National Heritage Bill [Lords]

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Tim Loughton: I am encouraged by some of the figures that the Minister gives. I hope that future increases will be sufficient for the great deal of exploration that is needed. He is aware of the portable antiquities scheme, an announcement on which I gather his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is due to make tomorrow. We hope that it will be favourable, although some of us fear that it may not be. Is there any reason why an equivalent scheme could not be used to cover treasure found by private divers on underwater archaeological sites, now that such sites are to fall under English Heritage's responsibility?

11 am

Dr. Howells: I shall ask my right hon. Friend about that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not want to pre-empt anything that she will say tomorrow, any more than I would want her to pre-empt something that I was about to say.

I reiterate my support and that of the Government for the Bill and wish the hon. Member for Chipping Norton a fair wind in putting it to bed.

Sir Sydney Chapman: Many of my colleagues are under the misapprehension that my seat of Chipping Barnet nestles easily in the Cotswolds.

The Chairman: It probably would.

Sir Sydney Chapman: However, it sits rather uncomfortably at the top of London.

I am delighted that the Minister is at the DCMS and thank him for his kind and generous comments about me and the Bill. I hope that he has answered the questions asked, especially by the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer).

The more I listen to colleagues on both sides of the House, the more I realise that I am rather an imposter, not only because Chipping Barnet is land-locked, like Pontypridd, but because there is obviously a lot of detailed and expert knowledge about archaeological matters. Many years ago, when I chose my profession, I started an alphabetical list, but I could not spell archaeology, so I moved to the next one down and became an architect.

The Chairman: As someone who has dived on the Mary Rose and worked at Danebury, I found it an interesting and helpful debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

New trading functions of the Commission

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

Sir Sydney Chapman: Clauses 4 and 5 deal with the new trading functions proposed for English Heritage. Clause 4 enables English Heritage to produce souvenirs relating to ancient monuments or historic buildings that are situated in England and to sell

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souvenirs. It will not be able to act in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland in such matters.

With your indulgence, Mr. Hancock, I shall also mention that it may help the Committee if I say that clause 5 amends the anomaly whereby English Heritage may offer its services and expertise in England but not outside the United Kingdom. The National Heritage Act 1983 restricts English Heritage's activities almost exclusively to ancient monuments and historic buildings in England. However, I am glad to say that there is a demand for English Heritage's expertise, goods and services outside the United Kingdom. Therefore the intention is to give English Heritage the powers needed to meet that demand. As English Heritage will be able to charge for those services, the Bill will enable it to generate additional income, which I am sure Committee members will welcome.

Tim Loughton: I support giving new commercial powers to English Heritage. Presumably, if it is successful in selling its services to archaeological sites and projects overseas, it will be free to reinvest those moneys in order to explore more sites underwater or on land within the confines of England and its coast.

Will the Minister give an undertaking that English Heritage will not be penalised by its commercial success in selling its services overseas only to see a proportionate cut in its grant from his Department that would not allow it to expand its activities in England? That is an important consideration. There is a great deal of skill and expertise in English Heritage. The all-party archaeological group recently met various representatives of English Heritage at the British museum, who fully support the Bill. I would not like the Government to use the Bill as an excuse to reduce funding to English Heritage because it can now be seen to be standing on its own two feet commercially. That could lead it to spend more time, resources and skills exploiting commercial opportunities overseas, leaving it less time to investigate those sites around the coast of England. That is an important consideration and I should welcome an assurance from the Minister.

Miss McIntosh: Like Pontypridd and Chipping Barnet, the Vale of York is land-locked.

Dr. Howells: Most of the time.

Miss McIntosh: Yes, when my constituency, including the railway line, is not submerged under water for other reasons. Viking blood flows in my veins, so that explains my interest in such matters.

I want to draw attention to the role of divers. Unlike you, Mr. Hancock, I have usually observed wrecks from a snorkelling rather than a diving position. Perhaps my sub-aqua activities could be expanded. I gather that the Deputy Prime Minister learned to dive during his many years in Opposition and I sincerely hope that the Conservative party does not have such a long stretch in Opposition, but it would be an opportunity to undertake such an activity as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham will understand.

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Obviously, divers will be essential to the exploration and monitoring of the wrecks and sites, and the Bill is supported by associations that represent divers and sub-aqua interests. Those associations are committed to conservation and the aims of marine and maritime archaeology. I, too, have a question for the Minister. We like to work Ministers hard, so that they earn their ministerial salary. As I have said, we hope that the hon. Gentleman is in his position for as long as possible, but we are concerned that the Easter reshuffle may take him from us. Perhaps he is destined for higher places. [Interruption.] I may make that comment, but I am sure that he would not like to be drawn on it. I wish him well.

Will the divers be employed directly by English Heritage or will they be contracted out? Like my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, I am greatly encouraged by the sizeable amounts of money that the Minister has announced for the next two or three years. Has the hon. Gentleman assessed what income will be generated each year? Will he comment on the extent to which English Heritage expertise in site management and preservation will be used in its own right, because we shall soon be discussing clause 7, which refers to the delegation of functions by English Heritage. I fervently hope, for the reasons that have been given, that we will use English Heritage's expertise, which is why we are supporting the Bill. Does English Heritage have a particular archaeology diving contractor in mind or will it use a series of contractors?

Dr. Palmer: I have another tiny, forensic nit-pick to make. I am not sufficiently familiar with the original National Heritage Act, but the proposed new subsection (3A) in clause 5 opens the possibility for English Heritage to offer its services for

    ''foreign ancient monuments or foreign historic buildings''.

Given that the objective of such provisions is to give English Heritage a pretty free hand in using its expertise overseas for commercial benefit, are we satisfied that the definition of ancient monuments and historic buildings is sufficiently widely drawn? For example, will English Heritage be allowed to assist in the preservation of a 20th century monument?

Dr. Howells: The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham raised an important point. English Heritage is permitted to retain receipts from the provision of services, admissions to buildings and the sale of souvenirs, and it can use that money as it wishes. Therefore, it would be able to retain receipts from, for example, overseas trading activities, and to retain any profits.

Those receipts must be included in annual estimates, and in the statements supporting monthly grant in aid claims—as is the case with regard to other receipts. Consequently, such activities would not be a cost to the taxpayer, and they might provide English Heritage with additional income that could benefit its other activities. Therefore, the short answer to the question is that it will be able to use that income.

The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) asked about divers. I understand that

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divers would be sub-contracted, as is the case at present.

It is difficult to estimate how many private sector companies would be able to benefit from English Heritage's lead—that point was hinted at by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe—and to estimate the volume of extra business that they and English Heritage could expect. That would depend on their activities—and on the weather, in any given season.

Companies would be drawn from a wide field, including the construction sector, conservationists, museum services and related suppliers—and tourism-related consultancies, which I am particularly interested in. I am sure that the hon. Lady understands that it would be unwieldy, and disproportionate in terms of cost, to conduct any assessment or survey of such a broad spectrum of companies.

The volume of trade is also difficult to judge, in the current vacuum. Only when trading gets under way will a reasonable indication emerge of its potential size. However, it is known—through the creative industries export promotion advisory group and consultation exercises—that companies are strongly in favour of the move. That is another reason for supporting the clause and the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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