I do not think it often happens that a Minister called on to answer one of the last debates before a Recess can truly say that he welcomes the job. But I can do so on this occasion because this subject has proved a matter of real interest to many hon. Members, and there has been sufficient time to give them an opportunity to express their views. We at the Ministry welcome the opportunity given to hon. Members to put their views on record, and I can promise that many of the constructive suggestions and ideas advanced today will be examined with sympathy.
I am delighted that I follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Bournemouth and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson) who, as a member of the Ancient Monuments Board, was able to speak with such authority. Much of what he said I might have included in my reply, but I should not have been able to deal with it in anything like the same admirable way as he did. My task tonight will be to deal with the more mundane matters raised in the debate.
We at the Ministry appreciate the way in which the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) opened this debate and enabled us to deal with the articles which have been published and the supporting photographs. It is right that the criticisms referred to should be answered authoritatively at the earliest moment. I do not approach this task in any apologetic vein. We at the Ministry are very proud of the quality of our work of preservation of these ancient monuments, and I was delighted to hear support for that expressed by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). Any fair-minded examination of our work in the areas which have been the subject of the articles referred to would satisfy people that our pride is justified. I think, in view of the tenor of some of the articles that I am entitled to call in aid an extract from a letter received from one of the most outstanding Roman-period archæologists. He wrote a letter following the recent controversy caused by the articles, and stated:
I have seen work in progress in India, Algeria, France, Switzerland and Italy and I judge what you people do against that background, and, by God, you come out on top.
I think that is a rather good thing to know, and I consider that in the context of what has been said it is right to place it on record.