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

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Bob Russell (Colchester): I welcome the order, which will come as no surprise as I have the honour to represent Britain's oldest recorded town and the first capital of Roman Britain. Hardly a day passes when something is not unearthed, and our history predates Roman times. It is worth observing that coins from the Roman era are sometimes found and that, in those days, we had a single European currency.

The Treasure Act 1996 contains a criminal offence of failing to report treasure, which has helped to ensure a high rate of reporting. However, there are still cases of unreported finds coming on to the market, and it is difficult to invoke the law in such cases. Will the Minister confirm that the Government have accepted the case for introducing a new criminal offence of possessing or dealing in cultural property that has been stolen or illegally removed? Following the point of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) that is obviously a major issue with metal detecting activities. To be fair, responsible people in metal detecting tend to work with the professional archaeology industry to safeguard records, but there is evidence of illegally

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removed items, so action clearly needs to be taken to suppress the market in undeclared treasure finds. We are still waiting for a legislative opportunity for that, so will the Minister say whether the new offence could be in the criminal justice Bill in the next Session? That would enable cultural finds to be treated with the importance that all members of the Committee believe they deserve.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman was not present to hear the Minister, and perhaps that is showing in his speech, because it does not bear too much on the order and the code of practice. If the hon. Gentleman could return to those two items, that would be wonderful.

Bob Russell: I have finished, Mr. Cran.

Mr. Robertson: On a point of order, Mr. Cran. I should have apologised on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), who would usually lead for the Conservative party on this issue. He is having medical treatment and sends his apologies.

5 pm

Mr. Caborn: I shall respond to one or two of the points made by the official Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Tewkesbury. On the financing of the British museum and the service generally, hon. Members will know that the comprehensive spending review statement was made yesterday. Each Department is working out how it will apportion that money, and the museum part, which comes within my Department, is also under discussion.

No Opposition Members were present last night for the scintillating speech that I made on north-east museums, but if the hon. Gentleman refers to Hansard, he will see that we shall make the announcement on the financing of the museums towards the end of the summer. It is unfortunate that Opposition Members did not stay to hear that Adjournment debate last night, but no doubt they will in future. As I have said, we shall make statements on the financing of museums, the renaissance that is taking place, the regional hubs and the British museum in the summer, when we make decisions on the allocation of money from the spending review. I hope that hon. Members will bear with us until we make those announcements.

With regard to the working of the Act, given that it had been 700 years since the law was changed, I think that five years is a short time for it to be on the statute book. This is the first review of the Act, which we were asked to carry out after five years. I commend the Opposition for their far-sighted approach in putting the Act on the statute book. It is a good Act and has all-party support. As I said in my opening remarks, it has had a major effect on the recording of our history, which is to be welcomed.

We are now going through the provision and refining it. As I said, we were specifically asked to review it after five years and we have done so. We have returned with a major refinement, which I hope will

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deal with quite a lot of the concerns that were raised in the consultation. Again, I referred to that earlier.

I understand that we have been asked to keep the measure under review, and we shall do so. Further refinements may be needed, and points may be raised with us as a result of the discussion that I believe is being held in another place, or through the Select Committee system. It will be in everyone's interest to ensure that the Act is as up-to-date as possible. I can assure hon. Members that we will continue to keep that under review, and the points that have been made this afternoon will be part of that.

On valuation, I can sum up the announcement that we have made by saying that we are trying to introduce more streamlined management with regard to finds, evaluation and payment. The code of practice is designed to be part of that. The funding in relation to the British museum will be dealt with in the spending review.

