Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Earl of Radnor: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt but I hope that my noble friend can explain something. As regards the reward, I refer to Clause 10(6) which states:


That was my worry.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, I am grateful for that comment. I shall give my understanding of that provision but I shall naturally defer to my noble friend Lady Trumpington if she wishes to contradict me. There are two points here. The main one is that if the museum should wish to return the object to the finder and not retain it, the finder cannot say, "I would rather like to have the money". But there may be another sense here. I can assure my noble friend of what is, I believe, the unfailing custom under the present treasure trove provisions where the find has been properly declared. If the treasure trove item is retained by the museum, its full market value is paid. I am sure it is the intention under the rewards provisions and the codes of practice in Clause 10 of the Bill that so long as the items in question are properly declared, the full market value of the finds will be paid. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will confirm that point when she replies to the debate.

5 Jun 1996 : Column 1324

I am afraid I must offer a note of dissatisfaction with the present situation. The British Museum's grants in real terms for this year have been cut severely, as have those of other museums. Few museums can now afford the purchases which previously they could have afforded. Therefore I see a difficulty as regards the application of the present Bill unless more generous provision is made. However, I can also see a way forward. The National Lottery provides a good deal of money, much of which is for capital projects or capital acquisitions and not of course, as currently laid down, for recurrent expenditure.

Purchases of objects or the payment of rewards for objects of treasure trove to enable them to remain in the nation's museums--the British Museum or other museums--would be a perfectly appropriate use of National Lottery money under the heritage fund, or whatever may be the appropriate fund. I very much hope that the Government may give consideration to setting up an antiquities heritage fund under the framework of the National Lottery so that it is possible to pay, where necessary, £1.75 million to acquire the Hoxne treasure or its equivalent. That will happen from time to time. If the money is not available to the nation's museums, it will not be possible to reward finders adequately. It will be necessary to give the goods back to the finder, as we have said. Likewise, the same fund would be required in order to reward the finder where appropriate so that treasure found on Church land could be returned to the care of the Church.

As my final and major point, I congratulate the Department of National Heritage on seeing this present Bill as part of a larger vision where the intention will be to consider all the nation's portable antiquities as they are found--objects of bronze, flint or whatever material. It is admirable that the discussion paper on portable antiquities published some months ago--it is still open for comment and discussion--deals effectively with non-treasure categories. I can inform your Lordships that there is a consensus in the archaeological world, as reflected by the standing conference on portable antiquities, that it would be appropriate to bring in a system of voluntary recording. I hope that that will satisfy not only landowners but metal detectorists. It is not suggested that it should be other than a voluntary system, but it would be valuable if a system were set up whereby all finds of archaeological significance were reported without any suggestion that the ownership of the finds would come into question.

The present Treasure Bill deals with ownership. However, any voluntary recording or reporting system would not deal with ownership but with information relating to the circumstances of the find, with all due confidentiality, where appropriate, so that important discoveries of other categories could become known and recorded while the ownership would remain with whoever owns those objects.

Perhaps I may emphasise one point. Such a scheme will need funding on perhaps a modest scale. I hope that the Government will give support. My noble friend on the Front Bench has shown herself to be constructive in these matters in the past. I hope that she is able to give

5 Jun 1996 : Column 1325

us some encouragement to believe that the Department of National Heritage may find the resources to set up the necessary pilot scheme so that some modest system could be implemented for the reporting and recording of antiquities under a voluntary scheme. We may then look towards a national scheme working throughout the country. That is what is ultimately needed.

It is helpful to see the present Bill as a first step towards a larger system. Let me emphasise that that larger system would be voluntary and would not impinge on the ownership of finds. It is only the present Bill which naturally does so.

I apologise to your Lordships if I have spoken too long on this important matter, but it is an issue on which I feel strongly. In the discussions in your Lordships' House two years ago, many of these points were most satisfactorily dealt with by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and others. Therefore, if these important points which my noble friends and the right reverend Prelate raised can be dealt with without too much difficulty, as I trust that they can be, I hope that the Bill will commend itself to your Lordships. If it passes through your Lordships' House without amendment, it has every prospect of finding its place on the statute book, and that will be excellent.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Stewartby: My Lords, if I appear to your Lordships to be purple in the face, it is not because I feel apoplectic about the noble Earl's Bill but because I was fortunate enough to be a member of a team drawn from your Lordships' House which has just concluded a thrilling encounter at the Oval during which more than 500 runs were scored and an honourable draw was achieved not long ago with the last of your Lordships' team at the wicket.

With that preface, perhaps I may move more directly to the Bill. Like my noble friend Lord Renfrew, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and thank him for his tremendous achievement in bringing prospective legislation on this subject so far forward. While it is not in name his Bill this time, in substance it is, and he deserves the credit and thanks of your Lordships' House for what he has achieved.

