Skip to main content

Ordnance Survey: Archaeological Branch

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 17 November 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.26 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is now their intention to disband the archaeological survey section of the Ordnance Survey.

My Lords, the archaeological branch of the Ordnance Survey is being reorganised. In future, the Ordnance Survey will obtain archaeological information from local professional archaeologists or archaeological organisations instead of extracting it themselves from published material. Secondly, those topographic surveyors who have been concerned solely with surveying and mapping visible antiquities are being redeployed under the discretion of Ordnance Survey regional controllers and will not be restricted to archaeological work.

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend why this decision was taken preparatory to setting up a committee of inquiry into the work of the Ordnance Survey? Is my noble friend aware that this is comparable to the decisions taken earlier on tertiary benchmarks and the 1:25,000 map, upon which the Ordnance Survey and the Government had to resile? Is my noble friend not aware that this has caused great concern, because although there has been some consultation the disappearance of the professional archaeological officer suggests that once again economies are being made without taking due account of the views of professional archaeologists?

No, my Lords, I do not accept what my noble friend has said. We have been looking at the question of the archaeological work of the Ordnance Survey. The Ordnance Survey will continue to survey and map the visible antiquities, and they will maintain the national non-intensive record of those visible antiquities. They will publish and sell period maps. The maintenance of the national record of the invisible antiquities after March 1978, when the current Department of Environment contract expires, is being discussed with the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. While all branches of Government service are having to take a share of the expenditure cuts, we cannot at this time except the archaeological service.

My Lords, the noble Baroness referred to professional archaeologists outside the Ordnance Survey as though she intended to mean that there are no professional archaeologists inside the Ordnance Survey. Is the noble Baroness not aware that there used to be two or three professional archaeologists in the Ordnance Survey whose work was the admiration of archaeologists in other Government Departments?

No, my Lords, I was not suggesting that the only professional archaeologists were those outside the Ordnance Survey. Certainly we have our topographic surveyors who have done magnificent work within the Ordnance Survey. However, we have had negotiations with county councils and with other archaeological bodies and we are satisfied that some 75 per cent. of the counties who have this kind of service or liaison with archaeological bodies within their counties are willing to co-operate with the Government. We shall still have our topographic surveyors who will be allocated to the regions, who will still be doing some work on archaeology and who will be available to give us expert assistance, if that is needed, when we receive reports from outside the service.

My Lords, arising from that reply, may I ask the noble Baroness to confirm that the field service sections of the Ordnance Survey are being disbanded, and, if that is so, what steps are now being taken to fulfil the functions which have hitherto been fulfilled by those special sections?

My Lords, there has been much correspondence in The Times since the question of the reorganisation of the archaeological service broke out. Some of the letters have shown confusion over the use of the terms. Certainly professionally qualified field archaeologists were used in their field capacity until 1940, but since 1940 no professionally qualified field archaeologists have been used entirely in their field capacity. We have very good topographic surveyors and very good field archaeologists, but they are not employed entirely in their field capacity.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that this subject has produced, as she will have seen from the correspondence in The Times and elsewhere, very considerable disquiet in archaeological circles? With great respect to the work that is being done in some counties of this country and in Scotland, that is not universally the case, and my general impression from the correspondence I have received is that this decision is regarded as a false economy and a great disservice both to archaeological research and to historical science in this country. Will the Government please be good enough to reconsider this decision in the light of the voluminous objections which have been received on the subject?

My Lords, I can certainly give the assurance that the Government will be monitoring the effects of this decision, and when the study group which my right honourable friend will be setting up very shortly has completed its work then, in the light of any recommendations they may make and the experience that we have gained and have monitored in the intermediate time, we shall be able to make such adjustments or changes as are necessary. But we had advice from an inter-departmental working group which reported way back in September 1974 that we needed this sort of reorganisation, and the professional archaeologists, including those in the Ordnance Survey, have been involved in discussions over the last two years on those aspects of reorganisation which affect archaeological sites. There was no discussion with outside bodies on this because we saw it as being purely a management matter within the Ordnance Survey.

My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend why she said that this was now a matter of economy when it arose out of an inter-departmental Working Party that took place in 1974, about which very little is known, and on which most of the archaeologists were in fact in disagreement with this proposal? When the noble Baroness said, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that she did not wish to suggest that no professional archaeologists were involved, she would have been perfectly correct in so suggesting because there are now no professional archaeologists working for the Ordnance Survey.

My Lords, when any Department is asked to make expenditure cuts they obviously look back through their files to see what sort of suggestions have been put to them in the past, and no doubt that is why the archaeologists were subject to this report that we had in September 1974. It offered one chance of making a little saving without, we are certain, damaging the service that we offer.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness give the House some idea of the order of magnitude of the economy which has been achieved by this rather disturbing reorganisation?

My Lords, I cannot give the figure of pounds saved. What I can say is that the people who have been doing the specialised archaeological work have now been allocated to the regions where they will be doing other work as well as that concerned with archaeology. There will be fairly consistent savings in subsistence and in travelling costs and travelling time and there will be some saving in the fact that we have not reappointed a chief archaeologist.

My Lords, I think noble Lords will agree that on this Question we have had a good innings.