Hadrian's Wall

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd April 1958.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Greenwood Mr Anthony Greenwood , Rossendale 12:00 am, 2nd April 1958

This has been a valuable debate, not least because of the extremely clear exposition by the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry's policy. I am sure we are all grateful to him for his speech, just as we are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) for having chosen this subject for discussion tonight. This is not the first time my hon. Friend has placed us under an obligation to him. About two or three years ago he initiated a debate on prehistoric monuments in South-West England which also, I think, produced one of the most interesting debates it has been my privilege to attend.

One of the really pleasant features of these debates on matters of this kind is that they always give us an opportunity of paying tribute to the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments. We all admire the scholarly and practical approach which the Inspectorate adopts to matters of this kind, and when I find that it advises upon a course of action I have a great inclination to agree, in spite of certain preliminary doubts I may experience.

On this occasion I am left with only one doubt, that although the machinery for supervision, to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred, is obviously adequate, I wonder whether it always works as efficiently and consistently as it might and whether, perhaps, sometimes we have human failures, which may have been in this case at least magnified out of all proportion.

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to the photographs in the Observer which were taken by Mr. David Moore. I must confess that my anxieties are not completely allayed by the explanation which the Parliamentary Secretary gave, because some of the stones in the immediate proximity of the lichen-covered stone to which he referred do not seem to me to be the same shape in both photographs. It may be as well if the hon. Gentleman can arrange for a careful examination to be carried out on the spot to satisfy himself that more drastic reconstruction has not taken place than appears to be the case from the view which he now holds.

I do not doubt for a moment that the general policy of the Ministry is right. We had a remarkable speech from the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. N. Nicolson), and I hope he will not take it amiss when I say that all of us wish him well in the struggle which he is carrying on against the ancient monuments in his own Conservative Association. It was, no doubt, characteristic modesty on the hon. Gentleman's part which prevented him from quoting the advice which the Ancient Monuments Board gave to the Minister in its last Annual Report. It discussed the methods of preservation which could be employed and took the view that it was in broad agreement with the method of preservation used by the Ministry.

I do not think any of us would question that the general policy of the Ministry is the right one, but, as hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House have said, we cannot lightly brush aside the views of so distinguished and scholarly an archaeologist as Jacquetta Hawkes, and I wonder myself whether the truth may lie in one of the remarks which she made in a letter to the Observer on 2nd February of this year, when she expressed the view that the Ministry's policy was sound, and then went on to say But it is a long way from the desk to the field"— meaning presumably that there is a good deal of scope for mistakes to take place between the formulation of policy by the Ministry and the actual carrying of it out on the spot.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend will go carefully into this matter again. We all of us endorse the broad lines of policy which they are carrying out, but we do, I think, just wonder, even at the end of the very persuasive speech we have heard from the Parliamentary Secretary, whether at times rather closer supervision should be provided and whether mistakes are being made which could be rectified with a little greater attention to details.