I can tell the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam that there is no doubt that the liaison officers have had an effect. We will have to consider funding in relation to the heritage lottery fund after the three years. Clearly, a case has been made for continuing funding, but to see how that evolves will require discussions with the various parties, including Departments and non-departmental public bodies. About 90 per cent. of my Department's budget goes out to some 70 NDPBs. When we are assessing PSAs, the Department has to operate through its NDPBs, to which the bulk of its budget is devoted. This view of how the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should operate was inherited from previous Administrations. Whether we like it is a different matter, but that is the reality. Checking on the moneys and expenditure of the Department requires understanding the relationship with NDPBs.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam mentioned expenditure outside the lottery. Hon. Members know that the funding bodies decide the money spent by the lottery. We set the broad policy, but do not take the specific decisions. It is for the people sitting on the lottery panels to decide exactly how the money should be spent in the public interest. Whether archaeology or something else takes priority is decided in that way. The Government do not interfere other than establishing the broad policy on the disbursal of funds.

On consultation, I have already explained that the Department works through NDPBs and we rely considerably on English Heritage for advice. We do not employ experts within the Department and on our payroll, but we have access to NDPBs and other institutions for advice before we take decisions and bring them before the House.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made several points. He welcomed the changes, which is pleasing. Decisions will be taken later this summer on financial support for museums. As to the poor support provided by the heritage lottery fund, I have already explained it and no doubt it will read the proceeds of this Committee and may accept advice about what should be higher up the agenda.

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We are trying to take steps to deal with metal detectors. The portable antiquities scheme was established in 1997 to encourage members of the public to report all finds on a voluntary basis, but metal detectorists have brought some 400,000 objects, which involves a vast amount of money and work. The system is working and the vast majority of people engaged in metal detecting are responsible and are registering their finds, but we accept the need for legislation where people are acting in a criminal or wrong way.

Offences are being reported and it is the Department's job to decide whether to introduce a new criminal offence of dishonesty in respect of being in illegal possession of items, exhibiting them illegally or removing them from a monument contrary to local law. We are examining that and I am sure that hon. Members will understand that it is not the easiest legislation to draft, but we take cognisance of what has been said here and elsewhere. We are deciding whether it is possible to institute the matter in criminal law and follow it through. As I said, we are talking about a vast amount of finds with metal detectors—something approaching 500,000—which needs documenting and putting out into the public domain.

I hope that I have cleared up most of the points. If not, I am sure that hon. Members will jump up and tell me.

Tim Loughton: May I jump up and remind the Minister about the definition of objects, for example, base metal slag?

Mr. Caborn: As an engineer from Sheffield who served my time in the steelworks, I can assure hon. Members that slag was never associated with prehistoric objects, antiques or our heritage.

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Anything that got in the way of forging hot metal was a damn nuisance. While I wait for the information I will just tell another story about Sheffield. There is a big picture on the wall of my office in the DCMS. It is a 4,000 tonne forging press, which is the first thing that I built as an engineer. Under it is a 75 tonne red hot ingot, which is rather large. One of the great difficulties we used to have—[Interruption.]

I am sure, Mr. Cran, that you would now like to know the definition.

The Chairman: Yes, please.

Mr. Caborn: Under the new order, the definition involves something that is seen as being prehistoric.

Tim Loughton: What does that mean?

Mr. Caborn: That was not a clear answer and so I will write to the hon. Gentleman. I will put the answer in the Library so that all members of the Committee and the wider world will know about it. I am sure that they will be waiting for that in the clubs and pubs of the north of England.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

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

Revised Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice
(England and Wales)

Resolved,

    That the Committee has considered the Revised Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice (England and Wales).

Committee rose Eleven minutes past Five o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cran, Mr. James (Chairman)
Allan, Mr.
Baron, Mr.
Caborn, Mr.
Chapman, Mr. Ben
Foster, Mr. Michael Jabez
Jones, Mr. Jon Owen
Kemp, Mr.
Lepper, Mr.
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Morgan, Julie
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Russell, Bob
Truswell, Mr.
Wiggin, Mr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(2):
Fisher, Mr. Mark (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
Godsiff, Mr. Roger (Birmingham, Sparkbrook and Small Heath)
Loughton, Tim (East Worthing and Shoreham)

 
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Prepared 16 July 2002