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Session 2005 - 06
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Standing Committee Debates

Draft Code of Practice on the Treasure Act 1996 (Second Revision) England and Wales 2006

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. David Wilshire
Bacon, Mr. Richard (South Norfolk) (Con)
Bone, Mr. Peter (Wellingborough) (Con)
Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias (Bournemouth, East) (Con)
Field, Mr. Mark (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
Follett, Barbara (Stevenage) (Lab)
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian (Leeds, North-East) (Lab)
Holmes, Paul (Chesterfield) (LD)
Irranca-Davies, Huw (Ogmore) (Lab)
Lammy, Mr. David (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport)
Mackinlay, Andrew (Thurrock) (Lab)
Meacher, Mr. Michael (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab)
Mole, Chris (Ipswich) (Lab)
Touhig, Mr. Don (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op)
Walker, Mr. Charles (Broxbourne) (Con)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
Younger-Ross, Richard (Teignbridge) (LD)
Glenn McKee, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Key, Robert (Salisbury) (Con)
Loughton, Tim (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con)

Fifth Standing Committeeon Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 31 October 2006

[Mr. David Wilshire in the Chair]

Draft Code of Practice on the Treasure Act 1996 (Second Revision) England and Wales 2006

The Chairman: For the avoidance of confusion, I should explain to the Committee that all time keeping will be in accordance with the House of Commons annunciator. I cannot read the House of Lords annunciator as it is at the other end of the room.
4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. David Lammy): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Code of Practice on the Treasure Act 1996 (Second Revision) England andWales 2006
The Treasure Act 1996 has been a great success. Under the old treasure trove system, which the Treasure Act replaced, around 20 to 30 items of treasure trove were reported every year. Under the new Act, by 2006 this figure had steadily risen to more than 500 items of treasure. The success of the treasure system is also due, in no small part, to the role played by the portable antiquities scheme, which is funded by my Department and administered by the British Museum. The portable antiquities scheme employs a national network of finds liaison officers who advise the public on archaeology and treasure matters. It is against that backdrop of success that my Department has introduced this proposal.
The code of practice published under the Treasure Act 1996 by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport spells out the principles and practice to be followed by her in the treasure process and provides guidance to other parties involved in the treasure system. The Secretary of State is under a statutory duty to keep the code under review and to revise it when appropriate. It is being revised now to reflect the transfer of certain administrative responsibilities relating to the valuation of finds and treasure, and the payment of rewards from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the British Museum.
The DCMS currently undertakes a number of responsibilities relating to the valuation of treasure finds, including the invoicing of museums and the payment of rewards to finders and landowners. We propose to transfer, with conditions, those responsibilities in respect of finds made in England and Wales to the British Museum. The museum has already taken on a number of responsibilities in relation to the administration of the Treasure Act.
The transfer of responsibilities is designed to have two primary benefits. It is intended to improve the service offered to those involved in the treasure process, particularly the finders, landowners and museums that acquire the finds. They will no longer have to deal with two institutions as a find works its way through the system; they will have to deal only with one institution, the British Museum. The museum will liaise with all parties from the reporting stage through to the payment of any reward. By being involved at every stage of the process, staff at the British Museum will be best placed to ensure the smooth progress of any item from the beginning to the end of the treasure system. Locating those responsibilities in one body will remove the current need to replicate expertise and files over two organisations. That will improve the efficiency of the treasure system and lead to related savings.
We are mindful of the need to preserve public confidence in the system and to ensure it maintains its integrity. The British Museum is a potential purchaser of treasure finds and at the same time, under these proposals, it will be responsible for the administration of the system and will recommend to the Secretary of State the price that museums should pay for such finds. Concerns have been expressed about that so we have incorporated a number of safeguards into this transfer to preserve the integrity of the system. In all cases it will remain the Secretary of State’s responsibility to make decisions in relation to rewards and valuations. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will retain its responsibilities relating to valuation when the British Museum has shown an interest in acquiring a find. Appointments to the treasure valuation committee will continue to be made by the Secretary of State. The right of interested parties to make representations to the Secretary of State against the committee's recommendations will remain; and a detailed memorandum of understanding will be agreed between the Department and the British Museum. That will clearly spell out the responsibilities of both organisations, and it will be available for public scrutiny.
Those safeguards will ensure that the system retains a high level of confidence among those involved that all finds will be fairly valued. The code of practice needs to be amended to reflect the new procedures which will be followed once the transfer of responsibilities has taken place.
Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): I see that the Minister is coming towards the end of his speech. Before he does, will he touch on the question of changes in finance? Extra responsibilities are being given to the British Museum, and it seems right that we should improve efficiency, but with those responsibilities come costs. Will he highlight how the British Museum is to meet such costs?
