HC Deb 08 June 1964 vol 696 cc98-105

(1) A local authority maintaining a museum or art gallery under section 12 of this Act may establish a fund to be used for the purchase of objects for exhibition in any museum or art gallery for the time being so maintained by the authority.

(2) Where at the time a fund is established by it under this section a local authority maintains under a local Act a fund which it is authorised to use for the purchase of such objects as aforesaid, the Minister of Housing and Local Government may, by order made on the application of the local authority, provide for the amalgamation of the funds.

(3) The provisions of Schedule (Management of funds for purchase of exhibits) to this Act shall apply with respect to the management of a fund established by a local authority under this section.

(4) This section shall not apply to the council of a parish or the council of a borough included in a rural district.—[Sir E. Boyle.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Christopher Chataway)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The purpose of this new Clause is to allow local authorities to build up a fund from which they will be able from time to time to buy pictures or museum exhibits without financial difficulty—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am reminded that a new Clause can be moved at this stage only by the Member who has given notice of it.*

*Note: See col. 197.

Sir E. Boyle

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I apologise, Mr. Speaker, very much in my own—I must get this right—fourteenth year in the House for being so ignorant of the proper procedures.

The purpose of the Clause is to empower local authorities to build up a fund from which they will be able from time to time to purchase pictures or museum exhibits without financial difficulty and without having to levy a specific rate for the purpose.

We have had some reference to the Standing Commission Survey which, in paragraph 171, explained that although general powers now existed by which local authorities could accumulate a fund for any kind of capital expenditure, a fund so built up could be used for any purpose at the discretion of the authority. Therefore, if a local authority wishes to set up a fund for a specific purpose, such as the purchase of works of art, it must first obtain power to do so by a local Act of Parliament. Many authorities have obtained such power.

The Standing Commission thought that this power ought to be made general and emphasised the importance of local authorities which provided museums and art galleries building up such funds. A joint board established under Clause 5 will have power to establish an art fund under the Clause, as it is included in the definition of "local authority" in Clause 22. Paragraph 6 of the Schedule makes the necessary adaptations in this provision so as to make it applicable to a joint board.

Local authorities which have established funds for the same or similar purposes under local Acts might find it convenient for these funds to be amalgamated with funds set up under the Clause, and subsection (2) of the new Clause makes it possible for this to be done under the authority of an order of the Minister of Housing and Local Government.

6.30 p.m.

The Schedule contains provisions for the management of a fund established under the Clause. I do not think that I need to go into the details. It sets out the maximum contribution, and so on. These limitations are similar to those contained in local Acts save that these name the actual sum as the maximum balance of the fund.

Paragraph 3 enables the proceeds of the sale of any picture or museum object to be paid into the fund instead of being credited to the county fund or to the general rate in accordance with the 1933 Act. Paragraph 4 of the Schedule authorises the investment of any money in the fund not immediately required in the same way as trustees are authorised to invest funds under the Act of 1961.

The only other thing which I should mention is that this new Clause does not apply to parish councils, as the rateable value of most parishes would not enable a worth-while fund to be established. In any case, their systems of accounting and financial control may not be sufficient for this purpose. I can tell the House that we have taken soundings and the new Clause is acceptable to the Parish Councils' Association.

Mr. Willey

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation. He has anticipated the discussion that we shall have on the Schedule.

Sir E. Boyle

I am sorry.

Mr. Willey

There are some points that we should like to raise on the Schedule, but I will not raise them here.

This is something which the House ought to welcome. It is a provision which will be helpful. We are less encouraged by the provisions in the Schedule, but I think that we should congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on taking the opportunity afforded by the Bill to implement a recommendation of the Rosse Report and to provide something which we hope will be a considerable help to local authorities in establishing their collections.

Sir B. Stross

This type of Clause has been wanted for a very long time by those local authorities which wish to establish funds and to save money from time to time until they have sufficient to be able to purchase something quite expensive, should the opportunity arise. They have never previously been able to do so without the passing of a private Act of Parliament. Everyone who is knowledgeable about this kind of work may be very glad that now a blanket power has been given to all local authorities to establish funds. This will allow them to increase and invest the money so that they will not have to come cap in hand asking for permission every time they wish to acquire an object which is rather more than expensive than those which they usually purchase.

I should, therefore, like to support the Clause.

Mr. Boyden

I support what has already been said. This represents a breach of the principle, for which the right hon. Gentleman took some credit, of making special grants for special occasions. While I applaud that occasion to which he referred as a very good piece of government, the general principle of rescuing local museums which wish to buy something valuable or expensive is bad. All too often national collections have had to do this sort of thing by giving legal permission for local authorities to build up a special fund so that they may deal with expensive items which come their way.

This is important in the stages of moving up a museum or art gallery, either when there is a change of policy or a line of policy is strengthened. A museum or gallery may wish to purchase a group of paintings for policy reasons and may not be able to do so without such a fund. Several works of this description may come on to the market. If the museum committee has to go constantly to the rating and finance committee it is a very debilitating process, and often the museum committee does not get what it wants. Purchases may be made erratically. Three or four objects may be purchased over a short period and then there may be a lapse of two or three years, or even longer, before the next purchase.

