To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to secure the future of professional archaeology in the United Kingdom, and in particular to mitigate the effect on archaeologists of the recent contraction in the building industry.
My Lords, English Heritage and DCMS attended a sector-led seminar on this issue on
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but it does not resolve the question of the huge number of professional archaeologists who are becoming unemployed. Of the 6,500 professional archaeologists in work last year, approximately one-fifth have lost their jobs in the past six months. Some archaeological practices are likely to cease trading altogether. Is the Minister fully aware of how damaging this increasing loss is likely to be to the future of Britain's heritage? Can the country afford to risk losing so many highly educated, though underpaid, professionals to other better paid professions during this recession? Will the Government encourage, and, if necessary, assist, local authority planning departments to keep their professional archaeologists employed during this downturn in the building industry, when their services are less needed? After all, we are not talking about large sums of money.
My Lords, the noble Earl emphasised an important factor in his penultimate point—that we need to protect the skills base of this highly skilled sector during the downturn. He will know how that is closely related to the construction industry's problems; its reduction in activity means that work for architects is greatly reduced. We are concerned to preserve, as far as possible, the levels of this country's skills base through this difficult time. It means that architecture and many other skills will need government investment and support. He is right that the public sector can play its part. Certainly, local authorities have a role with regard to the employment of people with these specific skills. However, he will also be aware of the pressures on the wider economy which are giving rise to concern.
My Lords, will my noble friend assure the House that the Government will do all they can to ensure that the archaeology sector is not weakened in the recession? Will he confirm that the forthcoming planning policy statement on heritage and archaeology will not diminish existing protections for archaeology, particularly in respect of the duties that local planning authorities may lay upon developers, and that the Government look to local authorities not to reduce the capacity of their historic environment services?
My Lords, the Government are not concerned to do anything other than to enhance as far as we are able our heritage, of which buildings play such an important part. We recognise that both public authorities and those organisations which receive public funds play a critical role in this area. This is clearly a difficult time, but it is clear right across government, industry and the economy that if we lose skilled people at this time and set them at naught, the progress of recovery will be that much slower and that Britain will have greater difficulties in competing with the wider world unless we enhance the skills base. That is why, at the end of last year, the Government year emphasised the amount of resources that they were putting into enhancing and protecting the skills base in this country, of which architecture is such a significant part.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the needs of marine archaeologists are frequently left out in considerations of training and careers? If he cannot reassure us that marine archaeologists have special mention in the English Heritage project to which he has referred, can he reassure us that, in the debate on the marine Bill which takes place later today in your Lordships' House, their needs will be taken into account?
My Lords, the noble Baroness has only to wait for the third amendment this afternoon to see that we shall be discussing these issues with some intensity. I therefore hope that I am able to give her that reassurance.
I apologise to noble Lords for my slight slip in saying "architecture". I was on a visit for the Lord Speaker on Friday and a student raised with me the intense difficulties that he was facing despite having potentially very high A-level scores. He wanted to study architecture, so I had architecture as well as archaeology in my mind, hence the slight slip.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right that that needs some emphasis, particularly as we have all been concerned that war and strife in the Middle East and further afield present real dangers to the archaeological inheritance. We are all too well aware of the risks and problems that war has brought, which is all the more reason that we have a level of expertise such that we can contribute to ensuring that we protect that irreplaceable inheritance.
My Lords, now that rescue archaeology, which is what has really being happening during the past 20 years, is not quite so necessary, do we not have an opportunity to do some good academic archaeology in the near future and pay for people to do it?
My Lords, opportunities may exist, because there is no doubt that some people's difficulties can be others' opportunities. However, I have no doubt that if I were too positive in my response to the noble Lord, while sharing his sentiments, the university sector would be at pains to emphasise to me its difficulties in expanding opportunity in this area.
My Lords, given that most of the money for archaeology has come from the development sector and that a great deal of archaeological knowledge now resides in the private sector in the units, those lay-offs mean that we are losing an enormous amount of specialist knowledge such as in, say, Roman Samian ware, on which there is only one expert in the country. If someone loses his job, that knowledge is lost to the country. Will the Minister take that into account especially when thinking about the establishment of historic record centres?
My Lords, the noble Lord is very knowledgeable in this area, and I take his representation very seriously. We will look at that matter.