HC Deb 14 January 1985 vol 71 cc151-60
Mr. Wallace

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 22, line 24, leave out from 'of' to end of line 34 and insert: '15 members (referred to in this part of this Schedule as "trustees").

(2) The trustees shall include the following persons:

Nine persons appointed by the Secretary of State as follows:

  1. (i) One representing the Council of British Archaeology in Scotland,
  2. (ii) Two representing schools in Scotland:
  3. (iii) Six representing such other public interests as the Secretary of State may think fit.

(3) The Secretary of State shall appoint a person to be chairman of the Board and the Board shall appoint one of their members to be vice-chairman.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments:

No. 9, in page 22, line 32, after 'matters', insert 'and of the interests of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.'.

No. 10, in page 22, line 35, leave out sub-paragraph (4) and insert— '(4) Trustees shall be appointed for a period of four years: after the second year of coming into operation half of the membership of the Board shall be reconstituted at intervals of two years.'.

Mr. Wallace

In many respects, amendment No. 7 follows on from amendment No. 5. The Under-Secretary of State recognised the great association of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland with the National Museum of Antiquities. That association is a reason why the amendment has been moved.

One of the Bill's principal functions is to combine the Royal Scottish Museum and the Museum of Antiquities into one museum controlled by a board of trustees. That combination was recommended by the Williams committee. As the Bill stands, the connection with the Society of Antiquaries would be lost because there would be no statutory provision to include any members of the society on the board of the trustees of the new museum. That is the principal reason why the amendment has been drafted.

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To a large extent, the amendment reflects the composition of the board as it was constituted under the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland Act 1954. This measure includes the Royal Scottish Museum which, until now, has been under the control of the Civil Service. The present provision gives the Secretary of State, who already has enormous powers of patronage in many respects in Scotland, power to appoint all trustees. There is no reason why that patronage should be as wide as provided for in the Government's proposals. We seek to limit that patronage by allowing certain members of the Society of Antiquaries to be members of the board of trustees. This provision still allows a certain amount of discretion to the Secretary of State to nominate nine of the 15 trustees.

The amendment will give a Scottish dimension to the board of trustees. As the Under-Secretary of State has recognised, there has been a long association between the Society of Antiquaries and the National Museum of Antiquities. This measure would parallel in many respects the provision for the National Library. In the 1920s, that library was gifted to the nation by the Faculty of Advocates. I declare an interest in this subject as a member of the Faculty of Advocates. The Bill provides for a continuing relationship between the Faculty of Advocates and the National Library. The faculty is well represented on the board of the National Library. The library of the National Museum of Antiquities was donated by the Scottish Society of Antiquaries, and that is why there should be a similiar relationship between that society and the new museum.

I look forward with interest to discovering the objection of the Under-Secretary of State to curbing the patronage of the Secretary of State. I understand that one reason for the objection is that this action reflects English practice at the Victoria and Albert museum. I do not believe that that is a good reason why we should merely copy English practice.

I am led to believe that the Department has said that, in view of the wide range of interests inevitably covered by the new board of trustees, difficulties might arise in deciding between the numerous organisations invited to submit nominations to the board. It has been said that, on balance, Ministers should not be advised by Parliament in determining which body should be represented. I cannot agree. The bodies mentioned in the amendment have a direct interest in the museum. It is not unreasonable for Parliament to stipulate that that interest should continue. Those bodies would be able to contribute to the long-term well-being of the new museum.

Sir Hector Monro

I oppose the amendment because, although it is tabled with the best intentions, it does not help the Minister to achieve the best balance in the new board of the museum. To limit the Minister's choice to six of the 15 would be extremely restrictive. All hon. Members who have served in government know that one of a Minister's most difficult jobs is the appointment of major and important boards and the achievement of the right blend of appointees to work harmoniously together, who have, if possible, a specific interest in and knowledge of the subject that they have been appointed to assist. If one restricts the number available to the Minister, that blend will be hard to find.