With such a fund a museum may be able to build up a collection more economically by buying quickly, and thereby stop works of art from going abroad, and follow a sensible buying policy. The development of a museum or art gallery—this is another argument in favour of the Clause—does not always coincide with the nature of economic policy. It does not always go with a stop-go economy. The cycle of museum purchases may go opposite to that policy. We are promised that the stop and go policy is a thing of the past. We hope that it is and that the right hon. Gentleman may claim some credit for modernising this sphere and preventing a stop-go policy.

Mr. O'Malley

I welcome the Clause for the reasons which have been mentioned by my hon. Friends and which it is not my intention to repeat. Subsection (1) states that A local authority maintaining a museum or art gallery under section 12 …may establish a fund for the purpose which we have been discussing. If a local authority has not a museum or art gallery, but is considering establishing one, will it have such a power? If it had, that would be a positive incentive for the authority to consider setting up a museum. It would be able to acquire some kind of reserve before making the initial purchases.

Sir E. Boyle

I think that the answer to the hon. Gentleman is "No", but I will write to him further on the point.

Mr. O'Malley

I shall be interested to hear from the right hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to him for his promise. If the answer is "No", I wish to ask him to consider making provision in another place to allow such authorities to set up this kind of fund.

Mrs. White

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) for having raised that point. It is quite clear that, if we are to have further developments in this service, what he has said is of great importance. If such local authorities cannot have a fund, they will have to buy on hire purchase. Can the Minister also enlighten us en another matter which I find not entirely clear? According to the Clause a local authority which maintains a museum or art gallery may establish a fund, and so forth. But the Report of the Standing Commission on Museums and Art Galleries states, in paragraph 170, that the great majority of local authorities which maintain museums are boroughs and that very few counties maintain them. There are ratable exceptions, such as Durham County Council, with the Bowes Museum. There is also mentioned London County Council's responsibility for Kenwood, with a remarkably fine collection of pictures, but, generally, museums and art galleries are largely maintained by boroughs.

Normally, it would be the maintaining authority which would want a fund of this sort, but I presume that there would be nothing which would make it in any way difficult for a county which does not maintain its own museum or art gallery to contribute to the fund of a body which does so. We are not discussing the Schedule at the moment, but I might perhaps be allowed to put this in the mind of the Minister. Is there any difficulty, under the Schedule, which is extraordinarily tightly drawn in this matter, for an authority which is not itself maintaining a museum or art gallery but which wishes to contribute to another authority, for example, a county borough in its area which does maintain one?

We want to be sure that in legislating in this way we are not putting a difficulty in the way of an authority which does not maintain a museum, but would like to assist another authority to do so. This is a point which is rather similar in character to that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham, who is also anxious that these powers, if conferred, should be fully used. We are probably suffering from hasty draftsmanship of this part of the Bill. We are in difficulties over Clauses which deal with museums and art galleries because they have not been so fully digested as the part which deals with public libraries. That part has been before the bodies concerned in one way or another for a considerable time and there had been considerable consultation, but about this part of the Bill we feel uncomfortable.

In the past, the whole position about capital funds has been unsatisfactory. At one time special legislation had to be used to establish one. We are not in the least objecting to the Minister having powers in this Clause to simplify matters. On the contrary, we are anxious to help him and we entirely agree that it is very proper that funds should be established and nourished.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) rightly said, unless local authorities have money available they cannot purchase at the moment when the market is favourable. All that has been said about the greater national museums and galleries mutatis mutandis applies to the smaller ones. If they can have money in the "kitty" when something is likely to come on the market, or when a lively curator knows of a collector in the neighbourhood who, with a little persuasion, might be prevailed on to part with one of his treasures at a reasonable price, the position is made much easier. Perhaps with the help of one or two wealthy industrialists and of one of the trusts it would be possible to start the whole process more satisfactorily.

We are happy about the intentions of the Clause and think that it will help the lively and enterprising curator of a museum or gallery to put persuasion on his local authority to build up resources for the future, but we are not quite satisfied that the Clause and the Schedule as they stand have been fully enough considered. I hope, therefore, that we shall have a litle more from the Minister about this matter to make certain that these purely practical difficulties—which are not matters of principle—have been thought out and that there is a complete answer or, if not, that they will be further considered and something done in another place to deal with them.

6.45 p.m.

Sir E. Boyle

In answer to the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White), I think that the point she put about the possibility of a local authority building up a fund, not to assist as it were its own museum but someone else's museum, goes a long way beyond subsection (1) of the proposed new Clause, indeed, further than anything proposed in the Standing Commission's Report.

I feel in a difficulty here, because we are not discussing an Amendment to subsection (1) of the new Clause and, therefore, we must base ourselves on the Clause as we have it. This proposal would extend the principle of the Clause a good deal. While I should not rule out discussion of this matter in another place, and will bear in mind the point that the hon. Lady has raised, I should not like to give any undertaking this afternoon about what seems a considerable extension of the principle behind the Clause.

Mrs. White

Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman did not entirely grasp the argument I put forward. It was not entirely whether an authority could set up a fund, but whether it could contribute to someone else's fund. Could another local authority make a subscription on the regular basis to another purchasing fund or would that be ultra vires? If it were within that authority's powers, would it be circumscribed by the Schedule?

Sir E. Boyle

At first sight I should say that it would be although I am ready to be corrected on that point. I should say that it would be going quite a long way beyond subsection (1) of the Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.