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Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 1:

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

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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 At that stage, designation can be withdrawn if the site does not prove to be significant.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

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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—

(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—
(a) the local authorities with responsibility under subsection (1),
(b) the area of responsibility for each authority, and
(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

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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.

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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 be 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 on-line" 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.

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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.

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