Like the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), I have received many letters from members of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, who are keen to ensure that they will be fairly represented. The Minister is right to keep all his cards on the table. I am prepared to bet that some members of the society will be appointed to the board, but it is right that we should leave the provision as it is.

One of the outstations of the Royal Scottish museum is the aircraft museum at East Fortune. Would one therefore suggest that we should have an aircraft engineer or a pilot on the board? Should we have someone from Wigtownshire to look after the botanic garden outstation at Logan Gardens?

It is important that the Minister should have the maximum freedom of choice. I am confident that, from the immense wealth of experience in Scotland, he will appoint the right board.

Mr. Wilson

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) is far too generous and unsuspicious of the Minister and his Department. In Committee, I raised the matter of the vagueness of the criteria by which trustees were to be appointed. It is almost entirely at the discretion of the Minister. The point was raised, especially regarding the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, that there was no requirement for appointed trustees to have specific or even general knowledge of Scotland. It is patently obvious that if we adopt the selection of people mentioned in the amendment, there will be people with a genuine interest in Scottish history and the development of the museums. Indeed, the range is wide.

To develop a more general argument, one of the least attractive features of modern society is that the patronage of the Secretary of State has been built up and now extends into a wide area. We know that the Secretary of State may have the final decision, but he does not trawl for people who might fit the bill. His ministerial discretion is frequently exercised with a rubber stamp. The decisions about who is suitable are, broadly speaking, taken by civil servants. It is wrong that the Secretary of State, the omnipotent Pooh-Bah of the Scottish Office, should have such a wide range of different posts to fill.

Earlier the Government were keen to abolish quangos, but that seems to have petered out. It appears that they are still interested in making appointments wherever they can, as a sort of extension of their influence and power. I do not share the confidence of the hon. Member for Dumfries in the ability of Secretaries of State to choose. It is right for us here and now to stipulate certain categories of person who could fill the job. Therefore, I warmly support the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), because it fulfils in a more specific way the more general approach that I adopted in an amendment in Committee.

Mr. Buchan

I hope that the Opposition's amendment No. 9 will be accepted, because it goes part of the same way that we are discussing in this group of amendments. It would at least write in the name of the body concerned, if the Government will not go further in regard to trusteeship as suggested by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). It would be a modest declaration of the position. I hope that the Minister will not tell us that it is unnecessary. We cannot trust future Governments any more than we can trust the present Government, and it would be useful to have the provision written into the Bill.

We have also considered the nature of the operations of the trustees. We have tried to simplify the provisions. We had a long and difficult period trying to get the Government to see sense in regard to another institution, the national library. We recognised that, in the unlikely event of the Government giving proper time for debate on a Bill of this importance, it would be difficult to have a proper discussion of it. By putting on the debate late at night the Government have disguised some of their own iniquities and made it more difficult for the complete case to be deployed. It is a great pity that an important Scottish Bill of this kind should be taken after midnight rather than in the full light of day, when proper care and attention could be given to it. It was with that expectation of the behaviour of the Government that we tabled this modest amendment.

The main purpose of our amendment No. 10 is to refer to the nature of the trusteeship and to say that we would want to achieve certain elements of continuity, rather than having a continual turnover. The interesting aspect is the comparison between the schedule, which determines the trusteeship of the museums, and the clause, which determines the board and the trusteeship of the national library.

It cannot make sense that one major national institution should be appointed entirely by the Secretary of State and that another one should be appointed on the say-so of a number of listed bodies. What is good for one should be good for the other. In one case almost as many people are appointed by the advocates of Scotland as there are appointed in the other case by the Secretary of State for Scotland. If the Secretary of State appoints nine trustees, that is almost the same as the seven or eight that the advocates have in their gift. That cannot make sense. One or the other must be wrong and I hope that their Lordships, when they look at it, will refuse to have such an intellectual inconsistency in the Bill.