Mr. Lammy: We have had detailed conversations with the British Museum and we have been able to come to a shared arrangement as to the resource allocation that should flow from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the museum. I confirm that it is about £100,000.
The number of treasure finds being reported continues to rise at a tremendous rate. That is of great benefit to our museums’ collections, and it is a wonderful testament to all involved. Improving the service that we are able to offer finders, landowners and museums, yet preserving the faith that each group has in the system, will mean that the reporting of treasure will continue to be one of my Department’s great success stories.
4.37 pm
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): As the Minister pointed out, the statutory instrument is essentially an administrative measure. However, I know that my hon. Friends the Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Salisbury (Robert Key) will want to know a little about some of the specifics, as the measure affects some of the antiquities in their constituencies—or perhaps about other matters.
It would be remiss of us, however, not to take this opportunity for a brief but relevant discussion of the workings of the portable antiquities scheme. The proposal enables the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to transfer to the British Museum functions that it currently fulfils in administering valuations and rewards for treasure finds. In essence, as the Minister rightly pointed out, it will enable some duplication to be removed. The British Museum, an institution that has been in place for some 235 years longer than the Department, already has a unit that deals with the administration of treasure.
The Treasure Act 1996 has had a tremendous effect, although in a narrow area of operation. As the Minister said, the number of finds offered to museums to acquire for the public benefit has risen some 25-fold since the Act came into operation almost a decade ago. It is expected that some 700 finds will be dealt with under the portable antiquities scheme in 2006. However, concerns have been expressed, no doubt as part and parcel of the consultation exercise. The British Museum has concerns about long-term funding. Many museums are concerned about funding, not least in relation to the prospect of a new operator of the national lottery or the expenses of London 2012. Indeed, the Minister is aware that the Heritage Lottery Fund envisages a 50 per cent. reduction in such funding once the comprehensive spending review is put in place.
We would like an assurance from the Minister that some of the financial concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) will be dealt with. As the Minister knows, the only body that can fund major projects is the Heritage Lottery Fund. Understandably, given the strains on its resources, it is increasingly reluctant to fund acquisitions by regional museums dependent on purchase grant funds that will pay only up to 50 per cent., or various trusts that may stop funding treasure in the next year or two.
As the Minister rightly pointed out, there may be concerns about only one body being involved. Now that the DCMS is passing on responsibility to the British Museum, there is a possible conflict of interest. The British Museum may be the only buyer in the market for the treasure as well as the administrator of the organisation, and it may look to put downward pressure on the price. That could be to the detriment of some of that treasure reaching museums.
It is also worth pointing out that the portable antiquities scheme has great importance in a number of other areas, including advancing archaeological knowledge, combating illegal trading in antiquities, which I suspect will become ever greater now that we have opened our doors to China, India and Russia, and providing education and outreach services. I am acutely aware, as I know that the Minister is, that many of our museums do a lot of unsung work in education and outreach. We support that very much. The financial pressures on the British Museum may be tested to breaking point given some of the new responsibilities that will be placed on it under the order.
This has been a useful debate. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments, as well as those of other hon. Members.
4.41 pm
Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): Speaking for the Liberal Democrats, I want to say that the proposed revisions to the Treasure Act code of practice are welcome. The transfer of administrative responsibilities during the valuation and post-valuation stages of handling treasure finds from the DCMS to the British Museum will simplify the process, reduce duplication and improve the service to users, as intended in the legislation. The current system requires the completion, for example, of two sets of forms and liaison with two sets of administrators. That slows down the process and causes confusion for both the finders of treasure and the institutions that attempt to acquire it. The simplification and streamlining of the procedures is highly welcome.
Consultation about the changes has been broad, and the responses that were received from the heritage sector and metal detectorist organisations were unanimously positive about the proposals. All those involved expect that the revisions to the code will absolutely improve the situation. However, there are a number of concerns about some of the details, although not about the measure in general or its intent.
The British Museum, as we have heard, is happy to take on the functions. It knows that it has the expertise and that the change will streamline and improve the system. It is concerned, however, about resource issues. The DCMS has agreed to transfer the costs of administration to the British Museum, but will the Minister assure us that the current level of funding for administration will be maintained beyond March 2008, not just at the current level but inflation-proofed into the future?
The DCMS, in its explanatory memorandum, states that efficiency savings are expected in the transfer of responsibilities. Will those efficiency savings go to the Treasury or DCMS, or will they be reinvested in the sector?
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Prepared 1 November 2006