Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Tuesday 9 May 1995


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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Sir David Knox

Barnes, Mr. Harry (Derbyshire, North-East)

Brandreth, Mr. Gyles (City of Chester)

Canavan, Mr. Dennis (Falkirk, West)

Cash, Mr. William (Stafford)

Coombs, Mr. Anthony (Wyre Forest)

Corbyn, Mr. Jeremy (Islington, North)

Faber, Mr. David (Westbury)

Gapes, Mr. Mike (Ilford, South)

Hunter, Mr. Andrew (Basingstoke)

Livingstone, Mr. Ken (Brent, East)

MacKay, Mr. Andrew (Berkshire, East)

Moss, Mr. Malcolm (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland)

Parry, Mr. Robert (Liverpool, Riverside)

Patten, Mr. John (Oxford, West and Abingdon)

Thurnham, Mr. Peter (Bolton, North-East)

Walker, Mr. A. Cecil (Belfast, North)

Wilshire, Mr. David (Spelthorne)

Worthington, Mr. Tony (Clydebank and Milngavie)

Mr. F. A. Crammer, Committee Clerk

3 Fourth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 9 May 1995

[SIR DAVID KNOX in the Chair]

Draft Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Malcolm Moss): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995. The draft order would repeal, and re-enact with amendments, the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) 1971, thereby bringing it broadly into line with the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 in Great Britain. The draft order is the product of several years of review by officials of the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland and included consultation with heritage agencies in England, Scotland and Wales on their experience of implementing legislation in Great Britain. Public consultation on the draft order also brought many responses welcoming the proposals, although users of metal detectors opposed provisions which they felt would limit their activities on historic monuments. The draft order introduces measures paralleling the 1979 Act, including three main measures: scheduled monument consent procedures, whereby persons would need consent for works affecting a scheduled monument; provisions for management agreements between the owners of historic monuments and the Department, and restrictions on the use and possession of detecting devices on protected monuments. Other measures provide for the continuation of the advisory Historic Monuments Council; the reporting of discoveries of archaeological objects, which has been in force in Northern Ireland legislation since 1926; and restrictions on searching for archaeological objects, which has been in force in Northern Ireland legislation since 1936. Amendments arising from public consultation include a widening of the advisory powers of the Historic Monuments Council, particularly on scheduling matters; the inclusion of a role for the planning appeals commission to hear scheduled monument consent appeals, and the deletion of a superfluous reference to detecting devices within the restrictions on searching for archaeological objects. The draft order builds on long-established historic monuments legislation in Northern Ireland while 4 adding measures that have been tried and tested in Great Britain since 1979. It will therefore provide a strong foundation for the continued care of Northern Ireland's historic monuments into the next millennium and commend it to the Committee.

4.33 pm

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): I shall not detain the Committee long, but I would like some clarification from the Minister. He said that the order will bring the Northern Ireland legislation broadly into line with the rest of the United Kingdom; in what respects and why are there differences? Are there restrictions on the use of metal detectors, to which the Minister referred, in the rest of the United Kingdom, but not on their possession? Will it therefore be for the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland to determine whether someone can possess a metal detector? Is that different from the law in the rest of the United Kingdom and, if so why? I would also like to know that impact the definition of historic monuments will have. Will it lead to a list which is greater or smaller than at present? I noticed that there is a possibility of including aeroplanes or parts of aeroplanes and other similar, more modern artifacts as historic monuments. What will be the impact of the redefinition on the number of monuments? The Department of the Environment has what seems to be an enormous power to define an archaeological object. Is the definition in the order new? It states that an archaeological object "includes any object, being a chattel (whether in a manufactured or unmanufactured state), which is, or appears to be, of archaeological or historical interest and which has, by reason of such interest, a value substantially greater than its intrinsic value or the value of the materials of which it is composed". There could be innumerable such objects, and if one finds one, one has a duty to report the find within 14 days. There are many such objects. No doubt, every member of the Committee has in his or her possession such an object, but one would never have thought that there would be a duty to report one's possession of that specific object. There is an enormous amount of objects in any household that have a greater value than the cost of their materials. The order provides a power for the Department of the Environment to decide that such an object is an archaeological object. What happens to one's duty to report a find if an object is found by someone who does not believe it to be an archaeological object but later finds that it is? For example, on the "Antiques Roadshow" people find that they possess objects of a much greater value than they ever thought—do those become archaeological objects? They could certainly be classified as such. I want the Minister to explain the odd obligation on people who possess or find an object, that the Ulster museum later decides is and archaeological object, to report their ownership on the date when they acquire it. 5 I will leave my questions there, and look forward to the Minister's replies.

