HC Deb 10 May 1965 vol 712 cc215-20

11.58 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Niall MacDermot)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 3, to leave out "Treasury", and to insert "Secretary of State".

Mr. Speaker

Order. The House must be able to hear its business. I hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind.

Mr. MacDermot

Mr. Speaker, would it be convenient to discuss with that Amendment all the remaining Amendments standing in my name? They all deal with virtually the same point.

Mr. Speaker

Yes, if the House so pleases. Possibly the Chair later on might think fit to include them in one Question in so far as they group.

Mr. MacDermot

These Amendments arise from the decision that Ministerial responsibility for the arts should be transferred from the Treasury to the Department of Education and Science. That Department will undertake the functions which under the Bill as at present drafted would be undertaken by the Treasury.

In Committee I canvassed the possibility that certain of these functions might be retained by the Treasury, but after considering the matter further it seemed better that they should all be transferred. The one we had in mind that might be retained were those dealing with the control of salaries of staff, but, as the staff are not to be civil servants, and the new museum, as the House knows, will be jointly controlled by three authorities, the central Government, the Greater London Council, and the City of London, it seemed to us on the whole preferable that all the functions should be transferred.

The Amendments therefore substitute the words "Secretary of State" for "Treasury" throughout, except in the case of one Amendment, where it is more convenient to rephrase the reference to the National Gallery and Tate Gallery Act, 1954. There is no Amendment to Clause 1, which provides for six of the governors of the new museum to be appointed by the Prime Minister. That power of appointment will remain, as in the case of other national museums and galleries.

In Committee I said that it was the intention that the Amendment should be dealt with by the Transfer of Functions Order, but in the event the time factor made this impossible, because the Order had to come forward before the Bill could get through its remaining stages.

12 m.

Mr. James Ramsden (Harrogate)

Neither my hon. Friends nor I would wish to question the need for the Amendment, but we might try to elicit a little more information from the Financial Secretary as to why the way in which he is seeking to amend the Bill differs from his intentions—as we understood them—as expressed to us in Committee.

In Committee I asked the Financial Secretary what would be the effect upon the Bill of the creation of the new post of Minister for the Arts. I asked how it was proposed to give effect to the transfer of functions. The hon. and learned Member told the Committee that the Transfer of Functions Order would take care of that, although at the time this matter was discussed in Committee the Order had not been laid. In the event the Transfer of Functions Order had no reference to the matters with which the Bill is concerned, and the hon. and learned Member was good enough to write me a letter to explain why he intended to proceed by way of amending the Bill rather than do what it was necessary to do through the Order.

I admit that when I got his letter—and it was courteous of him to write to me—I wondered whether the reason for his change of plan was that it would not be as easy as he at one time thought, in Committee, to do through the Order some of the things that he wished to do. I asked him whether it would he possible, had he used the Transfer of Functions Order, to retain in the Bill some of the functions with the Treasury and to allow others to pass to the Ministry of Education. He assured me that this would be quite possible, although it was a little difficult to see how effect could possibly be given to that intention through the Order.

However, in the event—as I understand the Amendments—the Government seek to transfer all the functions. I thought that the hon. and learned Gentleman could have given the House a little more information why it had been decided to do this. It struck all of us in Committee that it was his intention at that time to keep some of the functions with the Treasury. He mentioned the interests of the Greater London Council and those of the Corporation of the City of London and said that they might be concerned about the method by which this was eventually to be done. He gave us reason to think that they might also be concerned about the desirability of some of the functions remaining with the Treasury. I think that the House would like to know why it is that the hon. and learned Gentleman has decided to make a clean sweep and transfer them all. We should be obliged to the Financial Secretary if he could clear this up.

I have seen, in a previous incarnation, some of the politics which lie behind these museums, and they are very intriguing. One might even go so far as to say that the politics of a museum are sometimes as intriguing as the exhibits on its shelves. I am probably not very wide of the mark when I deduce in the Financial Secretary's change of mind since the Committee stage a certain amount of manoeuvring behind the scenes and a certain amount of disagreement and, perhaps, eventual compromise. I think that the House would like to know what has happened, and whether all the parties concerned are satisfied with the outcome, and are satisfied with what will be the final result if we pass these Amendments—that is, the complete transfer to the Secretary of State for Education and Science of the functions concerned.

