HC Deb 24 March 1986 vol 94 cc736-8

Lords amendment: After clause 4, insert: . Not later than 31st March 1989 and subsequently at intervals not exceeding three years the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a report on the exercise of the functions of the Board of Governors of the Museum of London since the commencement of this Act or, in the case of the second and subsequent reports, since the end of the period to which the previous report related.

10.57 pm
The Minister for the Arts (Mr. Richard Luce)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The moving of the new clause by the Government in another place fulfilled a commitment that I gave to the House on Report on 3 February. The object of the amendment is to ensure, by a statutory obligation, that regular reports on the Museum of London's activities are produced and laid before Parliament. The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) will recall that I made it clear on 3 February that, were we to impose that statutory obligation on the museum itself, there would be an element of hybridity in the proceedings. For that reason, we moved a new clause in another place.

The Museum of London already produces regular reports and I have no doubt that it would continue to do so without a statutory obligation being placed upon it. However, persuasive arguments were put forward in the earlier stages that, because of the important accountability principle, there was a good case for enshrining the reporting commitment into a statutory obligation. The Government agree and so proposed the amendment.

I stress another matter about the wording. The new clause provides for reports to be produced not less frequently than every three years. I emphasise that there is no intention to change the practice of producing annual reports. The museum will continue to do that. As I explained in Committee, it would be an overtight imposition to require the museum by law to produce reports every year. The words follow the precedent for statutory reporting obligations on other major museums under the National Heritage Act 1983.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

On behalf of the Opposition I welcome one of the few changes that we have managed to secure. The new clause is helpful and I am grateful to the Minister for his clarification on the three years or one year reporting obligation.

I welcome the clause, but the Opposition do not welcome the Bill. We shall reverse its provisions when we return to power. In the meantime it will be convenient to have a report on the workings of the museum. I support the new clause.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the new clause. The Opposition moved an amendment that there should be an annual report. I suggested that a three-year period would be wiser because of the charitable nature of the organisation and because of the practice among museums in general. Not only should one remember that the Museum of London already produces a report annually, but I am certain that if something is to be received from organisations outside local government, such as industry and, under the new Budget, from individuals who might find it more attractive to give money to such causes, reports are important because they can help to raise even more money through imformative presentation.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

My right hon. and hon. Friends welcome the proposal. In view of the Budget and the change in the personae of those who might contribute to the museum, I urge the Minister not to stray too far from an annual report. In a changing scene it is immensely helpful to accountability for a report not only to be there, but to be seen to be there.

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North)

I dashed into the House in the hope of hearing the Minister, but I was just too late. The position as I understand it now seems satisfactory. There is to be an obligation to produce a report every three years, but that does not preclude an annual report, which has been of considerable value to those interested in the museum, and in museums generally. I join in the general accord for the proposal.

Question put and agreed to.

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