4.38 pm

Mr. Moss: The hon. Gentleman asked why we needed new legislation in Northern Ireland, and why it differed from the earlier legislation pertaining to the Province, as well as that incorporated in the 1979 Act in Great Britain. The Historic Monuments Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 has been in force for more than 20 years during which time it has proved an extremely valuable tool for the protection of historic monuments. Although the draft order repeals the 1971 Act, it should be noted that most, if not all, of the Act's provisions have been re-enacted in the draft order. When we reviewed the working of the 1971 Act, particularly in the light of the 1979 legislation in Great Britain, we found that there was a need to extend the protection afforded to scheduled monuments and to respond to the increasing demand being placed on the Department to provide access and facilities for visitors to the historic monuments in its care. There was also a need to restrict the practice of treasures hunting with metal detecting devices. The draft order addresses those key issues and supplements earlier legislation. The hon. Gentleman asked about specific differences. The 1979 legislation in this country defined archaeological areas. The Department consulted with its counterparts in Great Britain on the way in which that aspect of the Act was working and decided not to incorporate similar provisions in the draft order. We discovered that the provisions did not work and that the definition was difficult to police. It has therefore been left out, and that is a major difference. The other major difference is to be found in article 29, which is the only one to refer to metal detecting. It was necessary to tighten up in that area for several reasons. There has been a significant growth in treasure hunting with metal detectors since the 1971 legislation was passed. While using metal detectors can be an innocent pastime, the detecting of archaeological objects can, when carried out irresponsibly, lead to irreparable damage to sites and monuments. The Department has recorded damage attributed to treasure hunting at many of the Province's most important monuments, such as Inch abbey, Navan fort, the Mound of Down, the Giant's Ring, and many other castles and earthworks. We have introduced a specific offence for the possession and use of detecting devices on designated protected sites. It will now be a criminal offences to be found in possession of a detecting device on a protected site, and that measure is new. It also differs from provisions in the 1979 legislation in Great Britain. We hope to inform all those involved in metal detecting of the new provisions in the order. It is worth noting that they have their own code of conduct and that the more responsible follow it and avoid protected sites. The present provisions apply only to the cowboys who are prepared to ignore the detectorists' code of conduct. 6 The hon. Gentleman also asked about the impact of the definition of historic monuments. We shall add significantly to the number of monuments on our list, which will be published and open to public scrutiny in libraries and in Belfast. Finally, the hon. Gentleman raised the issue of how we define archaeological objects. That is covered in article 2, which has deliberately been drafted in a wide-ranging way. There are several reasons for that. First, we want to ensure that all objects of possible or definite archaeological interest come to the attention of the Department and of other responsible bodies. Experience has shown that that leads to the identification and protection of new archaeological sites and helps us to build a complete information archive. It also ensures the safety of all finds, including possible national treasures. Secondly, the wide interpretation takes into account the wide range of archaeological objects that could not possibly be exhaustively listed or described for the layman. Such identification must be the responsibility of the archaeological specialist or, if need be, the courts.

Mr. Worthington: The Minister seems to be saying that it is a new definition of an archaeological object which refers not just to what we think of as being found on a dig but to anything manufactured or unmanufactured which is of historical interest and has an intrinsic value greater than the cost of its materials. However, that seems to impose a duty on citizens to report to the authorities any antique or object of value in their possession.

Mr. Moss: I am happy to set the record straight and to tell the hon. Gentleman that this definition is not a new one. This interpretation has been in force—with almost identical wording—since legislation on historic monuments was first introduced in Northern Ireland in 1926. So far the general public has not found it a source of confusion. Indeed, the public's reporting of discoveries over the years has added significantly to the heritage of the Province. It can be a problem when users of metal detectors do not come forward with their finds. Many of them claim to have the ability to recognise artefacts: if they cannot recognise them and are not interested in them, why are they out there in the first place? What are they searching for with their metal detectors? Finally, this interpretation of an archaeological object does not appear in the British Act of 1979 simply because that Act does not legislate for specific procedures to follow the discovery of such objects. In Northern Ireland, there is a definite procedure to be followed once finds are reported to the authorities.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.

Committee rose at thirteen minutes to Five o'clock.



Knox, Sir David (Chairman)

Barnes, Mr.

Brandreth, Mr.

Coombs, Mr. Anthony

Faber, Mr.

Hunter, Mr.

MacKay, Mr.

Moss, Mr.

Patten, Mr.

Thurnham, Mr.

Worthington, Mr.