The hon. and learned Gentleman also owes the House an assurance over the financing of expenditure by this museum now that the Treasury's functions have passed to the Secretary of State. I take it that, if these Amendments are passed, the Government's responsibility for finding their share of the various expenses of the museum will no longer be borne on the Treasury Vote, but will have to be borne on the Vote of the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State already has a very large Vote. It is something over £100 million—perhaps the Financial Secretary could tell us exactly—and it is one which, in the normal course of events, comes under very close scrutiny year by year in the Treasury. There are even occasions—there was a recent controversial occasion—when the Vote is reduced. I refer to the minor works expenditure. What the House would like to be assured about—I am sure that this also applies to the Greater London Council and the Corporation of the City of London—is that this expenditure will not be prejudiced by being transferred to the Vote of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I think that the House and those concerned with the museum would like a very clear and explicit assurance that this expenditure, when the estimate has been made under Clause 15, will be held and considered separately from the global total of the Vote of the Secretary of State. I think that the House should have that assurance.

This next question may display my ignorance, but I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman can enlighten me. How is it that we know when we amend the Bill to read "Secretary of State" instead of "Treasury" that the Secretary of State will be the Secretary of State for Education and Science? I have heard it held constitutionally that all Secretaries of State are one and the same person, and the answer may be connected with that fact. But as it is the Government's clear intention to make this matter the responsibility of one specific Ministry, it would be interesting to know why that could not have been stated in so many words.

With those few words I sit down, and as far as I am concerned the hon. and learned Member has leave to reply if he wishes to do so.

Mr. MarDermot

With your leave, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and that of the House, I will seek to answer the questions of the right hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden). I sought to answer the first two in my few earlier remarks, but perhaps they were too brief. I was asked, why are we doing the transfer by the Amendment rather than by the Transfer of Functions Order? There is no mystery about it. It is simply that the Transfer of Functions Order can bite only on existing legislation and, as this had not become an Act of Parliament, as we had hoped it might, before the Transfer of Functions Order was laid before the House, it was impossible to make the transfer in that way.

I was asked why none of the functions has been retained by the Treasury but all have been transferred when, as I indicated, we had been canvassing the possibility of retaining some under the Treasury. Again, there is no mystery. There may be dark politics behind museum matters, but if there are, they are so dark that in this case they have never come to light to me. This decision is one to which the Treasury give wholehearted approval. We thought that it would not be right for us to seek to retain the powers. The Treasury have responsibilities for the control of the civil servants, and this applies also to the pay and conditions of service of people in some national museums who are civil servants. Because these cases were parallel we thought that we ought to retain the powers in this case, but in fact it is not analogous. The museum will be under tripartite control, and to show that this is tripartite control, it is probably better that we do not try to retain Treasury control of the staff.

I was asked about the financing of this museum. The hon. Member for Harrogate expressed the hope that it would not suffer in any way by being transferred to the Department of Education and Science in the immensity of that Department's Votes. He hoped that the needs of this museum would in no way suffer. I can give him that assurance, apart from anything else for the simple reason that it is the intention that the Vote which covers this museum and other national museums will remain as a separate Vote. They will not be confused with the requirements and demands from education, and they will be submitted for consideration by the Treasury quite separately.

The hon. Member's final question was on the mystical unity of the Secretary of State. I confess that this took me by surprise when I first encountered it, but it is happy to think that our con- stitution recognises this close unity which blends all Secretaries of State together into one person so that each can perform the functions of all. In fact, it will be that incarnation of this united person which presides over the Department of Education and Science which will exercise these functions, but as a matter of draftsmanship this is the right way to describe it.

12.15 a.m.

Mr. Robert Cooke (Bristol, West)

I have one or two brief observations to make. The hon. and learned Member for Derby, North (Mr. MacDermot) replied with great charm to my right hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate (Mr. Ramsden), but despite the charm with which he replied, I hope he will agree that, under the Amendments to Clause 15, it will be the Secretary of State for Education and Science who will be disbursing a capital sum of £580,000 sought by the Museum of London and £100,000 per annum. These seem to us to be very large sums of money indeed.

We support the proposal, but it will be part of the Arts Fund and I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to assure the House that it will not in any way mitigate against the proposals for increased funds for the arts, and indeed that the Government have committed themselves in advance to this sum and that any additional sums they find will he additional to any sums mentioned in this Bill.

Amendment agreed to.