The listing of the trustees in clause 17. the other relevant clause, makes no sense of any kind. One can only regard it as an historical vestige that the advocates have a certain relationship with the origins of the library. We all accept that and would like to retain it. But if we are to have the form of list given in clause 17, the Secretary of State should adopt some relevant kind of list in the schedule in regard to the museums. I hope that attention will be paid to that aspect when the Bill goes to another place, so that the two provisions may be brought into some kind of harmony. There might then be an opportunity in the other place to have a more leisurely examination of the matters that were dealt with so summarily in Committee and here this evening.

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It is interesting that, while care has been taken on behalf of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland— I do not object to that— and one or two of the obvious bodies such as the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the universities, the trade union and Labour movement of Scotland has not been brought in. The people who built the museums are not represented. Those who did the work, created our history and built those buildings are not mentioned. That is a stark contrast. We sought to mention all the groups in relation to the library; it could have been done in the amendment. We could have given that matter some consideration. Such slip-ups happen when there is such speedy action from the Government as we have in the Bill. That is another matter that will have to be considered in another place. If the amendment is accepted in this form, it will have to be changed further to be more reflective of the bulk of the people of Scotland, above all in the light of our concentration on the museum of industry.

While I respect the views of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, who has attempted to make sense and bring things into harmony, which we support, and although the amendment is an improvement on the Bill, in which only the Secretary of State has the say-so, the amendment will lead to further amendment in the other place.

Mr. Allan Stewart

The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) referred to the National Library. I should like to reiterate the point that I made in Committee. With regard to that board, we are dealing with an existing institution that appears to work satisfactorily, whereas in relation to the museums we are setting up a completely new board.

I understand the reasons for the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and why he feels that bodies such as the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh should have a right of representation on the new board, but the points made by the hon. Member for Paisley, South showed the difficulty of agreeing a list of who should have the right of representation. My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Munro) rightly pointed to the advantages of having the maximum flexibility in arriving at decisions that will be in the interests of all aspects of the work of the national museums. It is right that trustees should be appointed for their individual contributions rather than for any particular interest that they might represent. The Bill as drafted lists a wide range of matters that the Secretary of State will be required to review when he considers the areas of expertise from which future trustees might be drawn.

Hon. Members referred in particular to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. They are right in recognising the special relationship that is traditionally enjoyed with the national museum. Nevertheless, having listened carefully to what has been said and read the representations that have been put to us, I believe that to include a reference to any one body or organisation, even one as closely associated as the society, would not, on balance, be sensible. It would imply that a particular outside body was entitled to be involved in the general decisions of the board.

I know that Lord Bute's advisory board, which is having further discussions with the society this week, will want to consider any other ways in which the society's long-standing interest in the work of the national museum, which is recognised on both sides of the House, can continue to be recognised in the future. I note what the hon. Member for Paisley, South said about possible debates in another place, but it would be wrong of me to speculate on their contents.

Mr. Wallace

I have listened carefully, but I am disappointed by the Minister's response. I accept that a new museum is being established, but one cannot simply ignore the history of the two bodies coming together to create it, especially the role of the Society of Antiquaries in providing the library of the national museum of antiquities.

The Minister said that he hoped to have particular regard to the ability and interests of those appointed to the board. As the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) has said, the National Library of Scotland has a whole list of people, including the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Minister of the High Kirk of Edinburgh. With all due respect to the current incumbents of those offices, there is no reason to suppose that their successors will have any special interest or ability with regard to books or libraries, but the Government seem to have ignored that inconsistency.

The hon. Member for Paisley, South suggested that the list should be extended to include representatives of the trade union movement on the new board. I have no objection in principle to that suggestion, which might also be discussed further in another place.

In view especially of the historical association of the Society of Antiquaries I hope that in the period between the Bill leaving this House and being discussed in another place the Government will think again on this.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: No. 8, in page 22, line 31, after 'agricultural', insert 'archaeological, artistic'.— [Mr. Allan Stewart.]

