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Spanish Cannon: Removal By Royal Armouries

Volume 623: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2001

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Why the Royal Armouries, acting on the authority of the Receiver of Wreck, forcibly removed an historic cannon of 16th century Spanish ordnance from the premises of Suffolk Underwater Studies at Orford on 12th February before any agreement had been reached regarding the custody of the cannon.

My Lords, the Government and the Receiver of Wreck have been in discussion and correspondence on this issue since the ordnance was recovered from the sea bed in 1994. The Receiver of Wreck gave title to the ordnance to the Royal Armouries for its future care, preservation and display to the public following a meeting at which the finder was present. The ordnance was subsequently removed by the Royal Armouries to ensure its safety on behalf of the nation after the finder had been notified. It is the policy of the Royal Armouries to loan artefacts to museums in the area of the find wherever possible. The Royal Armouries has reaffirmed its commitment to return the cannon to Orford on long-term loan as soon as a suitable accredited public depository is established, and it has offered to assist in this.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his thoughtful and reflective reply. I shall endeavour to guide events locally in the same direction. Does the noble Lord agree with the general principle that when an interesting archaeological find is made, if it is not of outstanding national importance it should, as a general rule, be exhibited locally where it can be established that there is a suitable place in which to store it and the Royal Armouries and the department are satisfied with the arrangements for its custody?

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord. That is in accordance with the long standing practice of the Royal Armouries and its views in this case, which I have already set out. I have also made it clear that the Royal Armouries is anxious not only to pursue that policy but to assist in the return of the cannon to a suitable site near the place of find.

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that the Receiver of Wreck is widely recognised by those involved in nautical archaeology as someone who always tries to find helpful and useful solutions in cases like this? Does the Minister also accept that this matter highlights a rather serious lack of resources available to local museums in a period when the number of finds in nautical archaeology increases substantially because of the new technology which is now available?

My Lords, I am sure that the Receiver of Wreck will be pleased to hear what the noble Lord has said and shares his concerns. If we continue to find more artefacts both on land by the use of electronic devices and in the sea by intrepid divers more and more places will have to be found for them in museums. That is why the Culture and Recreation Bill is concerned to extend the regime of English Heritage to underwater archaeology.

My Lords, can my noble friend enlighten us as to the meaning of the word "forcibly" as used in the Question? Was somebody duffed up in order to take possession of the cannon? Do the authorities have a powerful group of people who go round doing this kind of thing?

My Lords, nobody was duffed up, but the Royal Armouries did send a trailer. The ordnance was chained to the outside of the premises of Suffolk Underwater Studies and the chain had to be cut to remove it.

My Lords, will the noble Lord look into the position of the submarine "Resurgam" which sank in Liverpool Bay in the 1880s, still lies at the coast near Rhyl and is certainly in danger of being despoiled by underwater divers?

My Lords, the name of the submarine is peculiarly appropriate to the question that the noble Lord asks. I am not familiar with the case to which He refers, but I shall look into it and write to him.