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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates

Draft Treasure (Designations) Order 2002 and Revised Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice (England and Wales)

Sixth Standing Committee
on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 16 July 2002

[Mr. James Cran in the Chair]

Draft Treasure (Designation) Order 2002

4.30 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Treasure (Designation) Order 2002.

The Chairman: With this, it will be convenient to consider the Revised Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice (England and Wales).

Mr. Caborn: Two closely connected instruments are before the Committee this afternoon, and I should like to begin by describing the first. The Treasure (Designation) Order extends the definition of ''treasure'' in section 1 of the Treasure Act 1996 by designating two classes of objects as of outstanding historical, archaeological or cultural importance under section 2(1). The order applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland only, and I can confirm that it has approval from the devolved authorities.

The first class of object is one of at least two base metal objects from the same find, other than coins, that are of prehistoric date. The second class of object is any object of prehistoric date, other than a coin, any part of which is gold or silver. A new order extending the definition of treasure forms one principal recommendation of the ''Report on the Operation of the Treasure Act 1996'', which was published in November 2001. The Government's commitment to the new designations was expressed most recently on page 42 of the report ''The Historic Environment: A Force for Our Future'', which was published by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in December 2001.

Widening the definition of treasure to include deposits of prehistoric base-metal objects will extend protection to an important class of finds not currently covered by the law. The archaeological community has advised us that there may be up to 50 potential finds in this category a year, and the order should ensure they are reported and properly recorded. The order is designed to catch nationally important finds, such as the bronze age metalsmith's hoard found near Salisbury a few years ago, which would otherwise go out of the public domain and be unresearched.

The Treasure Act came into force in September 1997. It was the first ever reform of the law of treasure trove in England and Wales, and it is extraordinary to remember that the common law that it replaced had essentially remained unchanged for more than 700 years. The main aim was to introduce a new objective test of treasure while also making the law enforceable.

The reporting and the preservation of treasure is vital to the understanding of our shared past. As the annual treasure report 2000, which is now in press, clearly shows, the Treasure Act has succeeded in its

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primary aim of ensuring that more finds of archaeological importance are offered to museums for public education and enjoyment. In addition, there has been a substantial gain in our knowledge of different artefacts and their distributions—knowledge that would otherwise have been lost. As a measure of success, the number of finds reported as potential treasure has continued to increase for the third year running: from 205 in the first year, to 223 in the second and 265 in the third.

However, the substantial increase in the case load borne by the many different parties concerned with the operation of the Act has, from time to time, placed strains on the system and led to delays. For that reason, my Department commissioned a review of the Act in September 2000, as required by the code of practice. The review focused on two issues: the definition of treasure and the system of administration. A consultation paper was issued in December 2000 and the ''Report on the Operation of the Treasure Act: Review and Recommendations'' was published in October 2001. Both documents were widely circulated at the time.

The revised code of practice represents the final outcome of the consultation exercise. The existing code has been revised to take account of the order and, in the light of four years' experience, several other changes designed to improve its operation have been made. The new code sets out policy on the payment of rewards, arrangements for the acquisition of objects and the valuation of treasure by the treasure valuation committee. The code, which has effect in England and Wales, also provides improved guidance for finders, museums, coroners and others concerned with treasure. A separate code of practice for Northern Ireland is being revised on similar lines.

In particular, the new code contains guidance designed to speed up target times so that finders and landowners are not inconvenienced more than necessary. The Government recognise that the code needs to be distributed as widely as possible to all interested parties, especially to metal detectorists, landowners, archaeologists, museums, the trade, coroners and the police. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will also distribute leaflets summarising the main requirements of the legislation.

In recognition of the problem of delays to the administration of treasure cases, additional resources have also been made available within my Department. To complement an existing post, which was devoted to treasure full time, two new posts have been created. In addition, I greatly welcome the decision of the British museum to create a new post for a treasure registrar from October 2001. The treasure registrar is responsible for the co-ordination of all treasure cases from England up to inquest; after that, responsibility passes to the treasure team in my Department. The establishment of this post was another of the key recommendations of the treasure review.

The early indications are that the treasure registrar is already having a substantial impact on the administration of treasure cases up to inquest stage. Although it is not necessary to have separate registrar posts in Wales and Northern Ireland, where the

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volume of finds is lower, I would also like to acknowledge the valuable role of the National Museums and Galleries of Wales and the Environment and Heritage Service and National Museums and Galleries of Northern Ireland in dealing with treasure cases from their countries.

My Department is also anxious to work with other bodies that have responsibility for treasure, particularly the coroners' service, which has a central role. My Department, together with the British museum, will be holding a seminar for coroners on the new developments in treasure this autumn. At the same time, we have been co-operating with the fundamental review of coroners being carried out for the Home Office.

The network of regional museum curators and local government archaeological officers who agreed to act as local reporting centres have also played an important part in the process. In addition, the 12 finds liaison officers established under the portable antiquities scheme have played an often crucial role in helping finders to report their finds and in ensuring the smooth running of the system. Thanks to the liaison officers, it is already obvious that a significant number of finds have been reported as treasure that would otherwise not have been. I am delighted to report that in May the heritage lottery fund agreed to fund in full a bid from Resource: the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries, for an expansion of the portable antiquities scheme for three years from April 2003.

I should explain that, despite the substantial increase in cases of treasure since the Treasure Act came into force, the great majority of archaeological finds still fall outside its scope. The aim of the portable antiquities scheme is to record for public benefit all archaeological objects reported by members of the public on a voluntary basis. These objects might not be so glamorous as the treasure finds but, from the point of view of understanding our past, they can be just as important, if not more so. I am delighted that the scheme received further recognition in November 2000 when the British archaeological awards gave it the top prize as the best archaeological project in the country.

The Treasure Act, with the support of the portable antiquities scheme, has achieved outstanding success in mapping, protecting and bringing the general public closer to the more sensitive parts of the archaeological heritage, which would otherwise be lost. I commend the two instruments to the House.

4.40 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): I welcome you to the Committee, Mr. Cran. It is a pleasure to work with you again. I shall not detain the Committee for very long, although I notice that my great friend, the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) is here. After his magnificent effort in the Chamber on the Mersey Tunnels Bill I am encouraged to speak for slightly longer than I might have intended.

I want to ask the Minister one or two questions, largely for clarification. The Act was introduced in 1996 under the Conservative Government. However, this Government have presided over its operation and

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I ask the Minister if he will give his impression of the workings of the Act in respect of the extra treasures that it has secured for the nation and the further historical knowledge that has resulted from those finds. I also ask the Minister about the working of compensation; in his opinion, has it been paid swiftly enough and to the satisfaction of those who found the treasures? We certainly do not want to deter people from declaring what they find.

The code of practice, which is part of the proposal, refers to the compensation. Does the Minister think that it has been satisfactorily administered? If not, what steps will be taken better to administer it? I hope that I am not putting him on the spot by asking for some detailed examples of the finds he mentioned.

The British museum has written to me, and no doubt to all members of the Committee. It welcomes the extension but, like so many organisations, points out that it is being given extra duties to carry out but no extra funding. Will any extra money be given to the British museum? The letter states that its staffing has been increased to deal with the finds from three full-time posts to eight and a half full-time posts, yet the Government have provided no additional funding, which obviously puts the museum in a difficult position. Will there be any additional funding for the British museum?

4.44 pm

 
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