Mr. Allan Stewart

I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 23, line 39, leave out sub-paragraph (5) and insert— '(5) Where a person becomes an employee of the Board in consequence of this paragraph, then, for the purposes of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, his period of employment in the civil service of the State or, as the case may be, for the purposes of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, shall count as a period of employment by the Board, and the change of employment shall not break the continuity of the period of employment.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 12 to 15.

Mr. Stewart

This group of amendments follows the discussions on Second Reading and in Committee and is important in that it concerns the staff of the new institutions. I gave specific assurances to the Opposition about meeting with trade unions and I met the unions on 19 December. In the light of the exchanges at that meeting and what was said in earlier stages of the Bill, to avoid any further misunderstanding and in particular to ensure that the staff concerned know that we intend to protect their interests as far as is practicable, I have agreed to embody in the Bill the assurances that I gave on Second Reading—the so-called Chalmers assurances.

The Chalmers assurances provide that for any member of the Royal Scottish Museum who refuses an offer of employment from the new trustees a suitable post in the same grade in the Scottish Office would be sought, and that if that were unattainable the staff transfer unit of the Management and Personnel Office would be asked to seek such a post elsewhere in the Civil Service. Amendment No. 13 gives statutory backing to those assurances and has been welcomed by representatives of the staff concerned.

In addition to embodying those assurances in the Bill, the amendments remove certain other areas of possible doubt. Amendment No. 11 proposes the substitution of a new subparagraph (5) to paragraph 5 of schedule 1. That amendment, taken with amendment No. 12 to subparagraph (6), ensures that all staff presently employed for the purposes of the institutions comprising the national museums of Scotland and who accept the offer of employment from the trustees will have continuity of employment and any question of technical redundancy entitling anyone to a redundancy payment will be avoided.

Amendment No. 14 to subparagraph (7) ensures that not only staff who are civil servants but also those non-civil servants employed in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland will be entitled to appeal to an industrial tribunal if they think that the offer of employment which has been made to them by the board is on terms less favourable than those applying to them before the date of the offer.

I emphasise that none of these amendments implies any change in policy. The Government have always been firmly committed to the Chalmers assurances and it has always been our intention that the staffing provisions of schedule 1 should apply to all museums staff.

With regard to the staff of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, in terms of the Chalmers assurances the Bill makes a distinction in favour of Royal Scottish Museum staff. I should perhaps explain why that is so.

Hon. Members will be aware that the Bill deals with two quite distinct groups of museum staff— there are Scottish Office staff at the RSM and those seconded to the NMAS. They are all civil servants. If they accept the offer of employment from the trustees, they will become non-civil servants. There are also the non-civil servants in the NMAS who are at present employed by a board of trustees, and who will not be changing their status. If they accept the offer of employment from the new board, they will merely change from being the employees of one board to being the employees of another.

The Chalmers assurances relate only to the first group of staff. That has always been understood. It was specifically stated in Mr. Chalmers' original letter and has always been repeated in those terms. On 10 January, however, at the meeting of the joint working party set up to consider the implications for museums staff of this Bill, the trade union side asked that consideration be given to extending the Chalmers assurances to appropriate staff of the NMAS— that is, staff certificated by the Civil Service Commission.

In fact, I fully expect all NMAS staff to accept employment with the new museums so that they can continue to develop their chosen specialties. However, I am sure that the House agrees that it is important that we do everything possible in the interests of good staff relations for the new structure. I am, therefore, prepared to meet the point made by the trade union side and to give an undertaking to NMAS staff that for any eligible NMAS staff who refuse an offer of employment, the Secretary of State will seek a post in the same grade in the Civil Service.

With that assurance, I hope that any remaining misunderstandings will be removed, that the staff concerned will feel fully reassured and that the House will be satisfied as to the Government's intention.