I also believe that it is right to express thanks to Dr. Bland. In this area he has shown himself as able administratively as he is distinguished a scholar. I wish also to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington--I hope that it will not embarrass her--for the personal interest that she has taken in the subject and for the way in which she has assisted in bringing this legislation to the point where we are in sight of getting it on to the statute book.

As my noble friend Lord Renfrew said, it is part of an overall look at the question of portable antiquities and treasure. I believe that a voluntary system of reporting and recording finds is highly desirable. It is essential for the purposes of scholarship and preserving items of historic interest. I am sure that it will be possible to work out some scheme. It will involve quite a lot of time, effort and possibly expense. However,

5 Jun 1996 : Column 1326

I believe that the outline suggested in the discussion document offers a way forward, and one which should be supported.

My noble friend Lord Radnor discussed various technical points in the Bill. It should be possible to deal with many of those by non-statutory arrangements. Under Clause 11 there is extensive provision for a code of practice to be drawn up by the Secretary of State. I believe that many of the points my noble friend raised could be dealt with in that way. The main elements of the Bill are entirely right. The animus revertendi--the requirement that there should have been a determination on the part of the original burier of treasure to go back to recover it--has proved quite impossible in practice for coroner's courts to resolve in any coherent or consistent way. I believe that the Bill makes a great improvement in putting that issue to bed. I also believe that the definitions of metal content, and numbers of coins needed to be regarded as a hoard, are entirely sensible and I strongly support them.

The suggestions about the coroners' procedures should avoid much of the delays and confusion which have sometimes arisen under the present system.

A topic on which I would like to say a few words is rewards and the code of practice. In the 1970s, as a Member of another place, I was able to persuade the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who is now the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, that it would be sensible to set up a committee to review valuation. Under the procedures which had hitherto applied, the British Museum found itself in the awkward position of being the intended purchaser of many important items. It was also the arbiter of the price at which they should be acquired. Even in cases where it was quite evident that the price being offered by the British Museum was proper and fully adequate, it inevitably led to complaints and questioning by finders about whether their finds--it was not their property--could be properly valued by the purchaser. The committee was set up and it has worked well in the succeeding years. I have to declare an interest in that I have recently been invited to chair the committee, although the first meeting which I shall be able to attend is not for two weeks.

The treasure trove reviewing committee will no longer be able to carry out its functions once the provisions of the Bill are implemented. Treasure trove as such will cease to exist and a new code of practice relating to treasure in its new form will govern a number of matters, including valuation and various other related questions. That may offer a solution to the problem raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol. So far as I am aware, nowhere in this legislation or any existing legislation is there a requirement that objects of treasure trove, or treasure, as it will be under these provisions, must go to a specific destination. Clause 11(2)(a) states that the Secretary of State must prepare a code of practice which must set out the principles and practice to be followed when considering to whom treasure should be offered. If the Church is able to make the appropriate representations when the code of practice is drawn up, it ought to be possible to set out guidance which would enable its objectives to be achieved in virtually every case.

5 Jun 1996 : Column 1327

The contents of the code of practice will be important and it is appropriate that the provisions of the Bill should not come into effect as statutes until the code has been satisfactorily established. It will require a considerable degree of discussion from interested parties and I hope that some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Radnor will be taken into account when the code is drawn up.

The way forward with the Bill will be much more satisfactory than the present situation which has caused increasing difficulties over the years. I do not object to Clause 2, as my noble friend Lord Radnor does. It will enable adjustments to be made to definitions of treasure, and experience with most legislation is that one cannot predict in advance everything which one will need to take into account. Although in your Lordships' House horror is frequently expressed at what are termed "Henry VIII clauses", a reasonable degree of "amendability" by means of statutory instrument instead of primary legislation tends to make sense where there are complex issues to be resolved and where only in the light of experience can one see how a point ought to be defined in detail.

The Bill is not necessarily perfect, but I do not believe that a perfect Bill is capable of being brought in and gaining the approval of Parliament because the many interests involved do not always work in the same direction. There are many other issues which relate to portable antiquities, the reporting of finds and other responsibilities.

That said, the Bill is a much better potential piece of legislation than the existing law of treasure trove, which is not sharply defined. I wish it well. I hope that it will pass through your Lordships' House without amendment because such legislation which is not put forward by the Government has a habit of falling victim to parliamentary timetables or other unexpected events. That has already happened once with the original Bill proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in your Lordships' House. I profoundly hope that it will not happen again in connection with this one.

8.46 p.m.

Lord Templeman: My Lords, as your Lordships have heard, this Bill is the product of much consultation and consideration. I shall not go through the list of promoters, some are here tonight and I shall only add to the list Professor Palmer of University College, London, in conjunction with Dr. Roger Bland. They have been instrumental in keeping the Bill on the road.

I wish to stress that in the other place and now, the Bill is widely supported. Apart from the archaeologists, who would support it of course, and the museums, who also support it, the Bill is supported by the department which has examined it in the national interest. In addition, the Country Landowners' Association is properly alive to the rights and interests of landowners and it supports the Bill. Recently, the National Council of Metal Detecting gave it support, so one could say that it has universal support. There are one or two reservations to which I shall come, but on the general principle everyone is agreed.

