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Miss McIntosh: Has the hon. Gentleman estimated the size of the continental shelf around the British isles, especially the coast of England?

Mr. Dismore: The usual assumption is a limit of 200 miles for economic activity purposes except when we neighbour another country and the continental shelf is shared. I recall that from my days of studying international law at university.

Some sites that are not covered by the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 should be categorised as war graves at sea. They include: merchant and passenger vessels that are sunk, whether by enemy action or not; wrecked naval ships as opposed to those sunk or run aground by enemy action; aircraft, although they might be protected by existing legislation; and ships that are more than 200 years old. If we were to extend the legislation, we could provide valuable protection to those sites that are beyond territorial waters.

I know that the definition of ancient monument in the legislation is to be redefined to cover some of those categories. We could use that mechanism to provide additional protection for war graves that are not covered. Although such sites do not comprise naval ships, many people would think of them as war graves. For example, ships that were torpedoed in the battle of the Atlantic or as part of a world war one convoy are not protected unless

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they are naval vessels. I think that it is important to protect the graves of people who tragically died in those important years that preserved our national life.

More ancient wrecks may also need protection as the work of divers gets more sophisticated. That includes ships of the Spanish armada and the Napoleonic or French revolutionary wars. It could also include East Indiaman ships. At the moment, those ships are well protected because of the depth at which they lie, but they could soon become vulnerable.

It might be worth considering whether we can extend the Bill's provisions beyond territorial waters to include ships on the continental shelf. I am not suggesting that we should protect every one of the million wrecks at the bottom of the sea, but we might need the powers of protection in appropriate cases as and when they become detected.

Mr. Greg Knight: Affording protection will work only if the sites are policed. How would that process be carried out?

Mr. Dismore: I was going to deal with that when we discuss the next group of amendments. There is a provision in the 1986 Act which has yet to come into force. Protection is afforded at the moment through a voluntary code of practice that the diving communities operate among themselves. To an extent, they form an underwater neighbourhood watch that looks after such sites. My concern is that those wrecks would not be covered even under the existing legislation designed to protect them. I do not suggest for one moment that in the next few days people might go diving on wrecks that are further out, but the reserve powers that the amendment would provide should be available so that an important wreck found, say, 13 miles out could be protected.

Sir Sydney Chapman: I am grateful for the contribution made by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), whom I know well and who is a near neighbour. I am aware of his great knowledge of matters archaeological and of the fact that he is a lawyer, so I am hesitant about quarrelling with him about his amendment.

My understanding of the scope of my Bill is that adding the words "and continental shelf" would extend its application to areas that are outside UK territorial waters. Moreover, the Bill covers only powers in relation to the waters of England; properly, there is separate legislation for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That may cause problems—I do not know, as I am not a lawyer.

The provisions on underwater archaeology are intended to enable English Heritage to incur expenditure on the archaeological investigation and preservation of wrecks designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. Clause 1 covers wrecks

As the jurisdiction of the 1973 Act does not go beyond the boundary of 12 miles, I do not think that it would be permissible to add to my Bill the words proposed by the hon. Member for Hendon.

Mr. Greg Knight: My hon. Friend raises a serious point. Will he enlighten us about what would happen if the amendment were accepted and the Bill was

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subsequently employed to try to affect areas that are beyond the jurisdiction of our courts? Would that make the whole Bill void or liable to a challenge before the European Court? If the amendment could have either of those consequences, those of us who initially had some sympathy with the hon. Member for Hendon might conclude that he should be prevailed upon to withdraw it.

Sir Sydney Chapman: I have done a considerable amount of research on the provisions of the Bill, but I am not a lawyer—still less an expert international lawyer—nor would I pretend to be. I could go so far as to say that when I was deciding what profession to take up, I was advised to start at the top of the alphabetical list and work down. I knew that I did not want to be an accountant or an actuary, and I was in danger of not being able to spell the word "archaeology", so I moved on to the next one down, which was architecture. That is why I am an architect.

