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Archaeology Matters

Parliamentary programme for 2016-17

The Queen’s Speech announcing the legislative programme for the forthcoming parliamentary year was delivered this morning in Parliament. Amongst the Bills announced there are two that are of particular interest to the Council for British Archaeology:

Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill 

The Cultural Property (Armed Conflicts) Bill will introduce legislation to enable the UK to accede to the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and its two Protocols. The Government believes that the main benefits of the Bill would be

  • To make a strong statement about the UK’s commitment to protecting cultural property in times of armed conflict
  • To enshrine in legislation the procedures related to cultural protection that the Armed Forces already follow

The Bill will introduce a number of measures that would enable the UK to ratify the Convention and its two Protocols:

  • Introduction of offences designed to protect cultural property in the event of an armed conflict at home and abroad. These include an offence of making such property the object of attack.
  • Introduction of the Blue Shield as an emblem that signifies cultural property protected under the Convention and its two Protocols.
  • Introduction of an offence of dealing in cultural property that has been illegally exported from occupied territory and a provision for such property to be seized and returned to the occupied territory after the close of hostilities, where appropriate.
  • Introduction of immunity from seizure for cultural property in the UK which is being transported for safekeeping during a conflict between two or more other states.

The UK will be the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to ratify both the Convention and its two Protocols. The Government already supports the protection of cultural heritage in global conflict zones and announced a £30 million Cultural Protection Fund last year. £3 million of the Cultural Protection Fund is already dedicated to the British Museum’s Iraqi Rescue Archaeology Programme, training Iraqi archaeologists in conservation and protection techniques.

CBA Director, Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, said,

“The CBA welcomes this Bill, which builds on recent consultations from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and takes forward promises made in the recent Culture White Paper. We strongly support the UK’s accession to the Hague Convention and both its Protocols which puts the UK at the forefront of international cultural property protection.

The CBA suggests that the Cultural Protection Fund should focus on five areas:

  1. A co-ordination centre, with a staff of three or four, to act as a practical hub for networking, liaison, and communication for the complex web of academic, NGO professional, governmental, and military expertise in the area, to ensure minimal reduplication of effort. This is, in our opinion, the top priority for funding now.
  2. Training for individuals and organisations in the practicalities of Cultural Property Protection, facilitated by the co-ordination centre.
  3. Developing and implementing procedures for proactive protection of Cultural Property for countries such as Lebanon, which are at under real risk, where proactive protection could be implemented now and from which international guidelines could be developed.
  4. Emergency response protocols to deliver rapid, specialised assessment and initial conservation first aid to countries suffering from conflict or environmental disaster.
  5. Long-term support for Cultural Property in post-conflict and post-disaster zones, such as post- earthquake Nepal.”

Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill

The purpose of this Bill is to support the Government’s ambition to deliver one million new homes in England, whilst protecting those areas that we value the most including the Green Belt. The Government proposes that the Bill will also deliver the homes and infrastructure that the country needs, whilst transforming the way we plan for major infrastructure projects.

Full details of the Bill have yet to be published but the CBA will be scrutinising the legislation carefully to ensure that it does not diminish the protection of the historic environment.

CBA Director, Dr Mike Heyworth MBE, said, “We welcome the intention to further strengthen neighbourhood planning and give even more power to local people. We understand the need to streamline the planning system to ensure that much-needed homes can be built with minimal delays, but we will be reiterating to Government the importance of pre-determination archaeological investigation and evaluation to ensure appropriate protection for the historic environment and to avoid nasty expensive surprises further down the line for developers. The current approach to archaeological work in the planning system in England, as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework, works well and minimises risks to developers whilst ensuring that there is a public benefit from the identification and (where appropriate) protection of archaeological remains impacted by development. We do not want to go back to the bad old days when important archaeological sites were only found in the middle of the development which is not in anyone’s interests – and occasionally led to sites being destroyed without adequate record.”

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