5 Jun 1996 : Column 1328

There is great flexibility in the Bill on the code of practice, which I shall come to later. As the noble Earl, Lord Perth, said, it is important that it should pass and not be amended. Once the Bill is amended, it must go back to the other place and possibly return here. At the present stage of Parliament, indeed at any stage, to inflict amendments on such a Bill and try to get it through the parliamentary timetable and the demands of the Government would mean that, through no one's fault, it would be liable to disappear into a quicksand. Thus I echo the noble Earl's plea: please may we have the Bill and nothing but the Bill?

I must deal with the reservations raised by the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, and the right reverend Prelate. First, as your Lordships know, the Bill gets rid of many anomalies about treasure trove: the proportion of gold and silver, the fact that awards cannot be given to the owner of the land. There is also the indefensible anomaly that if treasure was lost accidentally, then it was not treasure trove. Only if it was left with the idea of being recovered was it treasure trove. As the Bill deals with articles 300 years old, that was almost impossible to prove. Everyone admits that the old provisions were quite illogical.

On the negative side, we get rid of those anomalies but the noble Earl says: "Yes, but I have great difficulty: how will I know whether there is 10 per cent. and whether it is 300 years old?" In practice, there will be no difficulty. People who turn up treasure, something which they think might be even more than 100 years old, do not normally put it in a bedsock. They want to find out how old it is, what it is and whether it has any value or contains gold. If they are in any doubt, they may want to consult their own jewellers and friends about it, who may be able to tell them straight away what it is--probably the noble Earl himself will know; he has been at it long enough.

Let us suppose that somebody is ignorant and does not want to spend his money. He can still go to the coroner and say: "I do not know whether this is treasure or not. You may have a look at it". Faced with that possibility, the coroner has to hold an inquest (although there does not have to be a jury). First, he has to notify the British Museum. He therefore writes to the museum or sends a facsimile. The museum then directs him to an expert, and an inquest is held. If it is decided that the item is not treasure, it is returned to the man who found it or to the owner of the land. If it is treasure, the Bill is not interested in taking it away from anybody; the Bill is only interested in protecting the national interest. The Bill clearly provides that it is up to the Secretary of State. Assuming that the coroner finds the item to be treasure, under Clause 4 it vests in the Crown (leaving aside franchisees).

Under Clause 6, any such treasure vesting in the Crown,


    "may be transferred, or otherwise disposed of, in accordance with directions given by the Secretary of State".
The answer to the point raised by the right reverend Prelate is that no Secretary of State in his right mind would direct him to take the ring off the corpse of the martyred saint or to give up any ecclesiastical item such as a chalice. He ought to be notified, and for this reason.

5 Jun 1996 : Column 1329

The item will be left with the Church, but there will certainly be a requirement to record where it was found. The British Museum will need to be notified since it may want to send an expert to examine it or ask the Church to allow a student to examine it. Probably the treasure will be so valuable that either the Church will sell it or will need to put it in the bank vaults.

As the right reverend Prelate will know, one of the burdens on the Church is the possession of masses of silver plate and valuable articles which, for historical and cultural reasons, the Church does not wish to dispose of but because of the amount of vandalism these days simply cannot be left on exhibition. If the item is Church property, it can be transferred in accordance with directives given by the Secretary of State. Clause 11 states that the Secretary of State must prepare a code of practice. Subsection (2) states:


    "The code must ... set out the principles and practice to be followed by the Secretary of State ... when considering to whom treasure should be offered ... when making a determination under Section 10"--
that is, whether it is to be transferred to a museum--or,


    "where the Crown's title to treasure is disclaimed".

I have no doubt that a code of practice, if it is necessary, will serve a cause. The Crown is not in the business of grave-robbing. This circumstance will arise only when somebody authorised by the Church has found some treasure by accident. If it is ecclesiastical treasure, the code of practice will immediately provide that the Crown shall direct that it stay where it is--with the Church. But it might equally ask the Church to let someone come and look at it. I am sure that the Church would not wish to prevent proper authorities such as the British Museum or a very reputable archaeologist from coming to look at the treasure. That will be an end to the matter.

But let us suppose that a sexton is bumbling around on an area that is now a churchyard but was, long before Christianity ever came to this country, obviously not sacred ground, and while digging he turns up, for example, 16 silver candlesticks. They had nothing to do with English religion but might previously have had something to do with the bards. Or he may find 16 tablespoons. The Church will not want to say that such items are ecclesiastical; but it will want to report the find. I have no doubt that the code of practice will provide that where the Church wants an item of treasure, either the Secretary of State will accept an obligation to let the Church have the item, or will say that he will bear the matter in mind very carefully. That will only apply to such items as the spoons. If the Church wants the spoons, I dare say the Secretary of State will let the Church have them. The code of practice can so provide.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page