hope that the same may be said of its passage in another place.

8.33 p.m.

Lord Luke

My Lords, most of what I wanted to say has already been said, so I shall not keep your Lordships very long. First, I want to reiterate everything said by my noble friend Lady Anelay in introducing the Bill. As she said, she has two main objectives: first, to remove some anomalies in the powers and functions of English Heritage; and, secondly, to implement some of the uncontroversial proposals from the 1996 Green Paper, Protecting our Heritage, published by the previous Conservative government.

Among other things, she has made a very strong case for the inclusion of underwater archaeology into the remit of English Heritage. As she said, that problem is not evident in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Historic Scotland and CADW can of course declare wrecks and ancient monuments and where appropriate fully support their management and funding. For instance, in Scapa Flow anchorage lie the seven remaining vessels of the Imperial German High Seas Fleet (four light cruisers and three battleships). Those have been scheduled as ancient monuments. The other vessels of the fleet, which sank in shallower water after scuttling in 1919, have long since been retrieved and broken up. The protection now available in Scotland makes removal of items without permission from a wreck illegal, but allows access by divers as a tourist attraction under the Ancient Monuments Act 1982.

Again, under the 1973 Act, which requires divers on specified wrecks to be licensed, in the Sound of Mull Historic Scotland allows an archaeologist to run a wreck visiting scheme to two wrecks under his supervision due to their precarious position. So both those Acts can be usefully employed to protect heritage as well as allowing and indeed encouraging public access. As has been said by several speakers, there is no reason why English Heritage cannot operate similarly.

It is important to keep in mind war graves. What is a war grave and what is not? For instance, the ships in Scapa Flow, to which I referred, sank without loss of life, in contrast to the battleship "Royal Oak", which was sunk by a German submarine in Scapa Flow in 1939 and is a designated war grave, rightly reflecting that it is the final resting place of more than 1,000 sailors.

Another matter has been drawn to my attention by a Mr Annis concerning the status of historic vessels. Apparently, there is no proper mechanism by which these very important relics of our past can be properly maintained, except by public subscription and occasional and entirely inadequate grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund. I hope to take up that matter with English Heritage, which apparently relinquished its responsibilities for historic ships in 1992, and hope that the best way of resolving the issue may emerge in due course—and, it is to be hoped, before some of the historic ships, which are fast deteriorating, completely disappear.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy is unhappy with boundary designations. I hope it will be possible to resolve that before the Committee stage and I am pleased that the Minister will investigate the matter. My noble friend Lord Renfrew also spoke in support of the Bill and of what should be done to preserve underwater archaeology. He also wondered about other matters lost in the Culture and Recreation Bill earlier this year. I do not know what, if anything, can be done about those.

This is a small Bill but a worthwhile one. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, there should be no need for controversy as both its aims and suggested changes are supported on all sides. Let us give it a fair wind.

8.39 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken this evening and for the general welcome for the Bill. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour, who has brought her experience of parliamentary scrutiny so carefully to bear on the Bill. I know that she bears the battle scars of the Scotland Act and other debates on devolution, and I very much appreciate the care and attention with which she always alerts me in advance to the concerns that she has on these matters.

I am grateful to the Minister for the assurances that she has given tonight with regard to the order that may be made under the Bill by the Secretary of State. I assure my noble friend Lady Carnegy that after, as I hope, Second Reading has been granted. I shall take up expeditiously the issues that she raised before we reach Committee stage. I want to ensure that my noble friend is content with the reassurances that have been given, and if not, that they may be addressed by amendment. I shall discuss these matters with my noble friend.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, for saying that I have not been ambitious enough in the Bill. In the past two or three months there have been times when I have felt that I had over-reached myself. I sympathise with the views expressed by the noble Lord about having an archaeology Bill. He produced an impressive shopping list of his own, which I am sure appealed to your Lordships.

My noble friend Lord Renfrew is concerned about the possibility of commercial exploitation of our heritage. I am sure that all noble Lords present are concerned that no such exploitation should be allowed to imperil what is so important to our country.

The Bill gives us the opportunity to ensure that English Heritage's responsibility will run seamlessly from the land to the seabed within the limits of our territorial waters. I appreciate that we shall have to consider carefully those definitions before Committee stage. If the Bill is passed, it will send a message to those inclined towards salvage rather than research and preservation that England places a proper archaeological value on her underwater heritage.

I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.

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

House adjourned at nineteen minutes before nine o'clock.

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