In all seriousness, my understanding—I would welcome the Minister's clarification later, if not now—is that it would be necessary to make changes to the 1973 Act, which would require separate legislation. Moreover, the fact that the continental shelf is a pretty large area could give rise to practical problems, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) suggested.

I suspect that the amendment may not be appropriate in the context of my more modest measure, but I await the Minister's clarification of whether that is so.

1 pm

Miss McIntosh: The scope of the Bill, as I understand it, is restricted to allowing English Heritage to become involved in underwater archaeology in territorial waters adjacent to England. I would say, in the friendliest spirit, to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) that the amendments are unnecessary. There is very little continental shelf within England's territorial waters, and continental shelf beyond that is not part of English Heritage's remit.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I am an international lawyer, having graduated from the Edinburgh university. The international law lecturer there when I was a student was a rapporteur on the North sea conference. I commend to the hon. Gentleman the latest conference report, of which there are three copies in the Library. In that spirit, I urge him to withdraw this group of amendments.

Dr. Howells: Extending English Heritage's powers to allow it to operate on the continental shelf outside the 12-mile territorial limit would require careful consideration and could affect interests beyond those of English Heritage—perhaps even international interests. It is a big issue for us to consider at this late stage of the Bill's consideration.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) made some interesting and far-sighted suggestions. I remind him that, within the limited context of the Bill, the amendments may not be as appropriate as he thinks. It was never our intention to allow English Heritage to operate beyond the 12-mile limit of UK territorial waters adjacent to England. Putting England on a 12-mile limit

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makes the position the same as in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so we are removing an anomaly and the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) should be congratulated on that.

The situation has been anomalous and, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the underwater archaeology provisions are intended to enable English Heritage to incur expenditure on wrecks designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 in or under the sea bed in UK territorial waters adjacent to England. The jurisdiction of the 1973 Act does not go beyond the 12-mile limit, so we have to resist the amendments.

Mr. Dismore: The amendments were designed to draw attention to a risk that is not immediate, but may emerge in the future. Economic activity such as oil platforms may pose a threat to wrecks that are not currently accessible, but may be in the future. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Dismore: I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 1, line 19, at end insert—

'(4) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Act shall permit any activity on or near any wreck prohibited by the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.'.

This is a probing amendment designed to ensure that I receive, on behalf of the House, assurances from the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman).

Clause 6 amends the National Heritage Act 1983 by inserting a new section 33C, providing the commission with powers to meet the cost of, for example, surveying, excavating or other investigations undertaken in respect of a protected wreck, the removal of such a wreck or any part of it, the arrangements for its preservation and so forth.

I want to ensure that nothing in the Bill would in any way enable people, with the assistance of English Heritage, to do something forbidden by the Protection of Military Remains Act. That Act creates two different types of protection. First, it is possible to designate a site, such as an area containing naval vessels that were sunk or stranded as a result of military action by another country, or vessels of another country's armed forces, provided that they are within UK waters.

Only those vessels are protected by the legislation and perhaps we should consider whether to extend that protection to aircraft in the same way that the Bill extends the provisions of the National Heritage Act 1983 to aircraft. I have already gone through the other categories that are not included.

The effect of designation is to prohibit a series of activities on such sites—activities that mirror fairly exactly those that are to be permitted, indeed encouraged, by the amendments the Bill would make to the legislation.

The alternative form of protection under the Protection of Military Remains Act is for a protected place, whereby a specific vessel that appears to have been sunk or stranded while on military service is designated, whether or not its last resting place is known. Our earlier discussions are relevant to the fact that that protection applies anywhere in the world, not only in our territorial waters, to vessels that sank after the start of the first world war.

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No sites have yet been designated under the Act as either controlled or protected sites. Currently, they are protected through the voluntary code that was introduced by those who engage in diving for recreational purposes. I want to do nothing that will detract from their activities. I think that they have behaved extremely responsibly in drawing up their seven-point plan to respect wrecks and helping to police the sites. However, I am concerned that technological advances may result in people attempting to interfere with sites that are, in effect, war graves.

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