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Standing Committee Debates
National Heritage Bill [Lords]

National Heritage Bill [Lords]

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Standing Committee C

Wednesday 13 March 2002

[Mr. Mike Hancock in the Chair]

National Heritage Bill [Lords]

Clause 1

New Functions Relating to Underwater Archaeology

10.30 am

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman: I congratulate the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) on whipping everyone present so effectively.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): This is the first time that I have had the pleasure of serving under your chairmanship in a Committee, Mr. Hancock. I am looking forward to it.

It might be helpful if I were to introduce the Bill generally. It is divided into two halves. I hope that the Committee agrees that clause 1 should be read with clauses 2, 3 and 6. I shall try to explain the import of those clauses, but I shall not deal with them in detail unless any hon. Member wishes me to do so in a clause stand part debate.

The Bill was introduced in the other place by Baroness Anelay of St. Johns, and I think that it has all-party support. It had its Second Reading in the other place on 31 October, and was dealt with in Committee on 14 November. Its all-party support was instanced on two occasions. First, it carries out what was planned in the 1996 Green Paper ''Protecting our Heritage''. Secondly, its provisions were more or less part of the Culture and Recreation Bill that was introduced in the last Session of the previous Parliament. However, that Bill did not proceed because the Government decided to call a general election 11 months before they needed to, despite their massive majority. This Bill is simple in the sense that it has only eight clauses. Clauses 1, 2, 3 and 6 are about transferring responsibility for underwater archaeology from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to English Heritage, which currently deals only with land sites.

All the relevant organisations and institutions support the measure. They include not only English Heritage but the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites, the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee, and even the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. In addition, many organisations and professional and amateur practitioners in marine archaeology and associated occupations have asked for the Bill for many years, and it was universally accepted in the consultation paper that resulted from the 1996 Green Paper. If the measure is enacted, underwater archaeology will at last be dealt with by the most appropriate heritage organisation.

The seas around Britain contain an immense wealth of architectural sites and remains. It is estimated that the density of wrecks—I am not referring to my

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political career—around our shores is probably the highest in the world. Our seas contain extensive submerged landscapes, mainly prehistoric, and remains from 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.

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 yet have responsibility for marine archaeology. The benefits of clauses 1, 2, 3 and 6 are that English Heritage's expertise in site management and preservation will be able to be applied to the waters around England. For those reasons, I hope that the Committee will support clause 1.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): I, too, welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Hancock. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, and, as ever, it is a pleasure to see the Minister in his place.

On behalf of all of my hon. Friends, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet on securing this slot for this important Bill. I am sure that hon. Members will join me in recognising that my hon. Friend is a national treasure in his own right, so it is appropriate that we have gathered here today to consider the Bill.

I feel like an above-water wreck this morning, as we consider this Bill about underwater wrecks, but it gives me pleasure to confirm our support for it. It has all-party support, and I am sure that it was an oversight that the previous Government did not find parliamentary time for it. I congratulate my noble Friend Baroness Anelay on introducing it and steering it so eloquently and successfully through the other place.

The Bill recognises the fact that we are an island nation, and a naval and mercantile power, and it is appropriate that the National Heritage Act 1983 should be amended in this way. That Act prevents English Heritage from offering its services outside the United Kingdom, but this transfer of authority from the Department to English Heritage will free English Heritage to provide that role, and all of us would like to enable English Heritage to generate additional income in that way.

I support clauses 1, 2, 3 and 6, and the transfer of authority for nautical archaeology from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to English Heritage. As we know, the Department has many wide-ranging responsibilities, and I am sure that it would welcome this opportunity to have one less.

As my hon. Friend said, several organisations have lent their support, and I wish to refer to one of them—the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee. Its chairman is Mr. Robert Yorke, which is spelt with an ''e'', so I am unsure whether previous generation of his family came from the Vale of York, or nearby. That

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Committee enthusiastically supports the Bill. A letter on the matter from Mr. Yorke states:

    ''The National Heritage Bill provides a very necessary and long overdue opportunity to put maritime archaeology on the same basis as land archaeology. Around our coasts we have some of the richest maritime heritage in the world including historic wrecks, harbour installations and submerged ancient land surfaces.

    The transfer of responsibility for underwater archaeology from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to English Heritage will provide the opportunity to understand, manage and protect this underwater heritage for future generations.''

The letter continues:

    ''Underwater archaeology is already popular in the media and future dissemination of information will be further improved as a result of the transfer.''

We agree with that. The letter goes on to state:

    ''Since the launch of 'Heritage at Sea' in 1989, the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee has been working to bring about this transfer'',

and it hopes that that can be achieved today.

My noble Friend Baroness Anelay referred, in particular, to the Stirling castle, a sealed 18th century warship, one of four that sunk on the Goodwin sands in the great storms of 1703, which was recently partly exposed. It would be a great tribute to English Heritage if the Government structure were to allow heritage agencies to become fully engaged with such wrecks, and the Bill would enable English Heritage to act in an official capacity with regard to the Stirling castle.

I served as a lieutenant commander in the Royal Navy under the armed forces parliamentary scheme, and I wish to express my gratitude for the fact that we were not wrecked at sea, and so did not have cause to become among the first beneficiaries of the Bill. Unfortunately, we did not feature in any James Bond films so I cannot claim to be a Bond girl. I support enthusiastically clauses 1, 2, 3 and 6.

Andrew George (St. Ives): I add my congratulations to those to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet on having secured the necessary parliamentary time to debate the Bill. It is important and we hope to see it through. The coast of Cornwall, which I know better than the Isles of Scilly, probably has more maritime wrecks than many other parts of the country.

The Chairman: What did you say, Mr. George?

Andrew George: Perhaps not as many as Portsmouth.

Many wrecks have been illegally plundered in the past and fears about their future security clearly underlie the need to legislate for their protection, so the Bill is welcome.

I have recently taken up the case of the discovery of the wreck of the HMS Colossus, a 74-gun, third rate ship of the line that was built in 1787. It was wrecked off Samson off the Isles of Scilly on 10 December 1798. Securing the necessary permits to dive and investigate and, ultimately, to survey and recover properly the artefacts from that site have been an instruction to me. Leaving aside the rightness or wrongness of whether artefacts should be recovered from it, it was clear that, apart from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Ministry of Defence—which owns the

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vessel—the Receiver of Wreck and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency are involved. They all have an interest in whether such a project should proceed as it incurs great expense to those concerned, and involves time and complexity. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the Bill. I hope that the Government will also support it.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe): I have a couple of requests for information. First, although I think that it depends on the context, what is the territorial water boundary under the Bill? Is it three miles, 12 miles or 200 miles? Secondly, most members of the Committee will have received correspondence on diving and wrecks. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) referred briefly to whether it is appropriate for divers to explore wrecks that contain dead bodies and items of national interest. To what extent will the Bill deal with that issue? By supporting it, are we delegating to English Heritage decisions that are difficult to resolve in a balanced way?

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet on bringing back the Bill, and my noble Friend Baroness Anelay on having set it on its way in the other place. As treasurer of the newly formed all-party archaeology group that is now already the third largest group in Parliament, it is a refreshing change to be able to speak on such legislation, given that I trained as an archaeologist and archaeology is my hobby.


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Prepared 13 March 2002