Amendment No. 15 gives the staff at the Royal Botanic Garden the same assurances as are given to the staff of the RSM. Since all the staff presently employed at the Royal Botanic Garden are civil servants, there is no need to make the other amendments.

I apologise for speaking at some length, but these are important matters. It is an important group of amendments. We wish to do everything possible to give the reassurances to the staff that I am sure the House will agree are correct.

Mr. Craigen

I am grateful to the Minister for giving such a full explanation of the amendments. He knows that I have expressed strong views about the way in which the issues came before the Scottish Grand Committee during Second Reading. Many of the issues should have been properly thrashed out before the Bill was even published.

I acknowledge that the Minister has gone some distance in reducing the concerns expressed by the three staff associations. There is still some uncertainty whether he has accepted some points in their entirety. There are some aspects upon which he might expand, and one relates to the NMAS. A group of curators and research staff are still a little apprehensive about the position. It would be useful to know just how active the staff transfer unit would be—

Mr. Henderson

I have heard some rumour about anxiety, but I suspect that it is about something with which we cannot deal in the Bill. Because of historical differences, there is a slight difference in grading and structure. As long as my hon. Friend the Minister draws that to the attention of the new board, that should be taken into account.

Mr. Craigen

Yes, I am hoping that these matters will be resolved by what the Minister has to tell us. However, I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that it was nonsensical that we had to discuss this matter on Second Reading and in Committee because normally, with transfer arrangements such as this, the whole business would have been cut and dried and ready for the approval of Parliament.

Schedule 1(6)(a) deals with a suitable alternative position in the Civil Service. It has been put to me that it would be reasonable to add on a phrase such as "or non-departmental body", as there might be people who would wish to, and could find a job with the other non-departmental bodies that have been established by the previous legislation relating to England.

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Mr. Allan Stewart

I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) for his reception of these amendments. I confirm that we are not changing Government policy, but the trade unions wished these assurances to be given legislative form. In essence, we have accepted that. I assure him that we do not expect any difficulties, and the trade unions do not expect many either.

The staff in the NMAS to whom the hon. Gentleman referred are not civil servants, but the union did not ask that these assurances should be given statutory form, and, given that the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland staff are not civil servants, I am sure that the House will agree that this would not be suitable. The trade unions asked for an assurance on the record, and that is the assurance that I give the House tonight.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 12, in page 24, line 3, leave out 'in the civil service of the state' and insert 'as mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)'.

No. 13, in page 24, line 13, at end insert— '(6A) Without prejudice to sub-paragraph (6) above, where a person in the civil service of the State has unreasonably refused an offer made to him in pursuance of this paragraph, the Secretary of State shall not terminate that person's employment unless he has first had regard to the feasibility of employing him in a suitable alternative position in the civil service. (6B) Where a person continues in employment in the civil service either—

  1. (a) not having unreasonably refused an offer made to him in pursuance of this paragraph, or
  2. (b) having been placed in a suitable alternative position as mentioned in sub-paragraph (6A) above,
he shall be treated for all purposes as if the offer mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) had not been made.'.

No. 14, in page 24, line 17, leave out 'in the civil service of the State' and insert 'immediately prior to the making of the offer mentioned in subparagraph (1)'.

No. 15, in page 28, line 40, at end insert— '(6A) Without prejudice to sub-paragraph (6) above, where a person has unreasonably refused an offer made to him in pursuance of this paragraph, the Secretary of State shall not terminate that person's employment unless he has first had regard to the feasibility of employing him in a suitable alternative position in the civil service. (6B) Where a person continues in employment in the civil service either—

  1. (a) not having unreasonably refused an offer made to him in pursuance of this paragraph, or
  2. (b) having been placed in a suitable alternative position as mentioned in sub-paragraph (6A) above,
he shall be treated for all purposes as if the offer mentioned in sub-paragraph (1) had not been made.'.— [Mr. Archie Hamilton.]

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 58 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.